The Coda series by Marie Sexton is without question one of my all time favorite romance series.  I have read each book an embarrasing number of times and I turn to them time and again when I am looking to get my fix of these guys I have grown to love.

The series is seven books/stories focusing on the lives of three different couples.  The first two books take place in the fictional mountain town of Coda, Colorado and introduce us to our first two couples: Matt and Jared, and Zach and Angelo.  Then the series takes a unique twist when the third book combines all four men as they take a trip to Las Vegas, giving us insight into both their relationships as couples, as well as the strong friendship between the men.  We also get two short stories that feature Matt and Jared, one of which is free.  The fifth book introduces us to a third couple, Jonathan and Cole, both of whom have connections to our original two couples.  And finally, the last book of the series brings all six men together in one book as they celebrate a wedding.

My favorite thing about this series is how much I love the characters.  Every time I read one of the books I think, ok, this is my favorite.  Then I remember how much I adore the other guys and change my mind.  And what I love the most is how Sexton creates three such different couples and six such different men.  Often in a series with a variety of main characters you end up with guys who are virtually interchangeable.  Their plots and conflicts may differ, but the guys themselves aren’t very distinct.  That could not be further from the case here.  Sexton does an amazing job of creating six unique men with personalities, behaviors, and dialog that are all their own.  Honestly I could read a passage out of context and probably tell you exact who was speaking, that is how well drawn these guys are.  The stories also showcase how unique every relationship is and how different things are right for different people.  This shows up most clearly in the two books that feature multiple couples together where we can really see the comparison between the ways the men interact and how their relationships all differ.  So yes, each couple and each book is my favorite.  I can not choose because I love them all and I hope if you haven’t read this fabulous series you will give it a try.

Here are the books and the rough order they should be read (although there is some flexibility in there as you will see). Sexton has a detailed timeline on her website if you want more specifics on how all the books connect. (Note: The title links take you to their Amazon pages.)

Promises:  Jared Thomas grew up in the small Colorado town of Coda.  As a gay man in a tiny town, he isn’t expecting to find love.  But when he meets cop Matt Richards who is new in town, the guys hit it off immediately, sharing a love of the outdoors and their beloved football.  At first the guys are just friends; although Jared has been out for a while, Matt sees himself as nothing but straight.  Yet the two become inseparable and Jared finds himself attracted to the hot cop.  And more confusingly, Matt seems drawn to Jared too, always touching him and wanting to be close, although he doesn’t recognize it as anything other than friendship.  But Matt is still dating a woman, his father is totally homophobic, and the other guys on the force already tease him about his close friendship with a gay man. Although Jared sees a future for them, he doesn’t know if Matt will ever be able to recognize and accept that his feelings for Jared are more than friendship.

This is one of  my favorite examples of the OFY storyline and I think it works here so well.  The friendship between Matt and Jared is so solid before anything romantic happens between them. Their connection with one another is so clear that it is easy to see how that slowly blossoms into love.  And as hard as Matt’s path is to acceptance about his feelings, it makes it that much more realistic to see it take some time to grow.  And when they finally get together, they are totally amazing.

 A to Z: Zach Mitchell is pretty much going nowhere, living the same life has has been for the past ten years since his boyfriend left him.  Zach owns a failing video store and can’t help but notice frequent customer Angelo Green.  Zach first sees Angelo as a just a punk kid based on his appearance and demeanor.  Angelo is a loner, raised in foster homes and on his own since his teens.  He is wary of relationships and definitely of love.  When Zach hires Angelo to work at the store the two become close friends. And while attending a music festival together, they meet and befriend Jared and Matt from Promises.  When Jared hears that Zach is about to lose his lease, he suggests that the guys move to Coda and take over the space from his parents’ old store.  Although Jared can’t imagine moving and running his business without Angelo, it takes him a while before he realizes that his feelings for Angelo are much more than friendship (and that they are returned as well).  And Angelo has a hard time trusting in love, worrying that he can’t be what Zach wants, only to find out that they are actually quite perfect for each other.

I love this book mostly because I adore Angelo beyond reason.  He is such an incredibly unique character that I am not sure any description I give will do him justice.  He is street smart, surly, intense, and reserved.  At the same time he is a great friend, a caring guy, and so badly wants a home and a place to belong, but he just can’t let himself accept it.  And Zach is just this sweet, easygoing guy who loves everything about the prickly Angelo.  It is not all one sided, however.  Somehow being with Angelo finally gets Zach’s life moving again.  He is motivated for the first time in years, his business grows, and he finally has a direction in life.  They are such totally different guys, but they work so perfectly together.  This story is told in alternating first person between the two of them which really gives us insight into their different personalities.  BTW, Angelo is all attitude and this cover guy totally doesn’t do him justice.  This picture from Marie’s site is Angelo completely. Drool.

Note: This book can be read as a standalone but because it features Matt and Jared so prominently, as well as many other Coda characters, I think it is much richer if you read Promises first.

The Letter Z: In this story Matt and Jared take a road trip with Zach and Angelo to Las Vegas.  The four have become incredibly close friends, but early on there is an incident that causes a rift between Jared and Angelo, coloring their trip many months later.   Adding to the tension on the trip, the guys run into Zach’s ex-boyfriend Jonathan in Vegas.  He makes it no secret that he regrets how things ended with Zach and that he thinks Zach can do better than someone like Angelo.  Although Zach is clear that Angelo is the man for him, the situation stirs up a lot of Angelo’s insecurities.  With so much tension swirling around, the guys have to work on getting their friendships and their relationships back on track.

I really love this story, although I will say some people are bothered by the origins of the conflict with Angelo and Jared.  I won’t spoil the details but I think it totally works for the story.  The situation once again illustrates my earlier point about how Sexton creates three very distinct relationships with different things that work for them.  We see it throughout the series, and frequently in this book, from their sex lives, to how they interact with each other in public, to the way the couples related to one another, and I think it is so well done.  As a note, I would definitely not start with this book; you really need the background on the two couples to appreciate the details so I would wait until after reading the other two. (BTW, although it is hard to tell from the cover, this is definitely NOT a menage story.)

The Promise: This is a free short story that Sexton’s has available on her website and features Jared and Matt at a key point in their relationship.  Chronologically it takes place around the same time as The Letter Z, but you can really read it any time after Promises.  It is short but very sweet and a nice way to check in with the guys. You can read it on Sexton’s website.

Strawberries for Dessert: Strawberries for Dessert features two side characters we meet earlier in the series: Jonathan Kechter, Zach’s old boyfriend who they run into in Vegas, and Cole Fenton, Jared’s friend-with-benefits we first meet in Promises.  The two guys are set up by Jared and Zach and their first meeting couldn’t go worse.  But they try it again and somehow this odd couple totally works together.  Cole is flamboyant, incredibly wealthy, arrogant, and a bit restless.  He spends much of his time traveling and has a series of casual sex buddies all over the world.  And Jonathan is incredibly driven, working a highly demanding job with crazy hours, constantly pushing himself for perfection.  At first their casual relationship is the perfect arrangement for them, but soon Jonathan finds himself wanting more from Cole.  But Cole has a restless spirit and although he grows to love Jonathan, he knows he can never settle in one place the way Jonathan needs for his job.  Although they both care so much for one another, they must find a way to make their very different lives work together.

I love this story, mostly because I totally love Cole.  It is rare to find such a wildly flamboyant hero in m/m romance, especially one who is so strong and confident.  Of course, a lot of Cole’s behavior is bluster, covering up for some insecurities that he finally is brave enough to share with Jonathan.  But mostly he embraces who he is and doesn’t care what others think.  I also like that we see the redemption arc for Jonathan, who causes such trouble in The Letter Z.  Again, two such distinct characters in a really interesting and unique relationship.  FWIW, if you are only going to read one book in the series, this one stands alone the best.  Although there is a connection with the earlier characters, none are featured in this story and it takes place outside Coda so you can jump in very easily.

Putting Out Fires: This is a Valentine’s Day short once again featuring Matt and Jared (with a brief appearance by Zach and Angelo).  It takes place after they have been together for several years.  When Matt sees a Valentine for Jared from a student he gets jealous, and when Jared makes an off-the-cuff comment about not feeling appreciated, Matt begins to worry Jared is dissatisfied with their relationship.  He decides to do something special for Jared for Valentine’s Day, but has a lot of trouble figuring out what (despite Angelo’s suggestion that blow jobs are always appreciated!).  Things get a bit out of hand before Matt finally realizes that things are just perfect between them and the love they share is stronger than ever.  This is a sweet short story that gives us a nice chance to catch up again with Matt and Jared.  You could probably read it as a stand alone but it is definitely sweeter if you are more familiar with the guys.

Paris A to Z: The final book in the series gives us a chance to catch up with all three couples when they go to Paris to celebrate Jonathan and Cole’s wedding.  It is a great way to cap the series as we get to visit with everyone and see them all spending time together.  I reviewed this one on the blog when it was released, so check out the full review for all the details.