Review – Lovers Leap by J.L. Merrow

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

Publication date: February 29, 2016
Genre: M/M romance/Contemporary
Length: 198 pages
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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 (link to Amazon), 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 (link to Amazon) instead.

Review – Tournament of Losers by Megan Derr

Tournament of Losers coverTitle: Tournament of Losers
Author: Megan Derr
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Our rating: 4 stars

Publication date: November 2015
Genre: M/M romance/Fantasy
Length: 312 pages
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Review Summary: A male/male fairy tale in the ‘prince and the pauper’ tradition, where our poverty-stricken hero gets to compete for marriage with a nobleman. Cute and fun.

Plot Summary/Description

Rath has three days to pay his father’s huge debt to the crime lord of the Low City, or he’ll be floating down the river without a boat. With no money, he goes back to whoring, hoping a down payment might keep the heavies off his back. But the madam of the brothel points out a way he can make the full amount – just survive to the second round of the Tournament of Losers, where commoners compete for marriage into the nobility.

Tress is a member of the nobility who’s taken a fancy to Rath. But what are the chances of Rath winning the right to be his husband, when Rath seems to be doing too well, and qualifying for the highest hand in the land?

Tournament of Losers Review

No prizes for guessing the ending, it’s totally predictable from the book description, but this is a fairy tale so fair enough. We know the bad guys won’t win and the good guys will end up together. If you like the idea of a male/male fairy tale, this is highly recommended. It’s a lot of fun to read.

Rath is gorgeous – engaging, generous, and highly talented in bed judging by the high prices people are prepared to pay for his occasional services. We don’t get to see any of this because it’s a sweet one with no sex, as usual from the pen of Megan Derr.

I’d rather have no sex than too much in a book but in this case, I think the relationship could have been strengthened in the beginning with a little more physicality, even if it was lingering longer on feelings during the kisses. Everything is from Rath’s point of view, and his attention in the first part of the book is (naturally) on the pressing issue of the debt he has to pay. Tress has to make all of the running.

The contest has a few surprises, at least for Rath, who doesn’t catch on fast to the fact that he’s being judged on other qualities than first past the finish line. Don’t judge by the cover – it’s not set in ancient Rome, and the combat is not gladiatorial (except briefly in the early stages).

I loved the second half. I found the first half a little slow, hence 4 stars rather than 5. It’s still enjoyable, and I loved the detail of life in the city and the society with its complete gender equality and ethnic equality. There’s no discussion of ‘gay’ or other questions of orientation, and I had the impression that most people were bisexual. (For example the contestants to marry a noble man are both men and women).

Both the contest and the relationship get way more interesting after the half way point, and from there I couldn’t put it down. Even if the ending is obvious, the fun of reading is in the journey, not the arrival, right? or why wouldn’t we all skip straight to the last chapter, every time?

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Review – Lonely Hearts by Heidi Cullinan

Lonely Hearts coverTitle: Lonely Hearts
Series: Love Lessons #3
Author: Heidi Cullinan
Publisher: Samhain
Our rating: 5 stars

Publication date: August 2015
Genre: M/M romance/New adult
Length: 312 pages
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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
Our rating: 5 stars

Publication date: September 2014
Genre: M/M romance/New adult
Length: 306 pages
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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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Review – Forget Me Not by Jordan Castillo Price

Forget Me NotTitle: Forget Me Not
Series: Mnevermind #2
Author: Jordan Castillo Price
Publisher: JCP Books
Our rating: 5 stars

Publication date: February 18, 2014
Genre: M/M romance/Science fiction
Length: 206 pp
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Review Summary: A mesmerizing second book in the Mnevermind series from Elijah’s POV – even better than the first, but doesn’t stand alone.

Plot Summary/Blurb

Elijah Crowe is a talented mnemographer with skills and ideas that startle even Daniel Schroeder, but he’s on the autism spectrum and his communication issues have stopped his career from ever taking off. Instead of being prized for his talents, he’s teaching beginner classes at the mall.

Elijah’s strongly attracted to Daniel, but there’s still an ex-wife with an important place in Elijah’s life. He also has some issues with a co-worker, and he’s not sure how to handle them. Will Daniel understand and accept him as he is – either in the world of mnem or in real life?

Forget Me Not Review

This is the second in the Mnevermind series by the wonderful Jordan Castillo Price – or is it a serial? I’m not sure. There was little resolution at the end of book #1, and they are of a length where the whole trilogy could be published as one book – a long book, at around 600 pages, but still.

Anyway, this volume is told from the point of view of Elijah, who’s on the autism spectrum and therefore way off the regular M/M hero spectrum of characteristics. I loved Elijah – I think I like him more than Daniel, who seems a little puzzled by Elijah.

The author does an excellent job of showing Elijah’s communication difficulties in action, while making him one of the cutest characters imaginable. He’s only able to act like others in mnem, and to explain that, I’d have to go into the sci-fi aspect of this series, which I like but don’t totally understand. I said in my review of the first book that it reminded me of Total Recall and maybe that’s stopping me understanding it better. Anyway, that’s not a heavy element, so you can easily cruise through it.

Something that does come across better in this book than in the first, is Daniel’s skill as a mnemographer and how successful his business was before things went wrong. Modesty prevented Daniel from revealing this in his own narrative, but Elijah doesn’t hesitate to do it for him. I appreciated Daniel much more at the end of this volume.

Elijah has been married (to a woman) in the past and still seems to be best friends with her, which leads to some interesting challenges for other characters, if not for Elijah himself.

I hate some of the things that are happening to Elijah in this book. He’s being menaced, and his psychiatrist or whatever she is seems to have no idea. On the other hand, he and Daniel seem just wonderful for each other. Each of them brings out the best in the other, and that’s lovely to read.

All in all, I found this book mesmerizing.

This is a trilogy so we’ll have to wait for the third volume to tie everything up. There’s no question about Elijah’s feelings for Daniel but is Daniel really going to fall for the ‘real life’ Elijah? This is romance so we know the answer … it’s just a question of how convincing Jordan Castillo Price can make it.

The books don’t stand alone too well. You’d want to have read Mnevermind 1: The Persistence of Memory (see our review) before getting this one, or you’d have (even more) trouble understanding the sci-fi aspects. In fact, if you didn’t read them back to back as I did, but read the first book a couple of years ago when it first came out, you might want to give yourself the pleasure of reading it again!

I haven’t found a release date yet, but there were nearly two years between the first and second books … *gulp*. Not sure I can wait that long.

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Review – The Persistence of Memory by Jordan Castillo Price

PersistenceOfMemoryTitle: The Persistence of Memory
Series: Mnevermind #1
Author: Jordan Castillo Price
Publisher: JCP Books
Our rating: 4 stars

Publication date: May 2, 2012
Genre: M/M romance/Science fiction
Length: 194 pp
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Review Summary: Intriguing first book in a trilogy focusing on induced dream/memories with some very engaging characters. Plan to read the whole series because you won’t want to stop at the end of this one.

Plot Summary/Blurb

Daniel Schroeder is a mnemographer, helping clients to have positive experiences or mnems in a kind of dreamworld, and he used to be very good at what he does, until an accident left his Dad with memory loss and Daniel with a severe blow to his confidence. His memory palace has gone downhill and he’s barely making ends meet. Then a very cool guy dressed in black starts showing up in the memes that he’s supervising, heralded by black crows. Daniel is intrigued, but is he losing his grip on reality?

The Persistence of Memory Review

On the borderline between paranormal and science fiction, this book is set in a world where people can define and build their own dream-like experiences. Even though they (mostly) don’t remember them afterward, they are left with a feel-good factor that persists. Mnemographer Daniel’s issue is that he’s lost his nerve for developing new mnems because of the accident that left his father with memory loss. Because of this, his business is suffering. He’s also not had a date in a long time.

If you know Jordan Castillo Price’s writing you’ll be expecting a male/male romance here but this first volume in the trilogy only begins to set that up. The two main characters are both engaging and Elijah is refreshingly different from most heroes of any kind of romance. I wanted to see more of Elijah and I was thrilled that book 2 is written from his point of view.

Secondary characters like Larry, Daniel’s co-worker in his second job (yes, the business is doing that badly!) and Big Dan, Daniel’s father, are well developed. Larry’s a funny guy and a great addition to the story. I was more uncomfortable with the sections featuring Big Dan because Daniel insists on telling him the bad news he’s forgotten, day after day, even though he’s only going to forget it again. Big Dan doesn’t have Alzheimer’s but the principle is surely the same – it’s cruel to upset people over and over so pointlessly, and I was sorry to see Daniel doing it.

The idea of mnems is not particularly original, being strongly reminiscent of Philip K. Dick’s We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, the book on which the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Total Recall was based. But this is a very different treatment of it – there’s none of the scary adventure story here. We’re clearly heading for a cute romance between Daniel and his Man in Black, who’s found a way to enter other peoples’ mnems.

The ending is a little abrupt and there’s no real resolution but it’s the first book in a trilogy and fans will be pleased to know the second in the series, Forget Me Not – Mnevermind #2 is already available. I read them back to back and can’t wait for the final book in the trilogy.

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Review – Fish and Ghosts by Rhys Ford

Fish and Ghosts coverTitle: Fish and Ghosts
Series: Hellsinger #1
Author: Rhys Ford
Publisher: Dreamspinner
Our rating: 4 stars

Publication date: December 30, 2013
Genre: M/M paranormal romance
Length: Novel
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Review Summary: A must for anyone who likes their M/M romance served up in a haunted house.

Plot Summary/Blurb

Tristan Pryce’s uncle died and left him the huge and beautiful Hoxne Grange because he was the only one of the family who could see the ghosts that used it as a stopover on their way to the next world. His other aunts and uncles, not surprisingly, want to have Tristan certified as crazy to get their own hands on the house, so they call in Wolf Kincaid, the CEO of the paranormal research team Hellsinger Investigations, to prove there are no ghosts at the Grange.

Wolf’s looking forward to showing Tristan up as a fake, but things don’t turn out that way. He’s not as crazy and a lot more attractive than Wolf’s expecting. Then Wolf’s team’s activities unleash the ghost of a serial killer in the grounds, and not just their hearts but the Grange and even their lives are in danger.

Fish and Ghosts Review

So right off, I loved the premise here. Haunted house, reclusive hero, friendly ghosts. Other things I loved included Tristan, who is troubled enough to be interesting without being angst-ridden. Wolf is a good partner for him, if a little less developed. Rhys Ford is an excellent writer and I like her style.

Tristan and Wolf are two appealing characters and there is a good tension and fun dialog between them. Some of the ghosts are lovely – Jack the dog and Heather the cook are too sweet for words (although a little research might have prompted the author to give her a different name – Google’s telling me ‘Heather’ didn’t become popular until the late 19th century, and cooks were always called by their last names in England anyway).

On the subject of names, at first I thought the name Wolf was too cheesy to be bearable, but I forgave the author when it turned out to be short for Wolfgang – almost. Because then you’re left with the question of whether it sounds like ‘volf’ or ‘woolf’. I’m sure there’s a rule in all those ‘how to be a writer’ books about not giving your characters hard-to-pronounce names…

The main characters do have a bad case of insta-love. Initial hostility set up by the situation dissolves almost on sight. Wolf forgets about his client’s interests and takes Tristan’s side. Tristan, who has preserved his virginity until now (why?) suddenly decides this is The One.

The sex scenes are long, maybe too long for some readers. However, they’re not just acrobatics, they do develop the characters and the relationship, so even readers who usually skip these scenes might appreciate them. If you like M/M sex scenes you’ll love them.

In summary, Fish and Ghosts by Rhys Ford is a must for anyone who likes their M/M romance served up in a haunted house. Since it’s the first in a series, I’m hoping the relationship between the two MCs will develop at a deeper level in the next book. I’d like to see more of Tristan and the ghosts, and less of Wolf’s staff and family. But I’ll certainly be looking out for more from the Hellsinger ghost hunting team.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the fish in the title, it’s a play on the old saying, ‘fish and guests stink after three days’. Because that’s how long the ghosts stay at Hoxne Grange…

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