Title: Pura Vida
Author: Sara Alva
Publisher: Self Published (m/m Goodreads Romance Group)
Length: 25,400 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Sex to Story
Keywords/Tags: 2013 Love Has No Boundaries story, Free, Short Stories, New Adult, On Vacation, Diverse Pairing, Costa Rica, Second Chances, at the Beach, College, Summer Break
Rating: Really Liked It
Simon has found himself in an open relationship for the summer—though not by choice. Instead of wallowing, he’s decided to make the most of a family vacation to Costa Rica by hooking up with the first hot guy available. Trouble is, he has no clue how to go about doing that.
Luckily, he runs into someone with a little more experience. But when the moments of lust turn into something more, Simon isn’t so sure he’ll be able to return to his old relationship. And there’s no way to hold onto this new one, either, as thousands of miles will separate them in only a few short weeks. Either way, he’ll have to learn to let go.
I’m really happy that Sara Alva asked me to specifically review this short story of hers. Many of you will have read it, I know, because it’s a free short from the m/m Goodreads Romance Group’s LHNB event. I usually keep up a little better with the stories than I have this year and I also try to do a couple mass reviews of some of my favorites. But, I’ve really missed most of them, just because there have been too many new releases this summer! And way too many of them that I’ve wanted to review 🙂 Thankfully, Sara did ask me to review this one and I’m really glad she did because it was so cute and a real joy to read.
Simon is with his father, mother and sister on vacation in Costa Rica where his father is in development of vacation homes. It’s the few weeks after finals just at the start of the summer and Simon is in a bit of a quandary. His boyfriend back at college, Leo, has pretty much parted his company without much fanfare, giving Simon a “let’s see what happens over the summer” goodbye that pretty much means he just wants to fuck whomever he likes until Simon is back to be his bedwarmer throughout the year. Leo is a little bit cruel, but even if he isn’t what Simon really wants, he’s what he’s got and Simon figures that he shouldn’t give up on a solid thing himself.
What better for him to do than try to find a summer fling himself? At least so that he doesn’t go back to Leo having pined for him all summer. But Simon doesn’t really know how to go about catching someone’s eye. There are a lot of cute guys at the beach of their resort and it seems so easy for his sister Alyssa to catch a cute guy. It isn’t until he stumbles up on the local migration of sea turtles hatching on the beach at night that he meets Juan.
Juan is a local that doesn’t show much faith in another American tourist at first, especially when the two get off to such an inauspicious start. But Simon rallies and when he actually shows interest in the turtles, Juan invites him to help with his nightly duties. It doesn’t take them long to find a chemistry between them, but even if Simon did start to have feelings for Juan, there’s no chance of anything happening when he lives thousands of miles away.
This is such a perfect and sweet vacation fling story and this author does it in a way that sets it apart. There’s no easy out that things could continue in the future, that one could stay or the other could follow at the end of their fling. There are real differences between them. But we get to that point by getting to know the two of them in all of their awkwardness and by doing so their relationship has heart where other stories with a similar premise might not. And that’s because there are such differences between them. Juan is a local who has had only too many opportunities to get to know different kinds of people, but so many of them through the facade of the resort, bringing him into contact with a type of person that he can’t understand might not be rich or spoiled. He’s someone who has to work hard for what he has, battle his own family against his sexuality, and then battle the people he comes in contact with every summer to be seen as more than a stupid village boy. Though they come from different worlds, Simon is different. He can’t seem to make himself believe that their fling could be no-strings attached. He just doesn’t know how. And part of that is because he’s the type of person who would find interest in the beauty of the turtles and understand the beauty in what Juan sees everyday.
I don’t know Sara Alva well. And this is the first work of hers that I’ve read — no matter how many times I’ve remembered how much I want to read Social Skills. But, I can see from reading this story that she’s someone who really cares about what she writes and that she writes because she loves it. I’m not an author, but I can understand that. I want to read Social Skills now more than ever, because I feel into her prose and it was so easy and comforting to get lost in. I’m excited to see what to make of a longer story. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve had so many people tell me to read it by now 😉
If you missed this one in all the crush of the free stories this summer, then definitely go get it. It’s sweet and heartfelt and you’ll probably find a new author that you like.
Posted by Cole in 16-40k, 5 Really Like It, Authors A-C, Contemporary, Heat 3 - Sexy & Mild, Romance, Sex Freq 3 - Average Story to Sex Tags: 2013 Love Has No Boundaries, at the Beach, College, Costa Rica, Diverse Pairing, Free Reads, New Adult, On Vacation, Sara Alva, Second Chances, Self Published, Short Story, Summer Vacation
Title: When Love Takes Over
Author: Jacob Z Flores
Length: 88,936 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 5 – Off the Charts!
Sex Frequency: 4 – Very Often (including sexual situations)
Keywords/Tags: P-Town, Porn Star, Sex Industry, Nerds/Geeks, Nasty Ex, Clubbing, Public Sex, Exhibitionism, Multiple/Other Partners, Writers, Cheating Ex, Bad Breakup, Dirty Talk, Pitt Munching, at the Beach, On Vacation, Gingers!, Colorful Cast of Characters, Funny Guys, Camp it Up!, Famous
Rating: Really Liked It
**Some (small) spoilers
Zach Kelly’s life is a shambles. His boyfriend of three years dumped him, and his writing career is going nowhere. On a whim, he heads to Provincetown, Massachusetts, to nurse his broken heart and figure out his next step. He’s expecting to find rest and relaxation on the sandy beaches of Cape Cod. Instead, Zach meets a hunky porn star during a chance encounter at a leather shop he mistakes as a place to buy a belt that is definitely not for whipping.
Van Pierce is smitten when shy and inexperienced Zach crashes through a shelf of fetish gear. Though Van’s got an insatiable appetite for men on and off the set, his porn persona, Hart Throb, hides a broken heart. He’s struggling to find the reality the porno set doesn’t offer, and Zach is fighting to find the fantasy that will set his writing on fire. The odd goofball and the suave beefcake may either find love amid Provincetown’s colorful pageantry where summer never seems to end—or more heartbreak than either can imagine.
No matter how much I’ve wanted to read Jacob Flores’ prior books, this is the first one that I really had the time to read. And I’m so glad that I did. More than anything, more than the fact that I found some parts of this book less to my liking than others and I didn’t think it was perfect, it intrigued me. I immediately put back all of the books I have of Jacob’s back onto my Kindle and I only hope that I have the time to read them soon.
Prepare for a LONG summary. Sorry about that, but I think it’s worth reading 😉
Zach has always done what everyone told him too. Submissive to almost an extreme in his life (though not in the bedroom), he first allowed his father to dictate his life and self-understanding and later his partner of three years, Ben. The start of When Love Takes Over sees Ben unceremoniously dumped by Ben — with no reason or explanation — simply a get out. Zach is tired of being shuffled around and taking it, doing everything he can to change himself into the man that Ben wants. So he does the most impulsive thing he’s done in his life. He takes the small bag he left with from Houston and jumps a plane to P-Town.
Zach has never been to Provincetown and the place dazzles him. There are men everywhere, half naked in the streets, holding hands and kissing. The place seems like freedom personified and there’s no better introduction to the wonders of P-Town than the owner of the condo he’s renting for the week, Gary. Gary and his partner Quinn convince Zach to take advantage of all P-Town has to offer, not to stay in his room and try to work on his novel. Zach still doesn’t understand how his life took such a strange turn, but his writing seems to have suffered in relative fashion. Perhaps a change will be good for him.
Van is also at a crossroads. He’s had a bad time in relationships and it seems like every time he gives away his heart, which always seems to easy for him to do, it gets pummeled and thrown back at him, damaged more and more every time. After his last relationship with a man named Jason who drove him into a terrible dehumanizing spiral of sex and pain, Van took it upon himself to never face that kind of damage again. That is how Hart Throb was born. Being Hart Throb on screen for thousands of horny gay men gives Van a rush and a self-esteem boost that he needs. He can do porn and still enjoy sex, even being pounded by multiple men, without the emotions that ended up crushing him before. As a power bottom that has quickly amassed a huge fan following, he has the power to call more shots and he’s the one in control, not the men on top of him.
It’s almost enough to convince him that he doesn’t need an emotional connection at all. The pain of the past and his creation of his more powerful alter-ego have slowly started to shift his two identities and Hart Throb looks to be taking over. When Van runs into a geeky, shy and pale ginger beauty named Zach in a leather store, his previous conviction falls to pieces. Something about Zach — perhaps his bumbling and sweet nature with mismatched clothes and messed up hair, or his personality which seems to be completely free of artifice in a town where looks and sex are all that matters — appeals to Van. Even though their meeting is short, he can’t get Zach out of his head and his feelings about someone that he doesn’t even know only highlight that Hart Throb can’t fully sustain him.
A makeover on the outside from an excited Gary and female friend Tara prove to Zach that he does have worth. He believe that it just might be possible to break out of his shell, leave the old, boring doormat he was behind and embrace P-Town. That’s what everyone keeps telling him to do, after all. Embrace P-Town, because it will change you. And now that he’s seeing other men, hot men checking him out and finding him very worthy of their attention, the sexually adventurous nature he always repressed starts to peek out. But no matter how much he embraces the sex in the air (with some very public and exciting naughtiness!) what he really wants is to find Van again. But will Van even recognize him? Or did P-Town get to Zach before Van could, changing him in ways that ultimately aren’t good for him?
Whew! First of all, if you made it through that — thank you! You deserve a chocolate or something 🙂 Second, you saw just how long that summary was. I’d say that even though I did a bit of a character introduction to you as well, that summary probably only covers the first 1/4 of the book. The pace in this story moves rather quickly. I like that this author makes decisive choices for his characters. They don’t dawdle, but the story moves along without pause. I appreciate that because no matter how you feel about those decisions, there’s nothing worse than an author refusing to make them and then the characters stall. Van and Zach go through quite a lot to get their HEA, and it’s hard-won, that’s for damn sure! You can see just from the summary I wrote that the angst is already building. Wherever both Van and Zach go in this story they always seem to be looking for one another but at the same time moving in opposite directions, like passing ships in the night 😉 When Van looks for the geeky guy he had a moment with in the leather store he finds just another shallow guy tricking. When Zach continues to look for Van, he finds what he thinks is a guy with a boyfriend. And no matter how annoying that was at the time, because I wanted to smack them both and tell them to actually communicate with each other, this author ultimately brings the story around so that their actions and thoughts make sense to the character.
I really liked both Van and Zach. Zach is someone who I felt like I could understand on a personal level:
The thought that he devoted three years of his life trying to conform to an impossible ideal for Ben haunts him, especially considering that Ben seems to have no appreciation of that fact. P-Town is important to him. His outside makeover soon starts to make him over inside and having men look at him as if they’d be lucky to have him is something that he’s never really felt. This is why this book worked for me on this level. We have a tendency in the romance genre to equate the characters and their choices with the quality of the book. But, it’s important for a character to grow and Zach needs to embrace his slutty and hedonistic side, no matter how shallow it makes him or that he becomes a bit of an asshole for a while, and he needs to fuck things up so that he can learn to be an active participant in a relationship. By definition, the end goal in romance is the HEA. The direction is important, but honestly, the journey there is the real point. This book is a good example for characters that you might not like at certain points in the book, but which (to me, at least) should have no bearing on the rating of it.
I think the real reason that I was intrigued about this author’s writing from reading this book is the tone and mood of the story. The mood is festive and reflective of the setting, but the tone of the writing often seemed just a little bit campy. The tone seemed campy, mind you, not the plot or characters (except for Gary! and Penny :D). This gives the story a lift. Right away it draws you in. No matter the subject matter there’s always a glass half-full feeling that carries through the story. It’s a hopeful tone. I felt like that little bit of campiness was so right on to how I’ve felt before in settings with lots of gay men and a party atmosphere. Sadly, I’ve yet to visit P-Town, but the setting and tone gave off a sense of inclusion and freedom and that thread ran throughout the story, the tone affecting all of the book in subtle ways.
Originally, I gave this book a Pretty Good rating. I had some trouble with the ending, specifically the part from the ending of Zach’s novel to the upstairs of the porn set setting. That conversation between the two was the culmination of the previous chapter or two where Zach starts to think in a kind of writer affectation. Everything became a bit melodramatic and I wasn’t quite sure how to take it. Seriously? Or, as a subtle importation of his writer’s mind? With an added day or two of reflection, I found those parts less important in my memory than the whole. I don’t think this book is perfect by any means, but I cared less about those trouble spots for me and more about the overall story. And that is of two characters that I felt were explored rather well and of writing by this author that I grew increasingly fond of while reading. I can’t wait until he writes something new. Or until I can get off my ass and read something off of his backlist. Recommended.
Posted by Cole in 5 Really Like It, 76-100k, Authors D-F, Contemporary, Heat 5 - Off the Charts!, Romance, Sex Freq 4 - Very Often Tags: at the Beach, Bad Breakup, Camp it Up!, Cheating Ex, Colorful Cast of Characters, Dirty Talk, Dreamspinner Press, Exhibitionism, Famous, Funny Guys, Gay Bars/Clubs, Gingers!, Jacob Z Flores, Multiple/Other Partners, Nasty Exes, Nerds/Geeks, On Vacation, P-Town, Pitt Munching, Porn Stars, Public Sex, Sex Industry, Writers
Title: Beach Remedy (a Paranormal Days story)
Author: Sasha L Miller
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Length: 17k words
Genre: m/m Paranormal/Fantasy Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, Magic, Witch/Mage, Vampire, Urban Fantasy, California, Ghosts/Spirits, On Vacation, On the Beach, HFN, Light and Sweet
Rating: Pretty Good
With his cousin laid up from a broken ankle, Lee agrees to help him out and combine a beach vacation with a bit of legwork to scope out a haunted lighthouse. That his cousin agrees to pay for the vacation certainly makes a cheesy ghost tour bearable. Lee’s plan is to get the work out of the way quickly, then spend the rest of his time on sun, sand, and all the blood and sex a vampire can stand. But the cute hotel clerk he picks out proves to be anything, but an easy snack.
Though there’s no need to read these stories in any certain order (the other being Megan Derr’s Herbal Remedy), they are connected. The common denominator are two of the main characters. In this story, it is Jayden, who is the brother of the narrator of Megan Derr’s story. I happened to read Megan’s story first, so I found that I knew quite a bit about Jayden before I got to read his story. In Megan’s story we see quite a bit of Jayden and his importance in Jordan’s life, so I had a pretty good handle on his character. Though… it’s interesting, and this one aspect played out well in the order I read the stories. From Jordan, I got one characterization of Jayden and though it was admittedly multifaceted because he’s an important character to him, actually getting to know Jayden firsthand from this story completed his character in the same way you’d get to know someone through their sibling only to see later that you only understood them through the lens of sibling affection and at the same time, frustration 🙂
Lee probably felt similarly towards Jordan, when he meets him in this story just because he’s heard about him through Jayden. The two meet at a sunny beach hotel. Lee had planned his vacation to the beach for some well-earned rest. It might seem strange for a vampire to vacation at the beach, but all Lee wants is some relaxation and a new guy to share his hotel room with each night. So his fixation on one man alone surprises him.
Jayden works at the hotel desk and checks in Lee when he arrives. The two share a flirtation that baffles Lee a bit. Jayden seems to be reacting strangely to his vampire-seduction mojo, but if Jayden is immune then maybe he’s really interested in him. He still has a job to do though. He wouldn’t have met Jayden at all if his cousin wasn’t laid up with a broken ankle. Astor is researching the local lighthouse (which is rumored to be haunted) for his next book on hauntings. If he hadn’t agreed to do the research for him since he was laid up, then Lee wouldn’t be staying in such a swanky beach-front hotel, and therefore wouldn’t have had the chance to meet the lovely Jayden.
The best part about this story is that Sasha Miller has thrown away all the unofficial vampire rules and created an interesting, rather mundane vampire. For someone like myself who prefers the Wild Bill sort of vamp (though Wild Bill could never be called mundane!), I really enjoyed getting to know Lee. He’s got a bit of a shaky moral compass, though he’s a genuinely good guy. And I liked the couple that Jayden and Lee make.
Second, this is really a nice beach read. Not that it’s about a beach (duh), but because it’s really about a vacation fling, and those are always fun to read about. The warm weather and long evenings, the lack of stress, and… the beach. It’s about appreciating the day and not worrying about tomorrow. That made this story fun to read. Jayden and Lee enjoy each other, have lots of sex and because they aren’t worried about the future, they allow themselves to be playful. One of my favorite scenes is when they go to do Astor’s research at the lighthouse and make fun of all the ghost stuff. It’s light and sweet.
The story does evolve, towards the end, as they start having real feelings and thinking about what happens next. I appreciated having a solid Happy for Now ending with a real plan going forward for their relationship rather than an unreal HEA.
This is definitely best read as part of a pair, but mostly because the stories are both good and go well together than needing to be read together. You could enjoy either of them separately if you wished.
Posted by Cole in 16-40k, 4 Pretty Good, Authors M-O, Fantasy, Heat 3 - Sexy & Mild, Paranormal, Romance, Sex Freq 3 - Average Story to Sex Tags: at the Beach, California, Ghosts/Spirits, HFN, Less Than Three Press, Light & Sweet, Mage, Magic, On Vacation, Paranormal Days, Sasha L Miller, Short Story, Urban Fantasy, Vampire, Witches
Title: Keeping Sweets
Author: Cate Ashwood
Length: 66,013 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 4 – Very Often
Keywords/Tags: m/m/m scenes, Sex Industry, Porn Stars, First Times, At the Beach, Multiple Partners, the “I Know what’s Best for You” syndrome
Rating: So So
**Slight Spoilers included**
Days away from high school graduation, with hardly a penny to his name, Evan Lowry needs to earn money for college. When he comes across an ad for modeling, he thinks his luck has changed—until he learns he’s interviewing for an adult film and will be expected to have sex. On camera. With other men.
For gay porn star Brandon Court, the shine has worn off of regular shoots. He and his producer, Les, decide to try something new: a reality-show porno set at a beach house. When he meets wide-eyed and naïve Evan for the first time, Brandon isn’t sure if he wants the kid to get lost or get naked. Naked wins.
On set, Brandon takes Evan under his wing, and over the next month, they are thrown together in every intimate way conceivable—except emotionally. Both Brandon and Evan are terrified of trying for anything deeper, and insecurities and doubts wear on their hopes, but the chemistry between them won’t let them slow things down.
I can’t help myself — whenever there is a new book released about porn stars, I can’t resist! I have to read it. I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with these characters, it certainly doesn’t come from a real-life porn star obsession. I don’t need to analyze it, however, to know that it’s a hot button trope for me. So, naturally, I was excited to read this book, though this author is new to me.
Told in third person close point of view and alternating between the two main characters, Evan and “Bran” (Brandon), Keeping Sweets takes a somewhat more realistic and less idolized view of porn behind the scenes. Bran is a gay porn veteran at 28, having gotten into the business by an ex boyfriend and a shady producer as a minor, and has grown jaded with the business. Though he has money to show for his work, sex for pay has taken over his life, both personally and emotionally. Even more than that, he’s coming upon a turning point. At 28, he’s almost ready to retire (if he wants) and find some other avenue to pursue in his life, but leaving what is comfortable is hard, especially when he doesn’t really have anything to fall back on. The first step in separating himself from on screen sex, however, is stepping back from the camera. The project he’s putting together with Les, his mentor, father-figure and partner in business, will bring together seven porn actors for a month long stay on the Oregon coast, with Bran as first-time director.
It is in casting that Bran and Evan first meet one another. Evan is newly 18 and being shoved out into the world. Evan’s mother died several years ago and he’s lucky that his step-father even let him stay until he came of age. But with high school graduation and his passage into adulthood, he has no more reasons to stay and bear the emotional abuse he’s had to grow up with. Such a difficult childhood has made Evan both mature for his age and emotionally fragile. But knowing that he wouldn’t have a place after graduation lit a fire under him, so that by the time he’s kicked out of his childhood home, he’s got a scholarship and a basic plan for the next few years. The major problem is not knowing where he’ll go or survive the summer before college starts, and jobs are thin on the ground. It is with reluctance that Evan attends at audition looking for “adult models”. It doesn’t matter that Evan doesn’t have any sexual experience — not even has he been kissed — he’ll be starving and living on the streets if he doesn’t get some kind of job, something he’s close to already.
There’s no choice. Evan will have to see if he can actually do gay porn. But Bran, recognizing a true innocent in a beautiful body and with keen intelligence, wants to look out for him. Bran knows, more than anyone else at the house on the beach, how this job can suck the innocence away from someone.
Ultimately, this was only a So So read for me. Part of that comes down to the plot, which offered few surprises and relied very heavily on the “I know what’s best for you better than you do” plot device for romantic tension. Readers who have a hard time with characters who don’t like to talk to each other and continually miscommunicate will be frustrated. Their behavior isn’t arbitrary, however. It makes sense for the characters to act the way they do, annoying though it is. The rest of my reaction to the book is personal taste. The story itself is isolated and insular, with the whole group shut up in a house for the purpose of making the porn film. I was originally excited about the other guys in the film and the house, who are introduced with distinct personalities and particular quirks. Too soon though, they became relegated to background noise and the scenes reverted to only showing our two main characters.
If I’m right in thinking that this is a debut novel for this author, then there is definitely some praise to be awarded. Though I felt as if character growth and representation as overbalanced toward the main guys, those two were rather fully fleshed and well written (though Bran admittedly less so). Whether you personally like either one of them is up to you, of course, and I wavered at times in how I felt about Evan in particular. I expected the sex in the book to take center stage, as a porn flick novel, which was ultimately true to an extent. In regards to Evan, who has his very first sexual experience in front of a camera, everything is definitely center stage, and very steamy. There was less sex, though, than I expected. And there were certain scenes, some of which were the only times we ever really saw any of the other guys in the house, in which we were shown a scene being filmed that didn’t include either Evan or Bran (except as directing) that seemed to add little to the story, and I wondered why exactly those were needed. Personally, I would have preferred to see Evan branch out sexually a bit more, though he didn’t. That is actually a pretty important part of the story and a definite decision by the author, but it didn’t really make sense to me. I couldn’t really understand why Evan would feel the way he did, even as an inexperienced person. I suppose I just wanted to understand him and his decisions better.
In all, I’m intrigued by this author. While this wasn’t a favorite book of mine, it was still an enjoyable read. I’m hoping that this author will continue to write and publish. And if she wants to write a sequel, I would be more than happy to read about Colt, the southern heartthrob and protector of Evan “the innocent” 🙂 He’s the secondary character we get to know best, which may be why he came across as the most interesting of the lot. I’d love to see him have his happily ever after.
Posted by Cole in 3 So So, 41-75k, Authors A-C, Contemporary, Heat 4 - Spicy & Smutty, Romance, Sex Freq 4 - Very Often Tags: at the Beach, Cate Ashwood, Dreamspinner Press, First Times, m/m/m scenes, Multiple/Other Partners, Porn Stars, Sex Industry, the "I Know What's Best For You" syndrome