Hot Head by Damon Suede

I first met Damon Suede in May of 2017 at the RT Convention Writers Boot Camp, where he was on of the very involved instructors. Then recently at this year’s Emerald City Writers Conference, he taught a master class. Both times I had short conversations with him. But it’s his general presence that is so remarkable. He’s a great speaker and he’s so solid on content. When we were working on pitches and loglines at RT, he would come around to help and you’d give him your basic premise and he’d come up with something genius in like two seconds. (After you’d been struggling for minutes.) He comes from a theater background and is a modern-day entertainment polymath. So I was quite curious to see if he was as good a writer as I guessed he might be.

He is. Hot Head is a well-plotted and very emotionally demanding novel about two male firefighters who have been best friends since childhood. The book is told entirely from the perspective of Griff, who has fairly recently become very attracted to Dante. Griff grew up basically as a member of Dante’s large family, as his mother died when Griff was young and his father basically absconded. So Griff thinks his feelings are very inappropriate and would only cause all sorts of turmoil between him and Dante and in the family. 

But then Dante starts down this dangerous path. Looking for some quick money to save his house from foreclosure, he agrees to appear on a porn site. Griff tries to convince him not to but loses that battle. When Dante works on convincing Griff to go on the site, too, for some particularly lucrative “extended activities”, Griff struggles to say no. But he has a hard time saying no to Dante. 

What could go wrong? Loads of things. For one, if the fire department finds out, they’re really screwed. But even worse, what could go wrong between Griff and Dante? Everything. You’ll have to read it to see if it does. 

As I mentioned, the plot of the novel is satisfying. The secondary characters are also good (Dante’s family, an EMT, and a maybe-kind-of-slimy “businessman”). The choice of using Griff’s point-of-view only is a good one that adds to the tension throughout the book because we can only guess what Dante’s thinking based on what Griff sees. Griff is such a sympathetic character with a whole warehouse of feelings, and the mastery Suede has of the reader’s emotions is admirable. I should mention that this is a very steamy book. Also, this is the first m-m book I’ve read that was actually written by a gay man and the level of detail is interesting and very informative. If you’re looking for that kind of information, anyway. (As a romance writer, I am.) 

If you want a very authentic m-m romance, try this one out. I’ve read a few other books from this press, and this one is by far the strongest. 

Clickbait by E.J. Russell

Clickbait book coverClickbait is the sequel to Lost in Geeklandia, which I previously enjoyed (and reviewed). I loved Lost in Geeklandia for its heroine, Charlie, a super-smart but slightly awkward data geek. Gideon is her supportive roommate in that book, and Clicklandia is his own story.

In the first book, Gideon clearly has a lot of personality, though I admit I found him a little annoying. I continued to find him slightly annoying in Clickbait, but only a little and it didn’t keep me from enjoying the book. This is partially because the other hero, Alex, was very likable, a big contrast.

Gideon has a lot of room for growth. He’s fairly shallow and obsessed with image in who he dates and in how he dresses (among other categories). He only wants to date men who meet his high intellectual standards. He is a web developer, and while he doesn’t require his dates to be technical, they have to be objectively successful in the white-collar world. He’s also in a bit of a bind, as he’s a freelancer without work. He ends up taking an impossible job that involves building up a network and a server room, physical work he’s not really used to, although he can do it. The carrot on the stick is that if he can finish it fast enough, he will get a gig designing the company’s web site, which is what he really wants to do.

Alex is much more easily sympathetic. He’s a blue-collar guy who does drywall, electrical work, stuff like that. We already know he’s never going to measure up to Gideon’s standards. He’s also dealing with family issues—his father is suffering from debilitating and heartbreaking dementia (to the point he no longer recognizes his family, as he’s stuck about 20 years in the past). Alex’s sister, who is also Gideon’s roommate, is not handling their father’s decline well. She’s in denial about what it is, thinking it can improve.

Alex met Gideon a couple years earlier at a party and has had a crush on him ever since. Gideon has no idea he exists, until they run into each other in Gideon’s apartment, where Alex is started some remodeling work. They have a relatively unpleasant exchange, accompanied by some clear physical attraction, however. Gideon doesn’t think much about it until they run into each other again—on the job site. It turns out that the company Alex works for is doing simultaneous work there while Gideon builds the network.

There are a lot of obstacles to overcome, mostly for Gideon. He has to get over his snobbery and his aversion to the dementia (he has a big fear of becoming intellectually incapacitated). There’s also an issue with Alex’s size (he’s a big guy) being intimidating to the much smaller Gideon. Then, Alex has to deal with his family situation and get his sister on board with a treatment plan for their father. He’s also got to make time for himself, so he can actually date Gideon.

Overall, I enjoyed the story and found the characters engaging and believable, even if Gideon himself wasn’t always someone I’d want to be friends with in real life. The attraction was realistic and it culminated in a satisfying ending. On top of that, I appreciated the slight geeky bent of the story. Russell added technical terms at the beginning of each chapter, which was fun and added to the feel of it (yet not in a way that would distract readers uninterested in it).

For a Good Time Call… (Bluewater Bay #17) by Anne Tenino and E.J. Russell

For a Good Time Call... book coverThis book is part of the Bluewater Bay (mm) series from Riptide Publishing, and it’s my first foray into the series. The series has an interesting premise—a Hollywood crew sets up residence in an old logging town on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington to film a popular TV show about shifters. This particular book features Nate, who’s on the show crew, and Seth, a local bartender.

The book’s a definite slow burn, as a friendship turns into a relationship, even though the attraction is there from the beginning, at least on Seth’s side. Nate, on the other hand, is “grace”—or gray asexual, which means (basically, and in this case) that he’s rarely sexually attracted to people, and has to develop a sense of closeness with someone first. In Nate’s case, that’s only happened a couple times before, and each turned into a long-term relationship. His most recent one ended after his boyfriend cheated, so he’s still recovering from that. He’s also got other baggage in the form of a strained relationship with his mom.

Seth’s got his own baggage. He’s got a complicated family. It’s one of the oldest in town and consequently his family is a part of all the early town stories, and his uncle in particular wants to protect their image. At the beginning of the novel, he’s living on and taking care of the grounds of the “big house,” as it were—where his grandmother still lives, even though she very much wants to move. Somehow, Seth’s grandfather set up his trust so that his father and uncle are in charge of the house and her money in general, and they refuse to let her sell it. Seth’s sort of in the middle of finding himself, so he’s starting a new job as a bartender.

The night before Seth’s new job, he meets Nate and after some confusion about intentions, a friendship begins. They bond over town history, of all things—Nate’s into local history and Seth is local history, so it works out. I also have to mention that it’s totally dorky, but I enjoyed it anyway. Between the two of them, they send the family into upheaval, which is good for all the good guys—Seth, his grandma (who’s great), and Seth’s dad. Plus, of course, Nate—once they finally work things out.

As mentioned, it’s a slow build, but the main characters are well-drawn, there are enough subplots going on to keep things interesting, and I enjoyed the grace angle (many people will appreciate that making it into another book). Also, there’s a dog. The book’s not super-sexy, so don’t look for that (though it’s definitely far from sweet). Give this one a chance if you’re looking for a nice mm romance or even if you’re just curious about gray asexuality. I’ll definitely be checking out some of the other books in the series.

Him and Us by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Him book coverThese two mm books comprise the Him series and although they are both standalones, once you read Him, you’ll want to read Us to see how the whole story ends. Or okay, let’s be real—we know how it ends, but what sort of problems will they face and how will they deal with them?

Both books star Ryan Wesley (Wes) and Jamie Canning, two men who were best friends throughout their teen years. In Him, we learn that they spent summers at a hockey camp. But Wes held a secret during those years—he already knew he was gay and had a massive crush on Jamie. An incident when they were 18 stretched their relationship and Wes pulled away from Jamie, thinking that Jamie was as straight as could be. Jamie never knew what the problem was and they both missed each other, but didn’t have contact through college. When they reconnect at the same hockey camp just after college, Wes knows he’s never stopped wanting Jamie, even though Jamie’s oblivious—and still clearly straight, to Wes’s mind.

Us book coverBut the lines aren’t clear for Jamie, after all, as he discovers when he and Wes get assigned to the same room. He soon finds himself confusingly attracted to Wes, and comes to the realization that he’s bi. This is nice because there aren’t a whole lot of bi characters out there—often it’s more, “oh, I’m discovering I’m gay after all these years,” which is fine but not always realistic. Also, bi people are sometimes treated as deviant by both the gay and straight sets (even the open-minded ones) so it’s good to see them normalized.

Wes is NHL-bound and focused on that. As much as he loves Jamie, he doesn’t think Jamie will stick around for the long haul. Also, he doesn’t want his love life to get in the way of his career, especially as if it got out, it would make him the first openly gay man in the NHL. Still, that fling brings us loads of sexytimes. Bowen and Kennedy can really write those steamy scenes, full of emotion. Both Jamie and Wes are well-developed and deep characters and there’s definitely more to the book than the sex.

So, what starts off as a temporary summer fling turns into something deeper in Him, which is fine for an HFN, which is how it felt to me. But it’s still not entirely clear how—or if—that will turn into an HEA. Us clarifies that.

Us takes us to Canada, where Wes’s NHL career is starting. Jamie lands a job coaching hockey to teens up there, foregoing the minors for a coaching career. He ends up living with Wes and although everything is great in the apartment, outside it’s hard on both of them because they have to pretend to be just buddies. The stress manifests differently in both of them yet results, basically, in lots of self-doubt and bad communication. Add in Blake, Wes’s annoying teammate who lives upstairs and inserts himself into their lives, which cuts into their together time.

So things are rough. Eventually something jumps in to add even more strain to their relationship, and they get outed. They love each other, but it becomes clear that relationships can be hard. Fortunately, they figure this out and how to work through it all, and we’re left with a definitive HEA with Us.

Plus, we’ve become well-acquainted with Blake, who’s already got his own book. He was definitely annoying in the beginning but grows on you a little (if not a lot).

Anyway, I recommend them if you like hot books with hot men—even if it’s your first mm, you’ll probably like them. Both have loads of good reviews and Him was a RITA winner, after all, so lots of people think they’re great.