Book Review: Blank Space by Jennifer Young

blank-spaceBronte O’Hara lives an unremarkable life in Edinburgh, working for the Caledonian Bank. Her world is thrown into confusion when she returns home to finds an injured and bleeding man in her kitchen. Marcus is suffering from memory loss, so she has no way of knowing whether he means her harm, or who attacked him. However, their paths are destined to cross again, and when they do, Bronte begins to realise that everything is tied into her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, Eden, an anarchist who’s part of the anti-capitalism movement. With the G8 summit due to take place in Edinburgh, the city’s about to become a hotbed of not-so-peaceful protest, and as Bronte’s feelings for Marcus deepen, she’s left wondering who, if anyone, she can really trust.

Blank Space is one of those novels where it’s best to know as little about it as you can before you read it, so you can best enjoy the twists and turns as they arrive, though it’s not spoiling things too much to reveal that almost everyone in this book is hiding major secrets. Jennifer Young uses contemporary political and economic events as the backdrop for a fade-to-black romantic suspense storyline that explores questions of identity, trust, and moral principles. Bronte’s dilemma is simple and believable– given how badly her relationship with Eden ended, how can she love Marcus when she’s not entirely sure who he really is or what his true motives are? The “ooh, banks are evil” sentiment is occasionally ladled on a little too thickly, but it’s contrasted with some wry comments about those with anti-corporate sentiments who need people to work for banks and the like to give them something to protest against. Bronte is an appealingly feisty heroine, her budding attraction to Marcus is low-key but realistically handled, and there are moments of genuinely scary tension in a story will keep you gripped to the end. The book is billed as the first in a series, so it will be interesting to see whether Book Two develops Bronte and Marcus’ romance, or, as the previous Lake Garda series by Jennifer Young has done, introduces new characters to the set-up. Either way, it’s bound to be interesting.

Blank Space is available from Amazon UK and US. I was given a copy of the book in return for an honest review.

Book Review: Arctic Fire by Kiera Andrews

arctic-fireCaptain Jack Turner is trying to make sense of his life and his Army career after being seriously injured in an incident in Afghanistan. When he’s sent up to a remote town in the Arctic Circle to reconnoitre the site of a potential new Army base, he doesn’t expect it to be anything other than a routine mission. Everything changes when he meets Kin, the part-time soldier charged with showing him around the area. Circumstances contrive to throw Jack and Kin closer together than they could have expected, and force them to make a series of life-changing decisions – not least what to do about the intense attraction they feel for each other…

There’s nothing like a good story about men in uniform, but with military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan scaled down and all but over for US and UK forces, writers need to find different backgrounds to keep their Army tales relevant and contemporary. Kiera Andrews does that admirably in Arctic Fire, and has clearly put in plenty of research to make the Army jargon, authentic and the small-town life in Kin’s home town on Nunavet feel real and yet somehow detached from the rest of Canada (which, I suppose, is pretty much how most of us picture the Arctic). Kin’s an outsider, from a community that isn’t accepting of gay men, and there’s also a culture clash between himself and jaded Jack, who’s used to more tolerant attitudes and a faster pace of life. Jack, meanwhile, is both literally and metaphorically scarred by the improvised explosive device that wounded him and killed one of his men, and haunted by his failure to prevent it. When Jack and Kin are trapped by a blizzard and forced to huddle together for warmth (yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s used well here), their initial prickly relationship turns into something more intimate. It’s the old story of opposites attracting, but they’re both believable, rounded characters and their growing lust is nicely handled. Mutual suspicion turns to passion, the protective barriers both men have built around their hearts start to come down, and the resulting sex is hot enough that it ought to melt the ice around them!

This is a quick, engrossing read, and fans of hurt/comfort fiction and those who want a fresh take on Army life are bound to enjoy Artic Fire.

Artic Fire is available from Kindle Unlimited in the US and globally. You can find out more about Keira Andrews on her website. I was given a copy of the book by Indigo Marketing and Design in return for an honest review.

Book Review: Fight The Tide By Kiera Andrews

fight the tideThe world is in the grip of a viral plague, supposedly released by a weird religious cult, that has turned most of the population into flesh-hungry ‘creepers’. Having escaped the carnage on mainland America, human Parker and werewolf Adam are on board the Bella Luna, trying to find a safe haven. They begin receiving messages from an island community promising them a place to stay, but as anyone who’s well versed in zombie horror clichés will know, any offer like that is almost certainly too good to be true. Throw in a pirate attack on the boat, and a family group that Parker and Adam team up with and need to protect, adding a whole new level of peril to the situation, and things between the two men become ever more tense. Is their love strong enough to survive everything that is thrown at them?

Fight The Tide is the sequel to A Kick At The Darkness, in which the creeper apocalypse occurs and Adam and Parker team up and fall in love. It helps to have read that book first, as you’re plunged straight into Parker and Adam’s world with very little in the way of establishing backstory. Their dilemma about whether or not they should seek refuge on Salvation Island, and their attempts to bond with Craig and Abby and their children, Lily and Jacob, are believable and gripping. The storyline offers Andrews the opportunity to explore what it might be like to grow up gay in a world where old rules and opinions no longer apply, as well as providing some well-crafted and horrific fights with the creepers. Indeed, the whole story is so entertaining that the sex scenes, hot as they are, and Parker’s attempts to prove that events haven’t broken him emotionally, start to become superfluous to the plot.

And speaking of sex, there’s one scene that unexpectedly tried my patience with the book. Skip this paragraph if freaky anatomy isn’t your thing, but apparently a werewolf’s rear passage is so flexible that it takes a hell of a lot of filling. Not only does Parker manage to fit his whole fist into Adam’s hole, he can also get his cock in there at the same time, effectively masturbating himself inside his lover. Maybe it’s the fact that I spent so many years removing all the physical impossibilities from the letters readers sent in to Forum, but this description came off as silly, not sexy. I’d be genuinely interested to know whether anyone finds this a turn-on.

Plenty of questions remain to be answered at the end of Fight The Tide; many of them relating to Adam’s upbringing as a lone wolf following the death of his family. A third book is promised, to the delight of Kiera Andrews’ many fans, which may answer some of them – although with rumours of a fourth book, probably not all of them…

Fight The Tide is available from various retailers including Amazon and AllRomance, and you can find out more about Keira Andrews on her website. I was given a copy of the book by Indigo Marketing and Design in return for an honest review.

Book Review: Reaction Shot By Parker Avrile

reaction shotShale Shelby (yes, really) has a bad boy past – at the age of 22, he’s just got out of a relationship with a wealthy Chinese crime lord that saw him running money-laundering trips between the US and Macau. Hoping to return to a quiet life, he’s invited to perform a BDSM scene in a swanky Las Vegas penthouse suite and finds himself up close and personal with rising movie star Lyndon Becker. The two enjoy a night of thrilling sex, but the arrival of a video clip showing them in action threatens to destroy Lyndon’s career. To find out who’s blackmailing Lyndon, Shale needs to call in favours from the man he thought he’d never see again – and in doing so, he may well drag both himself and Lyndon to hell…

Reaction Shot is billed as a BDSM thriller, but it takes quite a while for the thriller element of the novel to kick in. At first, this appears to be just a series of intense play scenes between bratty bottom Shale and arrogant top Lyndon. (Not that it would be a bad thing, because the sex is so hot it’s almost volcanic.) However, once Shale returns to Macau in his attempt to stop Lyndon being blackmailed, things get very dark very quickly. This section of the book is not for those who are happiest reading about a little tie and tease – there’s prolonged mental torture, blood and knife play, and a serious lack of respect for limits. Parker Avrile points out in the introduction that this isn’t how BDSM works in the real world, and by now we should have moved on far enough from Fifty Shades that not every book needs to have a prolonged negotiation of limits scene and a properly drawn up slave contract to show E.L. James how it’s really done. Even so, the early part of the book may lull readers into expecting a straightforward hot romance, which it most decidedly isn’t. Shale and Lyndon are complex, sometimes unlikeable characters, and the initial cockiness of both men may come across as off-putting. However, Avrile is a fine writer who captures the nuances of a domination and submission scene (even if she does have a tendency to overuse the word ‘fuck’ in dialogue), and the secret part of themselves lovers will only reveal when the time and the trust levels are right. And if you’re comfortable with BDSM play that threatens to go over the edge there’s plenty in Reaction Shot to enjoy.

Reaction Shot is published by Paris April Press and is available from Amazon US and Amazon UK. You can find out more about the book at Goodreads.

I was given a copy of the book by Indigo Marketing in return for an honest review.

Book Review: Torn By E.B. Barrett

tornRecently graduated, James appears to have it all. He’s smart, he’s good-looking and, under the guidance of his tutor, Professor Thomas, he’s discovered an algorithm that has made him a multi-millionaire. But James’s emotional life is a mess. Throughout college, he and his girlfriend, Amee, have engaged in a lot of sexual experimentation, which has led him to discover two things. One, he’s bisexual, and two, he’s hopelessly in love with Professor Thomas. In an effort to come to terms with his feelings, he travels to Amsterdam, where all kinds of sexualities are tolerated and attitudes are less judgemental than in his native United States. But still he remains confused – torn between doing what’s expected of him and acting on his true desires.

Torn is that rare thing in erotic fiction – a novella that takes an honest and intense look at what it means to be bisexual. James butts up against negative beliefs about bisexuality right from the start of the book. His parents are separated and his father is dating a woman, Claire, who wants all three of his children to be ‘normal’ – in other words, heterosexual. She believes if you’re gay, you haven’t chosen your sexuality, but if you’re bisexual you have the choice to be gay or straight, and if you don’t, you’re just greedy. (A view expressed, coincidentally, by the loveably grotesque Linda La Hughes (Kathy Burke), in the fabulous sitcom Gimme Gimme Gimme.) It’s a view that leaves James feeling as if he’s doing something wrong in desiring both Amee and the men with whom he plays around, and it reflects a problem bisexual people often have, not fitting into some easily definable category.

I was eager to read Torn because I’m a sucker for anything set in Amsterdam, though in truth the city doesn’t play much of a part in the story – it simply serves to present a different attitude to sex than the one James is used to. In Amsterdam, James can visit sex clubs and make his desire for a bisexual threesome explicit – and, this being a romance, he might also be able to have the encounter he’s been longing for throughout the book.

Torn is not your standard MM romance. It’s one for lovers of literary erotica, and it features straight sex, threesomes, domination and submission play and much more. Running parallel to James’s discovery of his bisexuality is Amee’s growing acceptance that she has a dominant side. With the aid of a D/s couple she and James meet, she explores her dominatrix persona, Alexa, inviting men to worship them and punishing them for their failings. The sex scenes are vividly described, as Barrett explores the motivations of the many people James meets along the way – from Ryan, the supposedly typical jock who joins him and Amee for a threesome and knows that James wants to have sex with a man even before James really knows it himself, to Max and Iris, the couple who help Amee become Alexa. Barrett has a knack for making even minor characters feel rounded and realistic – even though some, like Claire, are designed purely to put forward a certain point of view, they don’t feel like the cardboard cut-out bigots who infest too much LGBT fiction.

If you don’t want a predictable tale of MM love and you’re interested in what makes people tick in and out of the bedroom, give Torn a try. Based on what happens in the story, I’m certainly keen to read more by E.B. Barrett.

Torn is available from Amazon US and Amazon UK, and you can find out more about the book on Goodreads.

(I was given a copy of this book by Indigo Marketing in return for an honest review.)

Book Review: Beyond The Sea By Kiera Andrews

Troy Tanner may have found fame and fortune as part of the hottest boy band in the world, Next Up, but his life is still full of complications. He’s with his girlfriend, Savannah, more out of duty than love, and his brother and fellow band member Tyson has a drug habit that’s getting worse by the day. Troy’s father was an addict who died of an overdose, and he doesn’t want to see his brother go the same way, so he carries out his threat to quit the band if he catches Tyson using again. He doesn’t care about the consequences; he simply needs to be as far away from Tyson as possible, and if that means chartering a private plane in the middle of the night, that’s what he’ll do. But when a cyclone forces a crash landing that leaves the pilot dead and Troy a thousand miles from civilisation with only injured co-pilot Brian Sinclair for company, it looks like his real problems have just begun…

Being stranded on a desert island, fighting for survival alongside someone you’re attracted to, is hardly a new idea, beyond the seaand if handled poorly it can be riddled with clichés and cringe-worthy moments (anyone remember the appalling Swept Away pretty much finishing off Madonna’s film career?) But in Troy and Brian, Kiera Andrews creates an engaging couple whose struggles on the island they christen Golden Sands are all too believable. Both carry serious amounts of emotional baggage – while Troy has his family troubles, Brian suffers from survivor’s guilt after being involved in an earlier fatal plane crash – and they have to find a way to work through that as well as dealing with more pressing matters like finding food and water, making a shelter, and not picking up an illness or infection that might kill them without medical attention.

The sexual attraction between them is something they try to fight at first, putting it down to their need for physical contact and the fact there’s no one else around, as they both consider themselves straight. But once they’ve made their first tentative explorations they realise there’s something deeper involved, and soon they can’t keep their hands off each other. The sex scenes, when they finally arrive, are scorching hot, as Troy and Brian explore pretty much everything two men can do to each other, both learning what the other enjoys as they go.

Beyond The Sea is at its strongest when Troy and Brian are trapped on the island, learning about each other’s strengths and weaknesses and falling in love. Somehow, the storyline becomes less realistic once they’re back home, as they appear to slot back into their everyday lives without problems and everyone around them, even Troy’s conservative Filipina mother, accepts their relationship with a shrug and a ‘that’s cool’. But overall, this is an enjoyable, escapist book with plenty to offer fans of MM romance – just don’t read it on a flight…

Beyond The Sea is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, ARe, iTunes, Kobo and Smashwords.

(I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.)

Book Review: Going Back by Jennifer Young

GoingBackbyJenniferYoung-200Leona Castellano has only just returned from an eventful trip to Italy where she was the victim of a kidnapping , but she’s already planning her return. She hopes she can end the feud between her own family and that of the man she’s falling in love with, Nico Manfredi, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to bring about a reconciliation. However, she hasn’t counted on the Manfredi family’s bitter old patriarch, Faustino. The last thing Faustino wants to see is his grandson in love with a Castellano, and so he reveals a shocking secret that threatens to destroy Leona and Manfredi’s relationship almost before it’s begun…

Going Back is Book Two in the Lake Garda series, but it doesn’t matter if you haven’t read the first book in the series, A Portrait of My Love, because Jennifer Young swiftly fills in the events that have brought Leona to this point.  The story offers two romances for the price of one, as Leona’s mother, Alexandra, who has her ow n troubled history with the Manfredis and a desire to keep Leona and Nico apart, is coming to realise the true extent of own feelings for the man she married on the rebound, Simon Smart, and believes there’s still a chance for them to find love even though they’ve been divorced for years. Their gentle but sincere attraction is in contrast to the hotter burn of the passion between the feisty Leona and  the equally impetuous Nico, who both tend to act first and consider the consequences afterwards.

A good chunk of the action is set in and around  the town of Verona, including a visit made by Alexandra and Simon to Juliet’s balcony, and the tale of Romeo and Juliet is a strong influence on Going Back. But Young gives the concept of warring families a contemporary twist or two, making you root for both Leona and Nico as they attempt to thwart Faustino’s evil plans.

My only quibble is that the chapters from Leona’s point of view are told in the first person and those of the other characters in the third person, a stylistic choice I’ve never been very keen on – I’d rather see all first person or all third person. But that’s a personal preference and one that doesn’t really detract from the gripping storyline and the satisfying emotional resolution. For fans of sweet romance with a dash of suspense, and those who dream of love under the Italian sun, Going Back is a recommended read.

Going Back is published by Tirgearr and is available from retailers including Amazon US, Amazon UK, Smashwords, and Apple.