Reviews

Quick Review: Second Helpings by Brandon Witt

Second Helpings, the novella by Brandon Witt, packs a novels amount of real emotional punch in just a few pages.

Isaac returns to his small Missouri hometown for his 20th High School reunion. He’s about to ditch the pot-luck get together (yup, it’s that downhome) when in walks the reason he came, Grant.

Isaac and Grant were inseparable growing up, but the day after graduation, Isaac left for New York. Grant stayed behind.

They drive around town together, getting a cherry limeade at the drive-in. All the years away from each other slip away and they head back to Grant’s place.

The next morning, Grant treats Isaac to breakfast in bed and convinces him to stay just one more day. They hang out, eating at the diner Grant runs with his sister. Their time together is nice, but Isaac can’t help but be haunted by the reasons he left town decades earlier.

Grant tries to cheer him up by cooking for him and it does the trick, but Isaac can’t resist teasing Grant just a little about his homestyle way of cooking (cream of mushroom soup and mayo et al). There’s a lot of food in this story (which I’ll get back to in a minute).

It comes out that Grant was married to a woman for many years (he’s now divorced), which causes a minor rift between our heroes since it was Grant’s insistence that they both come out as teenagers that partially pushed Isaac away. They spend one last night in each other’s arms before Isaac drives away the next day.

It’s in flashback that we learn the heartbreaking full story of his difficult family history and why he left Grant behind then, and why he can’t stay now. Like I said earlier, it’s an emotional gut punch, like seriously.

Back in New York a few months later, Isaac is hanging with his bestie trying to recreate the food he experienced in his brief time with Grant. His bestie serves up a reality check. Why is he spending so much time trying to re-create something, when the real thing (the food and the man) is just a phone call away.

Isaac invites him to come for a visit, taking Grant on an admittedly sappy carriage ride through Central Park, where they work out the issues of the past while dreaming up a new future together. Grant has already sold all his stuff in Missouri and is looking to take a culinary leap in the big city.

They’re happy. They’re together. Just like it should have been all along.

God, I can’t even begin to go into how much I just love everything about this story. The heroes are both remarkable, and kind, and interesting.

Second chances is one of my all-time favorite tropes and the way Brandon Witt expertly addresses issues of the past, while showing us that Isaac and Grant are both capable adults able to work through the difficult stuff to get to their HEA, made all warm and fuzzy.

When it comes to the food, Brandon Witt has you covered. All of Grants simple, but tasty, recipes are featured in the back of the book. Yum.

Also, if you happen to be a fan of audiobooks, check out the narration provided by Drew Bacca. Brandon Witt provides the narrative and emotional foundation of the story, but the way Drew handles the alternating narrative viewpoint is really special. He takes the emotion to the next level.

I highly recommend Second Helpings, a wonderful trope-driven romance, that doesn’t skip on the feels.

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

Big Gay Fiction Book Club: Troubled Waters by HJ Welch

Jeff and I visit Pine Cove for the August edition of Book Club as we discuss HJ Welch’s Troubled Waters.

What do you get when a social media influencer (who’s life is being threatened) has a scorching hot one night stand, only to discover that the hook-up hottie is in charge of his safety? Troubled Waters is a fun, sexy, action-filled bodyguard romance that you’re sure to love.

As always, in this deep dive discussion there are spoilers ahead. If you’ve read the book, we’d love to hear what you think as well, so please do leave some comments if you’d like.

You can also check out the interview we did with the author in episode 254.

Remember, you can listen and subscribe to the podcast anytime at BigGayFictionPodcast.com.

The Big Gay Fiction Book Club: Romancing the Rough Diamond by Clare London

In this episode of the Big Gay Fiction Book Club, Jeff and I discuss Romancing the Rough Diamond by Clare London. It’s a terrific romance that takes place in the high-end world of luxury jewelry design and our two heroes must come up with the perfect design for the first gay royal wedding.

Remember, you can listen and subscribe to the podcast anytime at BigGayFictionPodcast.com. 

Quick Review: There Galapagos My Heart by Phillip William Stover

There Galapagos My Heart by Phillip William Stover

As a favor to his aunt Penny, Michael agrees to teach painting to the guests on her high-end cruise to the Galapagos Island. What could be the harm in a quick vacation before he moves into his new position as a senior acct. manager at his firm.

Off he flies to Ecuador and, before they set sail, Penny has the visiting faculty introduce themselves to the tourists. Their resident wildlife expert is going to be Benton… Michael’s insufferably handsome, charming, British ex-boyfriend.

He does everything he can to avoid Benton but, as they tour the capital and take photos where the Northern and Southern equators meet, they can no longer postpone the inevitable and talk. It doesn’t go well. Michael just can’t seem to catch a break. Penny tells them that they’ll be rooming together for the duration of the cruise.

They call a truce and, after the ship sets out to sea, Benton gives his first lecture about the various species that call the Galapagos home. In lesser hands, the presentation would be deadly dull, but the passengers are enthralled by him and Michael realizes that he may not be as over Benton as he once thought.

To avoid dealing with this new revelation, Michael races back to their stateroom and pretends to be asleep. Benton takes his time getting ready for bed, doing a tantalizing strip tease that Michael can’t help but watch through half-closed eyes.

He is so not over him.

After a little schedule manipulation from aunt Penny, Michael is to join Benton on an early morning onshore excursion to plan the upcoming nature walk for the guests. Their time alone amongst the wildlife is magical but things quickly take a sour turn when Benton suggest that Michael do a solo show of all the pieces he is sure to paint with the Galapagos as his inspiration.

He thinks he’s being supportive of Michaels’ talent. But Michael only feels the pressure to pursue something that he’s given up. Something he feels he’s failed at.

Back on the boat, there is a telegram waiting for Benton. Michael reads the awkwardly phrased congratulations. It seems Benton is now a father.

Despite the frustrations with his ex, Michael couldn’t help dreaming up romantic second chance scenarios with Benton. But he now has a child with somebody special waiting for him back in England. It was never meant to be with them.

Things are decidedly frosty between our heroes before Penny forces them to play nice for the remainder of the trip. At dinner they reminisce about the old days and Benton opens up about his emotionally distant family and why he cares about animals so much, forcing Michael to realize that he never really appreciated what a good thing he had with Benton.

The next morning Michael teaches his watercolor class. The passengers all seem to enjoy it. Benton as well. In fact, watching him teach so passionately about something he obviously loves has Benton feeling amorous. Once he returns from his onshore nature excursion, they’ll meet in their stateroom, where Benton will show Michael just how romantic he really feels.

Michael uses his downtime to catch up on some work and becomes so wrapped up in accounts and spreadsheets that forgets his scheduled rendezvous with his gorgeous ex. Penny decides it’s time for a heart-to-heart and explains that being chained to something because it represents (in Michael’s mind) security, might be keeping him from becoming his true self.

After teaching his final watercolor class, Michael goes ashore and finds an art gallery. After talking to the man whose art he admires, he realizes that security ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. It might be time to spread his wings and fly, just like the exotic birds Benton loves to talk about.

Michael quits his job and, after a brief but harrowing health scare, Benton and Michael realize that they’re far better together than they ever were apart.

FYI – Benton, we eventually find out, is the proud poppa of a baby wombat. He was part of the team taking care of the mother wombat in a zoo back in the UK.

I really, really enjoyed this super sweet, super tropey tropical romance. It was the perfect vacation that I didn’t know I needed.

One other thing I want to quickly mention is I think the character of Michael, in another author’s hands, could have come off as very annoying because he spends an awful lot of the story pushing people away or shoring up the walls that he’s built around his life. Benton and Penny are constantly pushing him to explore his art more and he’s constantly saying ‘no’ until he finally has this ‘a-ha’ moment at the end of the story.

The way that the author uses Michael’s introspection and especially his humor, makes him very likable and very relatable. You understand why he does, and thinks, the way that he does. Overall, I just really loved the story about Michael and Benton, fighting their way back from something  that didn’t work before – and most definitely works now.

If you haven’t guessed yet, I really enjoyed There Galapagos My Heart, and I highly recommend that, if you haven’t already, you give author Phillip William Stover a try. You won’t be sorry.

 

Quick Review: Trust Me and Believe Me by Avery Ford

Trust Me (Love in New York Book 1) by Avery Ford

Trust Me is a terrific short read, the first in the Love in New York series by Avery Ford.

Nice guy Milo, who’s busy climbing the corporate ladder of a large-scale forestry conglomerate, is tasked with convincing a recluse in upstate New York to sell his land. Though this guy has rejected every offer, Milo drives into the mountains, confident he can close the deal. Milo’s trip takes an unexpected turn when an incoming storm causes an accident. Milo hits a burly mountain man trudging through the snow.

Jax is a little battered and bruised from his experience, but is okay once he’s able to rest in the cabin he calls home. It quickly becomes apparent that Milo, the cute city boy who hit him, works for the company that wants to buy his land.

Its not an ideal situation, but since the storm has trapped them together in the cabin for the foreseeable future, Jax makes the effort to get to know the guy. Milo’s pretty great, despite who he works for.

They spend the night cuddled in the same bed, for warmth of course, and our heroes definitely heat things up. The next morning, neither of them has any regrets. As they talk, Jax realizes that Milo has no idea how the company he works for is destroying the forest. He shows Milo the nearby logging camp and the devastation they’ve left behind.

With the weather cleared, the road down the mountain should be safe enough for Milo to return to the city. If this is going to be their last night together, then Milo and Jax are going to make the most of every last second. And boy, do they.

In the morning, Jax wants to ask Milo to stay. But they have such different lives, wanting more is unrealistic.

Back in the city, Milo goes into work to tell his boss that the deal wasn’t made, and that he knows what’s going on up on the mountain.

Milo now has to decide what he really wants. A job in the big city, or a life with a sexy mountain man by his side.

Since this is a romance, Milo’s decision shouldn’t come as a great shock.

It’s no surprise that I really loved this book. Stranded in a mountain cabin is one of my all-time favorite tropes and Avery Ford uses it to great effect in this story. I also enjoyed the chemistry between Milo and Jax. In each other, they found something that they didn’t know was missing, which is something that I always enjoy reading – that special kind of romantic awakening.

If I were in the habit of swooning, I would definitely do it over these two and their irresistibly sexy/sweet love story.

Believe Me (Love in New York Book 2) by Avery Ford

The last thing big, surly, and mostly straight bar-owner Drew Bryant wants to do is take part in a charity bachelor auction. But Alex, Drew’s brother, who is in charge of the event, reminds him that it’s all for a good cause. The auction will raise much needed funds for the LGBT center.

Nice guy Shane is looking forward to the charity event (his best friend is organizing it after all) and Alex asks Shane to bid on his brother, explaining how skittish Drew already is, and it would be just too damn awkward if Drew got up onstage and there were no takers.

The night of the big event, Shane gets in a bidding war for Drew and ends up winning the auction.

They make plans to go on their date the following night. Drew feels a little strange making plans with a guy, even if it is just a “fake” date. But Shane seems nice, and is awfully handsome, so what could go wrong?

As it turns out, absolutely nothing. The dinner date goes perfectly, and Drew finds that he is really into Shane, like really into him. So much so that he even kisses Shane goodnight.

After dropping Shane off at home, Drew decides that one kiss just wasn’t going to be enough, and texts if he can come over.

Shane says yes. They’re not sure what the chemistry between them means, but it’s not something that they want to deny.

Afterward they make plans for a real date, which goes even better than the first, Drew later spending the night with Shane and intimately exploring the crazy hot attraction that they have.

Alex calls up Shane to see how the date went. Unable to lie to his best friend, Shane ends up telling him just how well things have gone with Alex’s “straight” brother. This prompts Alex to have a serious conversation with his big bro. Alex, it turns out, is fine with whatever their relationship ends up being, he just wants to make sure that neither his brother or best friend gets hurt.

A relationship is exactly what Drew wants, just before Shane decides to call things off. Well, if they’re gonna break-up, then Drew wants to hear it from Shane, face to face. Explaining that it was just the fear of getting hurt, Shane admits that he is really into Drew. And since Drew is really into Shane, everything works out for the best. A short epilog shows our two heroes a few months into their new relationship. Their first date may have been “fake”, but the love that they share now is most definitely real.

Just like the first entry in this series, Believe Me is a terrific blend of sweet and sexy romance tropes, featuring two heroes who are likeable and relatable. Though they fall for one another pretty quickly, Drew and Shane’s love is believable and I’m so looking forward to the next book in this series. I have a pretty good feeling that it’s going to be Alex who finds love next, and I cannot wait!

These reviews originally appeared as part of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast.

Quick Review – Mr Right Now by Annabeth Albert

Mr. Right Now by Annabeth Albert

Big, brawny, nice guy ex-marine Russ gets dumped the day before Thanksgiving. The problem – his now ex-boyfriend was going to prepare the holiday meal for his family.

Enter handsome nice guy former actor Esteban, who decides to do the charitable thing and give his clueless neighbor a hand. They prepare the meal together and when Russ’ family arrives early, a simple misunderstanding leads them to believe that Russ and Esteban are a happy couple.

The sting of getting dumped is still (understandably) fresh for Russ, so they play along. The meal goes incredibly well, and Esteban discovers that he really enjoys playing Russ’ pretend boyfriend. In fact, everyone there thinks they make the perfect couple.

Including Russ’ boss Connie. He wants a promotion, to become a designer in her kitchen remodeling firm. Esteban’s kitchen re-design will serve as a test of his abilities and whether he can handle a job with real world challenges.It also behooves Esteban to impress Connie who, as a local business owner, might be willing to donate to the Literacy non-profit he works for.

So fake relationship it is! Pretending to like each other doesn’t prove particularly difficult for our heroes.

Next, we enter the part of the book that is all about nice guys, being nice, doing nice things. I know ‘nice’ doesn’t sound particularly engaging or exciting, but trust me, these two are sooo damn cute together!

They make dinner together one evening (fish tacos), Russ helps make Esteban’s gala fundraiser a success, Esteban is the perfect supportive boyfriend at Russ’ holiday work party. It’s all cute and romantic and it completely satisfies my kink for nice guy/cinnamon roll heroes.

When Russ is finally ready to show Esteban some of his kitchen concept designs, they celebrate with a kiss… and mutual blow jobs. They definitely have chemistry together, in the bedroom and out. As they continue to spend more time together, they continually keep putting off the plan to ‘break-up’ their fake relationship.

After Xmas eve with their respective families, they spend their first night together, Esteban ‘unwrapping’ Russ, the only gift he really wants. It’s amazing and perfect and afterwards the pillow talk turns serious, Russ knows what he wants and is ready to say it. Esteban is the one who becomes gun shy. They’ve only known each other a few weeks, they can’t be in love! If he can’t acknowledge how he really feels, then Russ is secure enough to walk away.

This is a romance, so Esteban quickly comes to his senses so that they can live their HEA together. A wonderful epilogue showing our happy couple one year later on New Year’s Eve wraps the story up in a sweetly romantic bow.

Mr. Right Now by Annabeth Albert is a perfect holiday romance that executes it’s fake relationship trope flawlessly. It’s no secret that this is one of my all-time favorite tropes and the way the author naturally builds the emotional connection and romantic attraction between the heroes is swoon worthy.

Annabeth Albert has a way of creating characters who are nice, thoughtful, and lead with kindness. Heroes you can immediately empathize with and fall for.

This review originally appeared as part of the BigGayFictionPodcast.