Speed Dating Bibliophile Style: May & June (Runell)

Ugh. I hate fucking book slumps. They ruin lives. Or at least mine.

May

1. The Proposition (The Proposition #1) by Katie Ashley: Uh . . . No. Just no. I didn’t like this one at all. [1 smooch]
2. White Hot Kiss (The Dark Elements #1) by Jennifer L. Armentrout: Team Bambi, the end. [4 smooches*]
3. Saga, Volume 1 (Saga #1) by Brian K. Vaughn, Fiona Staples (Art): My first graphic novel, and it was awesome. [4 smooches]
4. Archer’s Voice by Mia Sheridan: This. Was. Beautiful. Archer . . . *Sigh* [5 smooches*]
5. The Ackles Clause by Jay Tryfanstone: Really good fanfic; and my first Supernatural one. [4 smooches]
6. 300 Things by cautionzombies: The best, if not one of the best, fanfic stories I have ever read; Destiel forever! [5 smooches]
7. Asunder by rageprfrock: *Sigh* Destiel . . . [4 smooches]

June

1. Carte Blanche (Love’s Landscapes) by Nash Summers: A wonderful, wonderful little story apart of the LL Event hosted by the M/M Romance group on Goodreads. [5 smooches]
2. What Remains of Us (Love’s Landscapes) by J.H. Knight: A pleasant historical M/M which chronicles the day of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. [3 smooches]
3. The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie (Highland Pleasures #1) by Jennifer Ashley: My first regency romance in a long time, this one stands out from all the others because of main character Ian MacKenzie. [3.5 smooches]
4. Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices #1) by Cassandra Clare:  Why, oh why did I wait so long to read this book? Soo good. Reminded me why I like Cassandra Clare so much. [5 smooches]
5. Clockwork Prince (The Infernal Devices #2) by Cassandra Clare: So freaking good. I need to hurry up and finish this trilogy! And while I understand why everyone loves Will, my heart lies with Jem. [5 smooches]
6. The Art of Breathing (Bear, Otter, and the Kid #3) by T.J. Klune: The reason why I stopped reading the Infernal Devices trilogy; the reason why my heart was ripped out through my gut. [5 smooches]
7. Texas Family (Texas #4) by R.J. Scott: Ehhh. That’s all I really have to say about this one. [2 smooches]
8. Bound By Honor (Men on Honor #1) by S.E. Jakes: Jesus F-ing Christ. This book is a hot one. [3.5 smooches]
9. He Didn’t Have to Be (Love’s Landscapes) by Tracey Michael: My prompt and my guys brought to life. I appreciate Tracey’s story so much. [3.5 smooches]
10. Wait For You (Wait For You #1) by J. Lynn: Cam and his cookies are delicious. [3.5 smooches]

Review: Man of the Match by Lane Swift

ManTitle & Author: Man of the Match by Lane Swift
Series: N/A
Release Date: June 13, 2014
Publisher: Self-published
Word Count: 20,041

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):

This story was written as a part of the M/M Romance Group’s “Love’s Landscapes” event. Group members were asked to write a story prompt inspired by a photo of their choice. Authors of the group selected a photo and prompt that spoke to them and wrote a short story. The prompt is copied below, but please click HERE to see the NSFW photo that helped inspire this story.

Dear Author,

“Since that moment we figured out we were alike in more ways than the other boys in the locker room would ever know, we were inseparable. We even shared most of our ‘firsts’ together. But as it sometimes does, life pushed us in different directions after high school. Grad school will be hectic enough, but his appearance back into my life just might change my plans!”

These two guys look to have just finished playing/watching a ‘rousing’ game of football. They may have had to overcome a few obstacles to get to their current point of intimacy, but of course it was worth it for these two.

My Thoughts:

This story about two English teenagers had a lovely, quiet way about it that I absolutely adored. From Aaron and Laurie’s first slightly awkward encounter, through the growth of their friendship and those early flutters of attraction, to their separation and their inevitable reunion, I thought that Man of the Match hit all the right notes for a coming-of-age, friends-to-lovers story.

Over and over, the characters brought a smile to my face with their earnest emotions and the tender care they took with one another’s hearts. It was clear to me right from the start that Aaron and Laurie cherished each other (and that’s not a word I throw around lightly) in a way that few men seem to allow themselves to. It was lovely. LOVELY, I tell you!

And while there was no Big Misunderstanding that ripped the characters apart (thank heavens!), the author gave us plenty of tiny moments as they drifted apart that left me feeling like someone was jabbing my heart with a toothpick. There was a sense of realism in those moments that I think anyone who has ever drifted from a loved one would be able to relate to (it certainly gave some weight to the emotional journey of the story’s characters).

To be honest, I probably could have done without quite so much rugby jargon (because I didn’t understand a word of it), but that’s entirely a personal preference and not a reflection of the author’s obvious talent.

As always, my thanks to the author for participating in the Love’s Landscapes event and for all of the behind-the-scenes work that editors, beta readers, and the MM Group Mods put into making this FREE event a massive success! Don’t Read in the Closet events are hands down one of the best ways to find new-to-me authors like Lane Swift. I won’t even lie, I’m a little crushed now that I’ve discovered her that this author hasn’t published more work; I would love to see what she could/would do with a full-length novel.

Do you hear that, Lane Swift?! I want more. Pronto. 😉

My Rating:

2 Smooch2 Smooch

Add to Goodreads Button

Review: Operation: Endeavor by Christi Snow

Snow cover 2Title & Author: Operation: Endeavor by Christi Snow
Series: When the Mission Ends (#2)
Release Date: January 4, 2013
Publisher: Self-published
Pages: 340 pages

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):
Colton Robertson left his career in the Air Force to come home and help his family heal. Unfortunately, his reception was not quite what he’d hoped for and he ended up as roommate to hippy dippy yoga instructor Penelope Pruitt.

Penelope has spent her life under the restrictive thumb of her parents and she doesn’t want to do the same with the straight-laced, serious Colton. But when it becomes apparent that Penelope’s life is in danger, Colton won’t settle for anyone else protecting Penelope besides him.

Opposites attract and that’s definitely the case with Colton and Penelope. On the surface, they don’t have anything in common, but as the sparks fly and the danger ramps up, their passion is inevitable.

My Thoughts:

Operation: Endeavor
 is the second book in Christi Snow’s When the Mission Ends series about the Robertson siblings and the men and women who love ‘em. After giving the first book in this series, Operation: Endgame, a very enthusiastic 4-smooch rating, I couldn’t wait to read the second installment. 

This book centred around Colton (Cassie and Chris’ older brother), a retired Air Force captain, and Penelope Pruitt, a local bookstore owner and erotica author. A sexy alpha male falling in love with a fellow bibliophile?! I’m already rubbing my hands together in glee and chanting “oh please, oh please, oh pleeeeeease let this be good!”

And it was.

I have to say that I really liked Penelope. All her life she’s been described by others as a flighty party girl, but I think the author did a great job of creating a character that was less flighty party girl and more free-spirited yet savvy businesswoman determined to live life on her own terms. 

Colton, on the other hand, is your typical alpha male – strong, smart, a little pushy and a lot gruff. All of that is enough to push my humina humina buttons, but it was Colton’s utter dedication to his family that made me melt into a giant puddle of “awwwww” at his feet. It’s at the very core of his being and informs everything he says and does in the novel (and just in case you were wondering, it’s sexy as fuck). The flashbacks of Colton at the funeral just about broke my heart, and his willingness to quit a job he loved in order to support his family through a difficult time was beyond endearing. *big, dreamy sigh* I need a Colton of my very own!

And let’s talk about the chemistry between these two for a second, okay? It was off the freakin’ charts! Snow gave it an exciting new twist and totally delivered on the heat factor hinted at by the many mentions of BDSM/erotic literature early in the book. And that scene – you’ll know the one I’m talking about after you read the book – was hot enough to melt the bed sheets. Good Lord, was it ever! Still, as explosive as the love scenes are, the book had enough true romance to make my heart flutter as well. 

One of my favourite things about Snow’s writing is her ability to make the snappy inner voices of her characters come across feeling incredibly natural. For example:

When Penelope said yes to riding Colton’s motorcycle, she hadn’t taken into account how arousing it would be to have him in between her thighs with her arms wrapped around his muscular torso. This. Was. Torture. But oh, what an incredible way to die.

As women, we all think (or say!) these pithy, off-hand kind of comments in our daily lives, but to write them in a way that comes across as funny and effortless rather than overworked, is difficult. And while it may seem to some readers like a small thing, I find that it’s exactly these small details that breathes life into the characters and has a big effect on my overall enjoyment of a book. So, kudos to Snow for pulling this off.

Unfortunately, I can’t help but think that an otherwise great book was let down a little by its climax. Thirty pages to go, and what had been building nicely to a dramatic – yet believable – conclusion took a sharp left turn into the ridiculous with the introduction of “fluffy yellow ducks”. (Please note that since WordPress won’t let me use spoiler tags, I’m using the term “fluffy yellow ducks” as a stand-in for a significant plot twist.) Up until that point, I’d been totally buying in to the villains’ nefarious actions. They made sense given the context. But messing around with “fluffy yellow ducks” seemed way above their pay grade and I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief as a reader that far.

Don’t get me wrong, the climax itself wasn’t bad. Far from it, in fact. It was both interesting and well-written, but the “fluffy yellow ducks” twist felt unnecessary (at best) and as if it belonged as the ending to an entirely different book (at worst).

Further, just as in Operation: Endgame, the climax of the novel had practically everyone outside of the main character’s inner circle utterly betraying her. I thought the fact that there was more than one villain was a really refreshing twist, but the sheer number and diversity of those involved was a lot to take in. Between that and the multiple abusive ex-boyfriends (Really?! The poor woman had to suffer through more than one Grade A asshole ex?!), I was left wondering seriously about the soundness of Penelope’s judgement.

I think that a lot of readers will just roll with the ending and really enjoy its over-the-top nature (it’s super FUN, after all!). Personally, however, I prefer the less is more approach. I feel that a few small edits could have gone a long way to to making this ending truly stellar. But that’s just my opinion. *shrugs*

Overall, I thought that Operation: Endeavor had an original premise (I love the concept behind the When the Mission Ends series!), well-crafted protagonists, tonnes of sweet romance, rich descriptions, and an almost perfectly plotted story arc. It was entertaining and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who loves romantic suspense as much as I do.

Now on to Operation: Endurance! It’s time for Chris and Julie’s HEA, dammit!

My Rating:
2 Smooch1 Smooch

Add to Goodreads ButtonBuy on Amazon Button

Review: The Guilt of the Wealthy by Matt Zachary

GuiltyTitle & Author: The Guilt of the Wealthy by Matt Zachary
Series: The Billionaire Bachelor Series (#1)
Release Date: May 18, 2014
Publisher: Porterlance Books
Pages: 123 pages

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):
Billy Marstock is the son of an influential judge.

He has the best of everything, including a girlfriend who’s the head cheerleader. With only a few weeks left of school, Billy receives news that he is failing a class and, unless he works with a tutor, may not be able to graduate.

Against his will, Billy agrees to be tutored, less so that he’ll pass the class and more so that he can go on the class’ Senior Trip.

As he spends time with Stuart, his tutor, Billy’s mind is opened up to many new things…things that completely change his outlook on life and what’s important.

Through these revelations, he finds humility, appreciation, courage and even love….

My Thoughts:

Right off the bat, I have to say that I find the title of this series pretty misleading. When I hear the term “Billionaire Bachelor” I, well, I think of billionaire bachelors. Adult billionaire bachelors – men old enough to vote and drink and enlist in the Armed Forces. Calling a kid in high school – a kid too young to have on-the-page sex in your book – a “bachelor” just feels a little skeevy. So I don’t (and neither should you, Matt Zachary).

As I read the book blurb, however, it became very obvious that this was a Young Adult (YA) novel. Though there are some exceptions (The Red Sheet by Mia Kerick comes to mind), I’m not generally a fan of YA. Still, I loved the jock/nerd and rich/poor tropes that teased me from the blurb, so I thought I’d press on and give The Guilt of the Wealthy a try anyway.

Unfortunately this novella did nothing to change my mind about YA.

Billy (the high school jock) and Stuart’s (the brilliant nerd) characters were so one-dimensional and uninteresting they may as well have been cardboard cutouts with the emotional depth of a puddle. I never managed to feel a genuine spark between the characters and so their professions of love (that came way too early in the novella to suit my personal tastes) felt flat and unrealistic. In fact, I may have rolled my eyes so hard in that moment that I strained something.

I also found it difficult to get past the pacing of the story. Between the sheer number of events that happened in the space of a few days, the massive life-changes and self-realizations that took place during that time, and a secondary character changing her tune from “You homo!” to “I’m happy if you’re happy” within the span of 24-hours, I just couldn’t deal. I think the story would have been better served cutting a few of the ideas entirely and devoting those extra pages to developing some of the other plot points more thoroughly. I think the author just needs to learn to give his characters some time to breathe.

Matters weren’t helped any by truly atrocious editing. My spelling and grammar is far from perfect, but c’mon! You can’t deny that nothing throws ice cold water on a barely sizzling sexy moment like a typo or the use of the wrong main character’s name. For the love of all that is holy, please consider investing in beta readers, editors, and proofreaders!

I hate to say it, but I probably won’t be investing any future time or money in continuing to buy and read this series.

My Rating:

1 Smooch

Add to Goodreads ButtonBuy on Amazon Button

Review: Awakenings by Jayson James

AwakeningsTitle & Author: Awakenings by Jayson James
Series: N/A
Release Date: June 2, 2014
Publisher: Self-published
Word Count: 17, 068

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):
This story was written as a part of the M/M Romance Group’s FREE “Love’s Landscapes” event. Group members were asked to write a story prompt inspired by a photo of their choice. Authors of the group selected a photo and prompt that spoke to them and wrote a short story.

Dear Author,

I’d always considered myself sort of asexual up until now. In high school no one interested me and I was too busy with schoolwork to date anyway. I figured I didn’t have a big sex drive or I just hadn’t met the right girl. However, the more time I spend with my roommate, Ben, the more I’m reconsidering everything.

The more he walks around half dressed the more I keep noticing him. Even if I am attracted to him, which I’m not sure that I am, I don’t think he would be into me. He seems like the type of guy that girls flock to. He couldn’t be interested in me, could he?

Requests: Clearly I’m angling for a gay-for-you here, folks! It can be a double or single GFY, lots of sexual tension (please!), slow build romance, lots of heat. I would rather no BDSM but some light stuff wouldn’t bother me.

My Thoughts:

Firstly, I want to thank the author for taking time out of his busy life to participate in the Love’s Landscapes event. Without people like you willing to give your time and creativity freely, asking for nothing in return but feedback from your readers, the M/M reading community wouldn’t have this wonderful event each year. So THANK YOU!

My appreciation for the author’s efforts aside, however, this story just did not work for me. I love a college-aged GFY as much as the next girl, and I found the idea behind a character who self-identifies as asexual finally experiencing a sexual awakening for that one special person (a sexy man, of course!) intriguing. Unfortunately, all of that was laid out in the prompt and it was the overall execution of the story that I found lacking.

While both likable enough, I didn’t find that either Solo or Ben drew me in and demanded that I become invested in them or their relationship. There just weren’t enough deeply emotional and angsty or sweet and gooey moments between the characters to build that sense of connection between them and me, and I found the constant stripteases awkward and repetitive. So, when the story ended with one lackluster kiss and a HFN, I just kinda *shrugged* and moved on.

I think my biggest difficulty with the story was that the narration and the dialogue seemed overly formal for a story about two college guys in their early twenties. It was also the exact same voice for both characters, so you wouldn’t have been able to distinguish which man was talking at any given moment without the “Ben said” or “Solo said” bits. The lack of contractions and overly concise use of language made the story feel stiff and stilted – like the story had been edited within an inch of its life. Not good.

On the upside, I believe the author’s still relatively new to the publishing world and this is a career with a pretty steep learning curve; he may find a more relaxed, natural rhythm to his writing with time and experience (let’s hope).

My Rating:

1 Smooch

Add to Goodreads Button

Grab your free copy of Awakenings by Jayson James here.

Review: Operation: Endgame by Christi Snow

Snow Cover 1Title & Author: Operation: Endgame by Christi Snow
Series: When the Mission Ends (#1)
Release Date: June 20, 2012
Publisher: Self-published
Pages: 302 pages

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):
It’s been six months. Six months since Jake Madsen let Chris Robertson die. Six months since the passion between Jake and Cassie, Chris’ sister, stepped over the line.

But now Cassie’s being stalked and it’s time for Jake to swallow his guilt, grief, and lust so he can save her life, even if it’s a life without him. He owes it to his dead friend and he owes it to Cassie. He’s fallen in love with her, but she doesn’t have to know that for him to keep her safe.

My Thoughts:

In Operation: Endgame, we’re introduced to twins Cassie and Chris Robertson and their childhood best friend, Jake Madsen. Cassie and Jake have been circling around their mutual attraction for years, but when Chris dies in combat and Jake feels responsible, a single night of shared passion and grief irrevocably change Cassie and Jake’s friendship forever. However, when a stalker begins to target Cassie, Jake is drawn back to Lubbock, Texas to protect the woman he loves.

Let me start by saying that I’m a massive fan of romantic suspense novels. However, it’s rare for me to find a new author whose work I think is as well-written and characters as well-crafted as that of Suzanne Brockmann, Cindy Gerard, Christy Reece, or Laura Griffin. That said, it only took reading a couple pages of Christi Snow’s novel, Operation: Endgame, to realize that I had found my next “must read” author. 

There was a LOT to love about this book.

Perhaps most importantly for me, Snow managed to create main characters that were strong, sexy, and smart. A university professor and video game consultant, Cassie Robertson was independent, intelligent, and ambitious. At the same time, she was fun-loving and deeply devoted to her family and friends. Basically, she’s everything that women in romance novels can (and should) be. 

Jake Madsen, on the other hand, was the perfect foil for Cassie. An elite pararescueman (PJ), Jake was strong, capable, protective, and just vulnerable enough to tug at my heart strings. Honestly, if the man were real, I’d take two! 😉

And, because this is a romance novel, I have to mention that the chemistry between these two was spot on! I love a good friends-to-lovers story, but throw in some guns and mortal danger and it’s good-bye panties! *wipes drool off chin*

Though the majority of Snow’s efforts were (understandably) spent on fleshing out her main characters, her secondary characters popped from the pages as well. The camaraderie and bone-deep caring the characters felt for one another was palpable on every page. Even though it was only a minor story line, I was really glad to see a relationship develop between War and Derek. Their struggle to accept themselves and their feelings for one another felt real and poignant. The more I see same-sex relationships (or anything else outside of the hetero norm) in romance novels, the happier it makes me. The world is a diverse and beautiful place filled with diverse and beautiful people, and it warms my heart to see romance authors embracing these types of characters and relationships in their work.

Love is love, after all.

The book started strong for me, but if I’m being honest, I felt that it stumbled a little towards the end. It was as if Snow’s descriptive capabilities which had been so well executed in the first half of the novel (especially in those fantastic, stirring flashbacks), weren’t able to keep up with the momentum of the plot she created as the action snowballed towards the climax. The description became a little thin, lacking in the more sensory experiences that would have pumped life into the scenes. Where was the stinging feel of the wind whipped up by the helicopter blades on Jake’s face? Or the deafening whump, whump of the blades that would have made conversation inside the helicopter nearly impossible without shouting or the use of headsets?! 

And although I was 100% entertained by the novel’s climax (Snow knows how to write thrilling action), I couldn’t help but feel as if it placed the characters in an almost unbelievable role reversal situation. I mean, I’m all for a woman who can hold her own and kick some serious ass, but Cassie was almost so in-charge that Jake felt redundant. And let’s be real, Cassie might be a military strategist of unparalleled skill, but Jake is a freakin’ PJ and those guys are badass – the elite of the elite. They don’t sit back and let others make the plans and take the risks. It also struck me as completely out of character that Cassie would be able to carry out the acts of violence she did in the final few pages of the book, even if it was to protect herself and those she cared about. 

Despite a somewhat problematic climax, I still thought Operation: Endgame was a great book. It was well-written, fast-paced, included several really creative plot twists, and I was happy to see two characters I genuinely liked get their happily ever after together. Honestly, I can’t wait to read the next book in this series!

My Rating:
2 Smooch2 Smooch

Add to Goodreads ButtonBuy on Amazon Button