Friday, December 30, 2016

REVIEW: Sutphin Boulevard by Santino Hassell


I love this novel so hard that I almost don't want to write about how much I love it for fear of not getting it right, or forgetting a crucial detail, or just making a complete ass of myself but reviews are are important to authors-- and I know I'm a peon in the grand scheme of things so this review won't convince anyone of anything but I'm writing it anyway.

When I reflect on why I feel so much love for this novel, I could tick off a ton of details but mainly these two things cover it: how the writing/characters made me feel and its authenticity-- and honestly, I feel like these two things are twisted together in a way that may be hard to separate, so excuse my rambling as I ramble on....

For those who follow me, you know that I'm a high school teacher and while that's not really very important to anyone, it definitely informs the way I read novels that involve high school teachers. I try not to let my personal experiences with teaching get in the way of enjoying a novel that involves teachers but it can be hard when people get it wrong. So, it may be hard to imagine my complete joy at how right Santino Hassell got it--it really is rare (for me, or maybe I'm reading the wrong books), so when a writer accurately and astutely captures the life and feeling of what it's like to be a high school teacher I want to freaking shout it from the mountaintops. For instance he showed truths about the joke of professional development, the way administrators can screw with your schedule the day before school starts, the highs and lows you feel about and for your students when it comes to their education and the baggage they carry, the bureaucracy, the curriculum and the small sacrifices you make daily to make sure you 'cover' things for the stupid tests and still try to give them the education you know they need beyond what the state tests, the gossipy teachers and the way they can help you or hurt you with one well placed comment, the stupid freaking evaluation rubric that never really does anything productive to help you become better...I could go on and on but the point is that the way that teaching is portrayed in Sutphin Boulevard was authentic and accurate and I wish I could find a way to convince Santino Hassell to write more fiction in the teacher world because his jokes, jabs, and truth about what it can feel like on the teacher end of things was something I truly appreciated.  Not only did he include the small details that are so real and authentic to the teaching world (which, by the way, goes to show you that it doesn't even matter if you're teaching in NYC or NoLa, somethings seem to be universal), he created a teacher that breathed life into all of the joys and frustrations of that world. I identified with many of the scenes that he wrote about--from that first day back to school all the way to dealing with the dynamics of teenage personalities and everything in between. And I cannot really capture the anxiety and sorrow I felt for Michael in the last school scene we see him in; all I can say is that the scene where Michael hits rock bottom in his classroom just hit me right in the chest, for many reasons. I seriously could probably write pages on how much I enjoyed the teaching aspect of this novel, but I know that most people probably won't get hung up on it as much as I did so maybe I should switch gears a little. 

This novel made me wonder about how much of Michael's experience the writer shared and how much of it was Santino Hassell's ability to create a reality with his words. The picture he gave me of NYC felt so much more authentic than the pretty, glorified, Central Park feel that so many writers provide. It felt gritty and noisy and disgustingly humid and sweatsoaked or numbingly cold. It felt like love and abandonment. I got a sense of Michael and his family and who he was by the small details he noticed from his window or on his walks and I just know in my bones that he loved his city in a way that only people who've lived there and have that love/hate relationship can have (I feel the same about Nola). Additionally, the way that Hassell wrote about Michael's experiences with his sexual partners and relationships--his encounters in parks and rooftops and bathrooms--and his honesty with what he did and did not want to share with others about his sexuality echoed the stories of my loved ones so very truthfully.

I also felt so much for Michael, thanks to Hassell's word sorcery. Like when he had to tell Nunzio that he couldn't go on vacation, or the feelings he had for his father, brother, and family, or the confusing feelings he had for Nunzio, or all the dizzying emotions he had as he processed what was happening to him and around him weren't fun. They produced a ton of anxiety for me but I guess that's why I liked this novel--I truly felt so much. I respected Michael for not running from all of the difficult conversations he had to have, even when he really wanted to, and I understood when he felt like he had to run from them. When all hell broke loose and he broke down, I identified so much with everything he felt and how he sorted through it afterwards. His inability to see how some of his actions and words impacted Nunzio and Raymond? I soooo got that--I know I've done similar things. And finally, the ending just felt so right. It wasn't this soaring right into the sunset, over the top, sappy thing; it fit the personalities of Michael and Nunzio in its simplicity. It read like truth--the way that many couples pick up with where things left off, or begin a relationship, or sometimes begin again. It made me smile and feel happy and hopeful...and long to see them again. 

All of this to say that I don't say this very often because it's probably irrelevant, but with Sutphin Boulevard Santion Hassell has gained my trust. I know that he's going to give me something that feels real even in its fictionality (shut up, I'm making up words, okay?), that can give me both pleasure and pain, and can make me laugh and I absolutely will escape into any world he creates. 



A Five Boroughs Story 

Michael Rodriguez and Nunzio Medici have been friends for two decades. From escaping their dysfunctional families in the working-class neighborhood of South Jamaica, Queens, to teaching in one of the city’s most queer-friendly schools in Brooklyn, the two men have shared everything. Or so they thought until a sweltering night of dancing leads to an unexpected encounter that forever changes their friendship.

Now, casual touches and lingering looks are packed with sexual tension, and Michael can’t forget the feel of his best friend’s hands on him. Once problems rear up at work and home, Michael finds himself seeking constant escape in the effortless intimacy and mind-blowing sex he has with Nunzio. But things don’t stay easy for long.

When Michael’s world begins to crumble in a sea of tragedy and complications, he knows he has to make a choice: find solace in a path of self-destruction or accept the love of the man who has been by his side for twenty years. 

To learn more about Santino you can go to:

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REVIEW: Hate Story by Nicole Williams


Shel: Because I've grown to really enjoy everything I've read by Nicole Williams I've gone into the last two books completely blind--it makes for an interesting reading experience for sure. In the case of Hate Story I was tempted, very tempted, to go to Goodreads and look up the synopsis because the first few chapters had me so curious. Who was Nina? Who was Max? How in the hell did they end up in this predicament? The longer I read, the more curious I became, and just as I hit a level of curiosity that was on the edge of frustrating, I got some relief...some answers...and I was able to really settle in and enjoy their 'hate story'. I think what I had to accept, at some point, was that while their heads and hearts were tied up with things in the past, this was really a story about their present and them working on moving forward. So we don't get a ton of backstory, nor do we see them much outside of the bubble of them, but it works; it feels intimate and close and like you're sitting right there in the novel with them. Court: Yeah, girl. There is so much to love about this book, but the premise is original and could have gone about a million ways. I thought that it was such a surprise that I had to keep reading and devouring every page to get those answers that Shel was talking about, and I was glad that we didn't get tortured...for too long...although, there is a lot of ups and downs that were also unexpected and really added a lot of brevity to our story.

Shel: As with the last few Nicole Williams novels I've read, I really enjoyed that Hate Story featured strong characters. Both Nina and Max were stubborn and funny and argumentative and kind; they both hid some deep-seated wounds, hid behind masks, and insisted on sticking to their promises even when their feelings threatened to get in the way.  I also liked that for as strong as Nina is, she's allowed to be vulnerable and uncertain and the one who is way more chicken of a relationship than many heroines are these days. I liked that Max had to be the patient one; he had to accept some things on her terms and he had to make some really selfless choices. Court: Oh he did...but about killed me! There is so much once things start moving for us to find out, but the two characters are both ones that I rooted for early on. Then, there are external factors that really made me insane! Can't really tell ya what...but...I enjoyed Max and Nina every page. Then there is Nicole's is so smooth, and flawless...I could live there forever, and enjoy her like shel said every time. It is brilliance like this that keep us coming back and wanting more. I think y'all will too! 

Shel: What started as a novel that was intriguing almost to the point of frustration (at the very beginning), ended with me sending frantic texts to Court because it was so good and I was dying at all the stuff that was happening. Things kept happening and I was OMG-ing like a lunatic. In other words, Hate Story was really good--so good that I read it all on a Saturday morning, ignoring any and everything that needed to be done so that I could see how Nina and Max would get their HEA. Court: She was...she had me so dang excited to read this book...and then I read it in one sitting because I couldn't stop reading it to do anything productive either!! 


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Nina can’t let herself fall in love with the man she’s going to marry. Both of them have experienced the sting and sham of love and have no intentions of falling victim to it twice. Love is expensive—hate is free.

Three years. A million dollars. A solution to both of their problems. They planned it all, from the story of their first meeting to the date of their divorce. Nothing could go wrong.

But what they didn’t consider was chemistry, and Nina and Max have no shortage of it. After too many near-kisses, Nina convinces herself that hating Max is better than loving him, and the more she gets to know this soon-to-be-husband of hers, the more she discovers just how very much she truly, madly, and deeply . . . hates him.

This isn’t a love story. This is the other kind.

“Okay. So how do you think this is going?” Max tipped the broom handle between us. “You and me?”
My forehead pinched together. “You and me the plan? Or you and me the surprise?”
Max’s brow answered my question.
“And this topic is what you consider not-so-deep?” I nudged him and moved to finish stocking syrups.
“All I’m looking for is a simple estimation. Since we were just talking about school, give us a grade for how you think this is going.”
“A grade? Like A, B, C, D, F?”
“Exactly like that.”
I shook my head. “Did you have a rough day at work today? Lose an Olympic-size swimming pool of money or something? Are you needing your daily ego stroking to come from somewhere else today?” When I glanced back at him, I found Max leaning into the door he’d relocked, arms crossed and waiting.
“Our relationship is unique,” he said. “Intricate. I’m asking not because I need my ego stroked, but because I care. If I need to make some changes, I’m willing to. Anything you need, whatever you want, that’s what I’ll give you. But first, I have to know how I’m doing.”
If a man could get a woman pregnant from a piercing stare and a collection of words, I’d just gotten myself good and knocked up. With twins.
“You know how it’s going,” I said, trying to focus on the syrups instead of what—or who—I wanted to focus on.
“I know how I think it’s going. I’d like to know how you think it’s going.”
My mouth went a little dry. Having these kinds of talks was hard for anyone—they were next to impossible for me. “Well, you haven’t gone and confessed your undying love or scared the hell out of me by asking me to be your baby mama, so you’re keeping your promise to take it nice and slow.” When he gave a mini bow, I rolled my eyes. “Not to mention you aren’t too shabby in the sack, you don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink, and you share the remote well.”
Max’s face went flat. “Not too shabby?”
“Oh, please. You know how good you are. Stop fishing for compliments.” A flush crept up my neck as I thought of the most recent evidence to support that theory.
A slow, crooked smile spread across his face. “I want a grade.”
“Like comprehensive? Or broken down by category?” I was stalling, and Max knew I was stalling.
“You’re making this way too difficult,” he grumbled.
“An A minus,” I said abruptly. “I’d give you an A minus.”
“Why not an A plus?”
I kept my head turned so he couldn’t see my smile. Only Max Sturm would be outraged by an A minus. “Because there’s always room for improvement. And I wouldn’t want it to go to your head, that’s why not an A plus.”
The door creaked when he shoved off of it. He made no move to tame the way he was checking me out, leaning into the counter as I organized the syrups. “Something’s definitely going to my head.”
My gaze roamed his zipper region. “I was talking about the one north of your neck.”
“And I’m talking about the one at the end of my dick. My, at present, hard dick, thanks to you.” He came up behind me, fitting himself against my backside as his hands moved around to work on my jeans.
“Max,” I protested, my eyes closing a second later when his dick nuzzled deeper into my backside.
“Nina. I’m taking your body. Here. Now.” His chest pressed into my back as he lowered my zipper. “Accept that so we can move on to the next part.”

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Nicole Williams is the New York Times and USATODAY bestselling author of contemporary and young adult romance, including the Crash and Lost & Found series. Her books have been published by HarperTeen and Simon & Schuster in both domestic and foreign markets, while she continues to self-publish additional titles. She is working on a new YA series with Crown Books (a division of Random House) as well. She loves romance, from the sweet to the steamy, and writes stories about characters in search of their happily even after. She grew up surrounded by books and plans on writing until the day she dies, even if it’s just for her own personal enjoyment. She still buys paperbacks because she’s all nostalgic like that, but her kindle never goes neglected for too long. When not writing, she spends her time with her husband and daughter, and whatever time’s left over she’s forced to fit too many hobbies into too little time.
Nicole is represented by Jane Dystel, of Dystel and Goderich Literary Agency.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

EXCERPT: Separation Games (The Games Duet-Part Two) by C.D. Reiss


Separation Games by CD Reiss

Series: The Games Duet # 2 Release Date: January 3, 2017 Genre: Contemporary Romance

"CD Reiss writes the best erotica I have ever read."

Meredith Wild, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Hacker Series



The stunning conclusion to the New York Times Bestseller.
There’s one, unbreakable rule in the game.
Stay collected. Compartmentalize. Think your next move through. Never let your heart dictate your tactics.
The heart is impulsive.
The heart makes bad decisions.
The heart doesn’t see the long game.
Because the heart may have decided to get Adam back, but when the endgame comes, the heart’s going to be the first thing to break.


Adam pulled me to the next door to the left. It opened into a small theater with about two dozen red velvet seats with lights at the bases.
“There was this guy in Marine Park who collected vintage pornography. When he died, one of the clubs uptown took it and preserved it. When all the clubs merged, they reels moved here.”
“We’re going to watch porn together?”
He guided me down an aisle. “Yes.”
“How adventurous of us.” I smiled at him, flirting.
He smiled back a little, but was reserved in his enthusiasm. We sat in the center.
“Now I’m sorry I wore pants,” I said.
The lights dimmed to black. I took his hand, and he paused before dropping our entwined fingers in his lap.
“I’m trying to illustrate something. I want to talk. So I’m glad you wore pants.”
The bullseye countdown appeared. Adam leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and exhaled. They went back to the screen as if all necessary strength had been gathered.
She’s blindfolded, arms tied above her. He’s lashing her.
“These are from the late sixties,” he said as the picture flickered. There was no sound. “The stuff here is very real. There’s no retouching. It’s 16mm, so there’s none of the porny quality of video.”
He’s wrapping her tits in black tape.
“I see,” I said.
He was right. The frame was raw. The beauty of her submission wasn’t on the film. I didn’t feel as though I was watching something. I felt as though I was witnessing something.
He’s clamping her nipples until they’re elongated meat.
“This is called tit torture,” he said matter-of-factly. “Every step of this was worked out beforehand. You’re not seeing the dozen things he’s not doing.” He twisted in his seat to face me. He was backlit, so I couldn’t see his expression. “Give me an adjective. What do you think of it?”
“Is this your thing?”
“Answer me first.”
I loved him. I wanted him. I’d get on my knees and submit to him.
“It’s gruesome.”
“It’s not my thing.” He sat back and faced the screen. The light flickered on his face. “There’s so much more though.”
He’s putting the business end of a hairbrush in her anus.
I’ve never seen skin that shade of purple.
What is she eating?
In all of them, the submissive may have cried or screamed, but she always came back for more. She kissed the Dominant’s hand or looked at him admiringly. Her lips did a dance of gratitude.
Thank you.
Ten minutes in, I couldn’t hold my questions anymore. “Why are you showing me this? You don’t want to wrap me in duct tape.”
“Someone might. I want you to know what it looks like first.”
“Adam Steinbeck!” I stood and put my fists on my hips. “You fucking shit!”
He crossed his legs, shrugging as if it wasn’t his fault. He just worked here. “What?”
“You’re trying to scare me.”
“I’m trying to inform you.”
“To hell with this. I’m going out there right now and getting someone to fuck me with a wooden spoon.”
I stomped down the aisle. He grabbed my arm. I spun around to face him. Behind him, a woman was getting choked, and every time she breathed, the ecstasy on her face was unmistakable.
“Let go of me,” I growled.
“Look at it. You weren’t meant for this.”
But he was? But Serena was? Was I too good? Too weak? Too strong? None of that mattered.
“You love me. Say it, Adam.”
“I’m keeping the love I have left.”
“Why can’t you love a submissive?”
“I don’t know.”
“You can’t love weakness?” I asked.
“I said I don’t know.”
“You’re unworthy of a woman who would kneel for you?”
“What do you want out of me?”
He was hurting me. I jerked my arm away, and he let go.
“I want you to leave me for a reason. A real reason. I left you because I was unhappy. I thought we were incompatible. You’re leaving me because you asked me to submit to you and I love it. You’re leaving me because you love me a little but not enough. What is all that? It’s not a reason.”
“I’m protecting you!”
“You’re protecting you.”

Separation Games

Begin the Games Duet with Marriage Games

Available now!

Add to Goodreads

About the Author

CD Reiss is a New York Times bestseller. She still has to chop wood and carry water, which was buried in the fine print. Her lawyer is working it out with God but in the meantime, if you call and she doesn't pick up she's at the well hauling buckets.
Born in New York City, she moved to Hollywood, California to get her master's degree in screenwriting from USC. In case you want to know, that went nowhere but it did give her a big enough ego to write novels.
She's frequently referred to as the Shakespeare of Smut which is flattering but hasn't ever gotten her out of chopping that cord of wood.
If you meet her in person, you should call her Christine.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

REVIEW + EXCERPT: Face-Off at the Alter by Toni Aleo

Shel: Face-Off at the Alter is our first Assassins novel in a while and WOW these guys have been busy--I can see that Court and I will have to revisit some of the books we've missed. In this particular novel, the focus is on Mekena and Markus and their shot at a second chance for their HEA. It wasn't an easy journey--they both live in their heads a lot, they both are worriers, and they both had to figure out how or even if they could work through a serious miscommunication. Toni Aleo put these two through the ringer--they both struggled with wave after wave of emotion and it ranged from desire, to hurt, to guilt, to anger, and lots of other ones too. Court: They do. They overthink...pretty much everything. But the more we find out about their past and dealings with their family, the more it makes sense. They're hard on other people because they've been wronged so much in the past...and Mekena has absolutely valid reasons not to trust Markus. You'll find though, that what first appears might not be as it seems, and there is definitely more to their story! 

Shel: Fortunately, Aleo knew that her readers (and characters) could only take so much  and she'd always throw some humor, or some of the other characters in the Assassin family, in as a distraction from what was worrying Mekena and Markus. I definitely think readers of this series will like how much the other characters are on the page with Mekena and Markus --to see how they're doing and what they're up too. I also love some of the choices Aleo made for these characters: I liked that she has a mixed race couple (why aren't we seeing more of this in the book world? or people of color? I love it!), I like that she promotes therapy and doesn't stigmatize it, and I liked how she created some realistic family drama. If I have any quibble at all, it's that there were a few times that some of the things Mekena and Markus fixated on felt repetitive in places, but it was something that I got past easily. Court: It'll be repetitive for sure for me to say the same things then!!! But yes, it is great that Markus is a diverse character with a diverse background getting to prove himself on the national stage in Hockey. I like that he a great man, even without the influence the Sinclair's had on him, and he is a really great character for our pages. I felt so bad for Mekena for what her sister did...and it was heart wrenching to see someone so young literally give up everything to move and find herself. Though, she did have a little trouble with that didn't she?!? The inclusion of the other assassins did melt my heart, and I am so excited to be back in this world for a while! 

Shel: Maybe I'm overly hopeful, but I can definitely see several more books in this series; I think readers will be plotting Brie and Vaughn's book in their heads by the time they finish (unless that's just me?!). Until then, though, readers will have Mekena and Markus to enjoy. Court: This was a great read to spend my Christmas enjoying, and thanks Toni for creating such a fun world to be in!!

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Markus Reeves is sucking. Big-time. Toiling away on a minor-league hockey team hundreds of miles away from home, he's watching his dreams of an NHL career fade away. Add in the lingering guilt he has over the dramatic demise of his relationship with college girlfriend, Mekena, and he's a mess on and off the ice.

But the family of his heart, the Sinclairs, won't let Markus suffer any longer. When he arrives himself back in Nashville for a trial run on the Assassins, it feels like his life may be making a turn for the better. If only he could get Mekena to forgive him...

Mekena Preston has been hurting since fleeing Nashville following the horror of Markus's betrayal with her sister. Now a professional photographer, Mekena finds herself in the same place at the same time with Markus to celebrate Lucy and Benji Paxton's wedding. Neither of them has been able to move on—and they're starting to wonder if they really want to.

They're headed for a face-off at the altar unless they can confront their past and unearth the truth about what really happened on that fateful night.

“You are, by far, the most patient man I know.”
Baylor grimaced as she took Dawson from Markus’s outstretched hands. He smiled as Dawson looked at him innocently. He knew the little guy didn’t mean to puke all over him and he wasn’t upset, but he was trying to figure out a way to get to the house and shower before he had to talk to Mekena. He highly doubted that baby puke would be an aphrodisiac. Maybe it would be? Huh.
He wasn’t going to try, though.  
As Baylor cuddled Dawson against her, Markus waved her off. “It’s no big deal. He’s a baby.”
She smiled shyly. “Yes, but Ashlyn pooped on you too.”
He grinned as he shrugged, trying not to laugh. It was a tough rehearsal for Dawson, Ashlyn, and Markus. Puke and poop were big-time stars during the hour of watching the Sinclairs and Grace Justice try to put together a wedding. He wasn’t sure what was funnier, Jace glaring as Jordie walked with Avery, or Ashlyn farting and then realizing she had just shit all over him. It was a toss-up, but then Dawson decided to puke down the front of his shirt, and he figured he was now a substitute for a baby rag. “I volunteered.”
“Still, we’re really sorry,” Avery said, holding Ashlyn close as she rocked her back and forth. “I understand if you don’t want to watch her ever again.”
“Nonsense,” he said, laughing as he tucked his hands into his pockets and looked around. He spotted Mekena at the front of the altar, taking pictures of random things. He wasn’t sure if she was done, but maybe he could slip away. “How much longer until y’all are done?”
“We’re done, but Lucy and Benji have some pre-wedding pictures they’re having done with Angie.”
“So Mekena isn’t done?”
Avery smiled. “Nope, she’s got a bit.”
“Can you pass a message for me?”
“Let her know that I went back to the cabin to shower and clean up?”
“Yeah, of course. I’ll tell Jace to tell her since I’m taking Ashlyn to bed.”
“Cool, thanks,” he said, kissing her cheek and then Baylor’s, before rubbing Dawson’s head. “I’ll see you guys in the morning.”
Before he could get far, though, Baylor smiled. “Thanks again.”
“Anytime. I mean that.”
Avery smiled. “Thanks.”
“Also, good luck,” Baylor added.
Flashing them both a big grin, he nodded. “I need it.”
Heading out the back, he made it back to the cabin quickly. When he entered, though, Mr. Right was sitting on the windowsill howling. “Whoa, man. What’s up?”
Meoooooowwwwwwww, he wailed, with his mouth wide open as his hair stood on end.
“Bro, I don’t know what to say. I don’t speak your language. Are you singing? Do you want me to sing too? Meoooowwwwww,” he said, and Mr. Right looked back at him, almost with a glare. “We should add some beat to that and make a remix,” Markus joked as the cat wailed. Deciding that was a good idea, he pulled out his phone and started to beatbox as the cat wailed, recording it on his SnapChat. The cat must have realized what he was doing because he looked back, scowling, and Markus hid his phone. He didn’t want to admit it, but Mr. Right kind of freaked him out.

My name is Toni Aleo and I’m a total dork.
I am a wife, mother of two and a bulldog, and also a hopeless romantic.
I am the biggest Shea Weber fan ever, and can be found during hockey season with my nose pressed against the Bridgestone Arena’s glass, watching my Nashville Predators play!
When my nose isn’t pressed against the glass, I enjoy going to my husband and son’s hockey games, my daughter’s dance competition, hanging with my best friends, taking pictures, scrapbooking, and reading the latest romance novel.
I have a slight Disney and Harry Potter obsession, I love things that sparkle, I love the color pink, I might have been a Disney Princess in a past life… probably Belle.
… and did I mention I love hockey?

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