Hearts in Chaos (Phoenix Club 2) by CJ Bishop

Title: Hearts in Chaos        Word Count: 105 pgs
Genre: Contemporary Gay Romance

Blurb:Devastated after learning his abuser (and the man he killed in self-defense) was Dr. Devlin Grant’s much beloved brother, Abel feels he can no longer have anything to do with the man because of his secret.

Now locked into his agreement with Horatio Kaplan – and suffering heart break over Devlin – Abel finds no purpose in his life except taking care of Savannah. When Devlin refuses to be put off and insists Abel tell him the truth of why he is suddenly pushing him away, Abel must make the hard decision of whether or not to expose the hideous acts of Devlin’s brother – and shatter the man’s heart.

Warning: This book contains homosexual relations and language not suitable for readers below 17yo.

NOTE: For those coming across the ‘Phoenix Club’ series sporadically, they were written in this order, and if possible, should be read accordingly, due to story lines that run through all the books :

ABEL
CALEB
ANGEL
GABRIEL
MAXWELL

My Review: Abel tries to outrun his demons and finally ends up at home where Cole is waiting for him. Cole is perplexed by the state that his friend is in, he watches helplessly as Abel sobs brokenly. Devlin is left reeling from confusion. He is dejected not knowing how to pick up the pieces or why Abel ran away. This goes on for days without any explanations on what is going on. There is something niggling at Devlin, but he can’t put his finger on what.

When Abel returns to work, Devlin shows up and refuses to leave without an answer. Abel is devastated, because he knows the truth will wreck this sweet man whose declarations of love is so profound. Abel also acknowledges to himself that he is head over heels in love with Devlin. The passion that he feels for Devlin is overwhelming and he can’t resist one more chance at intimacy with his soul mate that he can never claim. However, this changes nothing and Abel closes the door with a finality when he tells Devlin he is no longer welcomed at the club. Abel leaves with his heart in pieces, on his way to commence his arrangement with Kaplan.

Abel is about to taint his soul with yet another man determined to exploit his body. His time with Kaplan isn’t horrible, but the parallels to his past abuse is too real in his mind. Kaplan forces him to open his eyes and be in the moment with him. The hardest part for Abel is when Kaplan arouses  him and pleasures him. For Abel it is just  a sensory reaction, but he feels worse for it because he doesn’t want to enjoy an act that he has no choice but to do.

Abel’s friends Cole and Gabe are very worried about him, but Abel pushes them away. An unusual sort of detachment comes over Abel’s persona, but that’s his way of coping.Cole and Gabe find comfort in each other and continue to navigate the complexities of their own budding relationship. When Devlin overhears Abel paying twenty thousand dollars on his sister’s hospital bill, he knows something is very wrong. Devlin approaches Abel at the club and demands answers. Abel knows the only way to get rid of Devlin and his declarations of love is to give him a part of the truth. He tells Devlin how he played some rich man’s whore. Devlin is shattered as he still doesn’t understand why Abel would rebuff his help to continue on this unsavoury path. Abel thought he would feel a sense of relief, but instead he feels wrecked.

Abel is surprised to see Devlin at his doorstep a few days later. It seems like Devlin just won’t give up, but Abel knows that will all change if he finds out the truth. Cole and Gabe come over and encourage  Abel that its time to lay it all on the table. Abel tells the horrific tale of the abuse he experienced for years at the hands of Devlin’s brother and how he eventually killed him in self defense. Devlin is appalled and disgusted, but most of all he doesn’t believe Abel. He can’t reconcile the upstanding brother he knew to the monster that Abel describes. Although Abel knew what the outcome would be , he is still crushed and defeated when Devlin calls him a whore and storms out. Luckily, Cole and Gabe are there to pick up the pieces of Abel’s fragmented soul. But even that won’t be enough to help him regain what he has lost, his innocence but most of all the love of Devlin Grant. To be continued….. this one was filled with heartache and pain , but such tender moments as well. I give this my ratings of 4 – lose the underwear.

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It Can’t Be You ( Phoenix Club 1) by CJ Bishop

Title: It Can’t be You            Word Count: 175 pgs
Genre: Contemporary Gay Romance

ABEL

Blurb:19-year-old Abel Sims – hot, sexy stripper – is a favorite at the gay strip club The Phoenix. Having no family but his 16-year-old sister, Savannah, and coming from the streets – The Phoenix club has become his home, the other boys his close-knit family.

Abel doesn’t trust the outside world and is content to remain within his safe haven. But when an overzealous customer sends Abel to the ER, he meets young, handsome Dr. Devlin Grant. The instant attraction he feels for the man stirs up the nightmares of his past, causing him to resist his new feelings. But when Savannah gets sick and ends up in Devlin’s care, it becomes impossible to avoid the doctor.

And just when his heart is ready to trust this new found love – Abel is confronted with a disturbing fact about the doctor that reaches deep into the past he has been hiding and running away from.

ABEL is an emotionally charged, sexy, heart-wrenching love story that will break your heart, then put it back together again.

Warning: This book contains homosexual relations and crude language not suitable for readers below 17yo.

NOTE: For those coming across the ‘Phoenix Club’ series sporadically, they were written in this order, and if possible, should be read accordingly, due to story lines that run through all the books :

ABEL
CALEB
ANGEL
GABRIEL
MAXWELL

My Review: Abel is one of the sexy young strippers at the Phoenix Club. He is only 19 yrs old , but he has lived a very rough life from an early age. He does his best for the only person that’s ever loved him, his sister Savannah. Savannah is 16 and very sickly. Abel has spent all his life protecting the very fragile young girl, but he wouldn’t trade it for anything. Abel was repeatedly rape by one of the counselors at the shelter they stayed at. Abel stayed quiet and endured his abuse, so that the counselor wouldn’t start on Savannah.

When he is hurt at work by an overzealous client who tried to rape him, his friend Cole takes him to the hospital. This is where his path crosses Dr. Devlin Grant. Devlin is very interested in the sexy young man, but he tries to maintain his professionalism. Devlin causes Abel’s heart rate to kick up a notch. Abel feels a frisson of fear, because for the first time he is attracted to someone and would like to pursue it. Abel knows he has too much baggage and he feels like his life is too tainted for a man like Devlin. He makes an effort to keep his disinterested facade in place. After all, Abel won’t have to see Devlin  once he leaves the hospital.  
                                                                                     

 Little does Abel know that their lives will be even more intertwined. When Abel’s beloved sister falls sick in the middle of the night, Abel calls his friend Cole who helps them to the hospital. Devlin happens to be the doctor on call. He is very surprised to see Abel so soon, the young man who has dominated his thoughts. After running a battery of tests, Devlin gives Abel the most devastating shocking news, Savannah is HIV positive. Abel feels gutted and his world starts imploding around him. Abel blames himself and scrambles to find an explanation for this diagnosis. He thinks back to one of the nights when they lived on the streets and went dumpster diving for food. Abel remembered  something pricked Savannah and she said it felt like a needle. Everything is clear to Abel now and he just knows he has to do whatever it takes to keep Savannah alive.  

A solution falls into Abel’s lap via an indecent proposal. His boss Max tells Abel about a proposition he has received on his behalf. Horatio Kaplan a wealthy client of the club wants to pay Abel handsomely to spend time with him sexually. Abel feels disgusted and dirty , but he knows there is no other way to pay for the care Savannah will need. Abel visits Savannah everyday in the hospital and he is always tortured by his ever growing feelings for the handsome doctor. Devlin starts developing serious feelings for Abel, but he soon realizes Abel has been hurt deeply and is very skittish.

Their first attempt at a coffee date goes horribly wrong when Devlin encourages Abel to have faith that his sister will be alright. This touches a nerve in Abel , because of all the memories it brings up of the horrendous injustice of the rapes that he endured when he was no more than a child. Devlin realizes that Abel’s outburst stems from a far deeper pain than him saying the wrong thing. His suspicions are tentatively confirmed by Savannah when she breaks down and tell him the life they have lived thus far. Devlin cries for these two beautiful souls who have sustained so much pain.   

Abel tries to keep his distance and pushes Devlin away as he knows its for the best. He is in no position to start any kind of relationship, when he is burdened with so many issues. Abel goes ahead and set up the parameters for the ‘arrangement’ he will be entering with Kaplan. Abel’s friends Cole and Gabe help him  in a most pleasurable way to get used to intimacy so that he won’t get a panic attack when he has consensual sex. It is Cole’s and Gabe’s  loving friendship that keeps his demons away. The only place Abel really feels safe is in the controlled environment of the strip club.

Abel is shocked and nervous when Devlin shows up in one of the private rooms in the club saying he wants to talk. Abel is so afraid of the hopes and dreams he sees reflected in Devlin’s eyes, but he is weakened by his desires to taste something good and wholesome for a change. Abel gives into his desires to take something just for himself. The spark between the two soon turns into an inferno and they both give into their carnal desires. Devlin leaves after with hopes and the promise of a lunch date. Abel doesn’t want to give Devlin false hope or hurt him, but he wants this.

Devlin proposes a way to help Abel take care of Savannah financially through a fund set up with insurance from his brother’s death. Abel feels a glimmer of hope to have an alternate plan. Devlin tells Abel the story of how his brother Craig was a counselor who was killed by one of the teenagers he tried to help. Immediately Abel’s hopes are dashed when he realizes that Devlin’s dead brother Craig and his former abuser is one and the same. It turns out that Abel is the teenager who killed him. To be continued…..I give this my ratings of 4- lose the underwear.

 

 

 

Violence Begets….. by PT Denys

Title : Violence  Begets….            Word Count : 282 pgs

Genre : Contemporary Gay Romance

Blurb : After a tragic accident devastates his family, 16-year-old Rick St. James starts his junior year of high school without any friends in a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah. When he meets Kevin Vincent, he’s too distracted by the promise of new friends to see that Kevin has secrets of his own.

Having created an environment where he’s feared and admired by his classmates, Kevin finds pleasure in using his good looks and violence to control and manipulate those around him. Secretly, he cruises the gay club scene, turning tricks to earn money so he can party and get high.

As Rick’s dad becomes increasingly violent and abusive at home, the two form a surprising and volatile trust. In this battle of wills, their precarious friendship will either keep their lives from blowing up around them or possibly light the fuse that will cause the explosion.

My Review :  This was a heartwrenching story about two teenage boys forging their love through the fires of hell.Their relationship is a dysfunctional mess that you are not sure if you want to champion it or dissolve it for both of their sakes. Kevin likes to control every situation  and holds the upper hand with his merry band of delinquents. He plays head games and rules with an iron fist so that he comes off as a tough guy. Deep down inside he is a scared tortured little boy who doesn’t know what love is. He takes in the new kid Rick, thinking that he would be an easy target who would dance to his tune. Although he is  malleable,  Rick doesn’t conform to most of Kevin’s plans. He poses a challenge and soon it turns into an obsessive game for Kevin to get Rick into his bed and seduced by his dominance. Rick fights this surprising attraction for Kevin for awhile,  but Kevin expects this reaction and he whittled away until he hooks Rick. 

Although Rick is still not comfortable to identify as gay,  his connection with Kevin is so strong, it’s undeniable. He is the only one that has seen the sweet, gentle side of Kevin,  he has also seen the horrible monsters that lurk inside his home. He realized that they can both relate to having abusive fathers. They have an affinity to each other that is based on the physical and emotional  pain they have had to endure.  They have both seen the horrors that can be perpetrated by the people who should love us unconditionally , our parents. The violence that they have internalized, overwhelm them at times causing them to hurt innocent people. They are characters that have been sullied by the horrendous acts that they have experienced. Their bond is sustained through the pain and desolation of the scars left by their fathers.

Both Kevin and Rick are carrying some heavy baggage. Rick’s father blames him for his brother’s death and suggests that it should have been Rick who perished.  The father is becoming increasingly more violent and brutalize his body with a belt frequently. Kevin’s pious father uses him as a punching bag. He beats him up at least once or twice per week since he was seven. It is really sad to see how immune these two young men have become to the atrocities inflicted by their fathers. Kevin is so adept at dealing with the pain, that he just shuts down his mental faculties as a means of self preservation and endures hour long beatings by his father. 

The turbulence that’s in their souls does not ease once they get together as a couple. It doesn’t take much to imbalance their  precarious realities.  If all they know is violence, can love ever truly be a part of their lives? Kevin spirals out of control when one of his twink hookups recognizes him. He hurts the innocent guy pretty badly, when he tries to out him. Rick tries to get the situation under control by revealing his love for Kevin . This stops Kevin in his tracks and he runs off and goes on a drug binge. I feel saddened and sickened for this poor  young man  who has so much potential,  but his heart is warped by violence.

Rick and Kevin’s relationship turns toxic , but only because Rick tries to push Kevin away to protect their secret love. It becomes a tragic love story when Kevin’s dad catches them kissing. For the first time ever,  they decide to protect each other, but this only causes Rick to become a target. Kevin’s father beats Rick senseless and he ends up in the hospital where he flatlines. Kevin is lost without Rick and after confronting his father , he committed suicide by overdosing on drugs, not knowing that Rick had been resuscitated. Kevin missed out on his chance of exploring the undying love that Rick would feel for him for years to come.

 The truth finally came out about both their fathers and they were punished. But the horrors that they inflicted on their sons can never be undone. This was truly a tale of love and life lost. Rick ended up becoming a counselor,  but he was never able to get over the only man who ever loved him and who he loves unreservedly. Violence  begat ….. love. I give this my ratings of 4 – for leaving me emotionally drained and giving me the fortitude to embrace love.

Quotes : 1. “When he goes to hit you, let your muscles go as limp as possible. The more you tense, the more your muscles contract and the force of the blow will be worse.”He let that sink in before rolling onto his back again, and resuming his cold stare-off with the ceiling. “It’s not going to get much better between now and when you get out of here,”he said after several minutes of silence. “The best you can hope for is to roll with the punches, literally. Then we’ll leave and won’t have to deal with any of this shit anymore.” ( It is very sad when victims have to resort to these coping techniques against lifelong abuse.)

2. “You will not make any,”he threatened calmly. He wrapped his hand around my small finger and I stared at him in dismay. His eyes, calculating and cold, betrayed nothing. I tried to pull away, but his grip tightened even more. His stare bore into mine as I slowly felt the tension on my hand increase, and then the searing pressure finally gave and my finger snapped back. I slammed my head back into the wall and bit my lip to keep from crying out. He enclosed my ring finger in his hand and repeated the slow, painful process of breaking it. My free fist flew to my mouth and I bit down to keep from screaming. My mind started scrambling for focus. He smiled but didn’t release me. He wrapped his fingers around my middle finger. “Next time I will break every one of your fingers,”he said gently before he released my hand and walked away.( Sometimes the monsters don’t only lurk in closets, they are the living , breathing ‘upstanding’ fathers. Such a betrayal of trust when your abuser is your father.)

3. “Just like the bruises, people only see what they wanna see. And if they see more, they would much rather hear a sugar-coated lie than the ugly truth that’s staring at ’em.”

….. “You see, people don’t want to believe there are monsters living next door, that there are innocent kids screaming for help. They want to believe the story of the dashing businessman rising to the occasion after the drug-addicted mother runs away. Even to the fuckers who work in the system, it’s just one more case to add to their already overworked asses. They don’t fucking care. Nobody does.

( This is so true and sadly it is more common than we would like to believe. Let’s open our eyes and see the different forms of abuse, we need to look deeper and see the true faces of the abusers. )

West Coast Boys 2: King of Rain by Michele Fogal

Title :  King of Rain              Word Count : 75,921

Genre : Contemporary Gay Romance

Blurb : Being uber-tall and broad made it easy for Logan to hide his sexuality and vulnerability behind armor made of strength, ambition, and emotional detachment. His mask of macho success was shattered when he discovered the friend he’s carried a secret torch for has a boyfriend, and everything he’s always wanted now belongs to someone else. Logan can’t pretend not to care anymore, as his rage erupts in a horrible act of revenge. It’s impossible to hide his demons, now that they’ve broken loose.

Since losing his sweet boyfriend, Jeremy’s loud and proud life of sex parties and clubbing feels empty. When he meets the dark and self-destructive Logan, Jeremy recognizes the demons he sees in Logan’s eyes. After all, he has plenty of his own.

Logan isn’t looking for love, he’s looking for punishment and release, but with Jeremy all three seem momentarily possible… until he learns his victim was Jeremy’s lost love. Logan doesn’t expect forgiveness and knows he doesn’t deserve a real life, but after a taste of intimate closeness, finding salvation alone will mean he has to change, or die trying.

My Review : This was a very interesting read for me. Who would have thought that you could take two hated characters and fuse them together and turn them into something totally beautiful. The two main characters are having their own version of a sexual identity crisis. Jeremy is reevaluating himself after some hard truths are revealed about his personality by his ex Skyler. After cheating on Skyler and breaking his heart, he is now ready to reignite the flame that they once had. Jeremy feels utterly rejected when Skyler tells him that he has moved on and is in love  with his new boyfriend Ryan. Skyler sees through his ploy and accuses Jeremy of being a cold lover who doesn’t let anyone get close to him. It takes Skyler saying all these things to make Jeremy realize that he uses sex as a shield and uses his sexuality so freely with so many guys  that no one guy can become attached.

 Jeremy tests this theory with a quick hook up with a fellow jogger in the park. The experience leaves him feeling so cold and worthless. He finally sees what Skyler saw in him and it is not pretty. Jeremy sees how meaningless his interactions have become and it causes him to feel brittle. His roommate Kodi seems to be the one constant thing in his life and he reiterates some of the same things that Skyler pointed out. Kodi is a big bear of a man who is rather gentle and he cuddles Jeremy whose sense of self has been shattered. He offers him the strength hoping that he will accept the truth and be more of a better person.

When we meet our second main character Logan, it is obvious to see that he is filled with rage and self anger. He deals with this by cutting,  this form of self harm helps him to feel calmer. Logan is also seeing a therapist,  but it is very hard for him to open up.  He is being forced to go to the therapist by his parents who recently found out that  he  almost sexually assaulted a young man. Logan doesn’t identify as being gay , but he’s had jerk off sessions with his best friend Ryan who happens to be Skyler’s boyfriend.  When Ryan rebuffed Logan’s  attention,  he decides that it’s all Skyler’s fault and decides to teach him a lesson. He goes over to Ryan’s house and attempted to force Skyler to give him a blowjob. Ryan is just in time to foil his plans. Needless to say,  their friendship has been irrevocably changed. 

Jeremy goes out clubbing but the environment feels so much colder now that he has gotten in touch with a part of himself he has tried to deny. He is just about to give up trolling,  when he sees him. There is something about the big guy with white blond hair that seems familiar. Soon he realizes that he has seen this guy on either Skyler or Ryan’s Facebook page. He quickly snatches Logan out the door. There is something about Logan that calls to something in him. Logan is a bit hesitant,  but he goes home with this stranger. With his cuffs and his whip, Jeremy demands Logan’s submission. He forces him to accept and let go of some of the wrongs he has done. Logan realizes that he has gained a sense of freedom that he has never known. Jeremy allows him to become in tuned with his body and acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with getting pleasure from the unexplored territories of his body that he associates with being gay. They both exorcize their demons with Jeremy taking care of Logan and Logan accepting himself for who he truly is. Logan recognizes that although it might seem as if Jeremy has the upper hand in their interactions,  they are both being vulnerable and scared together. Jeremy teaches Logan about his body while Logan teaches Jeremy to open up his heart.

After their first night together, they decide to become exclusive  boyfriends.  A little bit soon, but probably just what they both needed. They both have inner demons that feed off each other and seems to make them both stronger as individuals. Logan starts owning his sexual identity and he comes out to his father and he sets the rumour mill aflame when he takes Jeremy to one of his football games. They take baby steps and ease into things gently. They have a prolific need to become immersed in each other’s lives. This is how Logan ended up going clubbing with his boyfriend and meeting Jeremy’s friends/ fuck buddies. While they are there, they run into  Skyler and Ryan and it is definitely not a happy reunion.  It is disastrous and forces Logan to flee when he’s faced with the broken bonds of friendship that he had with Ryan and Skyler’s fear of him.

Logan acknowledges the monster living inside him that has damaged not only his friendship, but which can be blamed for the discord between him and his family. He decides  once and for all to vanquish that part of himself by comitting suicide. He sends off an email apologizing and explaining his actions to his former best friend Ryan and goes to the canyon to do the deed. When he gets there, he decides that he wants to live, he just wants that destructive part of himself gone. He immersed himself in water and he comes up feeling like he has been baptized and his sins washed away.

Logan comes  home to find all the people who have loved or cared for him at some point in his life in his living room. Judging by the state he is in , it is clear to see what happened. They all come to conclusion that there are quite a few bonds that need repairing in this group. Logan’s family and Jeremy decides to go to a therapy session with him. It is very overwhelming and enlightening for Logan who now understands that you can’t look at your ‘self’ as being one dimensional. We all have to embrace all our ‘selves’ and shape them into a cohesive community within our bodies that works for each individual.

It was Skyler who truly helped him to put things in perspective when he sent him a link to a video by Sara Bareilles called Brave. It was very insightful because it allowed Logan to see that even when you think you are a freak, be brave and own it. I’ve always thought that we are all messed up in some way and sometimes we hide our tortured souls under our flesh. We just have to compartmentalize and accept all facets of ourselves; it is what truly makes us unique. I really enjoyed these characters who are flawed and will have to keep on working on their ‘selves’ and their love for each other. I give this my ratings of 5 –  not only because you will want to lose the underwear, but it is such a profound issue that we all struggle with at times,  Our Self Identity .