I’ve read so many wonderful books this year. What I love most about being a reviewer for Boys on the Brink and Rainbow Book Reviews is making new discoveries, being introduced to authors and stories I may never have picked up otherwise. I feel truly privileged.

In amongst all the incredible novels I’ve enjoyed, ranging from the sweet to the sizzling, there are a few that really stand out in my mind. In no particular order, as Dermot O’Leary always says when announcing the results of The X Factor, these are my top seven books of 2014 in the genres of gay fiction and m/m romance:

1. Hell on Wheels by Z.A. Maxfield

Nash is the reliable one in the Holly family, the guy everyone counts on to keep things going. His genius twin brother is off at university, so Nash runs the family’s auto repair business and cares for his partially-paralyzed little sister while his crackpot father invents. His life seems mapped out for the foreseeable future, however much that might chafe.

So when Wolf’s Landing actor Spencer Kepler-Constantine lands in his life, Nash is ready for a diversion. Spencer is in the middle of a very painful, very public divorce and isn’t ready for a relationship—not that Nash wants one. But they both need a friend, especially one with benefits.

As they grow closer, Nash starts to see his family in a whole new light. Do they really need him so badly? Or does he simply need to be needed? Then Spencer’s ex reappears with a grand romantic gesture, and Nash has to figure out what he wants—and how to get it—before Spencer’s gone for good.

2. Silent by Sara Alva

Alex’s life as a teenager in South Central L.A. is far from perfect, but it’s his life, and he knows how to live it. He knows what role to play and what things to keep to himself. He’s got it all under control, until one lousy pair of shoes kicks him out of his world and lands him in a foster care group home.

Surrounded by strangers and trapped in a life where he could never belong, Alex turns to the only person lower on the social ladder than he is: a “special” mute boy. In Sebastian, Alex finds a safe place to store his secrets—those that sent him to foster care, and the deeper one that sets him apart from the other teenagers he knows. But Sebastian has secrets of his own, and when tragedy rips the two boys apart, Alex will stop at nothing to find the answers—even if it means dragging them both through a past full of wounds best left buried.

It might just be worth it, for the slim chance at love.

3. Rush by Nyrae Dawn

For the love of the game.

Brandon Chase has always defined himself by one thing: football. Tough and athletic, he is a great college player who enjoys the hard hits and the sweaty grind of the gridiron. But when Brandon is injured, only one person can help him get back on track-a forbidden love he’s desperately tried to put behind him.

Alec Andrews has never quite forgiven Brandon for walking away when their friendship turned into something more. But he can’t deny help to one of his closest friends. As the two spend the long, hot summer working together, their old attraction comes flooding back.

Now as Alec thinks about coming out to his conservative family and Brandon considers revealing he’s a gay football player, the two men must be strong to fight for a love that could be the greatest rush of their lives.

4. Unbroken by Larry Benjamin

My parents, unable to change me, had instead, silenced me. When they’d stilled my hands, they’d taken my words, made me lower my voice to a whisper. Later, I remained silent in defense, refusing to acknowledge the hateful words: Brainiac. Sissy. Antiman. Faggot.

Lincoln de Chabert’s life is pretty unremarkable until he comes home from kindergarten and announces he will marry his best friend, Orlando, when he grows up. His parents spring into immediate action, determined to fix him, igniting an epic battle of wills as Lincoln is determined to remain himself, and marry whom he chooses, at all costs.

5. The Roommate Situation by Zoe X. Rider

College freshman Shane Hahn finds himself unexpectedly shuffled to a new dorm room–which is fine by him, but his over-involved mother takes one look at toothpick-chewing, motorcycle-riding Derek McClain, his new roommate, and gets on the phone with the school. The school requires that Shane be the one to file the room-change paperwork, but Shane’s reluctant.

He’s attracted to Derek’s independence, even though that independence means Derek has to pay his own way through college, which he does by making leather products (you know: belts, wallets…bondage gear) and selling it online. Shane isn’t even allowed to work while he’s in school, much less join a band, which is what he really wants to do with his life. Unfortunately, his parents are holding his guitar hostage until he can prove he’s taking his future seriously.

When he decides he needs a way to come up with cash–the kind his parents won’t find out about–so he can buy a guitar his parents can’t take away from him, he turns to Derek with what sounds like a win-win solution: he’ll model bondage gear for Derek’s online store photos, Derek will get more sales, and Shane will get a cut. The one thing he doesn’t factor into his plan is the giddy stomach-flip feeling Derek McClain causes whenever he walks in the room–and what that might mean for them when Derek starts locking leather cuffs on his wrists.

6. Every Inferno by Johanna Parkhurst

Depressed. Defiant. Possible alcoholic. These are just a few of the terms used to describe fifteen-year-old Jacob Jasper Jones. Lately, though, JJ has a new one to add to the list: detective. He’s been having strange dreams about the fire that killed his parents ten years ago, and he thinks he finally has the clue to catching the arsonist who destroyed his family.

A murder investigation isn’t the only thing the dreams trigger for JJ. They also lead to secret meetings with his estranged sister, an unlikely connection with a doctor who lost his daughter in the fire, and a confusing friendship with McKinley, a classmate of JJ’s who seems determined to help him solve the mystery.

All JJ wants is to shake the problems that have followed him since that fire, and he’s convinced he must catch the arsonist to do it. But as JJ struggles to find the culprit, he sees there’s more than one mystery in his life he needs to solve.

7. There’s Something About Ari by L.B. Gregg

Buck Ellis’s future seems pretty damn bright. With a full college scholarship in hand, he’s going to ditch Bluewater Bay and pave the way for his kid brother Charlie to do the same. The only fly in Buck’s ointment is his ten-year addiction to his best friend since second grade, his true love, and his Achilles heel: Ari Valentine, Mr. Least Likely to Succeed.

But then Buck’s mother dies, changing everything, and five years later, his future is still on hold. It’s a struggle to keep food on the table, a roof over their heads, and Charlie on the straight and narrow. Buck can’t afford any temptation, especially in the form of the newly returned, super hot, super confident, super successful television star Ari Valentine.

ADHD poster-child Ari Valentine left for Hollywood and lost everything, including his bad reputation. Then the breakthrough role of his skyrocketing career lands him back in Bluewater Bay, to the stunned disbelief of, well, everyone. But there’s only one person Ari longs to impress—the only person who ever really mattered to him, the person he left behind: Buck Ellis.

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