Renewing Forever (This Time Forever #2) by Kelly Jensen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Frankie and Tommy once dreamed of traveling the world together. But when seventeen-year-old Frank kissed Tom, their plans ended with a punch to the jaw and Frank leaving town without looking back. Thirty years later, Frank’s successful career as a journalist is interrupted by his uncle’s death and the question of his inheritance—the family resort where his childhood dreams were built. When he returns to the Pocono Mountains, however, he finds a dilapidated lodge and Tommy, the boy he never forgot.

Tom’s been keeping the resort together with spit and glue while caring for Frank’s uncle, Robert—a man he considered father, mentor, and friend—and his aged mother, who he refuses to leave behind. Now Robert is gone, taking Tom’s job with him. And Frank is on the doorstep, wanting to know why Tom is still there and why the old lodge is falling apart.

But before they can rebuild the resort, they’ll have to rebuild their friendship. Only then can they renew the forever they planned all those years ago.

Rating: B

Kelly Jensen continues her This Time Forever series about couples in their forties finding love and happiness with Renewing Forever, a beautifully written, reflective and somewhat wistful story about childhood friends whose lives went in very different directions, and who must work out if the forever they’d envisaged three decades earlier might now be possible.

We first met Franklin – Frank – Tarn in Building Forever, book one in the series, as the best friend of Simon Lynley, one of the principals in that story.  Frank, a lifestyle journalist, came across as garrulous and flirtatious, a bit of a party animal who’s always up for a good time and is happy with his busy life and frequently itinerant lifestyle.  In Renewing Forever, we see other sides to him as he starts to come to terms with the fact that he’s ready for his life to take a new direction and to finally put down some roots.

When Frank was a boy, he and his best friend, Tommy Benjamin (Benjamin and Franklin – heh) planned to travel the world together.  Although they came from very different backgrounds – Frank’s family was well-off, and he grew up in a secure environment, with both parents, a doting uncle and siblings while Tommy’s mother was a single parent who struggled with addiction and often neglected him – the boys forged a strong bond of friendship which seems, as they approach manhood, to be turning into more.  Tommy, however, can’t bear the idea of losing Frank as a friend, and tells him that’s what how he wants them to stay; no matter that there’s a definite attraction between them, neither of them is to do anything to change what they have.  And that’s fine until one night, when they’re both seventeen, Frank kisses Tommy, and gets a punch in the face as a result.  Frank leaves town after that, and doesn’t look back, returning as infrequently as possible.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

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Eyes Only For Me by Andrew Grey (audiobook) – Narrated by Tristan James

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

For years, Clayton Potter’s been friends and workout partners with Ronnie. Though Clay is attracted, he’s never come on to Ronnie because, let’s face it, Ronnie only dates women.

When Clay’s father suffers a heart attack, Ronnie, having recently lost his dad, springs into action, driving Clay to the hospital over a hundred miles away. To stay close to Clay’s father, the men share a hotel room near the hospital, but after an emotional day, one thing leads to another, and straight-as-an-arrow Ronnie make a proposal that knocks Clay’s socks off! Just a little something to take the edge off.

Clay responds in a way he’s never considered. After an amazing night together, Clay expects Ronnie to ignore what happened between them and go back to his old life. Ronnie surprises him and seems interested in additional exploration. Though they’re friends, Clay suddenly finds it hard to accept the new Ronnie and suspects that Ronnie will return to his old ways. Maybe they both have a thing or two to learn.

Rating: Narration – B : Content – C

I haven’t read or listened to a book by Andrew Grey before, but I know he’s a fairly prolific author of m/m romances and knowing Tristan James is a reliably good narrator, decided to give this one a try.

Eyes Only for Me centres on two best friends – Clay (who is gay) and Ronnie (who isn’t) – who end up becoming a lot more than friends following an unexpected night of passion. I suppose it’s a Gay-For-You story, although the author does explore the idea that sexual orientation is a grey area and that there are many different options and possibilities beyond the simple definitions of “gay” and “straight”.

Both men are in their forties, but for most of the book, Ronnie seems stuck in his twenties – he’s brash, loud, unsubtle and a player; after a failed marriage years earlier and a more recent break up with a long-term girlfriend, he hooks up with a succession of gorgeous airheads who, he’s well aware, are more after what he can give them (he’s a hugely successful stockbroker (or something of that ilk) and thus extremely wealthy) than for who he is himself. He has a form of OCD which can make it hard for him to think clearly and he has trouble letting go of things that have affected him emotionally, like his most recent break-up (which was over a year before) and his father’s death more than two years earlier.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Between the Lines (New Milton #2) by Sally Malcolm

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Theo Wishart has given up on finding love.

Luca Moretti doesn’t want to find it.

A handful of summer days may change their lives forever—if they’re brave enough to look between the lines.

Eyes might be windows to the soul, but for Theo Wishart they’re all shuttered. His dyspraxia makes it hard to read people. He doesn’t do relationships and he certainly doesn’t do the great outdoors. Two weeks spent “embracing beach life” while he tries to close the deal on a once great, now fading seaside hotel is a special kind of hell.

Until Luca. Gorgeous, unreachable Luca.

Luca Moretti travels light, avoiding all romantic entanglements. Estranged from his parents, he vows this will be his last trip home to New Milton. His family’s hotel is on the verge of ruin and there’s nothing Luca can do to save it. He’s given up on the Majestic, he’s given up on his family and he’s given up on his future.

Until Theo. Prickly, captivating Theo.

No mushy feelings, no expectations, and no drama—that’s the deal. A simple summer fling. And it suits them both just fine. But as the summer wanes and their feelings deepen, it’s clear to everyone around them that Theo and Luca are falling in love. What will it take for them to admit it to themselves—and to each other?

Rating: A

Between the Lines is another emotionally satisfying and beautifully crafted romance from the pen of Sally Malcolm, and is a wonderful follow-up to both Perfect Day and Love Around the Corner, both of which are also set in the fictional Long Island resort of New Milton.  This novel is set a few months after the events of Perfect Day (and I loved the glimpses we were afforded of Josh and Finn at their wedding), and is an enemies-to-lovers romance between two men from vastly different backgrounds  who meet when one of them arrives in town to negotiate the purchase of The Majestic, a family-run hotel that has seen better days.

Theo Wishart has travelled to New Milton in order to seal the deal over the purchase, and set in motions his father’s plan to develop the hotel and its land into a luxury resort.   He is anxious to prove himself by closing the deal, especially in the light of a particularly embarrassing incident which led to his being accused of sexual harassment by a colleague, and his father’s obvious belief that Theo doesn’t have what it takes to make it in the cut-throat world in which he operates.  Theo’s dyspraxia means that he doesn’t read people well; he gets distracted easily and has had to devise a number of coping mechanisms (such as timing himself in the shower and reminding himself to make eye contact with people) to help him to fit into a world which often views his lack of co-ordination and discomfort in social situations as things that make him someone to deride or pity rather than just someone who is different.

Luca Moretti was born in New Milton but left home five years earlier, after his mother remarried and his step-father Don made it clear that he couldn’t accept Luca’s sexuality.  Luca loves his mother and he loves his home, but he only returns for the summers now, to help out at the hotel and to take on some part-time work as a lifeguard and surf instructor.  He’s furious about his mother’s plans to sell the Majestic, and believes that Don is pushing her to sell, his anger blinding him to the fact that Jude Moretti is not quite herself, and that, after a life of hard work, she deserves to have an easier time of it.

When Theo arrives for his meeting with Jude and Don, he’s dismayed to discover that the rude guy who collided with him outside the coffee shop earlier is her son – and with the hostility coming off him in waves, it’s clear he’s vehemently opposed to his mother’s plan to sell the hotel.  Josh can also tell that he stands every chance of getting his mother to change her mind.  Jude expresses her concern about Lux Properties’ plans to redevelop the site, suggesting that perhaps she and Luca (mostly Luca) would be more amenable to the sale if the redevelopment was something more in line with the community, and floats the idea that Theo should spend a couple of weeks in New Milton, getting a feel for the place.  Perhaps then, he might come to see what’s so special about The Majestic and its place in the community – and will be able to persuade his father to rethink his development plans.  Theo and Luca agree reluctantly to the idea, neither of them enthused at the prospect of spending two weeks in each other’s company, but each hoping to use the time to persuade the other to their point of view.

Sally Malcom does a great job of creating a strong connection between these two very different men; she has a real gift for imbuing her characters with a true depth of personality and for creating strong emotional connections between them.  The frisson of attraction that sparks between Luca and Theo is almost instantaneous, although they both do their best to ignore it, dismissing the idea of acting on it as a terrible one given their situation.  But eventually, they can’t deny it any more and they agree to have a summer fling for the two weeks Theo is there and then go their separate ways with no regrets (hah – good luck with that!). As they start spending time together, Luca comes to understand and appreciate Theo for the kind, loving person he is and Theo learns more about what makes Luca tick, how hurt he was by his mother’s remarriage and her silence when his step-father refused to accept him.  As the two men fall for each other, Theo realises just why Luca is so attached to The Majestic, and starts to wonder if there might be an alternative to the plans his father has proposed, one that would preserve the spirit of the hotel while also allowing Jude and Don the freedom to enjoy their retirement.  We’re treated to some lovely snapshots of Luca and Theo’s time together as their relationship develops, delighted as they take two steps forward and then frustrated as they take one step back, past insecurities and hurts seeming as though they’re destined to keep them apart.  Even so, their relationship grows organically and doesn’t feel rushed or lacking in plausibility.  The romance is full of humour, warmth and affection as well as some beautifully conceived sexual tension which culminates in some nicely steamy moments.  But the elephant in the room is just waiting in the corner, keeping the reader on tenterhooks waiting for the other shoe to drop.  When it does, the impact is visceral – Theo sees it coming yet can do nothing to stop it – and I certainly had a lump in my throat while reading.

Luca and Theo are wonderfully rounded characters who have more in common than they’d at first thought.  Both have difficult familial relationships; Luca clearly resents Don’s place in his mother’s life while Theo is well aware that his father views him as a disappointment.  They’re prickly and wary of letting anyone get close, and yet they find a way past each other’s defences to an extent neither had expected was likely or possible. The secondary characters are strongly drawn, too, and I found Jude and Don especially to be true-to-life in the sense that their dilemmas felt real and messy, and their flaws made them seem like real people.  When we learn of Don’s prejudice it’s easy to then believe he’s pushing Jude to sell the hotel and to paint him as the villain of the piece – but the author shows us things aren’t that black and white.  He’s misguided about Luca, for sure, but he loves his wife dearly, and, as we learn later, is motivated primarily by concern for her.  Jude, too, is similarly multi-faceted; she has valid reasons for wanting to sell up but is torn up about it, wanting to preserve something for Luca but also needing to do the right thing for herself.

All these facets of the characters and their stories are seamlessly woven together, but the focus is firmly on Luca and Theo and their love story, which is beautifully written and gorgeously romantic; they make a terrific couple and I adored getting to know them, both individually and together.  Between the Lines is highly recommended – it’s a superb read, and I was captivated from start to finish. Sally Malcolm is an incredibly talented writer, and I can’t wait to read whatever she comes up with next.

Rend (Riven #2) by Roan Parrish

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Matt Argento knows what it feels like to be alone. After a childhood of abandonment, he never imagined someone might love him—much less someone like Rhys Nyland, who has the voice of an angel, the looks of a god, and the worship of his fans.

Matt and Rhys come from different worlds, but when they meet, their chemistry is incendiary. Their romance is unexpected, intense, and forever—at least, that’s what their vows promise. Suddenly, Matt finds himself living a life he never thought possible: safe and secure in the arms of a man who feels like home. But when Rhys leaves to go on tour for his new album, Matt finds himself haunted by the ghosts of his past.

When Rhys returns, he finds Matt twisted by doubt. But Rhys loves Matt fiercely, and he’ll go to hell and back to triumph over Matt’s fears. After secrets are revealed and desires are confessed, Rhys and Matt must learn to trust each other if they’re going to make it. That means they have to fall in love all over again—and this time, it really will be forever.

Rating: B+

I haven’t (yet) read Riven, the book that preceded Rend, but I gather than Rhys Nyland was introduced there as a secondary character who was very much in love and happily married.  Rend turns the lens in the opposite direction, focusing on Rhys and his husband Matt, telling the story of how they met and giving readers a glimpse into their lives for the eighteen months since then up until the time when Rhys – a musician, singer and songwriter – goes on tour… and Matt slowly begins to fall apart.

The author pulled me in immediately with the prologue, in which Matt, who is clearly a troubled young man, has gone into a bar hoping to get picked up for the night – to avoid sleeping on the lumpy sofa in the crowded apartment he shares as much as for the sex.  When a large, blond and really handsome guy plonks down next to him, Matt is completely on board with the idea of going home with him – but that’s not what happens.  Instead, the man – who introduces himself as Rhys – takes Matt to a diner and orders a mountain of food which they tuck into while they talk.  At the end of the night, both men have established a surprisingly intense connection and they exchange a passionate kiss, but that’s it – and it’s how things go between them for the next few weeks. They date, they kiss, but nothing more – and Matt starts to worry that perhaps Rhys just isn’t into him that way.  Finally, he gathers up his courage and texts Rhys to ask him if he wants to have sex with him – needless to say, the answer sends Matt rushing back to Rhys’ arms and bed.  After a passionate night, Matt sneaks out – only to have Rhys text him afterwards with one of the most beautiful fictional love letters I’ve ever read. From then on, they’re inseparable.

Then we skip ahead eighteen months to find Matt and Rhys happily married and living in Sleepy Hollow, New York.  Matt is working for a charity that helps young people coming out of the foster system – in which he himself grew up – he’s been growing more and more confident in his role there and he’s deeply in love with his husband… even though he still can’t quite believe that his happiness can possibly last.  Life has taught him not to expect it to.  But right now, the only cloud on the horizon is the fact that Rhys is about to go on tour to promote his first solo album, and although Matt’s rational mind knows Rhys is coming back, his animal brain is telling him the opposite.  Everyone he’s ever loved has left him eventually, and he can’t shake the fear building in him that Rhys is going to do the same.

Matt tries desperately to keep those fears from Rhys, not wishing to spoil what should be a time filled with success and happiness, but the longer Rhys is away, the harder Matt finds it to cope. Plagued by nightmares and dark thoughts that persist in telling him Rhys deserves someone better, Matt can’t sleep, he can’t eat and finds himself returning over and over to the only home he’d ever known, the one he lived in when his mother left him and the last one he’d known before he was shunted into the foster system.  Terrified that Rhys will reject him if he knows the truth about his past, Matt’s reticence to talk and vagueness about how he is and what’s going on communicates itself to Rhys in their phone conversations, leading to the creation of an emotional distance between them that’s never been there before.  Matt is locked in a downward spiral of fear, guilt and desperation – when the tour finishes and Rhys comes home.  But has he come home in time to save their marriage?

Rend is a gut-wrenching read, no question, heart-breaking and deeply emotional but it’s also uplifting, and quite, quite beautiful.  As we witness Matt’s physical and emotional breakdown, we are also given some rather lovely insight into their relationship after that initial meeting in the prologue, which works well as a way to break up the scenes of Matt’s gradual descent into darkness.  Rhys and Matt are total opposites in many ways, both physically – Rhys is a blond Viking where Matt is small and dark – and personality-wise; Rhys is like a blast of sunlight, optimistic, open-hearted and completely and utterly in love with Matt, and I loved that he wouldn’t let Matt give in to his fears and was willing to make it clear over and over that Matt was his and that neither of them were going anywhere. And Matt… well, Matt is sweet, quiet and oh, so broken.  Always looking over his shoulder waiting for life to pull the rug out from under his feet, he learned early on never to ask for anything for himself, and wants only to make Rhys happy.

The author doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to showing how profoundly Matt’s past has affected him, and he goes to some dark places as his fears begin to overwhelm him; his struggles are portrayed so vividly that it’s easy to understand why he feels and acts as he does.  The characterisation of both leads is excellent – they’re brilliantly drawn and the intensity of their love and longing for one another really does leap off the page. The one niggle I had was that sometimes the relationship seemed a little… unhealthy, with Matt being so dependent on Rhys for his happiness and, well, pretty much everything.

Rend is that rare romance – one that shows what happens after the HEA and that even the most meant-to-be-together of couples has to work at making a go of it. It’s a superbly crafted portrait of a marriage in trouble that encompasses incredible highs and incredible lows, but there’s no question that Matt and Rhys thoroughly deserve their hard-won happy ending.

Five Years Gone by Marie Force (audiobook) – Narrated by Andi Arndt and Joe Arden

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

The most brazen terrorist attack in history. A country bent on revenge. A love affair cut short. A heart that never truly heals.

I knew on the day of the attack that our lives were changed forever. What I didn’t know then was that I’d never see John again after he deployed. One day he was living with me, sleeping next to me, making plans with me. The next day he was gone.

That was five years ago. The world has moved on from that awful day, but I’m stuck in my own personal hell, waiting for a man who may be dead for all I know. At my sister’s wedding, I meet Eric, the brother of the groom, and my heart comes alive once again.

The world is riveted by the capture of the terrorist mastermind, brought down by US Special Forces in a daring raid. Now I am trapped between hoping I’ll hear from John and fearing what’ll become of my new life with Eric if I do.

Rating: Narration – A- : Content – B

Five Years Gone is the heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting story of a young woman whose life is ripped apart when the man she loves says goodbye one day and then disappears without trace. I tend to be a fan of angsty stories, so this one sounded right up my alley; and for a lot of the time it was – although a few things about the set-up didn’t quite convince, and there were a couple of times early on when I felt the story was stretched rather thin and needed to move on. I’ll say now that there are obvious (and presumably deliberate) parallels to 9/11 and its aftermath in the novel, but Ms. Force doesn’t belabour the point and there is nothing at all in the story which is gratuitous or insensitive.

Ava Lucas is twenty-one when she meets John West, a Naval officer stationed in San Diego where she’s just finished college. They literally bump into each other one night at a bar and hit it off straight away – and for two years, they’re blissfully happy together… until the day that a terrorist attack on an American cruise liner – The Star of the High Seas – kills four thousand people and John is immediately deployed.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Love Around the Corner (New Milton #1.5) by Sally Malcolm

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Real life enemies, online lovers. Two lonely men, destined for each other–if only they knew it.

Alfie Carter grew up in New Milton, caring for his sick father and keeping their auto repair shop on its feet. He’s touchy about his poor education and doesn’t take kindly to snide remarks from the town’s prickly bookstore owner—no matter how cute he looks in his skinny jeans. Leo Novak’s new life as owner of Bayside Books is floundering. And he could do without the town’s gorgeous, moody mechanic holding a grudge against him after an unfortunate—and totally not his fault— encounter last Christmas.

Left to run the family business alone, Alfie spends his lonely evenings indulging his secret passion for classic fiction and chatting online with witty, romantic ‘LLB’ as they fall in love over literature. Leo’s still reeling from a bad breakup and struggling to make friends in New Milton, so seeks comfort instead in his blossoming online romance with thoughtful, bookish ‘Camaro89’.

But as the holidays approach, ‘LLB’ and ‘Camaro89’ are planning to meet, and realities are about to collide…

Rating: A

The Shop Around the Corner is one of my favourite films.  Set around Christmas time, it tells the story of two co-workers who don’t get on and bicker all the time in spite of the attraction that sparks between them – and which they ignore. He thinks she’s stuck-up, she thinks he’s crass and in any case, they’re both completely in love with their respective pen-pals… who are, of course, each other.  (The film was remade in the 1990s as You’ve Got Mail, but it’s not a patch on the original, IMO.)  Sally Malcolm gives the story another update in Love Around the Corner, set in the fictional Long Island resort of New Milton which was also the setting for her earlier novel, Perfect Day and which she will revisit in her upcoming release, Between the Lines.

In this version of the story, Alfie Carter – who owns the local garage – has been corresponding for around a year with someone he met online in a group dedicated to the works of Jane Austen.  He and LLB hit it off right away and text each other several times a day, enjoying discussions about anything and everything, bonding over their love of books and of discussing them in depth.  On the day we meet Alfie, he’s excited and nervous because that evening, he and LLB have arranged to meet face-to-face for the first time.  He’s never had a long-term relationship before, but he’s ready for one; the connection he feels with LLB is like nothing he’s ever experienced with anyone, and Alfie is absolutely ready to take things to the next level.

Leo Novak moved to New Milton after the long-term relationship he’d been in crashed and burned, and owns a small bookstore there.  He and Alfie met at the previous year’s Christmas party at the Callaghan’s and didn’t hit it off at all, their encounter resulting in an exchange of insults which saw Leo assume Alfie to be dumb and Alfie take Leo for an unmitigated snob.  They’ve avoided each other ever since and nothing they’ve seen of one another in the interim has served to change either of those initial impressions.  Leo is a bit of a loner; he knows he’s prickly – “but when you grew up too smart, too sensitive and too gay for the tastes of most people, you learned to defend yourself.”  Like Alfie, he’s looking for love and companionship, and he thinks he may have found it with Camaro89, the guy he met online a year earlier and has been corresponding with ever since.  He’s nervous about their first real-life meeting – what if Camaro89 is disappointed with what he sees?  Or vice-versa? – but he knows that they have to meet if their relationship is to progress, which is something he wants very much indeed.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Beginner’s Luck (Chance of a Lifetime #1) by Kate Clayborn (audiobook) – Narrated by Will Damron and Carly Robins

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Kit Averin is anything but a gambler. A scientist with a quiet, steady job at a university, Kit’s focus has always been maintaining the acceptable status quo. Being a sudden millionaire doesn’t change that, with one exception: the fixer-upper she plans to buy, her first and only real home. It’s more than enough to keep her busy, until an unsettlingly handsome, charming, and determined corporate recruiter shows up in her lab – and manages to work his way into her heart….

Ben Tucker is surprised to find that the scientist he wants for Beaumont Materials is a young woman – and a beautiful, sharp-witted one at that. Talking her into a big-money position with his firm is harder than he expects, but he’s willing to put in the time, especially when sticking around for the summer gives him a chance to reconnect with his dad. But the longer he stays, the more questions he has about his own future – and who might be in it.

What begins as a chilly rebuff soon heats up into an attraction neither Kit nor Ben can deny – and finding themselves lucky in love might just be priceless…

Rating: Narration – B+: Content – B+

Kate Clayborn’s Chance of a Lifetime series is a trilogy about three friends who, on impulse, buy a lottery ticket and end up winning the jackpot. The books published so far – Beginner’s Luck and Luck of the Draw (the final book, Best of Luck, will be released in November) – have been highly recommended, and that, together with the combined appeal of two experienced narrators who have both received praise at AudioGals decided me on giving this one a try. I’m glad I did; Beginner’s Luck is an enjoyable, sexy romance between complex, well-defined characters who grow as individuals throughout the story; there’s a small but fully-rounded secondary cast and the various relationships – friendship and familial – are skilfully drawn.

Ekaterina – Kit – Averin is pretty happy with her life. She has a job she enjoys at the local university, good friends she loves… and although she wishes she was able to see a bit more of her older brother Alex, a globe-trotting photographer, life is good. After the lottery win, she decides to use some of her money to obtain something she’s always desperately wanted, but never really had – a home. Her mother left when Kit was a baby and her father was – is – addicted to alcohol and gambling, so her childhood wasn’t particularly stable. Alex, who is her half-brother, was only five at the time her mother left, but he took on the responsibility of caring for Kit and pretty much raised her. Now, Kit craves stability and wants to make herself a home; she falls in love with an old house in need of a lot of TLC and refurbishment and buys it.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.