Book Review by El: The Saint, by Tiffany Reisz

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The Saint, by Tiffany Reisz
Series: The Original Sinners: The White Years #1
The Original Sinners #5 (Stand-alone)
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Release Date: June 24, 2014

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Note: This is the first book in the second half of the Original Sinners series. While I believe it stands very strongly on its own, and did not feel confusion about characters or plots, the author advises reading the books in a very specific order and not starting with this one.

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Book Review: Jefferson Blythe, Esquire (Rating: 4/5)

lanyon-jefferson-blythe-coverJefferson Blythe, Esquire, by Josh Lanyon
Publisher: Carina Press/Harlequin (November 16, 2015)
Genre: Gay (M/M) Adventure; Romance

Rating: 4 out of 5

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“Why are you so afraid of being different?”

If I had to describe this novel in three words, those words would be quirky, delightful, and unique. Thankfully, I get more than three words to talk about how much I enjoyed Jefferson Blythe, Esquire! Reading this novel was an adventure unto itself, with surprises around every corner and the kind of fantastic character growth and emotional impact that you can expect from a Josh Lanyon book!

Jefferson has been toeing the line his entire life. He does what he’s expected to do: got a degree in the field his father wanted, got engaged to the girl next door, and plans to join the family firm. But after his fiancée breaks up with him, he decides to go on a trip to Europe, using the journey to shed the “old him” and rediscover himself.

“Jefferson, you’ve just started this trip. You’re on this… journey. It has to be about you right now. Not us. Do you see what I’m saying?”

And at the heart of it, that’s what this novel is all about. Jefferson has to face a lot of hard truths about who he really is, and what he wants in life. At times, it’s overwhelming, but he’s determined to keep moving forward, with the advice from The Book– his grandfather’s 1960 “Esquire’s Europe in Style”. It’s more than a guidebook… it’s a roadmap to the person Jefferson wants to become.


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All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.

There’s also a delightful mystery/adventure mixed in, which I really enjoyed. Jefferson expects to have new experiences in Europe; he doesn’t expect a case of mistaken identity! When a lady insists that he’s an international criminal, Jefferson suddenly finds himself dodging goons and bullets across London, Paris, and Rome!

Now, for a guy who suddenly finds people waving guns at him, Jefferson is a bit *too* cool under pressure. He doesn’t panic, like a normal person might. He doesn’t freak out. I would have liked to see the character act a bit more human when confronted with things straight from a crime thriller novel, but Jefferson accepts and moves on as though it’s nothing.

Still, a really fun novel, with a really excellent main character. Jefferson is a delight, and watching him become his own man and accept what he wants in life made for a really fantastic read!

Buy Links: Amazon / Publisher

* I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange
for a fair and honest review. *

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Review: Shadow of Flame, by Caitlyn McFarland (Rating: 4/5)

mcfarland-shadow-of-flameShadow of Flame, by Caitlyn McFarland (The Dragonsworn Trilogy, Book Two)
Publisher: Carina Press/Harlequin (September 14, 2015)
Page Count: 310 pages
Genre: M/F Paranormal/Fantasy, Romance

Rating: 4 out of 5

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* I was given an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. *

Three-quarters through this book I was literally alternating between flapping my hands around and covering my eyes, because I couldn’t bear to see what happened next… and at the same time I HAD to know what happened next. “Shadow of Flame” was a fantastic read, with an absolutely gripping plot and some much-anticipated character developments. I think the expectation in a trilogy is that the second book is the “filler”, but this book was as action- and romance-packed as the first one!

Visceral want crackled between them. Not lust, though that was definitely part of it. Just… need for closeness that made it impossible to move away. (Kindle Loc. 1229)

This novel picks up right where “Soul of Smoke” left off; it’s been six weeks since Kai and Rhys parted, and Kai alternates between missing her heartsworn so much that she can barely function, and being glad of the space that allows her to think rationally. But when a series of events unfolds, Rhys has to call Kai, Juli, and Ashem home. The only problem? Rhys isn’t willing to tell his people about Kai yet, and Kai isn’t thrilled about being his dirty little secret.

First off, I’m so excited that we got more of Juli and Ashem’s relationship… and with a twist that I not only didn’t see coming, but had me gasping out loud. I didn’t like Juli much when she appeared in the first book, but I really grew to love her in this one because she’s a good balance for Kai.

“This is what I do, jāné del-am. It means sometimes I don’t sleep.” He switched to speaking in her head. “You’ll have to get used to it.

Juli raised an eyebrow. “You’re about to get used to a few things yourself. Like celibacy.” (Kindle Loc. 1307)

And Kai and Rhys’ relationship evolved as well, turning into something really beautiful as Kai finally opened up and began to trust Rhys! Just because there’s a soulmate plot doesn’t mean both characters have to be immediately on board with it, so I appreciated Kai’s reluctance to just give in. But they’re honestly just really adorable together!

A smile teased one corner of his mouth. “You have a tendency to fall from things, George. I just assume it’s my job to catch you.”

Despite everything, Kai laughed. (Kindle Loc. 2354)

The plot was incredibly predictable at times for the reader, but was written in such a way that the characters clearly had no idea what was about to happen. This mean the foreshadowing had me wringing my hands in terrified anticipation. I had to put the book down a few times because I was so afraid of what was about to happen to my beloved characters!

I was going to give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars, but knocked it back down to 4 solely because of that predictable plot. It was great in many ways, but at times I wished there were a few surprises for the characters AND the reader.

spock gif emotionally compromised

Still, it takes an incredibly talented author to write a novel that ties your emotions up in a knot. I am, as Spock would say, emotionally compromised by these characters, and I can’t wait for the third book to see what happens to Kai, Rhys, and the rest of their friends!

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Review: Taking a Chance, by A.M. Arthur (Rating: 4/5)

arthur-taking-a-chanceTaking a Chance, by A.M. Arthur (The Restoration Series, Book Three) (Amazon)
Publisher: Carina Press/Harlequin (September 14, 2015)
Page Count: 262 pages
Genre: Gay (M/M) Romance

Rating: 4 out of 5

* I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review. *

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Finally, Elliott gets his own novel! It was heartbreaking to see him at rock bottom in Finding Their Way, so I really loved seeing him get his confidence back. I highly recommend reading the first two book in this series first, but at the very least read Book 2.

Summary: The last time Elliott fell in love, his fiancé cheated on him. Now fresh out of rehab, Elliott’s confidence lags behind his libido… not that that stops him from lusting after the sexy carpenter working on his kitchen. But he won’t risk his sobriety on another potential broken heart.

As half of an experienced home renovation duo, Augustus expects this job will be easy. Until he sees the house’s tenant, a man he never thought he’d meet–his ex’s other man. Augustus knows he should say something about their secret, shared past, but he’s tongue-tied by their intense, unwanted attraction.

This novel had so many things that I rarely see in M/M romance. I can’t actually think of a single book where the main couple has been serodiscordant, but it’s treated so respectfully in this book. Elliott is HIV positive, a recovering drug addict, and attempted suicide last year. It’s a lot of darkness for a character, but it doesn’t come off as depressing. Instead, Elliott is learning to trust again, and taking a chance on romance with tall, dark, and handsome Augustus.


I really loved the relationship here! Auggie is so genuine and caring, and he knows what it’s like to have a dark, shameful past. His reaction to finding out about Elliott being positive is really natural. And Elliott is a great, complicated character. He’s battling some pretty powerful inner demons, but he’s always there to help his friends, no matter what. The emotional scenes are balanced out by some funny, sassy moments.


Super enjoyable, and highly recommended. It may be a bit bleak for some people, especially if you like light-hearted romances, because it does deal with some heavy themes. But the emotions really hit home, and the characters are so natural and great. If you haven’t read the first two books in this series, check them out now, and then go pre-order this book!

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Review: Reckless Hope, by j. leigh bailey (Rating: 3/5)

bailey-reckless-hopeReckless Hope, by j. leigh bailey (Letting Go, Book Two)
Publisher: Carina Press/Harlequin (August 24, 2015)
Page Count: 193 pages
Genre: Gay (M/M) Romance

Rating: 3/5

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* I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review. *

Sebastian is the wild child in a family of rich snobs. He’ll never live up to his dead brother’s legacy, so why bother? Micah’s got too much going on for a relationship. He works two jobs to support his mother and sister, and Sebastian is a (sexy, reckless) distraction that would only derail his carefully scheduled life. Rich boy who likes to party meets poor boy who’s too responsible to have fun. Opposites attract.

That’s really what this book boils down to. Bailey is a good writer, and she managed to take this tired plot and make it stand out from the crowd, but in the end it just boiled down to ‘good’ and not the ‘great’ that it had potential to be.

The relationship between Sebastian and Micah starts off as physical, a way for them to let off tension. Both of them recognize that they’re too different to work as a couple, both emotionally and socially, but Micah sees it as convenient and Sebastian is intrigued by the boy who keeps turning him down.

bailey-reckless-quoteescapeSebastian is an immature, spoiled brat with too much money and no responsibility. I actually disliked him a lot for the first half of the book. But then Micah slowly begins to influence Sebastian, helping him find something meaningful to care about. And likewise, Sebastian helps teach Micah how to unwind and enjoy life.

bailey-reckless-quotesympathizeThe biggest issue though was pacing. This is a short novel, and there was a LOT thrown in; instead of focusing on the relationship and evolving characters, Bailey focuses too much on what’s happening around the boys. When Sebastian proclaims, “I love you”, I honestly blinked in surprise, because I couldn’t figure out when the heck he’d had time to develop those feelings. It was too quick, too unrealistic.

I enjoyed the book, though it wasn’t something I’d want to re-read. But it had the potential to be exceptional, and it was disappointing to see the novel end with that potential unmet.

Note: You do not need to read the first book (Nobody’s Hero) in order to read this one. It’s a stand-alone plot with no recurring characters. (Read my review of Nobody’s Hero.)

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Review: Nobody’s Hero, by J. Leigh Bailey (Rating: 4/5)

bailey-nobodys-heroNobody’s Hero, by J. Leigh Bailey (Letting Go, Book One)
Publisher: Carina Press/Harlequin (April 27, 2015)
Page Count: 212 pages
Genre: Gay (M/M) Romance

Rating: 4 out of 5

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Summary: Bradley Greene has seventeen dollars and a gas card, and he’s sleeping in his car. After catching him with another boy, his family has all-but disowned him. He’s an emotional mess and if he doesn’t land a job soon, he’s up the proverbial creek.

Danny Ortega can take care of himself… most of the time. When what started as a date turns into sexual assault in a dark parking lot, he’s grateful for Brad’s help. He certainly doesn’t expect to see him again, and definitely not as the newest hire at Ortega Construction.

But as Brad and Danny’s quiet attraction turns into more, they start to realize that things won’t be easy. Brad is closeted, afraid of his family and the rest of the world attacking him for being gay, but Danny has always been out of the closet and accepted by his own family.

My Thoughts: This was a really excellent novel about the struggles of coming out, and about what defines family. It’s a coming-of-age story about two teenage boys in the summer before college, from two vastly different worlds, who come together and realize that love is stronger than anything else they could imagine.

I loved that this novel covered a wide range of issues, from being a minority in a small town, to homophobia and gay-bashing, to the struggle to define what family truly means. Bailey handled all of these issues effortlessly, so I never felt like the plot was weighed down by too much going on.

Danny was by far my favorite character. Not only was he an openly-gay POC, which is rare enough in M/M fiction, but he was a Catholic, with a Catholic family, who loved and supported him in every way. The conflict in this novel didn’t come from religion, which was incredibly refreshing, but from Brad’s family and the societal pressures they put on him.

The theme of being a hero comes into play a lot as well. Not only is the novel about family, but it’s about finding someone to look up to. Brad looks up to Danny because of Danny’s ability to be open about his sexuality, and because the Ortega’s are so warm and accepting. But Danny in return looks up to Brad for his own strength, resisting his family’s pressures and forcing himself to be more open about his sexuality and his relationship with Danny.

I read this novel in anticipation of the second book in this series, Reckless Hope, which comes out at the end of August, and now I can’t wait for the next book to come out!

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Review: Purely Professional, by Elia Winters (Rating: 4.5/5)

winters-purely-professionalPurely Professional, by Elia Winters
Publisher: Carina Press/Harlequin (January 13, 2014)
Page Count: 155 pages
Genre: M/F Erotic Romance

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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Summary: Columnist Bridget Hartwell agrees to write about BDSM to impress her new executive editor at Sultry, the “sex-positive magazine for sex-positive women.” Unfortunately, it’s a topic she knows absolutely nothing about…but if she ever wants that promotion, she’ll need to learn the ropes, fast.

English professor Max Harlow is active in the Dom/sub scene, but only for casual play. He’s never found his ideal partner: a woman who is his equal, but sexually submissive. When he’s asked to explain the lifestyle to his cute but obviously inexperienced neighbor, Max is certain it’s best to approach it academically–to keep things purely professional.

My Thoughts: This novel was nominated for not one but two RITA awards, and I can see why! Riveting and seductive from start to finish, Purely Professional was smoldering hot in all the best ways. It’s hard to believe that this was the first novel for author Elia Winters (one of the categories she was a Finalist in), because she has some serious talent for leaving her characters and her readers hot and bothered!

Bridget is a strong, sexually empowered woman working in a sex-positive environment as a writer for a women’s magazine. She considers herself dominant at the office, refusing to let anything stop her from getting the promotion and job she believes she deserves. But when she begins to submit to her sexy neighbor, Max, for a series of articles, she has to battle with her newly-awakened desires to be sexually submissive.

I think the BDSM Romance niche has exploded in recent years, and for the most part the novels in this genre are mediocre at best. There are novels that promote being tied up and spanked as being sexually deviant or ultra-naughty, and novels that push emotional manipulation and abuse as “romantic”. Purely Professional, thankfully, rises above the rest of the genre. There’s a strong emphasis on BDSM being more than alright… it’s about trust, it’s freeing, and it’s ultimately incredibly powerful for both the Dom and the sub.

I liked the way Max explained the pillars of BDSM to Bridget. The concept of “safe, sane, and consensual” was stressed, as was Max’s forceful differentiating between BDSM and abuse. While his explanations did come off as a bit too lecture-y at times, it was still important to explain the subject fully.

I also loved the relationship evolution between Bridget and Max. What begins as simply a professional exchange to help Bridget write her articles quickly becomes more passionate than either of them could have imagined. Bridget’s internal wars over her submissive desires were great, as were Max’s imperfections and his reactions to her.

This novel absolutely deserves both of its RITA nominations! It’s a fantastic romance, with some beyond-steamy sex and a relationship that evolves naturally and beautifully. An incredibly enjoyable read, and highly recommended!

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