Strangers Connect BE MY BEST MAN–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m happy to share a review and giveaway for a newly published M/M contemporary romance from Con Riley. BE MY BEST MAN links a jaded older man with a struggling refugee, and it’s a charming blend of cultures.

About the book:
Will Jason’s third time as a best man lead to first-time love for Vanya?
After fleeing violence in Moscow, student teacher Vanya Petrov winds up lonely in a run-down London hostel. At least visiting the Bond Street store where his roommate works lets him practice his English, but as Vanya’s vocabulary expands, so does his isolation, especially when he sees happy couples planning their perfect weddings.

According to Jason Balfour, weddings are a waste of time and money. After all, he’s been best man for his brother twice already. Saying that a third marriage will end in divorce too leads to an angry ultimatum: to save his relationship with his brother, Jason must meet his fiancée, at last, and make a good first impression.

Jason’s need to dress to impress brings him and Vanya together. Language is no barrier to falling in love with the young and fragile Russian, and neither is their age difference. But Vanya’s bruised soul carries secrets that could rip them apart. As the wedding draws near, Vanya must confess, and soon, or risk losing Jason—his own best man in Britain.

My Review:
Vanya Petrov survived a targeted attack in Moscow for being gay. His appeal to the UK for asylum is still under review and he suffers from PTSD though his life-threatening injuries are now healed. As a petitioner for asylum, he’s unable to earn any money and must subsist on a meager welfare allowance. It’s barely enough to keep him housed in a miserable hostel and fed. It’s been nearly nine months of waiting, with monthly immigration check-ins, and collecting evidence that demonstrates he will be in grave danger should he return to Russia. He develops a friendship with two people at the hostel, Kaspar and Anna, and they band together against thieves and attackers.

Vanya meets Jason at the store where Kaspar works. Jason mistakes him for a personal shopper, and he’s desperate to make himself look better in the eyes of his foster brother, Andrew. Jason’s been a jerk for the past six months, ever since Andrew asked Jason to be best man at his third wedding to a much younger woman, Chantel, whom Jason is sure is a gold digger. Jason’s also sure there’s no such thing as true love and doesn’t want to help Andrew find his way toward another divorce, but he’s also unwilling to let Andrew walk out of his life. So, he attempts to hire the exotic young man he’s not sure is even of legal age to help transform him from a gruff builder into someone presentable. Vanya, having been seduced into trauma before, is wary of Jason’s motives for hiring him, but he’s also desperate. All of their savings has been stolen and he and his friends don’t feel safe living in the hostel. In fact, being near Jason–a home restorer–gives Vanya an inside track on a vacant property where they can squat in safety.

But being near Jason also turns on both fear and attraction, in equal measure, for Vanya. He’s afraid to get caught accepting money for work, to have Jason learn where he’s living, to have Jason learn he’s a fraud and not a personal shopper, to not be granted asylum…there are so many worries in Vanya’s precarious position as an asylum-seeker and he misses his family who have cut all ties. He’s adrift, and sees that same loneliness in Jason–with whom he builds a rapport. In fact, Jason’s life has been lonely, and he and Vanya unexpectedly hit it off. Vanya gives Jason good counsel about the situation with Andrew and Chantel, and Jason recognizes his instincts there have been rotten. Their camaraderie soon builds into a mutual attraction, and turns cautiously physical. Jason doesn’t know much about Vanya, and what he thinks he knows is off the mark, too. So there be struggles, but there also be admiration. Jason very much admires Vanya’s resiliency, his tenacity, and his willingness to help out Chantel with wedding plans pro bono. Though, when he finds out why Vanya won’t take any money for his work, well, it leads to some fireworks. And, some remorse. And, some big apologies.

I loved the interplay between the characters. Kaspar, Anna, Andrew and Chantel are all fantastic supports to Vanya and Jason. Each man is cautious, with his heart and with his words. Jason has a problem with age differences–between himself and Vanya, and between Andrew and Chantal. It takes him a while to come around, but he’s not afraid to make amends when he gets it. Vanya is an amazing character. I haven’t read many stories from the POV of a desperate would-be immigrant, but this felt so very genuine, and the terror, trauma, and anxiety of that situation came through loud and clear. I ached for Vanya to find a full life in London, and with a man he could trust. Jason seems as if he can be that man, but the lies between them are large and dangerous. How they worked through this was good, though I wondered how Vanya could move on so fast to set his plans into motion. Still, the end is beautiful, and a totally happy resolution. I’d read another three books with these guys at the center, that’s how much I adored this one.

Interested? You can find BE MY BEST MAN on Goodreads and Amazon (US & UK).

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a backlist book from Con Riley.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Con Riley lives on the wild and rugged Devonshire coast, with her head in the clouds, and her feet in the Atlantic Ocean.

Injury curtailed her enjoyment of outdoor pursuits, so writing fiction now fills her free time. Love, loss, and redemption shape her romance stories, and her characters are flawed in ways that makes them live and breathe.

When not people watching, or wrangling her own boy band of teen sons, she spends time staring at the sea from her kitchen window. If you see her, don’t disturb her—she’s probably thinking up new plots.

Catch up with Con on her website, Twitter, Tumblr, and Goodreads.

New Young Love: PICTURES OF YOU–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a mature YA/New Adult M/M series from Leta Blake. PICTURES OF YOU is the first in a four-part series about young gay people coming of age in 1990s Knoxville, Tennessee. It’s not exactly a romance, though there are certainly lots of sexytimes.

poyAbout the book:
Growing up gay isn’t easy. Growing up gay in Knoxville, Tennessee is even harder.

Eighteen-year-old Peter Mandel, a private school senior—class of 1991—is passionate about photography. Peter doesn’t have many friends, preferring to shoot pictures from behind the scenes to keep his homosexuality secret.

Enter Adam Algedi, a charming, worldly new guy who doesn’t do labels, but does want to do Peter. Hardly able to believe gorgeous Adam would want geeky, skinny him of all people, Peter’s swept away on a journey of first love and sexual discovery. But as their mutual web of lies spins tighter and tighter, can Peter find the confidence he needs to make the right choices? And will his crush on Daniel, a college acquaintance, open a new path?

Join Peter in the first of this four-part coming of age series as he struggles to love and be loved, and grow into a gay man worthy of his own respect.

This new series by Leta Blake is gay fiction with romantic elements.
Book 1 of 4.
Warning! These books contain: New Adult fiction, ‘90s gay life, small city homosexual experiences, Southern biases, sexual exploration, romance, homophobia, bisexuality, and twisted-up young love. Oh, and a guaranteed happy ending for the main character by the end of Book 4.

How about a little taste?

“Should I apologize for earlier?” Adam asked, turning down the stereo.

“It isn’t your fault she showed up.”

Adam grinned at me. “I meant, should I apologize for the kiss, but I guess the answer is ‘no.’”

I twitched nervously in my seat and took a deep breath “I’m gay.”

“No shit.”

I stared. “What?”

“I mean, yeah. You’re gay. I figured that out.”

“So—” I stopped. “Wait. How?”

“I can always tell. I don’t know how.”

“But I thought you said you weren’t gay.”

“I never said that.” Adam frowned. “Honestly, I don’t know what I am.”

My heart trip-hammered for a ton of reasons, but the scariest of them was hope. “What’s the deal then? Uh, with us?”

“Us? We’re friends. Like I said, friends kiss.”

My hope settled into a knot of anxiety.

“Then why hasn’t a friend kissed me before?”

“I don’t know. I mean, who wouldn’t want to kiss you?”

To me, it was definitely more of a question of who would want to kiss me, and, more specifically, just exactly why he had. Especially when I knew how everyone else would view me once we got to school. Maybe living all over the world hadn’t taught him the social skill of self-preservation required to make his way in a small city like Knoxville.

I decided to tell him. He really did deserve to know, and besides, if it was going to be an issue, I wanted to be hurt now, not later.

“I’m a huge loser, you know.”

Adam glanced over at me like I was insane. “What?”

“I’m not popular. In school. In life. In anything.” I turned my head and looked out the window, worrying my lower lip. “I just thought you should know. I mean, you don’t want to start out at a new school being friends with someone who’s just going to drag you down.”

Adam actually laughed. “You’re crazy. Did you know that?”

My throat tightened. It hurt he wasn’t taking me seriously. “I’m telling you why I’ll understand when you decide we can’t be friends anymore.”

“Look, you haven’t even started at this school and you’ve already decided that as a friend you’re not worth being first string? What’s up with that?”

I shrugged. “I’m just being realistic. I mean—look at me.”

In my peripheral vision I saw Adam do just that. He looked at me long enough that I worried about the car staying on the road. “Yeah. I’m looking. I still like what I see.” He lifted his hand to the back of my neck and squeezed. “I’m serious.”

A strange rush of emotion flooded my stomach and chest, and I wanted to tuck my face between my knees. Instead I just crossed my arms and frowned.

Adam brushed his fingers through my hair, catching in my frenzy of curls. It felt intimate and almost more real than the kiss. I shivered when he let go to grip the steering wheel again.

“But enough of that,” he said sternly. “Get my book bag out of the backseat. I’ve got a surprise for you.”

Happy to be leaving the uncomfortable topic of my gay dorkitude behind, I reached around and grabbed the blue, nylon book bag.

“Open the front pocket.”

I unzipped it, fished around, and pulled out a driver’s license. It was Mo’s, and I had to stifle a laugh at the typical bad license photo that made him look like a serial killer.

“I’ve got a fake ID that Sean got for me, but I liberated that one for you.”

I tapped the picture. “You think this will get me into the club? I look nothing like your brother!”

“Don’t be such a defeatist! You just hold your thumb over the picture when you show them your ID.”

“Adam, that isn’t going to work.”

“We can always try,” he said, lifting his shoulders dismissively.

“They’ll confiscate the ID. How’s Mo going to feel about having to get a new license made?”

That got through to him. “Oh. So, huh. I guess that won’t work after all.”

I snorted. “Uh, no.”

Adam just smiled. “We’ll figure something out.”

“We could see what’s going on at the under-21 shows on The Strip.”

“No. I want to go to Tilt-a-Whirl. I read it’s the best gay bar in town and has, and I quote, ‘the best drag queens in the area.’”

“If the area is East Tennessee, then yeah, it probably does. And why do you want to go to a gay bar so much? I mean, this is a small city. Word gets around.”

Adam narrowed his eyes. “This last-minute resistance is futile, padawan.”

“Trek and Wars in the same breath. That is very wrong. Very, deeply, truly wrong.”

“It is,” Adam readily agreed.

“You’re a total dork.”

“Shh. It’s a secret. Don’t tell the jocks when school starts. I wouldn’t want my nerdiness to drag us down and all.”

I started to laugh, but stopped, struck by an uncomfortable thought. I picked at my blue jeans a little, toying with a loose thread, before asking quietly, “So the kiss is a secret?”

Adam looked over in obvious surprise. “Of course. I mean, like you said, this is a small city.”

“And it’s the South. And the Bible Belt. And generally homophobic, yeah.”

I bit down on my lip. I didn’t know what I was expecting. It wasn’t like he was wrong. We couldn’t be boyfriends—not here, not now. Not out in the open or anything. It was just that I wanted so much more already. And he’d kissed me.

Adam’s hand clasped the back of my neck again. “Hey, listen. You’re my friend. And you happen to kind of turn me on with your glasses, and your camera, and the way you walk.” He gripped his fingers in my hair again and gave my head a little shake. “That’s enough, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. So—the drag show. How do we get in?” I hoped my voice sounded light because if in Adam’s world friends kissed, I didn’t want to do anything to ruin our friendship before I found out what else he thought friends might do.

My Review:
Peter Mandel is an 18 y/o closeted gay teen growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1990. He’s a new transfer to a small private school because he’d been terrorized by bullies for being queer. His parents seem to ignore all the evidence of homosexuality, instead believing him to be a late bloomer. He is, rather, being small and slight, unfit for sports and artsy in photography, but Peter is still only for the dudes.

Peter meets twins Adam and Sarah at orientation. They are half-Iranian, and their parents have some type of consulate business that keeps them in Jordan at the moment. Fomenting aggression caused their parents to send Adam and Sarah to the states to complete high school; their elder brother, Mohammed, is a college student at UT and their custodian.

Adam wastes no time connecting with Peter, who’s never even kissed a person before. He’d hoped to fly under the radar, but beautiful, skilled, sexy Adam is more that willing to school Peter in sex. Their courtship is fraught with issues–mostly keeping everything on the super down-low. Sarah and Mo know immediately that Adam and Peter are having sex, and they aren’t happy about it–mostly because they know how their strict father will react if he learns of this unnatural behavior.

When school starts, Sarah is determined to get them all well-situated into the best social strata. She’s aggressive and Adam’s charismatic and soon they cobble a tight group of friends, including Leslie, who’s overjoyed to be Adams’ girlfriend. Yep, the best way to hide Adam and Peter’s sexytimes is to get a beard–and Adam’s bisexual, so he pulls this off. But the rumors don’t stop.

The book spans a nine month period–all of senior year. It’s not a happy time for Peter. He’s captivated by Adam, who wants him terribly, but upset at hiding his love affair from everyone. Plus, he likes Leslie. She’s a sweet friend, and Peter dies a bit inside when he sees them cuddling, and knows they a real and true couple, having just as much sex as he and Adam do.

During this time Peter relies on unlikely friends, notably a drag queen that he met while out on his first date with Adam. Renee/Robert knows about staying closeted, and he’s a sweet and caring person. He offers Peter a job helping with his drag shows, and taking pictures for publicity. It’s through Renee/Robert that Peter meets Daniel, an architecture student at UT. There’s an immediate connection, but Daniel won’t get involved with a high school student.

The book, as a whole, is really bittersweet. It’s about yearning and choices and the struggle for love and acceptance in a time that was rife with homophobia, in a place that’s not eager to embrace homosexuality now–twenty-five years later. It’s the height of the AIDS epidemic, and Peter’s (mostly disinsterested) parents are just as scared of gay cancer killing him as they are of homophobic bigots killing him. They have some experience with the latter, as Peter learns close to the end of the book. It’s not a typical romance, and Peter’s mostly broken-hearted accepting a half-love from Adam, who won’t just let him go. For his part, Peter knows that he’s not able to protect himself from the bigotry inherent in his world, but he makes a grudging peace with it, until he can walk away clean: graduation.

There’s a bit of hope on the horizon, with Daniel, who may be willing to be monogamous and not hide Peter. His parents are resigned to his sexuality, and seem to be supportive; his father in particular. His mother suffers depression and struggles to care for herself, let alone her son. Peter’s a good kid, and the stage seems set for him to have a better life within a tribe of his choosing who will care for him. Being that this is more a gay fiction series, I’m sure we’ll have more ups-and-downs as Peter learns to navigate his dangerous world. There is a promised happy ending for Peter, I suspect, in the fourth book. Until then, we have a really rich world with regular historical touchstones for readers to connect.

It’s always fun to read a book set in a time that has just faded from our collective consciousness. It’s an era of no cell phones, landlines, people walking out their door and being unreachable, film cameras, developing rooms, word processors… Peter is a contemporary of mine, being one year older, chronologically. So his experience is mine–from a cultural standpoint. He and I share those moments, watching GHOST on the big screen, contemplating The Cure, even photography–though I was limited to a point-and-shoot due to being broke. I got Peter, and I struggled with him. I wanted Adam to stand up for them–even if it wasn’t coming out. Even if it was them still hiding, but hiding together. The conflict was really tense, and I hope that we’ll get some respite–though it’s the dawn of the Iraq War, and Adam, being half-Iranian, has many struggles to come. As for the book, and series, I think readers who enjoyed the Something Like series by Jay Bell will enjoy it. I liked it lots, and enjoyed the immersive experience of suddenly being back in high school.

Interested? You can find PICTURES OF YOU on Goodreads and Amazon.

About the Author:
Author of the best-selling book Smoky Mountain Dreams and the fan favorite Training Season, Leta Blake’s educational and professional background is in psychology and finance, respectively. However, her passion has always been for writing. She enjoys crafting romance stories and exploring the psyches of made up people. At home in the Southern U.S., Leta works hard at achieving balance between her day job, her writing, and her family.

You can find out more on her website, Facebook and twitter.

IndiGo

Criminal Intent: BAD DOGS AND DRAG QUEENS-A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary police M/M romance from Julie Lynn Hayes. BAD DOGS & DRAG QUEENS is a romp of a book, with thieving pooches, fast-talking Feds and an assailant beating down drag queens.

Bad Dogs and Drag Queens (Rose and Thorne, #1)About the book:
Vinnie Delarosa and Ethan Thorne are partners—on and off the clock. Federal undercover detectives, they’re part of a covert task force designed to promote goodwill between the feds and local authorities. They lend an unobtrusive helping hand wherever it’s needed. No credit required.

Vinnie and Ethan work primarily in the Southeast region of the United States and live together in Richmond, Virginia. A mugger problem brings them to Roanoke, where Vinnie is thrown out as bait to catch the man who’s been snatching purses in a city park, but they end up with more than they bargained for. Why is Vinnie always the one who has to wear the dress? Ethan says it’s because Vinnie looks much prettier in a skirt. How can he argue with that?

Expecting to return to Richmond afterward, Vinnie and Ethan find themselves assigned a new case instead. They are to go undercover at The Stroll, one of the biggest gay nightclubs in Roanoke. Someone is terrorizing both the customers and the performers. Could they be dealing with a hate crime? Someone has to protect the drag queens of Roanoke, so it’s Vinnie and Ethan to the rescue!

The author is donating 10% of the royalties from this book to No Kid Hungry. Visit nokidhungry.org for more information about this organization.

My Review:
Federal Agents Vinnie Delarosa and Ethan Thorne wrap up investigating a purse snatcher in Roanoke, Virginia when they get assigned to a new case: hate-crimes against the performers and customers at a drag club. Vinnie’s the guy putting on all the gear, while Ethan keeps a close watch. And, at night, he gets to unwrap his sexy man. It seems Ethan has a real love for his lover, Vinnie, in drag.

They work undercover, and Vinnie has to assume a cover as Boom-Boom Sanchez, a classy gal on the drag stage. Ethan’s a bartender in the club, and they scope out the suspects together. The mystery is rather fun, and quickly resolved, with Ethan and Vinnie setting down some roots in Roanoke–even adopting a formerly-criminal dog, Bennie. Vinnie tells the tale, and while I didn’t find the premise terribly plausible (two Federal detectives that get assigned to assist local law enforcement on such low-stakes cases) it was still entertaining. Vinnie acts more like a class clown, than a detective, to me, though I liked his scathing tongue. The book is short, and it’s a breeze to read. Ethan’s a dear heart, always up for helping Vinnie out of his clothes–or into a tender embrace. They have a very sweet dynamic, even if their out relationship seemed as unlikely as their assignments. (Even het couples aren’t partners on the police force…)

Interested? You can find BAD DOGS AND DRAG QUEENS on Goodreads, Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and AllRomance.

About the Author:
Julie Lynn Hayes first began publishing short stories and poetry in the 1990’s, when it was a different ballgame altogether, and Ebooks hadn’t been dreamed of yet. That changed in 2010 with the acceptance of her first romance novel. She’s come a long way since that first book appeared, and is finding the journey a very educational one.

She lives in St. Louis with her daughter Sarah and her cat Ramesses. She often writes of two men finding true love and happiness in one another’s arms, and is a great believer in the happily ever after. She likes to write in different genres, to stretch herself in order to see what is possible. Her great challenge is to be told something can’t be done—she feels compelled to do it.

When she isn’t writing, she enjoys crafts, such as crocheting and cross stitch, needlepoint and knitting, and she loves to cook, spending time watching the Food Network. Her favorite chef is Geoffrey Zakarian. Her family thinks she’s a bit off, but she doesn’t mind. Marching to the beat of one’s own drummer is a good thing, after all. Her published works can be found at Dreamspinner Press, eXtasy Books, and Wayward Ink Press.

Catch up with Julie on her blog, Goodreads, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Bend or Break Twofer–LOVE ME LIKE A ROCK and HARD CANDY!

Hi there! I’m so happy to share TWO reviews for contemporary New Adult M/M romance books from Amy Jo Cousins. I’ve been a fan of the Bend or Break series, and read several of the books including OFF CAMPUS, NOTHING LIKE PARIS, and REAL WORLD. Both LOVE ME LIKE A ROCK and HARD CANDY are spin-offs from LEVEL HANDS, which I also enjoyed. These two long novellas feature a besties-with-benefits relationship that doesn’t work, and how these guys find the love that fits them just right.

Love Me Like a Rock (Bend or Break, #6)About LOVE ME LIKE A ROCK:

In art and in love, it’s the rough edges that make things interesting.

Having grown up with artistic implements always in hand, there’s almost nothing Austin can’t make real. Except for one thing—an official relationship with his best friend, rowing teammate and occasional hookup, Vinnie.

The combination of emotional and sexual frustration fuels a spark between Austin and the nude model in his drawing class. Austin isn’t used to having trouble focusing; models are merely challenging subjects to be rendered on paper. But the geology TA’s direct blue gaze is powerful enough to drag Austin’s focus away from his physique.

After a quick and very dirty post-class encounter, all the reasons that Austin has been waiting for his best friend go fuzzy in his mind. Sean is nothing like Vinnie. Sean is persistent, pays attention, and makes it clear he wants to be together.

But if Austin can’t get his head and his heart on the same page, he could lose his friend, or his lover. Or both.

Warning: Contains rock geeks, tent sex, a dictatorial cox whose idea of a good time is drawing naked dudes, plus one naked dude who wants to be more than a good time.

My Review:
While this is part of an extended series, it can be fully enjoyed on its own.

Austin and Vinnie have been best friends, and casual sex partners, for seven years. They are juniors at college and both on the crew team, Vinnie as a rower and Austin as coxswain. Austin is an art student who longs for a serious relationship with Vinnie. It seems that Vinnie’s only interested in having a physical relationship with Austin after he’s settled all of his own issues with school–and then he gets drunk and tries to hook-up with Austin. It’s a bit demoralizing for Austin who tells this story.

While at a live drawing night Austin finds himself to be unexpectedly attracted to the nude model, Sean. Sean makes no pretense of not being interested. He’s been following Austin for while–hoping to gain his attention. Austin finds this to be remarkable, and exciting. Such a contrast to closed-off and unavailable Vinnie. While the attraction is intense, Austin is quick to let Sean know that he’s not exactly looking for anything serious. Austin has this heartbreaking-misplaced loyalty to his bestie, Vinnie. He doesn’t want to give up on their friendship, and arrangement, especially for someone new who may not stick around. As Austin and Sean spend more and more time together, however, Austin finds exactly what he’d always needed from a partner. His affection for Vinnie remains, though his interest in continuing their sexual relationship has totally waned. Mostly because he and Sean are rather insatiable for each other.

What started as a casual affair becomes the most important thing–and Austin learns to value himself more because he sees that he’s worthy of great love. I really dug this book. It’s so sweet and totally sexy and I loved how Austin and Vinnie worked things out, despite the strain of Austin’s new love. Sean is a rock, in more than one way, and he’s so lovely and passionate and compassionate. I had a couple *squee* moments on Austin’s behalf.

Hard Candy (Bend or Break, #7)About HARD CANDY:
How to get over someone? Get under someone else—as soon as possible.

Vincent Lim always assumed his best friend (and occasional hookup) Austin would be waiting for him—that eventually they’d end up together. But now that Austin’s in love with another man, Vinnie is at a loss.

After the world’s most awkward one-night stand with a dance major, Vinnie knows the drill. Minimize the embarrassment by pretending they’ve never met. Yet Bryan’s vibrant spirit and calm center lure Vinnie like a shelter from an emotional storm.

But Vinnie’s thrown off his game by the rest of Bryan’s total package. Vinnie’s a rowing jock with a single-minded focus on living up to his parents’ academic and social expectations. Bryan might as well be outfitted with glittery butterfly wings—with plenty of pride to match. Vinnie’s haphazard attention to a lover won’t cut it this time.

Physically, they can match each other stroke for booty pop. But for the lovers to meet on common ground, they’ll have to find a way to get moving in the same direction.

Warning: Contains one uptight rower, a dancer who can rock a skirt like nobody’s business, yoga lessons, and the benefits of being very bendy.

My Review:
This is the 7th book in a larger series and probably best enjoyed after reading LOVE ME LIKE A ROCK (Bend or Break #6).

Vincent Lim is a rower, worry-wort and dedicated student. He’s never had time for a boyfriend and only occasionally hooked up with his bestie, Austin, when he had a night to spare getting drunk and laid, in that order. This wasn’t enough of a commitment for Austin who found a real boyfriend in LOVE ME LIKE A ROCK. Vinnie’s now left out, naturally, and, in one of his weaker moments attempts a drunken hook-up with Bryan, a flamboyant, out-gay, femme dancer in their college. He’s a sweet and sassy mix, this Bryan, and he’s got an aloofness that intrigues Vinnie.

Vinnie has never pictured himself with anyone who wasn’t like himself, really. Sure, he liked Austin, but he truly felt Austin was a bit flaky, I think. Bryan is not a man to be set on the shelf. Vinnie doesn’t want to like him, but he is drawn to Bryan’s vulnerability, and his steadfastness. Also, they are more of a match than Austin and Vinnie ever were when it comes to sexual compatibility. Vinnie relishes the closeness and sensuality of his experiences with Bryan, which are mutually satisfying without all the “mess” of sex.

I liked how Vinnie continued to challenge himself regarding his fledgling relationship with Bryan. He knows that he has to work at it, and soon finds that it’s not actually work at all to spend time with such a compassionate man. They develop an intimacy that is comfortable with companionship. Vinnie has plenty of moments to distance himself from Bryan, and he chooses to step closer, even when it catapults him outside of his comfort zone. Introductions to friends, teammates, and family are riddled with danger, and yet, Vinnie avoids almost all the missteps he’d have made with Austin. His growth as a character was exceptional, and it was clear that Bryan neither expected nor demanded this to occur, though there is a bit of trouble over Bryan’s continued harassment at the hands of some homophobic students. Vinnie’s commitment to being a real partner to Bryan is what makes this story fantastic.

Also, I really enjoyed the inclusion of different cultures here. Bryan is black and Vincent is Korean-American–the expectations, and acceptance, of their families are very different. That was well-demonstrated here, and, while a bit heartbreaking, was also poignant and real. Great story!

Interested? You can find these books here:
LOVE ME LIKE A ROCK: Goodreads, Samhain Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and AllRomance.

HARD CANDY: Goodreads, Samhain Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and AllRomance.

I received a review copy of these books via NetGalley.

Amy Jo CousinsAbout the Author:
Amy Jo Cousins writes contemporary romance and erotica about smart people finding their own best kind of smexy. She lives in Chicago with her son, where she tweets too much, sometimes runs really far, and waits for the Cubs to win the World Series. Amy Jo is represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan of Greenburger Associates.

Readers interested in autographed copies of Amy Jo’s paperback books can order them from Chicago’s fabulous independent bookstore, The Book Cellar. They can ship anywhere, and will email me to let me know there are books to be signed if you care to order them!

You can find Amy Jo online on her website, Goodreads, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Disaster Awaits FINDING NORTH–Review and Giveaway

RB Banner(2)Hi there! I’m sharing a review for a new contemporary M/M romance from Carmen Jenner  that really gets raw–and that’s not the best thing. FINDING NORTH is a reconnection romance between childhood loves that were separated by hate, but not distance. It’s a real struggle for these soulmates to find peace together in their homophobic corner of Australia.

Catch an excerpt, my review and get in on the $50 Amazon Gift Card giveaway below.

Finding North Ebook CoverAbout the book:
Red Maine’s blue-collared bad boy, North Underwood, has a dirty little secret—Will Tanner.

Friends since kindergarten, North had been the one to jump first, and his fall into Will’s bed ten years ago had been no exception. Will and North had been inseparable, but things change, people grow apart, and even a blazing flame can dwindle to a dying ember over time.

The more things change the more they stay the same.
After a run in with a bottle of Bundy rum, Will and North find themselves in a compromising and all too familiar position. Blurred lines, bad decisions, and one wrong foot after another lead these two down a spiral of sarcasm, secrets, and sex, but when North’s hetero status is called into question he can’t figure up from down. And despite Will telling himself he wouldn’t fall again, he’s head over heels and wandering without a compass.

Love is love.
Love is truth.
Love … shouldn’t be this damn hard to figure out.

How about a little taste?

I push my glass towards him for another refill, downing the shot of liquid courage. “You ever think about what might have been?”

Will scoffs and sets his glass down. “You’re seriously asking me this?”

“What?” I say, getting pissy now, because he acts as though he’s the only one who lost something. “I can’t ask a question?”

He takes another sip, avoiding my gaze. The humour has left his face; his mouth forms a tight line as he stares down into his drink. “You can’t ask that question.”

“Okay then,” I say, agitated that he’s calling the shots. I ask a question I’ve been wanting the answer to for a very long time. “Why didn’t you leave?”

“Jesus, not you too.” Will shakes his head. “You sound like Josh.”

“Who the hell is Josh?”

He slams back the rest of his drink and beats his fist against his chest. “Fuck buddy.”

“You have a fuck buddy?” I clench my jaw. I’m starting to see why Bundy has a bad name. Right now, I’d like to find Josh and beat his fucking head in.

Will laughs. “Look at you getting all jealous.”

Is he fucking kidding me?

“How long?” I say through my teeth.

“How long have I been fucking him? Or how long is his cock? It’s about five for both.”

“Five what?” I snap. “Days? Weeks?”

“Months.” He rests his elbow on the bar, dangling his glass from his long fingers. “And inches.”

“You been fucking this Josh for five months, and you didn’t think to mention it?”

“I’ve fucked a lot of men in the last twelve years, North. Why would I mention any of them to you?”

“I kissed you.”

“Yeah, and I didn’t ask for it,” he says, swirling the liquor in his glass. “How many women have you slept with in the past twelve years?”

I don’t have an answer for him. I don’t even remember half of their names, only that I was fumbling around in a drunken stupor, trying to grab onto just a little bit of happiness. On the outside I have all my shit together, but inwardly I’m hollow. I’m the worthless piece of shit my father always told me I was, and I’d bury my dick in anyone in an attempt to find something that made me feel even half of what Will had that summer.

My Review:

Will and North are two thirty year old men who grew up the best of friends in Red Maine, Australia. They were inseparable and Will was hopelessly in love with North. Growing up in this small, working-class town, both Will and North were raised by their fathers–North’s mother committed suicide when he was young, and Will’s mother abandoned them. While Will’s father was kind, compassionate and loving–accepting Will’s sexuality with nary a complaint, North’s father was an abusive drunk, and a homophobic bigot. Time changes nothing in Red Maine.

Will and North are enemies as adults. North cast Will out, refusing to associate with him any more after they turned 18 and Will’s sexuality became common knowledge. Will works hard at his family’s bar, picking up the brunt of the labor since his father’s stroke. He keeps a low profile and speaks absolutely never to his old mate, North. Thing is, North has been putting himself in Will’s way of late, and it seems that he wants to get physical. Something Will hates himself for wanting, after twelve years of silent seething over North’s complete betrayal.

This is a fantastic enemies-to-lovers, second-chance romance. Will is so frustrated, with North and himself, and he’s not simply going to let North off the hook for wanting to “play gay.” As the story unfolds the reader get’s both Will and North POVs recollecting their lives in the past and present, with their first steps toward embracing the passion that they share for one another.

The dynamics between Will and North are appropriately strained for two men who’ve had such a troubled past. Add to that North’s abusive relationship with his father and we see that the narrative Will had embraced for the past twelve years has been tainted by his own shame and loss. Will is reasonably skeptical that North will ever be able to embrace a real relationship with him. And North is not ready to come out, at all. Their world is sheltered, bigoted, and dangerous–and North has had first-hand experience with violence his entire life. Even as a man grown, he’s knows better than to indiscriminately poke his bear of a father.

This book contains disturbing scenes, from dubious consent to domestic violence to a violent hate crime. It is raw in it’s portrayal of this romance, and kept me riveted due to the nagging fear that this was all going to go very,very wrong. The end was spectacular, a happy ending that befitted the rotten start Will and North had in life and love.

Interested? You can find FINDING NORTH on Goodreads, Release Day Sale of $.99 on Amazon (US, UK, CA, and AU), iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Carmen Jenner is a thirty-something, USA TODAY and international bestselling author of the Sugartown, Savage Saints, and Taint series.

Her dark romance, KICK (Savage Saints MC #1), won Best Dark Romance Read in the Reader’s Choice Awards at RWDU 2015.

A tattoo enthusiast, hardcore MAC addict and zombie fangirl, Carmen lives on the sunny north coast of New South Wales, Australia, where she spends her time indoors wrangling her two wildling children, a dog named Pikelet, and her very own man-child.

A romantic at heart, Carmen strives to give her characters the HEA they deserve, but not before ruining their lives completely first … because what’s a happily ever after without a little torture?

Catch up with Carmen online on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon.

Hard Work in WORK BOOTS AND TEES–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a newly-released a YA M/M story from Jo Ramsey. WORK BOOTS & TEES features the redemption of a deeply troubled boy who needs forgiveness, even from himself. This is the fifth book in a series–and probably needs to be read after SHOULDER PADS AND FLANNEL, at the very least.

Trigger warnings: child molestation, homophobia, acquaintance rape, depression, suicide.

Work Boots and Tees (Deep Secrets and Hope #5)About the book:
Sixteen-year-old Jim Frankel has become the thing he loathes, and he can’t stand thinking about what he has done.

After being accused of sexual assault by two girls, Jim serves out his sentence in a juvenile detention facility. He’s shocked by the arrest for what he thought was consensual sex, and terrified his own childhood sexual abuse has twisted him into a predator—just like the man who molested him.

Upon release, Jim is no longer welcome at his family home, and with nowhere else to turn, he travels from Massachusetts to Michigan to live with his father’s cousin, Delia. Keeping his head down, Jim works hard at Delia’s art supply shop and prays no one will find out about the awful crime he committed. It’s his chance for a new beginning, but when he makes his first friend in Man-Shik Park, Jim is afraid to let him get too close. But by walling himself off from the support Manny’s offering, Jim might sabotage the opportunities in front of him.

My Review:
There are some plot points revealed in this review that COULD be considered spoilers.

At nearly 17 y/o Jim is a cast-off teen, recently out of juvenile detention for the acquaintance rape of two of his girlfriends. This is a pretty murky issue, as I will explain a bit. See, Jim is a survivor of sexual, emotional and physical abuse–from his mother’s boyfriend, father and stepfather, respectively. He has had no counseling, never told anyone about the (very young) sex abuse, and he grew up an angry angry boy–bullying all and sundry. He intimidated so many of his peers that his overbearing nature led to him into “forcing” two girls of his acquaintance into sexual acts that they later claimed were non-consensual. There was no malice in the moment, but it was clearly a very problematic scenario. The girls felt too intimidated to say “no” and it later came out that they didn’t want to–Jim was sentenced to one month of detention, is on probation until age 18 and is registered as a sex offender until age 21. If he has no repeat offenses and continues his weekly court-mandated counseling his record will be cleared. (These are the parameters of his criminal record as outlined many times by the author. In her notes, she concedes that it is likely that Jim would have not served any time based on the testimony of the girls and other reviewers contest that Jim did not commit rape. Given that I have no expertise in this area I am going with this scenario as written, and will only address my opinion of the writing, not the likelihood of the legalities…)

Jim’s mother wants nothing to do with him, his father wants nothing to do with him, and he’s been sent from his small Mass. town to live in a small Michigan town with a distant cousin of his father’s, Delia. Delia is a kind and compassionate woman, and Jim is agoraphobic, constantly afraid that someone will learn of his history and bar him from working at Delia’s art shop. He refuses to attend high school, sure that he’ll be a pariah, or someone will learn of his history. Before the rape accusations, Jim was charged with assault for beating up an out-gay boy in his school (Evan from Book 1 of this series: NAIL POLISH AND FEATHERS). He’s also extremely self-loathing. He is ashamed of his abuse, and ashamed of his actions and ashamed that he’s attracted to boys. He’s not sure if he’s attracted to boys because he was born gay, or because he was molested by a man and that somehow “turned” him. And, he’s ashamed of that, too. He wants to serve out his probation hiding in Delia’s storeroom and getting a GED and being invisible.

Unfortunately he meets a boy that doesn’t want him to be invisible. Manny is a queer boy who is not exactly out, and not exactly in–he’s Ace (asexual) but thinks he’s attracted to boys. He wants to be friends with Jim, but Jim doesn’t feel worthy to the task. In the background, Jim’s suffering panic attacks over his Facebook account which has been littered with hate, on account of all his previous issues back home. He can’t bring himself to delete the page, however, because self-loathing Jim thinks he should be eternally reminded of his mistakes, and suffer duly. Delia tries and tries to reach Jim, but can’t. Depression takes over and there’s a touch-and-go scenario that results in hospitalization.

This book series is built upon the premise of kids in tough situations making decisions that empower them. Jim doesn’t make these decisions until late in the book. He seeks help for his long-standing depression over his abuse and molestation, he does the hard work of self-examination and he begins to heal. He discusses his history in confidence and that results in further trouble–and new alliances. He finally believes Delia and starts to accept that he’s not the monster that he’s built himself up in his mind, and he begins to see that he is worthy of love, and affection. There are some truly heartbreaking revelations in the book.

While the legal issues Jim faces may not be severe enough, or too severe for others, the fact remains that Jim is a boy on a collision course with disaster before he arrives in Michigan. He is, by turns, neglected and abused and his rage is the product of this horrific upbringing. His self-hate is killing him, and it is only through being honest and getting the support and help he needs that he is able to get out of this dangerous path. Jim makes amends the best he can–by hard work, and living honestly and doing his counseling, and for some this is probably not “justice,” and for others it is simply what was necessary to keep Jim alive. The book ends in hope–as do all the others. I really appreciated the clear delineations Delia and Jim’s counselors give him. I like how he meets people who have been in positions like his, and persevered. Having known molestation survivors, I believe that there are accurate representations of an abuse survivor’s mental landscape here.

This is a hard read, because it deals with really hard topics. Jim was the bully and monster of a few books in this series, and now the audience is tasked with finding Jim a sympathetic character who should be forgiven. I don’t think this is out of the realm of possibility. I certainly found Jim redeemable, and had suspected from the earlier books that he was a closet case. That said, I’m not sure how his story will sit with younger readers. For myself, a white het woman, I have the ability to forgive much. I’m not a questioning teen who may be the subject of homophobic hate, or an adult who barely survived high school bullying–both of whom would be possible readers in this genre. So, the book is good, but it’s going to be controversial for many reasons–most particularly surrounding  the rape accusations, I believe.

Interested? You can find WORK BOOTS & TEES on Goodreads, Dreamspinner Press, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Jo Ramsey started writing when she was five years old and hasn’t stopped since. Between ages 12 and 20, she wrote twenty book-length manuscripts, longhand in spiral notebooks which now dwell in the bottom drawer of her filing cabinet. Jo’s first YA novel, Reality Shift 1: Connection, was published in January 2010, followed in October 2010 by book 2: Filtration System. Jo lives in Massachusetts with her two daughters, her husband, and two cats, one of whom occasionally tries to help her type.

Catch up with Jo on Goodreads, her website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Living in THE WORLD AS HE SEES IT–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M romance from AM Arthur. THE WORLD AS HE SEES IT is an intense look at living normally after surviving a hate crime. It’s the sequel to THE TRUTH AS HE KNOWS IT but is enjoyable on it’s own.

The World As He Sees It (Perspectives #2)About the book:
Love knows no limits…but fear could keep them from seeing it.
Gabe lives a double life. As Gabriel Henson, he works multiple jobs to support his remorseless, alcoholic mother. As Tony Ryder, he does internet porn for extra cash and regular safe sex without complications.

Yet when he encounters a scared young man freaking out in a night club, he’s compelled to reach out. Ever since then, the memory of that young man has haunted him.

Tristan Lavelle lives his life thirty minutes at a time. After a traumatic brain injury three years ago, he gets through his day recording his life in spiral notebooks and sticky note reminders.

A month after Tristan’s embarrassingly public meltdown, another chance meeting with Gabe sparks a warm, emotionally fulfilling email relationship. Both men crave more, but fear of the next step stands between them.

Until Tristan gets the opportunity to take part in a clinical trial that could improve his memory—if the side effects don’t kill him. But for Tristan, the possibility of a real life with Gabe is worth any risk…

Warning: Contains two damaged but lovable heroes, secret-keeping friends with good intentions, and an abundance of inappropriate food innuendo.

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

Tristan and Gabe met once in the bathroom of the gay bar Gabe’s fathers own, Big Dick’s, in the previous book in this series. Gabe was struck by Tristan’s vulnerability, it flipped all his care-taking switches, when Tristan had a panic attack after he forgot where he was. This book picks up two months later when Tristan returns to Big Dick’s with his friends Noah and Shane–and Gabe takes total care of them.

See, Tristan was gay bashed three years prior and his short-term memory is around 30 minutes. He copes by taking copious notes of all his interactions. His best friend, Noah, was also attacked with him–though Noah came out of it with only physical and emotional scars. Noah visits Tristan twice a week, oftentimes with his boyfriend, Shane. (The previous book was about Shane and Noah, and they have important recurring roles here.)

Gabe knows Shane from work–well in a couple ways. Gabe has been a gay porn actor for two years and did a few scenes with Shane in the previous book. He knew Shane wanted to get out of porn, so he helped Shane to get hired as a go-go dancer at Big Dick’s. They are friendly, though there is no spark between them.

There is, however, a BIG SPARK for Gabe and Tristan. Gabe is drawn to Tristan, and wants to protect him. Gabe has his own troubles, though. He is living with, and paying the mortgage for, his verbally and physically abusive alcoholic mother. She never got over her husband being a closeted gay man, and Gabe suffered her abuse and disease for some time, before he was raised by his dads.

Tristan’s memory is a problem that Gabe works through by having email communication. This way, Tristan has a physical record of their connection. In addition, they video chat and Gabe begins to make an impression in Tristan’s mind. Add to this, Tristan is offered inclusion in a drug trial that may increase his short-term memory retention. The risks can be severe and debilitating, but they are worth it for him to try.

This is a sweet and sexy story that really felt complete. I liked Gabe bunches. He’s a caring and compassionate lonely man. And Tristan is the same. He has been kicked, beaten and kicked again when he was down. Yet, he does look for a better life, a whole life that he can share with someone he loves. Gabe seems to be that man, but what will Tristan think about his mom? Or, the porn?

The results were positive, and smoking hot. I never felt like either man was “settling.” There was genuine attraction and affection throughout. Each man was as honest as he could be, and the full truth was not nearly as devastating as they expected. Expect an HEA and two guys who wear each other out the second they get some alone-time. (Or, “semi” alone-time.)

Interested? You can find THE WORLD AS HE SEES IT on Goodreads, Samhain Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and AllRomance. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:

No stranger to the writing world, A.M. Arthur has been creating stories in her head since she was a child and scribbling them down nearly as long. She credits an early fascination with male friendships and “bromance” (and “The Young Riders”) with her later discovery of and subsequent affair with m/m romance stories. When not writing, she can be found in her kitchen, pretending she’s an amateur chef and trying to not poison herself or others with her cuisine experiments. You can contact her at AM_Arthur(at)yahoo(dot)com