Quick Review: There Galapagos My Heart by Phillip William Stover

There Galapagos My Heart by Phillip William Stover

As a favor to his aunt Penny, Michael agrees to teach painting to the guests on her high-end cruise to the Galapagos Island. What could be the harm in a quick vacation before he moves into his new position as a senior acct. manager at his firm?

In Ecuador, before they set sail, Penny has the visiting faculty introduce themselves to the tourists. Their resident wildlife expert is going to be Benton… Michael’s insufferably handsome, charming, British ex-boyfriend.

He does everything he can to avoid Benton but, as they tour the capital and take photos where the Northern and Southern equators meet, they can no longer postpone the inevitable. They talk and it doesn’t go well. Penny tells them that they’ll be rooming together for the duration of the cruise. Michael just can’t seem to catch a break.

They call a truce and, after the ship sets out to sea, Benton gives his first lecture about the various species that call the Galapagos home. In lesser hands, the presentation would be deadly dull, but the passengers are enthralled by him and Michael realizes that he may not be as over Benton as he once thought.

To avoid dealing with this new revelation, Michael races back to their stateroom and pretends to be asleep. Benton takes his time getting ready for bed, doing a tantalizing strip tease that Michael can’t help but watch through half-closed eyes.

He is so not over him.

After a little schedule manipulation from aunt Penny, Michael joining Benton on an early morning shore excursion to plan the upcoming nature walk for the guests. Their time alone amongst the wildlife is magical, but things quickly take a sour turn when Benton suggest that Michael do a solo show of all the pieces he is sure to paint with the Galapagos as his inspiration.

He thinks he’s being supportive of Michaels’ talent. But Michael only feels the pressure to pursue something that he’s given up. Something he feels he’s failed at.

Back on the boat, there is a telegram waiting for Benton. Michael reads the awkwardly phrased congratulations. It seems Benton is now a father.

Despite the frustrations with his ex, Michael couldn’t help dreaming up romantic second chance scenarios with Benton. But he now has a child with somebody special waiting for him back in England. It was never meant to be with them.

At dinner they reminisce about the old days and Benton opens up about his emotionally distant family and why he cares about animals so much, forcing Michael to realize that he never really appreciated what a good thing he had with Benton.

The next morning Michael teaches his watercolor class. The passengers all seem to enjoy it. Benton as well. In fact, watching him teach so passionately about something he obviously loves has Benton feeling amorous. Once he returns from his onshore nature excursion, they’ll meet in their stateroom, where Benton will show Michael just how romantic he really feels.

Michael uses his downtime to catch up on some work and becomes so wrapped up in accounts and spreadsheets that forgets his scheduled rendezvous with his gorgeous ex.

Penny decides it’s time for a heart-to-heart and explains that being chained to something because it represents (in Michael’s mind) security, might be keeping him from becoming his true self.

After teaching his final watercolor class, Michael goes ashore and finds an art gallery. After talking to the man whose art he admires, he realizes that security ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. It might be time to spread his wings and fly, just like the exotic birds Benton loves to talk about.

Michael quits his job and, after a brief but harrowing health scare, Benton and Michael realize that they’re far better together than they ever were apart.

FYI – Benton, we eventually find out, is the proud poppa of a baby wombat. He was part of the team taking care of the mother wombat in a zoo back in the UK.

This novella is the perfect literary vacation. It’s a super sweet, super tropey tropical romance set in wonderfully unique locale.

One thing I want to quickly mention – I think the character of Michael, in another author’s hands, could have come off as very annoying because he spends an awful lot of the story pushing people away or shoring up the walls that he’s built around his life. Benton and Penny gently nudge him to explore his art more and he’s constantly saying ‘no’ until he finally has this ‘a-ha’ moment at the end of the story.

The way Phillip William Stover uses Michael’s introspection and especially his humor, makes him very likable and very relatable. You understand why he does what he does and thinks the way that he thinks. Overall, I just really loved the story about Michael and Benton, fighting their way back from something that didn’t work before – and most definitely works now.

There Galapagos My Heart is available in both ebook and print formats.

Quick Review: A Cousin to Kiss by Geoffrey Knight

A Cousin to Kiss by Geoffrey Knight

Oliver and his cousin Caleb were inseparable growing up. While attending his sister’s wedding, Oliver is unprepared for the visceral reaction he has seeing his cousin again after all these years. When he receives a note written by his beloved late aunt April, she advises him to be brave and bold with his love.

Caleb received and identical note. Now that the two of them are face to face again, they can no longer deny their attraction. They sneak away to a spare room and are finally able to express the deep unwavering love they feel for one another.

Later, while making a toast to the bride and groom, Oliver references great aunt April’s sage advice. Once you’re brave, bold, and honest with your heart, there’s nothing holding you back from true love.

This erotic short from Geoffrey Knight combines the sexy and the sweet, with just a hint of taboo. While the encounter between our two heroes is undeniably hot, the story also contains a strong message about following your heart. Together, there’s nothing Oliver and Caleb can’t conquer.

A Cousin to Kiss is available in both ebook and paperback formats.


Quick Review: Catching Orion by Sloane Kennedy

Catching Orion by Sloane Kennedy

Ryan doesn’t quite know what to think when an enormous, tattooed, and very sexy hunk shows up at his door, with flowers in hand, insisting that they have a date planned.

Knox has been messaging a great guy through a new dating app, the only problem is that when date night arrives, Ryan has no idea who he is. It’s over before it’s even begun.

But they get to talking and realize a shared love of Shrek is just one of the things they have in common. There’s undeniable chemistry between them and they decide to go on the wine and painting class they won in a raffle.

At the event, Knox is shocked to discover that he knows the nude figure models they’ll be using as painterly inspiration. It’s his meddlesome, but well-meaning great uncle who, along with his husband, have created this elaborate scheme to bring Knox and Ryan together.

After seeing his uncles without their robes, Knox decides a change in venue is in order. He and Ryan take his motorcycle to the coast, lay a blanket on the beach, and cuddle up as they watch the sunrise.

This short by Sloane Kennedy has got humor, heart, and some definite heat. Though the evening for Ryan and Knox did not quite go as planned, they were each able to step out of their respective comfort zones and discover something truly special.

Catching Orion is available in ebook, audiobook, and print formats.

This story was previously titled Atlanta and was part of the Heart 2 Heart Vol. 2 Charity Anthology.

Quick Review: Second Helpings by Brandon Witt

Second Helpings by Brandon Witt

Isaac returns to his small Missouri hometown for his 20th High School reunion. He’s about to ditch the pot-luck get together (yup, it’s that downhome) when in walks the reason he came, Grant.

Isaac and Grant were inseparable growing up, but the day after graduation, Isaac left for New York. Grant stayed behind. They drive around town together, getting a cherry limeade at the drive-in. All the years away seem to slip away and they head back to Grant’s place.

The next morning, Grant treats Isaac to breakfast in bed and convinces him to stay just one more day. They hang out, eating at the diner Grant runs with his sister. Their time together is nice, but Isaac can’t help but be haunted by the reasons he left town decades earlier.

Grant tries to cheer him up by cooking for him and it does the trick, but Isaac can’t resist teasing Grant just a little about his homestyle way of cooking (cream of mushroom soup and mayo et al). There’s a lot of food in this story (more on that later).

It comes out that Grant was married to a woman for many years (he’s now divorced), which causes a minor rift between our heroes since it was Grant’s insistence that they both come out as teenagers that partially pushed Isaac away. They spend one last night in each other’s arms before Isaac drives away the next day.

In flashback that we learn the heartbreaking full story of his difficult family history and why he left Grant behind then, and why he can’t stay now. It’s a real emotional gut punch.

Back in New York a few months later, Isaac is hanging with his bestie trying to recreate the food he experienced in his brief time with Grant. His bestie serves up a reality check. Why is he spending so much time trying to re-create something, when the real thing (the food and the man) is just a phone call away?

Isaac invites him to come for a visit, taking Grant on an admittedly sappy carriage ride through Central Park, where they work out the issues of the past while dreaming up a new future together. Grant has already sold all his stuff in Missouri and is looking to take a culinary leap in the big city.

They’re happy. They’re together. Just like it should have been all along.

I can’t even begin to go into how much I just love everything about this novella. Second Helpings packs an entire novels worth of emotion into just a few pages. The heroes are both interesting, remarkable, and kind.

The second chance romance trope is one of my all-time favorites, and the way Brandon Witt expertly addresses issues of the past, while showing us that Isaac and Grant are both capable adults able to work through the difficult stuff to get to their HEA, made me all warm and fuzzy.

When it comes to the food, the author also has you covered. All of Grants simple, but tasty, recipes are featured in the back of the book. Yum.

If you happen to be a fan of audiobooks, check out the narration provided by Drew Bacca. Brandon Witt provides the narrative and emotional foundation of the story, but the way Drew handles the alternating narrative viewpoint is really special. He takes the emotion to the next level.

Quick Review: Temporary Husband by Dev Bentham

Temporary Husband by Dev Bentham

Matt is up for a big promotion at his job. The only problem is that in order to ‘fit in’ at this conservative firm, he’s had to create a fake husband, a guy named Ben. The reason he’s gone to all this trouble is because he’s still a very young guy and he wants to give the impression that he is, you know, stable and hardworking.

And what better way to do that then come up with a fake husband? The only problem is, the promotion is going to hinge on introducing everyone to said husband at a corporate retreat.

He needs to find himself a husband, quick.

That husband is going to end up being male model Tony who’s been in the modeling game for quite a while now. He’s thinking about the next steps he wants to take in his life. Primarily, he’s studying to become an EMT, so he agrees to this tropical vacation and pretend to be a fake husband because during his downtime, he’ll be able to study for his exam.

But of course, with all fake relationship stories, things do not go according to plan. When Matt and Tony arrive in paradise, they realize this isn’t a corporate retreat, it’s just Tony, Matt, his boss, and his wife and the other guy who is up for the promotion.

The next few days are essentially going to be a one-on-one test to see who’s going to get the job.

Forcing Matt to play nice and play golf, which he doesn’t know how to do, and forcing Tony to spend time with the gals, shopping with the wives and spa appointments. It’s during these trials and tribulations that they get to know one another and realize that their fake relationship may not be so fake after all.

Tony wants to know if this promotion is actually worth it, because the people that they’re spending time with are genuinely awful. Matt assures him that it is, but Tony isn’t so sure.

Tony’s cover is eventually blown, but he saves the day using his EMT training when the boss has an unexpected health emergency, but even then, it’s obvious to Tony that all of the pain and suffering that they’ve been going through isn’t worth the eventual prize, which splits our happy couple up.

Eventually Matt comes to his senses and realizes Tony is the one worth fighting for.

Temporary Husband by Dev Bentham is a classic fake relationship story. I love this trope so much. These kinds of stories are my happy place.

I think what the author does in this particular novella is she hits the proverbial trope on the head, and gets everything right, plus she’s come up with two genuinely likable and kind heroes – Matt and Tony, which is also something I can never get enough of, nice guys falling in love.

This feel-good story ticked all of the boxes for me.

Quick Review: The Gentleman and the Lamplighter by Summer Devon

The Gentleman and the Lamplighter by Summer Devon

Giles can’t sleep after the loss of someone dear to him, so he walks the streets of London alone in his sorrow. One night, just before dawn, he encounters a lamplighter shutting off the gas lamps on his street. They end up chatting. John has always been curious about Giles, the man he’s seen so often taking solitary walks, that he comes up with fanciful tales to explain Giles’ nocturnal constitutionals.

Giles finds he looks forward to accompanying John as he makes his rounds. Strolling through the quiet and darkened streets, they talk about a number of things, ranging from benign pleasantries to the emotional burden of their own individual losses.

John admits that, before he lost his wife, they had a unique understanding concerning their preferences for companionship. This leads Giles to safely confide, in the most vague and gentlemanly way possible, that he loved the man that he lost.

John’s invitation for tea gives them the opportunity to explore their interest in one another. A gentle kiss, a soft caress, leads to an enthusiastic and emotionally freeing tumble in John’s bed.

His newfound happiness leads Giles to finally face talking to the widow of the man he loved. While he is out of town getting some closure, John interprets Giles’ absence as a rebuke of their night together. It is too painful to walk past Giles’ house every night, so he switches routes with another lamplighter.

When John no longer shows up on his rounds, Giles goes for a walk and comes across a bookstore that John mentioned that he liked. Johns love of books and the theatre were often a topic of their conversations. The shop keep explains to Giles that John is not only fond of literature and the theatre, but he is a playwright as well.

When John walks in, they are joyfully reunited and Giles explains that if his short time with John has proven anything, it’s that he’d much rather choose happiness over sorrow. The gentleman and the lamplighter/playwright definitely have a lot more happiness in their lives together to look forward to.

There’s a wonderful sense of gentle kindness at play in this charming historical novella. When Giles and John take their walks, they’re able to discuss things and support one another in ways that no one else in their lives can. They are both working through feelings of loss and it’s through those discussions they realize that, not only are they in love, but they’re capable of coming to terms with their sadness to find joy on the other side.

The Gentleman and the Lamplighter is available in both ebook and audiobook formats. A quick shout out to Mark James who I thought did a particularly good job of narrating this story.