3.5 Stars, Andi Van, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, Reviewed by Jules

Review: A Certain Kind of Holiday by Andi Van

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Title: A Certain Kind of Holiday (Sleigh Ride: Advent Calendar 2015)

Author: Andi Van

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 28 Pages

At a Glance: This one was cute, guys!

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: When Elliot Knapp took a business trip over the holidays last year, he didn’t expect to run into the professor his first serious boyfriend cheated on him with. The man was handsome, certainly, but Elliot has better things to do than deal with drama from a decade ago.

Luckily for him, Howard Wise wasn’t going to let him get away without an explanation. A year after meeting again, the couple is making their first holiday trip to celebrate Christmas. Everything is fantastic, but Howard is obviously keeping secrets, and Elliot can’t help but wonder what his silver fox has up his sleeve.

Christmas Dividers

Review: Elliot and Howard, who haven’t been in contact in ten years, run into each other unexpectedly on a train ride from Seattle. Their reunion is, of course, soured by the fact that Elliot’s last memory of Howard is him kissing Elliot’s college boyfriend. Howard manages to talk Elliot into letting him explain, however, which turns out to be a very good thing, as things are not always what they seem. I really liked Howard – sexy professor, twinkly eyes, playful demeanor – and I loved that he remembered Elliot right away. Obviously their connection all those years ago wasn’t just one-sided.

A Certain Kind of Holiday is short and sweet. Via three consecutive Christmas vignettes, Andi Van takes us on Howard and Elliot’s journey, allowing us to get to know them and showing us how good they are together.  Again, Howard’s character was the main part of the appeal for me, but I definitely liked Elliot as well. It’s hard to cover much ground in just twenty-eight pages, but Van did a good job of engaging me. This one was cute, guys!

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4 Stars, Holiday Romance, Jay Northcote, Reviewed by Jules, Self-Published

Review: What Happens at Christmas by Jay Northcote

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Title: What Happens at Christmas

Author: Jay Northcote

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 113 Pages

At a Glance: Jay Northcote has another holiday winner here.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: When two friends pose as boyfriends, could what happens at Christmas turn into something more?

Justin is recently and unhappily single. Christmas is coming, and he doesn’t want to face his ex alone at their office party. So Sean—Justin’s best mate and long-time secret crush—volunteers to go with him and pretend to be his new flame.

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

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

Christmas Dividers

Review: So many delightful little bits in this story! It was easy to fall in love with Justin and Sean. As soon as I read the blurb for What Happens at Christmas I immediately snapped it up. Anyone who knows me, or follows my reviews at all, knows that friends-to-lovers stories are totally my thing. I love the level of comfort the characters have with each other, the level of trust, and that there is so much shared history. Maybe it’s because my husband and I have been together since we were nineteen – friends since we were fifteen – maybe I’m just a product of the formula…but, I know it works.

Justin and Sean were both extremely likeable, and the story was funny, charming, and sweet. It’s not a new idea – pretending to be dating, to piss off an ex at the office party – but it was well-done here. I also really liked that they were both in love with each other rather than it being a GFY situation, for example. To me that made it much more enjoyable; what they each thought was unrequited love was really just bad timing and poor communication.

Jay Northcote has such a light, easygoing style, and the guys are very sexy and fun together. That’s not to say that the book is without substance. Sean has a strained relationship with his father, and they are somewhat estranged. He is pretty troubled over that situation, and what he is going to do with himself now that he’s come back to England. Justin and Sean both have reservations about pursuing a relationship. They are extremely afraid of ruining their friendship, and unwilling to risk it, so they spend some time unhappily plodding along. In some books this can become a big stumbling block for me. You know those books? The “Just talk already!!!!” books? I didn’t feel that here, though. In this book it was more, “Awwww…these poor guys.” Their trepidation is more endearing than annoying.

Northcote has another holiday winner here. The guys had GREAT chemistry. The office party scene was tons of fun to read – it was VERY satisfying to watch the sleazy ex squirm – I imagine it also had to be fun to write! Super low angst, this one is perfect for when you need that feel-good read. I thoroughly enjoyed this easy-breezy Christmas novella.

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5 Stars, Charlie Cochet, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, Reviewed by Jules

Release Day Review: Loving Blitz by Charlie Cochet

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Title: Loving Blitz (North Pole City Tales: Book Four)

Author: Charlie Cochet

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 94 Pages

At a Glance: Go forth and enjoy Loving Blitz!!! It’s a Christmas reading list must.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: From North Pole City to Winter Wonderland, preparations are underway after a royal announcement sweeps everyone into a frenzy of festivity. At the heart of the celebration are the city’s most beloved elf pilots, the Rein Dears. Once the Big Flight is behind them, the pilots prepare for the royal event. Assigned a special task of finding an Elska rose, Cupid and Blitzen are unaware of how their friendship is about to change forever.

Yet not all that glitters is gold. The sweet, angelic Cupid hides a dark secret, one that threatens to destroy his Rein Dear status, his friends, and the elf who’s captured his heart. It’s up to Blitzen to help Cupid see the light in the darkness and show him that together they can mend broken hearts.

Dividers

Review: I guess I have to quit pouting about having to wait another whole year for the next book, and get this review written…*grumble* Heh, heh.  I really AM pouting about having to wait for next year’s book – this series is neverending, right? – but, I’m happy to write the review for this charming story!

Loving Blitz, this year’s addition to the North Pole City Tales series by Charlie Cochet, opens at the Silver Bells Christmas Ball – held this time at the King of Frost’s palace – where Jack Frost and Rudy share some exciting news. I was immediately mesmerized, as I always am in this series, by the descriptions and the language in the book. The places, the creatures, the events, the magic and history: Cochet has created a world here that is so vibrant and so delightful, I can’t wait to immerse myself in it every year.

Best friends for centuries, Cupid and Blitzen are perfect for each other. They have always been close, but when they dance together at the ball, they both begin to having stirrings of feelings that are more than friendly. I really did love this pairing; the romance felt effortless, and had the perfect amount of heat. And, speaking of pairings…I have my guesses as to next year’s potential couple, and can’t wait to find out who it will be!

The drama is relatively low in this one as compared to the other books in the series, but the story still has plenty of substance. The angle with Cupid’s secret is very intriguing and well done, and I loved the subplots here also. Dasher provides some tension and comic relief – just what is he up to with the King of Frost??? – which was fantastic, and it looks like one of Cupid’s brothers will be back in the future as well!

Ok. That’s three mentions of next year’s book. I think I’ve established that I loved this installment, and that I can’t wait for MORE. My work here is done. Go forth and enjoy Loving Blitz!!! It’s a Christmas reading list must.

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5 Stars, Historical Romance, Jordan L. Hawk, Mystery/Suspense/Action Thriller, Paranormal, Reviewed by Jules, Self-Published

Release Day Review: Maelstrom by Jordan L. Hawk

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Title: Maelstrom (Whyborne & Griffin: Book Seven)

Author: Jordan L. Hawk

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 268 Pages

At a Glance: Once again I am completely in awe of the talent and imaginative genius of Jordan L. Hawk.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: Between his father’s sudden—and rather suspicious—generosity, and his own rash promise to help Christine plan her wedding, Percival Endicott Whyborne has quite enough to worry about. But when the donation of a mysterious codex to the Ladysmith Museum draws the attention of a murderous cult, Whyborne finds himself in a race against time to unlock its secrets first.

Griffin has a case of his own: the disappearance of an historic map, which quickly escalates to murder. Someone is sacrificing men in dark rituals—and all the clues lead back to the museum.

With their friends Christine and Iskander, Whyborne and Griffin must discover the cult’s true goal before it’s too late. For dark forces are afoot at the very heart of the museum, and they want more than Whyborne’s codex.

They want his life.

Dividers

Review: “Widdershins knows its own.”

Trying to write this review in any kind of linear fashion is proving to be impossible. I’m trying to stick to some kind of organized format, but my brain keeps jumping to the brilliance, the sheer brilliance, of chapter fifty-seven. Once again I am completely in awe of the talent and imaginative genius of Jordan L. Hawk. The entire book is extraordinary and mind-blowing – but chapter fifty-seven is indescribable. One thing I do know is that I don’t want to come down from this high; I want to wallow in this one for a bit. I truly think Maelstrom is my favorite of the series to date.

In this seventh book of the series, Widdershins, with its maelstrom of energy lying beneath the earth, is a hotspot for cultists far and wide, and our heroes once again find themselves smack in the midst of the goings on. The latest batch of books donated to the museum has brought all the crazies to the yard, and Whyborne and Griffin must, of course, work together to foil them before all is lost.

It should come as no surprise that one of the things I love most about Maelstrom is the continually growing relationship between Ival and Griffin. They are as in tune to each other as ever, and must draw on that closeness throughout the story. In parts of Hoarfrost, Griffin was in a rough place, and needed Whyborne to keep him from breaking apart – here, however, it is Whyborne who largely needs grounding and clarity. I love that turnabout and all of the different ways we get to see their love for each other. The tender, poignant moments toward the end (*cough* chapter fifty-seven *cough*) are magnified a hundredfold because of their ever-strengthening bond.

So, of course the love story is amazing…but you better believe that all the other Jordan L. Hawk trademarks are there as well. Action, peril, creepy creatures from the Outside, humor, and a razor sharp wit. Not to mention perhaps the hottest sex scene in the series yet. I actually thought my brain was going to explode. No joke.

I already mentioned the humor, but want to touch on it a bit more specifically. The magic of these books is obviously in the world building and the storytelling – but a part of that magic also has to do with the delivery. And Hawk nails the delivery every time. Whyborne has tons of great one-liners. Griffin has a new motor car, which is an endless source of comic relief. The wedding prep and talk that is peppered throughout the book is fabulous. And, I absolutely had to share this gem, from our dear Christine:

“We’re going to be married, damn it, and Whyborne is going to walk me down the aisle…It’s going to be perfect, even if I have to kill every one of these bastards myself!”

In short, Maelstrom is fantastic. I don’t know how the hell Hawk keeps making each book better than the last, but she does. She’s kept the series fresh through seven books, and I can’t wait to see what she has up her sleeve for the eighth! Coolest. Books. Ever.

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4.5 Stars, Audio Book, Brandon Witt, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Narration Rating - 5 Stars, Reviewed by Jules

Audio Review: Then the Stars Fall by Brandon Witt – Narrated by Andrew McFerrin

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Title: Then the Stars Fall

Author: Brandon Witt

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Narrator: Andrew McFerrin

Run Time: 12 Hours and 21 Minutes

At a Glance: Definitely check this one out, guys!

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: The death of his wife four years earlier left Travis Bennett a shell of the man he used to be. With his dog by his side, Travis raises his three children, manages his business, and works as a ranch hand. But every day, every minute, is an aching emptiness.

Wesley Ryan has fond memories of the small Ozark town of El Dorado Springs. Seeing it as a safe place to put his failed relationships behind him, Wesley moves into his grandparents’ old home and takes over the local veterinary clinic. An early morning visit from Travis and his dog stirs feelings that Wesley seeks to push away – the last thing he needs is to fall for a man with baggage and three kids as part of the package.

Life, it seems, has other plans.

Dividers

Review: Then the Stars Fall is a gorgeous piece of writing by Brandon Witt. It was the first of his stories I’ve read – or, listened to, as the case may be – and it certainly will not be the last. It’s a big story. Very heavy at times, though there is also a good amount of levity to help balance it out. The story is beautiful, and complex; as such, it needed a certain kind of intensity brought to the narration, and I have to say that Andrew McFerrin does a superb job with the performance.

Wesley is trying to settle into his new life in El Dorado – the home of his beloved grandparents, who left him their house – and definitely is not looking for love. In fact, the plan was to swear off men entirely, for the time being anyway, after his recent, painful breakup. The plan was not to fall for a local, widowed father of three. Wesley never even saw Travis Bennett coming. Of course, the same can definitely be said of Travis…He absolutely did not see Wesley coming.

This book covers a lot of ground…family, loss, friendship, small town small-mindedness, homophobia, and ultimately, romance, love, and second chances…and has a variety of fabulous characters for you to love or hate (mostly love). Witt created a villain in John Wallace, whom McFerrin voiced with such venom that I actually cringed a few times when hearing him come into a scene. Without question, this is a book that will make you feel. Here are some of my actual notes from the audio about my feelings while listening!

Chapter 6 – I don’t like that he is downplaying the attack from John Wallace. I think he was right to feel threatened – there was a VERY aggressive advance, if not a full out sexual assault.

Chapter 8 – Wendy is hilarious, saying ‘to make your brown eyes pop and look a little sinister.’ Win win. – about the red glitter eyeliner.

Chapter 10 – I do love this narration. I looove his Wesley voice.

Chapter 10 – the end. So good. (The talk in the barn before the kiss. And, the kiss.) “They kissed. Animals slept. They kissed. The barn continued to stand. They kissed. Maybe a few stars fell.” Sigh.

Chapter 11 – Wesley talking about how hot Travis is…So funny.

Chapter 15 – God I love Wesley – berating himself for not being able to stay away from Travis.

Chapter 21 – Iris Linley – such a fabulous busy body… “You’re both nice men. And, those Bennett children need a mother.” *diez*

I actually ended up listening to it twice. The narration got better and better the more I listened. Good, good stuff. Definitely check this one out, guys!

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5 Stars, Holiday Romance, LC Chase, Reviewed by Jules, Riptide Publishing

Review: A Fortunate Blizzard by L.C. Chase

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Title: A Fortunate Blizzard

Author: L.C. Chase

Publisher: Riptide Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 179 Pages

At a Glance: Grab this book and curl up by the fire one weekend soon! You’ll be so glad you did!

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: There are worse things than being stranded in a blizzard….

Artist Trevor Morrison has always appreciated the little things in life, treating each day as a gift. And with good reason: he’s been on the transplant-recipient list for too long now. When he learns just how numbered his days truly are, he resolves not to take them for granted. But he won’t be unrealistic, either—which means romantic commitments are off the table.

Marcus Roberts seems to have it all. He’s handsome, financially sound, and on the fast track to partnership at a prestigious law firm. In reality, though, his drive for success has meant no time for friends or relationships. Add in the fact that his family discarded him long ago, and he’s facing yet another holiday season alone.

When the biggest snowstorm to hit Colorado in decades leaves Marc and Trevor stranded at the same hotel, a chance encounter and a night of passion leads to more than either of them expected. Finding comfort in each other is a welcome surprise, but time is not on their side. Either they find a way to beat the odds, or they lose each other forever. 

Dividers

Review: A Fortunate Blizzard by L.C. Chase was my first holiday read this year, and it was a fantastic way to kick the season off. I LOVED this story. As I was thinking about this book, and going back over my notes and highlights, I ended up reading the entire thing again, because it is just that yummy and swoony! As I was looking over my notes, though, I came across this highlighted quote:

“…the snow was beautiful to watch – peaceful in its silence, tranquil in its insistence that the world stop and take a breath, release its grief, cleanse its soul, and start anew.”

Not only is that exactly how I feel about snow, but it’s also a perfect summation of the story. Both Trevor and Marc are in need of ‘taking breaths, releasing grief, and starting anew.’ One of the central themes in the book definitely has to do with fresh starts – Marc letting go of his family angst and his drive to fulfill someone else’s dreams, and Trevor, obviously, quite literally needing a new lease on life –  this snow quote gave me feels and perfectly captured those elements in the book.

Trevor and Marc are fantastic together. And, sexy as hell. The immediate attraction between them – particularly Marc’s strong reaction to Trevor – is so well done. The tension in the beginning is perfect, and they are ridiculously hot together. The relationship happens quickly, but it completely works. The spark is there from the get-go, and they mesh so well with each other. I love how Trevor really sees Marc, and how he inspires him to seize life and rediscover his passion. Both characters are wonderful, but I found myself very drawn to Trevor. His story is extremely powerful, and the way he handles his dire situation – even his deciding to keep Marc at arm’s length – is so admirable. I completely adored him.

This story has all the components of a fabulous holiday read. It’s well-written, with a wonderfully easygoing style. It’s so romantic and swoony, but with the right amount of drama. The conflict is really well done – has you on edge but not wanting to throw your Kindle into the fireplace. And, there might be a few tears (I still can’t with Trevor’s letter to Marc!). Grab this book and curl up by the fire one weekend soon! You’ll be so glad you did!

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5 Stars, Audio Book, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, Mary Calmes, Narration Rating - 5 Stars, Reviewed by Jules

Audio Review: Where You Lead by Mary Calmes – Narrated by Greg Tremblay

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Title: Where You Lead

Author: Mary Calmes

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Narrator: Greg Tremblay

Run Time: 1 hour and 41 minutes

At a Glance: You should definitely add this one to your collection of holiday feel-good romances!

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: ATF agent Peter Lomax isn’t a hearts and flowers kind of guy, but he can be possessive, and it caused problems until Carver Fleming. Carver may be part of the art world, but he gets Peter, loves belonging to the man, and Peter treasures the way Carver understands them together.

Carver loves Peter, but he’s fully aware that six months doth not a commitment make. Carver wants to make the relationship last forever, but he’ll have to leave their life in Chicago to take care of the family he loves. He wants to do it with Peter by his side, but going from the city of Chicago to tiny Colt, Kentucky is a big change.

Carver has only one Christmas wish: Please, oh please, let Peter fall enough in love with Carver’s family to follow Carver home.

Dividers

Review: Listening to this audio was such a treat; I had forgotten how much I loved this little Christmas story. Coming in at under two hours – just 68 pages for the novella – it’s not a huge time investment but packs a lot of punch. To create a good short story, the author must hook the reader almost immediately, and Mary Calmes is a master at this. In Where You Lead the opening sequence is hilarious and is instrumental in getting you invested in the characters.

Pete is your typical “man’s man”. As an ATF agent who isn’t afraid of throwing himself in front of a gun to save a hostage, some might find his pairing with mild-mannered gallery owner Carver Fleming unlikely. Six months into the relationship, however, things definitely seem like they are for real – at least, that’s what Carver is counting on, Pete also feeling this way as they head to his family’s home in rural Kentucky for the holidays.

The story is fabulous and the narration is equally so. Greg Tremblay’s performance is perfect in its simplicity. His voice is so rich and has such a great tone, I could honestly listen to him for hours! He does an incredible job at keeping the voices distinct, and with the dialogue. The whole thing is just so understated and classy and flows so well. I loved it!!! You should definitely add this one to your collection of holiday feel-good romances!

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3.5 Stars, Eli Easton, Holiday Romance, Reviewed by Jules, Self-Published

Review: Midwinter Night’s Dream by Eli Easton

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Title: Midwinter Night’s Dream

Author: Eli Easton

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 121 Pages

At a GlanceI’m a massive Eli Easton fangirl, she knocks so many things out of the park, but this one left me wanting.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: Micah is the hippest, most chill guy on campus. But when he gets the hottest kiss of his life from a cute guy during a game of ‘spin the bottle’, Micah’s cool turns into a puddle of anxious goo. Sure, Micah’s always been a little bi-curious, but he never thought he’d pursue a guy, much less a guy who doesn’t seem to be interested in getting caught.

Leo is passionate about two things: gay rights activism and acting. He stays focused and in control, and he never, ever, dates straight guys. When a chance spin of a bottle at a party has him locking lips with Micah Springfield, president of the Delts, dread-headed, serial-dating, straight Micah, Leo is determined to forget about it, no matter how incendiary the sparks or how gorgeous Micah may be.

Leo has bigger problems. His senior project is directing Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream just before the Christmas break. When his venue cancels at the last minute, Micah offers the use of his parent’s barn in rural Pennsylvania. Leo’s play may be saved, but what about his heart? Between Micah’s sweet lips, his family’s welcoming arms, and a devious bulldog who is determined to play Puck, Leo may find himself falling under the spell of Christmas magic.

Dividers

Review: Eli Easton’s Midwinter Night’s Dream was one of my most anticipated holiday reads this year. After falling in love with the Springfields in last year’s Unwrapping Hank, I couldn’t wait for Micah’s story. Smooth, mellow, cooler than the other side of the pillow Micah. Who would he be paired with? How would it all play out? Would we get to see much of Hank and Sloan? For the most part I was happy with the story, but I have to admit that this one had a few misses for me also.

The characters were a hit. I really do love Micah. I actually had a very dear friend in school who was (and still is) just like Micah. Got along with everyone, great to hang out with, gorgeous – the whole package. And, I thought Leo was a good match for Micah. The early spin-the-bottle scene, where the guys kiss for the first time, was super fun and smokin’ hot. These guys definitely had great chemistry! In fact, I loved Micah’s whole overall reaction to Leo. His fondness and admiration for him felt so genuine and really shone through. He was completely smitten with Leo; it was adorable.

The setting was another hit.  I love reading NA books, and always think the college settings are fun…but, in this case I’m talking about when the storyline takes us to Micah’s parents’ home. The Springfield farm at Christmas is so magical in my mind. I absolutely ate up Eli Easton’s descriptions of the barn, and the snowy fields, trees, etc., during the snow shoeing scene. I can so clearly picture the beauty. I also thought all of the play stuff was fun – the idea for Leo’s senior project was fantastic, and it was the perfect catalyst for bringing everything together.

There were absolutely many things to be enjoyed in this book, but, unfortunately, it’s time to talk about the misses, the biggest one being the ‘extra’ storyline with Leo’s best friend, Helen, and Micah’s almost-girlfriend, Yasmine. First of all, I have no issue whatsoever with F/F stories. If the addition of this bit into the book was a device for Eli to introduce Helen and Yas because she intends to write a lesbian story, that’s fine. I could see that intention. Furthermore, this has NOTHING to do with “not wanting girl-bits in my M/M books.” I simply thought it didn’t work here. It felt forced, or thrown in. Yas gave me whiplash with how quickly she goes from not quite getting that Micah doesn’t like her like that, to making out with Helen.

And, directly related to the above is the fact that I would have much rather had more page time with Micah and Leo. We simply just didn’t have enough of them together. The times that they were together were fantastic – Spin-the-bottle…fabulous snow-shoeing scene…hot barn sex – I wish there had been more. There were also two quick mentions of Micah having a possible submissive streak – when he melted into their first kiss, and then Leo later muses about it as well – that I SOOO wish would have been further explored.

I’m a massive Eli Easton fangirl, she knocks so many things out of the park, but this one left me wanting. Wanting more Micah and Leo time…more holiday time…definitely more out of the epilogue. It just felt like it wrapped up too darn quickly for how long it took them to get together. Do I still recommend it? Of course. I mean, Christmas novella! Awesome glimpses of Sloane and Hank! There’s still plenty of charm – it just wasn’t my favorite one of her stories.

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3 Stars, Christine D'Abo, Holiday Romance, Reviewed by Jules, Riptide Publishing

Review: Rebound Remedy by Christine d’Abo

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Title: Rebound Remedy

Author: Christine d’Abo

Publisher: Riptide Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 155 Pages

At a GlanceDespite the few misgivings I had about it, Rebound Remedy is a sweet holiday story that I think many will enjoy.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: The last thing Cole expects to get for the holidays is dumped. But there he is, in the airport on his way to Banff for a romantic getaway, helplessly watching as his boyfriend’s ex declares undying love, proposes—and is accepted. With a few weeks to go until Christmas, Cole’s mood dives from jolly to jaded. But instead of sitting at home alone and feeling sorry for himself, he goes to his favorite bar, McGregor’s, for a pint and some company.

The moment Owen McGregor sets eyes on Cole, he knows there’s something wrong. So he takes it upon himself to ensure that Cole has a happy holiday: twelve outings for the twelve days before Christmas. Even if he can’t quite think up twelve activities that don’t involve getting the forlorn hunk into his bed.

With each outing they take together, Cole realizes that the love he thought he’d shared with his ex was less than perfect. And that Owen might prove to be more than just his rebound remedy.

Dividers

Review: Cole is having a shitty start to his holidays. Suddenly finding himself single two weeks before Christmas, he heads down to his neighborhood pub – McGregor’s – to drown his sorrows a bit. But, things quickly start looking up when he ends up unexpectedly flirting with the attractive bartender/owner, Owen. The two guys connect over helping a drunk into a cab, and after getting together for breakfast the next morning, form a fast bond.

There are some sweet moments between Cole and Owen. I liked them each individually – Owen especially…he had a very interesting story, that I wish could have been explored more – and, for the most part, their chemistry with each other was pretty hot as well. I had an issue with the pacing of the story, however, which took away from the overall enjoyment for me.

There is a place in romance for insta-love; I’ve read several books where it absolutely worked. In Rebound Remedy it alllllllmost works – I did find myself rooting for them, in spite of the fact that their relationship wasn’t entirely believable – but, unfortunately, it’s just not enough. Though the book wasn’t really all that short at 155 pages, it simply didn’t give us enough of their story. It felt like a novella that needed much more fleshing out in order to get us to fall in love with the guys, and fully buy their romance. It had promise…and there were definitely bits that were good, but, for me, it did miss the mark, mainly due to all the relationship stuff just moving too darn fast.

Despite the few misgivings I had about it, Rebound Remedy is a sweet holiday story that I think many will enjoy. Especially those who love the love-at-first-sight or insta-love tropes. I liked the backdrop of Toronto, and all of the Christmas-y stuff, especially the scene where they get Cole’s tree! And, I’ll be saying my little Christmas prayers that Christine d’Abo decides to write a book for Xander (one of Owen’s friends), because he sounds ridiculously hot. I would definitely be all ‘grabby hands’ for that book! Ha!

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5 Stars, Heidi Cullinan, Holiday Romance, Reviewed by Jules, Samhain Publishing

Release Day Review: Winter Wonderland by Heidi Cullinan

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Title: Winter Wonderland (Minnesota Christmas: Book Three)

Author: Heidi Cullinan

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 205 Pages

At a Glance: Winter Wonderland is full of Christmas magic and warm feels. I loved absolutely everything about it.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: Finding Mr. Right can be a snow lot of fun.

Paul Jansen was the only one of his friends who wanted a relationship. Naturally, he’s the last single man standing. No gay man within a fifty-mile radius wants more than casual sex.

No one, that is, except too-young, too-twinky Kyle Parks, who sends him suggestive texts and leaves X-rated snow sculptures on his front porch.

Kyle is tired of being the town’s resident Peter Pan. He’s twenty-five, not ten, and despite his effeminate appearance, he’s nothing but the boss in bed. He’s loved Paul since forever, and this Christmas, since they’re both working on the Winter Wonderland festival, he might finally get his chance for a holiday romance.

But Paul comes with baggage. His ultra-conservative family wants him paired up with a woman, not a man with Logan’s rainbow connection. When their anti-LGBT crusade spills beyond managing Paul’s love life and threatens the holiday festival, Kyle and Paul must fight for everyone’s happily ever after, including their own.

Warning: Contains erotic snow art, toppy twinks, and super-sweet holiday moments. Best savored with a mug of hot chocolate with a dash of spice.

Dividers

Review: I’ve always wanted to know – but keep forgetting to ask – who writes the “Warnings” for Samhain’s books? Is it their folks? The author? The warnings are usually fantastic, often hilarious, and are almost always on point as far as connecting with the story – but, this one was especially genius and perfect, so I had to share it again here in my review…

Warning: Contains erotic snow art, toppy twinks, and super-sweet holiday moments. Best savored with a mug of hot chocolate with a dash of spice.

There is indeed a ‘toppy twink’, some rather marvelous penises made out of snow, and a truckload of holiday swoon.  As a huge fan of this series, I have been dying for Paul’s story. I wanted to savor this book once I got my hands on it, but I, of course, devoured it instead. Heidi is so good at hooking her readers so quickly and so thoroughly – once you start there is just no way to not go full steam ahead until you’ve ingested the entire thing. Also – I can’t stop staring at the cover. Seriously. Staring. Like, I want it as a poster on my wall.

The MCs in this book are both incredible. I don’t think I can adequately convey how much I love Kyle. Siiiiiigh. What is there to say about Kyle? Oh, I know what… He. Is. So. Perfect. Like, amazingly, wonderfully, swooningly – BUT, also believably – perfect. I say ‘believably’ because he is also completely genuine, and, well, believable. He is so well grounded and confident in himself, and his heart is just immense. But, he is also a bit unsure of the future, and can admit that he doesn’t handle every situation as well as he could. He’s real.

Kyle gives his all to the people in his life. Whether it’s his family, the patients at the care center where he is a nurse, or especially his sister, Linda Kay, he goes all in and shows them that they are a priority, and that they are loved. His relationship with Linda Kay is incredible. She is amazing, he is amazing with her, and the two of them together are such a treat to read. Kyle also befriends Paul’s neighbor, Edna Michaelson, and becomes an important part of her life. Basically, he touches everyone he comes in contact with.

Then we have Paul. Kyle has had a crush on Paul for years, and has finally decided to act on it and show Paul how great they could be together. Paul is so hung up on their age difference, though, and the way he – the whole town really – has always viewed the younger Kyle, it takes quite a bit of pushing before anything starts to happen between them. The age issue isn’t the only obstacle, though. Paul’s family has also spent years making Paul think that he isn’t good enough, and that he isn’t deserving of love. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course; Paul is so deserving of love. Kyle, with a little help from some friends, just needs to work extra hard to convince Paul how right they are for each other. Right from the start, Kyle pulls no punches. I LOVED this early scene, where Kyle first shocks, and arouses, his crush.

“I’m not an infant, I can’t help my body type, and if I got you in the same room as a bed, it wouldn’t be my ass sore in the morning.”

Oh my…

As usual, the sex scenes are intense, fun, and hot as hell. Kyle and Paul have a ton of sizzle. They are so much more than their physical heat, though…simply watching these guys fall in love and discover that they want to be everything to each other was the stuff of perfect holiday romances. Winter Wonderland is full of Christmas magic and warm feels. I loved absolutely everything about it. I hope Heidi never stops writing this series.

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4.5 Stars, Gwen Hayes, Holiday Romance, Reviewed by Jules, Self-Published

Release Day Review: Don’t Stop Believing by Gwen Hayes

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Title: Don’t Stop Believing (Silver Pines: Book One)

Author: Gwen Hayes

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 59 Pages

At a Glance: This book had me at “Mr. Literary Tightpants.”

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: The Ogre from the Hill

Simon Powell, the town recluse, only comes to town to deliver firewood and get supplies. Two days before Christmas, he sees the new librarian’s car in a ditch and knows he can’t leave him on the road, but it’s too late to take him back to town. He’ll have something he’s never had in his cabin in the ten years that’s he’s lived there…company.

The Book Nerd from the City

Adam Parker moved to the small community to make big changes in his life, but being snowbound with the bearded lumberjack in his rustic cabin was something he’d thought only existed in his fantasies. Simon pushes away anyone who wants to get close to him, but Adam sees what he’s hiding in his heart and he wants it. Badly.

A Christmas to Remember

Adam smells like cinnamon and redemption and Simon aches to run his fingers over the scrape of stubble on his cheeks. To pull him into a kiss. To reignite feelings he’d denied himself for too long. Life is right there, blazing in the eyes of the town librarian. A man who isn’t afraid of him. But he learned long ago that everything he touches gets tainted, and he’ll do anything to keep his darkness away from Adam’s light.

But Adam has something else on his side—he’s been a very good boy this year and all he wants for Christmas is Simon.

Dividers

Review: Don’t Stop Believing, the new Christmas novella by Gwen Hayes, is an absolute delight. Since the author is new to me – I believe this is her first M/M book, though she is an established M/F romance and YA author – I had no idea what to expect, and was immediately and pleasantly surprised. In fact, I may have snickered out loud and highlighted basically all of page 4. So, yeah…the writing grabbed me very early on, and never let go.

Simon lives on his own, keeps to himself for the most part, and that’s just the way he likes it. Though he’s referred to as ‘the ogre from the hill,’ and a recluse, he’s actually very well-liked in the small, mountain town of Silver Pines, Washington. I was completely taken with Simon, and was intrigued by his story. He’s a hero, an animal lover, a real live lumberjack… who reads. Swoon. Hello! What’s not to love? I found myself constantly wanting to hug him. He was just a solid, good guy.

Adam finds himself taken with Simon also, while stranded at the sexy lumberjack’s cabin during a snow storm, and things quickly heat up between them. However, Simon is a tough nut to crack. He’s not forthcoming about his past or his personal life, and tries to push Adam away even though it’s clear that he wants him just as much. When he finally pushes too far, and Adam does leave, Simon has to figure out a way to make things right. Queue awesome Christmas cliché plot device. Which was wonderfully schmaltzy, and I ate it up.

He hadn’t always been an ogre. Somewhere, very deep inside, the old Simon still lived and breathed. Every stupid Christmas movie he’d ever seen suddenly made sense. The magic was real. Just yesterday, he’d been trying to avoid being a cliché. Today, he was going to be the biggest fucking Christmas Miracle Cliché he could manage.

This book had me at “Mr. Literary Tightpants.” Though somewhat predictable, it was a fabulously executed Christmas romance; I loved every bit of it. The writing was sharp and witty, and the pacing was perfect for a short story. I’m told there are more books coming from the quaint little town of Silver Pines, and though they won’t be centered around Simon and Adam, specifically, they will be making little cameos. I would definitely love to read more of these guys – so, I guess that will have to do for now. ;)

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5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Jules, TJ Klune

Review: How to be a Normal Person by TJ Klune

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Title: How to be a Normal Person

Author: TJ Klune

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 290 Pages

At a GlanceI love so hard that this book exists.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: Gustavo Tiberius is not normal. He knows this. Everyone in his small town of Abby, Oregon, knows this. He reads encyclopedias every night before bed. He has a pet ferret called Harry S. Truman. He owns a video rental store that no one goes to. His closest friends are a lady named Lottie with drag queen hair and a trio of elderly Vespa riders known as the We Three Queens.

Gus is not normal. And he’s fine with that. All he wants is to be left alone.

Until Casey, an asexual stoner hipster and the newest employee at Lottie’s Lattes, enters his life. For some reason, Casey thinks Gus is the greatest thing ever. And maybe Gus is starting to think the same thing about Casey, even if Casey is obsessive about Instagramming his food.

But Gus isn’t normal and Casey deserves someone who can be. Suddenly wanting to be that someone, Gus steps out of his comfort zone and plans to become the most normal person ever.

After all, what could possibly go wrong?

Dividers

Review: So, I just finished my first TJ Klune book – *waits for massive collective gasp to die down* – and, it was…utterly fantastic. It was so fantastic that I had to immediately go back in and read several passages over again. It was so fantastic that I have a strong feeling that even if I had read other TJ Klune books, this one would still be my favorite. I loved this book like crazy – for so many reasons.

First of all – there’s Gus. Gustavo Tiberius is “abnormal and weird and strange.” And, that’s what makes him so perfect. Gus has never left Abby, Oregon, was best friends with his dad, and is pretty outspoken about his aversion to people and basically any social situation. One of the things that instantly endeared Gus to me was that he reminded me a lot of my son, who is also a giant bag of awesome quirks; I loved him more with every page.

Next, there’s Casey. New in town, and working at his aunt’s coffee shop, Casey is instantly smitten when he meets Gus. Casey is an asexual stoner hipster. This description – repeated many times throughout the book – cracked me up every time. In fact, the word hipster is in the book eighty-one times. Now, most people probably have an idea what a hipster is… but, in case you might find it helpful, here you go…Hipster, as defined by Urban Dictionary: Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20s and 30s that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter… Hipsters reject the culturally-ignorant attitudes of mainstream consumers, and are often seen wearing vintage and thrift store inspired fashions, tight-fitting jeans, old-school sneakers, and sometimes thick rimmed glasses. According to Gus, Casey and his friends definitely fit this bill – and, initially, Gus is NOT impressed.

Though Gus is outraged at first about Lottie not telling him about her nephew, he quickly finds himself unable to stop thinking about Casey, and, in fact, wanting to change himself for the other man. Wanting to be “normal”. So, where does he head for help? The internet, of course! Oh, man…the website he finds and decides to use as his go-to for the voice of “normal” is beyond hilarious. There were several times where I couldn’t even fathom what I was reading, and was terrified at what advice Gus would take to heart next!

Somehow, though, simply by being his own amazing self, the boy that Pastor Tommy raised, Gus finds a way to make it work with Casey. He manages to connect with Casey, even though intimacy is difficult for them both for different reasons. He learns a lot about himself in the process, and begins to really heal and find happiness again after the devastating loss of his father.

I have to say something quickly about Pastor Tommy…I don’t know if there ever has been a time when I loved a character so damn much who wasn’t even in the book. We get to know him through a series of scenes from Gus’s memory, and he became so real to me, so amazing, that I could feel the pain from his loss. Some of them were funny of course – how can there not be humor with an old hippie stoner raising a kid? – but mostly they were beautifully heartwarming and moving, the last few even bringing tears to my eyes. Pastor Tommy was a kickass dad.

And, now we’ve come to the ‘this-review-is-getting-soooo-long-and-there-are-too-many-fantastic-things-to-mention’ montage. So, here we go…more epic things you would miss out on if you didn’t read this book…Stoner Scrabble…a ferret called Harry S. Truman…Gus handling Casey’s friends like a boss…a Vespa gang who are possible lesbian sister-lovers…a know-it-all inspirational calendar…and, again, Pastor Tommy.

There were so many layers to this story; it was equal parts hilarious, touching, informative (heh), and romantic. I’m sure there will be some out there who will say, “There’s no sex.  How can there be romance?” There is TONS of romance. It may be even more romantic because there is no sex. Casey and Gus are completely swoon-worthy.

I don’t know how TJ Klune ever got through this manuscript. I know some authors go through the same emotions while writing that we go through while reading – in this case: hysterical laughter, eye rolling, swooning, and tears, to name just a handful – which must have made writing this one an adventure and a joy. I know reading it sure was. I love so hard that this book exists.

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4 Stars, Genre Romance, Piper Vaughn, Reviewed by Jules, Self-Published

Release Day Review: Bookmarked by Piper Vaughn

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Title: Bookmarked (Heartsville)

Author: Piper Vaughn

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 82 Pages

At a GlanceThe writing is tight, the pacing is great, the dialogue sharp, and I really enjoyed the characters.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: To save his bookstore from closing, Mark Werner realizes it’s going to take a miracle—like getting reclusive, best-selling author Shepherd Knight to agree to appear for a signing.

After their disastrous last encounter, Mark doesn’t hold up much hope Shepherd will agree. Shepherd’s never made a single public appearance. In fact, Mark wouldn’t even know what he looks like had he not accidentally discovered the sexy stranger he’d been flirting with for months, aka “Tall-Dark-and-Grumpy,” was also his fanboy obsession.

But desperate times call for desperate measures. If Mark can convince Shepherd, it’ll be a major coup in the book world and might just save Bookmarked from sinking. Too bad Shepherd won’t reply to his e-mails. Yet Mark didn’t earn the reputation of having a “sunshine-and-rainbow-fart” personality for nothing. He’ll do whatever it takes to get his man… and hopefully not make a fool of himself in the process.

Dividers

Review: Welcome to the gayborhood! Haha I love it. Bookmarked, by Piper Vaughn, is the first release in the Heartsville series – a group of five short stories by five lovely authors – and was a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. Honestly, I could spend a couple of hours just looking at this cover. How cute is the storefront? And, how adorable is Mark? All five covers are fun, but this one gets an A-plus!

The story is fairly simple…Mark’s bookstore is in trouble, and he needs to pull out the big guns to save it. Namely, swallowing his pride and contacting a hugely famous author who is also a local, and with whom Mark had an embarrassing encounter some time ago, to ask him to do a book signing at the store. Shepherd Knight, the aforementioned author, is not the jerk Mark originally took him for, though it takes a bit of time to warm up to him and learn why he acted the way he did initially. I liked both Mark and Shep, and really enjoyed the setting of the bookstore as well as all of the writing references and nods to being an author. Especially this bit from a little speech Shep gives to a group gathered at the store for a NaNoWriMo event:

“Even if I never got paid for it, I’d feel compelled to do it. And, that’s what makes a true writer. It’s not how many readers you have or how many publishing contracts. Do you love to write? Then you’re an author. No one can take that from you.”

Though it’s not a complicated plotline, it was very well executed. The writing is tight, the pacing is great, the dialogue sharp, and I really enjoyed the characters. Also, we were introduced to the guys who we’ll get to know better in the other books, which is fun. Bookmarked was a good little romance, with lots of charm, very little drama, and the perfect amount of sex. I have a feeling I’ll be enjoying the other books in this series as well! Go check it out, folks!

I’ll leave you with my favorite line from the book…

Not only had he screwed around in his bookstore, which was unprecedented, he’d come while sniffing a Stephen King novel and being dry-humped by his favorite author. There had to be a joke in there, something about loving his books but not loving his books.

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5 Stars, Nash Summers, Reviewed by Jules, Self-Published, Young Adult

Review: Diamonds by Nash Summers

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Title: Diamonds (Life According to Maps: Book Two)

Author: Nash Summers

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 70 Pages (approx.)

At a Glance: Maps is truly special; I’ll take any glimpse into his world I can get!

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: Maps’ kingdom is crumbling before his eyes.

His parents are forcing him to get a job, there’s a new kid at school who won’t stop staring at him, and his best friend is too busy thinking about girls to help Maps deal with his real problems.

Worst of all,

Maps is lost.

And none of the roads on his map are leading to Lane.

Dividers

Review: Maps is back!! I was full on laughing out loud on the first page, and thought I was quite possibly going to highlight the entire book. Seriously, though, Nash Summers has done it again. Diamonds, the second book in what I hope will be a very lonnnnnnng series, will run you through all of the emotions, as did Maps. Mattie ‘Maps’ Wilson is my hero; I sincerely think I could read books about him for the rest of forever. And, the title of the series is perfection. Even though the books are each only around seventy pages in length, you truly do feel like you’re getting a crash course in ‘Life According to Maps’.

This story begins as Lane is away at baseball camp, and Maps feels very unsure as to where they left things. He’s biding his time, driving his parents and his best friend Benji crazy, as per usual, but he honestly feels unbalanced with Lane gone. As hysterical as this book is in so many places, there are also some very real emotions here…some very growing-up type things that both boys are going through. Insecurities, some thoughtless self-centeredness that is typical teenage stuff, and the all-consuming power of young love, all brilliantly showcased with the perfect combination of heart and humor.

I have to mention that we also meet a couple of new players – one in particular, Perry, who I LOVED – which makes me wonder if there really is more to come for these guys, and possibly the secondary characters. A girl can dream, right?

I’ve read quite a bit of this author’s work now, and I marvel at how well she writes such incredibly different types of books. I am absolutely a fan. All of her stuff is great – but, Maps is truly special; I’ll take any glimpse into his world I can get! Diamonds was a wonderful follow-up to the first book – I can’t recommend this series enough.

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5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Jules, Reviewed by Lisa, S.A. McAuley

Buddy Review: Where Wishes Go by S.A. McAuley

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Title: Where Wishes Go

Author: S.A. McAuley

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 246 Pages

At a Glance: We loved it. Check this one out, folks!

Reviewed By: Jules and Lisa

Blurb: Can you have a second chance at a first love?
Nick Paine is just starting to return to normal after he told his wife he’s gay and asked for a divorce. Despite a daughter he loves dearly and a job he believes in, part of him is stuck in the past. He’s never forgotten the first love he let fade away fifteen years ago.
Adam “Izz” Azzi has settled into a happy rhythm. His daughter is healthy, he’s found a mosque that accepts him, and his work as a modern artist is gaining international attention. While his past is fraught with mistakes and what-ifs, his life now is good, and he doesn’t want to upset any of the balance he’s worked so hard to achieve.

When Nick and Izz are reunited by luck and fate, their attraction is just as undeniable, but what was left unsaid haunts them. They have hope for a future together, but wishing may not be enough.

Dividers

Review: Jules: Sometimes you simply need a swoony, well-written, easygoing contemporary romance in your life. It’s a fact; you just do. Next time you find yourself in that position, reach immediately for Where Wishes Go by S.A. McAuley. This is not just an easy-breezy contemporary romance, though…No, no…This book has sexy dads. That’s right – DADS, with an ‘s’. Whether or not there are sexy dads is ALWAYS a good baseline for judging if a book is going to be worth your time. And, this one definitely is.

Lisa: At its core, Where Wishes Go is a story of second chances—at love, at life. Nick Paine and Adam Azzi get the ultimate do-over after a fifteen year separation; after their failed relationships with women gifted them each with a daughter; after myriad hardships and recoveries. And after they each are able to reconcile their pasts, to understand and forgive their teenage selves and put behind them all the mistakes they made at the moment they said goodbye at graduation all those years before, these two men rediscover each other, rekindle a love that never really burned out, and suffer the ultimate trial a parent can face. And, in the end, Nick and Adam came together and built a family.

Adam realized that Nick and he were kindred spirits in a way that time or distance couldn’t diminish.

Jules: I loved how this story unfolded, how we get to know them each individually and where they are in their lives, and then watch them reconnect and grow together. The perfect way their worlds mesh and meld together, from their daughters’ fast friendship to the seamless blending of Adam and Nick’s friends. It’s all so well done.

Speaking of the friends…this cannot go unsaid. They. Were. Fabulous. Every last one of them. Adam’s best friend and business partner, Charlie, Nick’s best friends Roban, the restauranteur, and Daniel, the boutique owner, all fit together like a puzzle, and were perfect as the guys’ chosen family. The girls not only had doting fathers, but three doting uncles wrapped around their fingers as well. This crew starred in many scenes ranging from heartwarming to hysterical, and I want them all to have their own books immediately. :D

Lisa: I loved all the characters in this book, even when I thought I may not necessarily like Nick’s ex-wife Shelly. Adam isn’t as fragile as he believes, finding strength and peace in his faith and in the love of his daughter; Nick is tenacious and loyal and patient as both a father and lover—they carry the story along, but without their daughters, Katie and Miriam; without their mothers; without their close group of friends there to lift them up and support them every step of the way, Adam and Nick might have had a much longer and more arduous journey to their happy ending than they’d already had to endure. Daniel, Charlie, Roban—the guys who bring a little lightness to some of the heavier moments in the story—were stellar. I loved them to bits because they brought the humor right along with the impenetrable wall of support when Nick and Adam needed it, and them, the most.

Jules: McAuley’s writing style feels so effortless and smooth, the entire book is a joy to read. The scene setting is fabulous, the character building was so thorough, the interactions so perfectly executed, and the romance…is like butter. There is a bit of tension/angst/drama, to give just the right amount of extra depth to the story. But, overall this is a good feels book.

Lisa: Where Wishes Go is so happy-making. It’s romantic to the extreme, a little angsty, a lot embraceable. It grabs you by the sentimental short-hairs and doesn’t let go until the final sentence, unashamedly plucks at your heartstrings, and delivers a few chuckles along the way for good measure. The next time you’re in the mood for a feel-good read, this book fulfills that wish.

We loved it. Check this one out, folks!

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4 Stars, Drama, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Melanie Hansen, Reviewed by Jules

Review: Signs of Life by Melanie Hansen

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Title: Signs of Life (A Resilient Love Story)

Author: Melanie Hansen

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 234 Pages

At a Glance: Overall, this was a good romance, a nice second chance story.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: Successful lawyer Jeremy Speer has it all—a loving husband, a beautiful home, and a cherished dream that’s about to become reality. He’s learned not to take happiness for granted, meeting the challenges of life and love head-on with unwavering commitment and fierce devotion. A series of tragic events leave Jeremy shattered, adrift on a sea of unimaginable pain. He’s able to piece his life back together, but instead of embracing it, he merely exists, using isolation and punishing physical exertion to keep the world at bay.

High school teacher Kai Daniels has a heart for at-risk kids—he was one himself, and a teenage brush with the law and some troubled years behind bars left him scarred inside and out. With courage, hard work, and the support of friends, he’s built a fulfilling life that leaves no time for a relationship.

An intense encounter with Kai at a gay club ignites a spark in Jeremy that he thought was extinguished forever, but he’s unwilling to destroy the fragile peace he’s managed to create, and he leaves Kai humiliated and disappointed. Things should have ended there, but a bizarre occurrence brings the two together in a way neither of them expected.

Dividers

Review: Let’s begin at the beginning. Full disclosure right up front. The first chapter of Signs of Life will gut you. Not even kidding, I was crying within five pages. Then, just when you think you’ve made it through…BAM! Jeremy suffers another unspeakable loss. I have to admit I questioned the necessity of it…the cruelty of it…but then, if one thing happened without the other, it would have been a completely different story, and this is the story the author wanted to tell. So, I plodded on. Then, while grieving, Jeremy lashes out VERY cruelly at his dear friend. I absolutely questioned his behavior and his character at that point, horrible losses or not. So, yeah…it was a rough start.

Fast forward two years – Jeremy has moved to Bend, Oregon and is attempting to put his life back together. I love this quote from a scene where he is contemplating renovations on his new law office, as well as his renewed interest in life:

Suddenly he was itching to get to work, to make all of these dreams a reality, to rebuild his new life from the ashes of his old one as best he possibly could.

Part of the reason for his new zeal for moving on with his life is his attraction to Kai Daniels. Kai is smokin’ hot. An ex-gang kid turned school teacher who, as it turns out, pushes ALL of Jeremy’s buttons. The attraction these guys have for each other jumps off the page. The author’s descriptions of them are vivid – I felt like I could perfectly picture the quasi-bad boy thing Kai had going on at times, with his eyeliner, lip piercing, jewelry, and swagger; and Jeremy’s lean runner’s build, clean cut good looks, and sex appeal in a suit were also clearly etched in my mind.

It took me quite a while to actually come to like Jeremy – over a third of the book – which was a bummer, but once he started to thaw out a little, and especially once he warmed up to the kids who were fulfilling their community service at his property, I definitely started to fall for him. Obviously, he went through unimaginable hurt. I don’t want to come off as insensitive about that. At all. As I said, I was crying with him and hurting for him in chapter one. But, I did have a hard time with his behavior afterward. That being said, again, by the second half of the book and beyond, I was loving me some Jeremy.

I completely dug Kai’s character – he had me at hello – and was sucked into his whole backstory. I also love a good bromance, so his relationship with his best friend, Loren, was pretty sweet but also sort of crazy and co-dependent. Kai’s relationship with Loren hindered his ability to fully explore what he had with Jeremy, so I was glad when they sorted it out at the end. And, though I haven’t seen it confirmed anywhere, I strongly suspect that the next book in the series will be Loren’s book.

Overall, this was a good romance, a nice second chance story. The angst was heavy, though largely in the first half, and the sex was steamy. Also, the epilogue was fantastic. I didn’t read Everything Changes, the first book in the series, though now I’m dying to dig into Jase and Carey’s story. I’m sure fans of the first book will be very pleased with the ending here. ;)

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Genre Romance, Loch Awe Press, Reviewed by Jules, Samantha Wayland

Review: Home & Away by Samantha Wayland

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Title: Home & Away

Author: Samantha Wayland

Publisher: Loch Awe Press

Pages/Word Count: 402 Pages

At a Glance: This was the perfect book at the perfect time. It just made me feel…good.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: You can build a team, but you have to find your home.

Rupert Smythe is fond of many things. Callum Morrison isn’t one of them.

Rupert is a quiet, thoughtful business man and, sadly, a total wimp. Maybe not the ideal candidate to run a professional hockey team, but he signed on to do it anyway. As his life has reminded him on an almost daily basis since, this isn’t the most brilliant idea he’s ever had. And that was before Callum showed up.

Being in the spotlight is just part of being a professional athlete, but Callum needs a break. He arrives in Moncton unannounced, determined to help grow the team he just bought, and under the assumption he’d be welcome. Possibly he should have tried to make a better first impression.

Callum figures he can push through the rest of the summer, never expecting two kids, a host of friends, and his growing feelings for Rupert to derail everything he has ever believed about what he wanted, and what he could have.

Dividers

Review: I’m asking in advance for you guys to overlook the number of times I might use the words cute, sweet, adorable, charming, or lovely in this review; because Home and Away was ALL of those things. Now, I know that first sentence might send some people running – but don’t! Stop right there. It wasn’t sweetness overload. Honest. It was just…charming. It worked – all the way around.

Callum Morrison is a household name among NHL fans, especially those in Denver where he plays. He is your typical rough and tumble hockey player, who has come to spend the summer in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, to help out in operations with the Moncton Ice Cats, the professional hockey team of which he is part owner. Rupert Smythe, general manager of the Ice Cats, is the exact opposite of the type of person one would expect Callum to be interested in – and vice versa – but, when things start clicking between them, it’s like they were meant to be.

Rupert and Callum just fit. When Rupert unexpectedly needs help with a family matter, Callum doesn’t hesitate to jump in, much to Rupert’s surprise. As the story unfolds, and they begin to truly know one another, their preconceived notions of each other get blown out of the water. I love how they grow together, and ultimately, end up finding their home with, and because of, each other.

There were soooo many parts of this book that had me grinning, laughing, swooning, sighing, and fanning myself – these boys were on fire – I can’t even begin to recount them to you. Just know that there is an adorable four year old, a couple of Ice Cats who will have you cracking up, a few great friends, some hockey, some awesome figure skating, and a bubble butt. Oh! And, the Morrisons. If you’ve read any of Samantha Wayland’s Hat Trick series, then you’re familiar with some of the Morrison clan already, but if you haven’t, let me tell you, they are fabulous. I think it’s also important to note that I had not read anything else in this world, or from this author previously, and it didn’t hamper my enjoyment of this book one bit.

Could I make a couple of small criticisms about the book? Sure. There were a handful of editing issues…things happened perhaps a little quickly between the two MCs…the sheer number of gay people in the story felt a little convenient at times…Did I care about any of that? No. I absolutely ADORED these characters, and their story. This was the perfect book at the perfect time. It just made me feel…good.

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You can buy Home & Away here:

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4.5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Mary Calmes, Mystery/Suspense/Action Thriller, Reviewed by Jules

Release Day Review: Fit to Be Tied by Mary Calmes

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Title: Fit to Be Tied (Marshals: Book Two)

Author: Mary Calmes

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 244 Pages

At a Glance: OMG YOU GUYS!! THIS BOOOOOOK!!

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: Deputy US Marshals Miro Jones and Ian Doyle are now partners on and off the job: Miro’s calm professionalism provides an ideal balance to Ian’s passion and quick temper. In a job where one misstep can be the difference between life and death, trust means everything. But every relationship has growing pains, and sometimes Miro stews about where he stands with his fiery lover. Could the heartstrings that so recently tied them together be in danger of unraveling?

Those new bonds are constantly challenged by family intrusions, well-intentioned friends, their personal insecurities, and their dangerous careers—including a trial by fire when an old case of Miro’s comes back to haunt them. It might just be enough to make Ian rethink his decision to let himself be tied down, and Miro can only hope the links they’ve forged will be strong enough to hold.

Dividers

Review: I fell HARD for Miro Jones (still the coolest damn name ever) and Ian Doyle in Mary Calmes’s first Marshals book, so when I found out about Fit to be Tied, I was ridiculously excited. More Miro and Ian could be nothing but Win, right?? Well, of course the answer was ‘Right’. I absolutely loved this book. BUT, instead of doing my usual Mary Calmes book flail – you know the one I mean…OMG YOU GUYS!! THIS BOOOOOOK!! – I wanted to keep it reeled in. So, I’m doing organized gushing (it’s a thing) instead. :) In three parts: Miro My Hero; Dr. Hartley, I presume?; and, The Evolution of Ian (and Miro).

Here we go!

Miro My Hero:

Miro’s heroism in this book knows no bounds. Sort of like my love for him. Ha! Seriously, though, he is beyond strong. Beyond brave. I love the fact that he is ALWAYS thinking about everyone else, and about doing the right thing. And, I love that he knows what he wants, and isn’t afraid to ask for it. There are many places in Fit to be Tied where Miro is different levels of heroic, but there were three standout scenes for me: First, at Ian’s father’s birthday party, he takes care of Ian, making him feel centered and loved after he is completely disregarded by his stepsiblings and stepmother during a video presentation to their father. He then angrily dresses down the stepsister and stepbrother, again showing Ian how important he is.

Next, there is in incident where Miro and Ian save a couple of kids that desperately need help. Miro doesn’t do this singlehandedly – Ian is indispensable as his backup, as usual – but, if it weren’t for Miro giving the little boy attention and treating him like he mattered, while everyone else ignored him, the kids would not have been saved. And, finally, there is a pivotal scene where he has to dig deeper than he has ever dug before, where he shows what it truly means to be a survivor, which will fully blow you away.

Dr. Hartley, I presume?

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to mention Dr. Hartley. I think anyone who has read All Kinds of Tied Down, as well as this book’s blurb, knows that he is going to be somehow involved in the story. Now, I’m obviously not going to tell you how he is involved in the story, but I do want to talk about him. You guys won’t believe how creeptastic this guy is. Mary has KILLED it with this storyline. The things that go on in his head…the things he puts Miro through – as well as anyone in his path, really – are just…*shudders* If she wants to write more of this type of stuff, I fully approve, because WOW.

The Evolution of Ian (and Miro):

I love where Ian ends up in this book. His growth, and really their growth together, is fantastic. He never backs down from anything, as we know; he has to be that way for his job, both as a marshal, and a Green Beret. As this story progresses, though, his eyes begin to open to what it truly means to be with someone, in every sense, not just as partners on the job. This line during an argument with Miro is everything:

“No!” he roared. “Before anything else you’re my life you stupid prick!”

He evolves sexually as well as emotionally, also learning to ask for, and take, what he needs in bed. Their chemistry is just as explosive as it was in the first book, perhaps even more so as Ian becomes a little more…adventurous.

So, yeah, I loved this book. The ongoing disagreement regarding their relationship status was a wee bit repetitive for me a couple of times, but that was just a tiny ripple on a sea of awesome. Run as fast as you can to read this book.

In closing, I’ll leave you with one final two-word reason…Sam Kage.

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You can buy Fit to Be Tied here:

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4 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Nash Summers, Reviewed by Jules

Review: Lovers & Fighters by Nash Summers

Title: Lovers & Fighters

Author: Nash Summers

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 127 Pages

At a Glance: I hope you guys will give this beautiful story of love and redemption a try!

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: Scott Halleck and Julian Reeves are polar opposites in almost every way. Scott, a modern arts curator at a museum in Chicago, relishes the finer things in life. Julian is a strange photographer whose hair color changes as frequently as his mood. As far as Scott can see, Julian is an erratic know-it-all who lives his life one day to the next. To Julian, Scott is an uptight, too-coiffed perfectionist.

As the two men continue to run into each other, their dislike grows, but beneath that animosity, a fire is beginning to spark. Scott is baffled when he realizes he is falling for Julian, a man who burns hotter than a wildfire. Scott will have to decide, for the first time in his life, if he’ll let the flames take over.

Dividers

Review: Nash Summers is a multi-faceted talent. She has brought us the quirky and hilarious Maps, as well as the hauntingly beautiful fawn. Her new release, Lovers & Fighters, is equally mesmerizing and gorgeously written, though extremely heavy and dark. It is definitely not your typical M/M romance…which is one of the things I loved about it.

The book starts out hilariously, with a very perplexed and taken-aback Scott having his footwear berated by the extremely colorful ‘Mark’. I loved how the author jumped right in, giving us a little piece of each of their characters. The entire book is in Scott’s POV, but Summers did a great job of also showing us Julian, through their various encounters, as well as how the book was written in each of the scenes. The writing and the descriptions and imagery when Scott is alone, or with another character who is not Julian, is very…careful. Quiet. But, when he is with Julian everything is more explosive and vibrant. Alive. Mimicking how Scott feels when he’s with him.

Scott has always thought that he needed a man like Ryan, an older man who was “safe”, and could be his quiet comfort, when what he truly needs and craves is someone like Julian, someone who can make him feel. On the other hand, Julian burns too brightly on his own, and needs a man like Scott to keep him tethered. He needs someone safe. The big question in this book is, can they ever stop hating each other for long enough to figure out how close they are to loving each other?

I’ve talked in other reviews about what a beautiful writer Nash Summers is. I would be remiss if I didn’t share just a couple of examples of her gorgeous prose and dialogue. I also can’t tell you how difficult it was to choose just these three passages…

These photos demanded attention like the fall demands the frozen chill of winter to create a clean white slate to blanket over its mistakes. I wanted to reach out and touch them, to feel the glossy finish of them against my fingertips in hopes that some of their life would come away with me.

“Have you ever seen anything more beautiful than a carousel? They’re made of magic, and here we are, lucky enough to not only be witness to it, but allowed to come along for the ride,” Julian said.

When I was near those pieces of artwork, I felt like they were fallen stars from somewhere in the heavens that became fed up with the perpetual brightness of themselves and decided to drop down to earth.

Lovers & Haters is SO full of emotion. They are sometimes very in-your-face emotions that are tough to read…but, these are real guys, with real problems. Much of it was heart-breaking, but there were also uplifting, hopeful moments mixed in. I hope you guys will give this beautiful story of love and redemption a try!

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You can buy Lovers & Fighters here:

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5 Stars, Genre Romance, Indra Vaughn, Leta Blake, Reviewed by Jules, Self-Published

Review: Vespertine by Leta Blake and Indra Vaughn

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Title: Verspertine

Authors: Leta Blake and Indra Vaughn

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 396 Pages

At a Glance: This book blew me away.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: Can a priest and a rock star obey love’s call?

Seventeen years ago, Jasper Hendricks and Nicholas Blumfeld’s childhood friendship turned into a secret, blissful love affair. They spent several idyllic months together until Jasper’s calling to the Catholic priesthood became impossible to ignore. Left floundering, Nicky followed his own trajectory into rock stardom, but he never stopped looking back.

Today, Jasper pushes boundaries as an out, gay priest, working hard to help vulnerable LGBTQ youth. He’s determined to bring change to the church and the world. Respected, admired, and settled in his skin, Jasper has long ignored his loneliness.

As Nico Blue, guitarist and songwriter for the band Vespertine, Nicky owns the hearts of millions. He and his bandmates have toured the world, lighting their fans on fire with their music. Numbed by drugs and fueled by simmering anger, Nicky feels completely alone. When Vespertine is forced to get sober, Nicky returns home to where it all started.

Jasper and Nicky’s careers have ruled their lives since they parted as teens. When they come face to face again, they must choose between the past’s lingering ghosts or the promise of a new future.

Dividers

Review:

“In the end, forgiveness was easy like a flowing river, like the tides in the cove. It came in and covered the worst sins and carried them away to the depths of the sea.” – Leta Blake and Indra Vaughn

This book blew me away. Blew. Me. Away. It was surprising in the best way. I don’t know why I was surprised, really…I’m a big fan of Leta Blake’s books; and Indra Vaughn, though I hadn’t read her work previously, definitely has some popular titles, but I had no idea this one would be this good. The blurb intrigued me; I just didn’t know how the authors were going to pull it off. I mean, he’s a priest, you guys. Ha! But, pull it off they did. Vespertine is beautiful, emotional, raw at times, funny at times, definitely sexy, and just a gorgeous, gorgeous love story.

I fell in love with Jasper immediately. He’s such a gentle soul, so good-natured. It was also obvious that God truly did shine through him. He was so at ease in the priesthood that I couldn’t imagine him NOT being a priest – furthering my concern over how the authors were going to make this work! Jazz and Nicky’s relationship felt so organic, though, so meant-to-be, that when they fell back in love – not that they ever truly fell out of love – it was completely natural.

There were many, many beautiful moments in this book. Chapter one, when Jasper is getting dressed and preparing for Mass, the imagery is so vivid and breathtaking…chapter twelve, the scene where Jazz discovers and reverently touches each of Nicky’s tattoos, is unforgettable…the epilogue is fabulous…but chapter sixteen is one of the most beautifully perfect chapters I can remember reading. A couple of snippets…

“The rock under Jasper’s shoulders was hot, his skin dry, and deep inside his chest a warm comfort bloomed, a feeling of such safety and pure perfection it made the hairs on his arms stand on end. How could anyone not believe in God when moments like these existed? The bright light made his eyes moist. Love, he thought. Still. Always.”

“In reality the fort was nothing but a wooden square with a roof on it, a door, and a few windows. But I can still feel the magic. Like their happiness had permeated the sand and the rough grass and the trees, like their love and laughter had been life’s blood, soaked up into the roots of the island so that coming back here would be a step back in time. Lying in wait for them, no matter when they came.”

So, yeah…this is a fantastic read. There are too many kickass bits and characters to mention them all. Nicky’s story is hard to read at times – addiction is such an ugly thing, and a tough topic to tackle, but these guys did an amazing job. I wanted to squeeze him throughout the entire book. Jazz reminds him about all the best parts of himself, though, and together they are wonderful. The authors did an unbelievably brilliant job at making the story flow seamlessly and bringing all of the elements together. I wholeheartedly recommend this one! I will definitely be reading it again.

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You can buy Verspertine here:

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5 Stars, Genre Romance, Heidi Cullinan, Reviewed by Jules, Self-Published

Review: Dance With Me by Heidi Cullinan

Title: Dance With Me

Author: Heidi Cullinan

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 282 Pages

At a Glance: Dance With Me truly is a beautiful, touching story – probably the most romantic of all of this author’s stories that I’ve read so far.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: Sometimes life requires a partner.

Ed Maurer has bounced back, more or less, from the neck injury that permanently benched his semipro football career. He hates his soul-killing office job, but he loves volunteering at a local community center. The only fly in his ointment is the dance instructor, Laurie Parker, who can’t seem to stay out of his way.

Laurie was once one of the most celebrated ballet dancers in the world, but now he volunteers at Halcyon Center to avoid his society mother’s machinations. It would be a perfect escape, except for the oaf of a football player cutting him glares from across the room.

When Laurie has a ballroom dancing emergency and Ed stands in as his partner, their perceptions of each other turn upside down. Dancing leads to friendship, being friends leads to becoming lovers, but most important of all, their partnership shows them how to heal the pain of their pasts. Because with every turn across the floor, Ed and Laurie realize the only escape from their personal demons is to keep dancing—together.

This novel has been previously published and has been revised from its original release.

Dividers

Review: Sometimes life requires a partner.

That tag line is everything. Dance With Me is so much a story of partnership. Of loving someone, needing someone, taking care of someone, and understanding what all of that entails. Sometimes it’s messy, and sometimes, as Ed discovers, you have to swallow a bit of your pride and just allow it to happen.

This book has been on my reading list for so long, but when I was introduced to Ed and Laurie through their cameo in Lonely Hearts, and then found out it was being re-released, I had to know their story. And it truly is a beautiful, touching story – probably the most romantic of all of this author’s stories that I’ve read so far. I swoon at some point, usually many points, in all of her books, but this one just felt romantic to the core.

With Dance With Me, Heidi Cullinan has somehow managed to meld perfectly the beauty of experiencing great joy and the viciousness of living with chronic pain. Ed has days that are unimaginably difficult for him to get through, days that would send most people right over the edge. And, while he doesn’t always handle those days as well as he could, he gets through them. He gets through them, and gets up the next day and starts over. AND, somehow manages to still find joy in life, in his volunteer work at the center, and eventually, in dancing with Laurie.

Laurie is also trying to overcome an extremely painful event in his past, but not doing the best job at moving past it. Then Ed Maurer comes into his life, and somehow makes everything better. Early in the story, as he is struggling with what direction he wants to go with his life and career, Laurie has his doubts that what he wants is okay.

He did want Ed. He wanted to dance with him. To be with him. To go to bed with him.

But that wasn’t a life goal. That wasn’t a career. That wasn’t the sort of thing his mother had meant, wasn’t what he was supposed to want.

Except it was what he wanted. It was, honestly, all he wanted.

As the relationship progresses, however, and he accepts how being with Ed makes him feel, how it fulfills him, he begins to find himself.

The real safety was here, in Ed’s arms. In the future they had together. In the love they had for one another.

In the man he’d found within himself, by loving Ed.

That last line is fantastic. What a wonderful thought…that you could be a better person, a complete person, simply by giving your love to someone. Sigh.

One of the things Heidi Cullinan does so well in all of her work is making everything seem plausible. Every character, no matter how quirky, or flawed, or seemingly perfect, every scene, no matter the level of emotion, every scenario, is believable. All of the above is true in this book as well. Every interaction felt completely genuine to their characters. I loved how their story played out. Ed and Laurie’s story definitely hooked me – and, I was THRILLED to see that there is an Ed and Laurie novella planned for later this year or early next. I can’t wait for them to dance again.

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You can buy Dance With Me here:

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4 Stars, Amy Jo Cousins, Genre Romance, New Adult, Reviewed by Jules, Samhain Publishing

Review: Level Hands by Amy Jo Cousins

Title: Level Hands (Bend or Break: Book Four)

Author: Amy Jo Cousins

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 293 Pages

At a Glance: With Level Hands, Amy Jo Cousins shows us once again how well she can write young guys.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: When it comes to love, there’s no such thing as smooth sailing.

Rafael Castro is so far out of his element he can’t even see it anymore. Carlisle College in Massachusetts is a long way from his Chicago home, even farther from his Dominican Republic roots.

The only thing keeping him attached to his last nerve is the prospect of seeing Denny Winslow again. The first time they met, Denny taught Rafi to fly across the water, rowing hard in a knife-like boat. Now, two years later, on the wings of a rowing scholarship, Rafi is attending Denny’s elite college.

Even before the excitement wears off, Rafi is struggling with classes and fending off rumors that Denny’s family, not Rafi’s talent, won him his spot. To quash the gossip, Rafi tries to steer clear of the man he wants. A plan that evaporates in the fire of renewed attraction.

But Carlisle’s academic pressure cooker has Rafi barely treading water. And when a family crisis hits, both Rafi and Denny must pull hard to keep their relationship from capsizing in rough waters.

Warning: Contains a surly Dominican-American guy determined to show no weakness, a golden boy who knows his soft spots, some seriously dirty bachata dancing, and an excellent excuse for voyeurism in the locker room.

Dividers

Review: Rafael Castro definitely feels like he’s in over his head when he arrives at Carlisle to join the rowing team, and take advantage of the opportunity he’s been given to attend such a prestigious college. He feels he has to constantly show his gratitude, and to prove his worth, which ends up almost being his downfall. No matter how much he kills himself for the team, or works at his studies, he never allows himself to simply appreciate the gift he’s been given.

Denny Winslow desperately wants to help Rafi. Wants to share some of his burdens and help him reduce his stresses at school. Denny has wanted Rafi since he was seventeen, and Rafi was the first boy he ever kissed – but not until he turned eighteen, at Rafael’s insistence. Unfortunately, things don’t start out like he hoped they would when he found out Rafi was coming to Carlisle.

These guys drove me bonkers. Ok…Rafi drove me bonkers. Ha! But, you know what?? I liked them. I like how authentic they feel. How imperfect they are. How much their indecisiveness and refusal to pull their heads out of their asses at times made me want to throw my Kindle. Because that’s real life. Sometimes it takes a while to figure shit out. Sometimes the road is bumpy, and you can’t see the forest for the trees. But, our stubborn Rafaelito got there, man. He got there.

With Level Hands, Amy Jo Cousins shows us once again how well she can write young guys. The dialogue is sharp, and the crew scenes, as well as the scenes of Rafi and his roommates just hanging out, felt very natural. I really dug all of the rowing stuff, actually, more than I thought I would. Cash, who we initially met in Off Campus, the first book in the series, is completely awesome and hilarious, of course, and stole every scene he was in. And the chemistry between Rafi and Denny is fantastic. Sexy bachata dancing scene? Check. Hot as hell hiking scene? Check and check. When these guys are not needing to be smacked upside the head, and are clicking romantically, it’s ON.

There were a few little inconsistencies that threw me, the big one being Rafi all of a sudden referring to himself as ‘a black guy’ about halfway through the book. It was definitely mentioned that he was mixed race, but he had clearly been identifying as Dominican for the ENTIRE book up until that point, so it just seemed very strange to all of a sudden change that up.

It takes him a while – and thank God Denny is basically a massive sweetheart with an extremely long rope and high tolerance for taking Rafi’s shit – but Rafi finally starts to figure things out. In spite of his stubbornness and the ridiculous notion that he needed to push Denny away, I found myself rooting for Rafi throughout the book, and I’m sure you will be, too! And, don’t forget to click the link at the end of the book to subscribe to Amy Jo’s newsletter to get a bonus chapter!

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4 Stars, A.M. Sexton, Reviewed by Jules, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Self-Published

Release Day Review: Return by A.M. Sexton

Title: Return (Davlova: Book Two)

Author: A.M. Sexton

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 324 Pages

At a Glance: Every bit the exciting conclusion that the blurb promises.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: The exciting conclusion to Release

Fire rages through Davlova in the wake of a bloody revolution. The tyrannical upper class has been overthrown. In the midst of the chaos, Misha and Ayo escape on Miguel Donato’s boat and flee across the sea to the distant city of Deliphine.

All his life, Misha has dreamed of leaving Davlova behind, but now the only thing he wants to do is go home. He has no idea if the city still stands or how many of his friends have survived. But before he can return to Davlova and find his place in the wrecked landscape of the trenches, he’ll have to face a new threat in Deliphine – the Dollhouse.

Even in Deliphine, most people think the Dollhouse is a myth, but Misha knows the truth. The Dollhouse is real. It’s ruthless. It has an agenda.

And now, it wants Ayo back.

Dividers

Review: When I read Release – the first book in the Davlova series by A.M. Sexton – it completely rocked me. So, when I saw a few weeks ago that the sequel, Return, had a release date at last, I was alllll over it. I even re-read Release in anticipation, as there is a lot to the story, and I wanted to make sure everything was fresh. I was so glad I did; it was just as good as I remembered. Dark. So very dark. Intense and heartbreaking and just absolutely gripping. With Return, Sexton picks up exactly where Release left off, so you had better buckle up because the ride is on.

After fleeing from the only home he has ever known, Misha arrives in Deliphine with Ayo. He is incredibly happy to have saved Ayo but is also still devastated over the death of Donato, understandably struggling with both the loss and the fact that he was the one to actually take Miguel’s life. Sexton once again does an amazing job of connecting the reader to the characters. I felt both Misha’s pain and anguish, and Ayo’s anger and disbelief at Misha’s mourning. Ayo never saw the amount of tenderness in their master that Misha did. He only knows that his painful existence as a creation of the Dollhouse is because of the evil desires and requests of Donato.

Deliphine turns out to be nothing like what Misha expected. Instead of the fresh start of their dreams, they find the port city to be just as divided and messed up as Davlova was, if not even more backward and filthy. On top of which, Ayo also immediately starts to feel a tug from his chip to return to his maker. Having gotten the name of a surgeon in Deliphine, one of Donato’s connections, Misha and Ayo pay him a visit to see if they can get any help in having Ayo’s chip deactivated. Unfortunately, the doctor is unable to operate, out of fear of falling under the wrath of the Dollhouse, leaving them back at square one. Fighting Ayo’s program on their own proves exhausting and impossible, however, and they end up being taken in by the Dollhouse, interrogated, and then mysteriously released.

I enjoyed the first section of the book, when they are in Deliphine, particularly the fantastic discussions between Misha and Dr. Gideon regarding the moral implications of the neural implants, and whether it makes a difference if the person receives it willingly or not (as a philosophy major, I geeked out on those thoughts quite a bit). But, the story really started to pick up for me when Misha and Ayo return to Davlova. The descriptions of the ravaged city and the events that took place during and after Misha’s escape were at times brutal and shocking. The author pulled zero punches when describing what people are capable of during war. Misha is horrified by the things he sees and hears upon arriving back home and reuniting with some of his friends.

As in the first book, there is plenty of action and political intrigue, as well as raw emotion – the connection between Misha and Ayo is quite beautiful as it develops – and sex. But, the thing that I like most about Return is that it was Misha’s book to shine. I love where Sexton takes his character, from a street-smart thief and sometime whore, to a confident, fierce, smart man, who will do whatever it takes to protect his lover and, ultimately, help reshape and rebuild his city. Being a hero looks good on him. The other thing that made this sequel stand apart from the first book is that there was a bit more levity mixed in with the darkness. I would definitely still describe the story as dark overall – but there were a few more moments of joy and lighter scenes to help balance it out.

This book was a bit slower than the first book in the beginning, and a tiny bit repetitive in places, but it definitely ended up being every bit the exciting conclusion that the blurb promises. I would still proceed with caution regarding the heavy nature of the content, and it’s a must to read Release first, but if you’re looking for something different and something exciting that you can sink your teeth into, I absolutely recommend this one.

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You can buy Return here:

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3 Stars, A.V. Sanders, Genre Romance, Less Than Three Press, Reviewed by Jules, Short Story

Review: Percolation, Poetry, and Passion by A.V. Sanders

Title: Percolation, Poetry, and Passion

Author: A.V. Sanders

Publisher: Less Than Three Press

Pages/Word Count: 11000 Words

At a Glance: Percolation, Poetry, and Passion is a cute story with lots of potential.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: Beckett works at a coffee shop to make ends meet while attending a prestigious university. It’s not the most exciting job, but he’s done it long enough he’s good at it—and can avoid the tedium by spinning sexy little daydreams of things he doubts will ever happen.

Daydreams that soon include Simon, the hot, handsome, and older freelance writer who stops in one day. But then Simon becomes a regular, a bright spot more interesting than the inside of Beckett’s head, and daydreams start to seem like they could be something far more tangible—if reality doesn’t get in the way first.

Dividers

Review: Percolation, Poetry, and Passion is charming at times, especially in the beginning, and Beckett and Simon really are pretty adorable, but it was also frustrating at times because I felt like, as a story, it had so much potential that was just not able to be fulfilled due to the length. I’m not sure if this was a submission call from the publisher that only allowed for so many words, but I truly wish that A.V. Sanders had been able to give Beckett and Simon more time.

This story ticked several of my boxes…college student, southern boy, May/December romance, etc., and, as I said above, the main characters were pretty adorable. Beckett lets Simon know, via subtle, or sometimes not-so-subtle, interactions at the coffee shop that he is interested. And when Simon is free to act on those advances – he does go through a breakup in the story – he asks Beckett out on a date. I really enjoyed the date scene; it was imaginative and lovely to read. We don’t get to see much in the way of ‘spark’ between the guys, but we see enough to know they have an attraction and a nice connection.

Things start to go awry when it becomes clear that there just isn’t going to be enough backstory to have everything make sense. There is a fight where Simon becomes extremely jealous and angry at Beckett because he is meeting his professor for dinner. Simon’s reaction seems out-of-character; however, we don’t know enough about his story with his ex, and we don’t know enough about Beckett’s professor or his intentions, to truly make everything click. The couple goes to New Orleans, Beckett’s home town, to see his family, but the scene is quite awkward because it’s just not fleshed out enough. That whole bit was so rushed, as was the entire end.

Percolation, Poetry, and Passion is a cute story with lots of potential. Unfortunately it simply felt too rushed and too short. Perhaps the author can show them some more love in an expanded novella? I bet many readers would love to see Beckett and Simon get the shot they deserve.

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