Clare London, Dreamspinner Press, Small Gems

Small Gems – Switch (True Colors #4) by Clare London

Mystery and murder are set against a backdrop of the sexy and sophisticated art world, where wealthy businessman Miles Winter and temperamental bad-boy artist Zeke Roswell were introduced in True Colors, the full length novel that’s now been followed by three erotic short stories: Ambush, Payback, and the latest release, Switch.

To say that these two men got off to a bit of a slow and less than promising start is an understatement. For one, Miles was in a relationship with a woman at the time the two men met, and Zeke…well, Zeke was in an incredibly bad place, both professionally and emotionally, after his brother’s tragic and untimely death in a fire that was deemed to have been an unfortunate accident. Zeke had always lived in Jackie’s artistic shadow, and now he lives in the shadows of unresolved feelings that torment him and cause a downward spiral from which Miles unintentionally rescues Zeke, by giving him an opportunity to climb out from under the despair that weighs him down, and to carve out a career based upon his own considerable talents.

Though they began as adversaries, the undeniable attraction the two men feel for each other soon overwhelms any sort of logic that might be used to explain their compulsion to be together. The truth of the matter is that they work, the successful artist and the color-blind businessman, and that’s what ultimately matters.

With the mystery of Jackie’s murder solved by the end of True Colors, Miles and Zeke are free to move forward, and in the three subsequent short stories in this series, they move forward in a decidedly erotic fashion, as Miles and Zeke discover new and exciting ways to heat up their relationship.

In Switch, the two men establish a new level of intimacy, both emotionally and physically, and Clare London ably manages to mix equal portions of romance and unrestrained lust in this steamy and sensual short which also appears to mark a turning point in Miles and Zeke’s relationship.

They’ve been ambushed, paid back, and switched. I’m not sure what’s next, but I’m looking forward to seeing where the next sexy tale goes.

Buy Switch HERE.

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Bold Strokes Books, Ken O'Neill

The Marrying Kind by Ken O’Neill

There are universally accepted themes in drama that are guaranteed to, if not draw tears, at a minimum will tug a bit at the heartstrings of every well-adjusted human being. Charming a reader into loving a character and then killing that character at the end of a book—sad. Tragic romance, star-crossed lovers destined never to have their happily-ever-after—sad. War, pestilence, famine—sad, sad, sad. Everyone can relate on some emotional level to those things.

Comedy, however—comedy can be a hit-or-miss proposition. Comedy is entirely subjective. It’s cultural; what a person finds funny may be influenced by race, religion, sex, or current state of mind. How else do you explain the Three Stooges? Or France’s obsession with Jerry Lewis? Carrot Top, anyone?

So when Ken O’Neill approached me about reading his debut novel The Marrying Kind, I have to admit I was intrigued. I feel like I have a pretty broad sense of humor, though I do have my limits. I think Joan Rivers is that limit for me. But I digress. If you don’t believe a topic as politically and socially relevant as the fight for marriage equality can be funny, you need to give this book a try, because Mr. O’Neill has managed to inject humor and heart into what many take for granted as an inalienable right.

The Marrying Kind is an Adam and Steve story. Literally. Well, technically it’s Adam and Steven. (Stavri, if his Romanian mother is really trying to get his attention.) But you get the point.

Set in New York City in 2007, before the state of New York boldly leapt from the dark ages and legalized same-sex marriage, the story follows Adam More and Steven Worth, who are six years into their relationship. Steven is a writer for The Gay New York Times, a small press, free publication owned and operated by his ex-boyfriend Brad, and Adam is in the business of catering to the institution of marriage. He’s a hugely successful wedding planner whose considerable talents are in high demand, but Adam’s career satisfaction begins to wane when thoughts of his own relationship and his commitment to Steven and his inability to make it legal juxtaposes how he makes his living.

When the hypocrisy of it all becomes too overwhelming, Adam decides to quit the wedding planning business, as well as to boycott anything that even marginally supports the heterosexual marriage agenda, and he and Steven embark upon a plan to rally the troops and make a statement about the injustice of it all. Caterers, florists, bakers—anyone who has a stake in the wedding industry is in some way influenced or affected by the Worth-More cause, but their cause also has a trickle-down effect when it creates drama within their own families.

This is the story of the moral dilemma between being true to oneself and doing what’s expected of you to keep peace within the family. Adam’s sister and Steven’s brother (who is a baker himself, whose business is directly affected by Adam and Steven’s cause) have finally decided to tie the knot, and they want Adam to plan the wedding, but not only does Adam refuse the plan it, he and Steven refuse to even attend it, (or any wedding, for that matter) which is a conflict that pits siblings against each other, and draws the family matriarchs into a guilt inducing, bribery making trip down the aisle of angst.

The conflict causes friction in Adam and Steven’s own relationship, as well, as they weigh conscience against loyalty, love against politics. Both sides have a point but neither wants to concede their point, until the guilt begins to consume Steven and his concession ultimately takes its toll on his relationship with Adam.

Told from Steven’s point-of-view, this book addresses an incredibly weighty topic, in an entirely charming way. It’s populated by a host of winning characters who help to tell Steven’s story. There is a particularly climactic moment at the end of the book that effectively drives home the point about the legal rights of partners that people like me, someone who’s been married for twenty-one years, take for granted until my eyes are opened to the inequity of the smallest technicalities that make a world of difference.

Not everyone wants or needs a piece of paper to seal their spiritual bond, but for those who do, for those who want and need it, they should have that right. It’s not a question of politics. It’s a question of compassion.

If you’re interested in learning a bit more about Adam and Steven’s movement, visit TheMarryingKind.Org

Pre-order The Marrying Kind HERE.

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Hayden Thorne, Queerteen Press, Small Gems

Small Gems – The Water-Irises by Hayden Thorne

Hugh LaCaille is a man of letters. He is a man who doesn’t believe in or have patience for anything that can’t be proven through logic or science. He’s so deeply immersed in his intellectual pursuits, in fact, as to be considered reclusive by others. Hugh is the consummate teacher who, in Hayden Thorne’s The Water-Irises, becomes the unexpected student to a young man whose father regards him as little more than a commodity to trade against a successful future in business.

The Water-Irises is the wondrous tale of a boy you might call fanciful if you were being generous, though frivolous and undisciplined are two words his father and Hugh might use to describe him.

Aubin Fornier is a thoroughly romantic soul whose chosen language is literature and poetry, and while he’s a bright and capable pupil, he’s not interested in applying himself to the unyielding principles of the academic pursuits. His spirit begins to wither under the forcefulness of his father’s harsh and demanding desire to mold his son into someone he’s not meant to be, even as the man’s son refuses to surrender himself to a life not of his own making. Aubin’s world is a fantastical place where mysterious realms exist that cannot be explained by the scientific method, and it’s a world inside the water which ultimately teaches Hugh that seeing is believing and believing is seeing.

The Water-Irises is a story of acceptance and of faith, told in a world within a world of dreams and magic. It is a classically beautiful fairy tale, enchanting and lush and idyllic in every way.

Buy The Water-Irises HERE.

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4 Stars, Valerie Z. Lewis

The Epic Love Story of Doug and Stephen by Valerie Z. Lewis

Epic is probably overstating things a bit. For that matter, love story is overstating things by a large margin, but that’s irony for you, and The Epic Love Story of Doug and Stephen is full of it.

Doug Bruce is…special, which is a really PC way of saying he’s a bit wrong-headed, but once you meet his mother, it begins to make a lot more sense. Plus, he’s from Indiana, which goes a long way in explaining his lack of…sophistication. Sh, I’m a Hoosier, so I can make fun if I want to.

Doug’s some kind of genius when it comes to cars, but once he leaves Evansville and moves to New York City, that genius evaporates like the smoke from all the weed he inhales, but Doug likely wouldn’t understand the meaning of the word “inhales” anyway, or “evaporates”, for that matter, so it’s all relative. He’s beautiful, so no one expects him to be smart. All he has to do is stand in front of a camera, naked, and pretend to sell clothes he doesn’t even wear. He’s supposed to write articles about those clothes for The Flame, the magazine he works for, but really, how much can one say about a pair of underwear that you’ve held in front of your naughty bits for a photograph? It’s a challenge for a man who does things like swallows buttons and eats erasers and tries to shoot rubberbands through gaps in the ceiling tiles, nearly putting his eye out in the process. Doug’s a simple guy.

Stephen Keane is a psychological hypochondriac, but really, he’s just evil and kind of honked off at the entire world and all who inhabit it. He doesn’t have a mental disorder; he just has a bad attitude, but it seems to make him feel better if he can give it a clinical name, like high-functioning Bipolar. Stephen is what you might call underutilized in his position of Managing Editor at The Flame. Stephen wants to write socially relevant articles that inform and educate, to be a voice for the voiceless, but he ends up writing articles about gay-friendly vacation spots in the Catskills, instead. But all that does is make him angrier, which makes it even funnier when Doug–a previously straight Doug—falls head over heels in love with Stephen, even though Stephen calls Doug really un-PC names and isn’t at all nice.

There’s a plot here too, which seriously pokes at corruption in the insurance industry and makes a point about domestic partnerships, which leads to a Law & Order inspired investigation that’s laughably incompetent, mainly because it involves a homeless accountant, a drug dealer, a photographer, and Doug, who’s idea of a “diverging” is to strip naked in the lobby of corporate giant “GlobalTech” so Stephen can steal information he needs to expose its corruption.

If you decide to take a chance on this FREE story, (and really, for the price, there’s nothing to lose) make sure your sense of humor is completely intact. There’s nothing at all serious about it, except for the fact that it seriously skewers some of the most familiar tropes in romance. Valerie Z. Lewis pokes fun at insta-love and gay-for-you and impossibly beautiful men. I mean, one’s about as bright as a small appliance bulb, the other is about as cuddly as the love child of Satan and Charles Manson. And somehow, they kind of work together.

Vivien Leigh once said, “It’s much easier to make people cry than to make them laugh.” I have to say there were times in this book where I laughed until I cried.

Download The Epic Love Story of Doug and Stephen HERE.

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5 Stars, Carole Cummings, Dreamspinner Press

Koan (Wolf’s-own #3) by Carole Cummings

I think I’ll just take a Xanax and a bottle of gin and go curl up in a corner now because, let me tell you, if I didn’t have some sort of anxiety disorder before reading Koan, I think I do now.

I was going to make that my review. Just that. But please, I could never limit myself to just that where this series is concerned. It’s too much fun to try and analyze it, for me not to give it my full and undivided love and attention.

Years ago, I read a book by the late Joseph Campbell titled The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Originally published in 1949, Mr. Campbell set out to formulate a template for the hero’s journey, one in which the name of the hero doesn’t really matter because he is every one. What matters is the journey itself and how the protagonist of the story progresses through his or her quest, suffers all the trials and heartbreaks, dies the spiritual death, is purified, is reborn, and ultimately achieves a oneness of body and soul to collect the boon at the journey’s end. Now, that’s not to say that Joseph Campbell originated the concept of the monomyth, only that he named it and drew the lines to show the archetypes and alchemy of that journey. Since I read this, as well as his book The Power of Myth, I have to say I’ve never looked at another book in quite the same way again. In fact, I think I quit reading altogether. Now I just obsess.

And Jacin is my latest obsession. Jacin himself is a template. He is a trinity. He is the hero with three faces who has died a thousand small deaths. He is Fen and Jacin and Jacin-rei. He is Incendiary and Catalyst and Untouchable. And somehow, some way, this deadly beauty must find a way to tie all he is together and make peace with the scar that is his soul so that he may be reborn yet again. But now, he must carry on with this journey alone, to discover how to be human—not again, but for the first time. For the first time, he has given someone the gift of his name, his true name, because somewhere deep inside, he knows his name will be safe on the tongue of the one to whom he’s gifted it. The name is not insignificant, in spite of what one would have Jacin believe. Jacin has received the talisman, the unspoken promise of protection against the danger through which he is about to pass, that will help him in his quest, until the one who gifted it to him can return—I hope as the ultimate gift for Jacin.

Jacin has learned that in order to gain, he must also lose. That’s the Balance of Fate in the world in which he lives. If Jacin wants and hopes and needs and reaches out, it can be destroyed, so he’s learned not to allow himself the impulse. He has learned that he cannot want, because if he wants, he hopes; if he hopes, he feels; if he feels, he is vulnerable. If he’s vulnerable, he can no longer hide in the shadows because the shadows are no longer a part of who he is. He is exposed, raw, frightened, in pain, and once again a target and a tool in a deadly game between the gods and the banpair, the energy vampires who feed upon the power of emotions, and Jacin is their all-you-can-eat-buffet.

Sometimes the best way to describe what something is, is to describe what it isn’t. Jacin isn’t whole. He isn’t crazy, nor is he sane. He isn’t untouchable, nor is he unlovable. He isn’t perfect, nor is he invincible. He has been touched and he has been loved, but he isn’t ready to accept that he is worthy of either, nor does he know how to get to that point of acceptance yet. He isn’t a fool, nor is he free. He has not discovered that his life has meaning because he has not yet discovered the meaning of his life. He isn’t the Ghost, but he isn’t quite human either. Jacin isn’t your archetypical hero. He must fly to fall and fall to fly–to do that, he must let go.

”It is yours to reach for the light.” Jacin must find the light to escape the shadows. And I hope its brilliance is enough to burn away the damage of all that he’s endured. I hope that light is incendiary.

Buy Koan (Wolf’s-own #3) HERE.

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5 Stars, Andrea Speed, Dreamspinner Press

Infected: Shift (Infected #5) by Andrea Speed

No. No, no, no. A book cannot just end like that.

Okay, apparently it can, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Okay, apparently that’s not true either, because I loved it, which I suppose means that I more than liked it. ::sigh:: I think I get too involved with the characters in the books I read, which may or may not be entirely normal. The jury’s still out.

Is it just me, or does this series keep getting better? Roan McKichan keeps getting more complex, even as what he is and how (or if) he’ll survive it becomes more questionable. The love of his life, even in death, is still so much a part of him that Paris emerges as Roan’s conscience/subconscious/the light in Roan’s shadows to force him to confront and decipher what he feels. Absolute power may corrupt absolutely, but it helps to have a subliminal voice and conscious presence that aren’t afraid to swat you on the nose from time to time for your hubris and shortsightedness. Roan may find he needs that more and more as he evolves.

His boyfriend Dylan is so much a part of Roan that he keeps him tethered to what makes Roan human—his ability to love and the need to protect and to be connected to someone in a tangible way. The most difficult aspect of it to puzzle out at the moment is what does Roan want more: to die and be with Paris or to live and be with Dylan? Not only is Roan a hybrid of species, he’s also a hybrid of existence, balancing between life and death, conflicted by whether he’s a man with lionesque tendencies or a lion with human tendencies. The scales seem to be tipping toward the latter, but only time will tell if he will be able to find some symmetry between the two. Dylan and a growing circle of friends who have lain claim to Roan, a circle of friends who want to protect him in spite of how capable he is of protecting himself (maybe they’re protecting him from himself) may be the greatest equalizers. That is, if the noose that is Roan’s virus doesn’t yank the chair out from under him first.

Divided into two separate books, Shift and Bloodbath, the stories involve unrelated cases but are unified by the continuing storyline of Roan’s relationship with his Self, his virus, and with those who care so much whether he lives or dies. The contingent of those who’d like to see him dead seems to be growing, evidenced by the fact that they’re becoming bolder—much to their own idiocy. But the list of those who want to see him live is growing too, much to Roan’s benefit. Now he just needs to believe he’s worth their efforts. I can’t help but believe that the more people who want Roan to live can only make him want to live more. Either that or it’ll make him want to push them away for their own good. Roan’s stubborn like that.

There’s an Arabian proverb that says, “Death was afraid of him because he had the heart of a lion.” I hope Roan’s happy ending proves that proverb to be true.

I also hope I don’t have long to wait for book #6.

Buy Infected: Shift HERE.

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Ramblings

Hop Against Homophobia – Meet Derek and Ty

I wasn’t planning to do another Hop post. I’ll be perfectly honest with you: although I have a blog, I’m not what you’d actually call a blogger. I love to talk about the books I read, but otherwise, I’m really pretty boring. :) Yet here I am, blogging again, and all because I was inspired by a picture.

First of all, I want you to know that I was given clearance to post this photo. Derek and Ty are minors, and if I hadn’t gotten Derek’s permission to use it, these boys wouldn’t be here representing today.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll talk about why they’re here. I talked very briefly in This Post about how fortunate my kids are to be a part of a school system that supports and values the diversity of our children, to be part of an education system that believes its schools should be a safe place where children can focus on learning rather than worrying about the way they’ll be treated or if they’ll be accepted.

My daughter brought her yearbook home a couple of days ago, so we sat on the couch together and looked through the pictures. Her school is massive and I don’t know 99% of the kids who go there, but it’s still fun to sit down and share with her the things that are important to her. When we got to page forty-one in the book, we stopped and looked for a bit. It was a double-truck titled “For the Long Run” and featured photos of couples who’ve been together for a while. I looked. And looking back at me was this picture of Derek and Ty, who’ve been dating since March 27, 2011. For the long run. What makes this photograph so remarkable isn’t that Derek and Ty have been together for more than a year. No, what makes it so remarkable is that there was no reluctance at all from the yearbook staff or the school to acknowledge that relationship, to show that it is a real and lasting connection.

There’s a quote from another student, discussing how he and his boyfriend met through a mutual friend, and while Justin initially wanted to be just friends, he finally asked Josh out, and now they’ve been a couple for more than a year, as well. For the long run.

Is this an anomaly? Are there other schools out there willing to stand up against those who might cry “Foul!” and use intolerance to try and suppress the concept that love is not something that can be compartmentalized into a tidy little cubicle of right and wrong to suit a person’s belief system? I don’t know. Maybe we’re just terribly, terribly fortunate. For that, I feel so blessed.

I’d be interested to hear if this picture caused any red flags to go up from parents in our community, because all I see when I look at it is the beauty of a couple who’re in love.

When my daughter asked Derek if he minded that I talk about him and Ty, she said he got very excited when he found out why. He told my daughter, “Tell your mom thanks for not being a hater.”

How can there ever be hate in the presence of love?

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5 Stars, Abigail Roux, Dreamspinner Press

Armed & Dangerous (Cut & Run #5) by Abigail Roux

Aw, the short bus to Happytown has finally arrived and it looks like maybe, just maybe, Ty Grady and Zane Garrett remembered to get on and have bought a one-way ticket there. It seems Agents Grady and Garrett have figured out that if their relationship is going to survive, they’ve got to remember to be just plain old Ty and Zane every once in a while. And plain old Ty and plain old Zane kind of dig each other in far out and unusual ways. Yeah, the “L” word comes up a lot in Armed & Dangerous, and boy, once they discovered it wasn’t so scary to say it, they also discovered it wasn’t so scary to really mean it too.

And let me just say, it’s about time. Exclamation. Point. After the way Divide & Conquer ended, I was going to start sending them all my therapy bills.

If you haven’t read Warrior’s Cross yet, read it before you read Armed & Dangerous. It’s a must, not only because to know Julian Cross is to L-O-V-E him, but also because…well, no, reading it for Julian is more than enough. But if you don’t read it, you might be a little lost trying to follow the Grady/Garrett tour de force, as their latest directive takes them to Chicago to haul Julian, the deadliest antiques dealer on the planet, and by default, Julian’s lover Cameron Jacobs, back to Washington, DC. There’s lots of cloak and dagger stuff going on with “The Company” and “The Feebs” and Julian is at the very twisted heart of it. Ty and Zane have their orders, but right about the time they think they’re just doing their job, everything goes arse over tea kettle, and the next thing you know the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and all four of the men are on the lam, and you don’t know who’s trying to kill whom, or who wants to kill whom. Except for maybe Julian and Ty. There were times it was very clear they’d gladly have killed each other just to blow off a little steam. It was delicious.

Witnessing Ty and Julian match wits in this book was a joy to behold. They’re both too smart and devious and tenacious for their own good, and are more than a handful for their respective partners much of the time. Putting these four men together in one book was a stellar move—danger and mayhem lurked around nearly every corner, and when it didn’t, there was plenty of witty banter to go around. Not to mention some wickedly combustible lovin’ going on when Ty and Zane could manage a few moments alone together.

They’re in love and they admit it. Finally. Did I say that already?

There wasn’t a single moment of what felt like downtime in this book. It was nearly wall-to-wall action, and what wasn’t action was nothing less than a revelation, which meant progress. And progress is very, very good.

Grady and Garrett both lightened their emotional baggage by a fraction here. Yes, there is still some insecurity and uncertainty, and there’s too much that happened to both of them in the past, especially to Ty, for it to all just go away because they’ve decided they can’t, and won’t, live without each other. But they’re moving forward, even though there’s still that whole pesky no-no of fraternizing with co-agents to contend with. And just when they think they have it all figured out, hey, guess what, the FBI says they don’t. So, what do they do when so much of who they are is wrapped up in what they do? We shall see.

And that’s where the curtain comes down until next time. And this is where I say, “Well done, Abigail Roux. Keep ‘em coming.”

Buy Armed & Dangerous HERE.

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Ramblings

Hop Against Homophobia

Last month, a teenager at Arsenal Tech High School here in Indianapolis was reprimanded and eventually expelled for firing a stun gun at school. Why did Darnell “Dynasty” Young own a stun gun, let alone have it in his possession on school property? The answer is horrifying yet simple–his mother gave it to him because she didn’t know any other way to help her son cope with the bullying he endures on a daily basis.

When I saw this story on our local news, I was shocked and angry and saddened, as much by the desperation I felt as a mother myself–that I’d do anything to protect my children–as by the fact that the faculty and administrators of Darnell’s high school seem to feel that it was somehow his fault that he was being bullied in the first place. Darnell, you see, is what some might call flamboyant, and the powers-that-be at Arsenal Tech seem to equate Darnell’s mannerisms and the way he dresses as an open invitation for bullying, much the same way that society re-victimizes rape victims by believing that if they’d only dressed less provocatively, they’d never have been raped. The rationalization behind that mentality is so ass backwards that it terrifies me to think these people are in charge of molding and shaping future generations of this country’s youth.

I live in a northern suburb of Indianapolis, not far from Darnell’s neighborhood, in terms of miles, but worlds away in terms of advantages and opportunities. My community couldn’t be more typically middle to upper class Midwestern if it tried, though we are becoming more beautifully diverse. It’s wonderful to see how much my children’s classrooms have changed for the better over the years–they don’t look like a white-on-white 1950s television show anymore–but for all that, the families who populate the area still fit the Mom/Dad/2.2 kids demographic.

There’s one thing my community and our school district does very, very right, though. The administration has implemented a Zero Tolerance Bullying Policy, but even better than that, they enforce it, which is the important part in the equation. My daughter is a sixteen-year-old sophomore at one of the high schools in town, so I have inside information on the inner workings of her school. I know that there’s a Gay/Straight Alliance at her school. I know that the couples at her school who walk down the hallways holding hands and who sneak kisses by their lockers between classes aren’t all Male/Female. I know that gay and lesbian students go to the prom together–as couples–and I know that my daughter says that she’s never witnessed an incident of any of these couples being bullied on school property or at school sponsored functions.

I’m not so naive as to believe it doesn’t happen elsewhere, but I’m so proud to know that there are adults in charge of my children while they’re at school who value diversity and the right to live and to love openly.

Hop on over to the Hop Against Homophobia website and join some of the participating authors and organizations that are working for and celebrating our diversity.

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Love Lane Books, RJ Scott, Small Gems

Small Gem – Love Is in the Message (Love #3) by R.J. Scott

R.J. Scott’s Love Is… series had me at hello and has kept me on the line ever since, as Luke Holston and Cameron Anders, two teenage boys so close to taking that final step into adulthood, have managed to work their way through the uncertainty of finding just the right way to let someone know how you feel about them, to the worry of what it means not to hide the way you feel from the rest of the world, to the worry of what it means to take your relationship to the next level.

Love has always been the message in the series, and now Love Is in the Message, when a significant someone from Luke’s past resurfaces, not to cause problems, but with the hope to in some way atone for actions that could very well be unforgiveable. There are fears and emotions that Luke has kept bottled up inside of him and in the space of a moment, those feelings explode into a single act of reckoning against a bully who finally pushes Luke too far. Luke lashes out against the one tormentor within his reach who has done his best to demean Luke and steal his sense of self-respect. Eddie Holmes pays the price for everyone who has ever made Luke feel vulnerable and afraid.

But in spite of how much all the wrongs you’ve been dealt in your life make you want to rage against the injustice of it all, sometimes the only way to exorcise your demons is to simply forgive. The best revenge against those who torment you is to live your life and to be true to who you are.

This series has been written in a series of vignettes that have been sort of torturous, finishing one and then having to wait for the next. But thus far, R.J. Scott has made the wait worthwhile each time. I’m anxious to see what’s in store next for Luke and Cam, as high school graduation, then college, are just on the horizon.

Buy Love Is in the Message HERE.

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Hayden Thorne, Queerteen Press, Small Gems

Small Gem – The Bridge by Hayden Thorne

The path to true love for Remy Pépin and Alain Ètoile is bridged by superstition, a kind heart, and a candle in the window to light the way in The Bridge, the short and lovely story of two young men from very different walks of life who find their way to each other with a little maneuvering from good Fortune and a friend whose own ill fated romance compels her to play matchmaker.

Like the other short stories in Hayden Thorne’s recent collection, The Bridge is filled with the magic and wonder and promise of finding love in spite of what seems to be impossible odds. All Remy and Alain needed to find their way to each other was a little direction, a little misdirection, and a bit of intervention from someone who recognized in them a kindred soul. Mme. Jolicoeur is the wise and willing guide who places the young men on a course that will lead to the freedom of their happily ever after.

Which, after all, is what all the very best fairy tale romances need–the opportunity for two diverging paths to cross and become one.

Buy The Bridge HERE.

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Eden Winters, Torquere Press

Fallen Angel (The Angel of 13th Street, #2) by Eden Winters

Life is about doing the best with what you’ve been given to work with. It’s about making a difference and offering second chances. It can’t be about saving everyone, because not everyone can be or wants to be saved, but it can be about giving at least one person a chance at a better life. If you can do that, then you’ve already altered the future for the better, and that’s not something many people are given the power to do.

But sometimes you fail, and when you do, you have to go on, and in going on, you have to try to seize every opportunity to live because you never know when “too late” will be. There are times you have to know when to say what needs to be said, and times you have to know when to be quiet and listen, not with your ears but with your heart. You have to be willing to take your own advice and use that wisdom to shape a life that matters to someone, because that someone may be the next great hope in someone else’s life. When you pay that gift forward, it doesn’t stop there but continues to transform for years to come.

The Angel of 13th Street loses his way in Fallen Angel. Noah Everett is so close to losing Jeremy Kincaid to college in the fall, and is so close to losing himself in the process, mired in a past that haunts him, and in the fear that he won’t be enough to protect Jeremy from the dangerous territory in which they both tread, seeking to save the lost in a sea of wayward souls. But how can you save the lost if you can’t find your own way? Noah learns that sometimes you lose and sometimes you win, and it’s sometimes the one soul you win who can help you find your way back to what’s most important to you. Noah is forced to let go of the past and face what’s an imminent and unavoidable part of growing old. But along the way, he also remembers who and what the most important parts of his present are.

Eden Winters once again delivers an emotional and moving story, a wonderful continuation to Noah and Jeremy’s May/December romance and all the trials they face, returning with some favorite friends who are more like family, and introducing new characters who brought with them their own challenges.

I hope the ending means there’s a book three on its way soon.

Buy Fallen Angel HERE.

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4.5 Stars, Bella Distribution, Jess Faraday

The Affair of the Porcelain Dog by Jess Faraday

Drug trafficking, human trafficking, blackmail, betrayal, duplicity, moral ambiguity, prostitution, and murder; all things you might expect to find in the Whitechapel district around the time Jack the Ripper took the life of his final victim, Mary Kelly, then seemed to disappear from the face of the earth. They’re also things that take place within the pages of The Affair of the Porcelain Dog, the wonderful debut novel by Jess Faraday.

Cain Goddard saved Ira Adler from the streets of ‘Chapel, where Ira had been selling his body in order to survive. Goddard is the Henry Higgins to Ira’s Eliza in this story, as Cain brings Ira into his home and teaches the young man to read, write, and speak like a proper gentleman, hiring Ira as his “personal secretary”, though their relationship is far from the socially acceptable front they’re forced to portray to a world where anything more could find them both imprisoned (or worse) for gross indecency.

Cain Goddard lives a dual existence as both a rogue and a scholar, once an esteemed teacher at Cambridge University, but sent down in a scandal for which he’s now being blackmailed. Since Goddard is unable to fulfill the one passion, he immerses himself fully in the other role, becoming the infamous Duke of Dorset Street, a hated and feared criminal whose questionable ethics and rationalizations make him a fully intriguing character, and a man with whom Ira struggles and, ultimately, fails to delineate his own moral boundaries. When one allies himself with the criminal element, one has to expect that those alliances will be dubious, and that’s a lesson both men learn.

Mystery and suspense are de rigeur in this race to acquire a statue which is the key to thwarting a blackmailer, but the race turns deadly when Ira discovers that innocent children are being trafficked and that the man he realizes he’s come to love is a party to discounting the moral implications of it. It’s then that Ira realizes he may not be able to change the world, but he certainly can try to protect the future, one child at a time.

Sometimes happy endings are so evident they’re impossible to miss. Sometimes happy endings are so subjective that one hesitates even to call them happy. Sometimes the beauty of an ending, happy or otherwise, is in the eye of the beholder.

The Affair of the Porcelain Dog is so much less than a happily ever after and so much more than just a simple ending. In fact, if I find out there’s no intention to write a sequel to this book, I think I just might cry.

Other than one small personal niggle near the end that felt a little bit too God-out-of-the-machine for me to find entirely plausible, this book was just about as perfect as it could be.

The Affair of the Porcelain Dog can be purchased from Amazon and other major E-tailers.

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Dreamspinner Press, Mary Calmes

Acrobat by Mary Calmes

Andreo Fiore is a man whose life is lived on the very fringes of the right side of the law. He toes that delicate line, working as a bodyguard for a mob boss, while also being a father and trying to be a good role model to his teenage nephew, Michael. Being his mobster’s keeper wasn’t Dreo’s first choice of professions, but it was a way to make good money when he took on the responsibility of raising his deceased sister’s son. For four years, he’s lived across the hall from college English Literature professor Nate Qells, who has quietly and unobtrusively, in that time, become a second parent to Michael, has become an indispensible cog in the wheel of Dreo’s and Michael’s lives, and has created a family of three, entirely under the radar.

Nate is eighteen months out of a relationship that ended because he was trying so hard to be someone he’s not. Duncan Stiel couldn’t be the partner Nate needed him to be, and Nate tried for too long to play the acrobat in the relationship, trying to balance who he was with the man he thought Duncan wanted him to be. It didn’t matter in the end, though, because it turned out Duncan couldn’t or wouldn’t change for Nate, so Nate finally stepped out of Duncan’s closet and they went their separate ways. Having a partner who isn’t afraid to be proud of their relationship is all Nate really wants; he just hasn’t found the man yet who inspires Nate to take the leap of faith.

For four years, Dreo has been quietly falling in love with Nate. For four years, Nate has been entirely oblivious to it because Dreo is the master of hiding his feelings beneath a smoothly polished veneer. But all the while, Dreo has been working to make himself into the sort of man Nate Qell can love.

One of the things I love so much about Mary Calmes’ characters is the fact that they’re entirely loveable, yet the men themselves seem incapable of seeing how truly wonderful they are until they see themselves through the eyes of someone who loves them, and then they realize how much they mean to those who matter the most.

Acrobat is a story of courage, not the sort of courage that comes from what you do for a living, but from who you are and who you fight to live for and how you live a life that you can be proud of so the ones you love can be proud of you. It’s a consistent theme in Mary Calmes’ books, one that always plays out beautifully because it’s one that so universally uniting.

Buy Acrobat HERE.

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5 Stars, JCP Books, Jordan Castillo Price

Mnevermind 1: The Persistence of Memory by Jordan Castillo Price

Daniel Schroeder lives in a world where dreams and fantasies can be bought for the right price. It’s an intriguing proposition, the idea of being able to fulfill an ambition, to achieve the unachievable, to participate in the illusion of sex with a virtual stranger without the complication of awkward entanglements and empty promises. Daniel has even created his own program in which the participant is left with the impression that for just a moment in time, life is a journey filled with wondrous contentment. And it worked—until one time it didn’t, and the things that weren’t supposed to last, the memories that weren’t supposed to imprint did, altering the perception of reality and making the illusion permanent.

A mnem isn’t designed to last; it’s designed to be a mnevermind, like a story that the subject writes with a beginning, middle, and end that a sherpa like Daniel is paid to orchestrate. He’s a tour guide of the subliminal who enters the mnem, doesn’t interact with the subject or manipulate the illusion, but is there to make sure it comes to a safe and satisfying conclusion. The routine is so familiar to Daniel that he could pretty much do the job with his eyes closed; there aren’t many surprises, until the day he enters a mnem and meets a man in black who is tangible and sentient and becomes a part of Daniel’s existence.

Elijah Crowe is that man and he is an enigma. He’s able to be where he shouldn’t be, and he becomes a near obsession for Daniel. They relate to each other on a visceral level in their fantasy world, where they talk and touch and kiss, then Elijah disappears and leaves Daniel to decipher the puzzle of who he is and leaves him determined to find his man in black in the real world. When he does, though, Elijah is nowhere near the same sexy and confident man he is within the mnems he prowls.

Mnevermind 1: Persistence of Memory is just the beginning of the mnem, so don’t expect a tidy middle or end to this chapter in the series or you’ll definitely be disappointed. Just expect an outstanding story from an author whose imagination shines brilliantly, and you’ll get exactly what you’ve paid for. The only reason I was disappointed when this book ended was because I knew I was going to have to wait for Daniel and Elijah’s complicated connection to tease out.

Buy Mnevermind1: The Persistence of Memory HERE.

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Amy Lane, Dreamspinner Press

Gambling Men by Amy Lane

Sometimes love’s a gamble. Sometimes you go all in, you throw in all your chips, you lay down all your cards, and sometimes you lose your shirt. But sometimes that’s okay because if you never lose your shirt, how will you ever be able to tell the game’s getting interesting?

Poker is pretty much a metaphor for life, or maybe life’s just a metaphor for poker; at least that’s the way Jace Spade sees it. For him, life’s about playing his cards close to the vest, watching for tells and capitalizing on them, trusting in the hand he’s been dealt and sometimes risking it all, because if you don’t take risks, how can you ever win? And if you lose? Well, sometimes even when you lose, you win. Depends upon the stakes of the game you’re playing.

Sometimes both life and poker are about patience. It’s about hiding every thought and every emotion behind a mask of cool reserve until you’re ready to show your cards. Poker’s not a one-hand game. It’s about staying in the game until you’ve got nothing left to ante, and for eight long years, Jace has been watching for a tell from his best friend and business partner Quentin Jackson. Jace finally saw that sign, took a risk, and then stood back and watched to see whether he’d won the pot or drawn a brick, watched what he’d put into action and waited to see whether or not it would pay out. It did. And that’s when the stakes of the game changed, became so high that Jace was willing to risk everything he was and everything he had to make sure Quentin knew he was catch perfect.

Gambling Men is a great friends-to-lovers story about changing up the rules and reinventing the game midstream. Amy Lane has created quite a few of my favorite fictional characters, and I don’t hesitate for a moment to add Jace and Quentin to that list. It’s kind of nice when you’ve read so much of a single author’s work that you can begin comparing each new book against others from that author’s backlist. This one stacks up just fine.

Plus, hey, I learned a new way to play “Go Fish”, and it gives a whole new meaning to that “have you got a Jack?” question.

Buy Gambling Men HERE.

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Anne Brooke, Riptide Publishing, Small Gems

Small Gems – Where You Hurt the Most by Anne Brooke

Some of the most painful scars, the ones that hurt the most, are the scars that can’t be seen, whether it’s the end of a relationship or the end of a chapter in life that seemed like nothing but promise until, in the space of a moment, it shifted drastically and left behind the visible evidence of that change like a brand upon the skin.

Where You Hurt the Most is the story of two men, each scarred but in very different ways, who are brought together in what might be described as both a business transaction and an act of mercy.

Dan’s life was irrevocably altered after a tragic accident that left half his face scarred and left him decimated emotionally. Hiding himself from the world, keeping everyone at arm’s length, Dan cut himself off from everything he was and everything he’d dreamt of being before it was all so cruelly stripped away from him. He is the beast who guards himself and hides behind the walls of bitterness left behind in the wake of his transformation.

Adrian is a paid escort, not a whore, mind you, but a warm and intelligent companion for hire who seems to instinctively know his clients’ needs, even if the need is nothing more than a momentary sense of connection to another living soul. But not a single one of those clients truly knows Adrian. He separates himself from them, maintaining a sense of distance even as he draws them out of themselves. He is physical perfection and beauty, but even Adrian has scars and hides behind an identity that isn’t even his own.

Where You Hurt the Most isn’t a literal retelling of the French fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, but whether Anne Brooke intended it or not, the connection is there in this story of patience and acceptance and understanding and compassion that completely alters the lives of these two men. This is a story of seeing and sensing the pain and the promise that lies beneath the surface of the fragile and imperfect skin, of going beyond the physical and delving into the places where the strength of the man, the truth of him, resides, until, finally, he is changed for the better.

This is a short but truly gorgeous story, rich with the hope found in something new.

Buy Where You Hurt the Most HERE.

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Dreamspinner Press, M.J. O'Shea, Piper Vaughn

One Small Thing (One Thing #1) by M.J. O’Shea and Piper Vaughn

I don’t normally gravitate toward books in which the story revolves around babies and/or children, not because I don’t like kids but because I have three of them; so while I can commiserate—been there, smelled that—there isn’t that sense of the unknown I look to escape into when I read. But what’s a girl to do when one of her favorite writing duos decides to go there? I jump onboard and enjoy the ride.

Rue Murray is maybe one of the unlikelier candidates for fatherhood, at least in the traditional man/woman/sex way, but when there’s enough alcohol and curiosity involved, anything’s possible; and nine months later, this man’s full but solitary existence is suddenly overcome by a tiny bundle of a human being who’s utterly dependent upon Rue for everything. Being a parent holds its own challenges, to be sure, but being a single parent presents an altogether different set of demands. Rue has dreams and goals that he’s been working toward; he has a lifestyle to which he’s become accustomed. But there’s one certainty in life that can be counted on: change happens and you better learn to flow with it or it’ll surely overwhelm you.

Erik Van Nuys is a writer who has recently moved into Rue’s building. He’s isolated and insecure and suffers from any number of mannerisms that have left him socially withdrawn, and though his affliction isn’t specifically named, if I had to guess, I’d say he suffers from a disorder on the autism spectrum. Erik doesn’t cope well with change, doesn’t do well with strangers, stutters when he’s nervous, finds comfort in routine and repetition, and does not like to be touched. Erik’s life is all about order and structure and when that foundation is rocked, he suffers from severe anxiety attacks. But there’s one small thing named Alice who comes along and touches Erik and draws him out of his isolation and into a world where disorder and sometimes a little chaos is a guarantee.

A single father’s desperation and a struggling author’s need to supplement his income is what ultimately brings Rue and Erik together, as Rue struggles to find acceptable daycare for his daughter and Erik struggles to accept that if he’s going to survive, he’s going to have to find a source of supporting himself when his book sales flag. It’s a synergetic meeting of two diametrically opposed planets that come together to orbit around a small but bright sun, and what grows there is an imperfect but beautiful new world filled with possibilities.

One Small Thing is a heaping helping of awwww, with a generous side of sigh and a soupçon of angst to top it all off. A man whose life has changed drastically begins to wonder if the dreams he had before he became part of a small but wonderful family, which includes his best friend Dusty, still have a place in his life.

A man whose life has never included anything that resembled a connection like love and a sense of hope and belonging begins to wonder if he can be a part of that small but wonderful family when all his doubts and insecurities come back to haunt him.

One Small Thing is a touching and heartwarming opposites attract story about finding that single unlikely bond that can bring two people together in spite of the odds. I devoured it in a single sitting because I wanted very much to be sure Rue and Erik would find a way around the obstacles in their relationship. And now I’m anxiously awaiting Dusty’s story, keeping my fingers crossed that he’ll finally find his own happily ever after.

Buy One Small Thing HERE.

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Dreamspinner Press, Lissa Kasey

Conviction (Dominion #3) by Lissa Kasey

Weeks after the tumultuous events that capped off the danger and suspense in Reclamation, Seiran Rou is still suffering the psychological aftereffects of a past, long thought dead, that came back to claim him.

A man from Gabriel Santini’s past wants Seiran dead, not because he really has anything against Sei personally, but because Andrew Roman knows that Sei is the key to making Gabe suffer unspeakable pain. It doesn’t seem to matter where they go or how far away the get; Andrew is a vampire who will do whatever it takes to see vengeance wrought.

Though Conviction is technically Kelly Harding (Sei’s best friend) and Jamie Browan’s (Sei’s half-brother) story, it’s the dogged pursuit of Sei that’s the catalyst for bringing Kelly and Jamie together. Told in alternating first person points of view, the reader has the opportunity to experience the thoughts and feelings of both men, which was a nice change of pace from the limited viewpoint of the single first person narrator. I felt it gave the story just a touch more edge, as the reader could see what Jamie and Kelly couldn’t, could hear the thoughts they were too hesitant to say to each other, and could witness firsthand how tenuous the bonds of family can be when trust is something that’s so difficult to give and to earn.

Overall, I think Conviction is a nice complement to the series, not necessarily as a vehicle to advance the world building or political underpinnings of the Dominion and Ascendance, but as a way to highlight how the magic of this world works. It seems that the more a man is willing to sacrifice, the more he stands to gain in this realm, and Kelly was willing to give entirely of himself in exchange for the lives of those he loves.

Buy Conviction HERE.

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Dreamspinner Press, Rachel West

Everything Under the Sun by Rachel West

I first read Everything Under the Sun nearly two years ago (when I was still really, really new to the M/M romance genre) and remember promising myself I’d read it again someday because I liked it that well. Reading Rachel West’s The Cellmate, recently, reminded me of just how very well I’d liked it. So I finally got around to reading it again, and I liked it just as much the second time around, maybe more so, because I now have a frame of reference for the story model.

If you’re at all familiar with the TV show Queer as Folk (I’ve only recently discovered a deep and overwhelming obsession for it), you’ll recognize the author’s nod to that show’s most heartbreakingly frustrating couple, Brian Kinney and Justin Taylor. In fact, there’s an utterly deliberate reference to Brian in the book that went straight over my head the first time I read it because I had no idea who he was and didn’t bother to Google him—which is so unlike me.

I have an insane desire to recap this entire story, start to finish, but I can’t really do it without major spoilage. It’s not that long or deeply involved, so to summarize it would pretty much give it all away. Suffice it to say this is a heavily erotic May/September romance between two men who both want the same thing, but only one is brave enough to go for it. The other is scared as hell because he’s been burned before, he doesn’t do the boyfriend thing, and he doesn’t know how to process his feelings for the boy-next-door. The one-and-done, no names, repeat performances non-negotiable—they don’t happen—thing was working for Alex. That is, until he befriended Chris. Then all bets were off.

Aside from the albatross that is relationship-phobia which hangs around Alex’s neck, there’s also a complication named Seth, who is Chris’s not quite friend, not quite boyfriend, not at all comfortably bisexual obsession. Seth wants Chris, but he doesn’t WANT to want Chris, so he alternately uses Chris for purely orgasmic purposes, then uses his fear to propel him out the door each and every time. And here’s the kicker about Seth: he doesn’t want Chris until he finds out someone else wants Chris. Then Seth’s all about the sniffing around like a dog in heat, trying to win Chris back.

There’s a lot of sex and a few complications in this book, but what I found utterly winning were Alex and Chris themselves. There was a chemistry there that made them entirely cheer-for-able. (Yes, I know, not a word. Sometimes you just have to make things up as you go along.) Their story wasn’t earth shatteringly unique, but that’s what made it so easy to connect to. There were no grandiose plot twists; there were just two guys trying to find a common ground upon which they might build something kind of beautiful.

I’ve done some investigating, which basically means I typed “Rachel West Author” into my Google search engine, and I don’t think she’s writing any longer, unless she’s writing under a different name. If she’s retired, I’d count that as a bit of a shame, really.

Buy Everything Under the Sun HERE.

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