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

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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

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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

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Review: The Backup Boyfriend by River Jaymes

Backup CoverTitle & Author: The Backup Boyfriend by River Jaymes
Series: The Boyfriend Chronicles (#1)
Release Date: November 28, 2013
Publisher: Self-published
Pages: 225 pages

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):
Professionally, Dr. Alec Johnson has almost reached his goals. As this year’s recipient of a humanitarian award with his ex, Dr. Tyler Hall, Alec’s work with the homeless is about to be recognized. Unfortunately, his personal life sucks because now he has to attend several events alongside Tyler—with his ex’s new boyfriend in tow. In an attempt to lift his mood and break out of his rut, Alec purchases a motorcycle he has no idea how to start. 

Dylan Booth doesn’t have time for Dr. Clueless and his fickle 1964 Harley, but the cocky mechanic can’t say no to the request for help. Having spent his teen years on the streets, and losing his best friend to HIV, Dylan decides teaching the do-gooder how to ride is the least he can do. But watching Alec flounder in his ex’s company throws Dylan into protector mode, and the confirmed hetero introduces himself as Alec’s new boyfriend. 

The ex suspects Dylan is lying. 

Alec claims Dylan’s plan is insane. 

And Dylan’s not sure he can fake being gay. 

But he’s a master bullshitter, and the phony PDA soon turns ultra-hot. Alec can’t afford to get attached, and Dylan’s learned everyone eventually leaves. Unfortunately, playing the backup boyfriend is starting to feel way too real… 

My Thoughts:

After I got over the heartbreaking angst that came before the HEA, and reveled in the syrupy sweetness of the epilogue, I only had one major complaint with River Jaymes’ The Backup Boyfriend: it was over. Every other thing about this book was a study in pure perfection – perfect characters, perfect plot, perfect pacing, perfect dialogue, and a perfectly believable gay-for-you romance that left me wanting more. 

The Backup Boyfriend is set two months after Dr. Alec Johnson finds himself on the wrong side of one of the most awkward “it’s not you, it’s me” conversations in history. His ex-boyfriend and business partner, Dr. Tyler Hall, has moved on with a sexy new guy, but Alec still remains lonely and alone, mourning the loss of the man he thought he’d spend the rest of his life with. In an attempt to shake things up a bit, Alec impulsively decides to buy himself a motorcycle he doesn’t know how to ride or care for. It’s not the smartest decision he’s ever made. 

Within a few hours of battling a testy carburetor and a fickle kick starter, Alec admits defeat and limps into Adams’ Vintage Motors for help. There, he meets Dylan Booth, the shop’s rough-and-tumble and oh-so-hetero owner. Despite Dylan’s initial reluctance, an unlikely friendship starts to develop between the mechanic and the humanitarian. And, when Dylan masterminds a plan to attend a party masquerading as Alec’s new boyfriend in order to help him save face with Tyler, Alec has no choice but to go along with the charade. Only, it turns out that not all those longing glances and casual touches are just for show…

Anyone who read my status updates while I was reading this book knows that I fell hard for both of these endearing and incredibly sexy characters. Dylan’s hard body and big-mouth hooked me immediately; I fell in lust with him over that first handshake (who knew rough hands and motor oil could be such a turn on?!), and slid headlong into love with him when he uttered the words, “sex swing.” But his appeal wasn’t just his spectacular muscles and mouthy comebacks. Dylan had a surprisingly sensitive soul and a protective streak that extended not only to those he cares about, but to complete strangers as well. I also loved that Dylan was so comfortable in his own skin and took his changing understanding of himself (mostly) in stride. It was some majorly sexy stuff.

As much as I loved Dylan’s darker past and blue-collar appeal, Alec’s intelligence, humility, wry humour, and easy domesticity was just as hard to resist. You add in the fact that the man’s a doctor who gave up dozens of more prestigious specialties to work with the homeless and my heart didn’t stand a chance. Also, Alec can talk nerdy to me any day of the week – I will probably never think of Da Vinci and the Vitruvian Man the same way ever again (and I am A-okay with that)!

Together, Alec and Dylan had the most amazing chemistry. When they meet for the first time, something just… clicked (despite the fact that both men were determined to keep things platonic). And then there was The Look. It was like one of those perfectly written Hollywood moments where everything stops and the music recedes, and all that’s left is Dylan and Alec looking into each other’s eyes and feeling those first fluttering of lust and confusion. My god. It was electric. 

I understand that gay-for-you romances aren’t every reader’s cup of MM tea because the plotlines can often border on the ludicrous or the gay character can come across a bit like a predator, but I thought Ms. Jaymes hit exactly the right note with The Backup Boyfriend. There was something about the ease with which Dylan accepted the physical aspects of the relationship but fought the more emotional ties, and the way that Alec was determined to suppress any romantic feelings for Dylan in order to preserve the friendship, that washed away these traditional criticisms. I loved the raw intensity of their reactions to one another, as well as their struggles to communicate, and thought that their relationship missteps felt entirely natural to their characters. So bravo, Ms. Jaymes!

I also thought that both Noah and Tyler were strong secondary characters. For obvious reasons, readers are made to dislike Tyler at the beginning of The Backup Boyfriend (let’s be real, friends always pick sides in a breakup and bringing his new boy toy to Alec’s house to pick up his stuff was a Grade A douche move on Tyler’s part). However, Tyler’s character started to redeem himself a little at the end, and the hints about a greater motivation for the breakup has me intrigued. Still, Noah was hands down my favourite of the two. He was consistently hilarious, a little over-the-top, and plenty dramatic, but Ms. Jaymes never let him become a caricature. I appreciated that he (metaphorically) bitch-slapped his best friends with tough love when it was needed, and that he held reservations about Dylan’s sudden fluid sexuality. Given the circumstances, his reactions always felt organic and true to his character. Even though I know it’s going to make me ugly cry over his and Rick’s relationship, I can’t wait to read about Noah’s happily ever after.

As one of the best books I’ve read all year, it’s hard to believe that The Backup Boyfriend is Ms. Jaymes’ first full-length novel. I gave this book 5 very enthusiastic stars and am left wondering what the heck I will do when her next work surpasses its awesomeness. Do you think if I ask really, really nicely Goodreads will loan me a 6th star?! 

Verdict: I highly recommend this book for anyone with a romantic soul and an appreciation for perfectly plotted gay-for-you arcs. My advice, though, is to read it slowly – you’ll want to savour every last adorable, butterfly-inducing, tear-jerking moment it had to offer. 

PS: This book gave me my new favourite term: “oh-holy-shit-gasm.” Epic.

Note: This review was originally published on Goodreads on December 4, 2013.

Quotable Quotes:

“I wouldn’t miss this fake-homo show for all the Gucci Shoes on Rodeo Drive.” 

***

“Jesus had two Dads and he turned out okay.”
My Rating:
2 Smooch3 Smooch

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