Jul 16 2015 2:00pm

Always Darkest Before the Dawn: Male/Male Best Bets for July 2015

Focus on Me by Megan Erickson

I happened to be catching up on Marie Sexton's “Coda” series when the Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality was announced, and what a thrill it was to realize that those contemporary romances, in which one couple has to have a “commitment ceremony” instead of a true wedding, and then a complicated adoption process, had just become historical! It'll be too soon for most July m/m romance to reflect the new American reality, but I'm looking forward to seeing how it shapes future works. In the meantime, we have some serious angsty goodness with suffering heroes to enjoy. 

Focus on Me (In Focus #2) by Megan Erickson

Colin Hartman can now add college to his list of failures. On the coast-to-coast trek home from California, Colin stops at a gas station in the Nevada desert, and can’t help noticing the guy in tight jeans looking like he just stepped off a catwalk. When he realizes Catwalk is stranded, Colin offers a ride. Riley only intended to take a short ride in Colin’s Jeep to the Grand Canyon. But one detour leads to another until they finally find themselves tumbling into bed together. However there are shadows in Riley’s eyes that hide a troubled past. And when those shadows threaten to bury the man whom Colin has fallen in love with, he vows to get Riley the help he needs. For once in his life, quitting isn’t an option…

In this tender romance, a warm-hearted young man finds the perfect lover to take care of, only to realize that his love and care can only do so much in the face of mental health issues. This is a sequel to the well-received Trust the Focus but works fine as a stand-alone.

Bare for You by Lexxie Couper

Bare for You (Outback Skies #3) by Lexxie Couper

Not all cowboys ride horses. Jeremy Craig is on the cusp of being named the deputy prime minister of Australia. Which means he’s got to play his cards right and stay deep in the closet. Australia is a lot of things, but there’s no way the country is ready for a gay prime minister. So far, it’s been an easy ruse to maintain. Until he meets Ryan Taylor. Then all bets are off. Ryan is sick of the Brokeback Mountain jokes. For starters, he’s an Australian stockman, not an American cowboy. For another, he spends most of his working days alone in a helicopter, not on the back of a horse. As Wallaby Ridge’s only contract heli-musterer, he gets to escape any small-town scorn high in the sky. He’s happy up there. Lonely, but happy. Who needs passion and wild sexual pleasure in their life when they have the boundless skies of the Outback, right? Then Jeremy Craig climbs into his chopper… Warning: This book may change your opinion of politicians. It also contains scorching, no-holds-barred passion between two alpha men, one with a Ryan Gosling fetish and the other with a secret deeper than the ocean. Yes, it’s that complicated.

I saw quite a few books with Australian settings coming out this month, but this one sounded particularly intriguing, with its political premise. Also, incredibly hot glasses dude on the cover. It's a novella and can be read as a stand-alone.

Blue Steel Chain by Alex Beecroft

Blue Steel Chain (Trowchester Blues #3) by Alex Beecroft

At sixteen, Aidan Swift was swept off his feet by a rich older man who promised to take care of him for the rest of his life. But eight years later, his sugar daddy has turned from a prince into a beast. Trapped and terrified, Aidan snatches an hour’s respite at the Trowchester Museum. Local archaeologist James Summers is in a failing long distance relationship with a rock star, and Aidan—nervous, bruised, and clearly in need of a champion—brings out all his white knight tendencies. When everything falls apart for Aidan, James saves him from certain death . . . and discovers a skeleton of another boy who wasn’t so lucky. As Aidan recovers, James falls desperately in love. But though Aidan acts like an adoring boyfriend, he doesn’t seem to feel any sexual attraction at all. Meanwhile there are two angry exes on the horizon, one coming after them with the press and the other with a butcher’s knife. To be together, Aidan and James must conquer death, sex, and everyone’s preconceptions about the right way to love—even their own.

This is for those looking for interesting themes more than for steam, with one hero on the asexual spectrum. Like the first in the series, it's gritty romantic suspense, and sensitive readers should check out the publisher warnings carefully.

Sutphin Boulevard (Five Boroughs #1) by Santino Hassell

Michael Rodriguez and Nunzio Medici have been friends for two decades. From escaping their dysfunctional families in the working-class neighborhood of South Jamaica, Queens to teaching in one of the city’s most queer friendly schools in Brooklyn, the two men have shared everything. Or so they thought until a sweltering night of dancing leads to an unexpected encounter that forever changes their friendship. Now, casual touches and lingering looks are packed with sexual tension, and Michael can’t forget the feel of his best friend’s hands on him. Once problems rear up at work and home, Michael finds himself seeking constant escape in the effortless intimacy and mind-blowing sex he has with Nunzio. But things don’t stay easy for long. When Michael’s world begins to crumble in a sea of tragedy and complications, he knows he has to make a choice: find solace in a path of self-destruction or accept the love of the man who has been by his side for twenty years. 

Last month we had gay baseball teams from New York boroughs, this month we have a borough theme featuring queer friendly school! Hassell, known for the futuristic series “In the Company of Shadows,” brings a strong New York City emphasis to his first contemporary romance.

Breaking by Barbara Elsborg

Breaking (Fall or Break #2) by Barbara Elsborg

Archer Hart is on the move before the man he’s just killed is found. When a bullet whizzes past his ear, he realizes hunter is now hunted. So much for his retirement plans. Someone wants him dead and all he can do is keep running. Downed by a hit and run driver, barrister Conrad Black is certain the ‘accident’ was deliberate but he has no proof or support. In recovery, struggling to work out of partial paralysis, he has plenty of time to wonder who regrets not striking him harder. At this point, running anywhere is a distant dream. The confidence, determination and stamina of two alphas males will mean little if neither is willing to bend—seize the love offered—and work together to understand why they’re suddenly both marked men. Not easy for either when Archer has broken the law in the worst possible way and Conrad is the law.

The author describes this as not being BDSM, because both heroes are definitely D. It features the redemption of a villainous character from the previous book and another hurt/comfort arc.

In the Middle of Somewhere by Roan Parrish

In the Middle of Somewhere (In the Middle of Somewhere #1) by Roan Parrish

DANIEL MULLIGAN is tough, snarky, and tattooed, hiding his self-consciousness behind sarcasm. Daniel has never fit in—not at home with his auto mechanic father and brothers, and not at school where his Ivy League classmates look down on him. Now, Daniel’s relieved to have a job at a small college in Northern Michigan, but, a city boy through and through, when Daniel arrives in Holiday, Michigan, it’s clear that this small town is one more place he just won’t fit in. REX VALE clings to routine to keep loneliness at bay: honing his large, muscular body until it can handle anything, perfecting his recipes, and making custom furniture. Rex has lived in Holiday for years, but his shyness and imposing size have kept him from connecting with people. Though he loves the quiet and solitude of his little cabin in the woods, Rex can’t help but want someone to share it with. When Daniel arrives in Holiday, they are smitten with each other, but though the sex is intense and explosive, Rex fears that Daniel will be one more in a long line of people to leave him, and Daniel has learned that letting anyone in could be a fatal weakness. Just as they begin to break down the walls that have been keeping them apart, Daniel is called home to Philadelphia where a secret is revealed that changes the way he understands everything. Can a scrappy professor, an intense carpenter, and a stray dog make a go of it in their cabin in the woods? Sometimes, you have to go to the middle of nowhere to end up exactly where you want to be.

A debut contemporary romance from a promising new author. Perhaps it's just because Rex is a quiet, mountain of a guy — and an old movie buff! — but I found the sexual tension especially delicious.

Resurrecting Elliot by Cate Ashwood

Resurrecting Elliot (Newport Boys #2) by Cate Ashwood

Nightmares and panic attacks following a horrific tragedy leave Professor Elliot Lawrence a prisoner in his own home. After months of relying on his sister as his only connection to the outside world, Elliot is desperate for a sliver of independence. But leaving the safety of his home isn’t an option, not yet, and he reaches out in the most innocuous way he can think of: grocery delivery. Colton Kelly, retired porn star and recent college grad, is struggling at two minimum wage jobs to make ends meet. During one of his grocery deliveries, he meets Elliot. Although the attraction between them is instant, they must first traverse the long road of putting Elliot back together. When disaster strikes yet again, this time in Colt’s life, Elliot’s not sure he’s strong enough to be the man Colt needs him to be.

Ashwood returns to the setting of her well received debut novel, Keeping Sweet.

Finding Their Way (Restoration #2) by A.M. Arthur

Thanks to an abusive father and a string of bad relationships, Riley McCage learned the hard way that people are not kind without a reason. Now, after landing a job at popular gay bar Pot O Gold, Riley is on the right track—until the night Boxer finds him drunk and drugged in the back room of an exclusive sex party. Donald “Boxer” Boxwood wasn't looking for anything beyond some casual kink until he peeled Riley off the floor and gave him a safe place to stay. But there's something compelling about the guy crashing on his couch, and the two forge an instant friendship that eases into unmistakable attraction. Despite Riley's hesitancy, Boxer knows one thing to be true: he needs Riley in his life. Riley risked everything to run away and build a new life for himself, and his secrets aren't something he'd ever wish upon his kind, gentle new friend. But when the past comes to call, he'll have no choice but to put his trust in Boxer…and believe people can change enough to deserve a second chance.

The blurb underplays the dramatic rescue that happens at the start of this book; if you're a fan of knights that arrive in the nick of time, check it out. There's also an adorable dog. Can be read as a standalone.

Freshman Blues by Ravon Silvius

Freshman Blues by Ravon Silvius

When Chris is invited to prestigious Creekville University, he discovers he is part of an experiment by the mysterious Professor Faran. There’s no other way a C student like him would have been accepted into a college where academic mastery results in unique powers like levitation or empathy. But if Faran is right, even below-average students can get special abilities and a good job after graduation. Chris just has to work hard.

Chris isn’t the only one, either. Frederick has worked for Faran for years, and Chris is intrigued by the aloof and sexy older student. But Frederick is too terrified of life after graduation to pursue romance. As they work together, Chris tries to help Frederick out of his depression, all while juggling friendship, classwork, dating, and trying to carve out a place he can belong.

But funding for the experiment is running out, and Chris has to acquire an ability—any ability—soon, or he’ll lose his opportunity at Creekville, and any chance with Frederick, for good.

The cover looks like a straightforward contemporary romance, but this also has a touch of paranormal, and will perhaps appeal to those who grew up enjoying boarding school fantasies.

Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

They don’t play for the same team. Or do they?

Jamie Canning has never been able to figure out how he lost his closest friend. Four years ago, his tattooed, wise-cracking, rule-breaking roommate cut him off without an explanation. So what if things got a little weird on the last night of hockey camp the summer they were eighteen? It was just a little drunken foolishness. Nobody died.

Ryan Wesley’s biggest regret is coaxing his very straight friend into a bet that pushed the boundaries of their relationship. Now, with their college teams set to face off at the national championship, he’ll finally get a chance to apologize. But all it takes is one look at his longtime crush, and the ache is stronger than ever.

Jamie has waited a long time for answers, but walks away with only more questions—can one night of sex ruin a friendship? If not, how about six more weeks of it? When Wesley turns up to coach alongside Jamie for one more hot summer at camp, Jamie has a few things to discover about his old friend...and a big one to learn about himself.

Warning: contains sexual situations, skinnydipping, shenanigans in an SUV and proof that coming out to your family on social media is a dicey proposition.

I thought Bowen's previous m/m story, The Understatement of the Year, was her very best so I have high hopes for this one; I'm looking forward to seeing how she pairs with Kennedy, who usually writes m/f but often includes some blistering menage scenes.

So... now that we have marriage equality in the states, which fictional gay heroes (or heroines) would you most like to see tie the knot?


Learn more about the books mentioned in this post: 

Focus on Me by Megan Erickson  
Bare for You by Lexxie Couper  
Blue Steel Chain by Alex Beecroft   available 7/27
Sutphin Boulevard by Santino Hassell   available 7/31
Breaking by Barbara Elsborg  
In the Middle of Somewhere by Roan Parrish  
Resurrecting Elliot by Cate Ashwood  
Finding Their Way by A.M. Arthur  
Freshman Blues by Ravon Silvius  
Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy  












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.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. willaful
Ooops, sorry for that typo up there... of course it should be Marie Sexton.
3. Kareni
I've recently read both In the Middle of Somewhere and Him. I enjoyed them both. Thanks for this list.
4. willaful
That's great to hear, Kareni! Always nice when a rec works out.
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