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!

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!

Reconnected Crush HOLIDAYS IN BLUE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M holiday romance from Eve Morton. HOLIDAYS IN BLUE features a mature man coming to terms with his shattered origins and finding solace and love with the younger neighbor who’d long crushed on him.

About the book:
Sometimes it takes a little ice to discover a whole lot of heat.
Cosmin Tessler is going home for Christmas. Eric Campbell is too.
Neither expected a homecoming quite like this.

When Cosmin Tessler’s radio show is canceled and Eric Campbell’s acting jobs dry up, they find themselves unexpectedly back in their old Toronto neighborhood…and back in each other’s lives years after they’d gone their separate ways. With a series of failed relationships and one ill-advised marriage behind them, both believe their chance for love has come and gone.

Luck, in the form of a massive ice storm, throws the former neighbors together again and they find themselves stranded, alone, for Christmas. Despite their difference in age, long-ago crushes and undeniable attraction prove too much to resist. But when the ice melts, only time will tell if their burgeoning romance will become just another missed chance—or a love story whose time has finally come.

A Forced Proximity Christmas Romance

My Review:
Cosmin Tessler was a Romanian orphan adopted by a Canadian couple in the 1980s. His parents were lovely people, but his mother and younger adoptive sister were killed in a car wreck when he was in college. His father, who had been sometimes difficult to speak to. generally closed down and closed off, leaving Cosmin very much alone in the world. Cosmin thought it was because he came out as gay, and he stayed away as a result. For nearly two decades he and his father were estranged, and he’s now mourning the loss of his childhood relationship as his father has recently passed away. Cosmin’s an intellectual, with a doctorate in literature, and also hosts a radio show in Toronto called “Sleep Alone”. It’s two weeks before the end of the year and he’s just learned–at the station Christmas party–that his show has been losing market share and it’s not being renewed. While nursing his sorrows at the bar Cosmin notes the younger, attractive bartender, but passes on with the mission to make one final show happen–and do it as an homage to his and his sister’s humble adoptive roots.

Eric Campbell is an attractive bisexual man in his thirties. He can’t believe his luck at seeing his high school-age crush, Cosmin, at a gig bartending job in the city. He’d been floundering, living with a pal in the suburbs outside of Toronto, hoping to get voice acting jobs for audiobooks to make ends meet. He’d been an actor, but hasn’t been employed regularly in a long time. He makes some serendipitous connections in the coming days, including getting to his parents’ home just hours before an enormous ice storm covers the Toronto area, shutting down electricity and travel for several days leading up to Christmas. Eric notices that “Old Man Tessler’s” place is covered in ice, and ventures out to ask his elderly neighbor if he needs assistance, not knowing that his neighbor had died several weeks ago and the light he sees is Cosmin looking through his father’s effects, searching for answers about his, and his sister’s, adoptions.

These two men are the only people trapped in the cul de sac, and with the electric and heating issues that are being challenged by the storm, Eric elects to stay at Cosmin’s–and help him search out his history. The closeness and the inability to get anywhere else allows these two to comfort one another, and work together to achieve Cosmin’s goals, while connecting in a way they had never before. Eric does indeed reveal his crush, and they build an intimacy that is not just built on sexual need. Cosmin examines his life, and his father’s actions, through a new lens revealed in the collections of journals his father left behind. It’s a beautiful awakening, and prompts Cosmin to reach farther out for connection than he ever has before. Eric is there, willing to take his hand, and their few idyllic days seem to be a foundation for the future.

Once the ice melts, however, will these two find that their nights of passion were fleeting, or the beginning of something quite bigger.

This is a quiet love story with a lyrical and winding prose that very much caters to Cosmin’s intellectual personality. I enjoyed it, though the pace was slow, to my preferences. I adored both Eric and Cosmin, who are unique and complicated characters. The family dynamics are interesting as these men deal with the sea change in attitudes toward sexuality with even just less than a decade of years between them. Also, Cosmin’s assumptions about his father are a huge counterpoint to the reality he encounters reading his father’s personal journals. They create a new narrative through which he must see and judge himself, as well, learning of his true history for the first time and wishing he could have gone back and mended fences so many years ago. In his late 40’s, Cosmin is unwilling to let time pass him by, now that he’s connected with Eric. Their reunion is so sweet–and the rom-com flavor of it brought a lightness the book really needed. It’s a good one if you have patience to really dig deep into the lives and psyche of characters who need more than just the surface view.

Interested? You can find HOLIDAYS IN BLUE on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

About the Author:
Eve Morton is a writer living in Waterloo, Ontario. She grew up a forty-minute drive from Toronto, where she often spent her summers wandering down Queen Street West, going to concerts, or exploring the landscape of Rouge Hill, Toronto Island, and Exhibition Place. After graduating with a degree in English Literature and Women’s Studies, she floated from retail job to retail job before deciding that the classroom was the right place for her. While obtaining her advanced degrees in English Literature (with an emphasis on non-traditional representation and film), she met her husband. The two had both grown up a mere fifteen minutes from one another, yet had never met before, and soon found themselves easily falling in love as they explored the same place where they were both from with new eyes.

When she is not teaching online classes or working on yet another project, Eve is often reading a lot of books or listening to music from some of her favourite artists. She also loves to explore New Age shops in each city she visits whenever she travels, and continues to read tarot and astrology because it is so much fun. Eve also loves true crime, especially the forensic side of it, and is often swayed by a good podcast (especially if it’s funny). She continues to do academic research on LGBTQ communities, pulp and genre fiction, and film studies, along with other academic issues involving addiction, mental illness, and student representation.

Catch up with Eve on her website.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Unexpected Attractions GIVE WAY–Review and Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a M/M contemporary romance from Valentine Wheeler. GIVE WAY is a holiday-light romance that features two mature men finding unexpected companionship and love. I was happy to catch a new story from this author, after I re-read CHECKED BAGGAGE over Thanksgiving.

About the book:
Kevin McNamara’s life after retirement is…fine. He has friends, a few consulting gigs, and an ex-wife he’s finally on good terms with. But when he meets an intriguing stranger–a rarity in close-knit Swanley, Massachusetts–in his apartment lobby, he can’t stop thinking about him or about the unexpected attraction that knocked him flat.

Awais Siddiqui never thought he’d want to come back to his childhood hometown, but when his grandmother falls ill, he’s the only one who can move back to help. Awais figures he’ll be back in a big city soon enough–but then a silver fox on his route catches his eye.

It’s never too late to accept a second chance at love.

How about a little taste?

Kevin McNamara was not having a good day.

As he trudged up the street toward his block, his building loomed ahead, five stories of forbidding concrete. His kids kept telling him he had to find a nicer apartment–he’d only meant for this one to be a stopping place after the divorce, but here he was fifteen years later, solidly into his retirement, still crammed into his tiny two-bedroom. It was fine. He didn’t have to mow a lawn, and most of the other residents were older people or divorced dads, so he fit right in. A few kids visited their fathers on weekends and livened things up, and it was close enough to downtown that he could walk to get whatever he needed. On less soggy, snowy days, a stroll home was appealing, but not after a four hour transit meeting in Boston and with gray slush soaking into his loafers.

As he pulled his keys from his pocket in the vestibule, ready to open the door to the lobby, tires crunched on the asphalt outside and he turned to see a mail truck pulling up. He pushed open the vestibule door and got ready to greet Doris–she’d been his mail lady for ten years, so she deserved a smile even if Kevin’s toes were numb. But instead of his compact, South Asian mail lady, he was surprised to see a man in a postal uniform standing on the sidewalk, tall, dark, and–well, attractive. He was staring at the front of the building, glancing down at the mail in his hands and back up again.

“Hi,” said the man. “This is 210 Washakum Avenue, right?”

Kevin nodded. “Yes, the two fell off the sign last week and nobody’s been by to fix it.” He wasn’t sure why he’d felt the need to explain and wished he hadn’t.

The man grinned, showing very white, very even teeth. They looked even brighter against his short beard and light brown skin, which even in December was a few shades warmer than Kevin’s ever got. “Great. I’ve got a couple packages here, and I really didn’t want to leave them out in all this wet.”

“Yeah,” said Kevin. “Um.” He glanced behind him at the door to his building’s lobby, feeling unaccountably flustered. “Doris usually leaves them inside. Is she not in today?”

The man nodded. “She took the day off, so I’m helping out. I can’t believe they approved the time. December’s usually a no-go for leave, you know? Busiest season for Santas like me and Doris.”

“I bet.” Kevin pushed the door open. “Here, I won’t let the door lock you out.”

“Oh, I’m sure Doris left me a key somewhere,” said the man. “Don’t want to hold you up. I’m helping deliver packages for my overtime, and I’m still learning the town.” He paused. “I’m Awais, by the way.”

“Kevin,” said Kevin. “And it’s fine. I’m happy to hold the door. I’m in no rush.”

“McNamara? Kevin McNamara, is that right?” asked Awais.

“How did you guess?”

Awais grinned again, this time showing a dimple in one cheek, barely visible under his close-trimmed beard. “You’ve got a package, man.”

Kevin swallowed as Awais gathered a tub of packages in his arms and brushed past him into the lobby. The door wasn’t wide and neither was the lobby. He set the tub on the floor and knelt beside it. His slacks hugged his thighs: they seemed tighter than the usual postal cut as he bent over. And was the foyer suddenly warm?

“Let’s see.” Awais dug in the tub, setting a few packages aside. Kevin stood awkwardly, still holding the door. Dropping it would be rude, and it would trap them together in the small space, but he’d been holding it open for what felt like a long time. “Okay. Here we go!” He pulled out a large manila envelope, stacked the rest of the packages back in the tub, and rose to his feet gracefully. He was slender, Kevin noticed, but his shoulders were broad enough that the small space was awkward with both of their nearly six foot frames crowding it. “Here,” said Awais, holding it out.

Kevin took it. His fingers brushed Awais’s, shockingly warm against his own chilled ones. “Thanks,” he said, putting a bit of his usual charm in his smile. He knew the effect it had on people, and maybe it would counteract the incredibly weird impression this guy was getting of him.

Awais smiled back. “No problem. Gift for the wife?”

Kevin blinked. “Um, no,” he said, flummoxed. “I’m single.” Divorced, he’d meant to say. But it was too late to correct himself without drawing attention to it.

Awais’s eyes widened for the briefest moment, then his smile stretched even further. He winked. “Well, the ladies are missing out then.” He slung his satchel back over his shoulder, brushing past Kevin again where he was standing, still holding the door like a chump. He smelled like snow and woods and a little bit of sweat. Kevin decided to pretend he hadn’t just smelled the guy. He couldn’t help it in the hot, steamy foyer.

Through the glass, Awais climbed back in his truck, slid the door closed, waved, and pulled away.

Kevin looked down at the envelope. He didn’t even remember what he’d ordered. He took a step backward and winced at the squelch. He’d completely forgotten about his soaked shoes.

My Review:
Kevin McNamara is a 60 year old divorced man. He’s a retired lawyer and sometime politician in small but liberal Swanley, Massachusetts. Kevin’s ex-wife is an avowed bisexual, but Kevin has only ever dated women–many women–since his divorce nearly 15 years ago. So, it’s a little unsettling when Kevin meets a substitute package deliveryperson, Awais Siddiqui, and feels more than a little attraction.

Awais is a nearly 50 year old, out and proud, Middle Eastern man. He grew up in Swanley as a child, but moved with his family to South Carolina in his youth. He’s now back in Swanley to spend time with his aging grandmother, and he’s not averse to finding a good man with whom to settle down. Not that he thinks he’ll truly find one in this small town, no matter how gay-friendly it is. Still, he sure feels a little spark of interest from Kevin, and when they meet again at a bar it seems like a great match. Except that Kevin indicates this will be his first experience with a man since some youthful experimentation.

The night is glorious, but Kevin is shook in the light of day. Though he is still interested in Awais, he’s really not sure that he’s bisexual. He needs to look deep within himself and reconcile his history of attraction with his actual feelings currently. Awais is disappointed with Kevin’s luke-warm position, opting to be friends instead of lovers, but he doesn’t have a lot of time to mope. It’s the height of the Christmas mail season and overtime is abundant and necessary. That said, these men have a future, but it takes a little time to develop.

I really liked both Kevin and Awais. This setting of Swanley is really sweet as a small town. The secondary characters are really interesting, with Kevin’s ex-wife and adult daughter encouraging him to be open-minded. Meanwhile, Awais’ aunt is supportive and loving, and helps him not to be too sad for too long. There are some yummy and fun sexytimes, as Kevin experiences a sexual awakening he never anticipated. The resolution is tidy and speaks to a future of hope and love for two men who found themselves connected despite differences in culture, race, and experience. It was a quick and enjoyable read.

Interested? You can find GIVE WAY on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Valentine is a latecomer to writing, though she’s always been a passionate reader. Through fanfiction she found her way to an incredible community of writers who’ve taught her to love making stories.

When she isn’t writing, she’s making bad puns, yelling about television, or playing with her small child.

Her life’s ambition is to eat the cuisine of every single country.

You can catch up with Lis on her website and twitter.

Opposites Attract in TEDDY SPENSER ISN’T LOOKING FOR Love–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share a review for a contemporary M/M romance from Kim Fielding. TEDDY SPENSER ISN’T LOOKING FOR LOVE connects a lonely designer-slash-marketing director with an introverted programmer. I enjoyed A SECOND HARVEST, LOVE CAN’T CONQUER, and THE LITTLE LIBRARY, so I jumped at the chance to read this one.

About the book:
Some people search their whole lives to find love. He just wants to avoid it.

Teddy Spenser spends his days selling design ideas to higher-ups, living or dying on each new pitch. Stodgy engineer types like Romeo Blue, his nemesis—if you can call someone who barely talks to you a nemesis—are a necessary evil. A cute necessary evil.

Working together is bad enough, but when their boss puts them both on a new high-stakes project, “working together” suddenly means:
–sitting uncomfortably close on the same plane
–staying in the same hotel room—with only one bed
–spending every waking minute together.

Turns out Mr. Starched Shirt has some hidden depths, and it’s getting harder to ignore the spark Teddy feels with every brush of their hands, with every knowing glance. He might not have been looking for this connection with Romeo, but will he ever be ready to let him go?

My Review:
Teddy Spenser and Romeo Blue both work for the same bare-bones tech start-up company trying to sell “smart vases”. Teddy is the designer and marketing director for Reddyflora while Romeo is the programmer for the tech-side. Romeo has his own office, one of only two in the shoddy Chicago digs. Their boss and the company president has the other. Teddy thinks that Romeo is a stuck up dude, even if he does fill out his stylish suits quite well. But, Teddy isn’t looking for love. Not since his last beau broke his heart. Teddy still can’t let go of all that hurt–and since he has little to occupy his time beyond design and thrift shopping, well, it’s hard to get over it.

Teddy imagines that Romeo is a nemesis, but really, he’s practically a stranger. He’s quite reasonable, actually, as Teddy recognizes once they get working on a redesign of the vase together. See, turns out the tech can’t exactly be hidden in Teddy’s austere design scheme, so they come up with a better plan to camouflage the bits that can’t be hidden and Teddy thinks’ the job is done. But, instead, he and Romeo are sent to Seattle to pitch their smart vase to vaunted designer and known technophobe, Joyce Alexander. Without her backing, Reddyflora’s capital stream is about to dry up and the company will collapse.

The trip to Seattle is revealing in many ways. Teddy sees Romeo as a compassionate man, assisting in the care for his nieces, as well as a stranger’s crying infant on the plane. They both struggle with the tiny hotel room, and one bed, but it’s only because they know so little about one another. The close quarters imposes a boundary across which they build emotional intimacy, and completing Ms. Alexander’s eccentric “tasks” also fosters a dynamic that unite Teddy and Romeo in their professional mission and in their personal lives.

It’s a really sweet slide into coupledom, with Teddy styling Romeo once he learns that Romeo truly appreciates his aesthetic, and is willing to soften his look with gender-bending choices. Teddy loves the way green and blue silks accentuate Romeo’s brown skin tones. Romeo’s encyclopedic knowledge of nature, cooking and…everything is really attractive to Teddy–who can’t believe that such a buff and suave-looking man is so crippled by attention and is attracted to himself. Their mutual esteem is only balanced by their personal, self-esteem struggles. I loved how they bonded with each other and how loving Romeo’s family was when he brought Teddy home for Sunday supper. The end has one of those rom-com twists where they are forced to make decisions that could break them up, but they are really only more cemented together.

Sexytimes are more tender than passionate, but are fully enjoyable. I really adored this one, and with the little mini-Valentine’s theme it’s great book to pick up in January.

Interested? You can find TEDDY SPENSER ISN’T LOOKING FOR LOVE on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Kim Fielding lives in California and travels as often as she can manage. A professor by day, at night she rushes into a phone booth to change into her author costume (which involves comfy clothes instead of Spandex and is, sadly, lacking a cape). Her superpowers include the ability to write nearly anywhere, often while simultaneously doling out assistance to her family. Her favorite word to describe herself is “eclectic” and she finally got that fourth tattoo.

Catch up to Kim on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Eternally Trapped IN A HOLIDAZE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share a review for a contemporary holiday romance from Christina Lauren. IN A HOLIDAZE mixes “Groundhog Day” schitck with a new adult romance for a very confused young woman.

About the book:
One Christmas wish, two brothers, and a lifetime of hope are on the line for hapless Maelyn Jones in In a Holidaze, the quintessential holiday romantic novel by Christina Lauren, the New York Times bestselling author of The Unhoneymooners..

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…but not for Maelyn Jones. She’s living with her parents, hates her going-nowhere job, and has just made a romantic error of epic proportions.

But perhaps worst of all, this is the last Christmas Mae will be at her favorite place in the world—the snowy Utah cabin where she and her family have spent every holiday since she was born, along with two other beloved families. Mentally melting down as she drives away from the cabin for the final time, Mae throws out what she thinks is a simple plea to the universe: Please. Show me what will make me happy.

The next thing she knows, tires screech and metal collides, everything goes black. But when Mae gasps awake…she’s on an airplane bound for Utah, where she begins the same holiday all over again. With one hilarious disaster after another sending her back to the plane, Mae must figure out how to break free of the strange time loop—and finally get her true love under the mistletoe.

Jam-packed with yuletide cheer, an unforgettable cast of characters, and Christina Lauren’s trademark “downright hilarious” (Helen Hoang, author of The Bride Test) hijinks, this swoon-worthy romantic read will make you believe in the power of wishes and the magic of the holidays.

My Review:
Maelyn Jones loves nothing more than spending Christmas with an extended family of her parents’ dearest friends in a bursting-at-the-seams cabin in Utah. It has been a tradition for her whole life, and brings a plethora of memories, including those surrounding her deep and unrequited love for Andrew, the eldest son of the cabin owners: her mom’s college roommate and her husband. These people are her family to a degree, and when Mae gets drunk at the end of their stay she makes out with Theo, Andrew’s philandering younger brother–who treats her like crap the morning after. And after THAT she learns the cabin is being sold and she’ll never spend Christmas with these folks again. It’s upsetting–even more so than her parents’ divorce several years ago.

While heading for the airport, deeply disappointed Mae makes a wish to find “what will make her happy”. Then fate steps into her path. She’s next conscious on the airplane en route to Utah, a week ahead of the nightmare trip she’d just endured. Armed with the knowledge she’d just gained, Mae tries to make sense of this second chance. Only, she keeps messing up and getting sent back to the airplane to restart the pathway to her happiness.

She finally decides to confide in Benny, one of the original parent-pals, who is a usual co-conspirator. Benny aids Mae in her quest to not be shipped off to the plane, and also to find her happiness. It turns out that Mae is deeply unsatisfied with the state of her life, and she decides to do EVERYTHING differently, like even confessing her longstanding crush on Andrew. It seems to be working, because Andrew is pretty much the best kind of guy, but even he struggles to understand Mae’s predicament. She’s terrified that she’s going to finally get what she so desperately wants, but have it ripped away in a flash of tragedy and return to the danged airplane.

If you like Groundhog Day, and holiday romances, this book is likely going to be a hit for you. Poor Mae has so many fits and starts, and her relationships with these folks are all so strong and yet tenuous. She offends Theo, who has a weird fixation that THEY were supposed to get together, since they are the same age, while Andrew gets mad that there might have been a reality where Mae chose Theo…first. The angst and drama are all so timely placed, I was turning the pages late into the night to get to the HEA, which totally happens, even if Mae hadn’t figured out how entirely her life needed to change if she was going to find her true happiness. I also liked that she needed the help of others to make the happiness of their entire crew grow by leaps. I really enjoyed it, even though it’s pretty low on the steam factor for New Adult romance.

Interested? You can find IN A HOLIDAZE on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Christina Lauren is the combined pen name of long-time writing partners/besties/soulmates/brain-twins Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. The coauthor duo writes both Young Adult and Adult Fiction, and together has produced sixteen New York Times bestselling novels. Their books have been translated into 30+ languages. (Some of these books have kissing. Some of these books have A LOT of kissing.)

You can find Christina and Lauren on their website, and twitter: Christina or Lauren,.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Fortunes Found on THE HOLIDAY DETOUR–A Review

Hi there! I’ve read a bunch of holiday romances and want to share some thoughts on those over the next few weeks, so please bear with me. Today I’m excited to share a review for a contemporary holiday F/F romance from Jane Kolven. THE HOLIDAY DETOUR features a down-on-her-luck Jewish lesbian struggling to make it home to her elderly grandma for the holidays.

About the book:
Sometimes it takes everything going wrong to make you see how right things are.

Dana Gottfried is a stressed-out Jewish lesbian who’s just quit her job and wants to get home to see her grandmother. When her car breaks down in Indiana on Christmas Eve, Dana is stranded—until she’s rescued by Charlie, a pig farmer who doesn’t identify as male or female. Although they come from different worlds, Dana is intrigued by Charlie’s sense of humor and kindness. Despite her better judgment, Dana says yes when Charlie offers a ride.

But the journey home is paved with detours. From car accidents to scheming ex-girlfriends to a snowy and deserted Chicago Loop, everything that could go wrong on their road trip does, but it leads Dana on a path of self-discovery that just might end in love.

My Review:
Dana Gottfried is a 32 year old lesbian Jewish woman who’s just given notice at her job–before she could get fired. She’s driving from Cleveland to the Chicago suburbs to spend the holiday with her 85 y/o grandma, her only remaining family. Her car breaks down in Indiana, though, and she’s picked up by a cute genderqueer person, Charlie whose rusted out truck barely seems roadworthy. Charlie says their family lives in an adjacent suburb to Dana’s grandma’s and they would be willing to drive her all the way.

Dana is thrilled, especially since she’s a bit intrigued with Charlie. It’s going kinda well. But Dana is a little neurotic, and she’s always second guessing if Charlie is telling the truth. And, they get into scrapes on the journey, like when a jerk gives Charlie guff for using the Ladies’ bathroom, or when they are acting as Good Samaritans and the truck gets towed.

This is a bit of a madcap connection story. Charlie is a decent and kind person, and Dana is attracted, but also wary. She’s actually a hot mess, worried about her lonely grandma, her dwindling finances, and now concerned how to get to her childhood home when help is dependent on Charlie’s jealous ex-girlfriend. It’s a little mish-mash of Planes, Trains and Automobiles meets a rom-com and it’s sweet and silly by turns. Dana runs hot and cold, which makes her less appealing than Charlie, but they do figure out that they are a match. I liked that they did “get” one another, and their futures have enough flexibility to accommodate a new/first relationship.

I liked the story, and I liked that Dana calmed the heck down and stopped talking herself out of any and everything that could possibly be good. Charlie really also came a long way, repairing relationships with friends on their way through this adventure. As a Chicagoan, and a person who’s made those drives across I80 and into and out of the Chicago traffic, I could fully sympathize with Dana and Charlie and their experiences.

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

About the Author:
Jane Kolven is an author of contemporary, fun LGBTQ romances. She is proud to create stories that show a variety of LGBTQ people finding happiness—because everyone deserves love. Jane currently lives in Michigan with her wife and their pets.

You can find Jane on her website, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

A Whole New Life SETTLING THE SCORE–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Long time no post, I know. I’ve been without a working computer for a couple weeks–plus I needed to make a huge push to get teaching and grading done for my students in the fall semester, so I needed time to recuperate. Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M contemporary romance from C Koehler. <a href="SETTLING THE SCORE is the fourth book in his CalPac Crew series. This installment tracks the former CalPac coxswain and the elder brother of a former crew member. I’ve enjoyed ROCKING THE BOAT, TIPPING THE BALANCE, and BURNING IT DOWN and enjoyed seeing the characters from those books return to advise our new couple.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $10 GC.
About the book:
Stuart Cochrane and Philip Sundstrom are very busy men. Stuart, freshly graduated from California Pacific, works as much as he can to save money for medical school. Philip, now in charge of the family home-construction company, works long hours to save the company from his father’s blunders and back-stabbing cronies. A chance encounter brings them together and the attraction is fierce and instant. While neither has time for a relationship, they can’t keep away from each other.

When the National Team recruits Stuart to cox, only Philip understands that Stuart’s sick of rowing and wants nothing more than to start medical school. When Philip’s board of directors plots to remove him from his own company, Stuart helps him scheme and strategize. Despite their emotional and sexual chemistry, Stuart’s hang-ups about money and rich people doom their fledgling relationship. But after a personal tragedy, Stuart must overcome his prejudices and accept Philip’s help. Can Philip set aside his broken heart to help Stuart in his hour of greatest need and, dare he hope, a family?

How about a little taste?

The waiter held Philip’s eye a moment too long. Philip knew what that meant and flushed from the starched collar of his shirt all the way up to the gelled magnificence of his golden bangs. Left to its own devices, his hair flopped down to cover his eyes, and right then, Philip kind of wished it could. Instead, he’d styled his hair like he always did, parting it on the left and then the bulk of the bangs were up up and away! in a truly stupendous flight of fancy that was probably on the wrong side of metrosexual for a corporate CEO. When he was by himself, he played the game, but c’mon, dude. He was here with his girlfriend. What kind of trash did he think Philip was? It meant he had to cut the waiter. The cut direct wasn’t his style, but Philip felt like he didn’t have a choice. Angie was his priority.

“The waiter’s certainly attentive this evening,” Angie commented.

Philip cocked one eyebrow. “Sweetheart, did you get a good look at yourself? You’re stunning.”

“You think so?” she said, smiling sweetly. “Thank you, Philip. It’s always nice to be noticed.”

“I always notice you,” he said, smiling back. He raised his wine glass in a salute. “Notice and appreciate.”

Angie touched her glass to his in an almost-silent toast. “Charmer. Half the time I feel upstaged by you. Is that a new suit? You look amazing.” Then she glanced at the waiter. “I get the feeling I’m not the only one who thinks your tailor is a god among men.”

“Boy, you buy one new sport suit—”

“A week,” Angie interrupted, her eyes merry. She was enjoying herself.

“—one new suit, and people accuse you of being a dandy.” Philip sighed theatrically. “Memo to self: return the ascot and waistcoat ASAP,” he said in a stage whisper.

They shared a quiet laugh. Philip reached across the table to caress her cheek, and Angie leaned into his touch. Her beauty struck him once again, and that evening, she’d gone all out, every bit his match in an ivory satin gown with the back down to here and her auburn hair done with seed pearls as it cascaded down her back. She even wore a simple cameo around her neck, an antique Wedgwood piece he’d given her for Valentine’s Day the year before. Then he noticed she’d mounted it on a mauve ribbon that clashed horribly with her auburn hair. What on earth had she been thinking? He’d given it to her on a cream ribbon for a reason—

Dinner arrived and Philip dropped his hand.

He tried to ignore the argument going in his mind about the colors, but it was hard. He’d always had an overdeveloped sense of aesthetics, and at times growing up with Brad and Randall had been nothing but torment. Builders’ houses were always one of two types: ramshackle and about to fall over, or palatial monuments to every architectural innovation and new concept to show up in the design rags. The Sundstrom home was one of the latter type, if poorly decorated, and no sooner had he shoved Randall off stage and into the hands of the police than he called in the cavalry to remove the worst of his father’s excesses and atrocities. Gone were the putti pissing into fountains and faux-antique tapestries and superfluous televisions, and there were no more—Philip jerked his thoughts back to the here and now. He sat across the table from a beautiful woman at a posh restaurant. His aesthetic hang-ups could wait.

Philip genuinely enjoyed Angie’s company. They might not live together—yet—but they certainly spent a lot of time in each other’s company, mostly at her condo. She found his house “creepy, like a funeral home,” even with Randall out of there and every room but his mother’s old sitting room and her library redone. Not that he blamed her—it was large and foreboding, and maybe it was time to sell it. When he’d called to invite her out to dinner earlier in the week, she’d been overjoyed, even more so than usual. It made him wonder if he weren’t missing something, but a thorough search of his day planner by both himself and Suresh revealed nothing.

After gnawing his guts out for a while, he’d finally given up, and when it came time to pick her up, he gave in and let himself enjoy the evening. “Are you ready to go home?”

“Yes, I think so,” Angie said. Was that a tightening around her eyes?

Philip signaled the waiter, who promptly brought him the check. When Philip put a black Amex card down, the man’s eyes widened. It would have been comical, but Philip found it hard to believe no one at this restaurant had ever seen American Express’s Centurion Card before.

“Here you are, Mr. Sundstrom,” the waiter said when he returned, placing the receipt before Philip and then departing. Philip signed it, including a generous tip.

Philip held Angie’s chair for her and then waited patiently while she wrapped her shawl around her shoulders. As they walked out of the restaurant, Philip smiled at their waiter. “Thank you. We had a lovely evening.”

But it was only as they waited for his car to be brought around that he noticed the waiter had written a number—presumably his—on the back of the credit card slip, but lightly and in pencil so it didn’t show from the front. Classy. Philip crumpled it up and threw it in the trash.

“They’re staring at you out here too,” Angie whispered.

Philip blushed. “I think you mean they’re looking at you.”

“Some of them, maybe.” She laughed. “A few, the straight ones.”

But they weren’t all straight, he could tell that right off the bat. Sorry, boys. He played, but never when he was in a committed relationship.

“Remind me not to come back here. This is very embarrassing.”

She hooked her arm on his. “I think it’s hilarious, and you blush very prettily.”

“Great.” He rolled his eyes.

It made him uncomfortable, that regard, even if he understood it. Thanks to the last year at SunHo, he knew how to project an air of authority, and a lot of people found that attractive. It wasn’t quite a matter of “do the opposite of Randall.” After all, his father had run SunHo with an air of power, but in Philip’s estimation, that power was based on fear. Employees in SunHo’s corporate offices had feared for their jobs, at least when Randall stomped and blustered. But authority? That was something different. Philip knew when he spoke, he would be listened to. He might be young for a CEO, but by and large, he was respected. He wasn’t sure Randall could’ve said that, or even appreciated the difference.

In his early thirties, Philip was young, fit, and, based on the evidence at dinner, handsome; he was very well situated financially, and the waiter and valets could tell that from the credit card and his car. He loved his Merc, a sleek sports car, the six-figure kind with the spoiler to prevent it from taking flight. At least he assumed that’s why they stared. Or maybe he had spinach stuck between his teeth, he thought ruefully, the perils of being a vegetarian there to keep him humble.

They drove back to Angie’s condo in silence, insulated from the sounds of the city by the Merc, but what, Philip wondered, isolated them from each other? He bore responsibility for that, the lion’s share, at least. He felt bad for neglecting Angie in favor of SunHo. It wasn’t that he preferred SunHo per se, but it seemed so much more immediate to him. More…real, he realized guiltily, but that’s not how he wanted his life to be. Angie always understood—or acted as if she did. She got that he’d taken over the family business, even if she didn’t know the particulars of how that had come about. As far as he was concerned, she didn’t need to either.

But simply because Philip had chosen this life, it didn’t stand to reason that Angie was happy with it. He knew she’d prefer to be living the high life, preferably in San Francisco. Angie cared for him, so no gold digger, she, but he didn’t fool himself on that score either. She enjoyed the life his money afforded them. Buying Brad out a few years ago might’ve set him back, but SunHo grew and expanded, despite the recession and building slowdown. Philip was loaded, and Angie knew it.

He glanced over at Angie as he drove, her face turned away from him, inscrutable in the passing lights. He knew what he wanted from the next step in life, but was it what Angie wanted?

Unable to decipher his uncharacteristically enigmatic girlfriend, Philip retreated into his thoughts, pretending he was in the cockpit of a spaceship instead of a luxury car, because damn, the onboard computer was almost that complicated. He liked Mercedes for the same reason he liked Macs. They both embodied high performance and elegant design and didn’t bother him with a lot of irritating details. Sure, BMW made amazing cars, but they always seemed to want his input on some matter or other, and he got enough of that at work. As for PCs, Philip was sure there was an elegant and highly functional one somewhere, he’d just never heard of it. But really, they’d gone from a charming dinner together full of conversation and laughter to him retreating into his imagination. Again. He’d been doing that more and more lately.

If he were to be honest with himself, it couldn’t be a good sign, but they looked good together, and she was someone to hold on cold, dark nights. Angie was someone to cling to when he’d spent too much time reading the Existentialists and felt too alone in an uncaring universe. But was that really a reason to stay in a relationship with someone? On the whole, Philip reasoned, there were worse ones, but it would only be fair if she felt the same way, and he knew for a fact she had no patience for what she called his “navel-gazing.” This raised the question of why on Earth he was with someone who so easily dismissed his interests and the things he valued. On the other hand, he didn’t remember his parents sharing that many interests. So many puzzles.

The keypad at the entrance to the parking lot under Angie’s condo tower saved Philip from further omphaloskepsis. After he parked in her designated guest space and opened the door for her, Angie again laughed and flirted in the elevator.

“Dinner was great, but tomorrow night I want to go clubbing in the city,” she said, moving in close, breathing in his ear, hand roaming south of his belt.

“What’re you doing?” Philip gasped at the sudden assault.

“What does it feel like I’m doing?”

He looked down at her, amazed at her audacity. “Groping me. What if someone comes in?”

“Then I stop.”

My Review:
This is the fourth book in a series, but it can be enjoyed as a standalone. We have met both of these characters in previous books, but this is their story.

Philip Sundstrom is the eldest of the Sundstrom brothers, with Brad being the younger. Brad was the MC of the second book in this series, and we have seen him in the other stories as well. Philip was the enigmatic brother who seemed kowtowed to their domineering and homophobic father, but we are now seeing the truth behind that facade.

Philip was the beleaguered son, “learning” the business of Sundstrom while really being shut out of any and every real decision, but Philip played a long game, acquiring knowledge and allies as he awaited his shady father’s downfall. It happened to come at the cost of Brad’s boyfriend, Drew, who was bashed by Daddy’s cronies. Philip found out and had his abusive, snaky father incarcerated–and he also got full ownership of the company, in the process. Philip wants to root out the board members who were loyal to his dad–and might be actively sabotaging his CEO position–and he’s also mature enough he wants a secure relationship instead of rattling around his big, empty childhood home. Unfortunately, his long-term girlfriend hadn’t got the memo that they were exclusive, and that was the end of that. Philip is bisexual, not that he’s made any overtures to a man in a long time. That’s why it’s a bit shocking that he’s so turned on by the ginger bagger at the specialty grocer, Stuart.

Stuart Cochrane has just graduated college from CalPac University and is due to matriculate into medical school at UC-Davis in August. He shares an apartment with his boyfriend and a fellow crew member, Jeremy, whose highborn English mother has been an unpleasant advent in his life. Stuart grew up in rural Pennsylvania, with parents who take “Jesus Freak” as a badge of honor. He literally ran away to Sacramento to attend college on the scholarship for crew, where he was a champion coxswain. Stuart is diminutive in size, but not opinion or voice, and he’s quite tired of Jeremy’s callous and wasteful immaturity. Being nearly destitute has trained Stuart to be incredibly frugal, and shun charity. So, when Jeremy makes an ultimatum that would cost him thousands, Stuart is happy to see him head off for England on a summer break that ends their relationship. And, that’s when he meets Philip.

Philip is a fixer, but while he has money he is sensible about it–for the most part. And he’s sensitive enough to Stuart’s pride that he doesn’t try to press his financial advantage, at least at first. They end up dating, which causes a little conflagration as Philip comes out, but much less than one might expect. The book is set in the time period around 2013 when marriage equality was still a fight in the courts, and not the rule of the country at large. Stuart has never really considered being married, because it hasn’t been accessible to him as such, and he’s still young with big plans for his career. Meanwhile, Philip is going all in on Stuart, and on the people he suspects of conniving against his leadership at work. There are several issues at risk, including a development that seems to have been built in an area rife with toxic waste. The legal ramifications are high, and as all of this is percolating to a head Stuart’s phobia of wealth and privilege get stuck with. He’s prideful to a dangerous and self-destructive degree, but once Philip arrives–thanks to mutual friends who reach out–Stuart is more than sorry for his earlier scorn. These guys are so used to being on their own it’s hard to lean on one another, but Stuart has need to lean more frequently, and this bring shim shame. He’d already had a pretty low self-esteem thanks to his parents, but his money struggles only reveal the deep-seated class prejudices Stuart has. And, what he has to get over if he’s going to salvage what is left of his battered family.

I really enjoyed this story, though I felt it kind of took a long time to get to the larger action moments. What I mean is, Philip was investigating his board in June, and doesn’t resolve anything there until January–despite constant machinations and discovery of damning evidence. Over the nearly 6 months of their acquaintance Stuart’s growing loathing of financial security seems excessive and childish. He has no capacity to manage his exponential debts, and hates that Philip is not only able, but willing, to wipe it all away just to ensure Stuart isn’t burdened. Every one of Stuart’s friends tell him he’s being unreasonable and childish–and he’s also considering this himself–but he cannot stop turning into a giant ridiculous brat when Philip pays for these rare and extenuating extravagances. It was almost pathological, honestly, and I was overjoyed that he FINALLY got down from his high horse in time to save his family and his relationship.

This is the fourth story in the series, but there is plenty of detail to fill-in any gaps for readers picking it up out of sequence. It will be a bit of a spoiler though, if one wants to go back in time, as the previous love stories have some level of exposure in this book. I’m always a little thrown by the deep references I encounter in this series, considering how well-read that I am, but it’s always fun to learn a new 78-point Scrabble word, or two. The younger characters read as way older, and sometimes Philip and Stuart read as way younger–but it was fun that they acknowledged this as demonstration of their infatuation. There are some dark moments, and the death of several secondary characters leading up to the final crisis. In all, I’d read on if another book comes out.

Interested? You can find SETTLING THE SCORE on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Books2Read.

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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.