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Weight of Silence (Cost of Repairs #3) - AM ArthurTitle: Weight of Silence (Cost of Repairs #3)
Author: AM Arthur
Publisher: Samhain
Length: 51k words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Mild & Sexy
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Sex to Story
Keywords/Tags: Series, Coming Out, YA Characters, Hurt/Comfort, Sisters, Family Drama, Abuse, Deadbeat Dad, College, HFN, Past Couples’ Cameos, Thanksgiving, Christmas
Rating: Pretty Good

Reviewed by Sadonna

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The wrong secret can poison everything–even if it’s kept with the best of intentions.

Gavin Perez knows he’s a living cliché. He works a dead-end job, shares a trailer with his waitress mom, has an abusive, absentee sperm donor, and he’s poor. So color him shocked when middle-class, white-bread Jace Ramsey agrees to hang out with him.

Granted, Gavin is trying to make up for dumping a bowl of cranberry sauce on Jace at Thanksgiving. And boy, is Gavin forgiven, over and over again…until Jace goes back to college for finals and stops returning Gavin’s calls.

Back home from the semester from hell, Jace doesn’t want to do anything but sleep through the holidays. It’s easier than coming out to his family—or facing Gavin’s hurt. But Gavin’s ready forgiveness draws them back together, and Jace won’t be able to stay in the closet much longer.

Nor will he be able to keep hiding his pain. He trusts Gavin with his body, maybe even with his heart. But can he trust that a devastating secret that’s eating him up inside won’t destroy everything—and everyone—he loves?

Product Warnings
This book contains one slightly hyperactive hero from the wrong side of town, a frustrated college student looking for a little life experience, and an unexpected romance amid dark secrets that just won’t stay buried. Also contains references to physical abuse some readers may find disturbing.

REVIEW

This is the third book in the Cost of Repairs series. While this story takes place in the same town as the first two novels, there isn’t a lot of crossover and it can be read as a standalone story. The couples from the previous two stories briefly appear in this book, but it’s not really necessary to have read them before this one.

Every year for Thanksgiving, Dixie, who owns the local diner, Dixie’s Cup, throws a large Thanksgiving potluck dinner that is attended by a lot of folks in town. All of her employees and a number of her friends as well as her nephew and his partner also are invited. This year Gavin and his mom (who works at Dixie’s) are also there along with the Ramseys. Keith Ramsey is one of the local police officers and he keeps an eye on Dixie’s and of course has been friends with her for years. Gavin and Jace have a small accident with some cranberry relish that results in them talking really for the first time. Gavin has been out since he was 14 and he’s pretty sure Jace is gay but he doesn’t seem to be out. Surprisingly though he agrees to go to a party with Gavin over the Thanksgiving weekend.

While Jace has some misgivings about the location of the party, he ends up having a decent time and then he and Gavin go out to the lake to park. He’s never really done anything with a guy before – beyond some awkward groping and kissing – and boy does he want to with Gavin. Gavin recognizes the deer in the headlights look about Jace though and he takes things slow. Jace is in his sophomore year at Temple [University] and Gavin is about 4 years older, so he lets Jace take the lead and set the pace.

Several weeks later Jace is home for Christmas break and he’s not at all acting like himself. He’s not eating, he’s moody, and he’s uncommunicative with his family and just generally stressed out. When his mom forces him to make an appearance at their annual Christmas party, he comes face to face with Gavin. He’s shocked that Gavin even speaks to him since he had ignored all communication from him since Thanksgiving break. Jace feels guilty and explains it away that he had finals and then he had to change his number because of harassing texts and calls. Gavin amazingly accepts these excuses and they start to hang out again. Jace is not happy to be home, he’s not happy at college and he’s pretty much avoiding his family. Regardless, Gavin is happy to be spending so much time with Jace. He and Jace hang out at Gavin’s trailer quite a bit since Gavin’s mom is working and Jace isn’t out to his family. Although Gavin recognizes that Jace is tense, he chalks it up to his worry about grades and his unhappiness and being forced to go to college when he doesn’t really want to be there.

As the break continues, Jace’s family and particularly his twin sister Rachel become more concerned about his behavior. He’s not eating and as a consequence has lost a noticeable amount of weight and seems to be getting weaker. When he does try to eat, he seems to get sick quite a lot. Things come to a head with his family and Gavin really helps out. There are things that no one knows that have happened at school and Jace feels guilty and betrayed and is dealing with an incredible amount of stress and self-loathing. While Jace meant well and made a decision out of the desire to protect someone he loves, he has suffered some pretty awful consequences. Without being spoilery, luckily for Jace, Gavin is a great guy and steps up when he needs to.

I am a fan of this author and really liked the previous two books in this series. For me, this story is not quite as strong as the first two in the series. I think that the ages of the guys and the things they were dealing with were not quite as compelling as the first two. This book is also not as long as the previous two installments. Or maybe it’s just that I’m old 😉 I really, really liked Gavin especially. His personality I thought really was conveyed especially well in this story. Jace grows a lot in this story and learns a great deal about himself, his family and what he wants out of life. I enjoyed seeing Rey and Samuel from the first book in a small supporting role and also Dixie and company from the diner. This is a well-written series and I would happen to revisit Stratton, PA in the future should the opportunity arise.


walkinthedarkmcmurrayleadusnotindecemberhalloweenhowl

*Click the covers to be taken to the story/purchase info. Further info at the bottom of the post.
**”On the Stoop”, the DSP Halloween Howl story, is currently unavailable.

When I decided to review Kate McMurray’s backlist, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t forget any shorts. And while there aren’t many, when I did start making my list of the books I needed to read and to re-read, I decided that I’d go ahead and just do all of them. There are a very short list of short stories, most of them free. So, at the very least this is a good place for someone unfamiliar with this author to decide if they like her style and writing.

Also, I find it interesting to read short stories written by this author, who is definitely more well known for her novels. Both Kindling Fire for Snow and her newest, Save the Date, are shorter than most (the first at around 20k and the latter at around 33k words), but they aren’t really short stories either, which is a completely different style of writing in some ways. Some authors are terrible at writing shorts but write completely incredible novels, and vice versa. Of course, that’s mostly in the literary genre because short stories are much more valued there, but I always find it interesting to see how an m/m author I like transitions to writing shorts. And even though I’d read quite a few of Kate’s books, I had surprisingly read none of her short stories.

I started with the two that I already had: A Walk in the Dark (part of the 2011 Dreamspinner Advent Calendar) and Lead Us Not (one of the M/M Romance Group’s 2012 Love is Always Write stories). And… I can’t believe it but I loved them both. In fact, I think that this might be where Kate’s background in literature and literary fiction (mostly as a reader, as she said in her interview with me two days ago).

A Walk in the Dark tells the story of Jared’s unrequited love for his best friend and roommate’s boyfriend Brandon. Rex, Jared’s roommate, is a bit of a player, but in the way only best friends can still loves him and sees his good qualities no matter how much he hates seeing the guy he loves being dicked around and very possibly cheated on. I thought that the story did what it really needed to without giving us too much more, which is one of my biggest problems with short stories — when they try to be novels in disguise. The characters came through for me in a real way because of the awkward position they’re in and the story is good for the season, a sweet HEA for Christmas. I give it a Pretty Good.

Lead Us Not was really the surprise for me. I remember seeing the prompt that Kate chose and looking forward to reading the story, but somewhere in there I missed it and haven’t thought much about it since then. The prompt asks for a story about two actors and boyfriends who’ve moved to NYC to pursue their dreams and the temptations they face in order to get to their HEA. The story Kate gave us was simply beautiful, in emotion and in craft. Written in alternating first person between Sam and Jess, they each tell us about their own lives in NYC and how they’ve grown and moved from the naive boyfriends who moved there several years ago, two of them against the world. They recount how their lives have started to diverge and how no matter how much each still loves the other, how much doubt can harm a relationship. The temptations offered are in the form of two other guys, catalysts who seem to be a sounding board for all of their doubts about themselves, each other and their careers, which for both are going in directions they never really expected. The beauty of the story is how Kate shows us such a sweet love story without pulling punches. It’s a much more true to real life story than many sugarcoated fantasies in the romance genre and that gave it a real ring of authenticity that makes their hard-won HEA really worth it. I’ve only given Kate one 5-star review in the past, for Out in the Field, but this is my second. I Loved It. And it’s free!

The remaining two stories are both free stories. “In December My Heart’s Full of Spring” is currently available for download and read here, on Kate’s website. “On the Stoop”, the story that was released in October as part of the Dreamspinner Halloween Howls, is currently unavailable from their website, but is also up for download at Kate’s website.

Both stories are much shorter than the previous two. “On the Stoop” is the story of a recent transplant to NYC from St. Louis, a man who seeing the differences between Halloween celebrations in New York are different from his childhood in the suburbs in the midwest feels that they only reflect how out of place he feels. When he meets a cute guy sitting on his stoop in his neighborhood handing out candy to passing kids, he sits and talks and finally feels like he’s made a friend, or something more that could give him hope that he could call the city home. This was a cute, no-sex story. It’s quite short and doesn’t have a whole lot going on, but I still felt like Adrian was developed well for a story of this length. Because there isn’t a whole lot going on, I couldn’t really love it, though it was a nice read. So this one gets a cute So So 😉

And lastly, “In December My Heart’s Full of Spring” is the story of two men who meet at the top of the Empire State building on a lonely Christmas Eve. Both are at low points in their lives and seeing an old friend who they hadn’t seen in years gives them the energy to get through the night together when they thought they’d have to spend it alone and depressed. That night leads to a bonding between the two of them and eventually, more… I felt similarly about this story as I felt about “On the Stoop”, though where that story had less actual plot, I felt like this story actually had quite a bit going on. If Goodreads is right and this was made available (in whatever form) in 2009, that makes this one of Kate’s first public stories. I could see some of that in the writing. Perhaps the meeting atop the Empire State Building is a bit cliché, but the story quickly moves on and developed two really good characters, which showed me that Kate has a natural talent for writing realistic characters, even if her writing might have improved some over the intervening years. This one gets a So So as well.

For anyone interested, Dreamspinner recently published a free sequel short about Four Corner characters Jake and Adam’s anniversary on the DSP Blog, called “Shortstop.” I talked a bit about it (it’s cute!) in my review of Four Corners the other day. Here’s the link for anyone interested in read it.

Well, sadly that ends Kate McMurray Week 😦 I hope all of you enjoyed taking a tour through her books with me and also enjoyed our interview on Thursday. Remember, comment on the interview before Midnight, Tuesday June 11th for a chance to win a copy of her book, Save the Date!

Next Up: I do the same with Lou Harper the last week of June. I’ll be reviewing her entire backlist and interviewing her as well as talking about her upcoming book, Dead Man and the Restless Spirits, about Denton from Spirit Sanguine, available on June 25th. I hope you’ll join me for that!


Title: Poacher’s Fall and Keeper’s Pledge (Midwinter Manor series)
Author: JL Merrow
Publisher: Dreamspinner
Length: 15,641 words & 27,244 words
Genre: m/m Historical Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Series, Double Review, 1920s, Edwardian Period, England, Rich/Poor, Family Issues, Closeted, Grieving Partner
Rating: Pretty Good & Really Liked It (Respectively)

**This review contains spoilers for the first story in this review, so to be able to talk about the second**

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PoachersFallLGPoacher’s Fall (Midwinter Manor #1)

One snowy night just before Christmas, 1922, poacher Danny Costessey rounds off a night trapping rabbits by climbing a tree to fetch some mistletoe for his mother—only to fall and break his leg. Taken to the manor house to recover from his injuries, Danny meets the reclusive owner, Philip Luccombe. Village gossip has it Luccombe went mad during the war, but Danny soon realizes he’s simply still mourning his late lover. As friendship grows between them, Danny starts to fall for handsome, shy Philip.



Danny’s lively nature, roguish good looks, and ready laughter enchant Philip, and he finds himself being drawn out of his shell whether he will it or not. But when Danny tries to move beyond friendship, Philip panics—and his rejection threatens not only their happiness, but Danny’s health.

Previously published as the short story Pleasures With Rough Strife in December 2009 by Dreamspinner Press.

KeepersPledgeLGKeeper’s Pledge (Midwinter Manor #2)

Landowner Philip Luccombe has been enjoying a passionate relationship with young poacher turned gamekeeper Danny Costessey for four years now. Danny’s love has brought him out of the shell he retreated into when his first lover died after the Great War. But this Christmas, visitors to the manor threaten their happiness. Philip’s young cousin Matthew is artistic, vivacious, and flirtatious: just the sort to remind him of his long-dead first love—and to emphasise the social gulf between Philip and Danny.

But the worst danger comes from much nearer home. An old flame of Danny’s is discovered in incriminating circumstances, forcing the lovers to keep their distance for fear of being tarred with the same brush. Meanwhile, Danny’s younger brother, Toby, has grown to resent the connection between his brother and the lord of the manor. Danny wants to do the right thing—but that could divide the lovers forever.

REVIEW

I hadn’t read Pleasures with Rough Strife previously when it was first released, and I admit that I’m a bit happy that I got to wait and read it now in it’s second incarnation as Poacher’s Fall, along with the new sequel, Keeper’s Pledge. I’m not sure how much has changed between the first story and it’s revision and new release, but I think I would have been a bit disappointed if I didn’t have the second story to read after I finished it. No matter much I enjoyed it, it was a bit of a teaser. Not to say that it wasn’t a well-rounded short story on it’s own — no, just that I was really glad that I got to see most of the relationship development in my first read and all of that comes in the second story.

That is the reason I’m reviewing these together. In a way, they’re just one story, and they should be read together as such. I’m not a huge fan of historicals, but I am a fan of JL Merrow and I’ll always read whatever she writes. I know that in the hands of this author, I’ll enjoy the story. And I really did. This is a beautiful story and in a period that I’m rather fond of in historicals, the time around the Great War in England, the early 1900s or the Edwardian period because of my love of Maurice by EM Forster (which I’ve read about a dozen times!). I can’t claim any sort of historical accuracies or not, because I don’t really know much about this time in history, but I thought that there was a seamless integration of historical detail that didn’t detract from the story for a modern reader, which is something I think is important for readers who might not be huge fans of historicals either.

The story is rather simple — poor man meets rich man and they defy their fear of persecution and even more to share a life together, no matter the lies they have to perpetrate to share that life. When they first meet, Danny is a young man who lives on the land of Philip Luccombe. Danny regularly poaches on their benefactor’s land in order to feed his family, and after the death of his father, who used to work on the estate, he has to take care of his mother and younger siblings. Just before Christmas, Danny is on his way back with a few snared rabbits and decides to climb a tree for a sprig of mistletoe to brighten up his mother’s Christmas. But, the tree and grounds are icy, and he falls.

Philip is a rather lonely man. People think him strange. He rarely leaves his home. But most don’t know the real reason he’s locked himself away — he’s grieving for the man he loved and lost to the Spanish Flu. Having a new person in his home over the holidays is at first difficult for Philip, but Danny’s charm and vivacious zest for life bring him slowly out of his shell. They quickly become friends, talking over Danny’s sickbed, as both learn more about the other man they are starting to have feelings for over the Christmas season.

Keeper’s Pledge returns to the couple a short time later. Danny is now the gamekeeper of the estate and he and Philip have a carefully cultivated life and secret romance. It is the most they can hope for — to be left alone and in love. But, some of Philip’s relatives come to call over the Christmas season, disrupting their lives and putting a damper on their relationship. Having relative strangers in the house makes it almost impossible to sneak away for secret trysts, especially when one is rather openly queer and quite perceptive. At the same time, Danny must deal with family troubles in the form of his younger brother, who seems headed for real trouble and desperate to break away from the family.

I think that Keeper’s Pledge is where this story really shines. I really enjoyed reading Poacher’s Fall, but it’s much like the setup to the real story. I’m so happy that Jamie decided pick this story back up, because it really turned out well. This story is sweet and clever and really, really well done in the amount of space, a short story and a short novella. It only further shows the talent this author has. Make sure you pick these up!


20130130-060342.jpgTitle: Saving Skylar Hand
Author: George Seaton
Publisher: MLR
Length: 42,000 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Western Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Christmas, Friends to Lovers, Closeted, Coming of Age, Cowboys, Cheating, Abuse/Neglect, HEA
Rating: Really Like It

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Lifelong love of two boys growing up on the west-central Texas scrub, their lives entangled by the dynamic of families so starkly different.

Skylar Hand and Cody Pinnt share their lives upon the west-central Texas scrub. Both born to a cattle rancher’s life, their view of the world and their place in it, takes one down a path toward heady dreams of a future away from the land. The other sees worth only in trudging his days, as his daddy has, upon the land; his dreams confined to what he has known his entire life. Their love is sorely tested by the choices they make.

Good thing it’s the season for miracles.

REVIEW

First, I should confess that I am a fan of this author which is I why I told Cole I wanted to review this story. His short stories have really moved me and I just really like the way he tells stories so I was interested in reading this longer work. Then I read a couple of fairly depressing and difficult books where the MCs suffered quite a bit before they got to anything even close to a HFN. I started reading this book and I was very worried about the direction it was headed so I took a break to gear myself up for what I feared would be something just awful. Happily I can say that I should not have been worried and that the author takes care of his characters without resorting to outlandish and improbable “coincidences” or tricks to torture them or to resolve their issues. Thank you George!

This story takes place over a number of years in the life of Skylar Hand and Cody Pinnt. Each chapter covers of an important event/milestone in the lives of the characters of this book – from the main characters Skylar and Cody, their parents, Pete Semple (the hired hand at the Iron Hand ranch) and even Zane Black, Cody’s college roommate. While the timeline is not linear, each chapter is vital to our understanding of the lives and character of each player in this novel and provides background and context to the lives of Cody and Skylar.

Skylar and Cody have been friends since they were small children. Cody’s family is fairly well off and his parents love each other and him and only want what’s best for him. Skylar is not so lucky. His parents are not well-suited and “had to get married” because Skylar was on the way. His father is a lazy drunken mess and Pete Semple, the partially disabled retired bull rider and hired hand is most likely the only reason they haven’t already lost the Iron Hand ranch. Cody is the one bright spot in Sklyar’s world along with his dog. Surprisingly, his mother does not resent him even though she has been thoroughly disillusioned by her husband and her marriage.

As Skylar and Cody grown up, their relationship because more than just friendship. Cody knows that he is gay, but Skylar cannot admit this to himself. His life at the ranch continues to deteriorate and he is most unhappy after Cody leaves for college. Luckily for Skylar, Pete Semple and his mother want to save him from what they know will be an unhappy life. They surprised the heck out of me. When Cody and Skylar reunited, they have some work to do on their communication but they are honest with each other and themselves.

I really liked this story very much. Skylar and Cody are characters that change realistically over the course of the novel but never lose sight of the most important thing – their relationship. They truly start as the best of friends and while there are difficulties to overcome in the change to sexual and romantic feelings, they are able to persevere. The strong secondary characters, particularly Pete and Skylar’s mother add a lot to the story as well. The voices in this story felt very authentic and believable. I am now an even bigger fan of this author. Highly recommended.


AL_ChristmasHopesTitle: Christmas Hopes
Author: Anna Lee
Publisher: MLR Press
Length: 12,000 words
Genre: m/m, Contemporary, Romance
Heat: 1 – Sweet/None
Sex Frequency: 1 – None
Keywords/Tags: Adorable, Christmas, Co-Workers, Doctors, HEA, Short Story
Rating: Pretty Good

Reviewed by Nikyta

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Christmas is a time of hope and love, but with a guarded heart Ethan Reed refuses to let anyone get close. Until he meets Trevor Hayes…

Doctor Ethan Reed’s life revolves around the hospital and his patients. Nothing will deter his commitment to his job; not even his new fellow, Trevor Hayes. Ethan is instantly attracted to the handsome doctor and the desire he feels isn’t one-sided. Sparks fly, but a guarded Ethan shoves Trevor away, not realizing that what he really wants for Christmas is to be loved and regain the hope he’s lost. Can Trevor get through to him or will Ethan spend another Christmas alone?

REVIEW

This was a sweet story of two doctors who must work together even though a deeper connection is being formed. I enjoyed the way Ethan and Trevor started off badly. It created some tension between them because Ethan used that to his advantage to push Trevor away so he wouldn’t get hurt by another colleague.

I found this story extremely sweet. Although short, there is still enough characterization and development between their relationship to get to know Ethan and Trevor. I enjoyed seeing them as doctors and the way they handled the kids they worked with.

While I really enjoyed the story, I felt like it needed to be longer. The tension between Ethan and Trevor causes conflict that ultimately changes Ethan very quickly, which I found unexpected and slightly out of character. I would have liked to see a gradual approach to how Ethan changes. As it was, there’s gaps within the story that are glossed over that make it hard to come to terms with his sudden mood change.

In the end, I really enjoyed the book. It’s sweet and left me with a smile on my face. I would have liked to have seen more of Trevor but I still really liked the relationship they created. The ending, however, was absolutely precious, I thought.


santasnaughtyhelper185Title: Santa’s Naughty Helper
Author: Ari McKay
Publisher: Torquere
Length: 15,100 words
Genre: m/m, Contemporary, Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: Adorable!!, Christmas, Co-Workers, Friends to Lovers, HEA, Short Story, Unrequited Love
Rating: Really Liked It

Reviewed by Nikyta

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When shy attorney Kevin Anderson draws Erik Wilson, his hunky co-worker, in their office’s secret gift exchange, he realizes this might be just the opportunity he needs to make Erik notice him. Erik seems to enjoy the game of twelve days of naughty gifts, but can Kevin overcome his fear of rejection enough to go through with his plan and offer himself to Erik on Christmas Eve?

REVIEW

While the blurb is a bit vague, it actually does a great job of describing the story. Aside from the fact Kevin and Erik are also best friends, there’s something about unrequited love that gets me every time. I love the fear that’s always associated with loving your best friend.

I absolutely adored Kevin and Erik. Kevin is very shy and easily embarrassed while Erik is comfortable being the center of attention. It was fun seeing how Kevin fussed over his gift idea for Erik and then ended up creating a game out of it. He knew Erik would enjoy a game and it was the perfect ploy to get Erik to notice him. It was amusing to see Kevin’s gifts go from innocent chocolate and wine to more adventurous gifts like a variety of sex toys.

I really enjoyed the author’s writing style. While the story is short, we still get enough details about everything that provides just enough depth to the characters that they are real enough to connect with. It was easy for me to imagine the expression on Kevin’s face whenever Erik would fluster him. Aside from that, while it isn’t obvious of the feelings Erik has for Kevin at first, it becomes noticeable that Kevin’s feelings aren’t just one-sided. My only regret was that the story ended where it did. I’d have enjoyed seeing everyone’s reactions to knowing Kevin was Erik’s secret Santa, as well as, how people would take their new relationship.

This might be one of my favorite Christmas stories so far because it was both fun and cute. I liked the slow progression and Kevin’s gift ideas. I was amused by how much fun Erik was getting out of the game. It was a great story and I’ll definitely be looking for more books from this author.