Wednesday, April 23, 2014

ROLL by Lynn Townsend

Publisher:  Torquere Press
Published:   25/02/2014
Genre:   Gay Romance
Book format:  E-Book
Obtained via:    Publisher
Reviewed by:  Helena Stone

Rating: 3.5

Leaving rural and ultra conservative Tennessee for college, Beauregard (Beau) Watkins at last has the opportunity to be who he really is. Having pretended his way through high school with a cute girlfriend he doesn’t feel anything for and a lifestyle that lives up to everybody’s expectations, he should now be free to explore the feelings he’s been hiding for years. His desire to find out who he really is leads him to the Rainbow Connection and Vinyl (Vin) Elvis Reyes. Vin is everything Beau isn’t; completely out of the closet, loud, extravagant and extremely rich. The two young men soon turn into close friends. Vin might be eager for something more between them; he doesn’t stand in the way of Beau exploring his new found freedom through a string of shallow affairs. It is only when an old foe of Vin’s gives Beau a beating that leaves him hospitalised that the two of them give in to the mutual attraction.

With their backgrounds and life-styles so very different Beau and Vin have a few obstacles to overcome and that is before Beau is forced to come out to his family and Vin shares a shocking discovery about his past with Beau.

As my rating indicates, I’m a bit conflicted about this book. There was a lot to love about this story. Beau and Vin were wonderful characters to read about as were the other members of the Rainbow Connection. The contrasts between Beau and Vin were perfectly painted as was the love between them.

Something I liked a lot less was that on a few occasions the story seemed to cut off just when it started getting interesting. Vin asks Beau to dance and even while I’m thinking ‘oh yummy, dance scenes can be so exciting’, the next chapter starts with a new scene at a later date. The same thing happens when it has snowed. There’s talk about ambushing friends, Vin and Beau go outside and then the chapter ends on: In the end the ambush was epic.” I can’t help wondering if it ever occurred to the author that her readers might enjoy experiencing the epicness of that ambush?

On the other hand, there were moments of tenderness that nearly took my breath away. I loved Vin’s honesty when talking about his feelings.

“I’ve never been in love before. It’s kinda scary. I feel like I’ve been given something rare and precious and terribly breakable.” – Vin to Beau

And I loved Vin’s vulnerability, despite all his privileges and money, and his ability to show it to Beau.

“You are who you are, and I love you because, despite and sometimes in spite of it. If you can’t say the same, if I can’t be enough with the money...” Vin

The moment when Beau confronts his brother and throws away years of carefully hiding who he is in order to stand up for the man he loves was wonderful and inspired.

“I’ve always been gay. Vin didn’t have anything to do with that. All he’s ever done is make me feel happy and loved for who I am.” – Beau

And the wish Vin makes when blowing out the candles on his birthday cake is one most of us should pay attention to:

“I wish to never take any of the good times for granted.” – Vin

Just when I thought the things I loved about this book far exceeded the things I didn’t, the book ended – apparently mid-story. And while I’m not a huge fan of cliff-hangers I can live with them provided I know to expect one. There was however nothing to indicate that this book might be the first instalment in a series. I checked Amazon after I finished the story to see if maybe there had been a warning there that I had missed but no. This book is being sold as a one-off complete story only to end with what appears to be a set-up for part two. And I might not even have minded that too much if it hadn’t been for the fact that my copy of the book says nothing about an upcoming sequel or when it might be expected.

To summarize it all: This was a charming, not particularly graphic, coming-out story that managed to capture my heart even as it occasionally let me down. And despite my frustration about the way the book ended I can’t help hoping that there will be a sequel in the not too distant future. I’ve grown fond enough of Beau and Vin to want to spend more time with them.

This is an objective review and not an endorsement of this book.


ANOTHER BELIEVER by Stephanie Vaughan

Publisher:  Torquere Press Publishers
Published:  03/12/2014
Genre:   M/M, Romance
Book format:  E-book
Obtained via:   Publisher
Reviewed by: Helena Stone

Rating: 3-1/2 Hearts

‘Another Believer’ is a charming story. Two young men meet on a train on their way to college and use the twenty-four hours before they arrive to their best advantage.

David Sato is a studious and very intelligent young man with the IQ of a genius and the nerdy attitude to match it. Convinced that his looks are nothing special he is used to other guys only ever paying attention to him when they need something from him; help with their studies and exams. In his fantasies these encounters may be romantic and sexy, he knows from experience that in real life he is not attractive enough to capture anybody’s attention. Especially not the attention of a beautiful male specimen like the young man who takes a sit next to David on the train.

Jonah Simpson is an athlete who appreciates there is more to life than sport. In fact, he likes and enjoys intelligence about as much as he enjoys a soft but firm body. When he sees David on the train to college he feels an immediate attraction to the serious looking young man and takes advantage of the vacant seat next to him. He wants David and is only too aware of the fact that he doesn’t have a lot of time to achieve his goal. And David’s stand-offish attitude doesn’t make matters any easier. Jonah has to apply all his wit, patience and seductive techniques in order to convince David that he really is interested in him and doesn’t have a secret agenda. Even after a wonderful and mind-blowing few hours, it will take all of Jonah’s powers of persuasion to convince David that this was not a once off for the journey. Jonah wants to continue what he’s started when they arrive at college, and he’ll find a way of convincing David of that regardless of what it might take.

This is going to be one of my shorter reviews. There really isn’t that much happening in this novella apart from what I’ve described above. Not that I’m complaining; like I said, this is a charming romance. It is also a well written and fun story. The banter between David and Jonah is sharp and quick enough to put a semi-permanent smile on your face.

The contrast between the two characters was both vivid and amusing. Jonah’s carefree and easygoing manner was the complete opposite of David’s dark and suspicious mind. I loved the way these two men sparked off each other. And I couldn’t help being touched by David’s constant battle between wanting to believe that maybe Jonah really was interested in him and his conviction that a man like Jonah could never feel attracted to someone like him.

With the story taking place over the course of one train journey taking about 24 hours, the characters don’t have the time to really get to know each other in depth, and neither does the reader. While that makes complete sense in this story I couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed. We see enough of David and Jonah to become curious about them, only for that curiosity to remain unsatisfied by the time the story ends. In fact, this novella left me curious enough to hope that maybe the author might revisit these characters in the future and give us a glimpse of their relationship after they arrive at their destination.

As it is this was a sweet, easy to read and mildly sexy story that kept me entertained but also left me yearning for more.

This is an objective review and not an endorsement of this book.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

COMPLETE ME by J. Kenner

Stark Trilogy #3
Bantam Books, July 2013
Obtained via:  publisher
Ebook ISBN 978-0-345-54585-5
Contemporary Erotic Romance
*** ½

The final installment in J. Kenner’s Stark trilogy, COMPLETE ME, once again centers on the complex love story of tortured millionaire Damien Stark and emotionally damaged Nikki Fairchild.  Nikki and Damien have managed to find in each other the other half of their souls.  They have both had to overcome very difficult pasts.  Now, Damien has gone to Germany to face the fallout from his past.  He is on trial for murder and Nikki refuses to leave her man, whatever the outcome.

The stress of Damien’s trial, unusual threats, a childhood friend gone missing and secrets on the verge of revelation all have Nikki poised on the sharp edge of panic and that in turn has Damien that much more determined to keep her safe.  They are finally beginning to rely on each other for strength.

COMPLETE ME brings all the lose ends of the previous two books together.  The ghosts of the past finally come to light and the monsters under the bed revealed.  Nikki knows that the truth of Damien’s past coming out would destroy him and is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his secret.  But when the trial is finally behind them and everything should finally be smooth sailing for these two love birds, Nikki picks up a stalker and their love is tested yet again.

This final installment in J. Kenner’s Stark trilogy, COMPLETE ME, brings the series full circle.  These two characters, while so perfect in appearance are so very damaged inside.  In each other, they are able to find their center.  They truly complete each other.  It is truly nice to see such a deserved happy ending.  Of course, the sex is hot, hot and hotter, but it is their love and their strength that really shines through in this story.  Kudos to Ms. Kenner for this touching and tasteful erotic romance.  This reader will truly miss these characters now that their story has been told.  If you haven’t yet started on this series, now is the time.

Reviewed by T. Barringer

"This is an objective review and not an endorsement of this book."

Monday, April 21, 2014

SEX & CANDY by Diana DeRicci

Publisher:  MLR Press
Published:   13/03/2014
Genre:   Romance M/M
Book format:  E-book
Obtained via:    Publisher
Reviewed by Helena Stone

Rating: 3+

Sex & Candy is the third book in the Arbor Heights series but the first title in this series for me. Having just checked the blurbs for the two previous titles, ‘Learning to live’ and ‘Learning to Breathe’ I think I can safely say this book can be read as a stand-alone title.

Brad has had a crush on his best friend Geoff ever since they shared a kiss when Brad was 14. Having waited for Geoff to come to terms with his homosexuality for years, Brad is devastated when he receives an invitation to Geoff’s wedding. Determined to forget about his old friend, Brad finds himself at a private party at ‘Blue Dogs’; a party where men leave their inhibitions at the door and enjoy themselves and each other.

Tristan has been throwing the Blue Dogs parties for years when he lays eyes on Brad. From the moment he sees the newcomer, Tristan knows he’s something special. One night of no strings sex leads to dates and deepening feelings. The path to love rarely runs smooth though and doesn’t for Brad and Tristan either. Geoff’s post-honeymoon regret is only one of the obstacles the two men will have to overcome.

I’m not entirely sure what to say about this book. I liked the basic story-line and I liked the two main characters but there were quite a few things I was less than happy with.

To summarize; there was too much happening in this story. In fact there was so much going on that not a single story threat felt sufficiently filled out. As it is we are reading about one character, Brad, getting over a crush he’s had for years, going to a sex party for the first time in his life where he meets and falls for the party’s organiser. Tristan has been organizing these M/M sex parties for years and feels real attraction to one of his guests for the first time when he meets Brad. If this book had only been about the developing relationship between those two men and how they deal with the disparity between their growing connection and the free-for-all atmosphere of the parties this book would probably have been perfect. However, that’s not all we’re dealing with. Thrown into the mix are Geoff’s denial of his feelings, his wedding and his subsequent turn-around; Geoff’s younger brother’s despair because he is also gay and Geoff’s homophobic parents throwing their youngest son out. And, to top it off, Brad and Tristan play cupid for two other side-characters.

This was just too many story-lines for a novella this length. As a result everything felt rushed and unfinished. I liked Brad and Tristan but never really got to know them. A parent rejecting their own children because they’re gay is a something I’ll never get my head around and definitely something worth exploring in a story. The problem is that it wasn’t explored in this book; it was only mentioned but didn’t get resolved.

My final quibble concerns the title. While there is plenty of very yummy ‘sex’ in this book, I’m not sure where the ‘candy’ comes into it.

I can’t help feeling that this would have been a brilliant romance if only the author had been able to resist the temptation to throw everything bar the kitchen-sink into it. The writing was smooth, the dialogue well done and at times funny while the characters – what we saw of them – were interesting. This was a very pleasant read that left with a yearning for a lot more.

This is an objective review and not an endorsement of this book.