2 Stars, All Romance Ebooks, Mel Bossa

Suite Nineteen by Mel Bossa

I happened across Suite Nineteen as a free read on All Romance Ebooks, and maybe that should’ve set off some alarm bells for me. To begin with, I very rarely find full length novels given away as freebies, and even more rarely have I been lucky enough to find a free novel that’s been great. Unfortunately, this book continues that streak.
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5 Stars, Amy Lane, Dreamspinner Press

Chase in Shadow by Amy Lane

There is no one who can break my heart quite the way Amy Lane can.

It’s never a quick, clean break. No, it’s a slow and agonizing process that begins with the first word of the book, and that first word is like the end of the thread that holds my poor little heart in one piece. The further along I read, the more the words begin to unravel the story, the longer that thread becomes because my heart is slowly and agonizingly pulling apart at the seams until, finally, it lays, fragmented and feeble, in a puddle on the floor of my chest cavity, wondering how Ms. Lane will ever find the right words to put my Humpty Dumpty heart back together again.

And this is what she does to Chase’s psyche too, the evil genius. She pinched the end of that thread between her fingers, began to write his story, and we, the reader, got to watch him unravel, bit by torturous bit, as he evolved, or, maybe in Chase’s case, devolved into a fragmented soul with nowhere to hide and no one to hold him together. That thread was so delicate and was strung so taut to begin with, his grasp on the façade so ephemeral, that it took little more than a breath and a sigh and love to snap it and leave him shattered.

The omniscient narrator directed this movie of words masterfully; kept the camera at all the right angles for us to see; asked the right questions for us to discover; listened to those answers to inform us; kept all the players on their marks so they could help us to understand. Then, as the many personalities that Chase tried so desperately to hold together began to fracture, that imaginary camera took us into the mind of a boy who held the weight of a tortured past upon his shoulders like Tate Walker wore all those scars on his skin. But Chase’s scars aren’t the kind that can be tattooed over. Chase’s scars are imprinted upon every cell of his being, weeping and bleeding and threatening to drown his sanity in the red water that robbed him of his innocence.

But like Tate has Brian, Chase has Tommy, and Tommy, who has his very own demons to slay, is the knight in tarnished armor that rides into Chase’s life and helps him to navigate the poisonous thorns that tear at his very being. Tommy finds the sleeping prince disguised as a straight man, covered in ashes and soot and buried within the memories of a broken child, and, with the courage and the power of a touch and a kiss, awakens and lays waste to the dragons with nothing more than love as his sword and shield.

And, yes, my heart is once again whole and waiting for that next great fall.

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Aleksandr Voinov, Riptide Publishing

Dark Soul: Vol 4 by Aleksandr Voinov

I’m not sure I’ve ever read a series before that has taunted and provoked me the way “Dark Soul” has, wanting two characters to be together more than anything else, then rethinking that, wondering if they did end up together, would they even be good or right for each other? Then again, maybe there are times when want and need supersede good and right. This is a time when vice and virtue mingle and tweak at the conscience and make me want things I hadn’t ought to want. If I was a really good girl, that is.

Throw into that mix a man whose mere presence is a dangerous seduction and a temptation to them both, as well as a suspicious (rightly so) wife who I want out of the way now–and what does that say about me and how much I want Silvio and Stefano to have some sort of chance together?–and, Lord, what a tangled web Aleksandr Voinov has woven around my emotions.

This installment in the “Dark Soul” series felt like progress, but that’s also a dangerous feeling; there’s always a sense of one step forward and two steps back when it comes to these two men. The fact they’ve made a pretty significant move forward can’t mean much right now, not when things are still so complicated, but at the same time, it could mean everything. Obsession, attraction, addiction, jealousy, coveting; yes, the wanting is unmistakable and utterly delicious and defines, brackets, underscores and puts an exclamation point on the connection between them. And I want more.

H.G. Wells wrote “We are kept keen on the grindstone of pain and necessity.” If that doesn’t describe the sharp and tangible need between Silvio and Stefano just now, I’m not sure what does.

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Hayden Thorne, Smashwords

Arabesque by Hayden Thorne


“All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.” – Oscar Wilde

Perilous? Perhaps. If one reads, though, and doesn’t look beneath the surface sometimes, how does that reader then make those personal connections to a book or the characters? The author writes the words with the intention of telling a story, informing, entertaining, but it’s the reader who then takes those words and dissects them, making that tale their very own. For me, that’s the beauty of storytelling. It’s the reading and looking for even the smallest of details, finding the littlest of things that make me say, “Yes, this just became mine.”

Those simple moments happened several times for me in Hayden Thorne’s Arabesque, a retelling of the fairy tale “Snow White”, beautiful moments of clarity and empathy and understanding that took me on a journey through a kingdom filled with dark magic, evil purpose, and a transcendent love story between Alarick, the bastard prince, and Roald, the man who is betrayed by his father, endures the loss of his memory, and overcomes every obstacle in his path to rescue his prince from the clutches of a twisted and malevolent spirit.

I love fairy tales, which is one of the things that made this book so much fun to read, to see how many familiar tales were woven into the plot, then fractured to fit and shape the moral of the story. This is a tale of denial, of rejection, of betrayal, of free will, and of the infallible nature of love. This is a story of two young men who are torn apart by rejection and prejudice, are kept apart by the interference of an immortal and the malevolent spirit of a hypocrite, who are tested time and again and are nearly defeated, but are saved by the memory of a name and of the bond that connects them.

Romantic and erotic and poetic and provocative and incredibly touching, Arabesque believes that where love is found, there is no sense of wrong; there is no “normal”, there is only what was and is and will be. This is a story that made me truly think about the nature of hatred and prejudice and intolerance. They are things that can be taught, can be ingrained into a person from the age of reasoning, but love, love is something that must be learned and experienced and felt; it can be nurtured, but it can’t be directed and manipulated to suit others’ beliefs. Love is personal, love is private, and love is a force of free will that is so much more than right or wrong. Love is not a force for mere mortals or immortals to dictate. It’s a power all its own, and can work its own magic in the face of adversity.

It’s what all the best fairy tales do: they are dark and daunting and are told with the intent of teaching a lesson to those who hear it, to make an impact, but they then end with the hope that once that lesson is learned, the reward is one of contentment, happiness, and peace until the end of days.

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All Romance Ebooks, Kaje Harper, Meredith Shayne

One Small Gem & One Diamond In The Rough


What better way could there be to discover a new-to-me author than finding a free short story from her? That’s what happened for me with Kaje Harper’s Like the Taste of Summer, the short and very sweet story of Sean Brennan, a college student, and Jack Korbel, a grease monkey and lifelong resident of a small Iowa college town.

The relationship between the college kids and the townies is antagonistic at best, and it’s a random act of vengeance against Sean and his friends one night that bring Jack and Sean together after the townies vandalize Sean’s and his friends’ cars. Jack’s friends scarper and leave him defenseless against the college boys’ anger, but Sean acts quickly and gives Jack a safe place to hide until he can get Jack away safely.

This isn’t the catalyst for an instant friendship, though. The boys see each other here and there over the following weeks but don’t speak because of that invisible line drawn between them. It isn’t until Jack has the opportunity to return a kindness for a hurting Sean that the boys discover that line is well worth crossing.

This was a wonderful coming-of-age and coming out story for Sean, the boy who’d always thought he was straight, but meets and falls for the boy who has pretty much always known he was gay, though he hides it for his own safety in the small town where intolerance is the norm.

These boys don’t have an easy time of it in the “fish bowl” they live in, where everyone knows everyone else’s business. It’s the hatred and prejudice aimed directly at them that nearly tears them apart. But love endures, love thrives, and for these two characters, happily ever after did come true.

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My Diamond in the Rough is Meredith Shayne’s Eyes Wide Shut, book one in the Flying Doctors series, the story of Adam Taylor, a doctor who lives in a small outback town in Australia and works in the clinic at the Mount Keith mine where his ex-boyfriend Chris Barker works.

The men are “exes” because Chris is very deeply in the closet, and his job isn’t exactly conducive to a gay friendly atmosphere. Chris’s greatest fear is that anyone might suspect he and Adam were ever more than friends, but after a two month separation and Adam’s return to the clinic, it doesn’t take long for Chris to pay a visit that ends with the two men having sex, then Chris quickly leaving after.

Chris says he can’t be with Adam, nor does it seem he can force himself to stay away. It’s a situation that causes no small amount of friction between the two men, an insurmountable obstacle that will keep them apart in spite of their feelings for each other. That is, until Adam makes an emergency run to a collapsed mine and Chris is faced with the realization that life is not guaranteed and death could put a very permanent end to any hope he and Adam have to be together. It’s a wake up call to Chris to grab hold of love and never to let it go.

What makes this one a Diamond in the Rough for me? Well, because it struck me as a story that was filled with untapped potential. The premise was wonderful, the characters engaging, and the suspense and danger was very real but not plumbed enough, in my humble opinion. I felt there was much more to expose in both the mine cave in and Chris’s emotions and actions during and after the accident. In short, things felt a bit rushed to get to the end, when I’d have preferred a bit more depth and breadth to the plot. What’s there, however, is like getting the part of the cupcake left on the paper, which is kind of yummy, but what you really wanted was the frosting.

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4.5 Stars, Astrid Amara, Blind Eye Books, Ginn Hale, Josh Lanyon, Nicole Kimberling

Irregulars by Nicole Kimberling, Josh Lanyon, Astrid Amara, and Ginn Hale

It took me a while to decide, but I think I can honestly say I’ve never read an anthology quite like Irregulars, four novellas from four talented authors who’ve woven each of their stories together to create an Urban Fantasy/Urban Fairy Tale world where goblins, vampires, brownies, fairies, pixies, demons, witches, and all other manner of extra-human creatures reside to tell the story of the NIAD, the NATO Irregular Affairs Division, the agency that regulates and manages mythical artifacts and all things magical.

Starting things off is the one author in the collection with whom I was unfamiliar, Nicole Kimberling. Her story, Cherries Worth Getting, does a great job of setting up the premise and the world building for the entire novella. If you buy this book and are at all tempted to read the stories out of order, don’t. I think it’s really important to read everything in sequence, not only because some characters overlap, but also because, well, this is really a fine story.

Keith Curry and Gunther Heartman are former lovers who are teamed up on a case involving culinary crimes—really disgusting culinary crimes, actually. Their break up wasn’t necessarily the end of a relationship; it was more the end of a “co-workers with benefits” arrangement that came about because Keith was carrying some really heavy baggage, and Gunther was keeping a fairly significant secret.

Though Keith doesn’t want to be partnered with Gunther again, their investigation into murder and black market protein draws the two men closer to catching the criminals, drawing them closer to each other as a result, as goblins, vampires, and humans provide the danger, and Keith and Gunther work to overcome the things that had torn them apart.

I thought this was a fast paced and well told story, a strong intro for the other authors to build upon but not overshadow as the rest of the tales unfold. – 4 Stars

A fae/human hybrid with a demon kink and an obsession with magical artifacts stars in Green Glass Beads, Josh Lanyon’s contribution to this compilation.

Archer Green is the curator of the Museum of State-Sanctioned Antiquities, who also was, at one time, affiliated with the more radical Society for the Rescue and Restoration of Indigenous Magic, which leaves him a prime target for Commander Rake’s scrutiny.

Rake is the new head of the Vancouver branch of NIAD, and he has more than a passing interest in Archer’s methods and reasons for collecting the artifacts he does. Archer has become Rake’s prime target to help prove that the SRRIM is still alive and thriving and participating in the illegal acquisition of highly dangerous artifacts. Rake has an axe to grind and he’s not above using Archer as his sharpening stone to do his job. But, Rake also has a secret of his own that hides behind his glamour.

The search for green glass beads, an artifact with very personal ties to Archer’s own ancestry, leads to danger, manipulation, and an act of betrayal that, in the end, provides for a touching reunion between Archer and Rake.

This was a sexy and satisfying read that also has a bit of a tie-in with Ginn Hale’s story. – 4 stars

Astrid Amara’s No Life but This kicked the WHOA! factor into overdrive for me in a murder mystery that tells the story of Deven Shaw, who, at the age of ten was sacrificed by his own father in a show of political loyalty to Lord Knife, the ruler of the underworld realm of Aztaw, at the time.

Deven’s father was the NIAD ambassador to Aztaw, and he allowed his boy to become a symbol of blind dedication to his cause, after Deven was kidnapped by Lord Knife’s rival, Lord Jaguar, and was then sentenced to death, an act the elder Shaw fully supported to further his own agenda.

An act of courage and quick thinking, something Lord Jaguar could respect, is the only thing that saved Deven’s life that day, and he spent more than a decade in Aztaw, training as an assassin and dreaming of the day he’d be rescued by NIAD agents, but eventually coming to the realization that he had no one or nothing to rely on but himself and his own willingness to survive.

Lord Jaguar’s death after he’d bestowed his house power to Deven led to a sacred vow and Deven’s eventual escape from Aztaw in order to fulfill that oath, but after so many of his informative years spent outside the human realm, his return to society leaves him uncertain of how to behave or react in a human way.

Being partnered with the surly and disagreeable Agent Silas August to investigate the murder of August’s partner Carlos, and Carlos’s sister, Beatriz, takes Deven to Mexico City, where a dark and sinister magic with connections to Aztaw puts the men directly on a path marked for death.

Deven is the prime target of Night Axe, Lord of Hurricanes, the bogeyman of Aztaw, who has returned from exile to steal the power that Deven possesses so he can claim control of a war torn and nearly decimated Aztaw. And Night Axe will use every means at his disposal, up to and including Agent August, to gain Deven’s compliance.

Astrid Amara’s brilliant imagination and vivid prose left me entirely in awe, from start to finish of this story. The relationship between Deven and August builds slowly and believably but the action and suspense is nothing short of driven, as the two men get closer and closer to resolving the mystery, something that could ultimately prove fatal for August, and leads both men to discover that there are things worth dying for, but there are also things very much worth living for.

A sinister betrayal also proves to Deven that one’s word is his bond, only when the one he’s given his word to is worthy of that loyalty.

I loved this one, plain and simple – 5 stars

Not to be outdone, and rounding out this anthology beautifully is Ginn Hale’s Things Unseen and Deadly, a story that just tugged at my heart strings in the most sublime way.

This is a story that loosely ties into all three of the other books, overlapping characters and storylines, and tells the tale of a revenant named Half-Dead Henry Falk, who works with NIAD in both the shade lands and the human realm, and the Stone of Fal, a sidhe legend revolving around a stone hidden within the body of a princess’s child, the child with the only legitimate claim to the sidhe throne.

Jason Shamir is a man who, as a young boy, witnessed the brutal murder of his father by goblins, a truth that led to years of psychiatric evaluation both in and out of mental institutions, and eventually led to him hiding the fact that he could see the truth, truths that no one else can see beneath the façade of the extra-human beings that walk in the human realm.

Jason holds a powerful magic within himself, one that he’s entirely unaware of, one that’s tied to synethesia, the ability to see shapes and color in music, a power that he will come to discover with Henry Falk’s help, a power that will come to light and reveal that Jason is very much more than the average and forgettable man he appears to be.

Henry and Jason are each so lonely and lost within their own worlds, but it’s the power Jason possesses to see the truth that lies at the core of men that gradually draws them closer together. Henry’s betrayal at the hands of the man he loved and whom he thought loved him in return led to a painful and bitter betrayal that left Henry straddling the realm between life and death, and left him unwilling and unable to see himself as being capable of trusting, let alone loving, again.

Greed and human trafficking leave Jason vulnerable to the dangers that await him in both the human and sidhe realms, and Henry makes it his personal mission, in life and in death, to protect Jason at all costs. Theirs is a relationship that becomes priceless in the only way a connection can be when a man who had nothing and gained everything is willing to sacrifice it all for the sake of the other. Theirs is a connection born in need and loneliness that will endure and strengthen together.

Things Unseen and Deadly left me wanting more of Henry and Jason. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Ginn Hale may resurrect them sometime in the future – 5 Stars

This was a thoroughly impressive collection of stories, a true collaboration in every single sense of the word. All four novellas tied together beautifully to make for one wildly entertaining read.

Available at Weightless Books

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Hayden Thorne, Queerteen Press, Small Gems

Small Gem – The Dollhouse by Hayden Thorne

The Dollhouse is a quiet and magical little story that takes place on Christmas Day, the only day of the year that its characters have the opportunity to be the masters and mistresses of their own lives.

This is a sweetly told fantasy with a message that shows how easily discrimination manipulates, and how well our children are taught to see love as right and wrong rather than seeing it for the miracle it can be when two people who are meant to be together find each other, regardless of what others dictate love should be.

The subtle twist at the end, the message that love is a power unto itself that will endure the test of time and prejudice is delivered in a way that truly is beautiful in its simplicity, but also profound in its significance.

Available at Queerteen Press

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Carnal Passions, L.A. Witt

Some Steampunky Goodness From L.A. Witt


L.A. Witt’s Noble Metals isn’t the Victorian London, smoggy air, steam wafting in the distance from the smokestacks rising into the grimy skyline sort of steampunk novella I prefer, but the originality of the mechanical devices was fun, as was the journey that brings Dr. John Fauth and Robert Belton together in this undeniably romantic adventure that’s set in 1898 and is filled with all the greed and danger of the Klondike Gold Rush.

John is a scientist on his way north from Seattle with a tool he’s invented that, if discovered by the other prospectors making the trek in search of riches, it would set off a firestorm of avarice even greater than the gold itself already inspires. John doesn’t use the device to find gold, though. Gold isn’t his goal; John’s goal is the small deposits of platinum that can be found in and around those gold fields. With the platinum he discovers, John’s goal is to create a technology the likes of which no one—not Nikola Tesla, not Thomas Edison—has ever dreamed of and is far, far ahead of its time.

Robert is a prostitute in a saloon in Seattle, the final outpost of civilization before the trip toward Canada and Alaska. He didn’t set out to make money that way. His journey north started much like anyone else’s but ended very differently, when circumstances forced him to give up on his dream. Unable to move forward and unwilling to go back, Robert serves the men whose preference it is to seek comfort somewhere other than in a lady’s bed. It’s not what he wants to do, but it’s what he does do in order to survive and remain independent until he can one day finish his journey.

What happens after the two men meet, the instant spark of attraction that’s somewhat subdued by the fact that John has paid for the privilege of spending the night in Robert’s bed, is exactly what you’d expect from a romance, so that part didn’t hold any surprises, but what L.A. Witt does well is to make each of these characters more than what’s on the surface. So, while the way they met and what happened after was everything I anticipated it would be, it’s what happened as the story progressed that provided the bigger payoff.

The story is told in the dual first person, Robert as the “vocal” narrator and John as the epistolary narrator, who tells his side of the story to the reader as he writes in his journal. As their journey toward gold gains momentum, what John began as a diary to recount the events of his quest becomes increasingly more a revelation of his growing feelings for Robert, who is so much more than the young man that sold his body for sex.

The enforced intimacy of being two men against the forces of nature, technology, and the men who will kill for what John has is enough to bring them together quickly, and I found that I totally bought into their relationship. I liked them so well that I wanted them to be together, and that was more than enough for me.

Robert’s innocence in spite of his former profession, his intelligence, and his unwavering loyalty to John, as well as John’s ability to see past the fact that Robert had been a prostitute, and was all those wonderful things and more was ::sigh:: yeah, rather sweet and romantic.

Throw in guns and greed and a hostage situation, a great escape and a noble mission to return the device that became worthless when compared to what the two men stood to lose if they’d lost each other, and I found a little story that made me pretty happy to have read it.

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All Romance Ebooks, Dani Alexander

Pardon Me While I Squeeeee….


Remember the scene in Pulp Fiction when Mia snorts just one too many lines of blow and goes into cardiac arrest? (Yes, that was gross. Blech.) But then in the end, Vincent…eventually…stabs her in the heart with a syringe of adrenaline and she comes rushing back from the brink of non-existence, her consciousness slamming back into her body in a rush of “what the…?” That’s what the first words of Shattered Glass were like for me. “Fucking Bunny Slippers.” If an author starts Chapter One of a book and has the brass chucks to title it Fucking Bunny Slippers, he damn well better be able to deliver on everything after that. Yeah, well, he delivered; I signed for it and am still enjoying the payoff for that giddy rush I get when I find a new author and a freaking awesome book.

This book left my brain happy dancing for all it was worth because Dani Alexander is ten thousand kinds of brilliant, a god of wordology, the master of my fanatical obsession with books and characters and snark and flawed but fantabulous men who just can’t seem to stay away from each other in spite of how much all the fates oppose them.

Peter Cotton had no chance, really, against all the mantastic charm and charisma that is Austin Glass. Austin has no brain-to-mouth filter and his train of thought jumps the rails frequently, but just bring your Tom-Tom and prepare to navigate along with him, because honestly, it’s well worth the journey.

Austin’s a police detective, you see, and Peter? Uh, Peter exists somewhere across that invisible line of the law that means he does whatever he has to do to survive and protect the two people who mean more to him than anything else in the world.

This isn’t as much a story of two men from different sides of the tracks as it is a story of Newton’s Third Law of Motion: “The mutual forces of action and reaction between two bodies are equal, opposite and collinear.” The straight line here is Austin’s obsession with Peter, the mystery that is Peter Cotton, Peter’s reluctant attraction to the smartass that is Austin. It’s the crime syndicate, murder, and general mayhem that seems to surround Peter, his little “brother” Cai, and Darryl, the brotherish-friend-with-benefits who makes up the final link in the chain of this little family. Austin and Peter pass through these straight lines that, as the story continues, get more and more confused by the secrets that Peter, Cai, and Darryl hide.

Austin is the trust fund baby with a badge and a gun, who has career ambitions that lead straight to the FBI. Peter is the ex-whore, drug dealer, and sometimes prime suspect in the case Austin and his partner Luis are investigating. Complicated, no? Especially as Austin’s feelings for Peter compromise and eventually derail any chance he might have had of ever maintaining, let alone advancing, a career in law enforcement. There’s lots of pushing and pulling and manipulating and mistrust of actions and motivations, and it all added up to Angst + Chemistry + Denial + Suspense + Danger + Murder + Attempted Murder + Lies∞ (okay, maybe not infinite lies, but there were a lot!) = Happy Gray Matter

I loved this book, loved it like Mia loved her coke, except it didn’t leave me foaming at the mouth… Okay, maybe a little. But only in a good way.

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Lichen Craig, Smashwords

A Point To Ponder: How Much Should One’s Personal Bias Affect A Review?

***WARNING: SPOILERS***

Or should it?

I just recently finished reading a book that has given me pause and really made me reflect upon how much my personal bias against the subject matter is affecting my ability to be impartial to it, to look at the merits of the writing, the strength of the premise, and the development of the characters rather than how much I disagree with the way the author, Lichen Craig, chose to resolve the conflict in her book Gentlemen’s Game, the story of a man who commits an unforgivable atrocity, never has to answer in any way for it, then, in the end, gets everything he ever wanted handed to him on a silver platter.

Okay, to be fair, that’s not the entirety of the story, but here’s the issue; that’s what it all boils down to for me. Why? Because the author devised a conflict so impossible for me to overcome that it completely obliterated any good that had happened before and negatively influenced my opinion of everything that happened after. So, how much should my personal feelings weigh against my objectively reviewing this novel? Of that I’m not certain.

This particular book deals with some controversial subjects: infidelity (what is and isn’t considered breaking one’s marriage vows), what does and doesn’t define being gay, group sex, as well as a brutal scene of rape and torture, which, I might add, is NOT mentioned in the book’s blurb on Goodreads, which is the blurb I read. The proper warnings are noted on Smashwords, however. As you can well imagine, the author did not set out to make this book a light read, and she succeeded spectacularly in that regard.

The plot of this novel revolves around a trio of affluent men–all married, all successful–who, on occasion, get together to play cards, break bread, and have sex with one another. None of the three men see this as infidelity because, hey, it’s just sex; nor do they consider themselves to be gay. They don’t even consider themselves to be Bi because none of the three of them find other men (men outside of their group) sexually attractive. This secret relationship they share is simply a “Game” between friends, nothing more.

This scenario is introduced when one of the men, Scottie, befriends a young playwright he’s helping to find a haven to which he can escape from the madness of New York City, a place where he can write and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the countryside. Greyson is not gay either. Though he was at one time engaged to be married, the relationship ended before the wedding and he’s remained single ever since, but Greyson, like the other men, is attracted to women. Scottie invites Greyson to join him, along with friends Colin and Jack, for their next Game day–the details of which Scottie fully discloses to Greyson, so at least he doesn’t go into the situation uninformed. Nor does Greyson go into the situation uninitiated, as he and Scottie have sex before Greyson is introduced to the group.

Scottie, Colin, and Jack have a bit of an understanding, that being they never pair off to have sex and exclude the other members of the group, but that unspoken rule was bent when Scottie had sex with Greyson and shattered entirely when Jack and Greyson meet and their attraction to each other ignites a spark that becomes so much more. The two men begin a love affair that both excludes and includes the group, though Colin and Scottie don’t come to understand the depth of feelings Jack and Greyson share until much later.

Jack is the only one of the original three members of the group who is unhappily married. His wife is a faithless shrew who has cheated on him time and time again over the course of their sixteen year marriage, but the final and unforgivable transgression comes when their teenage son walks in on his mother and her current lover, in flagrante delicto. Jack and Greyson, by then, have more than consummated their relationship, have, in fact, moved on to planning a future together. When Jack sues for divorce and full custody of his sons, Jack’s wife comes out, claws and fangs bared, and exposes Jack and Greyson’s affair, playing the ultimate sympathetic victim in the media–the high society wife whose husband has left her for another man. Not only that, but she also publicly accuses Greyson of pedophilia, an entirely unfounded accusation, which made me wonder why Greyson didn’t sue her for Defamation of Character, but that’s neither here nor there. I guess. Just another niggle for me to add to the list.

As the stress of the public mudslinging and the very real possibility Jack may lose any chance of gaining custody of his sons begins to weigh heavily on Jack and Greyson’s relationship, the final straw is placed upon the heap when the four men get together for their usual day of indulgence, and Jack’s demons finally catch up to him. Drunk and warring with the jealousy and sense of betrayal that have accumulated over years of playing the cuckold, Jack watches Colin and Greyson having sex, an event that, coupled with the drink, finally breaks his fragile hold on his emotions and self control.

Before I go on, let me just say this: Yes, I disagreed with the author’s justification of what does and does not constitute infidelity. I also think the author pushed the “I’m not gay” envelope into the realms of “methinks he doth protest too much,” but really, these two things paled in comparison with what happens between Jack and Greyson when they return home from their night with Colin and Scottie.

Jack violates Greyson, violates him emotionally and physically, brutalizes his body, rapes and tortures him; in short, Jack robs Greyson of his very humanity, strips him bare of everything he could once count on in himself–his ability to trust, his decision making abilities, his ability to write, his safety and security, his peace of mind. Everything. This scene was not written as an incidental event. No, this scene was written in great detail–the lacerations, the bruises, the tearing and bleeding of Greyson’s anus, the fact that Greyson loses control of his bladder, the residual nerve damage to Greyson’s wrists when Jack, in his drunken stupor, leaves Greyson tied up for hours–no detail was spared in just how broken and bloodied Greyson was. The author gives the reader a very clear picture of how much Greyson suffered that night and in the subsequent days, months, and years of his recovery.

And here’s where the issue lies for me and my ability to review this book objectively. I have never been the victim of any sort of crime, let alone a violent crime against my person. I’ve never had to relive a nightmare over and over again in my mind, nor have I ever suffered at the hands of someone I love. I have never been debased and humiliated, violated and tortured, and I hope to God never to be. But my sense of empathy and my ability to imagine what enduring something like that would entail is strong enough that I cannot, not even in my wildest imaginings, believe that a victim would return to his abuser, regardless of how much the aggressor repents, how much his friends vouch for his character, how much he begs for forgiveness and promises it will never happen again. That’s something I simply couldn’t buy into. Does someone who has been victimized, has recovered, and has succeeded in moving on really buy into a book in which the victim returns to his abuser and they sail off happily into the sunset? I can’t say, but I think fair warning should be given to its potential readers.

So, the only defense for Jack’s egregious crime is that he was drunk. He doesn’t remember what he did, so while he can feel remorse after the fact, it seems as though he’s getting only a sideways view of his crime. It’s like murdering someone in your sleep–sure, you know you did it, but do you feel the same way about it as you would if you were in the moment, present and aware of your actions? If I get blind drunk and get behind the wheel of a car, then maim or kill someone, am I partially absolved from responsibility for my actions because I was drunk? Absolutely not. Should I be expected to answer and pay for those crimes to the fullest extent of the law? Of course. But Jack has an out here. He was given a pass because, well, he had no idea what he was doing, and that was horribly unsatisfying for me. He should’ve been held accountable for his actions and punished accordingly. But maybe that says more about me and my need for justice. I don’t know.

At what point does forgiveness become excusing the abuser for his behavior? At what point does pardoning the abuser’s sin give him a pass on his culpability for his actions? At what point does the victim sacrifice more than a little bit of my sympathy for what he’s suffered? I’ll tell you when: at the point that he returns to the man who nearly destroyed him. And that’s the point where it feels as though the author is re-victimizing the victim; at the point where the author stripped me of my ability to respect Greyson and his choice to return to the man who raped him and robbed him of his free will.

And this is why I’m having such a difficult time deciding on how well this book worked for me. Looking at it from a writing standpoint, the author does a respectable job of telling her story. It’s not flawless but it’s self-published, so I can forgive some of the editing issues. I was along for the ride, in spite of some minor misgivings, up to the point of the crime. From there on, things were hit and miss for me, mostly miss.

I didn’t need every single action and reaction in this book to be justified for me, but I did need for the author to do a better job of helping me believe and buy into the choices that were made, something that may have been a truly impossible task, given the subject matter.

For burrowing into my psyche and really making me think, this book gets high marks. For drawing me into the story and the lives of these characters, the book did just fine. For making me believe that there was a happily ever after that could be carved from the detritus of rape and torture–that, simply put, was a fail for me.

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Amber Allure, L.A. Witt

Ex Equals by L.A. Witt

Oh, L.A. Witt, you had me at hello with this story. Ex Equals begins after the end and then works its way backwards. Confused? Well, you won’t be when you read the book. The present conflict and the flashback sequences not only kept me on the edge of GAH! the entire time, but also kept me turning pages in hopes that what Chris and Justin had already endured wouldn’t stand in the way of where they could go if only they were capable of prioritizing their careers and their love for each other.

Lost opportunities, colossal screw-ups, and the end of a forbidden romance that suffered under the scrutiny of DADT, as well as a promotion that suddenly turned Justin into a man terrified of being discovered are at the heart of the story. Chris Rueben and Justin Hayes met in the Navy and began a love affair that remained their secret, though the rumors of their close connection being more that just friendship began to surface at a point when Justin’s career was at a make-or-break point. Terrified by what might happen if anyone found out he was in love with Chris, Justin reacts badly—conduct unbecoming a boyfriend, for sure—and deliberately throws away his one chance at happiness.

Three years later, and the tables are turned. Now, it’s Chris who must worry about his new career as a math professor, when Justin suddenly turns up as a student in Chris’s algebra class (which is a fun and fitting backdrop for them) and throws his life into a turmoil of anger and resentment. Will Chris put his bitterness and career ahead of his happiness? That’s the big question.

Where some stories begin with the happy and end with the heartbreak, L.A. Witt begins with the agony and makes the reader work for that hope that Chris might once again allow himself to place his faith and trust in the man who’d broken his heart–and that Justin would be worthy of it. Did Justin redeem himself and earn that gift? Well, I think that depends upon how much the words “I’m sorry” can make amends for mistakes and how much forgiveness can be given when there’s love there to back it up. Sincerity can often go a very long way.

If there was any one thing that prevented this one from being a 5 star read for me, it’s that the story felt as though it was in a bit of a rush to end, but the end was incredibly sweet and satisfying in only the way they can be when an author creates two characters who seem destined to be together, characters that I very much wanted to be together in the end.

Wish granted.

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All Romance Ebooks, Kari Gregg, M.J. O'Shea, Piper Vaughn, Small Gems

Small Gems – Three Free Shorts From Kari Gregg, M.J. O’Shea, and Piper Vaughn

It’s no big secret that I love short stories. What can I say? I’m an instant gratification girl. I have an immense amount of respect for the art of storytelling, but that awe and respect escalates just a tad for the short medium. Why? If I had to point to one thing in particular, I’d have to say it’s because it seems to me–someone who has a difficult time rubbing two thoughts together, let alone putting those thoughts into words–that an author who can create a world and characters with whom I can become fully engaged; characters with whom I can fall in love; want to spend more time with; want to know better but feel grateful to have known at all even for a short time is faced with a pretty daunting task, attempting to do that in anything less than hundreds of thousands of words.

The following three stories were offered as part of the Goodreads M/M Romance group’s Hot Summer Days (2011) Anthology. Of the ten stories I’ve downloaded so far from the various authors who have offered their shorts as standalone reads on All Romance Ebooks, these three are the ones that made me sit up and take notice.

The Importance of Being Denny by Kari Gregg is the story of stepbrothers Denny and Matt and the series of life altering events that led to Denny fleeing his home, penniless and orphaned, after his father’s death.

Borrowing the idea from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Matt led a double life for years, assuming Denny’s identity when it suited him to hide behind that mask. Matt’s facade is his heterosexuality and being Denny allowed him his hook ups with other guys while still remaining hidden deeply in the closet. Selfish, self-serving, cowardly? All of the above. But self-preservation was Matt’s priority, and it all came crashing down horribly when Anna, Matt’s mother and Denny’s stepmother, discovered the truth and more–discovered that Matt and Denny had engaged in a sexual encounter–then Anna drives Denny away. Denny’s identity is literally stripped away as he changes his name in an effort to outrun Anna’s relentless pursuit to make his life hell.

This is a story of second chances, a story of redemption and attempting to make restitution for a past betrayal in the only way Matt knows how, by giving Denny back what is rightfully his, and proving that the feelings and desires the two men share have not faded away.

I was immediately drawn into this story, transfixed from start to finish by Denny’s pain and Matt’s overwhelming need to prove himself worthy of Denny’s forgiveness. Kari Gregg succeeded in relating the physical need Denny and Matt have for each other and I couldn’t help but be caught up in it. Beyond the sexual tension, though, lies an honest emotional connection that never diminished in spite of their circumstances, and that’s what drew me in.

DOWNLOAD HERE

Wanting by Piper Vaughn is the coming-of-age story of Jonah, and the events that occurred during the summer between high school graduation and his freshman year of college. Jonah has, for years, had a crush on his older brother’s best friend Laurie, but has been left frustrated time and again by the fact that Laurie has always seen Jonah as nothing more than Marcus’s little brother. In a last desperate bid to gain Laurie’s attention before school begins in the fall, to prove to Laurie that Jonah’s not the kid he believes Laurie sees him as, Jonah makes an unexpected request of Laurie that leaves the older boy speechless, but becomes the catalyst for a sweet and poignant summer love story full of promise and happily-ever-afters.

Secrets and communication breakdowns provide for some roadblocks on the way to happiness for Jonah and Laurie, and Marcus wins the award for most outstanding brother and best friend ever. I loved the characters and couldn’t help but cheer them on through all their ups and downs. This story left me with a big smile on my face.

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The best friends to lovers theme has been done so frequently and often quite well in the M/M Romance genre, but in Bridges by M.J. O’Shea, the author takes a turn at the bitter enemies turned lovers theme, and does so with winning characters whom the Fates seem destined to bring together at every opportunity in spite of their less than promising beginning.

This is a story that follows Dallas, a New Jersey transplant to a small Texas town, and Brooklyn, the boy who takes an instant disliking to Dallas, from the third grade until the day Brooklyn discovers that Dallas is the boy he loves.

Being gay in a backwater town, coping with the breakdown of family, and attempting to decipher their attraction to each other after years of animosity provide the foundation for this sweet coming-of-age story of two boys who come to discover love hidden among the turmoil of growing up and gaining their independence.

M.J. O’Shea made me love these boys, plain and simple, start to finish, even when the only emotion they could muster for each other was loathing. It made their loving all the more satisfying in the end.

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3 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Lorraine Ulrich

Mechanical Magic by Lorraine Ulrich

::sigh:: This is one of those books I had tremendously high hopes for, which, in the end, might have helped to contribute to some of the disappointment I felt in it. It was pleasant enough, to be sure, but seemed as though it could’ve been much more with only just a bit more attention to detail and a whole lot more editing.

I love steampunk. Love. It. And the author did a great job of fulfilling my expectations (for the length of the book) of the imaginative and magical clockwork devices and wondrous atmosphere of a good and sooty steampunk world.
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Anne Barwell, Dreamspinner Press

Shadowboxing by Anne Barwell

War is hell.

And finding love amidst the chaos of war is nearly impossible, but that’s precisely what Anne Barwell’s characters do in Shadowboxing, the suspenseful and action packed story of romance and danger set against the backdrop of Nazi run Germany during World War II.

Kristopher Lehrer is the brilliant scientist from a socially prominent family who is working to invent the A-bomb, though he’s operating in a need-to-know situation in which his superiors believe he doesn’t need to know that he’s little more than a cog in their war machine. Kristopher’s ignorance of his part in the Nazi’s plan, entirely unaware the formulas he’s manipulating will ultimately be used to a devastating end, leaves Kristopher dumbfounded once he understands his role in its creation. His duty to the Fatherland becomes inconsequential when compared to his conscience and compassion. They will, under no uncertain terms, allow him to support the führer in his insane bid for genocide and tyranny, especially after having recently lost his friend David, a Jew who disappears under mysterious circumstances, though not before the man delivers a grim and prophetic warning to Kristopher.

Escape is not a viable option but becomes Kristopher’s only choice as the thrilling race begins; the race to thwart the Nazi agenda, the race to save his own humanity as he steals the blueprints but is threatened time and time again by the Gestapo, who are determined to carry out Hitler’s mad bid for dominance.

Kristopher has help along the way, help from Michel, the Frenchman masquerading as a German soldier, as well as from the German Resistance and British and American allies. As the cat and mouse pursuit unfolds in dramatic fashion, the Gestapo always seeming to be one step ahead of the game, small battles are won and lost in the whole of the fight to outrun and thwart the enemy.

Parallel love stories run as an aside to the action and suspense as Michel and Kristopher, along with two American operatives, Matt and Ken, fight to overcome so many obstacles—including their own doubts and insecurities—to attempt to carve even the smallest bit of happiness from the impossible odds stacked against them. Their connections allow dreams of a future within a scenario of waking nightmares, offering a modicum of peace amongst the chaos.

There are no guarantees in life. In war, there are no guarantees of life beyond the next hour, the next day, and nothing pinpoints that fact as much as the way the author chose to end this book. Who knows whether these men lived to love another day? Who knows if either couple managed to carve a life together out of the rubble of a war that destroyed so many millions? Anne Barwell wisely chooses to allow the reader to finish the story and to imagine that life did indeed go on for these men in spite of the near insurmountable barriers they must overcome.

It might not be a wholly satisfying ending for some, but it worked for me, due in large part to the way the author drew me into the lives of her characters and made me want that happy ending for them, even if it’s one I have to imagine for them on my own.

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Hayden Thorne, Prizm Books

Desmond & Garrick: Books One and Two by Hayden Thorne




Desmond & Garrick: Books One and Two seem very much the books Jane Austen might have written had Ms. Austen written GLBT Young Adult Paranormal Fiction, as told through the omniscient narrator who leads the reader through this coming-of-age series set during the Regency Era, one of my favorite historical settings.

Hayden Thorne has deftly captured the subtle humor in the day-in-the-life events of Desmond Hathaway, a beautiful young vampire caught in the throes of a teenage romantic triangle, and his tutor Garrick Mortimer, a man of science who is not predisposed in the slightest to the dramatic nature of love and matters of the heart.

Desmond and Garrick mix like the proverbial oil and water, their dispositions toward the emotional and the logical, respectively, causing an early friction that, as they spend more time together, begins to blur as they each influence changes in the other’s points of view. Horace Walpole’s “This world is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel,” perfectly defines the way in which the blend of characters in these novels juxtapose one another, from the exaggeratedly expressive vampires to the comically horrible poets to the various other humans and vampires who weave their way into and out of the story.

Sixteen-year-old Desmond has been sent down from Wyndham for what can only be attributed to his normal vampyric nature: the tragic allure, instinctive brooding, and inhuman beauty a temptation to both boys and girls alike, a distraction that sees him expelled for being “a most insufferable saucebox and a bad influence on his mortal classmates,” though one human classmate, in particular, Phillip Priestley, is the cause of all of Desmond’s angst.

Young love is thwarted when Phillip unkindly rejects Desmond’s feelings, which sends Desmond into an even deeper level of despondency than would be his usual tendency toward melodrama and despair. It’s at this point in Desmond’s life that Garrick is hired to move into Dryden Abbey, the Hathaway home, and carry on with Desmond’s education, a challenge for which the proud and penniless genius was somewhat unprepared but is up to, nonetheless, given his goal of studying the vampire family. What Garrick was entirely unprepared for is that, along the way, he would become fond of the Hathaway clan and all their colorful eccentricities.

When prodigal son Harper Hathaway returns to Dryden Abbey with a group of poets in tow, life in the household is turned upside down, as the questionably talented human artists demand that family magician, Fitzgibbon Guiderius, provide the extracurricular paranormal activity with which they will become inspired to create their dreadful verse. Along with Harper and his human companions comes eighteen-year-old vampire poet Leigh Blaise Sherbourne, a surly and sulky young man with whom Desmond becomes both infatuated and infuriated by, in equal measure.

While life attempts to carry on in somewhat normalcy, what’s normal for the Hathaway family, at any rate, the invasion of Harper and guests provides for its share of comedic turmoil and romantic entanglements, especially the longer they remain at the abbey. And just as Leigh and Desmond seem capable of making even the slightest headway in a connection, Phillip Priestly returns to complicate matters, sending Desmond into a whirlwind of conflicting emotions.

Delightfully clever and exceedingly charming, the Desmond & Garrick series is one that is like a full immersion into the year 1815, though with a very contemporary feel. Intelligent and witty dialogue, engaging characters, and a vivid picture of the time period provide the foundation for the very modern issues of first love, broken hearts, and the torture (in this case, literal!) of the choices we make, along with the mistakes, in the process of growing up.

BUY LINK: BOOK ONE

BUY LINK: BOOK TWO

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Marie Sexton, Silver Publishing

Cinder by Marie Sexton


Fans of re-imagined fairy tales will find plenty of new spins and twists to love on the old story of the peasant who meets the prince, falls in love, and lives happily ever after, with the help of a little bit of magic and a whole lot of faith.

Cinder is the young man who serves in his aunt’s household after being orphaned when his parents’ own fairy tale romance ended tragically.

Xavier is the prince who has no choice but to abide by the law of the kingdom and find a bride before his next birthday in order to inherit the throne.

Cinder is the unconventional story of how the two men bend the laws, rather than break them, in order to fulfill their own fairy tale romance, with the help of a witch, a shoe, and a dog named Milton that knows true love even when his master has a difficult time recognizing love in its true form.

This is a fairy tale, so you already know how the story ends, but what Marie Sexton does so successfully is deliver a few surprises, tug a few heartstrings, and make the reader believe that love can and will always find a way.

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Marshall Moore, Signal 8 Press

The Infernal Republic by Marshall Moore


The Infernal Republic is a mirror into which one doesn’t want to look too closely for fear of seeing something that might resemble oneself. There are shards of reality that cut to the quick of the darkest side of the human condition, and more than a little fantasy that reflects upon the concept that we are all merely pawns in a game being orchestrated by preternatural powers.

Marshall Moore has penned a compilation of short stories and flash fiction that is by turns disturbing and darkly humorous, depicting humans and, indeed, their humanity as a biddable commodity, something that fluctuates depending upon the circumstances. Each of these stories paints a picture, wickedly delicious in its bite, that made me question which is more startling and frightening—enthusiastic indifference or the manic enjoyment of others’ pain and suffering. Either way, each and every one of the glimpses into the deep shadows where apathy hides was a…guilty pleasure? I suppose I can say that because I did feel a bit guilty at finding so much enjoyment in these twisted and terrific tales of death, suicide, hatred, obsession, madness, vengeance, lost love, accountability, and children who can be taken apart and reassembled at the whims of the adults who only want them to acquiesce to their demands.

By turns caustic and unsettling, moving and provocative, The Infernal Republic is a masterwork for the disturbed, for those of us readers who want to turn out the lights and see what resides behind the façade of the well adjusted.

BUY LINK (Avail. Feb. 14, 2012)

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Uncategorized

Rhys Ford

There’s been a bunch of political / social crap going through life over this past week. From the Komen disaster to the latest debacle of a Romance Writers of America Chapter, The Romance Writers Ink (RWI), refusing to include same-sex romances in their annual contest, it’s been a shit-shoveling on the brain kind of week.

I keep telling people; I’m not an activist. A lot of my friends disagree with this statement but hear me out. I don’t have the energy to be an activist. And I sure as hell don’t have the emotional energy to be a hardcore activist.

What I do believe I can do without sacrificing what little sanity I do have? Communicate the issues to others. And voice an opinion. Both in words and with money. I boycott the Boy Scouts’ fundraisers because of their policies on homosexuality and endorse the Girl Scouts for their support…

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Amber Allure, Sean Michael

Office Hours by Sean Michael

Office Hours is a quick and sexy (lots of sexy!) take on the “hot for teacher” theme, in which English professor Thad Wells, a surly and standoffish man who doesn’t do romantic entanglements, is knocked for a loop–both literally and figuratively–by Jay Banner, a grad student and practicing Dom who’s working on his PhD in xenobiology.

What Thad lacks in self confidence, Jay more than makes up for in his relentless pursuit of the older man with the ex-lover from hell. Thad’s self esteem issues stem from his former battle with obesity, a handicap his ex used (and still does) to frequently berate and humiliate Thad, to the point that he was forced to get a restraining order against the man. A false accusation, for which Thad was later exonerated, prompted him to build walls to protect himself against both the memories of the psychological abuse and the damage to his reputation. He does everything in his power to keep people at arm’s length, but Jay is not the sort of man who takes no for an answer.

Jay pursues and Thad ultimately succumbs to his alpha-prowess, but Jay and Thad are both keeping secrets that loom large and threaten to tank their burgeoning relationship. It’s an encounter with the sadistic and questionably sane ex-lover, David, that provides the launching point for repairing the rift, and though it fell a little short on suspense with a somewhat quick and easy resolution, I was truly rooting for Thad and Jay by then so was satisfied with the outcome.

I’m not really an afficionado of the BDSM genre at all, but based on what Sean Michael presented here, in comparison to some other stories I’ve read, I’d say this was BDSM lite. Never having read this author before, I can’t say how this one stacks up against his other work, in that regard, but can say that I liked his writing style and bought into Jay and Thad’s connection, every step of the way.

This was a fast paced and fun read for me, start to finish.

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2.5 Stars, Less Than Three Press, Megan Derr

Kidnapped: Infinitum Government (Book One) by Megan Derr


For lack of a better trite and tired old cliche, Kidnapped simply was not my cup of tea, which is not to say that I don’t enjoy good sci-fi–I do–and the sci-fi elements in this novel were presented quite well. The author did a great job of leading me into the world she’d created, offering political intrigue and sinister maneuverings within a framework of deception and betrayal that, had the story remained focused on that storyline, I think I’d have enjoyed it so much more.
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Hayden Thorne, Queerteen Press

Small Gem – Out of the Depths by Hayden Thorne




Out of the depths of grief, out of the depths of madness, out of the depths of desperation springs longing and inspiration in Out of the Depths, a gothic tale of love and obsession.

Humans are disposable, their lives nothing more than a means to an end for Konstancji, the cost of his soul worth any price after death stole his lover, Ziven, a year before. Cheating the grave, resurrecting his beloved has become Konstancji’s passion, his only objective, and he uses the darkest of magics to fulfill his only desire.

Out of the Depths is frightfully good in where it doesn’t go. Can there truly be a happyily ever after for Konstancji and Ziven? What are the consequences for coveting what was lost and crossing Fate to recover it?

The cheerless atmosphere and a young man on the lunatic fringe infuse this story with the perfect balance of the disturbing and the romantic.

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