Review: Controlled Burn by Erin McLellan

At eighteen, Joel Smith’s life fell to pieces. His boyfriend died in a car crash while reading a sext from him, the local newspaper outed them both in the aftermath, and his parents got a divorce. Joel did everything possible to outrun his past: he moved to Oklahoma for college, legally changed his name, and started over.

Since then, he hasn’t let anyone get close—not his classmates, not his roommate, and definitely not his hookups. The strategy has served him well for over three years. Why would he change it now?

But Joel doesn’t plan on the articles about his boyfriend’s death being used as a case study in one of his classes. And he doesn’t plan on Paulie McPherson, who is sweet and giving and fun. In Paulie, he finds a home for the first time in years.

But love isn’t simple, and lies have a tendency to get in the way. Joel must figure out if he’ll allow his grief to rule him, or if his connection with Paulie is worth letting all of his walls come tumbling down.

Ever have one of those reading experiences where everything just clicks? When all the words and sentiments expressed feel like a shared secret? That makes you reminisce on those conversations you've had in the middle of the night when it seemed easier to share all those random things that whirl around in your brainpan, so simple yet somehow profound?

That was this read for me.

I started reading the excerpt on Riptide's site just to see if it would suit me and within the first chapter I started to have that feeling. I tried to hold out once I got the ARC, wait to read and review it until closer to release day but it had its hooks in me and I needed to know.

Controlled Burn is told entirely through Joel. It's about him letting go of his grief and guilt and learning to live and love again. He'll never be the boy who was in love with his team's first baseman that had dreams of walking on the team at University of Nebraska together. He'll never be Jared again. But he can start again, be someone new, live an honest and open life with someone thoroughly unexpected. If he'll give himself a break and stop being so stubborn. 

Joel, at first glance, struck me as the prototypical protagonist who's suffered a terrible loss-closed off, only looking for anonymous sex to lessen the pain of losing his first love-but as this story unfolded so did his layers.

The complexity of not just his emotions but his behaviors resonated. He's not predictable nor is he perfect but his vulnerability spoke to me. He's put Diego and their halcyon days together on a pedestal which I think many are wont to do with someone who dies unexpectedly and so young. He's found comfort in this routine and created a life for himself albeit an isolated one. And then came Paulie.

He looked like home, and nothing had looked like home in a very long time.

Paulie is everything Diego wasn't. He's femme, out and proud, demonstrative, sassy and a bit audacious. He has a presence, makes no apologies for who he is nor does he hide how he feels about Joel. He has his fair share of baggage in the form of a hyper-religious family that wanted him to pray the gay away then ousted him at 14. Paulie is so strong in so many ways but just beneath the surface lies an innocence, a fragility. He's whatever the male version of a steel magnolia is.

Joel is in equal measures crazy in love with Paulie and terrified of what that means.

Theirs is an all consuming love but there is a secret that the longer it's left unspoken, the greater the risk is it will blow them apart. For a romance addict like me there were so many quiet moments between them that were superbly written emotionally yet happen in such realistic and austere ways that made them accessible and will undoubtedly lead to a reread in the future. Both the showing of their connection and the caliber of the exposition of these characters were top-notch.

Even if I didn't have the balls to say it, I could press my love into his skin like a tattoo, burn it into his memory so he would never forget it.

Sex is an integral part of their relationship. For me, it wasn't about the sex so much as it was about the emotionality of it and what it means for both of them. Why they have an insatiable need for the physical connection and a compulsion to leave their marks on each other. There are a couple of scenes that are memorable for their intimacy, but by and large what I will remember is the overpowering tenderness, the withholding and the unspoken yet utterly heartfelt emotions all corkscrewed together with a fiery passion.

In a weird way Diego is what brings them together and what could tear them apart. His loss is a sore than needs lancing in the worst way, and I appreciated that nothing about doing so was easy for Joel. Diego was his first love and even though he loves Paulie with every part of himself that doesn't diminish what he had with Diego. All too often it seems the norm to minimize past relationships so it was refreshing to see the road less traveled taken here.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the secondary characters. First and foremost, the Midwest. Both Joel and Paulie are born and raised in the Nebraska/Kansas area and they're going to school in Oklahoma. As a fellow red state dweller, I appreciated the atmosphere McLellan created, how important it is to both of them to stay because in spite of the politics and the redneckery it's still their home and has a beauty they both can't imagine living without.

And then there's Travis and Alex and David McDavid and Aunt Ruth and Daria all of whom got under my skin. Even their parents as much as I abhorred their parenting, they weren't made into villainous caricatures, just human. I was so happy to learn of a sequel with Travis and (hopefully) his ginger cowboy. May there be much spanking! 

Simply put, I loved it and if any of the above gibberish speaks to you then give Controlled Burn a try and hopefully it'll make as much of an impression on you as it did me.

An ARC was provided by NetGalley.

Release Blitz + Giveaway: Letting Go (Love by Design #1) by Morningstar Ashley

Welcome new author Morningstar Ashley to the clubhouse! She's here celebrating her release of debut novel Letting Go (Love by Design #1)!! And she came bearing gifts, a hot excerpt and an equally hot giveaway: a $5 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner!!

Letting Go RDB Banner
Love by Design, Book 1
RELEASE DATE: 07.14.17
Letting Go Cover

COVER ARTIST: Jay Aheer/Simply Defined Art

Years ago, before tragedy struck, Alex made a child’s promise to always protect and care for his little sister, Evie. Then piece by piece, all the good in his life was taken away until Alex was left alone as guardian to his much younger sister. Suffering and loss scarred Alex, causing him to withdraw from the world. Struggling with anxiety and trust issues, Alex attempts to help Evie heal from their shared traumatic past, but each day is harder than the last. To make matters worse, Alex’s best friend, Ben, is pushing him to get out of his rut, confronting him with the fact that what Alex thinks is contentment is just stagnation and fear. The last thing he needs is for an old acquaintance to reappear in his life, making him feel things he hadn’t dealt with in years.
The executive of the marketing department at graphic design firm Vivid, Kelley has his life together. While not perfect, he’s happy with his career and his three best friends. A chance encounter with Alex, the guy he was once attracted to, is icing on the cake. Fighting through Alex’s defenses to find the breathtaking man underneath will be hard, but Kelley is up to the challenge. Kelley believes that the things most worth fighting for never come easy.
To accept all that Kelley is offering means Alex must drop his barriers. Kelley will need to keep trying and prove that Alex can trust him, even when grief and anxiety try to pull him back.

Alex 2

Kelley 2

Pushing him back on the couch Kelley straddled Alex’s body, using his weight to hold the squirmy man in place, Kelley put his hands on Alex’s abs, fingers at his sides as his possessed Alex’s.

Shoving Alex’s shirt up as Alex lifted to give enough room for Kelley to pull the shirt off, dropping it to the floor. Attacking his nipples with teeth and tongue making Alex whimper and moan. Fuck! Hearing those sounds just turned him inside out. Turning the heat between up to lava level.

Moving back up to his neck Kelley sucked, tasted as he reached down with one hand greedily rubbing Alex’s dick through his pants. Running his hand up and down giving him the same of the pressure that Kelley’s throbbing cock was begging for.

“Oh, God.” Alex groaned with a rough edge to his voice as he arched his neck giving Kelley even more room to explore and mark. He wanted his mark on this man. Wanted everyone to see that he was Kelley’s. Fearing that with all the pain locked inside Alex he would never truly be his.

“Your shirt. Take off your shirt. I need to feel your skin.”

Kelley did exactly that.

He flattened Alex to the couch again, pressing their chest together once again, Alex had spread his thighs, Kelley slotted himself right there. Their groins meet and slide together. And holy fucking hell did that feel good. The pressure of Alex’s steel length against his rock hard cock sending relief and pleasure throughout his body.

Alex scratched his nails down his back making him growl. He had his legs bracketing Kelley’s body holding him in place. Like he would be so fucking stupid as to move.

He can feel Alex’s heart jackhammering through his chest. Their breaths panting out between kisses and moans.

What had started out slow had built and built until Kelley wanted to say fuck it and rip Alex’s clothes off to get at every inch of his skin. To have their bodies, slippery from sweat, sliding together.

And just like that Kelley knew exactly what he was going to do. Oh, sweet jesus the thought alone sending lust hurtling to his aching balls, making him want to shoot.

He was going to drive Alex to the brink over and over. Making him forget anything and everything except the need that would be coursing through his body. The need Kelley would put there. Have Alex begging and pleading Kelley to let him come.

Within minutes they lay back on the couch completely naked, kneeling between Alex’s thighs once again. All of Alex’s gorgeous fucking skin on display. His cock seemingly begging for attention, the crown purple and leaking pre-come onto his stomach. Kelley mouth waters with the thought of sliding it between his lips. But not yet.

Unable to stop himself he slipped his hands, fingers spread wide, to his ankles, over his thighs, across his chest. Gliding with the lightest touch around Alex’s erect nipples, back down his arms. Over and over he did this, needing to get his fill of this beautiful man. No one should have this effect on another person. He sat there with a naked Alex in front of him in awe of every lean muscle that pushed up to meet his hands, every scar his traced.

“Kelley,” Alex bites out as his body trembled under Kelley’s gentle touches.

“Yeah, baby. You need something?”

“Fuck. Don’t be an ass. You know want I want.”

Kelley sank back down on top of him. Licking a path up his collarbone to his throat and then their mouths meet stifling any more words that Alex was going to say. Their cocks align perfectly, and Kelley begins to thrust his cock against Alex’s as their kisses turn desperate and needy.

Kelley pulled away, and before Alex could utter a protest, he moved, swallowing his cock to the back of his throat. Letting his saliva pool in his mouth, needing all the wetness he could get for the slide of their cocks. With every groan that Alex had let out Kelley’s cock would twitch and throb tightening to epic proportions.

Each time he could feel Alex getting close Kelley would back off. Time and time again bringing him to the brink before pulling his mouth and hand away. Alex would whimper and wiggle, unable to lay still. He was so out of it that he words were reduced to grunts and groans.

When Kelley was satisfied that he had sufficiently teased Alex, he pulled off his cock with a pop. Using the spit that was now covering his hand, he coated his own cock with it before laying on top of Alex, lining their cocks up.

His body fitting tightly to Alex’s. Wrapping one arm around Alex’s shoulders, holding as close to him as he could, both needing the closeness this position gave them. Kelley began thrusting his cock against Alex’s.

“I’ve got you, baby. Just feel.”

Profanities had started to spill from Alex’s mouth. Kelley’s whole body was so overwhelmed by the slide and friction of their cocks he felt like he could’ve blown his load at any moment, hoping that Alex was feeling even a silver of what he was.

Alex had begun to counter thrust, writhing his tight body under Kelley. His head was tipped back, the muscles of his neck corded and straining.

“That’s it, baby. Let go.”

Morningstar Ashley is a transplant from the Yankee-controlled territory of New York, and now finds herself in the heartland of cowboys and longhorns—Texas. Armed with her imagination, wit, and trusty sidekicks in the form of her two crazy kids, devoted dorky husband, big lap dog, and rambunctious cats, Morningstar spends her time reading the books she loves, crafting her own characters, and arguing the merits of hot chocolate over the bitter brew known as coffee (Hot chocolate wins, FYI.).
Morningstar loves graphic design, so much so she returned to school for a degree and regularly tromps her exams and maintains a stellar GPA that occasionally leaves her confounded and pleased. She can while away the hours on new designs, and perfection isn’t too much to hope for when it comes to her art.
Her ideal career would be full-time artist and author, and so far, she hasn’t come up against anything to stop her on her journey. A fierce and devoted friend, Morningstar tries her best to always be kind, always be learning, and always improving. Giving up isn’t an option, and her greatest talent may be in her ability to convince others not to give up, either. After a lifetime of trying to get people to realize her first name wasn’t Ashley, Morningstar decided the best way to settle the debate was to put her name on a book cover. An avid reader and fiction reviewer for the blog and site Diverse Reader, Morningstar harbored a dream to one day join the ranks of her heroes, and she sweeps into the contemporary gay romance genre with her debut novel, LETTING GO. With plans to conquer gay, lesbian and LGBTQA+ romance, Morningstar has her gaze set on the horizon, her determination her own guiding star.

TWITTER: @starzehashley


Review: All In (Wild Cards #3) by Ava Drake

In crime, like in love, there can be no half measures….

Fashion model Zane Stryker needs money—badly. At almost thirty, his glory days are behind him, and he needs capital to start over. When his luggage is switched with a bag containing contraband he’s forced to deliver, it’s either the worst thing that’s ever happened to him… or the best.

Enter Sebastian Gigoni, formerly of the British Special Forces, who has to decide just where Zane’s loyalty lies and why. Sizzling attraction erupts between them, but that doesn’t mean they can trust each other. They double down in a race for their lives—and their love—but are their purposes at odds? As they struggle to reconcile their goals, their consciences, and the needs of their hearts, one thing is clear—they must go all in or give up altogether.

It’s a sad day in the reading life of this ginger when a Dreamspun book falls flat.

I can pinpoint one exact thing that didn’t work for me with this one as I loved the first book in the Wild Card series but I couldn’t find that certain something to draw me into this one.

I never felt a connection to neither Zane nor Sebastian and honestly kept mixing up who they were as their names didn’t fit the character and to me should have been switched. There was no chemistry to be had between the two men and the storyline of the hijacked luggage and crime origination bored me to the point I skimmed a good portion of this book.

For me, when you have a series like this it should be an easy read but I so struggled with this book and that makes me sad. The first kiss is one of my most favorite things in romance and when I got to this one, they could have been exchanging coupons in line at the grocery store it was so void of emotion.


That end was over the top insta love and this is coming from someone who digs insta love.
I won’t drag the book through the mud and just say, this one didn’t work for me at all.

An ARC was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Audiobook Review: Again by Mary Calmes

Six years ago, Noah Wheeler went to meet his boyfriend, Dante Ceretto, at the airport, and his world ended. Dante was kissing someone else and claimed to be in love. So Noah took his heartbreak—and the sonogram pictures of their surrogate child—and closed the door on the big picture of what he thought his life would be, focusing instead on the piece of the dream he got to keep, being a father.

Now on vacation in Las Vegas, Noah accidentally runs into Ceretto's family, and then the man himself, and learns that not only was he deceived, but Dante was as well. Now Dante wants to make up for lost time, six years’ worth, and to do that he needs Noah, the only man he’s ever loved, and Grace, the daughter he didn’t know he had, to give him a chance at happiness. Dante’s going to have to take a crash course in communication and seduction, though. Noah’s not going to fall in love just to be broken again.

Listening Length: 2 hours and 3 minutes
Narrator: Nick J. Russo

Reviewer: R *A Reader Obsessed*

Well… *clears throat*

That was quite the hot little number from the infamous Calmes.

I suspect fans of hers would say this is everything one would want and expect.

Noah and Dante have been apart for years, both victims of a horrible manipulative boss interfering with their lives with no remorse or conscience. These two never stopped loving each other despite believing the other wanted out. Fortuitous circumstance allows Noah and Dante to meet up 6 years later and surprise!!! This results, of course, in some very nice proprietary claiming. Oh yeah...

The more I listen to Nick J. Russo, the more I like him. He just keeps getting better and better, bringing this story to life and making it exasperatingly funny and sexy in only the ways Calmes can do so.

I laughed, I swooned, I fanned myself. This totally brought a smile to my face!

Thanks to the author/publisher for the audio in exchange for an upbeat review .

Giveaway + Blog Tour: All Wheel Drive (A Bluewater Bay Novel) by Z.A. Maxfield

It's All Wheel Drive tour day and there's a BOSS giveaway you'll want to enter. See the deets below.

Good luck!

About All Wheel Drive

Healey Holly is battered, depressed, and looking to go to ground in his childhood home. He wants to rent the garage apartment, but it’s Diego Luz’s place now, and the last thing Diego wants is to share it.

Diego is recovering too—from the accident that put him in a wheelchair and the death of his mother shortly after. The garage apartment is where he’s keeping his mother’s things, and as long as they’re up those stairs and he’s down on the ground, there’s no way he can deal with his loss.  And that’s just how he likes it.

Healey believes in science. Diego believes in luck. It will take a blend of both, and some prayer thrown in besides, for these two to learn that it’s the journey and the destination that matters.

Available now from Riptide Publishing!

About Bluewater Bay

Welcome to Bluewater Bay! This quiet little logging town on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula has been stagnating for decades, on the verge of ghost town status. Until a television crew moves in to film Wolf’s Landing, a soon-to-be cult hit based on the wildly successful shifter novels penned by local author Hunter Easton.

Wolf’s Landing’s success spawns everything from merchandise to movie talks, and Bluewater Bay explodes into a mecca for fans and tourists alike. The locals still aren’t quite sure what to make of all this—the town is rejuvenated, but at what cost? And the Hollywood-based production crew is out of their element in this small, mossy seaside locale. Needless to say, sparks fly.

This collaborative story world is brought to you by eleven award-winning, best-selling LGBTQ romance authors: L.A. Witt, L.B. Gregg, Z.A. MaxfieldHeidi Belleau, Rachel Haimowitz, Anne Tenino, Amy Lane, SE Jakes, G.B. Gordon, Jaime Samms and Ally Blue. Each contemporary novel stands alone, but all are built around the town and the people of Bluewater Bay and the Wolf’s Landing media empire.

About ZA Maxfield

Z. A. Maxfield started writing in 2007 on a dare from her children and never looked back.  Pathologically disorganized and perennially optimistic, she writes as much as she can, reads as much as she dares, and enjoys her time with family and friends.  If anyone asks her how a wife and mother of four manages to find time for a writing career, she’ll answer, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you give up housework."

Her published books include Crossing Borders, Epic Award finalist St. Nacho’s, Drawn Together, ePistols at Dawn, Notturno, Stirring Up Trouble, and Vigil.

Readers can visit her website at, and contact her at

To celebrate the release of All Wheel Drive, one lucky winner will receive an ecopy of Hell on Wheels and a $25 Riptide credit! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on July 15, 2017. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!

Release Day Review: Who We Truly Are (Enhanced #2) by Victoria Sue

Talon’s deadly abilities are spiraling out of control. Desperate to keep Finn safe, Talon struggles to protect the man he loves with all his heart, and not become the greatest risk to Finn’s life.

Finn has no choice but to offer himself as bait for the evil forces kidnapping enhanced children, facing danger he is untrained and unprepared for, and he is having to do it alone.

Does Talon have one last fight in him? Will he slay everyone who wants to destroy Finn and the team, or will he finally discover that to defeat their enemy and the ultimate threat, the biggest battle he has to face is one with himself?

This story picks up shortly after the events in Five Minutes Longer.  Young enhanced boys are going missing and it’s up to our heroes to find out why. Talon, still reeling from the effects of the manifestation of his new powers, is trying to come to terms with how he truly feels about Finn.  It doesn’t help that their current mission puts Finn in danger.  He’s terrified that Finn will be hurt, or worse, killed by whomever is behind the kids’ disappearances.  Finn, however, is excited about the mission as it will give him the chance to prove that he really is an asset to the team and show the powers that be (and Talon) that he’s stronger than everyone thinks. 

I’m so happy that we got more of Finn and Talon in this book.  I always felt that their story wasn’t finished at the end of Five Minutes Longer.  Finn, yeah, he was all in almost from the beginning, but Talon still needed to be convinced that someone could actually love him.  He never felt that he deserved to have love.  It was heartbreaking to see him hold everyone at arms-length so he wouldn’t get hurt.

The growth of not only the love between Talon and Finn, but also Finn’s confidence and Talon’s acceptance was a thing of beauty.  They both really shone in this book and I felt like I connected with them on a deeper level.   The secondary characters were fabulous as well.  We got to know the rest of the team better and see more of their individuality.  I can’t wait to read Sawyer, Gael, Vance and Eli’s stories!   Drew though… I’ve got a pot of honey and a fire ant hill with his name on it.  I always knew he was shifty. *glares at Drew*

The plot was engaging and I had a hard time putting the book down.  Though the villain(s) was a bit too mustache-twirly for my tastes they were balanced out well with some surprising allies.  People who I at first thought would be enemies turned out to be more friend than foe and the development of these characters was a delight to read.

I recommend this fast-paced adventure for those thrill-seekers out there who like a bit of excitement and danger mixed in with their romance.  You need to read the first book though, as this is not a stand-alone.  This book, and series, will have you at the edge of your seat, gasping for breath and eager to turn the page so you can find out what happens next.  The writing was superb, the words flowed smoothly, the story was engaging and the character development was out of this world.  I can’t wait to see what the author has in store for us in the next book.  Whatever it is, I’m sure it will be just as fantastic.

ARC provided by the publisher in return for an honest review.