Sunday Review

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Happy Sunday, everyone, I hope your week has been good. Mine has been much better than last week: my dad is finally home from the hospital, and I think the flu I caught four weeks ago has finally let go of me completely. I’ve got my energy back, yay!

Friday and Saturday was Chinese New Year, but the festivities are not over but will go on for two weeks or so, and I hope to catch a Lion Dance.  If I’m lucky we’ll have performers here at my condo, and if we do, I’ll post a picture.

Enough of that, now it’s time for this week’s review. Like I said in this post, I planned on reading one of the stories in the 2017 Top Ten Gay Romance anthology, and I loved it so much I decided to review it.

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beau and the beast

Beau and the Beast by Rick R. Reed

Beau is a down-on-his-luck street artist living on the streets of Seattle. One rainy night, he is accosted by a group of fag-bashing thugs, intent on robbing him of his art supplies and humiliating Beau for who he is. Beau is beaten into unconsciousness … 

… And awakens in a bedroom, head bandaged, with no memory of how he got there. Outside his window pine trees and mountain vistas beckon. 

Beau’s tale grows more mysterious when a large, muscular man begins bringing Beau his food. The man says nothing — and wears a wolf mask. When he finally does speak, it’s only to tell Beau to call him “Beast.” 

What secrets does the mask hide? What do these two outsiders have in common? And will their odd circumstances bring them to the brink of love — or rip them apart? Inspired by the timeless fairy tale, this is a haunting love story that reveals that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.

This is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and normally I’m not a big fan of fairy tale retellings. In general, I prefer original stories – even though I’ve been known to watch a movie remake or two. But I liked the sound of the blurb, and I’m a fan of Rick R. Reed’s writing, so I thought I’d give it a chance.

I’m glad I did. And this also teaches me a lesson that I need to take more chances with my reading! 😁

The characters in the story are great. Beau is an artist and he has been told many times by the person he’s painted that it’s like he can see into their souls and paint their true selves. This makes for a believable premise for when he meets Beast, and how Beau so easily sees beyond his scarred face.

Beast himself is the gentle giant type, a really sensitive guy who’s trying to hide his hurt behind a mask (literal and metaphorical). But when Beau sees him, he’s touched. And scared for his heart.

This book contains lightning-fast insta-love, but since this is a fairy tale, I have no problem with that…not that I usually do 😁

I really like the setting, and how Rick Reed has managed to juxtapose the modern Seattle with a gay neighborhood and Vietnamese Pho places, with the fairy tale quality of the Beast’s mansion. The reader is told that Beast lives outside of Seattle, but it feels like Beau ended up in a magical land with beautiful settings and starry skies, which helps the fairy tale feeling in this otherwise contemporary story.

The original Beauty and the Beast is a horrid fairy tale (like most old stories are), but this is a lovely adaptation. No one is being forced, no one is kept against their will. It’s simply a story about a man who is able to see that real beauty is so much more than what the eye can see. I wish real life was like that. ❤️

Five magical stars and one more reason (if you need one) to buy the 2017 Top Ten Gay Romance anthology. 😁

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Sunday Review

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I’ve had a pretty crappy week, personally. And the other day I felt sad and down and needed a good pick-me-up. Something easy, breezy, and non angsty to take my mind off things. And I found it.

So, two (short) reviews for you today.

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loving me loving you.jpgLoving Me, Loving You by J.D. Walker

Hanson Yoo despises his job. He works seven days a week and is in line for junior partner, but that’s not enough anymore. Why does he do it? To please his mother, or at least that’s how it began. But now, not even that can keep him going.

Late one night, Hanson helps an acquaintance out of a bad situation and meets Lindsey Grier, a man he’s been admiring from afar.

When Lindsey flirts with him, Hanson isn’t sure if it’s real or out of gratitude. Things like that don’t happen to him, and he has little self-confidence. Rather than take a chance, he cuts his losses and runs away. But then he doesn’t get the partnership, and realizes he has nothing left to lose.

Hanson has been given a second chance, and isn’t going to waste it. Maybe by learning to love himself, he can love someone else, too.

This was just what the doctor ordered. Short and sweet and in feel-good in general. The characters were great: I identified with Hanson and the way he freed himself from a job he hated. That’s just what I did when I left Sweden for Malaysia: I had a soul-killing day job back in Sweden, and here I’m living my dream as a writer. I also loved Lindsey: the way he acted toward Hanson was totally adorable and I just felt…happy…when I read it. Just what I needed.

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first and goalFirst and Goal by Terry O’Reilly

After being disappointed too many times by the hook-up sites, Broadway dancer Darrin Houghton takes down his profiles. However, when he gets a message from an intriguing hunk on a site he’d forgotten about, Darrin sets up a meeting despite his reservations. 

Brad Grabosky is a deeply closeted football player in the NFL. Brad has a preference for no strings attached, anonymous, one night flings in seedy motel rooms. 

However, love has a way of complicating the intentions of both men, leading them to make compromises they never thought possible. Will Darrin and Brad find a way to get to first and goal and ultimately score a touchdown? Or will their chance at happiness be fumbled away?

This should come with a warning label: Contains a serious case of insta-love 🙂 Don’t get me wrong; I’m a fan of insta-love, but I have to admit this book teetered on the edge of becoming almost too fast even for me. But in the end I bought it. I think it’s because it was exactly what I needed: a highly emotional story about two guys who love each other. They loved each other so much I could feel it and the author managed to infuse the love even in the sex. And that’s my favorite kind of read: loving, romantic, and emotional.

Both books get four stars and my eternal gratitude for making me feel better ❤️

Sunday Review

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I don’t read a lot of paranormal books. I used to: I’ve been a vampire fan since the first time I read Dracula when I was a teenager, and I read and adored all of Anne Rice’s Lestat books. Once, me and my husband had a semi-argument about what paranormal creature was the best: I voted for vampire, he for zombies, and a friend of ours (who were recently divorced at the time) got annoyed and snapped at us If this is the worst problem you’ve got in your marriage, you need to shut up. 😁 (Hint: it wasn’t!)

But somewhere along the road my love for the paranormal was replaced by a preference for contemporary, so I’m very picky with my paranormal these days.

Which probably is why I didn’t realize at first what I gem I’d found in this week’s book…

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shifting silver.jpgShifting Silver by Brandon Witt

The year is 1618, and Allakau is different from the other members of the Alaskan Yupik tribe. His people survive by hunting, but Allakau is unable to kill or eat flesh. As another season reaches its end and winter approaches, Allakau encounters a narwhal with silver eyes similar to his own. He saves the creature’s life but incurs his father’s wrath, and Allakau is given one last chance to prove himself a productive part of the tribe or be left behind to die. As he spends time alone in the woods, clues about his past and destiny begin to fall into place with the aid of another silver-eyed creature. His hunt might finally lead him to the truth about what sets him apart and where he belongs—if he can survive it.

I read this book for the first time last year, after I’d found and loved Teddy Bears by the same author and gone hunting for more books written by him. I liked it a lot…but not in the way that I wanted to scream it from the rooftops. But as time passed, I found I couldn’t let it go. I constantly thought about it, about how it had made me feel when I read it. So I re-read it. Twice. This year.

And MAN, was I wrong the first time. I DO love it in a scream-it-from-the-rooftops kind of way!

I love it so much I don’t really know how to put it into words.

Allakau is very different from his family and the rest of the tribe. He’s sensitive and feels a connection to animals in such a prominent way he can’t kill any living creature or eat their flesh. This causes him problems with his father and brother who are hunters (as the rest of the tribe) and want him to be a productive member of the tribe, something that requires him to hunt.

Once, when they’re out at sea, a narwhal breaks the surface and the encounter with the creature leaves Allakau rocked to his core. An accident related to the encounter makes Allakau’s father give him an ultimatum: he has three days to finally kill something, anything, or he will be left behind.

Allakau sets out into the forest, knowing he won’t be able to obey his father’s command. Knowing that in three days time, he will have to leave his family behind. But there, in the forest, he meets the narwhal again…just not in a way he’d ever expected.

This book is magic. It has a dreamy, fairytale-ish quality about it that leaves me breathless. I feel the images Brandon Witt paints with his words in my heart. There’s a scene where Allakau walks in the forest after he’s been injured, and wild animals start following him. They seem to understand him when he talks to them and as they encounter an injured caribou, Allakau offers her the only thing he’s got: his body heat and his life. I cry ugly, heart-wrenching tears every time I read this scene. I want to climb into the book and curl around the injured Allakau and take care of him. Defend him from his family that doesn’t understand him (with the exceptions of his mother) and make everything right for him.

It took me three reads to understand how great this book is. To make me realize that it’s among my all-time favorite reads. Buy it. Read it. And if you come across another book like it, with the same magical feeling as this one, tell me AT ONCE because I’ll want to read it.

Five glorious, magical stars.

Sunday Review

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For today’s review you’ll need Kleenex. Lots and lots of Kleenex, but believe me, it’ll be worth it!

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trapped

Trapped by Ofelia Gränd

Charlie Wilkins had everything he wanted—a husband, a daughter, a house that was his home. He still has his husband, but William has forgotten who he is. He still has his daughter, but the roles have switched, and she is now the one taking care of them.

There is only one thing Charlie wants, and that is to spend the rest of his days with William by his side. But William is living in a nursing home, and Charlie is living…somewhere. Ann says she will fix it; she’ll make sure they’ll get to live together again. Charlie hopes she will before William either escapes or figures out Charlie has left him in someone else’s care.

I knew reading the blurb that this wouldn’t be your typical HEA story and I was right. It’s about an old couple who are split up because of health reasons (involuntarily) after being married for 43 years. William has forgotten who Charlie is and Charlie himself is old and frail and can’t care for him anymore. So, despite Charlie promising to never leave William’s side, he has to. Charlie feels like crap about it and it hurts his poor old heart that William doesn’t remember him or their daughter anymore.

Then there’s Charlie, the loving old man, always by William’s side. He’s an unreliable narrator, and gradually the reader realizes all is not what it seems…

This was a beautiful story, full of love from the first page to the last. It broke my heart and healed it all at once.

When I wake up tomorrow and don’t remember who you are, know that I love you and I don’t regret a single thing. 

Ofelia Gränd’s writing is superb: the way she introduces Charlie’s mental issues is so gradual and sneaky that I didn’t see it coming. Or maybe, if I’m completely honest, I didn’t WANT to see it. If my suspicions turned out to be true, it would just be too much for my poor heart. All is not tears and sadness, though, there are some funny moments too, even if they made me giggle and sob at the same time. Like when William looks himself in the mirror, doesn’t recognize the old guy staring back at him and insists it’s Yoda.

This book spoke to me on so many personal levels. My biggest fear in life is that I’ll develop Alzheimer’s or any kind of dementia. Something about the prospect of forgetting my family, the people who are most dear to me, scares the shit out of me. On top of that, I’m 45 years old and have been with my husband for half my life already. If we were to be split up when we grow old like Charlie and William…I would feel just like Charlie did. Devastated. Half.

All those reasons are why this book…broke my heart. I sobbed my way through all 54 pages of it.

Even if it isn’t your traditional love story where the two young men ride off into the sunset, it still has a HEA of sorts. Not just the kind we’re used to in romance.

It’s definitely worth both your time AND your money. Read it, you won’t regret it.

Rating: five scrunched-up tear-stained tissues.

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Sunday Short Reviews

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Today I give you quick, short reviews of three great books I’ve read recently. I warmly recommend all of them and they all ended up on my re-read shelf. They’re all perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon spent on the couch, with a hot beverage of your choice (that would be tea for me!). So, if that’s how you plan on spending your day, might I suggest you pick any of these?

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motorcycle man

Motorcycle Man by Sarah Hadley Brook

Motorcycle shop owner Ben Makowski offers a three-day class for new riders. When he finds out one of his students doesn’t even like motorcycles, he’s irritated but drawn to the man at the same time. Though he can clearly see the new student is dealing with something difficult, Ben sets out to get to know what that might be and if he can help in any way.

Writer Angus Winter’s publisher has insisted he learn about motorcycles for an upcoming book, which is the last thing he wants to do. His fear of motorcycles stems from a tragedy in his past. But something about his sexy new teacher makes him want to open up to the man. Can Angus trust Ben with the burden he’s carried for so long?

This was a fabulous book that drew me in from the very first page. I loved both Ben and Angus and even though it’s a very short story, the author managed to give them depth and layers. The attraction between them was instant but believable, and I could feel it.

I warmly recommend this book, and would definitely want to read more about these guys!!

5-stars

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Heat Wave: Tuscaloosa by Jeff Adams

Ethan is a grad student stuck in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for the summer. Though he’s thrilled about his teaching assistant position at the university, he’s not at all excited about the record-breaking heat wave plaguing the area.

In the midst of an oppressively hot summer night, Ethan meets fellow grad student Marcus. While their initial encounters are scorching, can two busy students have more than a heated seasonal fling? Or could it be the beginning of something that will last beyond the stormy southern nights?

I read this entire book with a smile on my face. It was cute, feelgood, and hot. OMG was it hot…with a capital H. The first balcony scene was hotter than the setting of the book itself!! *fans self*

The author did a great job describing the weather conditions. Even though I’ve never been to Alabama, I live somewhere hot and humid, and I could feel the air thicken around me as I read it. The characters were great: I loved how they communicated with each other and their instant attraction was totally believable. I particularly liked their goofiness. Felt authentic for a couple guys their age.

This was the first book I read by Jeff Adams, but it definitely won’t be my last! Warmly recommended.

5-stars

old xmas magicOld Christmas Magic by Kassandra Lea

Drew McLean has had a run of bad luck and it’s dampened his Christmas spirit. But the last thing he expects to find for the holiday is a demon.

While strolling in the late-night snow, Drew hears screeching tires and a sad scene is awaits him around the corner. A man kneels beside a dog hit by a car, distraught and broken.

The man is Artem, a demon sent to find a pure soul. Drew matches that description to a T. The problem is Artem’s never really been good at the demon gig.

Will a little Christmas magic help them both find what they’re looking for?

This was such an unexpected delight. I bought it on a whim at the Smashwords sale and I’m really happy I did. I was captured from the first lines, and Kassandra Lea managed to make me feel sorry for a demon on the very first page:

Artem cowered on the ground, his black wings bent and broken, feathers falling into the snow where their touch sizzled and they melted through to the frozen ground.

I didn’t expect to feel sorry for a demon. I didn’t expect to love Artem like I did and even feel for him when he does a bad, demon-y thing. Lea’s writing is skillfull and manages to tug on my heartstrings and I was enchanted all the way to the end.

A lovely read.

four-stars

Sunday Review

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After reading Ballerina Dad by Amy Aislin, I went and bought all of her books I didn’t already own. My resolution for the new year is to support all the authors I love, by buying and reviewing their books. Not all of the reviews will end up here on the blog, but I’ll post them on Goodreads and whatever site I bought them from.

But this book definitely earned a spot on the blog. It’s my second Amy Aislin book and I adored it as much as the first one. For this week’s book review: As Big as the Sky by Amy Aislin.

as big as the skySam wants nothing to do with his irresponsible, sarcastic neighbor…or does he?

Sam McAuley is having a rough start to the summer: Not only is he being sued, but the new guy running the animal rehabilitation center next door has no idea what he’s doing and his runaway chickens constantly end up in Sam’s pristine yard. 

Everything is temporary for Bo Novak. For as long as he can remember, it’s been one town to the next, one school to the next, one job to the next. Even his current job—running his sister’s animal rehab center while she’s away on a four-month leave—is temporary. And he does know what he’s doing, thank you very much. Sure, things don’t always run smoothly, but the stick-in-the-mud next door could be a little nicer about it. 

One overheard conversation, an olive branch, and a baseball game might show these guys that being at odds isn’t really what they want, and that what they want might just be each other.

Don’t you just love it when you find an author whose writing just…fits? Cinnamon who used to review for Love Bytes said something fabulous to me: I click with your writing, she said. I was very honored by the statement, but also really liked the sentiment. And that’s how I feel about Amy Aislin. I click with her writing.

So the other day as I battled my jetlag, I needed something cute and heartwarming to read so I picked this up. And it delivered!

Sam was embarrassed to admit that instead of forming his own opinion, he’d let Laura’s perceptions about her brother color his own. He’d basically judged a book by its cover. If Bo’s cover was shiny and loud, his inside pages were fragile, vulnerable to rough handling. He had a feeling Bo’s book was only half finished, the story stalled in the middle, the blank pages in the second half of the book just waiting to be filled.

What can I say other than…*swoon*?

I really, really liked Bo. He was a fabulous character and the quote above describes him perfectly. There’s so much more to him than meets the eye, but Sam sees him for what he is…at least after he overcomes his initial prejudices.

I see you, Bo. I see you.

Sam is under a lot of pressure when Bo arrives at his sister’s place to take care of her business when she’s busy elsewhere, and is rude and unfriendly at first. But then Sam overhears Bo’s lonely confession to a pig and he realizes what a d*ck he’s been, and decides to apologize. Of course, Bo accepts, and they start hanging out with each other and one thing leads to another and soon they’re in each other’s arms.

Yes, the relationship happens very fast. I guess you could call it insta-love, but I love a good insta-love story. And this one doesn’t feel forced or unrealistic, on the contrary it feels believable. Real. I feel Bo and Sam’s interest for each other, and Bo is so ready to be seen for who he is. To be accepted and loved. And Sam is just the guy for that.

You’re so special, Bo. you deserve someone who’s yours, and I want to be that person.

There’s some minor drama in the book, but never between the MCs. They know what they want and stand by each other the way lovers are supposed to. I love books like that, books where the guys meet early in the story and decide they want to try to make a relationship work. So when Bo’s sister turns out to be a bitch, Sam is right by his side, just the way Bo stands by Sam through his legal troubles.

I have one very minor niggle. I’m sad we didn’t get to see the super secret comic Sam was making in the end. It was built up as if it was important, so I would have loved reading about it. But it’s not niggly enough to affect the rating, I’m just a curious person I guess 🙂

This is a romance with a capital R, full of sweetness and emotions and was just what I needed. I give it my warmest recommendations.

5-stars

Check out Amy Aislin if you haven’t already read her books. She’s definitely worth it.

 

Christmasvaganza: Friday Review

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This is the last holiday themed review for this Christmasvaganza. But…it’s the wrong day, you say. I know, I know. I went rogue this last Christmasvaganza week, and switched places with the review and the Flash Fiction story that would normally be posted today. That little story takes place on New Year’s Eve, so I thought I’d post it on…you guessed it…New Year’s Eve 😀

Instead, I give you one of my all time favorite reads. Holiday or otherwise.

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christmas kitschSometimes the best thing you can get for Christmas is knowing what you really want.

Rusty Baker is a blond, rich, entitled football player in a high school full of them—just the type of oblivious jock all the bullied kids hate. And he might have stayed that way, except he develops a friendship with out-and-proud Oliver Campbell from the wrong side of the tracks. Rusty thinks the friendship is just pity—Oliver is very bright, and Rusty is very not—but then Oliver kisses him goodbye when Rusty leaves for college, and Rusty is forced to rethink everything he knows about himself.

But even Rusty’s newfound awareness can’t help him survive a semester at Berkeley. He returns home for Thanksgiving break clinging to the one thing he knows to be true: Oliver Campbell is the best thing that’s ever happened to him.

Rusty’s parents disagree, and Rusty finds himself homeless for the holidays. Oliver may not have much money, but he’s got something Rusty has never known: true family. With their help and Oliver’s love, Rusty comes to realize that he may have failed college, but he’ll pass real life with flying rainbow colors.

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I’m like a big sea creature, and no place is the sea.

There’s something about the way Amy Lane uses language that speaks to me. She takes simplistic, boring everyday words and crafts them into magic with a power to reduce me into a blubbering mess on the couch, desperately clinging to the box of Kleenex. She writes feelings that I feel in my heart and stomach. She takes ordinary people and transforms them into super heroes. Because sometimes super heroes don’t wear a cape. Sometimes they’re the ones seeing you for who you really are, or the ones being there for you when you really, really need it.

Like Oliver and his family are for Rusty when he gets thrown out of the house when his parents catches him kissing his boyfriend on the day before Thanksgiving. Like Rusty’s friend Rex who starts out as an annoying roommate at college but ends up being a part of Rusty’s chosen family. Like Rusty himself, offering his big heart to someone you’d least expect.

I love this book. Rusty is a fabulous character; he’s a young man who doesn’t really know who he is until he meets Oliver. He thinks he’s nothing but a dumb jock who has to do what his parents say and that’s how he ends up at a fancy college where he doesn’t belong. Where he struggles every day until one day he goes to bed on a Friday and doesn’t wake up until Monday from Oliver screaming at him over Skype.

Which—by the way—is one of the most heart-wrenching scenes I’ve ever read. Period.

Oliver is a fabulous character who realizes long before Rusty, that Rusty’s most likely gay. He fights tooth and nail for their relationship and when Rusty is overwhelmed with life and circumstances, Oliver is right there. Holding him up.

I love the scene when Rusty admits to himself—and Oliver—that he’s gay.

“Oliver?”
“Yeah?”
“I’m pretty sure I’m gay.”
“Me too, pendejo.”
“And even if I’m not gay, you know what?”
“What?”
“I’m pretty sure I’m Oliver-sexual.”

I mean. Awwwwwwww. Died.

This book is full of lovely moments that makes my heart break in my chest of both happiness and sorrow, and that’s just the way I love my books. After being tossed out on his ass, Rusty moves into a crappy apartment that he makes habitable with the help of Oliver’s family. He doesn’t have a lot. He sleeps on an air mattress and has mismatched furniture and in general it’s not great. But he finds the silver lining.

I woke up in the morning groggy, cold and hungry, but I was damned grateful for the milk in the fridge and the cereal in the cupboards. Oh, and for the toilet paper in the bathroom, too.

Or,

A perfect day for me will always start with tiny dogs and a warm house in the winter, and coffee, and people glad to see me when I wake up.

This last quote is perfection and is how I fell about life. Except I’m allergic to dogs, and I live in Malaysia so I prefer a cool house over a warm, and I don’t drink coffee, but tea. But the sentiment hits me right in the heart. Who needs big, grandiose gestures when it’s the little things that makes life worth living?

This book is fantastic. I loved it when I first read it back in 2015 and I loved it even more when I re-read it now. Read this book. Buy this book. You won’t be sorry. This book is 10 stars, but since someone…ehum…decided on a five star rating system, I give it five stars. Or Christmas trees, since this is Christmasvaganza after all.

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