I had the inspiration to start these Book Roundups last December. I figured I would start by doing a Roundup for the fifty-some-odd books I read in 2023 and post it in parts. I posted parts one and two, but took so long to post the rest that it’s now February!
Given that, I’ve decided to scrap those plans, and start from January and go forward from there.
But before I do, there were a handful of books that I read in 2023 that I really loved, and feel compelled to briefly mention:
Kidnapped by the Pirate: Gay Romance, Andrews, Keira (5 stars)
Never thought I was into pirates. Swashbuckling gay goodness! Read it in Kindle Unlimited but had to buy it—that’s how much I loved it.
Red, White & Royal Blue, McQuinston, Casey (5 stars)
Sweet as candy, this book! Warm, cuddly and delightful. Another KU book that I bought for myself.
His Consort (House of Maedoc Book 1), Calmes, Mary (5 stars)
Never knew I had a thing for the fated mate trope until I read this. Delicious read!
His Prince (House of Maedoc Book 2), Calmes, Mary (5 stars)
I fell in love with this world. I don’t read much vampires because I write them, but I love the world-building here. I wish there was more!
Seducing the Sorcerer, Lee Welch 5 stars
This felt like a Snape/Hagrid pairing. Very sweet with excellent character work and world building.
Onward to January, in which I continue my M/M romance streak:
Again by Mary Calmes, 3 stars
Six years ago, Noah went to the airport to pick up his boyfriend, Dante. He was confronted by Dante kissing a woman and telling him he was in love with her. Noah was devastated, but went on with his life, adopting a baby girl as he and Dante had planned.
On vacation in Vegas six years later, he runs into Dante (and his family). Dante sees this as a chance to make this right, to claim the family he should have had. Not only was Noah deceived, he was as well.
I can’t talk about this book without talking about how much I LOVE Ms. Calmes work. Her Torus Intersession series is phenomenal. I didn’t know I had a thing for slow burn love stories until I read that series. The characters are well drawn, love develops naturally, sex is hot, happily-ever-afters are satisfying. I can’t recommend those books enough.
We are introduced to Dante in The Big Fix, the last book in the Torus Intercession series. He’s a supporting character; it’s not necessary to read that beforehand.
I’ve read a lot of Ms. Calmes work, I know she’s a gifted, and accomplished storyteller. Given that, I expected better from this book.
At 87 pages, Again is way too short to deal with such a heavy premise. Yes, Dante was deceived, yes Noah isn’t happy in his personal life and still loves Dante, BUT for him to turn around so quickly was forced and frankly, absurd.
Dante basically strong-arms and seduces him. That sex scene did A LOT of heavy lifting. Its sole purpose was to erase the deception and six years apart and I just don’t buy it. Again would have been more satisfying as a full-length work.
A Day Makes (The Vault Book 1) by Mary Calmes, 4 stars
Mob-enforcer Ceaton Mercer is very, very good at his job. So good that his boss can’t help but get twitchy. The men like and respect him, and are perhaps more loyal to him than they should be. One day he meets the man that could be his forever—if a man like him can have a forever love. Of course, he has to survive that day first.
This is the Mary Calmes I came to love. This is a book about a man finding family. He doesn’t even meet his person until the last 3rd of the book and that’s fine! I was with her the whole way and wouldn’t change a thing. Most enjoyable.
Late In The Day (The Vault Book 2) by Mary Calmes, 3 stars
Darius Hawthorne, a man in his forties, has gone by many names, has worn many hats. But things have changed, he’s got a new job, and a home. When that new job brings him face-to-face with a man who was the love of his life maybe he can have love too. The problem of course is that they’re on opposite sides of the law.
We first came across Darius in The Big Fix. I was looking forward to learning more about him and his role as The Vault. It’s a very intriguing idea. But this book fell flat for me. It was less memorable than others in this universe. Possibly because at 200-some-odd pages the book is rather short.
I like Darius and I feel that there’s a story in each of his incarnations. I feel that the depth I’m used to with Ms. Calmes other works is missing here.
Just a Bit Twisted (Straight Guys Book 1) by Alessandra Hazard, 3 stars
On the verge of losing his scholarship, Shawn is desperate enough to approach Rutledge with a proposal. Rutledge accepts and Shawn’s financial pressures ease, but their arrangement brings a whole new level of obsession Shawn wasn’t prepared for.
Amazon’s algorithm recommended this to me and I was hesitant. Did I want to read about straight guys being forced into gay relationships? No. But I forged ahead preparing to delight in hate-reading so I could rip it to shreds. Had a few revelations in the process:
1. Back in the day, I read a lot of Harry/Snape fic—it was one of my favorite pairings. (I don’t care if you judge me). I’m not saying this book’s first life was HP fic, I’m just saying that Rutledge is very Snape-like, and Shawn is very much like a clueless Harry.
2. Shawn is so very bi. Like, so much. Bi. He tells himself he’s straight—constantly, but he also takes to sucking dick like a duck to water, so, yeah.
3. I forgot how hot dub-con can be. Good lord. So hot. Dub-con is a tightrope, there is skill in keeping just the right amount of tension, and in keeping it from falling into non-con.
In order to make this work, Ms. Hazard keeps us in Shawn’s head, not his body. We get glimpses of things: how he loses track of time/surroundings when kissing Rutledge, the little noises he makes. We know he’s enjoying it. But it breaks down when you consider the fact that if all that’s going on, he’s got to be really turned on—how does he not notice the boner he’s sporting?
I would have preferred a longer book that takes into account his “holy shit I’m bi!” status. His realization that he really, really enjoys what he’s doing instead of leaning into his obliviousness. But that’s not what the book is about.
In the end, this is really just porn with very little plot. I enjoyed it for what it was.
Straight Boy: A Short Story (Straight Guys Book 0.5) by Alessandra Hazard, 3 stars
I had no plans to read further in this series. Honest. But Sage is Shawn’s cousin and he and Xavier briefly appear in Shawn’s book, and I was curious.
The saving grace here is that Xavier didn’t rape Sage in prison. Sure it was dub-con, at first, but Xavier was being seduced right along with Sage. Again, porn with little plot.
Just a Bit Obsessed (Straight Guys Book 2) by Alessandra Hazard, 3 stars
Alexander is a bit of a control-freak. He likes order, predictability. Take his hot girlfriend—she’s perfect for his current station in life. He’s not thrilled when his girlfriend wants a threesome, but he wants to be a good boyfriend. It’s not like he and the guy—Christian—will be having sex. For one thing he doesn’t like Christian, for another he’s not into guys. He’s doing this strictly for her. Until he’s not.
Yeah, I wasn’t going to read any more in this series. She says, sounding like a broken record. But this M/M/F dammit, and I have a thing—a thing for romantic triads. Plus we’ve already been introduced to Christian and his potential threesome in Shawn’s book. So here we are.
Of the three books this is probably the most honest. It’s young people navigating their sexuality. Christian is “straight” because of circumstances more than that’s his natural born identity. He’s doing what he’s “supposed” to do, what he’s expected (and expects) to do and when he falls for Christian, it’s a surprise. Less homosexual panic, more panic because that’s not supposed to be him. His reaction felt pretty real.
I do wish that this was a true M/M/F pairing, but that would differ from the theme of the series. Doesn’t mean I won’t stop searching tho!
With that, I will say that I’ve gotten these books out of my system.
Ricochet (Out for Justice Book 1) by Knightley, Reese, 3 stars
Noah Bradford is in WTSEC and desperately in love with the man sworn to protect him: US Marshal Robert “Mac” Mackenzie. Mac is feeling those feelings too, but Noah is too damn young for him and probably in the throes of hero worship to boot. It breaks his heart, but he knows it’s better to walk away from the situation.
Years later Noah’s got vengeance on his mind for the men who killed his mother, which puts him squarely in Mac’s sights. Mac has no idea of the man that Noah’s become. When they meet again, the challenge is reconciling the current heat between them with the hurts of the past.
I’m a sucker for hunky men in law enforcement. Give them a Paladin’s righteousness and I’m a gonner. I swear it started with Superman.
Anyway, I was leery at first because the book takes a lot of time with a young Noah and a struggling Mac and I was afraid it was gonna get weird. It doesn’t, thankfully, and that makes Mac even more appealing.
Noah grows up, tries to go into law enforcement but ends up in Phoenix, a secretive group that works outside the law. (As we learn through subsequent books, the group operates in plain sight—so quasi-secretive?) He’s got the skills to lay waste to anyone who gets in his way. Not gonna lie, it’s pretty hot.
I enjoyed this. Marry a secretive faction of spy/assassins with action, vengeance against a really bad guy, and hot sex and you got me.
Collide (Out for Justice Book 2) by Knightley, Reese, 3 stars
Ex-hacker Seth aka “Reboot Hell” went from Phoenix’s techie to an operative. When he gets dumped by his live-in boyfriend, Phoenix operative Asher “aka” Frost is there with a helping hand. Even though Seth had a boyfriend, he’s noticed Asher. Who hasn’t? The man is drop-dead gorgeous. But he’s also a player who actively avoids relationships.
But the heat between them is too much to ignore. When they give in to it, it’s good—too good. So good that Asher runs and makes sure to salt and burn the ground on the way.
Seth loves him, has spent more time and given Asher more chances than he probably deserved. But the heart (and body) wants what it wants, and that means giving Asher another chance.
Whoo boy. I wanted to like this book more than I did.
For one thing the author would tell me a character’s thought and then the characters would act like they never had those thoughts. I found that really annoying. Are they not aware of what they’re actively thinking? It happened enough to take me out of the story.
For another, Phoenix is not very secretive. They constantly team up with the FBI & US Marshals. Seth had a live-in boyfriend. There’s shoot outs in LA. The bad guy knows who they are. I guess what I’m saying is that I expected more cloak and dagger than I got. It would make more sense if they were a special military/law enforcement unit, simply because of all the visibility. Maybe I’m quibbling.
I also got tired of the Big Bad and I was thrilled that they caught him by the end of the book. In truth I wished this was a different case rather than an extension of the case in the previous book.
Mostly—and I have to give spoilers here—I’m annoyed that the only way Asher got Seth back was for Seth to almost die. The way Asher broke Seth’s heart—you don’t come back from that. Especially given his hot/cold behavior throughout the book.
Maybe I just have a problem with the standard romance practice of having something huge happen to turn the romantic idiot around. Something commensurate with the how stupid they’ve been, how much hurt they caused. Which would make Seth’s kidnapping/torture the perfect thing to get Asher to realize what he could lose. Without that piece, there’s no way Seth would take him back.
Does Seth make him work for it? To an extent. In book-time, I think it was 2-3 months. But really, to re-build trust? I’d say consistent action over a period of a year—at least. But this is fiction with a guaranteed HEA, so yeah, we get a fairly instant about-face.
I know that this is just me being me, and I can be a hard audience to please.
That’s it for this month. If you’ve read any of these, let me know what you thought. If you have any recommendations, or if you’ve written a book and you’d like to suggest it, let me know.