ARC Review: Back to You (Chris Scully)

A journalist who comes home to his sleepy hometown after two decades. A second-chance romance with the first boy he ever kissed. And an answer to the mystery of a missing teenage girl that might either make or break the possible future between the two of them

This book is (nearly) perfect for me in every way. It is MY kind of read.

From the moment it opens with Alex driving his car towards his hometown of Alton Pop. 3,200 I was bewitched with Chris Scully’s atmospheric prose. Alex returns home to visit his estranged dying father, after a call from his older sister. But Alex knows, he also going back to Benji Morning, his former best friend. Once Ben was part of Alex’s childhood life, they did everything together. And Ben was also Alex’s first kiss with a boy. Unfortunately, after Alex’s mother packed up their bags and left their father, Alex ceased to continue communication with Ben…

In hindsight, I suppose I could have Googled him, or found him on Facebook like any other long-lost friend, but I was already in motion, driving the extra hour east purely by instinct, as if Benji were my true north and I the needle on a compass.

However as he arrives in Alton, Alex is involved with a mystery involving Ben’s older sister. Twenty years ago, Misty Morning, disappeared without a trace; her case was considered a runaway. But a little over a week before Alex’s arrival, Misty’s car was found near a lake, and Ben’s mother insisted for the police to re-open the case.

The memory of Misty’s white Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme seeped into my brain, coalescing like a slow-developing Polaroid. Calling it a shit-bucket would have been generous.

Back to You is written solely from Alex’s perspective. While Ben’s POV is missing but I wasn’t completely bothered by it. For me, this is basically Alex’s journey. He is the one returning home. He is the one that needs to make peace with his father and his decision to ‘cut-off’ any communication with Ben. In a way that matters Ben’s is the solid one — like Alex said, his true north.

I was as engaged with the answer to the mystery as much as I did with the romance. Scully cleverly throws some red herrings before she reveals what really happened to Misty all those years ago. She skillfully navigates the dysfunctional family dynamic in both Alex and Ben’s family the serves a role to the mystery that both heartbreaking and thought-provoking.

At the same time Scully steadily develops the relationship between Alex and Ben, which is appropriate considering when they left things, the two men were only in a brink of their teenage years. Alex and Ben need to work through the years that they have been separated, to untangle what they are meant to each other then and now.

To me, this is a compelling story. It fulfills my (reading) heart’s desire for a strong plot and characterizations — and not simply leaning on sexual content. I did wish the epilogue to be more of a firm happily ever after decorated with sunshine and rainbows.

I have been a fan of Chris Scully since the very beginning — this is definitely her best yet and my favorite so far.

RATING: 5 out of 5

 

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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:

Title: Back to You
Author: Chris Scully
Genre: MM Contemporary Romance / Mystery
Word Count: 70,500 words
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Release Date: June 12, 2017

ARC Review: Action (Quinn Anderson)

Action is the second Quinn Anderson’s book I read after her debut last year, Hotline. Unfortunately I have likes and dislikes about this book, and it ends up only within my so-so category…

First off, with having only one perspective, I didn’t feel like I have enough balance. Yes, I loved Pete Grifflow — I loved his babble, I loved his friends, I loved his mom, and honestly Pete’s insecurity issues were a bit endearing (except near the end). BUT I couldn’t say the same about his love interest, Evan Darko. He came off as a bit two dimensional and I always got quickly bored with gorgeous and perfect specimen anyway, which was how Evan was described (at least from Pete’s perspective).

Second, this book is LONG. While I didn’t exactly put it down because I was quite engaged with Pete, but at times I thought that the editor (or Anderson herself) could cut several scenes to make it a bit more effective. And may I say that I really didn’t find Pete’s smoking habit as attractive? Sorry, but I’m not a fan of smoker characters. So having THAT habit written on page annoyed me. Probably would be the scenes I expect to be deleted.

Third, while Pete did experience growth throughout the book, where he gained confidence while being with Evan, but I was not completely happy when even near the end Pete was still a bit in denial about his relationship. Like he wasn’t certain about what Evan saw in him, and he couldn’t even say that Evan was his boyfriend.

ALSO, I wasn’t completely happy with Pete’s decision about whether or not he should be honest about his job as a porn start to his mother.

Having said that, I liked how Anderson sort of “humanized” porn stars. I mean, they like doing what they do. They came to the industry with various reasons and there aren’t any angst, guilt, or humiliation coming from these characters. I also appreciated Anderson’s reaching out to diversity by having a Muslim female character — a friend of Pete — who also kicks ass in my opinion. Sana’s reply to one obnoxious customer at the coffee shop where Pete works his day job is one of my favorite scenes in this book.

In conclusion, I am still going to check out Anderson’s next books. But I hope she steps up her game and gives me a more stellar read than the two books in this Murmur Inc. series.

RATING: 3 out of 5
3-stars

 

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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:

Title: Action
Author: Quinn Anderson
Series: Murmur Inc. #2
Genre: MM Contemporary Romance
Word Count: 97,000 words
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Release Date: June 5, 2017

ARC Review: On Point (Annabeth Albert)

Maddox and Ben have been best friends ever since they were still in SEAL training. While they always have each other’s back, personality wise especially when dealing with love and relationship cannot be more different.

Maddox is a great sniper, but his passion is not the military. He loves baking, he wants to open a bakery, he strives in church activities. Basically, Maddox wants a life outside of the military, and he longs for a committed relationship, preferably with Ben, whom Maddox has been nurturing crush over for years.

Ben, on the other hand, avoid love and long-term relationship. It probably stems from the fact that Ben thinks people change their mind and leave — like his mother, like his ex-husband. So Ben embraces one night stands, sex with a lot of people, wild nights … anything but commitment. His only commitment is the military; and Ben thinks Maddox will always be with him in this case.

Until one mission gone awry, they almost die, and Maddox starts thinking of leaving…

—-

I have been wanting to read about best-friends Maddox and Ben so much, especially after getting a glimpse of Maddox’s feeling towards Ben in the previous book, At Attention. What can I say … friends-to-lovers, people! I don’t think I will EVER get tired of this particular trope. It has been one of my favorites since I read romance two decades ago.

It just evoked ALL THE FEELINGS inside me!

I loved all the tension that happened between the two men, how they approached the change from friends to lovers, how Ben trying to keep Maddox from leaving, how Maddox contemplating between wanting to live but at the same time not hurt Ben in process, I loved reading both Maddox and Ben’s perspectives.

I cannot really say much because that will spoil the whole story. Let’s just say that there was progress happening, characters growth, that wasn’t just because of or due to sexy times. THAT I always appreciate so much in romance. I guess it also helped that while Ben leaned a lot to physical sex, Maddox didn’t :). Plus that epilogue was GOLD.

The only reason why I couldn’t rate it a bit higher was because the beginning was a little muddled with flashbacks and military action. But in overall, On Point is probably definitely my favorite of the series so far.

RATING: 4.25 out of 5
4stars

 

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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:


Title:
 On Point
Author: Annabeth Albert
Series: Out Of Uniform, #3
Genre: MM Contemporary Romance
Word Count: 73,000 words
Publisher: Carina Press
Purchase Links: Amazon US, Barnes & Noble, iTunes
Release Date: June 5, 2017

ARC Review: Enemies Like You (Annika Martin & Joanna Chambers)

For those of you who have read the FREE novella, Enemies with Benefits, the story will start at Chapter 9. For those who haven’t, well, Chapter 1-8 of this book is basically the novella

Enemies Like You the first installment of Enemies with Benefits series as well as the debut of collaboration between Joanna Chambers and Annika Martin ends up being on the lower end of “just okay” spectrum for me.

My biggest problem to enjoy this enemies-to-lovers romance is because I only cared about one half of the equation, while dismissive towards the other. You can imagine myself being bored with one narration (and skimming a lot!) and wishing that I could read this book solely from one character’s perspective.

Let me explain…

Enemies Like You is written using two narratives. One is Will, the CIA freelance assassin who is dead set to kill Sergei Polzin, the man responsible in killing Will’s bands of brothers. The other is Kit, the British bodyguard extraordinaire who also poses as Polzin’s girlfriend when needed.

I am not familiar with Annika Martin’s writing or how this duo works, but based on her background, being an American, I assume Ms. Martin tackles Will’s chapters and Ms. Chambers writes Kit’s.

I didn’t have a problem with Kit’s chapters. In fact, I LOVED them… I loved Kit. I thought Kit had layers that kept me very much engaged throughout: a bodyguard who cross-dressed on occasions, with an artist soul. Kit didn’t protect Polzin simply because it was his job. Oh no, Kit had reasons to do it and readers would learn about this as the story went on.

It was Will’s chapters that made me struggle so much. I thought Will was very flat and two dimensional as a character. While I could try to suspend my disbelief, the fact that he ended up thinking with his d*ck during mission made me want to get my money back if I am CIA. I disliked how Will’s chapters were basically only providing the physical interaction (sex and more sex: blowjob, masturbation, and so on) of the story.

It was very disappointing for me because I thought Will had a great background for this story. After his army brothers died Will basically had suicidal mission. He became an effective assassin (although I question his reputation during this mission) because he just stop caring. I wish THAT is being more explored. Instead I felt completely detached from Will and wish I could just read more of Kit’s chapters.

In fact, Will seemed to have more nuanced, to be more ‘human’ when he was written from Kit’s point of view…

That is my reason for my rating. I am not sure if I want to read the next books. I love Joanna Chambers; she’s one of MM historical authors who is responsible for my liking that genre (I avoid historical romance before, at all cost). So I want to follow this series for her. But I’m worried that Ms. Martin’s writing might not be my cup of tea (based also from her backlist titles that seem to be more sexy than romantic).

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

RATING: 3 out of 5

 

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

 

BOOK INFO:


Title:
 Enemies Like You
Author: Annika Martin & Joann Chambers
Series: Enemies With Benefits, #1
Genre: MM Contemporary Romance
Length: 251 pages (Amazon)
Publisher: Self-Published
Purchased Links: Amazon US, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo
Release Date: May 15th, 2017

ARC Review: An Unexpected Shot (Caitlin Ricci & A.J. Marcus)

HUGE apology to the authors but I thought this one was a mess.

** SPOILER-Y THOUGHTS, PROCEED WITH CAUTION **

In one scene we have Rick and Darius negotiating their relationship on the first date because apparently Rick has kinks and rules about what relationship should entail, and then suddenly men breaking into Rick’s house, bullets flying, blood spraying … and then it has something to do with a serial killer case that happened decades ago?
Sorry, I got whiplash, it wasn’t a good feel, and I just didn’t enjoy this at ALL.

 

RATING: 2 out of 5
2

 

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The ARC is provided through IndiGo Marketing & Design for an exchange of fair and honest review. No high rating is required for any ARC received.

 

BOOK INFO:

Title: An Unexpected Shot
Author: Caitlin Ricci and A.J. Marcus
Genre: MM Contemporary Romance
Word Count: 14,100 words
Publisher: NineStar Press
Purchase Link: Amazon US, Barnes and Noble
Release Date: April 3rd, 2017

ARC Review: At Attention (Annabeth Albert)

Lt. Apollo Floros loses his husband four years ago, leaves him a single dad with their two twin daughters to take care of. Dylan is the younger brother of Apollo’s best friend, 10 years Apollo’s junior, who currently needs a place to stay while he works his summer job. Dylan had huge crush for Apollo when he was a teenager … and he definitely still has strong feeling for the older man.

Personally, I think second-chance romance about a widower (or widow, in M/F case) where the first love died can be quite tricky to enjoy. As a reader, I must be convinced that the second love doesn’t simply substitute the first love. But, I don’t want the first love to be a strong shadow that overwhelms the second romance. At the same time, I also don’t want the first love to be easily forgotten to make way for the second love.

Yeah, like I sad, tricky.

Well, I would like to say that, for me, Annabeth Albert’s At Attention delivered. Albert plays the emotion and tension between the two men quite well. I enjoyed Apollo’s hot and cold attitude — yeah, sure, it might be frustrating to read at times, but it was right up my alley and I gobbled it up.

Apollo has a reason for acting like so — the combination of losing his husband and Dylan being younger, and a brother of his best friend for that matter. I will probably not like it as much if Apollo just jump Dylan’s bones from the beginning!! I thought the pace of the relationship was just right. Plus it gives me that somber moment that of course made me cry, of course

Besides Dylan held his own!! He is good with Apollo’s kids, he is quite understanding … and at that final moment, Dylan knows that he cannot force Apollo to deal with his loss. I loved how Dylan told Apollo that he needed grief counselor, that clearly Apollo was not okay. I loved that Dylan stepped back to give Apollo his space. I was proud of Dylan for that because he shows Apollo that he wasn’t that kid with crush anymore. He has grown up and he deserved Apollo’s respect — and if Apollo wants him back, Apollo needs to work for it.

This is another winner from Albert for me. I cannot wait to read book #3 though because FRIENDS-TO-LOVERS! Yay!!

RATING: 4 out of 5
4stars

 

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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:

33280694Title: At Attention
Author: Annabeth Albert
Series: Out Of Uniform, #2
Genre: MM Contemporary Romance
Word Count: 73,000 words
Publisher: Carina Press
Purchased Links: Amazon US, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Google Books
Release Date: April 10, 2017

ARC Review: Danced Close (Annabeth Albert)

Kendall is a wedding planner and Todd works at a bakery where Kendall takes his business (PS: The bakery is owned by Vic, the MC of book #2). Todd is a recovering addict so he thinks Kendall is out of his league. While Kendall breaks up with his boyfriend who cannot take on Kendall’s femme-ness and wants him to tone it down; and Todd seems to be the similar type. But they can’t help to be attracted to one another.

When Kendall’s best friend must bows out from dancing class they are both signed up for, and Kendall discovers that Todd is very good at dancing, he asks Todd to be his partner… and maybe to have fun while they’re at it.

Danced Close is the 6th book from Annabeth Albert’s Portland Heat series … and it definitely of of my favorites *beams happily* I think I have a weakness for men dancing together, which is what happened here. I enjoyed their dancing lessons so much.

I LOVED how Kendall and Todd got into the relationship; it filled with just enough angst and tentativeness. Mostly because both Kendall and Todd formed a certain perception about the other. Kendall being a genderqueer who embraces his feminine side is not used to people like Todd willing to follow and give control to him. He thinks Todd is too perfect and maybe Todd only sees him as ‘flavor of the week’.

While Todd has a major case of insecurity, being a recovering addict and not exactly coming out of the dark side without a scar (this part is important, potential readers, probably best that you find out yourself). Todd tends to think that he’s not good enough both professionally (in his job) and personally (with Kendall). It doesn’t help that Kendall keeps saying that they’re just “friends”, like Kendall doesn’t want to have someone like Todd to be his boyfriend.

These young men definitely need to TALK and work things out, to clear out any misconception. Yes, of course there is a moment of “pushing the other one away” but it resolves WONDERFULLY. I smiled widely when it happened.

I definitely liked the part of Kendall’s genderqueer identity — this didn’t feel like “PSA for marginalization” which was one of my major unfavorable opinion of Knit Tight. I didn’t feel like I was being preached upon. Maybe because Todd was so sweet when he asked Kendall about things, so Kendall wasn’t being defensive when he explained.

Since Portland Heat seems to be the series where Annabeth Albert introduces various QUILTBAG identities, I hope that she will write asexual characters in the future. You know a wish from her asexual fan ^^

You’re what I didn’t know I was missing. What I need. Like dancing back in my life and pesto and salad and you

 

RATING: 4 out of 5
4stars

 

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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:


9781601836953Title:
 Danced Close
Author: Annabeth Albert
Series: Portland Heat, #6
Genre: MM Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Lyrical Shine
Purchase Links: Amazon US, Barnes & Noble, iTunes
Release Date: March 14, 2017