Review: Five Dates by Amy Jo Cousins

Five DatesTitle & Author: Five Dates by Amy Jo Cousins
Release Date: July 25, 2014
Publisher: Goodreads M/M Romance Group
Pages: 74

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):

Helping his sister Lucy raise her kid has put Devin’s love life on hold. When he loses a bet to her and the penalty is to go out on five dates with men she’s chosen from Guys4Guys.com, he thinks that’s bad enough. Finding out she used a thirteen-year-old picture of him to score a date with a young guy who looks like a rock star? Epically bad.

Jay thought he wanted to fall for an older man. But his last boyfriend left him feeling humiliated and determined to stick to guys his own age. When he realizes he’s been conned into a date with exactly the kind of man he’s sworn to avoid, he’s ready to walk away on the spot. Only Devin’s swift apologies convince Jay to accept dinner to make up for the deception.

“The date doesn’t count for the bet unless you get a goodnight kiss.” After one not-a-date dinner with Jay, Devin isn’t worried about his sister’s rules. He just wishes he could convince Jay to go out with him for real. Jay wants no part of Devin, but Devin wants every part of Jay . . . so he asks Jay to help update his look for the rest of his dates. But once Jay’s made Devin over into the perfect date, will he be able to let him go?

My Thoughts:

Okay, I’m going to be honest with you: there wasn’t much in this story that I haven’t already seen in a thousand Hollywood rom coms. Seriously. There was a meddling sibling, an implausible scenario used to bring two unlikely people together, some snark, some laughs, lust at first sight, pining, someone getting drunk, denial of feelings due to past baggage, the Big Realization, and an even bigger Declaration of Feelings (which naturally leads to scorching hot sex and a sweet as can be happily ever after).

And yet.

And yet I don’t give a flying $%& that Five Dates isn’t uber original because I fell for Devin and Jay hard and fast. I swear, it only took about 5 pages to have me wrapped around Devin’s little finger and grinning like a fool. Both characters were incredibly sweet, average, and relatable. They were just good guys and, unlike a large portion of the female population, I LOVE the good guys. The whole thing was just pure cute, fluffy escapism that made me genuinely happy as I was reading it. In fact, I had to create an all new shelf on Goodreads – “Too Cute For Words” – just to contain this one. I can’t recommend it highly enough for someone looking for a total mood-booster.

Oh, and if you needed any added incentive to read this short story? It’s entirely FREE as part of the Goodreads M/M Romance Group’s Loves Landscapes event. Grab your free copy of Five Dates here.

My Rating:

3 Smooch1 Smooch Half

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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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Grab your free copy of Awakenings by Jayson James here.

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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Review: Sixty Five Hours by N.R. Walker

Sixty Five Hours CoverTitle & Author: Sixty Five Hours by N.R. Walker
Series: Sixty Five Hours #1
Release Date: November 21, 2012
Publisher: Self-published
Pages: 174 pages

Book Blurb (from Goodreads):

Cameron Fletcher and Lucas Hensley are advertising executives who have Sixty Five Hours to pull together the campaign of their careers.

Sixty Five Hours to get along. Sixty Five Hours to not kill each other. Sixty Five Hours to fall in love.

My Thoughts:

When Runell and I started this blog, one of the things that we thought we’d like to do is highlight some of the awesome FREE content that’s available through Amazon and Goodreads (having been students for so long, we’re both broke as fuck and always on the lookout for ways to feed our book obsessions and spare our wallets). I read a few free short stories in January (all of which you can download via our Freebies page), but N.R. Walker’s Sixty Five Hours was my first full-length free story, so I thought I’d give reviewing it a whirl…

Cameron Fletcher and Lucas Henley are both top executives for the world-renowned Fletcher Advertising agency. Cameron is the boss’s son with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and a lot to prove. Lucas is a new hire and a total hotshot. From the moment they first meet, closeted Cameron and out-and-proud Lucas rub each other the wrong way (fyi, I am dying to make a hand job joke here!), but when a last minute opportunity to design an ad campaign for a massive lifestyle brand falls into their laps (must… refrain…), the two men are forced to work together to come up with something brilliant in just sixty-five hours. Spoiler alert: they do.

Honestly, I enjoyed Sixty Five Hours right off the bat. Lucas’s casual, straight-forward, snarky first-person narration immediately lured me into the story and made it feel like I was drinking wine outta a Big Gulp and talking smack about other people with my BFF. It was easy, it was relatable, and I thought that it drove the novel forward at a good clip.

I loved both main characters. Cam and Lucas were both smart, sexy, talented, confident, charming individuals that treat those around them with affection and respect. What’s not to love about that?! And the UST! Oh, the UST (Unrelieved Sexual Tension) between these two was so thick you could practically cut it with a knife. I loved every sexually-charged minute of it. Walker knows how to write the hell out of sweet, sexy characters. She gave the couple plenty of steamy moments, but I gotta say that my favourite parts of the story were the quieter “just us” moments that sparked between Cam and Lucas – I just couldn’t help sighing to myself like a lovesick fool. So. Dang. Cute.

The whole story was adorable from beginning to end, but my favourite part was actually Tobias’ Outtake after the novel was officially finished. In every gay-for-you or out-for-you novel, there comes that moment when the character either decides to leave or is forced out of the closet. Even when I know that I’m reading a light and fluffy story and that everything is likely to be okay, I find these moments very stressful – you just never know for sure how the person the character is coming out to will react. That’s why I really liked that readers were able to view Cam’s coming out through his father’s eyes as well. It was a really special moment, and getting to experience it twice was certainly no hardship.

The book is self-published, so yes, there are a few grammar errors and typos throughout (including a glaring one on the book’s cover), but the author has clearly put a lot of time and effort into providing her readers with a cute, free story, so just do me a favour when you read it, would ya? Let it go and enjoy the characters and the story – you won’t be sorry that you spent a couple of hours with these two modern Mad Men. 😉

Ms. Walker, I tip my imaginary hat to you.

You can find an entirely FREE copy of this wonderful story here.

My Rating:

 3 SmoochHalf

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