A Stella Review: Caught! (The Shamwell Tales #1) by J.L. Merrow

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

You can run from the past…but the past runs faster.

Shamwell Tales, Book 1

Caught coverBehind Robert’s cheerfully eccentric exterior lies a young heart battered and bruised by his past. He’s taken a job teaching in a village primary school to make a fresh start, and love isn’t part of his plans. But he’s knocked for six—literally—by a chance encounter with the uncle of two of his pupils.

Sean works in pest control, rides a motorbike, and lives on a council estate. On the face of it, he shouldn’t have anything in common with Robert’s bow-tie, classic-car style and posh family background. Yet Robert is helpless to resist Sean’s roguish grin, and a rocky, excruciatingly embarrassing start doesn’t keep the sparks between them from flaring.

Despite Robert’s increasingly ludicrous attempts to keep his past where it belongs, his past hasn’t read the memo. And soon his secrets could be the very things that drive Sean away for good…

Warning: Contains the alarming misadventures of a pest control technician, a stepsister with a truly unfortunate name, and a young man who may have more bow ties than sense.

Okay, confession time for me: I had with JL Merrow a love/hate relationship until last month (of course she didn’t know about it LOL). This amazing author wrote one of the first mm books I read back when I became obsessed with men loving men. The book is called Muscling Through and it still is one of my fave re-read. I fell in love with it and with the great way JL have to put words together. This love brought me to Hard Tail and there, it started my hate. I realized she was too “British” to my poor English. Sure it was my fault but I had to leave it behind and hated it. Three years later here I am, I came back to her, cause I honestly couldn’t resist The Shamwell Tales series anymore. I read it out of order, first Played! and then this one, Caught!

So far I read four of her books and I don’t want to stop! We can discuss about plots, characters, etc, but the feeling I have is the same in every book: satisfaction. That’s the word I have in mind when I think of her works.

Caught! was another winner to me. The story was definitely light, with a lot of humor and some incredible second characters, especially I’m thinking about Rob’s best friend, Rose, who was my favourite one, sometimes I liked her more that Robert himself. She acted exactly as I hope my friend should be: true in her harsh words, cheering and so much funny.

You know, I’m not usually a huge fan of stories based on misunderstanding and miscommunication, but in this case the story flowed so well I wasn’t bothered from the lacking of clarity, most of all because I really couldn’t blame Robert for being scared to share his past. It was so destructive enough for him to bring him to transfer in the new village of Shamwell. It made him more insecure in his love life and when he meets Sean, he is soon worried to not be enough for the bisexual man.

What about the pest control technician? Well first of all I have a thing for red hair, so I was a goner for Sean from the start. And for the little twins too, cute as much as trouble makers. Sean is a really good person, loyal in his love and so caring versus his sick sister, he lives with her to helping with his twin nephews. I loved how he was with Robert, so open and understanding with the formal teacher and so in love with his bow ties.

“I haven’t got any condoms!” I blurted out. Mortified, I clapped a hand over my mouth. I could almost feel the breeze of the stable door slamming shut as the horse flicked its tail in contempt and cantered merrily down the street.

Sean was laughing at me. “Okay, unexpected but to the point. I like that in a bloke.”

Oh God. “I mean, I thought… Just in case we… Not that I was making any presumptions, that would be, um, presumptuous. And I wouldn’t want to, well, presume…”

A rough-skinned hand stroked my face. It was blessedly cool against my heated skin. “Got it. No presuming. Wouldn’t dream of it. You know. Presuming you’d presumed.”

“You must think I’m utterly ridiculous.”

He laughed again. “Well, I wouldn’t say utterly.”

The story is full of funny moments, some cute and some unbelievable too. It was a light read but there were a lot of things going on at the same times (I don’t want to spoiler), which didn’t make the book confusing, just more relevant, poignant.
Of course I still had to use Google for a couple of things sometimes but it was so worth it. My relationship with JL is just a love story now!

Cover art by Kanaxa. I simply love this cover! It’s exactly how I imagined Robert, his expression, his clothes. Well done.

Sales Links:  Samhain PublishingAll Romance (ARe)Amazon Buy It Here

BOOK DETAILS

Published August 19th 2014 by Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
Kindle Edition, 276 pages
ASIN B00K1WUBG0
Edition language English

The Shamwell Tales series
Caught! #1
Played! #2

 

A Stella Review: Lonely Hearts (Love Lessons #3) by Heidi Cullinan

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Rating:  4,5 stars out of 5

Lonely Hearts coverWith the quiet help of his wealthy family, Sebastian “Baz” Acker has successfully kept his painful past at bay. But as the end of college draws near, his friends—his buffer zone—are preparing to move on, while his own life is at a crippling standstill.With loneliness bearing down on him, Baz hooks up—then opens up—with Elijah Prince, the guy Baz took a bullet for last year. The aftershocks of their one-night stand leave giant cracks in Baz’s carefully constructed armor. For the first time, the prospect isn’t terrifying.

Accustomed to escaping his demons by withdrawing into his imagination, Elijah isn’t used to having a happy herd of friends. He’s even less comfortable as the object of a notorious playboy’s affections. Yet all signs seem to indicate this time happiness might be within his grasp. When Baz’s mother runs for a highly sought-after public office, the media hounds drag Baz’s and Elijah’s pasts into the light. In the blinding glare, Baz and Elijah face the ultimate test: discovering if they’re stronger together…or apart.

“People moved on. Everyone did, eventually. Everyone but Baz”.

Elijah Prince is finally in a safe place. He’s really been through hell. After spent some time on the streets and being almost killed by his father, he’s trying to live his life. He’s got a job at a cafeteria for the summer and he’s waiting to move to the White House (not the one you’re thinking about, but if you have read Fever Pitch you already know it). Now it’s starting the real struggling, dealing with a lot of fears and panic attacks. Used to take care of himself since he was just a little baby, he’s not comfortable to receive kindness, to be cared of. He hides himself behind walls so high. Elijah is very lonely and unhappy. He’s not able to accept something, he’s scared of be a friend and have a friend. He always kept his pain closed away.

“[Elijah]I mean, I know I push people away, hurting them first so they can’t hurt me. I’m trying not to do that with most people, but I can’t stop with him. I want” […]“I want…him. A lot.

I maybe get a few good tries at not preemptively attacking him, and I fail…but he actually gets more aggressive then. The more I try to run, the more he wants me. I feel like he’s led me way out into the deep water where I can’t swim, and any second he’ll leave me to drown.”

“What in the deep water makes you so scared?”

It was a raging sea of terrible darkness in his mind. Huge, black, stormy. The emotion shafted him like cold light. “Loneliness. The water is full of loneliness.”

Sebastian “Baz” Acker has already saved Elijah once. But when Elijah’s dad tried to kill his son, Baz took a bullet in the shoulder to save him. And the need to protect the young man is still strong, still there in his soul.

Baz’s family is really rich, his uncle is a senator and his mum is running for a prestigious role in politic. When she wants him to attend a fundraiser with a boyfriend, Baz soon thinks about Elijah. After had sex at Kelly and Walter’s wedding, he had totally ignored Elijah for over a month. Baz is attracted to him cause Elijah is the only one to antagonize and keep him to his toes, to threat him as a normal person, where everyone in his life babies him.

Of course what started as a fake boyfriend is becoming to Baz a real one, he wants more from Elijah for the first time after a long time. He too has a painful past, physically and in his heart too, it’s time for someone to saves him from the daily pains he has to endure due to his disabilities and from the guilty he still feels about a dramatic event he couldn’t control.

“I…love you. I’m scared and I don’t want to, not anybody, but I do. Love you. And I don’t think I can stop.”

Hot breath exhaled on his cheek as Baz sighed, then nuzzled his temple. “I love you too.”

The story is detailed,  a specific feature of Heidi Cullinan’s writing style. It follows the MCs’ life together very well, let’s us know them and their feelings, their fears and most of all their incredible family, not the bloody one, but the true, faithful and stronger protective family of amazing friends. While both their families are non existent, there are a lot of people around them, their real family. There is a huge, pretty well-defined second characters cast: Marius and Damien are Baz best friends: Pastor Robert and his wife Liz, I loved how they cared for the boys, how they helped them in their job hunting or in their everyday activities. When Liz told Elijah “Oh, sweetheart. Come inside and let me wrap you in a blanket” I was so ready to let her adopt me too. Besides meeting Kelly and Walter (Love Lessons) and Aaron and Giles (Fever Pitch), Ed from Dance With Me appears in Lonely Hearts. I particularly liked when an author does this kind of mixing of  choices, I always crave to know more and more after the HEAs of my favorite couples. The book starts with Elijah taking part at the wedding of Kelly and Walter (Love Lessons) and I was so happy to know more about them, especially re-meet them at their wedding, a Disney theme wedding!

Apart from the not so ordinary lives Baz and Elijah have, one being trashed and left disabilitated, the other being almost killed by his own father (previous books), the story felt to me pretty real, especially in the dialogues between the characters. Only one thing I didn’t like: the easy way both of them used anxiolytics. Being there and struggling a lot to put them away, I wasn’t so comfortable at reading the easy way they took them and mixed with alcohol. At the same time I could understand the need and I so appreciate how the author chose to develop this need in the end.

I had to think a little about it, cause I honestly can say at the beginning it was hard to me to override what my mind was telling me and just let my heart show me how much I was loving the book, no matter what was happening at the moment. Most of all where the weed, alcohol, and xanax lead to some hot moments between Baz and Elijah. Nothing new in it because Heidi is really the QUEEN of hot scenes (have you read Special Delivery or Dirty Laundry? You know what I’m talking about).

I can’t talk of course of the ending but I want to tell you is just fantastic. It made me cry a little too. Just a little prayer to Heidi, I’m ready to begging, please can I have Lewis/Lejla in the next book, please?

Highly recommended. A great book with perfect writing.

Cover art by Kanaxa. I’m particularly loving this series’ covers. Really well done.

Sales Links:  Samhain Books     –    All Romance (ARe) –   Amazon  →  preorder/ Buy It Here

Book Details:

Warning: Contains sex in a Tesla, sex in a cupboard, sex under a piano, kinky role play, and a cappella RuPaul songs. Just a couple of boys groping, battling, then finally loving their way to becoming men

ebook
Expected publication: August 11th 2015 by Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
original titleLonely Hearts
ISBN139781619226692
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.heidicullinan.com/Lonely-Hearts
seriesLove Lessons #3

Love Lessons series
Love Lessons #1
Frozen Hearts #1,5
Fever Pitch #2
Lonely Hearts #3

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A MelanieM Review: Chasing the Swallows by John Inman

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Chasing the Swallows coverSometimes an entire lifetime can be spent in the arms and heart of one person. It is not so with imaginations, for they go anywhere they wish.

David Ayres and Arthur Smith are about to find that out. When they meet as young men within the garden walls of the Mission of San Juan Capistrano, one man from one continent, one from another, an uncontrollable attraction brings them together. But it is something stronger than attraction that holds them there. It is love. Pure and simple.

After forty years, when the fabric of their existence together finally begins to fray because of David’s imaginary infidelities, it is with humor and commitment that they strive to remain in each other’s heart.

And turning fantasy into reality, they find, is the best way to do it.

I love John Inman’s writings.  His comedic novels (and the few mysteries I have read) have always been grounded in the pain and gritty reality of life, an element which made the humorous sections feel authentic and precious when they happen.  But lately I’m finding it harder to connect with his stories and its left me wondering if it’s my expectations that are at fault instead of his actual writing.

Nothing exemplifies my confusion with his recent novels better than his latest story, Chasing the Swallows.   It was a story where I absolutely detested some elements while others left me sobbing and emptying a box of tissues.    I loved one character, disliked another (both came across as throughly believable and real).  And throughout the entire story, Inman’s style of writing felt concise, well organized and it brought the story to it’s heartbreaking/heartwarming conclusion.  But I wouldn’t read it again and hesitate to recommend it to others. *head desk*

My issues with the story started from page one.  The reader is dumped into the pornographic daydream of David Ayers, one half of a couple that’s been together for approximately 40 years after meeting in their early 20’s.  Its like reading/watching a bad porn movie unrolling before you with the (insert stock character like pool boy, gardener here) as a participant.  It’s only when the daydream is interrupted by Arthur, his partner, that we realize what has happened.  And the reality is both brief and painful for the reader and Arthur who realizes that his lover’s pornographic fantasies occupy more of David’s time and emotions then Arthur does.  We feel his pain and confusion over their situation and it drags the reader over immediately to Arthur’s side, where at least I stayed for two thirds of the story.

Over and over again, David and Arthur’s present day life (and David’s remembrances of their past together) is abruptly halted by David’s erotic dreaming, no matter the time of day.  We are just getting settled into finding out how they met or learning  about their life together then…bam….it’s David and his sexual hookups with whatever hottie is in front of him.  Grocery store, church, no male or location was free of David’s promiscuous musings.   And yeah, Jimmy Carter’s famous line about “I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times..” did jump to mind, and not favorably.

It’s not that the daydreams that bother me (ok, not true, they did) but also that these pages of porn take me away from the characters and out of the narrative.  Just as I suspect the author designed it to.  Those very same pornographic musings are taking David away from Arthur and their life together just as its removing the reader from their story.  It’s a familiar refrain heard from couples where one has become obsessed by the porn on the computer to the point where they do little else.  I get it, really I do.  But this literary device works too well.  It pulled me out of the narrative so completely (and made me detest David so throughly) that I kept putting down the story and going on to another.  Sometime it took me days to bring myself to pick up this story once more.  Only to repeat the process.

David is the narrator of their life together, past and present.  But its Arthur who grabs at our hearts while David is obsessing over his age and sex life.  Arthur is funny, fragile, and living in the moment…unlike his lover David. And Arthur is fully aware of how far they’ve traveled from the two young men so very much in love. He’s being neglected, perhaps completely.  It hurts, and it feels almost unbearably painful for him and the reader. Forty years together will do that…for some. Not all…most definitely not all.

But this is a realistic look at a long term relationships that has wavered and faltered. It’s so well written, its descriptions so starkly believable and filled with hurt feelings that I never once doubted the raw, immediate lives John Inman was laying out before us.  This includes David’s missed opportunities, ones he was aware of,  to make it “right” that helped serve to highlight those areas that I felt severed me from their story.  That it will take a tragedy to bring David back into his relationship may be authentic and realistic but further highlights the long delay it took to make the connection to David happen, at least for me.  Yes, towards the end I liked the “new” outlook that David found but that’s not the man I (and Arthur) lived with for most of the book.  That David was selfish, mean, obsessive over his looks and sex life.  In short, he was a jerk. And the one we had to listen to for pages and pages of his self involved outlook. Having David as the narrator was probably better, for if the roles had been reversed and we “saw” their life from Arthur’s perspective, than I don’t know that I could ever have found any affection for David, and that’s needed in order to buy into their long lived love affair.  Just one more issue I had with this story, my utter dislike of one of the main characters, no matter how well written the character.

David feels like a real human being, that’s great writing.  Still, it doesn’t make me want to spend time with him.   Only the sections from their past show a couple we could love and understand a little why they were drawn together. For me, that just wasn’t enough to overcome the issues that bothered me.

Finally, yes, that last chapters of the story had me in tears.  It unfolded so vividly that I felt as though I was there on this journey with them.  The writing is beautiful, the feelings it engendered so tender and loving towards both Arthur and David that I can feel the tears starting to form again just remembering these passages.

These pages made me want to rearrange and re edit this story, throwing whole sections away, leaving the parts that speak of love,the passage of time, and the possibility that it might be found once more before its too late.  But that’s not what John Inman wrote or what he intended to say in his story.  That’s the story you have to read and review.

So is it me?  Or is it this story?  Chasing the Swallows by John Inman still has me so conflicted.  And I suspect that this viewpoint will be felt by many readers out there.  Some, probably those less judgmental than myself, will find David less objectionable than I did and that feeling will make them view this story in a completely different light.  For me, like the swallows of the story (an amazing element that I adored), I will be finding my way home to another John Inman story…one that feels more like me, or at least more like a place I love spending time in.   Does this sound like a story for you?  The choice, as always, is up to you.

Cover art by Maria Fanning is probably one of my favorite covers for the month and perhaps the year. The subtle figures in the background enhance the picture of the swallow in the foreground. Just beautiful. Faded love and immediate beauty.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press eBookPaperback –   All Romance (ARe)Amazon     Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 200 pages
Published April 17th 2015 by Dreamspinner Press LLC
ISBN139781632169181
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com

In the Book Spotlight : Get Off My Case by Lisa Oliver (excerpt and giveaway)

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getoffmycase1 copy

Get Off My Case by Lisa Oliver

Release Date: December, 2014

STRW In The Spotlight Header

Goodreads Link
Publisher: Oliver Group Publication
Cover Artist: Lisa Oliver

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Sales Links:  Amazon – AllRomance (ARe) Smashwords 

Lisa Oliver’s back with gay wolfshifters in love with Get Off My Case by Lisa Oliver.  The path to mates and love is never a smooth one and that’s certainly the case here.  Check out the hot, almost NSFW excerpt below and don’t forget to enter the contest as well.

STRW Author BookSynopsis

Note: The first 20,000 words of this story were published as a free read for the Goodreads MMRomance Group Love’s Landscapes Project. 49,000 words have been added to make this into the book my characters wanted it to be.

Shane West was used to being the only wolf shifter at the Stockton Police Department. His enhanced senses helped him do his job efficiently and he prided himself on keeping control of his animal instincts. Gay from the first day he’d shifted, he also expected to live his long life alone, and provided it meant that he didn’t have to come into contact with any of his ex-pack, he told himself he was happy. And he was. Until Dimitri Polst was assigned as his new partner.

Confirmed ladies man, Dimitri Polst knew Shane from before he’d ever shifted into his wolf form. Two years older and from the same pack, Dimitri had made it his teenage mission to bring as much pain and humiliation to pretty-boy Shane as possible. But years later, he searched for that pretty boy, now all grown up, with a completely different mission in mind.

Being fated mates was hard enough, but when one man is straight and the other one has no reason to trust, then sparks are bound to fly. Add in a serial killer who is making inroads into the gay population and a possible shifter involvement, and Shane and Dimitri have a lot of thing to overcome before they get their HEA.

Pages or Words: 69,777 words

Categories: Erotica, Gay Fiction, M/M Romance, Paranormal, Romance

STRW Spotlight Book Excerpt

By the time Dimitri had got to the back door of the club he knew his wolf was close to the surface. He could feel his eyes changing and the hair on his arms start to tingle. It was only through sheer force of will that he stopped the change completely. Must not shift in front of humans, he tried to remind himself as he searched the dark alley, sniffing for his mate’s unique scent. There, deep in the shadows. The young blond was wrapped around Shane’s waist and neck like he belonged there.

Growling loudly Dimitri strode over to where the two men were hidden, his hands changing into claws as he itched to grab the little interloper and tear his body to inch sized bloody pieces. He couldn’t and wouldn’t hurt his mate, but he could and definitely would shred the little blond until he wasn’t a threat to Dimitri’s mating again.

“Dimitri, stop damn it!” Shane called out in a low voice as he carefully wound the young blond’s arms from his neck. “This is not what you think.”

Dimitri stopped himself, just, and watched as Shane spoke in a low voice in CJ’s ear and then gave him some money. CJ looked up at Dimitri and scowled at him and then took off back into the club. Shane flung out his arm and grabbed Dimitri by his belt loops and smashed him into the same wall he had been leaning on while he was entangled in his blond. But Shane’s eyes weren’t full of passion, Dimitri noticed. His mate was pissed off with him, big time.

“You just cost me some valuable information, fuck wit. Now what the hell did you think you were doing?” Shane snarled at him in a low voice.

“Is that how you get all of your information, detective,” Dimitri snarled right back. “By giving sexual favors to your tipsters?” Fuck, with Shane so close Dimitri could barely breathe. His cock was so hard in his jeans that it hurt and he couldn’t break his stare with his mate. Man, this guy was awesome when he was angry.

Shane tipped his head to the side and then took in a deep breath, obviously smelling Dimitri’s arousal. For a moment he looked confused, but that expression was gone in an instant and Shane’s angry gaze was back again. He leaned in flush against Dimitri’s body and growled softly in his ear, “CJ is an informant of mine. He’s been beaten before for talking to the wrong people and I don’t want to see my friend in hospital. We act like a hookup so he will be safe, asshole. So don’t go judging what you don’t understand.”

“But you’ve fucked him, right?” Dimitri regretted the words the instant they came out of his mouth as he watched a flash of pure murderous intent race across his mate’s hard face.

“Not that it’s any of your business, fuckwit, but I have never done anything sexually with CJ or any of my informants. Unlike you, I have standards.” Dimitri knew Shane was referring to the fact that when Dimitri was still in school he used to fuck anything in a skirt regardless of who it was. With his jock reputation and good looks he never lacked for girls willing to lift those skirts and give him what he wanted.

But right now Dimitri didn’t care that Shane was angry with him, or that he might have fucked up an investigation. Shane was leaning on him, chest to chest, but had kept his groin area away from Dimitri. And Dimitri was so turned on he couldn’t think. He needed friction on his cock and he needed it now. He reached out and grabbed Shane by his hips and pulled the man’s groin into his. Both men groaned as their dual erections nudged each other and Dimitri rocked into Shane looking for more.

“What the fuck do you think you are doing?” Shane snarled. Dimitri could see Shane’s eyes were blown with lust and the man was panting softly. Against his cock, Shane’s sizable erection nudged his and for the first time in his life Dimitri wanted to see another man’s cock. But not just any cock – Shane’s.

“I haven’t got a clue,” Dimitri said honestly, his own deep voice raspy with lust, “But I know I like it.”

 

STRW Author Bio and Contacts

Lisa Oliver had been writing non-fiction books for years when visions of half dressed, buff men started invading her dreams. Unable to resist the lure of her stories, Lisa decided to switch to fiction books, and now stories about her men clamor to get out from under her fingertips.

When Lisa is not writing, she is usually reading with a cup of tea always at hand. Her grown children and grandchildren sometimes try and pry her away from the computer and have found that the best way to do it, is to promise her chocolate. Lisa will do anything for chocolate.

Lisa loves to hear from her readers and other writers. You can friend her on Facebook here, or email her directly at yoursintuitively@gmail.com.

Where to find the author:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lisaoliverauthor
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/wisecrone333
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/lisaoliver79
Website: http://www.supernaturalsmut.com

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 STRW Spotlight Contest Header

Contest:  Must be 18 years of age or older to enter.  Link and Prizes provided by the author and Pride Promotions.  Enter to win a Rafflecopter Prize: Print copy of ‘Get Off My Case’, available to anyone worldwide.

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