This post includes reviews of the currently available books in the White House Men series:
- Press (#1)
- Friends (#2)
- Click (#3)
- Serve (#4)
- Care (#5)
- Puzzle (#6)
Press (Book 1)
This was the first Nora Phoenix title I picked up a few months ago, and at the time, I read the first 10 percent and lost interest. Since then, I’ve read other books by this author and completely fallen in love with her writing and storytelling, so I knew I had to give this series another shot. I easily resumed the book from where I’d left off and devoured the rest in a single evening and following morning.
Often, romance stories fall into the “friends-to-lovers” or “enemies-to-lovers” camps. This book deviates from those tropes in that Levar and Henley are professional colleagues of an adversarial nature. Too bad they’d make great friends, and even worse, that sparks fly when unintentional flirting occurs. To their credit, both make their best attempt to maintain boundaries in the relationship that develops and often communicate with each other as the mature adults they are. Unfortunately, the rest of the world can’t let the connection between them slide. I loved that it was a complete surprise to the characters but not to me as a reader that breaking off their non-relationship is utterly painful for both men.
That’s as far as I’m going to go into spoiler territory on the relationship side. Suffice to say: The resolution is unexpected, perfect, and utterly satisfying. All of this also winds through an ongoing external conflict with just enough political and real-world intrigue to make me anxious to read the next book in the series.
Do you like queer romance? Do you like The West Wing? Then this book is definitely for you. And now that I already know who good Phoenix is, I know I won’t be disappointed by what comes next.
Friends (Book 2)
Despite my initial hesitancy about this series, I’m now all in. This book includes many of my favorite things, such as an intricate external plot, excellent characters, and an incredibly sweet friends-to-lovers romantic arc. Phoenix so engrossed me with the continuation of her political intrigue that I might have been quite happy to keep reading for that alone, going along for the ride while Coulson and Seth puzzle apart the disparate clues and consider possible explanations and implications.
However, this is still a romance novel, so watching Coulson and Seth grow closer in other ways was like an added treat. And get your mind out of the gutter! They develop a lovely friendship that I thoroughly enjoyed even before the sexy bits start to crop up, such as Seth realizing Coulson might be the full package for him (pun not intended) and Coulson recognizing and acknowledging some truths about himself that he’d never had reason to explore before now. I also thoroughly enjoyed the separate interactions with each man’s families, which contributed to the romantic plot arc without feeling shoe-horned in or over-dramatized for the story’s sake.
I hope I’m able to peek in on how these two characters are faring in their romantic happily ever after as future books continue to untangle the external conflict. It looks like Seth has a history with future heroes, so fingers crossed that those friendships are shown in this series’ later novels.
Click (Book 3)
First of all, I got my wish from the previous book! Seth and Coulson are back as important perspectives to the developing and intricate external plot that links this series. Seeing them again is so much fun, especially in the context of their professional selves (after all, competency is sexy). However, none of this detracts from the primary premise of this book, which is the burgeoning relationship between Rhett (White House photographer) and Calix (the President’s Chief of Staff).
It’s important to note that a friendship develops between them first, despite their best intentions. Calix and Rhett bring out the best in each other, which batters down the walls both have built around their lives (hearts). Luckily, both men have meddlesome yet well-meaning friends who do their best to pave the way toward them having an actual relationship. It doesn’t hurt that Calix and Rhett are unintentionally meddlesome themselves when it comes to issues they think they can “help” the other with. Calix’s motivation, especially, is at times both sweet and hilarious, and it played out beautifully even when I could see it coming from a mile away.
I love the overall connections developing between all of the characters in this series, and I can’t wait to see Milan and Asher added to the mix in the next book. This trust and support will likely be integral to everyone involved in the overarching plot, and I’m a hundred percent invested in both the story and the characters involved.
Serve (Book 4)
The fourth installment of the White House Men series starts with two men who have sacrificed important elements of their private lives to serve the greater good. Milan has moved into the residence to support his sister and best friend, the President. Asher has left his Secret Service job in New York City to be on the First Lady’s protection detail. The two men have an interesting history and know that they can scratch each other’s itches, but it will require both to make sacrifices to get what they need.
It might not be the best outcome for Milan and Asher, but it’s sexy AF for the reader, so I’m pretty sure they’re the only two complaining.
Meanwhile, this book ratchets up the elements of the external plot to the point that the primary players have to abandon DC in favor of Camp David. Our favorite heroes from each book are included in that list, and I love that we see how Seth, Coulson, and Calix continue to play an important role in untangling the mystery that now includes multiple bombings and assassinations. But someone has to keep them all fed, and White House steward Denali accompanies them as part of the caretaking staff. Denali volunteers himself to go a bit above and beyond how this care extends to Milan (and Asher). This book’s romance arc is a fascinating dance between three men who must figure out how to balance multiple sets of attraction—and the pesky accompanying emotions that develop.
Asher and Milan are certainly not going to turn away a good thing when presented to them, but I love how they also attempt to do their best by Denali. This is especially true when Denali is the one to up-end their entire arrangement by pointing out the emotions involved are just as important as everything else between them. I appreciated the support these men get from their friends almost as much as I adored the love that blooms between these three unlikely men.
But the big mystery is still not solved, and I’m anxiously awaiting the next installment of this amazing political romance saga.
Care (Book 5)
I have to admit that I wasn’t as excited about this book as I had been about previous installments to this series. I was worried that with the focus on Kenn (the President’s son) and Warrick (Kenn’s tutor) that the bigger political plot would take a back seat to the developing romance because these men are not intimately involved with that particular mystery. But I should know by now to have more faith in Phoenix because this story was just as intense as everything that has come before.
Phoenix goes back in time a bit to explore the full meeting between Kenn and Warrick from their points of view, which also lets the readers see some previously dramatic events in a newly emotional light. In addition, Phoenix does not shy away from continuing various elements of the external plot from the perspective of other characters we know and love. She is talented at choosing which point of view to highlight for the most impact, such as featuring press secretary Levar for a particular scandal breaking and (still my personal favorites) Seth and Coulson for some nitty-gritty continued investigative work (and a special bonus surprise toward the end).
Oh yeah, there’s still a romance in here, too! Even though Daddy kink will never be my go-to to read about, I do enjoy following characters as they realize how to be true to themselves, and Kenn and Warrick have that in spades. Once again, I made a mistaken assumption that Phoenix immediately upends in how incredibly loving and supportive Kenn’s family (and extended family) are about his developing relationship with Warrick. Honestly, everyone needs a Milan in their life, and I lost track of how many times I said “Oh, Milan” out loud (in various tones from sweetness to exasperation to hilarity).
This book is a solid installment to this epic series, and while movement does happen in the external political suspense plot, I have no idea how close to the end we are. Phoenix drops clues at the end regarding additional relationships to explore in this series, and I will definitely be along for the ride.
Puzzle (Book 6)
Due to the nature of the series, I had two concerns heading into this novel. First, how would Phoenix continue the investigative nature of the ongoing secondary conflict when, at this point in the saga, that work would occur outside of the White House? Second, would I be as interested in a romantic arc featuring characters who are not as connected to the White House as those previously in the series? Luckily, Phoenix has worked plenty of excellent setup into this addictive series so that it’s easy to roll with the answer to both of those questions. We’ve known Branson as a recurrent secondary character since book 2 (Friends), and Phoenix has already established a pattern of not being afraid to dip into previously featured points of view to continue the story. In fact, Phoenix is adept at choosing the perfect point of view to amplify the conflict at the scene level, even when the primary romantic pairing characters are the ideal points of view for the elements of the conflict being highlighted at the story level.
Therefore, this book features integral point-of-view scenes from Milan, Kenn, Calix, Levar, and (most importantly because they are my absolute favorites) Seth and Coulson. However, none of this diminishes the adorable romance that occurs between Branson and Ryder at the same time as they’re picking apart the threads of one of the biggest conspiracies ever to face the country. Often, CIA agent book heroes are the quintessential spy characters. However, their work wouldn’t be possible without the analysts and other experts who work behind the scenes (and behind a desk) at Langley. Branson and Ryder are incredibly talented at what they do, but why should they be friends when all they have in common is where they work and being gay? A hilarious coincidence reveals their explosive sexual chemistry, but both men are professionals who still have to work together. Their slow journey from coworkers to friends to friends-with-benefits is accompanied by excellent character development on both sides. Ryder helps Branson come to terms with facets of his personality that were more warped by his upbringing than he realized; in turn, Branson helps Ryder break down the walls he constructed after previous relationship pain. This story was perhaps the most “vanilla” or “standard” of any of the pairings in this series, but that does nothing to diminish the heat of the encounters or the satisfaction of the romantic arc.
Regarding this series’ overarching political thriller element, much of that conflict is solved and addressed in this story, though not necessarily resolved. However, one major character is left who absolutely deserves his own happily ever after for surviving this mess. I look forward to how Phoenix wraps up all the loose ends and sends each of the amazing characters from this series on their way while also giving us one more epic romance.