Tag: m-m

Syncopation by Anna Zabo

Syncopation by Anna ZaboSyncopation by Anna Zabo
Series: Twisted Wishes #1
Published by Carina Press on April 9th 2018
Pages: 295
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three-stars

Twisted Wishes front man Ray Van Zeller is in one hell of a tight spot. After a heated confrontation with his bandmate goes viral, Ray is hit with a PR nightmare the fledgling band so doesn’t need. But his problems only multiply when they snag a talented new drummer—insufferably sexy Zavier Demos, the high school crush Ray barely survived.

Zavier’s kept a casual eye on Twisted Wishes for years, and lately, he likes what he sees. What he doesn’t like is how out of control Ray seems—something Zavier’s aching to correct after their first pulse-pounding encounter. If Ray’s up for the challenge.

Despite the prospect of a glorious sexual encore, Ray is reluctant to trust Zavier with his band—or his heart. And Zavier has always had big dreams; this gig was supposed to be temporary. But touring together has opened their eyes to new passions and new possibilities, making them rethink their commitments, both to the band and to each other.

Music excites me and everything about the blurb of ‘Syncopation’ was catnip: a fledgling garage band on the verge of making it big, a new cocky (and talented) drummer taking the place of the old one, an unspoken, straining attraction between 2 people who’d had a rocky relationship years ago and the slow unravelling of a frontman who takes on too much on his own shoulders.

The title ‘Syncopation’ is a fitting one somehow—the beat that the band conjures, that Zavier and Ray dance to…it’s a story paced like a musical score, a build-up, with several sparks thrown in, then finally the climax that leaves one breathless. I loved the rush, the electrifying atmosphere that exploded to life on the page and the highs and the lows that Zabo writes so intricately about. In fact, Zabo’s descriptions of the exhilaration of performing and the adulation of the audience felt spot-on, as were her ways of talking about synaesthesia in the way it gave voice to music through shapes, colours and lines.

There are tons of triggers here, though, so going into this with eyes wide open is a necessity. What I personally hadn’t expected was the BDSM, the brutal, power-play kinks and the absence of love declarations in the traditional sense, though these were edgy enough to give the story a dirtier, flintier side as Zavier and Ray worked through their history while on tour. And as the tour amped up with each stop, so did the tension between them which I knew was going to explode in a fit so spectacular taking cover was probably necessary.

Still, I couldn’t exactly shake the feeling that for at least the first half, Zavier and Ray didn’t feel like equals (the former never looked like an open book, even by the end of it), coloured as they were by Zavier’s arrogant assumption about Ray’s punk status (10 years earlier!)—a subtle dynamic that seemed to have carried over to their interactions in the band. But I liked their slow, almost-grudging shift into friendship, the vulnerability that had Ray stripped bare, the inherent contradictions in both Zabo’s protagonists: the confidence, the conviction and the absolute commitment Ray had in the band and Zavier’s protectiveness towards him, then their role reversal in the bedroom.

My tastes are admittedly, a tad bit vanilla for all that went on however, as the BDSM really kicked in by the second half of the story. While I loved Zabo’s writing and the masterful pacing this story, the other bit of me cringed when the kinks took me for a ride—pun intended—longer and deeper than I was hoping for. With an ending that defied the usual ‘HEA/HFN’, I’m not entirely sure how to classify my own reaction to ‘Syncopation’ and it’s a rating that reflects that. Will there be more Zabo books in the future for me? Possibly so, since the secondary characters here have hooked me in and I’m already leaning towards wanting to read their stories.

three-stars

Down by Contact by Santino Hassell

Down by Contact by Santino HassellDown by Contact by Santino Hassell
Series: The Barons, #2
Published by Intermix on January 16th 2018
Pages: 124
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four-stars

Simeon Boudreaux, the New York Barons’ golden-armed quarterback, is blessed with irresistible New Orleans charm and a face to melt your mama’s heart. He’s universally adored by fans and the media. Coming out as gay in solidarity with his teammate hasn’t harmed his reputation in the least—except for some social media taunting from rival linebacker Adrián Bravo.

Though they were once teammates, Adrián views Simeon as a traitor and the number-one name on the New Jersey Predators’ shit list. When animosity between the two NFL players reaches a boiling point on the field, culminating in a dirty fist fight, they’re both benched for six games and sentenced to joint community service teaching sullen, Brooklyn teens how to play ball.

At first, they can barely stand to be in the same room, but running the camp forces them to shape up. With no choice but to work together, Simeon realizes Adrián is more than his alpha-jerk persona, and Adrián begins to question why he’s always had such strong feelings for the gorgeous QB…

The ultimate enemies-to-lovers showdown begins during a pre-season football game with cutting words and ends in an injury, fights that spread even to the fans and a stint doing community service for several weeks. I loved the explosive conflict right from the start—it had me laughing yet tingling with anticipation as I wondered how Santino Hassell was going to navigate the tricky waters of coming out, bisexuality and parental pressure, particularly as top level athletes.

But Hassell manages remarkably well. I didn’t think that Simeon and Adrian could get past their hot, heavy but difficult history, but Hassell’s slow revelation of Adrian’s sullen, vindictive nitpicking at Simeon’s sexuality is a perceptive one, as is his writing of Simeon as someone who isn’t the typical dumb jock/joker unable to see what Adrian is trying to do. And like the men they are, their behaviour is spot on: not terribly heavy on the emotions or the angst. There’s the typical deflection, roundabout admissions and the finality of the acceptance that I’ve come to expect, up to the last few pages when it’s simply breathtaking just to read the complete turnaround that Adrian makes.

There are subtle differences that distinguish Hassell’s writing from the rest of the (rather few M/M) sports romances I’ve read so far, but it’s a style I can easily get used to. It’s stylishly done, perfectly paced, with dialogue that’s unexpectedly edgy, harder and unpredictable—not to mention, the excellent way both Simeon and Adrian are set up that I’m always left guessing how both might react in the situation they find themselves in.

Even as a non-fan of American football, ‘Down By Contact’ is a fantastic read. Hassell has made it more about the protagonists than about the sport (I don’t thankfully, get lost in the details) and way before after Simeon and Adrian ride happily into their sunset, I’m already wondering how Hassell is going to top this.

four-stars

Undone by You by Kate Meader

Undone by You by Kate MeaderUndone By You by Kate Meader
Series: Chicago Rebels #3
Published by Pocket Star on March 5th 2018
Pages: 184
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four-stars

Dante Moretti has just landed his dream job: GM of the Chicago Rebels. And screw the haters who think there should be an asterisk next to his name because he’s the first out managing executive in pro hockey. He’s earned the right to be here and nothing will topple him off that perch—especially not an incredibly inconvenient attraction to his star defenseman, Cade “Alamo” Burnett. Cade has always been careful to keep his own desires on the down low, but his hot Italian boss proves to be a temptation he can’t resist. Sure, they both have so much to lose, but no one will ever know...

As Dante and Cade’s taboo affair heats up off the ice and their relationship gets more and more intense, they’ll have to decide: is love worth risking their careers? Or is this romance destined to be forever benched?

A 12-year-age gap between a closeted player and an openly-gay manager along with the implications of a relationship that’s probably forbidden and mostly likely to be massacred by the press and the public? The odds seem unsurmountable. That Cade and Dante play starring roles here made my mind up for me to grab ‘Undone by You’ by hook or by crook.

And Kate Meader makes it work with writing that’s so confident and assured, more so since M/M stories aren’t always on my priority list.

In fact, for its relatively short length, there certainly wasn’t any time wasted with narrative meandering, which made ‘Undone by You’ short, sharp and quite to the point. Cade surprised me by his straight-shooting talk and the mindgames in the dating game that he steered of when it came to Dante won me over. That he was the pursuer took me aback at first, though it wasn’t long that Meader had me rooting wholly for him, particularly when Dante was being a frustrating arse with his inability to decide what he really wanted.

I did think the flurry of activities however, rooted Dante/Cade’s burgeoning relationship very much in the present and I couldn’t even quite determine if their happy-for-now ending was going to last. The story seemed to end on their happy-but-shaky foundation (undoubtedly hard-earned) and the odd epilogue disappointed me when I expected an HFN/HEA-type of closure and I think I would have preferred a ‘boring but normal’ one with Dante and Cade some time down the road, settled in their relationship.

Nonetheless, the aspects of coming out to family and friends and what it meant to be homosexual in a workplace as testosterone-laden as competitive sports made this book a compelling read and Meader’s prose tied these together nicely through that mix of witty dialogue and the internal monologues of both the protagonists and the supporting characters—which I can’t wait to meet again as the series goes on.

four-stars

Hello Forever by Sarina Bowen

Hello Forever by Sarina BowenHello Forever by Sarina Bowen
Series: Pay It Forward #2
Published by Rennie Road Books on July 14th 2017
Pages: 213
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four-stars

When they were only teenagers, Axel and Caxton were caught making out in the woods at church camp. And afterward, Cax had disappeared from all the youth group activities.

Six years later, Axel is astonished to spot his first love’s face in the crowd of a college basketball game he’s watching on TV—at a school which has just offered him a job. It’s a thousand miles away, in a tiny rural town. But suddenly, he can’t wait to get there.

Cax can’t believe his eyes when Axel appears in the same Massachusetts town where he now lives. And he’s still just as drawn to Axel as ever. But he can’t let himself go there again, because loving Axel will mean giving up everything else he holds dear.

Both men have so much to lose. But as far as their love is concerned, it's Hello Forever.

Sarina Bowen’s ‘Hello Forever’ is a memorable read and I’m starting to think that she’s got a particular talent for M/M stories even if a few of her other M/F romances have ranked as a few of my favourites.

In ‘Hello Forever’ Axel and Cax have their own journey to undertake here in what feels like a spinoff from the first book in the series, though it’s perfect as standalone. Bowen’s storytelling shines especially when it comes to her ability to forge intimate and sweet connections between her characters regardless of sexual orientation, and I found myself enjoying Axel/Cax’s second chance story a lot more than I usually do for this trope because it didn’t have the usual hysterics TSTL bits in which some characters ‘break character’ for the sake of creating conflict.

Yet ‘Hello Forever’ is also very much a book about young people taking responsibility and stepping up when their own parents fail them—almost as if it’s a defiant flip of the bird at the media wailing about rootless, millennial ingrates. Bowen sets up Axel and Cax as very relatable characters that struggle with their careers, adulthood and the heavy burden of caring for family, not least to mention their sexuality. The slight bit of angst does help drive the story forward, though mostly, it’s an easy read without the extreme highs and lows that allow you root wholeheartedly for yet another couple to get their HEA.

four-stars

Puss in Prada

Puss in PradaPuss in Prada by Marie Jacquelyn
Published by Less Than Three Press on April 19th 2017
Pages: 60
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four-stars

Still struggling with his recent breakup, Alexander runs headlong—literally—into a witch who leaves him far less than human. Now a wise-cracking cat with a taste for expensive clothes, he is forced to live with the ex he can't get over and help the man find someone who will finally make him happy.

Cats can do no wrong in my book. Throw in a cat somewhere in a story and I’m typically sold. But Alex isn’t your typical cat. After getting turned into one, he’s as prissy as ever, insisting on designer wear, barely tolerates stupidity and yet remains the most self-sustaining cat I’ve ever read about.

‘Puss in Prada’ is so unique, so heartbreakingly funny and bittersweet that I was way too sorry when it ended. It’s also way too short for my liking because I was enjoying every minute of the snide, quirky and cute story told from the POV of a man-cat, who simply needed to learn some things about himself before that spell got broken.

For something so short though, Marie Jacquelyn does in many ways, capture the ‘tao’ of cats. I saw Alex superimposed over a cat and a cat’s prideful but independent ways superimposed over Alex’s own personality. I loved Alex as much as I loved Ethan, then got depressed when their story ended in a rushed HEA.

four-stars

Goodbye Paradise by Sarina Bowen

Goodbye Paradise by Sarina BowenGoodbye Paradise by Sarina Bowen
Series: Hello Goodbye #1
Published by Sarina Bowen on March 21st 2017
Pages: 223
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five-stars

In Paradise, there is no television. No fast food. Just long hours of farm work and prayer on a dusty Wyoming ranch, and nights in a crowded bunkhouse. The boys of the Compound are kept far from the sinners’ world.

But Joshua doesn’t need temptation to sin. His whole life, he’s wanted his best friend, Caleb. By day they work side by side. Only when Josh closes his eyes at night can they be together the way he craves.

It can never be. And his survival depends on keeping his terrible desires secret.

Caleb has always protected Josh against the worst of the bullying at the Compound. But he has secrets of his own, and a plan to get away — until it all backfires.

Josh finds himself homeless in a world that doesn’t want him. Can Caleb find him in time? And will they find a place of safety, where he can admit to Josh how he really feels?

I’m not a constant reader of M/M romance books, but thanks to Sarina Bowen’s mind-blowing introduction to them with ‘Him’ and ‘Us’, I’d be the first to raise my hand for the ARC if Bowen does any more of these. It’s her excellent exploration of gender preferences and stereotypical ‘gendered’ behaviours—whether learned or not—that made me want to get straight into ‘Goodbye Paradise’ and nowhere do these issues show up best than in her M/M books.


As I suspected, ‘Goodbye Paradise’ didn’t disappoint at all, following the journey of 2 boys (who’d been best friends in a polygamist cult from the time they were born) over a period of a year or so as they grew into their own identities and come to terms with their sexuality. Josh/Caleb are striking from the very start with distinct and unique voices that show the extent of their ‘worldliness’ and their naïveté, but also their bond that only got stronger with time. Along with the kind-heartedness of strangers and family along the way, both Josh and Caleb found more confidence in themselves as time went on as they learned what living outside the cult’s boundaries really meant. They aren’t typical protagonists from a romance novel—which I loved—but rather, sympathetic, well-rounded characters with their own abilities and their own insecurities that, by the time the story comes to an end, could have gone separate ways but yet chose consciously to stay together. Their edgy, growing desire for each other—sometimes sublimated, sometimes not—felt as natural as breathing, and their declarations of love were deeply…humanist, without fanfare but all too real.

‘Goodbye Paradise’ is in short, calibrated, controlled storytelling done with much panache and aplomb. I loved Bowen’s nuanced ways of challenging traditional roles of men/women in households, which was certainty made easier by the strict and hypocritical rules of the cult that Josh and Caleb had to live by. It’s also less angsty than I thought it would be (thank god), but no less fulfilling by the time I finished the book—in a single sitting.

five-stars

Guarding Mr. Fine

Guarding Mr. FineGuarding Mr. Fine by HelenKay Dimon
Series: Tough Love #3
Published by Loveswept on February 14th 2017
Pages: 213
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two-stars

As an agent with the CIA’s special activities division, Seth Lang lives for risk—and yet he’s stuck playing bodyguard to the U.S. consul general in Munich. Although Seth’s last assignment nearly killed him, babysitting some desk jockey in a suit sounds way too easy. But when he lays eyes on the new top man, tactical expert Rick Fine, Seth’s thrilled to see just how hard this job is going to get. Mr. Tall, Dark, and Quiet has a body worth guarding—and he requires hands-on attention day and night.   Dispatched to a German consulate to expose the murder of his predecessor, Rick finds himself in an extremely vulnerable position. He needs a man like Seth—in so many ways. This mission will inevitably plunge them both into jeopardy, but each new threat only brings them closer. Rick just hopes that he can keep his deepest, darkest secret hidden—or else risk imperiling a relationship they’re both fighting for their lives to protect.

This is far from a bad read, because HelenKay Dimon does the cloak and dagger business all too well. The setup itself should have been intriguing: a mysterious death, an ongoing investigation and an insider doing illegal jobs that clearly has dire consequences. Personally, I found the story hard to get into because I didn’t quite know the direction it was heading in and most of the time, it was as though I was taking round and round for a joyride without knowing what would happen next. But this is on me and not a reflection on Dimon’s solid writing.

In fact, I think Dimon does M/M romance with quite a bit of nuance and subtlety, cataloguing the interactions between men differently as when she writes men/women romances—and these are differences that I definitely look out for and appreciate. Seth and Rick did make a believable pair as a result, and I liked the start of the book very much, but the action and the multiple dangling threads of the story lost me close to the halfway mark.

two-stars