String Boys by Amy Lane (Bout-of-Books 25 Review)

Seth Arnold learned at an early age that two things in life could make his soul soar—his violin and Kelly Cruz. In Seth’s uncertain childhood, the kindness of the Cruz family, especially Kelly and his brother, Matty, gave Seth the stability to make his violin sing with the purest sound and opened a world of possibility beyond his home in Sacramento.
Kelly Cruz has loved Seth forever, but he knows Seth’s talents shouldn’t be hidden, not when the world is waiting. Encouraging Seth to follow his music might break Kelly’s heart, but he is determined to see the violin set Seth’s soul free. When their world is devastated by a violent sexual assault and Matty’s prejudices turn him from a brother to an enemy, Seth and Kelly’s future becomes uncertain.
Seth can’t come home and Kelly can’t leave, but they are held together by a love that they clutch with both hands.
Seth and Kelly are young and the world is wide—the only thing they know for certain is they’ll follow their heartstrings to each other’s arms whenever time and fate allow. And pray that one day they can follow that string to forever… before it slices their hearts in two.

That description? That doesn’t even come close to the heartbreak that surrounds Kelly and Seth in String Boys. I’m not opposed to angst. Honestly, just about any emotion filled M/M romance has to include some type of angst, but this one? The only reason that this book isn’t getting a solid 5 stars from me is because I couldn’t believe how much this author put these characters through – and I’m not just talking about Seth and Kelly. The whole Cruz/Arnold clan was put through more than most people would survive… but that’s also one of the big reasons I loved this story so much. This wasn’t just Kelly and Seth’s story, this was a story about two families who as a whole, kept each other from falling apart. ❤

It’s amazing how sometimes one event can change things forever. That moment in String Boys was a turning point for everyone, not just Seth and Kelly. It followed them and everyone else for years. The sad part is that not only did those events pull Seth and Kelly away from each other, it took another series of tragic events to bring them back together.

They may have lost time together and both of them had to grow up a lot faster than most kids, but they never really “lost” each other. Their love and devotion toward each other was sometimes the only hope either one of them had. I cherished those moments that they got to share as their story unfolded almost as much as they did.

String Boys is as heartbreaking as it is heart warming. It begins when the boys are in elementary school and follows them to young adulthood. There’s a lot of emotion packed into this one. Some characters redeem themselves and some just dig themselves deeper. My heart broke for Seth as a young boy, but he wasn’t alone, which makes all the difference. Although both families had more than their share of tragedy, they never lost hope – at least not for very long.

Finally reaching their well deserved and long over-due HEA, is almost enough to forgive this author’s torture. Almost. On a side note, after the cameo at the end of String Boys, I’m now moving Red Fish, Dead Fish, which is the second book in Amy Lane’s Fish Out of Water series, up on my reading list. 😉

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Running on Empty (Havoc #3) by S.E. Jakes

After a brutal capture at the hands of the Heathens Motorcycle Club, Linc is just trying to heal, mentally and physically. But he’s got men in his life who are complicating everything. There’s Mercy—a Havoc MC biker and the man he is falling fast for—plus an undercover ATF agent and a rogue Havoc member.
But Mercy’s keeping him at arm’s length, and Linc is spinning. In an attempt to regain his equilibrium, he heads to the bar where he first met Mercy. Night after night, he escapes Havoc bonds and continues down his merry path of mayhem . . . mainly in the hopes that Mercy will give chase.
Since Linc’s capture by his old MC, Mercy’s been dealing with the fallout of his guilt. He’s trying to give Linc space and still watch over him—all without Linc’s knowledge. But with Linc’s old job calling and a threat to Havoc MC heating up, can they make their way back together?

I liked Running on Empty, but to honest, this one was my least favorite in the Havoc series so far. I think it’s a “me” thing though and I blame it totally on my feelings toward Mercy. I’m not the only one who was less than impressed with the way Mercy was acting though and I’m not talking about fellow readers. His brothers in Havoc and even others weren’t real happy with him either.

I understand his hesitance, but he almost gave Linc too much time. After everything that Linc endured in Running Blind, he needed Mercy, even though he was trying to push him away. He had other people to be there for him. He was broken and it took him a while to start feeling anything close to normal. When Mercy finally made his move, Linc knew in his heart that it was only out of guilt, it couldn’t be because he actually cared. Mercy wasn’t ready to let Linc know how he really felt, mostly because he didn’t think he deserved Linc’s love. *sigh*

Things get even messier when Linc has to face letting people he’s closest to know that there’s a huge part of his life he’s kept hidden. Mercy isn’t the only one with secrets that have the potential to harm those around him. Needless to say, there was a lot happening in Running on Empty. Some of the danger is taken care of by the end, but it’s obvious that things are far from over. I have no idea what’s next for Havoc, but I can’t wait to find out.

The Doctor Takes a Detour by Bren Christopher

After being attacked by a drug addict, Dr. Josh Parker fled New York, his career as an ER doctor, and a failed relationship. Determined to start fresh, he takes a job as a concierge doctor to the wealthy older population of sunny Naples, Florida. Nothing to fear there. No trauma. No stress.
It’s a good idea that doesn’t last long. Traveling to his new home, he discovers a car accident and is forced to make a detour to render aid. There he meets sexy paramedic Ian Manolas.
Since Ian returned from the Army, every day has been a struggle to atone for past mistakes. The Glades Free Clinic is his chosen path to redemption. The people Ian helps are a world away from Josh’s wealthy clients though. Addicts, prostitutes, gang members: they all come to Ian’s clinic for help, not judgment. He’ll do almost anything to keep the clinic going, including roping in one reluctant—and hot—ex-ER doctor.
The attraction is immediate, but Josh wants nothing to do with Ian’s clinic. For them to have a future, both men must work together to find a path to love, while helping those who need them most.

I hit one or two… “snags” in The Doctor Takes a Detour, but not enough to keep me from enjoying the book… Basically, I adored Ian and Josh? Not so much.

Josh had his reasons for being where he was and taking the job that he did, but honestly, he knew after the first meeting with the doctors at the concierge practice that his new job wasn’t going to be a good fit. I hadn’t even gotten a chance to get to know him at all and I could see it. Fear kept him planted there longer than he should have stayed. Ian saw it too, but once he got to know him, he knew Josh wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

That was one of the “snags” I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Another was Josh’s reaction to Ian’s secret. Granted, Ian shouldn’t have kept his secret from Josh as long as he did. He knew what Josh had been through. Josh did have the right to react, but not to the extreme that he did. The other snag pretty much had me wondering if Josh was worth Ian’s devotion. Let’s just say that Josh’s ex wasn’t one of my favorite characters. I know, that’s a strong statement to make, especially since I did say I enjoyed The Doctor Takes a Detour, but it’s honest. I did like the story and I’m glad that they finally worked things out, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t times that I wanted to reach into the book and knock some sense into Josh.

This is my first book by Bren Christopher and I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last. Despite the “snags”, the characters were well developed and the writing flowed well and the story line, although frustrating at times, kept me interested.

Arctic Sun (Frozen Hearts #1) by Annabeth Albert

Ex-military mountain man Griffin Barrett likes his solitude. It keeps him from falling back into old habits. Bad habits. He’s fought too hard for his sobriety to lose control now. However, his gig as a wildlife guide presents a new kind of temptation in superhot supermodel River Vale. Nothing the Alaskan wilderness has to offer has ever called to Griffin so badly. And that can only lead to trouble…
River has his own methods for coping. Chasing adventure means always moving forward. Nobody’s ever made him want to stand still—until Griffin. The rugged bush pilot is the very best kind of distraction, but the emotions he stirs up in River feel anything but casual, and he’s in no position to stay put.
With temptation lurking in close quarters, keeping even a shred of distance is a challenge neither’s willing to meet. And the closer Griffin gets to River, the easier it is to ignore every last reason he should run.

At first glance, Griffin and River have absolutely nothing in common. That’s the problem with first impressions though, you have to really get to know someone before you should make a snap judgement on who they really are. Although River tried his best to make a good first impression, Griffen didn’t really care what anyone’s opinion of him was. He was there to help his family and their business. I loved watching that ice around him crumble. ❤

There was a lot more behind River than what I expected. Even though I liked him from the beginning, getting to know him made me want to get to know him even better. Though Griffin tried to deny it, even to himself, River had the same affect on him. The closer they got, the harder it was to deny. Yet, Griffin felt safest at home, where he kept to a steady routine and he felt like he had some control. River, on the other hand, couldn’t stay in one place. He had no “home” and didn’t want one, or so he thought.

These two had a lot to work through and it wasn’t easy, but nothing worth having really was. I should also note that while I liked some of the supporting characters, not many of River’s “friends” were, well, supportive. He ended up getting the best support from a totally unexpected source. I also loved Griffen’s family, but they irritated me at times as well. They had their reasons, but Griffin had come a long way and was a lot more capable of making smart, healthy decisions than they realized. They won me back in the end though.

The next book in Annabeth Albert’s new series is Arctic Wild and since we met at least one of the main characters in Arctic Sun, I can’t wait to see what this author has in store for him.

If I Ever (Hell or High Water #4) by S.E. Jakes

Some ghosts refuse to stay buried . . .
Prophet and Tom have been through the wringer more times than they can count, both as partners in the field and in life. Yet despite it all, they’ve built something great together. But now they need to protect it again: Prophet’s old nemesis, John Morse, is back and threatening everything he loves.
Prophet is driven enough to take John down alone, and with a chance to do exactly that on the table, he runs with it, risking himself in the process. But trusting Tom to help him is so much more than mission critical.
It’s the final stand, and with Tom and his team behind him, Prophet’s in for the fight of his life. Then a figure from his past goes missing, and the consequence of an old mission rears its head. As complications and destruction mount all around them, getting out alive becomes the most important mission of their lives.

My initial reaction when I finished If I Ever? True rating is hovering between 4.5-5 for REASONS! These guys really had to work for their HEA *Glares at #EvilAuthor*

I know a lot of people almost gave up on ever getting to the 4th book in the Hell or High Water series. I’m a patient reader though and life happens – to all of us, so I’m just happy that we finally got here. Yet, because so much time passed between Daylight Again and If I Ever, I felt the need to do a quick re-read. Which, actually turned out to be a good thing, since I inadvertently neglected to leave a review the first time around. Yikes! So, enough about the delay, how did I really feel about If I Ever?

If I Ever picked up exactly where Daylight Again left off… with Prophet reeling after he and Tommy came to the same realization – John was really back and no one that either one of them cared about was safe. From that point on, things got even crazier.

This book, just like the rest of the series is not for the faint of heart. Things happen… lots and lots of things. These guys pull no punches and would lay down their lives for any of their brothers. Which makes so much of what happens in If I Ever so hard to take. Alliances were made, trust was broken and at times it was hard to keep track. There was also more than one side story going on throughout all the chaos and I’m hoping that readers get a few more glimpses into them. Please and thank you!

Like I said, Prophet and Tommy had to work really hard to reach their HEA, but they did it. I’m pretty sure that we haven’t seen the last of them though. There were a couple of interesting twists and turns at the end. So, why the dramatic opening to this review? Yeah, there were reasons… I was mostly being funny, but come on! Every time I thought that this crew had been through enough and had finally earned some down time there was another life or death situation that they had to pull themselves – and others – out of. True, it most definitely kept the pages turning, but did they really have to be put through so much? In the end, all that matters is that Tommy and Prophet made it through in one piece, which isn’t a spoiler, honest. I mean Mal would have taken care of this author if not, right? That’s the only negative thing that I have to say about If I Ever. Other than making me scream in frustration, shed a tear or two, want to pull my hair out more than once and maybe shake some sense into more than one character, it was the perfect ending to a great series.

 

Heated Rivalry (Game Changers #2) by Rachel Reid

Pro hockey star Shane Hollander isn’t just crazy talented, he’s got a spotless reputation. Hockey is his life. Now that he’s captain of the Montreal Voyageurs, he won’t let anything jeopardize that, especially the sexy Russian whose hard body keeps him awake at night.
Boston Bears captain Ilya Rozanov is everything Shane’s not. The self-proclaimed king of the ice, he’s as cocky as he is talented. No one can beat him—except Shane. They’ve made a career on their legendary rivalry, but when the skates come off, the heat between them is undeniable. When Ilya realizes he wants more than a few secret hookups, he knows he must walk away. The risk is too great.
As their attraction intensifies, they struggle to keep their relationship out of the public eye. If the truth comes out, it could ruin them both. But when their need for each other rivals their ambition on the ice, secrecy is no longer an option…

Oh Shane and Ilya… I really liked Game Changer, the first book in this series, but I adored Heated Rivalry… for oh, so many reasons. *Sigh*

If you read Game Changer, (which you don’t really have to read to enjoy Heated Rivalry, but why skip a book in a series? 😉 ) you probably picked up on the fact at the end of the book that there was something up with Ilya. Him being nice and seemingly supportive toward Scott and Kip was a dead give-away. “Supportive” and “nice” were not words that anyone would associate with the Russian hockey player. So… finding out that the next book in the series was going to feature him wasn’t a huge surprise. Even so, it didn’t come close to preparing me for Shane and Ilya’s story.

I really liked the way this story was told. It started in the present, but it slipped back and forth between the past and present. It wasn’t hard to keep up with though, mainly because the story grew as Shane and Ilya grew. Some people see this as an enemy to lovers story and I guess I can see that, but I see it as more of a… well not really a friends to lovers story, but more. They were attracted to each other from the time they were teens just starting out in the leagues. They also both already had reputations. Their “enemy” rivalry was only on the ice. No one knew about their relationship and no one ever could. The more that Shane got to know Ilya though, the more he realized that he wasn’t quite as cocky and unfeeling as he seemed. There was a history there, because Shane knew Ilya was just a little bit broken and he wanted to be the one to fix it.

These two broke my heart more than once, but their story was also full of hope. I love watching a couple grow closer, even when they don’t really mean to. Their relationship wasn’t easy because of the secrecy, but in some ways it grew stronger because of it. Oh, and the supporting characters were amazing, even when they were clueless… until they weren’t 😉 There wasn’t a huge reveal like there was between Scott and Kip, but when there is, I really hope that Rachel Reid gives readers a front row seat. I have a feeling that with these two, that moment will be priceless. ❤

How to Be a Movie Star (How to Be #2) by T.J. Klune

Josiah Erickson wants to be a movie star. The problem with that is so does half of Los Angeles. But he’s on his way, what with memorable roles as a TV show background cadaver and a guy in a commercial for herpes medication. All he needs is his big break. And that break may come in the form of a novelist who goes by the enigmatic name of Q-Bert.
Q-Bert, who is ready to make his directorial debut in a film Josy would be perfect for. Q-Bert, who Josy may or may not have a friend-crush on, and potentially something more. Being demisexual can be confusing.
From the City of Angels to the small mountain town of Abby, Oregon, Josy will give his all to make sure his dreams come true—even the ones he never thought possible.

My initial reaction when I finished How to Be a Movie Star? – Oh Josy, and Quincy, and We Three Queens, and Gus and Casey, and … oh my…
I gotta admit, it wasn’t quite as good as How to Be a Normal Person, but it was close enough to make me fall in love with these characters (and a few others) all over again. *sigh*

How to Be was never meant to be a series. No matter how much readers begged for a sequel to How to Be a Normal Person, the author assured them that there would never be another book that featured Grumpy Gus and friends. It was a one time stand alone – end of discussion. Thank whatever powers that be that these characters were more strong willed than the author expected. 😀

Out of the Three Ironic Amigos (Casey’s friends from LA), Josy was my favorite (and apparently Gus’.) For that reason, I’m really glad that he got his HEA. Then there was Q-Bert. He was adorable and flustered and shy and Josy… was, well Josy – their first meeting was both adorable and a total disaster.

I loved getting to know Josy better and meeting Q-Bert, but spending time with Gus and Casey was great too. Gus was a quirky as ever and Casey was just as devoted. One of my favorite moments was when both Josy and Casey jumped to Gus’ defense when Q-Bert asked a totally innocent question… their reaction was priceless and made me love them both even more.

There’s so much more I could say about How to Be a Movie Star, but honestly, it’s something you just have to experience. From the rest of the Ironic Amigos, to the quirky residents of Abby, Oregon – which of course, include the We Three Queens, it was the perfect sequel that was never meant to be. 😉

 

A Chip and a Chair (Seven of Spades #5) by Cordelia Kingsbridge

Detective Levi Abrams and PI Dominic Russo are reunited and more committed to each other than ever, but they can’t truly move forward with their lives until the serial killer who’s been tormenting them is behind bars. When a secret burial site is discovered in the desert with the remains of the Seven of Spades’s earliest victims, that goal finally seems within reach.
But just as the net is tightening, the Neo-Nazi militia Utopia launches their master plan with a devastating act of terror that changes the landscape of Las Vegas forever. As Levi and Dominic scramble to prevent the city’s destruction, they’re opposed by treacherous forces that propel them toward catastrophe. In the end, Levi’s fate may rest in the hands of the very killer he’s been hunting.
The race to save Sin City is on, and these players are going for broke. No matter how hopeless things seem, as long as they’re together and they’ve got a chip to play and a chair to sit in, they’re still in the game.

Yet another series finale… *sigh* This falls into the extremely intense variety – which I’ve also experienced in the last few books I’ve read. I think it’s time for me to find something light and fun. Something where the characters aren’t fighting for their lives, or someone else’s, around every corner. This series is definitely not one of those… but I’ve loved every intense, nail biting, book throwing, tear and terror inducing moment of it. I’m sorry to say goodbye to the Seven of Spades, but A Chip and a Chair was an amazing and mostly surprising ending to a series I didn’t know what to expect from, but I’m really glad I picked up.

I had my theories (like most readers) about who the Seven of Spades was going to turn out to be. Turns out I was totally clueless, until this book. I had my suspicions, some of the same ones that Levi and Dom did, but … yeah, I’m not giving it away. I caught on just a little bit before they did, but not much.

As for the rest of the book? I loved the relationship between Levi and Dom, mostly because of how “not easy” it was. May sound ridiculous, but no relationship is perfect and neither are the people going through it. Both Levi and Dom had issues – pretty big issues – but that’s kind of what made them perfect for each other. The supporting characters were great too… mostly because they didn’t offer just support, they pulled no punches when it came to either Levi or Dom when they thought they needed some sense knocked into them. Although this is true throughout most of the series, A Chip and a Chair solidified it.

Was A Chip and a Chair a bit over the top? Of course it was. There was a lot going on and most of it was pretty unrealistic, but that’s kind of what I love about reading books like this. The intensity, danger, craziness… all of it made Levi and Dom’s HEA all the more deserving. Seven of Spades is my first series by Cordelia Kingsbridge, but I’m most definitely going to be on the lookout for more by this author. I’m pretty sure that this one will also be added to my re-read list. 😉

Noble Hops (Trouble Brewing #3) by Layla Reyne

Everything Dominic Price has worked hard to uphold is about to come crashing down on everything he holds dear.
So much for the quiet life. Just as assistant US attorney and brewery owner Dominic Price is settling into a comfy new chapter with his partner, FBI agent Cameron Byrne, the sudden death of Nic’s father puts their happily-ever-after in jeopardy. Nic immediately suspects foul play, his prime suspect a notorious gangster his father was indebted to—only now the loan shark is out for blood.
Cam has been longing for Nic to finally let him in on this very personal case. But when Nic’s belief that he’s the sole Price heir is upended, the line between personal and professional starts to blur, leaving Cam unsure of where he stands.
Nic is depending on Cam’s kidnap and rescue expertise to save his recently discovered family member before it’s too late. But with a dangerous threat closing in, the ghosts from Nic’s past cast long shadows. Any relationship could crack under the pressure, but for Nic, finding his family might mean losing the love of his life.

It’s never easy saying goodbye to a series. To be honest, the finale of Trouble Brewing was ind of double edged. Because this was a spin off of Agents Irish and Whiskey and even though I was sad that Jamie and Aidan’s story came to an end, I knew it wasn’t truly the end… but now? *sigh*

Even so, if Nic and Cam’s story had to come to an end, the author definitely did them justice. There was little or no down time in Noble Hops, which made these 300+ pages a fairly quick read. Not only was it action packed, this one was emotionally packed as well. My heart kinda broke for both these guys. Nic because he wanted to protect everyone he cared about and Cam because he had no idea where he stood… even though he should have. But yeah, it’s easy looking from the outside in and readers had the advantage of knowing what was going through Nic’s mind… Cam didn’t and he was feeling just a little bit insecure, especially when one of Nic’s last secret was revealed.

A lot happened in Noble Hops and not all of it was bad. Some of it was kind of great and “family” both by blood and by chance was a strong theme throughout the whole series, not just the last book. I really loved getting to know all the cast of characters in both series and I’m really hoping that readers haven’t seen the last of them. 😉

See the Light by Kate McMurray

Up-and-coming Broadway actor Jeremy was given two days to get up and get out. Dumped by his long-term boyfriend and suddenly homeless, he needs a sofa and a sympathetic ear, stat.
Enter Max, aspiring makeup artist and Jeremy’s BFF and former roommate.
Max has been in love with his best friend forever. Now that Jeremy is back in his home, his old feelings are back, too. He’s happy to help his friend, but this time…it’s complicated.
When Jeremy gets his big break in a new show, the message of the play hits home. “Live life to the fullest” means recognizing how he really feels about Max, and that’s not complicated at all. Jeremy’s in love, and wants to move full steam ahead.
But Max has waited too long for Jeremy to look at him this way, and he doesn’t want to risk his heart. If this is just a rebound fling, or if Jeremy is only interested in Max because he’s convenient, it will not only shatter him—it will ruin the best friendship he’s ever known.

When I glanced at a couple of reviews of See the Light, I noticed that some people were overwhelmed by all the “shop talk” about theater. For the record, I kinda enjoyed that aspect. I love learning new things about people, professions, cultures, places, lifestyles… it’s one of the reasons why my reading is so eclectic.

Now, on to Max and Jeremy. As brilliant, talented and confidant as he was when it came to his as he was when it came to his art, Max had absolutely no self confidence when it came to his personal life. Especially when it came to Jeremy. The thing was, even though Jeremy knew his feelings for Max were real, he didn’t want to risk their friendship if Max didn’t feel the same. It was a vicious cycle.

Regardless of the ups and downs, misunderstandings and total lack of communication, it was obvious that these two were meant for each other. It may have been frustrating ride at times and I may have wanted to shake some sense into both Max and Jeremy at times, but in the end it was worth these two finally finding out exactly what they really meant to each other.