Lenni Reviews: "Rainbow Gap" by Lee Lynch

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated 18+

This sweeping novel follows Jaudon Vicker and Berry Garland's relationship over the course of 15 years. Set in Florida during the 1950's and 1960's, the book starts from their childhood when the classically girly girl Berry protects the boyish Jaudon from bullying classmates. We are along on their journey through college, Vietnam, even the budding LGBT community all while they stay bonded in a deep and powerful relationship.

You can feel in every word how much love was put into this book. The setting is real enough that you feel transported back in time and the level of detail becomes hypnotic. However, this book also gets bogged down in those details and the actual story slows to a crawl. When the plot moves, dear gods this book is beautiful. Otherwise, you feel every inch of those 342 pages. It's worth it though to get the full impact of Jaudon and Berry's journey. 3.9 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Leo Loves Aries" by Anyta Sunday

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated 18+

Twins Theo and Leone have both lost their significant others to each other. Theo's girlfriend and Leone's boyfriend paired off and the twins decide to lick their wounds with school work and junk food; until their wedding invitation arrives in the mail. They both agree to show they've moved on by not only attending the wedding but choosing dates for each other. When Jamie Cooper applies to be their roommate, Theo thinks he's perfect for his sister but finds Jamie so infuriatingly amusing that their friendship deepens to something more.

As far as "gay for you" romances go, this one does it right. I've read too many of these where the straight guy has all these icky feelings about another man's naughty bits and has to get over that because he's attracted to a specific man. Here, Theo had dated only women in the past and considered himself hetero but Jamie as a person, sparks his interest. Theo doesn't stress about his orientation or how he can't understand being sexually attracted to another male; all he knows is he adores Jamie. This makes their pairing all the more genuine and it was easy to get invested in what's happening to them.

As for the rest of our cast of characters, they are all written very well so they feel real; flaws and all. The steamier scenes are placed perfectly within the narrative, despite the short courtship. You don't get the sense Theo and Jamie tumble around randomly just because there hasn't been a sex scene in a while. They make an adorable couple to follow on their journey and the ending is sweet and satisfying.

If I had a gripe, it would be some unexplored bits like Theo's fear of water and you don't get to know the ex's very well. I thought the water would come into play in the climax of the story and other than Theo's ex - Sam - being thoughtless, they don't get much back story. Those are VERY minor criticisms and didn't take away from my enjoyment of this book.

If "gay for you" is your thing and you want a fairly lighthearted M/M romance, I recommend this. Theo and Jamie are just all around fun to read. 4 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Better with Bacon" by Matthew Lang

*This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated for 18+

David, Patrick, and Li Ling have been a trio for years; with Patrick and Li Ling dating since high school. Two weeks before Valentine's Day, Li Ling dumps Patrick and ends up in David's bed. But Li Ling calls the next morning and she's pregnant. Assuming Patrick will go back to her, David takes a job assignment out of town to drown his sorrows in work and random hookups. Will these friends turned lovers come together or is all hope lost?

What's great about this book is having a collection of decent people. It is such a trope to have randomly bitchy or manipulative people in order to make the main characters look even better but here, the characters act SO rational, I almost didn't believe it at times. I think I have gotten too used to massive irrationality in my love stories...

It's also great to see a more multicultural cast. More stories need more non-white characters.

Now, I will freely admit I requested this title to review because, bacon. Bacon is amazing. So, my biggest gripe is that bacon wasn't shamelessly crammed into the plot as much as possible. But that's just because I'm silly. Other than that, my only other gripe is how some characters are too rational in some areas and not rational enough in others. David runs off without talking to Patrick AT ALL. He could have waited 10-20 minutes but then again, the rest of the book wouldn't have happened.

All in all, this was a cute read! I enjoyed it and give it a 3.5 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Counting to Zero" by A. J. Quinn

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated 18+

The NSA orders Dr. Emma Thorpe to put together a team of hackers - off the books - in order to help the US government fight cyber terrorism. One of the people tapped is Paxton James, currently in an Indonesian jail because she was set up for a crime she didn't commit. Paxton is willing to deal as long as it gets her out of jail and it doesn't hurt that Emma is hot. But trust won't come easy to the betrayed Pax or the hardened agent Thorpe and they must learn to deal with their mounting attraction and fight a cyber criminal with ties to Pax's criminal past.

If you like your romances a little slow, this is a good example of the main couple having an instant attraction but not the insta-love so many romance novels tend to use as a trope. The situation these characters are in gives them some real issues to deal with so the real focus of this novel is the cyber crime. Quinn has created some smart, interesting, and fun characters who are a pleasure to get to know but somehow, it all comes off a little rushed. Granted, they're chasing a cyber-criminal trying to kill people so it's not like they have time to sit around and have tea to discuss their feelings. There is enough here to enjoy a quick, romantic thriller with some strong female characters. If I had one real gripe, it's that Pax must be part terminator because every ten seconds she's getting injured and recovers unrealistically fast. 3.8 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Whiskey Business" by Avon Gale

*This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated for 18+.

In order to get his hometown some much-needed money, Ryder Waites is selling his family's whiskey recipe to a company named Bluegrass Bourbon. To seal the deal, he has to convince a hard-assed representative from the company; Adam Keller. Keller is out to prove he can get by on his own merits and not rely on his rich family's money and reputation. As the stuffy Adam audits the distillery, their attraction grows. But Adam doesn't want to get attached as this is supposed to be a quick business trip and nothing more.

At 17% I had snorted laughter out loud at the sentence "That sort of dislike-to-lovers thing only happened in Harry/Draco fanfic." I have read way more of those than I care to admit before I grew out of that to... Well, books like these.

The story generally follows that formula, though. Couple meets, instant attraction, hot smexy times, misunderstanding, reunion and resolution. What sets this story apart is the setting. The town of Gallows Grove feels like the real star here with its fun residents and pun laden business names. The writing gives this place real heart and makes it come alive around our two very likable leads. A perfectly serviceable romance with a fun setting, I give this a 4 out of 5. 

Lenni Reviews: Beauty and the Clockwork Beast by Nancy Campbell Allen

In this book, we meet the intelligent and strong-willed Lucy Pickett and the brooding, enigmatic Lord Blackwell. As this story is set within the classic framework of Beauty and the Beast, our two main characters fulfill their intended roles. Where the creativity lies in this book is the steampunk and fantasy elements Allen has woven into the narrative; introducing classic steampunk tropes as goggles and airships as well as werewolves and vampires. 

Lucy and Blackwell meet because Lucy's cousin has fallen ill and Lucy refuses to leave her side until she discovers the truth. As she is a researcher and familiar with plant-based remedies, Lucy stays with her cousin at Blackwell's manor. Meanwhile, Lord Blackwell is hiding a secret from the world and someone is  attempting to blackmail him; and rumors surrounding the mysterious deaths of his wife and sister put him in a dangerous position. As the mystery unfolds, the pair predictably fall in love, but as predictable as it is - this is a romance novel, after all - Lucy is an interesting character to read about and Lord Blackwell's reasons for being curt and brash are grounded in reality. He's not angsty for angst's sake and his transformation from 'beast' into a man Lucy can love is believable. 

The steampunk and fantasy elements are a good portion of the story, so while the elements of a historical romance are there if you're not into the paranormal or steampunk, those parts of the story may put you off. They do fit seamlessly into the world building and make a generic romance that much more exciting. Of course, it really helps that none of the women are simpering debutantes and the men aren't empty, emo sacks of angst in frock coats. They are all well rounded with solid motivations despite the fantastical setting. If you like your romances sweet, non-smutty, and with some interesting tech, Allen's book is a treat! Alas, you shall have to wait until August 2nd, 2016 to get your little hands on it.

Lenni Reviews: Because You Despise Me by J. S. Cook

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In this novella, the setting is Morocco in 1941. WWII is in full swing and a German courier winds up dead in a brothel in the city of Mariff. Police chief Nicholas Renard suspects the brothel owner, Jacob Plenty, knows more about the killing than he lets on. However, Renard has been in love with Jacob ever since they served together during the war and is involved with the Free French underground movement; two things that could easily land Renard in a concentration camp. Both Jabob's and Renard's pasts collide with the danger looming in the form of Major Danzing; a fanatical sadist sent to investigate the murder.

This book is short and sweet. It has as much intrigue and sentiment as a WWII spy flick and was enjoyable to read. Every man has believable secrets to keep and pain to hide, making the ending all the more bittersweet. Bear in mind, this is a male/male romance so there's some man lovin' in this book. If you're looking for some historical romance for your pleasure in this romantic month, J.S. Cook has a nice one for you here. A bit short for the price ($6.99 on Kindle) but I can't say I'd regret spending the time or money on this original and satisfying story. 

Lenni Reviews: "Bane" by Amelia C. Gormley

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I must have said a dozen or so times in my tenure as a book reviewer here that I'm going to be writing a review for you guys for the second book in a series without having read the first one. Well, surprise! Bane is the sequel to Strain, which I have indeed read! I happened upon it in one of my free ebook newsletters so when I saw this book in my review box, I snatched it up.

Bane follows the further adventures of Rhys Cooper, a man with a strange immunity to the virus which has ravaged the planet. The virus has three strains that do three different things: infect you with a disease called Rot, turn you into a monster called a revenant, or a super-human they call Juggernauts (or Jugs for short). Scientists in the Clean Zone have caught wind of Rhys' immunity and asked him to be a test subject for a possible vaccine but his partner; Darius Murrel, and the rest of Delta Company don't trust the government. It is the same government that developed this virus, had the Jugs fight for them, then banished them from society.

While as steamy (read: smutty) as the first book, Bane focuses more on the twisted story of trying to find a cure and a safe place for uninfected people and the Jugs they fear. With the virus in the book is so virulent, transmission and risk of another outbreak is a constant concern. The tension surrounding a possible vaccine, how it will effect the balance in the word, and whether or not it will even work, was the most riveting part for me, and I look forward to a sequel if Gormley has one in the works.

As for the M/M romance aspect of it, Rhys and Darius are pretty well established as a couple. The main romantic conflict comes from characters introduced in a different book; Nico Fernandez and Zach Houtman. Nico is a Jug and Zach is one of the doctors working with Rhys on a cure. Kept apart for a decade by Nico's infection, they are thrown together again. Their possible reconciliation is the backdrop to a well built, post-apocalyptic landscape.

To sum it all up, Gormley has sharp world building skills and a red hot pen for her erotic portions of her books. If you like your M/M romance with a sci-fi bent, Bane is a welcome addition.

If you like Lenni’s reviews; she also has her own writing posted at www.atthequillsmercy.com

The Fault in Our Stars Review

Although my mom is a survivor of breast cancer, I was away at sleep away camp though her worst cycles of chemo so I have a slightly warped view of her struggles. In the last couple years I dove into several novels, plays and movies involving cancer patients and survivors trying to get an idea of what she went through. A standout for me from the moment I picked it up is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. The movie was released this past June and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber stayed extremely close to the novel’s plot line as well as overall tone.

Set in Indianapolis The Fault in Our Stars is both a heart warming and wrenching story about a sardonic, quick witted teenager names Hazel Grace Lancaster, played by Shailene Woodley (Divergent, The Secret Life of the American Teenager). Hazel has been suffering from terminal thyroid cancer that has metastasized to her lungs. Her mother fears she is becoming depressed and urges her to go to support group. Although reluctant to contribute to the group at first, a statement made by Augustus Waters, played by Ansel Elgort (Divergent, Carrie), who is in remission from a cancerous bone tumor that cost him part of his leg. He says his fear is oblivion, peeks her interest. Hazel's response perfectly illustrates that she has come to terms with the fact that death especially at this stage of her cancer in inevitable. Intrigued by her eloquent response Augustus, known to his friends as Gus begins to fall in love.

Unlike other films featuring characters on the brink of death, The Fault in Our Stars isn’t looking for pity. John Green wanted to show that these young teens are exactly that young teens. The perfect delineation is the cut scenes of Hazel continually looking at her iPhone willing there to be a text message from Augustus the day after they met. A ritual every single girl can relate to. These teens are extremely fun, strong and diverse. Augustus, for the most part, no matter the diagnoses is an upbeat hilarious guy who strives to affect the people around him in a positive way. His friend Isaac, played effortlessly by Nat Wolff (Stuck in Love, The Naked Brothers Band), even after losing  both his eyes to cancer is quick to follow up with a sardonic joke.

The love story between Hazel Grace and Augustus is a timeless tale of fate coming in and screwing everything up. The distinct animated characters however make this film a tear-jerking love story that will endure for years to come!

Get the tissues ready! The Fault in Our Stars come to Blu Ray/DVD/Digital Download on Tuesday September 16th.

Lenni Reviews: Ink by Amanda Sun

Imagine life as you know it ends and you are dropped in a strange country where you barely know the language and a strange boy at school has drawings that come to life and attack you. Welcome to the life of Katie Greene; the unfortunate heroine of Amanda Sun's "Ink." After Katie's mother dies, she's sent to Japan to live with her aunt. With a rusty grasp of the language and customs, Katie struggles through school and tries to make some friends. She finds herself attracted to the resident bad boy, Tomohiro, who has these strange moving sketches.

This novel reads like a shojo manga; lost girl meets lost boy, one of the two is magical. and they fall in devoted love faster than the sakura bloom and fall. Most YA novels are following this pattern these days but the premise is very original and kept me reading despite how unrealistic the romance was to me. 

The love story was the only part of this book I didn't have complete fun with. I loved the descriptions of regular life in Japan as Katie gets used to an entire new set of cultural norms. Even adjusting to the food was noted which was fascinating. You really get the sense of friction and frustration as a complete gaijin is thrust into a world she barely understands. However, ALL the boys wanna know Katie, she's just the girl everyone wants to date. I'm sure there's the draw of the exotic; the excitement of a foreign girl with blonde hair as a fresh transfer student is bound to draw the attention of all the other kids. But I still had trouble finding the romance believable. They were in love and willing to die for one another so fast, I had to take a moment to catch up.

Then again, I think the same about most shojo manga and the stories are designed to be that way; a light, whirlwind romance with the spice of danger of the supernatural. It's a fun, simple read that will talk to the heart of every young girl dreaming of an otherworldly bishonen to fall in love with. I recommend this to any fan of shojo who is looking for a novel along the same lines.

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Lenni Reviews: Girl Friends The Complete Collection 1 & 2

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Any manga fan knows about yaoi and possibly knows about yuri as well. Alas, finding yuri as good as some of the yaoi out there is hard. Many yuri titles have the main female characters in a sister type relationship, where any romance is implied or strongly hinted at. It never gets as hot and heavy as yaoi, where the boys are boning so fast, they may or may not know each others names. Not to say this is a bad thing but it hardly seems fair, right?

"Girl Friends" by Milk Morinaga was a very pleasant surprise. In the two volumes, we see the shy Mariko Kamakura become fast friends with the outgoing Akiko Ohashi. As their friendship develops, Mariko finds her feelings deepening to much more than friendship and in classic manga style, they both fumble around each other till it’s all worked out.

Unlike anime like "Maria Watches Over Us" or manga like "Strawberry Panic," there is no question as to what sort of relationship these girls are in. They are in love and attracted to one another and the manga doesn't hesitate to show it (hence the 16+ rating). The art is classic manga, complete with super deformed cuteness that is sure to melt your teeth with sweetness. Half the time I was rooting for the couple, the other half I wanted to just squish all the characters for being too damned adorable.

If you are looking for a cute yuri manga where the characters are explicitly romantically involved and you want a cute, light-hearted story, I think "Girl Friends" is worth the pick up. Watch out for some intense lovin' in volume 2.