Many authors (and Hallmark movies!) often use New York, London, LA, and Toronto as the backdrop for their romance stories, but how many are based in Reno, Nevada? With his Romance in Reno series, Gay Romance author Lee Maxwell uses his long relationship with the city to his advantage, weaving some great queer romance through captivating M/M love stories. The series, which so far includes three novels and one Christmas Holiday-themed novella, focuses on various popular M/M tropes, ranging from love at first sight to age differences to second chance love. “The Biggest Little City In The World” is filled with handsome men, intriguing romances, complex relationships, and a bit of angst thrown in for good measure; Maxwell’s genuine love for the Gay Romance Genre is on full display within his work.
Book 1 in the series, First Glances, a beautifully written love story, explores the “predestined love” theme, highlighting the romantic electricity between gay men Scott and David. The two men first glance at each other across the room at Club Eros, a gay bar in Reno and are pretty much instantly smitten. But it’s easy to believe in the validity of this instant connection happening, especially once their story quickly unfolds and the reader witnesses the relationship between these two men blossom. It’s not an overly complicated narrative, with only minimal drama and angst toward the end, so there isn’t a need for any “trigger warnings.” And you bet there’s a HEA!
Interestingly, despite these men being experienced—this is not a “first-time” story—Scott and David’s relationship has a certain innocence, an easiness to their emotional and physical attraction. Maxwell adds a noted specialness to the romance between these two guys that makes complete sense after reading the author’s heartfelt, poignant note after the story concludes. This is a meaningful book for Maxwell, not simply because it’s his first but because it has strong personal significance.
Book 2 in the Romance in Reno series, Never Letting Go, is shorter than Maxwell’s first, but the tension and drama are amped up. The title certainly has a double meaning. One way to look at our main protagonists Peter and Colin’s budding relationship is that both recognize something special, worth protecting and holding onto, a love that doesn’t come along often. On the other hand, Colin’s ex, Ayden, takes the “never letting go” notion of love worth keeping and perverts it into something menacing and dangerous. Maxwell’s expansion into thriller elements and action spices up his second Romance in Reno outing nicely. Aside from Peter and Colin’s great potential “super couple” vibe, there’s a nice assortment of supporting characters, especially Peter’s sister-in-law, Jeannie, who just so happens to be Colin’s best friend. Talk about serendipity! And despite the addition of danger and suspense, it all leads to a HEA.
Of A Certain Age is the third and most recent addition to the Romance in Reno series and handles the familiar M/M trope of the “age gap” well here; it never comes across as fetishized in the least bit. Brody is in love with his best friend, Erik, who is thirteen years older than him and unaware of his friend’s deeply profound love and attraction transcending friendship. Brody may not care about the age difference, but he believes Erik would. Also, Brody is carrying some baggage from past trauma. Five years after first seeing and instantly crushing on Erik, the most handsome man he’d ever seen, at a Reno Aces baseball game, Brody is still “in the closet” about his true feelings. Yes, the book starts out with a one-sided romance. Still, Brody never conveys immaturity or desperation in the narrative, a tribute to Maxwell’s writing, or a need for pity from the reader. That said, we do feel for him, and yes, sometimes frustration aside hope.
In this novel, there is angst and dramatic tension, but it’s all well-paced and never placed in the narrative without thoughtful intent to add to the story, moving it along. The emotional issues are valid but often based on perceptions predicated on societal stereotypes, like Brody believing Erik thinks all younger gay guys see men his age as “trolls;” thus, there is no point in revealing his true feelings. The angst in this novel around the unspoken and varied assumptions is infuriating in the best literary way. There are meaningful conversations between the main protagonists and supporting characters about several topics, including the “age differences in relationships, and Of A Certain Age has a level of maturity in the narrative that must be noted. Seeing an author’s growth in how they manipulate words and emotions from book to book is an extraordinary thing. So, what about Brody and Erik? Perhaps the universe or Fate will intervene? Do both gentlemen need to get out of their own way, man up and speak their truths? Well, like all of Maxwell’s romances so far, there is a HEA!
Maxwell’s Holiday-themed novella, His Christmas Miracle, I have yet to read and is currently unavailable. Are we perhaps getting a more fleshed-out novel version of it this coming holiday season? Furthermore, his book, A Second Chance, does not officially share the Romance in Reno moniker, so I will provide a singular Blog Review for this book at a later date.
I highly recommend Lee Maxwell as a bright voice in Gay Fiction, M/M or otherwise. His amazing love stories with sexy, handsome men, and yes, some spice and heat when warranted, will grab your heart and your attention from the start. Maxwell reminds me of Gay Fiction-M/M Romance author Andrew Grey, particularly the work Grey sets in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a city he lives in. You can feel when an author uses a backdrop they are familiar with and have a personal, intimate connection to; it adds an element of authenticity, of personal relationship that research into a place one is not familiar with doesn’t always provide. Hey, no one does Maine better than Stephen King does or New Orleans better than Anne Rice did. There is something to be said for knowing what or where you write about. Maxwell is on his way to being that author for Reno, Nevada.