Review: Legally Bound by J.R. Gray

Legally Bound CoverTitle & AuthorLegally Bound by J.R. Gray
Series: Bound #1
Release Date: September 7, 2010
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Pages: 220

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):

The last thing Daniel, a hard-working public defender, expected to see the morning after a one night stand was his hook-up staring back at him from the wrong side of the law. Assigned to work his case, Daniel vows to keep things professional with Rafael but has a hard time controlling his craving for dominance, the control, and the connection they shared. Rafael, a paid Dominant in the Chicago underworld, has been dealing with a cop problem for far too long. Used to sex with no emotion, he’s entranced with Daniel’s submission, his innocence, and…could there be something more? Can Daniel clear Rafael’s name, keeping him out of jail and in his life, with the odds, a cop, and the mounting evidence against them?

Be Warned: m/m sex, BDSM, branding, flogging, caning, whipping.

My Thoughts:

*** Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. Continue reading at own risk. ***

A friend and I recently had a conversation about BDSM erotica and romance novels. Though the specifics of what turned our cranks differed somewhat, one of the things that we agreed upon was that in order for us to enjoy a novel with BDSM themes, there had to be a deep emotional connection between the main characters. For us, the power exchange between a Dom and a sub is hottest when it is based upon mutual trust, respect, understanding, and a sense of equality between partners. I want to know about the character’s emotions and motivations – why are they drawn to the lifestyle? What deep-seated need or desire does the D/s relationship fulfill for them?

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel as if there was enough emotional depth in Legally Bound to make me invest in the characters or the story the way that I had hoped I would. I never felt as if the relationship between Daniel and Rafael moved beyond the lust and curiosity of a one night stand into something more meaningful. Lust and hormones and curiosity can make for a steamy sex scene, I’ll give the author that, but ultimately, this lack of a deeper connection between the characters made the BDSM elements of the books feel tawdry and rushed.

In fact, parts of the author’s depiction of the BDSM lifestyle made me feel downright uncomfortable. I understand that there’s not one “right” way to explore or engage in BDSM play (nor a singular way to depict it in books), but the one thing that people seem to accept unquestioningly is that it must be safe, sane, and consensual at all times. In Legally Bound, however, Daniel and Raf not only engage in restraints, and floggings, and wax play long before they have discussed limits and safe words, but Rafael’s character admits to engaging in scenes with clients while strung out on Vicodin! Later in the book he takes a crop to King’s slave while angry and not entirely in control! That is just NOT okay.

*watches as the author throws the “Safe, Sane, Consensual” edict right out the window, pours gasoline on it, and sets it on fire.*

As for the rest of the book, I respect an author’s prerogative to make creative choices and shape a book however they see fit. I just don’t understand why anyone would set out to create the most idiotic, unethical characters on the face of the planet. Between the characters’ very relationship, the ridiculously thoughtless timing of the couple’s solicitation role play, and Daniel’s decision to confront McCoy at his home and then refuse to go to the hospital or press charges after he is brutalized, I am baffled by these characters and the decisions that they make.

(Don’t even get me started on the fact that Rafael and Daniel have sex immediately after Daniel is assaulted!)

And, before anyone gets up in arms about that last paragraph, I’ll just point out that Daniel’s disregard for his professional ethics are one of the central themes of this book (and therefore fair fame for this review) and that the author, herself, refers to Daniel’s behaviour as “idiotic” on more than one occasion.

From a technical standpoint, I didn’t find the book to be particularly well-written either. It contained a fair amount of unnecessary punctuation, orphaned words that should have been caught and removed during editing, and awkward phrasing. Choppy sentence structure and jarring transitions between characters’ thoughts and actions often left me re-reading passages to ensure that I hadn’t inadvertently skipped something (I hadn’t). Although they may bother other readers less than they did me, I found that these errors made it difficult for me to get into the groove of the book’s narrative style and ultimately made the book feel amateurish.

That said, I did find that the writing began to smooth out somewhere around the book’s midpoint. This made for a much more pleasant reading experience in the second half of the book and bodes well for the author’s future work.

The one writing quirk that I couldn’t ignore or get past was the author’s habit of referring to her characters as “the lawyer” or “the male” or “the Dominant” rather than using their names or personal pronouns. It was weirdly impersonal and made it feel as if there was a distance between the characters long after they had supposedly formed a strong emotional connection. It also put a distance between the characters and me, as a reader, which I think contributed to why I never connected with either of Daniel or Rafael.

I believe that there are plenty of readers out there that will happily overlook the aspects of Legally Bound that I took issue with. Those readers will probably find the book raw or sexy or intriguing. However, this review is about my reactions to the book, and as much as I wanted to, I just didn’t like it. 😦

My Rating:

1 SmoochHalf

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Review: The Darkest Hour by Maya Banks

The Darkest HourTitleThe Darkest Hour (KGI #1)
Author: Maya Banks
Series: KGI #1
Release Date: September 7, 2010
Publisher: Berkely
Pages: 290
Read: March 5-6, 2014

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):

The Kelly Group International (KGI): A super elite, top secret, family-run business.

Qualifications: High intelligence, rock hard body, military background.

Mission: Hostage/kidnap victim recovery. Intelligence gathering. Handling jobs the US government can’t…

It’s been one year since ex-Navy SEAL Ethan Kelly last saw his wife Rachel alive. Overwhelmed by grief and guilt over his failures as a husband, Ethan shuts himself off from everything and everyone.

His brothers have tried to bring Ethan into the KGI fold, tried to break through the barriers he’s built around himself, but Ethan refuses to respond… until he receives anonymous information claiming Rachel is alive.

To save her, Ethan will have to dodge bullets, cross a jungle, and risk falling captive to a deadly drug cartel that threatens his own demise. And even if he succeeds, he’ll have to force Rachel to recover memories she can’t and doesn’t want to relive—the minute by minute terror of her darkest hour—for their love, and their lives, may depend on it.

My Thoughts:

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a “Romantic Suspense”. After over a year of gorging myself on hot man on man loving, and only occasionally dipping my toes back into the M/F pool, I didn’t really know how I was going to like this one. I wanted to like it. Everyone seems to really enjoy this series, and after having bought the first two books in the series in hardcopy, I really hoped it wasn’t going to end up being a bust.

Thankfully, it didn’t.

Instead, it reminded me that though I definitely prefer M/M romance, M/F romance is still really good . . . if you find the right story. Even before I ever started reading M/M, I found myself becoming very frustrated with the normal “het” romance. Why? Well, the book would usually fall into two categories:

1. Category numero uno is what I like to call: I’m needy, helpless, whiny, and no one loves me . . . Please love me female protagonist.

  • *Sighs* I’m sorry. I really don’t understand how this even works. Page after page of whiny female, wondering how anyone, how any man, could ever love her even when there’s a man standing right in front of her that does love her is so far from what I want to read for more than 200 pages, especially when, in the long run, they hardly go through any change; I don’t know how many books I’ve read where the woman, having the life that she wants and with the man she wants, doesn’t know how all her dreams came true but she’s just so very thankful that they did. You don’t know how you got your HEA? If you don’t know how you got it, what was the point of me reading it?
2. Category numero dos is what I like to call: I’m a he-man, hear me roar male protagonist.
  • *Rolls eyes* Don’t get me wrong. I like Alpha males as much as any woman (or man) does. The kind of male protagonist that I’m talking about, however, is much more than that . . . And a hell of a lot worst. This kind of guy is the one that acts as though the woman can’t do anything, is far too obsessed with her, and more than just a little jealous. Seriously. Take a chill pill. Just because your girl smiles, and talks, and is genuinely nice to another man doesn’t mean that she’s cheating on you. Or is even thinking about it.

So, as one may imagine, I was really happy when neither Ethan or Rachel fell into those two categories. It gave me hope for M/F.

Ethan and Rachel are by no means perfect, they have their problems, problems that Ethan tries to run away from, but in the end, while they’re not entirely worked out (which I loved because not all problems can be solved by the end of a book), they’re definitely stepping in the right direction that will lead to everything being okay; and you know they will be.

And guys, if you haven’t discovered the Kelly family yet, you need to jump on that ASAP. They’re freaking amazing. Large, loud, and loving, the Kelly’s are an example of one of the things that I love in books: Family. I read a lot of books where the main characters are estranged from their family for whatever reason, or they’re the only one left, or they’ve never had a family. Those books are good. They get to me in a way others books don’t, but books with a good, loving, and supporting family are amongst my favorite kind of books. And the Kelly’s? They’re (badass) good people, as we here in the South like to say.

So, as of right now, it’s safe to say that I didn’t waste my time (or money) reading this book, and I’m looking forward to when I can pick up the second book in the story, which tells Ethan’s older brother’s, Sam, story.

Quotable Quotes:

She laid her head against his collarbone, and he kissed her temple. To her shock, she felt a shudder roll through his body about the same time she registered wetness against her skin. Tears. His tears.
She started to turn around, but he tightened his grip.
“Stay,” he said in a choked voice. “Just let me hold you, baby. Just let me hold you.”

“Trying to drown me woman?”
‘You can’t drown a SEAL,’ she said. ‘How embarrassing would that be?’
‘God yes. Shoot me, hang me, let me die of infection from a hangnail, but don’t let me die in the water. They’d send me to hell on principle.”

“Bastard had the bad manners to die before we were through talking to him.”

My Rating:

1 Smooch1 Smooch1 Smooch1 Smooch

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Review: Screwups by Jamie Fessenden

Screwups CoverTitle & Author: Screwups by Jamie Fessenden
Release Date: March 7, 2014
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 204 pages

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):
In 1996, Jake Stewart is starting his third year at the University of New Hampshire. Even as a successful business major, he is absolutely miserable. Not only is Jake pursuing a field he hates when he’d rather study art, he is utterly terrified of what will happen if his father finds out he’s gay. When he finally gets up the courage to move into the creative arts dorm on campus, his new roommate, Danny, is openly gay—and there’s no denying the attraction between them.

Danny Sullivan has been out since high school, and he appears comfortable with his sexuality. But something happened in Danny’s past—something that gives him nightmares he refuses to talk about. Unknown to Jake, the way he mistreated his friend, Tom Langois, when Tom came out to him in high school, is mild compared to the way someone very much like Jake treated Danny.

It may be too late to fix the mess Jake made with Tom, but if Jake wants to be with Danny, he’s going to have to fix the mess made by another closeted jock he’s never even met.

My Thoughts:

I think Jamie Fessenden’s Screwups was a case of “everybody loved it but me.”

For a couple of weeks after its release, Screwups showed up on my Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter feeds like crazy, and the feedback was pretty positive across the board. The author was one whose work I hadn’t read before, but some of my most trusted friends count him among their favourites. For me, that was as good a reason as any to give his book a try. 🙂

The book started out strong and Fessenden’s writing in those first few pages had an undeniable emotional pull. I could feel this weight in Jake’s character; it was this enormous fear warring with an intense yearning – a yearning to be allowed in Eaton House, to embrace his art, to find a place to belong, to be himself, to accept himself. Call me a sap, but there was no way that I was going to be able to remain detached from his character in the face of such need. But the beauty of Screwups was that Fessenden accomplished this emotional connection between his characters and his readers in a way that was almost heartbreaking in its subtly.

“It occurred to Jake at that moment that, with her [Eva] holding his hand and Danny’s hand still resting on his shoulder, this was the most physical contact he’d had in years.”

Though I’ve never been one for gooey public displays of affection with a significant other, I do consider myself a pretty tactile person – a casual toucher, if you will. I think nothing of putting my hand on someone’s back when I pass behind them in tight spaces. I pat or poke people when talking and joking with them. And if I go too long without a big, solid, two-armed, rib-squeezing hug, my body starts to crave that contact. So Jake’s casual acceptance of the lack of physical affection he has received in the past hurt me on a soul-deep level. And yet it doesn’t feel like the author was being emotionally manipulative; it’s just a simple statement of fact (and all the more powerful for it).

There’s a handful of similar moments in the first few chapters, and as I read them, I started to get excited. Was this going to be my new favourite book of 2014?!

Sadly… Not quite.

As soon as Jake moved into Eaton House, I could feel the book start to slip away from me. I found the whole section from the moment Jake moved into the dorm until the first snowfall to be lacking in the emotion and connection that I felt reading those first few chapters. I mean, there were words on pages. They were objectively well-written and certainly edited and punctuated better than my own writing, but they evoked nothing for me. I was bored with the detailed descriptions of the D&D and LARPing experiences. And, while I could relate to some of the dorm antics from my own freshman year at university (I can recall one particularly drunken night of Gnome Hunting, and another involving a 6-foot tall Technicolored, papier mâché elephant…), I saw nary a bare butt cheek, let alone two naked brawls and tandem jack-off sessions between roommates. Maybe it is because I’m a woman. Or, maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, but I just couldn’t relate.

The book picked back up around 70-75% and I was able to re-invest somewhat in Jake and Danny’s relationship, but the action and dialogue still felt like it was missing… something.  Between Danny’s past sexual experiences, and the homophobia and abuse Jake endured at the hands of his father and brothers, the author tackled some pretty dramatic (though not entirely original) issues in the last third of the novel. And while I believe Fessenden capable of writing about these issues in a nuanced way, the execution left something to be desired. I guess I was looking for that subtly and emotional impact that he’d had achieved in those first few chapters, but I just didn’t find it. Everything felt just a little… not clunky. Distant, maybe?

One thing that I’ve got to give Fessenden credit for, though, is the fact that this book had an incredibly strong sense of place and time. Between the D&D, the LARPing, the lack of cell phones, and the telephone booth painted to resemble a Tardis (the Tardis?), I never forgot that it was 1996. Nor did I forget that our characters were in New Hampshire or that Eaton House existed – and continues to exist today – as part of the university’s vibrant arts community. His descriptions of the dorm was rich and colourful and it was easy to tell that the author’s own time there greatly impacted him.

In the end, it was a sweet coming out story set against a backdrop of college shenanigans, and I can easily see why other readers will love this book (especially if they are already fans of Fessenden’s work). The boys were incredibly cute together once they sorted out their issues, and the book’s epilogue was sugary sweet and left me with a nice fuzzy buzz. It just slightly missed the mark for me and that makes all the difference.

My Rating:

 2 SmoochHalf

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Review: Rescue Me by Scarlet Blackwell

Rescue Me CoverTitle & Author: Rescue Me by Scarlet Blackwell
Release Date: November 20, 2010
Publisher: Silver Publishing
Pages: 414 pages

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):
After a near fatal car crash leaves him scarred both physically and emotionally, Matt Harmon finds the solitude of his huge, lonely house too much to bear. Hiring nurse James Hayden to look after him seems like the best idea for Matt, whose fierce independence has been compromised by his injuries. The two men clash from the start as James struggles to help Matt rebuild his shattered body and heal his crushed soul. The bond they form is forged in fire and ice, and the wounds they inflict on one another can only be erased by Matt’s admission that he can’t live without James’s loving touch. Will Matt realize too late that James is the only one who can rescue him from himself?

My Thoughts:

When I started writing this review, I had no idea how to rate this book.

None.

When the story begins, Matt has been seriously injured in a car accident. He’s broken and scarred, wracked with pain, and mostly bed-bound. I’ve never been in a car accident that serious (knock on wood!), but I know how grumpy I get when I’m sick, so the man immediately had my sympathy. I completely understood why someone in his position would feel vulnerable, irritable, and defensive. I even understood why he might lash out at those taking care of him.

Unfortunately, it quickly becomes clear that it’s not only the accident and his resulting injuries that are causing Matt to act like an ass. No, he’s always been a short-tempered, ill-mannered, homophobic, emotionally-stunted asshole with anger management issues and quick fists. And the things that he says and does to James practically every time they are in the same room together? They’re vile (I still cannot get what happened at the dinner party out of my head or my heart).

To put it boldly: Matt had no redeeming qualities. Not one.

As a reader, I didn’t quite know what to do with this realization. I mean, I’m glad the author didn’t try to pass off Matt’s behavior as something that we were supposed to accept and love him in spite of. No, Blackwell called Matt out repeatedly – he was an unlovable dick. So that’s good… right?!

Well… not exactly.

Because at its core, Rescue Me is still supposed to be a romance novel. And what do most readers want from a romance novel? Two flawed but likeable people to meet and fall in love.

Instead, we got Matt and James.

And while I loathed Matt with the power of a thousand fiery suns until 85% of the way through the novel, James wasn’t always my favourite person either. Admittedly, James is patient. James is kind. James is sexy. James is way more than Matt deserves. But James is also a little shallow; he believes Matt’s good looks are a good enough “redeeming quality” to justify sleeping with him (even in the face of his atrocious behavior). He’s also indecisive and weak; I lost count of the number of times that James supposedly cut off all ties with Matt only to turn around and sleep with him again a few days – sometimes only a few hours – later. Where was his backbone? Where was his self-respect?!

* Face palm! Face palm! FACE PALM! *

When James eventually tells Matt that he loves him, I was both moved and furious. I was moved by James’ willingness to make himself vulnerable to Matt, and furious because Matt still hadn’t done one thing to deserve James’ love. He hadn’t said one kind thing to him. He hadn’t done one kind thing for him. Let’s face it, he hadn’t even asked James something as simple as how he takes his coffee or what he likes to do when he’s not nursing cranky, closeted homophobes back to health. Instead, Matt had physically and emotionally pulverized James at every opportunity, shaming him for his sexuality and the honesty of his emotions.

How can anyone fall in love with someone who treats them like that? It makes no sense to me.

And so I struggled with this book.

I even struggled with its ending. When Matt finally realizes that he could lose James forever, he turns into this sweet, vulnerable, attentive guy that wants to cherish James for the rest of his life. But as much my sappy, romantic heart wanted this to happen, and as much as I wanted Matt to be this guy, everything we know about him up to this point says that he’s just not wired this way. It was as if the author gave him a complete personality transplant at the last minute in order to give her readers a happily ever after. It just didn’t feel authentic.

So after reading the epilogue and watching the characters fuck their way into the sunset on the hood of a sexy black Ferrari, I was left a little stunned, having no idea how to rate a book I had nearly DNF’d several times.

Was it worth 1 smooch because I have never hated a main character more than I hated Matt (and seeing him get a HEA after what he put James through seemed not only undeserved but also cosmically unfair)? Was it worth 2 smooches because I liked James’s character and was happy to see him get a happily ever after (regardless of who it was with)? Should I give it 3 smooches because even though I loathed James, the writing was compelling enough to keep me reading for more than 400 pages? Or, does it deserve 4 smooches because I liked James, thought the writing was well done, and the last 15% of the novel gave me the sweet, vulnerable, attentive James I had been hoping to see way earlier in the novel?!

It was a tough decision, but I ultimately gave Rescue Me 3 smooches. While it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, and I don’t think I’ll be picking up another book by this author in the near future, I still think that objectively it was a good book.

My Rating:

 3 Smooch

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Spotlight & Giveaway: Normal Enough by Marie Sexton

Normal Enough CoverTitle: Normal Enough
Author:
 Marie Sexton
Release Date: March 16, 2014
Publisher: Amber Allure
Length: 24,000 words

Mind. Blown.

Apparently Marie Sexton – the same author that wrote the sweet twisted fairy tale, Cinder: A CinderFella Story, that I loved so much a few weeks ago – is now writing muscle car kink.

I need it! I wants it! I gotsta have it NOW! *flails*

Check out the blurb below and then make sure to enter the amazing giveaway at the bottom of the post for  a chance to win an e-copy of Normal Enough AND a $50 gift card for All-Romance!

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):

When Brandon Kenner shows up at Kasey Ralston’s garage with a 1970 Chevelle SS 454, Kasey is smitten by both the man and his car. Between what Kasey considers a shameful fetish and his long estrangement from his family, Kasey finds it easiest to be alone, even distancing himself from his coworkers. But Brandon doesn’t think Kasey’s fetish is weird. In fact, he likes it.

Kasey doesn’t know how to resist a man as charming as Brandon, and he’s more than willing to be seduced. But what are Brandon’s long-term intentions? Kasey is afraid of hoping for too much, but equally afraid that when all is said and done, Brandon will leave, and Kasey will be left alone once again.

About the Author:

marieheadshot 2Marie Sexton lives in Colorado.  She’s a fan of just about anything that involves muscular young men piling on top of each other.  In particular, she loves the Denver Broncos and enjoys going to the games with her husband.  Her imaginary friends often tag along.  Marie has one daughter, two cats, and one dog, all of whom seem bent on destroying what remains of her sanity.  She loves them anyway.

Website: http://mariesexton.net/
Goodreads:  http://www.goodreads.com/MarieSexton
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/MarieSexton
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/MarieSexton.author
Pinterest:  http://www.pinterest.com/msextonauthor/

GIVEAWAY

Enter (press the Rafflecopter logo) to win an ebook copy of “Normal Enough” and a$50 ARe gift certificate for some of Marie Sexton’s backlist books. Click on the link below to enter. Giveaway closes March 25, 2014 at 12:00a.m.

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Can’t wait a week to find out if you won the giveaway!?
Purchase Normal Enough NOW from Amber Allure.

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Review: To Feel the Sun by Marie Sexton

To Feel The Sun CoverTitle & Author: To Feel the Sun by Marie Sexton
Release Date: February 11, 2013
Publisher: Self-published
Pages: 8 pages

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):

Sometimes love isn’t enough…

My Thoughts:

How is it possible for an 8-page story written about two fictional characters that lived and loved and died nearly 100 years ago to hit too close to home?

You’d think it’d be impossible, but it is not.

I spent last summer interning at a war museum where I was responsible for researching a small group of First World War soldiers. I handled their medals. I helped photograph their uniforms. I sifted through their attestation papers, newspaper clippings, official dispatches describing promotions and acts of valour, and more. For the most part, these men were farmers, accountants, teachers, and the like. A very few were career military. I learned about the boy who lied about his age and enlisted at 16, the ones that transferred to the British Royal Air Force so that they could fly, and the doctor who made it his mission to save as many of the wounded as he could. I came to know the common soldier and the decorated commanders. I breathed a sigh of relief each time I found discharge papers for one of “my” soldiers, and became teary when I came across death notifications instead.

And I couldn’t help but think of the brave man who, at only 19-years-old, became the youngest person in Canada’s history to be awarded the Victoria Cross – our nation’s highest honour for gallantry. Wounded in battle, he returned home to convalesce, but succumbed to the Spanish Influenza and died only a few weeks later. It hardly seems fair.

I know that Teddy and Ben are figments of Marie Sexton’s rich imagination, but I couldn’t help but read To Feel the Sun with the memory of the real-life service and sacrifice that an entire generation of young men made during the First World War. Given that lens, it should come as a surprise to exactly no one when I tell you that my heart clutched when I saw the 1917 date in the story, and that I was outright crying shortly thereafter.

To Feel the Sun is a powerful short story about love, life, timing, and the possibility of connections that last far beyond our last breaths. Sexton’s writing is beautiful, her imagery gorgeous, her characters and their circumstances painfully real, and she absolutely nails the shifting surrealism and logic of our dreams. Every word on the page felt deliberate and the result was utter perfection.

Read this story.

My Rating:
3 Smooch2 Smooch

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Speed Dating Bibliophile Style: March (Catherine)

I Heart Books

(Probably more than is healthy.)

Last month I read a couple of books. Then I put my sassy pants on and wrote a single sentence book review* for each of them. It was kinda like the fast-food version of book blogging, but it worked out so well that I thought I’d do it again in March.

Only this time… I refuse to wear pants. Betcha didn’t see that coming, did ya?!

1. Unbreak My Heart (Unbreak My Heart #1) by K-Lee Klein: A quietly beautiful story about a drifter who falls in love with a brokenhearted cowboy musician in a way that feels both authentic and inevitable.  [4 smooches]

2. Floodgates by Mary Calmes: A fluffy popcorn read that was let down by a doormat of a main character, too many ludicrous plot points and improbable red-herrings, and an entire gaggle of extraneous characters. [2.5 smooches]

3. Charlie, Rentboy by J.P. Barnaby: A sexy short story that grabbed my attention with its narrative style and the Cockboys on the cover, but had a happy ending (get your minds out of the gutter!) that felt… hopeful.  [3 smooches]

4. Secrets, Skin and Leather (Secret Series #1) by Sean Michael: All porn and no plot, this book had little to no character development, repetitive dialogue, clunky narration, and inexcusably bad punctuation. [1 smooch – DNF’d at 33%]

5. Trouble & the Wallflower by Kade Boehme: With its three-dimensional characters, realistic depiction of a sweet but sometimes rocky opposites-attract relationship, and a bittersweet ending, this book by new-to-me author Kade Boehme far exceeded every expectation I had for it. [4.5 smooches]

6. All in a Duke (Gambling on Love #1) by Ava March: This M/M historical romance was the perfect balance between sweet and sexy, with great characters and a realistic struggle towards their happily ever after. [4 smooches]

7. Medium, Sweet, Extra Shot of Geek by R. Cooper: While the characters in this short story are familiar, Cooper makes them enough against type to feel fresh and interesting, their dialogue both snappy and mundane, and their HEA satisfying in its realistic work-in-progress nature. [3.5 smooches]

8. The Perfect Play (Play by Play #1) by Jaci Burton: I really tried to enjoy this contemporary M/F romance, but even though there’s no denying the steam level of those sex scenes, having two main characters who were nearly flawless bored me to tears. [2 smooches – DNF’d at 60%]

9. Ball & Chain (Cut & Run #8) by Abigail Roux: The eighth installment of Roux’s fantastic Cut & Run series, this book disappointed me with its beyond ludicrous plot and its startling lack of focus on the series’ main characters Ty and Zane, but gained ground in some other areas (e.g. the relationship between Ty and Nick and between Nick and Kelly) and provided a few solidly sweet/cute/funny moments to appease my mushy heart. [2.5 smooches]

10. Stripping the Pain by Kathleen Lee: A friends-to-lovers short story that deals with too many big-ticket issues (sexual abuse, BDSM, etc.) in too short a time-frame (which makes it seem a little exploitative). [3 smooches]

11. From the Ashes (Fire and Rain #1) by Daisy Harris: A great novel by a new-to-me author that gave me a main character (Tomas Perez) whose voice felt fresh and unexpected, yet entirely relatable. [3.5 smooches]

12. After the Rain (Fire and Rain #2) by Daisy Harris: One of the main characters is a firefighting cowboy, gay sex virgin, who saves puppies, and the other is a snarky French-Canadian obsessed with coffee; my ovaries never stood a chance. [3 smooches]

13. Keeping Sweets by Cate Ashwood: A solidly sweet but entirely predictable story about a wannabe porn star who falls in love with his porn Yoda (like Amy Lane’s Johnnies series but with very minimal angst). [3 smooches]

14. Doctor, Doctor (Groves Anatomy #1) by Scarlet Cox: This short story is pure fantasy that reads like the raunchiest porn you’ve ever watched (but not in a good way). [1 smooch]

15. A Fostered Love (Foster Siblings #1) by Cameron Dane: A book about two men with troubled pasts finding a home in each other  that manages to balance the sweet, the angsty, the primal, and the thrilling. [4 smooches]

16. Snowfall (Foster Siblings #3) by Cameron Dane: A sweet, gooey (and insanely hot!) glimpse four years into Jonah and Christian’s life together that made me deliriously happy to read. [4 smooches]

17. Taboo For You by Anyta Sunday: A totally adorable GFY romance told from three rotating perspectives (the two MC’s and the one MC’s teenage son) that is equal parts sweet, frustrating, poignant, and sexy. [4 smooches]

18. His Client by Ava March: Ava March sweeps you into her stories by creating characters you’ll care about, then sprinkling liberally with smokin’ hot sex, genuine affection, and a hard-won happily ever after; His Client is no exception. [4 smooches]

19. To Feel the Sun by Marie Sexton: Eight pages of poignant perfection. [5 smooches]

20. This is What a Cold Lake Looks Like by S.A. McAuley: A 4-page story that reads like the most heartbreaking poetry. [4 smooches]

21. Slide (Roads #1) by Garrett Leigh: With its unique characters and gripping story, Garrett Leigh’s Slide will break your heart but leave you wanting more. [4 smooches]

22. Marked (Roads #1.5) by Garrett Leigh: This “missing scene” from Slide was perfect – sweet and sexy and if you read this without getting just a little turned on when Ash tattoos Pete, I’d check for a pulse. [4 smooches]

23. Coffee Shops and Condoms by Eden Winters: Effectively a PSA on safe sex, this cute friends-to-lovers story about two sexually inexperienced teenage boys is sweet but purposeful. [3 smooches]

24. Blind Faith (Blind Faith #1) by N.R. Walker: Not my favourite by this author, but Blind Faith was another sweet novella with mostly likable characters (I wanted to throttle Isaac after his last temper tantrum), a few tear-jerking moments, and a gooey happily ever after. [3.5 smooches]

25. DILF by Twentysomething: The third person present tense narrative style of this Teen Wolf / #Sterek story took a little getting used to, but the dialogue was so spot on, the characters so endearing, the humour so well-written, and the sheer cuteness factor so overwhelming that I couldn’t help but adore it. [4 smooches]

26. Normal Enough by Marie Sexton: A raunchy muscle car kink/fetish novella from the same woman who wrote the adorable twisted fairy tale, Cinder: A CinderFella Story. [3 smooches]

27. Where the World Ends by Kade Boehme: This book had strong, likable characters, palpable tension, blisteringly hot sex scenes (facial cum shots – yeah, buddy!), and a setting both familiar and alien, but I found that it lost momentum in the last third of the book and not all of the conflicts were resolved in way that I found personally satisfying. [3.5 smooches]

* I sometimes use punctuation in a shameless (and often incorrect manner) to give myself a second sentence. Don’t judge.

There you have it – my picks and pans for the month of March. Is there something you’ve read lately that I need to bump to the top of my TBR pile? Please let me know in the comments section below.