2.5 Stars, BDSM/Kink/Erotica, Dawn Flemington, Loose Id, Reviewed by Jennifer

Review: Naked Mailman by Dawn Flemington

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TitleNaked Mailman

Author: Dawn Flemington

Publisher: Loose Id

Pages/Word Count: 121 Pages

At a Glance: Interesting concept, but too much packed into a novella.

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: Mailman Ken Lane is bored with his life. Nothing exciting ever happens to him. That is, until a nude man attacks him and leaves him bound and naked in the back of his mail truck. After all the excitement, Ken can’t stop thinking about the man, especially when he ends back up in Ken’s life and turns it upside down.

Correctional Officer Devon McLaren is a BDSM Dom non-shifting werewolf whose personal life has gone abruptly to hell. The subject of a non-consensual drug experiment, Devon is trying to get to the FBI with information regarding a drug cartel that would really rather he didn’t. On top of that, he’s consumed with lustful thoughts of the mailman he attacked and longs to do many kinky things to him.

Despite the danger, Devon takes Ken on the run with him, hoping that a trusted friend will help them out (and give them a place to do some of those kinky things). But when said friend proves to be a part of the problem, they’ve got to get out of the jam together, before Devon’s pack is destroyed. But can they, or will their obsession with each other get in the way?

Dividers

Review: The title alone of this book intrigued me, and I knew I had to read it. It has BDSM, shifters; I mean, really what more could I want?

Ken Lane, mailman, thinks nothing exciting ever happens in his life, but this all changes one day when out on a routine route, he is attacked, his clothes stolen, and he is left naked in the back of his mail truck. After several days of the news turning him into the Naked Mailman, he tries to resume his normal life only to find Devon, the man who stole his clothing, has broken into his apartment. What follows is an interesting adventure where Ken is dragged around the state, and he learns that werewolves exist. Throw in tarot reading coworkers with completely accurate horoscopes, and drug cartels, and you’re in for a ride.

While the beginning of the book was interesting and left me amused, I started to struggle by the time I got about halfway. Not only is there a lot going on in this story, there’s just not enough room for it. You have werewolves, BDSM, illegal drug experimentation, the FBI… the list goes on. Ken is dragged through it all, his world turned upside down, and he just goes along for the ride. Why? Because Devon is good looking and turns his submissive side on.

It seemed a stretch for me, and the issues started early. For example, I understand that Ken is a submissive, but to have your life threatened while at work and being forced to strip? I can see how it’s a fantasy for some, but this just didn’t feel right. Fast forward a few scenes and let’s talk about the blowjob Devon demands in a public restroom while they’re both wearing clothes they bought off homeless men. I had to cringe just at the thought of the smell of the dirty clothes. But that wasn’t even what bothered me the most. Once they meet Sir Gary—Devon’s Dom human friend—they’re offered the use of his playroom. Ken has never been involved in BDSM. He just knows about it, knows he’s a submissive, and that’s pretty much it. But they engage in a scene.

Without a safe word.

So despite Ken saying no, Devon doesn’t stop, and then Ken soars and floats and he’s happy. But the lack of the safe word while Ken was saying no bothered me. Because it seemed to me like he did want Devon to stop, and because there was no communication beforehand, he had no real way of telling Devon to stop if he really wanted him to.

Some of the dialogue is awkward, such as Devon and Gary referring to each other as Sir Gary and Sir Devon. I get that they’re Doms, but it just felt forced for these characters.

There’s more involved in the book such as the fact that Devon is a shifter who can’t shift—it’s described at one point as a handicap—but there’s just too much to mention in the review.

If you enjoy shifter books with BDSM themes, you may be interested in this book, but as for me, while enjoyable at first, I struggled to finish this one.

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2.5 Stars, Genre Romance, Niko McQueen, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Review: Deranged by Niko McQueen

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Title: Deranged (Ivy Hollow Chronicles: Book One)

Author: Niko McQueen

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 126 Pages

At a Glance: Deranged needed a bit more storyline for me to buy into its romance.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Adam Rossmore is a rich party boy who doesn’t answer to anyone. He’s played the orphan card for too long and it’s gotten him out of every DUI, arrest, and fine.

Until now.

When a judge slaps him with community service at the insane asylum, Ivy Hollow, Adam thinks it’s all a joke. Until the doors lock and he starts meeting the residents.

Christian Hale has lived at Ivy Hollow his entire life. He seeks solace in his music—and whatever orderly happens to be nearby.

When Adam hears Christian play the piano for the first time, the music draws him deep into Christian’s web and he must fight an arousal that is both confusing and exciting.

Dividers

Review: Sometimes a blurb makes a book irresistible, and I was totally hooked by the premise of Niko McQueen’s Deranged. The idea of music and one man’s affliction coalescing into a love story is one you don’t run across often, and I wanted to see what the author did with it.

Christian Hale’s mental breakdown isn’t spelled out to the letter when the story begins, but we do get just enough innuendo to know what’s happened to cause it. The scene was written in a way that vaguely reminded me of the movie Shine and David Helfgott’s psychological collapse during the Rachmaninoff solo—an intense and slow motion wreckage of a man’s mind caught in the grasp of his music. Christian’s psyche shatters while playing the piano, but the story then fast-forwards without offering any more information about the schism, so we can only assume that his suffering at the hands of someone he thought he could trust has lead to the PTSD-like episodes we’re told about later.

Adam Rossmore is a musician in a band, though details about that are sketchy at best. We do know that he’s an arrogant party boy womanizer, though, and in spite of him thinking he’s above the law, he’s finally used up all of his get out of jail free cards when he’s busted for DWI, so one bender too many offers him two choices—community service at Ivy Hollow, or prison time. Adam is advised by his attorney/uncle to choose what should be the lesser of those two evils, and, of course, Adam isn’t happy about either, but Ivy Hollow gets one-hundred-fifty hours of his service. This is the basis for the setup of the story’s romance, and I have to say I had a difficult time buying into the idea of what boiled down to live-in community service as a means of plopping Adam into Christian’s orbit. I’m no expert on community service, though, so maybe it is a thing.

And now, here’s where I get to be nitpicky and difficult. Not only that, but I also get to start by saying that I really wanted to love this story so much more than I did. In the end, Deranged didn’t work for me because it left too much plot and character development on the drawing board, which, for me, left the story hobbled and the romance not terribly credible. I can buy into the insta-love romantic trope, but I need something to make it believable, and there just wasn’t enough narrative in this story for me to do anything but try and fill in the blanks of an already difficult relationship to grasp hold of. I can’t go into much detail without giving up spoilers, but suffice it to say that the plot didn’t allow its characters to evolve in a way that made their relationship convincing. A common love of music is great, and would have been a fantastic foundation to build something on, but the attraction starts out with lust and ends with sex, with no real exposition of why we should believe these characters belong together long-term, and, all told, that wasn’t enough for me to root for them.

In addition to the insta-love theme, Adam is also straight, so this is a gay/bi/out-for-you story as well, an idea that, when done well, is one of my favorites in the genre because it supports one of the more romantic tropes—that labels can mean squat. But again, going back to the insta-love the story leaned on, I didn’t see much from Adam to make me believe he’s got any feels for Christian that go anywhere beyond lust and curiosity. We get a lot of inner monologue and self-directed incredulity that he’s hot for Christian, but that’s angst not character construct, and there were too many important details missing for me believe that Adam had fallen in love with another man. Add to that a conveniently timed and somewhat coincidental side-story that introduces Christian’s “real” one true love, a guy who appears and then disappears again within the space of a mere few pages (there are several other characters who are introduced then do little more than serve as set dressing as well), and all it really does is give Adam the chance to show his jealous and possessive streak.

Overall, this novella all went rather sideways for me. What I was left with at the end of Deranged is the impression that sex was the magical cure-all for Adam’s straightness, and that Christian was in no way healthy enough to be the guy Adam should be hanging his future happily-ever-after on. His mental instability, whatever it is, and the cause of it, is sort of brushed off as a non-factor, which was too bad because I think it could have been a really compelling part of the storyline.

As much as I loved the idea of this novella, and in spite of there being some sexy moments, Deranged left me wanting.

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2.5 Stars, Allison Cassatta, Audio Book, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Kade Boehme, Narration Rating - 4 Stars, Reviewed by Kathie

Audio Review: We Found Love by Kade Boehme and Allison Cassatta – Narrated by Michael Ferraiuolo

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Title: We Found Love

Authors: Kade Boehme and Allison Cassatta

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Narrator: Michael Ferraiuolo

Run Time: 7 Hours and 23 Minutes

At a Glance: Michael Ferraiuolo gave a great performance, but not great enough to overcome my issues with the characters.

Reviewed By: Kathie

Blurb: It’s no surprise Riley Connors is dealing with issues. He was kidnapped as a young boy, and his parents abandoned him after his newsworthy return. He bounced from foster home to facility and back.

Now an adult, ghosts from his past continue to haunt him. After a suicide attempt, he is locked away in Hartfield so that people can make him tune in to emotions he has tried to bury.

Hunter Morgan had the kind of love that spans ages. But the stress of college and adulthood became too much to handle, and the love of Hunter’s life turned to drugs. After he overdoses, Hunter finds himself soaring out of control on the same miserable path. His brother finds him and calls an ambulance, and the sister Hunter would rather not have calls it a suicide attempt, landing Hunter in Hartfield.

Finding love isn’t easy, but it can happen under the direst circumstances. Together Hunter and Riley may be able to grow from their pain. But they will need to learn to live for themselves, letting love come second.

Dividers

Review: I really wanted to like We Found Love, but, unfortunately, I didn’t like ninety percent of this story. Riley Connors was too whiny, I mean really whiny, and I just can’t stand weak and whiny characters, no matter the justification. Most of the time he sounded like an adolescent, and I do know what that sounds like!

The ten percent I did like, in spite of the fact I never really bonded with Riley or Hunter (which could be my own problem rather than a reflection of the writing skills of Kade Boehme and Allison Cassatta), was when Riley left the treatment center and took control of his destiny. I also liked listening to the few moments that Riley and Hunter had together in the vacated wing of the treatment center. Those scenes were sensual and filled with a lot of descriptive detail.

My opinion of this audiobook is that the narrator, Michael Ferraiuolo, gave a great performance. He used distinct voices for each character which, when listening to an audiobook in the car, is very much appreciated as it’s a lot easier to follow the story. I will make a point to look for his name in the future. His performance adds a lot to the story, and the ending was great—the road trip HEA ending gets me every time. But be warned—whiny boys are running amuck throughout the story.

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2.5 Stars, Genre Romance, L.J. Hamlin, Reviewed by Maryann, Torquere Press

Review: The Dusty Hat Bar by L.J. Hamlin

Title: The Dusty Hat Bar

Author: L.J. Hamlin

Publisher: Torquere Press

Pages/Word Count: 96 Pages

At a Glance: I liked Noah and Lennie, but the author’s writing style made the reading difficult at times.

Reviewed By: Maryann

Blurb: Noah Kimberly walks into his usual bar, same as he does most Friday nights. It’s surprisingly busy for this time of night, even for a Friday.

Tonight things are different. Tonight Noah will meet Lennie Boyce, the son of Earl Boyce the biggest ranch owner in the area and Noah’s ex boss. His friend and bar owner Dusty might warn him away from the other man, but Noah’s just not sure he can resist this cowboy.

Dividers

Review: L.J. Hamlin’s The Dusty Hat Bar begins with Noah Kimberly at the bar, having thoughts of revenge against Earl Boyce, Lennie Boyce’s father. Noah knows revenge isn’t the way to handle things, though, and I was glad he changed his mind because he’s not a bad guy. When Noah actually meets Lennie that same night, they hit it off pretty well and mutually agree to have sex right away. I liked Noah and Lennie, but I sort of wish that hadn’t happened so fast.

Lennie has just turned twenty-one and wants to be a teacher. He has no interest in his family ranch. He is also the youngest of five, the only boy, and I liked the relationship he had with his sisters, who are very supportive of him and Noah. I also liked Dusty and Richard Draper, as they give support and advice to Noah.

I really want to give The Dusty Hat Bar a fair review. With that in mind, I have to say that, at times, the writing was like reading a list of instructions, which made the relationship between the MCs feel unreal, and I caught myself trying to reconstruct some of the wording to make it read in a more relaxed way. Which, unfortunately, took away some of the enjoyment of the reading.

For me, The Dusty Hat Bar boiled down to being about the father and son relationship, and Earl trying to protect Lennie but going about it the wrong way. Earl worries about how others will react towards Lennie being gay, fearing his son could be attacked or killed by intolerant people—things Earl knows about from his past. I must say I didn’t care for some of the things Earl does to his son and Noah.

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2.5 Stars, Amber Allure, Genre Romance, Reviewed By Carrie, Sean Michael

Review: Finding the Way Home by Sean Michael

Title: Finding the Way Home

Author: Sean Michael

Publisher: Amber Allure

Pages/Word Count: 16000 Words

At a Glance: The characters of Jim and Horse were well done, but I wish they’d had more of a story to tell.

Reviewed By: Carrie

Blurb: When he arrives home from a long stint in the hospital after losing his right arm to an IED blast, Sergeant James Miller certainly doesn’t expect his keys not to work and a strange man answering his door, only to learn his boyfriend has dumped him. Yet that’s exactly what happens, and James is just happy that he can count on his old platoon buddy to have his back, and a spare bedroom he can use until he gets on his feet.

Horace Grundy the third—“Horse” to anyone who doesn’t want to get his butt kicked—is retired and has a tidy house on the beach that he calls home. The place isn’t big, but he figures there is plenty of room for James, even if he has always fancied the man.

Thankfully, the two of them fit together well, and soon the roommates become more. But James’s past isn’t ready to let go of him yet, and the new lovers are caught off-guard when James’s ex-boyfriend suddenly reappears in his life. Can James and Horse’s new relationship weather the storm?

Dividers

Review: Finding the Way Home is a short novel from Sean Michael, and follows a familiar story arc for him. If you are a fan of his work, you will enjoy this one, but will also feel as though you have read it before.

Sergeant James Miller is finally retired, officially, from the military after an IED blast takes half of his arm. He comes home to find out his boyfriend has moved on with another man, so with nowhere to go, he calls his longtime friend and fellow compatriot Horse, or, Horace Grundy.

Finding the Way Home is a story about healing – mentally and physically – and how the right person can make life worth living. These men served together, they bled together, and they heal together. Because the book is so short, it is a little rushed. I think this story had the potential to be really good; it just needed to be expounded a little more. The characters of Jim and Horse were well done, but I wish they’d had more of a story to tell.

If you like Sean Michael, and you just want a little amuse-bouche, then this is book for you.

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2.5 Stars, Ali Atwood, Extasy Books, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Lana

Review: Bound to Brody by Ali Atwood

Title: Bound to Brody (Shifters and Lovers: Book One)

Author: Ali Atwood

Publisher: eXtasy Books

Pages/Word Count: 78 Pages

At a Glance: This is a mystery with a paranormal twist that, though the storyline was interesting enough, never got off the ground.

Reviewed By: Lana

Blurb: Does a second chance at love have a price?

Zac McQuade is a former marine living two lives. On the surface, he’s a special agent for the FBI but undercover, he’s an assassin for the Secret Intelligence Service. When Zac returns to his childhood home for his niece’s christening, the last person he expects to see is Brody Maitland, his former college crush. Though Zac’s attraction to Brody has gone unfulfilled, he still thinks of him as the one who got away.

Dr. Brody Maitland is a practicing psychologist with a few secrets of his own. Though he has always admired Zac, he thinks he is terminally straight. Currently, Brody is conducting an off-the-record investigation, in search of a young male patient who’s gone missing. Believing Zac’s cover story, Brody enlists his help to solve the intricate case, plunging them both into a deadly game of intrigue and deception. As the attraction between the two very different men heats up, they are faced with the ultimate test of love and loyalty.

Dividers

Review: Zac McQuade is a government assassin who comes home for his niece’s christening. He reconnects with his college crush, Brody Maitland, who’s now a doctor. Brody’s investigating the disappearance of one of his patients, and he ropes Zac into helping him; albeit, the whole setup was not plausible at all because they haven’t seen each other in a number of years, then all of a sudden they are “working” together, and the police are okay with their help. Then, add to that that Brody turns out to be a shifter. To me, this plot development felt as though it was just thrown in without any thought to it. It wasn’t developed at all, and felt that way.

There’s also a crazed, yet typical, madman who is abducting gay men. He was a bit over-the-top, and I felt that at any minute he was going to do a maniacal laugh and twirl his mustache.

The two leads were likeable enough, and they embodied the type of characters I enjoy, but in a mediocre story, they became mediocre too. The plot also had a number of continuity issues which were distracting. I wish that it’d had a better editor to clean up these, and other, plot issues. I love reading shifter stories, but Bound to Brody was a disappointment. This is a mystery with a paranormal twist that, though the storyline was interesting enough, never got off the ground.

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2.5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Katherine Halle, Narration Rating - 4 Stars, Reviewed by Amy

Audio Review: Fixing the Hole by Katherine Halle – Narrated by Philip Alces

Title: Fixing the Hole

Author: Katherine Halle

Narrator: Philip Alces

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Run Time: 2 Hours and 7 Minutes

At a Glance: The best thing about this story was Phillip Alces.

Reviewed By: Amy

Blurb: Heavy rains and strong winds slammed an uprooted tree through Steve Crowell’s roof, leaving a gaping hole to match the one in his heart. After his ex left him for a younger man, Steve’s not sure he’s ready to handle another disaster. His best friend highly recommended the contractor, but the man’s already late, and when he shows up with his music thumping, Steve isn’t impressed—until Riley steps out of his pickup truck. Personable, gorgeous Riley talks a mile a minute, which Steve finds both ridiculously endearing and terrifying. Piecing together a heart isn’t as easy as fixing a roof, but Riley might just be the right man for the job.

Dividers

Review:  I love a great short story. There is definitely an art to writing a short story and developing a depth of character in such a short period of time. What I found with this story was that I like the characters well enough; I liked the big differences between the two characters, Steve, the more white collar, and Riley, the more Blue collar. I just had no vested interest in whether they got together or not. Fixing the Hole was kind of forgettable.

Narration: The best thing about this Story was Philip Alces, but I have a love/hate relationship with his work. I think he is an amazing narrator. I just personally don’t care for his voice that much. I find that you can have a great book turn bad with off-narration, but, in this case, Alces did everything he could to keep me interested. He always has great definition between his characters, and does a great job with his emotion. He improved this book for me.

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2.5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Karen Stivali, New Adult, Reviewed by Sadonna

Review: Moment of Clarity by Karen Stivali

Title: Moment of Clarity (Moments in Time: Book Three)

Author: Karen Stivali

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 114 Pages

At a Glance: A slightly disappointing final chapter to this story that I wish I had enjoyed more.

Reviewed By: Sadonna

Blurb: Spending the summer together on Fire Island brought Collin and Tanner closer than ever, but back in their conservative college town, challenges confront them at every turn.

As they search for their new normal in their old environment, Collin’s brother Sean surprises them with help when they need it most. But when word about their relationship gets out, trouble erupts with friends and family. When Collin’s relationship with Tanner becomes an issue in his brother’s custody battle and Tanner struggles with his feelings for a heartbroken Wendy, Collin wonders if everyone he cares about would be better off without him in the picture.

In order to save them both, Tanner must make it clear to Collin that their love for each other is all that matters.

Dividers

Review: Note: This is the final installment of a three novella arc, and as such, is full of major spoilers for the first two books. Definitely not recommended to read out of order.

In this last chapter of Collin and Tanner’s story, the boys return from their angst-ridden summer on Fire Island. They have spent some time at Tanner’s mom’s place and haven’t been alone for a week! Then, they get to their college and discover that they will not having housing for a couple of weeks because of a fire. They really don’t want to be stuck in a crowded gym on cots, and it just so happens that Collin’s brother, Sean, decides to reach out to him. He is experiencing a marital separation and along with having plenty of room, feeling guilt over how the rest of Collin’s family has treated them, and needing some help with his kids, he volunteers a place for the guys to stay until their dorm is ready.

All is well until the wife who cheated on him decides she hasn’t made Sean and Collin suffer enough, and decides to try to turn the situation to her advantage. I found this character to be a bit cartoonish, and she is only a vehicle to move the story along with the guys once again facing a housing crisis. Wendy has not forgiven them for the events on Fire Island (which I had a hard time with her blaming them, anyway), but she does come through.

Eventually the guys make their way back to the dorm, and then, of course, there is some overblown drama there as well. Honestly, unless it’s a Bible College, I found this kind of reaction from fellow students did not ring very true to what I am led to believe to be the case (by my nephew and other college students of my acquaintance). Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I kind of was rolling my eyes at the events of the dorm confrontation. Most colleges have a nondiscrimination policy, and if ANY student reacted this way, they would be asked to leave. Even when I was in college – back in the dark ages – and granted I went to a music and liberal arts college (although there was also a big science and business colleges as well), it wasn’t a big deal and everybody got on with their lives.

As a result of the some of the backlash, then Collin decides that he has to do something to try to make things right. This is where I had the most trouble with the story, I guess. No spoilers here, but Collin’s plan and Tanner’s reaction just seemed pretty trite to me. I did, however, love Tanner’s mom. She’s a lovely character and I would have liked more interaction with her and the boys.

I’ve really struggled with this entire series. I’m not a fan of these novellas being strung together over the space of several months. I also think with the pricing of $4.99 for each, it’s a lot to pay for what is essentially one novel length story told in three parts. When you compare it to something like Amy Lane’s Beneath the Stain, it rather pales in comparison from a volume/price standpoint.







 

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2.5 Stars, Audio Book, BDSM/Kink/Erotica, Dreamspinner Press, Narration Rating - 5 Stars, Reviewed By JJ, Sue Brown

Audio Review: Ed & Marchant by Sue Brown – Narrated by Max Lehnen

Title: Ed & Marchant (A Novella in Frankie’s Series)

Author: Sue Brown

Narrator:: Max Lehnen

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Run Time: 3 Hours and 59 Minutes

At a Glance: I really enjoyed the audio portion of Ed & Marchant, but I found it impossible to like the book when the main character, Ed, was so disagreeable.

Reviewed By: Johanis

Blurb: Ed Winters despises his job and hates everyone he works with—especially out and proud, happily in love Frankie Mason. He spends his days wishing he could dance, rather than work.

Late to go shopping one day, Ed ends up soaked in Marchant Belarus’s spilled Coke. Ed’s humiliation increases when Marchant, the owner of a BDSM club, realizes Ed is a sub, albeit a very closeted one. Marchant’s attempts to draw Ed out of his shell release years of pent-up anger and hurt over the abuse Ed’s mother and grandmother heaped on him.

Marchant is patient, but nothing he does seems to help until he discovers Ed’s secret love of dancing—a forbidden passion that might be the key to unlocking the confident, secure man Ed could be.

Dividers

Review: Ed, a disgruntled and homophobic supervisor, has a chance encounter with Marchant, a dominant younger man who fascinates him. Marchant acts on their immediate attraction and tells Ed that he knows he is a gay submissive. Ed is appalled by Marchant’s accusation and continues to deny that he’s gay. Since Ed’s mother tried to beat the gay out of him as a child, Ed is very negative about his desires, and believes he’s a horrible deviant. Marchant eventually convinces Ed that this is not the case, and gets him to loosen up. Ed even goes as far as apologizing to a gay employee who he wronged in the past. When Ed and Marchant come together, Ed decides to quit his job and focus instead on dancing. After six months pass, Ed is ready to submit to Marchant and take on a submissive role in their relationship.

I really wanted to like this book, but I found it impossible to like it when the main character, Ed, was so disagreeable. Ed is a self-proclaimed homophobe who hates everyone and everything. Though I liked Marchant, I didn’t really understand why he would ever look twice at Ed. I also found it unrealistic that Marchant had one encounter with Ed and knew right away that Ed was a gay submissive. The next roadblock to my enjoyment of this book was that neither character seemed sexy in any way. Ed was a grouchy older man, and Marchant was a younger gentleman-type. Though the book had some sex scenes sprinkled in, I’m not sure whether the couple ever gets to the point of sleeping together. Although my interest in the characters was negligible, I was able to follow the story, and I never once felt that I had to stop reading. At one point, I actually started to like Ed, but then the book ended shortly afterward.

Narration: I really enjoyed the audio portion of this book. I think the reader did an excellent job, and I never once was taken away from the story due to the narration. As an additional note, this book was narrated in British English.

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2.5 Stars, LoveLight Press, Paranormal Romance, Pop Cherry, Reviewed by Lisa, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: Borderline by Pop Cherry

Title: Borderline

Author: Pop Cherry

Publisher: LoveLight Press

Pages/Word Count: 85 Pages

At a Glance: Loose threads and sketchy plot development overshadow this author’s obvious gift for writing a descriptive and vivid narrative.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: When a rogue wolf is dropped to the tiles of Saren Lash’s hall, the alpha Enforcer has no idea how quickly the shifter he intends to break and remold will turn the tables. Can the unyielding Enforcer resist the increasing press of the defiant rogue’s fire and beauty, or will he wind up remaking himself as he attempts to subdue the wild runner?

Nor has no intention of becoming a toy for Tek’s pack, no matter how glacial the Enforcer Lash may be. He’s always lived his life his own way and doesn’t intend to change that now. Can he withstand the Enforcer’s impact on his mind during the remaking process? And if he finds himself growing fond of the Enforcer, can he be sure the idea is actually his own?

Dividers

Review: There are a couple of things I learned about new-to-me-author Pop Cherry while I was reading Borderline:

    1.) The author knows how to turn a phrase, and
    2.) The author knows how to create an atmospheric and sensual dystopia.

The feel of this –verse is post-apocalyptic with a dash of supernatural thrown in for good measure. There are shifters, mages, and a variety of magicks woven into the provocative intrigues of the Dark Moon Pack: a rogue wolf on a mission, an Enforcer whose own mission it is to break the captured runner and bring him to heel, and this same Enforcer’s duty to his title. That is, until things become further complicated by a growing sexual bond between Lash and Nor. (As a side note, there are very few named characters in this novella, but learning enough about them to see how their names fit was a nice touch to the reading.)

While the author’s talent for setting the tone of the story and painting a visual of place is never in question, where things went sideways for me while reading Borderline is in the dissemination of clues and cues in the plot. There are things mentioned alongside the core storyline of Lash and Nor’s conflicted emotions that made me feel as if I’d missed out on some key details and elements that I should have already known, which then, after some investigating on my part, made sense as I believe this world has been built within another set of books by this author, though this book isn’t listed as part of that series. Borderline is written as if the reader should already know certain facts and –verse elements, which is not a statement against the author’s ability to tell a story but was, without question, an overall detriment to my connecting in any sort of meaningful way with the world building within this particular novella, the beings that inhabit it, and its politics and hierarchies.

What I do believe is a developmental weakness in the story structure are certain details thrown in in a rather offhanded way, especially with the ring Nor seeks and the faceless Doctor Deveaux, who, it is eventually revealed, is the mastermind behind Nor’s mission and seems to play an overall larger role in the alt. universe—though it’s not yet been revealed how—as well as the faceless Tek, who seems to be the Alpha King of the Dark Moon Pack, though I’m not sure that’s the correct term since his role is hinted at but never specified. These elements, I’m assuming, will be more fully fleshed out as the series moves along.

Because of the loose threads that were never quite tied together in a meaningful way, what we’re left with in this novella is the growing connection between Lash and Nor, which is achieved through their immediate lust for each other and the desire to own and be owned. While it’s all sensual to the extreme, it doesn’t leave much to sink one’s proverbial teeth into, so if you’re looking for erotica written by an author who uses descriptive language and the metaphor to its best advantage in setting scenes, then Borderline may work better for you than it did me.

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2.5 Stars, BDSM/Kink/Erotica, Reviewed By Carrie, T. Strange, Torquere Press

Review: Lock and Key by T. Strange

Title: Lock and Key

Author: T. Strange

Publisher: Torquere Press

Pages/Word Count: 88 Pages

At a Glance: This book has a great premise but it just kind of fell flat for me.

Reviewed By: Carrie

Blurb: After meeting Terry at a motorcycle show, Gavin is sure he’s found the man of his dreams. While he’s fantasized about BDSM for years, Gavin has never had a play partner and Terry is happy to teach him. After playing together for a few months, Terry has to leave on a business trip. Terry gives Gavin the key to his apartment so Gavin can sleep in, but Gavin isn’t sure he’s ready for that level of commitment. While he likes and trusts Terry—and loves the kinky sex they have together—Gavin has to decide which he can’t give up: Terry, or his freedom. Part one was originally published as Boots and Leather by Torquere Press.

Dividers

Review: Lock and Key is about the beginning – sometimes awkward – few weeks in a relationship between Terry and his new sub Gavin. They meet at a motorcycle convention, go for coffee, and the relationship sparks off from there.

Gavin is a bank teller who haunts motorcycle shows in the hopes of finding a leather daddy Dom to fulfill all his fantasies. Terry is an artist, a big man with mutton chops and worn leather chaps… He has seen Gavin at other shows and is determined to finally meet the boy he has had his eye on.

This book has a great premise but it just kind of fell flat for me. I really wanted it to be better. Terry and Gavin are both great characters, and they deserved a better written story. The skeleton is there – the meat is there – but there is just not enough connecting it all to make a complete picture. The sex is hot, however, so if you’re looking for a short and steamy read, you will probably enjoy Lock and Key. I just needed a little more depth in the storyline that would connect their lives and how they intertwine.

Terry and Gavin click and the sex is provocative, though, so if you want that then this novella is for you.

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2.5 Stars, BDSM/Kink/Erotica, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Michael Murphy, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: Evac by Michael Murphy

Title: Evac

Author: Michael Murphy

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 200 Pages

At a Glance: Evac had such promise. However, a need to twist certain realities to produce a happy ever after really derailed this story from its initial trajectory.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: While on a mission in northern Afghanistan, Benji’s helicopter is shot down. Benji went in with a band of brothers but comes out with a stack of body bags, including one for his partner, Blade.

After recovering physically in Germany, Benji is sent home to San Diego. He’s been a soldier so long he doesn’t know how to live as a civilian. The loss of his brothers and his partner weighs heavily on him. Benji’s body might be healed, but he is still a very broken man. Unable to find work, Benji turns to drinking, bar fights, risky sex with anonymous men, and striking out at everything. As he spirals out of control, he even tries volunteering in a BDSM club as a sub for demonstrations and private scenes.

Despair drives Benji to action, and he meets Nick, a young man in desperate need of hope. With his options and his money running out, the only question is if Benji will find his way in time.

Dividers

Review: Benji is a war-hardened soldier. Used to being sent on missions that are risky at best, his final mission was almost routine for him and his crew. Among his band of brothers is his secret lover, Blade, the man Benji is set on spending the rest of his life with once they are discharged a few months hence. But this mission is different from the get-go, and before it is over, Benji will be the last man standing, and the guilt of that truth will haunt him for the rest of his life.

Sent to recover in an army hospital in Germany, Benji must now begin to pick up the fragmented pieces of his life, and somehow deal with the horrific nightmares and flashbacks that plague him and leave him unable to function in society. Summarily discharged and sent home to San Diego, Benji must now make his way and survive the downward spiral that communicates into destructive behavior. But each risk he takes is necessary, for it becomes the only thing that makes him feel alive.

This novel, Evac by Michael Murphy, began with such incredible promise. The feel of the desert, the men being pinned down, the fear and panic at being ambushed, all played out with incredible truth. Roughly the first third of this story is so visceral and raw that you feel as though you are living the horror that became Benji’s life. Then, a series of questionable moves on the author’s part threw the story into a bit of chaos and gradually made it hard to believe. So many questions about how Benji was released from service began to plague this story. Having had two brothers who are ex-military, I knew immediately that this was an area Mr. Murphy had twisted the plot to satisfy his story’s needs.

Unfortunately, such things as why Benji’s family was never contacted when he was in hospital; the reality that he was released with only the clothes on his back and nothing more; the fact that he was never made to check in and file reports on exactly what happened that horrible day his group was pinned down and systematically slaughtered; all these things made the story seem just so disjointed and unbelievable. This is the military we are talking about, and for a lone surviving soldier to be shuttled off without any proper discharge was just too much to believe.

As the story progressed, the dialogue became more stilted and Benji’s actions more erratic. While it was more than plausible for us to watch this man fall apart, the repetitive retelling of the exact same scene where the chopper was shot down grew thin. More importantly, we never got a real glimpse into Benji and Blade’s clandestine affair in Afghanistan. Given the idea that he was going to live with Blade post military career, I expected the constant flashbacks to include some of their intimate moments on base. I needed to understand more of Benji’s backstory so that his soul wrenching loss made sense. But the novel sped forward, telling us the story rather than showing us. Like a third party observer, the reader was expected to accept the inconsistencies in the plot and not worry that the result made one feel less and less emotionally engaged in Benji’s life.

Evac had such promise. However, a need to twist certain realities to produce a happy ever after really derailed this story from its initial trajectory. In the end, we were left with a questionable plot, less than convincing dialogue, and a real disappointment over a story that never seemed to find its way.

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2.5 Stars, Genre Romance, K.A. Merikan, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Review: No Matter What by K.A. Merikan

Title: No Matter What (Sex & Mayhem: Book Four)

Author: K.A. Merikan

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 307 Pages

At a Glance: As the square peg in the round hole of this series, No Matter What didn’t work for me for a number of reasons.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Ghost. Not a member of the Coffin Nails MC. Not a doctor anymore. Not gay.

Luca. Bent, not broken. Will not let go of Ghost. No matter what.

Ghost finds out the hard way that people you meet online aren’t always who they seem to be. When he met ‘Zara’ five years ago, they became inseparable. She’s been with him through the rough and the smooth. He’s been there for her when her abusive boyfriend had her in tears.

She is The One, and despite all his friends considering him crazy, Ghost is about to propose.

But ‘Zara’ turns out to be Luca, and Luca is most definitely a guy. Yet Luca is the same person with big dark eyes, so desperate to be saved that Ghost can’t help but fall head first.

Luca’s so-called boyfriend is not just abusive. He is a Sicilian drug lord, a man dangerous and ruthless. If Ghost is to ever save the person who wreaked havoc on his heart, he has to make a deal with the Coffin Nails MC. But being a member is a destiny he’s always tried to avoid. And when a life of violence becomes too much to bear, he might be the one needing Luca to catch him when he falls.

Dividers

Review: I’ve now read three of the four novels in K.A. Merikan’s Sex & Mayhem series (book three is M/F), and I have to say my thoughts on this series are all over the place. Although none of these books are without their flaws, I liked Stitch and Zak well enough in Road of No Return, I absolutely loved Tooth and Luci in The Devil’s Ride, and now I’m on the backswing to feeling just south of lukewarm toward Ghost and Luca in No Matter What.

This installment of the series revisits the Coffin Nails MC’s Detroit chapter, where we were first, and briefly, introduced to Ghost, the fair haired and pale (though not albino) doctor who lost his license to practice medicine after a hospital incident where he’d helped Tooth rescue Luci. From his introduction in The Devil’s Ride, Ghost is described as “confident and calm”, but his confidence has gone AWOL in No Matter What.

By the time “Ride” ends, Ghost has withdrawn socially and spends most of his time online, which is where this novel picks up, though the virtual relationship he’s developed with a woman he knows only as Zara began some two and a half years before the end of “Ride”, according to the timeline, when Zara was just sixteen years old. Over the course of those five years, Ghost has fallen in love with Zara while playing the game Age of Endless, to the point he’s arranged a surprise siege at a restaurant, armed with a ring and a marriage proposal, and is prepared to rescue her from her abusive boyfriend. At which point, Ghost quickly realizes Zara isn’t who he thought she was, and he’s been the victim of catfishing.

This is where the story’s conflict is introduced, when Ghost discovers Zara is actually Luca, very much not the woman Ghost had dreamed of marrying. Conflict, however, ends up being too strong a word to describe the way the events that follow play out. Ghost doesn’t really seem to have all that much trouble adapting to the idea of Luca being a man, or accepting his attraction to the man when it came right down to it, nor did he seem to have that much trouble coming to terms with the realization he’s bisexual (or, at least, Luca-sexual). This was all more a subtextual conflict as opposed to providing any real friction in the story or in the relationship Ghost was building with Luca, which made it difficult for me to buy into as a dramatic element of the plot, and therefore felt a bit forced, all for the sake of creating a storyline for this side character who has no real defined role in the MC and seems out of place within the framework of the series. What does work, though, is that we end up seeing how much Luca needed and deserved someone like Ghost in his life, someone patient and kind.

The angst in this relationship, that of the external variety, lies with Luca’s ex-lover, Frederico Villani (a name you may or may not recognize from Guns n’ Boys), and his henchman Antonio, both of whom abuse and violate Luca and seem resigned to making his life hell until he’s either shattered or dead. This leads Luca to the ultimate sacrifice a man can make in the name of love, and finally allows Ghost the chance to reclaim some of the backbone he lacked for the majority of this book. K.A. Merikan never shy away from pushing the envelope when it comes to writing their deviant characters, nor do they pull any punches when it comes to torture and revenge, though I do believe the theme of “the big rescue from his abuser” was written to much better effect in The Devil’s Ride

One of the things I feel continues to plague this series is the lack of a strong editorial presence, leading to repetitive content and awkward narrative passages/dialogue that often come across as stilted and sometimes even overly florid, which leaves those passages feeling ill-suited to the characters and the setting; though, of the three books to date, Ghost is admittedly the most educated and by far the least intimidating of any of the men introduced so far. He was so meek in instances where he truly just needed to step up and be his own hero, never mind being Luca’s that it was frustrating to witness. The disappearance of the “confident and calm” Ghost made him a rather weak protagonist within the context of this series, and leaves No Matter What the square peg to the round hole in terms of its overall fit. It was difficult at times to find much reason to root for Ghost or for his and Luca’s relationship because of this dichotomy.

Apart from the Guns n’ Boys crossover, there wasn’t much new or original dealt with here. The issue of being gay, or in this case, bisexual within the context of a motorcycle club, and the inherent problems this creates, are conflicts that’ve already been addressed in the first two books, so if you’re interested in checking out the MC setting, I would recommend reading The Devil’s Ride to get the best overall feel for this world, as it covers the tropes the series is built on with two characters it was almost impossible not to love.

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2.5 Stars, Audio Book, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Narration Rating, Narration Rating - 2.5 Stars, Reviewed by Sadonna, Tara Lain

Audio Review: Outing the Quarterback by Tara Lain – Narrated by John-Paul Barrel

Title: Outing the Quarterback

Author: Tara Lain

Narrator: John-Paul Barrel

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Run Time: 8 Hours, 30 Minutes

At a Glance: This is definitely not my favorite from this author, and I am still not convinced audiobooks are for me.

Reviewed By: Sadonna

Blurb: Will Ashford lives in two closets. He meets his wealthy father’s goals as both the quarterback for the famous SCU football team and a business major, but secretly he attends art school and longs to live as a painter. And he’s gay. But if he can win the coveted Milton Scholarship for art, he’ll be able to break from his father at the end of his senior year.

In a painting master class, Will meets his divergent opposite, Noah Zajack. A scarred orphan who’s slept on park benches and eaten from trash cans, Noah carefully plans his life and multiple jobs so he has money and time to go to art school. Will’s problems seem like nothing compared to Noah’s. Noah wants the scholarship too and may have a way to get it, since the teacher of his class has designs on him–a plan about which Will isn’t happy.

Dividers

Review: Hmmmm. Where to start. I am really a fan of this author, but this book just didn’t work for me. I do think part of the issue was the narrator, but I also had issues with the story.

Will Ashford is the starting quarterback of the fictitious Southern California University football team, and his girlfriend is the head cheerleader. That would all be great except for one big fat problem – Will is gay. He has no desire to go to the NFL, and he really just wants to paint, so he’s taking a Master class under an assumed name. He’s a really talented painter, and he wants to win a scholarship to attend Art school so that he can leave his family expectations behind and not have to worry about tuition, etc.

In this class, Will meets Noah – who is both a model and a rival painter, and Will’s entranced by him. The instructor of the class is also interested in Noah, and his recommendation may be a key to getting this scholarship. For Will, though, trying to keep up on his painting class, his football practice, his other courses, his internship at his father’s company, as well as keeping off the radar of the campus YouTube gossip hound, and continue to feign interest in his girlfriend while also trying to keep the proverbial closet door shut and locked, is taking a big toll on him.

When Will runs into Noah outside of class, at one of Noah’s jobs, all he can think of is not being outed as an artist. Noah respects him as an artist, but he doesn’t think much of him as a person. And that’s before he knows that Will hasn’t exactly been forthcoming.

The character I like the most in this story is actually Will’s best friend Jamal, who is the center on his football team. He really is the kind of best friend everyone needs. I’m looking forward to reading his story, which is the second book in this series. Jamal always has Will’s back, doesn’t judge, and tries to do whatever he can to help Will out of whatever crappy situation he finds himself in. And Will would do the same for Jamal.

As the story progresses, of course Will cannot continue to hide his orientation from Noah when he is so attracted. They have a complicated relationship not only because of the art scholarship they both really want but because they come from such different worlds. Will feels trapped in the gilded cage, and Noah has never had any kind of stability in his life, other than what he has managed on his own.

Of course, as these things go, there must be a moment of truth when Will is put in the position to confirm or deny his orientation, his life choices, and his career aspirations. He is not only going to have to face the press, the football fans, and his father, but he’s going to have to face Noah and make a decision about how he’s going to live his life.

So why do I say this audio book didn’t work for me? Truly, I didn’t care for the narrator. To make sure, I read some of the book after I had finished listening to it, and I liked it a LOT more when I was in control of the story. His attempt at a sort of “sultry/sexy” voice for Will just was difficult for me to listen to and felt very put on and over the top. Then his older adult voice characterizations just did not sound right to me at all. Will’s dad and the art professor both sounded like they had chronic constipation. Honestly, the best characterization, I thought, was Jamal. That voice I could believe. He sounded age appropriate, and his speech pattern was much more authentic.

The other issues I had with the story are probably personal taste. I do not like penis nicknames and this one had a doozy. I know he’s a young guy, but no. And I also didn’t care for some of the other nicknames either. Finally, I just could not like Will as a character. The first, probably, eighty percent of the book, I felt like I was forcing myself just to get through it, and only in the last twenty percent did I finally want to know what was going to happen.

I will definitely read the next story in this series – but I will be reading it to myself. ;) As usual, YMMV.






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2.5 Stars, Genre Romance, JMS Books LLC, Reviewed by Jennifer, Sam Singer, Short Story

Review: Unspoken by Sam Singer

Title: Unspoken

Author:  Sam Singer

Publisher: JMS Books

Pages/Word Count: 10 Pages

At a Glance: Super short story that felt a bit forced.

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: Kenneth and David from the best-selling stories Broken and Envy are back for another sensual glimpse into their D/s relationship.

Kenneth prides himself on being the best trained sub he can for his Dom. David returns home after a hard day of work and lavishes Kenneth with attention but does not allow Kenneth to serve him. Honored to receive his Dom’s attentions, he longs to speak the words of love overflowing within him, but without permission to speak, Kenneth must instead rely on a soundtrack of power ballads to say what he cannot as David brings him to the peak of sexual satisfaction.

Dividers

Review: I feel like I say this a lot, but full disclosure, I didn’t read the first two book with these characters, and while I think it may have been good to see the progression of Kenneth and David’s relationship, I understood what was happening just fine. Kenneth is a likeable sub, though he hardly talks during the story, and David seems like a good Dom. But given how short the story is—it’s pretty much a step above flash fiction—there isn’t too much development.

The story is told in the present tense, which for some readers might be jarring. I felt like I was in the scene with Kenneth and David, and it worked well enough for what the author was trying to portray. I’m not the biggest fan of third person present, but that’s just me.

That said, I did have one major issue with the story, aside from the perspective. Since it is so short, every single word should count, and it should be edited neatly for continuity. In longer novels, a change of clothing mid-scene might be missed by some readers, but when you’re only playing with 2,000 words, pointing out that David is wearing leather pants, and he only wears leather when he and Kenneth are about the play, sets the reader up. Then, in the next paragraph Kenneth fixates on how soft the denim feels against his bare skin…Well, it takes the reader out of the scene. I had to go back and check to see if he really had been wearing leather or not, and when I saw that he had been, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought I would see a heavier BDSM scene, but that wasn’t the case.

While the story wasn’t bad, these are characters I will not likely visit again.

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2.5 Stars, Genre Romance, Loose Id, Mae Hancock, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: Enticing Hart by Mae Hancock

Title: Enticing Hart

Author: Mae Hancock

Publisher: Loose Id

Pages/Word Count: 183 Pages

At a Glance: Given cleaner editing and stronger plot development, Enticing Hart really could have been a great novel.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Hart Emile is tired of cruising for guys, living a soulless existence. He needs a change; so when an acquaintance gives him the number of the gay friendly Red Fox Ranch that’s hiring for staff, he heads south.

Oak Redman is eighteen years old and desperate to explore his awakening sexuality. The moment Hart lays eyes on the handsome young rancher he’s smitten. Not only is Oak hot, spirited and very persistent, he is also the ranch boss’s son and strictly off limits. Hart tries to fight his feelings and to respect his boss and the family who quickly become dear to him, but after Oak’s Grandma suggests he gets with Oak he can’t deny himself the most exciting and enticing man he has ever met.

Hart’s not the only man to have noticed how sweet and charming Oak Redman is. A family friend, Steve, is also anxious to have the affections of the young rancher. Can Hart work out Steve’s dark secrets before it’s too late and keep his job, his lover and his life?

Dividers

Review: Hart learns about the Red Fox Ranch from a casual pick up he meets in order to satisfy an itch that is getting tougher and tougher to satisfy. He wants to settle down, meet a man and maybe try his hand at a long-term relationship for the first time in his life. When the stranger mentions the ranch is not only hiring but is gay friendly, Hart sets out to land himself a job. Little does he know the owner, Bay, is grappling with a near socially crippling form of OCD that is steadily growing worse, but he has rigid rule when it comes to behavior at the ranch. Those rules include hands off his attractive and only son, Oak. Could Hart’s chance at both a job and happiness be ruined from the start? For, you see, he finds himself immediately attracted to Oak, who returns his attentions and then some.

Enticing Hart by new author, Mae Hancock, is a good story badly in need of another round of edits in order to make it a better one. While I have no problem with the insta-love trope, it suffered in this novel due to the immediacy of Hart and Oak’s attraction and some confusing elements in the story. First there was a continual referral to how long Hart had been at the ranch. Was it weeks, days, hours? All I know is that these two were in insta-lust within hours of Hart’s arrival. Then, there was the age issue. At first, Oak is “nearly nineteen” and confesses to his friend Steve that he had encounters with men in college. Yet, almost immediately after, he is only seen as barely eighteen, a virgin, and college is never mentioned again. Next there is the discrepancy with his dad, Bay, and his exact age. Again, initially, Hart guesses the man is 35 but hastens in his mind to add “a few years” in order to justify him having an 18 year-old son. But later, Bay is said to be 36, making him 17 when he married. Again, this age thing is never brought up again, so we never know exactly how old he is and because it was pointed up in the story at the onset, it became an annoying little detail that was left dangling.

I try not to nitpick when reading a story, particularly one written by a new author, but I feel this one was so poorly edited her book suffered as a result. If you mention the use of condoms deliberately every time Hart and Oak have sex, then you really need to address that they are disposed of at some point after sex. Also, condom use means that Oak could not feel Hart “filling” him up with his come. Then there were occasions where names got switched around and Hart was feeling himself take…himself. Incident after incident like this arose until I found myself rereading passages to make sense of what had just happened in the scene. I was really worried until we got to the last third of the novel, and then I suddenly began to see the makings of a really good story.

Once Steve, Oak’s friend, was introduced you got the feeling something was just a little off with him. In the latter part of this novel, that suspicion comes to fruition, and the novel takes a decided turn from a flawed and just mediocre read to an exciting and captivating story. Here was a true glimpse at what Mae Hancock was capable of writing. It was well written, exciting, fast paced and gave the story a bit of a nail biting twist. And it was this section that would make me want to check out this author’s next piece of work.

I believe Mae Hancock has real potential to become an exciting new voice in the m/m genre. Given cleaner editing and stronger plot development, Enticing Hart really could have been a great novel. I look forward to reading more by this author as she grows and develops into her craft.






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2.5 Stars, Faith Ashlin, Reviewed by Lana, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Totally Bound

Review: A Slow Process of Understanding by Faith Ashlin

Title: A Slow Process of Understanding

Author: Faith Ashlin

Publisher: Totally Bound

Pages/Word Count: 348 Pages

At a Glance: A Slow Process of Understanding did not grab me, and I really wish it had because it could have been a great read.

Reviewed By: Lana

Blurb: How does a world that accepts slavery affect both master and slave? Can two people build a new life for themselves with a start like theirs?

It’s a world like this one except for the all-powerful State that’s very firmly in control and the fact that slavery is legal. Jimmy had never really thought about it or the fight for freedom going on around him. He was too busy enjoying his privileged life as an actor on a sci-fi show.

But what is he meant to do when he’s forced to permanently bond to a slave he doesn’t want just because he made one silly, drunken mistake? Does it change who he is, what he is?

Trouble is, Jimmy isn’t sure who he was to start with. He’d never thought about it.

And what about his slave, Nate? Can a slave force Jimmy into learning something about himself?

Dividers

Review: A Slow Process of Understanding is the perfect title for this book because the story itself moves slow. If you are looking for something fast paced and exciting, this book is not it. This is an Alt U story, which is usually right up my alley, but this one just didn’t do anything for me.

The story takes place in an alternate reality where slavery is legal. These slaves are sex slaves who are used and abused by their owners. The story starts with Jimmy, a kind of meathead actor who winds up in prison and is about to be bound to a male slave, Nate. Jimmy’s offense and punishment were implausible to me, and though it’s sort of explained later in the story, I didn’t buy into it because it was too simplistic. Nate, the slave Jimmy gets, is hurt and seems docile, but as it turns out, he is no ordinary slave.

Jimmy’s whining and constant description of himself as a good guy throughout the book was annoying to me, and Nate wasn’t really better. He played the role of slave, but later, when he revealed who he was, he did a complete 360. Some of his actions were too out there, and yes, it’s part of the plot, but when I can’t believe in it, pretty much everything else in the book then just falls flat. The premise of this book is interesting, but the execution left a lot to be desired, as the storyline drops the reader into the middle of a make-believe universe with no real explanation and little world building. In an alternate reality storyline, you need it. The whole plot just seemed simple and underwhelming.

A Slow Process of Understanding did not grab me, and I really wish it had because it could have been a great read.






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2.5 Stars, Less Than Three Press, Megan Derr, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Jennifer

Review: Rabbit Season by Megan Derr

Title: Rabbit Season (Lost Shifters: Book Two)

Author: Megan Derr

Publisher: Less Than Three Press

Pages/Word Count: 69 Pages

At a Glance: Interesting shifters and pairing, but ultimately the story fell short.

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: Sidney has quietly loved twin brothers Brook and Colby for years, watching and pining as they came to his house for the summer every year. Painfully aware that they have each other, have no reason to notice the unremarkable duck they grew up babysitting.

Then the twins and their mother are attacked days before an important meeting that will change the shifter world forever. When the twins come to stay with Sidney’s family until the attackers are caught, Sidney learns that all things have their season, and even violent protests will not keep two rabbits from the man for whom they’ve been patiently waiting…

Dividers

Review: First off, I will admit I did not know this was a series until I finished the book, but it does not in any way affect this story. This book can stand alone. The characters from the first book do make a brief appearance, however, so if you want to know Skylar’s story, make sure you read the first book.

Okay, on to the review of Rabbit Season. I was really excited to read the blurb, as it looked interesting. I mean, who doesn’t love a good shifter story, right? And this one certainly seemed unique. Most shifter books involve predatory animals like wolves, lions, etc., so the fact that this one has ducks and rabbits was pretty intriguing. I’ve read shifter books with non-predators before, but they’re few and far between in the genre, and I have never read one with rabbits. Plus there’s the whole twincest aspect. But, while I was excited to read it, the book fell short.

That’s not to say the story wasn’t good, because Megan Derr had a great concept. However, it was just too much packed into too short a story. Clocking in at less than 25000 words, there just wasn’t enough space to tell Sidney, Brook, and Colby’s story and do it the justice it deserved. Too much tries to happen.

Take the romance between the twins and Sidney. It comes on fast and sudden. Granted, they are rabbits and get busy quickly, but it just seemed pretty unbelievable, given how shy Sidney is supposed to be around the twins. None of the boys seemed to act their age, either. Sidney is supposedly twenty, and the twins twenty-six, but their words and manners made me feel they were much younger, which bothered me.

They did have some funny moments, though. I loved the banter between Sidney and his dads. It was pretty funny. And then there was Sidney’s voice. When he wasn’t sounding too young, he made me laugh with how he expressed himself.

The conflict resolution was too neatly tied up. There is supposed to be something big at stake which involves the lives of the twins and their mother, but when it came down to the wire, it just…ended neatly. I wanted more. More tension, more drama, more risk.

This story could have easily been twice as long, and I think it really deserved that. The complexity of the duck society is only hinted at, and the shifter relations needed more exploration that just fell short in this book.

TNA_Signature_Jennifer






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2.5 Stars, David Connor, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, Reviewed by Lisa

Review: Tidings of Comfort and Joey Down Under by David Connor

Title: Tidings of Comfort and Joey Down Under

Author: David Connor

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 67 Pages

At a Glance: Begins with a cute and clever premise, but ultimately falls short

Blurb: Seth Anderson thought he was a finalist in the Hot Jack cologne modeling contest for King’s Department Store, but Sandy King, upon reviewing Seth’s photo and resume, just wanted to jump him like a horny kangaroo. Seth quickly learns there is pain behind Sandy’s bravado and a sweet, lonely man behind the act. A holiday romance blossoms like the flowers on an Australian Christmas Bell. When Seth, used to a family dynamic without boundaries, oversteps by outing Sandy to his estranged grandmother, however, everything changes. Sandy is furious. He breaks things off with Seth and threatens to return to the US. As Christmas approaches, any chance at happily ever after seems as likely as a snowstorm in Sydney. It would take a miracle from above to set things right. Good thing ‘tis the season.

A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2014 Advent Calendar package “Celebrate!”.

Dividers

Review: Tidings of Comfort and Joey Down Under is, as you can likely glean from the title and cover, a holiday story set in Australia. It’s the tale of Seth Anderson, whose parents enter him in a contest centered around an ad campaign for men’s cologne, which, if he wins, could garner him an all expenses paid vacation to the Great Barrier Reef.

“Tidings” begins as a lighthearted and whimsical romantic comedy, encouraging a few smiles from me as I read. The exchanges between Seth and his parents, Mols and Rocco, were humorous in a farcical and uncomfortable sort of way. Mols and Rocco are the two most entertaining characters in this story, not necessarily because they’re well fleshed out and richly drawn but because they’re caricatures of every parent who’s ever embarrassed their child by blurting out the first thing that pops into their heads. Their complete lack of brain-to-mouth filter obliterates any and all parent/child boundaries and leads to some rather inappropriate conversations between them and Seth. They’ve entered him in the “Hot Jack” contest with the hope he’ll finally get laid, when it comes right down to it, and their lack of inhibition in making that clear makes for some comical and completely awkward moments, both for Seth and the reader.

One of the things I found interesting about “Tidings” was the author’s decision to write Seth as a character with a physical disability. What was interesting was not the handicap itself but that there was really little attention paid to it as a device to develop this character. Seth’s affliction is minor, in the grander scheme of all possible afflictions, but is included in an almost offhanded way, only as significant as might be his hair or eye color. Although I’m still somewhat puzzled by its inclusion, I must say that in some ways it was a refreshing portrayal, in that Seth didn’t use his impaired mobility as an excuse or as a means of self-pity. It was simply a part of who he was, and I liked that, especially as a means of contrasting Sandy’s internalized issues—his being emotionally crippled by guilt and grief.

What starts off as a fun premise, however, unfortunately falters and stumbles its way through a variety of romantic tropes before coming to a predictable ending. When going back through my review notes, I found I used the word “awkward” a lot, not only to describe Seth’s interactions with his parents but in reference to the plot in general, to the writing, and, unfortunately, to the sex scenes, which suffered from rote description and merely seemed thrown in as an obligation to readers rather than a necessity to advance the storyline or develop the characters and their relationship.

Being a novella, not to mention one set during the Christmas season, I expected the insta-love scenario, which was delivered not long after Seth meets Sandy King. Sandy, in fact, has become invested in Seth before they ever meet, as he’s the man behind the “Hot Jack” fragrance campaign and has already ogled Seth’s entry photo. Their initial meeting doesn’t go quite as Sandy had planned, but he manages to smooth things over, which leads to a budding relationship that takes place via a series of off-page telephone calls, so we’re immediately disconnected from Seth and Sandy as a couple. This made it difficult to invest in them, and made the I-love-yous a bit less convincing.

The plot turns from comedic to dramatic and angsty as the story progresses, complete with the Big Misunderstanding to derail the relationship temporarily, when Seth jumps to the wrong conclusion. Sandy is also working through issues from his past, the guilt and grief I mentioned earlier, which have caused him to distance himself from his only remaining family—a grandmother and great grandmother—not to mention the fact he’s harboring a rather interesting secret he’s not at all keen to reveal to his grandmother but which Seth bungles with the best of intentions, prompting Sandy to run away rather than confront the issue and face his grandmother.

All in all, in spite of its promising start, I simply had too many issues with this book to give it a recommendation. The “Magic Jack” song lyrics, which are peppered at length and multiple times throughout the narrative, upped the word count but did nothing to serve the plot, a misfortune I found to be true for much of the book, but I can say this one earned a few well aimed chuckles along the way.






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2.5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Jackie, Shae Connor

Review: Unfortunate Son by Shae Connor

Title: Unfortunate Son

Author: Shae Connor

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 194 Pages

At a Glance: This book missed the mark for me

Blurb: Five years ago, Evan Day lost his lover in the Afghan sand, and in the fallout, he lost his military career and his family. With help from friends, he reinvented himself as porn star Trevor Hardball, but his scars are hidden, not healed. When Riley Yeats falls into Evan’s lap in a bar, he awakens a part of Evan he’d thought was dead and gone. Evan’s fascinated by the blond and twinky Riley, even though he’s the opposite of Evan’s usual type.

Then Evan’s family reappears his life, and Evan soon learns Riley has his own family-inflicted wounds—ones that make it hard for him to be there for Evan. A disastrous confrontation between Evan and his parents leaves Evan’s mother injured and Evan overcome by anger and fear. Losing his tenuous hold on his emotional control, Evan makes one bad decision after another, but maybe his final fall will be the wake-up call Evan needs to set things right—with his parents, and with Riley.

Dividers

Review: After reading the blurb for this book I was adamant that I had to read it. The premise was amazing, and I couldn’t wait to see how the story would unfold.

There was so much potential in this story, but I feel like the author relied too heavily on the stereotypical, overused storylines of the genre and forgot to give us the romance. I believed the pain Evan was in from losing his lover and his brother to a military that threw him away. I also cried over the fact that he lost his parents to their bigotry. When he finds himself down and out, he turns to porn to earn a living, and he really does enjoy his job—almost a little too much.

Riley, on the other hand, is a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and is surviving off his trust fund. The downside to that is the fact that his parents treat him as an embarrassment and have pretty much cut him completely out of their lives.

These two men are total opposites but somehow they work together. I say somehow because I don’t believe the author ever convinced me of the fact that they belong together. They come together, have a nice date, and then boom, they’re fighting and not talking to one another. This is a cycle that repeats itself in the book. The MCs have more sex with other people than they do with each other.

I was hoping for a romance with this story, but I feel like the romance was completely missing. All the conflicts the author created for these men were resolved off page or way too easily to be believed. Even though this book missed the mark for me, I would definitely give the author another read in the future.






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2.5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Jay Northcote, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: Nothing Ventured by Jay Northcote

Title: Nothing Ventured

Author: Jay Northcote

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 142 Pages

At a Glance: An unfortunate miss

Blurb: When Aiden agrees to run the Mad Mucker—a twelve-mile muddy slog over an obstacle course—he’s expecting it to be a bit of a laugh. The training will be tough, but Aiden could use the motivation to regain some fitness.

Matt is the sexy cousin of one of Aiden’s coworkers and a last-minute addition to the team. When he agrees to train with Aiden, Aiden suddenly finds the prospect of regular workouts a lot more appealing.

Soon attraction flares, and they embark on an intense physical relationship. Matt doesn’t want to fall in love with a man, and Aiden doesn’t want to fall in love at all, but despite their insistence on no strings, they grow closer. As the day of the race approaches, time is running out for them to work out how they feel about each other.

Dividers

Review: I want to begin this review by saying that I have read other works by this author, and have thoroughly enjoyed them and found them worthy of very high praise. It is rare for me to not connect with a novel on some level, or at least be able to see past what seems to be a more shallow character or plot premise. Nothing Ventured tested that sentiment on many levels, and unfortunately, it left me wanting.

The story is a simple one. After promising his friend and co worker, Liv, that he would be part of a team to run a 12 mile “mad mucker” race for a charity event, Aiden wants nothing more than to renege on his promise. But once he gets a look at Liv’s supposedly straight cousin, Matt, Aiden finds himself agreeing to partner with the deliciously fit Adonis in order to prepare for the race. As weeks flow by, Aiden, a self-proclaimed bachelor, finds himself drawn more and more to the deeply closeted, bisexual Matt. Could Aiden actually be falling in love? And with a closet case who would rather hold on to his deceased father’s homophobic beliefs to boot?

Jay Northcote is an excellent writer—her stories tend to flow and have clever plotlines surrounded by sweet and tender moments. Nothing Ventured had all these possibilities but unfortunately, the characters, Aiden, in particular, seemed rather flat. There were several allusions to a past relationship that had left Aiden cynical and steadfastly holding on to the belief that lasting love was not really possible. He was content to occasionally hook up with a buddy for sex, but the idea of finding that someone special was laughable at best to him. I felt that his backstory was the vital piece missing that would allow me to feel sorry for him—to connect with his cynicism and see it for what it was—a wounded heart. But the author chose not to evolve Aiden’s past and by doing so, I felt that it weakened him as a sympathetic figure overall.

Matt, on the other hand, wanted all the bells and whistles—just not with a man, even though he was attracted to both sexes. No, he was intent on somehow pleasing a father who had been dead for a decade rather than living his own life. The idea that Matt was still grieving his father’s death after so many years, and was still so deeply affected by his Dad’s homophobic tendencies, was very telling. So when he was somehow able to step beyond the pull of all those years of grieving and inbred shame over his bisexuality so easily at novel’s end, it made me feel that his character lost some credibility. He not only came out—but he came out in a huge way and, quite frankly, I felt that his character would not have allowed himself to be so exposed after hiding for so long. Somehow, a more gradual or smaller venue for his reveal seemed more apropos, given his reluctance to admit he was bisexual up to the very end of the story.

Nothing Ventured felt underdeveloped in many ways. I found myself not investing much in the way of emotional energy in the fate of these characters, and that was primarily because I recognized early on that I knew so very little about what made them the men they were. Why was Aiden so cynical? How had he been hurt in the past? Matt obviously had deep emotional scars from pursuing approval from a father who was never going to give it. How could he move past that so quickly, and without us seeing any of the thought process behind his decisions to come out and admit he was in love with a man? Too many unanswered questions leads me to say that this was not a story that felt complete, but rather in need of further development.

I have read great work by Jay Northcote and would recommend her to anyone, but her latest novel, Nothing Ventured, was, unfortunately, a miss for me.






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2.5 Stars, Genre Romance, MLR Press, Reviewed by Sammy, Stephani Hecht

Review: Storming Love: Bradley & Mike by Stephani Hecht

Title: Storming Love: Bradley & Mike

Author: Stephani Hecht

Publisher: MLR Press

Pages/Word Count: 71 Pages

Rating: 2.5 Stars

Blurb: Bradley is just a normal, unassuming man. He works as a banker during the day, then goes home to his dogs and his grandfather. There may be the occasional speed bump since Gramps has several medical conditions that keep him home bound, but that nothing that Bradley can’t manage. It’s not like he even has a social life. Not so soon after breaking up with Mike, the man who Bradley had thought would be the ‘one’. Only to find out that Mike was a jerk. Continue reading

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2.5 Stars, Erotica, Historical Romance, Reviewed by Rena, Scarlet Blackwell, Totally Bound

Review: Half a Man by Scarlet Blackwell

Title: Half a Man

Author: Scarlet Blackwell

Publisher: Totally Bound

Pages/Word Count: 27000 Words

Rating: 2.5 Stars

Blurb: In a world torn apart by war, solace is hard to find…

It is 1919, less than a year after the end of the First World War and a recovering Britain is in the grip of the influenza pandemic. Times are hard. Victory came at a price for everyone left behind.

Crippled veteran of the Battle of the Somme, Robert Blake, is looking for someone to ease his nightmares of France. He carries never ending guilt over the fate of his commanding officer in the trenches. He turns to educated rent boy Jack Anderson for physical solace. Continue reading

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2.5 Stars, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Rena, S.E. Connor, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Self-Published

Review: Pearls in the Darkness by S.E. Connor

Title: Pearls in the Darkness

Author: S.E. Connor

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 39 Pages

Rating: 2.5 Stars

Blurb: Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. When Tanner goes on vacation to get away from school and work, he learns this the hard way. Continue reading

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