Review: A Slice of Love (Taste of Love #4) by Andrew Grey

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Rating: 4.5 stars

Coming from a military family with a General for a father, Marcus Wilson was the only child who marched to a different drummer.  Not only is Marcus gay but instead of following his siblings into service, Marcus opened his own bakery, A Slice of Heaven.  Owning his own bakery is his dream but going it alone without support is getting harder to hold onto it all.  Marcus has two wonderful helpers but in order to survive, he needs to expand his business.  And he’s so exhausted from working 24/7 that he doesn’t know how to make that happen.  All he knows is that he needs help and soon to save everything he has worked for.

Gregory Southland is finally back on his  feet and working again.  After being  diagnosed with HIV, he become too ill to work and support himself.  After his parents rejected him for being gay and his HIV status, he was saved by his ex-boyfriend and his partner who nursed him back to health. But Gregory’s current paycheck is not enough and he needs a second part-time job to help him pay his bills and starting building up his savings again. Then his ex-boyfriend Sebastian has a suggestion.  The baker across the street from Sebastian and Robert’s restaurant needs help with his bookkeeping and it just might be the perfect solution for them both.

When Gregory starts to work for Marcus, something wonderful starts to happen.  The instant attraction each felt for the other starts to deepen into something stronger, something that starts to feel a lot like love. And the bakery blossoms along with their relationship. When they help out a engaged couple in distress, their wedding cake business booms.  Even the distance between Marcus and his family starts to dwindle when Marcus’ stepmother needs a cake (and their involvement) to help out a young boy being discriminated against.  But for every two steps forward, something or someone appears to impede their progress.  Gregory’s past returns to threaten his new happiness and Marcus’ support for his stepmother’s cause imperiles his bakery’s newfound success.  Marcus and Gregory must believe in each other to help Marcus’ dream and their future come true.

What a wonderful, heartwarming story, perfect reading when you want that book that will fill you with happiness and hope.  In A Slice of Love, Andrew Grey gives us that and more.  The author gives us families built around the people closest to us, people not necessarily related by blood.  Grey then manages to bring together into the mixture families long estranged from each other and reunites them with their loved ones.  And what we end up with is a community of people connected by family, respect and love.

This is the fourth book in the Taste of Love series and the focus this time is on Marcus Wilson and Gregory Southland.  The lives of both men have been changed by contact with  HIV/AIDS.  For Marcus, he lost his best friend and business partner to the disease and now carries their dream forward by himself.  For Gregory, the impact is greater still as he is HIV positive now, a result of a bad decision.  But instead of highlighting the negative aspects of life lived with AIDS, Andrew Grey shows us that life does not stop with a diagnoses.  Gregory, once he is healthy again, has a romantic life and good career.  And just as realistically, the author includes Gregory’s drug regimen, as well as the care he takes to protect himself and others from casual transmission by body fluids.  Putting a face to HIV status is a wonderful way to help inform as well as promote the idea that an HIV positive person is not someone to treat as an outcast but rather someone who should be embraced for who they are and not the illness they carry.  And he did that here not just through the character of Gregory but through that of a little boy as well.

There are multiple relationships to be resolved here  and Andrew Grey manages it with a gentle hand and considerable skill.  It doesn’t matter whether it is the father/son bond that needs to be reestablished, or a shallow connection between stepmother and stepson that becomes strong through communication and generous gestures.  All manner of family ties and friendship are explored here along with that of  romantic love.  It also doesn’t hurt that it all revolves around a bakery and some sinfully delectable pastries and cakes.  I wanted to reach out and grab a piece of that carrot cake or snag a cinnamon rolls as it came out of the oven, the descriptions were so mouth watering good.

A Slide of Love is a wonderfully endearing addition to a heartwarming series you will return to time and again.  Tis the season for family, joy and love.  Pick this up and lose yourself in all three.

A Taste of Love series in the order they were written and the characters introduced:

A Taste of Love (Darryl Hansen and Billy Weaver)

A Serving of Love (Sebastian Franklin and Robert Fortier)

A  Helping of Love (Peter Christopoulos and Russ Baker)

A Slide of Love (Marcus Wilson and Gregory Southland)

Review of Long Hard Ride (Prentiss #2) by Talia Carmichael

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Rating: 4.5 stars

Paxton Lawson and his sons relocated to Prentiss, Texas following the death of his husband to enter into a horse breeding partnership with the Ralston brothers.  Gibson had been a friend of Paxton’s sons in college and a new start in a new place seemed like a way to ease the grief Paxton has been trying to live with. Paxton still missed his husband and the grief he feels has put his life outside the business on hold.  The one person he has come to count on in his new town is lawyer Windsor Broadhurst.  Windsor is a lawyer to most of the ranchers in the area and a close friend to Gibson and his sons so it only seemed natural to Paxton that Windsor would be there when Paxton needed him, brought him books that they read together and discussed, turning into one of his closest friends within the year.  But when Windsor admits to Paxton what the entire community already knew, that Winston had been courting Paxton, he was shocked.  All this time, he had been oblivious to Windsor’s true intentions but now that Paxton was finally aware, he looked at the handsome lawyer in an entirely different manner.

Windsor Broadhurst has been biding his time, getting to know Paxton as a friend first before letting the man know how attracted he was to him.  During the year’s time, Paxton had turned not only into a wonderful friend but Win quickly realized that his initial attraction was deepening into love.  Finally, Windsor admits that he has been courting Paxton all along Paxton seems receptive to dating again.  But Win wants more from Paxton, he wants his love as well.  Paxton must decide if he is ready to move on and accept the love offered  or remain in mourning.  It looks to be a long, hard, ride to a future that both men want and that one is afraid to reach for.

Long Hard Ride is the second in the Prentiss series from Talia Carmichael and I just loved it.  It is relatively short at 87 pages but the author packs a lot of characterization and emotion into this story given the length.  Right off the bat I was hooked by the older characters.  Paxton especially captured my heart.  He is trying to deal with the loss of his husband after a long term illness and not doing a very good job of it.  He and Adam had adopted and raised three boys who have now grown into men.  But those men still love and depend on their father and are dealing with the death of their “Dad” as well. So it is highly realistic that Paxton has buried himself in the new horse breeding venture along with his sons and relocated to another part of the country, away from places that hold nothing but memories of Adam and their life together.  Paxton is someone who grabs not only our sympathy but our understanding at his inability to help himself move forward.  It also feels right that when Paxton decides that he will date Win but only allow himself to give “just this much and no more”.  Paxton also feels guilty about betraying the love he had with Adam, a very genuine reaction to feeling alive and attracted to someone else for the first time since a partner’s death.

Equally great at capturing our attention and interest are the characters of Windsor “Win” Broadhurst, Gibson, Blayne, Morgan, HC and all the rest of the populace of Prentiss, Texas.  Some of the people are coupled already, which happened back in Ralston’s Way (Prentiss #1).  But Carmichael is laying the ground for future stories with the characters she introduces here and I for one  can’t wait to see how their courtships play out.  Paxton and Win courtship starts out so easily, too easily in fact, that I thought the realistic touches she had brought to the story were going to be lost.  Luckily that didn’t happen as Paxton must decide to really open himself back up to another person, and the author lets us feel how hard it is for Paxton to let go.

The sex scenes between the men did “creak” a little, but I found that to be actually endearing as Paxton had let his sexual side die with his partner.  And Win with his long hair plaited into a braid that fell to his butt?  Well, let just say I love a man with long hair and Win hit my buttons.  Loved him.  This is the perfect sequel to Ralston’s Way which I just finished too.  I can’t wait to see where Talia Carmichael takes this series next.  Cowboys and men with long hair *waves fan*.  Please don’t keep me waiting too long.

Books in the Prentiss series:

Ralston’s Way (Prentiss #1) read my review here

Long Hard Ride

Review of One Last Kiss Goodbye by N.J. Nielson

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Rating: 4 stars

Jacen Ives has loved Kayne Henderson since he was 11 and Kayne was 14. Kayne  was kind to him and stopped Jacen from being bullied.  Confused about his feelings, Jacen talks to his older brother, Micah, and dad about being gay and is met with acceptance and love.  But both caution him about being out at school and Micah makes him promise to never reveal his feelings to Kayne.  Jacen keeps that promise until the night of their graduation party. It seems that Kayne has known all along about Jacen’s “crush” and he sends Jacen away to college with a kiss goodbye after telling Jacen that he is straight and has a serious girlfriend.

Six years later, Jacen returns to his hometown after being savagely beaten by an ex-boyfriend he met in college.  His family gathers to support him.  And to his surprise, so does Kayne Henderson.  Kayne is now divorced and has a young daughter. Homeless,they both live with Micah and his partner, Sammy. When Jacen’s ex eludes the Melbourne  police, everyone fears he will show up to threaten Jacen again so Kayne and his daughter move in with Jacen to protect him. But Kayne is hiding a secret, one he has carried since graduation.  When the secret comes out, it will shatter friendships and leave Jacen vulnerable. Can both men accept change when it leads to a future both want with all their hearts?

One Last Kiss Goodbye was a lovely story of unrequited love fulfilled at last with an Australian touch.  Nielson has done such a great job with her characterizations that each and every one comes off as a realistic portrayal of young men conflicted about their sexuality, driven to act under stress and duress that will seem so authentic, so real to the reader that they capture our sympathy and hearts immediately.

Jacen Ives is sweet and loving portrait of a sweet, smart young man who separates himself from his family and support system because he just can’t stand to remain and watch Kayne and his girlfriend.  You have to remember these are the actions of a 15 year old who has jumped ahead in school to graduate with older kids but still has the emotional maturity of his actual age.  In fact, as the story ends, Jacen is only 21.  Nielson understands Jacen’s emotional age and stays true to that level of maturity throughout the book.  In moving away from family and friends, Jacen takes away his security and emotional backing as well. It is easy to imagine a 15 year old on his own for the first time, homesick and grieving over the loss of Kayne being vulnerable to someone who will abuse him in a relationship.  Each of Jacen’s actions are completely comprehensible, including his quickness to tear up given his bruised emotional and physical state of being.  Kayne is another character who jumps to life complete with his many frailties front and center.  With Kayne, Nielson gives us insight into a man who was a 14-year old confused about his sexuality and afraid of his emotions, so much so that he acts “straight” to all around him with grievous consequences. Here again the reader must keep in mind that Kayne is only 3 years older than Jacen, and his actions reflect that as well.  These are two sweet and compelling young men struggling with the repercussions of past actions in their present day reality as well as the feelings they still have for each other.  You will root for them with all your heart.

The things that did bother me about the story might have more to do with the difference laws in the United States and Australia.  There are certain events that take place that if they had occurred here in the States, they would have tagged as a hate crime and the participants jailed.  Also what is described as vandalism here would be classified as an attack, a destruction of property, as well as a hate crime, more serious offenses.  So I think my confusion here is due to the author being Australian with differing laws and not the fact that the events are considered less serious. I am not sure if Australia has a hate crime law in effect there.  The other quibble has to do with Kayne’s daughter’s name.  Jacen is extremely smart so how  does he not get the significance of her name?  Also the ending seemed a bit rushed.  The book is only 125 pages so the length did not seem to match the bigger story contained within.  I enjoyed my time spent with Jacen and Kayne.  I think you will too.

Cover: I loved this cover.  Art by Reese Dante and photography by D.W.S. Photography, it is sheer perfection.  The ages are spot on, the models sweet faced and sensual.