A MADNESS MOST DISCREET by Laura Lascarso

Michael D’Agostino is a bestselling mystery author suffering from writer’s block when he meets Arden Evans, a beguiling escort and catalog model attempting to write a memoir of his own.

Michael is captivated by the young man, whom he finds refreshingly honest and authentic. When Arden asks that they “keep it simple,” Michael readily obliges. Their arrangement becomes increasingly complicated, however, as Michael begins to want more from his enchanting lover.

And then there is the matter of Arden’s finances, something so fiercely personal that Arden refuses to discuss it. This same debt is what obligates Arden to his wealthy benefactor, much to Michael’s vexation.

Michael wants their love affair to last, but how do you hold onto a man whose gaze is forever fixed on the horizon?


Title : A Madness Most Discreet
Author : Laura Lascarso
Series : A Midsummer Story
Format : eARC
Page Count : 298
Genre : m/m romance
Publisher : indie
Release Date : June 20, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

As is often the case with me, I tend to forget what books are about by the time I pick them up. There are obviously times where this isn’t the case but it happens more often than you might think. Case in point : I had convinced myself that Lascarso had written something light and fluffy because a) my brain is a sieve these days due to work and the world and b) that cover is gorgeous and lovely and gives me happy vibes.

This book was way more than the cover implies. But it’s also a Lascarso so I’m an idiot for thinking it wouldn’t be more.. though one day she’ll probably write fluff just to mess with me.

What started out as a story leaning into a PRIDE AND PREJUDICE vibe (as explained by the author herself) due to the economic disparity — as well as the vast distance between opportunity and circumstance — between the protagonist’s situations shifted instead into a something sorta resembling Sex and the City. But with an HBO edge.

You’re cultivating a mystique.
I have to. It’s my only currency.”

This is a story I’ll admit did not hook me right away (though to be fair reading is a struggle these days..). But after a turning point, and I couldn’t even really say what or when that was, I looked up and it was eleven PM on a worknight, so. That says it all.

A MADNESS MOST DISCREET isn’t all sparkling Cosmos and the male-equivalent of Manolo Blahniks (right, that was the shoe? I maybe watched one episode of SatC), there are some less than comfortable situations, abutting completely real and often testy but still lovely friendship dynamics, so much steam it’s unreal, and is, still, somehow, also really sweet.

My one complaint is to do with an element of one of those uncomfortable situations because I do wish it had been clearer if there had been an end-in-sight to a certain arrangement, how long it had lasted, and/or how much traction had been made in the ensuing years.. but perhaps I had missed some of this info, as I did read well past my bedtime and it could’ve been one of those situations where your eyes see the words but the brain doesn’t get the memo. So, as I fully see myself rereading this, I will table that under the “maybe I’m just dumb” and eventually follow up. If it’s not mentioned, I mean, it doesn’t have to be, we as readers definitely get the idea, as well as the breadth of the situation, but it’s something I found myself musing on after finishing the book.

That said, if you couldn’t tell, I definitely recommend, and I definitely want more from this series. Whether that’s a companion, a sequel, or even a book focusing on the other couples. I don’t care what it looks like. I just want it.

** I received an ARC from the author (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

LOVE LETTERING by Kate Clayborn – double review!

In this warm and witty romance from acclaimed author Kate Clayborn, one little word puts one woman’s business—and her heart—in jeopardy . . .

Meg Mackworth’s hand-lettering skill has made her famous as the Planner of Park Slope, designing beautiful custom journals for New York City’s elite. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Like the time she sat across from Reid Sutherland and his gorgeous fiancée, and knew their upcoming marriage was doomed to fail. Weaving a secret word into their wedding program was a little unprofessional, but she was sure no one else would spot it. She hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid . . .

A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out—before he leaves New York for good—how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline, a fractured friendship, and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions—unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other about their lives, work, and regrets, both try to ignore the fact that their unlikely connection is growing deeper. But the signs are there—irresistible, indisputable, urging Meg to heed the messages Reid is sending her, before it’s too late . . .


Title : Love Lettering
Author : Kate Clayborn
Format : ARC/ebook
Page Count : 320
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Kensington Books
Release Date : December 31, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis/Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5/ ★ ★.5


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

This is a hard review to write because I want to get it right. Why I loved this. How extraordinary the writing is, the moments we were given, shown, even the ones that were hidden until they were ready to be told.

To me, this a love story for all the people who were told they were mistakes or were mistaken, and even felt it in themselves. Who never got a do-over, never got a second chance, or the opportunity to explain themselves. It’s a quiet story, in a way, one that just goes along with things.. until it doesn’t.

I’ll preface this, a little belatedly, by saying that if you don’t love a little whimsy in your novels, if you can’t use your imagination to bring something to mind, you might not always love this read. Fonts, lettering, as one might infer from the title, play a very big part. And I loved this. It offered a richness, a uniqueness, to the characters and this world — even if it is our own.

And speaking of the characters.. they were all, equally, in their own way, five stars. With exception to one obvious selection (Cameron) and one maybe not so obvious (not naming names, cough, Sibby, cough). Meg was a delight; watching her come into her own, every step she made, every mistake.. it was lovely. Reid, however, I almost have no words for. This is the most charming of all romance heroes. Not a grump, not an alpha, not a jerk. Just a giant, awkward, stoic creature. A total gentleman, a diehard math nerd, completely out of his element in almost every situation. He stole my heart, totally, and every interaction between them was just.. I want more.

Reid, did you make a joke?
Probably not. I’m not known for my sense of humour.

For such a quiet story, the plot of this did take me a bit by surprise, but in hindsight everything slots into place. Every t gets crossed, every i gets its dot. But the banter, the chemistry, the build up.. everything, was fantastic.

I hesitate to say more because, again, I really want to get this review right. I’m not sure I succeeded. Just know this book made me laugh, made me soft, made me gushingly share passages with a friend (who had already read it!) and, I mean, full stop, what better expresses a reader’s love than that? At this point, all I can say is : read this book.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


Micky’s 2.5 star review

2.5 stars

saved this book for when I needed a go-to, guaranteed great romance. I had a number of friends singing it’s praises. Let me tell you, that backfired on me so bad. I’m not here to rant just to tell you why this didn’t work for me.

I was confused when by 20% I just did not get what was going on with this couple. I got that Meg was trying to engage Reid but what did Reid think he was there for? Reid was a super awkward character that I think may have had ASD (just my take, unconfirmed) and I really liked him. However, I felt like a spectator without a translator, missing half of the story and I promise, I was concentrating.

I can say I finally got into this a bit more by 60%, which is too much reading commitment for me to finally feel a bit of something. From there on I did feel chemistry with the MCs but overall, the story fell incredibly flat for me. Reid’s big secret seemed unnecessarily shoe-horned into the story but I’d lost my give-a-damn by then.

I’m sorry I missed what so many found special about this story, but it is what it is, a flop for me.

RAZE by Roan Parrish

Sometimes the walls we build to save ourselves have to come tumbling down.

For the last ten years, Huey has built his life around his sobriety. If that means he doesn’t give a damn about finding love or companionship for himself, well, it’s probably better that way. After all, the last thing he wants is to hurt anyone else. Until Felix Rainey walks into his bar, fresh-faced, unbearably sweet–and, for some reason Huey can’t fathom, interested in him.

As the eldest of five kids, Felix Rainey spent his childhood cooking dinner, checking homework, and working after-school jobs. Now in his twenties, he’s still scrambling to make ends meet and wondering what the hell he’s doing with his life. When he meets Huey, he’s intimidated . . . and enamored. Huey’s strong and confident, he owns his own business–hell, he’s friends with rock stars. What could he ever see in Felix?

As Huey and Felix get closer, the spark catches and soon they can’t get enough of each other. But Huey’s worked hard to avoid intimacy, and Felix threatens his carefully constructed defenses. Huey realizes he needs to change if he wants to truly put his past behind him–and build a future with Felix.


Title : Raze
Author: Roan Parrish
Series : Riven (book three)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 316
Genre : contemporary romance, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Loveswept
Release Date : July 2, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating:★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

I forgot you’re not supposed to bring up masturbation at the dinner table on the first date.
Yeah, that’s strictly second-date dinner convo.

Right off the bat, I have to say, this cover does not do Felix justice. I wasn’t really a fan of it to begin with but after seeing how the character was not only described but acted? There’s no match-up here whatsoever. But, having said that, at the end of the day it’s about the content, not the window dressing.

Felix seemed like a map folded up small and perfect that would sprawl when unfurled, and show you everything. And I..fuck, I wanted to see it.

This is easily my favourite series by Parrish and while RAZE didn’t match my love for RIVEN, and nor did REND, each book has been emotional, lovely, heart wrenching, beautiful, tough, real, all the things. Oh and swoony and sexy af. The author devastates with the simplest of things, like a hug, and exposes very real insecurities in her characters that I think everyone can immediately connect with. No matter their size or strength, no matter their fame or success, no matter what they’ve overcome or shouldered, each individual is struggling or hiding or avoiding something. Just like every day humans. And it’s this connection that makes these books, even set as they are around rockstars and the music industry, even only peripherally (at least since book one), so so easy to love. Just as it’s impossible not to love these imminently precious characters who, in some form or another, feel they aren’t worthy or deserving of love; or are just overlooked, maybe even just held back.. by outside forces or themselves. Never seen or pursued by the right person.

The problem with feeling so much pleasure, so much joy, so much contentment — with feeling so much, period — after so long spent feeling very little, was that I instantly craved more of it.

If you’re looking for sweetness and sexiness, with a solid foundation of grit and realness, I would definitely recommend this series.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

RED, WHITE and ROYAL BLUE by Casey McQuiston

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends…

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?


Title : Red, White & Royal Blue
Author : Casey McQuiston
Format : eARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : contemporary new adult romance, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Griffin
Release Date : May 14, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 5 star review

Do either of y’all know what a viscount is? I’ve met, like, five of them, and I keep smiling politely as if I know what it means when they say it. Alex, you took comparative international government relational things. Whatever. What are they?
I think it’s that thing when a vampire creates an army of crazed sex waifs and starts his own ruling body.

I can’t even tell you how happy I am that this book was everything I wanted it to be — and a million things more.

Oh my god, this is like all those romantic comedies where the girl hires a male escort to pretend to be her wedding date and then falls in love with him for real.” “That is not at all what this is like.

RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE is the happiness and sweetness we deserve; not just right now (though maybe especially right now?) but in general. This is one of those rare gems of a story where there isn’t a single character to dislike. Where there is representation in so many fabulous forms. Where there is silliness and drama and charm and swoons and just enough angst to make you hurt and the best kind of ending — the one that makes you cry and cheer and cry some more and hug your kindle to your chest. The kind of ending you’ll relive because you know, absolutely, one hundred percent, that you’ll be reading this book over and over again.

I never thought I’d be standing here faced with a choice I can’t make, because I never.. I never imagined you would love me back.

Royals, politics, biracial rep, bisexual rep, grief, addiction, anxiety.. McQuiston somehow spins it all into a delightful tale that will make you laugh and shed tears and wish you could be friends with the characters within the pages.

Wait, are you watching videos of Justin Trudeau speaking French again?” “That’s not a thing I do!

This is pure fun and totally heartwarming, with tons of real world tongue-in-cheek dialogue (that, hey, it’s nice to laugh about, all things considered), and I’m so happy that release day is (almost!) finally here so I can go about shoving this book in everyone’s face.

I don’t think this election is going to hinge on an email server.
You sure about that?
Listen, maybe if [he] had more time to sow those seeds of doubt, but I don’t think we’re there. Maybe it it were 2016.
^– probably too soon but h o n e s t l y.

Highly highly recommend.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


HEATED RIVALRY by Rachel Reid


Nothing interferes with Shane Hollander’s game—definitely not the sexy rival he loves to hate.

Pro hockey star Shane Hollander isn’t just crazy talented, he’s got a spotless reputation. Hockey is his life. Now that he’s captain of the Montreal Voyageurs, he won’t let anything jeopardize that, especially the sexy Russian whose hard body keeps him awake at night.

Boston Bears captain Ilya Rozanov is everything Shane’s not. The self-proclaimed king of the ice, he’s as cocky as he is talented. No one can beat him—except Shane. They’ve made a career on their legendary rivalry, but when the skates come off, the heat between them is undeniable. When Ilya realizes he wants more than a few secret hookups, he knows he must walk away. The risk is too great.

As their attraction intensifies, they struggle to keep their relationship out of the public eye. If the truth comes out, it could ruin them both. But when their need for each other rivals their ambition on the ice, secrecy is no longer an option…


Title : Heated Rivalry
Author
: Rachel Reid
Format : eBook
Page Count : 310
Genre : adult sports romance, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Carina Press
Release Date : March 25, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating
: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 5 star review

You are very beautiful.
Hottest Man in the NHL, according to Cosmopolitan.”
They are idiots. They put me at number five. Five!
It does seem generous.

I’m pretty stingy with ratings. I know it, you know it, it’s just how it is. However.. today is not that day.

I like girls.
Yeah, no shit.
But I also like you.
Well, lucky me.
Not as a person, of course. But you have a good mouth.

This is an easy five because of the total and utter joy that is this book. I had such a good time reading it, sending screenshots to buddies, and just being completely bowled over by hilarity and feels.. often at the same time. This is my favourite kind of romance — not exactly enemies to lovers but enemies while lovers? grudgingly boning? not quite hate to love but like.. oh whatever fuck it. I give up — but throw in some hockey and opposites attract, not to mention the fantasy surrounding the real people this story is based off of, and I’m just as happy as a pig in shit.

I can’t keep pretending I don’t like you.
You don’t like me.
I do. I.. I maybe like you too much.

HEATED RIVALRY is a joy. There’s really not much more to say. But it’s hot af and also sweet but not in the way book one was; this was gooey, yes, but way more realistically so. I loved the overlap from GAME CHANGER, loved the time jumps, the little flashes of interactions over the course of almost a decade, loved how things came together without ever having to dissolve into angst, loved the ending, loved everything about it, really.

I just don’t understand. How could this have even happened between you? Weren’t there any nice men in Montreal, Shane?
Probably.

Surprising no one I have more highlights than I have words to gush with, and I’m just a pile of soggy grinning goo right now, so, just.. read this.

ps, I want more Game Changers kthanxbai.