Favourites

Review: First and First by Santino Hassell

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Title: First and First (Five Boroughs #3)
Author: Santino Hassell
Date of publication: 18 April 2016
Genre: Contemporary MM romance

Author's links:
Add on Goodreads

My rating: 5 Stars



Blurb

Caleb Stone was raised on the Upper East Side, where wealth and lineage reigns, and “alternative lifestyles” are hidden. It took him years to come out to his family, but he’s still stuck in the stranglehold of their expectations. Caleb knows he has to build his confidence and shake things up, but he doesn’t know how… until Oliver Buckley enters the picture.


Oli is everything Caleb isn’t—risk-taking, provocative, and fiercely independent. Disowned by his family, Oli has made his own way in the world and is beholden to no one. After a chance encounter on New Year’s Eve, Caleb is smitten.


As Caleb sheds the insecurities that have held him back for years, he makes bold steps toward changing his career and escaping years of sexual repression. But for Caleb to take full control of his life, he has to be brave enough to confront his feelings and trust Oli with his heart.


Review


Third book in the series and my favourite so far. Caleb and Oli's story stands out with its exquisite and powerful writing, great character development, and it is oh, so hot.

In a way it's the hottest book of the Five Boroughs series so far, yet it is also the most romantic for me. Caleb was so unlikable when we met him in the previous books, though I admit I had a soft spot for him from the start. He appeared emotionless and cold, yet his love for David rang true and sincere to me. He just didn't know how to be with someone, how to make them love him. And as this book shows, it all stems from  him not being able to be open about who he is and what he wants. It's uncanny how much I could relate to his fears and uncertainty.

When Oli unexpectedly enters Caleb's life, his whole world gets throw off its axis. Following their relationship develop was such a pleasure to read - sizzling sexual chemistry, repressed desires, shared fantasies, some of them even acted out, some angst and self-doubt, all leading to sharing of secrets and fears and a vision for a future together. 

It was a story of revelations for both of them. As see things from Caleb perspective only which made it a bit more difficult for me to relate to Oli, yet the way he acted with Caleb and later with Aiden (and Jace, and Mere), I couldn't help but fall in love with him.

What I love about this series, and Mr. Hassell's contemporary romances in general, is the complexity of the relationships between the characters he creates. And here I mean all the characters, main and side ones, they seem so vivid and alive and intriguing that I can't help but wanting their to know their stories too.

On the surface, this romance should have been difficult for me to relate to - the setting (the NY super rich) and the lifestyles (somewhat kinky) are quite distant for me and not something I read often. Yet, the intimacy, the personal elements in the romance aspect really spoke to me. Deep down this is a super sexy story but also full of feels and free of judgement, the things I love the most in romance novels. This is a story about figuring out who you are (regardless of your age and background), how to be person who you want to be and also how to be with the person who makes you happy.

Caleb goes on a journey of sexual and personal exploration. I loved how Oli helped him learn to love and not be ashamed of himself and in this process he somehow managed to teach Oli how to accept and cherish the love that had been given to him. 

I like what Mr. Hassell shared in his interview on Just Love Romance, about Caleb realizing that he enjoys his fantasies as such and being able to talk them with his partner but he didn't necessarily needed to have all of them acted out. He didn't go all the way from being repressed and very much closeted about his desires, to being the ultimate party animal either for his own sake, or just to please Oli. I actually don't believe in such fundamental changes and they always strike me an realistic and unbelievable when I encounter them in romance. Caleb grows and opens a lot and ultimately learns to enjoy himself loving someone and being loved, while fundamentally he remains monogamous at heart, a little shy, a little awkward and that's fine. Not everybody can be Oli and there is no need for that. They work perfectly for each otter.

Oli also undergoes his journey though we see less of it (and I so wished we had more insight into his mind). He fights with his own misconceptions about himself, his fear of commitment, his belief that he is not suitable/meant to be a partner a long-term couple.

In short, I LOVED this book so much and urge anyone who likes a good romance with plenty of sexy times and a somewhat brooding, angsty hero to read it! It works well as a standalone, though I'd say it's better to read the first two books, Sutphin Boulevard (review) and Sunset Park (review) because they are just so good!

Purchase links: Amazon / Are / B&N / DSP / Kobo


British

Review: Act Like It by Lucy Parker

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Title: Act Like It
Author: Lucy Parker
Date of publication: 30 Nov 2015
Genre / Themes: Romance / Theatre actors / British

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads
Add to Goodreads

My rating: 4 Stars






Blurb

This just in: romance takes center stage as West End theatre's Richard Troy steps out with none other than castmate Elaine Graham

Richard Troy used to be the hottest actor in London, but the only thing firing up lately is his temper. We all love to love a bad boy, but Richard's antics have made him Enemy Number One, breaking the hearts of fans across the city.

Have the tides turned? Has English rose Lainie Graham made him into a new man?

Sources say the mismatched pair has been spotted at multiple events, arm in arm and hip to hip. From fits of jealousy to longing looks and heated whispers, onlookers are stunned by this blooming romance.

Could the rumors be right? Could this unlikely romance be the real thing? Or are these gifted stage actors playing us all?

Review 



It's Ms Parker debut novel and what a delightful surprise it has been! Funny and sweet, well written with a strong British and theatre flavour, this book is perfect happy, pick-me up read for when the times get rough.

I've seen this book talked a lot in the romance community and I'm always on the look out for witty romantic comedies, so I decided to give it a try and I'm so happy I did.

The story is told from dual POV and flows with great ease. It is so distinctly British in everything that I had trouble with some references but nevertheless enjoyed it very much.

In essence, it's a simple fake couple to real couple story but wittily and engaginly told which makes it a great entertainment. This may not be my favourite romanc trope but it was refreshingly done here and I quite enjoyed it. It was coupled with an element of enemies-to-lovers which just made it even more delicious.

Elaine was the type of heroine I absolutely love - strong and smart and independant and witty and at the same time hiding a soft heart and some vulnerability when it comes to men and personal relationships.

Richard started as the guy everybody loves to hate - priviliged, successful but also arrogant and snobbish. The more time Elaine and the reader spent with him, the more open and real human with flaws and weaknesses, he becomes.

The romance is mixed subtly with sarcasm and critism/mockery of some of the values of modern pop culture - media scandals, starlets, celebrities, even the snobbism of the "true" acting on stage as compared with the plebeian entertainment of TV series.

All in all, this is a light, funny and very entertaining and relaxing romance. I highly recommend it and can't wait to see what Ms Parker will come up with next. 

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N


Author Interview

Author Interview: Santino Hassell talking about the Five Boroughs series, writing techniques and life hacks

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Author Interview: Santino Hassell talking about the Five Boroughs series, writing techniques and life hacks



ER: Hi, Santino and welcome to my blog! I’m so happy to have you as my guest today!
I want to start this interview with some general questions on your writing.
As someone who has been reading fiction all my life (I even have a degree in literature) but also someone who never had the desire to write, I’m curious how you decided to start writing. And what made you chose romance rather than any other genre?

SH: When I was a kid, I was a journaler. After a while, writing in the journal helped me to develop this narrative style and voice that transitioned to creative writing classes where I wrote short stories and poetry. Later on, I wrote songs. However, it wasn’t until I discovered slash fanfic, and later original slash and gay romance, that I decided to try my hand at longer pieces.

In terms of why I chose romance—honestly, romantic stories about LGBTQ people were something I’d constantly sought as a youth. As a bisexual kid, I never saw my stories told in a way that was hopeful. I found that romance was the only genre willing to give me something other than gloom and doom for queer people.

ER: Continuing in these lines – what is the best and the worst thing about being a writer?

SH: The best thing is receiving feedback from readers who read my stories and were able to relate to them. The worst thing is the way I get caught up in expectations. I’m very aware of what the majority of readers appear to want versus what I want to write, and sometimes it’s hard to make that jive.

ER: Can you share some more details about your writing process – I already know you use NaNoWriMo but are there any other writing methods and strategies that you use in your writing?

SH: My main strategy is to set a SMART goal. That’s super teachery of me, but a smart goal is a goal that’s Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. These days, my goal for writing is to finish one scene per day (in the book with a deadline) on weeknights, and two scenes per day on weekends. I also use a variety of apps to stay focused and shut off distractions.

ER: What is the easiest and the most difficult thing for you when it comes to writing?

SH: The easiest thing for me is dialogue. I’m not sure why, but the flow of two or more people conversing, with multiple character voices, is my strength. What’s hard for me is fleshing out a narrative. My writing used to be very terse.

ER: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

SH: A total plotter. These days, I’ve been outlining an entire book by chapter and then each scene in the chapters. It helps me stay focused so I can set goals.

ER: And final question on your writing process before we move on to talk in more details about your books. What is your favourite subgenre to write in?

SH: I love writing contemporary romance.

ER: You have written In the Company of Shadows series with Ais and now Strong Signal with Megan Erickson. How does co-writing work for you? Is it easier or more difficult than writing on your own?

SH: I think it’s easier. You have a whole other person keeping you accountable and plotting with you!

ER: Besides being co-written Strong Signal was also self-published. Is it your first self-published book? How was this process different from working with a publisher?

SH: Actually, After Midnight was my first self-published book but Strong Signal was a much more successful endeavor. Megan really knew what she was doing in terms of marketing and promo, and we got great advice from several people. However, it’s so much more work than working with a publisher. That’s the hardest part, I think. Figuring out, and planning, all of the pieces and making sure they come together on time.

ER: So, that’s enough questions about Cyberlove series and now I’m really dying to know more about the Five Borough series, which is my favourite of your books. First off, I’m curious to know how you came up with the idea for this series. (Is there an initial plan that you are following or the stories you want to write/are actually writing change in the course of working on this series?)

SH: Initially, Sutphin Boulevard was supposed to be a romantic comedy about teachers (insert laugh track here). From there, I started thinking about various things—the impact of home life on a teacher, the stress of administration, the attack dog policies of the mayor during the Bloomberg era—and the story expanded. I guess you can see while creating this cast of characters, I fleshed out a lot of their stories to figure out how they would all interact with each other, and realized I would definitely want to tell their stories too. My plan was to write a novel set in each of the five boroughs plus a bonus novel that revisits one of the couples, BUT… I now have more stories in my head than there are boroughs.
  
ER: The latest release in the series, First and First, just came out this week and I can honestly say, it’s my favourite in the series so far (all because of Caleb, I admit). Can you share more about how you came up with the idea about this story? It’s markedly different from the first two books.

SH: I was intrigued by who Caleb was and part of that is because he was cast in such a negative light in both SB and SP. He was said to be boring, a cold lover, not affectionate, and yet he was determinedly pursuing David and super insecure about Raymond. When I thought about him as a fully-fledged character and not just “David’s ex”, there was a lot of meat to his story. The filthy rich privileged man who appears to have everything except someone to love him. Also, exploring his history of repression was fascinating.

ER: I love Michael and Nunzio but my favourite character in this series is definitely Caleb? It may seem unfair to ask this but do you have a favourite?

SH: Raymond is my favorite. I love writing him so much.

ER: Which book in the series so far was the easiest to write and which the most difficult?

SH: The easiest to write by far was Sunset Park. I wrote it entirely during NaNoWriMo. The characters were amazing together and had so much chemistry that the story kind of fell out of my fingers. The most difficult so far has been Sutphin Boulevard. A lot of it hit very close to home and was emotional to write. Also, I was writing knowing there would be readers who would see alcoholism as a shameful weakness, and not understand why someone would be loyal to an abusive parent, but I decided it was a story I wanted to tell anyway.

ER: And now question I know all the fans of the series what to ask – what can we expect next in the Five Borough series and when is it coming our way?

SH: Book 4 revisits previous couples and I will say now—NO WORRIES. THERE IS NO CHEATING. There were a couple of HEAs that I felt were owed a stronger finale than they got if you catch my drift. Book 5 is about a character who is introduced in First and First. His name is Ashton, and I’m in love with his story.

ER: OMG, Ashton is getting his own book?! #DayMade

ER: Speaking of upcoming releases, what can we expect next from you?

SH: I have a paranormal romantic suspense trilogy coming out with Riptide Publishing starting Fall 2017! And Fast Connection, the second Cyberlove story with Megan Erickson, will be out late in the summer.

ER: I really enjoy crossover series which include all kinds of couples and forms of love, do you plan to have het/trans couple in the Five Borough series? Or to write any non-mm romance in general?

SH:  Among the 5B stories circulating in my brain, there is a M/F story and a F/F story. I also have high interest in writing contemporary M/F romance in general.

ER: If you had total freedom what to write it, what is the wildest/most outrageously different story you want to write? (Please, think of doing so in a perfect world where you don’t have to worry who will publish it and whether people will want to read it)

SH: My biggest dream is to write a queer YA or NA series that gains traction with those age groups.

-          Same question but about a story you want to read.

SH: I’d love to read more epic queer SFF romance.

ER: And my final question is what advice would you give to aspiring authors?

SH: Don’t get discouraged. Keep writing!

ER: Thank you very much, Santino for doing this interview!


SH: Thank you so much for having me!

*** *** ***

Author Bio and Links: 

Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into an unlikely romance author.

Santino writes queer romance that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.




Santino Hassell's latest release, First and First, came out earlier this week. It's book 3 in the Five Boroughs series but can be read as a standalone and I strongly recommend it to you. 


Blurb

Caleb Stone was raised on the Upper East Side, where wealth and lineage reigns, and “alternative lifestyles” are hidden. It took him years to come out to his family, but he’s still stuck in the stranglehold of their expectations. Caleb knows he has to build his confidence and shake things up, but he doesn’t know how… until Oliver Buckley enters the picture.

Oli is everything Caleb isn’t—risk-taking, provocative, and fiercely independent. Disowned by his family, Oli has made his own way in the world and is beholden to no one. After a chance encounter on New Year’s Eve, Caleb is smitten.

As Caleb sheds the insecurities that have held him back for years, he makes bold steps toward changing his career and escaping years of sexual repression. But for Caleb to take full control of his life, he has to be brave enough to confront his feelings and trust Oli with his heart.

Purchase links: Amazon / Are / BN / DSP / Kobo


M/M romance

Review: Out of Frame by Megan Erickson

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Title: Out of Frame (In Focus #3)
Author: Megan Erickson
Date of publication: 1 March 2016
Genre / Themes: Romance / New Adult / MM

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads
Add to Goodreads

My rating: 3 Stars


Synopsis

Perpetually shy, Quinn Mathers is content to remain in the shadow of his brash best friend Jess Hartman. But before their college graduation, he and Jess have planned one last hurrah: a spring break Caribbean cruise.

And it won’t be just any cruise. On board are members of the reality show Trip League, which follows young twenty-somethings on adventures around the world. Since the show’s beginning, Quinn has been fascinated by J. R. Butler, with his amazing body, warm eyes, and killer grin. Unfortunately, he’s straight—or so the world thinks.

At nineteen, J. R. signed a contract to play straight for the show, and there’s no way to get out of it now. Yet with each passing day, Quinn and J. R. find it harder to keep their hands off each other and to keep out of the camera’s frame. But when the lens finally focuses on them, J. R. must decide if he’s willing to risk his career by admitting his bisexuality, and Quinn must determine if he's bold enough to stand in the spotlight with the man of his dreams...


Review

This is the third book in the In Focus series and I have to say that it's been a hit or miss for me so far. I thought the first book was Ok, loved the second and have mixed feelings about this one again.

Starting with the good. I generally like how Ms Erickson creates her young characters - confused, sometimes lacking confidence and experience, just normal young people figuring their lives out. They make mistakes, they do impulsive and often stupid things but ultimately it's a learning curve and they get the HEA/HFN that is just the right one for them. 

Reading the blurb for this for I was excited to meet Quinn and R. J. but even though I enjoyed some elements in their story in the end it failed to grab me and win me over.

Though I generally liked both main characters I also had a lot of issues with them and their story. The setting didn't quite work for me. A reality show coupled with a spring break on cruise read too much like stereotypical NA which I don't particularly like. It make things distant for me and I couldn't really connect with the characters in the way  I wanted to.

While I like and appreciate the intricacies of both characters (J. R. being bi, yet inexperienced with guys), Quinn in all his adorable gingerness, I still felt their romance rushed and unrealistic. I very much liked how Ms Erickson's presented the issue of bi-erasure and the process of exploring being bi which I have to admit unfortunately is not very common in contemporary mm romance, still there was something lacking for me. The characters felt superficial to me and I wished their issues were explored in more depth. 

I think this story was the case of good intentions (and positive messages) which somehow failed to deliver to their fullest potential. At least, that's is how I read it. If you have read and enjoyed the previous books in the series, you might want to give this one a try and it could turn out to work much better for you. 

Purchase links: Amazon US / Amazon UK / B&N / iTunes


M/M romance

Release Day Blitz for First and First by Santino Hassell

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First and First, book in The Five Boroughs series of contemporary queer romance by Santino Hassell, is finally live. Yay! I was lucky to read an early review copy and it totally blew me away. I can honestly say this is my favourite book in the series so far. I have all the love for Caleb <3


Blurb

Caleb Stone was raised on the Upper East Side, where wealth and lineage reigns, and “alternative lifestyles” are hidden. It took him years to come out to his family, but he’s still stuck in the stranglehold of their expectations. Caleb knows he has to build his confidence and shake things up, but he doesn’t know how… until Oliver Buckley enters the picture.

Oli is everything Caleb isn’t—risk-taking, provocative, and fiercely independent. Disowned by his family, Oli has made his own way in the world and is beholden to no one. After a chance encounter on New Year’s Eve, Caleb is smitten.

As Caleb sheds the insecurities that have held him back for years, he makes bold steps toward changing his career and escaping years of sexual repression. But for Caleb to take full control of his life, he has to be brave enough to confront his feelings and trust Oli with his heart.


Purchase links: Amazon / Are / B&N / DSP / Kobo


Meet the guys, Caleb and Oli, in these short excerpts and I promise you you will fall in love with them and their romance by the end of the book <3


Tell me you love me.

The words were in my head, but for a fraction of a moment, I thought I’d said them aloud. I felt instantly pathetic. Even worse, because I really wanted it. I foolishly desperately wanted it. For someone to love me. For him to love me. But I knew he didn’t, and I knew no one else did, and God but that was an awful feeling to have.





A soft sound slid from Oli’s mouth. “You’re dangerous.”

“Am I?”

“Yeah,” he said, “you are. This kind of thing only leads to complications, and complications lead to people wanting things, losing them, and then winding up with broken hearts. Just look at you.”


I brushed thick, black hair off his brow. “The condition isn’t as permanent as it seemed.”


Author Bio and Links



Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into an unlikely romance author.

Santino writes queer romance that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.



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Chocolatiers

Review: Chase Me by Laura Florand

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Title: Chase Me (Paris Hearts #2)
Author: Laura Florand
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance, chefs, Paris
Release Date: 5 April 2016

Author's links:
Add on Goodreads

My rating: 4 Stars


Synopsis


A Michelin two-star chef at twenty-eight, Violette Lenoir could handle anything, including a cocky burglar who broke into her restaurant in the middle of the night.

Or so she thought.

Elite counterterrorist operative Chase “Smith” had been through things that made Hell Week look easy. But nothing had prepared him for a leather-clad blonde who held him at bay at knifepoint and dared him to take her on.

Now if only saving the world didn’t require he ruin her life.

Two people who thought they could handle anything now have to take on each other. 

It's a battle neither one expected. But with their futures on the line, they have nothing to lose...but their hearts.

Review 


This is the second book in the Paris Hearts series which feature women chefs. Similar to the first book here our heroine also falls for a military-type guy but unlike previous books by Ms Florand, here things between them were both more suspenseful and more hilarious. 

I really like Ms Florand's writing, it's always sensual, very emotional, focused a lot on the inner world of the characters and their difficulties in communicating/expressing their innermost desires and fears. This story was no exception and while Violette was more or less a typical Florand heroine (she reminded me of her heroes, actually - feisty and determined, focused on her profession, yet fragile and uncertain her personal life), Chase was totally different from her chef heroes. There is light-heartedness (at least on the outside) to him, a sense of easy-going and good humour which was a nice change from her more angsty, introverted heroes before. He has issues of his own, finding a place for personal life, settling down after years in the military and still doing undercover work was not easy for him but it was something he desperately wanted. 

Vi was fabulous, I had so much fun reading her. We rarely see a strong independent heroine who still remains such after she falls in love. The chemistry between Vi and Chase was strong but neither of them was good at being with someone, at sharing happiness and sorrow. Being part of a couple was not their usual place but they had strong feelings for each other and tried their best to make things work. And the did, in the end, after more than the usual turmoil.

There is a strong suspense element in their story, partly because of Chase's profession, partly as a reflection of the current events in the real world - the overwhelming sense of uncertainly and lack of safety. 

I felt the pace a bit uneven - at times the characters spent too much time talking/discussing things rather than acting them out and then there was a fast action-packed sequence but overall this is just a minor quibble.

I loved the easy banter between Vi and Chase, the sense of fun and good times despite the dangers in the outside world. I felt very strongly present in this story the message the French people send to the world after the terrorist attacks in Paris - we are not giving up on life, love, good times because of you. We are not afraid. And I very much liked how this was incorporated in the story.

In short, Chase Me is different than your usual Laura Florand romance but it is also the same - intense, beautifully written with well-developed unique characters and passionate romance. And of course, there is all the love for cooking and eating and entertaining. A recommended read!

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / iBooks / 

Favourites

Review: A Gentleman's Position by K. J. Charles

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Titlle: A Gentleman's Position (Society of Gentlemen #3)
Author: K. J. Charles
Genre/Themes: Historical, MM romance
Release Date: 5 April 2016

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Facebook Group / Goodreads
Add on Goodreads

My rating: 5 Stars


Synopsis

Among his eccentric though strictly principled group of friends, Lord Richard Vane is the confidant on whom everyone depends for advice, moral rectitude, and discreet assistance. Yet when Richard has a problem, he turns to his valet, a fixer of unparalleled genius—and the object of Richard’s deepest desires. If there is one rule a gentleman must follow, it is never to dally with servants. But when David is close enough to touch, the rules of class collide with the basest sort of animal instinct: overpowering lust.

For David Cyprian, burglary and blackmail are as much in a day’s work as bootblacking—anything for the man he’s devoted to. But the one thing he wants for himself is the one thing Richard refuses to give: his heart. With the tension between them growing to be unbearable, David’s seemingly incorruptible master has left him no choice. Putting his finely honed skills of seduction and manipulation to good use, he will convince Richard to forget all about his well-meaning objections and give in to sweet, sinful temptation.

Review


A Gentleman's Position is the final book in an amazing queer historical series, Society of Gentlemen. It brings a hard won and well deserved happiness to Lord Richard (the protector and father figure of the Richardians) with his trusted valet, David Cyprian. It's a passionate tale of love, lust, class and obligation but above all for me it is a story of determining one's identity, of growing and changing, becoming a better person for yourself and for the people you love and care about.

This series made convinced that Ms Charles is a true master of the historical romance. Her stories are vivid and detailed, carrying a strong sense of the Regency athmopshere in all its complexity - political and social unrest which further add to the difficulties the characters have to surmount on their way to happiness.

Lord Richard had a lot of learning to do and some atonement for his past mistakes and boy, did he keep on making mistakes even when he had the best intentions. I found his journey fascinating and oh, so real. Taking a hard look of who you are and finding out that you are not in fact the person you thought you were and you don't to want to be that person any more takes a lot of courage and is not easy to deal with. His mistakes, though painful to his friends and loved ones, were avoidable, they were part of his growth and untimatelt he managed to rise above them and be the man he wanted to be. 

David Cyprian, on the other had, was just as amazing as we came to expect him to be from his appearance in the previous books. He seemed so in control, so sure of himself and tiny glimpses of slef-doubt and insecurity made him feel human and easier to relate to. He was not perfect, noone really is, but we saw how much effort and thought he put into being the best he could be. 

The romance appeared totally impossible, both were stuck in their respective positions and there was no way to make things between them work on a personal level, yet their love for each other proved stronger than prejudice and fear and stifling norms and the petty morality of the times.

I really, really like the depth and sympathy with which Ms Charles explores issues of identity and the clash of the political with the personal. We saw it in the previous books, most noticeably in A Seditious Affair, and it was also present here. The problems Richard and David and rest of the their group face were real, life-threatening and Ms Charles never cheapened them or made their solution trivial or too easy. It didn't work like that at the time, and the the historical accuracy of her stories made them stand out.

A strong place in this story was taken by the issues of consent and abuse of power, what marriage/relationship in Regency England could/should be.

I also very much loved and appreciated the supporting characters in this story - Richard's brother and his wife, David's mother and her husband. Ms Charles creates a truly diverse world representative of the times and this makes the characters and their roamnce feel even more real.

Speaking of the series as a whole, I think Ms Charles has done a remarkable job with them. The stories are interwoven, complex and engaging. Her writing is superb and her attention to detail makes all the difference when reading a historical romance. The characters in the series are deliciously imperfect, real people of different walks of life, facing harsh choices and decisions and really struggling to find happiness and love at a time when this could easily mean the death sentence for two men in love with each other.

I haven't read much historical romances and even less queer ones, but this is definitely the best I have read and can't recommend it enough.

Purchase links: Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk / Publisher / ARe

My reviews of the previous books in the series:
A Fashionable Indulgence - 5 Stars
A Seditious Affair - 5 Stars

Amy Jo Cousins

Interview with Amy Jo Cousins on her Bend or Break series and a few other things

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Amy Jo Cousins is my second guest in the author interview feature which I recently started (Alexis Hall was the first one a few weeks ago). Read on if you want to see what she has to share about her writing and to learn more about her fabulous NA LGBT series Bend or Break.



Interview with Amy Jo Cousins on the Bend or Break series and a few more things 


  
ER: Hi, Amy Jo and welcome! I’m so happy to have you here today.
I want to start this interview with some general questions on your writing. You have been a romance writer for some time now, can you tell us how that happened, when did you realize this was what you wanted to do in life and how did you go about actually doing it?

AJC: I always wanted to be a writer, but until my late twenties, that was mostly a fantasy, a theoretical dream. I would start a lot of projects, but I never finished any of them. I think I didn’t believe it could really happen (which was a lot more realistic twenty years ago, before epublishing), so I only dabbled at it. But when I was approaching my 30th birthday, I decided I needed to (pardon the crassness) shit or get off the pot. It’s amazing how motivating the feeling that you are getting old and accomplishing nothing can be. At the time, I actually wanted to write a literary historical novel about a composer in fin de si├Ęcle Vienna. I figured I’d work on that, but I wanted to practice writing query letters and I knew romance publishing had the fastest turnaround as far as response times. So I made up a romance novel synopsis and wrote a query letter that I mailed to Harlequin. Snail mail! Man, this was a long time ago. I figured it would get rejected (everything did, especially back then) but maybe I would be lucky enough to get a personal response and I’d learn how to write a better query, so I’d be prepared when the time came to pitch my composer books. This is what I told myself. In hindsight, I think I really wanted to write romance novels, but was afraid they weren’t serious enough for an English major. (I was young and foolish. Forgive me.) In any case, Harlequin requested the ms. and then bought the book, which I had to sit down and write in a hurry! And the rest, barring a ten year gap in my writing career due to single parenting taking over my life, is history.

ER: Continuing in these lines – what is the best and the worst thing about being a writer?

AJC: One of the best things is that I have an excuse to research anything I want, which is nirvana for the geek like me. Plus, I never have bad dates, because I am professionally interested in pretty much anyone. ;) The worse is that I spend all day sitting, way more than I ever did in my office jobs, even. I used to use any excuse to get up and walk around the office, going to talk to people instead of emailing or calling them. Now I sit, all day, and although I try to remember to get up and move around, I’m frequently unsuccessful at that. Being a writer is a terrible health risk. But I’m getting back into running again, which I cut waaaaay back on when I hurt my back (thank you, writing!), so I’m excited about that.

ER: Can you share some more details about your writing process – do you have a daily goals of words to write, do you use NaNoWriMo (like many other authors), or do you have a different strategy?

AJC: My writing process is in constant flux. Very rarely does one thing work for long, I think because I get bored with routine. So I’m constantly changing it up. I did #1k1hr sprints for a long time, then did pomodoros for a while, which are shorter sprints with breaks in between. Lately, I’ve been assigning myself the task of writing 500 words per hour, and as soon as I finish the 500 words, I’m allowed to do whatever I want for the rest of the hour. This kind of bribery has been very effective. Also, graphs. The visual representation of progress is an effective motivator for me, which is probably one of the things I love about NaNoWriMo. Most years I will start NaNo, but I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself. Sometimes I finish, sometimes other things get in the way and I don’t. I almost never have only one project going at a time, so that’s not the best event for me these days, but I enjoy the community and the temporary sense of urgency and it has led to some interesting projects.

ER: What is the easiest and the most difficult thing for you when it comes to writing?

AJC: Easiest for me is dialogue. I frequently “hear” scenes first as a conversation in my head, and then I figure out where that conversation is happening and what everyone is doing while they’re talking. Conflict, on the other hand, is my nemesis. I have a habit of writing my characters as being so reasonable that it’s hard for them to be in conflict with each other. I think maybe I want to get to the HEA so much, I forget sometimes that they need to have some real problems first!

ER: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

AJC: I am a plantser. Or is it a potter? A mix of both. Some books I work out in pretty significant detail before writing, and they are inevitably the smoother for it. Other times, I think I know exactly what’s going to happen in the book and just start writing. I always regret this.

ER: And final question on your writing process before we move on to talk in more details about your books. What is your favourite subgenre to write in?

AJC: Well, contemporary sure does make my research easier. I mean, there’s always research, but I’m working on plotting a historical series in 1930s London and I’m already flinching at the amount of research I’ll need to do.

You know what I’d love to write though? Epic fantasy. I doubt I ever will, because I’m not that into the kind of worldbuilding you need to do if you want to do it right, but some of my favorite authors write epic fantasy and I wish I could too.

When I wrote Off Campus, I had no idea this would become a series at all. As soon as it was done, though, I knew I wanted it to be. Usually I can’t tell if a story I’ve written is good or not, but with Off Campus I knew I’d written something special. It’s one of my only books that I actually reread for pleasure. So I started thinking about what came next for everyone. I actually had a story planned for Steph about her and Amira, her college girlfriend, until I realized it would be too depressing to break them up (because I always knew she and Cash would end up together in the long run). My original series proposal included Nothing Like Paris, The Girl Next Door, and Real World. But Level Hands and the new books were surprises, lovely ones! 

ER: The next release in the series are the two novellas, Love Me Like a Rock and Hard Candy. Meeting Austin and Vinnie in Level Hands, I was convinced that they will end up together despite their differences, so why did you chose different partners for them?

AJC: While I was writing Real World, I realized that Vinnie was going to assume Austin would wait around for him forever and that if Austin ever met a guy who paid some serious attention to him (and one who was down for a whole lotta banging), Vinnie might miss his chance. As soon as I thought about that, and about who the right guy for Austin would be, Sean popped into my head and it was all over. Vinnie was one bummed out dude and I was happy, because not every teenage friends with benefits situation works out in the long run, you know? I mean, most of them don’t. So it felt right for Vinnie to screw up, Austin to move on, and for both of them to meet awesome guys who were perfect for them.

ER: This is a bit of unfair question but who is your favourite character in the series? I love them all but against all expectations I can relate the most to Rafi.
AJC: Well, Cash is my favorite to write, because he’s pure goodheartedness, and that make me happy. But Tom is my favorite overall. I’ve got a lot invested in a person like that getting their HEA. J

ER: Which book was the easiest to write and which the most difficult?

AJC: Real World was the easiest by far. Tom and Reese were so familiar to me, I knew so much about them, that it was simple to slip back into their heads again. And I knew I wanted to wrap their story up (for now, she says mysteriously) with a big, swoony holiday proposal, so the story as a whole came together pretty quickly for me.

Level Hands, now… Oh, that book nearly killed me. I have never cut so much from a ms., and that’s always painful! The conflict in Level Hands is almost exclusively internal as opposed to external. It’s all about Rafi struggling to find his place and figure out a way to navigate in an entirely new environment. Making that book come together was a struggle and I’m so grateful for my editor Christa’s help with that one.

ER: And now question I know all the fans of the series what to ask – will there be any more Bend or Break books coming soon?

AJC: Not soon, but there will be more! Right now, I’m basically waiting on resolution with Samhain. There seems to be some question as to whether or not they are closing after all. If at some point I do get the rights back to the series, I will definitely be writing more Bend or Break books. Varun, Cash’s friend from The Girl Next Door, has a book, as does Andie from Nothing Like Paris. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that I get to write them!

ER: Speaking of upcoming releases, what will happen with this series now that Samhain is closing down?

AJC: If they do close, we’ve been told that we will all receive our rights back in a gradual unwinding process. When that happens, I will get the entire series back into circulation as soon as possible. I anticipate a very rapid turnaround!

ER: You also write het romances, what are your plans in this direction?

AJC: Right now, I am mostly looking at including some het romance within the predominantly LGBTQ series I’m planning. I like writing about groups of friends or co-workers or neighbors, and those groups will continue to have people who form m/f relationships too. I don’t have any plans to write a strictly, or even mostly, het series in the near future, but you never know. I have more story ideas than I can handle, and I’ll write the relationships that allow me to tell those stories best.

ER: And my final question is what advice would you give to aspiring authors?

AJC: Write, write, and write some more. With every new story or novel I write, I learn new things about writing. I also learn how to push myself further, to try

ER: Thank you very much, Amy Jo for doing this interview!

AJC: Thank you so much for having me!


Author Bio and Links

Amy Jo Cousins writes contemporary romance and erotica about smart people finding their own best kind of smexy. She lives in Chicago with her son, where she tweets too much, sometimes runs really far, and waits for the Cubs to win the World Series.





Amy Jo Cousins' latest release is the duology Between a Rock and a Hard Place, which includes the two novellas - Love Me Like a Rock (Austin' story) and Hard Candy (Vinnie's story). 


Synopsis

When friends lose the benefits, can the friendship be saved?

Love Me Like A Rock

With the right art tools, there’s almost nothing Austin can’t make real. Except an official relationship with his best friend, rowing teammate and occasional hookup, Vinnie.

Emotional and sexual frustration fuel a spark between Austin and Sean, the nude model in drawing class. After a quick and very dirty encounter, all the reasons Austin has been waiting for Vinnie go fuzzy in his mind. 

But if Austin can’t get his head and his heart on the same page, he could lose both his friend, and his lover.

Hard Candy

Vincent always assumed he and Austin would eventually end up together. But now that Austin’s in love with another man, Vinnie is at a loss. 

After the world’s most awkward one-night stand with Bryan, a dance major, Vinnie is drawn to his vibrant spirit and calm center. 

Physically, the rowing jock and the glittery dancer can match each other stroke for booty pop. But for the lovers to meet on common ground, they’ll have to find a way to get moving in the same direction. 

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / iBooks


Bikers

Review: Walk the Edge by Katie McGarry

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Title: Walk the Edge (Thunder Road #2)
Author: Katie McGarry
Date of publication: 29 March 2016
Genre: YA/NA romance, bikers

Author's links:

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My rating: 4 Stars


Synopsis

One moment of recklessness will change their worlds.

Smart. Responsible. That's seventeen-year-old Breanna's role in her large family, and heaven forbid she put a toe out of line. Until one night of shockingly un-Breanna-like behavior puts her into a vicious cyber-bully's line of fire—and brings fellow senior Thomas "Razor" Turner into her life. 

Razor lives for the Reign of Terror motorcycle club, and good girls like Breanna just don't belong. But when he learns she's being blackmailed over a compromising picture of the two of them—a picture that turns one unexpected and beautiful moment into ugliness—he knows it's time to step outside the rules. 

And so they make a pact: he'll help her track down her blackmailer, and in return she'll help him seek answers to the mystery that's haunted him—one that not even his club brothers have been willing to discuss. But the more time they spend together, the more their feelings grow. And suddenly they're both walking the edge of discovering who they really are, what they want, and where they're going from here.

Review 


This is the second book in Katie McGarry’s Thunder Road series of YA/NA motorcycle club stories. I haven’t been reading much YA lately but I love Ms McGarry’s books and though the first one in this series was not a big hit with me, I was excited to try the next one.

I can honestly say I loved this one. It was so real and emotional, nothing light-hearted and easy about it. Its depth and seriousness were convincingly presented and the author made me care deeply about the characters.

I loved both Breanna and Razor and their romance was such a pleasure to follow. They seem complete opposites and two people who have nothing in common, yet they turned out to be just what the other needed.

I liked how the story explored serious issues they both face – her difficult family situation, the isolation even from her siblings and parents, all her hopes and dreams crushed because of  family obligations, her parents' lack of care or proper concern about Breanna’s feelings. Her family were not downright bad, just complicated, well-meaning but also oblivious and missing a lot of what was going on with their kids.

Razor’s troubles and issues were much heavier in a way – troubles with the motorcycle club, his distrust of those closest to him (and it was well deserved because they were all keeping secrets from him, which was the least pleasant element of the story for me and one I really disliked), problems at school, the unresolved issue of his mother's death and the public opinion of him as crazty, unstable, dangereous bad boy biker.

Ultimately, what brought Breanna and Razor together was a mix of their own issues and just a little help of a truly nasty classmate. The whole blackmail situation was very interesting and highlighted a problem common for many young people, online harassment/bullying. I think the author handled the issues really well drawing attention to its importance in present day and how difficult it is for young people to fight it.

I also really loved the romance in the story – tender and tentative, first-time love, some naivete, some misunderstandings, but so much heart-warming love and desire to be together despite everybody’s disapproval. Things didn’t magically work out for Razor and Breanna. They issues they had were serious and needed time and interference from all the adults around them to be properly solved by the end.

It’s a story of personal growth, of first love, of (re)building family relationships and building your way into the future.

Depth and profoundness, a YA romance that deals with real issues many young people face. It’s tender and sweet but doesn’t shy away from the rougher edges of life, especially keeping in mind that Razor is a member of a (legitimate) motorcycle club.

It explores ideas of image and appearances, how the other see and judge you and how you see yourself and finding your way into adulthood.


Ms McGarry is my to-go author for YA romance and heartily recommend all her books for her realistic and compassionate treatment of the many of the issues young people face today. There will be more books in this series and I can’t wait to see what she has prepared in store for us with them.

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N | ibooks | Indie | Kobo

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