Review – High Contrast by Tess Bowery

High Contrast cover imageTitle: High Contrast
Series: Evolution Ink, #1
Author: Tess Bowery
Publisher: Samhain
Rating: 4 stars

Publication date: May 3, 2016
Genre: M/M romance/Contemporary
Length: 237 pages

Review Summary: A sweet romance set around a tattoo/piercing parlor, with a cute and funny geek matched with a gorgeous but damaged piercer.

Plot Summary/Description

Jacob Shain has a boring internship, no cash flow, and a tiny New York apartment he shares with Ethan, his cool, tattoo-artist twin brother. His love life is DOA, until his brother’s shop hires on a new body piercer, and Jacob’s humdrum life takes a turn for the hot and awesome.

Cody Turner is gorgeous, funny and kind. He’s everything Jacob wants in a boyfriend–except for the way he refuses to talk about anything in his personal life, including where he lives.

When Ethan is arrested, Jacob finds out why Cody is so secretive about his past. And while Jacob and Cody explore the depth of their feelings for one another, the police catch up with them–and so do the local mob.

Now Jacob has a tough choice to make: stay safe like a good boy, or dive headfirst into a world he barely understands… and hope Cody is there to break his fall.

High Contrast Review

There was so much to love about this book! Jacob was very sweet and I loved him from the start. I liked that he was very unsure of himself, having grown up in the shadow of a more extravert twin brother, who is now working in a tattoo parlor and the total definition of cool, while Jacob is on the sidelines. Even Andi, Jacob’s best friend, is Ethan’s girlfriend. Jacob seems to have nothing that is his alone.

Until he meets Cody, the new piercer in the tattoo parlor, who totally dazzles Jacob from day one. But if Jacob is insecure, Cody has his own issues, which have left him with a past he doesn’t want to talk about.

The action between them is hot and I loved the way that their relationship develops. Jacob is all over Cody and taking things way too fast, but Cody manages to hold things back a little without hurting Jacob or pushing him away. When his past catches up with him, they fight side by side, and I liked the way that the story ends.

The only thing I didn’t like were the mob action scenes. The whole thing with Ethan being arrested seemed unnecessary and over-the-top dramatic. It took away attention and reduced the impact of the battle at the end, which focuses much more tightly on Cody and Jacob and should have been the real climax. Something seemed unreal and comic-book-like about all of that for me, and I couldn’t believe the participation of the attorney, who was doing things no attorney would ever do for fear of losing his license.

Four enjoyable stars, and not to be missed if you like tattoo/piercing stories with a New York setting.

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Review – Knit Tight by Annabeth Albert

Knit Tight review coverKnit Tight
Series: Portland Heat, #4
Author: Annabeth Albert
Publisher: Lyrical Shine
Rating: 4 stars

Publication date: April 12, 2016
Genre: M/M romance/Contemporary
Length: 112 pages

Review Summary: A cute story of two guys falling in love over coffee and knitting.

Plot Summary/Description

Brady is a barista in Portland, juggling work with responsibility for four younger siblings after the death of his parents. He’s bisexual but that doesn’t mean he’ll drop his pants for anything that moves – and he doesn’t like the suggestion that bisexual guys are not to be trusted.

Evren is the nephew of Mira, the owner of the local knitting yarns store, who raised him after he came out as a teen and was rejected by his Turkish parents. He’s come back to help run the store because she’s sick. He’s also a popular knitting blogger, designing knits of his own.

They meet when the local knitting group holds its weekly meetings at the bar where Brady works. The chemistry is strong, but so are the obstacles – Brady’s family responsibilities and Evren’s distrust of bisexual men.

Knit Tight Review

My first book by Annabeth Albert, and I enjoyed it. The writing style is smooth, the characters are good together and the situation is believable. It’s in a series but each book covers a different couple so they stand alone fine.

The story is not that exciting – two guys getting together, without a lot of misunderstandings or hassle. There’s no villain getting in their way, and they fit together perfectly in bed, when they can finally nail down some time free of kids and sick auntie. A happy ending is theirs for the taking, they just have to decide they want it (or specifically, Evren has to relax his prejudices).

I like more conflict and angst. All of the drama was in their life circumstances and families, not in the relationship. Some people might find the sex weird but I found it hot, with enough kinks to make it down and dirty without going all the way to BDSM.

Something about Evren didn’t quite click for me, like he didn’t seem totally real, maybe because we don’t get his point of view outside of his thoughts on his blog. Those are sweet, and do show his feelings slowly emerging. But it’s at a remove, and he never completely opens up. Even near the end he wanted to shut Brady out of certain things. But it’s a cute, heartwarming contemporary story, an enjoyable read.

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Review – Lovers Leap by J.L. Merrow

Lovers Leap coverTitle: Lovers Leap
Author: J.L. Merrow
Publisher: Riptide
Rating: 3.5 stars

Publication date: February 29, 2016
Genre: M/M romance/Contemporary
Length: 198 pages

Review Summary: A cute story with one very sweet hero, but the other is so arrogant he’s hard to like. It’s funny without being laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Plot Summary/Description

Michael’s bi, and he’s visiting the Isle of Wight with a girlfriend in February. Tired of listening to her talk, he breaks up with her in the most insensitive way on Sandown pier. She pushes him into the sea and heads back to the hotel to trash his bags. He’s left to drown, freeze or charm a lovely local guy into helping him out.

It’s Rufus’s fifth birthday – yes, he’s a leap year baby, and only has a birthday every four years. So he’s 20, and is the mainstay of his dad and stepmother’s bed & breakfast guest house. When he sees Michael walking out of the sea, he’s smitten. But Michael’s only a temporary visitor, and doesn’t plan to come out to his mother back home.

Lovers Leap Review

I enjoyed the comedy, I liked the setting and I loved Rufus. His friend calls him Roo (as in the baby kangaroo in Winnie-the-Pooh) and it totally suits him. He’s a really sweet guy.

The problem is Michael. You know when your friend falls in love with some absolute tosser and thinks that because s/he loves him/her, that turns the tosser into a wonderful person and you should totally love him/her too? But you hate the bastard? That’s what happens here. We love Rufus and for some unfathomable reason, Rufus loves Michael, but that doesn’t make us love Michael. He’s arrogant and selfish, and Rufus’s affection is not enough to convince the rest of us that he’s a good guy deep down.

Michael needs to change in some major ways before he’s worthy of Rufus, and he doesn’t. He just keeps on figuring out what he needs to do to get what he wants.

J.L. Merrow often writes guys who are a little hard to like – e.g. Phil in the Plumber’s Mate series, who used to bully Tom at school. But Phil is redeemed by maturity, guilt and the slowly developing relationship between the two of them, which isn’t without its up and downs. That feels a lot more realistic. In Lovers Leap we’re asked to accept insta-love on both sides, unexplained by anything except looks.

It’s hard to forgive Michael’s faults and to accept Rufus settling for him when surely Rufus could have found somebody so much nicer.

I enjoyed it all the same, because I love J.L. Merrow’s writing, but I’d recommend it for die-hard J.L. Merrow fans only. If you don’t know her work so well and want to read something set in her home territory of the Isle of Wight, I’d suggest picking up Wight Mischief instead.

Review – Lonely Hearts by Heidi Cullinan


Lonely Hearts cover
Title: Lonely Hearts
Series: Love Lessons #3
Author: Heidi Cullinan
Publisher: Samhain
Rating: 5 stars

Publication date: August 2015
Genre: M/M romance/New adult
Length: 312 pages

Review Summary: A hurt/comfort college-based gay romance with one character I couldn’t get enough of, and another who was his perfect ‘other half’.

Plot Summary/Description

Baz Acker’s family has thrown enough money at him to keep his painful past firmly in the past. But what will happen when his college friends move on, and he has nowhere to go? Last year he took a bullet for Elijah Prince, and he’s never regretted it. But how does Elijah feel?

Elijah’s history has forced him to withdraw way into his own mind when things get rough. However much Baz attracts him, Elijah freezes in the publicity that comes with being the acknowledged lover of the son of an ambitious politician. Will Baz be the rock he yearns for, or the iceberg that sinks him?

Lonely Hearts Review

WARNING: this review contains spoilers for the previous book in the series. See our Fever Pitch review and I recommend reading that one first.

Elijah and Baz are a classic couple. Both of these two guys are prickly like cacti, for different reasons. They are the kind of characters any self-respecting romance reader will be rooting for. So we’re engaged right from the start – in fact, from the previous book, if we’ve read it. If not, you do get a summary of the climactic life-saving event, at the start of this one.

In Fever Pitch, Elijah was Aaron’s snarky and hard-to-know roommate, and Baz was the guy that everybody loved but nobody *loved* or even knew inside out. Events at the end of that book saw the two of them connected, instinctively on Baz’s part and involuntarily on Elijah’s, because of their separate personal histories. It takes the two of them a while to get past that, but when they do, the connection goes very deep.

Elijah grew up in a fundamentalist religious family, with parents who believe that as a gay man, he’s the spawn of Satan, and it’s their duty to kill him. Literally. Baz and his high school boyfriend were beaten up on the street and left for dead. Baz survived, disabled, but his boyfriend didn’t. Survivor guilt plagues him, and he doesn’t hesitate to take the bullet that’s aimed at Elijah.

This event creates a connection between them, but also a distance, because of the debt owed. The debt is greater because Baz is wealthy, and Elijah, without parental support, is penniless. Some authors would skate over these differences and bring them together whatever, but Heidi Cullinan is skilled enough to see that it’s not that easy. Elijah has a chip on his shoulder that takes a while to overcome.

Sometimes an author has to work to convince the reader that a happy ending will last, but not in this case. Elijah and Baz have very different backgrounds, but their issues are dealt with thoroughly, not swept under the carpet, but laid to rest permanently. The guys have enough in common that we can imagine them sticking very close together always, once their differences are accepted between them. Baz is outgoing and would have a lot of friends on the surface, but there’d always be a tight inner circle around just the two of them, that nobody else would or could breach.

A very cute couple and if you like a bit of angst before the HEA, as I do, don’t miss this one.

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Review – Fever Pitch by Heidi Cullinan

Fever Pitch coverTitle: Fever Pitch
Series: Love Lessons #2
Author: Heidi Cullinan
Publisher: Samhain
Rating: 5 stars

Publication date: September 2014
Genre: M/M romance/New adult
Length: 306 pages

Review Summary: A lovely college-based gay romance that had me gripped from the start and never let go.

Plot Summary/Description

Aaron Seavers is so crushed by his domineering father that he can’t even decide where to go to college. He wants to study music, but his dad wants him to follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer. He’s also afraid to admit, even to himself, that he’s gay. His mind is finally made up when he reconnects with a high school classmate, and at the last minute he applies to the same college.

Giles Mulder is stunned when the gorgeous and apparently straight Aaron arrives on campus, threatening to reawaken unhappy high school memories. With Giles making music on his violin, and Aaron in the choir, their paths are bound to cross. Their attraction grows, but will Aaron follow his heart or his dad’s wishes?

Fever Pitch made the NPR’s Best Books of 2015 list – it’s great to see a gay romance on a mainstream ‘best books’ list like this one.

Fever Pitch Review

This is the second in a series and I haven’t read the first, but it’s about a different couple. This one stands alone with no problem, and the couple from the first book appear only briefly.

Aaron and Giles make a great couple. Aaron is the more attractive but he’s also more damaged. Giles has suffered in high school for being out, but his family are ultra supportive. Aaron has maybe suffered more by never daring to be himself. I loved that aspect, seeing Aaron slowly develop and come into his own strength, aided by Giles but not dominated. They take a while to get together, which gives Aaron time to find his own inner strength.

There’s a lot about music which didn’t mean much to me but it was never too much because at the same time there’s a high-voltage attraction between the two guys which comes across in all the music passages as well as everywhere else. If you knew the songs they talk about, it would likely add something, but I didn’t care that I didn’t.

Aaron has a snarky and secretive roommate, Elijah, who takes some getting to know but is well worth it. He takes a while to win Aaron over, but he had me at hello! The end has Elijah mixed up with another character and I rushed to check if the next book would be their story. It is so I grabbed it – here’s the review of Lonely Hearts.

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