Title: Under the Waterfall (Have Body, Will Guard #5)
Author: Neil Plakcy
Publisher: Loose Id
Length: 80,618 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Mystery Romance
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Series, Action/Adventure, Bodyguards, Existing Relationship, ex-Military, Teachers, Coming Out/Closeted, Abduction/Kidnapping, France, Corsica, Family/Kids, Multiple Romances, Expat
Rating: Pretty Good
As soon as they’re settled in their new home on the French Riviera, bodyguards Aidan and Liam are sent to the island of Corsica to protect a mining executive and his family. Though they’re still in love, and having lots of sex, the disruption, and the discovery that the client’s son is gay and in a touchy relationship, causes both bodyguards to question their skills and their commitment to each other. Can they engineer a happy ending for Michel and his boyfriend, while protecting the family from deadly adversaries?
What a wonderful surprise for me to find another Aidan and Liam book out! For some reason, I thought that after book four, Olives for the Stranger that the series was finished, so getting a new book and the possibility of even more after this (it sure seems like it) makes me so happy! Liam and Aidan are a couple that I’ve kept with since I read their first book Three Wrong Turns in the Desert several years ago. Each book is heavy on action/adventure and a serious dose of hot and heavy macho action. How could I not fall in love? Besides, I’ve always been drawn to Mr. Plakcy’s work. I really enjoy his style.
The fifth installment in this series diverges from the rest right at the start. Though we know Liam and Aiden well in Tunisia where they met and have previously worked as bodyguards, they moved at the end of the fourth book to France and are now living in Nice. Both of them think that they moved to primarily make the other happy, but the truth is that having less freedom is somewhat constricting to them both, because Liam doesn’t always like being told what to do and because Aidan usually does what he can to defer to his more senior partner and lover and because he generally ends up trying to please him anyway. This results in it’s own set of complications and when Liam and Aidan take on a new case in Corsica protecting a mine owner’s family from threats by Corsican nationalists to preserve the island from drilling, they both spend much of their time there working through their own issues about their relationship. Aidan wonders if he’s doomed to play the doormat when once again Liam takes the active role in their operation and Aidan feels that he’s undervalued. Liam is forced to confront his past when they find that the son in the family they’re protecting, Michel, is in the closet and secretly in love with his father’s biggest adversary’s son. It might be a classic star-crossed lovers tale with a bent twist, but the interactions between scared, closeted and teenaged Michel and his blithely criticizing father force him to confront his own feelings about his past and his development into his only real relationship — with Aidan. Liam has never considered himself as any kind of commodity, until recently mostly avoiding his sexuality except in the basest of situations, but their friend Louis makes a comment that shows him he just might be attractive to other men. That leads him to consider his relationship with Aidan and his feelings about sleeping with other men.
Their main issue in Corsica, nonetheless, is keeping their client’s safe, not angsting about the issues in their relationship.
This book (like the last one) was both an enjoyment to read and a bit of a disappointment. The pure adventure and excitement that I’m used to from the earlier plots in this series seem to have gone away. On the other hand, I think that Plakcy, better than most writers in the m/m romance genre anyway, seem to have a real knack for writing about the issues that crop up in long lasting relationships. They’re the everyday issues — communication, self-esteem in relationship to your partner, jealousy — and they’re handled responsibly. Sure they might cause a bit of angst, but I like the format of this series because the external adventure/mystery plot takes some of the focus away. The plot doesn’t need to be built on those internal relationship issues to carry the story, so those real-to-life relationship issues seem to carry the modest weight that is natural. Of course they’re important but they aren’t life or death issues that need to much focus. I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy a classic relationship-centric contemporary romance, but Aidan and Liam feel more real to me because while I might have to occasionally suspend disbelief at their gun-toting, crime-solving antics, the relationship at the center is down to earth and totally believable.
I remain a fan of this series. I probably always will be. But, I think I might need to shift my expectation of the future books. From here on, I’m going to look forward more to the relationship than the external plot. It might bring me some enjoyment, but so far the last few just haven’t been nearly as satisfying as the first ones. I will say that I found Liam and Aidan’s physical relationship in this book somewhat disappointing. I’m not sure why the author didn’t include much sex (hardly any!). One of the draws to this series for me has been the hot and heavy sex between these two men. Maybe the author is trying to shift the overall arc in another direction? Or, perhaps, the plot in this book just didn’t fit with the two getting hot and heavy. But I sure hope that when these two come back for book six that they’ll be getting it on in all kinds of weird places like they used to!
Posted by Cole in 4 Pretty Good, 76-100k, Authors P-R, Contemporary, Heat 2 - Romantic & Tame, Mystery, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: Action/Adventure, Bodyguards, Closeted, Coming Out, Corsica, Ex-Military, Existing Relationship, Expat, Family, France, Have Body Will Guard, Kidnapping/Abduction, Kids, Loose Id, Multiple Romances, Neil Plakcy, Series, Teachers
Title: Born This Way
Author: Poppy Dennison
Length: 25,383 words
Genre: m/m Paranormal Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between (just one [super hot] scene!)
Keywords/Tags: Shifters (Big Cats), Mate Bonding, Injured Character, Alphas, Teachers, Famous (friends), Music, Lawyers, Atlanta
Rating: Pretty Good
Dayton Whitmore injures his arm playing basketball with his lion-shifter friends, and his best friend asks Dayton to check on her estranged brother Hart while he’s in Atlanta visiting a specialist. Though Dayton and Hart were never close, he grudgingly agrees.
Banishment from his pride meant Hart Sherman could never see his family again. His liger heritage—a tiger mother and lion father—was a thorn in his alpha father’s side. He always planned to go back for Dayton, the man he knows is his mate, but he uses his career as an entertainment attorney as an excuse to avoid risking Dayton’s rejection. When Dayton shows up unannounced on his doorstep, Hart wants nothing more than to claim him.
Knowing what it means to be a lion’s mate, Dayton isn’t in any hurry to make a lifetime commitment. To convince Dayton he’s serious, Hart must come to terms with the circumstances of his birth—and find a place in the pride for them both.
Ever since finishing the finale of Poppy’s Triad series with Soul Magic (reviewed here), I’ve been really excited about this new release. At the time, I almost begged Poppy to tell me that she was going to write a spin-off about the kids in that series (Garon & Riley), only to have my poor heart crushed 😉 There is still a spin-off coming, also about cat shifters, but in the meantime this story isn’t associated with that series yet still, in some areas, I found reminiscent, like the pack politics.
Dayton grew up with Hart’s family, or pride. They welcomed him in as a kid with a mom who wasn’t around much and took care of him, making him one of their own. He exists in a strange kind of half adoption. While he’s part of the family and they consider him, a human, part of the pride, he still can’t really understand what it’s like to have a cat as a part of himself. Then there’s Hart, the son of the Alpha who was born as a cross-bred liger and subsequently more powerful than his father. His banishment ensured his father’s reign.
But even though Dayton doesn’t think Hart ever liked him much, Hart has a good reason why he’s willing to take the banishment. He’s known since they were teenagers and his first heat came over him that Dayton was his mate, but as an outcast among his own family, he couldn’t offer him much. In the years that Hart has been gone, forbidden any contact with the rest of his family, he’s made a career and a name for himself, all in the hopes of going back to claim his mate with a life to offer him. Somehow though, Hart can’t work up the nerve, knowing that accepting their mating may mean leaving his adoptive family behind. Having to face Dayton not choosing him is too hard, so they remain parted until Hart’s meddlesome sister Tawny, Dayton’s best friend, sets them on the same course. The ramifications, however, are more than any of them expected.
This was really a cute story and I think that it stands well on it’s own. I’ll say straight up, I was a little confused at first whether this was the spinoff that Poppy talked about, just because it has to do with cat shifters, but it’s not at all. Still, with the recent release and a similar type of story, I wouldn’t be surprised if people make comparisons. It’s probably bad to do that, in fact, because the Triad series had a real forward momentum that involved an overarching series plot. This story is different because it does stand alone. And while it certainly leaves things open for a sequel, it isn’t obviously just part one of a longer story. That means that the focus of this story is really the relationship, something quite different from the Triad series. And considering the characters and the setup of the plot, this story didn’t need a convoluted journey, no matter how much longer I wished it could have been so that I got to know the characters better and all that. It worked well as it is and I’m really just being greedy.
The story works in the Alpha Man trope with a larger stronger man and a smaller, more emotional and fragile man. But it also doesn’t play to stereotype, but allows the characters to become themselves as the story progresses and buck a few of those conventions. I think that the story could have benefitted from a little more concrete knowledge of the pack politics as well as some better knowledge of the secondary characters in the pack. Otherwise, the story mostly focuses on Hart and Dayton and uses the pack as a catalyst for the changes in their relationship.
I’m excited whenever I get a story to read from Poppy and this was no different. In particular, the two of these guys together are super steamy. Even though we don’t get more than one intimate scene with them, it packed a punch! Recommended, especially for fans of the author and fans of shifter stories.
Born This Way is available today from Dreamspinner Press!
Posted by Cole in 16-40k, 4 Pretty Good, Authors D-F, Heat 4 - Spicy & Smutty, Paranormal, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: Alpha Men, Atlanta, Big Cats, Dreamspinner Press, Famous, Injured Character, Lawyers, Mate Bonding, Music, Poppy Dennison, Shifters, Teachers
Title: Blind Items
Author: Kate McMurray
Length: 60,462 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: Kate McMurray Week!, Politics, Closeted, Coming Out, Famous, Paparazzi!, Funny Guys, Writers (Columnist/Reviewer), NYC, Straight/Gay Male Friendships, Childhood Friends, Best Friends, Teachers
Rating: Really Liked It
Columnist Drew Walsh made his career by publicly criticizing conservative, anti-gay politician Richard Granger. So when a rumor surfaces that Granger’s son Jonathan might be gay, Drew finds himself in the middle of a potential scandal. Under the guise of an interview about Jonathan’s new job teaching in an inner-city school, Drew’s job is to find out if the rumors are true. Drew’s best friend Rey is also Jonathan’s cousin, and he arranges the meeting between Jonathan and Drew that changes everything.
After just one interview, it’s obvious to Drew that the rumors are true, but he carefully neglects to mention that in his article. It’s also obvious that he’s falling for Jonathan, and he can’t stay away after the article is published. Still, Jonathan is too afraid to step out of the closet, and Drew thinks the smartest thing might be to let him go—until Jonathan shows up drunk one night at his apartment. The slow burn of their attraction doesn’t fade with Jonathan’s buzz, but navigating a relationship is never easy—especially in the shadow of right-wing politics.
I’ll be completely honest with you. This is one of Kate’s earlier books, but I really didn’t know what to expect from it. Part of it is that the secret relationship scenario is very hard to pull of, and then combined with the politics — I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it. To my surprise, I actually found that I enjoyed the story (mostly because the character of Drew was so fabulous he pulled it all off!), but I also found this book to have some of the best writing I’ve seen from Kate. The prose is often times lyrical, which all really comes from Drew’s voice. He’s fabulous and campy at times, yet at times heartbreakingly vulnerable with a solid core of admirable strength, and in that combination when the story really needs it, his voice rang completely clear for me. It was almost harmonious in it’s poignancy.
Drew tells this story as a man out and proud and quite perceptive of the world around him. He’s a fierce friend and honest man, at times too honest and righteously indignant on behalf of himself and those he loves that he can hurt other people. He’s well meaning and finds fault with himself before others. And self-sacrificing.
A columnist for a leftist rag, in which he mostly expounds gay gossip and rails on prominent conservative Kansas Senator Richard Granger for his anti-gay speeches, Drew finds himself in a coincidental bind. Richard Granger is his best friend’s uncle. Rey, his straight best friend from childhood is now a major movie star, is willing to introduce him to his cousin Jonathan, even though Drew’s boss wants him to do a feature on the young man, now teaching at a NYC magnet school. An anonymous source has come forward to say that the senator’s son is gay and Drew is suppose to get the scoop.
It’s a nightmare of epic proportions when Drew meets Jonathan and realizes how attracted to him he is. He already feels uncomfortable with the idea of outing anyone, and meeting Jonathan and becoming involved with him could mess up his best friendship, as well as make him start to see the senior Granger as a real person. Soon, Drew is being pulled every which way, and when reporters start looking for their own scoops, it puts their relationship to a real test. Have they just been playing at a real relationship? Or, is Jonathan too messed up by his father’s expectations and guilt to ever be out and free to have something real? Should Drew just abandon the whole thing before it blows up in his face?
As you may have gathered, I really connected with Drew. Not only did I find him engaging, but I really admired him, and I don’t think the story could have played out in any different way. Drew is at the same time pragmatic and a dreamer, two parts of him which battle in his attraction and love for Jonathan. Is it better for him to sacrifice his happiness now for a better possible future? Drew is really tormented in this story, not only with Jonathan, who at time he loves and hates for his weaknesses, but with himself.
The real relationship of value in this story is actually with Drew and his best friend Rey. The story starts with them, and in a way, they’re the central relationship in this story. I can’t help but fall in love when an author gives me this — a real, solid, brotherly friendship between a gay man and a straight man. Maybe it’s because I never thought it was possible when I was growing up. I had a hard time with my own straight guy friends in high school. No matter how much they accepted me, in ways they didn’t, and probably couldn’t at that age. None of us were mature enough. But college turned everything around with me, and I made one particular friendship with another guy that was indeed brotherly and somewhat like Drew and Rey. Madison Parker wrote a similar friendship into her YA book Play Me, I’m Yours. Honestly, that’s the way to my heart authors, and I adored Rey for that very reason.
The only disappointment I had with this story was the ending, which felt a little rushed to me and seemed to cut off just a tad too early. But it was a small disappointment and didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the rest of the book at all. So even though I officially rate this book Really Liked It, I loved this book and I loved reading it 🙂
Remember to visit tomorrow for my interview with Kate McMurray! We’re discussing her new book, Save the Date available now from Loose Id, her love of Baseball and NYC. Tomorrow’s reviews are the baseball ones — Out in the Field and Four Corners!
Posted by Cole in 41-75k, 5 Really Like It, Authors M-O, Contemporary, Heat 3 - Sexy & Mild, Romance, Sex Freq 3 - Average Story to Sex Tags: Best Friends, Childhood Friends, Closeted, Coming Out, Dreamspinner Press, Famous, Funny Guys, Kate McMurray, Kate McMurray Week!, NYC, Paparazzi!, Politics, Straight/Gay Male Friendships, Teachers, Writers
Title: Red Envelope
Author: Howard Shen
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Length: 6,500 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 1 – Sweet/None
Sex Frequency: 1 – None
Keywords/Tags: Cops, HEA, Kiss Me at Midnight Collection, Light & Sweet, Short Story, Teachers
Rating: Pretty Good
Reviewed by Nikyta
Aidan Wu is pretty content with his life—and if things aren’t perfect, he’s not really inclined to complain. When Officer Wells shows up on Chinese New Year, however, he realizes both what his life is missing and what could ruin it completely.
Aidan Wu has is celebrating the Chinese New Year with his parents when he briefly meets Officer Zane Wells for the first time. From there, one incident after another seems to push Aidan and Zane into seeing each other. After their third meeting, Zane finally acts on his attraction to Aidan and they start their fledgling relationship. With a little push from fireworks to seizures to Chinese mothers, their connection might just turn into something real.
This was a very amusing and quirky story that I really enjoyed. The characters are a lot of fun in that Aidan is put into these situations where he’s either frazzled or shocked and in swoops Zane to help him through his troubles. I liked how easy going and likable they both were. I’m not quite sure how to describe it but while they were both ordinary characters, there was something about both of them that shined, which made me adore them even though there’s not much depth to either.
I really liked this short story but I felt like it was too short. More development and detail to the family, their relationship and possibly to the culture would have made this read much more entertaining than it already was. I liked how it seemed as if Fate had a role in getting these two to constantly meet up but I really wish that the scenes with them getting to know each other would have been shown instead of told.
Overall, I really enjoyed this one. It’s cute and sweet but has some quirky moments. It’s a well-written story and I adored the author’s voice and the style in which this was written in. I’m hoping we’ll get to see more of Aidan and Zane one day because I feel like their story is just beginning.
Posted by Nikyta in 4 Pretty Good, Authors S-U, Contemporary, Heat 1 - Sweet/None, Romance, Sex Freq 1 - None, up to 15k Tags: Cops, HEA, Howard Shen, Kiss Me at Midnight collection, Less Than Three Press, Light & Sweet, Short Story, Teachers
Title: Can Anybody Find Me
Author: Julia Alaric
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Length: 13,000 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2- Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, Kiss Me at Midnight collection, Gay Marriage, Teachers, Established Relationship, College (Grad School), Speech Pathology, HEA
Rating: Pretty Good
Reviewed by Sadonna
Will is panicking. In ten days he’ll be thirty, and his life isn’t anything like he imagined it would be at that age. As he considers his future, he sees the possibility for failure. When he thinks of the past, Will sees all the opportunities and loves he’s lost. The only thing he can’t see is what’s right in front of him.
This is the second story I’ve read by this author recently and I think I am becoming a fan. Ah those birthdays with a 0 on the end. They all seem to loom large and it’s nearing Will’s 30th birthday and he is filled with doubts. He’s not sure he’s made the right decisions in his life and he’s looking a future that he just isn’t very excited about. He’s made a decision based on his love for his husband that he now questions.
Will is in grad school – speech pathology – but as he’s getting farther along in his program, he realizes that while he can make more money in that profession, he does not find it fulfilling. He is really happiest in his teaching job. But he is an uncertified teacher and he can’t pursue his earlier dream of a Ph.D. in history because of other decisions he’s made. He doesn’t want to be a disappointment to Andrew, his husband and he doesn’t want to ask Andrew to make changes he’s not comfortable with – like moving. They are legally married in Iowa and that’s really important to Andrew.
As the birthday approaches, Will becomes more and more panicked. He doesn’t want to betray Andrew’s confidence in him but he doesn’t know how to tell him, he really isn’t happy with this career choice. He loves Andrew more than anything and he won’t do anything to compromise his marriage, but he’s having a lot of troubling dealing with the sacrifices he’s made for that. As the day gets closer and the panic attacks a bit more intense, he realizes that the love for Andrew is his one constant and he needs to focus on that. While everything might not be perfect, they are perfect together and they will work through these doubts.
I really enjoyed the reality of this story. These are not picture perfect characters. They have weaknesses and flaws and that’s OK. They accept and love each other and that whether or not everything works out as they maybe thought it would when they were younger, their relationship is the thing that they will build their lives around and it will be enough.
Posted by Sadonna in 4 Pretty Good, Authors A-C, Contemporary, Heat 3 - Sexy & Mild, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between, up to 15k Tags: College, Existing Relationship, Gay Marriage, HEA, Julia Alaric, Kiss Me at Midnight collection, Less Than Three Press, Short Story, Teachers
Title: Sparks (Firefighters #7)
Author: Tory Temple
Length: 15,000 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 4 – Very Often
Keywords/Tags: Existing Relationship, Firefighters, HEA, Injured Character, May/December, Series, Short Story, Teachers
Rating: Pretty Good
Reviewed by Nikyta
Chris and Morgan are back! In this third installment to Tory Temple’s popular Tinder series, Morgan Daniels finally gets his turn to talk about what life is really like with a fireman. Chris and Morgan are still together and still happy, but Morgan’s underlying dislike for firefighters in general is threatening their relationship. When there is a bad accident involving Chris’ crew, Morgan’s deepest-buried fears are brought to the surface. Every negative thing he thinks is true of firemen has been illustrated… or has it? Help and support for Morgan comes from truly unexpected places, but the damage may have already been done. The truth may be realized too late.
Sparks picks up five years after Morgan and Chris first start their relationship. While their love is strong and their relationship is more or less solid, Morgan is still harboring a dislike for all firefighters and hates Chris’ job, which causes more tension between the two. When Chris gets hurt in an accident on the job, Morgan’s fears come true and he’s looking to blame someone for the injury. Even when Morgan experiences how the firefighter family takes care of their own, Morgan’s feelings stay the same. It isn’t until Chris can finally get back to work that things go downhill and Morgan’s not dealing with just distance but a possible separation too.
When I originally read Tinder and Embers, I had a love/hate relationship with Morgan. He is such a bastard but I just wanted to hug him because he’s so jaded. In Sparks, that jaded personality is still there, dampened a bit from being in a relationship with Chris for five years, but still there nonetheless. Chris is still the playful guy that I loved; he tries to change Morgan’s opinions of firefighters but it does no good.
I loved the way this story focused on Morgan. To see everything unfold from his eyes was a treat because he’s the one with the big issue regarding firefighters. He’s also an older gentleman so seeing how he thinks of Chris was both funny and sad. There were some funny and sweet moments in this one, as well as, hot moments and it was really great to see Tucker and Chance make an appearance. More than that, I liked that Morgan and Chris still have a love for riding in common.
While I enjoyed the story a lot and getting back to reading of Chris and Morgan again, I had some reservations. For one, this story gave a brief look into their lives now, which was great, but I felt like there was something missing from the story. While you know Chris and Morgan love each other, you don’t actually feel it. Most likely because Morgan is tangled up over Chris’ job. That was my main problem but I did feel like Chris was more immature at times than I remember him to be.
In the end, I really liked this short story. It was great getting back to the series again, although I wish we had a full novel of them instead of multiple short novellas. It was great to finally see Morgan accept Chris’ occupation for more than just resignation but to fully understand why Chris does it.
Posted by Nikyta in 4 Pretty Good, Authors S-U, Contemporary, Heat 4 - Spicy & Smutty, Romance, Sex Freq 4 - Very Often, up to 15k Tags: Existing Relationship, Firefighters, Firefighters series, HEA, Injured Character, May/December, Series, Short Story, Teachers, Torquere, Tory Temple