Learning How in SUNSET PARK–A Review

Hi there! To day I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M romance from Santino Hassell. His fourth Five Buroughs novel, INTERBOROUGH, releases today, and it’s a pick up from book two, SUNSET PARK. While all these stories have related characters that come in and out, the main couple in both SUNSET PARK and INTERBOROUGH is Raymond, a closeted, bisexual Puerto Rican man and David, a white-bread Connecticut out-gay man. So, essentially, I wanted to make sure I knew lots about how this odd couple got together, before I got snared in their struggles. Having started this series on book three, FIRST AND FIRST, I’ve pretty much been ridic reading out of order…

sunset-parkAbout the book:
Raymond Rodriguez’s days of shoving responsibility to the wayside are over. His older brother wants to live with his boyfriend, so Raymond has to get his act together and find a place of his own. But when out-and-proud David Butler offers to be his roommate, Raymond agrees for reasons other than needing a place to crash.

David is Raymond’s opposite in almost every way—he’s Connecticut prim and proper while Raymond is a sarcastic longshoreman from Queens—but their friendship is solid. Their closeness surprises everyone as does their not-so-playful flirtation, since Raymond has always kept his bicurious side a secret.

Once they’re under the same roof, flirting turns physical, and soon their easy camaraderie is in danger of being lost to frustrating sexual tension and the stark cultural differences that set them apart. Now Raymond not only has to commit to his new independence—he has to commit to his feelings for David or risk losing him for good.

My Review:
This is the second book in a series, and is probably best enjoyed when read in order. Raymond Rodriguez is a 26 y/o Puerto Rican man in Queens just holding on in life. He’s the youngest of two boys, and his elder brother Michael is a semi-closeted gay man. Michael wants to live with his best-friend/lover Nunzio, but he can’t make rent on the apartment and pay his half of the mortgage on their late-mother’s home. So, Michael tells Ray he needs to move out so they can clean up the house and rent it.

Ray’s always been shiftless. He’s an habitual pot smoker, and just got fired from his Longshoreman gig because he didn’t show up, or answer calls for work. Mostly because he was high. He’s not a bad guy, really, but he comes from a place where no one expects anything, and he didn’t expect anything from himself. He’s a man-child, and Michael’s tired of floating him along. Adrift, Ray can’t deal, but his close friendship with David–a teacher in Michael’s school who’s become a confidant–gives him some hope. See, David’s a sweet guy, small, and twinkish, and out and friendly. David has an idea: they should live together.

Ray’s not opposed. He’s had bicurious feelings for a while, and he likes how David looks at him, how David cares for him. Ray’s comforted by David’s enthusiasm, and his nearness–they often cuddle, even if it’s all platonic. But, that’s not all either man really wants it to be. David has had a not-so-secret crush on Ray from the start, and their moving in together brings all of this to a boil. Still, it’s not easy. Because David’s fell for straight boys before, and gotten burned. What if he loses his heart to Ray, who decides he’s done experimenting after a few go-arounds? David has an on-again-off-again thing with Caleb, a rich white slightly-older man, but it’s not fitting him at all. While they look great on paper, there’s no chemistry, and Caleb’s sexual appetite isn’t in the same hemisphere as David’s. Caleb’s moving on David, and being kinda wrong to Ray–in his own house no less, but what David and Ray had started is too tenuous for either of them to really commit to. It’s a real rush to see the levels of their jealousy, as each tries to figure out what to do, and whom to do it with.

Add to this mess Ray’s insecurity. He’s an uneducated, barely-scratching-by Puerto Rican. He did find a job, but he hates it, and doesn’t know how to move into a career. David’s this shiny teacher with a good degree and loads of potential. His wealthy boyfriend is always sniffing around, and Ray’s sure David will move on when he’s done slumming. Ray’s brother and Nunzio stick their noses in, pretty much warning Ray not to get involved with David–they have their own complicated history which involves a drunken one-nighter and awkward work history.

There’s a lot of confusion, and hurt feelings as these two knock around trying to make it happen. I had read FIRST AND FIRST already, so I already knew how things were bad between David and Caleb, and why they really weren’t a good fit for each other. Life for Ray and David is nothing but complicated. Ray is surly and a serious introvert, he struggles with authority, after having an abusive drunk for an absentee father. This is a big clash from David, who’s very outgoing, a little snarky, but a fixer. Ray struggles with David discussing their personal life with his friends, and really doesn’t like to examine himself, or deal with David’s examination, either. David’s in absolute fear that Ray will never come out, as a bisexual even, and David will remain a dirty, closeted secret–mostly because Ray’s brother lives two lives, keeping his gay relationship from his entire extended family. It’s a future that David can’t envision, no matter how off-the-charts emotionally and sexually satisfying it is to finally be with Ray.

The end comes with some hard truths, as Ray would say. It’s time to grow up, and own himself–and he does this even before the big blow-out with Caleb. I loved how Ray fixed his head, and followed his heart, and how David made better choices and stopped fretting. He’s a bit of a mess, and that’s still true in their next book, but he’s an acceptable mess. The kind of neurotic that can be endearing, and is really born from standing up for himself, and his right to be loved honestly. There’s a Happy For Now ending, I think, but it’s certainly upbeat and honest. All the books I’ve read from this author have that quasi-HEA where the reader knows: these guys are all going to make it, even without the rainbows and rose bouquets. They’re sturdy and dependable, and honest, even a dope-smoking man-child. He gets it right in the end, and I really enjoyed watching that happen. I’ve already finished reading INTERBOROUGH, their next book, so expect a review from me in the coming week.

Interested? You can find SUNSET PARK on Goodreads, Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and AllRomance.

About the Author:
Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into an unlikely romance author.

Santino writes queer romance that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.

You can find Santino online on his website, Facebook, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Lessons in Love and Art: THE TUTOR–Review, interview and Giveaway!

tourbutton_thetutorHi there! Today I’m sharing a review, giveaway and special insights from KD Grace on her newest erotic contemporary romance. THE TUTOR is a different kind of story, and weaves a bit of sensual magic for the reader, as well as the characters.

thetutor_coverAbout the book:
Struggling writer, Kelly Blake, has a secret life as a sex tutor. Celebrated sculptor and recluse, Alexander ‘Lex’ Valentine, can’t stand to be touched. When he seeks out Kelly’s advice incognito, the results are too hot to handle. When Kelly terminates their sessions due to what she considers her unprofessional behavior, Lex takes a huge risk, revealing his identity to her at a gala exhibition, his first ever public appearance. When Kelly helps the severely haphephobic Lex escape the grope of reporters and paparazzi, rumors fly that the two are engaged, rumors encouraged by well-meaning friends and colleagues.

The press feeding frenzy forces Kelly into hiding at Lex’s mansion where he convinces her to be his private tutor just until the press loses interest, and she can go back home. They discover quickly that touch is not essential for sizzling, pulse-pounding intimacy. But intimacy must survive the secrets uncovered as their sessions become more and more personal.

Some fab thoughts from Author K D Grace…

Thanks so much for hosting me on The Tutor blog tour and giveaway, V! It’s a pleasure to be back at your lovely blog again and celebrate the release of The Tutor with your fabulous readers!

In so many ways The Tutor is all about making substitutions. We all know what it feels like when we can’t get exactly what we want, so we make do with something less than. We know it’s only a stop-gap but we do what we have to. Still, let’s face it, celery and carrot sticks will never satisfy the longing for chocolate, and an hour sweating it out in the gym, or a cold shower will never scratch the itch for good raunchy and rowdy sex.

In Alexander ‘Lex’ Valentine’s situation, though, a substitute will just have to do. Lex is a renowned sculptor, who leads a reclusive life. His work is praised for its sensuality, for his ability to breathe life into marble. What the world doesn’t know about Lex Valentine is that the man is severely haphephobic – has been ever since the car crash that killed his mother and nearly took his life as a young boy. The truth is, no one even knows who Alexander Valentine really is. They know him only from his exquisite work. Lex remembers little of the accident other than the snippets from the nightmares that visit him regularly, but since the crash, Lex has been unable to touch another human being and unable to tolerate being touched. Both cause severe physical reactions. This means he’s lived the better part of his life without human touch. Thus the substitution. Lex infuses the power of touch, the touch he cannot experience himself, into his sculptures. His work is his vicarious life, sensual and expressive in ways his real life can’t be.

Writing The Tutor made me think a lot about the substitutions all writers make when we write a story. The tale we tell is always a life lived vicariously. Though it’s not an effort to experience human touch which, fortunately, we don’t lack, it’s very much an effort to feel, to experience, to involve ourselves in what we’ve not experienced – what we may not even want to experience in real life. Still, to write about it, to bring it close enough to us that if fills our imagination and makes our heart race and our palms sweat, is to experience vicariously something we would never otherwise know.

Lex has come to view his art this way. He has no reason to think he’ll ever have a normal life and, at least, he has something. But like many creative people, Lex has a powerful sex drive – one he can do nothing about. When his best friend, and PA, Dillon, suggests he talk to a sex tutor, Kelly Blake enters his life. The spark between them is immediate, but so is the obstacle course of his haphephobia. For Lex and Kelly the attraction between them and the journey to intimacy is a dance of substitution – very creative substitution, substitution that just might lead to the real thing. Here’s a little excerpt.

When physical touch is impossible, intimacy may become a powerful work of art or a devastating nightmare—but, above all, it’s an act of trust.

And how about a taste of this intriguing story?

Art and Sex:

She nabbed a cookie and came to stand behind him while he drew, but when his efforts on the curve of her cheek slowed and then stopped, she stepped back. “I’m sorry, am I making you uncomfortable?” she managed around a mouthful of cookie.

He shook his head. “It’s not that. It’s just that, well as lovely as you looked, in that dress tonight, stunning actually, it wasn’t the real you. It was all show for the event and for this nebulous Alexander Valentine you were expecting to meet.” He waved the piece of charcoal in the air dismissively. “Black tie affairs are no less masked ball just because you can see peoples’ faces.”

“True,” she said, plopping down in the chair. “My feet may never forgive me for those damn shoes.”

“You’re real now.” He chuckled softly and looked down at the charcoal gripped delicately in his fingers. “Everyone’s a bit more real in the darkest hours of the night. And a lot more vulnerable.” He shuddered.

“Nightmares, you mean?”

He nodded, but then made a dismissive grunt. “I don’t sleep much.”

“Dreams about what happened at the gallery?” She asked, slumping in the chair so that her feet hung over one arm and her shoulder rested low on the other.

“Oh no,” He offered a flirty smile that surprised her. “If I’d been dreaming about that, the dreams would have been far from nightmares.”

She felt his words like a caress, and a tingle ran down her body as though her skin were bathed in the expensive Champagne from the gallery’s party. “Then I’m sorry that you weren’t dreaming about the gallery.”

“Me too,” he said, and then he flipped the sketchpad to a blank page. “Is it all right if I sketch you? Like you are now, I mean.”

She nodded to the collection of female nudes tacked to a corkboard along one wall. “As long as I don’t have to take my clothes off.”

This time his smile was positively wicked. “If you take off your clothes, woman, I won’t be able to concentrate on sketching at all, and I’m not really in the mood to discuss my self abuse problems right at the moment.”

She laughed and shook her hair back over her shoulders. “Self abuse, oh pa-lease.” She shifted again to get more comfortable and the hoodie slipped down off her shoulder leaving her neck and clavicle exposed along with the swell of one braless breast.

“Leave it,” he said, when she started to zip the offending garment a little higher. “I want to sketch your erogenous zones.” And fuck if it didn’t feel like he had just touched her there along the nape of her neck and traced a calloused finger over the her collar bone and down onto the top of her breast.” He chuckled knowingly at the trail of raising goose flesh along the path she had just imagined his hand following. “Did you feel that? My sketching you there?”

“You have eyes,” came her breathless reply. Then she caught a little breath and shivered. “Jesus, how do you do that?”

“There’s a connection between what I see and what I sketch. It’s a brain thing. That’s why people who are paralyzed from the neck down can still draw even without the use of their hands. But I think there’s a much bigger connection than simply exceptional hand-eye coordination. I think it’s the ability to translate into physical form what we perceive and how it affects us. I’ve read your books, Kelly. You do the same thing, only your vision is all internal, but it’s no less magic when you elicit the feeling you want in your reader.”

She shivered again and her nipples hardened. “I’ve never made a reader feel this.”

“Oh, I imagine you have,” he said. The look on his face was something beyond concentration, something very much like Kelly had seen in the eyes of lovers in good romantic films when they made love.

“It’s a substitute for touch,” she managed in a breathless gasp.

“Of course it’s a substitute for touch,” he said. “It’s the connection to the flesh that I’m no longer capable of having in the real world. It’s tactile voyeurism. It’s everything I can’t experience, but dream about.” He huffed out a little breath. “When I’m not having nightmares, that is.”

“Jesus, That’s … that’s uncanny.” She was suddenly struggling not to squirm in the chair. “Do you do this with all your models?”

“God no! Of course not. I don’t know them. They don’t know me. I … ” He stopped sketching for a second and looked around the room as though searching for the right words, and Kelly felt the disconnect as surely as if he’d been caressing her breast and then stopped. “I have no intimacy with them. When I sketch models for a given commission for which I have a deadline, I sketch them … I don’t know … once removed. It’s not personal. It’s a job. They do theirs, and I do mine, and it’s as if we’re all working with a barrier between us. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t feel that with you?” He began to sketch again and she leaned back and closed her eyes as the Champagne bubble feeling returned in force. She might have moaned. Just a little. And he might have done the same in return.

“You know what you said about self-abuse,” she finally managed, struggling to breathe.

He only grunted in reply, his hand moving at speed over the sketchpad, which he didn’t look at. His eyes remained locked on her.

“Well, what happened at the apartment when we were together …”

“There’s a connection, Kelly. That’s all I know. I know you aren’t the kind to take advantage. I knew that from what Dillon’s nephew said. You gave me the first true intimacy I’ve had since the accident. Does that sound like taking advantage to you?” He laid the charcoal down on the easel and began to stroke the sketch with his ring finger, blending and shading and she practically came out of the chair, the response of his touch was so strong. Her nearness to orgasm was startling and a little bit frightening.

“Are you fucking feeling this?” she gasped. “How can this be? How can I feel what you’re doing on that sketchpad?”

“Of course I’m feeling it. How could I look at you, at your response and not?”

“Jesus, Lex. Jesus!” His eyes were on her but his finger still stroked the paper on the easel. “If you don’t stop.”

“Do you want me to stop?” His voice cracked with the last word. From where she sat, she couldn’t tell if he had a hard-on, and though his voice was as tight and breathless as her own, he clearly wasn’t touching himself. One hand gripped the edge of the sketch pad and the other made strokes and circles on the paper, blending, shading, evening out the tone. She knew that, of course she knew that, so why the hell did it feel like what he was doing to a simple charcoal drawing, he was doing to her body?

“Of course I don’t want you to stop,” she hissed, shifting against the phantom sensation of what she imagined his fingers were doing to the sketch of her. “Oh … Oh God! I definitely don’t want you to stop!”

The room dissolved in the sound of heavy breathing and moans and grunts –some hers, some his, all blended together. In the beginning, she might have been posing on the chair, but the situation had devolved to the point that she could not have held still if her life depended on it, and there was no other word for what she was now doing in the chair but writhing.

From behind the easel, Lex stood and gave the stool a hard shove, knocking it over with loud kathunk on the floor that resulted in a hissed curse. He mantled the sketch of her like a hawk over its prey. When she could focus through the growing fog of arousal, she saw that he once again sketched with the charcoal, his hand moving with a motion not unlike how she would want him to stroke her right now, with her so close. How she had fantasized about him stroking her since that night in the apartment, even though she tried not to. And she couldn’t keep from wondering if he were stroking the drawing there, right where she needed it. His other hand still rendered and smoothed and shaded and moved across her body, until the only thought she could hold in her head was the thought of his hands drawing her, drawing her, drawing her ever closer until she could stand it no longer, and then she arched her back. With a startled cry, she dragged a breath into her lungs as though it were her last. She tumbled out of the chair hitting the floor hard with her ass, bruising an elbow and thumping her head on the stone tiles as she convulsed and shivered, and the world dissolved into pinpoints of light behind her tightly clenched eyes.

She heard the deep-chested groan followed by a hard thump from behind the easel and, when she opened her eyes again, he was on his knees beneath it, one hand cupped to the front of his shorts, the other braced against the floor as though he feared gravity would disappear and it would toss him into the void. His eyes were wide, darkened with lust and with, quite likely, the same look of shock mirrored in her own. His bare chest heaved and shuddered over and over again. Kelly couldn’t stop watching him, couldn’t take her eyes of the quiver of muscle, the sheen of perspiration, the clench of charcoal dusted fists, and for an instant, she wished like hell that she could draw him.

My Review:
Lex Valentine is a reclusive sculptor, renown for his beautiful marble renderings, even if no one has seen him. Romance author and personal sex tutor, Kelly Blake, is a big fan of Mr. Valentine, but had no idea that she’s tutoring him directly–because he uses a pseudonym. See, Lex is haphephobic, a person who cannot bear to be touched, or touch others. This is the result of a horrific car wreck which killed his mother and left him scarred physically as well as emotionally as a young child.

Lex is referred to Kelly by a mutual friend. She’s a sweet lady, who only wants to help her clients find their way to better sex, but she’s a “hands off” instructor, and is blindsided by her attraction to Lex, even before she learns his true identity. She breaks off their lessons, and Lex can’t abide. He hasn’t had any intimacy with anyone, and their two sessions were breakthroughs, in his mind. He concocts a scheme to meet Kelly in person–at one of his gallery events. It means going public, and possibly being accosted by his fans–something akin to volunteering to be boiled in oil for a haphephobic. Kelly recognizes his distress and rescues him, making a powerful enemy in the process.

It’s fun and sweet that Kelly’s bestie and Lex’s bestie con everyone into believing Lex and Kelly are engaged to be married. While the hubbub dies down, Kelly hides out at Lex’s secluded mountain estate. There she learns all about his tragic history, and builds a secure rapport with Lex. It’s so sweet, and with a few kinky turns. He still can’t touch her, at first, but the connection they develop certainly fosters an intimacy that’s new for both Kelly and Lex. The more time they spend together, the more they are able to connect, until Lex has his first voluntary physical contact with another person in twenty-five years.

I really felt in tune with Lex’s POV, and his serious problems with intimacy. The excitement he feels with Kelly–as if he’s experiencing a whole new life–is so poignant and tender. They take the tiniest steps, and still move forward. The book has a lot of viewpoints, mostly Kelly and Lex, but also their friends and a big nemesis. There is a catty reporter who’s bent on ruining the fledgling couple, if she can. I liked how this got resolved, and how Lex really grew into his own skin, and moved past such trying emotional scars.

Its a bit of a slow burn, and there’s a lot of “alternate” type sexytimes. They do get it on, in the end, and talk about sweet. It’s a whole different type of erotic romance, and I really dug the flipped script. I’ve not read a book with a character that’s has such a severe phobia to physical contact before, so getting inside this person’s brain was really interesting. And, his joy at having even somewhat normal contact is really a rush. Kelly is a great gal–always conscientious of Lex’s needs, and considerately managing his fears. Plus, she’s totally falling for this sweet, damaged man. I really liked the story, and definitely recommend it for readers who are willing to experience and “out there” type of romance.

Interested? You can find THE TUTOR on Goodreads, Totally Bound Publishing, Amazon (US and UK), Barnes & Noble, iBooks (US and UK), Google Books, and Kobo.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $30 (or £20 if you’re in the UK) Amazon GC. Catch other stops on the tour to increase your odds of winning.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About Author KD Grace/Grace Marshall:
Voted ETO Best Erotic Author of 2014, and a proud member of The Brit Babes, K D Grace believes Freud was right. In the end, it really IS all about sex, well sex and love. And nobody’s happier about that than she is, otherwise, what would she write about?

When she’s not writing, K D is veg gardening. When she’s not gardening, she’s walking. She walks her stories, and she’s serious about it. She and her husband have walked Coast to Coast across England, along with several other long-distance routes. For her, inspiration is directly proportionate to how quickly she wears out a pair of walking boots. She also enjoys martial arts, reading, watching the birds and anything that gets her outdoors.

KD has erotica published with Totally Bound, SourceBooks, Xcite Books, Harper Collins Mischief Books, Mammoth, Cleis Press, Black Lace, Sweetmeats Press and others.

K D’s critically acclaimed erotic romance novels include, The Initiation of Ms Holly, Fulfilling the Contract, To Rome with Lust, and The Pet Shop. Her paranormal erotic novel, Body Temperature and Rising, the first book of her Lakeland Witches trilogy, was listed as honorable mention on Violet Blue’s Top 12 Sex Books for 2011. Books two and three, Riding the Ether, and Elemental Fire, are now also available.

K D Grace also writes hot romance as Grace Marshall. An Executive Decision, Identity Crisis, The Exhibition, Interviewing Wade are all available.

Catch up with K. D. on her website, Brit Babes page, Facebook, and twitter.

Dangerous Love: GIRL ON THE BRINK–Review and Giveaway!

girl-on-the-brink-tour-bannerHi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary YA romance with a dark storyline from . GIRL ON THE BRINK deals honestly with domestic abuse for a teen girl experiencing her first relationship.

Catch my review and enter below to win a $10 GC in the giveaway!

girl-brinkAbout the book:
The summer before senior year, 17-year-old Chloe starts an internship as a reporter at a local newspaper. While on assignment, she meets Kieran, a quirky aspiring actor. Chloe becomes smitten with Kieran’s charisma and his ability to soothe her soul, torn over her parents’ impending divorce. But as their bond deepens, Kieran becomes smothering and flies into terrifying rages. He confides in Chloe that he suffered a traumatic childhood, and Chloe is moved to help him. If only he could be healed, she thinks, their relationship would be perfect.

But her efforts backfire and Kieran becomes violent. Chloe breaks up with him, but Kieran pursues her relentlessly to make up. Chloe must make the heartrending choice between saving herself or saving Kieran, until Kieran’s mission of remorse turns into a quest for revenge.

Advance Praise:
“An engrossing tale of a dangerous teen romance.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Girl on the Brink is a must have for every high school and public library.” – Isabelle Kane, Wisconsin high school librarian

ABOUT TEEN DATING VIOLENCE
Abusive relationships are widespread, cutting across socioeconomic, racial and ethnic, religious and gender preference lines. One in three high school girls experience dating violence, while more than half of college-aged women reported experiencing controlling behavior in a relationship. Eighty-nine percent of female college students said they were unable to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship, and a third of teens involved in intimate partner violence ever told anyone about it.

For more information, please head to Break The Cycle.

My Review:
Soon-to-be high school senior Chloe is a girl who’s world is in flux. Her father recently moved out of their New Jersey home to live with his girlfriend in Manhattan. Her mother’s depressed, alternately taking anti-anxiety meds or alcohol to cope with her sudden heartbreak. Chloe’s brother is away at summer camp, as is her best friend. It’s a virtually empty home, and it’s unsettling. Even if her mom’s there, she’s withdrawn or asleep.

Chloe has an internship at her town’s weekly newspaper, and she meets Kieran while out doing an interview for the paper. He’s two years older and seems engaging and charming. He sympathizes about her family issues, confessing his own youthful trauma, and they bond quickly. Also, Kieran isn’t like other boys who seem to only want sex. He woos her with dates and conversation, shares his grand dreams to become an actor and makes Chloe feel wanted and loved at a time where she’s feeling lonely and abandoned by family.

Soon, however, Chloe begins to notice that Kieran is constantly shielding her from her friends, and he’s cajoling her into doing what he wants all the time. He’s attentive in a way that’s becoming problematic–stalking her physically or via phone calls at work. Whenever Chloe attempts to assert herself, or her independence he’s right there, convincing her how much he loves her, and how they really fit together emotionally. They are physical with each other, and Chloe believes Kieran’s “truth,” but it gets difficult to manage his mood swings. He’s erratic, and jealous, and gets angry quickly, followed by dramatic apologies and presents.

Each time Chloe recognizes that Kieran’s love for her is obsessive, he convinces her to make more and more sacrifices for his wishes. She has so few ties at this point, that his sabotage easily severs her flailing friendships. All along there’s been small instances of physical abuse, beginning with intimidation and escalating into pushes, shoves and one harrowing weekend where Kieran essentially keeps Chloe prisoner in her own home.

It’s then that Chloe finally reaches out. Her mother’s able to be responsive, and act as an advocate, though the problems haven’t ended. I liked the story, and felt like it was an important one to tell. Also, it’s written in an accessible way, seeing how slowly domestic violence can creep into a relationship. Chloe is a good student, and good kid. Her family is middle class, and her friends are normal. She’s an Everyday gal, who can’t comprehend the danger she’s in until she’s literally running for help.

Part and parcel with Chloe’s situation is her embarrassment that she could be dating an abuser. She often wonders how she could have been foolish enough to fall for Kieran, but she also misses the way he made her feel cherished and loved. He’s two people in her mind: Sweet Kieran and Mean Kieran, which is a common experience for abuse victims. There’s a lot of honest self-reflection in the story, and guides the reader to understand the underpinning signs of abuse, and emotional manipulation. Chloe’s lucky that she was able to get help when she did, but she makes further (common) mistakes in how she shuts Kieran down. People wonder why women don’t report abuse, or why they allow their abusers to return–some of this complicated cycle is very plainly demonstrated in the book, and that’s a powerful object lesson for younger readers, in particular.

Interested? You can find GIRL ON THE BRINK on Goodreads, Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo.

***GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

christinahoagauthorheadshotAbout the Author
Christina Hoag is the author of Girl on the Brink, a romantic thriller for young adults (Fire and Ice YA/Melange Books, August 2016) and Skin of Tattoos, a literary thriller set in L.A.’s gang underworld (Martin Brown Publishing, September 2016). She is a former reporter for the Associated Press and Miami Herald and worked as a correspondent in Latin America writing for major media outlets including Time, Business Week, Financial Times, the Houston Chronicle and The New York Times. She is the co-author of Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, a groundbreaking book on gang intervention (Turner Publishing, 2014). She resides in Los Angeles.

Catch up with Christina on her website, Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook.

ef137-yabounktourbutton

Lives Destroyed by a ROGUE SOLDIER-A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary military M/M romantic suspense novel from Jamie Lynn Miller. ROGUE SOLDIER is the second book in her series, and is probably best enjoyed if you’ve already read BROKEN SOLDIER, but it’s not a requirement.

rogue-cover-final-6x9About the book:
Shadow Unit may have overturned the illegal arms cartel in Kuala Lumpur, but the harrowing undercover op left emotional scars on Sergeants Shawn Weller and Connor Finley. Slowly, patiently, they piece their partnership back together, closer now than ever before.

But the arrival of Julian Montgomery, Shawn’s former CIA handler and lover, threatens to tear them apart. Julian knows all of Shawn’s secrets as well as the past Shawn has kept hidden from Connor. Now the self-serving Julian wants Shawn back—with the CIA and with him. No one will get in his way. Including Connor.

When the joint Shadow Unit/CIA mission to stop the supplier of a deadly biological weapon goes sideways, Connor is captured, tortured, and used as a human test subject. It’s a race against time to save his life. But who can Shawn trust?

And who has gone rogue?

My Review:
Connor and Shawn are a committed couple who are also operatives in Shadow Unit, a covert ops coalition that includes former SEALs, CIA and MI5 agents and other paramilitary professionals. In this book, Connor and Shawn have healed from their last mission–one where Shawn was continually drugged and forced into sexual contact with an arms dealer.

Their newest mission goes a little sideways when an innocent gets in the way of Connor’s kill shot. Add to his horror, their team is immediately shipped out to attempt a capture of a biological weapon developer in Pakistan. That’s not out of the ordinary, but their new contact is not a friend. Julian Montgomery was CIA, a “wetwork” specialist who relished killing his targets. Shawn didn’t share the same bloodlust, and it was part of why he left the CIA, and Julian, behind four years ago–despite he and Julian becoming lovers.

Julian hasn’t forgotten his connection with Shawn, and he makes it clear he’d like to pick up where they’d left off. Connor isn’t willing to let Julian wander right into his relationship, however. And, Shawn’s deeply unsettled about any mission that Julian is managing. Shawn’s digging doesn’t reveal any issues, though, and he’s beginning to doubt his doubts…until their operation goes really really bad.

Is it coincidence, or a convenient? I liked this book better than BROKEN SOLDIER, because I really struggled with the drug aspect in that book. It was outside my comfort zone. It gave a darker edge to the book, because it intimated dubious consent. In this book, the lines are clearly drawn. There are VERY dark moments, and what was supposed to be a clean job gets so FUBAR that both Connor and Shawn are clinging to life. The likelihood either may die, or live but be permanently disabled, is extremely high. I don’t want to spill the details, but the suspense is really well managed, and the end arrives with sweet plausibility. There’s enough confusion regarding Connor’s injuries, in particular, that his recovery is just the right side of miraculous–not edging into unreal, but you’ll understand how it could have gone that way. I was glad for the author’s deftness, because I kinda hate when I read books where it’s all brushed over and super implausible but happens anyway because reasons. That said, the love between Connor and Shawn is completely unshakable in this book, and that was really pleasant to experience. These guys no how to get it on, and on…

The book ends with a reasonable resolution, and a promise for more stories. To that I’ll say: I’m in!

Interested? You can find ROGUE SOLDIER on Goodreads, Amazon (US and Amazon UK) Barnes & Noble, KOBO, and AllRomance.

You can also check out my review for BROKEN SOLDIER here and see if it’s in your reading wheelhouse.

About the Author:
Jamie Lynn Miller has been writing male/male fanfiction stories for nearly fifteen years and decided to take the plunge and go pro in 2008. She’s a romantic at heart, and her stories reflect the desire we all have to find “the one”, persevering through trials and heartache for that happy ending.

Jamie has a degree in Fine Arts and has spent the last thirteen years working as a Graphic Designer. She was born in Chicago and still lives there today, with her husband and their furry, four-footed “children”.

Besides writing, Jamie enjoys traveling, softball, reading, science fiction, hanging out with friends, and just being creative. She is eternally thankful for all of the love and support her husband has given her over the years with her writing and other endeavors.

Catch up with Jamie online on her website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!
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Now Available: ROYALLY SCREWED!

rs-fb-now-ad-2Hi there! Just getting out the word on a new contemporary romance from bestselling author Emma Chase. I absolutely loved TANGLED, and ROYALLY SCREWED sounds like the great start to a sexy-funny series.

royally-screwed-for-webAbout the book:
Emma Chase, New York Times bestselling author of the Tangled Series & Legal Briefs Series, returns with the first of three sizzling standalone books about a family of racy, irresistible Royals.
Nicholas Arthur Frederick Edward Pembrook, Crowned Prince of Wessco, aka “His Royal Hotness”, is wickedly charming, devastatingly handsome, and unabashedly arrogant—hard not to be when people are constantly bowing down to you.

Then, one snowy night in Manhattan, the prince meets a dark haired beauty who doesn’t bow down. Instead, she throws a pie in his face. Nicholas wants to find out if she tastes as good as her pie, and this heir apparent is used to getting what he wants.

Dating a prince isn’t what waitress Olivia Hammond ever imagined it would be.

There’s a disapproving queen, a wildly inappropriate spare heir, relentless paparazzi, and brutal public scrutiny. While they’ve traded in horse drawn carriages for Rolls Royces and haven’t chopped anyone’s head off lately—the royals are far from accepting of this commoner.

But to Olivia—Nicholas is worth it.

Nicholas grew up with the whole world watching, and now Marriage Watch is in full force. In the end, Nicholas has to decide who he is, but more importantly, who he wants to be: a King… or the man who gets to love Olivia forever.

How about a little taste?

“I have a plan.”

We’re in the library of the suite. Nicholas is behind the desk, his hair falling still damp over his forehead from a recent shower, while James and Tommy stand near the windows.

“Take off your clothes,” I say, dropping a stuffed backpack at my feet.

He stands, giving me a curious, dimple-flashing smile that makes my stomach tingle.

“I like this plan.”

He pulls his shirt over his head—and at the sight of that gorgeous chest and ripped abs, I have to close my mouth to stop the flow of drool.

“Should I send the lads to their room?” he asks.

I toss him a Beastie Boys T-shirt and ripped jeans from the backpack. “They can stay—I’ll get to them in a second.”

Nicholas puts on the outfit, his disguise for the day. I hold up a thick gold chain with a dangling cross, and he dips his head so I can loop it over his neck. Then I squirt gel into my hand and reach up on tiptoes to rub it through his hair—mussing it at the top and slicking the sides.

Perfect.

“Do you know how to drive a motorcycle?”

“Yes.”

“Excellent.” I pull a helmet with a full, tinted face shield out of the backpack and hold it up. “Marty’s bike is downstairs. He said to tell you: break it, you bought…a Ducati.”

Logan steps into the room from where he was stationed just outside the door, lifting his hand, like a traffic cop. “Hold on, now—”

Nicholas takes the helmet. “It’ll be fine, Logan.”

“And,” I say cautiously, turning to the three big, strong, probably-have-a-license-to-kill boys. “I want Nicholas and me to go on this outing alone. You guys stay here.”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph.” Tommy says.

James makes the sign of the cross.

Logan takes another route. “No fuckin’ way. Not possible.”

But the look on Nicholas’s face says it’s definitely possible.

“No,” Logan insists again, his voice straining with a faint hint of desperation.

“I have an itinerary.” I take the sealed envelope out of the backpack and hand it to Logan. “I wrote everything down for you, just in case—exactly where we’ll be, every minute.” When he starts to tear it open I put my hand on his. “You can’t open it until after we’re gone—it’ll ruin the surprise. But I promise it will be all right. I swear on my life.”

My eyes drift from Logan to Nicholas. “Trust me.”

And I want him to—so much. I want to do this for him, give him something he hasn’t had. Something he’ll remember always: freedom.

Nicholas looks at the helmet, then at Logan. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Ah…you could get assassinated and the three of us will hang for treason.”

“Don’t be silly,” Nicholas scoffs. “We haven’t hung anyone in years.” He smacks Logan’s back. “It’d be the firing squad.”

This one sure sounds yummy!

Swoon!!
Interested? You can find ROYALLY SCREWED on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Audible, and IndieBound.

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About the Author:
Emma Chase is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the hot and hilarious Tangled series and The Legal Briefs series. Emma lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children and two naughty (but really cute) dogs. She has a long-standing love/hate relationship with caffeine.

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

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!
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The Hunt Begins–VESPERS-A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a fantastic paranormal M/M romance from Irene Preston and Liv Rancourt. VESPERS features a gay vampire monk charged with killing demons and the new blood source that heats his desire.

vespersAbout the book:
Thaddeus Dupont has had over eighty years to forget…
The vampire spends his nights chanting the Liturgy of the Hours and ruthlessly disciplines those unnatural urges he’s vowed never again to indulge. He is at the command of the White Monks, who summon him at will to destroy demons. In return, the monks provide for his sustenance and promise the return of his immortal soul.

Sarasija Mishra’s most compelling job qualification might be his type O blood…
The 22-year-old college grad just moved across the country to work for some recluse he can’t even find on the internet. Sounds sketchy, but the salary is awesome and he can’t afford to be picky. On arrival he discovers a few details his contract neglected to mention, like the alligator-infested swamp, the demon attacks, and the nature of his employer’s “special diet”. A smart guy would leave, but after one look into Dupont’s mesmerizing eyes, Sarasija can’t seem to walk away. Too bad his boss expected “Sara” to be a girl.

Falling in love is hard at any age…
The vampire can’t fight his hungers forever, especially since Sara’s brought him light, laughter and a very masculine heat. After yielding to temptation, Thaddeus must make a choice. Killing demons may save his soul, but keeping the faith will cost him his heart.

My Review:
Sarasija Mishra has no idea what he’s gotten himself into when he blindly accepts a job offer that moves him from Washington to New Orleans. He’s never met the man he’ll be an assistant to, but the pay is substantial and the contract is for a single year. He wants to help pay some of his mother’s bills now that his father recently passed–and he feels a bit inadequate compared with his elder siblings who all went to professional schools, while he screwed around and got a “go nowhere” degree.

Sara’s not so pleased when it turns out his employer lives in a rundown bayou house in the midst of the swamp. And his employer, Mr. Thaddeus Dupont doesn’t want him there. All Sara can think is it’s because Mr. Dupont doesn’t want a gay man living with him, but he soon realizes that Mr. Dupont is a man unlike any he’s met before.

I mean, really, has anyone ever heard of a gay vampire monk?

This book seems like it would be lighthearted, or at least kooky-spooky, but it’s really an awesome paranormal thriller/romance. Thad has devoted his last 85 years to being an agent of death for demons the Catholic church can’t eradicate. He works within a shadowy organization, the White Monks, who kill demons, and he’s their back-up plan when it gets ugly. Thad does this, and maintains his celibacy, in order to redeem his soul. A devout Catholic, Thad wants the chance at an Afterlife, but being so close to Sara is an excruciating temptation. Sara is meant to be his food source. Thad can survive on small droughts of blood, but he only wants female vessels because they don’t arouse him. Plus, Thad’s compulsion powers don’t seem to work very well on Sara. Sara’s invading Thad’s mind, too, which is deeply unsettling.

Thad hasn’t seen so much demon activity…ever, and the called ones are particularly interested in Thad. Why? Who’s calling them, and how does this guy know so much about Thad’s ancient history? The demons strike close to Thad’s core, kidnapping his daytime agent, Nohea, and attacking Sara. Meanwhile, the ghost of Thad’s only lover, Leo, has come a-calling and the message is not good: the person controlling the demon activity wants Thad to turn him into a vampire.

The interplay between Sara and Thad is really a yummy build up of emotional and sexual tension. Sara isn’t best-pleased to learn he signed up to be a year-long feast for Thad, yet he’s paradoxically miffed when Thad won’t drink from him. Is it because he’s a dude? Is it the gay thing? Because Sara finds Thad to be very attractive, and his esteem grows by leaps and bound when he sees Thad in action, fighting and destroying the demons. Soon, he feels honored, not obliged, to offer himself for Thad’s use–and that doesn’t just mean as a blood snack. Thad’s inner reserve is great, but he cannot resist beautiful, sultry Sara for too long. He also can’t help feeling guilty afterward.

I loved the intertwining of religion here, because Sara is a nominal Hindu. He didn’t really practice the religion, but he knows some of the ancient tales, and begins a little bit of practice as a center for his own concept of soul–following Thad’s example. It was cool how this came to be important at the climax, and I really enjoyed the inter-racial and interfaith aspects of the book.

It’s a little different take on the vampire mythos, but a nice change for the paranormal fan. There’s more action than romance, but the tension is great, the plot quickly-paced and the hope that Thad and Sara can make something beautiful come from their odd-couple connection is also high. There are also elements of humor that are totally fun. Sara’s a dead-pan kinda guy, and Thad hasn’t had so much leavity in his life in a long, long time. I really loved how determined Thad was to keep human fatalities to a minimum, and how reverent he felt about Sara. He’s a good man who got caught in a bad way. What was also sweet was the position the White Monks took to the advent of Sara, and Thad breaking his celibacy vow. The story ends, but the series has just begun. Very excited to follow along!

Interested? You can find VESPERS on Goodreads and Amazon. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Authors:

Irene Preston has to write romances, after all she is living one. As a starving college student, she met her dream man who whisked her away on a romantic honeymoon across Europe. Today they live in the beautiful hill country outside of Austin, Texas where Dream Man is still working hard to make sure she never has to take off her rose-colored glasses.

You can find Irene on her website and twitter.

About Liv Rancourt…

I write romance: m/f, m/m, and v/h, where the h is for human and the v is for vampire…or sometimes demon. I write funny. I don’t write angst. When I’m not writing I take care of tiny premature babies or teenagers, depending on whether I’m at home or at work. My husband is a soul of patience, my dog is the cutest thing evah(!), and we’re up to three ferrets.

I can be found on-line at all hours of the day and night at my website & blog Liv Rancourt, on Facebook, or on Twitter. Come find me. We’ll have fun!

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Out today! THE ILLUSORY PROPHET–A Review

Hi there! I’m so excited to share a review for a brand new dystopian YA adventure/romance from Susan Kaye Quinn. THE ILLUSORY PROPHET is the third book in her Singularity series, and should be read in order. Having loved THE LEGACY HUMAN and THE DUALITY BRIDGE, I couldn’t wait to read this one.

illusory-prophetAbout the book:
What if you could paint with reality? Elijah Brighton can bring a girl back from the dead, travel outside his body, and absorb a lifetime of memories from anyone he touches in the fugue state. Everyone seems to think he’s the prophet they’re waiting for… including the girl he’s falling in love with. The truth is, the fugue is bleeding over into reality, bringing his sketches to life and haunting him with visions of a girl in metal armor. She stabs him with her blade and denounces him as any prophet worth the name—and it’s not like he disagrees.

People who change the world generally aren’t losing their minds.

He just wants to hide out in his tent and kiss Kamali, but a vision of his death and an attack on the Human Resistance Movement convince him something bigger is coming. Maybe Augustus—the power-mad ascender he barely defeated. Maybe the Makers, a tinkering cult with their own kind of ascendance. But when his best friend Cyrus disappears, questions of destiny and prophethood will have to wait—because the fugue is always showing a version of the truth, and Eli must discover that truth before his terrifying visions become reality.

My Review:

This is the third book in the Singularity series, and needs to be read in order.

Elijah Brighton is not entirely human. Nor is he an Ascender–one of the millions of minds that are electronically connected since the Singularity several hundred years prior. Earth is not the place we know, it’s far advanced technologically, and humans that live here are kept as legacy populations in Ascender controlled cities, or they escape to join the Resistance, of the Makers or an even lesser-known cult.

Makers abhor all Ascender technology, and are governed by an enhanced human called Miriam. Their goal is to wipe Ascenders off the Earth. The main human Resistance faction is harboring Eli, hoping that he’ll assume his role of prophet, and draw more legacy humans to their cause. The Resistance is willing to share the world with Ascenders, as long as they are allowed to live a free life–not governed or limited by Ascender rule. See, legacy humans are never given more than they need to survive, and never receive any Ascender-enhanced or derived treatments for illness or injury; they are pets. A curiosity for Ascenders to amuse themselves with at this point.

Eli has been having scorched Earth dreams of Miriam for some time. He doesn’t want to be part of a battle, especially doesn’t want people dying on his account, but the war is coming whether he makes himself the prophet, or not. In the previous book, Eli destroyed a new and powerful Mind–one that was illegal to build. Augustus, the powerful Ascender who conceived of the Mind, had his consciousness disrupted as a result, but it’s only a matter of time before he is resurrected in a new bodyform, and will come looking for his revenge.

Eli’s need to stay on the sidelines isn’t cowardice. He knows that many–humans and Ascenders alike–will be killed in the ramp-up to what seems inevitable: the Second Singularity. In fact, it seems if Augustus has his way only his select few will make that leap, and the millions of Ascender in the collective will perish alongside all of humanity.

This book is all about Eli’s rise. He’s a teen boy with untapped power. He recently brought his girlfriend back form the dead, but was that a fluke? He doesn’t want to test this power–doesn’t want to tap that power–until it’s too late to not try. Too many are dying for him, for the human cause, and to not try means to give up and let humanity die.

There are so many difficult ethical and moral questions for young Eli. He has loved ones that he wants to save, but he doesn’t withhold his newly-developed abilities from foes, or enemies. Each move he makes could trigger reprisal, and death, but he builds a coalition that is committed to limiting bloodshed wherever possible. It’s not an easy balance to strike. It helps that he’s able to bridge reality and a realm he calls the fugue. When in the fugue Eli can commune with human souls, and Ascender consciousness. Part of his battle is to demonstrate that Ascenders have souls, a step that might unite some of the factions under Eli’s banner.

The book is rife with conflict, always with Eli at the center of the bull’s eye. He’s under attack in many ways, but he’s also fearless in making choices that will help humanity survive the waves of aggression to come. The pace is unrelenting. Between attacks, negotiating the peace, formulating plans, and forays into the fugue, Eli hardly has the chance to catch a breath, let alone a nap. It is his moment to “ascend” into power, not as a figurehead or a prophet, but as a man with a plan who is unwilling to relent. He’s committed to the preservation of life, and it seems that he’s finally figured out how to get to the souls of the Ascenders.

Ultimately, the book ends in a manner that’s miraculous and astounding and fantastic and makes me eager to get the next installment as soon as possible. Eli has stepped into his own in a way that’s going to blow the lid off the status quo in his world. It’s a good thing, too, because it seems he has a new foe to face who may be even more powerful than Augustus.

Interested? You can find THE ILLUSORY PROPHET on Goodreads and Amazon.

New to the series? The first book, THE LEGACY HUMAN, is currently on sale for $.99. Check out my review and catch the buy links, here

Susan Kaye Quinn is a rocket scientist turned speculative fiction author who now uses her PhD to invent cool stuff in books. She writes young adult science fiction, with side trips into adult future-noir, royal fantasy romance, and middle grade. Her bestselling novels and short stories have been optioned for Virtual Reality, translated into German, and featured in several anthologies. She writes full-time from Chicago, inventing mind powers and dreaming of the Singularity.

Chat with her about our coming robot overlords in her Facebook group.

More about Sue: website | Facebook Page | Twitter | For Writers