Love In Service NO FLAG–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M military romance from Liz Borino. NO FLAG has been re-released and is the first book in the After Everything series. This story follows a gay military couple that weather Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Domestic Discipline, and major trauma after being injured in the act of service.

Drop down to catch an excerpt, my review and enter for a chance to win a $50 GC.

About the book:

Captain Mike Kelley does not ignore his intuition, so when sexy bartender Will Hayes captures his heart, Mike embarks on a mission to win him over to a Domestic Discipline relationship. Will accepts with one caveat: Mike must promise not to renew his army contract.

Mike agrees, until the army invokes the stop-loss military policy to involuntarily extend his commission and send him back overseas, rendering him powerless and threatening everything he and Will have built. Will, left alone to cope with a new café, must rely on the support of old friends who may no longer be trustworthy.

A horrific terrorist attack on Mike’s outpost changes everything, leaving them both at a loss.

Mike awakens in a hospital with a devastating injury and no recollection of the attack. As the only survivor, his memory may be the key to national security. Mike struggles to cope with his injury and Will struggles with his new role in Mike’s life.

For Mike and Will, “No Flag” meant “come home alive.” Will has Mike back rather than a folded flag, but in the aftermath of war, can they rebuild the life they had before?

How about a yummy taste?

Chapter One: The News

July 7, 2012

Bombs exploded on the evening news, one after the other. Body parts flew past the camera. The headline across the bottom of the screen read: “20 Army Intelligence Officers Dead.”

“Early this morning, a bomb exploded in the Army Intelligence building, killing twenty American soldiers from Platoon 518,” the blonde newswoman reported.

Will Kelley squinted as the fuzzy security images played behind the woman’s head, searching through the chaos for reassurance. Nothing. His heart pounded and he tried to swallow but found only dry air in his mouth and throat. The female reporter described the weapons used and structural damage done in vivid detail, which made for sensational television, but failed to answer any questions for the people at home. Victims’ families had to be notified before the media could release their names. So, Blondie would lose her job if she read the list in front of her.

“What the hell are you doing, man? We open in thirty minutes and you’re watching television?” Seth, his roommate, demanded from the doorway of the living room.

“Answered your own question, didn’t you?” Will responded.

“Are you ready?”

“No.” Will did not take his eyes off the screen. “I’ll drive myself.”

“When?”

The report flashed to an increase in allergies in children, so Will switched to another station while typing “Attack on American S2 Building in Afghanistan” into Google. It wouldn’t be that easy though. So, Will tried several more combinations of search terms before finding a video shot by an insurgent involved in the attack. The camera shuddered. Focused on different areas of the chaos. Men ripping clothes off soldiers. Looting. Bodies blown to bits. A man removing computer hard drives. And only one face. On the severed head of Major Evans.

“Will!” Seth jabbed him in the shoulder with a pen. Will forced his eyes away from the computer. “What happened?”

“Mike’s platoon was attacked. Twelve survivors.”

“Shit,” Seth said. “Can you call…?”

Will took a slug from the nearby water bottle. “Who? No one will talk to me. I’m not my husband’s family.”

Seth stared at him for a long moment and said, “I’ll have Casey cover for you.”

Will stood and shook his head. “Why? I can’t do anything here except watch the same videos over and over. May as well see if I can make some money.” He shut his computer and set it on the side table. “Meet you there. I won’t be too late. Promise.” He had to stop himself from scoffing as the meaningless word left his lips.

“Will…” Seth began.

“You wanted me to move, I’m moving! Go. I’ll be there.” He walked toward his bedroom, Seth’s gaze burning into his back. Stopping to throw a glance over his shoulder, he added, “Don’t tell Casey. I can do without her mother-henning me.”

“Will…”

“Please, Seth.”

“Sure.”

“Thanks.” Will climbed the steps and closed his bedroom door. He leaned against the wood cutting him off from the rest of the world. His gaze roamed the four walls decorated with art prints, a whiteboard, and his wedding picture. Will strode over and fingered the golden frame. Behind the glass lay a photograph of Will and Mike in tuxes in the middle of their first dance. Their smiles easily outshone the gold on the frame. Mike had always been handsome with broad, built shoulders and muscular pecs, leading to abs you could grate cheese on.

But none of that stood out to Will, not on their wedding day of the year before. Mike’s blue eyes radiated a strength and hope. Will removed his wedding band to read the promise inscribed: No Flag.

Please keep your promise, Mike, Will thought as he took a deep breath and tore himself away from the picture and the crushing memories it brought. He had a job to do tonight.

My Review:

This book was originally published in 2013, and the second edition seems unchanged.

Captain Mike Kelley is a military intelligence officer and West Point grad who’s spent a lot of time in counterintelligence and translating threats. He’s near the end of his commission and has no plans to re-up. It’s 2010 and President Obama has instituted “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” a policy that is meant to somewhat protect gay servicemembers from dishonorable discharge.

Mike is an orphan, and he made his way through life carefully, using ideals like respect, honor, and sacrifice as cornerstones of his life. He’s looking for a submissive partner who would be interested in Domestic Discipline, which–in my woefully uninformed opinion–means that one partner has authority, and the other follows the rules of the home, which they could form together. Mike has very specific ideas about domestic tasks, in that he has a “right” way and all other ways are not acceptable. Mike meets Will while out at a gay bay in Philly. Will is a bartender, but he’d like to own his own place, more of a coffeehouse for LGBTQ folk to feel safe.

Will is intrigued by the Domestic Discipline, and attracted to Mike. He’s not so sure about Mike’s OCD habits, or punishments for not meeting Mike’s exacting standards. And, he’s REALLY not into the military, especially since Mike’s work is highly classified. Their relationship grows close pretty quickly, within months Mike asks Will to move in and, in early 2011 when marriage equality is still being debated, there are two months until the end of Mike’s commission he asks Will to marry him. Though their marriage isn’t recognized by the military, Will agrees on one condition: Mike does not re-up. Mike doesn’t, but with mere weeks before his commission expires a surly commander tells Mike he’s being deployed to Afghanistan.

An arcane bit of military regulations allows commanding officers to extend commissions for up to one year following the expiry of service. This Stop-Loss program makes a big rift for Mike and Will, who were just about to open a business together. They do their best to navigate a fledgling marriage, new business, and transglobal interaction via Skype. The discipline part of their marriage is tricky to navigate remotely, but it’s helpful for both men to keep this piece of normalcy. Will’s friends are highly skeptical, with his female best friend making all sorts of trouble, to interfere with Will and Mike’s marriage–with some unexpected chicanery and definite violation of personal boundaries.

During deployment Mike and Will have a mantra: No Flag, which means Mike commits to make every effort to come home alive. They say this to one another every sign-off from every call. Mike’s stress levels are high, and Will’s being as accepting as he can of all the secrecy, but once Mike’s base is bombed and he can’t tell if his husband is alive or dead it marks a new level in Will’s commitment to Mike.

I liked this one a bunch, and I was glad for the reminder of the rapid changes our society has undergone in the past 10-15 years. Repeal of the prohibition of gay service members, national marriage equality, and enhanced efforts to make veterans whole, be they amputees, or suffering depression/PTSD. Mike is the only member of his unit to survive the blast and subsequent raid, and he has vital information that could save thousands on American soil, if only he can remember/relive those horrific memories. It’s interesting that so much of the story (the first half) is told in flashback, and when we finally reach the “present” we experience flashback through Mike’s fractured memories. Both Mike and Will are compelling characters, though I will admit to loving Will more than Mike, whose OCD is a little nerve-wracking. I will admit to not quite understanding the nuances of Domestic Discipline versus a 24/7 D/s power exchange, but I think it was made adequately clear that both Mike and Will benefited from this experience. They seemed to have a deep connection that was only strengthened by their adversity.

Mike is a different man when he’s returned to Will, mostly due to his lack of confidence following amputation. He is not sure he can be the man that Will needs, that Will will find him less attractive, and that his disability will render him unable to exert his discipline. This seems to be mainly resolved by the end of the book, but it’s still early days of his recovery. Also, this is the first book in a series, so I’m left with the feeling that there will be further conflict and PTSD moments for Will and Mike to weather. I would definitely read on.

Interested? You can find NO FLAG on Goodreads, NineStar Press and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter Giveaway link for your chance to win a $50 NineStar Press gift card.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:

Liz Borino has been telling stories of varying truthfulness since she was a child. As an adult, she keeps the fiction on the page. She writes stories of human connection and intimacy, in all their forms. Her books feature flawed men who often risk everything for their love.

When Liz isn’t writing, she’s waking up early to edit, travel, and explore historic prisons and insane asylums—not (usually) all in one day. Liz lives in Philadelphia with her two cats.

Love at the End Times FRANKLIN IN PARADISE–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a brand new YA post-apocalyptic LGBTQIA romance from John Patrick. FRANKLIN IN PARADISE is the first book in his Paradise series. Two young men, survivors of a disease that has decimated populations worldwide, find comfort, safety and unexpected love with one another.

Drop down to catch an excerpt, my review and enter for a chance to win a $50 GC.

About the book:

Life is good for eighteen-year-old Franklin. He lives on the spectrum, structuring and organizing his days, avoiding messy situations and ambiguity. But what he really wants is a boyfriend.

Twenty-one-year-old Patrick has a past he can’t seem to shake, and a sexual identity that’s hard to describe—or maybe it’s just evolving.

When a manmade virus sweeps the globe, killing nearly everyone, the two young men find themselves thrust together, dependent on each other for survival. As they begin to rebuild their world, their feelings for each other deepen. But Franklin needs definition and clarity, and Patrick’s identity as asexual—or demisexual, or grey ace?—isn’t helping.

These two men will need to look beyond their labels if they are going to find love at the end of the world.

How about a yummy taste?

I finished cleaning my bedroom before lunchtime. Not that it needed it. I’m not the kind of guy to leave his dirty socks and shorts lying around. But I dusted behind the headboard and vacuumed the corners of the ceiling in my closet, removing the neatly labeled boxes from the top shelf first, before dusting those, too, and restacking them in alphabetical order: beads, crystals, fly hooks, etc., all the way down to screws.

I tugged the bed aside and vacuumed the carpet underneath, carefully nudging the bed frame back into the existing carpet indentations when I was finished.

I was ready.

Right after my parents left that morning, I even shaved. Not that there was any real need for that either. Even though I’ll be eighteen in a couple weeks, I’m hardly rocking the facial hair, just a few soft black wisps curling under my chin.

Nothing to do now but wait for Tyler.

I walked to the picture window in our living room and stared out into the gloomy March evening. Across the dirt road, Mrs. Knudson’s front porch lights came on. If I leaned forward and craned my neck to the right, I could almost see the intersection with State Highway 27. I waited at the window until I saw a sweep of headlights illuminating the deep forest along the road, silhouettes of oaks and pines picked out one by one as Tyler’s pickup bounced through the ruts.

I stepped away from the window and moved to the front door. The throaty rumble of his truck died, and a moment later a door slammed. Footsteps on the side deck were followed by a shout of “Yo, open up.” I silently did a slow three-count, then opened the door.

“Dude, here, take these. Back in a sec.” Tyler thrust three large pizza boxes into my arms and headed back to the driveway. I carried the boxes across the living room to the counter separating it from the kitchen, the scent of hot cheese, tomatoes, onions, and pepperoni filling the air. By the time I laid out each box in a neat row on the counter, Tyler was back, kicking the door shut behind him.

He had a gym bag looped across his shoulders, and he was carrying a case of Sam Adams.

He came around the counter and into the kitchen, put the beer on the table, and dropped his bag on the floor by the counter. “Woo-hoo! Sweet Sixteen!” he said, as he shrugged out of his jacket.

Sweet Sixteen? What…? Oh, right. March Madness. Sweet Sixteen round. That’s what we’re doing tonight, right?

“Your folks get off okay?” he asked.

“Yep, they got there already and texted me an hour ago. It’s 75 degrees in Puerto Rico right now.”

“Good for them, man.” Tyler used the opener on his key chain to pry the caps off two bottles. He handed me one. “And they’re good with us doing this?”

“Yeah, of course. You’ve slept over lots of times.” Even as I said that, I felt a blush rising in my cheeks. I hoped tonight would be different than all those other times. “Besides,” I continued, “Mrs. Knudson will be keeping an eye out. She knows I’m alone this weekend, and my folks told her I wasn’t allowed to have any parties.” I was embarrassed my parents had asked our eighty-year-old neighbor to spy on me. “How about your folks? They know you’re staying the night, right?”

“Right. No problem. They just don’t know we’re alone.” He waggled his eyebrows.

*

Tyler and I have been best buds since fourth grade, but lately, I’ve been thinking about him in a…well, I guess romantic way would best describe it. I was pretty sure he felt the same about me, too, because more and more, Tyler has been lightly touching me. A pat on my head, a tap to my arm. He knows touching is a “thing” for me, and he’s been really good about too. Signaling it would happen so I could be prepared without making a big deal about it.

Two years ago, my first and only girlfriend, Maya, let me know I was gay. I hadn’t thought about it, one way or the other, up until then. I didn’t like the whole idea of dating. Turns out she was right, of course. She was so pushy when it came to the physical stuff, even though she knew I was…sensitive…to that kind of thing. “We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do,” she’d say. But then she’d try to kiss me or grab my hand.

One night, the last time I saw her, we were sitting in her parents’ basement, and she asked if she could hold my hand. I didn’t want to, but I knew this was what boyfriends and girlfriends did, and I was trying so hard to be normal, so I let her. Before I understood what was happening, though, she guided my hand down to her thigh and under her skirt. When I discovered she wasn’t wearing underwear, I’d gasped and yanked my hand away, waving my fingers in the air as if they’d been burned. I might have gagged a little too.

“Uh-huh. I thought so,” she’d responded immediately. “You’re gay, you know, Franklin. Right? You do know that? I’d hate to see you waste the next couple of years ‘struggling’ to understand yourself. You should just blow your buddy Tyler right now and get it over with.”

Fair enough. But I didn’t blow Tyler, and as much as I was convinced we had a future together, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to blow him, or at least not yet. But I’d been thinking about kissing him, and although it made me a little uncomfortable, I thought I might be ready for that.

My Review:

Franklin is a young gay man on the autism spectrum. He’s never really outed himself, but he’s been told–by his one and only girlfriend–that he’s gay. He lives in rural Maine with his parents, who have left him alone for a week’s vacation to Puerto Rice. Franklin is weeks from turning 18, and his best friend, Tyler, is coming over to spend the weekend at his house. Tyler seems to want a physical relationship with Franklin, but Franklin’s issues with over-stimulation and touch aversion are an obstacle to Tyler’s lusty ideas.

Just before Tyler leaves the following morning, after a night that should have been awesome but was mainly uncomfortable and awkward, Franklin catches a new report of a deadly virus spreading from Asia. He gets the “shelter in place” warning and advises Tyler to stay with him, but Tyler’s too frustrated to stick around. And when the power goes out and his parents do not return, well, Franklin makes the best of it–for weeks. Until Patrick sees the smoke coming from his chimney and knocks on his door.

Patrick is a 21 y/o demisexual man whose spent the last three weeks watching nearly everyone in his small Maine town die. He holed up in the town library, which had some primitive living quarters in part of the original 200 year old structure. He’s shell-shocked and so happy to see another living person he’s in dire need of human physical contact–even if Franklin struggles with this at first. He also has the hard job of explaining to Franklin, who is a very literal person due to his autism, that the world is overwhelmingly devoid of humans, and that Tyler and his parents are likely dead, too. Their interactions are fraught with so much anxiety, but they each know they need to shelter together to make it through this nightmare.

Over the next several days Patrick and Franklin develop a camaraderie, and a budding attraction. It’s hard for both of them to connect emotionally and physically, but time and isolation help fuel their needs. And, they are respectful of one another, although Franklin really does not understand “gray ace” or “demisexual” as concepts, and that creates issues. Patrick continues to explain that he’s not usually attracted to anyone, but if he develops an emotional connection that he could become sexually attracted, and he’s starting to feel that way about Franklin, who is attracted to Patrick, but lacks the emotional-savvy to express himself in all the ways he might like. He gets overwhelmed, and when they meet others he’s afraid that Patrick might start feeling sexual to them, as well.

This story is really about communication and survival. Franklin and Patrick need to communicate with one another, but also with the few new people that they meet. They see new opportunities, and they have to weigh and discuss options, to ensure that they are going in a good direction–while also giving up the hopes of returning to any part of a ‘normal” pre-virus life. Allusions are made to the COVID crisis, and how that informed the populace to “shelter in place” in the opening scenes, maybe saving Franklin’s life. It’s unclear how the virus worked, or who would have been spared, but one thing is apparent: survivors are not going to have an easy go of things in this after-virus period. So many automated processes are going offline: water, sewage, electric, gas production. All the dead lay in heaps around the streets and towns. Food in stores is rotting, bringing forth swarms of scavengers and vermin. This was all well-detailed in Franklin’s precise, orderly point of view. I really loved how Franklin continued to use the skills he learned in therapy to help him cope with non-verbal cues, and context cues, to really demonstrate his empathy and help him cope better.

Patrick is a good guy with some dark secrets. Some of the folks they meet are wary of him for those reasons, though Franklin’s love for him grows to be strong and steady. They will not be separated–at least if Franklin can avoid that he will. Theses young men have some off-page sexual relations, where the focus is always on building their emotional bonds tighter. And, by finding new survivors, the stage is set for further stories, with a coalition of people growing in a stable living area–an old Shaker commune in the woods of Maine called “Paradise”. Franklin grows to be a leader there, his analytical brain facilitating learning how to operate the long range Ham radio equipment to connect with other survivors, as well as managing the livestock barn. He and Patrick seem to be front and center with the new civilization that’s growing up there, but there are shadows of marauders on the horizon, as well as natural predators returning to the area, now that people are no longer encroaching.

This is the beginning of a series, and I would definitely read on.

Interested? You can find THIS VOW on Goodreads, NineStar Press and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter Giveaway link for your chance to win a $50 NineStar Press gift card.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:

John Patrick lives in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts, where he is supported in his writing by his husband and their terrier, who is convinced he could do battle with the bears that come through the woods on occasion (the terrier, that is, not the husband).

John is an introvert and can often be found doing introverted things like reading or writing, cooking, and thinking deep, contemplative thoughts (his husband might call this napping). He loves to spend time in nature—“forest bathing” is the Japanese term for it—feeling connected with the universe. But he also loathes heat and humidity, bugs of any sort, and unsteady footing in the form of rocks, mud, tree roots, snow, or ice. So, his love of nature is tempered; he’s complicated that way.

John and his husband enjoy traveling and have visited over a dozen countries, meeting new people, exploring new cultures, and—most importantly—discovering new foods. After such travels, John invariably comes down with a cold. During a trip to Japan in 2019, he was amazed by how many people wore surgical masks in public to protect both themselves and others from viruses. “Gosh,” John thought, “wouldn’t it be great if we’d do this in the US?” John sometimes regrets the wishes he makes.

You can reach out to John on his website, or Facebook.

Finding Old Love at THE HIDEAWAY INN–A TBT Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a Throwback Thursday review for a book I read a while back from Philip William Stover. THE HIDEAWAY INN is the first book in his Seasons of New Hope series, and features a reconnection romance between two men who loved in their teens, and are reconnected in their old hometown of New Hope, Pennsylvania.

About the book:

High school wasn’t the right time or place for their relationship to grow, but now, fifteen years later, a chance encounter changes both of their lives forever.

No one in the charming river town of New Hope, Pennsylvania, needs to know that Vince Amato plans on flipping The Hideaway Inn to the highest bidder and returning to his luxury lifestyle in New York City. He needs to make his last remaining investment turn a profit…even if that means temporarily relocating to the quirky small town where he endured growing up. He’s spent years reinventing himself and won’t let his past dictate his future.

But on his way to New Hope, Vince gets stuck in the middle of nowhere and his past might be the only thing that can get him to his future. Specifically Tack O’Leary, the gorgeous, easygoing farm boy who broke his heart and who picks Vince up in his dilapidated truck.

Tack comes to the rescue not only with a ride but also by signing on to be the chef at The Hideaway for the summer. As Vince and Tack open their hearts to each other again, Vince learns that being true to himself doesn’t mean shutting down a second chance with Tack—it means starting over and letting love in.

My Review:

Vince Amato grew up in western New Jersey, just across the Delaware from New Hope, Pennsylvania, a bastion of acceptance for LGBTQ folk. “Skinny Vinny” was horribly teased for his thin frame, studious nature, and supposed homosexuality. As soon as he could escape, Vince did–and he made a lot of money in realty in NYC. A professional gaffe, however, has put him on the outs with his investment firm, and he’s just bought The Hideaway Inn in New Hope with the intention of fixing it up and selling it at the end of the summer, to a hotel conglomerate looking for boutique properties.

With the Memorial Day weekend approaching, Vince’s travel plans go completely awry, and he’s unwillingly rescued by his former high school crush/clandestine lover, Tack O’Leary. Tack would never have come out in school–his old man and best pals were pretty serious homophobes, but he had a yearning for the thin, nerdy Vinny, and is relishing the opportunity to reconnect now that 15 years and a whole lot of maturity have passed between them.

Vince’s hotel is nearly ready to be condemned, but the kitchen is serviceable, and when his tempermental chef quits, Tack comes to the rescue a second time. And, a third and a fourth, because Tack is really jazzed to help Vince, if he can make the Hideaway a place people want to visit. Vince tries to use his finely-honed body and icy manner to keep Tack at a remove, but Tack’s gregariousness, and his earnest desire to both help Vince and build his own rep as a budding chef (in training) has Vince letting him in closer than nearly anyone in his life. In fact, to save costs and facilitate their partnership in business, Tack ends up rooming in Vince’s two-bedroom owner’s suite. Much to Vince’s frustration.

Tack’s life has changed a LOT over the years, though, and he’s not only come out, he’s divorced his wife and is co-parenting their young child, who may be trans. It’s a mind-bind for Vince, but he’s grateful for the changes, and for Tack’s help and friendship. Unfortunately, if Vince turns around and sells the Hideaway, well, that will be the end of their budding reconnection–and romance. But, New Hope proves to be living up to its name, and Vince’s life couldn’t be more complete even with a fat bank account and a Manhattan penthouse.

It’s a sweet story and Vince is treated pretty roughly by the author; he takes a licking and keeps on ticking though, just like he did back in high school. His life goals and ambition are hard to set aside, but the connections he’s making in New Hope sure go a long way toward smoothing the transition into a new path. Tack is a good guy, and I think it’s just as easy for the reader to forgive his youthful mistakes, as Vince finds it to do. He really trusts Vince in a way he hasn’t trusted many partners, and his fear that Vince will leave him again is palpable.

It’s a great start to a series, with lots of fun and spunky side characters. The descriptions are thorough without bogging pacing, even when we’re looking backward into Vince and Tack’s childhoods. I could nearly smell the briny waters off the Delaware, and hope to see more great stories in the future.

Interested? You can find THE HIDEAWAY INN on Goodreads, Carina Press, and Amazon.

About the Author:

Philip William Stover splits his time between Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and New York City. He has an MFA in writing and is a clinical professor at New York University.

As a freelance journalist, his essays and reviews have appeared in Newsday, the Forward, the Tony Awards, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Houston Chronicle, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and other national publications. For many years he ghosted for an international best-selling women’s fiction author. He has published multiple middle-grade novels for Simon & Schuster and was the American Theater critic for About.com.

He grew up tearing the covers off the romance novels he devoured so he wouldn’t get teased at school. Now he enjoys traveling the world with his husband of over twenty years and would never consider defacing any of the books he loves.

You can find Philip on his website, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!


Grief and Growth THIS VOW–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a brand new contemporary M/M romance from J.R. Hart. THIS VOW is the second book in her This Love series. Two young men, engaged to be married, are tested when a fire destroys their home, and the fall out they experience.

Drop down to catch an excerpt, my review and enter for a chance to win a $50 GC.

About the book:

Nicholas and Alex know one thing for sure: they want to spend their lives together, and now that they’re engaged, they can start planning their big day to make that happen. The only hitch? Both of them have very different ideas on what that means.

Nicholas has been all about a grand wedding since he was a teen, carefully planning every detail from floral arrangements to the perfect cake. He has big dreams and a bigger budget to make it happen. But Alex? Despite finding the love of his life, he’s still a little jaded, and he’d rather elope at the local courthouse, keeping the start of their married life low-key.

Can they set aside their different ideas on their big wedding and compromise to make it the wedding of their dreams, or will a major tragedy be the final blow after they struggle to see eye-to-eye?

How about a yummy taste?

Prologue

“Nicholas, there’s a fire, in the kitchen! We have to go!”

Bleary-eyed from sleep, Nicholas didn’t grasp what Alex was saying. “Fire?” He didn’t comprehend the box of recipes in his hand, why Alex was shoving them at him frantically. Drowsiness from cold medication and the deep sleepfulness of his nap didn’t help matters, a slur of loud, blaring alarms sounding in his mind as he tried to pay attention to what Alex was telling him.

“In the kitchen! We have to get out of here, Nicholas. Carry the recipes! Let’s go!” Alex insisted.

Fire? His brain repeated the word. Fire. Fire! Oh gosh. He glanced around him, trying to take stock of what they might be able to save. “Okay, um…” They had to get their things, important memories and items from around the apartment. Why was Alex in the bedroom instead of grabbing their photos off the walls and the box of notes they’d written each other early in their relationship out of the closet?

“Nicholas, we don’t have time to get stuff. It’s spreading too fast. We have to go.” Nicholas followed Alex’s eyeline up to the smoke entering the bedroom, watching as he raced toward the living room, and the urgency finally started to click into place. A fire. An actual fire. Not the hypothetical “what three items would you save in a fire?” kind of situation, but a real-life, honest-to-God fire. “Oh no.” Stumbling out of the bedroom and closing the door out of habit, he could see the flames now, the bright-orange flickers of light in the kitchen. He started toward the source of it, the location of most of his prized possessions, but Alex yanked him back by the arm.

“Crawl!” Alex urged him. “We have to crawl over there.” Alex ducked down, tugging his shirt up to cover his mouth and nose. Nicholas followed suit, grasping the recipe box and moving ahead, trying to get to the door and open it while Alex scanned the room. Halfway there, the half wall dividing the kitchen from the entryway shook with a loud bang. Something in the kitchen exploded. “Oh my God!” Alex yelped.

“What was that?” Nicholas assumed the explosion came from some pressurized can like cooking spray, or the bottle of their favorite whiskey they enjoyed on poker nights with the girls. His brain lagged behind the urgency of the situation, focused on the things being consumed by the fire creeping closer.

“I don’t know!” Alex’s words jarred him back into the moment. “Let’s go to the balcony,” he pleaded. The fire escape there hadn’t worked in years, but Nicholas agreed that outside, regardless of a way down, was the safer bet. If anything, they could breathe fresh air out there instead of toxic smoke in their apartment.

Alex crawled in the other direction and Nicholas followed, watching Alex slide the glass door open and let him through. Both of them stood and closed the door to seal the blaze behind them. “Now what?”

If the fire got any closer, Nicholas figured the heat could shatter the glass. Was it the movie Backdraft that happened in? He didn’t know why his mind focused on Hollywood hypotheticals instead of on the reality of what was happening to his home, his life. Maybe because his brain was on a delay, hadn’t fully registered the intensity of the situation.

Alex pushed their mostly dead succulents in front of the door and nestled Nicholas against the railing of the balcony that didn’t line up with the glass, putting them out of harm’s way. He must have been thinking the same thing about the glass shattering. “Call 9-1-1,” Nicholas told Alex. Drilled into his head from countless school fire safety classes, he didn’t have to even think. But then the reality of what was happening hit him all over again. A lot of their beloved belongings continued to burn. Maybe they had time… “We forgot—”

“Nicholas, we can’t go back in,” Alex reminded him. “Whatever we’ve forgotten, it’s not important.”

Right. Good enough. Getting out alive had to be good enough. Nicholas nodded, tearing up as Alex pulled his phone out of his pocket.

“What are you doing?”

“Telling Jade to pull the building fire alarm,” he said. Their own smoke alarm only sounded in their apartment, barely loud enough for the neighboring apartments to hear. This was a good thing when the alarm sounded for minor problems, like grease popping around eggs, but not a great feature when it came to a real fire. Then, Alex’s voice switched to no-nonsense mode as he called 9-1-1, waiting till he was connected and then explaining the fire to the dispatcher.

Nicholas could hear the fire alarms blaring clearly now. Jade must have done as he asked. From the balcony, Nicholas saw the edges of the flames licking at the picture they’d hung on the wall after their engagement. He turned away. He couldn’t bear to look at the fire taking away everything they owned, every precious memory they’d shared in the apartment. Looking down at the ground, he spotted people filtering out of the front doors of the building, staring up to them on the balcony above. “What the heck happened?”

“I was trying to make you soup,” Alex admitted, followed by, “I’m so sorry.”

The guilt in his voice was palpable, breaking Nicholas’s heart. “Baby, it’s all right.” As the trucks backed up, ladders extending, Alex cried against him, his free arm around him. Alex sobbed harder than Nicholas had ever seen him cry.

“I’m so sorry,” he repeated and then he turned toward the ladder, heading down with Nicholas climbing after him, cradling the recipes in his arm. He listened to the sound of the crackle through the sliding glass door as the contents of their lives went up in smoke.

My Review:
Alex and Nicholas are a committed couple planning their wedding when disaster strikes. Their apartment catches fire when Alex, an admittedly terrible cook, gets distracted while trying to cook soup for Nicholas, who is sick. Because Alex had been ill before Nicholas, he’s still not smelling things too well, and the fire is raging in the kitchen before he senses the smoke.

Their apartment is a total loss, and it’s more than just a domicile. This was the first home in which Alex could be himself, and live a sully out life. And, Nicholas’ family heirlooms–including the massive wedding planning binder he and his dying mother had created–are mostly gone. All Alex was able to save was the handmade box of cherished recipes that Nicholas would be lost without.

Now, they live in a barren apartment, blocks form their former home and their best pals, who’d lived down the hall. It’s a huge adjustment, and not a little without resentment. Both Alex and Nicholas are feeling the strain, but Alex is definitely hit more acutely, as he feels majorly responsible for both Nicholas’ illness, and the fire. Plus, he’s struggling with the vastness of the wedding plans, which make what he wishes was an intimate and quiet affair into the lavish spectacle that Nicholas wants to spend his inheritance funding.

Can these guys come to terms with their inner issues, before they get more into turmoil they they want?

I really liked both Alex and Nicholas. They are good solid characters who are 100% invested in their love, even if they struggle with how they want to show it. I loved the differences between their backgrounds, and how this informed their conflict. Alex has always had to scrimp, and his family is small and cold–unaccepting of him and his sexuality. It’s a big reason Alex cringes at the cost of a one-day affair, like the wedding of Nicholas’ dreams. He has only their mutual friends to invite, anyway. Meanwhile Nicholas may not have his parents around anymore, but when he did they were loving and accepting of him–and they provided a lot of money to start him out in life. So, Nicholas’ desire is to shout to the rooftops his love for Alex, with a blow out wedding that will live in everyone’s memories. The stress is high. Add in the huge curveball to lose nearly your whole life’s possessions in and instant, and what might be minor issues, like not having a proper cake pan since it was ruined in the blaze, are suddenly constant irritations. It makes for rocky goings, but also allows for some true character growth as the new-love infatuation period gives way to brutally honest moments, and deep soul searching.

I had not read the first book in this series, but felt I could pick this one up and enjoy it on it’s own–with sufficient backstory to help me get into the flow without bogging the pace.

Interested? You can find THIS VOW on Goodreads, NineStar Press and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter Giveaway link for your chance to win a $50 NineStar Press gift card.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:

J R Hart is a queer 30-something novelist passionate about telling romantic and erotic stories about LGBT+ characters. When J R isn’t writing, you can find her at the science museum with her son, cheering for her favorite soccer team, or at The Bean Coffee Co plotting her next work.

You can reach out to J. R. on her website, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram.

Lives Up-ended TO HOLD A HIDDEN PEARL–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a brand new contemporary M/M romance from Fearne Hill. TO HOLD A HIDDEN PEARL is the first book in her new Rossingley series. This story features a young physician coming to terms with his sexuality rather late in his life, and the reclusive earl who is his androgynous and sexy superior in hospital. If you are interested in family drama romances, I’d also recommend THE LAST OF THE MOUSSAKAS by this same author.

Drop down to catch an excerpt, my review and enter for a chance to win a $50 GC.

About the book:

Dr Jay Sorrentino is getting married in ten days’ time to the girl of his dreams, so what the hell is he doing in a gay London club with a stupidly handsome stranger? As if calling off the wedding and alienating his friends and family isn’t enough, Jay also has to contend with starting a new job at a new hospital. So the last thing he needs is for the bloke from the club to be his prickly supervisor.

Dr Lucien Avery is a difficult colleague. He’s also the unexpected and reluctant heir to the vast Rossingley estate. Reclusive and miserable, he hates most of his colleagues, people who eat packed lunches, and supervising junior doctors. That is, until the delectable Dr Sorrentino turns up on his doorstep.

A light-hearted M/M contemporary romance, Rossingley takes place in Southern England and is centred around a fictional country house and estate by the same name. The first in the series, it can be read as a standalone.

How about a yummy taste?

LUCIEN

I don’t do nightclubs anymore. It’s not an age thing. Sure, I’m thirty-four, but there are plenty of men and women older than me in here seemingly having a blast. It’s…it’s just that I hoped I’d never need to, I suppose. I think I had this ridiculous notion I’d be happily settled with a great job, an even better loving partner, and a comfortable home. I have the job, and I certainly have the home, not that I particularly wanted it. But the loving partner? Not so much. To be fair, though, I’m quite difficult to love.

So here I am, propping up the wall in Spangles, a club I haven’t visited in years, watching my pissed former work colleagues, Sam and Louis, make complete arses of themselves on the dance floor.

There’s a whole gang of us here. I don’t know any of the others, and I don’t really want to become better acquainted with them either, but Sam has been begging me to come up to London for months and months. He’s been a decent friend since the accident, as much as I’ve let him, and joining him for his boyfriend Louis’s thirtieth birthday is the least I can do to show my appreciation. So I’d downed a few colourful cocktails, which seem to have had no effect on my mood whatsoever, put on my glad rags, done my eyes, and now pretend to be the sexy guy I used to be before my former existence was comprehensively annihilated. And tomorrow, when it’s thankfully all over, I’ll whizz back down the M4 to Allenmouth, and having seen how absolutely spiffily I’m coping, they’ll hopefully leave me alone for a while. I deserve an Oscar for tonight’s performance, but I’m starting to flag. Another ten minutes of hugging the wall and my Campari and soda, and I’ll be on my way.

An enormously tall, Italian Stallion kind of guy gives me a blatant once-over, and my eyes skirt past him. Thanks, but no thanks. Curly black hair, eyes like pools of melted chocolate, bulging shoulder muscles, and a broad chest threatening to break out of his tight white T-shirt. As if at any minute, the T-shirt might rip open and his skin turn an ugly shade of green. As he is, with T-shirt intact, he’s what Americans refer to as a jock. Or an especially buff Danny Zuko. But I’m no simpering Pink Lady. He’s absolutely not my bag at all.

My gaze settles on a little cutie chatting to his friends near the bar. Much more like it, exactly my type of guy. Perfect tight arse in the skinniest of black jeans, and he’s demonstrating the grace of a ballet dancer as he reaches upwards onto his toes to speak into a friend’s ear. Slight of build, and floppy, dirty-blond hair with pink frosted tips. Sensing my interest, he shyly smiles at me, and I look away. We all know the rules to this game, and a few seconds later, I glance back at him. He returns the look at precisely the moment that a protective, possessive arm comes to rest across his narrow shoulders, and the ruggedly handsome owner of that arm plants an adoring kiss on his cheek. With a regretful shrug, the cute guy turns to his companion and is pulled into a loving hug. A keeper for sure, only not my keeper unfortunately. Oh well, c’est la vie.

Gloria Gaynor is belting out ‘I am what I am’ at the top of her lungs. Most definitely my cue to leave. I finish my drink and head to where I last saw Sam and Louis. With a bit of luck, they’ll be so engrossed in each other they’ll let me slip out unnoticed to find a taxi to take me home. As I begin to push through groups of sweaty clubbers, the Italian Stallion guy blocks my path. And I mean blocks—he’s broad and beefy. He’s giving me another once-over, this time anxious, through thick black lashes, and his liquid-brown eyes are strangely as skittish as a colt’s. I make to squeeze by. But his big hand reaches around, catching me unawares, settles firmly around my wrist, and I’m tugged towards a dark corner of the club. Granted, it’s an unconventional hook-up technique, but I’m pissed enough and curious enough to go with it—perhaps in the dim light, he’s mistaken me for my cousin Freddie; it wouldn’t be the first time. We both have rather striking features.

So it seems that now he’s got me here, he’s not quite sure what it is he wants. He hovers in front of me, one hand resting lightly at my hip, and I can’t tell if he’s very nervous or very drunk. I’m happy to wait; I’ve nothing better to do. Anyway, I’m mildly intrigued as I have a feeling that, like me, he doesn’t really belong. He licks his lips once—yes, definitely nervous—and it draws attention to his fine mouth, a full Cupid’s bow, now glistening wetly. The sort of generous wide mouth made for laughing. Or cock sucking. I’m focusing on those lips now because the background thump of Ms Gaynor makes audible speech nigh on impossible.

“Can I suck your cock?” he asks.

My Review:
Dr. Lucian Avery is the reluctant 16th earl of Rossingley, a title he never expected, nor desired. See, he inherited his land and title about 18 months ago when his father, the 15th earl, mother and elder brother and his young pregnant wife, were all killed in a helicopter crash. Being the “spare” is unpleasant, especially as he’s virtually alone in the world. It’s taken him months to claw his way out of the depression that’s had him living a life of a recluse, only showing up to hospital for part-time duties as a anesthesiologist consultant. He’s 34 years old, and living alone in the small part of the palatial estate of his youth. He’s a feared colleague in the hospital, due to his demanding nature, general unapproachability and aloofness. While up in London, out with some friends from his previous life–before the accident–Lucien is approached by a big, strapping hunk who offers a sexual favor. It’s a good experience, because it takes Lucien out of his seemingly unending misery for a few minutes.

Dr. Jay Sorrentino is a junior consultant who’s a week away from his wedding to the fellow doctor and woman he has been dating form more than 4 years. They have a home and joint bank accounts, and work in the same hospital in Allentown–but Jay has had a lingering suspicion that his growing malaise and disappointment about his impending nuptials is related to his sexual dissatisfaction. Over the past couple of years he’s wondered if he’s gay–but been terrified to acknowledge. A drunken experience in a London gay club has cleared away the morass of his shilly-shallying. Unfortunately, his anonymous bar hook-up turns out to be the supervising consultant on his new training leg in hospital. Jay’s fervent wish that the immaculate, beautiful and demanding Dr. Avery are dashed rather fantastically. Yet, he’s completely intrigued by the prickly man.

This is a sweet and sexy romance as Jay and Lucien develop as strong affection for one another. Jay is conscientious and notices when Lucien is troubled, and is not afraid to approach him, thinking that he’s a man on his own–rightly so. Lucien is so unused to solicitousness, and he needs a person to lean on, given his long grief suffered alone. Jay is attracted to Lucien’s quirks, including his penchant for women’s lingerie and femme affectations. His androgyny holds big appeal to Jay, and over several weeks to months their relationship morphs from one of professional and personal support to a sexual one. Jay’s attraction to Lucien is growing by leaps, but he’s still entangled with his ex-fiance, as they unravel their joint lives. It’s a lot of stress, that Lucien relieves the more intimate they become.

I loved this story, with two interesting and complicated characters–who both need a good friends and partner to lean upon. Their love story is tender and compassionate, as both men are highly educated and compassionate men, per their medical training. It’s so sweet, I was repeatedly reminded that emotional vulnerability is a very sexy look for otherwise powerful men. I look forward to the next book in this series, knowing that it will likely include a different couple.

Interested? You can find TO HOLD A HIDDEN PEARL on Goodreads, NineStar Press and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter Giveaway link for your chance to win a $50 NineStar Press gift card.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Fearne Hill lives deep in the southern British countryside with three untamed sons, varying numbers of hens, a few tortoises, and a beautiful cocker spaniel.

When she is not overseeing her small menagerie, she enjoys writing contemporary romantic fiction. And when she is not doing either of those things, she works as an anaesthesiologist.

You can reach out to Fearne on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Role-Playing into Love: FOLLOWING THE RULES– Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Now that school is wrapping up, I’ve got more time to start posting reviews again. Today I’m sharing a review for a brand new contemporary M/M romance from Lane Hayes. FOLLOWING THE RULES is the first book in her new The Script Club series, that spun off a little from the Starting From series–beginning with a literal rocket scientist who’s looking for a little extra cash and begins tutoring his roomie’s older brother in humanities. And man-love…

Drop down to catch my review and enter for a chance to win a $25 GC.


About the book:

The geek, the jock, and a new set of rules…

Topher:

My friend’s brother needs an academic assistant and I need a job. Problem…jocks are my weakness. Seriously. I lose my ability to speak coherently around muscle-bound hotties. Oh yeah, I lose my inhibitions too—not a good look for a guy with a genius IQ. So what am I going to do about Simon?

Simon:

Finishing college isn’t high on my list of priorities, but my future in professional football is looking bleak. I need a plan B or C, and I could use some help navigating life as an undergrad. Topher is perfect. He’s also a little strange…but in a good way. And I like the way I feel when I’m around him—as though anything is possible. Maybe if we follow our hearts, we’ll find what we’re looking for. But that means changing the rules…

Following the Rules is a MM, bisexual awakening romance starring a lovable nerd, a cool jock, and some extracurricular fun.

My Review:
Topher is an aeronautical engineer with one year to go in his master’s program. His paid internship just dried up and he has a month to go before school starts. With time on his hands and money on his mind, Topher is almost happy his new roommate, George, suggests Topher tutor his older brother, Simon, a man returning to college while on hiatus from the NFL. Simon had played several seasons for the LA Rams, but he’s been sidelined with a concussion, again. He was cut from the team, after a looong recovery, and is in limbo, training and taking classes, awaiting whatever magic his agent can work to get him signed to a new team.

Topher has a mini-mega-crush on Simon, and he’s a whole lotta awkward about it. Thing is, Simon is an uninhibited man, and he’s very lonely. The wait for his return to the NFL is messing with his head and he’s desperate for some company to fill his home and head with distraction. They meet in an unconventional way–and Simon’s cool with it, even as it unsettles Topher, because, well, sexy naked men tend to unsettle him. But they have some silly banter, with Simon intrigued by Topher’s dedication to research, schooling and sexytimes. And, they connect in banter over “scripts” like sexy role-playing that has Simon’s flagging libido taking notice in ways it never has before.

This audiobook is totally fun and a treat to enjoy. I really loved the efforts the narrator took to help differentiate the voices, including Topher’s whiskey-totting gran, and Simon’s goth-dracula brother George. Topher’s voice sounds geeky-sexy with a sweetness and lightness that belies his eagerness to please. Simon’s deeper timbre easily had me mentally-conjuring an athletic professional, who is always down for an adventure.

The casual-to-more romance was low-angst and easily followed, with the fun of first-times and all the excitement surrounding exploring one not only a new lover, but one who is shaping up to be a soul mate. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to watching other sexy geeks in Topher’s inner circle find love. This series is a spin off from the Starting From series, so we get a few cameos of Topher’s former roomie, Cody, who found love with a rock guitarist in Starting From Somewhere.

Interested? You can find FOLLOWING THE RULES on Goodreads, Amazon and Audible.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter Giveaway link for your chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Lane Hayes loves a good romance! An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and were winners in the 2016, 2017, and 2018-2019 Rainbow Awards.

She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a not quite empty nest.

You can reach out to Lane on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon.


A Superhero’s Nightmare FABULOUS IN TIGHTS–A Review

Hi there! Today, I’m featuring a review of a contemporary M/M superhero story from Hal Bodner. FABULOUS IN TIGHTS features a uberstrong superhero who’s survived a LOT of bad guys, but Centerport’s newest villain might just break his heart before killing him. This is the first book in the Adventures of the Whirlwind series, and I’m so ready for the sequel!

Fabulous in Tights coverAbout the book:
Alec Archer isn’t just a superhero… he’s a survivor.
* He’s survived being harpooned by the megalomaniacal captain of a steampunk airship.
* He’s escaped being drowned by a sex-crazed mermaid.
* He’s narrowly avoided being reduced to a glowing pile of mush by a radioactive grandma.
* Even Kryptonite probably couldn’t hurt him.
(His inability to think before he opens his mouth, on the other hand, will probably get him killed.)
By day, Alec is the owner of a successful male escort service, living an idyllic life with a husband he adores. By night, Alec is the only man strong enough, fast enough, and svelte enough to reluctantly squeeze into the skintight turquoise mantle of the superhero known as the Whirlwind.
No matter how many supervillains choose Centerport to kick-off their crazy schemes of mass destruction and world domination, the Whirlwind will always be there to defeat them.
And he will always look fabulous in tights!

My Review:

Alec Archer was an out gay teen his parents turned out to the mean streets of Centerport. He had to prostitute himself to survive, but that he did. In fact he’s survived a lot more than nasty tricks at this point. He’s all grown up, and running a legal escort service, now that his former tricking partner was voted the mayor of Centerport. And not a little to early, because Alec met his beloved husband Peter when some of Peter’s colleagues hired Alec’s services to celebrate Peter’s promotion. It was kismet, and Alec committed himself to being the very best partner he could, once Peter got over the shock and dismay of falling so hard for a rent boy–even a beautiful rent boy like Alec.

Meanwhile, Alec has an even bigger secret life than that of a former prostitute-turned-“madam”–he’s strong and fast, virtually indestructible, and he moonlights as the Whirlwind to save the good folk of Centerport from all sorts of supervillains. The newest one on the scene, Thanatos, has targeted Peter’s agripharmaceuticals company, Greene Genes, all a mess. Peter’s boss, Jackson Greene, is an idealistic entrepreneur who’s now dying of cancer. While this is going on, Thanatos has planned industrial espionage to steal the secret plans of the Feed the World program. This program could end world hunger, but there is a weird glitch and only the top scientist on the program can unravel it. The Whirlwind comes to the rescue, but he’s only able to save a few folks that were trapped in the building before a bomb went off. It takes time for Thanatos to reveal his true purpose, and monetary demands.

Despite being both monogamous and completely committed to Peter, Alec can’t deny he has a big attraction to Thanatos. There’s something chemical about their mutual fascination, even though they are both unwilling to admit it. We mostly have the story told from Alec’s POV as himself or The Whirlwind, but there are moments of third-person POV from others including Thanatos, and Jackson Greene. This whole story is engaging, with the kind of odd-ball heroes and hero support one might find in a Deadpool spin-off. I really enjoyed Alec, he’s such a funny guy, and his deadpan humor had me smirking along as I turned the pages. This is the first book in the series and it’s not exactly ending on a high note for Whirlpool. Thanatos is a bigger menace than he’d predicted, and the stakes are way higher than Alec could have fathomed; he’s at risk of losing himself or Peter in this melee. I was a bit stunned with the ending, not because I didn’t see it coming, but because I was really so engaged I didn’t WANT things to go that way.

Not going to give any of the secrets away, but wow, am I hooked on Alec, and hoping his next book will bring both peace and happiness.

Interested? You can find FABULOUS IN TIGHTS on Goodreads, and Amazon.

About the Author:After almost a decade writing predominantly horror fiction, and receiving a couple of Bram Stoker Award nomination in the bargain, Hal returned to his comedic roots with Fabulous in Tights and A Study in Spandex, the trials and tribulations of the reluctant superhero known as the Whirlwind. He is eagerly looking forward to the release of his Browne & Brownie series of comic capers, starting with Into Thin Heir. With this new series, Hal hopes to turn classic Noir fiction upside down, and tint it with a healthy splash of lavender.

After the death of his first husband, Hal married again. His second husband is a wonderful man, roughly half Hal’s age, who had no idea that Liza Minnelli was Judy Garland’s daughter. He is also responsible for this website!

You can catch Hal on his website.
Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Might or Right? JUNIOR HERO BLUES–Review and Giveaway!

Junior Hero Blues BannerHi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M contemporary YA superhero romance from J.K. Pendragon. JUNIOR HERO BLUES is a standalone story following the exploits and struggles of an out-gay teen who’s biggest secret is he’s a junior hero learning how to control his new-found powers working for the Legion of Liberty. And, well, it seems like he’s fallen for his biggest nemesis at just the wrong time.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $50 GC.
Junior Hero Blues-f500About the book:
Last year, Javier Medina was your average socially awkward gay high schooler with a chip on his shoulder. This year, he’s…well, pretty much the same, but with bonus superpowers, a costume with an ab window to show off his new goods, and a secret identity as the high-flying, wise-cracking superhero Blue Spark.

But being a Junior Hero means that Javier gets all the responsibility and none of the cool gadgets. It’s hard enough working for the Legion of Liberty and fighting against the evil Organization, all while trying to keep on top of school work and suspicious parents. Add in a hunky boyfriend who’s way out of Javier’s league, and an even hunkier villain who keeps appearing every time said boyfriend mysteriously disappears, and Blue Spark is in for one big dollop of teenage angst. All while engaging in some epic superhero action and, oh yeah, an all-out battle to protect Liberty City from the forces of evil.

Welcome to the 100% true and totally unbiased account of life as a teenage superhero.

How about a little taste?

When I woke up, my mask was lying beside me on the ground, and I felt like my entire head had been squeezed like a pimple.

It took me a few minutes to get my bearings, and by the time I realized the Raven was there with me, she was putting my mask back over my eyes and checking my vitals. Masks have a way of obscuring expressions, but I could see her jaw was tight and her lips were even thinner than usual.

“What happened?” I groaned, my voice raspy. I was starting to get memories back, of the smoke and explosions of the battle, and of him. That bastard smashing my head into a mirror—I raised a hand to my forehead and felt crusted blood through my glove—and then of us fighting, and of a rather unheroic rage that had come over me as we did so. The last thing I remembered was my hands on either side of his head, shooting sonic waves into his ears so hard his eyes were rolling back, and his big meaty hands around my neck, squeezing me into darkness.

“Don’t know.” The Raven’s ambiguously Slavic accent was harsher than normal. “I found you here, with your mask off. Who did it, do you know?”

“Yeah.” I coughed. “Who do you think? Jimmy Black.”

*

I guess I should back up a bit. Jimmy Black was my sworn enemy, if you go for dramatics like that (I totally do), and I’d met him before all this crap with the Organization started. I’d been on a date with Rick Rykov. My first date. Ever, that is, and I was pretty convinced the whole thing was a setup to make fun of me, because that would be typical. But then Rick actually showed up at the café, and we sat there for twenty minutes drinking coffee and discussing our lives like regular people, and there was absolutely no sign of the whole thing being a prank or some plan concocted by him and his friends to humiliate me.

I mean, aside from being gay, Rick was, like, standard bully material. He was a football player, even—six feet of lean teenage muscle and popularity. And I have a theory that being gay in high school just pushes your social standing to an extreme either way. Like, if you’re already popular, and then you come out as gay, you become this amazing, brave individual who inspires change (exhibit A: Rick Rykov). But if you come out as gay, and you’re that weird little Spanish dude who came to America in first grade and couldn’t speak any English, who decided to compensate for that fact by eating a bug in front of his entire class, which was never forgotten, ever, by anyone…

Well, see exhibit B: Javier Medina (that’s me, by the way). Skinny, brown, nerdy. I’m sure you can picture it. That, combined with my family not exactly being wealthy, meant I got picked on a lot in school, even before the bug thing, so I’m a little skittish. Or possibly a lot skittish. You decide.

So anyway, naturally, considering my rather extensive history with bullies, when a superhot, superpopular football player came striding down the hall toward me after class one day, my first instinct was to run away. Unfortunately, Kendall (who apparently has superhearing that I don’t know about) had overheard that Rick was planning on asking me out and grabbed my arm to keep me from escaping. She’s pretty heavyset, and I guess she was using her weight to her advantage, because I was basically rooted to the spot despite having, you know, moderate superstrength.

So then Rick strolled up, cool as you please, and introduced himself. Like, he full-on shook my hand. As if it were a job interview. And then he asked me out, and I was thinking I might be stupid enough to eat a bug, but I sure as hell wasn’t stupid enough to think that Rick Rykov was actually asking me out on a date. So I told him to eff off.

Yeah right. I actually said something along the lines of, “Uhh…you want to go…on a date? With me? Wh… Why?”

And he said, “Because I like you. I think you’re cute, so I thought we could get to know each other a bit better over coffee.”

At this point, I was basically giving myself whiplash looking around trying to see if I was in the process of being ambushed with the eventual intent to stick my head in the toilet. And then I got kind of angry because, like, here I was, busting my butt every single day to save people’s lives and keep the public safe. Screw putting up with this high school bullying crap.

So I decided I would go out with Rick, and if he or any of his buff football friends decided to try to pull one over me, I was just going to spontaneously snap and beat the crap out of them (or at least use my powers to pull some fun tricks with them) and plead temporary insanity to Captain Liberty after the fact.

Rick seemed pleased, and a little surprised I’d agreed. We set a date, and I went fully expecting to be doused with whipped cream, or laughed and jeered at, or at the very least stood up.

But Rick was there, leaning back in one of the little spindly café chairs that looked like it might break under his weight and sipping some frothy drink. When I sat, he shook my hand again, and then we just sort of…started talking.

Which I know isn’t a big deal, because, like, people talk all the time. But not me. I mean, I talk to Kendall, because she’s my best friend and has been forever, and we tell each other everything. I talk to my parents, in Spanish mostly, which is still a bit easier for me, funnily enough (although I’m sure you can tell I have an absolutely superb grasp of the English language). But with everyone else? It’s kind of like the fewer syllables I can use, the better. I mumble my way through life. I just can’t make myself say what I’m thinking most of the time.

So yeah, it was pleasantly surprising to be able to talk to Rick. He asked me questions and waited patiently while I answered them, and then offered information about himself. He lived with his parents in a really nice part of town, although pretty close to me, and had a sister and a cat. And I told him, a bit defensively, that I lived with my parents in a crappy little apartment that didn’t allow pets, and that my dad worked on computers and my mom worked at a gas station so we could have a little extra income. I was all set for Rick to be all judgey or awkward (or worse, feel bad for me) about my poorness, but he didn’t seem to care about that at all. He actually seemed to genuinely want to get to know me.

And then, just when I was starting to relax and believe that this was actually a thing that was happening and I wasn’t going to, you know, die, Rick’s phone rang. He had a sort of awkward conversation and said, looking really let down, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go to work. Last-minute thing.” Then his face brightened up a bit. “But we should do this again sometime.”

I agreed, and he went off, and I was left sitting there for about ten minutes finishing my coffee and thinking. And then my phone rang too.

I should have figured it out right then and there.

It was the Legion dispatch, about as polite as ever, which is to say one step up from a robot. Actually, scratch that, the Legion AI was way friendlier.

So she was all, “There’s an incident downtown, not far from your location. Can you respond?”

And I figured why not, since I was pretty pumped at that moment, and anyway, it was my job. Like, I got paid for it and everything. So I told her I’d be there in two minutes, and grabbed my bag and headed out.

Now, listen up, because I’m going to let you in on a little secret about switching from your civilian clothes into your superhero getup.

The telephone booth thing?

Utter bullcrap.

I mean, maybe except for old pros like Captain Liberty. I’ve seen him change into his costume so fast it was as if he must have been wearing a tear-away outfit, complete with, like, origami cape and boots in his back pocket. But for the rest of us, it’s three-plus minutes of awkwardly hunching on top of a building—try even finding a telephone booth these days—ripping off your clothes and pulling on the parts of your costume that don’t fit under them, and then you have to try to fit everything, including your shoes, into your backpack. And then you have to look for a place to stash your backpack where it won’t be stolen or crapped on by pigeons or something.

And the Legion really does expect you to respond to a call within only five minutes. I don’t know why they haven’t invented some sort of quick-change technology. Maybe they have, and they just don’t make it available to Junior Heroes.

It’s a complete rip-off being a Junior Hero, by the way. You’re supposed to be only assigned to low-risk stuff, but half the time it’s just as dangerous as anything else anyway, and the rest of the time it’s freaking boring.

My Review:
Javier is a high schooler who is out as gay, and loved by his parents who are immigrants from Spain and work hard for their very modest life in Liberty City. About six months back Javier had a freak accident and his body grafted with the energy of an alien life form that had been a Legion hero but was slain in the moments before. Now Javier is more than the weird kid who couldn’t speak English in primary school. He’s now a Junior Hero working for the Legion of Liberty. And, that’s an actual paying gig with a costume and everything. Javi hides his body from nearly enveryone because he’s covered in blue streaks, but in his alter-ego he’s the Blue Spark, with powers like almost-flying, and making shock waves, and sparks. He’s also really strong, but you know, not invincible or anything.

While out on patrol, Blue Spark discovers some Organization baddies robbing places. The head of this posse seems to be Johnny Black, who is a wise-cracking nefarious dude. He seems to be able to walk up vertical walls, and is super strong. This encounter reveals a secret plot by the Organization to gain access to the Legion database, digitally unmasking all the superheroes and their whereabouts in Liberty City. Battles between Organization and Legion operatives had been legendary, but there’s been a tentative peace for the last seven years or so–since the Legion had mostly eradicated the Organization’s forces. Now it seems as if they have been building up their team again, using a brainwashing agent known as a Hound to turn Legion members and new heroes to their malicious cause.

On the life front, Javier meets Rick, an attractive and popular boy at school, who seems like he wants to date him. And they hit it off. It’s so sweet and a bit overwhelming, which is why Javi doesn’t immediately notice the physical similarities between Rick and this Johnny Black guy.

I seriously adored this story. Javier is such a good and honest kid. He’s way out of his depth, but he’s striving to be the best person he can, while also keeping his big secrets. He learns pretty early that he’s fallen for Rick, and Rick is unfortunately under the sway of the Organization’s Hound. The ramifications mean they are always on opposite sides, even as Javier fights to win his mind and heart back. They have lots of discussions about right and wrong, and how to manage the divide across which they find themselves.

The tone and language of the story is perfectly aligned with a YA story framework. Javi and Rick have real-life teen drama angst, on top of the superhero/villain issues they both face. It’s a creative story with heart and interesting experiences and plotting. I loved Javi’s heart and his questioning of the situation and his plans. He loves his parents, and he’s trying to protect them, Rick, Rick’s family, his friends and all the people of Liberty City. He’s a good kid, and he does save the day, over and over, while also following his heart.

Interested? You can find JUNIOR HERO BLUES on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $50 NineStar Press GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
J.K. Pendragon is a Canadian author with a love of all things romantic and fantastical. They first came to the queer fiction community through m/m romance, but soon began to branch off into writing all kinds of queer fiction. As a bisexual and genderqueer person, J.K. is dedicated to producing diverse, entertaining fiction that showcases characters across the rainbow spectrum, and provides queer characters with the happy endings they are so often denied.

J.K. currently resides in British Columbia, Canada with a boyfriend, a cat, and a large collection of artisanal teas that they really need to get around to drinking. They are always happy to chat, and can be reached at jes.k.pendragon@gmail.com.

You can catch up with J.K. on Instagram, and twitter.

Pride or Prejudice? FIRST IMPRESSIONS–Review and Giveaway!

First Impressions BannerHi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M contemporary romance from C Koehler. FIRST IMPRESSIONS is a standalone romance that gave me a sense of Pride and Prejudice–as a gay romance. I fell into this author’s CalPac Crew romances and recommend those if you like crew and mature romances! I’ve enjoyed ROCKING THE BOAT, TIPPING THE BALANCE, and BURNING IT DOWN and SETTLING THE SCORE wrapped up that series.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $10 GC.
First Impressions-f500About the book:

When Henry Hughes and Cameron Jameson meet for the first time at a Coming Out Day party, it’s anything but love at first sight. In fact, it’s an unmitigated disaster, despite a scorching physical attraction.

Henry, whose social anxiety gets the better of him, humiliates Cameron, and when Cameron finds out about Henry’s past in adult films, he assumes he dodged a disease-covered bullet. Yet as Henry runs into Cameron again and again, he realizes he might have misjudged the younger man. He also realizes that Cameron won’t let go of his own initial view and thinks Henry is an unmitigated ass. First impressions are lasting impressions, and Cameron seems to misinterpret all of Henry’s words and deeds.

It’s not until Henry confronts Cameron that Cameron realizes just how wrong he’s been, but he thinks he’s lost his chance. Yet when disaster strikes Cameron and his friends, Henry rides to the rescue. Will Cameron be able to put aside his pride and shame to accept Henry’s help and his heart?

How about a little taste?

Henry Hughes nudged his Tesla Roadster into the second of his assigned parking spots beneath the Capitol Towers, the one in which he’d had a charger installed, praying he didn’t dent or scratch the pricey plaything.

He struggled to leverage his muscular frame out of the door, and finally just climbed out the top. There was no way this would work long-term. He was way over six feet tall and built like a linebacker. Maybe the other space was larger? He’d already noticed his assistant’s more serviceable SUV parked there. He made a note to talk to her about it, but then he realized if he did, she’d relinquish the larger space without a peep, or worse, buy a smaller car. Then he thought about the hassle of moving the charger. It’d be easier to keep climbing out of the top of the car.

The parking was a pain in the ass—and not the good kind—but to keep a place in Sacramento. Since it wasn’t his primary residence, a house with a yard simply wasn’t practical, not even one of the adorable bungalows in the neighborhoods east of downtown. So, there he was with a condo and the adventures in parking.

Even with the occasional headache, Sacramento still beat San Francisco, and it was the only city of any size close to Alpenglow, his spread near Lake Tahoe. What was his alternative, some village of less than fifty people on US-50? Now entering, now leaving!

The door opened at his touch, and he sighed. There could be only one explanation.

Lillian.

She had arrived early to freshen the place up for him.

It was thoughtful and so like her, and so unnecessary. He wasn’t helpless, just an emotional wreck. He lied to himself and pretended the joke was funny.

“Hello?” he called, shutting the door behind him. He walked into the foyer and through the French doors that led to the formal living space beyond. “Lillian?”

“In here, Henry.”

Lillian Desmond rose to shake his hand when Henry entered the room because she was respectful like that. She was tall, a bit shorter than him, at least, and while her face was lined by sun and a storied career in law enforcement and paramilitary groups—the details of which he still found improbable despite vetting them thoroughly—she wore her fifty-odd years lightly. He suspected she could put him on the ground in seconds if she wanted to but was nice enough not to demonstrate it. She kept her graying-blonde hair out of the way in a no-nonsense bun, and that plus the reading glasses perched on her nose made her look like a schoolmarm.

“Welcome home.” Her reading glasses slid down her nose as she looked him in the eye. It made him wonder what he’d done and what the consequences would be.

Henry looked around. “It doesn’t really feel like home. It’s more like a hotel suite I own, which is weird, because Alpenglow doesn’t look this impersonal and it’s actually a hotel. Sort of.”

“And whose fault is that? Maybe you should spend more time down here this fall. You work awfully hard.” Lillian gave him a stern look. “Take some time off.”

“I don’t work any harder than you, and you’ll take time off when you die.” He hated talking about his work habits because they inevitably led to discussions about his personal life. Or the lack thereof. “Who knows. A bit of a break might be nice.”

“There you go.” Lillian herded him away from her paperwork. “Let’s go into the living room. We’ve got some things to go over.”

“The winter schedule and programming?” Henry noted the leather portfolio with the Alpenglow logo on its cover.

Lillian laughed, sweet and musical. “You’re funny. No, we went over that months ago, as you evidently don’t recall. This”—she pulled out the portfolio—“is the material for next spring.”

“I guess there’s no putting it off.” Henry pretended to be reluctant, but he loved Alpenglow like nothing else, built from the ground up out of a moribund ski resort with his own money and tricky financing. It had started just with skiing, but he had added a variety of offerings to make it a desirable year-round destination.

Lillian had been an early part of Henry’s operation and had quickly become integral to it. He’d initially hired her to head his security team, but after her first diffident suggestion that perhaps opening the cross-country trails to local horse-riding camps might improve their nonexistent summer cash flow, he and she had put their heads together to make Alpenglow what it was, even if she wouldn’t accept part ownership. “Alpenglow’s all yours,” she said when he’d tried to sign over an admittedly minority share to her. “You pay me a prince’s ransom, and that’s more than enough.”

So now he sat next to her now on one of the leather sofas while they finalized their spring plans.

Lillian pushed her readers back into position. “I’ve got quite an agenda for us while we’re here, Henry.”

“I can see that.”

“First, routine maintenance issues. As you know, the outdoor swimming pools are showing their age.”

“That they are. Frankly, we’re lucky we got through the summer with them in the shape we did. In retrospect, they should’ve been done last winter.”

“Hindsight’s always twenty-twenty,” Lillian agreed. “Now, in the past, you’ve insisted on keeping one outdoor pool open and heated, but this year…”

Henry leaned back, paying attention with only part of his mind as they ran through basic upkeep issues. They’d done this many times before; only the specific details changed.

“Have you had a chance to look into the décor of the rooms in the south wing, like I asked?”

“Yes, of course, Henry.” Lillian flipped through her notes. “You were right. Those rooms have never been updated, and honestly? They’re not looking that good.”

Henry nodded. “That’s what I thought. I haven’t been able to get into every room, but the ones I checked need help, and soon.”

They should, he thought. They were the first rooms to accommodate guests, back when the south wing was the only wing and he worked the front desk.

“I’ll oversee it myself,” Lillian said. “Now, about—”

He shook his head. “No, I will. We can probably find designers and decorators whose work’ll do in Sacramento, but if we need to go to San Francisco I’m halfway there. Have the schematics for those rooms sent down here via courier, and I’ll start making calls.” Henry thought for a moment. “One other thing…don’t fill my dance card too full. There are people down here I want to see, people I hope will invest in the next phase of Alpenglow.”

Lillian nodded. “I’ve heard a rumor that Darren Jessup from Band of Brothers might be in town for a while. I’ll see what I can find out. Now, the last thing on the list, at least for today, is Camp Snowflake. Will you be taking your usual role?”

Henry frowned. “Of course, why wouldn’t I?”

She looked up from her portfolio. “Just checking. I wasn’t sure how long this hankering of yours for city life would last this time.”

“We’ll see, won’t we? It looks like I’m ready for company again, and despite the smaller size of Sacramento’s gay community, it feels like fewer people here know about my past.”

Lillian put down the portfolio with its list and removed her glasses. “People don’t care about your imagined ex-porn star notoriety as much as you think they do.”

“You’d be surprised what people care about, and thanks to the Internet, it’s still as fresh as yesterday.” Henry laughed without humor. “It’s only been five years or so. Hell, Badass still has most of the films on the website.”

“I know how much it bothers you.” Lillian touched his arm gently.

He appreciated the gesture even if it didn’t make him feel better. Early in their association, she’d taken on the role of mother surrogate. It hadn’t taken him long to figure out that he’d never convince her he could take care of himself, and it was nice to have someone looking out for him.

None of that meant he didn’t want, didn’t long for, didn’t need that someone special to look after him. And for him to look after in return, a real husband and not the string of trophy men his Uncle Benton supported, tagging along behind him like Mary’s little lambs, always bleating for more cash. He sighed and made a mental note to let Uncle Benton know he was in town.

Lillian snapped her portfolio closed, and then hesitated. She gave him a measuring look. “There is one other thing…”

Henry knew that tone. It always led somewhere, usually right into his private life. “Yes?”

“You need to get out more, Henry.” Amazing. She hadn’t even bothered to butter him up first. She held up a hand to hold him off. “I know what you just said about the imagined sins of your past, but you’re never going to meet Mr. Right—hell, Mr. Right Now—if you’re holed up in your pretty prison up by the lake.”

“Alpenglow’s not a prison,” Henry mumbled. He crossed his arms defensively, trying to ward off the truth of her words. On some level he knew he looked like a petulant child, but right then he didn’t care.

Lillian leaned forward and touched the side of his head. It was gentle, almost a caress. “I mean up here, in your mind.”

Henry jumped. That one slipped past his defenses. He tried to laugh it off, but it came out as a strangled gurgle. He coughed to clear his throat. “So…um, what do you have in mind?”

“Well, seeing how it’s early October…”

Henry looked at her expectantly, waiting for the rest.

“Early October, Henry. Ring any bells?”

“Not seeing any connections, Lillian.”

“National Coming Out Day, Henry,” Lillian sighed. Then, quicker than lightning, her hand flashed out and smacked him on the forehead.

“Ouch!” Henry yelped. “What the hell was that for?”

“You’re gay, you big fool. Hell, you made gay porn for years, and you don’t know when National Coming Out Day is?” Lillian shook her head.

“I came out—was outed, thank you very much—years ago.” Henry rubbed where she’d hit him. It still stung.

“My point,” Lillian said, “is that you could show a little gay pride once in a while, considering how much money the gay community’s made you over the years.”

“Technically, they made the money for Badass Productions. I was a contract worker at first,”

“Trivia, Henry. Once you bought into the company all those horny men put cash in your pocket. You’re coming with me so I can introduce you to Sacramento society. There are people you need to meet.”

Wasn’t Sacramento society an oxymoron? “All right.”

Lillian looked at him with suspicion. “That’s it? No argument? No mulish and obstinate resistance?”

“Would it do any good?”

“No.”

“Then…wait a minute.” Henry glared at her through slitted eyes. “If I need to meet these people, why haven’t I met them sooner? We’ve both spent plenty of time here.”

“The time just didn’t seem right.” Lillian wouldn’t meet his eyes.

Interest, but Henry decided not to pursue it. “Why not? I can’t spend all my time on the redesign, and who knows? Maybe I can drum up some business. I do own a high-end resort, after all.”

He made all the right noises, but when it came down to it, Henry didn’t know who people would see when they met him, Henry Hughes or Hugh Jerection, a man and persona he’d long ago come to hate.

My Review:
Henry Hughes is a wealthy ex-porn star turned boutique hotelier. Because of his history in adult films, Henry is a reticent man believing that people are mostly interested in one thing. One BIG thing. And, though he’d love to settle down with a good man he just can’t seem to find one that he can trust. He is introduced to Cameron Jameson at a Coming Out Day party, but he’s in the wrong mood for it, and lashes out in a huge, embarrassing way.

Cameron Jameson is a wunderkind who took a big step off the spinning wheel of life following early admission at Stanford. He never finished college, and is working retail at age 29, avoiding the pressure of his wealthy family, and all their expectations. He so wants a loving partner, and is a bit hung up on his close friend Simon, but Simon seems to disrespect his love. He’s been mortified by Henry Hughes, who is big and wealthy and beautiful, which made it all the more disappointing. Especially since they keep running into one another.

If only Cameron didn’t find Henry so attractive–because it’s hard feeling so attracted to a man who made him feel so bad about himself. His friends and Henry’s friends keep trying to intercede, explaining that their initial impressions were skewed in horrible ways, but it’s hard to overcome those disastrous first moments. And it’s only when Cameron finds himself in dire need of assistance that Henry is able to demonstrate the truly kind and compassionate man he is inside, in a way that Cameron will actually accept.

In the larger context, this story seemed to follow a Pride and Prejudice archetype, with a wealthy, reclusive hero whose ill manners lead him to making unpardonable social missteps with a younger and unexpectedly witty novice. It’s obviously been updated for a current setting and a male-male romance, but the underlying social situations of balls and brief encounters “in the wild” of Sacramento, California’s retail environs was a modern approximation. I even liked the metaphor of Henry’s “endowment,” er, male member, being so enormous and a making him a bit of a hard catch as a result. It’s not a perfect approximation of the story, obviously, but there were glimmers in that both Henry and Cameron were so well-matched in truth, but mismatched in temperament, and their respective prejudices and inflated pride kept them separated far longer than either man wanted.

I really enjoyed the side characters and their melodrama, which sucks Cameron into schemes against his will and better judgment, schemes that at first push him and Henry apart, but later unite them in common cause. Pretty much a disastrous Thanksgiving weekend seals them together. The side characters are largely larger than life, and add a silliness that amused me, for it being so monstrously outrageous. Poor Cameron, who’s mother is nothing short of a boulder loosed by an earthquake, flattening his every chance at escaping the family embroilments. And, the zany roomies, who are flaky and yet determined to fill in for the missing family that Cameron has kept at arm’s length for a decade. Henry’s bodyguard/assistant and his new business partner both bring grounding and ribbing, by turns, shoving Hugh from his staid rut and into a more receptive mood for love.

I think readers need to be prepared for descriptive and introspective characters, who aren’t in the least afraid to flaunt their vocabulary. All of the books I’ve read from this author have operated at a high intellectual quotient, with challenging syntax and diction. For this book particularly, that naturally elicited the comparison to Austen’s great prose.

Interested? You can find FIRST IMPRESSIONS on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $10 NineStar Press GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Christopher Koehler always wanted to write, but it wasn’t until his grad school years that he realized writing was how he wanted to spend his life. Long something of a hothouse flower, he’s been lucky to be surrounded by people who encouraged that, especially his long-suffering husband of twenty-nine years and counting.

He loves many genres of fiction and nonfiction, but he’s especially fond of romances, because it’s in them that human emotions and relations, at least most of the ones fit to be discussed publicly, are laid bare.
While writing is his passion and his life, when he’s not doing that, he’s a househusband, at-home dad, and oarsman with a slightly disturbing interest in manners and the other ways people behave badly.

Christopher is approaching the tenth anniversary of publication and has been fortunate to be recognized for his writing, including by the American Library Association, which named Poz a 2016 Recommended Title, and an Honorable Mention for “Transformation,” in Innovation, Volume 6 of Queer Sci Fi’s Flash Fiction Anthology.

You can catch up with Christopher on Facebook, and twitter.

Call to Order SOMETHING BORROWED-Review and Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a contemporary M/M romance novella from Yolande Kleinn. SOMETHING BORROWED features a public defender who needs a date to his ex’s wedding, and ends up bringing the judge, a longtime mentor for whom he’s has a deep crush on, as a date. This is the second book from the author I have read. If you are into taboo menage, you might want to check out COVET.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.

Something Borrowed-f500About the book:

When public defender Trevor Ortega finds himself dateless for his ex’s wedding, faking a relationship seems like the perfect solution. Less perfect is his thoughtless impulse to invite Sebastian Greer—friend, federal judge, and former boss—as his plus one. It would be a solid plan if not for one problem: Trevor’s been in love with Sebastian for years, and each fraudulent touch will remind him of everything he can’t have.

Trevor doesn’t know why Sebastian agreed to his scheme, but there’s no backing out now. It’s only one night after all, and what’s a little heartbreak between friends?

How about a little taste?

As the voice droned steadily in his ear, the only thought in Trevor Ortega’s head was, Too bad a stunning location can’t salvage an interminable evening.

He scanned the rooftop garden, taking in the way starlight and a crescent moon glowed across cement pathways and eerily symmetrical greenery. A high stone wall ran the perimeter of the roof, and past it stretched a downtown cityscape reaching all the way to the river and beyond.

Whoever had coaxed their way into using this rooftop bower as a charity venue had seriously outdone themselves. Understated strings of lights illuminated chairs, white-draped tables, and a long banquet spread, plus a narrow counter where waitstaff served drinks.

The glass of champagne in Trevor’s hand was untouched and likely to stay that way. These events wound him too tight to drink. He’d never understood how his fellow attorneys didn’t share his reluctance. Tonight’s entire tableau felt so starched and formal, so full of people he desperately wanted to impress. After five years settled in as a public defender, he still couldn’t imagine relaxing at a gala like this.

The air had cooled considerably now that the sun had set. Even with the extra weight of his nicest suit jacket, Trevor shivered a little. If he could simply appreciate the atmosphere in silence, he could trick himself into enjoying the party.

Of course, silence was more than he could reasonably hope for tonight.

He smiled blandly at the man still talking to him. Trevor had only fleetingly caught the name offered in greeting. He probably should have tried harder to retain the information, if only to avoid crossing paths in the future. Sharp skinny angles gave his relentless conversational partner an intimidating air, the impression not at all helped by aggressive eyebrows and a sweep of receding white hair. The man’s expressionless mouth had not stopped moving for ten solid minutes. Trevor hadn’t been able to sneak in a single word to excuse himself. Somehow, the other cornered parties had all managed to escape, leaving him the sole recipient of a furious diatribe about the tax code.

Trevor didn’t mind conversations about tax codes, as a general rule. They could be fascinating in the right company. But here in this moment, words flowing over him without clarity or inflection, the topic bored him to tears. He couldn’t decide if having already eaten made the situation worse or better. On the one hand, he’d be cranky as hell if he were putting up with all this on an empty stomach, waiting in vain for a chance to escape to the banquet line. On the other hand, his full stomach meant the steady lull of his colleague’s voice was making him legitimately sleepy.

Ridiculous.

Trevor didn’t want to be here in the first place. Now that he’d fulfilled his obligation to make an appearance and could discreetly depart in good conscience, he had no graceful way to extricate himself from a one-sided conversation so dull he would prefer a concussion. It would be a different matter if this were a total stranger—Trevor might be willing to risk interrupting him midword—but he vaguely knew the man as a spouse of someone-or-other whom he couldn’t risk offending.

A shadow fell past Trevor’s elbow as someone approached him from behind. Even without knowing who the shadow belonged to, an instantaneous rush of relief cut beneath his skin. Any interruption at all could be enough of an opening to enable escape if he played his hand right.

Then he turned—had to tilt his head back to meet the new arrival’s eyes—and grinned in recognition.

Sebastian Greer stood at his elbow, tall and broad and so handsome it wasn’t fair.

“Trevor.” Sebastian greeted him with a nod, then turned an apologetic smile toward the argumentative tax attorney, who had finally stumbled midsentence. “Mr. Callum, I hope you’ll forgive the intrusion. I’ve got a professional question for Mr. Ortega. Can I borrow him for a moment?”

With difficulty, Trevor contained his grin. If he let it spread too wide, it would broadcast his relief plainly, never mind that he was so grateful for the intervention he could kiss Sebastian here and now.

Thoughts of kissing Sebastian Greer could only lead to incurable distraction and embarrassment if he were caught staring, so Trevor set the notion aside with the efficiency of long practice. He raised his glass in a parting gesture toward Mr. Callum, trying not to appear overly pleased, then let his former boss lead him away.

With every step toward relative seclusion, Trevor tried not to notice how effortlessly gorgeous Sebastian looked in his tuxedo. Wide shoulders filled the dark jacket without straining the fabric. A bow tie sat perfectly knotted under the round line of his jaw, and the crisp white of his collar stood out dramatically against warm umber skin. Sebastian’s eyes glittered in the moonlight, and Trevor clenched his teeth.

It wasn’t fucking fair. An overworked federal circuit judge had no business looking like he just strode out of a fashion shoot. Even the silvering hair at his temples could have been a touch-up for the cover of a magazine.

How was Trevor supposed to keep his composure in front of a knight in shining armor this devastatingly handsome?

Somehow, whether through willpower or desperation, he managed to tamp down the cascade of uninvited feelings as he and Sebastian reached an empty corner of the roof. Trevor hoped his smile was visible through the shadows and that it conveyed a reasonable level of gratitude.

“Thanks for the rescue.”

“Thanks aren’t necessary.” Sebastian wore a distinctly smug expression as he sipped from the drink in his own hand. It could have been a gin and tonic, but it was probably just club soda with lime. Trevor wasn’t the only one who wouldn’t risk being inebriated among a crowd of his peers. “I thought I recognized the flicker of glazed displeasure in your eyes. If I misgauged, I offer my most sincere apologies.”

Trevor snorted at the familiar veneer of decorum in Sebastian’s teasing, then sipped his drink to keep from admitting he would forgive nearly anything for the sake of Sebastian’s company.

When he trusted himself to manage something more measured than longing, he said, “‘Glazed displeasure’ might be an understatement. I’d legitimately started to wonder if I should fake a fainting spell to make him go away. I was scouting for an escape hatch when he cornered me.”

Trevor nearly choked on another half-hearted sip of champagne when Sebastian asked, “Can I join your escape attempt? There’s an excellent bar half a block away.”

Maybe it was silly to be surprised by the suggestion. Sebastian had invited him out for drinks and meals any number of times since their professional paths had parted ways—and in any case, the invitation was never for anything more intimate than a casual evening between colleagues, no matter how fervently Trevor might wish otherwise. They’d never socialized off the clock while he was Sebastian’s law clerk, but the five years since had been different. Trevor didn’t think he’d imagined the way they had slipped gradually across the line from professional acquaintances to friends.

“God, yes, please let’s do that.” He prayed his helpless infatuation didn’t echo too obviously through the words.

My Review:
Trevor Ortega is a bisexual man who is also a public defender. After law school, he clerked for Judge Sebastian Greer, a man he admired both professionally and personally while they worked together for five or so years. During law school and for a few years after, Trevor dated Emma, a wealthy and astute woman. His emotional and physical distance due to school and work duties eventually tore their relationship apart, but they have maintained a strong friendship. Which has even withstood Emma now being engaged to his former law school rival, Sloane.

He’s kind of pouring out his struggle, about having to go to Emma and Sloane’s wedding stag, to Sebastian, and he’s stunned when Sebastian offers to attend as his date. It’s like nearly Trevor’s fantasy come true, to spend an evening with Sebastian affectionate, attentive, and close-at-hand. Sebastian deftly manages the toxic currents of conversation that Trevor struggles with in Emma’s social sphere, but it’s not real. It can’t be, can it? The big complication arises as they imbibe and the lines between fake boyfriend and wanna-be lover become blurred. Sebastian’s brother happens to be a surprise guest, having been a mentor to Sloane over the years. He knows Sebastian’s secret desires, and calls him out for never being honest with Trevor–now that they have not been in a mentor-mentee relationship for several years.

It’s a sweet and captivating novella that really warms the heart. All the folks here are decent and compassionate. Trevor really does wish both Emma and Sloane well, he just doesn’t want to be seen as inadequate, and Sebastian makes it clear he never once considered Trevor as anything but first-class. I hesitate to call it a “slow burn” since it’s so short, but there is definitely a cadence that allows Trevor and Sebastian to find their footing as lovers quickly, due to their longstanding friendship and mutual respect and admiration.

Interested? You can find SOMETHING BORROWED on Goodreads, NineStar Press, or Books2 Reads.

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About the Author:
Yolande Kleinn is a shameless dreamer, a stubborn optimist, and a purveyor of erotic romance. Excitable, fastidious and just a little eclectic, she spends every spare moment writing the stories she wants to read. If she can drag other people into the pool along with her, then so much the better.

Catch Yolande on her website, Facebook and twitter.