Books

Quick Review: Temple (Freelancers Book 1) by Avril Ashton

Temple (Freelancers Book 1) by Avril Ashton

Temple still feels the pain and guilt of the night his best friend was killed on a job that went sideways. Henry was the closest thing to a brother Temple ever had. They grew up in a group home together and later worked with a group of mercenaries, taking jobs that no one else would. It was Temple who convinced Henry to take that one last job and it was Temple who had to tell Henry’s inconsolable fiancée Vik, that Henry was never coming back.

Two years later, Temple finds himself back in town during the holidays, and it’s by chance that he gets coffee at the shop that Vik owns. They finally have a chance to clear the air and Vik apologizes for the accusations he made that night. He doesn’t hold Temple responsible for Henry’s death.

After a few days, they both reach a comfortable place together – a new normal. But now Temple has something else to feel guilty about, his desire for Vik.

One night he invites Vik over for pizza and a few beers. They settle in on the couch and watch a Christmas movie and they explore their feelings with a scorchingly sexy kiss. It’s late, and it’s snowing out, so Vik decides to spend the night, but ends up sleeping in Temple’s bed alone. Their attraction is undeniable, but are their feelings a betrayal of the man who meant so much to them?

To answer that question, Temple goes to see Vik and hash out just what exactly it is that each of them want. What they each need is each other. Temple temporarily sets aside his guilt and unleashes his intense primal need for Vik, taking him on the kitchen counter, and later on the couch.

After their remarkable night, Vik knows he wants more, but is concerned with the radio silence from Temple. Does he not feel the same way?

Yes, he most definitely feels the same way, but is still grappling with what he and Vik being together would mean. It’s then that a former collogue offers him a job opportunity. Walking away from Vik would mean he wouldn’t have to deal with the pain of his past.

When Temple tells Vik about the job, Vik begs him not to leave, something he wishes he’d done with Henry in a nearly identical situation two years earlier. Vik doesn’t need to worry though, Temple said no. Henry wouldn’t want them to remain unhappy and staying miserable is no way to honor his memory.

They visit Henry’s gravesite on Christmas eve, secure in the knowledge that their future is with each other. For the first time, in a long time, Temple and Vik have something to look forward to.

Now, normally I would say that ending a romance with a visit to a cemetery doesn’t exactly scream happily ever after. But for these two characters, it makes perfect sense. Vik and Temple share the traumatic loss of someone who was an important part of their lives, and ending the story in this way shows that, while there is still grief (it’s not something they can just ‘get over’), they are moving forward and starting to live life fully once again.

Kudos to Avril Ashton for writing such a deeply emotional romance that explores the themes of grief and guilt without veering into dark melodrama. I’m not a huge fan of angsty romances. What I thought was so great about this story is that it honestly deals with the pain these characters feel, but doesn’t dwell on it. Temple and Vik aren’t the ‘woe is me’ type. They work hard to figure out the emotionally complicated situation they find themselves in. Their HEA is hard fought and well deserved. Also, their sexual chemistry happens to be off the charts. Seriously, the loves scenes are scorching. So, if you’re looking for a story with lots of heat, that doesn’t scrimp on emotion, then this is definitely the romance for you.

Temple is the novella-length start to the Freelancers series.

Quick Review: New Game, Start by C.S. Poe

New Game, Start by C.S. Poe

Edgar is a medieval scholar and translator who likes to relax by watching Walter’s gaming livestreams. Walter is an online superstar who’s kind and gracious to all his fans, he’s also ridiculously cute as well. When he announces that he’ll be the special guest at an upcoming convention in New York, Edgar can’t believe that he’ll have the chance to see his celebrity crush in person. He leaves a mildly flirtatious comment on Walter’s tweet. To his surprise, Walter flirts back, leading to a one-on-one gaming session that just might be Edgar’s best date ever and they chat online in the week leading up to the event.

Walter arrives in town the night before the con and Edgar goes to a bar where Walter is having a fan meet-up. The place is packed – it’s definitely not the right time to take out his laptop and show Walter the gay dating sim he’s been working on as a special surprise for his… well, is it too soon to call him boyfriend?

When Walter finally catches sight of Edgar in the crowded bar, he gives him a very eager kiss. It seems they have great chemistry both online and in the real world. They head back Walter’s hotel where they enthusiastically tumble into bed for a very sexy night together.

In the morning, Edgar is able to download the dating sim for Walter to play before he realizes he’s missed a deadline for one of his clients. A quick trip back to his apartment so he can send the file turns into a prolonged ordeal, leaving Walter to wake to an empty bed. He heads to the convention alone, worried that he may have said or done something wrong.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Edgar finally arrives at the sold-out convention and descends into the ninth circle of hell that is the Javits Center in NYC.

He can’t find Walter anywhere, but gets a notification on his phone that he’s starting a livestream. Edgar watches as Walter enthusiastically opens the file for the game he made him.

Edgar finally finds Water in a corner playing the dating sim, and they rush into each other’s arms, their kiss broadcast for the entire world to see. The internet’s favorite gaymer definitely has a brand-new boyfriend.

This sweet and sexy short from C.S. Poe is full of charm and cute, nerd-boy awkwardness. Edgar and Walter have delightful chemistry and I loved all their geeky conversations, especially their meet-cute dialog in the first chapter. I have a soft spot for nice guy characters and this adorable instalove story gave me all the schmoopy feels.

Quick Review: Served Hot by Annabeth Albert

Served Hot by Annabeth Albert

Robby has a pretty big crush on David, the cute business guy who stops by his coffee cart every afternoon. They run into each other at Portland Pride, the only problem is that Robby is terrible at flirting and David is pretty bad at picking up the hints that Robby is trying to drop. Despite the awkwardness, they do share a really intense kiss. When Robby asks David out, he says no.

A few days later, David stops by the coffee cart to explain that he’s still working through the grief of losing someone he was in a relationship with for more than a decade. He likes Robby a lot, but ‘getting back out there’ is hard.

They make a date for brunch and it becomes their regular thing. David is the sweetest, most kind and thoughtful guy Robby has ever dated, and he’s okay with taking things slow – but he’s getting antsy and wouldn’t mind if things got more physical. David doesn’t seem to be in any rush though.

He brings Robby to a soccer game that his company has box seats for. He sems to be testing the waters of being out and in a relationship at work. Later they go back to David’s place to finally indulge in the carnal activities that Robby has been craving. It was definitely worth the wait.

After the amazing night (and terrific morning follow-up), Robby sees a framed photo of the dead boyfriend, prompting a discussion of the topic they’ve long avoided. He was closeted sheriff’s deputy who insisted that his relationship with David be kept a secret. After the traumatic way he died, David wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to sleep with another man, let alone have any kind of serious relationship.

For several months everything is great, but Robby doesn’t always know how to ask for what he wants, which isn’t helped by the fact that David doesn’t know how to offer. It seems their relationship is always one step forward, two steps back. David choses to spend valentine’s weekend with his family instead of with Robby, putting a further strain on things.

When David doesn’t seem able to commit to their future, Robby calls things off, which leaves both of them miserable. After a week, David comes over and opens up about everything that has been holding him back, primarily anger at his ex and how it kept him from embracing what was so special about his relationship with Robby.

A successful visit with David’s family leads to them picking out paint colors for their new place in the Spring. The happiness and security they’ve both craved for so long has finally been found… they’ve found it in each other.

One of the things I feel was so special about Robby and David’s story is that the author navigates their issues without bogging things down with a ton of angst. That certainly doesn’t mean that Annabeth Albert glosses things over… not by a long shot. But there was a sweet simplicity to this story about two nice guys, doing nice things, and falling in love, that I really responded to.

I also liked how David was able, with Robby’s patience and guidance, to work through the issues in his past. There was a lot of toxic baggage that came from his closeted relationship with his ex. It was Robby who really opened David’s eyes to the possibilities of what a genuinely loving and supportive relationship could be.

Isn’t that what romance fiction is all about… the hope and joy of loving someone and being loved in return? I think that’s the real reason Served Hot makes me so dang swoony, it’s a wonderful example of the possibilities of love and romance in fiction.

This novella serves as an irresistible introduction to the author’s Portland Heat series.

Quick Review: Cinderfella by AJ Lange

Cinderfella by AJ Lange

As you can most likely tell from the title, this short story is a gay twist on the classic fairytale.

When Jamie isn’t at school, he’s busy avoiding his stepmother, or working at the local diner where he diligently scrimps and saves for the day that he can finally leave his small-town behind.

But it’s not all bad. He likes hanging out with his youngest stepsister Alexa, looking out the window of his attic bedroom and stargazing… dreaming of bigger and better things.

Then there’s Wyatt, son of the mayor, star of the high school baseball team, and way too good-looking to be interested in someone like Jamie. Wyatt is just too dang nice and keeps asking Jamie to tutor him in chemistry. What’s his angle?

Alexa is excited about going to prom but doesn’t want one of her sister’s hand-me-downs. Jamie takes her to a consignment shop, and they find the perfect dress, but it’s too much for their meager budget and she’ll have to make do with a less than ideal frilly purple monstrosity.

On the night before the big dance, everyone gathers at the lake for a bonfire. Wyatt attempts to chat with Jamie, but what are you supposed to say to the most perfect boy in the world? To escape the awkward small-talk, Jamie kicks off his shoes and leaps into the lake. Wyatt jumps in after him to save him from ‘drowning’. Jamie’s life might not be perfect, but he certainly doesn’t need a prince to swoop in and save the day.

Jamie uses his savings to buy the dress that Alexa really wanted. She is ecstatic and he heads to the diner for the night shift, but his co-workers aren’t having it. They loan him a suit so that he can go to the dance with the man of his dreams.

When he arrives, Alexa tells him that Wyatt left when Jamie didn’t show. There’s one last place he might be.

He finds Wyatt at the lake, with Jamie’s shoes from the night before. They flirt awkwardly, but when Jamie finally gets to kiss his handsome prince, it’s the perfect end to a rocky courtship. After graduation they make plans for their own fairytale ending… only it’s not an end, it’s just the beginning of their new adventures together.

I really enjoyed this queer young adult spin on classic cinderella themes. Author AJ Lange took the traditional situations that we all know and love, and made them fresh, fun, and modern. I also found the awkward interactions between Jamie and Wyatt to be endearing and completely adorable. They’re just two young guys in love who have no clue what they’re doing or how to express it. A happily-ever-after has never been so sweet.

If you’re in the mood for a short but satisfying fairytale, I think Cinderfella just might the YA romance that you’ve been looking for.

Quick Review: Exposure by AJ Lange

Exposure by AJ Lange

Beau isn’t sure what to expect when he goes to an audition for nude art models. To his surprise, he gets the job and will be the solo subject of the photographer’s next big project. At the first session he discovers that Killian doesn’t speak. He communicates through instructions written on index cards. This is awkward at first, but Beau soon comes to enjoy posing for the enigmatic and sexy photographer.

Their sessions soon move to outdoor locations, a pre-dawn deserted city street, up against a majestic tree in the forest. One night, while spread eagle on the hood of a car in an abandoned field, Beau can’t fight his attraction any longer and moves the photoshoot the backseat of the car.

At the gallery opening of his new exhibit, Killian has plans make his artistic collaboration with Beau much more personal with a public proposal that, if Beau says “yes”, will guarantee a joyful artistic and romantic partnership for many years to come.

Exposure by AJ Lange is a sexy short that combines the sensual with the sweet. It’s cute how Beau tries his very best to keep things as professional as possible while provocatively posing for Killian, a man who presses all his erotic buttons. When they finally do kiss (and do a whole lot more) it’s a relief to finally see these nice guys achieve their happily-ever-after.

Quick Review: Baker’s Dozen by AJ Lange

Baker’s Dozen by AJ Lange

Goaded by his brother, Ellis finally gets up the nerve to talk to the handsome regular who’s been coming into their bakery/café every afternoon. Patrick is sitting with his coffee and book when Ellis shoves a sandwich his direction as an icebreaker.

Awkward first impressions aside, they get to talking over the next couple of days, until a pie related emergency on Thanksgiving brings Patrick to Ellis’ shop just as he’s closing. The very last pie leads to their very first kiss.

As it turns out, his brothers meddling may have given Ellis a holiday that he is truly thankful for.

Baker’s Dozen is a sweet short about the initial steps of a budding romance. Ellis and Patrick have a ton of adorably awkward romantic charm.