This is a round up of the books I read on the 4rd quarter of this year that I’m too lazy to do a full review.
A True Lover’s Story: Wood – A.E. Via
This isn’t a romance about billionaires, movie stars, or models. This is a story of two ordinary, working-class men, dealing with life’s real problems, and trying to find love along the way.
It’s been a long seventeen years but Herschel Wood Jr. is finally a free man and he’s looking forward to reconnecting with his old cellmate, Bishop Stockley, who promised him a place to stay and some help getting back on his feet. Wood had a good life once upon time when he’d owned one of the most successful tattoo shops on the Virginia Beach Oceanfront – until a fatal accident that was his fault cost him everything.
Now at forty-six years old, all Wood wants is to work in another shop on the beach and find a mature, easygoing man to settle down with. But when he gets to his new place and finds he has to share the small trailer with Bishop’s childhood friend, he wasn’t expecting a sexy, smart-mouthed brat that enjoys pushing a man to his limits.
Wood pressed in tight until there was only misunderstanding between them, his mouth mere inches from Trent’s parted lips. “You wanted to get a reaction out of me you annoying, immature little shit… now you’ve got one.”
Trent Armstrong has never been considered a catch. He’s a twenty-nine year old laborer, an ex-con, and not the easiest person to get along with. He’s used to being the one people cast to the side when they’re done with him. Everyone he’s ever cared about has walked out of his life without a backward glance, so he’s used to the loneliness. His foul mouth and quick temper are a great defense mechanism and an easy way to hide his hurt.
From the moment the tattooed, silver-haired man walked into the house there had been nothing but tension, side-eyeing, and sparks between them. Trent has always held back a side of himself that he’s terrified to explore, and without warning Wood’s voice, his maturity, that maddening scent, and even his damaged past all trigger feelings that Trent thought he’d buried deep long ago.
Trent went completely still when Wood dragged his nose over his forehead and down the side of his face. His voice was shaky, and his breaths were hot and swift along Wood’s throat. “What the hell are you doing?”
“I’m doing what you want me to do.” Wood whispered. “I’m playing your bullshit game, Trent.”
The True Lover’s Stories are connected standalones. Each title features a different couple but will contain previously mentioned characters.
No multiple pairings. No cliffhangers. Ends with a HEA.
Note: This is a steaming agnsty, age gap, new-to-love romance.
Trigger Warning: AA Recovery
Wood is the second book of the True Lover’s Stories. Readers of Book 1, Bishop, knew Trent Armstrong as the titular character’s hot-headed, mouthy bestfriend. By all accounts, the man was into girls. It took a silver fox ex-con with beautiful tattoos for him to admit, that might not be exactly the case.
Herschel Wood Jr was mentioned in the first book as Bishop‘s beloved mentor. After almost two decades, he was finally released from prison. Now it’s time to pick up whatever’s left of his old life. Bishop‘s dad, Mike, offered to rent him his trailer. He’s to be rooming with a young ex-con who hated him at first sight but was also giving that certain unmistakable look that pinged Wood’s gaydar.
I was excited for Trent’s story. He was an interesting character. He’s practically a brother to Bishop and a second son to Mike. He’s doofus and has a temper but his antics were entertaining. I wanted to see how this dork deals with his gay-for- you moment.
I loved how Wood and Trent found their common ground despite their many differences. One was a mature, levelheaded former tattoo artist who wants to reclaim his lost art, the other was a bratty construction worker with a penchant for jazz music. Both a bit broken and a little lonely and realized they enjoyed each other’s company if they, well, Trent really (because this guy is an idiot), were honest with themselves.
I really liked Wood’s explanation when said he would choose a cactus tattoo to represent Trent and it’s not because he’s prickly. It showed how perceptive the older man was, seeing through Trent’s bluster to his core.
For all his faults, Trent’s loyalty shone through. When Wood’s demons got the better of him, it was him who doggedly nursed the other man back to health. Those scenes were the best parts of Trent.
For Wood, the author went out of her way to emphasize the age difference, giving descriptions of how prison aged the character. This is different from the usual route most authors take where they tend to highlight how youthful the older man looks despite his age. It’s also more realistic which I appreciated.
Wood has gone through and done a lot but he’s not jaded. He still has some optimism left, enough to give him strength to start anew. He has the kind of grace that comes with age and wisdom. Fine wine indeed. With that, he’s also in denial about his alcoholism.
The book tackled the struggles ex-cons go through once they regain their freedom. We follow Wood as he goes about finding a job, deal with discrimination, meet people from his past, and tie up the loose ends. The story executed this theme well.
I wanted to like this story more but unfortunately, the thing plodded along oh so slowly, especially the first half. If I thought Bishop was slow, the pace here made it a real struggle to keep going. I even put the book on hold for a couple of months.
Trent’s development, from antagonistic to civil to interested to committed, was done believably and progressed at a good pace. It’s just that the writing made things feel slow. I gave it a go once in a while until I hit the point where things moved faster, which was around the second half.
The last stretch could have been done better. The scheming ex felt forced, so were the petty jealousy. The most ridiculous part for me was the ending where out of the blue, Mike, who is straight and has a serious girlfriend, suddenly had the hots for a young, sex-addicted twink. It seemed like a ploy just so the next book will be connected to the rest. Do we really need another gay-for-you, age-gap story for this series?
Wood might not have gone about it fast enough but it delivered the angst, the hurt comfort, the redemption and the happy ever after for two men who very much deserved their second chance. It didn’t exactly set my world on fire but I still liked it overall.
3 Stars – not exactly setting my world on fire but I liked it
Wood can be read as a standalone but I recommend meeting the wonderful Edison, whose old world charm and culinary magic won the heart of an equally awesome and talented man. Bishop is really great and his story is much better. Check out my review here.
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Heaven and Hell Club: Forgotten – Colette Davison
Can he build a future, when he’s forgotten his past?
Jared has fought hard to achieve something close to ‘normal’. Needing to get away from his well meaning but suffocating family, he follows a message he wrote on a scrap of paper to a new city, hoping to find a missing piece of his past.
When Kyrone, a cocky pole dancer at the Heaven and Hell Club, saunters into the tattoo parlour Jared works in, his life is turned upside down again. A passionate one night stand turns into something unexpected for both men. But life is never simple as they work out if they can have a future beyond what has been forgotten.
Forgotten is an MM romance with hurt/comfort, a small age gap, and two men who need to learn to be true to themselves. It is the second book in the Heaven and Hell Club series and, whilst it can be read as a standalone, works better if read after Broken
Imagine waking up one day with no memory of your past. Your family and friends are strangers, your life a complete blank.
That’s what happened to Jared. He was in a car accident and suffered traumatic brain injury that resulted in retrograde amnesia. With his past erased, he had to start life all over again.
If I thought Jag’s book was angsty, Jared’s book was much more intensely emotional. Copious amounts of tears were shed and you got to hand it to Piers Ryman, his voice acting knocked it out of the park. He effectively wrung out all the emotions off every scene.
This was also a book where I felt the pain, literally. As a result of his brain injury, Jared suffers from recurring headaches and migraines. Something I also suffer from and was experiencing while listening to the audiobook. I never felt as in tune with a character as I was with Jared right at that moment.
I loved how strong Jared is. He had the courage to rebuild his life and try to live as normally as he could despite all the hurdles he had to overcome daily. He’s a talented tattoo artist. He’s also very conscious of the fact that he might have hurt other people because he couldn’t be his old self that they wanted him to be or he might have done something wrong in the past that he just couldn’t remember.
Kyrone was exactly the man for Jared. At first, I was kinda meh about him. I mean, who calls himself an adonis, for fuck’s sake? AND tattoos it on his chest! But Kyrone revealed a deeply nurturing side of his personality that endeared himself, the kind who’s ready to drop everything when his boyfriend needs him. And he’s ready to do it anytime, anywhere too. Attaboy!
It’s not all angst and tears. There’s a lot of fluff in this book too. Kyrone wins the award for the best date idea ever for his brilliant ‘let’s play spies’ game. It tops Michael’s indoor picnic/star-gazing date idea from Broken.
And speaking of Michael, him and Jag were in for a surprise at Jared’s appearance. It went down as a catastrophic mess but happily, in the end, poor Jag finally had his closure.
The supporting characters were really great too. There were more page-time for the other dancers of the club. The other characters present were Jared’s kind-hearted boss from the tattoo parlor and his family.
The latter one threw me in for a loop because I was expecting them to be the villainous antagonist. Initial impressions confirmed it to be so until it was slowly revealed they were much more than what they appeared to be.
Forgotten could be read as a standalone but I recommend reading book 1, Broken, to fully appreciate the connection between the characters. And most especially because Colette Davison writes outstanding people. They are what makes me come back to Heaven and Hell Club time and time again. They go through so much and your heart breaks for them. They emerge stronger, happier and their joy resonates with you.
Do read if you like stories featuring cocky tattoos, jumper cuddles and enlightened seagulls.
Thank you to Gay Book Promotions and Audible UK for giving me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits