Tag: m-m

Orientation by Gregory Ashe

Orientation by Gregory AsheOrientation by Gregory Ashe
Series: Borealis Investigations #1
on 24th May 2019
Pages: 311
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three-half-stars

Shaw and North are best friends, private detectives, and in danger of losing their agency. A single bad case, followed by crippling lawsuits, has put them on the brink of closing shop. Until, that is, a client walks into their Benton Park office.
Matty Fennmore is young, blond, and beautiful, and he’s in danger. When he asks for Shaw and North’s help foiling a blackmail scheme, the detectives are quick to accept.

The conspiracy surrounding Matty runs deeper than Shaw and North expect. As they dig into the identity of Matty’s blackmailer, they are caught in a web that touches politicians, the local LGBT community, and the city’s police.
An attack on Matty drives home the rising stakes of the case, and Shaw and North must race to find the blackmailer before he can silence Matty. But a budding romance lays bare long-buried feelings between Shaw and North, and as their relationship splinters, solving the case may come at the cost of their friendship.

It isn’t often that I delve into M/M stories, but ‘Orientation’—strictly not quite a romance as yet—is making me rethink my choices. Gritty, oh-so-angsty and so well-put out, Gregory Ashe outlines 2 beguiling best-friends-protagonists who sort of sit on the opposite ends of the personality spectrums—private detectives, if you would, whose agency is failing, until someone walks through the door one day and changes the game.

Unresolved sexual tension is the order of the day, both Shaw and North struggle with their own deeply buried feelings for each other. There are parts that are excruciating to read about, as Ashe covers spousal abuse, unrequited feelings and the constant need (and the subsequent inability) to get past one’s own issues so sharply that you can’t help but feel for both Shaw and North. All these are interspersed with their banter, their amazing chemistry and the keen intelligence that permeate the rest of the narrative, as both Shaw and North trudge through what is more than just a simple case of blackmail and a shy young man supposedly coming out of the closet.

But at the same time there’s a whopping amount of brutality that Ashe doesn’t shy away from, just as he draws out the contradictions in the characters that you find in real life. Shaw/North don’t stay in their boxed up stereotypes; North, the blue-collared worker from a construction background is surprisingly in tune with his own emotions, while the Lululemon-wearing Shaw whose strange, romantic idealism jars so strongly with the sudden injections of impulsive violence he’s capable of showing.

If I were to find any fault with this book, it’s just that the plot is convoluted, a mite bit drawn out too much, the word play and the inner monologue too frilly, with some characters so flamboyant and overtly annoying gracing the pages even if they’re not actively present. But that’s perhaps nitpicking. There are layers upon layers of history, twists and turns in the form of conjectures and assumptions that aren’t exactly laid out in a linear fashion, so blink and you’ll miss it, or get even more confused.

Still, ‘Orientation’ is a book that had me sitting up and taking note of the language, the writing style and the compelling main characters—Ashe’s insights into both Shaw and North alone, are good enough for me to read straight into the next book without wanting to stop.

three-half-stars

Arctic Heat by Annabeth Albert

Arctic Heat by Annabeth AlbertArctic Heat by Annabeth Albert
Series: Frozen Hearts, #3
Published by Carina Press on 23rd September 2019
Pages: 361
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three-stars

Owen Han has a fresh lease on life—he’s kicked cancer’s ass and is roaring through his bucket list. The former investment banker hopes to find his next challenge in Alaska, volunteering alongside park rangers and fulfilling his childhood dreams of snowy winters and rustic life. Of course, those dreams did tend to feature big strapping mountain men in vivid detail…

Ranger Quilleran Ramsey would like to be anywhere other than dealing with newbie volunteers. And really, the only thing he needs less than a green volunteer “partner” is the flirty attentions of a buff city boy who doesn’t look ready to last a week, let alone an Alaskan winter. They’re all wrong for each other, even if Quill’s traitorous body enjoys the flirting more than it should.

As the weeks pass, the two snowbound men give in to temptation. But can their seasonal romance last until spring? For them to have a future together, each will have to trust the other…while hoping that the harsh elements and omnipresent dangers don’t destroy what happiness they’ve found in the moment.

There’s something I find compelling about Annabeth Albert’s Frozen Hearts series, but perhaps it’s the wilds of Alaska and the odd, accompanying sense of adventure and danger so far north that pull me in. Here, the urban-suave ex-investment banker and a grumpy, closet ranger come together in ‘Arctic Heat’, a pairing that is as unlikely as Owen Han and Quill Ramsey meeting under ‘normal circumstances’ had tragedy not struck in a way to make the former reevaluate his priorities.

And they couldn’t be more different, especially when the thought of such a pairing seems like a bad idea from the start. Owen is rocking what life has to offer after beating cancer, now exuberantly pursuing everything in his bucket list, Quill’s stoic, cautious and reticent in his approach to jumping into everything headlong despite Owen’s very obvious attempts in starting something between them. More so, because Owen’s place in Alaska is temporary—a pit stop in his journey towards ticking off yet one more thing in his list—while Quill is simply opposed to having his slow, steady life upended by an eager, restless puppy of a volunteer who just won’t give up.

But Albert works these kinks out slowly but surely, with action that is muted in favour of relationship development and a slow burn that’s mostly found in Owen’s small but significant inroads (literally and metaphorically) in Quill’s closeted and closed-up life and his overall bleakness on the relationship front. It’s a pairing that’s good for each other, I think, despite my finding Owen a bit too pushy for my liking, even if it’s meant to get Quill to let go of his regimented thinking a bit more.

Overall, ‘Arctic Heat’ is a gentler, more emotion-focused than adventure-driven sort of story, with an iron-clad HEA that Albert reinforces through lots of emotional affirmation. It did drag a bit and became somewhat predictable for me, but it’ll could appeal to those who like delving into head space with some adult angst.

three-stars

Dine with Me by Layla Reyne

Dine with Me by Layla ReyneDine With Me by Layla Reyne
Published by Carina Press on 16th September 2019
Pages: 205
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four-stars


Life never tasted so good.

Miller Sykes’s meteoric rise to award-winning chef is the stuff of culinary dreams, but it’s all crashing down around him. He’s been given a diagnosis that could cost him something even more precious than his life: his sense of taste. Rather than risk the very thing that defines him, Miller embarks on a last tour of his favorite meals while he still can.

But there’s a catch: he needs a financial backer to make it happen, and he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s sick.

Dr. Clancy Rhodes has two weeks to come to terms with putting aside oncology to work at his father’s thriving plastic surgery practice. When the opportunity to travel with a Michelin-starred chef presents itself, the foodie in him can’t believe it. It doesn’t hurt that Miller’s rugged good looks are exactly Clancy’s cup of joe.

As Clancy and Miller travel from coast to coast and indulge in everything from dive bars to the most decadent of culinary experiences, they’re suddenly sharing a lot more than delicious meals. Sparks fly as they bond over their love of flavors and the pressures of great expectations. But when Miller’s health takes a turn for the worse, Clancy must convince him he’s more—so much more—than just his taste buds. And that together, they can win a battle that once seemed hopeless.

‘Dine With Me’ is as much as a tribute to food as it is to romance: two weeks with an ailing celebrity chef (his self-imposed last rites, so to speak) and a foodie doctor on the verge of a career shift.

Layla Reyne takes a different direction with ‘Dine With Me’ and by turning to gastronomy, automatically helped keep the pages turning as I lapped up the descriptions of food as much as I did of the growing tension and stark differences between Clancy Rhodes and Miller Sykes—one with an unfailing optimism for human life and the other, with a fatalistic view of life as well…because of their work and what they love most doing. In essence, their chance meeting when Clancy signs up for the food tour becomes a slow burn of smouldering looks, helpless moans and tingly feels over gourmet dishes, with some (un)timely intervention of family and friends on both sides.

Reyne walks the thin line here when it comes to relationships; Clancy’s unusual—and frankly, rather unbelievable—family situation enables him to accept Miller’s own without difficulty. I found the circumstances and the plot a bit more conveniently serendipitous and a bit more far-fetched than I liked, and struggled with the small niggle bits that had to do with characterisation.

It is difficult to reconcile Clancy’s eager, enthusiastic puppy-dog demeanour with that of a 30-year-old doctor who’d seen too much in oncology, though it does play off nicely against Miller’s stoic and gruff behaviour as he wrestles with his own mortality. Still, it all comes to an end rather quickly where I’d hoped Clancy could have played a bigger part in Miller’s journey to recovery. Reyne focuses instead, more on food and the present rather than Clancy/Miller’s relationship changing past the tour, then hops to conclusion a few years down the road that tells more than shows the hard journey to their HEA.

Still, there’s a bit more poignancy and a lot more of the struggle for acceptance of change as the sobering thought of mortality lurks around the corner—it’s just slower-paced though, and if food’s the thing that revs your engine, ‘Dine With Me’ offers something unusual and different.

four-stars

Top Secret by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Top Secret by Sarina Bowen and Elle KennedyTop Secret by Elle Kennedy, Sarina Bowen
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 7th May 2019
Pages: 267
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three-half-stars

LobsterShorts, 21Jock. Secretly a science geek. Hot AF.

LobsterShorts: So. Here goes. For her birthday, my girlfriend wants…a threesome.
SinnerThree: Then you’ve come to the right hookup app.
LobsterShorts: Have you done this sort of thing before? With another guy?
SinnerThree: All the time. I'm an equal opportunity player. You?
LobsterShorts: [crickets!]

SinnerThree, 21Finance major. Secretly a male dancer. Hot AF.

SinnerThree: Well, I’m down if you are. My life is kind of a mess right now. School, work, family stress. Oh, and I live next door to the most annoying dude in the world. I need the distraction. Are you sure you want this?
LobsterShorts: I might want it a little more than I’m willing to admit.
SinnerThree: Hey, nothing wrong with pushing your boundaries...
LobsterShorts: Tell that to my control-freak father. Anyway. What if this threesome is awkward?
SinnerThree: Then it’s awkward. It’s not like we’ll ever have to see each other again. Right? Just promise you won’t fall in love with me.
LobsterShorts: Now wouldn’t that be life-changing...

In a rivals-to-lovers frat house story, Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen head straight into M/M territory after ‘Him’ and ‘Us’ (one of my first few and most memorable stories) once again and I’d be lying to say that I wasn’t excited about this rushed announcement of their collaboration that took off like wildfire all those years ago.

It’s a new pairing all around this time, though the flavour and the context—the college years with all the raunchy going-ons mostly revolving around hook-up culture and to some extent, toxic behaviour regarding sexuality and gender roles—is not too different from what Kennedy and Bowen have been dipping their pens into for quite a while.

Luke Bailey (student, stripper, never commits when it comes to attachments and strapped for cash) and Keaton Hayworth II (poor, rich boy never meeting his daddy’s expectation) clash as rivals for fraternity president, though their mutual dislike stems from something far deeper than that. But they meet online, oddly when Keaton starts researching dudes for a threesome for his girlfriend’s birthday party, and things start taking a turn for the…interesting. Rivals in real life, sexting buddies online—what starts out like a rather twisted version of ‘You’ve Got Mail’ eventually becomes a mortifying discovery about each other and themselves, though it’s not without a huge amount of push-pull and settling for something neither could have ever imagined.

Kennedy and Bowen is a collaboration that does work obviously, and at times, dare I say, write better together than apart: their characters are hilarious and there’re more unexpected turns in ‘Top Secret’ than I could ever have imagined, which kept me guessing at how the story would eventually end.

I can’t help the comparison between this book and Jamie/Wes nonetheless, the latter of which stay pretty close to my heart, which probably accounts for my somewhat less enthusiastic rating for the book. There’s probably nothing more insidious than a reader upholding past characters as a standard for what authors have to meet in the future and I’m guilty here of that. Luke/Keaton were fun, but ultimately, didn’t move me as much as Jamie/Wes, for the amount of pushing away that Luke kept doing, or that Keaton had to fight for everything when Luke just couldn’t meet him halfway. I wasn’t entirely convinced as a result, that Luke would have the guts to stay committed to Keaton when his first instinct was to always run.

The minor quip aside, ‘Top Secret’ is a fun and easy read—there’s never too much angst that bogs the story down—though the writing duo of Kennedy and Bowen should be enough to make M/M readers sit up and take note.

three-half-stars

Arctic Wild by Annabeth Albert

Arctic Wild by Annabeth AlbertArctic Wild by Annabeth Albert
Series: Frozen Hearts #2
Published by Carina Press on 3rd June 2019
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three-stars

When a plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, the best place to land is in the arms of a younger man…

Hotshot attorney Reuben Graham has finally agreed to take a vacation, when his plane suddenly plunges into the Alaskan wilderness.

Just his luck.

But his frustrations have only begun as he finds himself stranded with the injured, and superhot, pilot, a man who’s endearingly sociable—and much too young for Reuben to be wanting him this badly.

As the sole provider for his sisters and ailing father, Tobias Kooly is devastated to learn his injuries will prevent him from working or even making it back home. So when Reuben insists on giving him a place to recover, not even Toby’s pride can make him refuse. He’s never been tempted by a silver fox before, but something about Reuben is impossible to resist.

Recuperating in Reuben’s care is the last thing Toby expected, yet the closer they become, the more incredibly right it feels, prompting workaholic Reuben to question the life he’s been living. But when the pressure Toby’s under starts closing in, both men will have to decide if there’s room in their hearts for a love they never saw coming.

I’m new to Annabeth Albert’s Frozen Hearts series, so ‘Arctic Wild’ was sort of a pleasant surprise to me—something that didn’t involve her usual military stories and instead, dealt with the Alaskan wilderness was something I couldn’t resist trying out.

But then, there’s nothing too unpredictable about the story. You could see the train collision coming however; big-city silver fox, high-powered lawyer and Alaskan guy who has no love lost for the city, whose relationship started out as unwilling participant and tour guide until an unexpected plane crash forces them together in unexpected ways. Reuben Graham and Toby Kooly couldn’t be more different and they both know it.
Essentially, this was less of a survival-in-the-wilderness type of read than it was a slow-paced, grinding out the differences type of story as both Reuben and Toby drew closer (the latter has colder feet and more commitment issues than the former who longed for a connection) to each other. And as a result, I was more restless than usual at certain parts of the book, despite it being as close to a realistic m/m romance—there’s real life mirrored in there—as it could probably get the way I imagined it
I can’t exactly put my finger on what would have made it a more convincing romance for me—the sexy times are certainly not lacking—but perhaps the depth of Toby’s own feelings and commitment after Albert had so painstakingly painted him as a casual-sex person who slept around because he didn’t want any more burdens added to his life was what ironically made me doubt the feasibility of this pairing even by the HFN at the end.
So in all, a somewhat engaging but middling read—just wish I could have been more excited about this whole story.
three-stars

Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat

Kings Rising by C.S. PacatKings Rising by C.S. Pacat
Series: Captive Prince, #3
Published by Berkley on 2nd February 2016
Pages: 352
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four-stars

Damianos of Akielos has returned.

His identity now revealed, Damen must face his master Prince Laurent as Damianos of Akielos, the man Laurent has sworn to kill.

On the brink of a momentous battle, the future of both their countries hangs in the balance. In the south, Kastor’s forces are massing. In the north, the Regent’s armies are mobilising for war. Damen’s only hope of reclaiming his throne is to fight together with Laurent against their usurpers.

Forced into an uneasy alliance the two princes journey deep into Akielos, where they face their most dangerous opposition yet. But even if the fragile trust they have built survives the revelation of Damen’s identity—can it stand against the Regent's final, deadly play for the throne?

Kings Rising’ left my head spinning and it is a thrilling conclusion to the series really, as C.S Pacat pushes the envelope with court machinations, battle strategies (on and off field). Or rather, it’s akin to following a game of chess as the pieces are moved around – by whom, you wonder? – in such a way the battle lines look straight but are in fact, blurred, where trust is an empty word since betrayals and backstabbing and pre-empting are part for the course here.

The third book builds on the first and the second, and there’s something – having come this far – I think I’ll always miss about the first book particularly since it all felt a little simpler than this. But so it goes with power-hungry royalty and the devious lengths they all go to in order to be the supreme ruler.

It’ll be years before I’ll forget Laurent (and to a lesser extent, Damen), who’s probably a triumph of characterisation: complex, contradictory, sweet yet cruel and way too volatile to handle with care. For Laurent alone, ‘Kings Rising’ is worth all the stars I can give, except for the abrupt ending minus a badly-needed epilogue that made it seem just too short.

four-stars

Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat

Captive Prince by C.S. PacatCaptive Prince by C.S. Pacat
Series: Captive Prince, #1
Published by Viking: Penguin on 7th April 2015
Pages: 262
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four-stars

Damen is a warrior hero to his people, and the rightful heir to the throne of Akielos, but when his half brother seizes power, Damen is captured, stripped of his identity, and sent to serve the prince of an enemy nation as a pleasure slave.

Beautiful, manipulative and deadly, his new master Prince Laurent epitomises the worst of the decadent court at Vere. But in the lethal web of Veretian politics, nothing is as it seems, and when Damen is caught up in a dangerous play for the throne, he must form an alliance with Laurent to survive and save his country.

For Damen, there is just one rule: he must never reveal his true identity. Because the one man Damen needs is the one man who has more reason to hate him than anyone else...

When I finally got my claws embedded in ‘Captive Prince’, I hadn’t expected that it would have taken me a few years to read after C.S. Pacat’s name spread like wildfire. But better late than never and as good books are, they reel you in, sink deep into your consciousness and won’t let go until you’ve finished the trilogy.

I’m only a third through the series, through only the first book and already I need all of it.

The blurb is as the story begins: the rightful heir to the throne of Akielon finds himself a slave in enemy territory and personal slave to the Prince of Vere and while there’s no love lost between these two countries,

Seeing it all through an outsider’s eyes—through the former prince (now slave) Damen’s Akielon eyes—makes us experience what he does: the slithering movements of the dirty court, the political machinations of the tussle for the throne, the carful and sly interplay of power between Laurent and the Regent, but above all, Laurent…the fascinating, brutal, calculative young prince who seems to stay ahead of everyone by calling checkmate every time.

I can understand why ‘Captive Prince’ is so polarising. Lying sort of in a parallel world that very, very vaguely corresponds to a mash-up of medieval Europe and classical Greek/Roman culture (the given map looks like a misshapened form of Italy and Sicily), Pacat’s world is as complex, bloodthirsty, multifaceted and as debauched as you can imagine. Slaves, courtiers, lords and soldiers mingle in a politically unstable time as the gift of Damen as a slave standing heads and shoulders above the rest starts the juggernaut rolling.

There’s also the unflinching use of rape as a tool of control, of submission, along with the fluidity of sexual/gendered relations that belongs to a time long past which can be very, very uncomfortable to go through. Pacat provides no apology for it in any case; it’s all in or none at all, the explicitness in all its glory, forcing you to either step in or turn away.

But there’s so much else to it than the amazingly detailed landscape Pacat has written. The characters that stand out, honed and sharp as a knife blade, whose motivations keep you guessing as train wrecks happen time and again…and you can only stare, wide-eyed, as it happens in technicolor right in front of your eyes.

Perhaps my only complaint here is the use of obscure words as though Pacat intended to ‘elevate’ the prose, to get the story to rise above the 21st century lay reader, or to even distance the reader even further from the reality we know. Still those threw me off—the lexical range of the story felt a little less impressive than if Pacat had simply relied on solid characterisation and more direct prose.

I’m hooked, no doubt about it.

four-stars