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Say_EverythingTitle: Say Everything
Author: Gina A. Rogers
Length: 16,000 words
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: m/m contemporary romance
Rating: B-

Blurb:
Gregory has no problem talking Atari, muscle cars or just plain dirty, but will he be able to open up his heart to Chad and just say everything?

Gregory put his past up for sale on Craigslist. He never expected Chad, a gorgeous black-haired devil, to waltz in and take it all. He doesn’t leave him empty-handed though, giving him friendship and new memories to fill the space. Torn between his past and the chance at a real future, Gregory has to decide if he can let down his defenses and open himself up to the chance of getting hurt again. But Chad isn’t going to wait forever and Gregory only has one chance to convince him to stay, but he’ll have to say everything.

Review:
This was a nicely written short, one of those which feels complete with a definite structure and story which satisfied without leaving me wanting more. It tells of Gregory who, after 20 years of mourning the loss of his best friend, has decided that it’s time to make some steps towards moving on. He advertises a room full of 80’s memorabilia for sale and this brings Chad who is a party planner looking for things for an 80’s themed party.

There was much to like about the story. The opening meet between the men sizzles with sexual tension and I liked that they weren’t afraid to go for what they wanted. Chad’s vitality and energy calls to Gregory who is at a turning point in his life. Chad helps him along this difficult road and I very much enjoyed seeing them develop as a couple. There was a lighthearted tone to the narrative which offset the theme of recovering from grief. The story never felt heavy but still managed to show how difficult life had become for Gregory.

The part which worked less well for me was at the end when the big secret is revealed. It wasn’t much of a secret to be honest and part of me was hoping that the story wouldn’t develop the way it did. That type of plot has become tired and a little cliched in my opinion and I wasn’t too happy to see it dragged out again here. I finished the story pleased for the characters and charmed by their relationship but slightly disappointed at the lack of originality in the final reveal.

Overall, this is a story I would recommend and maybe there will be many readers out there who won’t mind the cliche at the end. Certainly, the excellent writing and the characterisation compensates for that ending.

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NextStopFunnelCakeTitle: Next Stop: Funnel Cake
Author: Heidi Champa
Length: 19,000 words
Publisher: Amber Allure
Genre: m/m contemporary romance
Rating: C+

Blurb:
Travis Webber has been working at his uncle’s amusement park since the days of keeping money in his pocket during the summers of high school and college. But, with his college career cut prematurely short, it’s turned into a full-time job. To add insult to injury, he’s forced to spend the bulk of his summer driving the train that runs through the park. This isn’t a huge problem, however, until someone from his past recognizes him.

Andrew Baxter, the guidance counselor who helped Travis in high school, recognizes him immediately, in spite of the seven years that have passed—and Travis’s cheesy overalls. When he invites Travis out to catch up on old times, Travis is reluctant, but his long-dormant crush on Andrew from his teenaged years is still enough to make him say “yes.”

As the two men get reacquainted, demons from Travis’s past threaten to grind the reunion to a halt. Can Travis learn to trust again and let Andrew into his life, or will old hurts derail his future?

Review:
Travis is getting by, working at his uncle’s amusement park and trying unsuccessfully to save up to go to College. He’s not happy when his uncle makes him spend part of his job driving the train around the park and is embarrassed when his old guidance counselor sees him in a crappy job, with a crappy uniform. Andrew ‘Mr Baxter’ is pleased to see Travis and asks him out for a coffee.

This was a gentle story with a very sympathetic character in Travis who sometimes behaved in silly, slightly immature ways, such as jumping to conclusions without evidence and running away from his problems. However, I thought there was enough explanation as to why Travis behaves as he does to make his actions believable. This made me feel a certain empathy for him, even if I also wanted to give him a piece of my mind! Fortunately, Travis’ best friend was there to talk some sense to him. Travis and Clayton’s friendship was another highlight of the story for me. Their teasing interactions were realistic for men their age, but contained enough seriousness when it mattered.

My reservations about the story revolve around the character of Andrew, or Mr Baxter, as Travis calls him for quite a lot of the story – which certainly didn’t help my feelings towards their relationship. We don’t get Andrew’s point of view so I was wasn’t completely sure about his reasons for asking Travis for a coffee, but it’s obvious that he’s attracted to Travis. Travis tells us that he had a major crush on Mr Baxter when he was at school, and I felt slightly uncomfortable that Andrew may have had inappropriate feelings for Travis when he was his school guidance counselor, even if he is only now, several years later, acting on those feelings. Andrew also seemed rather pushy and lacking in insight when it comes to Travis and his problems which struck me as unusual for someone of his profession – if he still is a guidance counselor, we are never told what he current job entails or whether he still works at Travis’ old school.

So whilst I liked Travis and found the story to be an easy, undemanding read, sweet in some places with a touch of angst in Travis’ past and how that affects him now, the romance didn’t work as well. That isn’t to say it’s a bad story and if some of the things I’ve mentioned don’t bother you then I’d be happy to recommend this story.

The Magic Broom by Teagan Loy

MagicBroom[The]Title: The Magic Broom
Author: Teagan Loy
Length: 17,659 words (70 pdf pages)
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: A-

Blurb:

With the winter Olympics on the horizon, Cody Mikkelson’s editor assigns him several stories about athletes in the area with gold medal aspirations. But there’s a catch: Cody has to try all the sports when he interviews the athletes—and he is so not an athlete.

The day before his torment begins, four new guys move into the apartment down the hall, including the handsome Shane Spicer. Cody is immediately desperate to figure out if Shane is gay, but both men have busy schedules, leaving little time to socialize. So Cody heads back to work and goes to interview the local curling team, where among brooms, laughter, a sore backside, and an unexpected meeting, Cody finds he just might get his chance after all.

Review:

I’m not sure why it took me so long to read this, but it was naturally assigned to me being the Canadian. 🙂 Anyway, it seemed to hit all the right buttons for me. Cody is forced to try out all the sports of some local Olympic hopefuls, complete with appropriate dress. He is not an athlete, nor a fan of winter, however off he heads with his best friend Kira to try them out. Simultaneously, there are some new neighbors that they meet and while Cody’s gaydar is broken, Kira is so busy with one of the other guys she can’t tell if Shane is gay or not.

Cody’s experiences during the test sports was so amusing. The little side thread of the mean-spirited photographer who took great delight in taking pictures every time Cody fell or screwed up added a bit of levity. I felt for him. The did them all but if you are not an athlete I’m not surprised he could hardly walk at the end of the day.

Of course, when it’s time to try out curling, there is Shane. There wasn’t tons of detail on the curling and I think as the story is told from Cody’s POV, the fact that it comes off as a bit confusing fits perfectly. He doesn’t really understand it himself and between him working on the story and Shane practicing for the Olympic trials, they don’t have much time together after they finally hook-up. Shane invites him to go to the trials, even though they’ve only been dating a couple of weeks.

Just the light tone of the story, along with Cody’s moaning and groaning about his life and the sports make this a fun read. There’s not much angst, so when you want a feel good story it’s a perfect choice and I admit I snickered at the end.

My only complaint if I had one was the best friend Kira. She came pretty close to the line of the pushy best friend. She didn’t cross it but I found her rather annoying, but that’s me. I find those types of people annoying in real life. 🙂 You don’t find out much about Shane or his family and his background with curling or the team, but despite that, I really enjoyed the time it took me to finish it and would recommend it even if you have no clue what curling is.

 

Review:

HeartoftheRaceTitle: Heart of the Race
Author: Mary Calmes
Length: 19,958 words (90 pdf pages)
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: C

Blurb:

Varro Dacien spends his life riding toward the next adventure. Brian Christie, his best friend and touchstone, the one person who’s always truly seen him, plays sidekick on these madcap adventures and subsequent trips to the hospital until he can’t take it anymore. While Brian can see Varro, Varro has never caught on that he’s breaking his best friend’s heart.

Without Varro, Brian builds himself a life that’s all about just getting by, doing his best to ignore the hole in his heart and his life. Without Brian to balance him, Varro pushes harder and takes more risks to reach that ultimate high. His job racing high-octane bikes on suicide-level courses makes it easy to get that rush… until it’s no longer enough and Varro realizes it’s not the race, but who’s waiting at the finish line that truly matters. Now he just has to convince Brian to be there.

Review:

A lot of co-dependence guilt-tripping caused my frustration with the story to detract from the overall feel. Brian was basically adopted by daredevil Varro’s family when he was in 4th grade. Varro and Brian were joined at the hip, Brian always there will Varro as he risked life and limb. When Brian reached his teen years, he realized he was not only gay but in love with Varro who was very straight. He found it very difficult to be around him, so went off to university and Varro started racing motorcycles.

After a particularly bad crash where Varro nearly died, Varro’s mother more or less guilt-trips Brian into quitting his job and going to follow Varro around Europe as he races to keep him safe. After watching Varro sleep with 3-4 women a night (stamina much?), Brian finally realizes that Varro is not going to change and he leaves to start his own life. A year later he’s doing well when Varro’s handler shows up begging Brian to come back, and Varro is right on his heals.

I found it frustrating that everyone figured it was Brian’s job to follow Varro around and keep him safe. It’s not the job of another human being to be a grown-ups babysitter. Everyone seemed to imply that what Varro was doing had more value than anything Brian could certainly be doing, so just make sure Varro doesn’t kill himself. Um. No. Maybe you should get Varro into therapy to find out why since childhood he’s been on the path to getting himself killed.

Also, the fact that no one ever talked about the real reason anything was happening was frustrating. Rather than explain why he was leaving, that he needed stability and his own life to be happy, he just walked off and said no particular reason why. I’m not all for talking it out forever, but some basic info sharing would be good. I think fans of the author probably will enjoy this. It has many of the hallmarks of her work, but I just couldn’t connect as I kept thinking that Brian’s 10 year obsession with Varro and Varro’s inability to look out for himself and needing Brain around, was leading to a very dysfunctional relationship.

Skin Deep by T.T. Kove

Bearded Caucasian tattooist creates a tattoo on a woman's shouldTitle: Skin Deep
Author: T.T. Kove
Length: 15,000 words
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Genre: m/m contemporary romance
Rating: C+

Blurb:
Kian is dragged along as moral support when his friend Chloe goes to get a tattoo done. What he thinks will be a boring few hours standing around a shop proves exciting instead, when an attraction to the tattoo artist proves to be both mutual and scorching.

And if they can survive the challenges thrown across their path, it may also prove to be something beautiful and permanent.

Review:
This story is part of the same set which includes Reunited, a story I reviewed here. This takes place before that story and has Josh and Damien as minor characters – they are Silver’s roommates – and it’s not necessary to have read any of the other stories in the series.

Kian gets dragged along by his friend Chloe when she goes for a tattoo where he meets hunky tattooist, Silver. It’s lust at first sight and after a bout of sex, they manage to make that awkward move from lusty encounter to dating. The story then follows the pair over the next six months as they fall in love and their relationship is tested.

This was an interesting format in that it took several snapshots of the relationship, showing significant points where they encounter difficulties in their first six months but make it through to allow their relationship to strengthen. Unfortunately, the format also meant that it wasn’t easy to get to grips with the main characters because once they have worked through their problems we skip forward. This misses out on really getting an indepth knowledge of either man and so when it came to some painful revelations towards the end of the story, I felt detached from them. Another slight niggle was the inconsistencies in the London setting. One minute the characters sound like they are from EastEnders saying ‘blimey!’, and the next they are going to the ‘store’ instead of the shop or supermarket. That’s only a minor niggle though.

Despite the niggles, I still enjoyed the story. This author writes emotion well and I was caught up, especially with Kian as the pair work through any problems. I liked the way that everything was handled sensibly and that the couple talk through their issues. I wanted them to succeed. There was a good balance between hot and heavy, sweet and sexy, and a dose of angst. I’d definitely read more of this pair.

Milord by Dusk Peterson

MilordTitle: Milord
Author: Dusk Peterson
Length: 10,000 words
Publisher: Love in Dark Settings Press
Genre: m/m historical fantasy D/s romance
Rating: B

Blurb:
He was the model prisoner, respectful to his guards and loyal to his fellow prisoners. What no one knew was that he held the key to destruction.

Having pledged himself to assist in a popular movement by prisoners and guards to reform Mercy Life Prison, Llewellyn fears the future, when it is likely that the reform movement will face stiffer opposition from Mercy’s Keeper. But Llewellyn’s fear of the future is overwhelmed by the present knowledge that he is not what he appears to be. Until now, he has managed to hide his secret and to sway his guards to follow his chosen path.

Now he has been placed under the power of a guard who cannot be swayed and who is intent on bringing Llewellyn under his control. Can Llewellyn escape from his new guard’s control? Will he really want to, once he has seen the door open to a world filled with true respect, loyalty, and love?

This novelette can be read on its own or as the third story in the “Mercy’s Prisoner” volume of Life Prison. Friendship, desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural historical fantasy series, which is based on late Victorian prison life.

Review:
As it says in the blurb this story is part of a series of books set in a AU similar to that of a Victorian prison. It can be read as part of the whole story arc, or as a standalone and I found no trouble slipping into the world that the author has created.

As the story begins Llewellyn is in conversation with another prisoner. Both have been working towards a set of rules which prevents prisoners from being beaten for minor infractions. However, Llewellyn secretly craves the beatings and manipulates the guards to get what he wants, until he’s paired up with Milord, a guard with honour and a tight control on his emotions.

This story deals with the tricky subject of violent BDSM and I know it’s not a topic which appeals to everyone, even those who like their BDSM to be a bit dark. However, whilst this story gives us a glimpse of the minds of two men – one who is fighting a sadistic nature and one who desires to be beaten – the violence itself is only suggested to the reader, with most of the beatings themselves being behind closed doors. I thought this was an effective way of allowing the reader to see the feelings of the characters without having to read graphic accounts of beatings.

The AU world itself was very interesting. It’s a mix of historical and fantasy, with enough detail given in this short format to be able to understand what’s happening in this story but with other details that are only alluded to and which made me want to seek out other stories. The story ends with some things resolved and some threads which are left to be picked up in future stories, presumably.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. The author has rather a literary style of writing that appealed to me. If I have any niggles it’s that there was a long section where we are told the back story of one of the characters. Whilst this allowed us to get a lot of information in a short period of time, it did detract a little from the overall story. I would have liked to have seen more focus on the pair together, but maybe that’s just the romantic in me. If you like dark romance stories then this would be a good one to pick up.

steamyciderandapples200x300Title: Steamy Cider and Apples (Jobs that Don’t Suck #8 )
Author: Jackie Nacht
Length: 13,067 words (62 pdf pages)
Publisher: eXtasy Publishing
Genre: m/m contemporary
Rating: C+

Blurb:

Tyler has a problem. He doesn’t have the funds to cover his fraternal dues this year and needs to find a job. After going to his fraternity treasurer, Mitch, Tyler finds himself working with Mitch’s hot twin brother, Sawyer.

Sawyer has had a crush on Tyler since he first saw the man at his twin’s crazy fraternity. When opportunity arises for the two to work together at the cider mill, Sawyer won’t waste any time to ask Tyler out and hope the two will become more.

Will there be steamy feelings, and will they fall for each other?

Review:

“Short, sexy and sweet” is how the author describes her writing and that pretty much sums it up. When Tyler goes to Mitch for advice on how to pay his dues, Tyler suggests he work with his twin brother at the apple cider place who is looking for extra help in the autumn season. But it seems Sawyer has been working behind the  scenes to get his brother to hook him up with Tyler who is in the same fraternity as Mitch.

It doesn’t take Sawyer long to make his move, however between school and sports and work they don’t have much time to spend together. Just before Halloween, Tyler falls ill and Sawyer takes care of him. It’s all very sweet as the tag line suggests. These aren’t “boys gone wild” in college having raunchy sex anywhere and everywhere. They take their time, and it’s got a more “romantic” feel than perhaps reality for a lot of young adults, but it’s sweet to read.

This is book 8 and many of the characters from other books do make a showing, but it’s quite possible to read as a stand-alone. I’ve read about half of them, and to be honest, there are so many guys involved, I couldn’t always remember exactly who was who, but the main focus is on the two main characters so it’s fine.

When you are in the mood for a little cotton candy read without many obstacles and no angst, it’s a good choice for you. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure the characters will stick with me all that long.