Publisher: Riptide Publishing

Life of Bliss by Erin McLellan

Life of Bliss by Erin McLellanLife of Bliss by Erin McLellan
Published by Riptide Publishing on April 16th 2018
Pages: 211
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three-stars

Nobody plans to accidentally marry their frenemy with benefits.

Todd McGower and Victor Consuelos do not like each other. They can’t have a conversation without insults flying, and Victor seems to get off on pushing Todd’s buttons. The fact that their antagonism always leads to explosive sex . . . well, that’s their little secret.

Victor has a secret of his own. His full-blown crush on Todd is ruining his sex life. He hasn’t looked at anyone else in months, and he’s too hung up on Todd to find a date to his cousin’s wedding.

In a moment of weakness after a heart-stopping night together, Todd agrees to be Victor’s fake boyfriend for the wedding. Victor will have his plus-one—which will get his family off his back—and Todd will get a free mini-vacation. It’s a win-win.

But pretending to be fake boyfriends leads to real intimacy, which leads to too much wine, and suddenly, Todd and Victor wake up with wedding bands and a marriage license between them. That was not their plan, but a summer of wedded bliss might just change their minds.

I had the uncanny feeling the moment I got into the first few pages of ‘Life of Bliss’ that I was reading about a protagonist who’d been a secondary character in another previous story that I’d missed out. It wasn’t a feeling I could shake off so easily, though that might have also accounted for why I couldn’t exactly quite get a grasp on both the main characters until I was solidly halfway through it.

Todd and Victor’s backstory come to light in bits and pieces, where they find themselves as frenemies (a pretend-hate kind of situation) where snark and snippy comebacks not only form the basis for their prelude to sex but also serve as a defence mechanism to keep each other from coming too close. But somehow weddings and the aftermath drive people crazy, or at least, as far as Todd and Victor are concerned, throw them off the cliff and into the deep end where they move, in the space of a few drunken hours into uncharted territory.

Inner monologues both prove that Todd and Victor have mistaken ideas about how they see each other, but it was frustrating to read about how these mistaken perceptions weren’t corrected because both seemed contented instead to mull over them than talk it out like adults. The result is a rather prolonged period of the status quo that both try to keep (it obviously works as well as as one can expect) in a cycle that strains their relationship as their their own doubts and insecurities are left to fester. Still, I liked Victor for his own way of showing the kind of courage that it takes to keep a relationship that he slid into somewhat accidentally, though thought much less of Todd for being the way who simply couldn’t stay a course to commit to.

‘Life of Bliss’ didn’t present any big surprises for me; I expected and got what I thought would really come out of Todd/Victor’s relationship, from the conflict, the blow-up to the resolution. There were parts though, where I was bored and skimmed and couldn’t quite get myself very interested in the numerous sex scenes. In all, this was a middling read which I’d wished could have been a better one.

three-stars

Medley by Layla Reyne

Medley by Layla ReyneMedley by Layla Reyne
Series: Changing Lanes, #2
Published by Riptide Publishing on April 23rd 2018
Pages: 207
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three-stars

Sebastian Stewart was never Mr. Dependable; he was more the good-time guy who only wanted to swim, party, and ink tattoos. Until he cost his team the Olympic gold four years ago. Bas is determined to do right this time around—by his medley relay team and his rookie mentee.

Jacob Burrows is in over his head. The Olympic experience—from the hazing, to the endless practices, to the unrelenting media—makes the shy nineteen-year-old’s head spin. He’s trying to be everything to everyone while trying not to fall for his gorgeous tattooed teammate who just gets him—gets his need to fix things, his dorky pirate quips, and his bisexuality.

When Jacob falters under the stress, threatening his individual races and the medley relay gold, he needs Bas’s help to escape from drowning. Bas, however, fearing a repeat of his mistakes four years ago, pushes Jacob away, sure he’ll only let Jacob down. But the only path to salvaging gold is for Jacob to finally ask for what he needs—the heart of the man he loves—and for Bas to become the dependable one.

I was impatient for ’Medley’—Sebastian’s and Jacob’s story—after the excitement I had for Layla Reyne’s ‘Relay’. The play for the ultimate olympics glory, the seething emotions and the drama that lay behind it, the tears and sweat and the extremes of emotions? I loved it all.

But for better or worse, ‘Medley’ ravaged me and not in a good way. The presence of bisexual protagonists in the books I read don’t bother me and even though the acceptance or the rejection of it is a major theme in the book, I typically hold my romantic protagonists to a more basic standard: a bloody arse of a character (regardless of sexuality) isn’t likeable; worse yet, if the bastard in question is a protagonist in romance whom I’m supposed to cheer on.

That said, I struggled hard with liking Sebastian Stewart and by the end, still steadfastly believed that Jacob Burrows deserved anyone else but him.

In the blurb, Reyne hinted at a catastrophic meet 4 years ago involving Bas going off the rails and a backstory that no one would like. What I seemed to have witnessed first hand however, was one man’s strong denial, insecurity and debilitating fear of being left behind that cut a large swath of destruction through people. I felt as much for Bas’s ex as I did for Jacob, 2 individuals who’d only wanted to be happy with Bas, yet were only taken for the run around and annihilated and humiliated emotionally by him instead. As victims or collateral damage, so to speak, of Bas’s commitment-phobic stance, I hated that they’d both paid the emotional price for his stupidity and his stubbornness for using his own past to lash out against those who cared about him. That it had to take Jacob to hit rock bottom for Bas to finally conduct some form of self-examination brought him even lower in my esteem when I thought it couldn’t get any lower.

In fact, I didn’t feel as though Bas had redeemed himself in anyway—an apology, sudden promises, staying the night after sex counted very little in my opinion—when this supposed atonement simply didn’t match the trail of destruction and the heartache he’d left in his wake. For that reason, I also didn’t like Julio painted as the scorned, jilted lover (even though he was) and his resentment did seem justified when he’d been the one whom Bas kicked out of his life in the worse way possible because the latter simply couldn’t handle commitment.

Apart from the rambling rant about characters, I actually did find Layla Reyne’s writing thrilling. Her swimming scenes were brilliantly fashioned and I loved her portrayal of Jacob and how easy it was to find him a sympathetic character whom I identified with immediately. Catching up with Alex and Dane proved also to be a brief respite from the ongoing drama and waves that Bas caused and in the end, I couldn’t help but latch onto the team’s grounding presence when the hooky drama surrounding Bas became too much.

three-stars

Relay by Layla Reyne

Relay by Layla ReyneRelay by Layla Reyne
Series: Changing Lanes #1
Published by Riptide Publishing on January 8th 2018
Pages: 237
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four-stars

Captain is not a title Alejandro “Alex” Cantu takes lightly. Elected by his teammates to helm the US Men’s Swim Team, he proudly accepts the role, despite juggling endless training, team administrative work, and helping out on the family farm. And despite his ex-lover, Dane Ellis—swimming’s biggest star—also making the Olympic Team.

Dane has been a pawn in his celebrity parents’ empire from crib to pool, flashing his camera-ready smile on demand and staying deeply in the closet. Only once did he drop the act—the summer he fell in love with Alex. Ten years later, Dane longs to cut his parents’ strings, drop his too-bright smile, and beg Alex for another chance.

Alex, though, isn’t ready to forgive and forget, and Dane is a distraction he doesn’t need on his team, until an injury forces Alex to accept Dane as his medley relay anchor. Working together, their passion reignites. When Dane’s parents threaten reprisal and Alex is accused of doping, the two must risk everything to prove Alex’s innocence, to love one another, and to win back their spots on the team, together.

The simmering intensity of testosterone-laden competitive athletes and that crazy energy that they bring to it are what I particularly love about sports romances. Never having read M/M for olympic swimmers, ‘Relay’ quite literally had my eyes popping at the blurb that was followed by furious clicking on Netgalley and earnest prayer that I’d be given an ARC.

From the way Layla Reyne amped it up straight from the start as hostile sparks flew between Alex and Dane, I sat back, licked my chops and knew immediately this was going to be a good one. There were so many things I liked about this: the pairing, the unique pressures that the modern sports celebrity faces, the multiethnic representation of the swim team, the petty politics that goes on behind the performance and practice and the ever-present, pounding anticipation of the upcoming meet that pours off the pages.

And just as I liked the context and the build-up to the Olympics, I was fond of Alex from the start—the overworked athlete struggling to make ends meet and while keeping his swim team in sync and in good spirits, while keeping his heart and head away from Dane Ellis. Alex and Dane as we learn, had a history and one that ended in a nasty way a decade ago, no thanks to Dane.

Consequently, I had a bit of a harder time with Dane, wishing that his own courage wasn’t just limited to pushing his limits in the water. But Reyne peels back the layers to reveal more than a spoilt boy with his hypocritical parents (though I do wonder why religious characters always tend to be the biggest hypocrites in romantic fiction) who had done nothing but control his life.

My only complaint is that some bits felt far-fetched, which made the ending somewhat anti-climatic as everything started and ended during the run up to the heart-pounding Olympics itself: Dane’s ultimate stepping in, the quick resolution, the unrealised but hopeful dream, the rushed HEA.

Or maybe I’m nitpicking about what left me a little dissatisfied, only because ‘Relay’ felt unfinished, like the fall of the curtain before the climax of a play. Still, ‘Relay’ is probably one of the most unusual M/M books I’ve come across and I’m already hopping impatiently for the next one to come.

four-stars