I read two shorter books this week from a set of six I bought during the JMS Books Pride Sale last month. So expect two more from that purchase next week and another pair the week after!
The two I read this week are both feel-good stories that are perfect for when you want relax and read something gentle that’ll leave a smile on your face.
Flowers Under My Pillow by Nell Iris
First up is Flowers Under My Pillow by Nell Iris. I was lucky enough to have gotten a very advanced (beta) read of this lovely story, and I was more than ready for a reread of the final version.
This one is a timely choice since it’s all about Sweden’s Midsummer festivities which were celebrated not quite two weeks ago. Without further ado, here are a few snippets from this darling story, with just a wee bit of commentary about why I chose them:
This is a slightly longish snip, but it explains so much about Frode’s background and how it shaped his character. So many books are full of family and relationship strife (not that there’s anything wrong with that…I love a well done story with any family/relationship dynamic), but it’s nice to see one with strong family support represented. This shows Frode’s sister sticking up for him when they were younger:
“Did you just say what I think you said?” Fia snapped, and I was sure her blue eyes were shooting lightning bolts at her friend. Her eyes always crackled and fizzled like a stormy sky when she was angry.
Linda’s gaze flitted between my sister and me and her mouth opened and closed as though she couldn’t decide whether to stand her ground or not.
Fia continued, “Because if you did, you can—” she lowered her voice until it was a snakelike hiss “—eff off. Frode and I will just go by ourselves, and I won’t talk to you again. Ever.”
And that was why she was my hero.
Flowers Under My Pillow is a fun and quirky story where midsummer folklore meets reality. Here’s a cheesy-grin inducing scene that takes place shortly after Frode has come across an intriging stranger/photographer (Viljar) who appears to be everything Frode has dreamed of in his lifetime of midsummers to date:
He takes a step back. And another. Slow, not taking his gaze off me, as though he’s making sure I won’t bolt. When he’s back in his original spot, he picks up more fallen dandelions and lies down, arbitrarily sticking them into his beard. He picks up something else from the grass—a closer look tells me it’s a remote control—but his head is turned in my direction the entire time.
“Wait,” I say and walk closer, kneeling by his side. I take the dandelions from the bouquet intended for my pillow, snap off the long stems, and add them to his beard. Then I nod and move away, knee-walking backward until I’m sure I’m not in the frame, and sit back on my heels.
Hmmm… Which do you suppose came first, this scene or the perfect match of a cover? 🤭
I’ll finish off with this happy-sigh’s worth of loveliness:
It’s a chaste kiss, so light and fleeting I wouldn’t have believed it was real if it hadn’t been for his beard tickling my lips, inviting me to press a little harder. My heart hammers so hard, I’m certain he can feel it pulsing through my lips, certain it reverberates through the forest like some ancient, shamanistic drum. The kiss is everything I’ve ever dreamed of and I want more. I need more.
When you’ve recovered from your happy sigh, go get this adorable story that’ll leave a smile on your face!
Smiling brown eyes. A dark beard. Dandelions. Sunny, happy dandelions.
For thirty years, Frode’s had the same dream. Every Midsummer’s Eve since he was a kid accompanying his sister to pick flowers to put under his pillow, he’s dreamed of the same man. A dream he never shares with anyone that makes him wish for impossible things … like true love.
Then one Midsummer’s Eve, the man of Frode’s dreams stands before him in the flesh. Both men recognize each other despite never having met in real life. Both men are instantly drawn to each other and want to know more.
Who is he? Is he even real? Their questions are many but do the whys and the hows matter? Or should they allow the Midsummer magic that brought them together to lead the way into each other’s arms? Into each other’s hearts?
Traditional Swedish folklore tells you that if you pick seven kinds of flowers in silence and put them under your pillow on Midsummer’s Eve, you’ll dream of the man you’ll marry.
GENRE: Gay Erotic Romance
LENGTH: Right on the cusp between Novelette and Novella / 17,477 words
HEAT RATING: 3 Flames
JMS (12% OFF > July 31): https://www.jms-books.com/nell-iris-c-224_232/flowers-under-my-pillow-p-3867.html
Smashwords (50% OFF > July 31): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1092106
Amazon Kindle: https://amzn.to/3ODwg9n
Held Close to My Heart by Ellie Thomas
The second book I read this week is Held Close to My Heart by Ellie Thomas. Not my first read by this author, and definitely not my last!
I love this snippet because it struck me as the less common perspective (at least in most of the books I’ve happened to read, which may not be representative of the genre as a whole), while still giving us a subtle sense of what the non-POV character is feeling. I love subtle, don’t you?
He ran his hand over my broad, tanned shoulders as though they were an exotic sight compared to the pale and perfumed bodies of his London lovers.
This lovely scene gives us a good sense of where the POV character (Luke) is coming from:
While he stroked my arms and chest, he looked ethereal in the gloom of the barn with his perfectly smooth hands, lily-white skin, and his body almost free of hair apart from a golden trail that led from his heart to his groin. In contrast, I felt like a rough country clod, brown of skin and with practical shorn dark hair, my body strong from lifting sheep and crops, hands rough from manual work, a gentleman only in name.
Thus far in the story, Luke (the POV MC) believes himself to be just another dalliance to Jem, who is far more than that to Luke. But does Jem really see Luke that way?:
As though alerted by my gloomy musings, Jem suddenly looked at me from across the room and granted me a dazzling smile. I could not help but smile back at him, even though this could not entirely shift the dark stain of jealousy lingering in my soul.
The subtlety in this and many of this story’s scenes reminds me of one of my favorite sayings:
This is a short, opposites attract, childhood-friends to lovers novelette, and I don’t want to give too much away, so other than this final insightful snippet that tugged at my heartstrings, I’ll leave the rest for you to discover when you read it yourself, which you’re going to do, right?
“What?” he said as I stared at him. “Did I say something foolish?”
“No,” I repled, “you said something very wise. Jem, you are a rare and infinitely giving soul. It’s just not easy for the rest of us poor mortals to be that generous.”
Jem shrugged against my shoulder, “Scholarly people make things difficult for themselves. The result of too much thinking, no doubt.”
Since their mid-teens, Luke has been deeply in love with his childhood friend and neighbour Jem, who spends most of the year at the decadent court of King Charles II in London. In the intervening years at home on Twelvetrees Farm in Oxfordshire, Luke has been occupied by helping his disabled father run their small estate, taking on the burden of work to support his family. Meanwhile, Jem has enjoyed all the worldly pleasures available to him at court.
When they are both twenty-one, Jem returns to Westlecot Manor to spend the summer, and Luke’s feelings for him reach boiling point. Luke can no longer cling to the belief he is important to Jem. He is overwhelmed by jealousy at the prospect of Jem’s dalliances with any visitors to the manor house, while aware Jem is bewildered by his outbursts of disapproval.
Will Luke allow his jealousy to get the better of him? Might he dare to speak his deepest feelings? Or would that destroy their lifelong bond forever?
GENRE: Gay Historical Erotic Romance
LENGTH: Novelette / 11,253 words
RATING: 3 Flames
JMS Books (12% OFF > July 31): https://www.jms-books.com/ellie-thomas-c-224_420/held-close-to-my-heart-p-4359.html
Smashwords (50% OFF > July 31): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1151198
Amazon Kindle: https://amzn.to/3nvYlmX