Release Reviews: Paint the Stars: Christina Lee and Nyrae Dawn

Paint the Stars (Free Fall, #3)
Christina Lee & Nyrae Dawn
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Released February 20, 2017
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Cover Artist: Natasha Snow

Ezra Greene has made a pretty decent life for himself. He has a nice apartment and spends his days doing the one thing he’s always loved—creating art. Despite being somewhat of a grumpy recluse, he’s even made a few loyal friends. When he takes a side job painting a mural at a local holistic center, he can’t help being curious about a certain friendly and self-assured yoga instructor, even if he doesn’t buy into any of that Zen crap. His holier-than-thou family already tried fitting him inside a box, and he swore he’d never be molded into anybody’s belief system again.

For Daevonte Randall, adulthood has worked out pretty well. He’s close to his parents and lives with an awesome roommate. He’s content with weekend hookups, teaching yoga, and taking college courses. What he doesn’t expect is to be so intrigued by the brooding and reserved painter he’s been tasked to stay after hours with at the center. Something fascinates him about Ezra, even after Daevonte’s attempts at flirting gets him friend-zoned on the spot.

As weeks pass, Ezra and Dae get to know each other, and soon their friendship catches fire. But Ezra’s been burned pretty badly before so trust and intimacy has to be earned. Daevonte feels up to the task, but it proves difficult as Ezra continues to keep his emotions in check. Dae’s only willing to wait so long, and when they’re dealt a surprising blow, Ezra needs to decide if love is worth the risk, that is…if it’s not too late.

Fans of this series know Ezra--the previous room mate of Gabriel and then Conner. He's the quiet, broody, controlled artist who keeps to himself and shows his passion with his paints. He doesn't do hook ups or relationships, and he does no put himself out there. His sexuality is something that has been an issue for him, and his past has made him wary of trusting people, but he has his core group of friends that know more about him than anyone else does.

Daevonte is a younger college student and yoga/meditation instructor at the holistic center where Ezra is painting a mural. Dae is fun, vibrant, clever, flirty, and persistent. He is used to having casual sex and nothing serious. He pushes and challenges Ezra, and tries to hook up with him. But as Ezra begins to open up a bit more about his life, Dae realizes that he would rather keep him as a friend rather than push him to hard and make him uncomfortable.

But the more time they spend getting to know each other, the more an attraction grows--on both sides. And Ezra begins to feel more comfortable in showing physical affection, as well as letting him in more. Their interactions are sweet, genuine, and tentative. But these two could light up the page with just kisses.

Dae never planned on anything serious, and certainly not love. His parents have given him a good example of how young love can be sustained with commitment and work. But he is young and somewhat afraid of going all in with Ezra who still has a tendency to keep him at arm's length.  And Ezra still has fears and insecurities about his previous relationship and his family's religious background.

This is a slow burn story of friendship that turns into more. But both have fears that hold them back or make them wary. It's intense, tender, passionate, and emotional as they try to navigate a new relationship together that neither saw coming.

They could bring out the best in the other, but sometimes it was tempered by fear. Dae never had experienced feelings for anyone before, so it was a whole new experience for him. But Ezra made him crave more.  He pushed Ezra out of his comfort zone, brought him passion, and made him laugh and  feel alive. But he could also center him. Their connection built slowly over time, and their physical attraction and feelings followed gradually.

But the more connected and serious  they become, the easier it is to be more fearful and insecure about the fact that they could lose it or that the other one does not feel the same. So they have to figure out what they want and need to be able to effectively communicate it.

All of Ezra's friends from the previous books are accounted for--Gabriel and Lucas, Conner and Jamie, and Henry. I like the fun dynamics of this group, and how they try to support each other despite their differences and issues. Dae's best friend, Maria, and both of their families are also featured. Their families really influenced both of the guys in various ways and shaped the men they were becoming.

This story was slow paced and a slow burn, but it was easy to become invested in them and I really liked both of them. I was already intrigued by Ezra, so was glad to see his layers peeled back. They were opposites, but also balanced each other. They could share their individual interests and make them common ground. It was not overly angsty, but there were challenges to face. It was more about emotional connection than sex, but it was also passionate and intense. It was a journey for both of them to find acceptance, trust, fight fears, and embrace life.

Both of the author's writing styles flowed seamlessly together in this dual point of view story. I love the title and how the stars and light theme was woven into the story.

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

I have been reading M/M romances for a little over a year now, and Nyrae Dawn (Riley Hart) and Christina Lee are individually the two authors I’ve read the most books by. Since they wrote two previous collaborative works that I enjoyed (Touch the Sky, in fact, was one of my top-ten books of 2016), I was definitely looking forward to Paint the Stars. I loved the characters and the story found here, but while everything worked out the way it should have, the ending came across as too rushed for me to get the emotional impact I think the authors were intending it to have, and that ultimately made this the least favorite of the three books for me.

Ezra Greene grew up in a conservative and religious home in the Midwest where he felt like an imposter playing along with beliefs that didn’t fit with his own feelings. After escaping to West Hollywood, he has developed a good life for himself though his painting. Other than having a few close friends, he largely keeps to himself and comes across a bit of a grump. For a man who doesn’t care about hooking up and doesn’t fall in love easily, though, that’s safer than putting his heart out there to be squashed again the way his first love did. When he accepts a commission to paint another mural at a local holistic center, one of the part-time yoga instructors, Daevonte Randall, stays late while Ezra paints after hours. The arrangement works well for Daevonte because it gives him time to do homework for his college classes, and it also gives him a chance to flirt with the reserved painter he finds so fascinating.

The plot of Paint the Stars is almost entirely focused on the friendship and then relationship that forms between Ezra and Dae. It’s a well-developed and satisfying slow-burn romance caused largely by the double whammy of Ezra being demisexual—for those who aren’t familiar with the term, it refers to a person who does not experience sexual attraction to a person without first having developed a strong emotional connection—and his one and only serious relationship ending in heartbreak in one of the worst ways possible. Being uninterested in relationships, Daevonte starts off pursuing Ezra as an attempt to hook up with him, but Ezra shuts him down and eventually explains why. The authors handle this scenario perfectly and in a way that serves a dual purpose too: Ezra is not one to share much about himself, so this scene not only explains his character to Dae, it sets the stage for growth of feelings over the course of the story as Ezra slowly lets him in.

The characters really are what make this novel a worthwhile read. While some readers may find the pacing to be slow simply because they’re used to sexual tension causing intimacy to occur rather quickly in a romance, it’s the slow burn here that makes Ezra true to his character’s nature. Dae, too, is a great character and together they create an interesting pairing. Unlike Ezra, Dae is outgoing and flirty, but he’s also grounded. Whereas Ezra’s relationship with his parents are strained at best, Dae has nearly as good a relationship with his parents and extended family that a early twenty-something could hope for. And though Dae had never been interested in a serious relationship before, his parents were ideal role models in teaching him about love can be.

In addition to commending the authors for their portrayal of Ezra as a demisexual character, they also deserve praise for a positive rendering of Dae as a minority and mixed-race character, along with the fact that they in no way made race into an issue with anyone in the story. Dae’s parents’ story is far from ideal, but they worked hard to make sure Dae had not only their full love and support but also the means to provide him an adequate childhood. So often when racial differences are a part of a romance, they often play to stereotypes as a means to provide the character with an internal conflict. It was refreshing that this wasn’t the case here, and I wish more stories that used this trope would follow this example.

As great as I thought the characters and pacing of the story were, I have to admit I was disappointed with how quickly the resolution to the story’s primary conflict happened. I’m not going to go into detail because I don’t want to spoil it, but at the 80% point, Ezra is forced to confront something big from his past, and it puts the relationship between Ezra and Dae in jeopardy. The problem isn’t in how the situation is handled by each of the characters but in what the authors choose to present the reader to show how the resolution is done. Instead of giving the reader the scene showing Ezra directly working his way through the problem and the emotions surrounding it, the authors skip over it and only give a brief mention of Ezra having done so. The story ends at 91%, so as big of a challenge as it is to Ezra and Dae’s relationship, it’s over very quickly and with very little on-page angst over it. Unfortunately, this left me with the impression that it was too easy, and it really needed to be something strong to make the end result completely believable. Instead, I felt more of an “oh, okay” reaction. This fact is the sole reason why my rating is not significantly higher than it is.

With respect to the Free Fall series as a whole, Paint the Stars fits in wonderfully with the beautiful storytelling and engaging characters Christina Lee and Nyrae Dawn established in the first two books. As such, it makes a good finale for the set. In spite of the ending of this book being somewhat of a letdown for me, I heartily recommend the whole series to those who like romances that focus primarily on creating strong and believable attachments between the characters, for these authors are both masters at doing just that. Everything else they do beyond that is just gravy.

The authors generously provided me a complimentary copy of Paint the Stars in exchange for this fair and honest review.
What do you usually do to relax?” I ask him. 

“Besides paint?” I nod and he continues, “You really want to know?”

“Nope.” I wink at him and he rolls his eyes. 

“Smoke weed.”

“Whew.” I tease him. “I thought it was going to be something bad by the way you were acting. Go get it. Let’s light that shit up.” I’ve never been a huge fan of weed. Not that I dislike it, because it can be fun, but it makes me giggle for a little while and pass out. I typically don’t want to just randomly pass out. 

“Okay.” He pushes off the counter, sets his coffee down, and disappears down the hallway. There’s some rustling in the other room. A moment later he’s back with a small loaded pipe in his hand. “You can have green,” he says, offering me the first hit. 

Our fingers brush when I take the pipe from his hand. He hesitates for a second, then nods at me as though he wants me to go ahead and put the pipe to my lips. I do. Instead of handing me the lighter, Ezra flicks the flame to life and then holds it over the weed. It crackles and pops and burns as I inhale, the smoke stinging my lungs and my throat. He pulls back, and I set the pipe down, and his eyes are burning me the same way the flame just did with the pot. My stomach flips, and he keeps looking, and holy fuck that was hot for some reason.  

He takes the pipe back, still watching. He puts it to his lips, still watching. He takes a hit, still watching. There’s something about the way Ezra looks at you. It’s as though he can see something in you no one else can. Like he looks deeper because it’s easier to look inside of someone else than to look inside himself. It makes me feel like he’s seeing things I didn’t know were there. Like he’s asking questions he can’t find the words to ask and like he’s trying to make sense of all of it himself. 

“Here,” he says before he hands the pipe back. I put it to my lips, and we continue on that way, him lighting for me and me passing the pipe back to him until the bowl is dusted. His eyes only briefly dart away from me from time to time, otherwise their searing stare is locked with mine. It’s the most intensely he’s looked at me since I met him.

“Wow,” I tell him. “I almost feel like I need a cigarette even though I don’t smoke them. I don’t know how all this works for you, but on my end, that was kind of hot.”

A laugh bursts out of Ezra’s mouth— it’s infectious and happy, and I realize it might be the most honest one I’ve ever heard from him. It makes me decide right then and there to do whatever it takes to make it happen again and again until it becomes a habit for him. That’s what friends are for, right?
Touch the Sky (Free Fall #1)
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Released March 28, 2016
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Read our 4.5-star reviews: JayKim, & Rachel

Lucas Barnett and Gabriel Stewart didn’t have it easy as kids. They were only trying to deal with bad situations at home when they became lifelines for each other. Their pipe dream was to someday meet in LA, where Lucas would design skyscrapers, and Gabriel would learn to fly. But then Gabriel disappeared without so much as a goodbye, and Lucas got himself in trouble with the law.

Five years later, both men are at a loss when they run into each other at a Hollywood bar. Lucas is still angry, but it’s not as if Gabriel could control how his mind and body had betrayed him. Being found on the ledge of that bridge had changed everything.

The attraction is immediate, but it’s more than their inability to keep their hands off each other. Neither man expects the fierce connection pulling them together. Unfortunately, ignoring their problems doesn’t make them disappear. Gabriel’s internal struggles are serious…dangerous. And no matter how much Lucas wants it to be true, saving Gabriel won’t make up for not being able to save his mom. If they don’t find the strength to face their own demons before the darkness takes hold, they risk more than just losing each other forever.

Chase the Sun (Free Fall #2)
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Released September 9, 2016
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Read Our 4 and 4.5 star reviews

Jamie Tolland has only ever known his small Oregon town. Same job, same friends, same gay bar. He feels obligated to stay, especially as his mother’s illness progresses. But when a situation presents itself in the form of a vintage sports car, he jumps on the chance to not only repair it, but also drive it to its new owner in LA.

Conner Murphy left Oregon years ago to make his life in West Hollywood. Like his unconventional parents, he’s always been a free spirit, never settling on one job or girl for too long. When he inherits his late uncle’s classic Chevelle, he’s more than happy to let his childhood friend Jamie help.

Jamie and Conner are as different as night and day. Even after years of living apart, they still have a blast together—but now it’s mixed with an undeniable spark of attraction. Before they know it, they can’t keep their hands off each other. For Conner it’s all new and exciting, but Jamie isn’t the type of guy who takes this sort of intimacy lightly.

Conner soon realizes that Jamie quenches something deep inside of him that no one has before, but he doesn’t know how to handle a real relationship. As Jamie’s time in LA comes to an end, and the more they struggle to get on the same page about their feelings, the more Jamie realizes that trying to tie Conner down is as futile as capturing the sun.
Christina Lee 
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Once upon a time, I lived in New York City and was a wardrobe stylist. I spent my days shopping for photo shoots, getting into cabs, eating amazing food, and drinking coffee at my favorite hangouts.

Now I live in the Midwest with my husband and son—my two favorite guys. I've been a clinical social worker and a special education teacher. But it wasn't until I wrote a weekly column for the local newspaper that I realized I could turn the fairytales inside my head into the reality of writing fiction.

I write Adult, New Adult, and M/M Contemporary Romance. I'm addicted to lip gloss and salted caramel everything. I believes in true love and kissing, so writing romance novels has become a dream job. 

Nyrae Dawn

Nyrae Dawn can almost always be found with a book in her hand or an open document on her laptop. She couldn’t live without books—reading or writing them. Oh, and chocolate. She’s slightly addicted.

She gravitates toward character-driven stories. Whether reading or writing, she loves emotional journeys. It’s icing on the cake when she really feels something, but is able to laugh too. She’s a proud romantic, who has a soft spot for flawed characters, who make mistakes, but also have big hearts.

Whether she’s writing young adult, new adult, or adult you can always count on a healthy dose of romance from her books. She likes to tackle tough subjects, and believes everyone needs to see themselves in the stories they read.

Nyrae is living her very own happily ever after in California with her gorgeous husband (who still makes her swoon) and her two incredibly awesome kids.


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