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.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

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

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

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

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

Now Available OPERATION FAKE RELATIONSHIP–A Holiday Book Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M Christmas romance from Jay Northcote. OPERATION FAKE RELATIONSHIP features best friends doing one another a favor…and falling hard in love.

About the book:
Can a fake relationship between best friends turn into the real thing?

After years of estrangement from his parents, Nick is finally going home for Christmas, but not without backup. He wants moral support, so his best friend and flatmate, Jackson, agrees to pretend to be his partner so he can go with him.

It’s easy for Jackson to be convincing when his feelings for Nick are as genuine as ever. He put his crush on the back burner long ago, but acting out a role he’d love to play for real is harder than he imagined. Holding hands, kissing under the mistletoe, even sharing a bed for the sake of the charade… He can’t help wondering what he’s let himself in for, and whether his heart can take it.

Emotions run high as Nick grapples with family issues, and the sexual tension between him and his best friend becomes difficult to ignore. But if he and Jackson give into the temptation to be fake boyfriends with benefits over the holiday, what will it mean for their future as friends once Christmas is over?

Contains: best friends to lovers, pretend boyfriends, daddy issues, mistletoe, and a happy ending—of course.

Interested? You can find OPERATION FAKE BOYFRIEND on Goodreads and Amazon.

About the Author:
Jay lives just outside Bristol in the West of England. He comes from a family of writers, but always used to believe that the gene for fiction writing had passed him by. He spent years only ever writing emails, articles, or website content.

One day, Jay decided to try and write a short story—just to see if he could—and found it rather addictive. He hasn’t stopped writing since.

Jay writes contemporary romance about men who fall in love with other men. He has books published by Dreamspinner Press, and also self-publishes under the imprint Jaybird Press. Many of his books are now available as audiobooks.

You can find Jay on his website, Twitter, Facebook Author Page, and Amazon.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

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Scorched By Love BURNING IT DOWN–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M contemporary romance from C Koehler. <a href="BURNING IT DOWN is the third book in his CalPac Crew series. This book features a mature, but injured, fire battalion chief winning the broken heart of a man on the run from his abusive partner. I’ve enjoyed ROCKING THE BOATand TIPPING THE BALANCE, 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:
Owen Douglas, Sacramento’s first out battalion chief, is grievously injured in the line of duty. When Brad Sundstrom finds out that Owen’s been noncompliant with his physical therapy due to depression, he pushes Owen into the Capital City Rowing Club’s adaptive rowing program.

Adam Lennox, a former collegiate rower, escapes an abusive relationship and makes his way to CCRC and quickly finds himself dragooned into helping out with adaptive rowing.

Owen, much to his surprise, finds both rowing and Adam much to his liking. When he realizes that Adam returns his interest, the sparks fly and they start a relationship. But even Eden has its snake, and Adam’s ex, Jordan, comes looking for him, willing to do anything to make Adam and Owen pay.

How about a little taste?

Late summer, approximately a year and a half after the start of Rocking the Boat.

Four months into his new job as battalion chief for Sacramento City Fire’s second battalion and Owen Douglas still couldn’t sit still. Sure, he knew the job from a theoretical standpoint, and every day he learned more from a practical standpoint, but he couldn’t ignore the niggling discomfort he felt when he saw those bugles on his collar. Like his new uniform didn’t fit quite right, and perhaps from a certain point of view, it didn’t. No matter how he squinted or how many times he turned it this way or that, he couldn’t see all that much light between his investigation into the arson at the Bayard House at the beginning of the year and his promotion to battalion chief. More to the point, neither could the men and women under his command.

Not to mention every time he opened his mouth, unicorns crapping glitter and rainbows popped out. At least, that was what people seemed to be waiting for. He liked to think he was discreet, that nothing at work proclaimed him Big Gay Owen, no snapshots of boyfriends, no photos of him shaking his ass on a Mardi Gras float, no matter how much fun he’d had in Sydney, just a subtle rainbow on his battered 4Runner, a bar no bigger than the head of a toothbrush. He tried not to play the gay card, but he was the first out battalion chief in the fire department’s history, and well he knew it. More to the point, the people under his command knew it. Maybe he was just making too big a deal out of it or felt guilty for being promoted over the heads of more senior firefighters.

His intercom buzzed with his secretary on the other end. “Yes?” Owen said.

“Prissy Morrain to see you.”

“Oh! Send her in, please.” He dashed to his office door. He didn’t expect her until tomorrow.

Owen routinely left his office door open, but he quickly got out from behind his desk to greet his visitor, and not just because she outranked him.

“Chief Morrain! I’m so sorry! I must’ve made a mistake in my calendar. I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow—”

Prissy Morrain waved a manicured hand. “Retired Chief, and I’m a day early. We both have better things to do than make small talk over hors d’oeuvres over at some white-tablecloth restaurant. Did you bring your lunch today?”

Owen nodded. Since he was a “first” for the department, he’d sought out the advice of another “first,” the first woman battalion chief, now retired from active firefighting and promoted off to one side to do something less dangerous involving paperwork. “I’ll grab it out of the fridge. There’s a nice park a block away. We can eat there.”

“That’ll do fine.”

Prissy Morrain was a handsome woman, Owen thought; really, she could’ve been one of those older models, the ones with silver hair and flawless skin who pitched vitamins to women of a certain age. Her wrinkles weren’t so much age lines scoring her face with years but delicate lines of character radiating out from her eyes and around her mouth to accentuate a ready smile. How she’d managed that with a career spent fighting fires and sexism, he’d never know.

He spent the short walk to the park rehearsing what he wanted to say, but when Prissy asked, “So what’s the problem?” Owen could only blurt, “I’m just not clicking with the people under me. This station, sure. My office is here, but the other stations in this battalion not so much, and there’s one station that when I walk in everything stops for a few minutes while I walk back to talk to the captain on duty, and that’s just creepy.”

“Have you talked to human resources?”

“Don’t be absurd” slipped out before he could stop it.

Prissy laughed. “Smart man. You don’t want this on your record.”

And that was why he’d contacted her. “Team-building exercises aren’t my thing at this point and are just a waste of time. I’m not in a burning building with these guys. They simply need to function with each other and work in coordinated groups, and they do. But I don’t like getting the stink eye either.”

“Look, hearts of gold, most of these guys, but it’s a conservative profession. The younger ones are yours,” Prissy said, arching one eyebrow, “maybe even literally. There’s more than one gay man among the recruits, and you’re a fine-looking specimen yourself.” She peered over the rims of her mirrored sunglasses, holding up one hand when Owen opened his mouth to interrupt. “Of course, you know better than that, but you know what I mean. It’s the ones who’ve been around a few years, the ones who’re your age and older, you may have to prove yourself to, the ones who might’ve even been up for your job. They’re the ones thinking ‘fag’ behind their smiles.”

“Or not, some of them,” Owen grumbled. “A few of them don’t even bother to smile.”

Prissy chuckled. “They’ll soon learn the stupidity of that. They may be comfortable for A or B shift, but if they’re dumb enough to piss in the battalion chief’s Wheaties, then they’ll have plenty of time to learn the errors of their ways on C shift, or better yet, transfer to someone else’s command. Too bad for them you’ve got just about the best battalion in town.”

It was true. Since he’d captained one of the downtown stations, when he’d been promoted, the fire department put him into an entirely different battalion so he wouldn’t be in immediate charge of his old buddies. The open battalion encompassed Midtown, East Sac, and part of the Pocket, named for the land inscribed within a bend in the Sacramento River. Sometimes he wondered if it was a coincidence that the city’s first out battalion chief also oversaw the gayborhood. He shrugged mentally. Oh well, easier relations during fire inspections, right? “That just seems so petty.”

“And the frat boy antics aren’t?”

Owen sighed. “True enough.”

“It’s not something you want to do often, because you will hear from their union reps about that, and about anything else if they develop an axe to grind,” Prissy said, “but used strategically, it can make your point quite nicely, and the best part is, it’s hard to prove.”

Owen nodded his head slowly. “One hundred and sixty-eight hours in a week, and five stations to staff twenty-four seven in three shifts.”

“Exactly. If you need to, you can always find something miserable for someone to do for a shift or two.” She ate some of her sandwich while she thought. “One more thing, and I hesitate even to mention it, but it was something a few—a very few—of my own firefighters used against me.” At his quizzical look, she said, “Sexual harassment.”

Owen sat back, tossing his own sandwich down. “Oh, that’s just what I need.”

Prissy patted his hand. “Don’t go borrowing trouble. It hasn’t happened yet, but you need to be aware of the possibility. You’re an out gay man, and you supervise a lot of men, some of whom are, by your own admission, not very happy right now. If they can’t pin anything else on you, they may try that.”

“Did that happen to you?” Owen asked, no longer hungry.

“Oh yes. I was a by-the-book chief, and when they couldn’t come up with anything else, some union rep had the bright idea of sexual harassment. Male firefighters, female chief. It was a situation rife with possibilities. Too bad for them and their credibility none of it was true, which quickly emerged when it came to a hearing. The judge laughed them out of court. It may be the same with you. You’ll be a by-the-book battalion chief, but some of them won’t like you just because you’re you, and the only thing they’ll come up with is that you ‘looked at ’em funny’.” She snorted. “Like you’d go for their stringy asses.” She stood up. “You know how to reach me, so do it if you need to. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go sculling. One of the advantages of seniority and a desk job is that you can take off more or less at will and no one will miss you. Of course, that’s one of the disadvantages too.”

Rowing. Brad. “Does everyone in this town row?”

“Only the best people. You should come check it out. The Capital City Rowing Club’s adult learn-to-row camps are about done for the summer, but there are still learn-to-scull lessons available.”

“Thanks for the talk. I really appreciate you taking the time,” Owen said, remembering a time he had been anything but by-the-book. The Bayard House. The second floor. Brad. He shivered at the thought of what they’d done. Unprofessional as it had been, it had also been damn hot.

And just the kind of thing people looking to take him down would eat up with a spoon. Fortunately, Brad didn’t seem like the kind to tell tales out of school. He was just too nice a guy. Brad had spent their one encounter thinking of someone else, someone who’d dumped him, and still the big sweetheart had pined for that other guy, even with Owen’s lips wrapped around his cock, and hadn’t that ever done wonders for his ego.

Owen wanted that, wanted that kind of devotion, he thought, sitting there in the leafy green silence of the park. Instead, like that time in the still-smoldering Bayard House, he was just the hookup. He got Brad off and sent him home and then followed up to make sure Brad called whatshisname. He liked to think he was more honorable than most, always the nice guy, always finishing last.

Then he heard the sirens and that was it, no more lunch. That was fine. He’d parted company with his appetite around the time Prissy had mentioned sexual harassment. The park was barely two blocks from the station, but he jogged back. “What’s going on?” Owen asked the dispatcher when he got back.

“A small grass fire at Cal Expo, sir. It doesn’t sound like anything to get excited over.”

Yet. In Owen’s experience, all fires were worth getting excited over, at least until proven otherwise. But maybe that was why he was a firefighter. He liked suiting up in his turnouts and racing to a fire in an engine running hot. He shook his head to clear the rising tide of adrenaline. He’d given some of that up to become battalion chief.

Then the radio went off. He picked it up. “Douglas.”

“I need four more alarms. This thing’s bigger than we were told. Much bigger, and it’s heading for structures.”

“On our way.” He put the radio down. “You heard Captain Chin. Get those trucks moving and notify Arden-Arcade,” he told the dispatcher.

“Beaufort!” he yelled for his driver as he ran for his office and his turnouts. A huge grass fire at Cal Expo that’s heading for the pavilions, and the state fair in less than a month. Why do I always end up involved in political fires?

He wore his turnout pants over his uniform. Sure, he’d sweat like a thoroughbred in moments in the heat once they arrived at the fire. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. The rest he chucked in the backseat of the command SUV with the communications equipment. Then he checked his watch as he climbed into the passenger seat. Less than five minutes. Not ideal, but at least he beat his driver.

Beaufort came running up seconds later. “Damn, sir. How do you do that?”

“Because I’m a firefighter.”

“Ha ha,” Beaufort replied, climbing behind the wheel and flicking the sirens and lights on. But it was true. After earning his bachelor’s in biological sciences at UC Davis, Owen had gone to the Fire Academy at Sierra College. Beaufort studied communications and joined the department in that capacity, along with driving Owen’s now important executive-level ass to big fires.

Owen glanced out of Beaufort’s side of the SUV. “Look—!”

All he could tell was that it wasn’t one of his, and then the enormous fire truck smashed into them, tossing the SUV aside like a rag doll. He lost consciousness as the airbags deployed with a thunderclap.

My Review:
This is the third book in a series, but it can be enjoyed as a standalone.

Owen Douglas is the first out fire battalion chief in the Sacramento Fire Department. He’s in his early 40s and a little sad that he’s always the hook-up never the boyfriend. He’s responding to a fire when he’s involved in a fatal crash with an engine truck. He survives, though badly injured, and is upset that his young driver is killed. He’s despondent about his recovery, shying away from the necessary PT he needs to learn to walk again. His physical therapist is adamant that activity is necessary and pushes Owen toward adaptive rowing. Owen’s once hook-up Brad Sundstrom is a former collegiate rower, and he’s a coach on the open men’s rowing club that supports the adaptive rowers. Brad makes it a mission to get Owen to the water’s edge.

Adam Lennox is a veterinarian, and a man hiding in plain sight. After enduring more than a decade of an abusive relationship, Adam has changed his name and licensure and moved to Davis to restart his life. He’s learning to reintegrate with people outside of the watchful eye of his abuser, his college sweetheart named Jordan. Adam had been a collegiate rower and he joins the open men’s rowing club headed by Brad and his former college coach, Nick Bedford. (Both Brad and Nick were MCs in the previous stories.) Nick taps Adam to be a pair rower with Owen, when he turns up for adaptive rowing, and the chemistry is instant.

Both Adam and Owen suffer PTSD from their respective traumas. They are immediately attracted to one another, but neither feels whole. While they begin a tentative connection, Adam is living in fear that Jordan will return–and his hallmarks are appearing again. Owen’s got a pal on the police force, but it seems he might not be able to intervene until Jordan, who is both wealthy and wily as all get-out, is caught confronting or abusing Adam. Owen’s recuperation is put on hold when he’s mysteriously attacked, and Adam is sure that Jordan is involved. It could be someone for the fire department, though, as Owen’s position is pretty tenuous. He’s reinstated for active duty, but grudgingly and with a disability hearing that could bounce him out of the service he’s been a part of for two decades. With both their lives in flux, Owen isn’t willing to let Adam shut him out–not when he’s finally found a man worth loving and fighting to keep. Meanwhile, Adam’s just fighting to stay alive.

This story has some graphic bits of violence, and descriptions of violence against animals. There is a definite sense of the victim’s mentality, of feeling that pain and potential death at the hands of person he loved is simply inevitable. Owen’s strong and fearless love gave Adam hope in his times of complete distress. Owen needed to take charge of his own life in a way he had not, before getting the time his recuperation allowed him to invest in himself. These men finding such a deep love that satisfies on a soul-deep level was so sweet and bittersweet. It rides a fine line between romance and romantic suspense. I really enjoyed the tenderness, and the conflict, and of course the happy ending.

Interested? You can find BURNING IT DOWN on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

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

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

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

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

Now Available CHRISTMAS CRACKERS–A Holiday Book Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M Christmas romance collection from Jay Northcote. CHRISTMAS CRACKERS features three sweet and sexy novels that all have super happy endings.

About the book:
When two friends pose as boyfriends, could what happens at Christmas turn into something more?
Justin is recently and unhappily single. Christmas is coming, and he doesn’t want to face his ex alone at their office party. So Sean—Justin’s best mate and long-time secret crush—volunteers to go with him and pretend to be his new flame.

Sean has always lusted after Justin from afar, but there’s never been a good opportunity to ask him for more than friendship. Posing as Justin’s boyfriend isn’t a chore, and if Justin wants to rebound onto him, Sean’s more than willing. At the party pretence and reality blur, and a kiss on the dance floor leads to a night of passion.

In the aftermath, they both assume it was a one-time thing until fate intervenes. Stuck together in London over the holidays, they give in to temptation again. But what happens at Christmas stays at Christmas… right?

Zac never had a family of his own, but Rudy has enough to share.
Shy, inexperienced Rudy has a crush on Zac from the moment his new colleague walks through the door. On an office night out before Christmas, Rudy finds the courage to make a move, and they form a tentative bond. When he discovers Zac will be alone at Christmas, he invites Zac to come home with him.

Zac prefers to keep people at arm’s length. Yet when Rudy offers him a family Christmas it’s impossible to resist. With no parents of his own, Zac is pleasantly surprised to be welcomed by Rudy’s. The only drawback is that everyone assumes they’re a couple. Unwilling to disappoint Rudy’s mum and make Christmas awkward, they decide not to deny it.

It’s not a chore for Zac to pose as Rudy’s boyfriend, but the pretence makes him want things that scare him—things like a real relationship with Rudy. Zac’s suffered enough rejection in his life already and is afraid to risk his heart. If he can get over his past rejection and let Rudy inside his armour, he might get more for Christmas than he ever imagined.

Best friends snowed in together. When the heat rises, will they get cold feet?
Getting snowed in at a remote cottage in Wales with someone he’d fancied for ages isn’t exactly how Sam expected to spend Christmas. His feelings for Ryan are pointless. Ryan’s straight—or so he thought.

Until now, Ryan’s kept his feelings for Sam buried. Why ruin a friendship over what might only be gay experimentation? Playing it cool seems safer, until a cold snap makes sharing body heat vital. In their Welsh safe haven, anything seems possible.

As Ryan’s reserve melts away, Sam wants more than stolen kisses under the mistletoe. But a sudden thaw means making decisions. They could face the New Year together—unless one of them gets cold feet.
My Review:
A FAMILY FOR CHRISTMAS:
Rudy is a 24 year old out gay man working at an LGBTQ charity in Bristol. Rudy’s a painfully shy man, yet intrigued by his new co-worker Zac. Zac keeps to himself, and likes it that way. He’s been hurt before, and doesn’t want to build friendships that would only fade. That said, Zac notices how Rudy quietly tracks him through the office.

Out for a work pub night to celebrate Christmas, Rudy and Zac spend a lot of time talking. They get along, especially as they’re both well-lubricated by tequila. After one excellent kiss Rudy’s overcome by the drink, pukes, and Zac kindly offers to walk him home. Too late to get a cab back to his own place, Zac accepts Rudy’s offer to share his bed. Platonically. Their nighttime conversation alerts Rudy that Zac is planning to spend Christmas alone, because he has no family. Rudy can’t help inviting Zac to join him on a visit to his family’s large farmhouse for a cozy holiday.

I really loved the patient unfolding of this romance. Zac has been on his own for years now. He feels unlovable, and is a bit overwhelmed by the sweet and open affection he experiences from Rudy and his family. I really loved how Rudy and Zac took time to make the other comfortable. Rudy’s family is blissfully clueless, and mistakes Zac to be Rudy’s boyfriend. Thing is, Rudy’s never had a boyfriend before, and his sexual experience is severely limited. To save face, and keep the happy going, Zac offers to pose as Rudy’s boyfriend for the duration of their trip.

For Zac, falling for Rudy is immeasurably difficult to prevent. Rudy’s earnest and giving and compassionate and loving, and his family is more of the same. Not having his own family, Zac basks in their generosity. Plus, it’s no secret that Rudy’d be down for more than friendship. In fact, that’s what Zac proposes–a fling to bolster the image of their “relationship.” That’s dangerous terrain, however, because Zac’s afraid that he’ll cling to Rudy out of a misplaced desire to truly be part of his loving family, and not just on his own merit. Zac’s never had a boyfriend either; he’s scared of getting hurt–precisely why he’s never hooked up with a man he’s known before. Anonymous sex is all he’s ever allowed himself, until Rudy.

The vulnerability for both men is really high. It’s really tender and completely fraught with tension of the best kind. I couldn’t get through the pages fast enough. There’s kisses, and big firsts, and kitten rescues, and love. Lots and lots of love. The secondary characters are all really awesome, people I’d love to spend a holiday with, in any case. And, the end is a solid HEA.

COLD FEET:
Sam and Ryan are best friends and housemates at university in Brighton. They head out to Wales for a mini-getaway with another housemate Jon and his girlfriend, but plans go awry when Jon’s car breaks down and a freak snowstorm leaves Sam and Ryan mainly trapped in Jon’s parents’ cold cottage. San is out gay, and single. He’s had a longstanding secret crush on Ryan, whom he believes is straight, but Ryan…isn’t. He’s never been with a man, but he’s realized over the past year that he’s intensely curious about Sam, about maybe being gay, and wondering if he’s a creep for crushing on Sam.

Beyond a fireplace, the house is barely heated, and as Sam and Ryan tuck in for a far longer visit than they had planned they end up all in one another’s business–and beds–to keep warm. Mistletoe and cheap wine break the seal on Ryan’s true feelings, but he’s afraid to come out and ruin things in his life is Sam isn’t really into him. Sam, thinking Ryan only wants him for a bit of experimentation, is reluctant to let his true feelings show, too. They spend an idyllic Christmas together, meeting a neighbor willing to share her Christmas feast, and each man longs for more isolated time to continue their explorations. Unfortunately, life intrudes and they have to head home sooner than either would like, by that point.

It’s so sweet, and I really loved both Sam and Ryan who have some awkwardness when they reunite at their lodgings. It’s New Year’s Eve and both of them acknowledge they need to make some changes. I liked how they got their communication sorted just in time.

WHAT HAPPENS AT CHRISTMAS:
This is an adorable friends-to-lovers romance.

Justin and Sean have been friends since they were seven years old. Justin came out early–mostly because everyone assumed he was gay anyhow–But Sean only came out a couple of years ago. Justin felt betrayed when he learned Sean was gay, because he’d fancied Sean for ages and felt he would have been a safe harbor, plus he would have loved to experiment with him when they were close together.

Well, it’s Christmas time and Justin is newly single–what with that cheater Andy revealing all two weeks ago. He’s about to call off his plans to attend the company Christmas party when Sean arrives and offers to go as his pretend boyfriend–to make Andy jealous. Sean has just returned from a 9 month trip, and he’s camping on Justin’s sofa until he gets a job and a flat. That said, he’s not unhappy about the close quarters. He’s wanted Justin for years, but Justin was always dating a bloke and the timing was never right.

Their time is close and friendly, with each man surreptitiously checking out the other, and their date is, well, super extra hot. All that closeness, and dancing and snogging…leads to more. But, can Justin and Sean turn the one night of passion into a relationship?

I loved the realistic feel to this one. These guys are so conscious of their friendship, and don’t want to harm it in any way. They are totally gone for each other, and hold back and hold back and hold back–until they just cannot hold back any longer. Each is afraid he loves the other more than he is loved, and each is completely and totally wrong. It’s the perfect twist and the best Christmas for each of them.

Also, HAWT. They coulda lit up the Christmas tree with their passion. This is a fast read, but doesn’t skimp on the feels.

Interested? You can find CHRISTMAS CRACKERS on Amazon US and UK.

About the Author:
Jay lives just outside Bristol in the West of England. He comes from a family of writers, but always used to believe that the gene for fiction writing had passed him by. He spent years only ever writing emails, articles, or website content.

One day, Jay decided to try and write a short story—just to see if he could—and found it rather addictive. He hasn’t stopped writing since.

Jay writes contemporary romance about men who fall in love with other men. He has books published by Dreamspinner Press, and also self-publishes under the imprint Jaybird Press. Many of his books are now available as audiobooks.

You can find Jay on his website, Twitter, Facebook Author Page, and Amazon.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

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Realty, Renovation and Romance TIPPING THE BALANCE–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M contemporary romance from C Koehler. <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55217708-rocking-the-boat” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>TIPPING THE BALANCE is the second book in his CalPac Crew series, which features a determined businessman chasing and catching the burly college graduate who could be his ideal partner…if only he wasn’t straight. This is a sequel to ROCKING THE BOAT with those MC characters weighing in on the love lives of a dear friend, and a former crew team member.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $10 GC.
About the book:
The boys from ROCKING THE BOAT are back in TIPPING THE BALANCE. Nick Bedford’s best friend Drew St. Charles is a man with a dream. He wants to move from selling real estate and flipping houses on the side into renovating houses. Ideally, he’d find the houses and his boyfriend would flip them. Not that he has a boyfriend.

Brad Sundstrom, fresh out of college and working for his father in the family construction business, never believed he could dream of more…until he met Drew. When Drew wins a contract to restore the historic Bayard Mansion, they become the solution to each other’s problems. Drew needs someone to oversee the renovation and offers Brad, who wants out from under his father’s thumb, the job of project foreman.

Working in close contact makes the sparks between the two men burst into flame, and Brad takes his first hesitant steps out of the closet. Before long, spending the day together at work leads to nights spent together. It looks as if Drew’s dream is coming true, but then he is savagely attacked in a hate crime, and Brad panics.

Brad faces a crucial test. Will he overcome his fears and take his place at Drew’s side? Or will he retreat to the stifling familiarity of the closet?

How about a little taste?

“Are you sure you can’t get a general contractor’s license?” Drew wiped the sweat out of his eyes.

“Did you just whine?” Nick grunted as he muscled a cherrywood cabinet into place. “Besides, what about the one you already work with?”

“Shut up. Bob’s great, but I’m getting tired of hiring an outside contractor so this work passes inspection, and anyway, you’d be cheaper.” Drew set a level on the cabinet Nick had just installed and squinted at it as the bubbles moved sluggishly in the yellow fluid. “It’s not…quite…plumb.”

“How come you don’t have a contractor’s license?” Nick squatted down to tap a shim into place under the cabinet. Sweat soaked his shirt, as portable fans cooled the kitchen in theory only, but with the HVAC unit out, fans were all they could get in the summer heat.

Drew looked up from the level, struck once again by just how attractive his best friend was. Coaching the men’s crew at California Pacific College certainly encouraged Nick to keep himself fit—that, and his smokin’ hot boyfriend, Morgan. Some coaches let themselves go, but not Nick. Not for the first time, Drew found himself wishing they could’ve worked out, but they’d given that a whirl as undergraduates and both agreed they made better friends than lovers.

And what friends they were, pulling each other through hard times and celebrating the good. Drew had helped Nick win and keep Morgan. Nick worked like a dog all summer for Drew’s home renovation business. He was one of the few people Drew trusted besides himself to supervise each project from start to finish, the only other person whose eye for detail and quality touches matched his own. Nick treated the jobs done by St. Charles Renovations like it was his own name on the line, not Drew’s.

“Because getting my real estate license took all my time and money when I was younger, and now selling houses takes all my time.” Drew sighed. “The flipping was just a sideline, and now reno work for other people? It’s killing me, I tell you.”

“A sideline.” Nick snorted. “The best home flip in the area. Isn’t that what Sacramento Magazine named you this year? Spend the time on this it deserves, and the St. Charles property empire could grow by leaps and bounds.”

“It still will. I like a challenge.” Drew grinned wolfishly. “Besides, sleep is for sissies.”

“You would know from sissies.” Nick watched Drew carefully to gauge the reaction, faintly disappointed when Drew barely even rolled his eyes. “Is it level?”

“Yes.” Drew straightened.

“Good, now you can use those over-gymmed muscles for something besides filling a polo shirt and help me hang the next cabinet. That’ll be the last of the uppers on this side of the kitchen. The guys can help me hang the rest later.”

“I can’t get too sweaty. I have to show houses this afternoon,” Drew said.

“Don’t worry, princess, you’ll still be the prettiest girl in the room.” Nick laughed. “I just need someone to steady it and hold it while I get it bolted to the cleats. The pilot holes have already been drilled.”

“Seriously, Nick, how am I going to replace you?” Drew asked. “You’ll go back to coaching and your grad work all too soon, and I’ll lose my best crew leader.”

“I’m your only crew leader,” Nick pointed out.

Drew made a face. “Don’t remind me.”

“You and Renochuck have me for another two months, so make the most of it,” Nick said, “because after that I go back to just being your friend.”

“Renochuck?”

“That’s what Octavio and the guys call it.”

“Some of them barely speak English, and they still came up with Renochuck.” Drew shook his head. He wiped a speck of dirt off the rich red wood.

Nick eyed Drew askance as he bent over. “Bend from the hips, not your lower back.”

“Yes, Coach,” Drew sighed.

“Did you enjoy throwing your back out last fall?”

Drew smirked. “Oh hell yes, I had a fabulous time. It was the event of the season.”

Nick didn’t reply. He just glared at Drew, warm brown eyes to merry blue ones. “Did you enjoy the aftermath? No? Then do it my way. I do know something about bodies in motion, thank you very much.”

“Yeah, that’s what Morgan tells me.”

“Hands on.” Nick loftily ignored his friend. He squatted down and put one hand under the cabinet and used the other on top to steady it. “In three. One, two, and up!”

“Now I know,” Drew grunted out, “where that coxswain of yours gets his abrasive tone from.”

“No, that’s totally Stuart’s,” Nick said. “Besides, we’re crew. We’re not real bright, but we can lift heavy objects. Now, put those muscles to some use, Muscle Mary, and hold this steady while I drill it.”

“I’m sure you’re very good at drilling, seeing how much practice you’ve been getting.” The muscles of Drew’s arms and back strained to hold the cabinet in place as Nick hurried to secure it to the wall. Then he noticed something. “Why is the taller of the two of us the one who’s not holding this up?”

Nick grinned at him. “Because I’m the drilling expert, remember? There,” he said as he put the last bolt in. “That’ll hold it while I finish up. You can let go.”

Drew lowered his arms. “Seriously, how’s it going with you and Morgan?”

He pretended to listen as Nick rattled off a list of his boyfriend’s virtues, but Nick’s syrupy smile answered the question well enough. “I’m sorry, what’d you just say?”

“I asked if you were going to be around this weekend,” Nick said. “I’m meeting his parents for the first time, and I’m scared shitless. I’m hoping you’ll be around so I can send panicked text messages from the bathroom.”

“Meeting the parents? It must be serious.” Drew smiled.

“You know it. He’s it, the only one I’ll ever want.”

“Some of us might like the chance to find that for ourselves, you know.” Drew pretended to be very interested in a small pile of loose screws.

“Aww, jeez, not Brad Sundstrom again. I keep telling you he’s straight.”

“Just his phone—”

Nick put the drill down. “Look, Drew. You know I can’t give out his information without his permission. It’s a confidentiality issue, among other things. I was his coach, technically a college official. I can’t just hand out phone numbers like that.”

Drew knew all about Nick’s scruples, having listened to him endlessly gnaw his guts out about his interest in Morgan. He supposed he ought to be grateful to Morgan for taking matters into his own hands, if not because Morgan made Nick happy, then because it shut Nick up. “Then will you at least give him my number if he asks for it?”

“Drew—”

“C’mon, Nick. It’s a fair question. Don’t I at least deserve the chance to get shot down?”

“I just don’t want to see you hurt,” Nick said quietly.

“I’m a big boy, babydoll. I can take care of myself.”

“I know, and yeah, if he asks, I’ll pass your number on.”

Drew looked at his watch. “Shit, it can’t be that late, can it?”

“It can be, yes. Late for the showings?” Nick asked.

“Just about. Everything looks great so far, but keep in touch, and let me know if you hear from the counter fabricators, will you?” Drew said, already heading for his car.

“Of course.” Nick picked up his drill.

Drew tried to mop the sweat off his brow as he rushed for his car but only succeeded in pushing it up into his brown locks. He had just enough time to run home and shower before he showed the first of the homes to his clients. Yeah, rummaging around in the dirt and sawdust probably wasn’t the best idea, but he couldn’t give up fixing up homes, he just couldn’t. What he hadn’t told Nick was that some days, he felt like he’d made a huge mistake in getting a real estate license instead of going directly into repair and improvement. Working his way through the building trades might’ve seemed strange after getting his bachelor’s degree in business, but it would’ve been handy when he got a contractor’s license. While he’d never wanted to be a designer, there was something almost magical about watching a dump of a home rise from the depths to become a showplace, limited only by budget and imagination. The cabinets with their reeded glass inserts, the soapstone counters that were supposed to have arrived last week, the reclaimed Indonesian teak floors covered with marine varnish to repel water, the lighting, all of the pieces fitted together like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle only he could solve—that was why he couldn’t keep out of it.

But how—oh how—was he going to replace Nick?

My Review:
Drew St. Charles is a realtor and home renovator in the Sacramento area. He has been flipping houses for years, but ir only now really focusing of home renovations. He doesn’t have a contractor license, however, and his main contractor is retired–only coming on to the job sites near their final inspection to ensure everything is up to code. Drew’s also routinely enlisted his college bestie, Nick Bedford, to run his construction crews in the summer when Nick doesn’t have classes or coaching responsibilities, but Nick has made it clear this is the last summer he can do it. Nick and his boyfriend/fiance Morgan are planning to move for graduate studies, once Morgan graduates next spring, and Drew is frustrated for a couple of reasons. First, Drew wants a partner in love and business. He’s a little melancholy that he and Nick never worked out, and that Nick is deliriously in love with Morgan. And, he also needs to get a good, solid contractor who will help him in his business plans. Beyond that, Drew has a hankering for a former member of Nick’s crew team, Brad Sunderstrom, who just graduated from CalPac College, and Nick won’t give over Brad’s number.

Brad is a hot mess of a big lug. He’d met Drew St. Charles at a few of the crew meets last season and knew there was something special about him–despite him being gay. Drew was smart, classy and successful in real estate, which is what Brad would hope to be. He had thought he was getting a job building homes in his father’s real estate development company, but instead he’s been saddled with selling an inferiorly-developed suburban tract that is sure to be bankrupt as NO ONE wants a home there. He spends his days in solitary confinement at the housing sales center with nary a visitor or a call. Brad’s been told his whole life that he’s stupid and a waste of space by his father, and he pretty much believes this. If he could “make something” of himself, he’d get the trust his mother had bequeathed him and be able to move out of his abusive dad’s home, which is why Brad initially reaches out to Drew for advice in selling the homes of his development.

Drew is elated to hear from Brad, even if he has to give Brad the terrible news that his development homes are substandard and overpriced–two huge reasons they aren’t selling. Their lunch meeting does yield fruit in that Drew learns Brad’s been building homes for his dad’s company since high school, and has the necessary skills to make a crew foreman. And, with a bit more training could qualify for a contractor’s license. Drew’s attraction hasn’t faded a bit, but Brad’s definitely straight. That’s not a reason for them to stay apart, though, especially when Drew offers Brad the crew foreman job and gets him to sign on to the huge renovation bid he’s planning on Bayard House, a derelict state landmark home that should be the Sacramento mayor’s residence but needs significant restoration to be livable. Brad is jazzed and even cuts his hours on his dad’s development project to accommodate this opportunity, something that really rubs his old man the wrong way. And, it’s not long before Brad has another opportunity: assistant coach for CalPac men’s crew, now that their team has tripled in size since Brad and the crew won the west coast championships the previous spring.

The more time that Drew and Brad spend, the more than Brad begins to admire Drew, and this admiration is accompanied by sexual attraction for a man for the first time in Brad’s experience. It’s stunning, and scary for Brad, who has lived with his father’s casual homophobia his whole life. And, yet, Drew is a man who believes him intelligent and capable and it’s the first time Brad has felt cared for since his beloved mother died. This leads to some small explorations, mainly kissing and cuddling, that prove the arousal for both men–and Drew is at first happy with this. The closer they become, the more Brad is willing to explore his attraction for Drew sexually, but he is loath to even consider himself bisexual, and especially not gay, no matter how far these explorations extend in terms of sex. Brad’s repeated denials of his same-sex attraction are wearing on his own esteem, and Drew’s last nerve. Drew fought hard to break free of the closet, and Brad’s unwillingness to consider coming out, or be seen in public with Drew, is eventually too much to overcome.

Naturally, there are outside challenges to the situation. The renovations were going pretty well until Drew is gay bashed one night. The aftermath results in a long separation, and the surety that both Drew and Brad had love in their futures before this tragedy. The situation is also complicated by bad communication and hurt feelings on both sides, but Brad is not a man to let down his love twice, and he finally picks up the pieces of his shattered self-esteem and does what is required to win back Drew’s love and affection. This, by the way, happens only after Brad acknowledges his gay attraction–aided by a burly fire chief on an arson investigation.

There are issues with this story, regarding realities of life in construction projects that seemed a bit beyond reasonable, and long periods of not a lot happening when ti seemed A LOT should be happening. But it was super fun watching Brad figure his life out. He seemed to be such a horrible guy in the first book in this series, but he recognized his problems then and tried to fix them, and works doubly hard in this story to make amends for past mistakes. Drew has a hard road to recovery, and he’s really about to give up on his dreams by the time Brad reappears in his life–with better news than he could have ever dreamed for. The long separation certainly did make these hearts fonder, and Brad’s hard work during that time bridged the gap that had opened in their lives. He and Drew make a happily ever after, and their realty and renovation business isn’t only the business partnership they build together; their private life is a masterwork of craftsmanship that they aren’t keeping on the down-low any longer.

Interested? You can find ROCKING THE BOAT on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Books2Read.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

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

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

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

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

New Beginnings in TRADE DEADLINE–A Review

Hi there! Today, I’m sharing a review for a new M/M contemporary hockey romance from the writing team of Avon Gale and Piper Vaughn. TRADE DEADLINE featuers a veteran hockey player whose tranfer to a failing team doesn’t bring the professional results he was looking for, but does reconnect him to his childhood love. I really enjoyed PERMANENT INK and OFF THE ICE by this team and I wasn’t let down with this new story.

About the book:
It’s a reunion to remember…

Daniel “Bellzie” Bellamy should be on top of the world—a Stanley Cup is the perfect topper to his fourteen-year NHL career. But despite the post-win high, something’s missing. When the chance to play for his hometown team, the Miami Thunder, comes along, he’s open to it. And when he runs into an old friend from his past soon after he makes the move, he wonders if it might be kismet.

Micah Kelly never thought he’d see his childhood crush—and first kiss—again. Danny Bellamy moved on to bigger and better things when they were teenagers, and the idea that Micah’s relationship with the professional hockey player could be anything more than one-sided Instagram thirst seems too good to be true.

Maybe too good to be true is the new reality, though. As the season goes on, Micah teaches Daniel to surf, and Daniel introduces Micah to his lovable pack of rescue dogs and the world of being a hockey boyfriend. Life is good. But when things on the ice don’t go as planned, they’ll have to decide if their rediscovered romance is built to last.

My Review:
Daniel Bellamy is the captain of the Stanley Cup winning Atlanta Venom, and he’s evaluating his life and career goals. Though he’s satisfied, he’s not sure that he’s truly happy. He’s in his mid 30s, recently amicably divorced, and feeling a bit unsettled–especially as he’s really beginning to embrace his bisexual side. He has two young kids, and his ex-wife is beautiful and lovely, but really she’s his best friend after all these years together.

Daniel is presented with an opportunity to move from the Venom to his childhood hometown of Miami, to play for the Thunder, a perennial cellar-dwelling team. For Daniel, it would bring him close to his retired parents, and allow him to share his experience on a top team with guys who are struggling to make it to the playoffs. His ex is willing to relocate her home, too, so they can continue to co-parent their kids. She likes the idea of having the grandparents nearby, and they all dote on Daniel’s rescued dogs–of which there are many.

So, they all make the move. And…Daniel’s new team is a challenge. There are interpersonal issues with his new captain–who thinks Daniel is there to take over the team. The stands are either empty or filled with fans of the opposing team, and the coaching staff seems to be on autopilot. In short, Daniel is having the worst season of hockey ever–even if his personal stats aren’t horrible. One bright spot, however, is the reconnection he makes with his childhood best friend, Micah Kelly. Daniel had a fierce crush on Micah as a teen, but he moved to Chicago to play juniors hockey, and he’s not been back too often since. They lost touch, and Micah blamed himself for taking a chance and kissing Daniel just before he left.

Micah is gay, and was disowned by his parents in high school when he was outed. He worked hard to complete high school while couch surfing, and paid his way through both college and grad school to become a marine biologist. He currently manages a refuge and rescue aquarium where sea animals injured in the wild get brought for treatment and rehabilitation, or permanent care if they can’t be safely returned to the wild. Micah has struggled to find a steady relationship, because he works long hours and his partners weren’t always respectful of that. And, he’s kinda always had a residual crush on Daniel, who he’s been able to keep tabs on via social media. Their reconnection was a bit of kismet–Daniel seeing him in the nearly empty stands of a game–and their friendship picks up easily. Almost too easily.

Micah has abandonment issues–because of his family abandoning him. He doesn’t want to get too close to Daniel, only to have him get traded, or worse: return to his family. It takes a bit of convincing, actually for Micah to take Daniel’s interest and attraction seriously. Daniel is not a player, in the sexual sense. He craves stability and a long-standing love. He will always love his ex-wife, they both agree it will only be platonic. And, the career move may be a reality–with the Thunder still having chemistry and play issues, they might trade Daniel to another team for financial or player considerations. So, while Daniel’s personal life seems to be soaring, his professional life is a hard slog. The one saving grace there is an entry into pee-wee hockey, which his 5 y/o daughter seems to love. And, the juniors team is really hoping to meet Daniel and gain insight into getting into hockey as a career.

This is a really sweet reconnection romance for Daniel and Micah. They have insecurities and vulnerabilities, and they do the hard work of discussing them, once their fling shapes up to be something quite more permanent. I loved watching this blended family share experiences and holidays together. Micah really fits Daniel’s life and friend spheres, as well. Daniel’s decision-making, as the trade deadline approaches, is the main focus of the conflict, but Micah has a big decision t make, too. Will he be happy having Daniel in his life even part-time, if a trade takes him far from their home in Miami? There’s a lot of good people in this story, and some yummy sexytimes, as Micah shares his own expertise in the art of loving a man. I enjoyed this story, and couldn’t stop turning the pages, thoroughly charmed by the low angst and total sweetness of these men falling in love. The epilogue is as delicious an HEA as I’ve recently read.

If you like hockey romance, this might be a good pick for you.

Interested? You can find TRADE DEADLINE on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books and Kobo. I read a review copy provided by NetGalley.

About the Authors:
Avon Gale lives in a liberal Midwestern college town, where she spends her days getting heavily invested in everything from craft projects to video games. She likes road trips by car, rock concerts, thunderstorms, IPAs, Kentucky bourbon and tattoos. As a queer author, Avon is committed to providing happy endings for all and loves to tell stories that focus on found families, strong and open communication, and friendship. She loves writing about quirky people who might not be perfect, but always find a place where they belong. In her former life, Avon wrote fanfiction at her desk while ostensibly doing work in non-profit fundraising for public radio and women’s liberal arts education, and worked on her books in between haircuts and highlights as a stylist. Now she’s a full-time writer, delighted to be able to tell stories for a living.

Avon is represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan of Handspun Literary Agency.

You can find Avon on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest or sign up for her newsletter.

Piper Vaughn is a queer Latinx author and longtime romance reader. Since writing their first love story at age eleven, they’ve known writing in some form was exactly what they wanted to do. A reader to the core, Piper loves nothing more than getting lost in a great book.

Piper grew up in a diverse neighborhood in Chicago and loves putting faces and characters of every ethnicity in their stories, making their fictional worlds as colorful as the real one. Above all, Piper believes there’s no one way to have an HEA, and every person deserves to see themselves reflected on the page.

You can find Piper online on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Unexpected Horrors THE BACHMANN FAMILY SECRET–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a contemporary LGBTQ YA thriller with romantic elements from Damian Serbu. THE BACHMANN FAMILY SECRET features a teen boy who sees ghosts battling it out with the malevolent spirit haunting his family homestead.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
Jaret Bachmann travels with his family to his beloved grandfather’s funeral with a heavy heart and, more troubling, premonitions of something evil lurking at the Bachmann ancestral home. But no one believes that he sees ghosts.

Grappling with his sexuality, a ghost that wants him out of the way, and the loss of his grandfather, Jaret must protect his family and come to terms with powers hidden deep within himself.

How about a little taste?

I trembled at the thought of returning to Nebraska for my grandpa’s funeral.

Even he told me not to return.

Of course, you can’t explain the situation to your parents, or say your concerns out loud to anyone, without the world thinking you’d gone bonkers.

Still, after my uncle called Dad to tell us Grandpa died, Gramps tried for the past day to keep me at home.

Yeah, my dead grandpa warned me not to go to Fremont, which meant no way I wanted to go either. I trusted him dead as much as I trusted him with all my heart when he lived.

But what Gramps and I wanted did not matter. Because we all planned to get into Dad’s Blazer and drive back to Fremont, to the big Victorian house that had comforted me so much my entire life as the embodiment of Gramps’s love, to the small town we’d left behind years ago.

Unfortunately, none of these dreadful thoughts took me away from the reason I shut my eyes a moment ago and worked with all my power to keep them closed.

Sitting on my bed next to my suitcase and hugging my knees close to my body, I knew Gramps still stood in the corner with a frown. His ghost was upset, and his agitation had to do with my going to his funeral.

Keeping my eyes shut, I reached over next to me, at least comforted by the presence of my dog.

Then my mind played a fucked-up trick on me, as I giggled at my thoughts. I wished for a support group. Hi, I’m Jaret, and I see dead people. Like the frickin’ movie, with what’s-his-name acting in it. The Die Hard guy. Not that I ever wanted to see ghosts. Nope, never did. But ever since I was a kid, as early as I could remember, I saw them. And I learned pretty quickly to keep my mouth shut about my visions, no matter how many times I saw them. People would look at me like I went nutso if I told them such stuff. The other high school kids would freak. My own parents signed me up for the shrink farm when I was in third grade because I told them about the old man ghost in my classroom who made mean faces at me when I got an answer wrong. But could I blame them? My story sounded bonkers and scared the shit out of them. For all I know, the ghost sightings proved once and for all I am nuts.

Back to my senses, I took a deep breath and peeked over at the corner. Still there. Gramps shook his head, the way I remembered from when he wanted to teach me a lesson when I was little. The love had sparkled in his eyes even as he’d reprimanded me, and his ghost form adopted the same demeanor, despite his displeasure with my insistence on traveling to Nebraska.

I almost tricked myself into believing he still lived, except I had watched him materialize out of nowhere in my bedroom. One minute I stared at my hot picture of Captain America, the next Gramps blocked the poster from view as he appeared to me.

“Gramps,” I whispered. “I don’t know what you’re trying to say.” My head pounded with a headache, always a sign the dead had arrived for a visit. “Please help me. I don’t know what you want. Or how I’m supposed to do it. I’m not in charge around here! You know I have no power.”

He shook his head again, and the word “no” echoed through my skull.

“I got your message!” I yelled as a jolt of pain crashed through my brain. “You don’t want me to go back to Fremont. But I can’t not go. What would I tell my parents?” They’d scold me about making stuff up about ghosts again. Or could I even mention the episode to Jenn and Lincoln, my sister and brother? Too embarrassing. “Gramps, I’m sorry. I have to go. Please understand.”

Again Gramps shook his head, but then began to fade away.

“No. Please. I miss you—”

He disappeared, and Darth whined next to me, her ears back, her big brown eyes worried. At least my head returned to normal, except my stomach turned over in knots. A very, very bad force lurked in Fremont, bad enough Gramps’s spirit left his house to warn me.

I pulled Darth into a tight hug, so she pushed her snout into me. Even she tried to keep me from packing. She listened to Gramps’s warning and took his plea to heart. Yeah, I’m a strange case. I bond with dead people and dogs. I petted her and she whined again. “Don’t be sad. You get to go too.” Of course, I figured my assurance might make the fear worse for her.

I sighed as I stood, Darth mimicking me, and then grabbed my suitcase and headed upstairs, Darth on my heels.

“Look at the bright side,” I told her. “First we have a long car ride through Nebraska! And—Dad informed us no one can take a cell phone. How cool, right? No contact with the real world the whole time!” While Dad often flipped out about our being on our phones too much, he’d lost it with total abandon today. He forbade any phones on the trip, whatsoever. We all caved, though, because, well, first the order came from our dad. We never won those battles. And I think we all figured the phone rage related to his grief.

Darth tilted her head at me, trying hard to understand my words. “Plus, Gramps doesn’t even have a computer!”

We always dealt with the old-world nature of visiting Gramps, but we needed to bury him, which made the whole thing feel like total bullshit. No phones. No computer. Like 1890 all over again. Not to mention the ghosts fucking with me more than usual.

All these dreadful thoughts continued to float through my head as one cornfield after another flew by on the trip to Fremont. I stared out the window the entire time. But my mind kept reminding me we hurried toward a black hole, with nothing good at the other end.

I stifled another inappropriate giggle. The latest horror movie, starring Jaret! The dark stairs seemed foreboding, so I headed right down them! The evil monster ran into the woods. I charged in there alone after the beast! Every movie watcher screamed to go the other way, but the idiot actor plodded right into the danger. Except I became the idiot. Fuck me.

Plus, my head hurt like I got it smashed between two elevator doors. No way to forget the bad premonitions when your head reminded you of them every second.

Thankfully, we all stayed pretty quiet for the entire trip, given the grief of the moment.

My Review:
Jaret Bachmann is a closeted high school senior with an even bigger secret than his sexuality: he can see ghosts. He’s been able to his whole life, but it’s particularly poignant now that his dear Gramp’s spirit is popping into his bedroom in Colorado to warn him against returning to the family homestead in Fremont, Nebraska. Jaret would love to be able to stop his family from returning there, but he doesn’t have that power, and he’s afraid if he tells his parents about his sight they’ll commit him; previous experience did land him in counseling until he recanted.

In Fremont, the entire family is staying in the ancestral home, Jaret’s family, and that of his dad’s brother as well. THey have decided they want to sell the house instead of keeping it, because his aunt is terrified of the ghosts that live there. No one has actually seen a ghost, okay, no one by Jaret and he ain’t telling. Still there’s a lot of weirdness. Jaret’s dad and uncle agree selling the house is a decent plan, but not before they locate the precious heirloom jewelry that Gramps had usually kept in some arcane spot under the floorboards–which is now empty. Everyone agrees that the jewels must be in the attic, because that the one place no one has looked–and the door is unable to be unlocked. It’s also the spot that Gramps’ ghost keeps warning Jaret away from…and he’s stuggling to keep it together until the funeral.

One good thing about returning to Fremont is meeting Steve, a football player who is inexplicably drawn to Jaret on the night they meet as Jaret walks his dog (and comfort animal), Vader. Vader has been a super ally for Jaret, barking her head off whenever malevolent spirits amble past. Steve is a nice distraction, but his interest seemed way too quick, considering he’s never found dudes that interesting, even ones related to the owner of the town’s famous haunted house. The interest is enough to give Jaret some courage, however, and he finally confides his big gay secret to more than just Vader.

This story is centrally about Jaret coming out about this powers to talk with the dead, (and more) and his sexuality. There is a deeply held family secret at the heart and root of Jaret’s abilities and if the family will only just listen and believe, he might just save the day. I thought Jaret’s deductions about his powers, and how gaining access to the sacred family gems revealed even more power that Jaret was able to harness. The story behind the ghost haunting the Bachmann family is rather sad, and has led to innocents dying in the past. The ghost is sure that homosexuality is a perversion that must be eradicated from the family, but the WHY of that conviction is pretty melancholy. Jaret’s a quick thinker, and great improviser, so he fakes it until he can make it–and that spunk made him more interesting.

On the whole, the language of the book was a bit lackluster, with lots of f-bombs and tired repetition of scenes giving the impression of laziness, instead of detail. How many times is the ghost going to accost Jaret? Or, send his mom to find him while he’s canoodling with Steve? Spoiler: all the times. The pace could have been tighter, but Jaret did read like and immature kid, so there’s bonus points for that. There were some weird plot situations that made little sense, like why Jaret’s dad would ban cell phones on this trip? What parent does this? Also, I got WAY tired of the autocratic dad thing, with Jaret’s dad and uncle making completely ludicrous plans and everyone going along because they were the “men”. I was glad Jaret finally grew a spine, and his ingenuity in taking care of the ghost was cool. The way he and Steve fell into “deep love” in a matter of days was less cool.

In all, it was a cool ghost story, with a teen finding powers deep within himself that enable him to stop the horror his family had been suffering for a few generations. The writing wasn’t as tight as I’m used to for YA, and the instalove was nearly more unbelievable than the paranormal magic thriller that served as a backdrop.

Interested? You can find THE BACHMANN FAMILY SECRET on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Damian Serbu lives in the Chicago area with his husband and two dogs, Akasha and Chewbacca. The dogs control his life, tell him what to write, and threaten to eat him in the middle of the night if he disobeys. He has published The Vampire’s Angel, The Vampire’s Quest, and The Vampire’s Protégé, as well as Santa’s Kinky Elf, Simon and Santa Is a Vampire with NineStar Press. The Bachmann Family Secret is (clearly) now available.

Keep up to date with him on his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Learning WHY CAN’T FRESHMAN SUMMER BE LIKE PIZZA–Review & Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary LGBTQ YA coming of age story from Andy V. Roamer. WHY CAN’T FRESHMAN SUMMER BE LIKE PIZZA? is the second book in the Pizza Chronicles and features a high school freshman questioning his ethnic heritage, his friendships and his sexuality. I adored WHY CAN’T LIFE BE LIKE PIZZA? and I highly recommend reading it first.

Scroll down for an excerpt, my review and to get in on the $10 GC giveaway!
About the book:
RV, having successfully completed his freshman year at the demanding Boston Latin School, is hoping for a great summer. He’s now fifteen years old and looking forward to sharing many languid summer days with his friend Bobby, who’s told him he has gay feelings too. But life and family and duties for a son of immigrant parents makes it difficult to steal time away with Bobby.

Bobby, too, has pressures. He spends part of the summer away at football camp, and his father pushes him to work a summer job at a friend’s accounting firm. Bobby takes the job grudgingly, wanting to spend any extra time practicing the necessary skills to make Latin’s varsity football team.

On top of everything, RV’s best friend Carole goes away for the summer, jumping at an opportunity to spend it with her father in Paris. Luckily, there is always Mr. Aniso, RV’s Latin teacher, to talk to whenever RV is lonely. He’s also there for RV when he inadvertently spills one of Bobby’s secrets, and Bobby is so angry RV is afraid he is ready to cut off the friendship.

How about a taste?

Chapter One—Summer Solstice
I used to love summer. The long, languid days. No school. No homework. Sleeping late. Going to the beach. Staying out later in the evenings and watching the sun set over the hills into the darkening glow of the horizon.

Wow. Am I starting to sound like a poet or just a pretentious a-hole? What’s wrong with the paragraph I just wrote? There are no pretentious words in it, are there? Well, maybe “languid” is. I like “languid.” I don’t know where I picked it up, but I think it perfectly describes summer. Where everything is a little more s-l-l-o-o-w-w-w and easygoing. Where life seems good and there’s no homework. Yup, I’ll stick with languid. Hey, there has to be a benefit to liking words the way I do. I’m not just a nerd, but a poetic nerd.

Ha ha ha. Maybe it has something to do with being bilingual. I never used to think about it much before, but I guess I am officially bilingual. Talking Lithuanian at home. English in the outside world. Just kind of always accepted it, didn’t I? But I wonder what speaking two languages does to someone. Kind of like being split into two people. My Lith life and my English life. Are there really two people inside me? Scary thought. One of me is bad enough.

Luckily, Bobby Marshall doesn’t seem to be bothered by it, so why should I be?

Ahh, Bobby Marshall. I still can’t believe we’re friends. Or should I say “special friends”? I’m still afraid to even think about it. Me, RV Aleksandravičius—nerd extraordinaire, spawn of Lithuanian immigrants, word lover, nervous worrywuss, possible gay person—friends with one of the biggest jocks in school. The world truly is an amazing place.

But, as I was saying, I used to love summer. That was before I had to work. This summer I’ll be toiling away like the rest of humanity. And I’m not just talking about working with the Computer Fix-It company I started last year with Carole. That business has been kind of rocky lately. I’ll blame it on the bad economy, since everyone always blames everything on a bad economy.

No, I’m working at my first real job. I turned fifteen last week. I used to love my birthdays. The end of school. The start of summer. But not anymore. Dad has a friend at work, Mr. Timmons, whose brother, Ed, owns a garage and gas station. Dad was talking to him and lo and behold (another pretentious choice of words?), Mr. Timmons told him his brother was looking for someone to help with chores around the place. Since I’m not sixteen yet, I’m not supposed to work in the garage itself. But I can dispense gas and work around the store that Ed has attached to the garage. Nothing heavy duty, Mr. Timmons said. Ed just needs someone fifteen to twenty hours a week helping in the store and cleaning around the place. A great way to earn a little pocket money.

Fifteen to twenty hours! Dad, bless his parental heart, volunteered me. Said it was a great way to learn about “real” life. And to “round out my skills.” What, my skills are too flat or something? But Dad doesn’t stop. “Too much time with your nose in a book isn’t healthy.” “Develop some skills.” “A young man needs more than book learning.” On and on and on. Says it in the Mother Tongue, of course, but that’s how it translates into English.

Except it sounds more serious in Lithuanian. “Per daug laiko praleidi su nosim knygose.” “Išmok ką nors naudingo.” “Jaunam vyrui ne tik knygos naudingos.” Wonder why that is. Because it’s what we talk at home? Our “real” language? To Mom and Dad, English sure isn’t real. Even though they speak it, Mom much better than Dad. What is real to me, then?

Oh, well. In whatever language, I think Dad wants to have a macho son like the other guys at work brag about. Well, sorry, Dad, not all of us can be macho. And not all of us can be like Bobby Marshall either. A jock. Smart. And nice. Yeah, nice. He likes me. I still can’t believe it sometimes. He says I’m fine the way I am. Okay, Bobby, if you say so. I’ll believe you. I have to believe you. Have to believe someone likes me the way I am.

Oh, RV, stop feeling sorry for yourself. There are people who like you besides Bobby. Mom, for example, though Mom doesn’t really count because moms usually love their kids no matter how screwed up they are. But then there’s Mr. Aniso, my Latin teacher last year. Good old Mr. Aniso. He’s been great, especially when I’ve told him my worries about being gay. We’re becoming real friends. But he’s an adult. Adults only go so far for a kid. We need our peers to like us.

So what about Carole? You’ve gone through a lot with her, RV, and she’s still sticking by you. Yeah, that’s true. She’s a good egg. No, a great egg! I love you, Carole Higginbottom!

And what about Ray? Brothers are usually close, aren’t they? But not Ray and I. Too bad. He’s just off in another world. I’m sure he thinks it’s a cooler world than the one his nerdy older brother inhabits.

So there’s Bobby. He’s a guy. A regular guy. Something I’ve always wanted to be, but will never be, alas! (Another one of those words! Where are all these pretentious words coming from?). Anyway, if Bobby really likes me that would be amazing. I still can’t believe it happened.

There I am thinking about him again. But that’s okay, right? I mean, after all, we kissed and everything.

!!$$#*&!! Did I just write that? Yes. GET OVER YOURSELF, RV! YOU KISSED A GUY AND YOU LIKED IT. What’s wrong with that? You’re not hearing thunder from heaven, are you? This computer isn’t blowing up because you wrote those words, is it? So you might be gay. Chill out. Or you might be bi. After all, you enjoyed making out with Carole until she started falling for that zit-faced Tim— Whoa! Whoa!

I have to stop worrying about everything. Maybe Dad’s right. Maybe too much time on the keyboard, writing down my thoughts, isn’t good. But I like keeping this journal. Helps me sort things out. When Mom and Dad gave me this computer they said they wanted me to make good use of it. I think I have. Maybe not the way they’d want me to, but I think they’d be proud of me for writing so much. And I kept it up all school year. That’s good, isn’t it? Even if Mom and Dad would be shocked at some of the stuff I wrote here. I hope I keep up the writing during the summer. After all, I should have more time in summer, even if those languid days are cut by fifteen to twenty hours a week.

My Review:
This is the second book in a series and I’m going to sum up a bit of stuff that many be spoiler-y if you haven’t read the first book.

Arvydas “RV” …… (sorry I don’t have the tenacity to write his last name) is the eldest son of Lithuanian ex-pats living on green cards in Boston. RV’s parents have worked hard for their modest American existence; it’s not the American Dream they had envisioned upon emigration. They are up for citizenship, if they can pass their tests, but RV’s dad is a bit sour on the idea. RV also struggles to connect with his younger brother Ray, who seems like a “cool kid” while RV is an avowed dweeb and total book scholar.

It’s the summer following RV’s freshmen year at the prestigious Boston Latin School. RV is a real scholar and thinker, and he’s a bit nerdy if he does say so himself. He struggles to fit into his Lithuanian role, and he doesn’t fit in well at school. He has two good friends: Carole who was his first girlfriend, and Bobby who is somewhat of a boyfriend. Bobby had asked RV for tutoring help in the first book, but they both feel an attraction that leads to discussing their fluid sexuality. Bobby thinks he’s gay, but he doesn’t want ANYONE to know. RV struggles to understand his sexuality, but he’s thinking he’s gay because he’s really generally attracted to men. He worked on these ideas while visiting his dear Latin teacher, Mr. Aniso in the hospital last winter. Mr. Aniso is clearly gay, and was brutally bashed one weekend. Their mentor-friendship has grown over the course of the summer when RV has felt more and more isolated. Carole is in Paris with her dad, a military man with a new appointment, and Bobby spends more and more time at football camp.

Bobby is black, Mr. Aniso is gay, and RV is the child of immigrants, and potentially gay–or bisexual. They each experience prejudice in their lives and RV documents this with the kind of unflinching honesty only a confused child can bring. Mr. Aniso and Bobby both agree that RV is innocent, but in different ways. Mr. Aniso affirms RV’s goodness and willingness to see the best in people, and Bobby is a little on the pressuring side, willing to explore their sexuality in a way that’s a bit too fast for Bobby.

I really liked the side characters here, even Ed, the garage and gas station owner that RV works for. Ed is without question the embodiment of white American male supremacy, but RV is able to talk to him in ways that diffuse his inherent racism. He’s a product of his environment like many unacknowledged racists, and RV is able to shift his bigoted paradigm. RV also grows the strength to stand up for his family, and his feelings, once he figures out the depth of them.

This 15 year old’s digital journal is the meat of the story, and RV’s private thoughts really cut to the heart of racism and prejudice over several classes. In a time when there is heightened awareness of the institutional racism and racial inequity in America, RV’s insight is a welcome call out for people to just be more human, and understand that their personal experiences does NOT invalidate the injustices experienced by others.

I adore RV and will follow him on his quest for truth, justice and the American experience. Trigger warning for incidences of gang behavior, teen drug use, and a shooting.

Interested? You can find WHY CAN’T FRESHMAN SUMMER BE LIKE PIZZA? on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon, Smashwords and Kobo. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Andy V. Roamer grew up in the Boston area and moved to New York City after college. He worked in book publishing for many years, starting out in the children’s and YA books division and then wearing many other hats. This is his first novel about RV, the teenage son of immigrants from Lithuania in Eastern Europe, as RV tries to negotiate his demanding high school, his budding sexuality, and new relationships. He has written an adult novel, Confessions of a Gay Curmudgeon, under the pen name Andy V. Ambrose. To relax, Andy loves to ride his bike, read, watch foreign and independent movies, and travel.

Catch up with Andy on his website and Facebook.

Building a Community in RAINBOW PLACE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a Throwback Thursday review for a contemporary M/M romance from Jay Northcote. RAINBOW PLACE is the first book in his Rainbow Place series set in Porthladock, Cornwall. I really enjoyed SAFE PLACE, BETTER PLACE MUD & LACE and HAPPY PLACE, so I finally got time to re-read and post about the book that started it all… Meet Seb Radcliffe, entrepreneur setting up a LGBTQ-friendly cafe in Porthladock, Cornwall, finds himself in a tough situation when homophobes come a-calling.

About the book:
Can Jason find the courage he needs to be the man Seb deserves?

When Seb Radcliffe relocates to a seaside town in Cornwall, he feels like a fish out of water. He misses queer spaces and the sense of community he enjoyed when he was living in the city, and decides to open an LGBT-friendly cafe-bar.

Jason Dunn is the builder Seb hires to help renovate the rundown space where the cafe will be housed. Jason is also gay, but unlike Seb, he’s deep in the closet. He’s never had a relationship with another man–only allowing himself the occasional hook up with guys who are prepared to be discreet.

The attraction between the two men is instant and impossible to ignore. But while Seb is out and proud, Jason is terrified of being exposed. With the grand opening of Rainbow Place approaching, tension is growing among some locals who object to Seb’s plans. When things escalate, Jason is forced to choose whether to hide in the shadows and let Seb down, or to openly support the man he’s fallen so hard for.

Although this book is part of a series, it has a satisfying happy ending and can be read as a standalone.

My Review:
Seb Radcliffe has moved to the quaint seaside town of Porthladock, Cornwall with the express plan of opening a queer-friendly cafe and bar. As an out-gay man, Seb knows how valuable it is to have queer-friendly spaces, and he dreams the Rainbow Place cafe will be a beacon to LGBTQ folk and their allies in the area.

Seb hires local builder Jason Dunn to renovate the cafe space, and the two men do hit it off quite well, though Jason has been closeted his whole life. He’s part inspired and part intimidated by Seb’s attitude and compassion. The plans to open are going excellently–Jason’s a carpentry whiz–but days before the cafe opens the worst happens. Vandals attack and the cafe seems ruined. It’s a crucible moment for the community, and the call for help brings folks from unexpected quarters to the haven of acceptance. We get to meet some of the characters who factor into the later stories, as they find unexpected love in Rainbow Place. Jason, for his part, decides that having the solid love of a good man is worth taking those first steps into the light and leaving the closet behind.

There are delicious sexytimes, and heartfelt moments of joy, grief and relief. It’s a very uplifting story, with two good men finding happiness when they least expected to do so–and a community finding a welcoming space for the LGBTQ folk that had existed only in the margins before. The grannies are a hoot, and I liked getting a sneak peek at main characters to come. I’m a fan of the whole series, and recommend it to people who enjoy M/M romance.

Interested? You can find RAINBOW PLACE on Goodreads and Amazon.

About the Author:
Jay lives just outside Bristol in the West of England. He comes from a family of writers, but always used to believe that the gene for fiction writing had passed him by. He spent years only ever writing emails, articles, or website content.

One day, Jay decided to try and write a short story—just to see if he could—and found it rather addictive. He hasn’t stopped writing since.

Jay writes contemporary romance about men who fall in love with other men. He has five books published by Dreamspinner Press, and also self-publishes under the imprint Jaybird Press. Many of his books are now available as audiobooks.

You can find Jay on his website, Twitter, Facebook Author Page, and Amazon.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

signal boost

Rising to the Challenge–ON THE KALALAU TRAIL–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M coming-of-age story from Robin Reardon. ON THE KALALAU TRAIL is the second book in her Trailblazers series, which features a young gay man discovering his world, and himself. I’ve reviewed ON CHOCORUA, and was intrigued enough to read on.

About the book:
Self-discovery. Sounds simple, right? After all, you’re already there. You’re already you. So it can surprise us that it takes so much time, and so much effort. It surprises Nathan Bartlett.

Nathan has lost two family members in a few years. It surprises him to realize he hadn’t known them nearly as well as he’d thought, and this makes him question his own worth. And it makes him feel like he belongs nowhere. So he goes on a spiritual quest.

Professional hike leader Conroy Finnegan–sexy, very masculine, and charismatic–leads Nathan to the Kalalau Trail on the island of Kaua’i, “… a place where magic happens, where the very names are magical: Na Pali. Ho’olulu. Waiahuakua. Hanakoa. Hanakapi’ai.”

Conroy seduces Nathan in more ways than one. He leads Nathan to paradise and lets him find his own way back. Nathan begins his journey as a searcher. On the way he becomes a seeker. These states of mind are different. And they lead Nathan on different journeys.

Walk with him.

My Review:
Nathan Bartlett was orphaned at the age of one, and raised by his maternal grandmother with his sister Nina (a year older) and his eldest brother Neil who is six years older. In the first book, Nathan was a college freshman and he spent that year coming out, falling for the wrong guy, learning how to NOT hike mountains, and grieving Neil’s sudden death in a hiking accident.

As this story opens, Nathan is a senior in college. He’s still living with El Speed, his freshman year roommate, and their friendship is strong. Nathan has continued his quest to commune with Neil’s memory by hiking nearby mountains. He’s even convinced El Speed to make some hikes with him. Nathan meets Conroy, a seasoned hiker, on a solo hike, and they sort of hit it off. Well, they complete the day together and have sex in the brambles at the days end, but it’s likely a one-off. Not so, it turns out as Conroy’s housesitting a place in Durham, where Nathan attends school.

El Speed is pulling away-ish, preoccupied with planning his summer wedding. Nathan’s free time leads him into no-strings hook-ups with Conroy–who’s a relentless top. Turns out Conroy also plans and leads hiking trips as a business–a constant vagabond with no ties to any place. Nathan’s desperate for connection, but his sister Nina warns that Conroy’s not the right guy…again. And, Nathan’s isolation only increases when he loses another of his two remaining family members. In a bid to find some peace, he signs up for one of Conroy’s trips–to hike the dangerous and wild Kalalau trail on Kaua’i. Conroy has convinced Nathan that the journey will help him see the spiritual in the mundane, and grow as a human. It’s Nathan’s choice, but making the trip means he’ll miss El Speed’s wedding. Their relationship has been strained for months and missing the big day could signal the final snap severing their connection.

I really like Nathan, he’s a decent guy, and his life is an utter emotional mess. He loses everyone close to him–and he continues to reach for people to fill the voids of family. His trip to Kaua’i is enlightening in many ways, and his infatuation with Conroy has run its course. The Nathan we have seen in the beginning of the story is still naive, and still boyish, but by the end he’s a resolute man, willing to make the difficult choices. He’s grown up and lived through devastation, and found he can get beyond the mundane issues and see bigger pictures and distant futures.

The descriptions of Nathan, his travels, his thoughts are very complete, and evocative of anyone in a journey to know their self better. And, the lush trails of Kalalau are rendered with as much detail as a quiet night spent saying goodbye to his childhood home. Nathan’s childhood is over, and his adulthood–which sat so uncomfortably on his shoulders at the beginning of this story–is deep within his grasp by the conclusion. He will face changes, and adventure in the next book, I am sure. But, just maybe he’ll find someone to walk his lonely trails beside him. Fingers crossed!

Interested? You can find ON THE KALALAU TRAIL on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Robin Reardon: “I am an inveterate observer of human nature, and my primary writing goal is to create stories about all kinds of people, some of whom happen to be gay or transgender—people whose destinies are not determined solely by their sexual orientation or identity. My secondary writing goal is to introduce readers to concepts or information they might not know very much about. On my website, robinreardon.com, see individual book pages for “Digging Deeper” sections that link to background information and research done for the novel.

My motto is this: The only thing wrong with being gay is how some people treat you when they find out.

Interests outside of writing include singing, nature photography, and the study of comparative religions. I write in a butter yellow study with a view of the Boston, Massachusetts skyline.”

You can catch up with Robin on her website, Goodreads, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!