This post contains reviews of the currently available books in the Bold Brew series:
- Cup of Joe (#1) by Annabeth Albert
- Puppuccino (#2) by Allison Temple
- Perfect Matcha (#3) by Erin McLellan
- Vanilla Steamer (#4) by Crystal Lacy
- Order Up (#5) by Wendy Qualls
- Silky Smooth (#6) by A. M. Arthur
- Fair Trade (#7) by Cate Ashwood
- Extra Whip (#8) by L. A. Witt
- Cinnamon Roll (#9) by Anna Zabo
- Double Shot (#10) by Gwen Martin
Cup of Joe (Book 1) by Annabeth Albert
I think this book does an excellent job as the introduction to this shared-world series that centers around a queer-friendly (and kink-friendly) coffee shop. In this particular story, sparks fly between a brand-new barista and a local electrician. Barista Levi found himself in a bit of a tough spot after graduation when the life he envisioned in this new town fell through. He finds comfort in Joe, and together, they explore the various possibilities of how a relationship between them might work. First, it’s just for the summer, but it quickly becomes clear that the relationship means much more than a seasonal escape.
Though this book is billed as an age-gap romance, I think that has more to do with the different place each character is in his life (just out of college vs. established career and homeowner) rather than specific ages. Joe has experience with the kink lifestyle but feels that he no longer fits the image expected of him. Levi is great for his partner’s body positivity and doesn’t hesitate to share what he’s looking for and helping Joe settle into that dynamic. Overall, this is a sweet and sexy romance with a dark moment that stretches the main characters to be better, both individually and together.
I’ve read previous books by some of the authors scheduled to be part of this series and checked out this first book primarily for them. However, I don’t regret jumping in at the beginning based on how lovely I found this story. It’s too bad I’m such a fast reader that even two weeks until the next installment feels much too long!
(And does this series get bonus points for all the coffee pun titles? Absolutely. In fact, I think I’ll make myself another cup right now.)
Puppuccino (Book 2) by Allison Temple
I’m not going to lie: Since this is billed as a book series that leans kinky, I expected this story to involve puppy play. However, the dog training mentioned on the back cover is literally dog training. And although I am 100 percent not a dog lover, even I fell for Charlie and Athena. Honestly, they really need all the help they can get, and luckily Mason is available to step in. (Bonus points for including the Roomba incident I’ve laughed at online!)
Mason is not the adorable mess that Charlie is, but he is comfortable with his desires—and he sees potential in the ways he might desire Charlie. The sparks between them are real, and their encounters are incredibly sexy. Some allegories might be made between the way Mason interacts with Charlie and how he trains dogs, but in this case, examining that might take all the fun out of how the men relate to each other.
Temple joins in the fun of adding to the expanded universe of this series, introducing us to secondary characters that I see will have their own love stories later. This book, however, is already two out of two for my enjoyment of the Bold Brew world, for a love story with the perfect dash of sweet kink. I’ll definitely be continuing the adventure when the next book is released.
Perfect Matcha (Book 3) by Erin McLellan
It’s clear from the outset that this short novel will be a friends-to-lovers story in which Camden and Theo end up together. However, the road McLellan leads us down is full of surprises involving past failed relationships, sex toys, and understanding friends. Theo is a quiet guy who is interested in stepping out of his bubble. Camden would prefer that to involve him but has resigned himself to missing that opportunity years ago. I’m not sure that I would have dropped so much money on sex toys for my best friend if I was in Camden’s financial situation, but as a reader, I’m more than pleased to reap the results.
The way Camden and Theo interact on the phone and then continue that interaction in person should have been a giant clue bat to both men that they are meant to be. However, it takes some not insignificant prodding from third parties for the pair to realize that their genuine friendship is barely a step away from true love.
Come for the sweet romance; stay to add some intriguing sex toys to your personal shopping list.
Vanilla Steamer (Book 4) by Crystal Lacy
A young, flirty barista. An older, serious emergency room doctor. It’s pretty obvious here which man is the Dom and which is the sub, right? Lacy’s subversion of my initial expectations is only the first of many delicious and sexy surprises in this book. The caring but playful way Vann introduces Landon to various kinky interests elevated each date and what might otherwise be a run-of-the-mill sex scene into a genuine part of a fascinating relationship arc.
I’m not sure whether the Bold Brew series was planned this way intentionally or not, but this book is the most overtly kinky so far. Landon’s constant willingness to push himself (under Vann’s guidance) made each page a surprise that turned this book into a single-evening binge (that I didn’t regret in the slightest). Also, this story introduces readers to more of the local scene by showing Vann at a casual munch and featuring an extended passage at an actual play party.
Though not quite an age-gap relationship, Vann and Landon are at different enough places in their lives that I figured I had the dark moment conflict figured out early in the book. Lacy surprised me once again, and the overall reactions from both the main characters and Vann’s family have me pretty convinced that their happily ever after will be a forever one.
This story was already pretty steamy (pun intended), and I can’t wait to check out the heat level in the next installment of this excellent series!
Order Up (Book 5) by Wendy Qualls
Pretty much my only complaint about this novella is that it could have been longer. The two heroes’ relationship leans a little too far into “insta-love” than I usually prefer because of this book’s length. However, the chemistry and connection Blake and Graham share are undeniable, made all the more realistic because of the differences in their lives.
Blake’s free-wheeling attitude is part of what attracts Graham, but it also pokes at Graham’s insecurities. Graham has no problem enjoying Blake’s cam work videos and even appreciates the chance to break out of his comfort zone by participating when Blake needs an emergency partner. The way he wields it as a weapon during the story’s dark moment is cringe-inducing, but I thoroughly appreciate how Qualls skirts the line by not allowing her characters to overtly stigmatize this version of sex work.
A longer book would have made the final resolution more satisfying. Viewed in another light, this is the perfect vehicle for readers who enjoy solid romance arcs to dip their toe into some kinkier action than they might be used to.
Silky Smooth (Book 6) by A. M. Arthur
This novella was a sweet read featuring a wounded character who takes a chance on love and then on living as his authentic self. As someone who also experiences anxiety (and survived her share of bullying in high school, though not in college), I appreciated Nicolas’ self-preservation instincts while also applauding how he has managed to successfully support himself through his art. A chance encounter with the most random lost pet ever brings him together with Alex, and the rest is a lovely romance between two men who might get their happily ever after together.
So, I shouldn’t have many complaints—except I felt like I was missing half the book. We only get events from Nicolas’ perspective, but I was also interested in Alex and his complete story. The story we do get is appropriate to the length, but I enjoyed Arthur’s smooth and description writing enough to genuinely want more.
I’m not sure we’ll get a peek at Alex and Nicolas further in this series, but I wouldn’t complain if Arthur ever expanded this book at some point in the future.
Fair Trade (Book 7) by Cate Ashwood
Callum has the world’s most perfect one-night stand. Then, it turns out the guy might live in his town, so they do it again. Then, it turns out the guy is his new paramedic partner, and their job has a no fraternization policy. Suddenly, Callum’s great week is not looking so hot.
Try as he might, he can’t get Nick out of his head. Too bad Nick can’t either, and Nick decides he won’t make it so easy for Callum to walk away. Ashwood presents a scenario and two characters for which I can sympathize for both sides, especially when Nick goes a bit rogue, and Callum realizes just how much Nick might mean to him.
Then, it’s Callum’s turn to go a little off the deep end when he realizes what really matters in his life. The ending is humorous and sweet, the perfect close to a sweet and sexy novella. Ashwood is a new author to me, but her writing here makes me definitely want to check out her other works.
Extra Whip (Book 8) by L. A. Witt
I’m not going to lie: This is one of two books that made me want to start reading this series, so I was so pleased when it was finally Witt’s turn to shine. Her epic novel did not disappoint, with three dynamic characters who fit together so beautifully. Romance, even kinky romance, has its own set of character tropes, so I’m also interested in stories that subvert those tropes. Like Will and Aaron, I was intrigued by Witt’s depiction of a submissive who is also a sadist.
Will and Aaron are very much a pair throughout the novel, unsurprising after a 20-year romantic partnership. However, they are still very different characters who shine in different ways, and I fell in love with them as individuals as much as I did with them as a couple. Their interest in adding a third person to enhance certain elements of their dynamic comes across as a way their love is stronger rather than weaker, even though their fear of ruining their dynamic creates the central conflict to this book.
Kelly, newly returned to town as an adult, is exactly the unicorn Will and Aaron seek to fulfill the expanding needs of their play. In hindsight, they should perhaps have set more limits on how fully they welcomed Kelly into their lives (together and individually), except for how important trust and intimacy are in the way they play together. Kelly has his own emotional baggage, but he’s not a disposable toy, and I love how he fights (even quietly) for his proper place in his new companion’s lives. Ultimately, he’s even the one to potentially sacrifice what they’ve built out of his care for the two men he’s grown close to.
This book includes so much to unpack about the importance of trust, communication, and intimacy in relationships (especially kinky ones) and how nothing about a relationship can ever be stagnant. Despite years of history, there’s always room to grow and discover new things. Will, Aaron, and Kelly lead the reader through a wonderful and sexy journey of discovery, and I hope other readers love it is as much as I did.
Cinnamon Roll (Book 9) by Anna Zabo
Disclaimer: I am friends with the author. I purchased this ebook for full price without the author’s expectation of a review.
Zabo has yet to let me down with the heat levels in their books, whether they’re sexual or emotional. Here, they deliver both with a side of excellent character development and a bonus pastry craving. (Seriously, you’re going to want to get your carbs on after reading this one.) Most of all, I love how a “simple” kinky romance also has a lot to say about treating your own desires and relationships with the same respect you would treat others.
I had so much sympathy for Tom as he navigated trading his emotional needs for other elements of his identity, and even more for Max as he does his best to knock down the walls Tom has erected while also staying committed to his limits. (I also have even more sympathy for Aaron for continuing to advocate for Tom even when he wasn’t quite ready to do it himself.) Zabo does set up Max as kind of the perfect guy, but they also do a great job at showing that he is still just a guy (with certain desires of his own) during his point-of-view scenes.
How Tom and Max play is not going to be for everyone. How Tom and Max “fall in love” also isn’t going to be for everyone, but I loved this portrayal of a (possibly) aromantic character and how the book showed that a happily ever after is possible for all sorts.
Zabo says in their acknowledgment at the end of the book that, in such a difficult year, they wanted to write a book with all of their favorite things. They certainly succeeded to their readers’ benefits, even if now I really want a chocolate croissant. I had high expectations and went into this series specifically for this book. Not only did Zabo not let me down, but they also wrote my favorite of the bunch.
Double Shot (Book 10) by Gwen Martin
This shorter book was a lovely wind-down from the excitement of this excellent shared-world series of romance novels. West and Rhys are both characters who have been mentioned previously, so I was pleased that the final book wraps up with a love story between two familiar faces. Even though I had a general idea of what the book was about based on Martin’s social media promotion, I could have never expected all the ways in which this story flips the script on multiple romance tropes.
The kink explored here is that of Daddy/Little, but it relies on none of the expectations set by other books I’ve read in this subgenre. The first and most obvious twist is that Rhys is younger than West, but Martin pushes that further by having neither character be in their 20s to make the age gap more blatant. In addition, West is not looking for a permanent caregiver figure. He may be dealing with issues from his past, but he’s not in search of someone to “fix” him. Instead, he is a fully autonomous adult merely searching for someone to accept all facets of himself while he’s at his most vulnerable. And isn’t that the theme of pretty much any romance novel, from the kinkiest to the most vanilla?
Despite the shorter length, Rhys and West both experience quality arcs as individual characters and for their developing relationship. While not my favorite in the series, this story was a great note on which to end this saga. Even if more Bold Brew books are not forthcoming, I have the feeling this won’t be my last visit to Laurelsburg.