City Boy and Country Boy, A.E. Wasp

Follow the money or follow your heart? Either way, you lose.

Bryce and Dakota.  Two men that seem so very different on the outside and from looking at their background.  But look a little deeper and you find two men that want only to belong, to have family, to be loved.  With a chance encounter on the back roads Bryce finds truth, Dakota finds possibility, and both find acceptance.  The next day, however, both of them find what they think might be the biggest obstacle of all.  Coming together to find solutions to both of their problems bring them closer to one another and to a future neither of them envisioned.  An orchard, a hockey game, and a surprise kiss combine and give them trouble, bliss, and their own happy ever after.

City Boy (Hot Off the Ice Book 1) by [Wasp, A. E.]

I fell in love with both of these men.  My favorite characters are big men that have more heart than they know what to do with.  They're genuine, they're good, they're guileless, they need a partner who understands just how good they are and will fight for them and help them see outside the box.  Bryce is that good man.  He's got so much positivity inside of him that he believes there's always a solution.  He's determined to find the best solution for everyone.  That sometimes causes him to steamroll anyone else's opinions if they seem even slightly negative.

Dakota is the ideal partner for someone like Bryce.  He's been hurt and taken advantage of and is in need of Bryce's heart to help heal him and get him to see that good things do happen and have the potential to stay good.  Dakota's experiences allow him to show Bryce that there's more than just his way.  Bryce's humility throws Dakota for a loop sometimes but it helps to break down his walls of mistrust and fear.

Together they make things inside and around them better.  They encourage others to do the same.  I really love this couple because they're not perfect and all they want is to be loved.  Watching the way they come together is really sweet and a lot hot.  Their passion is only surpassed by their affection.  Bryce's coming out was a bit rash and put Dakota in a really difficult position.  Dakota's reaction to what happened was a bit rash as well but not without good reason.  With the main issue being repeatedly brought up to Bryce and having him scolded for it was a bit over the top but absolutely necessary.  It set up a building block of trust for Robbie and Paul in book 2, Country Boy.  When Bryce and Dakota come to a decision it's one that settles in your heart.

Sometimes the toughest thing to have faith in is yourself.

Country Boy (Hot Off the Ice Book 2) by [Wasp, A. E.]

While book 1, City Boy, dealt with love versus money in addition to true and complete self-acceptance, this book was much more about the latter.  To truly accept who you are and all that goes along with it.  The world is a scary place when you're brought up to hate something that you fear you are.  Paul struggles with this very thing and we think we have his life pegged as the stereotypical Southern boy raised in a Bible-thumping household.  We're only partially right.  There's so much going on under the surface that adds to the complexity and confusion that swirls around and inside Paul.  His chance meeting with Robbie stokes two fires.  One fire is that of passion ignited.  What began as curiosity laden with guilt was fanned into a yearning Paul could no longer ignore.  The second was the perceived fires of Hell reaching out for his soul.  Which to feed and which to smother?  The choice seems simple until outside pressure forces him to choose by stacking the deck against what he hoped he could have.

With Robbie battered and confused by Paul's treatment he decides to move on from their one night and go forward with his hockey career as a mostly out player.  The public is kept in the dark about his sexual inclination, but his friends and family know and he's mostly comfortable with his life as it is.  And then Paul shows up, on his team, no less.  Their one night changed things for them and set them on a course that ultimately brought them together thousands of miles away.  As they reconcile what they do and might mean to one another they're faced with some of the biggest decisions of their lives.

Finding strength to stand alone to maybe stand together is a lot harder than taking the first step.  Paul and Robbie work to build something together that's both passionate and based on genuine affection.  They know one another's strengths and weaknesses and support one another regardless.  When obstacles come up it's the big ones that make them see what could be more for them.  Whether they cross the line over their fears is the question.  I admire these men for the choices they make and who they ultimately make them for.  Such a great story with surprises, tenderness, passion, a bit of angst, and a whole lot of heart.

Paul rolled his eyes. He was seriously tired of having to justify the way he lived his life to everyone. As if he needed their seal of approval on his choices. “Really? You don’t understand why someone might not be ready to walk around waving a rainbow flag? That’s why I saw pictures of you and your boyfriend on the cover of Sports Illustrated? Because you’re so out and proud?”
“You sound like Drew,” Robbie frowned. “Just because I don’t want my relationships dissected by the fans and the media, doesn’t mean I’m in the closet. If I were dating a woman, I’d feel the same way. Probably. Besides, everyone who needs to know knows,” he said defensively.
Paul shoved him back with a finger to the chest. “That’s bullshit. You don’t know who needs to know. Some kid down in the bible belt might need to know he’s not the only one, so he doesn’t go trying anything stupid.”
Robbie pushed Paul’s finger away. “Like what?”
“Like trying to freeze himself to death in the middle of fucking nowhere Minnesota,” Paul spit out. “You’re a fucking condescending ass, but you saved my life that night.”
Robbie’s jaw dropped. “You were trying to kill yourself?”
Paul crossed his arms and looked away. “No. Not directly. Kind of. I don’t know. Suicide is a sin, too.” Paul’s laugh held no humor. “A literal ‘damned if I do, damned if I don’t’ situation.”

Quick Reads and Quick Reviews 9

Player (Caribbean Nights Book 1) by [Marsh, Anne] Full Disclosure (Real Estate Relations Book 1) by [Jamison, DJ] The Token Yank by [Truman, A.J.]

Player (Caribbean Nights Book 1) by [Marsh, Anne]Anne Marsh has a really great way of making humor, passion, forgiveness, and great women all part of the same book.  This book is no different.  With the ridiculous antics of Finn, the humor from Vali and her girls, the interplay between them and their groups as well as between one another, I was amused from beginning to end.  I also enjoyed that Vali knew who she was, what she wanted, and was strong enough to stand up for herself by herself.  She deserved a good man and beneath all the swagger, Finn has the best heart.  He's open to more because he initially wants to get laid, but his heart soon overcomes his slightly smaller head.  With a new goal, one of keeping Vali, he's got himself to overcome and, surprise surprise, something from his past too.  Or does he?  With the quick resolution the focus was on heart, love, commitment, and passion.  I was so very glad that Vali was more mature and that what we thought would be the huge drama kind of wasn't.  An absolutely fun, great read.  4 stars.
 The Player, Anne Marsh

Full Disclosure (Real Estate Relations Book 1) by [Jamison, DJ]This was a cute story of Cam and Reid finding love where they least expected it.  Cam is trying so hard to find himself and to find work that he can stick with.  Not just for a paycheck, although that's a definite benefit, but to find something he truly enjoys doing, somewhere that shows he's really capable.  He's trying his hardest with real estate and is having zero luck.  It's always hard in the beginning and while he doesn't begrudge his best friend's success, he is getting tired of his own silent comparisons.  When what seems like the perfect house falls into his lap he goes above and beyond (and a little silent) to keep it in his lap.  What Reid doesn't know about his experience and success rate won't hurt him, right?  Well, when the sexy voiced man shows up he's got a little explaining to do.  I mean, it's not every day when his client finds him mostly naked in the house he's supposed to be selling, you know?  Reid knows he shouldn't stare, or fantasize, or ogle, or even trust the towel-clad hottie in his house but he's helpless against Cam's obvious innocence as well as his attractiveness.  Except he's got a witness posing as his boyfriend and an unexpected realtor in his living room.

As they both come to terms with their individual situations the humor and passion become apparent and they do their best to navigate what might keep them apart.  Watching them come together and overcome all the drama that they face is endearing, sweet, and entertaining.  It's a cute story with a satisfying resolution.  It also ends with a great opening for the next book...  3.5 stars.
 Full Disclosure, DJ Jamison

The Token Yank by [Truman, A.J.]I really enjoyed this one. I do feel, though that young loves experiencing a huge amount of emotional changes and upheavals in a short amount of time aren't likely to become HEA's, but this book had a pretty hopeful ending. Things moved pretty fast for these guys and their interactions were really endearing...most of the time. I'm not exactly sure how I feel about Nate showing up and all the revelations he brought near the end. The way Rafe reacted to him was believable but not exactly promising for a mature relationship. Rafe's decision to stay longer versus not was handled with more maturity than I expected, especially after how we see that he didn't exactly cover all his bases in the beginning and with the complete newness with everything going on with Eamonn.

Eamonn was a different story with his frustrating reluctance to fully reciprocate what Rafe was willing to give him.  His lackluster interest in the things he knew he would be good at for himself was disappointing.  These are both young men learning what it's like to be themselves and to pine for someone they're not sure will be fully committed to them despite yearning desperately for it to happen.  They need to figure out how to be solid individuals before they can be ideal partners and I think the ending suggested that that's what they were working on so I was pretty satisfied with that.  Overall, there was a ton of steam, angst, young love, impulsiveness, more than a few Midori Sours, and some Atlantic-spanning commitment.  A thoroughly enjoyable read.  3.5 stars.
 The Token Yank, A.J. Truman

Loving Noah, Kenna Knight

Loving Noah by [Knight, Kenna]

This was a cute story, a forever love between friends, a second-chance romance, a reuniting between childhood friends. So many good things about this book, such a lighthearted story meant to give hope and courage. It's difficult to come out, for many people, and this book deals with two very different experiences, unfortunately for these two friends, one of them is tragic.

With Noah receiving the worst response from family and community for being born to love men, he's beaten and sent away without an opportunity to say goodbye to the boy he's growing to love as a man, the boy he's lived his life loving. Liam is on the other side of the come-out experience with loving, understanding parents. He remains mostly in the closet after witnessing the town's response to Noah and then he lives his life as an activist for gay rights on Capitol Hill. Along the way he's made great friends and had no romances worth reliving except for one. One that never got a chance to see the light of day. He's ready, though, for something more, something deeper. Finding Ben gives him hope that maybe he can have that and maybe move around his yearning for Noah. Little does he know, though, that the man he's coming to know is the boy he's always loved and could never forget.

Watching them overcome the years that have been trying and difficult for Noah as well as reacquainting themselves with one another is mostly sweet with only a little bitterness. I liked the story and there was potential for a really great book here, but as I read I felt everything in my head rather than deeper in my chest or even my gut. There was something crucial missing that would drive the story, captivate me, compel me to keep reading. Without that extra something it was just a nice read. I'm glad things worked out for Liam and Noah because Noah truly deserved happiness after all that life put him through. Having solid support from his aunt Kitty and the circle of friends introduced through Liam he had so much more to ensure that happiness. Struggles were overcome and love was found. The ending was satisfying and held great promise for their future.

Stryke, Marie Johnston

Stryke (New Vampire Disorder Book 4) by [Johnston, Marie]

This is the second book I've read by this author, the first being Bishop, the third book in this series, and I'm totally hooked.  Stryke is captivating, sucks you into all the intensity going on in all the worlds they straddle.  I've got a soft spot for demons with soft spots and women who literally kick ass so this book definitely fits the bill.  I've also got a special place in my heart for any series where each book is awesome and not a downhill slide from the first.  If these last two books are any indication, each book from start to finish is fantastic.

Stryke picks up where Bishop left off with the Synod, demons, the fight in the prime's house with Hypna, etc.  If you haven't read anything else in the series it's okay, but you'd really understand all the connections between characters and worlds a lot better if you did.  If this is the only book you read, though, you wouldn't be disappointed.  I am glad, however, that I've got at least one more book under my belt.  I definitely want more!

So anyway, there's a breeding program among demons and Stryke's been chosen by the nastiest female he can think of.  It's a good thing he's got a bond with someone else...but if that other female finds out, all hell will break loose.  Literally.  Well, as you know, plots would not progress if secrets weren't revealed.  Stryke's hopes are dashed and he's scrambling to protect her but she really needs no help against demons, just dumpsters.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Marie Johnston is really good at inserting bits of humor into an otherwise intense story with all kinds of drama going on.

Okay, so back on topic.  After a rough encounter with a dumpster we find that Zoey is in fact in need of a rescue and it's a good thing Stryke is there to help.  The information she later learns once she comes to is less appealing to her.  It combines a ton of turmoil from her past, pain, attraction, confusion, shame, anger, and a heaping dose of "what exactly do I do now?".  They've got a lot to overcome if their bond is going to be anything other than a shame and a burden on either side of the relationship.

Over the course of the story there are incredible moments of passion and amazing chemistry as well as tenderness, acceptance, and a solid connection that is beyond what they've previously experienced.  Stryke is completely committed to Zoey and Zoey is committed to her cause.  It's all she's ever known since before the death of her true mate and she isn't sure what role Stryke will play in her life once Hypna is stopped.  She's not even sure if she actually wants him around once the dust settles.  I can't say I'm thrilled by all the denial Zoey throws all over the place, nor am I impressed that Stryke has no motivation for anything but Zoey.  It might seem self-denying (on Zoey's side) and romantic (on Stryke's side), but both of these people are just codependent on something else, not truly able to stand on their own and therefore cannot be a true partnership.  Those issues come out in a big way when they're brought before the Synod and Zoey makes Stryke do something that's pretty crushing.  My heart squeezed in sadness and frustration and I actually read that scene twice to wallow in those feelings.  A bit masochistic, I know, but I wanted to have something on the low side to balance the awesomeness of a heartfelt confession that I knew would come later.

When it came, however, it wasn't in the way I was expecting.  It was more subtle, more real for each of these characters' personalities.  Stryke was willing and eager to be what Zoey needed after he found his own cause and his own sure foundation.  Zoey was a bit of a mystery because she spent so long being loyal to a cause that he wasn't sure if she could make concessions to partner with him in life and in love.  Was she?  You bet!  Stryke brought out the truth of who Zoey really is, gave her a safe place to be herself so that when she fought for her cause she could do it with her whole self this time.  Watching the process of them coming to their own realizations and their determination to do a better job for themselves and for one another was a joy.  I liked watching everything unfold, the conclusion was absolutely satisfying.

With the asides that came from Creed and Melody we're pretty sure we know whose story is coming next and I'm excited to see Creed get what he doesn't think he wants and for Melody to be truly inducted into the DD family.

*Get to know these awesome couples by reading each of their stories!
Demetrius (New Vampire Disorder Book 1) by [Johnston, Marie] Rourke (New Vampire Disorder Book 2) by [Johnston, Marie] Bishop (New Vampire Disorder Book 3) by [Johnston, Marie] Stryke (New Vampire Disorder Book 4) by [Johnston, Marie]

Addiction Pt. 1, Vivian Wood

Addiction (Addiction Duet Book 1) by [Wood, Vivian]

This was intense. When I first read the title and synopsis I thought this book would be about the attraction and intensity of it that became like an addiction. It was actually much deeper than that; the depths of addiction itself and some of its forms brought to light are disturbing and very real. There's so much wrong with this story, but not the writing of it, the wrongness of what addiction can do. Within the pages are types of darkness that aren't so uncommon and are absolutely believable. It's both disturbing and intriguing. The cliffhanger...serious drop off there.

We have Harper who is more troubled than she appears. As a model we can probably guess what her weaknesses are, but how they manifest is something I know I've never experienced. I refuse to feel guilt and I love food more than I probably should, but I still never feel bad about enjoying and indulging in what tastes good. I also like to be at least a bit active, going on walks, going to the gym fairly regularly, those things appeal to me because I feel strongly about balance and health and happiness. To read about someone who knows a very different reality and sees herself only as being valuable if she's virtually skeletal, it's shocking to say the least. I hope so hard for her.  Especially with the job that she hesitates to give up when it's literally killing her.  She's finding some purpose and value in what she experiences with Sean and she needs the kind of control he uses over her. To what extent, however, isn't known because she hardly knows herself. Once she knows herself and can find what will truly give her freedom and expression. Until then, however, it's just trading one addiction for another.

The exact same situation is what Sean is suffering from. He's an alcoholic and also a Dom. He's not fully healthy in his mind yet, so while he can be honest with what he needs, how he goes about it isn't right. There's an entire element of education, transparency, and consent that's pretty much missing. He knows that Harper could fulfill all his needs as his submissive but he hasn't actually educated her about what it means for him, for her, and for them together. His knowledge of that world is vague and hasn't really been put into practice beyond expressing his own brand of kink at kink parties. Everything that he's doing to and with Harper feels awkward and speaks more to another addiction than of passion and growing a relationship. And all of it is a house of cards, though, with Ashton in a coma and everything revolving around that situation.

How these two will find their individual needs, an equilibrium together, and a way to love themselves and one another is yet to be seen. I'm anticipating the follow-up and am sure it will be just as much of an intensely difficult roller coaster as this one.

Jagged Edge, Jo Raven

Jagged Edge: Jason and Raine - M/M romance by [Raven, Jo]

Incredible. An incredible amount of drama, intensity, feels, damage, passion, tenderness, sarcasm, and bickering. These two men have seemingly insurmountable obstacles between them and their happy endings. Well, the only kind of happy endings that last long enough to be priceless. I fell in love with these heartrendingly oppressed men.

Raine had a rough childhood. Man, what an understatement. With parents like his it's a wonder that he and Ocean survived at all. Ocean seems like a good man, a man who loves his brother and tries his best for him and the rest of his chosen family. I haven't read his story yet, this is actually my first book by this author, but there's so much subtext, so much history intimated that I both want to and feel the need to. You'd still understand this story just fine since the focus is on Raine and Jason, but after becoming so invested in Raine I want to delve deeper into everyone around him to see him through others' eyes.  Raine is stubborn, strong, intelligent, loyal, focused, and still so very vulnerable. He also has the major hots for the whore-next-door, Jason. Jason intrigues, frustrates, humiliates, and baits Raine. He also turns him on like no one ever before. What Raine feels for Jason is complicated and confusing. Witnessing him come to terms with the true label for those feelings and how he navigates life before and after that realization is all kinds of interesting. We also get to see a tender side, one that wants desperately to care for someone who is absolutely determined to rely on no one.

Jason relies on no one because there's no one to run to that won't be caught in the cross-hairs of the one that has him by the short-hairs. His profession should be enough to send everyone running but he's got support, friendship, and protection whether he wants it or not. He doesn't understand family as something that could be good and with every torturous meeting he has with Raine he becomes more and more confused. Feeling unworthy of any kind of honesty, affection, and generosity without compensation, he pushes everyone away as far as he can stand. He tries so hard to isolate himself but can't cut off all ties completely because he has the biggest heart despite his upbringing. I don't know if there's anyone more damaged in this group of unlikely heroes, but whether he likes it or not, he's going to be dragged toward healing one tender yet passionate moment at a time. In Raine's arms he feels the best and also the worst. Watching as he comes to accept Raine for everything he is despite their past and all that Raine brings with him is incredibly frustrating. It's worth it in the end, though. The emotional payoff is marvelous.

There's drama like you wouldn't believe. At every moment you think there's light at the end of the tunnel and it's visible and closer than you thought possible you realize it's (in the words of Metallica) just a freight train coming your way. The ups and downs are so high and also so very low that you aren't sure if you're going to end up with a truly happy HEA, but when you get there and see that all the harrowing experiences are made up for with more heart and healing than you thought could be written for them, I expect you'll find a bit of a lump in your throat and a burning behind your eyes. Yes, if you cry I wouldn't be surprised. I didn't, but I'm a stoic mess...kind of. Nah, not at all, but though I didn't cry, I was incredibly moved.

A painful and beautiful story of love, loss, hurt, healing, compassion, passion, forgiveness, and growing up. Becoming more than what you thought you could be and finding love and support along the way. Well worth the time to read.

The Gamble, Alice Ward

The Gamble by [Ward, Alice]

I think the best part about this particular book is that the drama wasn't piled on. There could have been so much to get in their way, but the plot was relatively simple enough that the relationship they were trying to build/not build remained the focus. It allowed us to really see these people and their own struggles and how they came together despite their differences and the not-so-obvious obstacles.

Obstacles in the form of parents are always tricky. The villainous father, the sick mother, both of them were a bit unpredictable in terms of finding a solution but what was done here was actually perfect. I was imagining a ton of scenarios where the father was as bad as he was but in different ways, ways that were more insidious. I LOVED how Dani reacted to the father at dinner. She's quietly amazing. With her mother things were more heartbreaking than anything. Nothing as intensely as devastating as in The Hunt, but not any less difficult because of the struggles that go along with the disease. Overall, the outcomes of both situations were pretty great, really well thought out and realistic in their conclusions.

As for the romance, however, I wish there were more of a marked turning point for Talen and Dani to go from fake to desiring more. We see it begin with immense attraction and intense desire but where things deepen, it feels like I skipped a page or two and missed where things actually changed. I knew it needed to and would change, but how it did wasn't as satisfying as I hoped it would be. The way that things came together was difficult to read, in a good way, because Talen had so many things to overcome in his own mind. Dani was a bit simpler because she knew she needed to stand on her own and had all the independent spirit to do so, it was just hard to see her denying herself out of fear. Confessions, though, were tender, sincere, and honest. I loved seeing them finally admitting to everything they felt, not just to themselves, but to one another.

At the very beginning I was interested, when the morning after came I was a bit less interested because of the Hangover elements, but as the story progressed I was invested. Talen was so "lost little boy", Dani was a bit of the "damsel in distress", and both of these characters had the perfect hole in their lives and hearts that were almost tailor made for one another. Such a great story, seeing these two overcome their struggles and finding solace and healing in their partnership.

Quick Reads and Quick Reviews 8

Ravensdale by [Van Diemen, Daphne]This book took a really long time to get going. There were times that I was confused about what was supposed to be happening because things were very predictable but super slow in getting there. I will say that for the first half I was wrong about who she should end up with, but after that I knew where they were going and was slightly happier about it. As for the drama, there was a lot of anticipation and virtually no follow through until the end. I was very disappointed that someone so intelligent gave virtually no time to her thesis and almost nothing to picking up on the clues all around her and having enough gumption to see what was going on. Then with the romance...lots of extremely slow build and one big confession under duress and stress with virtually no foundation for anything that would last. With more of an HFN that wasn't exactly super happy the book felt incomplete. Sure the bad guy gets it, but that's pretty much where the story ends. He gets it and nothing else gets addressed or resolved. I mean, even the ambulance and the cops haven't shown up by this point. Overall, I wasn't impressed and failed to be impressed pretty much from the word go. Interesting premise with a very disappointing finish.  2 stars.

Heat: A South Beach Bodyguards Book by [McCarthy, Erin]I usually love this author.  This book felt like it was from early in her career, one before she hit her stride with good character depth, cohesive story lines, emotionally connected sexy times, and overall enjoyability.  Disappointing, to say the least, is how I felt when I finished this story.  The baby stuff was conflict enough, but add in the government, dead but maybe not dead ex, delusions about the past, secrets about the past, and man-whore flirting as an introduction and attitude toward the end and I've pretty much given up liking the book.  Miranda wasn't really a strong woman who knew her mind and what she wanted for her future.  She worked hard and did well for herself professionally, and that's great, but her maturity level felt more on par with late teens, early twenties.  Alejandro was sex on a stick, sure, but when I am introduced to him getting felt up in the extreme right in front of the person he says he's always loved?  Not a fan.  And then there was Max not really being who Miranda had glorified him into.  Overall, there was too much drama and not enough depth.  2 stars.

The Dragon's Lover (Elemental Dragons Book 2) by [Hartley, Emilia]I liked where the book was headed. There was a lot of promise with this story but I feel like it fell short on a few points. Overall, however, the book was enjoyable and the feels were relatively strong. It made me interested in the series as well as other books by this author.

Quinn had the potential to be a really strong character. She has the past, the excitement, the strength, the wit, the intelligence, and the beauty both inside and out to be a really well-rounded character. Where that fell short was in how much drama was packed into a relatively short book. There was too much going on and not enough focus to let her strengths really shine. Instead, she came off as being a bit flighty, unfocused, and overwhelmed by the emotions that came at her from virtually every direction. Being overwhelmed is understandable, I just feel like we read her as being constantly overwhelmed instead of level-headed, a trait we're made to think she has in the beginning.

Isaac had a great start too. He was passionate and interesting. The rest of the story didn't really do him justice though. We were also teased with learning more about his past but get no follow through there. Will there be more of him in the next book, even obliquely?

There could have been a great deal more of them together actually building something and establishing a connection and a foundation. What we were given was a bit superficial and then there's a ton of drama from many sources, and then the ending is hopeful and a little bit romantic.  The story itself could use a lot of paring down and refining to make the events cohesive and the romance one that connects both characters and you as a the reader.  2.5 stars.

Seek, Anne Conley

Seek (Pierce Securities Book 7) by [Conley, Anne]

I read the blurb and teaser months ago and was really excited for this book.  It mostly lived up to those expectations and I'm glad I signed up to read it.  I also enjoyed that Ryan played a pretty significant role in this book because I liked him so much in Craze, the first book in the Pierce Security series.  Each of the men in the security firm have their charm but I've only read Ryan's story and now Zack's, so while I'm interested in the others, I'm invested in the ones I've come to know.

So anyway, Zack is damaged, snarky, funny, blind, and completely in love with Bonnie.  Bonnie is totally in love with Zack but was hurt by something he did when they were young and together so she's become a bit closed off, feisty, and independent.  She's also become the target for a stalker and has come under the protection of her family and, by extension, the security firm which they own and run.  She's scared and mad that she's scared.  When all her drama seems to be in her rear-view she sets out to build a happy life but constantly runs into the walls her brothers have erected around her.  One of those walls is the one between her and Zack.  She thinks she's grateful for it because of how much she's been hurt by him, but by putting a wall there it has become a constant reminder of the one man who knew her better than anyone else.  Bonnie thought she knew him that well too.

Zack's blindness is a constant stumbling block, both literally and figuratively.  I liked that he was frustrated but learning to cope.  His frustration was real, believable, and drew me in because he was so determined to be useful despite his disability.  He's got a great support team.  What he doesn't have is the one person he always wanted and has been going about all the wrong ways of getting another view of her before it's too late and he's completely blind.  The exclamation near the end outside the hospital was absolutely gut-wrenching and made me so mad at Quinn.  Honestly, until I read his story I don't think I'm a huge fan of him at all.  It's one thing to be protective of a little sister, it's another thing to take the hurt from the past and to let it fester and ruin what was once a friendship so close it was like they were siblings.  To constantly hurl it in the other guy's face is overboard for me.

The drama is intense, nothing unexpected with the author, and was well-written.  Bonnie is kick ass and thinks more than acts.  I absolutely admire that about her.  Her immaturity when it comes to Zack isn't so nice, but when she allows herself to think about what happened instead of reacting to it she can see the events for what they were.  Seeing the truth behind the action brought her a new perspective that ultimately led to healing and forgiveness.  It didn't hurt at all that she and Zack were just as hot for one another as they've always been.

Overall, this was a really great book.  I liked how real and how strong these characters were.  The drama was big, crazy, interconnected with other plots, and still focused and clear.  Definitely worth reading!

*Start the Pierce Security series for free!
Craze (Pierce Securities Book 1) by [Conley, Anne]

Exposure, Aly Hayden

I was really excited about this book.  I was so hopeful for these men, the premise, and overcoming misunderstandings and untruths.  The reality, however, wasn't as awesome as I hoped.  Overall, though, the book was enjoyable.  It had feels, groveling, family, quirkiness, passion, and confessions.  All the makings of a delightful read.

So why did it not meet my expectations?  It was small things, really, and not even enough to base a full rant on.  I can honestly understand the hurt caused by lies.  I know that Sam was wrong to say what he did, but I never doubted his heart.  I feel like Ben was blind to that heart because of a dick for an ex.  Yes, that's absolutely valid.  But did it excuse Ben from making an awkward and hurtful situation worse?  No.  I'm not a fan of how he reacted.  Sam knew what he did was wrong and knew he only made things worse by not coming clean early on, but who could blame him?  He was constantly made to feel less-than by his parents and wanted to make them at least a little proud of him since his lifestyle wasn't something they understood or approved of.  They might have meant well, but the way they went about things was upsetting to say the least.  He padded the boyfriend brief because he wanted them to be satisfied and also to pave the way for them to like the not-so fictional boyfriend.  Those intentions were a bit cowardly but also honest from a hurt little boy's perspective.  It doesn't make it right, but it does make it understandable and not a little sad.

Why couldn't Ben look beyond that to see what Sam's intentions were, to see the truth beyond the words said to parents long before the weekend ever came around?  Ben was pig-headed and frustrating because he hurt Sam worse than the lie could have hurt Ben.  He also got so many people on his side to hurt Sam even further.  A place that was a home, a haven for Sam became a place of derision and insults.  He deserved some of what he got, but not everything they dished out on him.

The way that Sam groveled was really the best.  He was honest and his words were heartfelt.  There was no way to misunderstand his apology and he really tried his best.  That best was pretty much trampled on by Ben and Peter, but his heart was so visible, so vulnerable.  He eventually got his point across, though, and Ben's acceptance, though grudging at the start, was complete and open by the end.

These two men came from very, very different backgrounds and have a hard road ahead when they have to deal with those differences but their determination to make things work is commendable.  I have great hopes for them because I know how much they want each other, that they are also committed to being honest.  It helps that Sam's family is warmer to Ben and Sam after all the frustration that was caused by Sam's exaggeration of circumstances.  I'm also glad that Sam had people like his grandma and his brother-in-law on his side to love him, accept him, and to give him the kick he needs to be better.  Everyone needs support like that and as Ben and Sam make their way together that support will continue and help them grow into what they have every potential to become.

Love Me While I'm Gone, Diana T. Scott

Love Me While I'm Gone (Half of Me Book 2) by [Scott, Diana T.]

So on par with the first book.  The first half of this book made me want to place this as #1 in the ranking of this series but when I thought back to how much I was made to feel in Our Demons, Best Friends, I couldn't do anything but rank it a very, very close 2nd.

Sometimes when you have a series you get people who are mostly individuals but, and let's be honest here, they could easily be interchanged between stories and you wouldn't think the pairing odd.  Details about background and motivations would be different for each book but you could take one dude from one story and plop him in another one from the same universe and there wouldn't be much of a difference.  This book was so very far from that kind of situation that it's almost unbelievable.  I can't really figure out a way to describe exactly what I mean here except to say that we get a sense of who these people might be in the first book and then in this one we get to see all the facets of these dynamic, interesting, wonderful individuals.  They come alive, they change, they are utterly unique.  As individual as that word can mean.

What we learn of Collin in ODBF is little, but we see hot surfer looks, a sense of humor, and a generally happy mien.  We get a sense of his loyalty, his interests, his devotion to what he knows matters.  Then there's Emily.  We get quite a bit more from her because Ava is the MC and her new bestie is Emily.  She's fun, flirty, interested in Collin, devoted to her sister and her group of friends, loyal, determined, intelligent, observant, and has a great sense of humor.  There's not much to keep us from thinking that if Collin and Emily get together they'd be a great match.

But there's so much more to them just being a great match when we get into the meat of Love Me.  The meet-cute is exactly that, a meeting so cute I couldn't help but smile in real life.  For me to react in real life and not just in my head is pretty much a huge deal.  Just so you know.  Anyway, after the meet-cute we get a fast romance, something building an awesome foundation with very little steam but a ton of attraction and genuine feelings growing steady and strong.  Until tragedy intervenes.

I cringed when I read Collin's thoughts while he was deciding what to do about the tragedy.  Just knowing he was going to do what he did wasn't enough to give him the benefit of the doubt, it was, however, something that gave me hope for his return to Emily's good graces.  I wanted to see how he made up for what he did and how he did it.  Emily was right to do what she did and how she did it.  I ached for her bewilderment and her struggle to move beyond what was developing into something stellar.

Reuniting was bittersweet.  We knew it was coming, but how it came together was something that was written really well.  It wasn't fully predictable yet was expected, if that makes sense.  Seeing them dancing around one another and making peace with the past through the careful avoidance of it all with the outer framework provided in ODBF was really great.  We knew the basics but now get to see the specifics and why all the dancing might have been necessary.  It gave depth to what was perceived as shallow flirting and intimated attraction.

The interplay between Emily and Collin was awesome.  I smiled and laughed in real life and totally fell in love with them and how well they fit one another.  Getting both perspectives was a really nice change from the first book and suited their characters.  Overall, this was a perfect continuation for the series and a great book all on its own.  I cannot wait to get my hands on Color Me Yours to read about Paige and Miles.

*Get to know Emily and Collin from Ava's perspective
Our demons, best friends (Half of me Book 1) by [Scott, Diana T.]

Our Demons, Best Friends, Diana T. Scott

Our demons, best friends (Half of me Book 1) by [Scott, Diana T.]

I loved this book! There were so many feels all over the place, messy, inconvenient, self-sacrificing, heart-aching, triumphant, melty feels.

These two people were so broken and so perfect for each other because they each provided the balm of healing and the depth of understanding neither one had found thus far in their lives.  Not even Ava's parents could feel what she felt with the loss of her twin.  And for someone as intentionally isolated as Sebastian, her pain meant he found someone who could provide solace and empathy.  I am absolutely in love with both of these characters.

There were so many ups and downs in the story, but from the very beginning I was captivated by the MC's as much as they were by each other.  Ava struggled to be the best of both twins and was very lucky to find the group of friends she did right from the start.  They were easy and effortless but not the kind of ease that breeds carelessness or situations that are taken advantage of in a negative way.  Each of the people in their little group provided something different, something irreplaceable and Ava found in them a family and solid support system.  They all knew what to expect from their circumstances because they all faced the same ones, but each provided a different perspective, a way of seeing issues and dealing with them that made their whole experience less painful, stressful, and lonely.  You can see which characters will be featured in the connected stories and I'm SO EXCITED to read them!

When she meets Sebastian it's fascination and confusion at first sight.  Neither of those things ends until about the end of the book.  It's an intense ride from feel to feel, insight to insight, connection to connection.

Sebastian's point of view was implied and inferred and I really wished I had his thoughts throughout the story  When they came, though, I was almost glad I didn't get anything from him until then.  We skipped his internal angsting and self-sacrifice in the name of protecting Ava from his demons and go right to the new Sebastian, the one who finally accepts everything Ava can give him, the one who is so sappy and tender and passionate that we almost don't recognize him.  It. Is. AWESOME!!

Weeks later and I'm still thinking about this book and can't think of anything to decrease the rating or my enjoyment.

*Follow the whole series, connected but each stand alone and each are awesome!
Our demons, best friends (Half of me Book 1) by [Scott, Diana T.] Love Me While I'm Gone (Half of Me Book 2) by [Scott, Diana T.] Color Me Yours (Half of Me Book 3) by [Scott, Diana T.]

Truth By His Hand, Casey Cameron

Truth By His Hand by [Cameron, Casey]

This is my first book by this author after a few attempts to sign up for ARCs prior to this one.  I was surprised to enjoy this book as much as I did.  Not because of the author's voice, but rather because BDSM is something that I don't read very often due to the fact that I just don't care for this particular element of personality and/or sexuality. The synopsis, however, was intriguing because there was something so innocent and interesting about River's self-discovery. That there was almost a promise that this was more than just an awakening to this particular brand of kink. As fortune would have it, that promise was fulfilled.

River has made more of a truce than a peace with his own idiosyncrasies over the years and fully acknowledges his awkwardness and ignorance regarding kink and where he fits on the spectrum. He's finding his place because he wants to but also because he's been strongly urged to learn the complexities he's drawing in his web comic. All of it fits together, his sexuality and his work, in the realm of BDSM, at least it should, but he needs serious guidance. His friends and acquaintances can only do so much for him. What he needs is a teacher, someone to fill the role he has mentally created for his Dom. Something he learns, very quickly, that it doesn't quite work like that. When you aren't sure of what to do and how to be what you think you are, you can't prescribe roles and then dictate who will fill them. Through a little trial and error River learns that who he thought couldn't teach him is actually the perfect teacher.

My favorite thing about this book is River's introspection and insightful understanding of why he does certain things and the articulation of his thoughts and desires. It made things so very clear and touching when he could get right to the heart of the matter. I imagine that was good for Ellison too, but we only get River's POV in this book, so we infer his pleasure by the descriptions of eye-glinting, smirking versus smiling, and the use of "Good boy". The fact that River knew his own mind made a large portion of this book much easier to swallow because I wasn't constantly second-guessing what he says he wants. This particular issue is addressed a couple of times and rightfully so. I was concerned that there would be a bit of that baby bird imprinting thing going on because emotions, self-discovery, expression, sexuality, and life changes all wrapped up in the experience with one person can result in that, but it was dealt with honesty and decisiveness.

It was interesting to read in this book that everyone involved with River and the group he's getting involved in was so open and fluid in terms of sexual identity. Most books have a few angsty closets and identity crises to address as part of what keeps the MC's from accepting themselves or moving forward together. That was definitely not here. The subject of kink is also open and bold and any negative stigma is mostly downplayed or discussed quickly and promptly dismissed. Focus is instead on River's particular difficulties. That seemed a bit simplistic but I didn't really mind too much because my attention could remain solely on River and Ellison's journey.

Overall, I was happily surprised to find that I enjoyed what I read. The book was much, much longer than I anticipated but the length was appropriate for the subject matter and giving enough attention to everything River was experiencing and learning and processing. I enjoyed the conclusion and how he and Ellison came together despite all their struggles with barriers and expectations. Educational, insightful, frustrating, and liberating. A really great read.

 Truth By His Hand, Casey Cameron