Jun 23 2015 12:00pm

Play Ball! Male/Male Best Bets for June 2015

My Cowboy Promises by Z.A. Maxfield

Summertime, and the living is... not so easy for m/m romance couples, many of whom seem to be stuck in the closet. But there's still plenty of summer fun to be had with theater, baseball, horseback riding, and detecting. (If you don't think detecting goes with summer, you never read Louise Fitzhugh's The Long Secret as a child.)

My Cowboy Promises by Z.A. Maxfield

A real man needs a real love…

To become the man he’s meant to be, one cowboy will have to be the man he never wanted anyone to know he was…

Ryder Dent is a true-blue cowboy. A devoted son, husband and father, but one who is living a costly lie. When they were both young, Ryder and his closest female friend Andi thought they’d found the perfect solution to both their problems—she was single and pregnant, and he was secretly gay—so they got married and raised Jonas together.

When Ryder gets hurt at a party, his son’s new pediatrician comes to the rescue. The connection between Ryder and Dr. Declan Winters is sudden, powerful, and undeniable. Ryder loves Andi and the family they’ve created together—but they both need more. Can they pursue their hearts’ desire without destroying the life they’ve built and losing the son they love?

It's stretching a point to call this a cowboy story, but the heroes are certainly the sort of strong, honorable men Western fans love, and the small town atmosphere is vividly created. It's also pretty cool to read about a gay man in a straight marriage who isn't an asshole. Try this for the strong emphasis on family, sensitive tone, droll humor, and sweet romance. It's part of a loosely-linked series and a previous couple make an appearance, but it works just fine as a stand alone.

The Storm Before the Calm by Cate AshwoodThe Storm Before the Calm by Cate Ashwood

Charlie has one passion in life: dancing. It’s his salvation when it feels like the world is swallowing him whole. When his mom secretly secures him a spot in the summer intensive at the Free Rein Dance Company in New York, he is thrilled. He knows that once the summer ends, he'll have to return to Beacon to get a job and help support his family, but for those two months, he can spread his wings.

In New York he meets Max, a junior instructor who is everything Charlie wishes he could be. Bold and self-assured, Max radiates pride in who he is. As they spend time together, Max shows Charlie what life can be like past the walls of his closed-minded home town. But Charlie doesn’t know if he’s ready to show the world who he truly is when standing in the spotlight is the last thing he wants.

Props to Ashwood for writing a gay character who's close to his mom; it was also interesting to read about a boy who cuts, since it's usually associated with girls. Note that there are some scenes of intense bullying as well as self-harm. Reviewers report a lower level of sensuality than typical New Adult.

The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by K.J. Charles

A note to the Editor

Dear Henry,

I have been Simon Feximal’s companion, assistant and chronicler for twenty years now, and during that time my Casebooks of Feximal the Ghost-Hunter have spread the reputation of this most accomplished of ghost-hunters far and wide.

You have asked me often for the tale of our first meeting, and how my association with Feximal came about. I have always declined, because it is a story too private to be truthfully recounted, and a memory too precious to be falsified. But none knows better than I that stories must be told.

So here is it, Henry, a full and accurate account of how I met Simon Feximal, which I shall leave with my solicitor to pass to you after my death.

I dare say it may not be quite what you expect.

Robert Caldwell
September 1914

Another “queering of the classics” from Charles, this time a Holmes/Watson-ish relationship. (But it's an original couple, not fan-fiction.) Like many of the Holmes books, this is a collection of linked short stories, and includes the story that first introduced the characters, “The Caldwell Ghosts.” The author warns of “high level of spooky magic, brooding evil, ghosts, curses, cults, plots, and the creepiest villain I have ever written,” which if you have read her “Magpie Lord” series is really saying something. There's also a touch of silliness. A couple of Feximal stories are available free at Smashwords, if you want to get a feel before you try the collection.

Played! by J.L. MerrowPlayed! (The Shamwell Tales #2) by J.L. Merrow

Tristan’s in Shamwell for one last summer of freedom before he joins the family firm in New York—no more farting around on stage, as his father puts it. But the classically trained actor can’t resist when members of the local amateur dramatics society beg him to take a role in their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Especially as he’ll also be giving private acting lessons to gorgeous local handyman, Con, who’s been curiously resistant to Tristan’s advances. Tristan’s determined to get Con in his bed—not only is the man delicious, there’s fifty pounds riding on Tristan’s success after a bet made with his drama school chum Amanda.

Con’s never dared to act before. A late-diagnosed dyslexic who had a hard time at school, he’s always been convinced he’d never be able to learn his lines—but with Tristan helping him, he might just be in with a chance. Trouble is, the last time Con fell for a guy, he ended up getting his heart broken, and with Tristan due to leave the country in a matter of months, Con’s determined not to give in and start anything that’s bound to finish badly.

Just as Tristan thinks he’s finally won Con’s heart—and given his own in return—disaster strikes. And the curtain may have fallen forever on their chance of happiness.

Warning: contains a surfeit of Bottoms and asses, together with enough mangled quotations to have the Bard of Avon gyrating in his grave.

Now there's a warning that says “Danger! Fun times ahead!” After reading Merrow's take on comic book fans in It's All Geek to Me, I look forward to her theatre nerds. This is loosely linked to the first book in the Shamwell Tales, but with a new couple.

Rite of Summer by Tess BoweryRite of Summer (Treading the Boards #1) by Tess Bowery

There are terrors worse than stage fright. Like falling in love.

Violinist Stephen Ashbrook is passionate about three things—his music, the excitement of life in London, and his lover, Evander Cade. It’s too bad that Evander only loves himself. A house party at their patron’s beautiful country estate seems like a chance for Stephen to remember who he is, when he’s not trying to live up to someone else’s harsh expectations.

Joshua Beaufort, a painter whose works are very much in demand among the right sort of people, has no expectations about this party at all. Until, that is, he finds out who else is on the guest list. Joshua swore off love long ago, but has been infatuated with Stephen since seeing his brilliant performance at Vauxhall. Now he has the chance to meet the object of his lust face to face—and more.

But changing an open relationship to a triad is a lot more complicated than it seems, and while Evander’s trying to climb the social ladder, Stephen’s trying to climb Joshua. When the dust settles, only two will remain standing…when they’re not flat on their backs.

Warning: Contents under pressure. Contains three men, two beds, one erotic piercing, and the hottest six weeks of summer the nineteenth century has ever seen.

This is a debut, and all authors should get so lucky with their first cover. It's a very steamy menage with a good historical atmosphere; there's a happy ending, but I won't say for whom.

For Real by Alexis HallFor Real (Spires Universe) by Alexis Hall

Laurence Dalziel is worn down and washed up, and for him, the BDSM scene is all played out. Six years on from his last relationship, he’s pushing forty and tired of going through the motions of submission.

Then he meets Toby Finch. Nineteen years old. Fearless, fierce, and vulnerable. Everything Laurie can’t remember being.

Toby doesn’t know who he wants to be or what he wants to do. But he knows, with all the certainty of youth, that he wants Laurie. He wants him on his knees. He wants to make him hurt, he wants to make him beg, he wants to make him fall in love.

The problem is, while Laurie will surrender his body, he won’t surrender his heart. Because Toby is too young, too intense, too easy to hurt. And what they have—no matter how right it feels—can’t last. It can’t mean anything.

It can’t be real.

Set in the same world as Hall's debut Glitterland, this is another opposites attract romance. In some ways I liked this one even more, because we get the point of view of both characters, which helps balance the power between them. It's a fascination subversion of many BDSM romance tropes.

Thrown a Curve by Kate McMurrayThrown a Curve (The Rainbow League #2) by Kate McMurray

Mason made headlines when, after his professional baseball career was sidelined by an injury, he very publicly came out of the closet. Now he’s scratching the baseball itch playing in the Rainbow League while making his way through New York’s population of beefcakes, even though they all come up short. Plus, he’s still thinking about last summer’s encounter with hot, effeminate, pierced and tattooed Patrick—pretty much the opposite of the sort of man he has long pictured himself with.

Patrick hasn’t been able to forget Mason either, and now that baseball season is back upon them, he’s determined to have him again. Mason is unlike any man Patrick has ever been with before, and not just because he’s an ex-Yankee. All Patrick has to do is convince a reluctant Mason that their one night wasn’t just a crazy fluke and that they could be great together…if only Mason could get past his old hang-ups and his intolerant family.

I had to include a baseball story! This is an opposites attract romance between a typical jock and a... really not. They're also an interracial couple, and how great to see a black man as the star of a romance cover. The series is about an amateur LGBT baseball league, with teams from different New York City neighborhoods; for a chuckle, check out the list of teams at the author's website.

Life, Some Assembly Required (The Rebuilding Year #2) by Kaje Harper

Finding love in the ashes was easy. Building a life together? Don’t make Fate laugh.

After spending the first part of his life chasing pretty girls, love has finally come to Ryan in the form of John, a tall, lanky, red-headed landscape architect with wide shoulders and a five-o’clock shadow.

For the first time in his life, love feels easy. Hell, he even ran into a burning building for John and his son, and he’d do it again if he had to. But telling his father and brothers “I’m gay. I’ve met a man”? That’s a bumpy ride he’s not looking forward to.

For John, loving Ryan is as natural as breathing. Now if only the rest of his life would fall into place. Dealing with his teen son is complicated enough, but with his ex-wife causing trouble and his daughter wanting to move in, John’s house—and his relationship with Ryan—threaten to split at the seams.

Would one month without a new surprise knocking him upside the heart be asking too much? If the sound of Fate’s laughter is any indication, the answer must be yes…

Product Warnings
Contains two formerly straight guys learning to navigate the gay-guy waters, sometimes without a paddle. Plus six kinds of family ensuring nothing comes easy.

A popular continuing-couple series about two formerly straight men. Looks like it's getting real.

Lessons for Idle Tongues by Charlie CochraneLessons for Idle Tongues (Cambridge Fellows #11) by Charlie Cochrane

Cambridge, 1910

Amateur detectives Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith seem to have nothing more taxing on their plate than locating a missing wooden cat and solving the dilemma of seating thirteen for dinner. But one of the guests brings a conundrum: a young woman has been found dead, and her boyfriend is convinced she was murdered. The trouble is, nobody else agrees.

Investigation reveals that several young people in the local area have died in strange circumstances, and rumours abound of poisonings at the hands of Lord Toothill, a local mysterious recluse. Toothill’s angry, gun-toting gamekeeper isn’t doing anything to quell suspicions, either.

But even with a gun to his head, Jonty can tell there’s more going on in this surprisingly treacherous village than meets the eye. And even Orlando’s vaunted logic is stymied by the baffling inconsistencies they uncover. Together, the Cambridge Fellows must pick their way through gossip and misdirection to discover the truth.

This well-regarded series seems to be the “In Death series” of m/m romance and mystery; it just keeps on ticking. Supposedly they can be read in any order.

Saving Faithless Creek by Andrew Grey

Blair Montague is sent to Newton, Montana, to purchase a ranch and some land for his father. It’s a trip he doesn't want to make. But his father paid for his college education in exchange for Blair working for him in his casinos, so Blair has no choice. When he finds out he’ll be dealing with Royal Masters, the man who bullied him in high school, he is shocked. Then Blair is surprised when he finds that Royal’s time in the Marines has changed him to the point where Blair could be attracted to him… if he’s willing to take that chance.

Royal’s life hasn’t been a bed of roses. He saw combat in the military that left him scarred, and not just on the outside. When he inherits his father’s ranch, he discovers his father wasn't a good manager and the ranch is in trouble. The sale of land would put them back on good footing, but he is suspicious of Blair’s father’s motives, and with good reason. The attraction between them is hard for either to ignore, but it could all evaporate once the land deal is sealed.

Reviewers praise the redemption arc for Royal. Romance between a former bully and... bull-ee? is an instant gimme for me. 

What summer fun would you like to see your favorite m/m characters get up to?


Learn more about the books mentioned in this post: 

My Cowboy Promises by Z.A. Maxfield  
The Storm Before the Calm by Cate Ashwood  
The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by K.J. Charles  
Played! by J.L. Merrow  
Rite of Summer by Tess Bowery  
For Real by Alexis Hall  
Thrown a Curve by Kate McMurray  
Life, Some Assembly Required by Kaje Harper  
Lessons for Idle Tongues by Charlie Cochrane  
Saving Faithless Creek by Andrew Grey  












Willaful has been diligently reading and reviewing romance for the past seven years, but for some reason just can't seem to catch up. She blogs at A Willful Woman and Karen Knows Best.

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Barbara Wilmot
1. miadevlin
Be still my beating heart! I've already read The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal and it was wonderful. I definitely recommend the short stories on Smashwords - Butterflies and Remnant which was co-written with Jordan L Hawk, another of my favourite writers. The Tess Bowery book looks interesting and I love baseball so I'll be trying the Kate McMurray. But the highlight of this list is the new Cambridge Fellows book by Charlie Cochrane. I've been waiting for this for ages so my credit card can get ready for an outing! P.S. Can I also mention the new Harper Fox book Last Line 2: Ring Around The Sun. I only downloaded it yesterday and I'm re-reading the first one to get back up to speed but Harper is always great. Roll on the weekend - so many books, so little time!
Jennifer Proffitt
2. JenniferProffitt
@miadevlin, always feel free to toss in your own picks of what would make your own list! Personally I've been having a thing for male/male cowboys lately, so I'll be picking up that ZA Maxfield!
3. willaful
I was flabbergasted that I missed a Harper Fox book, but it turns out she has her own publishing imprint now. I'll have to be sure to get on the mailing list.
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