A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Intoxicating (Elite Protection Services #1) by Onley James

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

I like my erotic romances with some depth and this fit the bill. There are many triggers in this book so please pay attention to the tags: past and present abuse, off page rape, self harm, flashbacks, alcohol, drugs, and suicide attempts. Of course, this all means the hurt/comfort trope is quite strong. Wyatt is full of pain from parents who don’t know what love means; he is acting out recklessly in his hopelessness. Lincoln is hired by Wyatt’s father as a babysitter for him during the Senate reelection campaign.

Much of this story takes place in a fish bowl of forced proximity. The attraction is immediate for both of them and while a misunderstanding keeps them apart for a little while, once that is gone there is no stopping the lust from boiling over, even if it all seems like a horrible idea, bound for heartbreak all around. As an erotic romance, the sex scenes are plentiful and smoking hot if light Daddy play is your thing. My heart hurt for both of them pretty quickly. Linc’s usual scenes and after care haven’t prepared him for actually caring for a boy of his own. He is in denial about his PTSD from the service and glosses over his own childhood abuse. Wyatt’s never had a man care for him at all, in any capacity. This is completely dysfunctional, but at least Linc understands that. Linc is an intimate witness to Wyatt’s life without his consent; it is Linc’s choice to share his life with Wyatt in return. With this dynamic, I wonder if anyone who showed Wyatt affection would have sufficed. Still, the moment that it becomes less about play and more about making love, the sex is real including the fear, communication, and humor.

The pacing is fast due to the feeling of racing against the clock. This has an expiration date, not just because of the senator’s campaign, but because this bubble is not sustainable. There are thankfully some interesting supporting characters involved: Linc’s boss and former service buddy Jackson, Graciela the housekeeper, Charlemagne or Charlie as Wyatt’s best friend, and Wyatt’s grandmother Violet. Charlie has the largest, much needed role as support for Wyatt when he can’t support himself. Some might criticize her for not doing more, but I think she did what she could whilst not humiliating and outing Wyatt against his will. When he makes the choice to change his circumstances, she protects them all. I admit Linc and his sister’s circumstances make no sense to me: caring for someone who hurt, neglected and abandoned them over someone Linc is falling in love with seems like a fake box to put him in. Neither does Wyatt’s situation make a lot of sense: if at 22, Wyatt is so abused and mentally screwed up that he can’t get out of the situation with his father, then he is not fit to be anyone’s partner. There are two scenes where Wyatt shows he can be supportive of Linc also–enough to give me some hope. With all the angst I had to wade through, I would have liked to see the epilogue expanded to show more of the happiness a romance brings to the table. Their kinks and childhood traumas match enough for them to bond, but I do wish there had been a bit more as to why they would work as a couple in real world circumstances for a more believable HEA.

The cover design is by We Got You Covered Book Design. This doesn’t have anything to do with the story. This model is a bit more built than I pictured Wyatt and less built than I pictured Linc. The tagline makes this seem more about discipline or BDSM, which doesn’t match the flavor of this book at all.

Sales Links: Amazon | Universal Link 

Book Details:

ebook
Published July 12th 2019 (first published July 8th 2019)
Original Title Intoxicating
Edition Language English
Series Elite Protection Services #1

A Stella Review: How to Heal (Lovestrong #5) by Susan Hawke

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RATING 3 out of 5 stars

Take one former bully, unable to forgive himself for the sins of his past…
Clark Danvers is a wild twenty-one year old who’s trying to prove he’s an adult. With a two-year degree in hand, he manages the family car dealership and seemingly parties by night. Given the amount of times he’s been pulled over for speeding by Deputy Rick Matthews, public opinion seems to be right. But what people don’t see are the scars he carries both inside and out. Scars from a past he can’t run away from and will never be able to atone for, no matter how many times he beats himself over it.

Add one no-nonsense cop who longs to be a Daddy for the right boy…
Jericho “Rick” Matthews never expects the bratty kid who gets on his last nerve to pull at his heartstrings. When he finds Clark battered and fighting for his life in a motel room, Rick’s Daddy mode is instantly engaged. Before he can think of anything else, he must first comfort this hurting boy.

To equal a pair of men who might just be what the other needs.
The two men who thought they couldn’t stand each other are drawn together after a date gone wrong. While Rick tenderly cares for Clark, he decides what this brat needs is a Daddy… someone to help him break free from the past and embrace the promise of many happy tomorrows.


This is the fifth book in the LOVESTRONG series about finding love and being yourself in a small town. Intended only for 18+ readers, this is an mm romance full of all the sweet feels you’d want from an S. Hawke book.

Note: Possible trigger warning for mentions of self-harm and a scene involving a man who’s consented to having himself tied up. What he didn’t agree to was being left that way for an entire weekend. This highly emotional scene is the catalyst to evoke “Daddy’s” protective mode in a tale filled with themes of hurt and comfort and the struggle of overcoming a difficult past.

I wasn’t sure how to rate How To Heal, at the end I settled with a 3 stars. First I have to say, please read the note at the end of the blurb, that scene was so hard for me to read, it broke my heart. Be aware of the trigger too.

Although a couple of things didn’t work with me, this new installment in the Lovestrong series was very well done, I enjoyed till the last chapter. Both Rick and Clark were men with a past, Clark’s one was a little heavier to accept and the young man so far didn’t make a good job at trying to forgive himself and the mistakes he made when he was fifteen years old. If you read the series and in particular How Not To Blend, you know what I’m talking about. Rick seemed to be the right person to be able to help Clark and build a future together. They were characters well defined, loveable, good at the heart.

That said, let’s talk about what didn’t work for me. Since this is part of a series, as often happens, I already met these characters, I ached for Clark because I saw how much he was abused too. I knew there was going to be some kind of redemption for him and I was happy to see some happy times were coming. I already met Rick too and then when I found him here in this new novel, I had trouble to recognise him, I felt him so different from what I already saw of him, it was almost like reading about a stranger-to-me character. Moreover, although I can understand the dynamic the author wanted to create, I think it was too much, too forced and to me it wasn’t ok at all. Clark was too childish, Rick too overbearing.

Still, I hope there will be more coming soon from Susan Hawke.

The cover art by Ana J Phoenix is simple, I can easily see Clark in the model, I like it.

Sales Links:  Amazon

BOOK DETAILS

Kindle Edition, 277 pages

Published April 14th 2019

ASIN B07QRQFHSQ

Edition Language English

Series Lovestrong #5

A MelanieM Review: This Is Not A Love Story by Suki Fleet

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

 

When fifteen-year-old Romeo’s mother leaves one day and doesn’t return, he finds himself homeless and trying to survive on the streets. Mute and terrified, his silence makes him vulnerable, and one night he is beaten by a gang of other kids, only to be rescued by a boy who pledges to take care of him.

Julian is barely two years older than Romeo. A runaway from an abusive home, he has had to make some difficult choices and sells himself on the street to survive. Taking care of Romeo changes him, gives him a purpose in life, gives him hope, and he tries to be strong and keep his troubles with drugs behind him. But living as they do is slowly destroying him, and he begins to doubt he can be strong enough.

This is the story of their struggle to find a way off the streets and stay together at all costs. But when events threaten to tear them apart, it is Romeo who must find the strength within himself to help Julian (and not let their love story turn into a Shakespearean tragedy)

There’s a lot that can be said about This Is Not A Love Story by Suki Fleet.  It’s a hurt/comfort story without a lot of comfort going on.  Reading the majority of this novel feels like poking at an open wound.  It’s that’s raw and incredibly painful. Not a story I could read without taking needed emotional “timeout” breaks.  Honestly, parts of this are so agonizing, I wondered if I wanted to continue.

So why the 5 stars?  Why read it at all?

Because it’s extraordinarily well written, with an eye towards making the reader feel almost at a cellular level what Suki Fleet’s  homeless teenagers are going through on a daily basis as anonymous, non people of the streets.  The humiliation, the deprivation, the starvation, and pain.  The exploitation and danger that exists for them and just the edge of survival each one walks is brought vividly and horrifically to life in the persons of Romeo and Julian, and others we meet.

Hope?  That doesn’t occur until late in the story.  Until then it’s sheer determination and love for each other that carries each young man through the darkest of times, and yes, they get plenty dark and gritty.

Told through the mind and heart of Romeo, an artistic mute who’s never without his drawing pad or Julian, his protector and the person he loves, we see the cost of that protection on Julian, on them both.  The way being homeless is eating away at them, the despair, their ragged physical state and the things they are willing to do to survive.  Each character is someone so vulnerable, so achingly young and discarded that the more you read, the more gut wrenching  the impact.

Not surprisingly the story contains elements of thoughts of suicide, drug use, rape, self harm, and abduction.  If any of these are triggers of yours, please take note.

After all that, the novel ends on a note of hope and happiness.  It’s truly needed after the darkness the characters and the readers have endured for most of the story.  It wasn’t quite enough to lift the heaviness of heart I felt after reading the book but held so much positivity for the future that I could leave it at that, hoping that the worse was finally behind them

I’m not sure this story is for everyone but for those that love a great contemporary novel with amazing characters and unforgettable plot ….and a journey that’s dark, gritty and full of pain.  This is a story for you.

Cover art with the dim backdrop of London and not so bright characters grimly hints at the tone of the story.

Sales Links:  Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 453 pages
Published March 27th 2019 (first published March 22nd 2014)
Original Title This Is Not a Love Story
ASINB07Q47FFWM
SeriesLove Story Universe
CharactersRomeo Danilov, Julian Lavelle

A VVivacious Review: Red Zone by TS McKinney & Shannon West

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Rating: 5 Stars out of 5

This was everything I never knew I needed.

This story had me from the get-go, like almost immediately. I had read very little when I decided not to have lunch just so I could continue to read this one. I read it all in one go and never in my wildest expectations did I think I would like this one so much but, I loved it. It was so good. I have been waiting to get my hands on a story such as this and I had no idea how starved I was for a story that would have me hook, line and sinker, all in till the end.

I knew this book was a five-star read when my Kindle pointed out I was 15% done with the story when Chapter 2 began and I was aghast because a story that had only gotten through one chapter and a prologue and was already 15% done was bound to be a short one and I already wanted more with 85% of the book remaining. I swear to god this was the first time I have ever felt this way.

This book was so consuming that the moment I met Kingston I was hooked. Kingston is the guy so afraid to be hurt that he lashes out at everybody near him so that no one can ever get close and lately life has been all kicks for him so, when his nemesis, Memphis Sabine, the guy he lost his quarterback position to wants to help him, he lashes out. Because there is no way he is going to actually help Kingston but when it becomes abundantly clear that Memphis is not going to leave Kingston to his own devices, Kingston is left with no choice but to give in and finally heal.

I feel like Memphis may have been in over his head at least initially, made apparent by his freak-out but once he got his legs under him he was able to steer Kingston to the right decisions and to finally see himself for who he really is.

Okay, I’m not going to lie Kingston and Memphis’ relationship doesn’t start out as the healthiest but I think they correct that, eventually. Also, a lot happens in the span of just two days which might strain some people’s beliefs. But God even knowing that this story has flaws I can’t help but love it. It was so amazing.

These two are brilliant and they have it, they have what it takes to have an amazingly bright relationship. These two have amazing chemistry, something that I have missing quite a bit in my recent reads but these two have it in spades. These two are scorching, absolutely on fire and the sex is off the charts. I mean these two are so so good.

This book does deal with self-harm and I can’t tell if it is dealt with adequately but I feel like it was dealt with in the best possible way for Kingston and this book does it’s best to get him on his feet independent of his relationship with Memphis.

I loved this book so much. It was everything to me, like an oasis in a desert and I live in the desert so that is saying a lot. God, these two just blew my mind. I am just barely controlling myself from squealing, I have it so bad for this one.

Cover Art by E. Keith. I loved the cover, the choice of highlighting the red really ignites the passion this story brings in.

Sales Links:  Amazon
Book Details:
ebook
Published March 15th 2019
Edition Language English

A Lucy Review: Face the Music (Replay #1) by K.M. Neuhold

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Rating: 4  stars out of 5

Trigger warnings:  Suicide attempt, self-harm.

I have to start out by saying I’m probably in the minority about my rating on this one but I will explain why.  Lincoln and Jace have been friends since they were kids, spending summers together at their family’s cabins by the lake.  They were best friends who, at age 15, realized they could be something more.  And so they were best friends and boyfriends, eagerly awaiting the time they could be together all the time and not just in the summer.  As they approached time to go to college, they made promises to each other and planned their future.  The problem is, Lincoln didn’t keep those promises,  instead ghosting Jace after a night spent together and never contacting him again.  No note, no communication until Lincoln’s band makes it big with a song, Cherry Hill, written by Lincoln about his love affair with Jace, putting it out for the world.  Brutal.

Ten years have passed and Lincoln and his band, Downward Spiral, are immensely successful and popular.  They are also falling apart, at each other’s throats and Lincoln especially is doing just that – downward spiraling.  Lincoln doesn’t care about anything, struggling to get through the day.  He’s had a suicide attempt fairly recently and when the band manager finds him passed out on the balcony in freezing weather, it’s time to do something.  The band takes a hiatus and Lincoln goes to the only place he’s felt really happy, that cabin by the lake.  “What was I thinking, coming here to torture myself with memories of the love I threw away?”

Providentially, Jace, an epidemiologist, has also decided to spend some vacation time at his parents’ cabin by the lake.  The two run into each other at the grocery story for the first time in ten painful years and it made sense to me that Jace was angry.  Ten years you’ve suffered because the love of your life just disappeared, never to contact you again, making money off the song of your pain, until an accidental meeting.  The blurb talks about Jace hating him but I just felt like Jace gave into Linc a little too easily.  He had the advice from his awesome brother, Joel, and his best friend, Wyatt, to use this time to get closure on Linc but he almost immediately starts hanging out with Linc and then sleeping with him.  He doesn’t give his trust easily but them even hanging out and sleeping together just seemed too quick for someone who’s life was nearly destroyed by the pain of his love leaving.

The story is told in alternating first person point of view, so we get the insights of both Lincoln and Jace.  This was so helpful in really connecting with the characters and as a reader I appreciated getting the thought processes they had going on.  This is an emotional story with some heavy baggage on Lincoln’s side particularly and some incredibly difficult feelings for them to work through. When they play video games, loser has to tell a truth, it was the start, really. 

“I wrote more songs about you, but I never showed them to a label because I didn’t want to share them with the world.”

“You didn’t have a problem with that first one.  I mean, Jesus, Linc, you talk about the first time we…” Jace shakes his head and clenches his jaw.

“I know, and I wished I hadn’t as soon as we started recording. But they wouldn’t let me back out. I felt like I gave away a piece of us when I let the world have that song, and that’s one of my biggest regrets.” 

Definitely, since not only did Linc ghost Jace but had to hear one of the most popular songs of the time (and one that is still played). Linc is very apologetic throughout, waiting for Jace to be ready to listen to him explain and mean the apology.  To show that a second chance will bring a much different result.  I did hate that through it Jace kept feeling bad.  As he said, “I didn’t break this, you don’t.  You don’t get to make me feel bad about not wanting to pick up where we left off.”  But still, he kept feeling bad.

They do fall into bed together, “…a little fun… for old time’s sake”and Linc has such happy memories of their times at the cabin.  Jace, however, “Funny, I can only remember the morning I woke up all alone in that bed, all of your things packed and gone.  You didn’t even have the courtesy to leave me a note.” Linc acts surprised, or maybe hurt that’s what Jace remembers.  I wanted to shake him and say, what did you think!  “The sad thing is those are all my happy memories, too.  But you ruined it, Linc.  You took every good thing inside me, and you stomped all over it, then tossed it away like it never meant anything to you.”  I can’t even imagine the depth of pain he has been feeling for ten years.  Linc has felt it as well, but at least he knows the reason.

The thing that was done extraordinarily well here was Linc’s depression.  The darkness that encompasses him was real and his reactions were also real.  His way of coping with the pain of his life and the darkness is to self harm, a mechanism he’s been using since his teen years.  His father was a verbally abusive nightmare and cutting was a way for Linc to control that pain.  “Do you have any idea how happy I was to have a son when you were born?  And then you turned out to be the world’s biggest disappointment.  You’re weak.  Boys don’t cry, you f**king queer” is just the tip of the iceberg.   The cutting scenes are realistic and we get Lincoln’s feelings, or maybe lack of feeling is the better way to put it, during those times.  I especially appreciated that there was no magic cure here.  Having Jace by him made Linc happy and hopeful but when the depression set in, it still set in.  Because serious depression isn’t that simple and this was so realistic.  I couldn’t help worry for Jace as Lincoln deals with what he thinks is rejection by cutting more.  That’s a lot to put on someone. I was glad when Jace declared his deal-breaker.

The whole thing is a second chance work in progress and it is not an easy one.  There are Side B chapters (flashbacks to when they were teenagers) to give some background of the intensity of their relationship and while I am not usually a fan of flashbacks, they definitely worked here.  They were so cute and so sweet as teens, it just made the whole separation more painful. When Linc remembers things he planned and promised at that time, as the perfect Christmas that never happened, I kept thinking, please let the reason for leaving be a good one, something we can forgive him for.  For me, the reason didn’t work and that kept this from being five stars. I dislike that kind of thing and Jace deserved at least a conversation.  But it wasn’t annoying enough to take away from the powerful aspect of this book.

The author has set up the next books in the series with the other band members, Benji, Lando and Jude, in a way that wasn’t clunky or obvious, just a really nice teaser as to things coming next.  Even Linc doesn’t know what has happened yet!  This vacation was good for everyone, it seems.  This is a great start to a new series.  Not light and fluffy (although I am hoping at least one of their stories will be) but definitely worth the read.

Cover art by Inked Design fit the feel of the book.  The cover boy is a decent representation of Lincoln, tattooed and a little brooding, with the city and the lake as a backdrop. 

Sales Links:  Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 294 pages
Published May 20th 2018
ASINB07D1QLJWR
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesReplay #1