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Release Reviews and Giveaway: Test Drive: Riley Hart


Test Drive (Crossroads #3)
Riley Hart
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Released May 30, 2016

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A double shot of devastating news turns Justin Evanson’s life upside down. When he learns his father has cancer, and he has siblings he never knew existed, he leaves everything behind and moves to Virginia to support his dad as he tries to make amends with his family—a family Justin’s not sure he has a place in. Things go from bad to worse when he discovers his recent hookup is his newfound sister’s brother-in-law.

Drew Sinclair never expected to see Justin after their night at the club or to discover their family connection. If anyone found out, it would give Drew’s brother another reason to hate him. But there’s something about Justin that draws him in, and it’s not only because they burn up the sheets together.

One meeting leads to another, and before Justin realizes it, Drew has become the only thing in his world he feels is his. And for the first time in his life, Drew knows what it means to be needed. Being there for Justin and supporting him when things spiral out of control feels right. But with so much happening so quickly, it’s hard to trust their feelings. Is this thing between them real? Or just a test drive before life forces them down two separate roads?


COVER DESIGN: X-Potion Designs
COVER PHOTO: Jean-Baptiste HUONG

In the short time I’ve been reading M/M romances, Riley Hart has become one of my go-to authors, particularly when I want something to read that’s so fucking hot it makes me squirm with need. So naturally I jumped at the opportunity to read her latest novel, Test Drive, the third in the Crossroads series. After a bit of a shaky start, this offering lived up to my expectations and previous experiences with her work.

As we learned in the final portion of Shifting Gears, Justin Evanson dropped everything of his life in North Carolina to accompany his father to Virginia, to the place where his father’s other family lives, the wife and two children (Landon, who is one of the mains from Shifting Gears, and his sister) his father abandoned to move in with him and his mother. As if being confronted with half-siblings he didn’t know about, trying to figure out what his place is with this family, and dealing with his father having lied by omission all this time weren’t bad enough, the trip happens because his father is dying of cancer and he is trying to make amends to his other family. Drew Sinclair is newly exploring his bisexuality and hooks up with Justin for a hand job at a bar. What neither of them realize is that Drew’s brother is married to the sister Justin just found out about, and that would be yet another reason for Drew’s brother to hate him if the story were to come to light. This unrealized familial connection results in Drew and Justin crossing paths more often, and before long, Drew becomes the one thing Justin feels is solely his in this whole mess, the one thing he needs in order to maintain his sanity. But are these feelings real or just something they are both using to cope with an awful situation, and if they are real, what will happen once Justin’s father dies and his real life calls him back to North Carolina?

Just from that brief synopsis, it’s pretty safe to assume that there is a boatload of family issues to be found in this novel, not to mention the ugly reality that is cancer, so if these things bother you, be forewarned. This tangled dramatic mess starts making itself known immediately upon finishing the prologue. And it’s very complicated, so much so that for the first time in the eight novels I’ve read by Riley Hart so far, I had a lot of trouble deciphering who was who and exactly what was going on during roughly the first quarter of the story. I understood the basics of the family dynamic from what I remembered in reading Shifting Gears, but with having to introduce all these characters in greater detail, their relationship to each other, and the varying drama among them as the set-up for the novel, it felt like she was trying to do too much in too short a span of the book. I think she realized how much she had to do, but instead of spreading things out or using additional scenes to clarify things, she opted to repeat things a lot, sometimes within the span of a single paragraph or two. Unfortunately, this technique didn’t help me much. Since the story was told back and forth from Justin’s and Drew’s perspectives, it often made me confused about whose view I was reading at any given time during this first portion. 

Fortunately, at about 30%, the story found its footing. Not only did it start to be clear in my mind, it also became very difficult to put down for several reasons. First, her portrayal about the end stages of cancer was spot on—in spite of it striking very close to home for me (I lost my mother to cancer a couple years ago), I appreciated the fact that she didn’t sugar coat it or hide things in order to minimize its importance. Second, Justin’s thoughts and behaviors toward his new family, especially his reluctance to allow them to take over care of his father, created a compelling backdrop for the intense romance that develops between Justin and Drew. Everything that was going on just served to build the tension within Justin, making his outlet in Drew all the more important and intense. Third, while not as angsty as Justin’s, Drew’s familial issues were also believable, making the pairing and the pressures on it all the more dramatic and real. And finally, as she has done in each of the series of hers I have read, the author excels at incorporating the main characters from the previous volumes in such a way that they are integral to the story, not just a hat-tip to loyal readers. All of this together made the story powerfully emotional for me, and it wouldn't let me go until it reached its conclusion.

And lest I forget, the attraction between Justin and Drew smolders deliciously until it finally erupts into some of the hottest sex scenes I’ve read in quite some time now. There’s a lot of filthy talk, something I’ve grown to expect quite happily from this author, and even if this story had involved two gay men seasoned in the art of seduction, the pairing would have been remarkably hot, but the fact that most of what was happening was an entirely new experience for Drew sexually made the smut truly explosive. All of the drama in the background just added more fuel to the fire.

If it hadn’t been for the rough start to the novel, this would have been my favorite of the three books in the series and easily would have earned a five-star rating without a second thought. That being said, if it turns out that you too are frustrated during the first portion of the novel, do not let it keep you from persevering. The story and blistering hot romance to be found is more than worth the struggle. I can’t wait to see what Riley Hart comes out with next.

The author generously provided a complimentary copy of Test Drive to me in exchange for this fair and honest review.

"How was your test drive?"
"It was perfect. I'm wondering why in the hell I took so long to take the ride."

Justin Evanson's life has changed drastically. His dad is ill, and he just found out he has two half-siblings and that he has been lied to for most of his life. He is now in a new town with responsibilities and issues with new family dynamics. He's feeling overwhelmed, lost, lonely, and displaced. He's caring, protective, but also angry, confused and guilty. He is gay, out, and fully supported by his family in that regard. But he is really in need of a fun distraction.

Drew Sinclair is exploring different sides of himself. He has his own family issues and feels like he is not significant in his own family and not meeting their expectations. He owns a gym and has dated women.  He is also a bit lost, curious, and trying out new things to see how they fit into  his life. 

They share a hot moment, but then realize their families share a connection. But awkwardness turns into a friendship and understanding...and some flirty situations. They both feel like outsiders in their own families. They find that they help each other forget their troubles. They can laugh together and provide a distraction to their shifting lives. But by exposing their secret connection, it could cause even more changes in the dynamics between their families.

Drew is test driving how it feels to be with a man and learning more about his needs in the process. And Justin is a willing teacher. They both need a friend, an outlet, and an anchor. But they also desire each other and have hot chemistry.  Justin is the more experienced, dirty-talker.  Drew is the eager student who has a bossy mouth of his own. I liked that they had some power exchanges and could give each other what the other needed at the time. They did not both have to be the strong, assertive one and were able to give and take based on their emotional needs. But I will admit that early in the book sometimes I got the guys mixed up because of this.

Drew makes things easier for Justin as he deals with harsh realities, sadness, anger, and fears. He makes him laugh, and helps take away the loneliness. He thinks about Justin's feelings and needs. For Drew this is new experience of being with a man and a relationship. But he is also becoming more sure of himself and figuring out what changes he needs to make in his own life.  And for Justin it is not only testing a relationship with Drew, but also navigating a new path with his family. It's about living in the moment, forgiveness, opening up, and letting love in. It focuses not only on the connection between Drew and Justin, but also family dynamics and building stronger relationships with them. And also being part of a supportive group of friends. But this is only supposed to be a temporary place for Justin before he returns to his real home, so there are no promises of a future and the timeline is unpredictable.


"You're the only thing here that feels like mine."

I loved getting more about Justin's brother, Landon, and his sister, Shanen, and their significant others, Rod and Jacob (Shifting Gears) and Nick and Bryce (Crossroads). They have become a group that has weathered challenges, but also provide support, companionship and laughter.

These guys really touched my heart. Justin had so many conflicting emotions and was in the process of breaking. Drew was initially skittish, but really became a much needed support and advocate for Justin.  Drew had his own problems to deal with as well. But they truly gave what they could to each other. I felt there was a lot of character growth in the book and that the issues were handled realistically and respectfully. I enjoyed their dual points of view and understanding each of the guy's feelings and fears. 
I had a few problems getting my bearings in the beginning of the story with figuring out more about the guys and remembering the complex family situation. But I ended up adoring both of their personalities and loved their flirty, funny, sexy banter and their strong connection. They had and intense and raw need for each other both physically and emotionally that was so evident. 

This book was full of so many feels. I laughed, swooned, hurt, fanned myself, and got a bit teary-eyed. It was an emotional, heartfelt story with a beautiful, passionate MM romance and just enough humor to break up the tension. But it was about more than just finding love, but also about finding a true home and family. I stayed up past my bedtime finishing it, but I did not want to put it down once I got immersed into their story. This is a wonderful addition to the Crossroads series and I cannot wait for more.


I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Justin made his way toward his... brother and Landon gave him a quick nod.

“Is this as weird for you as it is for me?” Landon asked.

Justin exhaled. “Yes. Christ. I didn’t expect it to be.” Which didn’t make sense. Of course it would be strange. They were a mismatched family, celebrating his father’s birthday when the man looked like he would pass out at any second.
“What? How could you not expect this to be uncomfortable? Hell, I’m just Landon’s boyfriend and it’s even awkward for me,” Rod said, and Justin glanced up to see Landon lovingly roll his eyes, before he wrapped an arm around Rod’s shoulders and pulled him close. Rod was smaller than Landon. He wore black eyeliner that made his eyes stand out.
“Please, don’t hold back for us,” Landon replied.
“I wouldn’t think of it,” was Rod’s response, but Justin thought he knew what Rod was doing. He wanted to make Landon laugh, wanted to take the edge off, and he found himself grateful that Landon hadn’t let the fact that Rod found out about Justin and his dad before Landon did come between them. They were a strong couple. You could see the love between them.
The three of them chatted for a few minutes before Rod excused himself for the restroom.
“I should probably go talk to him.” Landon crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. There was no doubt in Justin’s mind whom he was speaking about.
“I know he’d like that. I get that it’s hard, though.”
Landon turned his way. “What do I say? Jesus, it’s really shitty that I don’t know how to talk to my own dad.”
Anger burned through Justin’s insides. He was angry at their dad for putting them all in this situation. How hard would it have been to tell Justin and his mom about Shanen and Landon? To be a father to them, too? He bit back the anger and said, “Hi. Happy Birthday. Anything will do.”
Landon didn’t move, though. He eyed their father on the other side of the room. Justin followed his stare, which is how he saw the man walk in. But not just any man. Drew. The guy he met in a club the night Shanen got married. His brows pulled together. What in the hell was he doing here? Because this wasn’t awkward enough without the guy he wanted to fuck obviously knowing Shanen. “Ah, hell. I think I jerked off in a club with the guy who just walked in.”
“What?” Landon’s voice actually cracked on the word. He looked from Justin, to Drew, and back to Justin again. His gut sank, and he was pretty sure he should have kept his mouth shut because this was about to get a whole lot worse. “That’s Shanen’s brother-in-law. He’s Jacob’s brother, and I’m pretty sure Shanen would have told me if he wasn’t straight. I know he’s not close with Jacob, but she would have thought it was coincidence enough if she married a man with a gay or bisexual brother.”
Oh fuck. Damn it all to hell.
Justin tried to hide his shock. He looked at Drew again, studied him—the scruff on his face, that jaw and those fucking lips—of course it was really who he thought it was. Still, he said the first lie that popped into his head. “Shit. That’s not him. Hair’s not right and I’d remember that mouth anywhere.” Which was true. It was the first thing he’d noticed.
Wasn’t this just perfect? He’d come here to get to know his family, and out of all the men in Virginia, he’d somehow ended up jacking off with his sister’s husband’s brother, who was obviously in the closet.
The brother of the year award definitely wasn’t going to him.
Landon eyed him, skepticism in his eyes. Before he could say anything, Rod stepped back up and wrapped his arms around Landon.
“What did I miss?”

Crossroads
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Kim's 4.5+ star review and Jay's 4.5-star review

After divorcing the woman he’d been with since he was seventeen, Nick Fuller is starting over. He owns the restaurant of his dreams and he’s determined to meet new people, find new passions, and experience life to its fullest. Easier said than done—that is until he meets his new neighbor, Bryce Tanner… 

Bryce is all about a good time. He plans to show Nick how it’s done, help him meet a few women, and enjoy the gift of the single life he’s been given. But things don’t go as planned, and soon they realize they’d rather be together than with anyone else. 

Neither man has ever wanted another guy, but there’s a connection between them from the start—a spark they can’t deny. They find themselves navigating an unfamiliar new world and dealing with unforeseen obstacles. Physical desire isn’t enough, and now Nick and Bryce are at a crossroads. They have to decide which way to go: the easy path they’ve always followed, or the one that's determined to trip them up at every turn.


Shifting Gears
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Kim's 4.5-star review and Jay's 4-star review

Rod Nelson is used to being someone’s good time, and that’s fine with him. Spending his days at his adult toy store, Rods-N-Ends, he never knows who he’ll meet. The second Landon Harrison walks in, he has Rod’s full attention. It seems as if Landon wants him too, so why won't the man jump in the sack with him already?

Landon never thought he’d return home to the town where memories lurk around every corner. He has to admit, Rod makes the adjustment a lot easier. He keeps Landon laughing. Despite the fierce attraction between them, he’s not willing to risk his newfound friendship to get laid.

Neither man wants something serious, but the more they're together, the harder it is to keep their hands to themselves, until eventually they stop trying.

But flings between friends are never simple, and as they attempt to shift gears, diving into their first relationship, they’re slammed with setbacks. If they want to truly move forward, before they hit the open road together, they’re going to have to let go of a past that could make them crash and burn.


Riley Hart
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Riley Hart is the girl who wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s a hopeless romantic, a lover of sexy stories, passionate men, and writing about all the trouble they can get into together. 

She loves reading, flawed characters, and hanging out with her husband and children, who she adores. She and her family live in Southern California, soaking up the sunshine, while also missing seasons. Not a day goes by that she isn’t thankful she gets to wake up and do what she loves. Life is good. 

Riley also writes young adult and new adult under the name Nyrae Dawn.
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2 comments:

  1. I have never heard of this author, so I don't have a favorite but these sounds interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Shifting Gears was probably my favorite, because I wanted Rod to find love so badly.

    I am looking forward to Test Drive.

    ReplyDelete

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