Growing Up PANSIES–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a newly released contemporary M/M romance from Alexis Hall. PANSIES is also an enemies-to-lovers romance that is lush and beautiful. I’ve also loved FOR REAL, LOOKING FOR GROUP, and WAITING FOR THE FLOOD from this author, so I couldn’t pass the chance to pick up PANSIES.

pansiesAbout the book:
Alfie Bell is…fine. He’s got a six-figure salary, a penthouse in Canary Wharf, the car he swore he’d buy when he was eighteen, and a bunch of fancy London friends.

It’s rough, though, going back to South Shields now that they all know he’s a fully paid-up pansy. It’s the last place he’s expecting to pull. But Fen’s gorgeous, with his pink-tipped hair and hipster glasses, full of the sort of courage Alfie’s never had. It should be a one-night thing, but Alfie’s never met anyone like Fen before.

Except he has. At school, when Alfie was everything he was supposed to be, and Fen was the stubborn little gay boy who wouldn’t keep his head down. And now it’s a proper mess: Fen might have slept with Alfie, but he’ll probably never forgive him, and Fen’s got all this other stuff going on anyway, with his mam and her flower shop and the life he left down south.

Alfie just wants to make it right. But how can he, when all they’ve got in common is the nowhere town they both ran away from.

My Review:
Highly recommend! This is a fantastically lyrical, deeply emotional story of two unlikely lovers and their complicated history.

Alfie Bell is a big beast of a man, nearly thirty and only recognized his gayness two years ago. He’s from the north Atlantic coast of England, a rundown beach village called South Shields. Having been smart he did his schooling, got a masters and took a job in investment banking. He’s fabulously wealthy, living his openly gay life in London, and quietly caring for his family up north. He’s had a falling out with them, over his sexuality, and he really wants everything to be normal in his life. He wants a committed relationship, and a family some day. His ambitions are much simpler than his profession might indicate. And, ultimately, Alfie’s been feeling rather empty of late, wishing he had stronger connections and feeling disenchanted with London’s shiny veneer.

While on a rare trip home, Alfie inadvertently outs himself to his best friend–while at his wedding. It’s a mortifying event, and Alfie takes a drive to clear his discomfort. Popping in to a nearby bar, Alfie spots a slight, slim man with silver-blonde pink tipped hair and the most gorgeous body…ever. He offers to buy the man a drink, and the reaction he gets is not welcome. Fen, as he calls himself, doesn’t believe that a strapping man would ever find him sexually attractive, but they do get on with an interesting evening adventure–which turns out really good, as far as Alfie is concerned. Until Fen reveals his full identity the next morning–that Fen was the shy gay boy that Alfie and his mates all tormented throughout grade school. Alfie’s world shifts. He’s not the same uncouth boy who did those horrible things, and those memories are terrifying related through Fen’s point-of-view.

When he returns to London, Alfie simmers on this new development. He’s filled with shame, and wants to make amends however he can. He books some time off to make the long trip north again, and turns up at Fen’s business–a flower shop called Pansies that used to belong to his late grandmother and mother. Life hasn’t gone to Fen’s plan much; he’s only running the shop (into the ground) out of grief for his mother’s early death. It’s a way of connecting to her, even as it meant giving up his own career, breaking it off from his boyfriend, and losing his half of their mortgaged flat. Alfie knows none of this, he only wants to be near Fen. The encounter isn’t much better than their recent meeting, ending with a comic spectacle in Fen’s run-down bath that requires repairs. Alfie, always the fixer, attempts to make that right, too. And ends up needing his own rescue. From his estranged family.

Fen, honestly, has a very conflicted experience with his former tormentor. He was bizarrely attracted to Alfie as a teen. He was so strong, and sure, and manly, yet still had a softer side, like rescuing trapped butterflies. Seeing Alfie so committed to helping him in his suffering now is turning all the right switches, awakening long-buried attraction. Alfie is tender and compliant in a way Fen had imagined in his deepest adolescent fantasies–you know the type: getting one over on your nemesis, only with sexytimes.

As they spend time together, Alfie recognizes that he’s really falling for Fen. He also loves the idea of being back home. There’s so much familiarity, and he envisions being a partner to Fen in more than just Fen’s broke-down futon. He convinces Fen to let him look over his finances and help with the flower shop. It’s not easy for Fen to let go–and Alfie’s continually blundering when it comes to the homophobic incidents that they keep getting involved in. See, Fen’s not even gay, exactly, (probably pansexual though Fen calls himself queer) and yet he endured a lifetime of teasing and abuse for his queerness. And, Alfie’s only been out in London, where there’s less of an in-your-face homophobia. He can’t bear to have himself and Fen called out for just existing. It’s all very chilling, for Fen. He wants a lover, not a felon–and he knows how dangerous it can be to engage with homophobes in groups. Plus, part of Alfie’s issue is his own internalized homophobia. Fen helps him to tease apart all the “masc” constructs that have really been lead weight surrounding his neck for thirty years. Alfie is so utterly vulnerable, and deeply in love with Fen after a couple of weeks–and that’s when it’s got to end.

Fen’s not meant to stay in South Shields, nursing his memories for a dead mother–even his father thinks so. And, while Alfie would be happy to give up his posh London life and build a new one with Fen, Alfie’s pretty-well decided he wants to do it in his hometown. It’s not fair!! There’s a kerfuffle, and a break, and more grand gestures to win Fen back–and I can’t actually do any justice at all to this without giving away too much. The book is so lush, and the writing so lyrical. I’ve never been to England, and yet I feel like I moved into Fen’s shop, and got insulted by Gothshelley, and ate finger-burning chips on the beach and curried paneer at Raj’s Indian restaurant. I could see the spun silk of Fen’s silver-pink-blonde hair, and hear the creak of pain in Alfie’s voice when he tried, once again, to connect with his baffled father. There’s an all-encompassing accessibility to Alfie’s point-of-view that absolutely dropped me into his brain, and his experience. His youthful regrets are intense, and his determination to quietly fix all and sundry is unquestionably endearing. The book has a sweet HEA that is sure to please any romance fan.

Interested? You can find PANSIES on Goodreads, Riptide Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and AllRomance. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret. He did the Oxbridge thing sometime in the 2000s and failed to learn anything of substance. He has had many jobs, including ice cream maker, fortune teller, lab technician, and professional gambler. He was fired from most of them.

He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car. He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.

Catch up with him on his website, twitter and Facebook.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Finding Love While LOOKING FOR GROUP–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M romance from Alexis Hall. I really liked WAITING FOR THE FLOOD and FOR REAL, so I jumped at the chance to read LOOKING FOR GROUP. It’s a New Adult romance between two gamers who meet in cyberspace.

Looking for GroupAbout the book:

So, yeah, I play Heroes of Legend, y’know, the MMO. I’m not like obsessed or addicted or anything. It’s just a game. Anyway, there was this girl in my guild who I really liked because she was funny and nerdy and a great healer. Of course, my mates thought it was hilarious I was into someone I’d met online. And they thought it was even more hilarious when she turned out to be a boy IRL. But the joke’s on them because I still really like him.

And now that we’re together, it’s going pretty well. Except sometimes I think Kit—that’s his name, sorry I didn’t mention that—spends way too much time in HoL. I know he has friends in the guild, but he has me now, and my friends, and everyone knows people you meet online aren’t real. I mean. Not Kit. Kit’s real. Obviously.

Oh, I’m Drew, by the way. This is sort of my story. About how I messed up some stuff and figured out some stuff. And fell in love and stuff.

My Review:

Drew is a 19 y/o student in video game design in Leicester. He’s a gamer, but not obsessed. Well, he’s good at Heroes of Legend and is super pissed when his Guild doesn’t value him, or his skills, so he ragequits them. He searches for a new Guild and joins one that’s specifically less intense than the one he’d been with the past three years. These folks are far more engaged in game for game’s sake playing, and take time to study the game, and the lore of it, for funa dn enjoyment, not simply moving forward to rack up points and prestige. It’s different, but oddly welcome, and Drew finds himself really enjoying the game in a way he hasn’t in a long time.

He’s also intrigued by the main Healer, Solace, whose winged Elf avatar is strangely compelling. Drew spends more time in HoL than ever, messaging with Solace thinking that she might-could be a gamer girl. It’s been more than a year since Drew’s dated, and he’s a bit smitten. Then he learns that Solace is really Christopher, call him Kit, and a physics student at Uni of Leicester. It’s frustrating and confusing, because he’d built a bit of a rapport, and now thinks it was all a hoax. But, it wasn’t, and Kit is just a shy gay man who’s never ever dated. His friends are all virtual, though he’s met many in person over the years.

Drew wants to meet Kit in person, and there’s a lot of angst around this, but the do eventually, and they hit it off. Drew never imagined being with a man, but he’s clearly attracted to sweet, shy and stunning Kit. And, he wants more IRL (in real life) time than Kit is quite comfortable with giving, at first.

This was a sweet book that is very low steam, lots of self-investigation, and tons of gaming. Like, so much gaming I might have felt I was IN THE GAME with the avatars of our characters. That was not entirely awesome, for me, as I really prefer being in the character’s heads and so much happened in the game space I was often left behind. It took me a while to catch on to the gaming lingo and syntax, and I found out–way too late–that there was a Glossary just waiting for me at the end of the book…and, it’s a British read, so the Brit slang plus game slang was challenging, for me.

About the romance, it was low-key, but high stakes. Drew’s a straight man, falling for a man he’s only virtually known. Their immediate connection in real life is as scary as it is thrilling. Drew’s friends are less-than-charmed with all his gaming time spent in HoL with Kit, however, and this becomes a problem, because Drew’s sensitive to Kit’s lack of life experience and fears he has a gaming addiction Drew hopes to fix. Kit’s never had a real boyfriend, and finding Drew, who also knows HoL, seems like a dream come true…yet, it isn’t.

I liked the sweetness, but I’ll admit to wishing there was more steam and less Steam (that’s a gaming joke; Steam is where you go buy/play games…). The big conflict left a rift that Drew made right in the only, and best, way possible. I loved how his grand plans were so intricate and really relied on his gaming skill. It was charming. The book is sure to appeal to readers who also have a more-than-casual interest in gaming-slash-gaming romance. The M/M aspect was limited to kissing and exhilaration, with no other descriptions on the page. Still, first love/new love is always fun to absorb.

Interested? You can find LOOKING FOR GROUP on Goodreads, Riptide Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and AllRomance. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:

Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret. He did the Oxbridge thing sometime in the 2000s and failed to learn anything of substance. He has had many jobs, including ice cream maker, fortune teller, lab technician, and professional gambler. He was fired from most of them.

He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car. He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.

Catch up with him on his website, twitter and Facebook.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

This is FOR REAL Love–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m so excited to share my review for a newly released contemporary M/M romance from Alexis Hall. I have read his shorter novel WAITING FOR THE FLOOD, and really enjoyed his storytelling, so I jumped at the chance to pick up FOR REAL. This is a frank, sexy light-BDSM romance that develops between a 37 y/o submissive doctor and a 19 y/o Dom. It’s a fascinating  “odd couple” story.

For RealAbout the book:
Laurence Dalziel is worn down and washed up, and for him, the BDSM scene is all played out. Six years on from his last relationship, he’s pushing forty and tired of going through the motions of submission.

Then he meets Toby Finch. Nineteen years old. Fearless, fierce, and vulnerable. Everything Laurie can’t remember being.

Toby doesn’t know who he wants to be or what he wants to do. But he knows, with all the certainty of youth, that he wants Laurie. He wants him on his knees. He wants to make him hurt, he wants to make him beg, he wants to make him fall in love.

The problem is, while Laurie will surrender his body, he won’t surrender his heart. Because Toby is too young, too intense, too easy to hurt. And what they have—no matter how right it feels—can’t last. It can’t mean anything.

It can’t be real.

My Review:
This book is long, but didn’t read that way at all. Often times I feel like I want more detail in a story, want to know more about a character if a situation, but not this time. This time I had everything I needed, and all the stuff I didn’t need but learned that I really wanted once I had it. Thanks for that, mate! (PS, Anglophiles rejoice, they’re Londoners!)

Laurie is a 37 y/o pre-hospital consultant. I honestly had no idea what this was until I’d completed half the book. Turns out it’s a specialized doctor who goes out on scene to assist with stabilizing injured people before they can be brought to the hospital–a medical first-responder who is an actual doctor. He specializes in trauma cases and lives a high stress life as a result. He’s terribly alone since his lover of 12 years, Richard, left him 6 years prior. He does go out for random hook-ups but Laurie is an unapologetic sub who needs a man who will take him in a firm hand–and he won’t fall in love again, so it’s hard for him to develop the trust he needs for more than a random BDSM scene.

Out with friends at a BDSM club he sees a startlingly young man, and approaches him to tell him off for crashing the party, only to have this inexplicably fierce, short, pimply 19 y/o man turn the tables entirely. Laurie is blown apart by this Neo-Dom, and takes him home, only to break down. His Dom is frustrated with having a fantastic moment ruined by Laurie’s callous behavior, and lets him know this–but the two men find solace with each other. It is only the next day that names are exchanged. Toby, the young Dom, is less fierce than Laurie had expected, and the sex is galactic, yet it’s all a one-off as far as Laurie is concerned.

Thing is, Laurie can’t get Toby out of his brain, and is pleased that Toby turns up on his doorstep a week later for another go-round. Afraid that he’s developing actual feelings, however, Laurie behaves like an ass again–hoping to drive Toby away. Which he does, for a while. But, Toby’s persistent, and he’s fully aware that his Dom desires aren’t likely to be filled by anyone his own age. Plus, getting a posh man to drop to his knees is really the height of flattery, for Toby.

The story spans several months over which time both Toby and Laurie fall arse over teakettle for one another, even if Laurie would rather cut out his own tongue than admit it aloud. The emotions here are raw and so brutally honest. Toby is ruthless emotionally, to himself and Laurie–forcing both of them to see the strengths and frailties of their arrangement. I felt like my own heart was being cuffed up and spread open. Toby needs someone to want him, to care about him, and the only people in his life who seem to do so are his dying Grandad and Laurie. His mom cares, but not in a maternal way; it’s too pedestrian for her artistic sensibilities. Laurie’s afraid to pledge his heart to a man so young with so much life in front of him. He doesn’t want to waste Toby’s time–when he thinks Toby will just find a more suitable mate and throw him over. And he feels a bit awkward (read: he’s obsessed) about the age gap.

It’s a delicious character study, and a fantastic read with plenty of kinky sexytimes, but also chock full of tenderness and vulnerability. This is book where the tears shed aren’t only mine, but Toby’s and Laurie’s, too. So much coming to terms with life and its many choices. Of learning to trust, and to give trust. I just adored Toby’s POV. He’s unfailingly honest and open–something that disarms and charms and frightens Laurie. I was so glad their HEA came! It was also so fun to be in Toby’s head as he had his first real and positive experiences as a Dom. I think his youth and exuberance helped soften his sadist side; an older, experienced character would have come off as pompous or cruel–where Toby is more playful in his internal dialogue. Also, I loved how both Toby and Laurie were able to enjoy themselves in a judgment-free sexual zone. The sexytimes are plentiful, but never got boring. I never felt myself skimming.

Interested? You can find FOR REAL on Goodreads, Riptide Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and AllRomance. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret. He did the Oxbridge thing sometime in the 2000s and failed to learn anything of substance. He has had many jobs, including ice cream maker, fortune teller, lab technician, and professional gambler. He was fired from most of them.

He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car.

He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.

You can catch up with Alexis on Goodreads, Twitter and his website.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!