mini-review · Reading Diversely · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Counterpoint by Anna Zabo (Twisted Wishes #2)

41808799Summary from Goodreads:
Twisted Wishes lead guitarist Dominic “Domino” Bradley is an animal onstage. But behind his tight leather pants and skull-crusher boots lies a different man entirely, one who needs his stage persona not only to perform, but to have the anonymity he craves. A self-imposed exile makes it impossible to get close to anyone outside the band, so he’s forced to get his sexual fix through a few hot nights with a stranger.

When computer programmer Adrian Doran meets Dominic, he’s drawn to the other man’s quiet voice and shy smile. But after a few dirty, demanding nights exploring Dominic’s need to be dominated, Adrian wants more than a casual distraction. He has no idea he’s fallen for Domino Grinder—the outlandish, larger-than-life rock god.

Dominic is reluctant to trust Adrian with his true identity. But when the truth is revealed prematurely, Dominic is forced to reevaluate both his need for Adrian and everything he believes about himself.

One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!

Carina Press acknowledges the editorial services of Mackenzie Walton

The Netgalley gods smiled upon me and granted me access to Counterpoint – and just in time since I was tearing through the end of Syncopation.

I was really intrigued by the character of Dom in the first book – a quiet, bookish guy who has created a “public” stage persona to handle the social pressure of being an emerging rock guitarist. I imagine that this is a problem that rears its head for a lot of musicians – how public is too public is you are a naturally private person or have social anxiety? I mean, I probably wouldn’t handle “getting photographed by paparazzi or randos while buying toilet paper at the store” levels of celebrity well. I can only imagine how intrusive that is and understand why the Lady Gagas of the world have such out-sized stage personalities.

Counterpoint opens as Dom is out at dinner, enjoying a book, when he makes the acquaintance of an attractive man, Adrian, who turns out to be a computer programmer for a bank and also has an interest in the book Dom is reading (vintage gay literature). A conversation leads to dinner, leads to a future date, leads to a very, very hot night of bondage and sex. Dom eventually decides to tell Adrian who he is, particularly that he’s an over-the-top Goth-ish killer guitarist for the hottest new rock band on the charts as opposed to the bookish, glasses-wearing twink he’s shown Adrian thus far. And this leads to a lot of soul searching on both their parts, how to be both private and public with their sexual preferences (both have suffered homophobia and Adrian, as a pansexual, has received some awful garbage from his family), and where they want this new relationship to go.

This is a fabulously well-crafted, kinky, queer romance. I do love quieter romances (plot-wise), ones where the tension in the relationship doesn’t come from outside forces like murder, shady dealings, society, etc. but from the stuff that each person brings to the relationship. A good relationship brings out the best of each person, and I think Zabo shows an absolutely lovely couple on the page.

Zabo lists some content warnings on her Goodreads “review” (covering specifics that I didn’t peg during my reading, but some readers might need to know about).

I do hope Zabo has a book planned for Mish, the last but certainly not least member of Twisted Wishes and the only woman, who really plays her sexuality close to her chest in Syncopation and Counterpoint so I look forward to seeing where she goes. (Mish is the bassist, she’s awesome.)

Counterpoint is out today.

Dear FTC: I received a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Netgalley and I plan to buy it when it’s available.

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mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Syncopation by Anna Zabo (Twisted Wishes #1)

untitledSummary from Goodreads:

There’s no resisting the thrum of temptation in this male/male rock-star romance from genre-favorite author Anna Zabo!

Twisted Wishes front man Ray Van Zeller is in one hell of a tight spot. After a heated confrontation with his bandmate goes viral, Ray is hit with a PR nightmare the fledgling band so doesn’t need. But his problems only multiply when they snag a talented new drummer—insufferably sexy Zavier Demos, the high school crush Ray barely survived.

Zavier’s kept a casual eye on Twisted Wishes for years, and lately, he likes what he sees. What he doesn’t like is how out of control Ray seems—something Zavier’s aching to correct after their first pulse-pounding encounter. If Ray’s up for the challenge.

Despite the prospect of a glorious sexual encore, Ray is reluctant to trust Zavier with his band—or his heart. And Zavier has always had big dreams; this gig was supposed to be temporary. But touring together has opened their eyes to new passions and new possibilities, making them rethink their commitments, both to the band and to each other.

One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!

Carina Press acknowledges the editorial services of Mackenzie Walton

I got pitched the second book in this series (Counterpoint, coming out in September, so keep your eyes peeled) and it sounded so damn good that I immediately bought Syncopation and inhaled it.

This novel is So. Good. It starts with an emerging rock band, Twisted Wishes, on the edge of stardom (think Fun. or a harder-edged version of Family Crest – this is kind of a music subgenre where I’m not super-up on what’s new) when a) their drummer quits/gets kicked out due to substance abuse and b) footage of the blowup ends up on the internet. They need a new drummer ASAP and none of the applicants do well until Zav shows up. Zav was a few years ahead of Ray and Dom, lead singer and guitarist respectively, in high school and in the intervening years has been a tympanist and the enfant terrible of the classical music scene. Except he’s now been fired from his gig due to an (ill-advised, in my opinion) relationship with his conductor and persona non grata in the symphonic community. Zav nails the audition and hits the ground running with the group’s upcoming tour.

Zabo captures the life of a an up-and-coming touring musician so well: the decidedly unglamorous tour bus life (no matter how swanky a bus), living out of hotels, the groupies, the shitty media and paparazzi presence that only increases as Twisted Wishes climbs the music charts. And speaking of things that increase…the sexual tension gets tighter and tighter. It is so bonkers that when Ray and Zav FINALLY get it on around the 50% mark I’m pretty sure that all the secondary characters sighed in relief right along with me. (So hot though. So hot. *fans self*) I kind of guessed the plot twist, but it was still a delicious denoument.

Definitely going to read the next book.

Update: Zabo lists some content warnings on her Goodreads “review” (covering specifics that I didn’t peg during my reading, but some readers might need to know about).

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book on my Nook.

 

mini-review · stuff I read

Sanctuary by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Beards and Bondage #2)

38883903Summary from Goodreads:
From multi award-winning author Rebekah Weatherspoon, comes book 2 in this sexy, suspenseful series…

When she needs a sanctuary…

Targeted by a sadistic former client, attorney Liz Lewis needs a place to lay low. When a friend offers her his family farm as a safe house, she eagerly accepts, unaware that she’ll have to share the farm with her friend’s brawny, beautiful brother, Silas McInroy.

…she invades his…

Weary of a world that doesn’t understand him, Silas just wants to be left alone to grow the best produce upstate New York has to offer. Still, he’s not going to toss a woman out when her safety is on the line. But the only way to explain her presence on his farm is to claim that they fell in love online…and the last thing he needs is a fake relationship that threatens to become more and more real every day.

With her world turned upside down and danger on her trail, Liz knows that this temporary refuge can’t last forever…but leaving the comfort and ease of Silas’s arms and farm to face the reality of her life may be the hardest thing she’s ever had to do.

*** WARNING: This book contains scenes of mild bondage and domination between a gorgeous lawyer and a sexy farmer who is terrible with women. And five farm dogs with varying degrees of loyalty to both the hero and heroine.***

Remember the “fake engagement” trope? It’s back but in a modern form. In the follow-up to Haven, Rebekah Weatherspoon has produced a modern romance between a smart woman hiding from what seems to be a contract on her life and a man who really likes his quiet, mostly-solitary life as a farmer. When they have to pretend to be in a relationship to explain why she’s all of a sudden at his house (because her friend is his brother), sparks fly.  And I mean fly. *whew, fans self*

Sanctuary is a less-intense or insular book than Haven, IMO. Not that there isn’t a lot going on in this book (because there is) but I felt a little less emotionally connected to Liz and Silas than I did to Claudia and Shep. And while I loved the HEA for Liz and Silas there are some dudes in this book that still need a good comeuppance and beat-down.

I’m definitely reading more Rebekah Weatherspoon, though. I like how she writes first person POV in romance.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book on my nook.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Haven by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Beards & Bondage #1)

34745311Summary from Goodreads:
A week-long getaway…

City girl Claudia Cade’s carefree life is plunged into chaos when a camping trip with her brother in the national forests of Northern California turns into a deadly dash for her survival.

A solitary world turned upside down…

Nature photographer Shepard Olsen has resigned himself to a quiet existence, with only his dog by his side, until a woman in need of his protection shows up on his doorstep and throws his universe into disarray.

Two lives linked by tragedy…

Claudia is desperate to heal from her traumatic loss, but can’t stop thinking about her run-in with evil….or the grizzled mountain man whose quick thinking and good aim saved her life. When she shows up on Shep’s doorstep again, she finds she isn’t the only one who can’t move on.

…saved by bliss.

The two begin an intense, passionate relationship of Dominance and submission, pleasure and pain, but with dark memories haunting them and decisions about the future rapidly approaching, Claudia can’t help but wonder…how long can they be each other’s haven?

*** WARNING: This book contains a sexual relationship between a fashionista and a cranky mountain man who are dealing with physical and emotional trauma. And a very big, cuddly dog.***

Rebekah Weatherspoon has been popping up in lists of romance authors recommended to me for a while now. And I’ve been intrigued, but her usual genres (contemporary, BDSM) aren’t always my bag. I’ve had good luck with contemporaries of late and I was told that Haven would be a good place to start so I decided to give it a whirl. (I was also tickled by the series name: Beards & Bondage.)

Haven takes off like a rocket right from the first page. Shep, a large bearded mountain man with a penchant for bondage, saves Claudia’s life when she turns up at his cabin bleeding and running for her life. When her attacker steps out of the woods, and offers to share her with Shep, Shep gives one warning and then shoots the man. On the way down the mountain to the hospital, she relates a horrific story: she was camping with her brother when they were attacked by two men. As Claudia recovers from her injuries Shep tries to give her some comfort, simply holding her so she can sleep. Although they each try to return to their previous lives, the experience has irrevocably changed both of them. Claudia soon returns to Shep’s town, to find closure and explore her attraction to the man who saved her.

I’ll probably never be a fan of 1st person POV in my romance reading, but it worked for this book. Weatherspoon would give us several chapters in one POV before switching to the other, so it wasn’t too much back and forth. Shep isn’t some sort of grizzled, nasty dude in a shack; he’s a very rugged, fit nature photographer with a modern cabin who just happens to be an introverted Dom. The conversations that Weatherspoon gives him with Claudia, where they discuss exactly what she wants from her time with Shep and what a D/s relationship with Shep would entail, were refreshing; no one does any quibbling about feelings before getting down to business. This isn’t a sweet or funny romance (although Claudia is a smartass with excellent one-liners). It’s a story about two people who work through some very, very heavy emotional stuff mixed with incredibly hot sexytimes (if you’re like me and the pain thing is really not your jam, the scenes lean into the Bondage portion of BDSM more than anything else). The only part of this book I really felt didn’t work was that the HEA didn’t seem earned. I totally got the instant emotional connection between Shep and Claudia – they both went through something traumatic and it created an instant bond worth exploring. But they’re given a week – which is eventually cut short by a plot point, so maybe 4 days – and it just doesn’t seem long enough for them together. They each work through some things separately, but I would have liked them together in one place for collectively more than a week.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book on my Nook.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

For Real by Alexis Hall (Spires Universe)

25500803Summary from Goodreads:
Laurence Dalziel is worn down and washed up, and for him, the BDSM scene is all played out. Six years on from his last relationship, he’s pushing forty and tired of going through the motions of submission.

Then he meets Toby Finch. Nineteen years old. Fearless, fierce, and vulnerable. Everything Laurie can’t remember being.

Toby doesn’t know who he wants to be or what he wants to do. But he knows, with all the certainty of youth, that he wants Laurie. He wants him on his knees. He wants to make him hurt, he wants to make him beg, he wants to make him fall in love.

The problem is, while Laurie will surrender his body, he won’t surrender his heart. Because Toby is too young, too intense, too easy to hurt. And what they have—no matter how right it feels—can’t last. It can’t mean anything.

It can’t be real.

After whetting my appetite with M/M romances written by straight ladies (which I liked), I was casting around for M/M romances written by gay men. I got several recommendations for authors (Santino Hassell for one) but then I got a rec for For Real by Alexis Hall, which was pitched to me as the sweetest, filthiest, May-December D/s romance. BDSM, etc. are not really my bag (it’s interesting to me from a philosophical/ideological standpoint, but it doesn’t turn my crank, if you know what I mean) but I was intrigued by the sweet/filthy/age difference idea.

And it’s really good! The recommendation was spot-on. If you are looking for a sweet-but-very-very-very-hot m/m BDSM romance (edges toward erotica maybe?) this is for you. I loved the development of the relationship between Laurie and Toby. There’s a seventeen year age gap between the two, so combined with the basic romance plot are some growing pains, some old broken-heart issues, and the complications that arise when the Dom is the younger of the couple and still working out how to go about with his kink. (How do you even find your people to learn how to do that safely if that’s your thing?)

Laurie’s super-snarky inner monologue had me from page 1; the book opens as he’s trying to gain admittance to a dungeon (dungeon? private sex club? terminology?) where his friends are waiting for him, and he’s had a long day and he’s come straight from work (he’s a trauma surgeon) and he is REALLY annoyed that the doorperson won’t let him in bc he’s not wearing “the right” clothes and he’s pissed that he has to put on a costume to get his rocks off as a sub. I loved him (and he’s right – does it really matter that the D or the s is wearing leather pants?). Toby is also a good cook, so be prepared for serious foodie envy, plus there is a scene in the kitchen that gets so filthy… (I was reading that scene on break while doing an overnight shift at the bookstore and I actually had to tell one of the other booksellers not to look at me because I was sure I was about seventeen colors of “omg this is the hottest thing I’ve ever read but I’m in public and OMG” tomato red), also the trip to Oxford….

Dear FTC: I bought the copy I read on my Nook.