Review: ‘Better Than’ Series by Lane Hayes

1Published July 8th 2013
200 pages

Matt Sullivan understands labels: law student, athlete, heterosexual. He has goals: graduate and begin his career in law. One fateful night, Matt tags along with his gay roommate to a dance club and everything changes. Matt finds himself attracted to the most beautiful man he’s ever seen. All labels go flying out the window.

Aaron Mendez doesn’t believe in labels, and he’s leery of straight curious men. He makes it clear that he’ll hide his fabulous light for no one. While Aaron can’t deny the attraction between him and Matt, he is reluctant to start anything with someone who is still dealing with what this new label means—especially when that someone has a girlfriend.

‘Better Than Good’ is a lovely little story; an instant attraction, a slowly blooming romance, and a bit of sexual self-discovery. Matt is a pretty straightforward guy, starting to come to terms with the fact he may be bisexual, helped along by the beautiful man he finds himself dancing with in a club one night. Aaron is an exciting, energetic, out and proud gay man who’s trying to find someone he can think about settling down with.

As much as I liked the premise of this book, the execution of it didn’t really float my boat. The writing felt a bit stilted, very much “this happened and then this happened”. I was constantly aware of it instead of being drawn into the story. It’s not what I was expecting, given that the ‘Leaning Into Stories’ series by Lane Hayes that I’ve read previously was beautifully written.

The story felt rather confused at times. At the beginning of the book, Matt was feeling like he should be freaked out by the fact he’s attracted to Aaron, like it’s this completely new thing to him. But right after that, out of nowhere we find out that Matt has had sex with another man before and didn’t get that freaked out by it, and he’s also been attracted to other men in the past, so the messages got a bit conflicted.

I also found that the characters felt younger than they really were. Maybe it was just the references to being in college, but the whole thing felt more like a New Adult novel to me. I got the impression I was reading about a couple of guys in their early twenties, but Matt is actually 24 and Aaron 28, and when I found out it totally threw me off.

So this book was a mixed bag for me. It wasn’t the most comfortable read, but I did like the story and the characters. Especially Aaron as he was so vibrant. I liked the romantic side of Matt with his music and his serenading Aaron to win him back. I actually found myself more intrigued by Aaron’s friends Jay and Peter, so I like that the next book in the series is their story.

‘Better Than Good’ was sweet, but not really a winner for me.

3/5 stars

2Published January 22nd 2014
200 pages

Jay Reynolds has a crush on his project leader at work, but an office romance with Peter Morgan isn’t likely to happen since Peter is straight. Worse, Jay soon fears Peter is homophobic, and his initial infatuation turns to loathing. But one fateful night, Jay is forced to acknowledge things aren’t quite as they seem with Peter. Suddenly, his crush is back and unbelievably, Peter is interested too.

They begin a friends with benefits arrangement, which becomes difficult for Jay when he starts falling for his sexy boss. Peter’s past issues keep him from committing, and Jay has to decide if he can be satisfied with friendship if Peter isn’t ready to take a chance on anything more.

Hooray! The writing was so much better with this one. It was such a relief not to have that distraction this time around. Although a niggle I had with the first book did come up again in this one, in that the chapters are really quite long, over 25 pages in some cases (although I didn’t count throughout the book, so it could have much more than that). I have no issue with long chapters when there are reasons for them, but these didn’t make much sense to me. There was so many scenes and settings and conversations and events that could have been better sectioned out.

I really liked both MCs, they interested me in the last book and I enjoyed getting to know them in this one. Jay is rather like Aaron, but less flamboyant. He’s fun, he’s chatty, and he’s very much endearing. Peter is rather captivating, sharp and hard-working, but with this sunny side that only those he’s close to get to see. They had palpable chemistry, with both passion and sweet romance.

The plot wasn’t all that original, two men who are attracted to each other start a friends-with-benefits arrangement and inevitably fall for each other. One wants more, the other doesn’t, then the other changes their mind and wins them back. I’ve read many like it before. I was hoping there’d be a bit more drama with the whole forbidden office romance element, but it never really headed in that direction.

The only moment of strong emotion I felt in this book was when Peter and Jay were away on their weekend away and Peter corrected someone’s assumption that Jay was his boyfriend and told them “We’re just friends”, when it was beyond obvious to all, even Peter, that they were so much more than that. These kinds of books always cause such frustration where you just want to bang the MCs’ heads together, and this was no exception.

I still felt by the end of this book that Peter was a bit of a mystery. We got told about his past but I didn’t really feel like a truly knew him. I would have maybe liked to see some interactions with his family, like the glimpse we got of Jay’s in the end. But that’s the issue with only reading one person’s POV, we never see what’s going on inside the other’s head.

Overall, I really liked this couple and this story. Not one of my favourites, but a nice read.

3.5/5 stars

3Published June 16th 2014
216 pages

When Curt Townsend, a successful young DC lawyer, attends his first gay wedding, he doesn’t expect anything more than a great evening out spent celebrating two lucky guys willing to commit to one another. He certainly doesn’t anticipate meeting someone like Jack Farinelli. Fourteen years Curt’s senior, Jack owns two businesses: a gay bar and a motorcycle shop. He’s gorgeous and self-assured, but Curt is positive they have nothing in common.

Jack is comfortable in his own skin. He’s attracted to Curt’s quick wit and easy manner but most of all, to their unexpected mutual love of baseball. As they forge a friendship based on their shared enthusiasm for the sport, they begin a journey which reveals how their differences might be the catalyst behind a growing attraction. Both men have experienced their share of pain, but they realize they need to set aside the past and learn to trust in a future if they are to have one together.

‘Better Than Friends’ follows the story of Curt, Matt’s housemate that we met in book one, and Jack, Peter’s ex that we met in book two. Neither one of them were characters I was particularly interested in based on what we knew of them from those books, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. But thankfully I really did enjoy getting to know them here.

I have to talk about Jack first, because damn he was stunning, just my kind of leading man. Sexy and cheeky and bit of a bad boy, tattoos and motorcycles and leather, but with a total heart of gold. I really couldn’t ever imagine him with Peter, but I suppose that was the whole point. He owns a bar that is known as favoured spot for people who are part of the leather community, but Jack himself is isn’t necessarily a part of that. It’s clear he enjoys certain elements of those kinds of relationships, but this is not a book about a D/S relationship.

Curt was a lot different in this than I remembered him to be from the first book. Back then I thought him to be quite cocky and confident, very much out of the Aaron and Jay mould if slightly less flamboyant, but in this book he’d had a bit of a personality transplant. He was constantly unsure of himself and quite highly strung. That’s not to say I didn’t like him, I really did, I found I understood him and connected with him, he just felt like a new character rather than a revisited old one.

What I loved about their relationship was the way Jack created such a safe space for Curt to exist in. He became a haven where the often uptight Curt didn’t have to stress about anything, he just got to be. Curt got to let go, give up control and have Jack take the reigns, which is something Jack clearly thrived on and hungered for, so they were well matched. There was definitely a subtle D/S vibe going on, a perfect simmering level that suited both of them really well.

As with the other books in this series, I had a few issues with various parts. I didn’t really follow why Jack doesn’t date, he was very clearly eager and interested in Curt, so why they were constantly dodging it being dating rather than just fooling around was beyond me. I know Jack was hurt by his unsuccessful relationship with Peter in the past, but it didn’t strike me as something that damaged him.

Curt was the one constantly questioning their relationship, questioning why Jack would want him (excessively at times), and yet in the end it was Jack who tried to call it quits. It’s the only time I really felt he was carrying scars from his relationship with Peter, but it was hard to feel sympathetic towards him when he decided to end things right when Curt had just found out his dad had died. So yeah, dick move. I was glad I didn’t have to wait long for the inevitable change of heart and grand gesture for Jack to win Curt back.

But aside from that and the reoccurring issue I’ve had with these books with the length of the chapters, I did really like this one. They’re a couple that worked for me and I had faith in once they got over themselves and their hang ups. Still not mind-blowing, but what I’ve come to expect from this series.

3.5/5 stars

4Published September 25th 2015
244 pages

Paul Fallon is a fashion advertising guru. He’s a genius at dealing with difficult editors, art directors, and designers alike. He thrives on the chaotic atmosphere and constant challenges. But in his personal life, he’s hoping for peace and stability. Settling down with a nice doctor or lawyer sounds perfect. Anyone but an artist. He’s been there, done that, and he doesn’t want to relive the heartache.

Seth Landau is a model, occasional guitarist, and aspiring painter. He’s quirky, flighty, and wise beyond his years. Life has taught him some tough lessons, then given him opportunities he never dreamed of. He’s learned to appreciate the fragility of life and to express it in his work. Seth’s flare for the absurd combined with a supple mind and a beautiful body are too alluring for Paul to ignore. Against his best intentions, Paul is drawn to the younger man whose particular brand of crazy challenges Paul to accept that things aren’t always as they seem. Sometimes taking a chance is better than being safe.

‘Better Than Safe’ is Paul’s story. Paul was the vague love interest of Curt from ‘Better Than Friends’ that never really went anywhere, and I have to say I found him quite annoying in the last book. He just seemed to lack any substance as a character. But I found I understood him a lot more here.

Seth drove me mad in the beginning of this book. Like, seriously, he made me crazy. He was obnoxious and rude and vapid, and although I could tell this was some kind of facade or a front, it didn’t make him any more tolerable. I don’t know if it was the character or the writing, but I felt like the whole quirky-extravagant-artist thing was pushed too far. There’s quirky, and then there’s just being an arsehole, and Seth definitely fell on the arsehole end of the spectrum. Thankfully it didn’t take too long to be shown glimpses of the man beneath the mask and he became someone I warmed up to. And from that point I started to really enjoy this story.

This book followed the pattern that the other books in this series did, in that the MCs aren’t looking for relationships so they try the whole friends with benefits thing, and by this point that had gotten old. Paul really was looking for something serious, I don’t see why Seth wasn’t, it’s not like he fought it once they eventually got there. It would have been nice to see things shaken up a bit.

I did like the addition of a genuine villain in this one. Simon is the abusive, manipulative ex the two MCs coincidentally share, and he really is pure evil. His presence creates real drama and tension and a dark history that gives book more of a depth than the others.

Although this book followed a similar pattern to the others, I liked that Seth and Paul’s relationship was different. It’s emotionally volatile, Paul’s fear and frustration constantly warring with his lust and intrigue. Their dynamic was refreshingly different, and their resulting partnership felt strong and something I was really rooting for.

There was a moment towards the end of this book when Paul is having a bit of a meltdown after a run in with Evil Simon, doubting his relationship with Seth and just falling apart, and Seth delivers this whole speech to him that is everything I’ve always wanted an MC to say to the other in a situation like that. I was thrilled as I read it, it was a total hallelujah moment…and then Paul goes and walks away anyway! I was fuming. But as is the way with this series, things were very quickly resolved. Sometimes too quickly for me, I don’t mind MCs having a bit of distance before realising their mistakes, but it didn’t bug me too much here.

Given when I started this book I felt like I wasn’t going to like it, I was very much glad to be proven wrong, I enjoyed it far more than I expected to. Seth and Paul had me totally charmed. I liked their push and pull, the way they captivated each other, the way they never set out to be romantic with each other but repeatedly ended up that way. It was nice to have a journey that felt different to the ones that came before it.

This whole series was full of ups and downs for me. The characters were engaging, I cared for them, but only in the moment. There were just too many little issues for me to fall in love with the stories. I can’t say it’s a series I’ll be revisiting.

3.5/5 stars

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