Unicorn Favorites: Love is an Open Road: Week Eight

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 favourite authors. And chances are, you'll also discover some new authors, who hopefully have a back-list of goodies to check out :)

This year's event was named Love is an Open Road 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 favourite prompts, and now greedily reading the stories as they become available.

SheReadsALot: Almost But Not Quite by Amy Spector:

Swimming in the 3.5-4 stars pool -- The billionaire prompt!!!!!

I was pressed so hard against this prompt, it should’ve popped wood. Major wood.

One of my favorite things in romances (it might look like I like a lot of things but trust me, I don’t) are billionaires. 

Yeah, I’m that girl.

I don’t care about the probability of anyone actually finding an attractive, single and eligible rich bachelor who is hung like Triton and can fuck like a god in bed. 

I don’t care. 

Give them a personality and I’m sold…for the most part.

My favorite fictional billionaire is Mr. Gideon Cross. And guess who he was based on? Mr. David Gandy.

Don’t know who he is? Here let me help you.

And this prompt pic was one of Mr. Gandy’s as well, wouldn’t you know?

(Not the prompt pic but I just thought I’d give another angle of his face)

Right, so I might have quelted once or twice when this prompt popped up. 

Now in my head, I imagined this story going a certain way because billionaire and Gandy means hot fucking and sultry orders was on the menu, right? 

But “Almost But Not Quite” wasn’t like the popular billionaire clichés. In fact, the author humanized Maximilian, the billionaire main character. 

He was relatable and sweet and such a soft heart. Don’t get me wrong, when the bedroom action happens (and it does happen), he had a couple of hot lines. There was a growly moment that I particularly enjoyed. (of course)

This was cinderfella-esque, so in terms of relationship building between the main characters, I knew to suspend reality for a bit because who would bring a drunk homeless person who offered to fuck them for cash to their house? Their actual living space and close their eyes and go to sleep...with the hot for cash hobo in their house? With all their valuables just laying about looking all pricy?

The main thing was for me to buy Daniel the part-time rent-boy/fired hairdresser/full-time drunk/ex-drug addict and Max, the Gandy-twin billionaire's relationship and then sexual tension. You can pull that off I don't care if their plan trips to moon to search for polar bears, make me believe.

And overall, their relationship was good. There were parts where I questioned their motives but they were meant for each other. So it's all good. 

I had niggles though, minor ones. 

One being, it was short for pulling off the HEA. Add another 50 pages or so to show Daniel's progression of detox and his substance abuse struggles, let him stand on his two feet. Let Max slowly start to trust Daniel and let him into his world, I would have thrown all the stars at this thing. I had to reread certain parts to make sure they were actually ready for the ILY moment because I kinda thought it was premature. (A little bit)

Max gave in too quickly before realizing how he felt. In fact, the beginning Max was slightly arrogant, sort of standoffish business man then he turned to mush toward the middle and stayed like that. He was very trusting, very quickly and if he had got burned by the stepbrother (my biggest niggle - I'll get to that) would he really be as open and trusting as he was with Daniel. 

Daniel, I preferred slightly more than Max just because I sort of got to know him more. I think he was a good kid who came from a bad situation. I would have liked a little more clarification on his background, then again maybe some more exploration of Max's and his stepbrother as well. What we get is good and can carry the story. I might just be nitpicky and know nothing of what I speak of. ;P

Sometimes there were minor scenes that I didn't think added to the overall story.

Oh and my biggest niggle, the stepbrother plot twist. 

Okay, this story was a solid 4 stars until the last chapter. It was sweet and about redemption and being sober and cute and sweet kisses and finally getting to express yourself in the bedroom kinda hot but...the twist felt like it came out of nowhere.

And then I'm thinking to myself as I'm reading: (it's a little spoiler-ish)

So the billionaire lives on a street with other houses and no security?
Like wouldn't Max be prime pickings for any thief with a weapon? He's doing publicity, everyone except for Daniel pretty much knew the man was a billionaire.
And this stepbrother just happens to pop up after all these years and never gave Max a hint of anything?
And the stepbrother didn't try to attack or take his "man" when Max was alone for those six weeks?
Plus, the way Max sorta explained what happened in the past...what exactly happened?


If only the last chapter didn't happen. But it did. 

But I can respect the author for trying to shake it up. I enjoyed the ideas brought to the story. The execution showed promise, it got a little shaky a few times but I was entertained. (I'll be reading more Amy Spector, for sure)

And most importantly, the author proved not all billionaires need to be anti-social fuck machines who can make body parts leak at just a glance.

So major thanks to the author and the team behind the story. 
And David Gandy.

Optimist King's Wench:Almost but Not Quite by Amy Spector and love Like the Medici by Edmund Manning:

Everything about it gave me squishy good feels except that crazy train brother.

Pardon me but I simply must get this off my chest.

GANDY CANDY¡!!!!!!¡!!!!!!!!!¡

I gotta tell you reading these words with that image in my head did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of this Cinderfella story. Nothing at all.

Gandy, I mean Max, is a philanthropist and head of his family's foundation. He's sort of isolated and lonely, so he occupies himself with work. One night he gets an indecent proposal from a 22 yr old kid down on his luck and desperate. Rather than call the cops he takes him to dinner at a taco truck because Daniel felt uncomfortable at the bistro Max had originally chosen. I knew it was going to be good from this point. I pushed in all my chips and boy did this story pay off.

Max has an incident in his background that haunts him and played a role in his decision to go the extra mile and take Daniel home rather than let him go to a shelter. Daniel needs a break in the worst way. His life has been a grind, some of his own doing but a lot just shitty life being shitty. What I loved about him was his ability to take responsibility for his actions and his acceptance of help when offered. He's not looking for a hand out, but he needs help. Plus he's just a sweet person, tenderhearted, wants to be useful. Adorable. 

They're attracted to each other immediately. HELLLLOOOOO GANDY!! If you've got a pulse you're attracted to Gandy. Sorry, I digressed. 

They both make excuses-too young, addiction, independence. Still they become increasingly attached. I'll admit I didn't really buy them as a couple until late in the game, though I do think it was a good call to have them pine for one another and work for it.

The brother thing did catch me off guard and maybe was a little OTT, but fuck it. I don't caaaaaaarrrreee. GANDY!

There's not a lot of sex but Gandy...DAMMIT! I mean Max is all Toppy McTopperstein. 

Max had already lost his jacket and tie in the hall and was nearly out of his button-down when he entered the room, slamming the door behind him.

“They’re all going to know,” Daniel said, stopping to watch the man finish slipping out of his dress shirt and yanking his undershirt over his head.

“They’re going to figure it out when I have you yelling my name in about three minutes,” Max said, pulling off his shoes and socks.

Werd. Look at that pic and say those words.


Thanks to the author and her team for contributing to the LOR event.

What does it mean to love like a Medici?

Intrigued by the title and the prompt I dove into my first Edmond Manning. All you people who have been poking me to read his King series, I get it now. 

This prompt spoke to me even though it's chaste which normally is an antidote for my interest. Yes, no on page sex and I read it. There wasn't even a dragon! Astonishing, I know. It was probably Italy that did it. DRiTC 2015 seems to be my year of reminiscing about prior vacations.

"Firenze is very proud of Il Duomo." 

 photo Il2BDuomo252C2BFlorence_zpsughhbmwj.jpg

Beautiful, right? I remember it. I remember it like it was yesterday. 

I insisted we go to the top. Insisted! We were there. It's a "must see", right? There was wariness and repeated attempts to change my mind. I distinctly recall the pointing out of the number of steps followed by raised eyebrows and an "are you sure?". YAAAASSSS!!!! Let's do this!!

Worst call ever.

I thought half way up I was going to die. I'm certain I heard the specter of death clanking his scythe. Tourists from all over the world were concerned for my wellbeing. They stopped, asked in various languages and broken English if I was alright. I tried to bail on the whole thing somewhere in there. p.s. you can't bail. It's a one-way ticket straight up to hell. 200 bajillion steps up to hell. Some of which are teeny, tiny and harrowingly steep. Once I reached the top I realized hell had glorious views, though they were difficult to enjoy through gasping from the gauntlet I narrowly survived to get there. I will say this experience has made for many a laugh over the years and extreme caution with any historical landmarks involving steps.

It was beautiful that vista up there, but never again. Been there. Done that. I couldn't tell you if there was a t-shirt involved because I was having an out of body experience.

However, I would love to go back to Firenze and look at the Duomo (from the ground) and this story reminded me how much I missed when I was there.

Chris has 2 months to explore Florence, but on day 2 his entire world gets stolen when he's robbed of his laptop and iPhone. Chris is a gamer (all the gaming stuff went over my head) and is heavily into WoW. His guild is his online family and without any form of communication he seriously contemplates returning home to Iowa. He meets a handsome street artist who offers him kindness in a vulnerable moment.

Enzo is quintessentially Italian. Manning captured the Italian ethos brilliantly. They can be so passionate, playful, charming, vibrant, offer brilliant insights and most are vocal and yet... va bene or as Eddie Izzard put it, "Ciao". A very odd and yet somehow comforting dichotomy.

Enzo is planning to attend art school in the fall, but in the meantime must make as much money sketching Firenze landmarks for the tourists. Most of his days are filled with repeatedly painting the Duomo for Americans but the evenings are filled with Chris, pronounced Ca-riss (rolled R). *eyebrow waggle*

There relationship blooms and grows but the possibility of an intercontinental relationship looming puts them on opposing ends of how to handle it.
"We do not know our future selves. We do not know who we become. We only know who we are now. We must love with these bodies, with these thoughts, and with this heart we share, right now. The future will come."

It's a daunting prospect to risk your heart for a 2 month fling that seemingly has no future, but Chris and Enzo forge ahead despite Chris' reservations. They have hiccups along the way. They don't see eye to eye. Their differences seem to be too great at times, but 90% of the time they fit. That other 10% just adds interest. It gives their relationship that touch of realism rather than glossing over their differences in pursuit of an unbelievable HEA.

The prose is lovely as is the dialogue. I loved how they tease each other and have the "date" running joke. Manning has a writing style that's very descriptive and emotive that drew me in almost immediately. My only niggle is both of them sounded alike which I found strange given their dissimilar heritages. All the Florentine aspects just enriched the experience-the Arno, the Ponte Vecchio, the trattorias, the steak, the light as it changes from day to night were all captured splendidly.

That epilogue sent it over the top. I think my allergies attacked. >____> Briefly.

 photo tumblr_mkfsif7vjr1s5b175o1_500_large_zpscxwjjx6e.jpg

So, what does it mean to love like a Medici?


“To risk building a future,” Enzo said softly. “Knowing you might break your heart in the process.”

Maybe not.

I'm sure the Florentines discuss it over a good meal with wine aplenty and each and every one will have a different and entirely justifiable answer.

Who knows? But I loved it as a theme.

Maybe risotto for dinner.

Thanks to Mr. Manning and his team for this enchanting addition to the LOR event

Lorix: Love Like the Medici by Edmond Manning:
The conflicting feelings overwhelmed him, throwing him into chaos, as life-changing emotions ripped through him. He felt he finally understood how small he was, how nothing, a self-aware blade of grass standing in this tic of time. He felt unnerved and undone.
This is possibly my favourite DRitC read this year. It is just stunningly beautiful and honest, and I could not put it down. I adored both Chris (Ca-riiis) and Enzo. They were so different in personality yet worked so wonderfully together.

Chris, highly attached to the virtual world, took a step into reality and booked himself a two month holiday in Italy. This man was so unbelievably out of his comfort zone. As much as he adored the Italian culture, art and architecture, there was a big - no huge - part of him that felt he could experience them almost as well online. I mean, the internet is a wonderful place, the world is there available on screen for you in the safety and comfort of your own home - in your comfort zone - and Chris loved his comfort zone. I totally understand this. TOTALLY.

He did it though. He stepped out of his comfort zone and went to Italy... and was rewarded for his bravery by having his most prized possession stolen from him. At this point in the story I just fell in love with Edward Manning's words. He portrayed Chris' anxiety, anger and despair so bloody brilliantly, I was feeling it as well. He put into words exactly how I would have felt in the same situation. He didn't tell me, he made me experience it. The desire to just leave. To cry. To not cry and smash something. To yell at all the people sympathetically standing around who were doing nothing to get his stuff back. As much as we say 'oh it is only a computer, it is only stuff' it really wasn't to Chris. That machine and phone were his whole world. **And here I send a virtual hug to all my online friends, because, you know what, I may not 'see' you in everyday life, but in many ways I have a lot more in common with you all than the people I do see. It's a modern phenomenon, but it's real.** 

Enzo though, the Italian street artist, he doesn't do technology. For him life is there for the taking. Right there. The tangible reality in front of him. He doesn't understand Chris' virtual world - but he doesn't dismiss it out of hand. He takes the time to show Chris there is more than the online world and he shows Chris that there is more to him (Chris) than Chris realises. As they explore the beautiful Florence together they learn that life is too big to be put into neat little boxes. 

Florence is as much part of this story as the two MCs. I've never been, but I feel as though I have. I want to see and experience it for myself after reading this story. God it's so beautiful - and all the pictures I saw of it were painted by Edward Manning's words.

This story is poetic and insightful and, above all, a proper love story. I know for sure I will read it again. I want to read it again now, just writing this review. I'm sure I'll find more with each re-read. My words cannot do it justice, it is plainly, just beautiful.

Thank you so much for this amazing contribution to the DRitC event.


  1. Thank you so much for such a lovely, lovely review! Wow. Both reviews made me blush. :-)

  2. You're welcome - thank you for my favourite story of the event so far!!