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Miramar Bay, Davis Bunn

Miramar Bay,  Davis Bunn

Miramar Bay by [Bunn, Davis]

Genre: women’s Fiction

My first read from Davis, and at the beginning I felt I’d made a mistake choosing this. It seemed really slow and I couldn’t see the connection between the characters.
It quickly picked up pace though and we met more and more new people, mostly in the town of Miramar. I soon became hooked on what was happening.

Connor wasn’t quite A list, but with luck might make it, but he’s kind of in limbo. Gave up on his music dreams when the acting took off but he seems to be the guy everyone wants dead in films and TV, to the point where he’s on death 97 and getting tired of the roles, finding them a bit banal. They pay the bills – just – but don’t stretch him.
He’s about to marry in five days and suddenly he’s wondering what he’s doing, likes his fiancée but doesn’t love her and not sure how things got to this point.
We’ve nearly all been there somewhere along our lives, taken stock and found parts lacking. Can he change though, or have things gone too far?
On impulse he boards a bus and makes for Miramar, a place he enjoyed for a couple of days holiday once and that seems to pull him. It reminds him of home, of his roots and family.

Sylvie runs a restaurant there, and its hard, always balancing on the edge and she had to take on a financial partner who seemed fine at the time but has now become overbearing.
For most of the staff it’s a second chance, somewhere they can rebuild their lives after being in prison or similar, and they appreciate it and are very loyal to Sylvie. Its clear how close they all are when something awful happens and she needs help but as someone fiercely independent won’t ask.
The local sheriff, Porter is a good guy, he looks after his town, is genuinely interested in keeping everyone safe, not one of those lazy but power hungry types.
Then there’s a few other characters, the sleazy Phil, silent – or not so silent- partner in the restaurant, a mystery woman named Estelle, and Connors wonderful agent Ami, and her assistant the fabulous Gerald.
Gerald had some cracking lines and I adored him. He’s written in such a way that I could see him perfectly, hear his voice, appreciate his sharp humour. For older readers and anyone who’s into music of the sixties and early seventies there’s some great references, had me humming while reading.

What seemed at first to be very disparate events and people slowly get woven together in an entertaining and absorbing story. There’s one plotline that was really predictable to me early on, stood out who was behind things, but not really why other than the obvious.
That didn’t really matter though and it still was fun seeing how things played out, how the team of Sylvie’s friends pulled together to help her despite her usual “I can manage” stance. They didn’t ask if she needed help but simply steamed ahead, knowing she’d do anything rather than burden others.

Of course there’s heartbreak here too, she’s been through a  cheating liar before when her ex failed to mention the wife and kids, so when she finds out the truth about her new waiter, Connor, the man she’d become very close to in the few days they’d been together she’s devastated. Connor isn’t giving in, but he’s going to need some fierce and heartfelt actions to get her to forgive him.
Like I said, early on I wondered if I’d made a mistake, but it turned out to be a story I really enjoyed, a perfect five star, though probably a one off read rather than a keeper for me.
Its not a rollicking sex-fest story but a more gentle, deeper one with some sensual attraction between Sylvie and Connor thats contained to a few searing kisses. Sometimes Less is More and that makes the story more interesting 😉 I like sex in books but….endless pages of repetitive sex can get dull and boring, and there’s many reads where I’ve skipped that to get to the actual story, so it was good to read a novel where the content was first importance, and not one that relied on just sex to try to keep the reader intested.

Stars: Five, an entertaining and absorbing story.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Strays, Garrett Leigh. Legacy Lost, Jillian David

Strays,  Garrett Leigh

Strays  (Urban Soul Book 2) by [Leigh, Garrett]

Genre:  romance, LGBTQIA

One of the reasons I enjoy m/m romance so much is that it tends to be incredibly emotional, real romantic, tender love, wonderfully angsty and the plots are complex but not overcomplicated, no added unnecessary bits but just words central the the story.
I hate those padded out romances, where you feel words, plots, characters get thrown in just to add to the word-count.
I first came across Garret Leigh with the wonderful Misfits, book one to this series. So when I saw this one – well of course I had to read it 😉

Oddly looking back Cass wasn’t such a main character in that story, and yet he feels so familiar. I adore him here, he’s got the knack of seeing what people need, who they really are, he doesn’t have preconceived notions based on their history but lets everyone have a fresh start.
He and Nero share a similar issue which could make getting work difficult, but he took a chance on Nero despite his past, and Nero’s been a little in love with him since. Of course Cass can see it and in his gentle way he’s made it clear he’s happy with Tom and Jake (Misfits) yet in a way that doesn’t embarrass Nero.
He relies on Nero for the practical side of the kitchen, from designing right from the off to what kind of food and the menus for it. Along with Nero I found I’m a bit in love with Cass too….

Cass sees Lenny, right when he’s reached rock bottom. Haunted for months by a stalker who’s not only followed him constantly but has invaded his workplace and his home. The police can’t help, give him a stack of leaflets but without witnesses, evidence and a name they can’t do much.
Lenny has had enough, you feel his fear, and reading his story I could understand how people give in when they’re that low, decide life isn’t worth it. Before this he was a bright happy guy, intelligent, loved to dance, friendly, very outgoing, and almost flamboyant. He was happy with himself, now he’s like  a wraith.
Cass steps in just at the right time, places him with Nero, in the flat above Pippa’s and working in the kitchens under Nero. His only instructions to Nero? Keep him safe…or words to that effect.

Nero has no idea what has happened to Lenny, but knows if Cass placed him there its for a reason, but he’s not overjoyed at having help in the kitchen who has no experience, and having his flat invaded too. Its tiny, one bed so Lenny gets the sofa.
I love Nero, can’t recall much of him from book one ( one day when i do a back to back read – that way everything marries up nicely while its fresh in my mind) but he’s a real stoic grump type character. Everyone respects him for his brilliance in the kitchen but he’s not the guy you joke around with. Man of very few words that’s Nero.
They get along OK, Lenny trying valiantly to keep his head down, not get in the way, and its soon clear to Nero just how scared Lenny is.
He begins to get glimpses of who Lenny was before, in unguarded moments when he tells Nero things from his past, lets little bits of info slip out and they start to learn about each other. As Lenny trusts him more he ends up telling him everything, and of course he wants Nero to trust him in return, be as open as he is now they’ve got so close, become lovers, but Nero hasn’t had the best experiences when he’s let out his past before and just can’t bring back those nightmares again.

I so felt for both of them, such sad stories, such lovely people. As before Garret has created characters that feel so real, they’re not the stereotypical flaming gays seen far too often, full of clichéd action and phrases, but people who are individuals, where being non heterosexual is just part of who they are, not the sum of them.
The need for Nero to trust him with his story was so clear from Lenny, I could feel how let down he felt, how he thought he’d opened himself up but Nero just didn’t trust him enough to do the same. Then of course I could see it from Nero’s POV, how he didn’t want to bring back the nightmares, how he feared Lenny’s reaction, how he was just too scared to let it out.

Then there’s the brilliance of the Urban Soul Kitchens, how they each differ, tailored to fit the need for that area, not a generic franchise type eatery. Everything from the bare bones of the building to the sourcing of the basic food ingredients is carefully worked on, and it pulled together to create wonderful places, full of character, teams of people within them that worked together, and places I’d love to eat at. They felt so real, and I could visualise them as I was reading.

The stalking plot, its kind of low key after the first revelations and then really builds to create some fabulous drama towards the end. It fitted the story so well, let me enjoy so many different sides to each character, without turning it from a romance into a suspense novel.

Its another great read, very British ( hurrah!!) from the places used, the transport, the recipies and of course the language. So many authors try to do British, especialy British slang and cursing, but it ends up an American version of it.
One of my huge bugbears is MS Windows insistence that I can have US English – There’s no such thing, English is English, other countries may have their own take on it, but what they use Is Not English….It might be American, it might be Australian, but it isn’t English. Rant over 😉

Stars: Five, another fantastic read, one to keep.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

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Legacy Lost, Jillian David

Legacy Lost (Hell's Valley) by [David, Jillian]

Genre:  Romance,

I was a little neutral on the first book in this series, but got on far better with this one, understood the storyline and characters more.

We met Eric and Shelby in that last book, and learned of her Gift, and how much the newly developed parts cost her.
She’s still recovering from that and the fire, Eric is still trying to hold back his growing feelings, the family still struggling to pull through after the last disasters. You feel these poor guys deserve a break.
Not yet though….that Darkness, that Evil is still stalking them. We still don’t know what it is, but we do learn more about its motivation. Its some scary stuff in this book, and the family need all the help they can get. they really are lurching from one crisis to the next, both financially, physically and practically.

Eldest son Vaughn is still away, I’d like to know exactly what happened, but we do know he was involved with Garret’s ex, and Garret knocks down Shelby’s suggestion of asking him for help.
Their dad seems to have given up on life, and we really do see a family on the verge of breaking up. There’s only so much people can deal with, even when they do have some extra abilities.

I love Eric, and can see exactly how he felt, always welcomed as part of the family, but its fact that he’s not.
He’s been a close friend to Shelby for years, best friend to her twin, but his feelings have changed and he doesn’t know whether to risk losing what he has by telling her. It could go well, he could be part of something perfect with someone he loves, but equally he could lose everything if she doesn’t feel the same.

Events overtake them though, bringing them both into severe danger, and once more they face this anonymous Evil, the entity that they’re coming to realise means to kill them all.
I got the feeling when Odie and Ruth came into the story that they had a connection somewhere and looking it up I can see they’re from the other series. I’ve not yet read that, but if you have then you’ll know more about what they can do. For now Ruth is nursing Shelby’s dad and Odie is helping on the ranch. They need that help!

It’s a fun read, I liked that the supernatural came into play more in this one. Loved Eric, but Shelby made me a bit irritated at times with how she treated him. Still, I could sort of see where she’s coming from.
With Shelby and Eric both being attached to the Ranch most of the action takes place there but there are a few minor scenes in town, where they run up against Wyatt from the last book, who’s still acting weirdly.

Stars: Four, interesting novel, with some supernatural drama running through the love story

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

London Bound, Heart of the City series book 3, CJ Duggan

London Bound, Heart of the City series book 3, CJ Duggan

London Bound (A Heart of the City romance Book 3) by [Duggan, C.J.]

Genre:  Romance,

I read Paris Lights just before requesting this – it was on KU and I really enjoyed it. This book links slightly with that, we met Kate briefly in book one, and as I haven’t yet read book two there may be more link ups. Each are stand alone books though so no nasty cliff-hangers!!

Kate’s a lovely girl but I kept wanting to say to her “stand up to Nana Joy”. If ever a woman was misnamed that’s her…Still, I guess Kate was afraid of being sent back, not living out her dream. The way she is though she isn’t doing it either…but bullying is pervasive, it has a build up effect so that the person being bullied gets more scared, loses more of their character and becomes intimidated easily. That was clearly happening to Kate.
She gets to go out slowly, little increments of freedon aided by carer Vera, who’s a real gem
.
Jack seems very arrogant when we first meet him, but slowly we meet the real person and when we find out more about him his first reactions were understandable. I really liked him, a true gentleman. They get closer, balcony meetings leading to some steamy encounters and things heat up.
Kate’s discovery about the secret room in Nana Joys house leads to her moving on with her new blog, starting at last some of the things she’d hoped to do when coming to London.
Then the blog picks up, the heat between her and Jack picks up, what she doesn’t realise is that secrets are also picking up and when all is revealed she’s distraught.

I love a bit of drama, and that was perfect for me but…its over far too soon. I need to wallow a bit in heartbreak, and though Kate was gutted she soon got over it. Small crit but the difference between a four and a five for me.
I found the same thing with Paris Lights, a great read but the drama soon over. Others want their stories that way though, its the old horses for courses thing where you simply can’t please everyone one.

Its a fun read, with some great humour tucked in, fabulous clothes, and a snapshot of the London Experience for Kate.

Stars: Four, an enjoyable read, with realistic characters and scenes.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

The Black Lily, Juliette Cross

The Black Lily,  Juliette Cross

The Black Lily (Tales of the Black Lily) by [Cross, Juliette]

Genre: Romance,

I’ve read a few of Juliette’s stories, and liked the sound of this. Vampires? Romance? yep, two of my tick boxes 😉
What did make me hesitate was the Cinderella connection. I’m not a fan of fairy-tale rewrites generally, I’ve read too many that mirror the original so closely there’s nothing fresh in the story, but this one is fine.
The storyline is only very loosely followed, in fact most of the story is pure Juliette original, maybe 5-10% follows Cinderella and that’s fine by me!

We meet Arabelle, AKA the Black Lily, with her friend Deek, the blacksmith,  planning an audacious assassination of the vampire Prince Marius at a ball later that evening.
She and her band of followers have been planning this carefully, she has the gown, the jewels, the mask, a fairy-tale carriage, albeit borrowed as are the gown and jewels, and most important, a gold edged knife to kill him. Vampires in this series are killed by gold, though royals have to be stabbed in the heart for it to be fatal. No pressure there then Arabelle.
Why are they out to kill him? Well, seems vampires aren’t sticking to the laws, and the peasants arte being drained, first an odd few but more and more recently. Arabelle’s mother died this way and she’s determined to stop the slaughter.

I love the way the planning was explained, there wasn’t a magic wand ( well unless you call a certain part of Deek’s anatomy that, he uses it well to “persuade” people to lend things for the cause…. There’s lots of planning, they’ve spent months on this, even down to Arabelle swapping her outdoor chores for one of the staff’s indoor ones, so her skin gets a chance to lighten, helped also by her own cosmetic preparations. She doesn’t just dress up and hope for the best, but plans, works to make it a success.
I need that in a story, need to understand the how and the why, when something just falls into place at the right time without any effort it just doesn’t work for me.

Of course she doesn’t manage to kill him, it’d be a short book if she did…but he gets close to her and is entranced, enamoured by her even though she wanted him dead.
As it happens she was surprised by her attraction to him, surprised by their conversation. He wasn’t what she expected.
Marius is determined to find her, find out why she tried to kill him, to just get to know her better. He wants her, and not as a prisoner for an attempt on his life. Of course his royal parents aren’t quite of the same mind.
There follows captures and escapes, plans and plots, deals and steals, barters and betrayals…its a fun read, especially when we meet the Hart Wolves, and Sienna.

I really liked Marius, he was a Vampire, but one of the good guys, they’re not all heartless, blood-thirsty killers and he has no idea what’s been going on. His one failing is assuming everyone is happy, what will he do now he knows otherwise?
I really wanted him and Arabelle to find a way together but when they’re on such opposing sides its a hard ask.

There’s some great characters here, some fun adventure and it adds up to an enjoyable read, when the final denouement is revealed I could have kicked myself ( metaphorically – its hard to do that when you’ve only one leg, I’d just fall over!)
Its so obvious and yet…like I suspect most readers, I simply didn’t see that coming, followed the trail led before me very obligingly.

Its not deep, dark, drama but light and fun, with some real excitement at times, some plots that were very realistic and no quick instant, unbelievable fixes, but ones where people worked for them.
Arabelle wasn’t a sweet, helpless female, not yet a kiss ar$e heroine, but someone who felt real, who was a natural leader and worked hard for what she wanted to achieve. There were some excellent support characters too, that fitted the storyline very well.
I love the descriptions of the gowns, the fabulous Glass Palace, and the minutiae of everyday life brought in that made things feel real.

Its ends on a good spot but leaving the way open for more and I’ll be happy to read the next story.

Stars: five, a great relaxing read, fun story, light drama and adventure.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Sweet Cheeks, K. Bromberg and Wait for It Mariana Zapata

Wait for It  Mariana Zapata

Wait for It by [Zapata, Mariana]

Genre:  Romance,

My first MZ read….and what a cracker it was. I really didn’t expect to love it as much as I did.

Its got great day to day scenes that really let me get to know the characters, not just Diana and Dallas but the two little boys and the rest of her family, his cousin ( I think it was cousin, I’m writing this about 4 weeks after reading it) and family, so many interesting characters.
The plot is solid, full of interest, dilemmas, fun bits of humour, sadness when the kids are having issues, and of course the growing relationship between Dallas and Diana, which doesn’t really start off well.

Its a lovely looonng book too, and its great to find  an author who doesn’t try yo cram everything into 200 pages or less. I looked at one story on KU yesterday and it was 26 pages…that’s not a book but a short story, and there are even ones shorter than that masquerading as books!

Stars: five, a fabulous read, and its on KU, as are a couple of others from MZ. I’ve just borrowed Under Locke, which is on KU and downloaded the sample of Rhythm, Chord & Malykhin, which isn’t on KU but appeals to me.

Sweet Cheeks,  K. Bromberg

Sweet Cheeks by [Bromberg, K.]

Genre:  Romance,

I love the Driven series, have re-read those and they are definitely in my keepers files, but its good too when an author moves into a new area, out of the “comfort zone” into a fresh venue.
I was pleased to see this one and I bought it. Yep, paid real money!
Between review novels and my KU subs a book has to have a pretty good suggestion that its one for me before I’ll buy it, and with so many authors raising prices its great to see an established author keeping them affordable. This is still just £2.99 and as its one I’ll reread  that’s great value.

As always with KB’s books I love the characters, they feel so real, and of course the settings are perfect. From Saylor’s shop to the extravagant wedding venue I could visualise them easily. .
I have to sday this though – I hated the title, it sounds so twee, but its the name of Saylor’s bakery so it does feel better when you know that 😉
She’s a great girl, works hard, and is trying to build up her business. Then she gets That invite, the one to the wedding, which oddly enough mirrors exactly what she had planned when she was the bride….weird or what??
Who would want that, the wedding your husband to be was having with someone else…and then the invite gets returned by accident, saying she’ll attend, armed with a plus one…

Then Hayes, film star extraordinaire, comes into the story. He and Saylor have a past, though its been years since they met, after he broke her heart when he left.
The banter between these two is perfect, the wedding scenes so real, and full of snark, and the hashtag parts I loved. Its got so much I love in a story here, great characters, solid plots, humour, snark, and lots of drama and sad parts.
Its a terrific read.

Stars: five, a fabulous read, from a favourite author that kept me engrossed for hours and will join the keepers.

The Last Resort, R.S. Kovach

The Last Resort, R.S. Kovach

The Last Resort by [Kovach, R.S.]

Genre:  Romance,

As a horse lover and rider this appealed to me so I was eager to read it. Sounded like it was a romance with that extra spark that I like.

Sadly I didn’t like it and finally abandoned at the halfway mark.

I didn’t like Ali. Right from the start she comes over a a bit arrogant, and the accident could have happened anyway, but maybe if she’d been more aware. Still, I’ve broken bones through riding accidents, it happens, its quiet a dangerous sport…I used to hide the newspapers from Him Indoors when there were bad news involving horse riding.

I just didn’t see though how such a simple accident led to the mental issues that affected her work. She must have done things like this before – its par for the course when you ride alot.

Then the mistakes at work seemed to be just weird, odd, and I didn’t really see how they were caused by the accident and its effect on her. Still, she gets sent to recuprate for a month.

I thought given she’s got mental issues, trauma etc there would be daily psych sessions, both group and private, but at halfway she’s only had two, one very off the cuff in the stables and another than seems to have been over in minutes. There’s no real sessions seem to take place with any of the other residents either.

She doesn’t really exercise much sense or treat others with any respect. She’s rude to some of them, uses one man to try to make Hank jealous, which isn’t really fair to the poor guy, and as she’s only been there a few days why on earth is she so obsessed with Hank. And what the heck does he see in her, something I don’t that’s for sure.

She doesn’t listen either when she wants to go for a walk and a storm is coming, but trundles out putting others in danger when she needs rescuing. She could have followed the riders she saw while out and lost, that would be simple wouldn’t it but no, for some obscure reason she doesn’t.

I did like Hank, and just didn’t see what attracted him to her. They didn’t really have any real interactions, and suddenly its full on romance.

I just had to give up, I know its a story that’s won awards, and well done to the author for that. Its tough getting a book seen in todays market but for me it just doesn’t work. Luckily everyone wants different things and others will love it but for me its a DNF fail.

Stars: Two, sadly a fail for me. I can see others don’t like the ending – I didn’t even get that far…and maybe that’s just as well, as it sounds like I’d be moaning too.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

 

A Kiss to Build a Dream On, Katie Baldwin

A Kiss to Build a Dream On, Katie Baldwin

A Kiss to Build a Dream On (Saving Graces Fantasies Book 1) by [Baldwin, Katie]

Genre:  Romance, Humour

OK, I enjoyed this, but its a very light and sweet romance. Perfect for if you just want a quick, easy to read escape but if you’re looking for drama and depth you won’t find it here.

Bethany’s a sweet lead, librarian, good friend and fits the stereotype well. You just know she leads a conventional drama free life. She does have some tragedy in her past, but its not a big part of the story.
Aiden “ride the Aiden train”, the film star lead was another “nice” character. None of that rabble rousing, womanising, alchohol and drug filled rampages for him. He’s happy with a cup of tea….
I couldn’t help liking him but – he’s a hot celebrity, pursued (every now and then, less than I expected) by paparazzi in the story, and it made me wonder why he didn’t have bodyguards, how he could get away with wandering round town and eating in restaurants with Bethany without being besieged?
That worked for the story but kind of took him out of the ” Film star/Celebrity” league for me. Just didn’t really fit.
His ex was a nice piece of work, and I’d hoped for some sparky fireworks but no, simply a few damp squibs.

In the main, apart from the ex everybody is just…nice. Bethany and her work mates, Aiden, his staff and friends. If you want a sweet and cute romance, full of lovable characters, no surprises or dramatics this is perfect.
I read it, enjoyed it but it didn’t grab me by the throat, make it impossible to put down, have me wondering what would happen next. Somehow what was coming could be seen, and the only surprises for me were things like potential plots that I thought might come up but didn’t.
Stars: Three, a cute and sweet romance, but for me not a keeper.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Reawakened, Carrie Pulkinen

Reawakened, Carrie Pulkinen

Reawakened by [Pulkinen, Carrie]

Genre:  Romance, Sci-fi and fantasy

Vampires and romance….a good hook for me.
Trouble is there’s so many different styles of romance, whether paranormal or not and for me this was a style that doesn’t really work for me.
If you like Celia Kyle, T.S.Joyce, Bella Forest then this book may well appeal to you. they’re all popular authors whose write what I think of as light and fluffy paranormal reads, where the story is mainly the romance, but with a little back-plot  and excitement underlying it. For me though books need to have a little more substance, a bit extra to hold my interest.

Its a perfectly well written book, a story that adds up, some fun plots and the usual secrets that creep out.
Its just that for me its all a bit too simplistic, too easy to read with everything falling into place so easily, when I need something a little more edgy, angsty, problems that the characters have to work really hard to overcome.
I need to feel there’s a real chance the characters romance won’t survive the pressures put on it, that the problems they have, the dangers they face may all be just too much.

There’s nothing I really dislike about this book, just nothing that would want me to keep it, re-read it either.

Stars: Three, a fun read but I need a bit extra.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Siren’s Wave, A Rock and Roll Love Story, J.A. Hazel

Siren’s Wave, A Rock and Roll Love Story,  J.A. Hazel

Siren's Wave: (A Rock and Roll Love Story) by [Hazel, J.A.]

 

Genre:  Romance,

Well, by now regular readers of my reviews will know I have a weakness for rock star/film star romances, so when I was asked to read this I was a happy bunny.
Did my usual checks first though because there are hundreds of thousands ( or so it feels) of novels in this genre and I know from experience that 90% of them just don’t do it for me. They work for others, dominate best sellers but I need something a little more, a story with an edge.

I want a novel that’s true to the music industry, that brings in all that band life, celebrity/media excess if they’ve found fame, the struggle to climb up if they haven’t, one that shows the underbelly, the grittiness and stuff we don’t often get.
Things like how common drug/alchohol use becomes, first to give a little extra and soon its needed more and more just to cope with the onslaught of demands made by those who hold the purse strings, and who want more and more from the people creating the music.
I need characters that feel real, have genuine emotions and problems, that I feel I could know, talk to, and I have to like the leads, to want them to be together. We get all that and more here….

Bran, what a great lead. The band he’s on is on the cusp of fame, but right now each of them are also working at other jobs as well as gigging and trying to get spotted. Finally that magic call comes and they’re off to Anoxia, an Australian record company to record their music.
I love Bran, and when we meet him its feels like he’s the laid back one, the band peacekeeper, though they’re a close knit bunch, when they argue it doesn’t bring actual friction.
He’s got a damaged past though, and his band mate Nate and Nate’s mum are responsible for getting Bran through his childhood, without going off the rails. He still has nightmares though, is still inwardly really troubled though hides it well. He’s gorgeous, but seems totally unaware of it, and its wonderful to see how gentle he was with fans, how open and honest.
Then he meets Ava.

Ava works for Anoxia, has done for some years now and is well respected. She’s small, a fifties starlet type lady in appearance, and always conscious of being a little over the ideal size. Still likes her food though 🙂 me too….and she comes over as pretty confident in herself, she hides her insecurities well.
She’s close with the Anoxia staff, they’re good friends as well as work colleagues, and feel like a family unit almost.
I love Ava too, she’s so open and honest, fresh, but she has one weakness and its for guys that look like Bran….

Their first meeting doesn’t go so well, Bran is – well, simply obnoxious to Ava, and that continues over the next few days.
His band-mates are astonished, this just isn’t like him. It really is like that schoolboy pick on someone you like feeling. He’s attracted to Ava but won’t admit it to himself, maybe its because he knows she’s not a one and done lady and that’s all he’s ever had, or wanted.
Ava just ignores him as much as she can and mentally labels him a dick…prick dick I think was the term she used 😉 Its such a contrast to the Bran we and his band mates know.

Things change though and soon they’re having steaming sensual encounters, though still have a strange relationship. They don’t date, just feels like Bran keeps sneaking into her bed, needing to be with her, needing the feeling of peace she brings. They’re only there a few weeks though so what happens then?

I love this story, its got the Love part I need so much, and its tangled, hard, full of drama and doesn’t follow a neat pathway. I just couldn’t see what the future would hold for them, and they both seemed to be avoiding even thinking of it. They weren’t in a relationship exactly, and yet both had such a strong need for the other.
When it went wrong, I could feel pain on both of them. I understood Ava’s stance though, she had to protect herself. I also understood Bran though, looking from the outside its easy to see why he has issues.

There’s sex here, not just Bran and Ava, but the usual one off encounters that seem to follow band life.
It amazes me how girls ( and guys) want to have sex with someone just because of fame, and if the first choice isn’t around they’ll move down the line quite happily….
There’s alchohol and drug use here too, and even though its something I don’t like I know that its common in that industry, that people seek chemical help to deal with the pressures they are under and it fits the story.
The execs hand out drugs as an easy solution  here and I’m sure that’s how it works in reality. Who cares if they’re unhealthy, lead to addiction, lifelong issues, and death sometimes so long as the stars can keep on churning out the performances that bring in the cash.
That’s the not so nice side of the music industry, and one not often seen in romances. I like that its included here, not in an OTT drama infused way, but as just another part of band life, and every day way of  dealing. Paracetamol for a headache for most of us, in this life though its a headache caused by stress and pressure, and its heroin and coke that gets handed out.

Its a great read, not a light and fluffy story, skimming the fame and music side, but one showing how hard it is for up and coming bands, what kind of pressures they face, the realities of touring and recording. Bran and Ava’s love story is just perfect set against that.
A romance that isn’t smooth, that struggles, that has lots of drama and theatrics, supported by a great cast of characters and a very real feeling backstory.

Stars: Five. A fabulous novel, one with drama and details, edge and emotion, love and lust but with a story that unfolds so very different from so many Rock band romances.

ARC supplied for review purposes by author

Danced Close, Annabeth Albert

Danced Close,  Annabeth Albert

Danced Close (Portland Heat) by [Albert, Annabeth]

Genre:  romance, LGBTQIA

I love romance reads, love a HEA, but don’t like to read the same recycled story over and over, and sadly its a genre where that gets served up far too often.
I discovered the M/M genre a couple of years back and found that hurrah – its romance, but mostly of the authors strive for that missing extra, the thing that makes their story stand out, and not read like a thousand others but with different character names…Maybe I’m over exaggerating here…just a bit 😉 but some days that’s how reading romance feels.

I’ve only somehow caught one book in this series, and loved it, that could be my fault, I tend to ignore shorter reads. I find usually they don’t give me enough character depth and story, but though this and the wonderful Delivered Fast are short, they still gave me a good solid read, great characters and real plots.
So, the something different I look for – well, double bonus here, Todd has some issues related to his past that rarely get seen in romance, but which do affect many people, and Kendall – well, he’s just so unique.

I so felt for Todd, he’s come such a long way, worked so hard and yet doesn’t seem to feel good enough for Kendall, seems to feel the way his ex treated him was what he deserved. He’s such a great guy, but can’t see himself as Kendall sees him, someone gorgeous, solid, good, worthy.
His past, from family, the circumstances he found himself in, and then his ex have all impacted so badly on his self confidence that he’s afraid to step out of the routine he knows.

Kendall, what a great character. He’s gender-fluid – and why not? I’ve always wondered why we obsess over putting people in pigeon holes, labelling them. I guess its that society wants everyone to conform, to be different makes someone a target and there’s strength and protection comes from being one of the crowd.
Kendall won’t compromise though, wants to be true to himself, be who he feels he is, and that varies from day to day. Why shouldn’t men wear dresses and nice fabrics if they choose? No-one bats an eyelid at women in trousers, however mannish the outfit, but a man is a dress, or men’s clothes but with delicate fabrics and pretty embellishments? Shock horror!! Stupid isn’t it?

QUILTBAG, that’s a new term to me but fits perfectly. I love the way that slowly society is coming to the idea we aren’t just M/F but encompass so many different types. Sadly there’s still a lot of aggression about those who don’t stick strictly to the MF definition. One day….

Back to the book, Todd, big burly Todd, is perfect for Kendall, but again turning perceptions upside down when they dance Todd lets Kendall lead, something new to him. Being the person he is others have always assumed he wants to be led, not take the lead, and he finds he’s actually good at it, enjoys it.
The thing I mentioned about how others perceive anyone a bit different, well, we see it at the dance lessons when poor Kendall gets the side eye from another couple. You’d think being gay themselves they’d be more accepting but they’re not. They don’t know how to deal with folk like Kendall, and giving him some unpleasant looks, definitely not up for swapping dance partners.
Then we meet one of Kendall’s clients who takes the opposite view, the bride and friends who probably pride themselves in being open minded, accepting and liberal, but who treat Kendall as an exhibit, someone who’s “costume”/style of dress for the day is just an addition to the wedding.
There’s too many like her, and she’s disappointed when Kendall isn’t feeling good and has dressed down, no lace and frivolity, and she makes it clear she thought that was part of the wedding package.
I was so outraged for Kendall, and yet I guess that kind of thing also happens too often. I was so glad he stuck to his guns and didn’t let her walk over him with her entitled, money-buys-everything attitude.

The romance was perfect, not without hiccups, not all smooth sailing and we really get to see “inside” the two guys, about how they feel, and why, and how the past affects them both.
Its a great read, full of emotion, angst, and had me thinking how on earth could they get a HEA or even a HFN? Its a shortish read, but contrary to most shorts, packs a huge and very real story in it.

Stars: Five, a fabulous romance that felt very real.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

J.A. Hazel

Author of Siren's Wave, a rock romance novel

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