Big Love (Big Love #1) by Rick R. Reed

Teacher Dane Bernard is a gentle giant, loved by all at Summitville High School. He has a beautiful wife, two kids, and an easy rapport with staff and students alike. But Dane has a secret, one he expects to keep hidden for the rest of his life—he’s gay. But when he loses his wife, Dane finally confronts his attraction to men.
A new teacher, Seth Wolcott, immediately catches his eye. Seth is also starting over, licking his wounds from a breakup, and the last thing Seth wants is another relationship—but when he spies Dane on his first day at Summitville High, his attraction is immediate and electric.
As the two men enter into a dance of discovery and new love, they’re called upon to come to the aid of bullied gay student Truman Reid. Truman is out and proud, which not everyone at his small-town high school approves of. As the two men work to help Truman ignore the bullies and love himself without reservation, they all learn life-changing lessons about coming out, coming to terms, acceptance, heartbreak, and falling in love.

I guess my way of warning people of trigger warnings in a book is tagging it with “tough issues” and Big Love was loaded with them. Coming out, grief that involves both a partner and children, attempted suicide, bullying are all included, so if want to stay clear of any or all of these topics, this book is definitely not for you. Although I haven’t been reading books by this author for very long, I’ve now read enough to realize that shouldn’t consider anything that he writes to be an “easy” read so I brace myself going in.

Another important point about Big Love is that although there is a bit of romance, it’s more of a book about relationships than a true romance. It’s also about characters finding themselves and being comfortable with who they are. The story centers around Dane and his prior relationship with his wife and his current relationship with his kids, his his relationship with his students (especially Truman) and Seth. There is a lot that all of these characters have to come to terms with in Big Love and none of it is easy. Readers spend time getting to know not just Seth and Dane, but are given Truman’s POV as well. This is one of those books that wasn’t easy to read, but it was well worth the emotional time spent with each of them.

The next book in the Big Love series centers on Truman. He was in a good place at the end of Big Love and I’m hoping he’s still there by the time readers catch up with him in Bigger Love.

Deep Cut (Permanently Black and Blue #1) by C.R. Scott

Shaun’s an outsider. He has a dark past and an even darker habit of cutting himself and burying his emotions under his skin. The only thing he’s got going for him is his guitar and a head full of lyrics.
When Jesse moves to town, bringing big bright smiles and warm blue eyes into Shaun’s dark life, he insists they become friends.
But that’s going to be a problem for Shaun. He’s never had a real friend before. Oh, and he’s also finding himself hopelessly attracted to Jesse’s undeniable charm, which is definitely not going to work out.
Being gay isn’t brutal and Shaun has an image to uphold if he’s ever got a shot at becoming the death metal God he knows he’s destined to become.

My initial reaction when I finished Deep Cut was “All I gotta say is that I’m glad I found out that Deep Cut is part of a series before I finished the book.” I can’t really call the ending of Deep Cut a cliff hanger, but there was definitely more story that needed to be told. A LOT more.

Deep Cut was not an easy book to read by any stretch of the imagination. Shaun and Jesse needed each other on a level that even they didn’t fully understand. Jesse didn’t have it easy, but he was a responsible kid. He wasn’t perfect, but he was loved and he was growing up a lot faster than he should have needed to. He needed a break and he needed a chance to be just a little bit irresponsible. Shaun gave him that needed distraction, but he also gave him someone to care about and protect that wasn’t a responsibility – it was something he wanted to do.

Shaun was totally broken and had little or no respect for himself, which made it hard for him to respect anyone else. He was just biding time until he could escape, only you can’t escape your past and that past was haunting Shaun all the time. Jesse is a life line that he didn’t expect and didn’t want, but he was also hard to resist. He made Shaun want to try a little harder and at the same time he made him feel things he didn’t want to feel. Jesse had never met anyone like Shaun before and in the beginning he was a challenge and a curiosity. I had to admire Jesse for not listening to the rumors and standing up for Shaun when it would have been easier to just try to fit in with the “cool” kids.

Like I said, Deep Cut wasn’t an easy book to read, but sometimes those are the ones that need to be read. Books that make you squirm, books that make you hope that you could be someone to make a difference in someone else’s life, books that make you think and feel… those are the ones that stick with you.

Burn Zone (Hotshots #1) by Annabeth Albert

Smoke jumper Lincoln Reid is speechless to see Jacob Hartman among his squad’s new recruits. Linc had promised his late best friend he’d stay away from his little brother. And yet here Jacob is…and almost instantly, the same temptation Linc has always felt around him is causing way too many problems.
Jacob gets everyone’s concerns, but he’s waited years for his shot at joining the elite smoke jumping team, hoping to honor his brother’s memory. He’s ready to tackle any challenge Linc throws his way, and senses the chemistry between them—chemistry Linc insists on ignoring—is still alive and kicking. This time, Jacob’s determined to get what he wants.
Close quarters and high stakes make it difficult for Linc to keep his resolve, never mind do so while also making sure the rookie’s safe. But the closer they get, the more Linc’s plan to leave at the end of the season risks him breaking another promise: the one his heart wants to make to Jacob.

I’ve read several books by Annabeth Albert and I have to say that Burn Zone wasn’t my favorite out of all of them. (That would be Squared Away, but that’s another book in another series and pretty tough to beat… ❤ ) That doesn’t mean I disliked it though – it just didn’t blow me away.

I liked Linc and Jacob, but I have to admit that it took me a while for Linc to win me over and I still wasn’t “team Linc” by the end of Hotshots. Jacob was nothing but honest and sincere from the beginning. It wasn’t that Linc was dishonest, but he spent a lot of time hiding – even from himself. I also had a hard time with Jacob’s family, but you’ll have to read Hotshots to see if they redeem themselves for you or not. In my opinion, even by the end, they still had a long way to go.

The rest of the supporting characters were great and I’m looking forward to getting to know the rest of the crew, if that’s where the series takes readers. I’m hoping so because there were a couple that I’d really like to get to know better. 😉

 

Raining Men (Chaser and Raining Men #2) by Rick R. Reed

The character you loved to hate in Chaser becomes the character you will simply love in Raining Men.
It’s been raining men for most of Bobby Nelson’s adult life. Normally, he wouldn’t have it any other way, but lately something’s missing. Now, he wants the deluge to slow to a single special drop. But is it even possible for Bobby to find “the one” after endless years of hooking up?
When Bobby’s father passes away, Bobby finally examines his rocky relationship with the man and how it might have contributed to his inability to find the love he yearns for. Guided by a sexy therapist, a Sex Addicts Anonymous group, a well-endowed Chihuahua named Johnny Wadd, and Bobby’s own cache of memories, Bobby takes a spiritual, sexual, and emotional journey to discover that life’s most satisfactory love connections lie in quality, not quantity. And when he’s ready to love not only himself but someone else, sex and love fit, at last, into one perfect package.

I so didn’t want to like Bobby… and I certainly didn’t expect the character that readers met in Chaser to bring me to tears… Trust me, no one was more surprised by the fact that I actually liked Raining Men more than I liked Chaser. At the end of my review for Chaser, I mentioned that this author had his work cut out for him if he could turn my loathing of Bobby into love, turns out he was up to the task.

You could probably read Raining Men as a standalone, but you’d miss out on how bad Bobby really treated his best friend, Caden. That book sets the stage for Bobby’s transformation in this book. And, as much as I always tell myself not to judge others, Bobby’s actions made it really hard not to, from Caden and Kevin’s perspective especially. Getting things from Bobby’s perspective didn’t make what he did forgivable, it just gave readers a sense of how broken he truly was. There were times in Raining Men that I really got aggravated with Caden, but to be fair, I never really sided with him in Chaser, so it wasn’t much of a surprise.

There were a lot of supporting characters in Raining Men that really made the story for me. From his family, his support group, his therapist to his new-found friends (including Johnny Wadd) – they all shed some light on who Bobby really was. I think what I liked most about this book was that it wasn’t really a romance centered book. Strange, I know, because I do like a good romance. I think it would have been a disservice to Bobby though to have everything “fixed” for him by finding the right person. He had a lot of soul searching, growing and even set-backs to go through to even think about finding his HEA. When he did though, it was perfect and I walked away from Raining Men a lot more satisfied than I did when I finished Chaser.

 

The Family We Make by Dan Wingreen

Spencer Kent gave up on love a long time ago. As a twenty-eight-year-old single father with a fourteen-year-old son, Connor, he knows his appeal to the average gay man is limited, and when you factor in his low self-esteem and tendencies towards rudeness and sarcasm, it might as well be nonexistent. But that’s okay. A man is the last thing Spencer needs or wants.
Tim Ellis’s life is falling apart around him. After four years of hard work at college, he finds himself blacklisted from the career of his dreams by the professor he refused to sleep with and abandoned by the boyfriend he thought he was going to marry. Even though he was lucky enough to land a job at a bakery, he still feels like a failure.
Tim and Spencer’s first meeting is filled with turbulent misunderstanding, but Tim makes a connection with Connor through a Big Brother/Big Sister program, and both men put aside their mutual dislike for his sake. By letting go, they may help each other find their way into a life they never could have imagined.

What was my initial thought when I finished The Family We Make? “Things that would normally bug me about a character’s actions I could let slide in The Family We Make, simply because these characters were so delightfully real. ❤ ” I let this one sit for a few days before writing this review, and I still stand behind that thought.

It’s taken me a while to figure out how to approach this review. I finally decided to ignore the things that might bother some readers, just know that there are all sorts of trigger points. What I can say is that those triggers or those things that both Tim, Spencer and others did didn’t make me like them any less, they just made Tim and Spencer more human and in turn, more relatable. I’m a firm believer in forgiving people who do stupid things when they’re, well, young and stupid. I’m also aware that there are things that a lot of people (myself included) would do that may seem out of character if it involved protecting a loved one, especially a child.

As much as I loved Spencer, he did not make it easy. He was brash, sarcastic and more often than not had no filter between his brain and his mouth. His first meeting with Tim didn’t go well and would have been a total failure, if not for Connor. I loved the interactions between both Connor and Tim and Connor and Spencer. Their love and concern for Connor was the thing that brought them together, but it didn’t happen over night. They both had too much personal history to jump into anything, especially they didn’t really like each other despite their physical attraction.

There was a lot to love about The Family We Make. I adored the relationship between father and son as much as I loved the budding relationship between Tim and Connor. The slow burn between Spencer and Tim was realistic and the sense of family was strong even before the characters realized what was happening. Was it a perfect story? Of course not. There were things that could have probably been left out, but even those things drove the story where it needed to go. This was my first Dan Wingreen book, but now that he’s on my radar, I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last.

Songbird (Bellator Saga #7) by Cecilia London

Christine Sullivan isn’t an easy person to love. She knows how the world sees her – aloof, standoffish, cold…perhaps even bitchy. After a lifetime in politics, including a stint with an expat government in exile, President Sullivan has taken her share of body blows, but now she’s back in Philadelphia…a widow, a recovering Republican, a former public servant seeking a quiet, private existence.
On her to-do list – rebuild her relationship with her estranged daughter and invent the rest of her life. She has her best friend Caroline, her brand spanking new condo, and her ever frustrating Secret Service detail to keep her company. That should be enough for anyone, right?
Until Alexander Guardiola comes along… liberal, emotionally unguarded, younger. A lot younger. Everything Christine isn’t. And isn’t ready for.
But opposites attract, don’t they? And hearts and minds can always be changed…

Oh Christine… It’s true, she isn’t an easy person to love, but those who know her best, know what’s under that tough exterior. This book almost, almost made me want to start a re-read of the series. I say almost because I don’t think I’m quite ready for that yet. The first books in the Bellator Saga centered around Caroline and Jack and their fight to bring America out from under an evil regime – and their ultimate fight to bring themselves back to each other. Christine played an important part in both fights and her own personal loss was devastating. Songbird is her well-deserved story and just as intense, heart breaking and full of love and hope as I expected. ❤

Songbird also showed a different side of Christine Sullivan. The vulnerable side. The side that very few ever saw and the side that she buried from even those closest to her during her semi-recovery.

Aside from the expected heartbreak, there was a lot to love about Songbird. I forgot how much I loved the witty banter between Caroline, Christine and Jack. There was a lot of love and respect between them, especially Caroline and Christine. Enough that they could yell, scream and be blatantly honest with each other and still not lose that bond. Not that Christine didn’t say a lot of things that she shouldn’t have, but it was part of the wall she had built around herself. A wall that Christine and eventually Alex was determined to break through.

A relationship of any kind with Christine wasn’t easy, but thankfully Alex thought it was worth the fight. I loved him from the beginning, but it didn’t hurt when he got Caroline’s seal of approval – and that he seemed to fit right in with their “family”. Songbird was about more than the budding relationship between Alex and Christine. It was about healing and self-forgiveness. By the end of Songbird, Christine was well on her way to finding a way work on both.

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The Infinite Onion by Alice Archer

The truth is harder to hide when someone sharp starts poking around.
Grant Eastbrook hit the ground crawling after his wife kicked him out. Six months later, in Seattle without a job or a place to live, he escapes to the woods of nearby Vashon Island to consider his options. When he’s found sleeping outdoors by a cheerful man who seems bent on irritating him to death, Grant’s plans to resuscitate his life take a peculiar turn.
Oliver Rossi knows how to keep his fears at bay. He’s had years of practice. As a local eccentric and artist, he works from his funky home in the deep woods, where he thinks he has everything he needs. Then he rescues an angry man from a rainy ditch and discovers a present worth fighting the past for.
Amid the buzz of high summer, unwelcome attraction blooms on a playing field of barbs, defenses, and secrets.

CreativeDeedsReadsDisclosure1I’ll be the first to admit that this was not an easy book to read. At times it felt like it was drawn out and could have ended a lot sooner than it did, but then it probably wouldn’t have been as powerful as it was.

At first glance it was easy to figure out who was rescuing who… but then it became less clear the farther into The Infinite Onion that I read. It took a lot longer to realize that Oliver was just as broken as Grant, just in totally different ways. Both of these characters came close to breaking my heart. The healing came when both of them allowed themselves to depend on themselves as much as they had begun to lean on each other.

There were a lot of bumps along the way and characters that I really didn’t think I liked in the beginning grew on me. Some more gradually than others. I’m a sucker for a “found” family though and that’s what was at the heart of The Infinite Onion.

A couple of side notes –
The cover may not seem like much, but once you read the story, it’s everything.
I couldn’t help but smile to myself and picture a couple of my favorite animated characters walking through a field explaining “layers” 😀

This book didn’t leave me feeling the same way as I did when I finished my last Alice Archer read, Everyday History. It did leave me feeling though and that’s what reading books that make you “squirm” just a little bit totally worth the experience.

We Still Live by Sara Dobie Bauer

Running from a scandal that ruined his life, Isaac Twain accepts a teaching position at Hambden University where, three months prior, Professor John Conlon stopped a campus nightmare by stepping in front of an active shooter.
When John and Isaac become faculty advisors for the school’s literary magazine, their professional relationship evolves. Despite the strict code of conduct forbidding faculty fraternization, they delve into a secret affair—until Simon arrives.
Isaac’s violent ex threatens not only their careers, but also John’s life. His PTSD triggered, John must come to terms with that bloody day on College Green while Isaac must accept the heartbreak his secrets have wrought.

This is one of those books that you walk away from wanting to delve right back into. *sigh*

Both John and Isaac had a history they were trying desperately to forget. They both had secrets. Isaac ran from his past and the destruction he felt responsible for. John couldn’t run from his past, but he tried to forget the day that changed everything. Not an easy thing to do when even total strangers consider you a hero. His close friends tried to shield him from most of it, but they couldn’t shield him from what was going on inside his own head.

This isn’t my first Sara Dobie Bauer read, but I’ve gotta say, it was definitely the most emotional. I felt so much for both of these men. They were both victims. Isaac did cause his own drama, but the fallout wasn’t his fault. John wasn’t at fault at all for the shooting that changed everything, but he was racked with guilt over everything he couldn’t do.

John and Isaac were the main focus of We Still Live, but there was so much more to this book. John obviously wasn’t the only one deeply affected by the events that took place on campus that day. Students, faculty, parents, family, even community members were left grieving. There’s no “right way” to grieve, but some obviously handled it better than others. There were some great characters and some not so great ones. Each one added to the story and their reactions made them even more real in a sense.

There are a lot of emotional triggers in We Still Live, but it’s also a story full of hope. It takes a stark look into some really tough issues and the reality is that not everything can be “fixed”, but things can get better with time – and most importantly, with support. This is definitely a book that I’ll be reading again.

Relationship Material by Jenya Keefe

It’s not always possible to meet in the middle.
Registered nurse Evan Doyle doesn’t consider himself fit for more than occasional hookups. He has a good life, but the emotional aftermath of a horrific crime makes him feel too damaged to date. So when his sister’s hot bestie, Malcolm Umbertini, comes on to him, he turns him down flat. Mal is Relationship Material: the kind who thinks in the long term. What would Evan do with a man like that?
As a prosecuting attorney, Mal’s learned how to read people, and he knows there’s more to Evan than meets the eye. Mal has faced his own hardships since his family kicked him out as a teen, and he respects Evan’s courage and emotional resilience. More than that, he wants Evan—in his bed and in his life. But can he weather another rejection?
Both wary, they agree to a no-strings fling. Mal knows that Evan wants things to stay casual, but he’s falling in love a little more with each encounter. With health, happiness, and bruised hearts on the line, Mal and Evan must risk everything for love.

This is the first book by Jenya Keefe that I’ve read – actually, I think it may be her debut novel. Regardless, it will not be the last book I read by this author, as a matter of fact, I just requested an ARC of her next book. So yes, Relationship Material was that good.

Relationship Material wasn’t a “light and fluffy” romance by any stretch of the imagination. Although the events that were the darkest were memories, they were still pretty heavy and dark. My heart broke for Evan in so many ways. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll be as vague as I can. Because of events that happened in his past, Evan disappeared from his former life and entered witness protection. He had stayed totally off the radar until the day his twin sister ran into him. She obviously wanted answers about his disappearance and even though he was in a panic about being discovered he wanted to give her as much as he could. She was afraid he’d disappear again, so for moral support, she brought her best friend with her – which is how Evan met Malcolm.

Needless to say, there were some HUGE trust issues in Relationship Material. There were a lot of reasons why Evan didn’t want to form attachments, especially not the romantic kind. Even though his sister wanted to help, he was afraid to let her or Malcolm (both lawyers) dig too deep into his past. He was scared for a lot of reasons. He didn’t want to be discovered, but he also didn’t want his sister or Malcolm to feel any less about him because of his past. A past it seemed like he had spent a lifetime running and hiding from.

There were a lot of unexpected layers and heartbreak in Relationship Material, but there was also a lot of hope. Which was something all three of these characters needed. There were also a couple of side characters that kept things interesting. It was, at times, not an easy book to read, but it was definitely worth it in the end.

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. 😉