Level Hands by Amy Jo Cousins

25611509 Rafael Castro is so far out of his element he can’t even see it anymore. Carlisle College in Massachusetts is a long way from his Chicago home, even farther from his Dominican Republic roots.

The only thing keeping him attached to his last nerve is the prospect of seeing Denny Winslow again. The first time they met, Denny taught Rafi to fly across the water, rowing hard in a knife-like boat. Now, two years later, on the wings of a rowing scholarship, Rafi is attending Denny’s elite college.

Even before the excitement wears off, Rafi is struggling with classes and fending off rumors that Denny’s family, not Rafi’s talent, won him his spot. To quash the gossip, Rafi tries to steer clear of the man he wants. A plan that evaporates in the fire of renewed attraction.

But Carlisle’s academic pressure cooker has Rafi barely treading water. And when a family crisis hits, both Rafi and Denny must pull hard to keep their relationship from capsizing in rough waters.

I love Amy Jo Cousins’ books, just in general and this series – Bend or Break – in particular just kills it specifically. Every book of this series has included characters that have been really real, which sounds so generic to put it like that! But the characters in this series are all struggling with real life issues. It’s pretty common in the New Adult genre to either have characters dealing with issues on either end of the spectrum – real life or total angst filled unrealistic drama (not that real life is not angst filled!). So I love that Amy Jo Cousins’ characters usually are realistic as well as grounded.

Denny and Rafi, who we met in the last book, are no different. Denny, on the one hand, is a reserved kid who is used to having his parents pay for things. He’s been in love with Rafi for a few years since he met him when he ran away from home because he was afraid what his parents would say about him being gay. Denny’s been quietly waiting for Rafi for years. Rafi, on the other hand, struggles with so much when he accepts a rowing scholarship and comes to college with Denny. He’s used to having no money and dealing with issues of social class and racism but he’s not used to trying to deal with that within a potential relationship. Both of these characters seemed so genuine to me because Rafi was so freaking stubborn that at some points I wanted to smack him and say what is wrong with you!? But that is pretty accurate for a normal person I think. Denny’s patience was almost too much and I was happy to see it break so I could see he wasn’t a Saint.

I felt that the author did a wonderful job describing the overwhelming parts of coming to college. Parts of this book dealt with just not being a genius and being able to ace classes right away. It’s been a while since I was in class but she took me right back there instantly. Rafi’s struggle throughout the book with a variety of issues and his evolution just made me want to give him a hug.

This was also the first book I’ve read that had crew as the sport in it and I loved it! Oh and the cover is ridiculously hot – love the arms. I would highly recommend this series (as always) and this entry is a great one.

ARC provided in return for an honest review.

4.5 Stars

~Melinda

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Review: Curve Ball by Sloan Johnson

Title: Curve Ball

Series: Homeruns #2

Author: Sloan Johnson

Genre: MM Sports Romance

Published: July 29, 2015

Jason Klein’s living with the fallout from a decision he knew was the right one at the time. He never told anyone about the love of his life, which left him to mourn alone when he found out the man he gave his heart to had been killed in combat. Now, his heart has had time to heal, but he’s not sure he’s ready to let himself move on. Until he meets Cam Morgan…

Without a job lined up following graduation, Cam Morgan took his best friend up on his offer to move to Milwaukee and stay with him until he could get on his feet. The last thing he wanted to do the day after getting to town was go to a party filled with a bunch of jocks. Sure, they were “professional athletes” but Cam was convinced that bigger bank accounts didn’t make them any more accepting of people like him. He certainly didn’t expect to meet Jason, the Mavericks’ catcher who broke every stereotype he’d had.

What started out as one hot, sweaty night together quickly grows into something deeper. Jason welcomes Cam into his home and his life, but now he has to teach the younger man that it’s not a sign of weakness to let people help you.

Curve Ball Excerpt © Sloan Johnson 2015

“If you have something to say to me, just say it.” I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel to keep from shaking Drew. He was one of the youngest guys on the team, and right now, his immaturity showed through brightly. It was about time someone knocked some sense into him, before he wound up earning a bad reputation, both on the field and off. “I won’t apologize, because I haven’t done a damn thing to offend you.”

“Really? I shouldn’t be pissed off that I had no clue you were gay?” Drew seethed, his brown eyes narrow slits as he glared at me. “And I should be totally cool with you loading up my friend in the middle of the night to take him back to your place, right?”

“Yeah, actually you should,” I quipped, twisting the wheel tighter. “Cam is a grown man, and if you truly care about him, you should be fucking ecstatic that he’s getting out there to meet people.”

Drew muttered something to himself as he went back to staring out the window. His shoulders slumped forward and he seemed to shrink in his seat. I knew that look. It wasn’t one worn by a concerned or pissed off friend, it was the look of a man who felt the love of his life slipping away from him.

“How long have you felt this way about him?” I asked. My chest tightened, knowing that I wouldn’t stand between them. Drew and I might not be close, but I liked to think of him as a friend, a brother on the team.

“Doesn’t matter.” The response was so quiet I could barely hear the words. As I pulled up to the stoplight, I placed my hand on Drew’s shoulder, unsurprised when he jerked away.

“It does,” I assured him. “And you have to know I wouldn’t have done anything with him if I’d known.”

“Don’t say that. I’ve known for a long time that he’d never feel for me what I do for him.” I suddenly missed the anger Drew showed earlier. “If the way he looked this morning is any indication, you’re exactly what he needs in his life. And if I put my own feelings aside, you’re more than that. You’re what he’s always wanted.”

That was not how I expected this conversation to go. It started exactly as I’d seen it in my mind, but I hadn’t expected Drew to step aside. Maybe I was wrong in thinking that he was immature and selfish.

“Drew, if you say the word, I’ll back off. I’m not willing to destroy two friendships just for a few nights of fun.”

“The only way I’d ask you to do that is if that’s all this is for you.” I pulled up in front of the grocery store, but neither of us moved to open our doors. “Cam is one of the best guys I know. He’s got a big heart, but sometimes, he’s a little too open with it. If you’re only in this for a couple of hot nights, then yeah you should walk away from him.”

I felt backed into a corner. Sure, I’d thought about what it’d be like to explore something more with Cam, but I wasn’t in a place to do that. It had nothing to do with being on the road most of the year and everything to do with my own inability to be open with those around me. I’d grown accustomed to never letting anyone get too close, and Cam had already seen more than people I’d known for years. There was no way I’d be able to hold back if last night and tonight turned into something more.

“I’ll keep that in mind.” It was the most I could promise him. 

Sloan Johnson is a big city girl trapped in a country girl’s life. While she longs for the hustle and bustle of New York City or Las Vegas, she hasn’t yet figured out how to sit on the deck with her morning coffee, watching the deer and wild turkeys in the fields while surrounded by concrete and glass.

When she was three, her parents received their first call from the principal asking them to pick her up from school. Apparently, if you aren’t enrolled, you can’t attend classes, even in Kindergarten. The next week, she was in preschool and started plotting her first story soon after.

Later in life, her parents needed to do something to help their socially awkward, uncoordinated child come out of her shell and figured there was no better place than a bar on Wednesday nights. It’s a good thing they did because this is where she found her love of reading and writing. Who needs socialization when you can sit alone in your bedroom with a good book?

Now, Sloan is a tattooed mom with a mohawk and two kids. She’s been kicked out of the PTA in two school districts and is no longer asked to help with fundraisers because she’s been known to lose herself with a good book and forget she has somewhere to be.

Review: This is the follow up to Wild Pitch, which I read earlier this year and also enjoyed. We do get to see the characters from the previous book make appearances here but nothing too heavy so it’s definitely possible to read this book as a stand alone. As always with me though, I think that reading the first book enhances the enjoyment of the second book.

I liked Cam the best in this book. He caused some drama here and there but he was definitely my favorite. He was very determined to make it on his own and also had a great sense of humor I loved. Cam and Jason are both kind of lost but Cam tugged at my heartstrings whereas I wanted to knock Jason upside his head to get some sense in there. There needed to be some sense sprinkled around to quite a few of the characters in the book actually, but it didn’t drive me completely crazy to see.

The banter in this book was probably my favorite thing. Cam and Mason in particular had an ongoing back and forth throughout the book that I really enjoyed. I love that in my books and it served to lighten up some of the angst that was in the rest of the book. I didn’t hate the angst but didn’t love those parts either, I need to be in the right mood for those kinds of books.

Overall this is a great m/m sports romance that I really enjoyed.

ARC provided in return for an honest review.

4 Stars

~Melinda

Review: For Real by Alexis Hall

25500803 Synopsis: Laurence Dalziel is worn down and washed up, and for him, the BDSM scene is all played out. Six years on from his last relationship, he’s pushing forty and tired of going through the motions of submission.

Then he meets Toby Finch. Nineteen years old. Fearless, fierce, and vulnerable. Everything Laurie can’t remember being.

Toby doesn’t know who he wants to be or what he wants to do. But he knows, with all the certainty of youth, that he wants Laurie. He wants him on his knees. He wants to make him hurt, he wants to make him beg, he wants to make him fall in love.

The problem is, while Laurie will surrender his body, he won’t surrender his heart. Because Toby is too young, too intense, too easy to hurt. And what they have—no matter how right it feels—can’t last. It can’t mean anything.

It can’t be real.

Don’t judge a book by its cover. For real. Heh (see what I did there?). I just don’t love this cover which is disappointing because I love everything else about this book.

The first aspect I liked about this book was the subverting of conventions in different ways. That’s always something I appreciate in any book and the conventions are turned upside down almost right away when Laurie and Toby meet. Toby is this skinny 19 year old who comes into a BDSM club, obviously out of place and unsure of himself, and Laurie finds himself drawn to him for reasons he can’t figure out. Laurie is almost 20 years older than Toby and initially resists even the phsyical attraction to Toby. I’ve read books that turn the physical conventions on their heads – with a scrawny guy being the more dominant one in a relationship but this book explored this aspect fully. It’s told in a dual POV, which I’ve mentioned doesn’t always work for me, and in this case not only does it work it also helps explore these physical aspects in much greater detail. We get to be in both of their heads and explore what Toby is thinking through each of their interactions. Even more interesting to me was to hear what Laurie was thinking, both during and after. Alexis Hall did a wonderful job of capturing his complex emotions while submitting to someone so much younger and smaller than him.

I know I’ve only been with him twice. That I hardly know the guy. But I also don’t know how you fall in love, except by wanting to. So maybe that’ll do. For now, anyway.

What I found really well done was the two completely different voices. They each have their own, unique ones and the reader would never mistake one for the other. While they’re both trying to work through the complexities that come with the relationship Toby brings his vulnerability of age and not knowing what he wants to do with his life. It’s interesting to see the power dynamics shift in the relationship constantly back and forth as Toby deals with those issues. Laurie has an almost ennui feeling towards the scene and is grieving a previous relationship. There were no overt bids for power in this relationship – which I liked – but the balance between Laurie and Toby shifted all the time and that felt very realistic to me.

Okay, you know what I think is ina-fucking-propriate? People who don’t love each other. People who hurt each other. People who stay together out of fear or habit or apathy. We’re in love, how is that wrong?

The writing is beautifully done and I really loved both characters. Not only was their relationship realistic but just the general aspects of life that happens during the course of the book and the “life lessons” from those moved me as well.

As you can tell, I loved this book. If you like m/m I would highly recommend this book!

5 Stars

~Melinda

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Blog Tour & Giveaway: Noble Metals by L.A. Witt

Welcome to the Riptide Publishing/L. A. Witt blog tour for Noble Metals! Thank you to Happiness is a Book for hosting me.

Every comment on this blog tour enters you in a drawing for a choice of two eBooks off my backlist (excluding Noble Metals) and a $10 Riptide Publishing store credit. Entries close at midnight, Eastern Time, on July 19th, and winners will be announced on July 20th. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries.

*****
L.A. Witt is an abnormal M/M romance writer currently living in the glamorous and ultra-futuristic metropolis of Omaha, Nebraska, with her husband, two cats, and a disembodied penguin brain that communicates with her telepathically. In addition to writing smut and disturbing the locals, L.A. is said to be working with the US government to perfect a genetic modification that will allow humans to survive indefinitely on Corn Pops and beef jerky. This is all a cover, though, as her primary leisure activity is hunting down her arch nemesis, erotica author Lauren Gallagher, who is also said to be lurking somewhere in Omaha.

L. A.’s backlist is available on her website , and updates (as well as random thoughts and the odd snarky comment) can be found on her blog or on Twitter (@GallagherWitt).

NOBLE METALS Blurb:
Ever since Robert Belton gambled away the money to stake his claim in the Klondike gold fields, he’s been stranded in Seattle working as a prostitute. When an attractive customer needs help hauling provisions to the frozen north, Robert eagerly volunteers.
Dr. John Fauth is only searching for one thing, and it isn’t gold. He needs platinum for the prototypes of his revolutionary inventions, and if he doesn’t find it in the Klondike, his university career—and his research—is over.
Getting to the Klondike is a grueling, dangerous journey, and just hours after leaving Seattle, John and Robert find themselves in over their heads. John is carrying an invaluable device that his competitors will do anything to get their hands on. And as the cold nights and mutual desire pull John and Robert closer together, they discover that they have much more to lose than gold or platinum.
(Publisher’s Note: This book was previously published by a different press; it has since been edited extensively and expanded by over 10,000 words.)
Noble Metals is available July 7th from Riptide Publishing. Precious Metals, a novel set in the same steampunk/Klondike Gold Rush world, comes out this fall.

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Blog Tour & Giveaway: Cross & Crown (Sidewinder Book 2) by Abigail Roux

Blurb:
When Nick O’Flaherty arrives at the scene of a double homicide to find he has a witness to the crime, he thinks it’s his lucky day. But when he realizes his witness is suffering from amnesia and can’t even remember his own name, Nick wishes he’d gone with his gut and put in for vacation time.

Then Nick’s boyfriend and former Recon teammate, Kelly Abbott, joins him in Boston, and Nick finds his hands a little too full as the case and his personal life collide. The witness he’s dubbed “JD” is being tailed by Julian Cross, a retired CIA hitman. To complicate matters further, JD forms an attachment to Nick that Nick struggles not to respond to as they search for the key to JD’s identity.

Trying to determine whether JD is friend or foe as they investigate the crime puts them on the trail of a much older mystery. When multiple attempts are made on their lives, Nick is forced to turn to old enemies and new allies to solve a centuries-old crime before he and Kelly get added to the history books.

Cut Scene from Cross & Crown:
Nick was silent as he looked out on the moonlit fields. They were peaceful now, but it seemed there were echoes of gunfire and cannon blasting, bayonets clashing, men and horses screaming in fear and pain.
“It doesn’t really matter why, or how history writes it down,” Nick said. “The only thing that matters is that every man out there believed in what he was doing. He was standing on this ground, willing to take a bullet fired by his brother, to protect something he thought was worth dying for. That country. That king. That ideal. That land back home. That flag. That man leading him. That man standing beside him.” Nick’s voice filled with emotion and he lowered his head. “The burden of death and bravery in places like this is heavy. I’ve always been able to feel it. Someone should feel it.”
Even if Kelly hadn’t already felt the power of this place, it came through clearly in Nick’s voice. It was holy ground, in its own way, bearing the gravity of the past up in what were now wild green pastures dotted with stone and tourists. The agony of it. The struggle. And Nick believed the same as those men, felt it down to his bones. Call it patriotism. Heroism. Integrity. Honor. That indefinable something that had driven so many men to die for something they felt more important than life also lived inside Nick. It had lived inside their team. And if what he believed in was threatened, he’d do the same as they had done; die defending it.
Kelly’s chest constricted as he looked at Nick’s profile in the moonlight. He had never believed that men like this still existed, not until he’d met Sidewinder.
Nick’s breath billowed in front of him in the cold. His eyes were taking in the battlefield, seeing things Kelly couldn’t see, remembering things Kelly had lived with him. Kelly swallowed hard and set one hand lightly on Nick’s shoulder. He couldn’t think of anything to say, so he didn’t speak at all.

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Book Review: Greenwode by J. Tullos Hennig

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Did you ever read or hear the stories of Robin Hood and think “A bunch of merry men hanging out in the forest together seems a little queer?” Well, J. Tullos Hennig confirms your suspicions.

Greenwode takes place in 12th century England, the beginning of the legend of Robin Hood. Young Rob is the son of a forester and firmly believes in the pagan Gods. He eventually take the place of his father as the Horned Lord. One day, while running an errand for his father in Sherwood Forest, he rescues a boy who had been thrown from his horse. Enter Gamelyn. Gamelyn is the third son of a nobleman and a good ol’ Catholic boy.

Rob takes Gamelyn home resulting in a friendship between Gamelyn and Rob’s older sister Marion. But Rob and Gamelyn are not quick to friend. Throughout the book, they are in a constant state of attraction/hostility. Gamelyn wishes that Rob liked him more, but they are both aware of the divides between them. It also doesn’t help that Gamelyn thinks everyone grew up receiving the same noble treatment and living the same noble life that he did.

Needless to say, there is a lot of conflict in Greenwode: Robin vs Gamelyn… Peasants vs Nobles… Pagans vs Christians. But for the stories sake, there is only one conflict that matters; that which is between one Pagan peasant and one Noble Christian… and the odds are NOT in their favor. Robin must deal with the fact that Gamelyn is basically his enemy; while Gamelyn must deal with the fact that he is in love with a peasant who is also male. I mean, if it was discovered he loved a man, it would mean death. Another classic case of doomed love.

But don’t be quick to hate on Gamelyn, he has his own problems. He has an ailing father and a cray jealous older brother. And then there’s his kinswoman, who is also a negative presence in his life. She wants to help him achieve his destiny as a Catholic priest. Granted, he was probably going to be a priest if Robin hadn’t been so sexy. Clueless Gamelyn is also blissfully unaware that his kinswoman is a crazed abbess trying to hunt down all pagans.

Greenwode gives us a better understanding of Robin of Loxley. We see that before becoming a hero, his life full of love, confusion, conflict, and danger. Of course, there is also the addition of the magic and a couple of supporting characters (big sis Marion and Gamelyn’s jealous brother). All of these things help guide Robin to become the legend we know.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and the story. If you’re into historical (?) gay young romance novels, then this is the book for you. Just be forewarned that you might find yourself googling the definition of a few words or skimming through the overly descriptive parts. Greenwode also ends on a cliffhanger so you’re going to have to read the second book to find out if anyone got their happy ending. Pun kinda intended.

Little what? Are you calling me an ass?

4/5 stars

~Eddie

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Book Review: Something Like Autumn by Jay Bell

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There’s always two sides to every story, but in a love triangle, there’s three. Something Like Winter is the second book of the seasons and it tells the story from Tim’s point of view. Since I was never a fan of Tim, I didn’t read it. You don’t have to read it before reading Something Like Autumn, but you can if you’d like. Something Like Autumn, the finale, is all about Jace, who we all know and love from the first book, Something Like Summer. The book is all about the experiences he goes through, whether good or bad, to find someone who’ll love him the way he loves them.

We jump into Jace’s past, when he was just a confused teenager who was having problems with being gay. His doubts soon disappear when he meets Victor. Strange, homeless Victor. They hit it off right away and Jace easily falls in love with him. But unfortunately, Victor refuses to be tied down to anyone or anything. This of course causes problems in their young love, because Jace wants to be tied down. He wants the marriage, the family, and the commitment. He wants to be loved forever.Victor, though he really does love Jace, is never going to want those things too. Despite their obvious differences, they have the typical “on again. off again” relationship over the years. Eventually their relationship comes to a complete end. And although Victor was similar to Tim… I didn’t really hate him. I mean, the guy had issues. He might have even been a little cray.

Now we get to the story we all know, the part where Jace meets Ben. But this time we see that not only did Jace save Ben, but Ben also saved Jace. And they were just perfect for each other. Had it not been for cray cray Victor, Jace wouldn’t have been the saint we were all attached to in the first book. Jace’s back-story with Victor explains how he was always able to forgive Ben, because he still loved Victor just as much as Ben loved Tim. He knew how he would feel seeing Victor again… and he can’t blame Ben for succumbing to those feelings. Victor helped Jace understand that first love doesn’t die. Your feelings don’t go away too when a relationship ends. Now we know what made Jace so “perfect.” And knowing is half the battle.

**SPOILER ALERT**

Because this is Jace’s story, we are once again hit with the super sad part of his life that made us cry like little babies in the first book. Although, this time we get more closure. Yes, I was secretly hoping Jay Bell was going to write that it was all a dream in the first book and Jace and Ben grow old together and have a giant family. But nothing changes and we once again say goodbye to our hero, Jace. Despite all the heartache, we did find out that he had a good life. He had found his happiness.

Ben and Jace both loved two men in their lives. And although they never stopped loving their first, it didn’t stop them from loving each other. We all knew Ben was meant for Tim and Jace was meant for Ben. The first book made us ache for Jace who seemed to have gotten the raw end of the deal. But in Something Like Autumn, we learn that Jace got everything he wanted in life with Ben. He got the marriage, the family, and the commitment. He had found someone to love him forever.

 

5/5 stars

~Eddie

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