A Barb the Zany Old Lady Release Day Review: Just Add Argyle (Fabric Hearts #3) by K.C. Burn

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

This installment of the series started out slow as the author built the background of Tate Buchanan, a guy who’s always been called stupid—by friends, bosses, coworkers—and by his mother. He’s dirt poor, a high school dropout, and always getting into fights. Usually the fights are to defend some other guy, and frequently it’s to stop a gay bashing, but he always ends up in trouble. He’s also been known to mouth-off to his bosses or to others when he loses his temper so it’s no wonder he’s well-known by cops.

We first met Jaime Escobar in Plaid Versus Paisley when Caleb was trying to hookup Dallas with his cousin Jaime. Known as a player, Jaime keeps a low profile because unlike what his family believes, he’s not interested in any hookups—he wants a man to love him for who he is and to plan for a future together. In other words, he’s looking for a certain spark and for someone who wants commitment.

An EMT, when he’s called out with his partner to treat an abuser and the guy who saved another young man from being raped, Jaime meets Tate—the guy who stopped the attack. And though it seems the two would have nothing in common, Jaime feels that spark he’s been searching for.

This story is not one of insta-love. We get to know Tate and his life circumstances—a verbally abusive alcohol- and drug-addicted mother who would like to pimp him out for money to feed her habit and a learning disability in which he confuses numbers so spectacularly he dropped out of high school and accepted his label as stupid.

Jaime, on the other hand, can’t seem to forget Tate and goes to great lengths to find out who he is and to meet him again. He’s Tate’s first date when he gets the man to finally agree to see him, and from that point on, we get to see a new world unfurl for Tate—a world he richly deserves. But again—it’s not speedy. It takes quite a while for the changes to occur and for both men to come to terms with the feelings they have for one another.

There’s more action, disappointment, surprises, and romance in store for the two and it made the story so much better than I initially thought it was going to be. I’m hooked on these two guys, but especially Tate. What a hard-to-get-to-know but a man-I-want-to-adopt sweetheart he turned out to be!

I definitely recommend this story to those who love MM contemporary romance, age-gap, disabilities, and, of course, with Raven in this story as Tate’s new friend, there’s kilts! Lots of sexy guys in kilts! Highly recommend.

~~~

The cover art by LC Chase depicts a single male wearing an argyle vest and jeans set against a yellow plaid background—the perfect representation for the story as Tate favors argyle, considering it his good luck charm, and Raven convinces him to wear that plaid to model a kilt for a Tartan Candy calendar. 

Sales Links

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Book Details:

ebook, 204 pages
Expected publication: April 21st 2017 by Dreamspinner Press (first published April 17th 2017)
ISBN139781635335682
Edition LanguageEnglish
Series Fabric Hearts:

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Release Day Review: Snow in Montana (Montana #4) by R.J. Scott

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

snow-in-montanaThe fourth installment in the Montana series, it’s now Sheriff Ryan Carter’s turn to find love, and not just the one-night-stand kind of love he’s used to. When he meets Jordan Darby, a child star now known as the King of Christmas for all the holiday made-for-TV movies he’s starred in, something stirs in Ryan’s heart, even before he realizes Jordan is gay.

Closeted for years, Jordan fears coming out, not just because it will lose him jobs as a romantic lead, but also because it may upend the fledgling production company he and his twin have started. This first year they are filming their Christmas romance in Montana and have sold it to a family network so the fear is real. His coming out right now could cause that network to negate their contract, and he and his brother could lose all the money they’ve invested from both their own savings and from their deceased actor father’s estate.

But RJ Scott delivers a very feasible story to create a world in which Jordan, only a Hollywood B-list actor, can leak the story slowly and move on with his life. Without flaunting it, he manages to find a way to make a romance with Ryan work, even after he returns to LA to finalize the film.

What makes this story different is that the mystery, which surfaced in the first book involving Adam and Justin, remains strong and is interwoven throughout this book. So much so, in fact, that at times I felt that it detracted from the developing romance between Ryan and Jordan. Instead of this story being 80% Jordan and Ryan, 20% other series’ characters, it felt like at least 50-50, and if anything, it may have even been tipped the opposite way. I guess that’s my way of saying that I would have liked more of Ryan and Jordan, more conflict, more slow burn, more loving, and more romance, so I was ultimately disappointed in this book. I’m ready to move on from the mystery, and I’m at the point where Adam is more annoying than anything, and Justin comes across as a drama queen. I hope the end of the series is near and that future books don’t focus so much on either of the former books’ characters or else just focus on them and be done with it.

So overall? Jordan and Ryan—great couple, beautiful setting, sweet romance; and the ongoing mystery—complex, annoying, ready to draw to a close. If that’s something you’d like, this would be a great series to pick up. I would not recommend this book as a standalone.

Cover art by Meredith Russell shows a beautiful scene of two handsome men against a snow-covered background

Sales Links

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Book Details:

ebook, 360 pages
Published December 7th 2016 by Love Lane Books Limited
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesMontana #4

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Release Day Review: Heated Beat Bundle (Heated Beat #1-2) by Garrett Leigh

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Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

heated-beat-bundleBOOK ONE: My Mate Jack by Garrett Leigh

Teen best friends Will and Jake have shared everything together for as long as they can remember, and Will has loved Jack from the moment he realized he was attracted to men. But not only is Jack straight, he’s not staying in the area after they graduate high school. Jack is taking his love of music on the road, having secured a DJ job in Ibiza, while Will is heading to university to get the degree he needs for his design career. 

Just before he leaves though, Will and Jack go further than either of them ever intended, and though Will wants to confess his love for his friend, he lets Jack get away without that conversation but regrets it from the day he goes. 

Texts, emails, and one visit to Ibiza accompanied by Will’s female roomies and his boyfriend du jour lead to a further divide between the men and misunderstandings can’t be resolved with the distance they maintain.  More texts, and Will thinks there might be a chance for them to get together over the holidays, but Jack doesn’t stay at his parents’ house long enough to fit in a visit to Will, and they’re divided again. 

If you like a friends-to-lovers story that is overflowing with angst and miscommunication, this may be the perfect story for you. I enjoyed the characters created by the very talented Garrett Leigh, but I must admit I was a bit lost with the music references, a fact I attribute to my age and lack of interest in music trends. I also get pretty wound up in anxiety when a couple perpetuates misunderstanding by failure to communicate, so this is not one of my favorites from this author, but it was good, nonetheless.  I’d give it 3 stars on its own.

~~~~~~~~~

BOOK TWO: Lucky Man by Garrett Leigh

Over ten years have gone by since Will and Jack got together in the first book, and they’re still not living together full time.  I found this a bit odd, but the author explains it as the nature of their relationship, so odd or not, it works for them. Jack’s got a place in Nottingham that he shares with Finn McGovern, musician, rock star, and a man who is mentally unstable when his disorder acts up.  But that’s not evident when he first meets Danny Jones. 

Danny is a vice squad detective, currently leading the investigation into the disappearance, and then murder, of prostitutes. Feeling little more than helpless and hopeless some days, he works extremely long hours, so when his boss forces him to take a day off, he decides to catch some music at a pub he infrequently visits.  And there he sees Finn McGovern, not in the persona of the lead singer of the rock band, The Lamps, instead, taking the spotlight with his guitar, playing and singing a variety of songs from multiple decades and multiple genres.  When Finn catches his eye across the room, Danny is hooked.

Their relationship is tumultuous from then on, not because of any outright hostility, but because Danny can’t commit the time and energy Finn needs from him to feel safe and loved.  Danny knows it, but with his case occupying all his time and more than half of his attention, he starts to wonder if he should commit to Finn. And then Finn shares his secret—his medical disorder—one that can lead him to destroy their relationship and himself if left untreated.  That’s not an issue right now as he does get his treatment regularly, but Danny’s reaction is not what Finn hoped for and Finn storms off in a snit.

I enjoyed this story immensely. The author delved deeply into Finn’s personality and his illness and gave good insight to the effect one’s state of mental health can have on every aspect of life. Danny was a difficult character to like, though he wasn’t one I’d outright dislike, he simply was, and because he was so reserved and deadpan, and we spent so much time with him in his professional life, it was difficult to know what was underlying his veneer.  Unless, or until, he was with Jack, because that’s when his eyes sparkled, and the smile couldn’t help coming out. 

It was a tough story, both on the surface where the murder investigation was going on, and below the surface, where Finn was struggling with his disease, and he and Danny were struggling to cement their fledgling relationship.

We did get to enjoy quite a bit of Jack and his partner, Will, throughout the story, and the balance of the cast of characters was quite diverse and well-developed. If I was planning to rate both stories individually, this one would be at least 4.5 stars. 

Getting these two books in a bundle is a treat that should not be missed. Garrett Leigh is an excellent author, and although I didn’t enjoy the first story quite as much as the second, I can definitely recommend this Heated Beat bundle to lovers of MM romance, especially those who enjoy a UK romantic action adventure. 

~~~~~~~~~

Cover art by Garrett Leigh is a split photo of two young men. The one of the left can be any of three MCs: Jack, Finn, or Will and the one on the right is definitely Danny. 

Sales Links

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Bundle/Book Details:

ebook, 240 pages
Published December 5th 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781635331042
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesHeated Beat #1-2

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Releases Day Review: Lost and Found by Rick R. Reed

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Rating:  4 stars out of 5

lost-and-found-by-rick-r-reedOn a bright autumn day, Flynn Marlowe lost his best friend, a beagle named Barley, while out on a hike in Seattle’s Discovery Park.

On a cold winter day, Mac Bowersox found his best friend, a lost, scared, and emaciated beagle, on the streets of Seattle.

Two men. One dog. When Flynn and Mac meet by chance in a park the next summer, there’s a problem—who does Barley really belong to? Flynn wants him back, but he can see that Mac rescued him and loves him just as much as he does. Mac wants to keep the dog, and he can imagine how heartbreaking losing him would be—but that’s just what Flynn experienced.

A “shared custody” compromise might be just the way to work things out. But will the arrangement be successful? Mac and Flynn are willing to try it—and along the way, they just might fall in love.

In a delightful story about two men and their love for one dog, Rick Reed’s love for his real dog, Lilly, comes through loud and clear.

Flynn Marlowe lost his dog, Barley, last fall, and his house has never been home since then, so imagine his shock when he spots Barley as he’s out for a run about eight months later, but Barley is now answering to Hamburger and is accompanied by a gorgeous redhead who also catches Flynn’s eye. 

Mac Bowersox took in the near-starved pup last winter when he found him. After checking for a chip and calling around, it was evident he’d been abandoned, so after scarfing down Mac’s burger, Hamburger was christened and taken home to the rooming house where he lives with his elderly landlady. Confronted by Flynn, Mac lies, and despite Barley’s apparent interest in the stranger, Mac adamantly insists the dog can’t be Barley. The moment Flynn turns his back, Mac takes off. 

I loved the beginning of the story as both men have found their family member and yet neither is willing to compromise in any way on his custody.  Sometimes our pets are all the family we have, and anyone who’s owned a dog knows they give us their whole heart unconditionally. 

After he has time for remorse, and when he happens to see Flynn again, Mac decides to do the right thing and give Hamburger up, but then it’s Flynn’s turn for remorse as he can see how traumatized Mac is by giving him up. 

There’s a nice compromise on the table, though it proves heartbreaking for both men, and when Mac has a family tragedy, it’s Flynn he turns to for help.  Over time, the men have grown closer—a point Barley seems to be quite happy about. 

This author never fails to deliver a wonderful story, whether it’s scary, heartbreaking, or heartwarming. A simple concept, with a very interesting twist and turn of events, and wonderful, three-dimensional characters from Mr. Reed makes this one a winner.  If you’ve ever had a pet or wanted one, and if you have a soft spot in your heart for men who love animals, I highly encourage you to pick this one up. You won’t be disappointed.

~~~~~~

Cover art by Reese Dante is beautiful and perfect for this story. The characters are exactly the way I pictured them, the dog is perfect, and she even managed to get in a bit of the Washington coastline. 

Sales Links

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Book Details:

ebook, 200 pages
Expected publication: December 5th 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781634778848
Edition LanguageEnglish

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Release Day Review: Seven-Card Stud (Wild Cards #2) by Ava Drake

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

seven-card-stud-by-ava-drakeTemptation, peril, and dirty poker.

Love is a high-stakes game.

When Collin Callahan, British secret agent, goes up against math genius turned surfer bum Oliver Elliot, the battle is epic—and so is the attraction. They’re pitted against each other in an exclusive, ultra-secret—and ultra-illegal—poker match in Gibraltar, but when players start dying and they could be next, they find a common goal: catch the killer before it’s too late.

Evenly matched at poker and romance, they each wrestle personal demons that threaten to consume them as the stakes climb. It’s an all-or-nothing gamble with both life and love on the line as they fight to be the last seven-card studs standing.

have mixed feelings about this story.  On the one hand it was much more complex than most of the others I’ve read in the Dreamspun Desires series.  There was more intrigue, more danger, and less of a chance to guess the outcome, but on the other hand, unfortunately, there was less romance. There was sex, and some of it smoking hot, but the MCs constantly bantered back and forth, sometimes sounding as if they were speaking truthfully when what they had to say wasn’t what I’d expect from two men falling for each other. 

And there was more info about poker—how to play, how to bluff, how to read tells, etc. than I ever cared to know.  Some of the things that occurred as the story was coming to a climax didn’t make sense to me. Things such as Collin’s wireless being jammed, and yet, the next day it’s revealed how Oliver contacted (spoiler) to communicate urgent information.  Why was his wireless not knocked out as well?  Little things like that drive me crazy. 

And the fact that the story did not have what a purist romantic like me would call a HEA?  Nope.  I’m not happy.  So although I’d recommend it to those who can’t resist the Dreamspun Desires series, I’d more likely recommend it to someone who wants to read a story filled with intrigue than to someone looking for a sweet romance.

Cover art by Paul Richmond is wonderful.  It has all the elements needed and then some.  Love it.

Sales Links

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Book Details:

ebook, 242 pages
Expected publication: November 15th 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781634775656
Edition LanguageEnglish

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Release Day Review: Heart & Soul by Shae Connor

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

heart-soul-by-shae-oconnorUnder a hundred pages, this story seems much longer due to the author’s crafty way of weaving us into this tale of a very slow burn romance.  There’s so much character development in an interesting story arc that I simply couldn’t believe it was so short.  And though I would love to read more of this couple, the story ended on a perfect note (pun intended).

Kellen is a pianist in a local bar a few nights a week and weekends as needed. In addition, he teaches piano lessons and has a degree in music education with a concentration in jazz piano, so he’s in the perfect position to help out the new owners who want to mix in some R&B and jazz with the current music selections.  Not one for casual sex, or for relationships for that matter, Kellen is attracted to men but rarely acts on that attraction. So it comes as a surprise to him when his friendship for one of the new owners gives him little tingles in more than just his heart.

Terrence Harvey, former pro football player, finally has a chance to use his business degree when he and his attorney brother purchase the bar together. Though out to his family, the bisexual man has remained closeted to the public due to his career choice, but he finds Kellen fascinating and is more than willing to act on that attraction. Regardless, it isn’t until after the 60% mark in the story that they finally have more than a simple kiss, and oh my, what a scorchin’ hot, complex kiss it is when these two finally set off rockets together.

I enjoy the author’s writing style and appreciate the sense of family, warmth, and connection she brings to her books, not to mention the light touch of humor and a load of romance.  I highly recommend this one to lovers of romance, slow burn, and/or stories featuring musicians.

The very attractive cover by AngstyG features Kellen playing the piano in the bar—a perfect representation of his character.

Sales Link

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Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 87 pages
Expected publication: November 14th 2016 by Shae Connor
ASINB01LX2XSXW
Edition LanguageEnglish

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Release Day Review: Tied Up in Knots (Marshals #3) by Mary Calmes

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

tied-up-in-knotsMiro Jones is living the life: he’s got his exciting, fulfilling job as a US deputy marshal, his gorgeous Greystone in suburban Chicago, his beloved adopted family, and most importantly, the man who captured his heart, Ian Doyle. Problem is, Ian isn’t just his partner at work—Ian’s a soldier through and through. That commitment takes him away from Miro, unexpectedly and often, and it’s casting a shadow over what could be everything Miro could ever dream of.

Work isn’t the same without Ian. Home isn’t the same, either, and Miro’s having to face his fears alone… how to keep it together at the office, how to survive looming threats from the past, and worst of all, how to keep living without Ian’s rock-solid presence at his side. His life is tied up in knots, but what if unknotting them requires something more permanent? What would that mean for him and Ian? Miro’s stuck between two bad choices, and sometimes the only way to get out of the knot is to hold tight to your lifeline and pull.

Days after finishing, my head is still spinning. There was just so much detail to this story!

First of all, thank you, Rhys Ford, for allowing Kane and Connor Morgan to interact with Miro on a takedown in San Francisco.  Wonderful vignette!  And thank you, Mary Calmes, not only for arranging that interaction, but also for mingling in mentions of some of my other favorite characters, including Andreo Fiore and Duncan Stiel. 

So, on to the story. Oh boy, this one is packed full of adventure, almost as much as it’s packed full of heartbreak—for both Miro and Ian—his frequent deployments are causing havoc with the stability of their relationship.

There are numerous trips away from his Chicago home base for Miro, as he first has to assist the DEA in San Francisco for a takedown, and then finds himself picking up a young man in Vegas who’s going into Witsec, a young man who wants to get in Miro’s pants in the worst way. Thankfully, Drake and Cabot, the young former witnesses who treat him and Ian like parents, are getting out of the program as their safety is no longer in question, and they befriend Josue, the new witness, and help him acclimate.  Add to that, Miro’s former partner, Cochran, has a blowout with him and ends up slugging him in the eye, resulting in even more chaos and animosity between the cops and the marshal’s office. 

And then there’s the prison escape by Dr. Craig Hartley, Miro’s archenemy. Thank God, Ian arrives home from deployment when he does.  First of all, because their new neighbor is hitting on Miro, thinking Ian is never coming back, and secondly, because the Army brass show up to investigate a hitman who is knocking off members of Ian’s former unit. Unfortunately, they haul Ian back out of the picture to an undisclosed location. And if that’s not enough turmoil in Miro’s life, let’s add in even more chaos at the end of the story, just when I thought it was safe to close the book for a few minutes. 

This part contains dead FBI agents assigned to cover Miro from Hartley’s reach and the truth about who is really trying to kill Ian and his fellow soldiers.  Miro, of course, is caught in the crossfire again, facing down not just one, but two villains.  Did I mention this all happens around Thanksgiving, and Miro’s “family” of female friends and their partners are having issues of their own, and everyone seems to come to Miro for their solution, bringing their cray-cray with them?

Oh yes, this story is not boring.  Not boring at all.  In fact, I’m amazed that I can remember even this much detail, but that’s just a hallmark of Mary Calmes’s stories for me—unforgettable, for sure. This one is packed so full of action, it’s like buying a ticket to an emotional roller coaster ride. Don’t miss out. You won’t want to put it down for a minute once you starting reading. 

Cover art by Reese Dante is done in the same gray tones as others in this series and depicts a US Marshal’s badge, service revolvers, and army boots. All are key pieces in this story as the guns and badge are used frequently by Miro while, in the meantime, Ian has to face some serious choices about his Army Reserve status. 

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Book Details:

ebook, 260 pages
Expected publication: September 16th 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1634777557 (ISBN13: 9781634777551)
Edition LanguageEnglish

SeriesMarshals – add to your Goodreads shelf here:

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Release Day Review: Tart and Sweet (Candy Man #4) by Amy Lane

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Tart and Sweet by Amy LaneIn the Army, Robbie Chambers turned on his lover out of fear—and he hasn’t been able to live with himself since. Now he’s out of the Army but still trapped in the closet that brought on his most cowardly moment, and he starts to think he’ll never be able to fight his way free.

Until he sees Cy McVeigh. Beautiful and uninhibited, Cy is dancing on the boardwalk at Old Sac for no other reason than the moment called for it. Robbie not only joins in the dance but is smitten from the very beginning.

However, Robbie still has old business to clear up, and when he helps out a kid in need and comes face-to-face with the man he betrayed, he’s forced to come clean with himself. He can’t redeem his mistake if he’s still locked into his old patterns, and he won’t ever be worthy of Cy if he can’t earn Adam’s forgiveness. He’s going to need all the help he can get from the people at Candy Heaven in order to make things right with his past so he can have a future with Cy.

Oh, Amy, Amy, Amy. You have a way of taking my heart, tying it in knots, giving it a good shake, and then smoothing it all out so that I’m left feeling happy and content and well satisfied. 

Lovers of this series will find even more to love in this installment.  Robbie Chambers, the soldier who broke Adam’s heart, has found his way to Sacramento, to the “Old Sac” area where Candy Heaven sits along the boardwalk.  Trying to prove to himself and his parents that he’s straight, he has a girlfriend in tow for the dinner with the family, but before the evening is over, his attention is captured by Cy McVeigh. The sleek, dark-skinned dancer has a positive, upbeat attitude that can’t be missed as he moves to the beat of music and grabs Robbie and his date to dance along with him. When the dance is over, Robbie knows what he has to do. 

Within a few days, he’s broken up with the girl who was someone he picked up in a bar and didn’t really want to have a relationship with, and he looks up Cy, the man he can’t get out of his mind.  As coincidental circumstances unfold, Robbie ends up helping Finn (Candy Man), who’s been injured by a passing car while crossing the street, and he finds himself in Candy Heaven, talking to Darrin and Ezra, Darrin’s protégé.  If you haven’t followed the series you won’t get as much out of this book, but if you have, you will find this a very satisfying story, with visits from past characters, including a surprise visit with Mikhail (Mickey) and Shane from Making Promises. Let’s just say I’m happy I wasn’t in public because I had a definite fan girl moment when the proud Russian dancer showed up as Cy was instructing children in his dance class.

Each of the characters in this series has a role in this story, providing closure to any open threads and hope for their futures.  But mostly, it’s about Robbie and Cy, Adam and Finn, and Robbie’s efforts to find forgiveness from Adam and Adam’s ability to provide it.  As with others in this series, there’s growth and maturity, difficult decisions to make, and redemption and forward movement as those decisions become a new way of living. 

I can’t recommend this highly enough. I would need pages and pages to go into detail on every little thing I liked or loved about it.  It’s difficult to talk about this book without mentioning the series since this is the capstone on what has been a wonderful adventure with the gang at Candy Heaven. 

The bright and beautiful cover, obviously done by the talented Paul Richmond, is in keeping with the theme of the other books in this series and depicts a dog and a cat, likely those owned by Adam and Finn, the MCs from Candy Man, who play a principal role in this final episode of the series.

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Book Details:

ebook, 220 pages
Published September 5th 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
Original TitleTart and Sweet
ISBN 1634776984 (ISBN13: 9781634776981)
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesCandy Man #4

A Barb Release Day Review: Empty Net (Scoring Chances #4) by Avon Gale

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Empty Net by Avon GaleSpartanburg Spitfires’ goalie and captain Isaac Drake ended last season with an unexpected trip to the playoffs. He’s found a home and family with his coach and mentor, Misha Samarin, and he’s looking forward to making a serious run for the Kelly Cup. But things take an interesting turn when Isaac’s archnemesis, Laurent St. Savoy, is traded to the Spitfires. After Laurent’s despicable behavior in the playoffs last year, Isaac wants nothing to do with him – no matter how gorgeous he is. But that changes when Isaac discovers the reason for Laurent’s attitude.

Laurent St. Savoy grew up the only son of a legendary NHL goalie in a household rife with abuse, constantly treated like a disappointment on and off the ice. When a desperate attempt to escape his father’s tyranny sends him to the Spitfires, the last thing Laurent wants is to make friends. But there’s something about Isaac Drake that he can’t resist, and Laurent has an opportunity to explore his sexuality for the first time, but he’s cracking under end-of-the season pressures. When facing the playoffs and a rivalry turned personal vendetta, Isaac’s not sure he’s enough to hold Laurent—or their relationship—together.

Please be advised: This book does contain some non-graphic references to past childhood physical/emotional abuse as well as issues relating to ED (bulimia and restricted eating, disordered thoughts about eating).

From the beginning, Laurent St. Savoy, the character I thought for sure I would hate, burrowed into my heart and found his home.  Oh, that poor young man! My heart just bled for him.  The author did an excellent job sketching his character immediately and then filling it in with details of his history of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his father, famous hockey player and now coach of the Asheville team, Denis St. Savoy. 

Laurent developed strong defense mechanisms in his early years and learned never to show his true feelings. We didn’t know last year, when he spit on Isaac in the playoffs, he was really dying about it on the inside. When he’s traded to the Spitfires as Isaac Drake’s backup goalie, the rivalry should be intense, but instead, after an early flare-up, Isaac discovers one of Laurent’s secrets.  Laurent has scars—on his back and in his mind—scars that are not so easy to explain.  But Isaac feels an innate need to comfort Laurent, and together they begin to explore what Laurent needs. 

Along the way, his eating disorder is discovered, his emotional abuse at the hands of his father, and his hatred for hockey—all unexpected and all difficult to overcome, but not impossible to work through.  With Isaac by his side, Laurent begins to make baby steps toward recovery. 

This story has so much going for it, including a lot of air time for Misha and Matt, Isaac’s coaches and the men he boards with. We see new sides to Misha and to their relationship as well as being present for Laurent’s discovery of sex and that what was missing all along was an emotional bond with another person.  The author explores disordered eating and provides information on therapeutic treatment, both in the story, and in the Afterword. 

The road to emotional health is long for Laurent, and it’s a huge struggle to make the strides he makes over the course of this story. The author gives us a very easy-to-hate character in Denis St. Savoy, but she also gives us an opportunity for revenge as Laurent takes his final step to break his relationship with the man who treated him so despicably during his life. 

To be honest, the whole series is amazing. Each book has brought unique characters in unique situations and a warm and satisfying ending. This one is no different in that way, but it is just so much more.  It’s more intense, more emotional, and more memorable, IMHO.  It’s certainly one I can easily recommend without any hesitation at all.

The cover by Aaron Anderson is also one of the most attractive I’ve seen all year.  Blue-tinted, it depicts an empty hockey net surrounded by ice and with lightning strikes in the background.  When I squint my eyes, I can see ghostlike outlines of players in the lines formed by the lightning—whether intentional or just my imagination, I’m not sure, but the overall effect is very impressive. 

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Book Details:

ebook, 200 pages
Published September 2nd 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1634775856 (ISBN13: 9781634775854)
Edition LanguageEnglish

SeriesScoring Chances #4

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Review: Wide Open Spaces (States of Love) by Renee Stevens

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Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

Wide Open Spaces by Renee StevensDevon fled Wyoming as soon as he turned eighteen, leaving behind his high school love, Levi. After six years in the big city, Devon returns to his hometown. Not much has changed, except that Levi is no longer in the closet. He’s also single and living his dream—managing the local wild horse population. Both of them are very interested in picking up where they left off, but Devon is no more ready to reveal his orientation than he was as a teenager.

No one is going to shove Levi back in the closet—not even Devon. For a relationship to work, they’ll have to put the past behind them and find the courage to face the future as who they really are—a couple in love. But Devon doesn’t know if he’s strong enough. Maybe Levi would be better off without him—and his hang-ups.

This was a sweet story, but almost too sweet.  Devon returns to his small hometown in Wyoming because life in the big city no longer appeals to him. He left home after high school six years before, and he left behind his first love, Levi.  Once he’s back, he quickly learns Levi completed college and now works rescuing wild mustangs, and he came out a few years before when he brought home his boyfriend on a college break. 

Devon would love to see Levi, but he’s afraid his high school jock friends and his new employer, a mining operation, would make his life hell if they determined he was gay too. He is, and he was out for the past six years in Washington, but doesn’t want to be out here.  When he meets up with Levi, it’s evident that their chemistry is still there, so he plans to take it slowly as he gets to know the man he always loved.

They do take things slowly, but Devon is such a jerk about staying in the closet that eventually Levi clues in to the fact that they never go out in public, and he gives Devon an ultimatum (thank God!).  Devon is still a wuss, even when he finally determines that there’s nothing he’d do to hurt Levi and wins him back.  To be honest, I couldn’t believe how juvenile his behavior was, especially given the fact that he’s been out for six years.  And Levi was way too nice to the jerk. Really? He should have put his foot down from the beginning.  Also, there was no real angst surrounding the fact that Devon ran off six years before. They smoothly transitioned back together, even though there had been no contact during that time.

Overall, although I somewhat liked the story, mostly my “like” was centered around Levi and around the early parts of the story before I realized what a jerk Devon was.  Also, it felt a little too juvenile, and the resolution didn’t come until the end. And then it just ended—there should have been a bit more of a resolution toward their future as a couple.  So, I have to give it 2.5 stars because I thought it was a minimum of “okay” with a little bit of “like” as a booster.

The cover by Maria Fanning is okay, featuring a close-up of a muscular man’s chest with another (less than sexy and unappealing man) in the background and both superimposed over a scene of grazing horses.

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Book Details:

ebook, 98 pages
Expected publication: August 31st 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1634777026 (ISBN13: 9781634777025)
Edition LanguageEnglish

SeriesStates of Love settingWyoming (United States)