Chase in Shadow by Amy Lane

Chase in Shadow

Chase in Shadow by Amy Lane

Series: Johnnies, Book 2
Published by: Dreamspinner Press on February 23, 2012
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Chase Summers has put together the perfect life. His girlfriend, Mercy, is perfect. Their relationship is perfect. And yet, Chase isn’t happy. And his construction job isn’t paying what he needs to give Mercy the life she deserves. So when he learns of a gay-for-pay porn website that is hiring–and pays well–he actually decides to give it a shot. After all, it’s just for money, right?

When Chase meets Tommy Halloran, however, he has to admit that maybe he’s not quite as straight as his “gay-for-pay” resume indicates. Tommy is a fellow performer, and while they never perform together on camera, they fall quickly into a romantic and sexual relationship that seems like it might provide them both exactly what they need. But Chase and Tommy both have demons to face. And Chase doesn’t seem very willing to face his. He’ll have to, though, if he wants to make it out of both of his relationships alive…

This is heavy. Heavier than you might expect from reading the blurb. It’s not really angsty, but Chase is carrying some massive baggage with him that comes to a head in some pretty dramatic ways. But what’s really inspiring in this story is the way that friends come together for each other and support each other when they need it–even if they’ve made some not-so-intelligent decisions to get into the situation in the first place.

Content warning: discussions of suicide and attempted suicide

Aria by Shira Anthony

Aria

Aria by Shira Anthony

Series: Blue Notes, Book 3
Published by: Dreamspinner Press on December 24, 2012
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Five years ago, Aiden Lind accepted a prestigious scholarship which took him to Europe and launched his opera career. Along the way, he also became involved with Lord Cameron Sherrington, a man he might go so far as to describe as the man of his dreams. But when Aiden catches Cam being intimate with another man, he decides it’s time to move on. And he suddenly reconnects with Sam Ryan, a man with whom he shared a short-lived relationship that ended when he received his scholarship.

Sam feels bad about dropping Aiden when he did. But the truth is that he was still getting over the death of his previous partner, Nick, and Aiden was the first guy he’d been with since Nick passed. He wasn’t as ready for a new relationship as he originally thought he was. But now that they’ve reconnected, he thinks he may be. But has he really put Nick in the past? And has Aiden really moved on from Cam and how their relationship ended? Their relationship will certainly be put to the test–and they’ll just have to hope it’s a test they can pass.

I have been enjoying this series since I picked up the first book. Part of it is likely that I am a musician myself, studied music in college, and those aspects of these stores just really resonate with me. But I know it also has to do with the fact that Shira Anthony always presents a compelling story with characters that draw you in and have you engrossed from the very first chapter. I’ve got three more books to read in this series, and I am definitely looking forward to them.

Choices by Jamie Mayfield

Choices

Choices by Jamie Mayfield

Series: Waiting for Forever, Book 1
Published by: Harmony Ink Press on June 6, 2013
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Brian McAllister knows that he’s unlikely to find acceptance for his sexuality living in a small community in Alabama. He’s heard the comments people make at school. He’s sat through the sermons in church. So he’s never told anyone–the last thing he would need would be to lose his best friend or to have his foster parents send him away. So when his best friend, Jamie Mayfield, confronts him when he’s acting strange and said confrontation ends in a kiss, Brian thinks it’s all over. To his surprise, however, Jamie lets Brian know he feels the same way. The two embark on a clandestine relationship, but in a small town secrets can only stay hidden for so long. And once they’re found out, it’s hard to make them ever go away.

For being one of those “growing up gay in a conservative town of bigot stories,” this one was actually on the easy end of the reading scale. The angst level isn’t through the roof, and the supportive characters are written in a believable and understanding way. I tackled this one fairly quickly because it kept my attention and I never ended up putting it down until I was done.

The Painting of Porcupine City by Ben Monopoli

The Painting of Porcupine City

The Painting of Porcupine City by Ben Monopoli

Published by: Ben Monopoli on August 29, 2011
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Fletcher Bradford is what one might call a free spirit. Aside from his best friend for years, Cara, and her boyfriend, Jamar, most of his relationships are shallow or short-lived. But when a mysterious new IT starts working at the company where Fletcher works, he is more than intrigued. And Mateo turns out to be freewheeling in some similar ways. It may well be that Fletcher has found his soulmate. But do they want the same things in life? When one is free spirited, can it ever work to be “tied down” to a single person? And does one’s soulmate need to share in one’s dream in order to keep the deep connection going?

On its surface, this reads quite strangely. At times, it almost seems just as aimless as the characters. The plot feels a bit like meandering down a winding path without always having an end in sight. And there are a few moments where things seem to transcend reality. But after finishing it and thinking about it some more, it hit me just how deep the messages of this book really are. It’s very much about finding yourself, achieving your dreams, navigating relationships, and understanding what people leave behind in our lives after they move on.

Foxe Tail by Haley Walsh

Foxe Tail

Foxe Tail by Haley Walsh

Series: Skyler Foxe Mysteries, Book 1
Published by: MLR Press on September 30, 2010
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Skyler Foxe is glad to have scored a job teaching English at his old high school. He enjoys teaching, loves literature, and cares for his students. But he feels he needs to keep the fact that he’s gay under wraps. There could be backlash in his conservative community, and it’s really not the school’s business at all, is it? But Skyler’s world turns upside down when he discovers a dead body in an alley behind a night club when he’s out on what should be a typical Friday night. And the victim has an unexpected connection to Skyler’s school. What follows is a series of events that leave him questioning what exactly is going on at James Polk High. Could a student be involved? Or is it the domineering football coach? Or what about the mysterious new biology teacher and assistant football coach who makes Skyler melt just by walking into the room? Despite warnings from his detective friend, Sidney, Skyler is determined to do what he can to solve the case and find out who’s responsible–even if he puts himself in danger in the process.

This is definitely an entertaining read. There are some interesting twists and turns for sure. And it’s not something that’s going to take you deep into any sort of philosophical or emotional issue. If you like a mystery with some light humor and a cast of interesting side characters, this will be a book for you.

My only real complaint is the ending. This is part of a series, so I know the story continues, but it was building up–in my opinion–to a reveal on another important incident that happened but then ends before giving it to readers. I’m guessing it’s the subject of the next book, and I’ll be picking that up to read it. I just felt a bit let down because it wasn’t addressed though it felt like it should be…

Not As Easy As It Looks by Jaime Samms

Not As Easy As It Looks

Not As Easy As It Looks by Jaime Samms

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on November 1, 2013
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Don Jenkins has been in what most people would see as an unconventional relationship since his early teens. In fact, it’s so unconventional that those around him seemed to identify it even before Don did. Don’s best friend, Griffith McAllister, has been there for him since they first met. And Howard Campbell provided Don with his first sexual experience. But can a relationship really work with three people? It’s one or the other, right? People have to choose, don’t they? Or, when the heart wants what the heart wants, is there a way to make it all work?

Oh. My. Angst. Seriously, this is one of the most angst-filled books I’ve read in a long time. But it’s that good kind of angst that gently rumbles in the pit of your stomach just to make sure you don’t forget it is there. And there’s a lot here about trust. Not just trusting another person, but trusting yourself and trusting your heart. Basically don’t get in your own way when love presents itself, even if it doesn’t look like love in the way society has told you love should be…

A Wedding to Die For by Xavier Mayne

A Wedding to Die For

A Wedding to Die For by Xavier Mayne

Series: Brandt & Donnelly Capers, Book 3
Published by: Dreamspinner Press on December 15, 2014
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

When a local baker and florist turn away a prominent gay couple and refuse to work their wedding, the couple strikes back. State law has recently been affirmed to prohibit discrimination, and the issue just might end up in court. But the governor and the attorney general would like to avoid that, which is why state police officers Brandt and Donnelly are called in to assist. And they resolve the issue with only a single meeting with each vendor.

The owners still aren’t keen on being associated with the wedding, however, leading them to each assign their sons to take on the task. It turns out that Justin and Roman are old friends who haven’t seen each other in years. And it also turns out they might just both have an interest in being more than friends.

Despite everyone’s best efforts, disaster strikes at the wedding. And the case that Brandt and Donnelly thought was over in a day becomes much larger…and more sinister than they could have imagined.

There are a few different plot lines here that are masterfully woven together to create an excellent story. There’s Brandt and Donnelly and their efforts to plan their own wedding. There’s the wedding that’s the centerpiece of the story. There’s the Justin and Roman relationship. And then the crime solving piece that comes into play for the second half of the book. It sounds like a lot going on, but it never really feels like it while reading it.

I will warn that there is a very brief moment of dub con here. It goes by quickly, but it’s an intense blip so I feel like it needs to be mentioned to anyone considering reading the story.

Although this is “Caper #3,” I will say that it’s the first book in this series that I’ve read. It’s not necessary to have read the previous books to follow what is going on, though there is the occasional reference that might make just a bit more sense with the full backstory of the previous books.

Zero at the Bone by Jane Seville

Zero at the Bone

Zero at the Bone by Jane Seville

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on April 6, 2009
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Dr. Jack Francisco was just minding his own business in the parking garage when he stumbled upon a murder. He managed to hide and escape with his life, but as a witness to a crime connected to a notorious crime family he can’t just go home. And he finds himself placed into witness protection with a new identity and a new home.

D is a hit man, but he’s a hit man with a bit of a heart. He will only take a contract on someone who he feels deserves to be taken out. No innocent people. No cases where the client just wants someone out of the way for convenience. But he finds himself blackmailed into accepting a job to take out a witness in a murder trial.

When D comes face-to-face with Jack, however, he can’t go through with it. Despite the blackmail, there are some rules that he just cannot break. But he knows that by not carrying out the hit, both he and Jack are in danger. And so they set out on the run–from the people who want Jack dead and the people who want D to be the one to make it happen. And when they’re on the run with only each other to turn to, who knows what could happen…

I very much appreciate that this didn’t go right into a “I’m immediately in love with the man who saved my life” type of story, as that’s where I was worried it was headed when I started reading. The relationship develops over some time, and both men also spend some time dealing with how they feel about both themselves and each other. Overall, it probably runs just a tiny bit longer than I would have preferred, but the action-packed scenes around the climax of the story definitely make the build up worth the wait.

A Matchless Man by Ariel Tachna

A Matchless Man

A Matchless Man by Ariel Tachna

Series: Lexington Lovers, Book 2
Published by: Dreamspinner Press on October 1, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

After several years of school and work to become a medical doctor, Navashen Bhattathiri is finally returning to his hometown of Lexington to start the next chapter in his life. He connects with high school classmate Brent Carpenter, who is now a realtor and helps Navashen to find the perfect house to settle into when he moves to town. Brent also considers himself to be a bit of a matchmaker, so he also offers to help fix Navashen up with the perfect guy. While Navashen appreciates Brent’s efforts, his busy schedule and responsibilities make it difficult for him to initiate or sustain a relationship with any of the guys Brent comes up with. But Brent is a constant for Navashen, and he sees Navashen’s busy schedule and his work as a sign of dedication and commitment–something to be admired. If Navashen were to be honest with himself, he would love for Brent to offer himself up as a potential date. But could Brent really feel the same way?

I associate Ariel Tachna with well-written and developed characters, and this story provides no exception. I found it easy to get a real sense of Navashen, what motivates him, where he’s come from, and what he wants from life. The characters around him were just as easy to follow, even those that only popped up once or twice during the course of the book. I took away a strong message that we need to be prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and our own happiness. There will always be things that we see as standing in our way–career, family, confidence–but if we’re not willing to confront them or try to get past them, then we really don’t have much standing to complain about not getting what we want…

Restless Spirits by Jordan L. Hawk

Restless Spirits

Restless Spirits by Jordan L. Hawk

Series: Spirits, Book 1
Published by: Widdershins Publishing on January 5, 2015
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Henry Strauss has no time for psychics or mediums. His own experience witnessing their deception has led him to develop machines that can detect spirits without the need for a medium–total objectivity. And he’s determine to prove that they work. So when he receives an invitation from Dominic Gladfield to investigate a haunted house and exorcise it of any malevolent beings, he jumps at the chance. Of course, the $500 prize is just as enticing.

Vincent Night received a similar invitation, but he doesn’t bring any fancy equipment with him. He has his skills as a medium and those of his colleague. And he is equally determined to win the prize. But what neither Vincent or Henry count on is the spark of attraction that pops up when they meet and lingers between them as they investigate Reyhome Castle. And they don’t exactly have time to explore the attraction while they’re still competing for the prize and trying to stay safe from what appears to be a powerful, angry, and violent spirit. To get out alive, they may just have to put all of their misgivings aside…

I actually enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I was going to when I read the blurb. Paranormal mysteries with a romantic subplot seem to be all over the M/M romance sphere. But this one stood out as unique to me. For one, the author doesn’t rely on tropes to carry the story. Yes, you can see them in the story since this is such a common framework. But aside from being the framework, the characters and their interactions have a spirit to them that is fresh and original. And each of the characters–including the side characters–has a rich backstory that comes into play at various points throughout the plot. Everything that happens is grounded in advancing the story, which keeps the momentum and the buildup to the climax going on an even pace.

I give this one a strong recommendation.