More Than Friends? LEARNED REACTIONS–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new M/M contemporary romance from Jayce Ellis. LEARNED REACTIONS is the second book in her Higher Education series that feature professional men of color finding both success and love. We get a friends-to-lovers story here that really burned up the pages. Check out my review of LEARNED BEHAVIORS for another great read, with connected characters.

About the book:
Carlton Monroe is finally getting his groove back. After a year playing dad to his nephew and sending him safely off to college, it’s back to his bachelor ways. But when his teenaged niece shows up on his doorstep looking for a permanent home, his plan comes to a screeching halt. Family is everything, and in the eyes of social services, a couple makes a better adoptive family than an overworked bachelor father. A fake relationship with his closest friend is the best way to keep his family together.

If things between him and Deion are complicated, well, it only needs to last until the end of the semester.

Living with Carlton is a heartbreak waiting to happen, and once the adoption goes through, Deion’s out. He’s waited two decades for Carlton to realize they’re meant for each other, and he’s done. It’s time to make a clean break. But it’s hard to think of moving away when keeping up the act includes some very real perks like kissing, cuddling and sharing a bed.

Even the best charades must come to an end, though. As the holidays and Deion’s departure date loom, the two men must decide whether playing house is enough for them—or if there’s any chance they could be a family for real.

My Review:
Carlton Monroe is a financial aid officer at Howard University in DC. He’s been there a long time, and he works hard. He’s an out gay black man whose “traditional” (read: bigoted and austere) parents are not really talking with him–mostly on account of him being gay. He’d always had a conflicted relationship with his parents, though, even before he came out. Once he did though, they mostly disowned him. He had a good relationship with his sister, whom his parents idealized as the golden child of their family, but she and her husband died a few years ago leaving their children, Trey and Olivia, orphaned. Carlton’s parents took custody of the kids, but Trey, who may be genderqueer, soon turned up on his doorstep–after too many fights with his stifling grandparents. Carlton took him in with no qualms, and helped him graduate high school and enter college.

So, now Carlton is a free man! No responsibilities and looking forward to spending some time with his longtime best friend, and former college roomie, Deion Jones. Professor Jones is taking a sabbatical, and has agreed to visit Carlton for a bit.

Thing is, Deion has literally been in love with Carlton for…ever. Since freshman year of college, for sure. Deion is a beautiful, virile Black gay man, and he’s always wanted a loving partner and family. He’s a little jealous that Carlton, who always professed to never wanting kids himself, has become an uncle-dad to his nephew. While Deion’s visiting Carlton Olivia turns up on the doorstep, crying and wanting to be free of her domineering grandparents. Olivia wants to wrestle on her high school team, against the boys–and Grams was having none of it. But it was also how her grandparents cut her off from communicating with Trey and Uncle Carlton that messed things up with Olivia. Deion is happy to help co-parent, for the time he’s meant to be in DC, but Carlton–with the help and advice of his friend Lawrence–is moving to formally adopt Olivia. To protect her from the toxic homelife he’d narrowly escaped with his folks. And, the social worker helping to facilitate the adoption mistakes Carlton and Deion as cohabitating partners.

It’s then that Carlton suggests that Deion extend his stay, stop sleeping on his couch, and move himself into Carlton’s plush bed. And, if they can add benefits to their friendship, all the better. Because Carlton’s been low key in love with Deion all along. He’s just been too afraid to chance anything more, because Deion’s the only constant and healthy relationship Carlton has maintained in his adult life. He might make himself out to be a Grindr fan and freewheeling bachelor, but he isn’t really that guy. He’s a homebody who thrives on late-night check-ins with Deion, whose relationships haven’t really panned out either on account of his pining for Carlton.

Their extended cohabitation and more-than-friends sexytimes are blurring the lines, however, and with Deion’s sabbatical coming to an end there are realities that need to be faced and discussed. Shame Carlton’s so tongue-tied with his affections. At first. It’s a bittersweet break, because Trey and Olivia LOVE Uncle Deion as much as he does them. His dream of being a dad is nearly complete, if only Carlton truly loved him as a partner, as a potential husband, not a pseudo-temporary-boyfriend just to finalize the adoption. Can he live without Carlton, even as a friend? Because it might kill their friendship if he does what he needs to do to protect his heart. Once Carlton gets a handle on his life without Deion in it on the day-to-day he realizes his family dysfunctions have set him up for a lifetime of happiness. It’s difficult for each of these men to change their habits, but a happy ending is on the horizon, if only they can break the patterns that have bound them in misery the past 16 years (or so).

Loved this one!! Carlton’s hot mess of a life is so chaotic, but his love for Deion is clear, even if he can’t speak to it. Their sexytimes are amazing, so steamy, and yet playful. They have been friends too long for much awkwardness, even in the bedroom. I loved the grand gesture that Carlton plans, and it was awesome to see their happy ending on the page. Deion’s future had looked so bleak, but he’s more than happy to be a dad, even to a teen girl wrestler. There are fun interactions with Jaq and Lawrence who we met in the first book of this series. Lawrence, especially, got good page time as very successful Black lawyer who happens to be a father many times over and a divorced pansexual man. I’m sure we’ll see this “daddy” find himself a partner in the next book. I absolutely look forward to it.

Interested? You can find LEARNED REACTIONS on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Jayce Ellis is an author and an attorney. You can connect with her on twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Now Available: THE SOCIAL CLIMBER–Excerpt & Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing an excerpt and giveaway for a new YA LGBTQ romance from Jere’ M. Fishback. is a coming-of-age story for a couple of high school kids whose aspirations to popularity lead to heartbreak and infamy. This is the second book I’m going to read from this author, both with near-historical settings in Florida. If you like New Adult coming out stories, you might try BECOMING ANDY HUNSINGER, which I really enjoyed.

Drop down to catch an excerpt and get in on the book giveaway, too!
About the book:
High school classmates, Josh Livingstone who’s gay, and his straight friend Simon LePage, hatch a plot to improve their status at school by creating new images for themselves. But their efforts ultimately blow up in their faces, leading to both comical and heartbreaking results, as they learn lessons in life and love the hard way.

How about a little taste…

Life’s never easy, is it?

I was born working class, so you might say I didn’t experience the finer things this world had to offer, not as a boy anyway. I grew up in Pinellas Park, Florida, a place mostly populated by working stiffs and their families, coupon-clipping retirees, and trailer park dwellers.

We had our own high school, but every year our football team sucked, due to lousy coaches, indolent linemen who wouldn’t hit too hard, and lack of a decent place kicker, since we didn’t have a youth soccer league in Pinellas Park. Some folks tried to start one once, but only three kids signed up. That’s right—three.

Are you surprised I actually know the meaning of a word like “indolent”? Well, I’m not stupid, as you will soon see.

Back to my early life…

Here’s an example of our pitiful Pinellas Park subculture:

When I was in fourth grade, our school principal, Lyman Reddick, got himself suspended for arriving at school with a loaded deer rifle hanging from the rack in his truck cab, the dumb shit. Even at age nine, I’d have known better. I mean, bringing a gun to a school full of kids—how stupid is that? He’s lucky the school board didn’t order his nuts cut off.

My daddy was a plumber. For a time, he worked for Sonny Saunders, snaking clogged sinks and sewer lines, fixing leaky faucets, and installing new toilets for folks who couldn’t or wouldn’t do that sort of work themselves. But Daddy was an independent cuss; he didn’t like the crap Sonny dished out to everyone who worked for him; plus, Sonny didn’t pay worth shit.

So, Daddy quit and started his own plumbing business. He had little cards printed up, calling himself “Rodney the Sunshine Plumber,” and he sent me and my older sister, Sarah, from door to door, handing out the cards offering new customers a 15 percent discount on their first service call. And it was kind of scary knocking on doors and ringing doorbells, especially at houses with Beware of Dog signs in their yards. I could hear the barking inside when I approached.

Sometimes, grouchy men or women would answer their doors; they’d tell me to get lost and leave them alone. But most folks were nice enough. They’d take a card and turn it over in their fingers while diddling their lips, and more than a few would say something pleasant like “It’s sweet you’re helping your daddy with his business.”

I believe there are many good people in this world, I truly do. It’s just the asshole minority who ruin everything for the rest of us.

About my parents…

Daddy’s from a village called Poverty Hill, South Carolina, right across the Savannah River from Augusta. His parents still live there in a double-wide trailer, off in the woods, with a deep well, a septic tank, four dogs, and a leaky roof. The nearest Walmart’s in Belvedere.

We only stayed in Poverty Hill once, when I was ten. What I remember best about that visit was Daddy and Grandpa getting into an argument after drinking too much George Dickel on Christmas Eve. Around midnight, Momma and Daddy rousted me and Sarah from our beds. They threw all our shit into the trunk of Momma’s car—suitcases, wrapped Christmas gifts, and even a turkey we’d brought from Florida. Then we drove all night, with Momma behind the wheel while Daddy snored in the passenger seat. We arrived in Pinellas Park just when the sun came up.

I’ll tell you, that was one crazy Christmas at our house. When we got home from Poverty Hill, everyone went to bed and slept till noon, and I don’t know who was in a worse mood when we all got up, Daddy or Momma.

Momma’s one-quarter Cherokee, and when she gets angry, you’d best look out since her blood takes to boiling and then all hell breaks loose. You know Momma’s mad when she starts throwing things: dishes, saucepans, ashtrays, you name it. And that Christmas afternoon, her target was Daddy. She kept pelting him with household items; I think she even threw a vacuum cleaner at him.

Daddy didn’t try to stop her. He just lay on the living room sofa, nursing his hangover and sheltering his head with a throw pillow while Momma hurled insults and tangible objects.

“Rodney, you sonofabitch,” she hollered after heaving a coffee can at Daddy. “That’s the last time you’ll drag me and our kids up to godforsaken Poverty Hill. And if I never see your folks again, it’ll be too soon.”

Momma didn’t get the turkey into the oven till three that day, so we had to eat dinner at eight. At least by then, Momma had settled down. She made Daddy get off the sofa and head for the bathroom to shower and shave.

“You’re not going to look like a bum at the table tonight,” she told him. “Set an example for your children, why don’t you?”

Momma was a fine cook, and dinner was very good, despite everybody’s soured holiday spirit. The turkey meat was moist, and the bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, and fresh green beans were all tasty, especially when I drowned them in gravy. Halfway through the meal, we all started smiling a little, and Daddy even laughed a few times when describing his quarrel with Grandpa.

“The dumbass squandered most of his November social security check on lottery tickets, so he didn’t have any money to buy Christmas gifts for my momma, nor for Josh and Sarah.”

My name’s Joshua by the way, but everyone has always called me Josh, even my schoolteachers.

Like always, Momma and Daddy went overboard on presents for me and my sister. Sarah, who was eleven and getting to the age where her appearance mattered to her, received mostly clothing items and face makeup, while I got a Nintendo with several games, and also a BB gun, something I’d requested the past two Christmases but didn’t receive.

“You’re old enough to own one now,” Daddy said. “Shoot at cans and bottles in the backyard, by the garage, but leave the birds and squirrels alone. If I catch you taking shots at living things, I’ll take the gun away. Understand?”

Anyway, Daddy’s plumbing business did okay. He had a way with people; he could talk to a perfect stranger like he’d known the guy all his life. At first, he got business mostly by word of mouth, and then a general contractor started using him on jobsites to run sewer lines, hook up sinks, and install toilets. The money rolled in, and Daddy bought a new Silverado king cab. It looked so pretty and shiny, sitting in our driveway, but then the contractor went belly-up.

Without the contractor’s flow of business, Daddy fell behind on his truck payments, and eventually the bank repossessed the Silverado. It was a sad day, I’ll tell you, when they towed that truck away. Daddy had to borrow money from his brother, Vernon, who lived in Cocoa Beach, so he could buy a used truck, a beat-up F-150 with oxidized paint and missing its front bumper. The poor thing looked so forlorn, and I’m sure my folks felt embarrassed when the neighbors saw it, but a plumber has to have transportation. He has to carry his tools and all to wherever he’s working.

Momma was a dynamite seamstress; she did work for others in our part of town, making drapes, altering dresses, and letting the waists out on men’s trousers. Again, most of her work came via word of mouth, and it was all cash business. IRS never knew about income Momma generated from her sewing.

Looking back, I realize our circumstances were modest by most folks’ standards. Okay, our house had three bedrooms and two baths, but the floors were bare linoleum and the furniture looked like it came from a thrift store. Thank god we at least had central air-conditioning, a blessing in central Florida’s sweltering climate.

Sarah and I were both good students, although Sarah was smarter and more popular than me. She always got straight A’s, while I earned a mix of A’s and B’s.

And god forbid if I got assigned to the same teacher Sarah had been taught by the previous year. It happened fairly often, and when it did, on the first day of school when the teacher called roll, things always went something like this:

“Joshua Livingstone?”

I’d raise my hand.

“Are you related to Sarah Livingstone?”

“She’s my sister.”

The teacher would cluck her tongue while shaking her head. “You’ve got some big shoes to fill in my classroom, mister. I hope you’re up to it.”

Great. Just great…

When I reached seventh grade, I attended Pinellas Park Junior High, a one-story brick structure with exterior corridors and a basketball gymnasium. PE was required for all students, and on my first day at school, I met with my instructor, Coach McCullough, and my male classmates in the gym, where the students sat on bleachers and listened to McCullough acquaint us with his expectations. A gruff, barrel-chested man with a mullet haircut, he wore football shorts, leather sneakers, and a T-shirt damp in the armpits. A whistle hung from his neck by a braided cord.

“Unless you’re sick, I expect each of you to dress out every time class meets, no exceptions.”

Momma had already taken me shopping at J. C. Penney for my PE uniform: a T-shirt with the school’s name on it, cotton shorts, a jock strap, athletic socks, and tennis shoes. We had to buy a combination lock for my gym locker too.

McCullough led us into the locker room, where odors of mildew and human sweat hung in the steamy air. Rows of lockers lined the walls, except on one end of the room, where the tiled gang showers were located.

“You’ll change in here each class period and lock your belongings in your assigned locker. At the end of class, you’ll have fifteen minutes to shower and get dressed before dismissal bell. Showers are mandatory for all students. Again, no exceptions.”

My heart raced and I swallowed hard.

I have to get naked in front of all these guys?

I glanced here and there. Some boys blushed and several more chewed hangnails or wagged their knees. So, I wasn’t the only one in the room who felt nervous about bathing with others. But it seemed we had no choice, and I figured if the older guys at our school had managed to survive gang showering, I could too.

Grow some balls, Livingstone. You can do it.

I’m excited to read this one and share my review on Joyfully Jay in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, if this one sounds interesting, be sure to check out the purchase links below.

Interested? You can find THE SOCIAL CLIMBER on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $10 gift card from NineStar Press.

Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Jere’ M. Fishback is a former journalist and trial attorney. He lives on a barrier island on Florida’s Gulf coast, where he enjoys watching sunsets with a glass of wine in his hand and a grin on his face.

Catch up with Jere’ on his website, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Honestly Connected THE LAST OF THE MOUSSAKAS– Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a brand new contemporary M/M romance from Fearne Hill. THE LAST OF THE MOUSSAKAS is a standalone romance featuring a closeted Greek man falling for his beloved best friend, an out gay, half-Greek DJ. It’s complicated by family and tragedy in the long past that’s still wreaking havoc in the hear and now.

Drop down to catch an excerpt, my review and enter for a chance to win a $10 GC.
About the book:
Max Bergmann is Europe’s hottest drum and bass DJ. From the outside, his life is a whirl of glamorous vodka-fueled parties and casual hook-ups, whilst inside he craves the one thing he can’t have – his Greek childhood friend, Georgios Manolas.

Following a disastrous PR stunt and one drunken hook-up too many, Max realises the time has come to reassess his life choices. Returning to his childhood home on the Greek island of Aegina, if he wants any chance of having Georgios permanently in his life, he has to delve into the mystery of the longstanding hatred of the Bergmann’s by Georgios’s family.

Georgios is a chef and has spent his whole life on the tiny Greek island of Aegina. He has held the family restaurant together since he left school, with very little reward, and dreams of one day running a restaurant of his own on the island. Yet if he acknowledges his feelings for Max, he runs the risk of losing not just his traditional Greek family but also his livelihood.

As Max slowly uncovers the secrets of the past, he is left wondering whether a little Greek girl’s heart-breaking wartime diary could not only hold the key to his family’s history, but could it also unlock his and Georgios’s future together?

The Last of the Moussakas is a light-hearted, warm romance about two men’s quest for the truth about the past and unlocking a path to a future together.

How about a yummy taste?

GEORGIOS, AEGINA TOWN, GREECE. SIX WEEKS LATER

“I’d heard you were back,” I say neutrally, eyeing the lean, blond man slouched at one of the outside tables. His pale-blue shirt is rumpled and half undone, although he has clearly tried to rebutton it at some point and failed to align the buttons correctly. In one hand, he nurses a bottle of Fix lager and in the other a thin roll-up from which he takes a long drag before attempting to focus his blue gaze on me. I fold my arms across my apron.

“And if Papa Marcos sees you, he’ll tell you to get on your way; you’re not welcome here after what happened last time.”

Papa Marcos is actually my uncle, not my father, but that’s what everyone has called him for as long as I can remember. And this is his restaurant.

“Christ, that was ages ago, Georgios,” slurs the young man, shaking his head in mild protest. A wave of that thick yellow hair falls over his face with the movement, and he lazily pushes it aside before taking another swig from the bottle. He misjudges the precise location of his mouth and some of the amber liquid dribbles down his chin unnoticed. Ash from his cigarette falls unimpeded onto his jeans.

“Well, Papa Marcos has the memory of an elephant, and frankly, I don’t blame him if he tells you to bugger off. You’re lucky you’re even allowed back on the island, to be honest.”

The blond man regards me for a long second, his heavy-lidded gaze momentarily focussed. I feel a familiar lurch in my stomach, somewhere between pleasure and pain, and deliberately push it aside. Not tonight and not like this. Not ever again, in fact, I tell myself. I can’t continue tormenting myself like this, I just can’t. Picking up a tray, I gather empties from the table next to the man, aware of those blue eyes blearily following my every move as I cross to and fro around the outside restaurant area, clearing up the debris from departed diners.

We’ve reached midsummer, and the night has been as busy as any so far this season. I’ve cooked for eight hours non-stop, catering for well over a hundred covers. Day trippers and weekenders from the mainland pack into Aegina, joined by a smattering of rich yachting types and locals enjoying a hot Saturday night. It’s after one in the morning; the last table of guests has finally paid up and left. The town still buzzes with families and groups of friends at the neighbouring bars. Having wiped down the last of the outside tables, I disappear back inside.

After another half hour I’m done in the kitchen. Papa Marcos has long gone, as have the rest of the kitchen staff, leaving me to cash up and lock up. I’m the only person he trusts to do this reliably, not that he gives me any credit for it. I get paid just as little as everyone else, despite doing the bulk of the prep work, cooking, and having to manage a disparate bunch of occasional chefs, porters, pot washers and waiters. I can be sure as hell my lazy cousin and my brother won’t go the extra mile. I try to spend the time thinking happy thoughts about Agnes, my girlfriend of a couple of months. She’s nice, really nice, and pretty too. Shame I hardly have time to see her.

I extinguish the outside lights and, in the gloom, almost miss the body now sprawled across the table in the far corner, the empty green beer bottle dangling loosely from one elegant tanned hand. I detect gentle snoring as I approach and watch for a few moments as the man sleeps on, head cradled on his arm, his fair lashes resting on his cheeks, shoulder-length golden curls fanning around his face. A snail trail of saliva dribbles across his sleeve. And yet, despite his dishevelled and drunken state, I know without a shadow of doubt that Maximillian Bergmann is the most beautiful man I have ever seen.

“Max,” I begin, nudging him gently. Too gently, it would seem, as the snoring rhythm remains unaltered. “Maxi!” I shout a little louder, gripping his upper arm and shaking him with more force. “It’s home time, Maxi!”

Max gradually stirs and looks around hazily until his bloodshot eyes alight on my familiar face. He smiles tipsily. “Always here to save me, my Georgie boy.”

I ignore him; I’m tired and hot, my feet are aching, and I’m desperate for my bed. I can’t recall the last time I was allowed a day off. “Right, come on Max, just stand up. I’m not messing about. You need to go home.”

The harsher tone of voice and the tug on his arm bring Max to a more alert state, and he lurches to his feet, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

“And I’m not a boy!” I add, pulling Max along with me. “I’m twenty-five, Max. Almost a year older than you!”

Max pushes me away. “I need a piss.”

He steps back from the table and turns towards the beach. “Has anyone ever told you how cute you are when you’re cross, Georgios Manolas?” he mumbles over his shoulder.

He weaves his way through the tables and steps down off the restaurant decking, onto the narrow strip of pebbly sand which makes up the town beach. After only a couple of paces, Max reaches the water’s edge, swaying slightly as his fountain of pee arcs into the shallow foam at his feet.

“And you wonder why the good folk around here don’t like you very much,” I mutter under my breath and glance around to check we are still alone.

Max buttons himself up then totters back to where I’m waiting for him. He smiles his perfect easy white smile at me as if he hasn’t a care in the world. He probably doesn’t, I think uncharitably and check my watch. Possibly too late for taxis, and one look at Max makes it unlikely any drivers will agree to have him so inebriated in the back of their cabs anyway, particularly if they recognise him from previous trips. And even though the sensible half of my brain tells me to let Max find his own way home, the other half warns me that I won’t sleep easily knowing he’ll end up crashing somewhere on the beach for the night.

“Come on then, Max,” I sigh wearily. “I’ll give you a lift. The scooter’s parked over here.”

My Vespa has seen better days, having belonged not only to Dion, my older brother, but also to my older cousin Nico before him. Neither of them treated it with the care it deserves. Yet, although it may resemble a rust bucket, the 150cc engine is solidly reliable, even with the extra weight of a second adult. As Max clambers behind me, I warn him to hold on tight. “And don’t fall asleep! Stay awake! I haven’t got a helmet for you!”

Max’s arms obediently snake around my waist, and my oldest friend nestles the warmth of his body into me, resting his head comfortably against my back. We have shared scooter rides many, many times over the years, and as I head up away from the main street and along the coast road, it seems that Max snuggles in even closer. There had been a time when I lived for moments like this, alone with Max’s lean torso warm along the length of my back, but not now. I’m not going to let futile dreams of what could be with Max fill my head again, even if my heart demands that I push my foot to the pedal and just keep on going. I fail miserably to conjure up a mental image of my new girlfriend Agnes’s pretty face.

Aegina is not a big island, only about fifteen kilometres across and ten kilometres north to south, so it doesn’t take very long on the empty roads to get to Max’s parents’ place, cloistered in the hills above Kypseli village. Once we leave the coast road and wind our way up the narrow lanes, we encounter not a single soul.

His parents’ house is a newish villa but built in traditional old Greek style. With lush bougainvillea creeping up the walls, the two-storey elegant limestone sprawl contrasts sharply with the plainer, shabbier village dwellings on either side. Situated in an enviable spot; the views from the terraces stretch all the way to mainland Piraeus, with olive and lemon groves dropping away from the main house and providing acres of much-needed shade in the heat of the day. His parents had demolished the previous villa several years earlier and built this even grander place in its stead. At the time, my mum and I couldn’t see why they had bothered, it’s not as if they frequently visit the place. In fact, Max and his shifting collection of hangers-on are the only regular visitors these days. We negotiate the security gates, and as we head up the long private drive, I can see all the lights in all the rooms blazing, the empty swimming pool lit up like an airstrip for small aircraft. I shake my head; my dad would have said they’ve got more money than sense.

I kill the engine, and with my foot resting on the ground for balance, I wait for Max to move. He doesn’t budge an inch, his arms remain firmly wrapped around me, his front pressed cosily into my back. I wonder if he’s fallen asleep after all.

“Hey, Maxi, time to let go.”

“What if I don’t want to let go?”

His drowsy words are muffled against my neck. His fingertips find their way into the gap between the buttons on my shirt, and I can’t help an involuntary hitch in my breath nor ignore Max’s murmur of contentment as his smooth palm caresses the skin of my flat belly. “You like that, don’t you, Georgie boy?” he croons throatily into my ear.

That sweet accent, mostly Greek, but betraying a hint of foreignness at intense moments like this. I let my head drop back, losing myself in the sensation of the leisurely circular massaging of my belly and the feel of that hot breath and soft lips grazing my ear. God, it would be so easy to say yes, to climb off the scooter and allow Max to lead me by the hand into the house.

Pushing his hand away, I force myself to stay firm. “Stop it, Max,” I plead, closing my eyes. “Come on; please get off the bike. I’ve got work again in the morning, and I’m knackered. Just get off now. Please.”

The warm press of body against mine vanishes. The seat rises slightly as Max’s weight lifts, and I look up, sensing him standing next to me. “I do love you, Georgie boy, you know that, don’t you?”

I turn away from him, fiddling with the wing mirror. “Whatever. Go to bed and sleep it off.”

I head back to our little house hidden amongst the backstreets of Aegina town. A dwelling ideally suited to a family of four, ours accommodates an extended family of eight. Privacy and solitude are rare commodities, and the gulf between my modest home and the one I’ve just ridden away from feels as vast as the Saronic sea, the stretch of water separating Aegina from the mainland.

The whine of my scooter engine sets off a cacophony of local dogs, ours included. I give him a cursory pat as I pass him chained up in his usual spot under the eaves at the side of the house. God knows what all these territorial dogs, so beloved of us islanders, are actually guarding; none of us has anything of value worth stealing, but perhaps we just like to know who might be dropping in on us anyway.

The house is quiet, and I efficiently remove the sweat and grime of my working day under a dribble of a lukewarm shower before creeping into my room. I share the tiny space with Dion, and in the half-light, I can make out his lumpy body under the covers, flat on his back, dead to the world. His ugly snores are such a familiar soundtrack to my nights that they hardly register. I undress silently and slip into the narrow bed, separated from his by only a foot, and close my eyes.

Sleep eludes me as I knew it would; it is always the same whenever Max Bergmann strolls back into my life without warning. In between his visits, I can sometimes manage to forget about him for days at a time, and then just when I’m back on track, he turns up out of the blue, shaking me to the core, flipping my ordered existence upside down. I have a bloody girlfriend now, for God’s sake!

Giving up on sleep, I flick on my phone and indulge in a guilty pleasure: tracking his movements online via his company’s Instagram page. His last gig was headlining a drum and bass festival in Berlin, and before that, he’d done a stint at a big club in Manchester. Globetrotting—well, Europe-trotting as usual. And what had I done while Max had been lapping up the adoration of thousands of fans? Cooking approximately a gazillion moussakas and preparing my entire family’s body weight in tzatziki.

Truthfully, I had been expecting Max to appear again sooner or later. He rarely leaves it longer than a couple of months between visits to the island. He’s half Greek, after all, and spent much of his childhood here. His roots are on this island, and that drags him back, but his presence always unsettles me now. So different from when we were kids, when I counted down the days on the calendar until his boarding school holidays with growing excitement, knowing he would be back with me, and I’d have weeks and weeks with him all to myself. But lately, his presence feels like an open sore I can’t resist picking.

There is a familiar pull as my mind helplessly replays the feel of him riding pillion on the bike, pressed up against me, his soft palm flat against my belly, those maddening stroking circles, his breath and his low seductive voice warm against my throat. What if I don’t want to let go? My hand has strayed to my dick, achingly aroused against the well-worn duvet, and I’m working myself, imagining those circles moving lower and lower until it is Max’s hand on me, Max who is stroking me, Max who is loving me. My own fist is a poor substitute, but my balls tighten nonetheless, and I roll over onto my stomach as I start to come, rubbing myself hard against the friction of the sweaty sheet, stifling my frustrated groans against the pillow.

My Review:
Georgios Manolas and Max Bergmann have been friends their whole lives. Honestly, they are slightly related, with their mother’s being cousins, but pretty much everyone on the tiny Grecian island of Aegina is slightly related. Despite being mainly raised on Aegina, Max is not considered a welcome person. There is a lot of tension that he does not understand, which stems all the way back to World War II and the German occupation of Aegina. His great-grandfather was stationed on the island and was party to a lot of bad stuff involving Georgios’ great-grandmother’s family. Memories are long-lived for such atrocities, and Max’s own parentage brought scorn he inherited, without knowing.

See, though Max grew up on Aegina, he was educated in England, per his kind and wealthy step-father, and his mother hardly ever visits Aegina anymore, having lived a traumatic life of her own. Max’s blonde and fair, with bright blue eyes like he German father he never knew, as he’d died two months before Max was born. His mom was a teen girl who’d gotten pregnant by his teen father while on holiday in Aegina. Her folks disowned their pregnant daughter, and the Bergmanns likely paid her a ton of money to just go back home. The Greek kids of Aegina, including Georgios, all know the horrible history of Max’s great-grandfather because it was part of the required reading in grade school. Max is now an adult, jet-setting around to DJ the hottest clubs around Europe. He’s used to amazing, swanky hotels, and keeps a posh flat in London. When he is on Aegina, Max lives in his mother’s expansive, gated villa, while three generations of Manolas’s crowd into a dilapidated stone home–everyone sharing a room. Max has never really considered his privilege, but he’s reminded of it when he comes back from a bender that was scary enough to send him a rehab. Max wants to pursue a relationship with Georgios, but he’s held back by the mystery of the historical rift between their families.

Georgios may love Max, but he can’t build a life with him. He’s been running his uncle’s restaurant for ten years now, and is sure the old man will leave him the property, soon. Papa Marcos hates Max, however, and wouldn’t be pleased to have a gay nephew either. That said, Max is pretty sure Papa Marcos has not real plans to give Georgios anything more than a hard time. Aegina’s economy is flailing, and they don’t get the tourists year-round like Santorini or Crete. Georgios points out the disparity between their lives, and Max sees an opportunity. If his great-grandfather’s family could wreak 80 years of unintended havoc, surely he can use his power and connections to right some of those wrongs.

This is such a powerful story, with an intimate and chilling backstory of greed, lust and destruction sowed in the winds of WWII, and repeated over and over by generations of unwitting “takers” as Georgios and his family see them. People who come to the islands and take and take without understanding the repercussions of their actions. The casual brutality was revealed through the lens of a young girl’s diary, a counterpoint to the present day situation that Max and Georgios experience, with Max’s excesses and Georgios’ poverty. At the heart of the story is love: love denied, love stolen, love abused and love redeemed. Both Max and Georgios are good men, but Max had a lot of perspective to gain, for such an otherwise educated and worldly man. He’s stunned, shocked and appalled by his forebears. But, more importantly, he’s determined to leave a lasting mark on Aegina that will wash away the stains of the past. I loved his ideas, and his creativity in seeking not only redemption with Georgios and the Manolas family, but the larger Aegina community. It’s sweet and compassionate, and all that hard-working and stubborn Georgios deserves. The happily ever after is so beautiful, with so much happiness that it’s hard to imagine such dark fortunes had ever been a part of their experiences. I loved the setting. I loved the friends-to-lover progression. I loved the culture-clash and the backstory that really set up the conflict in stark and unflinching terms. Creative and thoughtful, with a bit of steam as Max and Georgios embark on a life together.

Interested? You can find THE LAST OF THE MOUSSAKAS on Goodreads, NineStar Press and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter Giveaway link for your chance to win a $10 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 Lane on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Daddy Drama STARTING FROM THE TOP– Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a brand new contemporary M/M rock romance from Lane Hayes. STARTING FROM THE TOP is the fifth book in the Starting From series. I really enjoyed STARTING FROM ZERO, STARTING FROM SCRATCH, STARTING FROM HERE, and STARTING FROM SOMEWHERE so I couldn’t wait to read on in this rock romance series.

Drop down to catch an excerpt, my review and enter for a chance to win a $25 GC.
About the book:
The guitarist, the dad, and a band on the rise…
Johnny
A quiet place to live and some time to recharge before my band heads out on the road again sounds amazing. I wouldn’t mind a distraction too, but my new neighbor is off-limits. There are rules about not getting involved with your bandmate’s ex, right? And Sean isn’t my type anyway. He’s too bossy, too commanding, and he has way too much baggage. I’ve learned that it’s best to let go of the heavy stuff. So why am I so drawn to him?

Sean
Coming out later in life has taught me to protect my privacy at all costs. And while juggling a handful of businesses and two kids isn’t easy, I excel at the art of multitasking and keeping everything separate. But Johnny blurs those lines. He’s easy-going, sweet-natured, and cool. In short, he’s everything I’m not. I want to know all about him…starting from the top.

Starting From the Top is a MM, bisexual romance with some rock and roll, an age gap, and a little family fun! Each book in the Starting From series can be read as a stand-alone.

How about a yummy taste?

The cheery sound of family fun drifted through the house…the dog barking, cupboards closing, and a girlish squeal of delight. And more dog barking.

I chuckled at the chaotic homey cacophony. I would never have envisioned this was Sean’s life. He’d always seemed like a badass boss to me—not a man who’d wear an apron to bake cupcakes with his daughter while his son had a guitar lesson. His chocolate mussed hair and concerned parental frown made him look goofy and yet very…endearing. In a hot dad way.

Okay. Definitely time to go. I reached for the knob just as Sean did.

“I’ll walk you out,” he insisted, holding the door open.

I stepped onto the porch and blinked against the bright afternoon sun at the hilltop view of the city. “Wow. This is nice.”

“Yeah,” he agreed absently. “How was he?”

“Amazing. The next Chuck Berry.”

Sean sighed grumpily. “Less sarcasm, please.”

“Sorry, Dad.” I snickered. “He was great. I mean, he sucked, but I think he had fun. I told him to keep the guitar and practice on his own. If you want me to come back, I will.”

“Really? That’s good.” He stared at the horizon for a moment before glancing my way. “I wanted to—why are you smiling at me?”

“You’re fuckin’ covered in chocolate. It’s in your ear.” I made a face and tugged at my own ear.

He gestured at the apron. “Baking isn’t my thing.”

I flashed a megawatt grin at him. “Sure, it is. Are you decorating those cupcakes with anything besides frosting?”

“Sprinkles. You’re welcome to join us.”

“Thanks, but I don’t want to crash your family time.”

Sean inclined his head. “So…did he talk to you?”

“It took a little coaxing. Full disclosure…we played video games before we picked up the guitars. You’re not paying me, so I don’t really feel guilty. I just don’t want you to think it was a jam session from the start.”

“I know.”

“You know?” I repeated.

“I snuck in to see how you were doing. Hulk let you down. You might want to go with Iron Man or Captain America next time.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” I snort-laughed, then sobered. “As for Parker…he’s a good kid. He’s shy, reserved, and likes organization. He seems like the kind of person who excels at things he can control. I bet he builds killer Lego sets. He might learn a few songs, but I doubt he’s a savant. You never know, though. Kids are sponges. They pick up stuff you and I would never catch.”

“That’s true. I’m impressed. And you’re right…about everything. He keeps a lot inside. He’s always been that way. Very thoughtful and methodical. He sets a high bar for himself. He likes to get things right the first time. He does well in school, but he’s struggling with the transition to junior high. His old friends tried out for sports and he opted not to. It’s left him feeling ostracized and alone. Hormones don’t help. I thought it might be good for him to spend time with someone cool who—”

“Cooler than you?”

“Well, let’s not get crazy.” Sean flipped the corner of his apron and let out a self-deprecating laugh. “I just…thanks for doing this. I appreciate it.”

“No problem. Hey, if he really is interested, we can do this regularly. My schedule is light for the next couple of months, but it’ll get crazy again in late spring.”

“I’ll call you.”

“Text me. I hate phone calls.” I held out my right hand and snatched it away a second later, narrowing my gaze. “You have frosting on your nose.”

“My nose?” He wiped his hand over the apron, then across the tip of his nose. “Did I get it?”

“No. Come here. Let me help you.” I stepped into his space and brushed the sugary goodness away.

“Did you get it?” he asked in a huskier than normal tone.

“Yeah, but it’s on your ear and your chin and…”

“Where else?”

“Here.”

I ran the pad of my thumb under this bottom lip. “Got it.”

I didn’t move. I should have, but something held me in place. I studied his features, noting the flecks in his eyes. I wondered what color they were…gold, green, brown? I traced a line at the corner of his mouth, rubbing the scruff of his neatly-trimmed beard. I stared at his full lips for a long moment before meeting his gaze. Then I inched closer and…kissed him.

My Review:
Johnny is the lead guitarist of the up-and-coming band Zero, and we’ve met him in previous stories but he takes center stage finding love and a family in this book. It can be fully enjoyed as a standalone.

Johnny is an out gay 30 year-old man who is finally getting recognized as the lead guitarist of Zero, a band known for their LGBTQ members and currently trending in the charts. While the band works on its third album Johnny is taking some time to pause and set up house. He grew up with a single drug-addicted mother and was always being shuffled off from one bad living situation to another. This is the first home of his own, one he isn’t sharing with ANYONE, and he’s reveling in it a bit. He has a designer and the whole thing is coming together nicely. Attempting to do a small favor for his designer leads Johnny to a neighbor’s home, and he’s surprised when the door is answered in a very strange and sexy way–but not by the homeowner! It’s even more shocking that he does know the owner, Seth Gruen, owner of a popular WeHo gay nightclub called Vibes and also former boyfriend of his bandmate, Tegan.

Seth is 45, and out as bisexual. He’s also the divorced father of two kids whom he co-parents. Seth is super protective of his kids, and tries to keep his personal life very separate from his work life and his dad life. Tegan only met his kids twice, briefly, though they dated for a couple of years off and on. Johnny is definitely attracted to Seth, but he’s pretty much attracted to lots of gay/bi men. Johnny is a truly sex-positive person, and he’s a bit glam, both of which are not necessarily traits Seth looks for in a partner, not that he’s looking for a partner. That doesn’t mean he isn’t intrigued. It’s just that he really wants Johnny’s guitar skills a bit more…sort of. See, Seth is struggling to connect with his introverted 13 y/o son, and he thinks maybe connecting young Parker with a rocker for lessons might open him up for conversation. It’s only a partial ruse to keep in contact with Johnny. But, that connection leads to further business ideas, and they get a little tangled in the details. Oh, and they have sex. Often. And Seth’s kids adore Johnny.

Johnny has never really wanted a family–he didn’t have one growing up and his home life was atrocious. He is mostly sober, following a period of heavy drinking, though he never does drugs. There’s a lot of competing interests in Johnny’s life but things with Seth and his kids are simple: he and Seth have mind-blowing sex and he gives Parker some lessons just for kicks. The more time stretches on, though, the more Johnny and Seth connect in friendship, and eventually love. If only either of them was ready to admit it–or change their plans to expand into a true partnership.

This one was really fun and a bit sweet. Johnny is irreverent and honest, qualities Seth truly values. He helps Seth see that he keeps punishing himself for coming out so late in life, taking the blame for his failed marriage. Johnny’s struggling with some fame growing pains, too, and Seth (and the kiddos) help to keep him grounded. The kids really are a nice part of this story. There is a parenting dynamic that was well-explored and allowed Johnny and Seth to grow in their understandings of how to communicate when it’s awkward and build bridges instead of burning them. Expect some intense steam that mellows into a smoldering love story. There is a bit of struggle near the end, as they outgrow their original no-strings arrangement. It leads to a happy ending, with plenty of family for Johnny to revel in, now that he and Seth can build theirs together.

Interested? You can find STARTING FROM THE TOP on Goodreads, and Amazon.

****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.

Workplace Confrontations LEARNED BEHAVIORS–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new M/M contemporary romance from Jayce Ellis. LEARNED BEHAVIORS is the first book in her Higher Education series that feature men of color finding professional success and love. Here it’s an office romance that shouldn’t happen. Check out my review of ANDRE and JEREMIAH other great reads by this author.

About the book:
Two single dads meet at the office where it’s hate at first sight in this new series from acclaimed author Jayce Ellis.

Sending his daughter off to college is the proudest day of single dad JaQuan Reynolds’ life. Everything took a back seat to raising her—including his career. He has no idea what comes next, but his newfound freedom is quickly curtailed by a crash deadline at work and the uptight, hovering presence of consultant Matthew Donaldson. He’s surly and insufferably sexy, and Jaq’s ready to check him out and write him off—right up until a work assignment forces them together.

Every day. From now until Thanksgiving.

Work and fatherhood have been Matt’s whole world for years now, ever since his marriage ended. His eldest son is getting hitched over Thanksgiving weekend, and he’s not going to let a work deadline get in the way of celebrating with his family—not this time. The hours aren’t a problem, but the executive assistant on the project might be. Jaq’s sexy voice makes Matt yearn for things he let go of a long time ago.

Lust isn’t on the schedule, and neither is longing. But as the weeks go by, Matt and Jaq are forced to reevaluate their plans…and discover that even the most tight-knit of families can make room for one more.

My Review:
JaQuan “Jaq” Reynolds is a single, Black, gay dad with a college-aged daughter, Tanisha, leaving for her first semester. He’s so into his daughter and loves that she’s finding her wings. While he is helping her move in to the dorms at Howard, he makes the acquaintance of a couple of other out Black men raising college-aged kids, Carlton and Lawrence. He doesn’t have a lot of community, so he’s happy to build some new friendships. Jaq is the right-hand man to eccentric Patricia Kingsley, owner and head designer of Kingsley Enterprises, a home furnishings design company. They had a bid to design a line of products for Bernhardt’s stores. They hadn’t heard back, but suddenly the company wants designs for a Black Friday surge, and it’s all hands on deck for the next few months to meet the ridiculous deadlines. Jaq is not pleased to work closely with Matthew Donaldson as they bring Patricia’s designs to market–mostly because Matthew is pompous and his attitude is beyond the pale. Even if he is one fine man…

Matthew Donaldson is a Bernhardt’s analyst who usually takes nine months to a year with his new accounts to help them acclimate to the Bernhardt’s process, and ensure a successful partnership. This unexpected account with Kingsley designs is breaking all the patterns for his usual project management. He’s worked for the Bernhardt’s for two decades, to the chagrin of his ex-wife and grown children. They all have had their fill of his excuses for ignoring them on behalf of work. Matthew’s female boss has made it clear that she only trust his with this roll out because management is looking for reasons to axe either of them. As a Black bisexual man, he’s definitely outside the white culture of management at Bernhardt’s and failing to meet deadlines on this rushed project could be the end of Matthew’s tenure at Bernhardt’s. Add to that his eldest son is about to get married at Thanskgiving–the day before Black Friday, and his youngest daughter is having struggles at Howard. So, he’s not interested in Jaq’s excuses for Patricia’s seeming flightiness. Even if Jaq is a delicious-looking dude…

Thing is, the more these two work together the more they recognize that their animosity is fueled by frustrated attraction. Maybe if they take a little “professional” break they could get some clarity and also some sexual satisfaction. Interestingly, they only get more taken with one another–because they finally start to appreciate the struggles the other has faced. They are the hardest workers in the office and their commitment to the project is common ground. Also, it turns out Tanisha and Matthew’s daughter are acquainted–although this causes some conflict when Jaq recognizes that Matthew’s daughter kinda broke her heart. That said, they can’t shake the other man, so they decide to go for it. It seems to be developing well, until the wedding, to which Matthew has invited Jaq as his guest. If they bust their humps they should be able to relax at the occasion. Unfortunately, it’s a total mess. Why? Because Matthew can’t turn off work, as per his usual. And, because Tanisha has an emergency that increases the conflict.

This is a fantastic and delicious romance between two determined, driven and strong Black men. Their personalities were so strong on the page, and their dedication and responsibility was honored and celebrated in the most poignant ways. Matthew has a long way to go to make amends to his family, and to Jaq for his recent behavior. Matthew is used to being autonomous, and his struggles to include people and be vulnerable are interesting. Jaq has been a caregiver for his whole adult life. it’s hard for him to be independent, but he grows his wings once Tanisha leaves home, encouraged by his loving mother. This story has a strong theme of family and self-sacrifice, which both men need to overcome. I really loved it, and I loved Carlton and Lawrence and their absolutely stone cold, but loving, advice for Jaq. I’m glad that we will see these characters in future stories. A happy ending and a strong recommendation from me.

Interested? You can find LEARNED BEHAVIOR on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Jayce Ellis is an author and an attorney. You can connect with her on twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Embracing an AMERICAN LOVE STORY–a TBT Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a Throwback Thursday review for a sexy contemporary multicultural romance from Adriana Herrera. AMERICAN LOVE STORY is the third book in her Dreamers series, and you can find my review for AMERICAN FAIRYTALE, AMERICAN SWEETHEARTS and AMERICAN CHRISTMAS, too.

About the book:
No one should have to choose between love and justice.
Haitian-born professor and activist Patrice Denis is not here for anything that will veer him off the path he’s worked so hard for. One particularly dangerous distraction: Easton Archer, the assistant district attorney who last summer gave Patrice some of the most intense nights of his life, and still makes him all but forget they’re from two completely different worlds.

All-around golden boy Easton forged his own path to success, choosing public service over the comforts of his family’s wealth. With local law enforcement unfairly targeting young men of color, and his career—and conscience—on the line, now is hardly the time to be thirsting after Patrice again. Even if their nights together have turned into so much more.

For the first time, Patrice is tempted to open up and embrace the happiness he’s always denied himself. But as tensions between the community and the sheriff’s office grow by the day, Easton’s personal and professional lives collide. And when the issue at hand hits closer to home than either could imagine, they’ll have to work to forge a path forward…together.

My Review:
As a Haitian immigrant Patrice Denis has fought prejudice in the legal and academic realms his whole life. He grew up in NYC with his loving mother, and crew of loyal friends, but he’s not beyond the struggle just because he’s now a young professor in Albany, New York. His experiences with law enforcement have always been fraught, and it seems that profiling incidents between the police and young men of color in and around Albany are escalating to problematic levels. Patrice is also struggling with his attraction to Easton Archer, a white assistant DA who seems to be filling his head, despite his wishes. Easton is charming and earnest, but can he truly understand the struggle of a Black man–an immigrant man–when he works for the justice system?

Patrice has held himself so close and so tight for so long, but Easton’s willing to shoulder some of his worries. But, when people who don’t have a voice are put at risk, well, Patrice is sure that Easton will let him down. Further, when the police seem to target Patrice, it’s not a question of tolerance, but one of justice, and one that Easton may not be able to manage.

This book got to me on many levels. There is a scorching love story between Easton and Patrice that is full-on absorbing. But the social justice themes, with Patrice–an educated and articulate man of color–having troubling interactions with police opened the conversation further about prejudice and racial profiling. This book was published in 2019, before George Floyd and the 2020 summer of the BLM marches, so we can see that these themes have been part of the culture and media of POC and mainstream urban folk for a long time. I guess, I mean to say this book didn’t arise out of the BLM movement, but speaks to a formalized and ingrained struggle that POC and immigrants have experienced time out of mind. Easton’s response was very white suburban–and it absolutely revealed the power of white privilege that Patrice was so vehemently fighting against.

While it seems so odd-couple, the plain truth is these were two amazing male characters with a lot of love, and a desperate need to find and expose injustice to better society as well as their own lives. Their passion and compassion made for a romance that has me still recalling details now nearly two years after I read the book. They are strong, and kind and just, and they love one another, beyond the deep divides of institutionalized racism and culture. Highly recommend.

Interested? You can find AMERICAN LOVE STORY on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. I read a review copy provided by NetGalley.

About the Author:
Adriana Herrera was born and raised in the Caribbean, but for the last 15 years has let her job (and her spouse) take her all over the world. She loves writing stories about people who look and sound like her people, getting unapologetic happy endings.

Her debut Dreamers, has been featured on Entertainment Weekly, NPR, the TODAY Show on NBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Oprah Magazine.

When she’s not dreaming up love stories, planning logistically complex vacations with her family or hunting for discount Broadway tickets, she’s a social worker in New York City, working with survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Catch up with Adriana on her website, Facebook, or twitter for all that!

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Unexpected Terror MAGNIFIED–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M paranormal New Adult romance from Mell Eight. MAGNIFIED is the first book in her new Magnified series. This book sets the stage for a Supernatural Coalition to help maintain the secrecy and safety of paranormal beings living in the Northeast US.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $10 GC.
About the book:
On her deathbed, Yani’s great-grandmother reveals she has one last story from her past to tell: that of his great-uncle Yakov, who helped her survive the Nazis. It’s a story of vampires and werewolves he can scarcely believe—and in the wake of his great-grandmother’s death, Yani discovers the story is far from over.

The world of vampires and werewolves isn’t a safe place for a human, even one with Yani’s unusual family history. With danger at his door, the smart thing would be to run, but much like his great-grandmother, Yani has never been very good at running away—especially with his loved ones and the whole world at stake.

How about a little taste?

2004

“Gramma, are you really dying?” Shira asked. She spoke around the thumb tucked in her mouth, but Great-grandma Chana still smiled down gently at the small three-year-old girl and her very chubby cheeks. Yani’s sister was such a baby, but she could say things that Yani didn’t dare. He was thirteen after all, and post-bar-mitzvah children knew better.

“I’m sorry to say that is finally true,” Gramma replied gently. The Eastern European accent she had never lost despite her many years living in the US, softened her consonants. Yani had heard her kind voice almost every day of his life, and it hurt to know that was about to end. “It is my time, as such a time comes to us all. God writes in his book, every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, who will live and who will die. Shira, this year I asked God to take me to him. I have been on this earth for long enough.”

“But I’m gonna miss you, Gramma,” Shira sniffled.

Mom came over then and pulled Shira into a hug. Yani wished he were still young enough to get the same treatment. He could use a hug too. Gramma had been around for forever. She was nearly a hundred years old, although since her original birth certificate had been lost, no one was exactly certain of her precise birthdate. Instead, they celebrated on the day she had finally earned enough money to buy an actual house and move the entire family out of the city.

Gramma Chana was such a constant fixture in Yani’s life that he couldn’t imagine what it would be like with her gone. She had held him when he was born and had attended every birthday party and Passover Seder. In fact, just ten years ago, she’d still held Thanksgiving dinner at her house. Tzimmes for Thanksgiving was weird, according to Yani’s non-Jewish friends, but the sweet-potato-and-marshmallow dish was a staple for his stomach, and he couldn’t understand why no one else had it too. It was one of Gramma’s specialties.

Gramma had stood tall at his bar mitzvah just a few months back when she read an aliyah. Her hug after he read from the Torah while she stood next to him and watched with pride visible in every bone had been the strongest one of that day. In fact, Yani couldn’t think of a single important moment when Gramma hadn’t been there with a wide smile on her face.

But now she was lying in bed at a hospital, surrounded by her family. Grandpa Gideon was there, holding her hand while his younger brothers, Aharon and Shmuley, and their two much younger sisters and all their kids and grandkids hovered nearby. Great-uncle Shimon stood in the corner watching with tears in his eyes; Gramma had raised him too.

Mom was still holding Shira, standing next to Grandpa with her two older brothers. All of Yani’s many cousins were across the room. In fact, the room was packed with people.

Gramma sighed and smiled happily as she looked around the room. “Truly, I have been blessed. To have such a family. If only—” She paused on another sigh. “Yani.” She beckoned toward him. “I have a story to tell you. A very important story.”

Yani slowly walked closer to her bed, taking her wrinkled and scarred hand in his. She had worked hard when she first immigrated to America. Sixteen-hour days mending and sewing in a tiny basement apartment, trying to feed five people while learning to speak and read English and all of the new and strange American customs, had left their scars.

“I’ve already heard all of your important stories, Gramma,” Yani said gently, hoping to escape from one last telling of her days as cargo with four young children in tow aboard the steam ship that had brought her and her entire family across the Atlantic Ocean to America.

“Not this one, my dear,” Gramma Chana said with a very gentle smile. “This one I have not told you, but it is my most important story. It is the story I have kept close to my heart all these years; the story of survival and love in utmost adversity. In fact, everyone should listen and remember, Shimon especially,” she added in a louder voice to the rest of the room. “About my younger brother, Yakov.”

“Yakov? He stayed behind in Europe,” Grandpa Gideon said, but Gramma just continued to smile and began telling her tale.

My Review:
Yani is an American Jew descended from Polish Holocaust survivors. On her deathbed, Yani’s beloved great grandmother Chana shares a fantastical tale of how she and her brother Yakov and their four children escaped the Nazi death camps with the aid of a vampire, Martin. Yakov was enamored of the vamp and remained in Poland after the liberation, while Chana relocated to Boston with her three remaining sons, and Yakov’s infant son. They lived a good life in the US, but no one believes Chana’s story except Yani who is sure that he meets both Martin and Yakov at Chana’s funeral.

Fast forward many years and Yani is a college junior. He’s a devout Jew and plagued by his mom’s and auntie’s interest in his love life–hoping he’ll find a nice Jewish man to settle with. He’s never forgotten about his Uncle Yakov, since is seems he’s the only other gay member of their family, if he’s still alive that is. Yani’s most recent boyfriend was Luke who was not only not Jewish, he was a cheater. So, Yani’s a little reticent to meet another blind date arranged by the same friend who introduced him to Luke. Aaron is superficially Jewish, but there seems to be a spark. Unfortunately, all of this is ruined when Aaron’s father, who happens to be a mage and vampire hunter, kidnaps Yani and attempts to murder him. Because he greatly resembles an old photo of…Uncle Yakov that resides in the Hunter’s files.

This is obviously going to hamper a second date with Aaron.

It’s a heck of a caper, this story, which veers in directions I could not have anticipated. A LOT of folks that surround Yani happen to be paranormals. Not that he could have predicted this. Reaching out for help brings Uncle Martin and Uncle Yakov back to the States, to link up with the Northeast Supernatural Coalition. They want to ensure that Yani won’t be harmed, and he’s so overwhelmed with all the big reveals of his pals that he’s a little down for not being special like them. Aaron turns out to be a decent guy, and the connection grows as they face peril together.

As a first book in a series, I have to say I’m really intrigued about where it’s going. We’ve met incubi, vampires, werewolves, mages, trolls, demons and other paranormals in this book. Yani himself isn’t a paranormal, but he has Sight which affords him some advantages his cadre of companions do not have. And, he’s a fighter, deep down, so he does save his own life, plus those of his friends, in the course of this story. The immediate danger has been managed by the end, though there is a bigger threat awaiting Yani, Aaron, Luke, and Brandon–Yani’s roommate with supernatural abilities. Yani and Aaron are definitely connected, too, but it’s new and the sexytimes are still in the offing. I liked how that developed tentatively, as they are both in the midst of some pretty difficult stuff, so they recognize that romance will wait.

Triggers for brutal Holocaust memories and discussion, however mixed they are with the paranormal experience. My hubs’ German Jewish grandparents were work camp survivors and the story Chana spun of her family’s decimation was quite aligned to those of his family. It was just as gutting in fiction as it was hearing it first-hand. Yani’s modern experience as a Jew in a Christian country likewise mirrored some of my husband’s, so I was really connected to this book and character from the start. I want to thank the author for reflecting these experiences and sensibilities in a realistic and compassionate way. I eagerly await the next book!

Interested? You can find MAGNIFIED 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:
When Mell Eight was in high school, she discovered dragons. Beautiful, wondrous creatures that took her on epic adventures both to faraway lands and on journeys of the heart. Mell wanted to create dragons of her own, so she put pen to paper. Mell Eight is now known for her own soaring dragons, as well as for other wonderful characters dancing across the pages of her books. While she mostly writes paranormal or fantasy stories, she has been seen exploring the real world once or twice.

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

Building a Love With BEST LAID PLANS–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M romance from Roan Parrish. BEST LAID PLANS is a sequel to BETTER THAN PEOPLE, and features an introverted adult virgin finding solace with a loner man teetering on homelessness. I loved the fun call backs to RIVEN the first book I’d read from this author.

About the book:
A man who’s been moving his whole life finally finds a reason to stay put.
Charlie Matheson has spent his life taking care of things. When his parents died two days before his eighteenth birthday, he took care of his younger brother, even though that meant putting his own dreams on hold. He took care of his father’s hardware store, building it into something known several towns over. He took care of the cat he found in the woods…so now he has a cat.

When a stranger with epic tattoos and a glare to match starts coming into Matheson’s Hardware, buying things seemingly at random and lugging them off in a car so beat-up Charlie feels bad for it, his instinct is to help. When the man comes in for the fifth time in a week, Charlie can’t resist intervening.

Rye Janssen has spent his life breaking things. Promises. His parents’ hearts. Leases. He isn’t used to people wanting to put things back together—not the crumbling house he just inherited, not his future and certainly not him. But the longer he stays in Garnet Run, the more he can see himself belonging there. And the more time he spends with Charlie, the more he can see himself falling asleep in Charlie’s arms…and waking up in them.

Is this what it feels like to have a home—and someone to share it with?

My Review:
Charlie Matheson has never had a life of his own. He may be deep into his 30s but he went from 18 year old on the verge of leaving his hometown for college football glory to raising his sullen little brother, Jack, in an instant when their parents were killed in a wreck. Charlie gave up his dreams that day, though he’s not sad about it. Now that Jack is grown, college-educated and living his best life with a loving, if shy, partner, Charlie wonders if he’s just going to die alone, in the rut his life has become. See, Charlie is a fixer. He knows how to pick up the pieces of a shattered home or life and keep on enduring until things work out. That’s why his legacy hardware store is the best one in several counties. And that’s how he notices the new man in town, and all the messes he’s making buying repair materials for a job he’s not nearly qualified to attempt.

Rye Janssen never knew his grandfather–barely knows his own parents truth be told–and has been on his own since his late teens. Life in Seattle is expensive and he’s about to lose his current sub-let shelter when he gets an unexpected call: his grandfather in rural Garnet Run, Wyoming, has left him a house. It seems too good to be true, and it is. The house is a shambles, not fit for habitation, but like the stray cat Rye adopts, it’s all he currently has. And, once he establishes that the overly helpful hardware store guy, Charlie, isn’t out to humiliate him he’s not too proud to accept the freely given and incredibly necessary help–and living quarters AND job–that Charlie is able to provide.

It’s amazing what some well-meant advice can do for both men, and as they share Charlie’s neat and homey abode, it’s clear that Rye has experience he’s more than willing to share–once they are able to confront Charlie’s huge shame, that he’s a virgin, unsure of his own desires, or attractiveness. Oh wow! I was so blown away with the tender and loving situation that develops between these two. Charlie’s struggle to articulate his desire is endearing to Rye. For the first time his life someone finds him worthwhile, and it’s heady, being the focus of Charlie’s earnest attention. Their romance has some hitches as both men struggle to discover what it means to be a boyfriend, or to be intimate. Their cats are more at ease then they are with one another, which is fun to see. I also loved the deeper connections that Charlie makes with his brother Jack, who has by default treated him like a parent, more than a brother. Both grown, they are able to make healthier choices in their relationship, once Rye shines a light on some of their unacknowledged dysfunction.

I honestly loved his book from beginning to end, connecting with both Rye and Charlie and experiencing their struggles like I was along for the ride. Each time Charlie coaxed Rye into making a good choice, or Rye’s care took a burden from Charlie’s shoulders was a moment to cherish. Rye is so fun in his young curmudgeon-y attitude that life is always going to be terrible, especially as he sees it’s no match for Charlie’s can-do, make-do, patient spirit and gumption. There are moments of sexytimes, but they are fraught with the tension that Charlie exists in, not wanting to ever mess things up, because he’s used to dire stakes and its hard for him to let that anxiety go. Rye does great work getting Charlie out of his head, and helping him see that mistakes are okay, too, because we learn from them and grow. The house that he and Rye rebuild is a perfect metaphor for their own relationship, that it’s harder than they ever dreamed, and probably going to cost them everything, but in the end it’s a beacon of hope and light and love that even the townsfolk can all support. I’d move to Garnet Run just to see these guys find the happiness they so deserve.

Interested? You can find BEST LAID PLANS on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. I read a review copy provided by NetGalley.

Want to start off with the first book? You can find BETTER THAN PEOPLE on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books and Kobo.

About the Author:
Roan Parrish lives in Philadelphia, where she is gradually attempting to write love stories in every genre.

When not writing, she can usually be found cutting her friends’ hair, meandering through whatever city she’s in while listening to torch songs and melodic death metal, or cooking overly elaborate meals. She loves bonfires, winter beaches, minor chord harmonies, and self-tattooing. One time she may or may not have baked a six-layer chocolate cake and then thrown it out the window in a fit of pique. She is represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan of Handspun Literary Agency.

You can find Roan online on her website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Weathering Change is THE GREATEST SUPERPOWER–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a Middle Grade LGBTQ story that really resonated with me from Alex Sanchez. GREATEST SUPERPOWER features twin middle school boys dealing with their father’s unexpected male-to-female transition. This is the second book I’ve read from Mr. Sanchez; check out my review of YOU BROUGHT ME THE OCEAN, a M/M teen graphic novel featuring Aqualad.

About the book:
As summer draws to a close, 13-year-old Jorge wants nothing more than to spend his days hanging out with his fellow comic book-obsessed friends. But then his parents announce they’re divorcing for a reason Jorge and his twin brother never saw coming—their father comes out as transgender.

My Review:
Jorge is a 13 year old incoming eighth grader at his Texas middle-school. He’s kind of quiet and artistic, the complete opposite of his sporty and outgoing twin, Cesar, who has a pretty girlfriend and is angling to be student body president. Their worlds were rocked at the beginning of summer when their parents split up somewhat unexpectedly.

See, Jorge new there was trouble in his parent’s marriage, but he didn’t think divorce was an option. And, when his mom and dad sit him and Cesar down to discuss why dad is moving out they are both dumbstruck. He’s transgender and transitioning to a female–and this means he needs to move out. Because, while he and his wife still love each other, they can’t really live together as spouses any longer. It’s unsettling for Jorge and Cesar on so many levels. Jorge depended on his dad for so much, since he had stayed at home, working freelance while his mom had a higher-pressure job outside the home.

This book is so sweet and so poignant, with a lot of layers. Jorge watches as his father (deadname: Norberto) becomes Norma, weathering the animosity Cesar lashes out each time he returns from a visit. Also, he’s struggling with inadequacy as a Mexican-American; he’s fair like his white mother, while Cesar is dark like their Mexican-American father, and Cesar’s clearly unhappy with his dark skin–to the point it kind of drives a wedge between them. Cesar won’t spend any time with Norma, and threatens Jorge not to reveal their secret. Thing is, they live in the same neighborhood and Norma, who is out-and-about in her female experiences. Jorge knows it’s only a matter of time before she is recognized by his friends. And, as he’s coming to terms with it, but it’s still so awkward and there is still so much hurt and betrayal. It was interesting to see Jorge positioning himself with his friends to write a comic about a trans character–who’s superpower is defeating the bullies of the world…rather fabulously. And, their support really is a balm when Jorge needs it.

Jorge also develops a big crush on a new girl whose sensibilities are aligned toward acceptance and equality. They have a connection, but it’s hard to be real while also hiding a huge secret. Through this girl Jorge’s befriending a genderqueer person in his middle school. It’s enlightening, seeing this person’s struggle and relating it to his father’s experience. Jorge’s attempts to keep his father’s transition a secret are jeopardizing the friendships he’s so desperate to hold onto. Meanwhile, his relationship with Cesar is deteriorating.

I really loved how Jorge processed the struggle of his parents’ marriage ending, his father’s pain and difficulty in living his truth, the recognition that relationships are hard–even in middle school. It’s so tenderly rendered, with such love for Jorge whose emotional challenges are intense. These months in his life mark a huge turning point in his growth, and I loved that the character really acted as a kid does, and with a kid’s sensibilities. Jorge gets mad with his dad, doesn’t understand the bone deep ache Norma experiences and then really listens to the situation.

This is a special kind of book. I would highly recommend it for LGBTQI children, families that support them, and anyone who loves a good family-centered realistic middle grade story.

Interested? You can find THE GREATEST SUPERPOWER on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

About the Author:
Alex Sanchez has published eight novels, including the American Library Association “Best Book for Young Adults” Rainbow Boys and the Lambda Award-winning So Hard to Say. His novel Bait won the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Book Award and the Florida Book Award Gold Medal for Young Adult Literature. An immigrant from Mexico, Alex received his master’s in guidance and counseling and worked for many years as a youth and family counselor. Now when not writing, he tours the country talking with teens, librarians, and educators about books, diversity, and acceptance. He lives in Penfield, New York.

You can find Alex on his website, twitter, Facebook.
target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Goodreads.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Unexpected Afterlife DAMNED WHEN I DIDN’T–Review and Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’s sharing a reviwe and giveaway for a YA paranormal romance from a friend and fellow author, Cherie Colyer. DAMNED WHEN I DIDN’T features a newly-deceased human girl who’s not sure WHY she’s now a succubus, and really would do anything to reunite with her family.

About the book:
Death isn’t the end for eighteen-year-old Avery Williams, and her final resting place isn’t beyond the Golden Gates. No, the Queen of the Damned has plans for her and, unbeknownst to Avery, fought hard to gain possession of her soul.

As Hell’s newest succubus, Avery is expected to siphon life from the living. It only takes a long, meaningful kiss, but for a virgin like Avery, kissing guys she barely knows isn’t something she’s comfortable doing.

Avery focuses on the upside of her fate—she’ll be returning home, or so she thinks. When the Queen of the Damned cuts her off from her old life, Avery is determined to find a way back to her family and friends, even if it means facing Hell’s fury if she’s caught.

My Review:
Eighteen year old Avery Williams is dead. She doesn’t figure it out right away, but it kinda tips her off when Lilith, the Queen of the Damned, sends her off with her incubus chaperone, Cole. And those rivers of burning souls truly open Avery’s eyes to her dangerous new predicament. Go to one high school party and end up in Hell? Even Avery isn’t sure why. Cole isn’t thrilled to have a succubus partner, especially one so clueless and unwilling to do even the basic things necessary to keep her strong and virile in the human realm: like make out with people and mark their souls for Hell. It’s a lot for a virgin to take, though few of the folks Avery encounters can actually tell she’s still a virgin.

Thing is, she’s a bit of a prude, and some well-placed rumors had Avery’s schoolmates believing she was less wholesome than she truly was. And now, as a succubus she’s meant to feed of the life force of strangers…through acts of intimacy she’d barely tried as a living person. In fact, Avery’d like to just give the whole thing up except Cole makes it clear that doing so would result in swift and gruesome punishment from Lilith. More pressing is Avery’s immense need to learn if her sister died in the same accident that ended her own life. If Gracie still lives Avery has some important messages about living a good life and saving a mutual friend from a Hell-damned fate. If only she could contact Gracie! Lilith severed every connection Avery can make to her past life, and it’s up to Cole and a band of misfit paranormals to help Avery breach her own wake to say her final goodbyes–without Lilith finding out. Because she didn’t become Queen of the Damned without frying a few souls. And, Avery’s soul won’t survive Lilith’s wrath.

This was an unexpected treat of a contemporary paranormal romance, with Avery being a conniving and petulant succubus whose attitude problems are redeemed by her aversion to marking souls and stealing even hours off the life of unsuspecting humans. Cole is a stable presence, and their attraction is both unconventional and unprecedented. Cole and his chums can see the good in Avery, to the point they aren’t sure why she’s not in Heaven. Unfortunately, being reborn in Heaven would not necessarily facilitate Avery’s plans–which do include getting some contact with her family. It’s a bit of a caper, actually, how she and Cole enlist his contacts to do the unthinkable–hide her transit from Hell just long enough to get her message across. I liked it lots, and the connection between Avery and Cole has a slow build that suits Avery’s sensibilities surrounding love and how to make it.

This is a YA suitable read, with a fun and dynamic cast of characters I’d love to experience more adventures with. Can an incubus and a succubus find love with one another? Well, Avery sure is willing to find out.

Interested? You can find DAMNED WHEN I DIDN’T on Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Apple Books and Kobo. I received a review copy of ht is book from NetGalley for an honest review.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Cherie Colyer is best known for her young adult, paranormal romance thrillers, including the Embrace series (featuring witchcraft) and Challenging Destiny (a story about outsmarting heaven and hell.) She usually has several book projects in the works. She enjoys helping budding writers improve their craft and learn more about the publishing industry. Cherie lives in Illinois with her family. She happily visits schools and libraries and is a member of SCBWI (Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators).

Catch up with Cherie on her website, Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Bookbub, Amazon, and Goodreads.