QR: The Puzzle Box – CC Bridges

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“He missed James’s smile. His sure, confident hands on Cole’s body. Mostly he missed having James by his side, being there when Cole needed him.”

 

In a word: Read the thing.

 

The Summary: (from Goodreads) Elementary school art teacher Cole Peters is expecting a lonely Christmas this year while his longtime boyfriend, James Carducci, is on deployment with the Army. However, a box from James contains puzzles that lead Cole on a scavenger hunt through the greatest moments of their relationship. Together with his best friend Liz, Cole works his way through each clue.

The final puzzle could lead Cole to a gift beyond his wildest expectations.

 

[available for purchase at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon.ca, Chapters, and Barnes & Noble; also available as part of the Dreamspinner Press 2017 Advent Calendar set]

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Colors – Russell J. Sanders

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“We may be two screwed up messes, but at least we’ve got each other.”

 

In a word: Read the thing. So, here’s the thing with this one: it’s not actually a romance. There is definitely romance in it, but it’s not the main plot of the story. The dilemma of who Neil will end up with is pretty much an afterthought compared to, what I think is, the actual plot: Neil dealing with the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. Really, everything relating to the abuse are the better parts of the book. Mostly they’re definitely the better written parts. There’s so much emotion put into those parts, from horror to worry to guilt to anger to determination to triumph, that’s mostly missing from other parts of the book. And even when the scenes aren’t directly addressing the abuse, the lingering effects are still present in Neil’s day-to-day behaviour and they were pretty consistent. Honestly, I don’t feel like we got adequate closure with that storyline, but it really is the best part of the book for me. (Though I want to note that the book’s summary makes no mention of the abuse, but that is literally happening in the very first scene, so be careful with that.) The parts of the book I wasn’t especially crazy about revolved around relationship drama (with Neil’s girlfriend and the new boy at school that Neil suddenly has a crush on) and a lot about theatre productions that is probably only interesting to people who are actually into theatre and would understand all the references and in-jokes. Honestly though, I was mostly all set to not like this book because the first half had a lot of annoying dialogue and theatre nonsense, but the second half really blew me away.

 

The Summary: (from Goodreads) High school senior Neil Darrien is a budding musical theater star. He has it all-a beautiful girlfriend, a scholarship at a prestigious school, and plenty of chances to showcase his talent. But when Zane Jeffrey comes to town and immediately lands a spot in the school show choir, Neil is jealous. What Neil didn’t count on, though, is Zane’s charm and humor, and the two soon become friends.

Melissa, Neil’s girlfriend, notices Zane monopolizing Neil and draws Neil into her church. There Neil discovers a situation he knows he needs to fix, but if he does, a deep, dark secret that could cost him his future career might come out.

When his relationship with Melissa becomes rocky, Neil is drawn to Zane in a way that is more than friendship.

 

[available for purchase at Harmony Ink Press, Amazon.ca, Book Depository, Chapters, and Barnes & Noble]

 

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Buchanan House (Buchanan House #1) – Charley Descoteaux

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“Was he trapped in a tiny prison of his own making, or had his life been saved by the happy accident of finding Buchanan House?”

 

In a word: Maybe read the thing? The main feeling I had while reading this book was frustration, which doesn’t strike me as a good thing when one is reading a romance novel. I had a really hard time getting into this book and caring about the main relationship. I never did really come to like Eric, who is essentially our narrator. I found him annoying and aggravating, and sometimes inconsistent. The man he falls in love with, Tim Tate (not to be confused with Eric’s ex, also named Tim), is a bit bland and confusing. Also them falling in love kinda skirts the edge of insta-love territory, which I don’t think was done well here because I was definitely not invested, especially since I didn’t think they had any chemistry with each other. Though having said that, the passage of time in the story was never really made clear and I’m not entirely sure of the time frame. The story either takes place over the course of a few months or a few weeks, I was never entirely sure about that. There were too many side characters wandering around with nothing to do. Even Nathan, who is Eric’s best friend and easily the main side character, didn’t seem to have anything relevant to do half the time once Eric and Tim’s ‘relationship’ really kicked off. There’s also the issue of Eric’s family, which eventually became a non-issue at some point since the story mostly seemed to forget about them most of the time. The writing was also something I wasn’t fond of, mostly because I felt, bland characters and tepid romance aside, that we really weren’t getting enough information about the important things. We got bits and pieces of things, but never really enough to put major plot points together. Honestly I felt as if I was trying to read this through a brain-fog, which wasn’t fun.

 

[available for purchase at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon.ca, Chapters, and Barnes & Noble]

 

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Power Play (Scoring Chances #3) – Avon Gale

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“Misha’s words were all stolen away, taken from him by Max Ashford’s pretty eyes and his easy smile – all the things he was giving to Misha that Misha did not deserve. All the things he wanted that he couldn’t have.”

 

In a word: Read the thing. Another winner, of course. I still love this series, and this was another wonderful addition to it. In a change of pace from the other books in the series, the romantic couple aren’t hockey players, but former hockey players who are now hockey coaches. Max and Misha are more or less strangers who are forever tied to each other because of one event that changed both of their lives forever. Misha accidentally caused Max an injury that ended his professional hockey career, and he’s never really gotten over it. Max, however, has moved on with his life and is now happy to have a chance to coach the game he loves. The two men had never expected to see each other again, so of course it’s no surprise (to us) that they do and that their eventual reactions to each other is basically ‘Oh no, he’s hot’. They’re hired to coach the Spartanburg Spitfires because the team’s manager thinks that the potential drama will be good for ticket sales. There ends up being no drama, instead there’s a romance and a journey of self-forgiveness and sometimes there’s hockey. There’s also plenty of Isaac Drake, which I especially enjoyed because I already read Empty Net, which is about him, and liked him in that.

 

[available for purchase at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon.ca, Book Depository, Chapters, and Barnes & Noble]

 

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Save of the Game (Scoring Chances #2) – Avon Gale

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“You just… I don’t know, Ethan. Something about you makes me take chances that I don’t ever take.”

 

In a word: Read the thing. I am falling in love with this series more and more with every book. This is the second book in the Scoring Chances series and takes place not long after the first book, Breakaway. Breakaway was about Lane Courtnall and Jared Shore falling in love and moving along in their hockey careers. In this book it’s Lane’s friend (and former goalie) Riley Hunter’s turn. Calm and quiet Riley and loud and boisterous Ethan Kennedy seem like an odd pairing, but they end up as roommates for the new hockey season and are quick to become friendly with each other. Then, even though neither of them have really shown any significant interest in men before, their friendship soon turns sexual, and then turns into romance. I was actually surprised at how quickly Riley and Ethan got together, though it wasn’t necessarily romantic at first, I suppose, so there was still a lot more development to be had. Like the other books in the series, this book focuses more on the main couple’s relationship development than it does about hockey (though hockey is still a very big and important part of the characters’ lives). I really enjoyed Riley and Ethan’s dynamic, and the writing was very funny and very emotional in turns. There were also appearances from characters we first met in the first book (like Lane, Jared, Zoe, and Ryan) and we got to see how they were doing and developing, which was awesome. And the new characters that were introduced were quickly endearing and entertaining (I love Ethan’s family). This was a quick, enjoyable read and I’m very excited to start the next book.

 

[available for purchase at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon.ca, Book Depository, Chapters, and Barnes & Noble]

 

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Whatever. Or how junior year became totally F$@KED – S. J. Goslee

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“It’s like the apocalypse came, only instead of nuclear bombs and zombies, Mike gets school participation, gay thoughts, and motherfucking cheerleaders.”

 

In a word: Read the thing. I loved this. So many feelings, so many laughs. The only reason I was really interested in this book was because I’m a fan of the author’s Teen Wolf fanfiction (just a note: this book was never fanfiction, it’s a completely original story) and her writing style. Also the blurb was hilarious. Totally worth it. Mike Tate’s girlfriend has just informed him that he’s gay (and he wouldn’t believe her, except that he feels it’s actually a little bit true), and that seems to be the catalyst that turns his junior year of high school from ‘business as usual’ to ‘scary and a bit insane’. I enjoyed reading about Mike’s personal journey and how he interacts with everything and everyone that happens in his life (though even by the end I was confused by whether or not Mike identifies as gay or bi, it seems to go back and forth a bit). There is a romance in the story, between Mike and another boy he’s known for forever, but there’s also major focus on Mike coming to terms with his sexuality and his relationships with his large (and hilariously entertaining) group of friends. I really, really liked this book, even though I’m not the target audience, and I definitely recommend it.

 

[available for purchase at Amazon.ca, Book Depository, Chapters, and Barnes & Noble]

 

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Why Love Matters – Jay Northcote

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“The warm scent of Martin lingered in his nostrils, reminding him that he craved so much more than non-sexual touch from the man sitting next to him.”

 

In a word: Read the thing. This one was a quick read, and the story and romance were really sweet. Alistair’s lonely childhood has turned him into an adult that fears/is repulsed by touch. It usually isn’t a huge issue in the grand scheme of things, but the success of a new business venture at his company relies on his ability to give and received physical contact (mostly hugs). His PA (and secret crush), Martin, offers his mother’s cuddle therapy as a solution for Alistair’s aversion. The set up is a bit forced and kinda nonsensical, but the emotions are real. Alistair and Martin are both sweet and awkward, and I wish we’d gotten to see more from Martin’s point of view. It’s not a long story, and it doesn’t really go very deep into the characters’ backgrounds or motivations (this could be, in part, because this story was originally fanfiction, where a lot of the finer details are left out because they were already covered in the source material), but it’s still a good read.

 

[available for free at Amazon.ca, Chapters, and Barnes & Noble]

 

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