Unicorn Favorites: Love's Landscapes Stories : Week One

The M/M Romance Group on Goodreads hosts a Don't Read in the Closet event each year where they invite members to submit a photo with a story prompt.  Interested authors then volunteer to write the requested stories, which are published for free for everyone to read.  It's a fun/exciting/stressful process, and a great opportunity to read stories from favorite authors.  And chances are, you'll also discover some new authors, who hopefully have a backlist of goodies to check out :)

This year's event was named Love's Landscapes and they started releasing the completed stories on June first. Here at BMBR, we've been following along on comment threads, anticipating the stories from our favorite prompts, and now greedily reading the stories as they become available.

As an aside, there are SO many amazing stories being released and while we haven't read all of them yet, we will get there. There will be a few however, that won’t be reviewed here. You see, unicorns are not only badass, they are also mysterious and magically rare. We can't expect their presence to show up in our reviews, the interwebz couldn't handle it. But, just know this, this week, we LOVED Carte Blanche by Nash Summers. That is all.

Other than Carte Blanche, here are some of our favorites from the first week of the event, June 1-7:

Ann: Broken Phoenix by Edmond Manning

My Sunday was completely shot when this story came out. I started Broken Phoenix with the intention of reading a little now, reading a little later, you know. No way could I walk away once I started, though. Completely fascinating world that was complex but still easy to follow and the MC's are charming as all hell. I laughed out loud more than once at the snarky banter. I loved how Gio attempted to grasp "New York" style speak and references. It really had everything: adventure, fantasy, romance, sexy times, big feels and little feels, it was all there. This one definitely has a spot on my summer reread shelf and a big than you to Edmond Manning for his contribution to this event!

Breann: Mr. Jaguar by K.A. Merikan

I'm not much of an enemies-to-lovers fan. There always seems to be too much useless banter and meanness for no apparent reason. 

But this? This.

Here we have two guys who really are enemies. One is the hot quarterback and the kid he used to pick on in HS. And the hot quarterback is doing what? That's right, pumping Mr. Nerd's gas. Priceless!

"This had to be the guy's dream come true. A prophecy written in the stars."

For reals!

Then! It was like gay Pretty Woman. Gah! Could it be more perfecter?

Not only did I totally dig the set up, but the characters were awesome. Mike was effing awesome. Not only was he sexy and funny but he was really sweet under that rugged, manly exterior. Big, tough guy turned into a puddle of melty goo when he was with his Jamie. Which then, turned me into a melty puddle of lusty goo.


Hell, it was a full on *quelt*

Lorix: Metronomy by Suki Fleet

The Love's Landscapes event is amazing, where else do you get to read hundreds of stories for free? From both established and new authors we get a mixture of long and short, fantasy, contemporary, sci-fi, shifter, historical...and most other categories in between. If MM is a genre you enjoy there is bound to be something - several somethings - for you to read and enjoy.

And here is the first problem, how do I just choose one? I've not managed to read them all but I've read and relished several. Carte Blanche I adored but won't review here for reasons (see above), The Lonely Drop was one that I very much enjoyed and came this close to reviewing here first...but in the end I decided on Metronomy by Suki Fleet.

Suki Fleet is an author I've not read before (see already why this is an amazing opportunity?) but I'll definitely be reading her books in the future. At just 33 pages long this story is short. In fact I'm hoping it serves as a prelude to a longer story, even though it works well as a short story in its own right, because I really would like to hear more about Mouse and Hunter.

This is a fantasy story. I love fantasy, yet find the cross-over from mainstream to MM fantasy doesn't always work so well for me. This though, this was great. Magical gifts, friends-to-lovers, running for their lives, enemies, ...it has so many elements I love. I think if you're a fantasy fan you'll appreciate this and (even if you're not) I'd urge you to give it a go. After all, it won't cost you a penny.

SheReadsALot: Better Than New by Charley Descoteaux
Aw yeah...4.5 STARS!

Why this story is dope:

1. The fact that the author rocked the hell out of the prompt. 
 Down to the little smirks.
 Loved her style.

2. Did you see the picture attached to this prompt?

3. These quotes:
“I’m serious. I don’t even like guys all that much and I wouldn’t kick you out of bed for getting crumbs in the sheets. Wavy auburn hair, hazel eyes, flawless porcelain skin― low on the asshole scale― what’s not to like? You’re laughing, but I’m serious.” 
“You shouldn't do that either. It’s bad for my health.” 
“I’m not doing anything.” 
“Yes, you are. You’re flirting with me. I’ve seen you look up through your lashes like that at all the cute queer boys.” 
He stepped away and leaned against the side of the building. He even looked up the street, the nearly empty street, like it was the most interesting thing he’d ever seen. 
“But that’s different.” 
“Because you’re different. Different than all of them.” 
 “I thought a lot of things. Mostly, about what I’d do once you said the magic word: graduation.” 

4. Like it's not a major thing but two of my most favorite fucking main character names are the MC's names in this book. Both of them. And the last time both names were used as MC's...I fucking ate the story up. Coincidence? I think not.

5. Er...I dunno if you caught my hint in #3 but there's a ginge MC. So like...I dig gingers. And uh, yeah...

6. The writing is top fucking notch. The story line is sweet but not sticky but just has the right amount of everything. Some feelz, some adorbz, some reality swirl, great dialogue, some smexy. I love plots like this. The entire I dug you, you didn't know I dug you, you might not think you're hot but I think you are and we're friends type of deal. Plus a MC with a disability that didn't make it all about the disability.

*happy sigh* Done right.
Two Thumbs Up!
P.S. Title is dope as hell too. Gotta check for more from this author.
Most def.

Sunny: Human Choices by Jaye McKenna

From the blurb:
Khy is a prisoner and a slave. His life consists of days of drudgery and nights of agony. He has no memory of anything else, yet he knows there must be more beyond the fog that shrouds his mind. When his Master is called away on urgent business and Khy is left alone, a moment of unexpected clarity has him running for freedom.

This story is amazing!  Great world building, beautiful characterization, and an intense story with a sweet hurt/comfort theme that avoids over the top angst.  Everything flows just right, with perfect pacing- no dragging or rushing.
I love it all.
*hugs e-reader*

And there you have it, some of our favorite stories from the first week of the Love's Landscapes event!  Stay tuned for our favorites from week two :)

*** All stories are available for download at 

Review: Casting Call (Gin & Jazz #6) by Morticia Knight

Will Carmichael, an impossibly handsome silent film star, longs for the broodingly intense director André Chenard. Can they find their way to one another despite the hidden perils of the prohibition era?

Will Carmichael lives a carefree and fun-filled life as one of Global Studio’s most popular motion picture stars. Young and stunningly attractive, he could have any man he wants. However, the only one he has any interest in is the only one who won’t have anything to do with him.

André Chenard is Global Studio’s newest director. A proponent of the newly introduced Russian method of acting, he aspires to create true art through the films he directs. Not interested in wasting his time on frivolous pursuits, he spurns Will’s constant attempts to catch his attention. Although André can’t stop thinking about the gorgeous man, his initial meeting with Will leads him to believe that he is too shallow for serious consideration.

Resigned to the fact that André will never be his, Will is determined to enjoy himself to the fullest at his favourite speakeasy and pansy club. When his carousing becomes out of control and he’s injured, André steps in to help. As a result, they each discover that there is much more to the other than they had originally assumed.

Right when it seems they have found their way to one another, an outside threat drives a wedge between them. As a result, they may have more to worry about than lost love—the threat could be to their very lives.

I so dig the setting for this series. I love the era, their clothes and the lingo. Every time Will called someone 'Old Bean' I just had to giggle. 

Will has been mooning over André for quite some time now but his first impressions didn't go over quite as well as he'd hoped and it seemed as though André just wrote him off. I did like how smooth and seductive Will kind of turned into a lovesick fool around André. It was super cute and made him a very endearing character.

These aren't characters I had paid attention to previously so, in the beginning, their love story was just OK for me. Not only was I not really into the couple, they didn't have much interaction together until about 25% or so. Which was too long of a wait for me, especially with characters that I just didn't care too much about. 

Once they were together? Whew. I definitely felt their chemistry and was so into them as a couple after that. Once they got over their misconceptions of each other they were a great couple and worked well together.

The little bit of suspense was very well done and perfect for this story, especially for a character like Will. It gave him more depth than the fun, easygoing character everyone thought him to be. Of course, as readers we knew there was more to him, but the way he was there for his family really cemented him as a great character to read about.

Although, this could be read as a standalone, I wouldn't recommend it. *whispers* Mostly because then you wouldn't be able to read about Jack. My favorite little cutie-pa-tootie. *pinches butt* 

Even though this is my least favorite in the series, it was still a very enjoyable read, set in an era that I rarely see in M/M romance and I will definitely be on the lookout for more. Did I see that there will be more to come? Hmm?

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Invicta: Salvation #1 by Piper Kay

As Kaiden McKenzie and Holt Mitchell prepare to celebrate their fifteenth anniversary, and the grand opening of their new club, Invicta, they take a look back on how their lives together began.

When Holt wakes up to an outraged father, he finds himself suddenly homeless and hungry. With the help and caring of a certain bad guy, Holt finds life isn’t quite so bad as it seems. All he needed was the right man to guide him along.

Kade has spent his life running from anyone and everyone who tries to get close, but when he meets up with Holt, he suddenly finds himself wishing for something more. Who knew he was someone’s knight in shining tattoos…

My thoughts before reading: I don't give a flying shit what this book is about. 

The cover! The cover is Jake Bass! Jake motherfuckin' Bass, folks!!!

After reading: You gotta admit the cover is hot. I believe he's the muse for main character Kade, the bad boy, damaged hotheaded hero who strips but has been around the block more than once. Kade is likeable enough. He's not a carbon copy of the model on the cover so don't think this is fan fic. ;)

What is Invicta about? This novella is about two lovers, Kade and Holt, who are celebrating their fifteen year anniversary and opening of their new strip club named Invicta. The two flashback to the start of their relationship, one surprising one night stand that turned into something more for the nineteen year old, Holt-who was in the closet and got yanked out and twenty year old Kade--who only wanted to have unattached sex. But life changes like a two week stretch of homelessness and working at a gay strip joint happen and start the beginning of Holt and Kade, the pair.

There are things I liked and things I feel need some work. Yes, this story has some editing issues. There were a few times that it brought me out of the story, not for every page thankfully.

What I liked: I liked the theme of the cocky guy falling for the country boy. I liked some of the themes explored such as a homeless teen finding love or damaged men finding their way into happiness. Also, it's very light and easy to read. The main characters are likeable. The story didn't denigrate the profession of stripping.

Things I questioned: Some editing issues and questions - The flashback takes you to 1999...how would twerking and the Harlem Shake be popular back then? I am aware that twerking is not a new phenomenon but I doubt it had a name in 1999. The Harlem Shake (well what's popular now-it has a resurgence and change, since I remember the original dance moves when it first became popular was more of a local thing, so I question the popularity in Houston, Texas back then).
- The technical terms for dancing - I'm not a professional dancer the more popular terms I knew. But there were technical terms used that I had to Google about. Also with some character's dialogue. This made the reading not as smooth as I like.
- More telling than showing. Kade was not as bad as he was touted as. He did have miraculous recovery from injuries at times and he got into a fight. I would have preferred to have more scenes of him proving why he gets automatic deference.
- There are some areas of the story that don't come off as realistic, so I pulled my reality suspension rubber band out for being able to tell someone is starving from just looking at them. Or fighting against a person with a gun while having no weapons and winning. Or while recovering from the drug roofies (vomiting and leg cramps get ignored) to have sex.

But it's a love story about two strippers with pasts that aren't as golden as most, so why look for reality?

The story is sexy, popular and mostly fun. It does not delve too deep and is quick to read.

Who I think would most enjoy this series? Fans of Kindle Alexander, who want to read a book in her same vein. This was a lighter, sexier and uncomplicated story. Fans of dancer romance, there's a good number of technical terms peppered throughout the story.

My rating is somewhere within the 3-3.5 hearts range, so I'll round up.

Review: Galen and the Forest Lord by Eden Winters

Long, long ago in a faraway land, men were men (except when they were wolves), meddlesome aunts were meddlesome aunts, evil opportunists were evil opportunists, and heroes weren’t always the sharpest swords in the scabbard.

By the time Galen Olaf-kin woke up and smelled the spiced ale, it was too late, and he never finished the wicked deed for which he stood trial. Banished from his home, he flees to the forest, taking nothing but the unwanted infant he's rescued. Perhaps the legends are true and the forest lord will take them both in. The lord is said to give sanctuary to outcasts, but none of the stories mention the naughty, tempting things he whispers, or that he shares Galen's forbidden passions.

Lord Erik rolls his eyes at the prophecy that says when human hands deliver a babe to the forest, he’ll meet the mate destined to reunite forest folk with humankind. What interest has he in a child? The handsome human who brings the babe is another matter entirely, and little things like destiny and his own bumbling won’t keep Erik from claiming Galen as his own.

I don’t really read a lot of shifter stories. It’s not that I don’t like them, I’m just a picky pain in the ass, in the “it’s not the book, it’s me” kind of way. I don’t especially like the uber alpha ones with heaps of instantly accepted insta-lust. They all started to run together for me when I was reading them so now I don’t normally seek them out. There are some I do like though, the stories that don’t take themselves too seriously, have a good dose of camp and lots of snark. Those shifter stories I love, and Galen and the Forest Lord is one of those stories. It’s set in a simple fantasy world with a village, a forest, a silver lined path and a castle. It was simple enough that I could focus on the story, but not so simple that it was unbelievable or patronizing.

Galen is banished from his village in shame after being caught with a man. It was all manner of trickery and completely unfair, but, to be fair, he’d much rather be with a lad than a lass, so this outcome was probably inevitable anyway. The villagers are uneducated, ill-mannered and many of their beliefs are quite archaic, just like real life. Plus they have a terrible fear of the man eating wolves that live in the forest.

  “His (Galen’s) pursuers, armed with scythes, pitchforks, axes, stones and ignorance, their most dangerous weapon, were too afraid of the legendary inhabitants to venture past the forest’s edge.”

The forest dwellers, led by Erik the Forest Lord are quit a lively and lusty bunch and try to control their more animal instincts and live in a civilized manner. It’s a bit of an uphill battle and tests Lord Erik’s patience daily.

“They could be forgiven a lack of manners on occasion. This particular occasion marked the seventeenth time that day.”

What follows is Galen’s new life and new possibilities in the castle with Erik. Erik is noble and sexy as hell, but he’s also none too bright, bless his handsome heart. The real brains of the outfit belong to the Alpha Bitch, his Aunt Eydis At least until he takes a mate and then Aunt Eydis will gladly hand over the reins. I loved how the forest dwellers had adopted enough human tendencies to mostly hate the word “bitch” and it was used frequently to annoy as well as show reverence and the dichotomy was completely amusing. All of the dry humor in this story amused me greatly and it was really well done.

According to prophecy, Erik’s mate will be coming to him via human hands and in the form of a baby. Remember how I said Erik was none too bright? Well, his interpretation of the prophecy isn’t exactly spot on which is a comedy of errors in itself. So his wolf feels the undeniable desire to mate with Galen, his human consciousness is a little slow on the uptake. Galen is in the same boat really and their banter was fun to read. Aunt Eydis and the Court Seer, Jarl are behind the scenes driving the two men together, all the while convincing Erik and Galen it is their idea. As funny as it is to read, it is also quite sweet as they:

“ . . . enjoy the day’s entertainment – the courtship of the inept . . . “

The adventure that follows gives more than one HEA just like every good fantasy story should. I enjoyed reading about the secondary characters just as much as the main, including and especially Marta, that bitch Marta. The running joke of “that bitch Marta” is probably one of my favorite things about this story. We never actually meet Marta, but she is alluded to often enough that I feel like I can hate her good naturedly along with the rest of the characters. How Marta ends up with her own version of an HEA is priceless and that plot point was pure gold.

My only niggle, and it really isn’t much of one, is that I would have liked more of Erik and Galen together. Their characters were great and being able to see them as a couple beyond their acceptance of the prophecy would have been bonus gravy to the shifter feast that I enjoyed here.

Review: Love is a Stranger by John Wiltshire

How do you love someone who exists entirely in the shadows? How do you love a man who describes himself as dead? How do you get that ghost to love you back? Ex-SAS soldier Ben Rider falls in love with his enigmatic married boss Sir Nikolas Mikkelsen, but Nikolas is living a lie. A lie so profound that when the shadows are lifted, Ben realises he's in love with a very dangerous stranger. Ben has to choose between Nikolas and safety, but sometimes danger comes in a very seductive package.

Well, this was different and refreshing! Twists, turns, lies, action. Just fun!

Right away we're thrust into the affair between Ben and Nikolas.  It's hot and heavy and 'just sex'. Pfft. Okay, I haven't heard that before. I know, I know, I just said that this is different, and it is.  Obviously, what Nik and Ben have is more than sex, we all know it even if they don't. But there's one little snag in their relationship (other than 'just sex'), Nik is married.

It's clear right away that Nik is not who or what he seems. As Ben is dragged further and further into Nik's web, he's finding out more and more about his lover and who he really is. Maybe. Kind of. Okay, not really. But regardless of who he is, as far as his identity goes, one thing was the the same throughout, he loved Ben. No matter how hard he tried to deny or pretend otherwise, he was.
"'So, I have not really changed all that much Benjamin. I believe I am very much what I once was.' He looked across the table. 'Totally obsessed with you.'"
Unf. If that doesn't make someone just swoon, I don't know what will. Nik is an excellent character. He's witty, funny and, even though we don't know much about his identity, his actions and feelings towards Ben are very real. And he knows he's a liar and secretive. He totally owns it and he owns it well.
"'I lied. I always lie, you know this.'"
Ben was great, too. He stuck by Nik, he knew there were secrets and danger, but he stayed, he was there and he was honest. He's not dumb though. Ben is very aware of the kind of person Nik is and I liked that he didn't let him get away with the lies.

This is different that your run-of-the-mill suspense. There isn't just one suspense storyline, solved and done. There's a couple of... erhm... missions, I guess you could say, that Ben and Nik have to deal with. They're full of action, fast-paced and we're even left with a mini-cliffy! *gasp*

Awesome characters and some awesome suspense, but there were a few dull moments in between. I did get a little bored a couple times, luckily the feeling didn't last long, but I was bored nonetheless.

If you need a break from the typical M/M tropes Love is a Stranger is a great choice. I'd definitely recommend it and I'll be on the lookout for more of Nik and Ben.

I need a solid HEA, dammit!

A copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Duke in Denial by Alexandra Ainsworth

Sebastian Lewis never expected to become a duke. But with the sudden deaths of his cousin and uncle, Sebastian’s position changes. He is determined to fulfill his new responsibilities with grace, even if it means remarrying, and even if the attractions of women, so often lauded by poets, fail to interest him.

Captain William Carlisle, newly returned from India, is elated when he meets Sebastian. Nobody knows of his inclinations, but his harrowing experiences in battle have prompted him to reach for the type of companionship he longs for. He thinks Sebastian might feel an attraction as well, but to his dismay, he discovers that Sebastian is courting his sister Dorothea.

After a semi-arranged engagement and a disconcerting romantic tangle with William, Sebastian escapes London to look after his manor, only to face mysterious thefts, a headless ghost, and the arrival of his fiancée, her brother, and his family. Sebastian’s new estate sits on the south coast, England’s most vulnerable location, and Napoleon has set his sights on conquering the area. Amid this growing turmoil, Sebastian must sort out his feelings for his fiancée’s brother and keep his home safe . . . and determine if he has the courage to reach for his own happiness in the process.

What to expect a lot from "The Duke in Denial": pacing, confuzzlement and so-so characters.

Alexandra Ainsworth's debut novel is a gay regency...romance(?) about a country gentleman widower who just became a duke and a damaged solider who is gay but does not reveal his preference because...you know it's a Regency romance. And you'd get jailed, hung or worse for being gay back then. The widower Sebastian is a quiet sort of fellow who does not care about which lady he marries as long as he gets it over with so he can father an heir to secure the line. And he might or might not admire the male form. He'll never tell a soul because...it's just not done. And the solider, William, is a frequent visitor of molly houses (male brothels) wants a man to call his own.

And finds it the moment he sees Sebastian on the street. It was insta-dick from then on. William is so in love with Sebastian. Sebastian is drawn to William but does not want to go to jail so he gets engaged to William's sister. The two flip flop so much they could also be known as fish so much in this book. They will say one thing to each other, then question it over and over...*smh* William is there loving Sebastian for what reason I do not know because Sebastian offered nothing as a character. Nothing. I love a good quiet character but he was dull as a butter knife. I don't understand what William was so love-crazed about. Nor William. Sometimes it felt like I went back to reading MF Regency. And I cut my teeth on those books so I know what I like and what to look for.

The author had a good idea for the plot line (well not the suspense part as much). I wished we stuck to that instead of the extra filler we get and odd scenes that add nothing to the story. This book could have been shaved in half, IMO.

Do I need to know about war preparation plans in Sussex? Not really.
Do I need to read about a frivolous cousin? Nope. I think she was supposed to add humor. But I grimaced whenever she showed up.

The secondary characters were not strong nor were the main characters. William is besotted with Sebastian. Sebastian is hard pressed to marry William's sister to avoid any rumors, though if the guys tried harder on making not making googly eyes and trying to touch their legs together in a carriage, I don't think they'd have to worry about people catching on.

Steam Level: 1 out of 5 - Sometimes the sex can save a dull book. This didn't.

A mystery/suspense angle got thrown in the second half. Flat lined for me from the start, sloppy sleuthing. Then the plot thickens, the pseudo-villain is found out. And the reasoning behind the entire 'crime'? The villain had TEN years to do something about it. Too many questionable reasoning for my taste.

No one was interesting enough to connect with. I questioned everyone's motive down to the carriage driver because there personalities weren't concrete enough. An example, Sebastian is a widower who lost a child. He came off like a virgin or more exactly a blushing miss.

The two blushing misses misters get a HEA of sorts. Meh, I liked neither of them.

Would I read more from this author? Maybe. There are good ideas. This book takes a meandering stroll to get to the point. Not bad also not memorable. I'm in the middle of the road with my rating. *shrugs*