Review: ‘The Christmas Fling’ by Heidi Cullinan

36960440Published December 12th 2017
207 pages

Eccentric, reclusive, socially awkward project designer Evan Myles doesn’t date. Paying for sex with professionals is so much more efficient and suits his needs well enough. But when he’s on assignment in rural Logan, Minnesota, for the Christmas Town project and a handsome stranger at the bar catches his attention, Evan decides it’s time to break his rule. It doesn’t matter that he’s never so much as flirted before. It can’t be that hard, can it?

Davidson Incorporated lead architect Terry Reid hasn’t been hit on so clumsily in his life. Terry’s the first to admit he’s a neurotic Prince Charming, and he’s kissed his share of frogs of both genders, but he’s never met anyone quite like Evan Myles. Evan calls Terry by the wrong name, mistakes Terry for a simple construction worker, and picks apart his work as an architect. Despite this rough start, Terry is lured by the brilliance of Evan’s ideas, his quirky personality, and once they’re alone in Evan’s cabin, the man’s mad skills in bed. Yet Terry knows it takes more than a single night of passion to make a relationship work, and after so many failures, he’s just not ready to try again.

Evan and Terry’s path is strewn with stones neither of them can dislodge. Fortunately, they’re not alone on the road to romance. They’re in Christmas Town, home to matchmakers, meddlers, and more “fairy godfathers” than they could possibly know what to do with.

I have too many feels about this one to include it in my ‘My Week In Holiday Romances’ series, so it’s getting a post of its own for me to talk about it! I’ve tried not to go too far with the spoilers, but I have too many feelings to keep everything a secret…

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My Week in Holiday Romances! (#2)

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I spent the weekend and the start of the week rereading and catching up on the Leaning Into Stories series by Lane Hayes, making sure I was refreshed and up to date before starting ‘Leaning Into A Wish’, which meant I made sure to pick a couple of quick one-day reads to fill the rest of the week. Two new authors to me, and two delightful surprises, kept me reaching for my Kindle all week.

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My Week in Holiday Romances! (#1)

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I love Christmas. I get stupidly festive. My tree goes up ASAP, my workplace is covered in bunting and tinsel, I listen to nothing but Christmas music and watch Christmas movies, so it naturally follows that I read almost exclusively Christmas/winter themed books. I devour them pretty quickly, so rather than post individual reviews for every book, I figured I’d take you through what I’ve read week by week. My first week of holiday stories has set a pretty high benchmark…

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Review: ‘Junkyard Heart’ by Garrett Leigh

35611933Published December 4th 2017
192 pages

Tired of the London rat race and the heartbreak that comes with it, photographer Jas Manning returns to Porthkennack, the Cornish seaside town where he spent every childhood summer on his father’s farm. Resigned to year-round rain, wind, and homemade jam, he’s sorely unprepared for the impact that artsy carpenter Kim Penrose has on his heart.

Kim’s free-loving reputation precedes him, and he’s as generous with his inked-up body as he is with his time. The sex is hot, the easy friendship even better, and Jas’s time with him building his family’s new farmhouse canteen is everything Jas was missing in his empty city life.

But Kim’s carefree existence isn’t as simple as it appears. He’s worked hard to vanquish his demons and build his dreams, but the devil on his shoulder is ruthless, and when it comes to call, their happy bubble bursts like it was never there at all. The canteen opening looms, but Kim is gone in more ways than one, and it’s down to Jas to shore up Kim’s soul and convince him that he deserves his place in Jas’s heart.

I love Garrett Leigh. She’s my fave. I’ve never not loved something she’s written, and it’s not surprising that I loved this too. It’s her usual blend of gorgeous men who are beautifully tortured, but whose darknesses are lifted by the intense way they fall for one another. It’s a heart-wrenching but uplifting story, these two men becoming each other’s safe place.

Jas has had his heart broken and stamped on and is getting as far away as he can from his past and his ex, seeking shelter in Porthkennack, where he finds Kim. Kim we met in Garrett’s last Porthkennack novel ‘House of Cards’, and here we find that he’s carrying a heavy weight on his shoulders, dealing with his alcoholism and depression. He has such an easy smile and kind heart that he can fool anyone into believing he doesn’t have a care in the world, but those closest to him know there’s more lurking beneath the surface. I loved how candid Kim was about his troubles, how he never shied from them, and his wonderful support network of friends from Blood Rush were a pleasure to see again.

Jas and Kim had that perfect, instant chemistry. They fall in love hard and fast without meaning to, trying and not always succeeding in letting each other shoulder some of the weight they carry, needing to volunteer to help rather than wait to be asked. Kim’s ex-flame Lena still being present added a really interesting dynamic to his and Jas’s relationship. Kim and Lena were an item in ‘House of Cards’, naturally coming to an end, but the way they care for each other runs deep. She’s Kim’s haven, his rock when he’s been at his lowest, and it’s understandable that Jas would be intimidated by that. She’s mostly stayed around because she feels a responsibility to keep Kim safe, but she can see the powerful bond forming between the two men and feels now is the time to move on and leave Kim in someone else’s loving hands.

Kim and Jas just fit together, and the sex was hot as hell. But it also had moments of agonising tenderness, especially in the scene where Lena was involved. Garrett handled that with such care, it could have easily been really weird, but the connection between Kim and Lena made it all make sense, even to Jas. I really loved how her presence as an observer allowed Jas to connect to Kim in a way he hadn’t before. It was gorgeous.

Throughout the book you can feel the darkness growing in Kim, subtly but surely. You know some big breaking moment is coming, because that’s Garrett’s way, she can’t let them just be happy. So even though I fell in love with this story right away and wanted to hide away in the book and never put it down, I also wanted to hide from it, in fear of my own heart as well as Jas’ and Kim’s. When that moment came my insides were in pieces with panic and worry because I cared so damn much about these guys.

But those dark points brought with them some wonderful aftercare and healing moments that were some of my favourites in the whole book. One of my favourite things in the world is when two lovers shower together in a non-sexual but very intimate way, and that scene was everything I’ve ever wanted and never gotten before. There’s so much to be said for the simple act of washing someone else’s hair, soothing them, caring for them. So tender and soft and affectionate and ugh, just beautiful.

The ‘6 months later’ at the end of this book was just stunning. Everything’s not magically perfect, it’s clearly a steady climb with the potential for stumbles, but they’ve grown together so remarkably. I felt so proud of Kim and his outlook on life and his addiction. Finding help for himself and helping others. Jas is still feeling like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, but he’s doing more than he could ever know. I still felt that love between them so strongly, that aching need for each other and the shelter they provide, and I have real faith in their happily ever after.

It was superb. Garrett, you nailed it yet again.

5/5 stars

Review: ‘Five Dares’ by Eli Easton

35457416Published October 2nd 2017
245 pages

Andy Tyler has been the class daredevil since middle school. Over the years, he’s convinced his best friend, Jake Masterson, to perform some dangerous-looking stunts with him. But the dare they attempt on the night of their college graduation goes sideways. The firecrackers explode too soon and both of them end up with badly burned palms.

But hey, nothing gets the “terrible two-o” down for long, and they recuperate in style at Andy’s family cottage in Cape Cod. As the weeks go by, both Andy and Jake grow frustrated over the inability to use their hands for all sorts of daily activities—including getting off. So Andy begins a new series of dares that don’t just cross the friendship line, they obliterate it.

But what might be mere sexual relief to Andy is serious business to Jake, who only recently got over years of secret pining for his straight best friend. Inevitably, the burns heal, summer ends, and hearts are broken. To fix things, Andy will have to face the greatest dare of all.

I loved the concept of this book right off the bat. It just sounded a bit silly and frivolous, which is exactly what I needed in my life. The story definitely goes a little deeper than just a bit of fun, even teetering on the edge of getting emotionally heavy at times, but overall it’s an entertaining, low-angst read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Jack and Andy are total besties, this notorious double act that have been friends since forever and are known for their daredevil antics. Well, it’s mostly Andy being the stuntman, Jake has always been his ideal wingman, bringing in the crowds and amping up the tension. They’ve always been the perfect team. So they take part in one final stunt before they’re supposed to head to opposite sides of the country for the next stage in their lives, and it blows up in their faces. Quite literally.

So they get one last summer together, struggling on without the use of their hands, but still revelling in just being able to spend a couple more months together. But these young men run into certain obstacles. There’s many things they’ve learned how to do hands-free, but getting off isn’t one of them. So when daredevil Andy suggests mutual blowjobs to relieve the sexual frustration, there’s only way it was going to go. Jake has always followed Andy’s lead, and here it’s no different, even though he’s putting his heart on the line.

Because, of course, Jake has always been in love with Andy. Getting a job across the country was supposed to be his chance to get away and move on, to stop pining over his very straight best friend. And yet here they are, getting their sexy on, which is very not straight. And that’s where this book starts to develop into something deeper. Yes, it’s funny. Yes, it’s hot (that scene in the kitchen, HELLO). But beyond that it’s about two young men really discovering themselves. Especially Andy who finds himself wanting things he never thought he’d want, not from his very male best friend.

There were many moments where I wanted to bash their heads together, because come on, it was so obvious they both had feelings for each other. It very quickly stopped being just about a convenient way to get off, so them constantly trying to justify it that way was frustrating, but exactly what I was expecting from these guys. I was desperately willing Andy to open up to the possibilities about himself, to stop trying to force himself into a box that fits his dad’s expertly structured vision. He had to let himself dream.

It’s only when their summer is over that we start to see just how vulnerable Andy is. He’s always seemed so happy-go-lucky, but once he’s separated from Jake, his insecurities about his future and what he wants overwhelm him. It seemed in the beginning that this need to do reckless things came from needing to be acknowledged and validated by other people, but in the end it all comes down to Jake. Needing to keep him close. Needing to be a part of that team. Being scared about losing him.

Essentially, they just don’t function when they’re apart. You’d think Jake would have it worse, having to deal with getting over the guy he loves. But ohhh boy, does Andy fall to pieces. It’s heartbreaking and satisfying all at once to see him have that inevitable epiphany as to what Jake really means to him. And their reunion was all sorts of loveliness. The grand gesture Andy makes is perhaps a little but much for me, but it does suit his reckless personality, especially where his feelings for Jake are concerned.

And that epilogue, the final dare, was just perfect. Wrapping everything up in a pretty little bow. You can’t not root for these boys, and it’s a story I can see myself reaching for again in the future. I would highly recommend it.

4/5 stars

Review: ‘Wheels Up’ by Annabeth Albert

35176579Published November 7th 2017
320 pages

Lieutenant Dustin Strauss is a reformed man. No longer a twentysomething hell-raiser, he’s his SEAL team’s new XO-and a man with a secret. Or seven. He’s kept his bisexual identity under wraps for years, along with his kinky side and a fondness for the military-themed semianonymous hookup website Joe4Joe. His latest chat buddy is more than a sexy online distraction-they’re taking their very not-safe-for-work relationship into real time.

Petty Officer Wes Lowe has a smart mouth, a take-charge attitude and an uncanny ability for making things go boom. The life of an enlisted man isn’t always enough to satisfy him, but one wild, no-questions-asked weekend with his online love comes close. When a transfer order comes in, Wes feels ready and centered. He’ll make a good impression on his new SEAL team and keep his growing feelings for Dustin on the down low.

But as they log more time online and some very real emotions surface, Dustin and Wes struggle to pretend they’re just a harmless fling. And when his commander introduces Dustin to his team’s newest member, they’re in for the shock of a lifetime…and a crushing disappointment: their difference in ranks means even a friendship without sexual contact could end their navy careers for good.

With their hearts on the line, Dustin and Wes may not survive their next mission, let alone find a way toward a future together.

Annabeth Albert, you’ve done it again, you wonderful woman. This was great. This whole series is great. I adored it, just like every other Annabeth book I’ve ever read. The ‘Out of Uniform’ series might just be my favourite of hers, because who doesn’t love military men falling in love?

Both MCs, Dustin and Wes, are gorgeous. Inside and out. Dustin is the older brother of Dylan from ‘At Attention’, Mr Big Stoic SEAL, but he’s battling a lot of insecurity about who he is and what he wants from a relationship. He’s pretty much accepted that he’s bisexual, but he doesn’t know how to reconcile that with the person everyone else expects him to be. He needs guidance, to relinquish control, to give it all up and hand someone else the reins. And that’s where Wes comes in.

Unbeknownst to Dustin, Wes is also a SEAL. The safest pair of hands when it comes to explosives, as well Dustin’s body. They meet online for some kinky cybersex, which turns into kinky in-person sex, Dustin’s first physical sexual experience with a man, and damn. It suits him. They’ve got that D/S thing going on, fulfilling everything they’ve each wanted from a partner, like they were made for each other. And then the military goes and royally screws it all up by transferring Wes onto Dustin’s team, turning their relationship into something that could ruin them both. Goddammit.

Aaaaand then comes the angst. So much angst. As with a lot of military romances, the bulk of the story is the emotional torment of wanting each other so much but not being able to have each other. Not that these two are very good at staying away from temptation. Somehow they just keep ending up in bed together, and I can’t even blame them cause it’s seriously hot. But it’s not just sex. As much as they’re trying to avoid it turning into a deeper connection, it simply can’t be avoided. The emotional support they give each other, the way they can read each other and know when the other one needs lifted up. The frustration was real for me in this one because they were just so damn perfect for one another!

There’s mention early on of Dustin’s friend who works in private security, and how it’s Dustin’s ideal job, so it’s not exactly this huge secret that that’s where he’s going to end up eventually. I was so torn, desperate for him to pack it all in and leave so he could be with Wes, but at the same time it felt like too big a step for a relationship that hadn’t been around for all that long. I could understand why he’d hesitate; the Navy gave him an identity, he didn’t know who he’d be without it.

There’s added family drama in this book with Wes’ sister being really ill, and him struggling being transferred so far away from her, feeling so helpless. He needs to protect her and he can’t, and it’s a huge loss of control for him. But it’s something Dustin helps him with, helping him regain that balance thrown off by so much uncertainty. Wes can always be sure of Dustin. He can be raw and vulnerable, and still have command over Dustin, settling the storm inside himself. Ugh, these guys. I loved them so much.

The way everything began to get resolved wasn’t a huge surprise, but it didn’t feel trite and contrived, it made perfect sense for these two men. The way they felt about it, the way they connected over it, especially physically. Their connection got so deep they practically became parts of each other. And I loved how realistic it felt. Everything wasn’t magically sunshine and roses . They still had to tread carefully and keep secrets, but they did it for their future, and you could really feel just how much they loved each other. It was bloody gorgeous.

I really hope we get to see a glimpse of these men somewhere down the road, in their perfect future where they don’t have to hide anymore. Where they get to fulfil the promises they’ve made. Because they really deserve it.

4.5/5 stars