Erotica, LGBT, Romance

My Review: Collide (Blackcreek #1): by Riley Hart

Publish Date: November 8th, 2013
Number of Pages: 286 Pages
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing
Genre(s): Romance, LGBT, Erotica

Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

This wasn’t ending, and he didn’t know if it would ever end, and Coop didn’t know if he wanted to celebrate, cry, or destroy the whole fucking world.

– Riley Hart, “Collide”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

At ten years old, Noah Jameson and Cooper Bradshaw collided mid-air when they dove for the same football. For three years, they were inseparable…until one day when Noah and his parents disappeared in the middle of the night.

Noah and Cooper never knew what happened to each other. Now, seventeen years later, after finding his boyfriend in bed with another man, Noah returns to Blackcreek looking for a fresh start. And damned if he doesn’t find his old friend grew up to be sexy as sin. Coop can’t believe Noah—the only person he trusted with the guilt over his parents’ death—is back. And gay… Or that Cooper himself suddenly wants another man in his bed for the first time.

There’s no denying the attraction and emotion between them, but can they overcome the ghosts of their pasts to have a future together?

~~~

This was a nice, short, lighter read to enjoy while I’m taking a small break from Fantasy; I don’t know why, but lately as I’m typing this review, I’m noticing that I only seem to be in the mood to read smutty romance novels. I have tons and tons of Fantasy-genre tales on my shelf, and on my desk, and on the floor near my bed, and on my dresser (basically my room is a giant pile of growing books that will hardly shrink anytime soon), but that doesn’t matter because I just want simpler, lighter, and just overall easier to read right now.

Back to this book, but it was a great addition to my growing collection of M/M romance titles.

It was far from perfect and actually there are quite a few things I wish could’ve been better about it, but it still fulfilled what I wanted out of it: it had some really good smutty sex scenes and also just an overall swoon-worthy romance between the two main characters, and even between two side characters too. It was cute, it was absolutely so funny with the banter, it was heartwarming, it was sexy and sizzling, and isn’t that all we really want in a romance novel?

It was the perfect distraction for Cooper to ignore the flood of…contentment… Hearing that their friendship had meant to Noah even a portion of what it had meant to Coop. Which, as a kid, had been everything.

– Riley Hart, “Collide”

What I Liked:

  1. The Smut! If you’re looking for a quick but super hot and smutty book to read, this is a great choice for you! The smut in this book is super well done and really hot content, especially with the whole dynamic of the two main characters with Noah and Cooper. Noah being openly gay for much longer has him kind of in the role of the “mentor” or teacher in a way with how he takes Cooper through the ropes of what they do and what he’s willing to try out as they explore their relationship. Which brings me to my next point…
  2. The Relationship Between Noah and Cooper! I really liked their dynamic for the most part in this story. I like romance stories with the tropes like “second chance,” “small town romance,” “keeping it a secret,” and “friends-to-lovers” and reading about how much these two guys care about each other and the moments where their friendship shine through are so soft and affectionate and heartwarming, which is also so cozy when in comparison to all the scorching hot sex scenes. I find it funny I’m saying this when I’m also a reader who usually doesn’t turn towards a specific story for its fluff versus steam.
  3. The Friends/Side Characters! Both Cooper and Noah have a friend on the side that really be there for them when they individually need it, and even better that they actually end up hooking up! Wes and Braden’s romance gets introduced in this story, but they’ll get the spotlight in the next installment which will be fun because I want to see more of their certain dynamic too!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. How Cooper Is Only Gay For Noah…So the whole “GFY” is an iffy one because sometimes I feel like it’s not the most realistic storyline, but I guess it depends on your own personal views of sexuality. It’s such a fluid subject nowadays, and their are so many different terms and identities that are out there now, and while I can say I support it all and hope anyone who’s questioning who they are has the courage and confidence and support to figure it out, I feel like the “gay for only this person” is a little questionable, or maybe it’s because it’s not explored far enough in this story. Before Cooper reunites with a returning Noah, he was sleeping around with women and never really questioned his sexuality (at least that’s the impression I got). Noah coming back into his life calls a lot into question, and just like that, Cooper is no longer the straight guy he’s always been known as. I also know that there’s no set time of when you are supposed to have this all figured out; some people discover their sexuality at a young age while some may not discover it until they’re 50 with a wife and kids….but the point I’m trying to make is that maybe I just feel like the shift was too quick and not a whole lot of it was explained or explored as much as I wanted it to be. Maybe the author didn’t want to make it that deep of a story at the time this was written, but I guess I was just hoping for more answers in this regard. Like I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the fact that a label isn’t put on a whole lot of him or their relationship was frustrating! I’m never one who needs to compartmentalize stuff like that, so I’m confused at myself about it too, like maybe I’m not as open minded about it all?
  2. The Homophobic Side Characters…With Cooper being a firefighter and sort of coming out of the closet in a sudden way, he deals with some homophobia with some of his fellow coworkers and even a little bit from his uncle. It’s not really an outright hatred of gay people, but it’s more these snide, rude comments and jokes they all make that any gay guy has heard in their life and has made it hard to come to terms with yourself if you yourself are questioning or in the closet. It brought back terrible memories of times in middle school and high school casually say the word “f*g,” or “that’s so gay…” as a way to instead say how something is stupid. I know there are still people who are honestly just against gay people and don’t accept it, but part of me always wishes we didn’t have to face this kind of rejection in fiction, like why can’t books with gay characters at the forefront just not deal with homophobia?
  3. WAY Too My Flashbacks…I’m never someone who’s a big fan of them to begin with, and this book had wayyyyyyyy to many as well. I get it, a lot of the story revolves around Noah and Cooper meeting as kids and how their friendship/relationship has blossomed from it all, but I feel like the amount of flashback scenes could’ve been reduced. I know the past is important to learn from in order to grow and move forward, but in this case I’m falling under the whole “the past is in the past and let’s leave it that way.”
  4. Grammar Issues…The book felt a little amateurish with all the many commas and just simple grammar issues that popped up throughout the book. I mean, I’m not perfect at it all the time either, but when you read a published book you just expect more and hold this sort of thing to a higher standard. You’d think the editors and multiple sets of eyes who look over these words before they’re sent to print would fix this sort of thing.

Conclusion:

Overall, “Collide” by Riley Hart wasn’t as good as it could’ve been, but this was still an enjoyable story that’s a great consideration to anyone who loves M/M romance with plenty of fluff mixed with steam. It’s so great for fans of “second chance” romances or “friends-to-lovers,” or “gay only for you” type of stories. Noah and Cooper have quite the story here, and while it wasn’t exactly mindblowing, that hopefully doesn’t detract from when I say I still really enjoyed this book too, and plan to read on in this series with the two friends who hooked up in this book who also get the spotlight on them too!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

LGBT, New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: Us (Him #2): by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Publish Date: March 8th, 2016
Number of Pages: 322 Pages
Publisher: Rennie Road Books
Genre(s): New Adult Romance

***Warning!! This book review contains spoilers from the previous book in this duology, read on at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review for book #1 – Him – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Love is friendship set on fire.”

– Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy, “Us”

I absolutely adored the first book, Him, by these two amazing authors! They’re my go-to writers for anyone who’s looking for a funny, raunchy, well written, and overall entertaining contemporary new adult romance series to get into! Looking at a few reviews of this sequel, I was curious why some people were hesitant to start it…I mean, the first book could totally work as a standalone with how it ended, but if people loved it so much, wouldn’t they want to keep seeing what happens next? Sure, some people brought up the cash cow argument, and I can understand that argument, but kept an open mind as I’d opened this book and got back into the world of Ryan Wesley and Jamie Canning.

Overall, I wasn’t disappointed in this book and enjoyed it immensely! It had all the characteristics of what I’d enjoyed so much about the first book besides the obvious “second chance” and “friends to lovers” romance tropes. If anything, this sequel showed an incredibly realistic portrayal of the struggle of finding ones place in the world as the newly emerged adult group aged 18-25. The struggles of finding that dream job, financial worries, even still the coming to terms of one’s sexuality and their first serious relationship. The relationship is explored and shows how both people need to work in order to make the relationship work past its initial honeymoon phase.

While I enjoyed this book a lot, I can say I just didn’t enjoy it as much as the first book too. I felt like Him would’ve been just fine as a standalone novel, and despite the relatable issues the characters dealt with in this title, I felt like maybe this book was a way for the authors to possibly bridge into another project of theirs, and I’ll go more into that later on in this review. The main thing I dislike the most about this book was the issue of the lack of communication between Jamie and Wes, but it wasn’t for the same reasons I usually dislike that conflict.

There also was a big emphasis on a fictional lamb disease that was treated similarly to the bird flu and even the 2020 COVID-19 situation, but on a much smaller scale. I was scratching my head about this plot point, mainly because it really makes a bigger presence in the story than I thought it needed to, and with how the world is right now with the novel virus, I was hoping for less and less focus on this sort of issue…

There were a great amount of side characters, a lot more this time around than in Him which is great! The main characters had more people to really interact with that were around their age and for us to get to know and fall for too! Blake in particular is an acquired taste, and is a lot to take in at first, but he does eventually grow on you.

I would argue that this next title is actually a stronger novel than the previous book, but maybe because of it being too realistic with the real world issues, it’d diluted the entertaining factor and was less “fun” I think. That, along with repetitive issues we thought were solved in the first book, and with my thought on it being a bridge into more future projects amongst these authors, maybe that’s what people didn’t like as much this time around.

Despite all that, It’s still an incredibly well written continuation of an amazing queer love story!

What It’s About:

Book #2 has us brought back into Wes and Jamie Canning’s world five months after they reunited at the end of Book one. They’ve confessed their love for each other, they’ve moved in together into their apartment in Toronto, Jamie introduced Wes to his family, and Wes started his rookie season in the NHL and is absolutely KILLING it on the ice!

Everything seems perfect for the two childhood best friends-turned boyfriends in love, except for how they have to keep their whole relationship a secret…there’s never been an openly gay player in the NHL, and who knows how it’ll go if a rookie were to come out of the closet and cause a media field day. While it isn’t the greatest set up, Jamie and Wes both agree to wait with the news until his first season is over and their schedules aren’t both so hectic. It starts off easy enough, but soon the secret becomes a much bigger burden to carry on their shoulders.

Jamie’s job isn’t exactly what he signed up for either, and the hiding really takes a toll on him especially, but at least when it’s just him and Wes in their apartment, everything goes back to euphoric bliss and they can just be themselves…at least, until Wes’s noisy teammate moves in upstairs and pops up at their door without any warning!

The world seems to want to keep them apart, and is constantly throwing just about everything it can between the two of them, so can they overcome it all? Their relationship will definitely be put to the test…

What I Liked:

  1. The Hint of More to Come! What I mean by this is there is a spinoff book series that gets going that I definitely saw coming after a few interactions between two secondary characters: Wes’s teammate, Blake, and Jamie’s sister, Jess. There’s a few moments between them that had me guessing, but then they both disappear for awhile, and part of me wondered what’s going on there…turns out, plans for them to start a spinoff were happening! The first book is called Good Boy, and based off some other characters, there’s a slew of stories coming our way for the WAGS series these authors have going for us!
  2. What Comes after the HEA! We all know the first book could actually totally be a standalone with how much of a Happily Ever After we get with Wes and Jamie! This book showed us what goes on after that moment, after the honeymoon phase, and how a relationship needs work in order to survive. Both guys try to do so much to make each other happy, and both realize how hard the real world can be, even for a pro hockey player. I thought the idea of them trying different things and trying to work at their relationship was an intriguing and realistic portrayal that anyone in the New Adult age range can relate with, queer or straight.
  3. Just as Sexy as Book #1! While there’s plenty of fluff to melt out hearts with the soft and tender confessions of the heart from both male main characters, BUT there is plenty of raunchiness and sexiness in this book that smut lovers can also appreciate.
  4. Great Secondary Characters! There were actually quite a bit of fun side characters that added to this sequel, and more people closer to Wes and Jamie’s age than the coaching staff at the camp, and the teenage players they coach. There’s Blake, Wes’s teammate who moves into their apartment complex (I go more into him below), there’s Jess Canning who is always finding some new business venture to try out, and there’s Wes’s other teammates who tease him for his bright green dress shirt. They added a lot to the story, and I can see some of them starring in the spinoff WAGS series I’d mentioned above too!
  5. Jamie Canning’s Struggle! Wes was kind of the star of the first book for me, so I’m glad it got switched over to Jamie for book #2. Let me also make it clear that I’m not happy about Jamie’s suffering in this story—I’m not really a sadist, masochist or whatever term you say—but more with how it was handled and the issues that were brought up. I get Jamie’s growing frustration with him and Wes having to keep their relationship under wraps. With it was a growing fear of losing each other, and whether they’ll be able to overcome all the adversity, and some of the communication issues with that. A lot of people struggle with talking about that emotion: fear. Those fears turned to doubt on both the situation and themselves: Do I sound unreasonable?…Am I being selfish?…Is it worth bringing it up?…Am I asking too much?…Do I love the person enough to put them through this?…Do they love me enough to stick by me not matter what? Both guys ask themselves these questions, and both are terrified of ending up having their hearts broken in the end, and adding the fact that they hardly see each other as much as they’d like, neither guy wants to bring up these heavy topics with the time they are allowed, and thats totally valid and a realistic worry we all can relate to. These communication issues I can get behind…
  6. Jamie’s Mom! The woman continues to be a total saint who doesn’t change this time around in the net book, and continues to be a great mom for both Jamie and Wes, especially for Wes since his parents are pretty much MIA and have left him behind to rot.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Repetitive Lack of Communication…Now, I usually get annoyed by this being a big issue in ANY romance novel, which is ironic because I know I am someone who is terrible at communicating my feelings. I am such a moody bitch sometimes, and will do the passive aggressive act with the silence or the “I’m fine.” line—I can’t help it, it’s a character flaw of mine, but that doesn’t mean I don’t lie awake at night kicking myself for it—and for a m/m romance I can see why it’s an actual plot point. Speaking as a guy myself, I can say that guys are not the greatest when it comes to sitting down and communicating that stuff…it’s just the way we’re programed, and I’m not trying to make this a toxic masculinity thing; it’s just not all guys like talking about that stuff, even if they’re queer. Not all girls like to either, so don’t get at me! The issue I have with the communication issues in this book in particular are because we’ve already dealt with the same issue in the previous book. They’d already gone through it, so I’d hoped they’d learned their lesson this time around…yeah, not so much I guess.
  2. Blake’s Immaturity…I like Blake; he really grows on you. At first, he’s pretty obnoxious and does the text lingo in his dialogue and gives people lame nicknames (example: Jamie is “J-Bomb“… #lame) Plus, he’s yet another obstacle that gets in the way of Jamie and Wes’s happiness, so that alone instantly makes you annoyed with the guy. Like I said, he grows on you, but it takes a while for that to happen.
  3. The Use of Illness and Medications for the Plot…Maybe it’s because as I’m typing this, America is in a pandemic with COVID-19 and I’ve been in the whole isolation and #socialdistancing, but this whole part of the story didn’t resonate all that well with me, and also just became a bigger thing than I thought it needed to be. I understand the whole thing that happened with Jamie and his meds, it’s happened to me in the past and is an actual side effect for certain people and medications they’re prescribed, but it felt like the whole thing could’ve been handled differently to make it better for the story.

Conclusion:

A good sequel to an iconic LGBTQ+ m/m sports romance, but not as strong as its predecessor; I still enjoyed the real world struggles Jamie and and Wes faced not only with themselves, but also their relationship and the steps they both needed to take in order to keep their relationship still working past the HEA. It felt incredibly realistic and is completely relatable to anyone who’s close to their age and trying to find out where they exactly belong in the world today as a new adult. The issues they both face are great examples of the emerging genre between Adult and YA, and prove it can be more than just the angsty romance that has filled a lot of the genre itself.

While showing more of Jamie and Wes’s relationship, it also lays some easter eggs for the next project the authors are working on, which is a WAGS series that most likely will star the notable side characters you meet in this book as well, which just means us readers can remain in this world of queer hockey players, and the romance on and off the ice!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, LGBT, New Adult Romance, Romance

My Review: Prince’s Gambit (Captive Prince #2): by C.S. Pacat

Publish Date: July 7th, 2015
Number of Pages: 404 Pages
Publisher: Berkley
Genre(s): Fantasy, Romance, LGBT+ (M/M)

***Warning!! This book review contains spoilers from the previous title of this trilogy, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review for book #1 – The Captive Prince – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars

To get what you want, you have to know exactly how much you’re willing to give up.”

– C.S. Pacat, “Prince’s Gambit”

So, right off the bat, it must be known that this trilogy is a total MOOD read.

It’s very niche and specific, and you have to be in a particular place to be able to really enjoy these books. I’m not going to lie, these books are kind of sleazy, perverted, and horny underneath the usual fantasy aspects of courtly intrigue, evil plots to overthrow kingdoms, oppression and slavery, epic battles, secrets revealed, complex and morally grey characters, and long journeys on horseback. A mild warning: there’s lots of penis references or penises mentioned throughout, like, everyone is aware of each others penises. It can be a turn off for certain readers, but don’t we live in a phallic dominating world anyways?….never mind, let’s not get into that.

You see a panther opening its jaws, you don’t get your dick out.”

– C.S. Pacat, “Prince’s Gambit”

As for me. this trilogy just got so much better in the 2nd book! Prince’s Gambit fulfilled everything I wanted for these books, but of course, STILL left me wanting even more!

Damen and Laurent’s relationship continues to develop at an achingly slow pace, but I love the enemies-to-friends-to-lovers story arc, so believe me when I say it’s all worth it in the end.

The first book taught me patience,
This book taught me pain
And I know the next one will teach me love–but I’m sure there will be a lot of pain with it too…

What It’s About:

Damen and Laurent are on the road with a select number of soldiers, some men are Laurent’s and some belong to the Regent: Laurent’s creepy, corrupt uncle who rules their country named Vere. In the previous title, his uncle coerced Laurent into serving a small territory close to their border, but unbeknownst to Laurent and Damen, he’s sent assassins and part of his army after them to kill them all off before Laurent comes of age and can completely ascend to the throne. Laurent’s cruel situation with his uncle comes to light, and is revealed how he may be just as captive as Damen in certain ways.

His uncle’s plan, of course, begins to backfire and causes Damen and Laurent’s alliance to only grow stronger. They begin to trust each other, confide in each other, and become inseparable. Others amongst their soldiers begin to notice, and suddenly Damen seems like the lady doth protest too much when they ask him if anything is going on between the two of them.

More characters are introduced, and some get more attention this time around, but what isn’t new is there are still plenty of hidden agendas amongst everyone. Damen’s biggest secret–his real identity as the Prince of Akielos–is still kept under wraps, which is good, because who knows what would happen if Laurent finds out that it was Damen who’d killed his older brother in battle a few years prior. It’s okay though, because the two of them spend too much time staring longingly and broodingly at each other to worry about it ever coming up!

Problem solved.

More secrets are revealed, more enemies make their presence known, plots are discovered, and even more bitter betrayals threaten everything in order to bring peace back to the realm as war appears on the horizon.

Trigger Warning: Child Abuse, Rape, Violence, Dismemberment, Heartbreak

What I Liked:

  1. The Slow-Burn Romance Continues! It’s one of the main driving points of the story, but more happens in this sequel that leans towards an eventual romantic relationship between Damen and Laurent. The first book didn’t have any; it was more about them starting off as sworn enemies turned reluctant allies, but this book has them growing closer as they travel across the land, narrowly escaping danger, and both secretly deal with their growing attraction for each other, even if they refuse to admit it to the other. It does move at an incredibly slow speed, so impatient readers will get frustrated at how little they receive from the author until the very end. There are a couple side-romances to somewhat fill the void while you wait and see what goes down between our two protagonists as the tension builds.
  2. More Battles! The first book was more about the hedonistic indulgences of Laurent’s kingdom, along with its cruelty and political intrigue; Damen figures out what a truly effed up world he’d been transported to. This title includes all that plus more with high octane, gritty battles between soldiers that makes it a much faster paced read in that regard!
  3. So Much More Complexity! The first title just set the scene for us that included the slavery, the court politics, and the underhanded scheming, but this book includes all that plus so much more! Evil plots are revealed, even more betrayals occur, complex characters and their motives being revealed, more heartbreak and violence; everything just feels enhanced and exaggerated in this second title that makes it so much more interesting of a read!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Maybe Needed More Romance?…Honestly, there wasn’t a whole lot I didn’t like about this book, but maybe I wish there was a little more romance between the two main characters? A stolen kiss here or there? Something to satisfy or tease us to help build up towards Chapter 19, and maybe not make it feel like it takes forever to get to that point.

Conclusion:

Everything about this book is so much better than the first, and the real plot is revealed that brings up the point of how nothing is truly as it seems; we as humans only see what we want to see. The author excellently crafted a well plotted, intricate piece of LGBT fantasy literature that’s hidden beneath hedonism, sexual imagery/themes and erotic undertones. I can understand that it’s not for everyone and it caters to a more specific kind of audience, but I can say I was a part of it because of how much I’d enjoyed it!

There’s slow romance to the point of it being more frustratingly slow than any other one I’ve read before, but that just makes what we’re given all that more satisfying. It’s like having ice cold water after a long journey through the desert.

I’ve grown really fond of Damen–despite the gigantic secret he keeps from Laurent–because of his courage, his honor, and willingness to do what is right even when the odds are stacked against him. It’s also just a nice change of pace to read a protagonist who’s already well adjusted into his queer sexuality, and that part of the story isn’t about him or Laurent coming to terms with it.

The ending of this title certainly raises a bunch of questions, and sets it up to have quite an intriguing next chapter in this complex story! I dove into it immediately because I had to know what would happen next! What do Damen and his friends showing up mean? How does Laurent and Damen’s relationship develop? Does Laurent know? So many questions!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell