Unexpected Connection IN OVER OUR HEADS–Review & Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m sharing my review for a newly-released contemporary M/M reconnection romance by CJane Elliot. IN OVER OUR HEADS is the second book in the Stories From the Shore series and I really enjoyed it.

Scroll down to read an excerpt, catch my review and enter the $10 GC giveaway!
About the book:
A second chance for romance on a scuba diving vacation plunges Anthony and Walter into deep waters—will they use love’s lifeline or go under alone?

Party guy Anthony Vallen believes in happy endings—just not for himself. He hits Key West for a vacation with friends, ready for some fun in the sun. To his horror, the owner of the local scuba dive shop is Walter Elkins—former scientist, meticulous control freak, and the guy who broke Anthony’s teenaged heart. Anthony throws up his shields with jokes and banter, but Walter draws him in by admiring him and listening to him like no one else has. Despite their painful past, Anthony’s defenses soften and his reasons for shunning romance no longer hold much water. But whether Walter will come on board remains to be seen. Walter has never gotten over brilliant, fun-loving Anthony, but he’s compelled to keep Anthony safe—not just from the ocean depths but from himself.

Soon Anthony and Walter are in over their heads, their love as unstoppable as the hurricane they find themselves in the middle of. To prevent their fears from pulling them under, Anthony needs to get serious—about his worth and his heart’s true desires, and Walter needs to trust—in himself, in fate, and in Anthony.

2nd book in the series but can be read as a stand-alone. Second Edition, revised and expanded.

How about a little taste?

Miles led us onto the boat and murmured to me as we were getting settled, “You guys are getting the special treatment. Walter doesn’t usually run the cruise excursions anymore. I’m kind of surprised he’s doing it.”
“Miles.” Walter frowned at him, jerking his head in a come here gesture.
“Oops. Duty calls.” Miles gave me a wink and went to help Walter with the jibs or sails or lines or whatever.
I tried to relax and get into vacation mode. What had I told Jonathan mere hours before? I wasn’t going to give Walter Elkins one more thought! It was hard to keep that vow, though, with Walter right there, his hunky body on display, muscles bunching and lengthening as he knelt and reached and got things ready with his usual fierce concentration. Though I knew fuck all about sailing, I was willing to bet that Walter’s preparations were being done rigorously, completely, and perfectly. Even Miles had grown serious and attentive, responding to his terse directions as though it was a military operation.
Meanwhile I became aware of something happening in my body. It was the oddest thing. I’m usually a bundle of nerves and on the manic end of the energy scale. But as I watched Walter, my muscles began to loosen, like they were letting down their guard. A memory darted in of Walter, at the end of high school chemistry class, restoring everything to order in his methodical way, me chattering nonstop as I watched him, and all being right with the world. It had felt safe being around Walter. He’d taken care of everything, slowly and patiently. I could be my fluttery self—a butterfly flitting all over—because I knew he would be there when I needed to land.
Suddenly Walter lifted his eyes and gazed right at me. To my horror, I found myself smiling fondly at him, still in the glow of that long-ago time. I was probably making stupid goo-goo eyes too. He went red and dropped something on the deck with a clang.
“Walter! Watch what you’re doing,” scolded Miles with a mock scowl. He laughed, no doubt pleased that the perfect Walter had been shown to be human.
“Sorry,” Walter muttered, reapplying himself to his task.
I sat still, shaken by how easily I’d slipped into rosy Walter memories. What on earth was wrong with me? Safe? Walter was the guy who’d left me not once but twice, and so callously that I’d been protecting myself from love ever since. Screw him!
I tore my gaze away and caught Sophia watching me with a small smile. She leaned forward and whispered, “Anytime you want to tell me what that’s all about, feel free.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, doll.”
“Okay. If that’s how you want to play it.” She leaned back and lifted her face to the sun. “Ah. It’s so awesome to be back in the sunshine.”
Marco lounged in his seat, looking fucking stupendous, his arm around Jonathan, who rested his head on Marco’s shoulder. I must have been rattled by Walter’s reappearance, because my walls suddenly cracked. Pain lanced through me, and I stopped kidding myself that I wasn’t pea green with envy. I so was.
I froze for a moment, stunned at myself. Could this be true? Could Anthony the Player be merely the facade, while underneath I wanted what Jonny had? Not that I wanted Marco for myself, but was I pining for a man to hold me like that and let me rest my head on his shoulder? All signs pointed to yes. How embarrassing! And how completely unlikely.

My Review:
Anthony Vallen’s is nearing 30 and looking for a lasting love–not that he’ll admit it out loud. He’s super jealous of the deeply committed relationship of his cousin Jonny, who’s marriage to Marco is fairy-tale-esque. Anthony had a love once, back in high school he fell hard for his nerdy, precise science partner, Walter Elkins. They were complete opposites, with out-going, expressive and artful Anthony cracking Walter’s timid shell. Their passion was cosmic, and they were set to be roommates in college, but a freak swimming accident put Anthony in the hospital and sent Walter running to a new school and new life. Anthony never got over this abandonment, and has had one-night stands since.

On vacation to the Florida Keys, Anthony unexpectedly encounters Walter–who owns the premier dive shop on the island. The one Marco has hired for their party’s snorkeling and scuba adventures. Anthony wasn’t planning on going snorkeling, he’s shy of the water since his near-drowning all those years ago. But, Walter stepping in and telling Anthony not to get into the water was just the challenge Anthony needed to break out of his fear. And, getting the attention of Walter’s gorgeous, 22 y/o half-brother Miles is unexpectedly gratifying.

Walter hasn’t had a romantic partner since that fateful day Anthony nearly died swimming back home all those years ago. Anthony was it for him, but Walter has a way of connecting with people who later get dead. It’s a miracle Anthony survived, and Walter would rather be celibate and know Anthony lives than take another chance on his heart at the expense of his love. That’s what he thinks, but the days of Anthony’s visits wear on him–and the taunts of both Anthony and Miles crack the iron shell he’s built around himself. He’s making all sorts of rash decisions, like being the divemaster for Anthony’s trips into the ocean, and following ihm into the water to ensure he’s okay. It’s sweet, and a little creepy, and Walter isn’t happy when Anthony calls him on his crap. So, he has to tell his deep dark history of loss and it’s a bit heartbreaking how isolated he’s made himself.

Thankfully, Anthony’s able to pry the walls apart and crawl deep into Walter’s heart, but as a hurricane sets in on the coast, love might not be enough to keep them together. Also, Anthony has a real life back in Boston, while Walter hasn’t been back there in years; his home and business are in Florida. Also, there are some big decisions to make if they are going to move past the “fling” stage.

I liked this one, it has a bit of danger and a daring rescue, and a separation that only make’s some feelings grow unbearably stronger. Anthony is a fast-talking guy, totally masking his pain and loss from Walter walking away. He’s Mr. Life of the Party, and Walter’s drawn to him just as much now as back in high school. He’s afraid to trust that he can have a good thing–like Anthony’s love–in his life without losing it. And, that fear drives his actions until Miles kicks him in the butt, metaphorically. The end is happy, and satisfying as these guys make plans to keep their lives connected despite the physical distance that would separate them. Anthony’s fun narration really keeps the story rolling, and Walter’s earnest passion is joyful to experience. It was a breezy read for me, and got me hankering for a trip to the coast.

Interested? You can find IN OVER OUR HEADS on Goodreads, Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
After years of hearing characters chatting away in her head, award-winning author CJane Elliott finally decided to put them on paper and hasn’t looked back since. A psychotherapist by training, CJane writes sexy, passionate LGBTQ romances that explore the human psyche. CJane has traveled all over North America for work and her characters are travelers, too, traveling down into their own depths to find what they need to get to the happy ending.

CJane is bisexual and an ardent supporter of LGBTQ equality. In her spare time, CJane can be found dancing, listening to music, or watching old movies. Her family supports her writing habit by staying out of the way when they see her hunched over, staring intensely at her laptop.

You can find CJane on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and BookBub.

Real Life in SEX, LOVE, AND VIDEOGAMES–Review & Giveaway

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Hi there! Today I’m sharing my review for a newly-released contemporary M/M coming of age/coming out novel by CJane Elliot. SEX, LOVE AND VIDEO GAMES is the third book in the Serpentine series that revolves around young gay men of the University of Virginia.

I really enjoyed the diversity of characters and the heartbreaking realness of the story.This book features a loving, God-fearing, Southern black family containing a poor, dyslexic, gay young man, and his flamboyant transgender cousin, and a wealthy white gay young man–all of whom find joy, acceptance and heartbreak. (Not in that order, though!!)

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for the three book set!

Sex, Love, and Videogames (Serpentine #3)About the book:
Shy guy Jed Carter has always felt invisible next to his charismatic older brother, Kent. Kent’s master plan for Jed is simple: University of Virginia, fraternity, business, sports, and ladies’ man. None of it is Jed, except for playing on the rugby team, which he joins in defiance of soccer-loving Kent. Jed comes out in his sophomore year and starts seeing Pete, an attractive junior, who uses him for sex and videogames. Jed wants more—in life and in love—and starts making his own plans. First on the list: getting to know Charlie, the handsome guy working at the local videogame arcade.

Charlie Ambrose has always felt like an oddball, and not just for his tendency to stutter. Being gay sets him apart from his African-American community, and as a “townie,” he doesn’t fit in with the college crowd. Charlie’s inspiration is his cousin, Morocco, who’s transgender and doesn’t give a fig about fitting in. Art is Charlie’s passion, and when a local videogame designer discovers him, Charlie’s living a dream. The only thing he’s missing is love. But the last person Charlie expects to find it with is a cute, white U.Va. rugby player named Jed.

How about a little taste?

“Okay, warm up laps!” Beau led the rugby team in a slow circuit around the perimeter of Mad Bowl. After a few laps, he stopped and had them do stretching exercises.
The other team did their warming up, and when they moved to take positions, Jed noticed a pair of people standing on the sidelines. His breathing stopped for a second. Charlie stood, hands in his pockets, shifting from foot to foot, while Morocco, a vision in a pink track suit, set up a camp chair (apt name, that) and sat down. Morocco saw Jed looking and waved. Charlie turned and gave a small wave himself, and Jed waved back, heart beating faster.
“Who’re they?” Bud asked, squinting over at them.
“Um, Charlie’s a guy who works at Lucky’s. In the gaming area. And the other is his cousin.”
“Hmm. Townies?”
“Yep.”
“She’s cute.”
“Um, well, about that….” Jed cut himself off because the referee blew the whistle. Time to play ball and hope he did well in front of those two.
The game proved the usual testosterone-fest, with lots of grunting and body contact. When Jed scored some points, Morocco produced pom poms that matched her outfit and waved them wildly.
At the break, Jed ran over to them for a minute to say hi—fuck what the rest of the team thought.
“Jed, child, my word!” Morocco fanned her chest. “Y’all are such manly men! Rugby is going to be my new obsession, I just know it!”
“I like it. My mom never let me play contact sports in high school, so I kinda love ramming into people.” Jed felt his cheeks flame at what he had said. Crap-a-doodle.
But Morocco laughed and Charlie faked a cough so he could smile behind his fist.
“So, hey, thanks for coming. I gotta go back now.”
Charlie nodded as Morocco said, “We’ll see you after the game.” She picked up her pom poms. “Wa-hoo-wa!”
When the team huddled before the second half, a homophobe named Welburn said with a sneer, “Who are those freaks on the sidelines?”
Another guy laughed. “Yeah. I thought all the he-shes lived in San Francisco.”
“What’re you talking about?” Bud peered over toward Charlie and Morocco. “That girl?”
Welburn spit on the ground. “That girl is no she. She’s a he. What the hell are they doing here?”
Beau raised his voice. “Hey, concentrate, guys. We need to win this game.”
Jed held up a hand to stop Beau from continuing. “Before we do that, you all need to know that those are some friends of mine. So shut your fucking faces before I shut them for you.” He leveled a lethal glare at Welburn and his compatriot.
Fueled by his anger, Jed played an amazing second half, and the team pulled out a victory on the strength of his points alone. After their team high five, he trotted over to Charlie and Morocco. Charlie smiled broadly while Morocco jumped up and down. “Jed, Jed, Jed! Wa-hoo-wa! Thass right!”
“Okay, okay.” Jed couldn’t help laughing at Morocco’s outrageous enthusiasm. “Thanks for coming to the game.”
“It was fun. I’m glad we came.” Charlie took a step back, seemingly surprised to have gotten two stutter-free sentences out.
“I’m glad too.” They gazed tentatively at each other, and Morocco suddenly got busy folding up the camp chair.

My Review:
This is a coming out, coming of age story for two young men of very different backgrounds. While this is part of a series, it is fully enjoyable as a standalone read.

Jed is a white, northern Virginian, younger brother to charismatic Kent, and gay. Secretly gay. He has a crush on Kent’s best friend, and is loath to come out amid the gay slurs and homophobic environment of the frat Kent pushes Jed to join when Jed arrives at UVa in Charlottesville. He’s angry and defiant and passive-aggressive, especially when he sees out-gay men being out, and gay. A YEAR passes in the state, and still only Jed’s BFF, Myesha (a black girl he works with), knows his big gay secret. Well, until he blurts it out in the heat of frustration, in a crowd of his bigoted frat brothers.

Charlie is of mixed race: white mom, black dad, and his father was killed in a military training exercise years ago. He lives in Charlottesville with his mom and his dad’s extended family, who are all fully black, and good churchgoing folk. His closest confidant is Morocco, his transgender cousin–who the family matriarch, Granny Myrt, still calls “Ronald.” While his family doesn’t give Morocco trouble over her female dress and hair, they don’t generally approve. Still, the are Southern, and good Southern folk don’t speak about giant rabid elephants trouncing the parlor, apparently. It’s not genteel, I suppose. (disclaimer, I’m a white Yankee so this I had to take on faith.)

Charlie suffers a learning disability, but he’s a talented artist. Instead of joining Morocco at college, he works at a videogame parlor/arcade/restaurant and his drawings are admired by a videogame maker who frequents the shop. Having no formal training, a crippling shyness, and a stutter, it takes Charlie a long time to open up to people, but Morocco’s encouragement goes a long way.

The book spans three years, and only the last six months bring Jed and Charlie into direct contact. During the first 60% of the book both of these men are coming to terms with their sexuality, coming out, and initiating fledgling sexual acquaintances. It is more bitter than sweet for both of them–who are essentially used by partners and take the meager scraps of physicality they are tossed because they have no self-esteem. I was glad to see this change in Charlie. Jed’s heart is stomped on, and he comes out the other side. Both men develop the skills to stand up for themselves in many ways–professionally, and academically, which was good to see.

When Jed and Charlie do connect their skittishness is cute, but equally frustrating, as they struggle to demonstrate their interest clearly. Charlie also fears coming out to his entire family–though Morocco and his mother do know Jed is his boyfriend. Upside, they find happiness with each other.

I don’t really consider this book a clear romance, however. It is good storytelling, with interesting characters and all, but the long exposition and parallel plot paths keeping Charlie and Jed separate overshadow a traditional romantic arc. I truly enjoyed the “black” side of this book, as it was so tenderly rendered. Having known many black people and families closely in my life, I felt the characters were very close to real. Granny Myrt is a real trip, and her grudging acceptance of Morocco and Charlie’s revelations are so welcome. Also, Charlie’s anguish of being “not black enough” as a mixed-race kid was something some of my friends experienced–and it’s a raw deal that was touched upon in real ways here. I very much appreciated the diversity of culture and race in this book–Jed and Charlie are a bridge between their two worlds, and I found their overcoming of these divisions to be heartening and heartwarming.

Interested? You can find SEX, LOVE, AND VIDEOGAMES on Goodreads, Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and AllRomance eBooks.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click the Rafflecopter link bleow for your chance to win ecopies of the Serpentine Series.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
After years of hearing characters chatting away in her head, CJane Elliott finally decided to put them on paper and hasn’t looked back since. A psychotherapist by training, CJane enjoys writing sexy, passionate stories that also explore the human psyche. CJane has traveled all over North America for work and her characters are travelers, too, traveling down into their own depths to find what they need to get to the happy ending.

CJane is an ardent supporter of LGBTQ equality and is particularly fond of coming out stories.

In her spare time, CJane can be found dancing, listening to music, or watching old movies. Her husband and son support her writing habit by staying out of the way when they see her hunched over, staring intensely at her laptop.

You can find CJane on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.
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