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Jan
3

Review: Pressure Head by JL Merrow

Review: Pressure Head by JL Merrow Pressure Head Author: JL Merrow Reviewer: B. Rating: B+ What I’m Talking About: I was immediately curious about Pressure Head based on the premise alone: a plumber who has an affinity for water, uses his “gift” that causes him to be drawn to “hidden things” to find clues—and dead people. Tom won me over quickly, his funny (and often snarky) observations combining with his inability to keep himself out of trouble to make him a generally lovable character. As the sole narrator, his perspective did a lot to counter the more significant issues that I had with the other MC, Phil, and trusting Tom with his own choices made the romantic aspects of the story easier to accept as the narrative progressed. Despite such an intriguing framework and Tom’s winning personality, I never felt the same for Phil. While it is absolutely true that people change, and that Phil was right to apologize for his role in the worst parts of Tom’s past, his “second chance” got off to a bad start for me, some of those negative traits seeming to have stuck with him into adulthood. He is at once dismissive and controlling, and engages in some victim blaming that didn’t endear him to me. I understand the likely intent, though—we have to do better collectively to accept others as they are. I did like Phil more by the midway point, however, and it’s hinted that we’ll learn more about him in the future, which I’d like to see. Something that I enjoyed tremendously about Pressure Head was the cast of secondary characters, Tom’s best friend Gary and his new boyfriend Darren, most especially. These two are among my favorite characters ever, I think, and I was delighted each time they made an appearance—particularly during their post-service discussion outside a local church. Others, including Edith and Pip, also threatened to steal every scene they’re in, and allow Tom to shine even more as an incorrigibly charming flirt. And although theirs isn’t a comedic presence, Merry the vicar and Graham Carter are differently powerful entities that left a strong impression in their own right. Of course, the cats—Arthur and Merlin—have to be given their due, as well. What Pressure Head lacked in romance it made up for in the whodunit itself. It’s a mystery, after all, and Merrow serves up a good one here. Not overly complex, it doesn’t try too hard while being highly entertaining at the same...
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Dec
27

Review: New Hand by L.A. Witt

Review: New Hand by L.A. Witt New Hand Author: L.A. Witt Reviewer: B. Rating: B+ What I’m Talking About: Having read nearly every Bluewater Bay story since the beginning, I’ve been increasingly anxious lately about the series’ end. Many of the characters introduced in these titles have meant a great deal to me, the glimpses into lives that might be led making me think about how I view the world on the other side of my own door. New Hand, the final book in the series by inaugural author L.A. Witt, brings everything to a close in some very familiar ways: with heartache, laughter, hope, and a lot of love. Though every character in the Bluewater Bay universe has had significant conflict to work through, Jesse and Garrett face an uphill battle from minute one. Garret’s (ongoing) grieving, Jesse’s (also ongoing) experiences with regards to his status, their age difference, lingering wariness from previous relationships, and—of course—the opinions of others all contribute to an intimidating assemblage of obstacles that tests both men throughout the narrative. One of the longer titles in the series, New Hand covers a lot of territory as Jesse and Garrett navigate the beginning of their relationship. The loss of Garrett’s husband illustrates the very personal nature of grief, and the ease with which those around us can affect that process. How soon is too soon to love again? And who gets to decide? Another complication which I’d originally thought applied more to Garrett—that some burdens simply aren’t transferrable nor shareable—actually applies to both men. As does the fact that similarities between two people doesn’t make one a replacement for another. Even though all these issues and questions are extremely important, the “informative” feel of some of these passages did seem to weigh the story down in places. While I liked Garrett—and adored Jesse—my favorite part of New Hand was the return of the main characters of the previous title, Outside the Lines. I knew they’d be back, but I was thrilled with how often they appeared in Jesse and Garrett’s story. Simon and Ian were a welcome sight, but Lydia is still just about the best thing ever. In truth, I don’t think the story would have worked nearly as well without her being there as much as she was. The Bluewater Bay series has always been unique among many of the other long-running series I’ve read. The thoughtful, and generally respectful, approach the authors tried to take with regards to...
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Dec
19

Review: Outside the Lines by Anna Zabo

Review: Outside the Lines by Anna Zabo Outside The Lines Author: Anna Zabo Reviewer: B. Rating: A What I’m Talking About: Finding romance—or even the occasional hookup—in a little town like Bluewater Bay has been far more complicated than miniature set designer Ian Meyers would have liked. Meeting a gay man not involved with Wolf’s Landing isn’t all that easy, plus there’s always a chance that they’ll try to use him to be closer to the show. Going home with someone from work is just begging for a lot of awkward afterwards, and is a bad idea all around. Giving up on the whole thing seems like his only option, at least until a collision between his finished model and a stuntman leads him to the local hobby shop—and Simon Derry. Sweet, geeky, and completely adorable, Simon is exactly the kind of guy Ian’s been looking for. As if the ideal mix between shy and flirty wasn’t enough to make Ian want him, Simon is also a highly skilled miniature painter himself, and is willing to work by Ian’s side to get his set repaired on time. Add to that Simon’s obvious (and welcome) interest, and the situation would be absolutely perfect—if it weren’t for Simon’s wife. Having enjoyed another title I’ve read by this author, I was very excited to see what they might bring to the Bluewater Bay universe. After reading Outside the Lines, I can say that it’s easily one of my favorites of the entire series. Somehow capturing the ZING! of Simon and Ian’s new relationship energy and combining it with the comfort, support, and irrefutable trust that anchors Simon’s marriage to Lydia, Anna Zabo has crafted a truly beautiful love story. Without a doubt, there is a lot going on in this story. Outside the Lines examines the distinction between polyamory and open relationships, bisexuality and acceptance, romantic versus sexual attraction, a couple of different kinds of kink, and more. That said, not once did I get the impression that the author was ticking boxes on a list, nor did the tone ever shift to preachy. On the contrary, while fundamental to the makeup of the main characters, those things seemed almost tertiary to the larger, and more basic, feeling of warmth and wanting between people in love. Though we only see the events of the narrative from Simon and Ian’s POVs, I was most taken with Simon’s wife, Lydia. She is rock solid all the way through, only needing support...
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Dec
14

Listen Up! #Audiobook Review: Illegal Contact by Santino Hassell

Listen Up! #Audiobook Review: Illegal Contact by Santino Hassell Welcome to my weekly feature that focuses on audiobooks. It’s time to… Audiobook Review: Illegal Contact Author:  Santino Hassell Narrators: Alexander Cendese + Eric London Audio Speed: 1.25x Series: Barons #1 Genre: Contemporary Sports Romance, LBGTQ, m/m romance Source: Tantor Audio Star football player Gavin Brawley has a temper which has branded him as the bad boy of the NFL. It’s also what landed him under house arrest for six months, benched for the entire season. Recognizing he’ll need help, his manager pushes the solitary Gavin to hire a personal assistant to run the household and help with day-to-day tasks. Noah Monroe was forced out of his last job after he tried to out his boss for inappropriate behavior. Now he’s desperate to find work, and acting as a PA for a self absorbed jock will have to do. Determined to keep his job, Noah does what it takes to impress Gavin and make the arrangement work. However, when Noah learns Gavin’s secret – that he’s bisexual – Noah wonders if he can fight the constant flirting, or if he’s doomed to repeat past mistakes. I’ve been wanting to read Santino Hassell for a while now, so I jumped at the chance to review Illegal Contact. Overall, it is an engrossing story with a heartwarming, sexy romance. Gavin and Noah are like two rough-edged pieces that fit together perfectly, once you work to find how they mesh. Both slow to trust, they find common ground because they truly like and respect the other. They want to do things to make the other happy. The story starts rough. I mean, Gavin has issues. He’s angry. But every time Noah challenges him, Gavin comes back stronger and better. And Noah sees the real person in Gavin-not just some pro-athlete. He stands up for Gavin. Slowly each realizes there are real feelings forming. The characters are given time to work out feelings and issues, creating a stronger bond in the end. Additionally, I appreciate that the author doesn’t blow off the employee-boss relationship and its impact on power exchange. The pair discuss the issues and try to ensure that it’s not part of their relationship, yet it never really goes away – just gets fluffed over by their lust. Each narrator is great for his given character. Gavin’s narrator is very aggressive and rough around the edges, just like Gavin’s persona. He’s got a strong accent and can be abrasive at times. Conversely, Noah’s narrator is...
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Dec
13

Review + Blog Tour: Operation Green Card by G.B. Gordon

Review + Blog Tour: Operation Green Card by G.B. Gordon Operation Green Card Author: G.B. Gordon Reviewer: B. Rating: B+ What I’m Talking About: Though the Bluewater Bay series is drawing to a close, I was happy to see that the storytelling that originally pulled me in is just as strong as ever. Despite an initial moment or two of hesitation on my part, Operation Green Card, by G.B. Gordon, turned out to be a very sweet, hopeful tale of against-the-odds romance that I ended up enjoying quite a lot. Jason, whom we briefly met in Bluewater Blues, is as solitary as anyone could possibly be, keeping everyone—including his own daughter—at a distance. Between not wanting to be hurt, and not wanting to hurt those he cares about, he’s far too lonely for someone with such a giving heart. Arkady, whose loneliness is borne of fear and necessity, isn’t prepared to need anything more from Jason than the means to acquire his green card. But, having always wanted a family to call his own, he quickly realizes that almost finding one only to lose them again too soon might be more heartache than he can bear. While I ended up getting into Operation Green Card fairly well, there were a few things—that were mostly tied to Jason’s part of the story—which I had a little more difficulty accepting at first. I felt that his will to provide for his daughter was wonderful, but it made his determination to risk imprisonment if he and Arkady are caught seem somewhat reckless by comparison. And although I get why he’d want to avoid any pity that might come from those around him knowing about his prosthesis, I just couldn’t see how he planned to keep it a secret from the man who was supposed to be his husband—or how he thought immigration would react under those circumstances. Before long, however, I was very much interested in Arkady and Jason’s story, and eager for them to work things out. I found both men to be interesting characters, but, by the end, it was Arkady that I’d become most attached to. Open, giving, and ready to live and love again, I really wanted him to be happy, especially knowing he was exactly what Jason needed, too. Even with the moments that caused me to stumble a bit in my reading, I couldn’t help but cheer Jason and Arkady on in the end. The author took what could have been a fairly common theme (a...
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Dec
12

Review: How To Blow It With A Billionaire by Alexis Hall

Review: How To Blow It With A Billionaire by Alexis Hall How To Blow It With A Billionaire Author: Alexis Hall Reviewer: B. Rating: A What I’m Talking About: Opening with a prologue tinted with such sinister and brutal (and potentially prophetic) avarice that my nerves were on edge for the entirety of the narrative, How to Blow It with a Billionaire was as wonderful and absolutely crushing as I’d hoped—and feared—it would be. In a fairly seamless a transition, it picks up where How to Bang a Billionaire left off, continuing Arden and Caspian’s story with all the potential their new, and hard-won understanding might bring. Told entirely from Arden’s POV, How to Blow It with a Billionaire felt remarkably well-balanced and generous with regards to the other characters in Arden’s world. Arden is very easy to love, and I was instantly caught up in every hurt or happiness he experienced. Unguarded and generally hopeful, he views everything with an artist’s eye, always referencing various movies, music, novels, etc., to provide context for the situations he finds himself in. His awkward, often hilarious internal commentary provides most of the story’s humor, as well its heart. As was the case in How to Bang a Billionaire, I found the cast of secondary characters to be yet another highlight of the story. Ellery—Caspian’s younger sister and an absolute favorite of mine—is back, and her presence was both welcome and far better than I expected. Bellerose has returned, as well, and is even more charming and prickly than before. Arden’s expanding post-Oxford life also includes several notable additions, specifically the staff at Milieu—George the photographer, most especially. Never tidy nor easy, How to Blow It with a Billionaire is substantially darker than its predecessor, Arden’s increasing intimacy with Caspian exposing many of the latter’s secrets which were only hinted at before. Caspian is not at all what he appears to be, and Arden’s determination to make him at least accept the validity of Arden’s feelings and desires indicates a resilience that neither of them seemed to expect. As their relationship involves a particular kink, there is a significant emphasis on the difference between taking something unwillingly sacrificed and accepting something willingly given, and the inherent complications that must surely arise, allowing that a snapshot of either circumstance without proper perspective might look much the same. If you haven’t read How to Bang a Billionaire yet, I strongly suggest doing so before starting How to Blow It with a Billionaire. If you’ve already...
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Dec
4

Review: Rogue Affair Anthology

Review: Rogue Affair Anthology Rogue Affair Authors: Tamsen Parker, Ainsley Booth, Olivia Made, Kris Ripper, Amy Jo Cousins, Emma Barry, Adriana Anders, Kelly Maher, Stacey Agdern, Jane Lee Blair. Reviewer: VampBard Rating: A What I’m Talking About: I read three titles in this collection, and I’m really sad I didn’t have time to read more. Go pick this up, you guys. Dedication of a Lifetime by Tamsen Parker: This story totally hit me in the feels. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had THIS convo with Mr. VampBard. And the REALNESS of the relationship between Sean and Isaiah—oh, my. Get thee to a fainting couch, pronto. I loved the interplay between these two guys. School counselor Sean wants to fix the world, or at least he’s willing to bear the weight on his slim shoulders. No social justice slouch himself, Sean’s medical researcher husband Isaiah is exhausted by one assault to decency after another. Their world is crumbling, their marriage is in trouble, and Isaiah suggests they run away from it all but Sean balks. Will they honor the vows they made to one another or will their relationship be another casualty of the world gone mad?  Personal Proposal by Ainsley Booth: Astrid and Brianne. **content sigh** Brianne has balls of steel and is hiding out. Both of these women seem to have strong personalities and what I liked the most about their story was how there seemed to be an instant attraction yet they were so unsure. It was really endearing. I liked seeing Brianne through Astrid’s artist’s eye. New boss. Secret crush. Big problems.  Brianne can’t afford a crush on her new boss. Thanks to a storm of media attention, she’s fled her old life and desperately needs to please the aloof and demanding Astrid Dane. So she ignores the zing of chemistry every time they touch, and the ache inside each night as she tumbles into a cold, lonely bed. But as their work gets harder, and their days longer, boundaries crumble and Astrid finally puts her cards on the table with an unexpected proposal.  Such Great Heights by Adriana Anders: Shut. Up. I’m not crying. This poignant story highlighting an issue that definitely requires more attention felt so real. I felt like I was hiking up a handicapped path. Sleeping (etc.) in a tent. And the torment of someone haunted by his past. Small town reporter O’Neal Jones is a sucker for a good story. Which...
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Nov
29

Review + Giveaway: The Remaking of Corbin Wale by Roan Parish

Review + Giveaway: The Remaking of Corbin Wale by Roan Parish The Remaking of Corbin Wale Author: Roan Parrish Reviewer: B. Rating: B+ What I’m Talking About: Although I’ve read several titles by this author, and have enjoyed each one a great deal, I had a difficult time with both the reading of The Remaking of Corbin Wale, as well as writing this review. Evocative, sensual, and magical—I can’t remember ever reading anything like it, and wanted to love it because of that alone. Each of the five senses is teased into complicity, and the author’s general storytelling abilities are evident throughout. Phrasing such as: “In Alex’s arms, time was measured in breaths and distance in the wrinkles of the clothing between them…” handily caught me up in the narrative are everywhere, seeming almost careless in their delivery, if it weren’t for their undeniable importance. I also thought both Corbin and Alex were wonderful characters, although it was Corbin who repeatedly drew me in and kept the story pleasantly unsteady. Corbin has made a wall of himself, reinforced by a lifetime of inherited hurt and loneliness, and I couldn’t help being fascinated by the increasing fractures along its surface shaped by his wanting of Alex. The two are different in so many ways, but somehow collide at the merging of belief and magic, sensation and desire—the jumble of their pieces sliding together in a cohesiveness that neither is much inclined to refute. Almost a character in and of itself, the Wale curse is an ever-present nemesis, always lurking and threatening, and shaping so much of Corbin’s life that it really does seem to be a tangible thing. At first, I thought the curse begged the familiar question: does it exert a power of its own on those subject to it, or does it derive influence from the strength of their belief in its existence? In Corbin’s case, however, that became irrelevant as soon as Alex joined him in his determination to break it, rather than doubt its actuality. Overall, I found The Remaking of Corbin Wale to be a unique and sweet holiday read. While there were several moments when I was unable to completely immerse myself in the narrative, I’ve decided they are more personal in nature and shouldn’t dissuade anyone else from giving it a try. Additionally, 20% of the proceeds from the sale of this title will be donated to the Russian LGBT Network, which, on initial inspection, seems like a very worthy cause. My Rating:  B+...
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Nov
17

Blog Tour + Review: Citywide by Santino Hassell

Blog Tour + Review: Citywide by Santino Hassell Citywide Author: Santino Hassell Reviewer: B. Rating: A What I’m Talking About: “For everyone who couldn’t get enough of Jaiden and the Queens Crew. This anthology is for you!” This introduction by the author very neatly sums up everything most fans of the Five Boroughs series need to know about Citywide. Fascinating, complex, and impossible to overlook, these originally supporting characters’ voices resonated so strongly throughout the previous stories that the notion of the series without them has become unimaginable. So, it was with an inordinate fondness and eagerness that I began reading Citywide, and ended up caring even more deeply for each and every one of them by its end. “Rerouted” As previously noted, Chris, Jace, and Aiden have been favorites of mine since they first appeared in the series, and theirs was the story in the collection I was looking forward to the most. Chris has illuminated every scene he’s been in, while Aiden and Jace have always made me crave to learn anything about them that I could. Serving as both introduction and HEA, “Rerouted” exceeded all my expectations, starting Citywide off with as hopeful a beginning as I could have wished for. “Gridlocked” Tough, judicious, and fiercely loyal, Tonya has likewise commanded my interest whenever she’s appeared in the Five Boroughs stories. While she could have been cast solely as the Queens Crew’s walking reality check, it was always evident that she was much more. As the outrageous—though equally devoted—heiress and sidekick, Meredith has evolved quite a bit since her first appearance, and made a more compelling match for Tonya in Citywide than I initially expected. While I imagined I’d enjoy “Gridlocked” primarily for the chance to get to know Tonya better, I was both surprised and very happy that the pair got the new start they did. “Derailed” As the only one of these novellas that focuses exclusively on two of the original members of the Queens Crew, “Derailed” was the most difficult for me to read. The history Stephanie and Angel share is complicated, even taking into account the intimacy of their larger group, and the battleground they’ve taken up residence on for so long is downright brutal. They know each other far too well for their story to be either sweet or pretty, and it occurred to me at the halfway point that a glass of wine or three would have been welcome. Jagged and sometimes devastating, their HEA seemed the most...
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Nov
8

Review: Skin Hunger by Eli Lang

Review: Skin Hunger by Eli Lang Skin Hunger Author: Eli Lang Reviewer: B. Rating: B- What I’m Talking About: I liked Ava a lot in the first novel in the series, Escaping Indigo, so I was eager to find out more about her in Skin Hunger. At twenty-eight, Ava’s finally shaped her life into something she truly loves—for the most part. She’s the drummer in a successful band with her best friend and owns a house she’s proud of in a city she enjoys. It would be perfect if only she weren’t in love with said best friend (and completely unavailable bandmate), Tuck. The beginning of Skin Hunger held a great deal of promise overall, and I stopped to reread one or two specific passages on the spot so I could hold on to them as the story progressed. There were several moments that were simple and pretty, and which suggested a stronger foundation for the narrative as a whole. “But it was someone’s life, or it had been, even if it was only junk now. Maybe it had been loved. Maybe it had decorated someone’s windowsill or bookcase. Maybe someone had run their fingers over it every day. Maybe it had reminded someone of something, a memory or a person or something good.” These were, by far, some of my favorite scenes in Skin Hunger, and I’d have liked to have seen more of this kind of awareness from Ava throughout. There were also several secondary characters in Skin Hunger that I enjoyed a great deal, Ava’s grandmother and cousin Zevi, in particular. Though we don’t see nearly enough of him, Zevi is warm, supportive, and strong, and I couldn’t help but be intrigued by him, even with what little we’re shown. Ava’s grandmother is just as memorable, with her guarded resilience, and it was a pleasure to witness her tentative invitation to Ava to be a part of her world. One problem I kept having while reading Skin Hunger, however, was that the single-person narration placed high expectations on Ava’s handling of her own internal conflicts. Rather than following a solid trajectory to its conclusion, they seemed centripetal, circling without a definitive attempt on Ava’s part at any sort of resolution until the very end. That’s not to diminish the importance of what Ava is going through—as Cara says, two peoples’ experiences “can’t be measured against each other. They just can’t.” But, I still couldn’t help but feel that Ava’s POV might have...
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