More Than Friends? LEARNED REACTIONS–A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How about a yummy taste?

GEORGIOS, AEGINA TOWN, GREECE. SIX WEEKS LATER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Max pushes me away. “I need a piss.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, Maxi, time to let go.”

“What if I don’t want to let go?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****GIVEAWAY****

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

About the Author:
Fearne Hill lives deep in the southern British countryside with three untamed sons, varying numbers of hens, a few tortoises, and a beautiful cocker spaniel.

When she is not overseeing her small menagerie, she enjoys writing contemporary romantic fiction. And when she is not doing either of those things, she works as an anaesthesiologist.

You can reach out to Lane on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Connecting Through THE B-SIDE–Promo and Giveaway

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a promo for a contemporary LGBTQ story for new-to-me author B. Harmony. THE B-SIDE features two unlikely roommates falling for one another–but trying to keep it friendly….for a while at least.

About the book:
Chance
When I read the roommate wanted ad, I thought my sister was encouraging me to live with an insane person. As it turns out, he isn’t insane, he’s sexy and one hundred percent my type. Living with him will be the ultimate test of my self control.
When the combination of our love of music and my overwhelming need to take care of him meets jealousy, sparks fly. His heart may be damaged, but nothing is beyond repair.
Now all I have to do is convince him that I’m in this for the long haul, not just this moment.

Tyler
I may look like the happy-go-lucky gay guy with a big smile and more punny tees than one person should probably own. But it’s just a shield to protect my heart, the one that has been torn apart by the people who were meant to love me most. The last thing I’m willing to do is risk the tattered shreds on my new – straight- roommate. Sure, he’s sexy as sin and has a love of music that rivals my own, but all that is just grounds for a new friendship. Nothing more. Right?
Yet, every moment we spend together tests a little bit more of my self control. When it turns out my roommate is not as straight as I once thought, I have to decide if this is one playlist I should listen to.
Will we have our own love song, or will this just be another broken-hearted ballad?

The B-Side is a low-angst, roommmates-to-lovers, MM Romance novel. Featuring punny t-shirts for every occasion, killer playlists, meddling family and friends, and a happily-ever-after.

I wrote a full review on Joyfully Jay for THE B-SIDE, and if you go read my review and make a comment you will be entered in the weekly drawing for Author swag, and the month-wide drawing for a Kindle Paperwhite filled with 50 ebooks from NineStar Press!

About the Author:
B. Harmony is a Texas girl with SoCal roots with a penchant for rock music and happily ever afters. She began her journey as a romance author after spending a year as a book blogger and bookstgrammer in the romance community.

She has been writing on and off for years, but The B-Side is the first novel that has reached completion.

B. Harmony lives in Texas with her husband, two children, and two fur babies. She spends her free time drinking too much coffee, swearing, and reading & writing while simultaneously watching baseball.

Catch up to Ms. Harmony on her website, Instagram, and Facebook.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

LOVE, EXES AND OHS–Review & Excerpt

LEObannerHi there! Today I’m sharing my review of Violet Duke’s contemporary romance LOVE, EXES AND OH’S which is a sweet reconnection/friends-to-lovers romance between Xoey and Isaac. While this is part of the Cactus Creek novel series, it can be enjoyed as a standalone.

Love, Exes, and Ohs (Cactus Creek, #4)About the Book:
He may very well be the perfect ex…
Isaac McKnight has had enough loss in his life to know never to take anything for granted. So when the perfectly-imperfect-woman-for-him puts an end to their relationship out of the blue, it’s Isaac that makes sure they remain friends. Now a year later, whether it’s at his gym or her brewpub, or the dog park they visit every weekend–though neither of them own a dog–he and Xoey are steadily getting sucked deeper into buddy-zone galaxy, with its dangerous proximity to watch-me-settle-down-with-someone-else abyss. It’s a reality he’s resigned himself to. That is…until one drunken confession changes everything.

But she’s looking for the perfect oh…
For Xoey Montenegro, history has taught her that sometimes, it’s Prince Charming who vanishes without a trace. And fairytale love? Highly overrated. Heck, give her a real and perfect ‘oh’ over that fantasy any day. So as far as rock-solid tequila-fueled plans for her love life go, coming up with a match-finding formula based on the qualities of the men responsible for her three most epic ohs seems brilliant. Except for the fact that one-third of her genius little man-quation is all about her friend Isaac. Actually, more than a third if Xoey were being honest with herself–which she’s not. Because full honesty would require thinking not just about how perfect Isaac really is, but also about how perfect the fourth epic oh she’s kept buried deep in her past once was.

An easy enough thing to keep ignoring…until her past isn’t past tense anymore.

How about a little taste?

“The man ate his Caesar salad with a knife and fork, Isaac.”

Isaac McKnight tried—really tried—not to grin over that one but he was wholly unsuccessful. “I’m sure that’s not nearly as pretentious as it probably looked,” he reasoned graciously, before adding without any remorse whatsoever, “Or maybe the good doctor has been hiding a really small mouth under that bushy beard, and he needs to take dainty little bites.”
Yep, just call him Saint Isaac, Patron of Grace.

Xoey’s immediate burst of laughter over the phone line, which neither confirmed nor denied his guess, instantly had Isaac wondering which of her killer smiles she was wearing right now. He’d bet good money it was the one that lit up those deep mahogany-rich bedroom eyes of hers with pure mischief—the one that hinted her own thoughts were at least twice as sinful as anyone else’s in the room. And three times as unapologetic.

God, he loved that smile. For a few quality seconds with that smile, he’d gladly pony up with all the zingers he’d been storing regarding her most recent Mr. Wrong. But he managed to restrain himself. The last thing Isaac needed was to give karma more reasons to run his ass over.

He was, after all, one of Xoey’s Mr. Wrongs as well.

The reminder was an effective buzzkill that silenced the ticker tape parade that had been playing in his head all morning over Xoey’s latest love life development…an extraordinary showing of self-control for him that lasted a whole ten seconds. Maybe eleven.

A personal best.

With that new shoulder-patting record under his belt, he was already reaching up to switch the phone call over to his truck’s Bluetooth so he could listen to Xoey’s deal-breaking grievances from her date last night the way it was truly meant to be heard.

In stereo.

What could he say? The woman brought out all his ruthless, miserable-sonofabitch possessive tendencies. As far as he was concerned, hearing Xoey’s throaty voice take over his truck’s speakers with a list of reasons why the ‘third date’ she’d gone out on last night would in fact not be resulting in a fourth date—aka sex—with the pharmacist she’d met a few weeks back? Grammy-worthy music to his ears.

He simply didn’t see himself evolving any time soon.

My Review:
This is the 4th book in a series, but can be read as a standalone.

Xoey’s had some hard times, but she’s worked hard and now serves as the part-owner of Ocotillo’s, a brewpub she manages with the other owner, and her good friend, Dani. Xoey wants to find Mr. Right, and has searched for him for the past decade–ever since her first Mr. Wrong, a one-night stand who left Xoey considerably worse for the wear.

Isaac is Xoey’s ex. She’s collected a lot of them on her search for Mr. Right, yet Isaac’s the only one who’s stuck around to be a friend, too. In fact, he’s a very close friend to Xoey, and he’d like to be more.

They share a lot of close times, but no physicality ever since Xoey broke it off. She’s got some pretty romantic ideas about Mr. Right, and Isaac just missed the mark. Still, over the course of the year he’s been a great friend and confidante, and she’s attracted to him. Now, however, she doesn’t want to risk their friendship. So all her girlfriends make a plan to set her up with potential Mr. Right blind dates–and they sorta sabotage them….so Xoey can see that the best man in her life is the man who’s been the caretaker of her heart: Isaac.

Trouble erupts unexpectedly, however, and Xoey becomes the temporary guardian of a child she never intended to care for–with Isaac right by her side. They make a great team, until Isaac gets a wake-up call, and Xoey breaks it all off, again.

This is a fun contemporary friends-to-lovers story with a twist I didn’t see coming–probably because it bent the line of coincidence way out of proportion. Excepting that, however, I liked it. Somewhat breezy, and a quick read. A bit of a steamer, too.

Interested? You can find LOVE EXES AND OHS on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Google, and Kobo.

Violet DukeAbout the Author:
NEW YORK TIMES & USA TODAY bestselling author Violet Duke is a former professor of English Education who is ecstatic to now be on the other side of the page writing wickedly fun contemporary romance novels. Her NYT and USA Today bestselling books have been Top 10 bestsellers across the major eretailers both in the US and internationally. When she’s not writing or feeding her book-a-day reading addiction, Violet enjoys tackling reno projects with her power tools, trying pretty much anything without reading the directions first, and cooking ‘special edition’ dishes that laugh in the face of recipes. A born and raised island girl, she spends her days getting into creatively fun trouble in Hawai’i alongside her two cute kids (daughter Violet & son Duke) and similarly adorable husband.

You can catch up with Violet on her website and twitter. Find the latest on her books and fan giveaways on her Facebook page.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Reunited in THE STORY OF JAX AND DYLAN–My review for Joyfully Jay

I’m back on Joyfully Jay reviewing a new release from Jamie Dean. THE STORY OF JAX AND DYLAN is a cute friends-to-lovers, contemporary reconnection, M/M romance form Jamie Dean. If you’ve ever wondered “Whatever happened to…?” about someone from your past, and thought about contacting them on Facebook, you’ll totally get this book. I really enjoyed it.

The Story of Jax and Dylan

About the book:

Dylan and Jax were typical best friends, until Dylan fell for Jax and kissed him the night before senior prom. Dylan had to move away before they could talk about it, so he has spent ten years thinking Jax hated him for that kiss.

Reconnecting on Facebook allows them to meet again, and they quickly become as close as ever, spending most of their free time together. Dylan falls for Jax a second time, even though Jax has a girlfriend and appears to be straight.

Important secrets about Jax may lie hidden in the books he’s written, but Jax has asked Dylan not to read them, and Dylan refuses to break his promise. When the truth finally surfaces, their lives will never be the same.

Head on over to Joyfully Jay Reviews to check out my full review.