False Start: False Series Book 3, Meli Raine

Where we were left in False Hope, Lily is on her way to her death if Duff can't shake off the effects of being drugged.  He also needs to find out where she's being taken.  With his coworkers on his side they're pooling their resources and intuition to discover her whereabouts.  Everything is coming to a head with Duff's past, Lily's mistaken identity and subsequent brushes with death, secret organizations, ramifications of the participants, and the power of the key players; all of it is leading up to a confrontation of vast emotional proportions.  They may have to balance their need for answers with their need to survive.

So much depressing, choppy navel gazing that seems to go on forever, dragging the story out.  Increasing the drama through this type of writing is actually pretty ineffective because it becomes more distracting and annoying than intense.  BUT, and here's the mind-bender, by the end of the book I must read more from this world.

Lily finds the answers she needs and finally feels free to pursue life in the most meaningful, healing way she can.  With Duff at her side, she feels secure and most importantly, she's happy.  Duff finally comes clean with everyone and his past is heartbreaking.  I can see threads weaving their way in preparation for the next series in this world, Stateless, and I'm definitely curious.  I'm glad for the whole team around Duff and Lily in this story because they provide a very necessary balance between action and planning.  Duff began the series as cold, calculating, secretive, and robotic.  Lily began strong and vulnerable, frustrating and pitiable.  As they navigated the minefield of their situation they each found a future.

It's looking more than likely that I'll need to go back and read Harmless and Shameless so I get the best, fullest picture as I get to Stateless.  All the pieces are coming together and I'm intrigued, captivated by the story despite the writing style.

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About Meli...
Meli Raine writes romantic suspense with hot bikers, intense undercover DEA agents, bad boys turned good, and Special Ops heroes — and the women who love them. Meli rode her first motorcycle when she was five years old, but she played in the ocean long before that. She lives in New England with her family.

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Oath of Valor: Personal Protectors Book 3, Brittany Cournoyer

Oath of Valor (Personal Protectors Book 3) by [Cournoyer, Brittany]

One drunken night brought two men release, but it also brought with it some awkward consequences when they reunite in a hospital room.  Larry is adept at sinking deep into a role for his job with the FBI and dealing with the worst of the worst of society, but his role as father and caretaker?  He's lost beyond all reason in how to carry those out.  For Elliot, that night between them was unforgettable, at least the parts when the alcohol haze lifted.  He never expected to see the man again.  But when guilt and heavily masked concern make Larry offer his home to Elliot as he recovers, they begin a dance that can only end in romance or homicide.  Except someone else has murder on the mind when Elliot overhears a crime during an accidental call to the hospital.  If Larry can't do his job at the same time as coming to terms with his feelings for Elliot, they may not have a chance at a future.

Elliot's snark and sarcasm were playful, flirty, and amusing when we met him in Promise to Shield.  None of that spark is gone here, but it is muted when he finds himself increasingly frustrated by Larry's dickish behavior as well as the threats he receives.  I loved that he found himself by the end and that none of Larry's actions harmed or changed all that made Elliot, Elliot.  His fire and his past rounded him out and gave him depth.  I wish he had more zingers for Larry, though; that he would have put Larry in his place more often with how much vitriol came from the silver fox's mouth.  Aside from that, Elliot shone in this story and by finding his place among his chosen family, he became whole and at peace.

Larry was so full of unkind justifications, anger, avoidance, and just plain old meanness.  I knew there was something softer and kind under all of that, but we didn't actually see any of that until probably the 75% mark of the book.  I found that more disappointing than I can say.  Why we spend so long soaking up all the hurtful things, the awful things he spews any time he feels threatened, I'll never know.  While he is amazing once he gives in and finds his heart with Elliot, it took so long to get there that I almost don't care.  I honestly kept rooting for him because of Elliot.  I liked Larry as much as I didn't.

The overall story was good and fit quite well with all the other characters from this series that we've come to know.  I wasn't a fan of, again, how long it took to get to the sweeter side of things.  I'm all for a hard-ass finding love and the softer side of themselves by the end of a dramatic story, but when we don't get a good enough glimpse that they have that lighter side in them until the book is pretty much ending, I find my focus waning.  There's a balance between set-up of the romantic fall and the fall itself that needed to be reassessed here and hopefully when we get Ross and Dane's story that's taken into account.  I'm still a fan of the series and will definitely be back for more.

*$3.99 on Amazon or FREE on KU!
 Oath of Valor: Personal Protectors Book 3, Brittany Cournoyer

Out in the Offense: Out in College Book 3, Lane Hayes

Out in the Offense (Out in College Book 3) by [Hayes, Lane]

Living a life he loves under circumstances that stifle him, Christian Rafferty finds himself pulled in two very different directions.  When his need for a tutor leads him to a man that makes him question the value in pretending, he finds the possibility of a future full of choice, freedom, and maybe love.  Rory has had his struggle with himself and his sexuality.  Now in a place where he fully accepts who he is, he finds strength in being himself no matter what.  He sees his past in Christian and despite his initial misgivings, he's drawn to the hesitant jock.  Soon they're falling, but the fallout might be enough to crush what they're building.

When we first met Rory in Out in the End Zone he was in a very difficult place.  It was an awkward, painful situation that ultimately led to Mitch and Evan's getting together.  I thought Rory's story would pick up from there, but instead we were treated to a self-assured, fantastic man in a place to guide, support, and fully love Christian.  We got to know Rory for all his brilliance, tenderness, empathy, and strength.  Going into this I wasn't sure if I'd like Rory but after a couple meetings, I was gone on him.  But we don't get his point of view.  I wish we had it.  A wealth of awesome and feels could have been had.

Christian was likable right from the moment we met him and he continued being the steady presence here that he was hinted at being previously.  Except just beneath his calm surface is a turbulent sea of fear, dissatisfaction, and anxiety.  He's trying so hard to live both the life he wants and the life that's expected of him and I ached for him at times.  Seeing him interact with Rory was like seeing a light from inside him and he suddenly became a whole person, someone I could genuinely enjoy.  His coming out "speech" was tender, heartfelt, and so honest.  I don't know that I'm a fan of his avoidance leading up to it, but once it came time to accept and stand up for himself, he spoke up and his confrontation was powerful.  What began as a general like for him as a character grew and deepened into love.  I cheered for everything Christian became.

 Out in the Offense: Out in College Book 3, Lane Hayes

One thing I will say, though, is that poor Jonesie seems to get the short end of the supportive stick every time.  Sure, he speaks before he thinks and has some socially conditioned views, but when the chips are down he's on his friends' sides all the way.  Someone needs to stop commenting on his lack of intelligence and choose him to be their friend and perhaps their go-to for support and acceptance instead of judging him so harshly.  I'm a fan of the poor guy.

Again, Lane Hayes has a winner here.  Though I do have a couple issues.  First, there's no alternating POV.  We got it before, why not now?  Rory has such a deep story and perspective and I wanted his words so much!  And then the vandal was never caught or punished.  Perhaps this is supposed to be like the dividing line between a Shakespearean tragedy versus a comedy and the bad guy gets his off screen?  It just seems like a  let down.  That the event could have the positive outcome despite its intention should really have stuck in the "bad guy's" craw, like another element of justice served, but we don't get anything.  Maybe the person is going to get their own story and this event will be revisited?  One can only hope.  Aside from that, this book was steamy, sweet, well-written, and such an entertaining read.

*$3.99 on Amazon or FREE on KU!
 Out in the Offense: Out in College Book 3, Lane Hayes

Whiteout Conditions: Black Ops Heroes Book 10, Kendel Duncan

Whiteout Conditions (Black Ops Heroes Book 10) by [Duncan, Kendel, Nelson, Dara]

When it comes to doing what's right, the path is never clear enough to see what the fallout will be.  For Sylas and Grainger it's marred by responsibilities and depressing histories.  Vaughn and Caysun have to wade through mafia ties, lost siblings, and walking on two separate sides of the law.  And then there's Miguel and Casey who have a road of legalities, addictions, and betrayal.  Life is never easy and for these men that's the understatement of the century.  But can each of them forge a connection strong enough to pass through the storm stronger?  Or will they allow the storm to swallow them whole?

I think my favorite couple actually got the least page time.  There was some serious guilt, trauma, recovery, and redemption that was necessary for Miguel and Casey to achieve something together and I wish there were more.  Learning about Casey through Vaughn and Caysun's story gave us a sense of a man who is loving, caring, deeply loyal, and has a strong sense of justice despite his career choice.  And to see Miguel change from desperate to remorseful and choosing honesty over self-preservation painted a picture of a man of worth that can be a great partner for Casey.

Vaughn and Caysun were good together in that they had an abiding understanding of who brought them together, that they knew going in what a relationship would look like.  It didn't stop them from fearing the depth of their instant connection or from almost running scared though.  I found their vacillation and going from all-in, to hell with the consequences and then jumping to pulling back and preparing for the end quite tiring.  While I had hope for them it didn't stop me from being annoyed at these men who so desperately need one another.  Their bit regarding recovery, though, was perfection.  They were so real and flawed and yet perfect.

Sylas and Grainger were sweet and relatively uncomplicated.  History and an overwhelming amount of "soul mate" situation give them the most bumps along their road.  This was the sweetest couple with a lot of empathy, sympathy, and hope underpinning their connection.  While Sylas' situation was definitely dramatic, his maturity triumphed over his insecurities.  The way he was absolutely sure he wanted to get better for himself increased my respect for him.  Grainger's subtle determination to keep Sylas endeared him to me.

All slightly interconnected, these three mini-stories in one give us three pairings that understand what "to hell and back" truly means.  The writing was pretty good, though I found myself lost at times because the perspective would change despite having each chapter titled for the person whose perspective it should have been.  Aside from that, it was simple and relatively easy to read.  I liked when there were little crossovers between the stories in the name of aid.  This was one of the more simple groupings with a lot of heart and definitely a ton of passion to carry the overall story.  An enjoyable read by the end.

*$2.99 on Amazon or FREE on KU!
 Whiteout Conditions: Black Ops Heroes Book 10, Kendel Duncan

Quick Reads, Quick Reviews 32

Awakenings and French Songs by [Iris, Nell] Omega's Healing Hands, Book 1 [M/M Non-Shifter Alpha/Omega MPreg] (Shale River) by [Wilde, MacKenzie] Kiss Me Like You Mean It (Valentine's Inc. Book 1) by [James, Jacki]

Awakenings and French Songs by [Iris, Nell]A birthday bash matching the Iggy of the past just doesn't work for him anymore.  Not to mention a few insults from a rejected bathroom encounter sealing his decision to leave his own party.  But he has no idea why the life he's led is so unfulfilling now.  A deep sense of dissatisfaction sends him home early and an invitation from the handsome, tender single dad across the hall is just what his soul needs, always needs.  An evening of tea, conversation, and achingly beautiful French music opens his eyes to new possibilities, ones that just might bring him love.

This was sweet, slow, and warm.  With the simple yet effective setting of a table, tea, and a friend we're instantly drawn into the warmth of the scene and aside from getting them from friends to more, I'm an instant believer in their forever.  By adding the daughter as well as some drama regarding the ex, you'd think that it would be marred by misunderstandings, reservations, or doubts, but every piece fit, was given enough attention to matter but not overwhelm, and only what could be resolved was.  It was believable.  From start to finish, I liked both men quite a lot.  Ronan was someone I more had to accept at face value, but the very end where the confession came, it was all heart and very sweet.  For such a short story there was quite a bit of depth and I couldn't help but enjoy it all.  4.5 stars.
 Awakenings and French Songs, Nell Iris

Omega’s Healing Hands, Book 1 [M/M Non-Shifter Alpha/Omega MPreg] (Shale River) by [Wilde, MacKenzie]A damaged body and a healer's hands.  Neither man is expecting love to come from the situation but few do.  We spend a significant amount of time getting to know the expansive anger Danny carries.  He lashes out and gets so angry all the time that it's almost grating since it only lightens when Brad is there.  There's not much in terms of relationship development at all since this is only the first part of their story, and while I can see where it's going, I'm not seeing a very promising start.

For a part 1, this was an adequate beginning and lays the groundwork for all that Danny has to overcome to find peace with himself, his career, and his family before he can hope for love with Brad.  What we're given doesn't feel compelling or even truly romantic either; I'm only mildly interested in finding out more.  I hate to be blunt, but with very little redeeming qualities in Danny, knowing virtually nothing about Brad, and no relationship to speak of, there's practically nothing to recommend for me to continue.  2 stars.
Omega's Healing Hands: Book 1, Mackenzie Wilde

Kiss Me Like You Mean It (Valentine's Inc. Book 1) by [James, Jacki]When a lie becomes the truth and brings two men their perfect partner.  Clayton needs a boyfriend, but it has to be fake since he's straight.  Trevor is bored during the winter season so he helps out and takes the gig.  What should have been a fun trip of skiing and pretending for a hot, fun, nice guy turns into something far more than Trevor signed up for.  Clayton isn't prepared for everything Trevor makes him feel, especially when the kisses aren't even in view of his audience.  The problem?  He means it.  Does Trevor?

Holy sweet tenderness and steam!  I'm in love.  Seriously.  5 sweet and fluffy stars with a tablespoon of steam to amp it up.  Everything is completely effortless with zero angst and nothing to truly tear them apart.  One might argue that this was too simple, I argue that it's perfect for a quick and steamy read for the sappiest of all holidays.  Through Trevor's care and attention to detail Clay felt appreciated, cared for, and happy.  None of his efforts were appreciated by his ex, but the circumstances allowed him to let it all out.  Turns out that was the best thing he could have done because Clay soaked it up.  Clay was comfortable, honest, eager, and observant as well.  They made the best match and I loved that it was Clay that reassured Trevor when mentions of the future were stumbled upon.  And that Trevor decided to be the kind of boyfriend he always wanted to be rather than holding himself in reserve the way we see many fake relationship trope stories begin.  Written well with awesome flow, no conflict, and a supportive cast that rounded it all out, I'm completely won over.  5 stars.
 Kiss Me Like You Mean It: Valentines Inc. Book 1, Jacki James

Ghost of Himself: Haunted Souls Book 1, Pandora Pine

Ghost of Himself (Haunted Souls Book 1) by [Pine, Pandora]

Two broken men find that Fate and enemies have more sway over their lives than either ever anticipated.  When Copeland Forbes is forced to seek help with only a name and a feeling to go on, he winds up collapsing on our Cold Case heroes' doorstep.  But when the name he utters isn't theirs, it's Jude's, they're all in for a ride that won't be forgotten any time soon.  Someone is psychically attacking Copeland and with Jude's unique heritage and his adopted family's support, they'll combine forces to rid Copeland of whoever is haunting him with deadly desires.

Jude has been a volatile enigma from the moment we met him in Dead Ringer.  But over time we've seen him soften, open up, and accept the affection of everyone in the Cold Case Crew.  What we get in Ghost of Himself is nothing short of illuminating.  His vulnerability, insight, and tenderness is showcased alongside his ever-present attitude.  While I really loved getting to know him on a deeper level I felt that he read a lot like Ronan.  I know the joke between everyone is that they're essentially brothers and more alike than either of them would ever admit, but when Jude finally gets his own voice, it's literally as if Ronan's voice is in my head instead of Jude's.  I was expecting more, something innately unique in his voice instead of just relying on his heritage and "dating" history to set him apart.

Copeland was relatively different.  I found him pretty mild and a little bland, but more like a blank slate with possibility than a throwaway character.  As we get to know him from here on out we'll get to see his magick capabilities and he'll gain depth.  At least, I hope we will.

The drama was drawn out with virtually no hints, no leads, and no investigation.  The focus was heavy on Jude's past and how it could play a role in Copeland's current predicament rather than dealing with Copeland's drama.  While this was necessary, I just wish there were more of a balance between the set up and the current conflict.  The arguments between them seemed just as disjointed as Roman and Ten's often do and are just as quickly resolved, redirected, or glossed over.  The relationship dynamic is surprisingly fantastic, though.  I truly appreciated how slow it went, thus establishing Jude's changes and giving them a more solid foundation to build on as this new series progresses.  I'm a fan of that.  The groundwork laid for the future of this series was well done; I could see it coming and was drawn into what's most likely going to be a good series.  I'm looking forward to where this is going and think this could evolve into something really great, provided that they find unique voices really quickly.

*$3.99 on Amazon or FREE on KU!
 Ghost of Himself: Haunted Souls Book 1, Pandora Pine

Theo's Game: Dark Reserves Book 1, CS Joyce

Theo's Game (Dark Reserves Series Book 1) by [Joyce, CS]

An altercation outside of a club brings Theo face to face with a hard wall of hotness and a taste of something he never thought he'd need.  Dan is intrigued by what he finds in the young man he restrained, but his past and Theo's innocence might keep him from giving Theo everything he needs.

From the very beginning we can see the potential between both Theo and Dan.  It's an encounter that's both hot and chaotic so it left me feeling a little confused as to where the book was going.  The butterfly thoughts in Theo's mind, the interaction between him and his ex, the interference from Dan, the implication of Dan's partner, the ending of that moment...I wasn't sure what to make of it and I felt unsettled.

I can't exactly say that the book gets better.  While there are a lot of moments where we come to know both men as individuals and I can see quite a bit of potential, I wasn't exactly pleased with the little depth we got from them together.  The steam was definitely steamy, the emotions were all plain to see and vulnerability reined, but marrying the two just didn't come together.

For a book that heavily hints that Daddy kink will play a central role for both men, this book is surprisingly light on all that makes Daddy kink so effective for someone like Theo.  There isn't nearly enough in the way of communication of rules, expectations, consequences, consent, and safety.  Follow-through is also seriously lacking.  Because there wasn't enough of a foundation built between the two of them when Theo spirals out of control the way Dan handles the situation seems utterly inadequate.  I was severely disappointed in how this pivotal aspect of their relationship was portrayed.

So I have to say that this story was quite average for me.  It was neither great nor awful, but the potential and moments of caring and honesty kept me from writing it off.  There were glimpses of what could have been really good, so while I wasn't won over, there were some nice things here that a lot of other people will appreciate.

*$2.99 on Amazon or FREE on KU!
 Theo's Game: Dark Reserves Book 1, CS Joyce

The Gift: Love in O'Leary Book 2, May Archer

The Gift (Love in O'Leary Book 2) by [Archer, May]

While Daniel is feeling crushed under the weight of his failures, Julian is feeling crushed under the weight of others' expectations.  Both men are surprised to find a quick, easy, and deep connection with one another and their friendship brings peace to each of them; something so elusive they'd nearly given up on it.  As feelings evolve, deepen, develop new facets, they each will have to come to terms with those changes within themselves and the consequences of giving in to its tempting warmth.  But they might end up being their own worst enemies as their individual insecurities and history seek to sabotage the possibility of a future together.

Julian was interesting when we first met him in The Fall and his connection with Daniel seemed more romantic than friendly there.  But here we're given something much sweeter with a very slow-burn romance that builds through the course of their interactions.  My memory of Julian in the previous book doesn't really match the person we meet here, but aside from the diminutive stature and internal struggle with pleasing everyone before himself, I quite liked him.  He had a slightly neurotic depth that charmed me right away.  And for Daniel to see all his sides and find him just as endearing was a win.

 The Gift: Love in O'Leary Book 2, May Archer

As Julian goes off on Nature Channel-esque narrations regarding animal traits and behavior, Daniel is quietly falling in love with him for it.  Even though it takes Daniel quite a while to realize what's happening emotionally between them, he doesn't throw up roadblocks in their friendship which I truly appreciated.

Daniel vacillated more and because the "surprise" of his past was waiting for the revelation right at the very end, it drew out his situation as well as the reveal that could have been given earlier in his thoughts, especially when Julian's fanboy status was mentioned more than once.  While the moment when he came clean about his career identity is utterly perfect and completely sweet, I was almost to the point of eye-rolling and sighing in exasperation when even Daniel's thoughts evaded complete honesty.  I also feel that we were missing a lot of Daniel's evolution regarding his family.  I agree with the separation because of timing, but without getting Daniel's familial and career resolution while he was reconciling who he was with who he is, Daniel's character fell a bit flat overall for me.

 The Gift: Love in O'Leary Book 2, May Archer

The surprise connection between fan and former career wasn't all that surprising; actually, none of the conflict was.  While it was quite predictable, I didn't think it detracted from the story.  Because we got a good sense of who these men are individually and what they struggled with before they forged their friendship, it was a natural progression in terms of their insecurities getting the best of them at times.  I did find Julian more mature and forthright than Daniel, however as he took advice and caution with both irritation and introspection.  Because it was so honest in the assimilation and follow-through, I found myself gravitating toward him more often despite the very repetitive reiteration of his self-perceived flaws.

I found this story charming, sweet, and humorous.  Add in some serious steam and incredible tenderness and you've got a total win on your hands.  I enjoyed revisiting the well-intentioned yet über gossipy and nosy residents of O'Leary, and getting a good idea of what to expect when we get Parker and Jamie's story doesn't hurt either.  That one's sure to be angsty and explosive as well as healing and redemptive.  Definitely looking forward to more from this little nowhere town full of surprising characters and so much love.

*$3.99 on Amazon!
 The Gift: Love in O'Leary Book 2, May Archer

Bastian: New Vampire Disorder Book 6, Marie Johnston

Bastian (New Vampire Disorder Book 6) by [Johnston, Marie]

Wealth and privilege have set Ophelia apart from others, it has also jaded her and hardened her heart.  Her fidelity, loyalty, and morals are sneered at, mocked, and taken advantage of by those who should love her most and it's only when she allows Bastian into her life, and her heart, that she gets a glimpse that perhaps life, and love, can be different.  Her purpose meets her sanctuary.

The background conflict was always present but the relationships felt like they were getting off track, they didn't feel as...central to the character's "journey".  Here I feel like this is the start to getting back on track, even though this is almost the end of the series, it's better late than never, right?  In the last couple of books it was as if the duty came before heart.  Sometimes a tough decision must be made and our personal desires have to take a back seat to the greater good, I get that.  But the heart part was a nice side benefit to having their purpose and ambition satisfied rather than finding the strength, healing, and peace of finding your heart and soul's home, a true safe place that would allow them to more fully carry out their duty and responsibilities.

Bastian gives us more.  Of all the primes in this group it's Ophelia that has more damage to heal so I'm glad this focus changes so she could finally get the healing, peace, acceptance, and support she truly needed.  Bastian had patience, heart, perseverance, and the fortitude to be the right and best partner to the kick-ass yet vulnerable Ophelia.

As for the demon/vampire conflict, things are getting more complicated in a way that's captivating and intriguing.  If you haven't read the books before now, you'll probably be completely lost.  The direction is so good, I'm on pins and needles to see the crossing over of realms and the consequences for everyone...I can't wait to read The Seer and Q's story!!

*$4.99 on Amazon!
 Bastian: New Vampire Disorder Book 6, Marie Johnston

An M/M Christmas, episode 8

Walking In A Winter Wonderland by [Castle, Claire] The Christmas Lights Battle: A Shelby Beach Romance by [Cates, Skylar M.] Operation Toy Rescue by [Brook, Sarah Hadley]

Walking In A Winter Wonderland by [Castle, Claire]Finding a purpose in a tiny town at Christmas seems like an impossible feat when grief threatens to swallow Colton whole.  But when he finds compassion, attraction, and understanding in the charming Brit, Winter, he finds more than solace, he finds a home.  This was a very sweet story when taken at face value.  There were a lot of moments that endeared me to Winter and I preferred the interaction between both men out of the bedroom rather than in it.  The chemistry was there but felt a little forced instead of organic.  I will say that the story felt a bit superficial in terms of depth for the characters and conflict and felt slightly rushed.  Overall, though, both Winter and Colton were likable and the feels when Colton made his discovery were a nice way to bring him quickly to a place of healing.  3 stars.
 Walking in a Winter Wonderland, Claire Castle

The Christmas Lights Battle: A Shelby Beach Romance by [Cates, Skylar M.]Quick judgments lead to flustered interactions and incorrect impressions.  But a little vulnerability opens their eyes to more and we're re-introduced to two men who have trouble putting their hearts on offer.  This was so sweet and I loved where we ended up with Julian and Leo.  Their chemistry was definitely there and I appreciated that the conflict remained with external frustrations rather than misunderstandings, lies, omissions, and lashing out.  Julian's feeling regarding his kids was justified and handled well without sabotaging what he was building with Leo.  And Leo's quiet care, passion, and sweetness was a fantastic balance for Julian.  What we got was a completely wonderful story that hopefully leads into a series with a great cast, a lot of feels, and excellent steam.  3.5 stars.
 The Christmas Lights Battle, Skylar M. Cates

Operation Toy Rescue by [Brook, Sarah Hadley]A punishment turns into an unexpected gift when Jules is sent to Snow Hope Island for shenanigans that went too far.  Finding his boss, Felix intriguing is one thing, but when that turns into attraction and then a crush, Jules isn't sure what to do with himself.  Both men find something surprising as well as a way to save all the toys that seem to come to their island to languish unloved.  With the focus on the toys and Jules finally finding his purpose, with the relationship becoming secondary you'd think the story would fall flat.  Well, it didn't!  It was sweet with a really wonderful way of conveying both the spirit of Christmas as well as acceptance and love.  Though the relationship conflict was predictable, it was settled with maturity and very little fanfare.  More sweet than steamy, this was a very cute story that hit all the light and lovely notes of a good Christmas love story.  4.5 stars.
 Operation Toy Rescue, Sarah Hadley Brook

Loving Him: Hearts Intertwined Book 1, Drea Roman

Loving Him (Hearts Intertwined Book 1) by [Roman, Drea]

Attraction so strong can only carry a relationship so far.  With a heart full of grief, Black can't really make room for Aubrey, yet he can't help but try.  Aubrey is falling quickly for the hesitant, vulnerable, unfailingly sweet, and sexy artist except the lack of transparency is slowly eating away at his heart.  Without complete honesty there can be no healing, no progression, no them.  Black will have to decide if a past of pain and loneliness is more important to hold onto than a future of forgiveness and love.

So. Many. Words.  At times it was so full of beautiful description that I was right there feeling along with the men, seeing what they saw, and experiencing the moment along with them.  Unfortunately, more often than not, my eyes were glazing over and I was skimming over whole paragraphs, pages of text that revealed a serious lack of self-editing.  The story could have packed a lot more punch if the writing were streamlined, focused, and backed with intent rather than description.

As for the story itself, it was a good story of healing, love, compassion, forgiveness, and shedding the things that held them back.  The tragedy was definitely a tragedy, but it was built up over and over again only to fall flat with the confession and retelling.  Having the discussion broken up like it was broke the tension and lessened the effect it should have had.  While the conversation itself probably needed the moments of relief for both of the characters, it also dragged it out and a ton of repetition of the very few known facts didn't help anything either.  Saying the same thing in slightly varied ways doesn't add intensity or enhance the telling, it cheapens it and makes the reader tune it out.

Both men were likable and interesting, but when certain side characters got page time, like Aubrey's aunts, they pulled focus and were far more memorable for me.  The story overall was good and the relationship, when it was purposefully guided, was wonderful.  For a first-time author this was a good attempt but they would benefit from streamlining, editing, and attentive beta readers.

*$2.99 on Amazon
 Loving Him: Hearts Intertwined Book 1, Drea Roman