Reviews

Quick Review: Brook Street Thief by Ava March

Brook Street Thief by Ava March

Benjamin can’t bear the thought of another London season without experiencing firsthand the affection he’s always craved, but never had the opportunity to explore. So, he goes to a gambling den known for its male clientele who prefer the company of other gentlemen.

Benjamin plays a few rounds of cards and is joined by the devilishly handsome Cavin. They casually flirt and eventually end their evening in a hotel room. It’s better than anything Benjamin ever could have dreamt of.

The next day, Cavin notices that, as he left Benjamin in the dim light of morning, he accidently mistook Benjamin’s waistcoat for his own. He must return it, so he goes to Benjamin’s townhome on Brook St. Needless to say, he is very happy to see Cavin. They’re unable to keep their hands off each other and have sex in the study, laying on a rug in front of a roaring fire.

Benjamin would like to get to know Cavin better, spend more time with him, but Cavin begs off. He senses that he is keeping something from him.

Cavin is a professional thief who works for Hale (his boss – ala Fagin in Oliver). While burgling a home that is an awful lot like Benjamin’s, Cavin has an unusual bout of integrity and begins to rethink his current profession. This moral about-face is all thanks to his feelings for one irresistibly appealing Lord.

Days later, Benjamin returns to the gambling establishment in hopes of running into Cavin again. No such luck.

Meanwhile, Cavin has taken young Sam under his wing. When it becomes clear that Sam is going to be pimped out to one of Hale’s associates, Cavin brings Sam to Benjamin in hope that he can help find him a suitable job. He does one better and offers Sam a position as part of his household staff. While Sam is getting settled, he asks Cavin to stay for dinner and attempts to tease some information from him during the meal, but Cavin is expectedly tight lipped. Eager to use those lips for other things, they retire to Benjamin’s bedroom. In the morning Cavin is gone.

After a fortnight without hearing from him, Sam brings Benjamin word that Cavin’s been brought in for pickpocketing. Benjamin finally begins to understand that it is a combination of Cavin’s pride and his unsavory past that has kept them, so far, from having a life together. He rushes to the station, bribes the constable, and brings Cavin home.

After they’ve made love, Cavin sneaks downstairs and finds Sam in the kitchen. While preparing a midnight snack, Sam asks why, since Cavin and Benjamin are ‘together’, won’t he stay? He insists it is not that simple. Benjamin joins them and tells him that it is, in fact, that simple. He doesn’t care if Cavin is a former thief, all he cares about is now… and their future together. They can have everything they’ve ever wanted, if only he’ll let himself have it.

Cavin agrees to a position as part of the staff (for appearances sake) and is happy to have found a man that he loves and place that he can finally call home.

If there is one author who knows how to bring the historical heat, it’s Ava March. Her stories are passionate, sexy, and emotional – three of the key things that make Benjamin and Cavin’s story so enjoyable. From the night Cavin tenderly guides Benjamin through his very first time, to all the other crazy hot moments that they pounce on each other, the one thing these two characters definitely don’t lack is chemistry.

I really liked Sam too, a street urchin with a heart of gold, in the classic Dickensian style.

Cavin is a big brother to him, striving to make sure he has better opportunities than Cavin did. And the way that it works out in the end, with everyone together, a wonderful found family, happy at last… well who can resist an HEA like that?

Charlie Belmont narrated the audiobook. You know I love a good British accent, especially when it comes to sexy historicals, they end up sounding even sexier. Kudos to him for a doing a terrific job with these memorable characters.

Brook Street Thief (which is part of a trilogy btw) is an older title (2012) that I think deserves attention from current readers of the genre. What’s the old saying? If you haven’t read it yet, then it’s new to you.

Quick Review: Drawing Lines by Jeris Jean

Drawing Lines by Jeris Jean

Hollywood lovebirds Greyson and Finn (who wet met in the first book of the series, Running Lines) are trying to help their friend Felix with his love life. Flirtatious Felix has always had feelings for Ethan (Grey and Finn’s agent). Ethan is young and smart and talented – and will surely run most of Hollywood someday – while Felix is the guy you ask how many squats to do for a tighter booty.

After helping Finn move in with Greyson, Felix and Ethan go for a walk on the beach and get to know each other better. They almost end the evening with a kiss, but Felix chickens out and gives him a bro-hug instead.

Not long after that, he sees Ethan at a sushi restaurant with a hot guy (don’t worry, it’s just a business meeting). But Felix’s overwhelming jealousy of seeing Ethan with someone else forces him to make a move, no matter how scared of rejection he might be.

They begin a text exchange. It begins as fun, turns flirty, and soon gets very sexy. After getting off (the sexting scene between these two is crazy off the off the charts hot) Felix asks Ethan out on a real date.

They go out to dinner, walk along the Santa Monica pier, and kiss under the colorful lights of the ferris wheel. On the surface they might not have much in common, but somehow, they just click, with the sweetest and most sincere chemistry. Felix loves spending time with Ethan’s family almost as much as he like spending quality alone time alone with Ethan (if you get my meaning).

In one adorably sexy scene, the morning after they’ve spent the night together, Felix comes back from his run with bagels and Ethan is so charmed by the simple domesticity of it all, that they got at it right there in the kitchen (it’s so flipping cute and ridiculously hot… like I said, chemistry).

As the holidays approach, Felix comes up with the perfect date night. They go to a special showing of Ethan’s favorite movie, ‘Love Actually’. Since Ethan secretly wants to be a screenwriter, this gesture means a lot. Later, Felix sets up a perfect Christmas eve date – tree, lights, good food, presents. It all feels so right that Felix says ‘I love you’ and they spend a blissful night together in Felix’s bed.

It’s not all smooth sailing though. Ethan’s confidence is shaken when he sees Felix training an equally buff and gorgeous celebrity client. His insecurities have him wondering what’s Felix doing with a guy like him?

His sudden hesitancy has Felix worried that he has regrets about the seriousness of their relationship (saying ‘I love you’ and everything). Thankfully, Ethan receives a good talking to from his sister and Greyson. They’re right, of course. But if he’s going to have a future with the man of his dreams, he needs to make some changes, starting with his job – he hates being a talent agent, and accepts a position as scriptwriter on the new tv show Greyson and Finn are creating.

Felix has been doing some thinking too. He’s not giving up on love without a fight. Taking a cue from Ethan’s favorite character in his favorite movie, Felix goes to see him and, in front of Ethan’s entire family, spells out his feelings with giant pieces of posterboard.

His heart belongs to Ethan, always has, always will.

Their happy/tearful reunion complete, Felix even mentions that he’s found the perfect place for them to live. Moving in together? That’s A-OK with Ethan. An epilogue finds our two heroes one year later hosting their first holiday gathering in their own place – packed to the rafters with friends and extended family. Afterward they go for a walk on the beach, just like they did that first night. Felix does something that, once again, proves that he is the undisputed king of grand romantic gestures. *swoon*

So, needless to say, I’m bonkers in love with this story and the Hollywood Hopefuls series. Greyson and Finn were romantic perfection in Running Lines, and Felix and Ethan are also a match made in gay romance heaven.

Though I will say that these two were really their own worst enemies. Each battled with a form of insecurity that, if this book were longer, would’ve been crazy annoying – you would’ve wanted to punch them in the face. But since Drawing Lines is the perfect category romance length (not too short, not too long) the characters quickly realize their mistakes and get back to the business of being the perfectly sexy romantic couple they were destined to be, which made me a very happy reader indeed.

One quick thing, though this story ends up taking place at the end of the year, I wouldn’t classify this (in the strictest sense) as a holiday romance. The season is an incidental part of the setting and isn’t integral to the plot. So, if you’re the type of reader who only reads Christmas books in November and December, don’t fret, I think this is a perfect read no matter the time of year.

Special shoutout to Iggy Toma who is the narrator of the audiobook. I’m a big fan and have been for a while, he’s just real damn good, and he’s doing a kickass job with this series.

So, in conclusion, if you’re a fan of feel-good contemporary romance, and you’re not reading Jeris Jean, you should be. Jeff and I really loved Running Lines and if you’d like to listen to our in-depth discussion of that book, you can check out the book club episode where it was featured. It’s available to listen whenever you’d like. And, to reiterate, I loved Ethan and Felix’s love story in Drawing Lines. The author has done such a good job with this series that I just might have to pick up book three even though I DO NOT HAVE TIME to continue a series.

UGH. The problems of a booklover.

This review originally appeared as part of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast.

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.