Tag: m-m

Imperial Stout by Layla Reyne

Imperial Stout by Layla ReyneImperial Stout by Layla Reyne
Series: Trouble Brewing #1
Published by Carina Press on 23rd July 2018
Pages: 268
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two-stars

It’s a good thing assistant US attorney Dominic Price co-owns a brewery. He could use a cold one. Nic’s star witness has just been kidnapped, his joint operation with the FBI is in jeopardy, his father’s shady past is catching up with him and the hot new special agent in San Francisco is the kind of distraction best handled with a stiff drink.

Kidnap and rescue expert Cameron Byrne has his own ideas about how to handle Nic, but his skills are currently needed elsewhere. The by-the-book FBI agent goes deep undercover as a member of an infamous heist crew in order to save Nic’s witness, break up the crew and close the case before anyone else gets hurt. Nic in particular.

Things heat up when Cam falls for Nic, and the witness falls for Cam. As the crew’s suspicions grow, Cam must decide how far he’s willing to go—and how far into his own dark past he’s willing to dive—to get everyone out alive.

‘Imperial Stout’ is me stepping out of my comfort zone when it comes to M/M fiction, though Layla Reyne isn’t a new author to me. Written in a fairly different style from what I’m used to, and not having read Reyne’s ‘Agents Irish and Whiskey’ series, this is me coming in as a newbie. So with a very busy first chapter that included not only an action scene but a load of history between the protagonists which sort of involved also a best friend’s partner and ex-flame, I was a little lost, though duly warned about the kind of romance this path would take.

Still, I found it hard to engage with this one with the convoluted way the plot was initially presented, not like the way I was engaged in Reyne’s ‘Changing Lanes’ series, with my attention constantly pulled between the intrigue, the brewery, the huge number of characters mentioned or dropping in and the romance that was supposedly building. The pairing—between a US Attorney and a kidnap and rescue specialist with the FBI—, while intriguing, seemed to fade behind the never-ceasing activity that kept going on and I never quite lost the feeling of trying to play catch up having walked straight into a tv-series mid-season just as the action was heating up.

‘Imperial Stout’ is safe to say, probably more a book for Reyne’s stalwart followers of her previous series who want to continue into this spin-off in this particular world of whiskey, agents and lawyers. That said, while I still do like Reyne’s writing, I’m going to take a pass on this book and the series. I did try to get into Nic/Cam as much as possible, skimming the pages just to see how things finally fell into place for them, but ultimately, I just didn’t feel as though I made any headway into them at all. And without the base appeal of the main pairing in this romance, I couldn’t quite see the point going on.

two-stars

Tight Quarters by Annabeth Albert

Tight Quarters by Annabeth AlbertTight Quarters by Annabeth Albert
Series: Out of Uniform, #6
Published by Carina Press on 31st July 2018
Pages: 352
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four-stars

Petty Officer Bacon, a navy SEAL and ace sharpshooter, has been on the front lines of more than his fair share of dangerous ops. Yet when a minor injury relegates him to the beta team, he’s tasked with what may be his riskiest assignment yet: the silver fox journalist he’s babysitting is the hottest, most charismatic man he’s ever encountered.

Award-winning journalist Spencer Bryant may have been named one of Pride magazine’s most eligible bachelors of the year, but he’s not looking to change his relationship status. He’s a consummate professional who won’t risk his ethics or impeccable reputation by getting involved with a source. Even a sexy-as-hell military man. But while Spencer can resist his physical attraction to Bacon, he has less control over his emotions—especially when the mission goes sideways and the two men are trapped alone.

Getting out of the jungle alive turns out to be easy compared to facing the truth about their feelings for one another back in the real world. And whether or not they can build a future is a different story altogether.

It isn’t very often that I venture into M/M romance and Annabeth Albert is an author who’s new to me.

That the ‘Out of Uniform’ series has crossed my feed numerous times which I haven’t yet taken up is just added incentive to get into a military romance of this particular sub-genre. Coming straight into ‘Tight Quarters’ without having previously read the rest of the books in the series was no biggie; I had no problems catching up even with the small references to what happened before without the focus on Bacon and Spencer faltering at all.

A hot-shot journalist embedding with this particular SEAL team (which is, according to Bacon—I just had to have a laugh at his name because his real one isn’t much better) isn’t a scenario I’d ever envisioned, but this was something I was happy to take with a pinch of salt, or better put yet, a willingness to suspend disbelief for what I thought was going to be by and large, some kind of romantic suspense written into the story.

But it wasn’t quite one and because I dove in without expectations, everything felt fresh and new, from the not-quite action in the first half and the rather unusual conflict in the second that simply made it impossible to take sides.

The forced babysitting of Spencer Bryant, a plan that went inevitably wrong during a mission and the action that happened thereafter and the added element of the kind of craving attraction that Albert writes so well just made me a happy camper. The details of the mission itself felt as though they were deliberately left fuzzy, so it was akin to being part of the action but not being in the heart of it, which left the focus on the development of the relationship—both when Spencer and Bacon were together as well as apart.

Past the mission however, ‘Tight Quarters’ felt like a different book in the move from military to the party crowd that Spencer/Bacon got involved in on his leave. The different aspects of their characters coming out to play threw me for a bit when I’d been ready to pigeon-hole both of them as ‘journalist’ and ‘soldier’, in fact. But the thoroughness of Albert’s exploration of the tension between Bacon and Spencer—one that resulted in a slight lull in the first third of the book—was rewarding as a result, especially in the light of the slow, slow burn that was set up as hostile from the start.

By the time Bacon and Spencer talked their way through to their sappy end, I was impressed by Albert’s style—the emotional rawness that emerged later between this pairing—and her handling of gender fluidity. And then I wondered why I didn’t jump on her other books earlier on.

four-stars

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

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