ARC Review: Viscount’s Wager (Ava March)

** SPOILER ALERT **

Viscount’s Wager is the third (and I assumed the last) book in Ava March’s “Gambling in Love” series. Consider that I truly have bad memory about details, I honestly didn’t remember much about the previous two books. However, I had no problem at all being immersed to the love story between Anthony Hawkins, the Viscount Rawling, and Lord Gabriel Tilden.

Seven years ago, Anthony and Gabriel shared their first intimate kiss. Anthony, only sixteen at that time, compared to Gabriel’s eighteen, have been having deep crush over the older young man and that kiss just gave him flourishing hope. Until the very next day, Anthony heard about Gabriel engagement and the news broke his heart. Now, Gabriel returns to London, recently widowed, and Anthony is determined to introduce Gabriel to the pleasure of the city as well as the possibility to reignite the fire of attraction between them.

Despite being the younger man, I couldn’t help admiring Anthony’s stance towards life. I loved that Anthony was unabashed about his preference towards men — oh, he doesn’t prance on it, but Anthony makes up his mind from early on that women doesn’t make him happy so that he will not get married in pretense. I loved Anthony’s certainty about being with Gabriel and his willingness to chase that dream (now that Gabriel is widowed). As a character, Anthony won my heart from the very get go. Even after his heart was broken by Gabriel, he doesn’t hold a grudge or drowning in sorrow. He’s an admirable man in my eyes.

Gabriel, on the other hand, was a bit harder for me to empathize. Gabriel has that ‘deep denial and guilt’ that eats him from the inside, which sort of making him more cowardly compared to Anthony. His idea of penance, his idea of staying away from Anthony because he hurt Anthony deeply just didn’t impress me much. Especially because he knows at heart that all Anthony wants is for them to be together. It’s a screwed up way of thinking and I’m always a bit impatient for characters like that. Luckily, Gabriel finally steps up and admits his mistake, and it doesn’t take the last chapter for him to do so. I definitely approved :).

There are other issues that plays their hand in Anthony and Gabriel’s relationship, i.e. Gabriel’s gambling addiction and Anthony’s struggle to read (these days, Anthony will definitely be diagnosed with dyslexia). The first becomes the vehicle to strengthen Anthony and Gabriel’s bond, while the later gives a solution for them to be together. I thought both were incorporated to the story very well.

When it comes to the chemistry and sexuality, well, hats off to Ava March. She sure knows how to write them down!! I will admit that I’m not always in favor of reading sex scenes. Probably influenced by my asexuality, I always demand romance, and for me that doesn’t necessarily translated into sex. Sex scenes for me should feel rewarding, should be integral to the love affair as a whole, and not written just for the sake of being written.

In this book, I thought Anthony and Gabriel had a deep honest passion towards one another and the sexuality was simmering bright. Gabriel is a virgin when it comes to sex with men, and when Anthony, the younger one in the relationship, becomes the teacher, wow, it was sensual, it was beautiful, it gave me tingles!! Their sex scenes were wonderful — even if I ended up skimming some of them in the end (that was on me, NOT the book).

By the way, fans of March will be delighted to see cameos from previous books, Max Arrington, Duke of Pelham and Tristan Walsh (from All In with the Duke), Jack Morgan and William Drake (from Sharp Love), as well as small scenes with Linus Radcliff and Robert Anderson (Rogues) as well as Alexander Norton and Thomas Bennett (from My True Love Gave to Me). Considering the timeline and small circle of acquaintances between men who love men in that period of time, I thought this was a pleasant way to bring the characters together.

At more than 102,000 words, Viscount’s Wager is Ava March’s longest story to date — and despite things that frustrated me, it is definitely a solid and satisfying regency romance. The happy ending in that epilogue is very convincing and it makes me very content.

RATING: 4 out of 5
4stars

 

The ARC is provided by the publisher via Netgalley for an exchange of fair and honest review. No high rating is required for any ARC received.

 

BOOK INFO:

18780071Title: Viscount’s Wager (Gambling On Love, #3)

Author: Ava March
Genre: MM Historical Romance
Word Count: 102,000 words
Publisher: Carina Press
Release Date: August 10, 2015

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ARC Review: Blue Steel Chain (Alex Beecroft)

** SPOILER ALERT **

I don’t give out 5-stars reviews often … but I also don’t feel good when I have to give out bad reviews. I prefer to stop reading altogether and don’t finish a book if I have a feeling that I will not like it. This is one of few occasions in which I did finish the book — because I was curious about how it would end. I couldn’t be more honest about my reading experience and how I thought about the book.

I. Don’t. Like. It.

First thing first, I am not sure whether the trigger warning is needed but I’m going to say it anyway. There is on-page violent scenes here. Aidan is in an abusive relationship and some of his ordeals are written quite vividley: beating, kicking, choking … there are bruises and bloods. I’m not exactly squeamish but I prefer to read violence in mystery/crime or even urban fantasy setting rather than contemporary romance. It was a bit difficult to swallow. It reminded me of a friend’s comment who said “Alex Beecroft always makes her characters suffered a LOT before the happy ending“. I’m worried if it will trigger reactions from some readers as well so I thought I’d better say something about it.

Now, onto the story itself…

I felt like there are two plots going on and when it came down to the romance, it was a mess. On one corner, there is Aidan who is in domestic abusive relationship with an older guy. He is able to run away from it with the help from James. Then Aidan tries to be independent by working at a cafe, making friends with some of girl employees, and finding out that he’s asexual. Yep, Aidan realizes that there is a name to his ‘situation’; the fact that he never enjoy sex with Piers, the reason why he doesn’t like sex altogether, and why he keeps thinking that sex is different than love, that love doesn’t equal to sex. So we have that.

On the other corner, we have James, the local archeologist who is in failing relationship with his rock-star boyfriend. Basically, James’ boyfriend, Dave, is a total dick-wad. Dave doesn’t appreciate James, he parties like crazy, he cheats on James. James wants to break up with him but Dave doesn’t seem to get the point… yeah, that is the other on-going plot.

So with both things going on, I didn’t buy the romance between Aidan and James. Not 100%. But what I disliked the most was the fact that there were a lot of important things happening but they were all pretty much ended up being glossed over, for example:

a) the abusive partner — who CLEARLY killed his previous lover, so where’s the investigation in that?!? How could he walked out from it easily to kidnap Aidan again later?!

b) the asexuality — I feel really sad that the asexuality issue here seems to be on the surface only: Aidan doesn’t like sex, oh he’s asexual! There’s so MUCH going on in Aidan’s life, including being abused for the past several years! It needs to dig deeper — I don’t buy that he’s easily think it’s fine for him. What about emotional trauma? What about physical trauma? Alongside the fact that he’s asexual!. And could James easily accepted that, knowing that he doesn’t even understand about asexuality in the first place!!

… and finally, the romance. It just didn’t work at all for me.

Sorry, but for me this is a major failure. I struggled to find anything positive to say. It just left bitter taste in my mouth. Having said that, I don’t give out ratings below than 2-stars unless I despise the story. So 2-stars it is.

RATING: 2 out of 5
2

 

The ARC is provided by the publisher via Netgalley for an exchange of fair and honest review. No high rating is required for any ARC received.

 

BOOK INFO:
23484552Title: Blue Steel Chain (Trowchester Blues #3)
Author: Alex Beecroft
Genre: MM Contemporary Romance
Length: 250 pages (~67,000 words)
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Release Date: July 27th, 2015

ARC Review: A Fashionable Indulgence (K.J. Charles)

3.75 stars rounded up

A Fashionable Indulgence is the first installment of a new series, A Society of Gentleman, from the marvelous K.J. Charles, released by Penguin Random House digital only imprint, Loveswept. As far as my knowledge, the series will be a trilogy, featuring the gentlemen from the Ricardians group of friends.

I will be honest to say that this book was NOT a smooth sailing reading experience for me. I struggled a bit in the beginning because the historical context – it sets in London in 1819, with the backdrop of political radicalism around the country – was a bit too ‘far’ for me to comprehend. I am an Indonesian, and my history lesson in school didn’t really cover the ins and outs of specific moments in other country’s history. I didn’t have good frame of reference in mind regarding the domestic turbulent situation after Napoleonic War in England, nor could I actually understand what the whole Ricardians gentlemen were all about. I had to Google-d some things to help me gaining more understanding, including the St. Peter’s Field Massacre.

On top of that, I never really care about the life of the “society of gentlemen” or the regency in general. In the beginning, it was quite delightful to think of Julius Norreys teaching Harry Vane on how to talk, to act, to dress like a gentleman. I kept imagining Julius shouting “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain!” for Harry to follow *laugh*. However, after a while, it bored me to hell. I couldn’t care less about what buttons go with what coats or what color of waistcoat to wear (did I care enough about PUCE? Nope!), or why onyx button is better than ivory, or why gilt button should be worn in one specific occasion. And what the HECK is Titus and Cherubin hairstyle anyway?!

Let’s just say that I was this close of shouting internally. I guess I will not be a very proper lady, if I live in that time of age.

But then, K.J. Charles proves why she is still one of my favorite top authors. Around half-way, we finally had a HUGE argument between Harry and Julius, and suddenly it became fast-paced and engaging. Gone was the whole talks and debates about fashion – instead we had some explosive but emotional moments between Harry and Julius, when they finally acknowledge their feelings to one another. We had danger following Harry when the government zeroed in to capture radical movement supporters, including Harry’s friends, and to that extend, Harry’s involvement in distributing seditious pamphlets. It was exciting and I was biting my nails to find out how Harry could get out of the situation.

It took time for Harry to capture my heart. To me, he was a bit naïve. He wanted to be rich, he wanted to be part of the society of gentlemen because he didn’t want to live the way his parents did. Harry thought he could get everything he wanted without taking necessity consequences. Let’s just say that I wasn’t feeling very sympathetic towards him – until his old family friend, Silas, drilled a new hole in his brain (NOT literally!!) *laugh*.

Having said that, Harry definitely shown the most progress in terms of characters, in my humble opinion. Yes, Julius had his own tragic past, and Harry was the first man who could make Julius felt love. But in terms of characters, I thought Julius was pretty consistent from the beginning. Julius had his principles and opinions on matters that didn’t sway easily. I liked Julius of course, but Harry was the one who progressed.

There are other characters here who rounded up the group of friends – and would definitely starring in their own book: Richard Vane – Harry’s cousin twice removed and Dominic Frey – Richard and Julius’s friend who worked at Home Office. We also have Silas Mason – Harry’s family friend, a radical bookseller and pamphleteer, as well as other secondary characters such as Richard’s loyal valet Cyprian and Harry’s other cousin, Miss Verona Vane.

All in all, this book won my heart despite the rough beginning. And let me tell you, I read the blurb for the second book and couldn’t contain my EXCITEMENT. If you know the main characters there like I do by reading them in this book, I am sure you would be as well. Gah, December couldn’t come fast enough!

RATING: 4 out of 5
4stars

 

The ARC is provided by the publisher via Netgalley for an exchange of fair and honest review. No high rating is required for any ARC received.

 

BOOK INFO:

9781101886021Title: A Fashionable Indulgence

Author: K. J. Charles
Genre: MM Historical Romance
Length: 224 pages
Publisher: Loveswept
Release Date: August 11, 2015

ARC Review: The Shepherd and the Solicitor (Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon)

I want to take it slow with you, ease your sorrow and remind you of all the good things we live for…

The book opened in a gut-punching way — as aristocratic Daniel Pierce woke up in the dark four years after the event that broke his link to humanity; the event that made him leave London and emerged up north as reclusive shepherd Jacob Bennet. He lives his solitude life with his sheep and ewes and dogs. Until a solicitor from London, Gregory Tobin, manages to track him in attempt to find the heir of Pierce’s business.

I loved this book!! I thought the contrast of Bennet and Tobin’s character — Bennet was brooding, cynical, and grumpy; Tobin was positive, sunny, and determined; he named Bennet’s ewes for God’s sake — was engaging. In actuality, Bennet and Tobin only spent few days together at Bennet’s farm, but it still felt slow-burn. The pace between Bennet’s first reaction of Tobin disrupting his life until he realized how much Tobin meant for him was nicely done. I loved their conversations — it felt quiet but important — and I especially LOVED the part with the farm animals. Tobin helping the birth of ewes was one of the highlights.

I could also feel the difference between the quiet nature of the farm, with just Bennet and Tobin, with the busy and unfriendly tone of London — the city where Bennet/Pierce lost his first love. This difference was needed to make it convincing enough for the ending to happen.

Bottom line, The Shepherd and The Solicitor is a wonderful hurt/comfort story; another winner coming from the collaborative pen of Dee and Devon.

RATING: 4 out of 5
4stars

 

The ARC is provided by the publisher via Netgalley for an exchange of fair and honest review. No high rating is required for any ARC received.

 

BOOK INFO:

25677846Title: The Shepherd and the Solicitor

Author: Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon
Genre: MM Historical Romance
Word Count: 50,677 words
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Release Date: September 29, 2015

ARC Review: Treble Maker (Annabeth Albert)

I am going to start with a disclaimer. I love Annabeth Albert’s stories … I enjoy her Portland Heat series and her contribution to this year’s Goodreads M/M Romance “Don’t Read in the Closet” event, Waiting for Clark, is simply one of my favorites and an almost perfect read. So when I saw that she was releasing a full-length novel, and then the book was available in Netgalley, I didn’t think twice. I just requested right away (and was lucky to be approved).

Albert’s writing was good and attainable; I had no problems with it it all. Then there was Cody, one of the main narrators. While he sometimes showed a Diva-esque behavior as he thought of himself as the best and lead singer of Embellish, Cody ended up being quite endearing for me. Cody’s background struggle with his family, his determination to make it on this business, alongside the judgments and sneer from others because of his Goth/Twink/Rainbow/Man-Whore attitude made Cody much rounded character. Yes, Cody pushes Lucas with his flirt and his arguments, but it brought different dimensions of him, and I’m SUCH a sucker for that complexity.

Unfortunately, this book failed me in other levels. It might also had something to do with expectations, and this one didn’t give me what I wanted. Thus, my lack of enjoyment during and after finishing the read. First off, it felt too long. Cody and Lucas going hot and cold for more than 200 pages challenged my patience. Especially when the drama felt childish — then again, these were 20’s years old men, so maybe that was why it was difficult for me to connect? — Seriously, it felt dragging, and I found myself skimming the 1/3rd of the book or so.

Then, we also had the sex content over the story. Okay, so this MAY be just my issue, all right? I don’t see many M/M readers having problem with it. I guess I was expecting the emphasis to be combination of the competitions, how the group was going each week, while having the romance in between. I felt that the competition was pushed WAY back, whereas the parts that related to the competition was actually some of my favorites: like Cody taught Lucas how to dance, how the choreograph the dance, heck, even how they chose the song to sing. Instead this felt like a repetitive sex-lessons for a gay virgin hero, which didn’t work for me at all. I couldn’t care less for the mutual jerk-off sessions, or the push-and-pull about doing it in the bedroom, etc. I wanted the romance and I didn’t get it.

Oh, and everything related to the “conservative way = bad” and “free to do what you want = good” was also not a favorite theme of mine *shrugs*

Bottom line, this is not my favorite from Albert. As always, reading is a personal experience, and I might come to this with different set of perceptions and preferences. I can see this being a favorite for those who love their new adult boys, and their angst. It’s simply not mine.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5
25stars

 

The ARC is provided by the publisher via Netgalley for an exchange of fair and honest review. No high rating is required for any ARC received.

 

BOOK INFO:
23519651Title: Treble Maker (Perfect Harmony, #1)
Author: Annabeth Albert
Genre: MM Contemporary Romance / New Adult
Word Count: 102,403
Publisher: Lyrical Shine
Release Date: August 4, 2015