2 Stars, Amber Allure, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed By Carrie, Sean Michael

Review: His Very Own Vampire by Sean Michael

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Title: His Very Own Vampire

Author: Sean Michael

Publisher: Amber Allure

Pages/Word Count: 60 Pages

At a Glance: This story had so much promise, but just didn’t deliver.

Reviewed By: Carrie

Blurb: Vampire Truelock’s job for the last several hundred years has been protecting the President of Archer Industries, a family-run company that has done very well for itself. Since the current patriarch, Desmond Archer, is getting ready to officially retire from the company that more or less runs itself, he sends True on a mission to protect his estranged grandson Lane.

Lane’s mother stopped speaking to her father Desmond when Lane was only a few years old and has told her son that his grandparents are all dead. He has no idea that he’s even an heir to a fortune. So when a handsome stranger steps in and saves him from bodily harm just when he needs it, he’s both grateful and a little suspicious. That suspicion only grows when bad things continue to happen to him, all seeming to stem from True’s arrival and his claim that he’s been sent by Lane’s grandfather to protect him.

The fact that there’s insane chemistry between Lane and True doesn’t help either of them untangle the mystery regarding the danger’s source. Can they find the answers before Lane’s unknown enemies manage to do him permanent damage?

Dividers

Review: I am only going to give a short review of His Very Own Vampire because if I write much more, my review would be longer than the book.

This novella had so much promise, it could have been good, but the characters were stiff and poorly written.  Truelock is a vampire who has served the Archer family for over two-hundred-fifty years. Now, Desmond Archer is dying and wants True to find his estranged grandson and bring him home. Lane’s mother ran from her family at a young age and brought her son up thinking that he had no family but her.  When True arrives, claiming he is working for Lane’s grandfather, Lane is confused and wants nothing to do with him. Outside influences fling these two together, as True must protect Lane from family members who want him dead in order to claim Lane’s share of the Archer fortune.

See? So much promise. I wish that Sean Michael had spent more time on this story and really made a novel out of it, as the characters in and of themselves are rather interesting, and the plot is plausible. There are just too many unbelievable leaps and not enough development of characters or storyline for this to be a Sean Michael success.

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2 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, Reviewed by Jennifer, Sara Stark

Review: Leap Through Eternity by Sara Stark

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TitleLeap Through Eternity (Sleigh Ride: Advent Calendar 2015)

Author: Sara Stark

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 26 Pages

At a Glance: An Advent Calendar short that missed the mark for me.

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: Being evacuated from his apartment in the middle of the night because some idiot forgot his cookies in the oven isn’t the ideal way to meet a guy, but Mason’s hot neighbor Cole sure looks great in his underwear. The trouble is, Mason is the idiot who started the fire, and Cole doesn’t appreciate being lied to any more than he appreciates being driven out into the cold. It looks like their romance might end before it gets started, but Christmas is a time for second chances….

Dividers

Review: I wanted to like this story because I love clumsy main characters. Maybe it’s because I’m a clumsy person myself and can connect to the character so much; however, with this story I just couldn’t. There’s not much to it, being only twenty-six pages long, but I just couldn’t care about the characters. The plot is decent enough as a story idea, but a bit of a stretch. I can’t see firemen not allowing someone to grab at least pants when a fire is just contained in one apartment. Especially when the weather is so cold. As for Mason, he tends to ramble, go off on tangents, and seems repetitive. I found it to be tiresome after a few pages.

Another thing I didn’t understand was the title. I love to discover how titles connect to the story, especially when they’re clever. I have gleeful little moments of “found it!” whenever I see it. However with this story, I just don’t get it. Maybe at the end a bit, I suppose, but the ending was overly sweet and romantic for two people who basically just met. Had their romance been dragged out longer, I may have bought it, but as it stands, it was just too much.

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2 Stars, Abraham Steele, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Review: Hidden Shifter by Abraham Steele

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Title: Hidden Shifter (Fated Date Agency: Book Seven)

Author: Abraham Steele

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 249 Pages

At a Glance: Hidden Shifter is one of those books where I loved the premise but the follow-through suffered under a lack of backstory and knowledge of the -verse.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: “I’m sorry, Mr. Hillwell. Your fated mate is dead.”

Samuel Hillwell is in mourning for a man he’s never met. The handsome alpha waited too long to contact the Fated Date Agency. There was always a stock trade or a trip to Europe that seemed more important. His mate passed away just days before he reached out. As he goes into a downward spiral, questioning everything he’s based his life on, he can only wish he’d had one night with his deceased omega.

Caden Grey is on the run. After surgically altering his face and travelling across the country, the former kindergarten teacher still can’t stop looking over his shoulder for the people who want him dead. Now that he’s arrived in Clover Grove, he should finally be able to take a breath. But he’s just starting to get settled there when a dazzling man runs up to him. A man who knows Caden’s previous name.

Will Samuel figure out the truth about the tormented omega? And if he gets into Caden’s heart, will either of them be safe?

Hidden Shifter is Book 7 of the Fated Date Agency series. It also stands alone as a complete 200-page gay shifter romance novel with steamy content and male pregnancy.

Dividers

Review: Abraham Steele’s Hidden Shifter, book seven in the Fated Date Agency series, is billed as a standalone novel, and I accepted it to read/review under that assumption, so I’ll start by saying that even though this particular installment may feature a new couple in the series, I do feel like I must have missed out on some world-building by starting seven books in. Which, ultimately, was a real detriment to me as there were some things that just didn’t work because I didn’t have enough info going in.

The beginning of the story is great, filled with a lot of emotion and suspense, and I was completely invested in where the author was going with it—Samuel Hillwell finally carving out a niche of time in his otherwise work-aholic schedule to call the Fated Date Agency and find his true mate… Only to discover that the man who would have been his perfect other half had just died in a car crash. I empathized immediately with Samuel at being so close to opening a new chapter in his life, only to have it cruelly taken away, and I liked the emotional connection the author built there.

When we’re introduced to Caden Grey, a few things are obvious, not the least of which is that he’s not who we think he is, but that he’s also fleeing in terror from an unknown but credible threat. And I don’t think it’s revealing too much here, as the blurb does state that Caden Grey isn’t his real name, to say that fate is indeed playing a role in Caden’s life, as his cross-country exodus, with no fixed destination in mind, lands him practically on Samuel’s doorstep. And, even after plastic surgery, Caden can’t hide who he is from Samuel.

Unfortunately, this is also where the plot began to lose traction for me. The one true soul mate trope is a tried and true one, but sometimes it works for me, sometimes it doesn’t. Where it didn’t work for me here, overall, isn’t in the speed with which Sam and Caden came together (I actually was dying for them to meet and then liked that the author kept us in a little bit of suspense once they did), but in that once they did get together, there wasn’t any significant amount of word count spent on making their relationship solid enough for me to invest in. There were some sexy moment, some sweet domestic moments, but overall there was so much outside angst going on in Caden’s life that him giving in to his and Samuel’s connection didn’t happen until circumstances forced him to commit to the idea of Sam as a full-fledged mate. Reading a romance and then not being able to invest in the romance part of it is a bit of a buzzkill, to say the least.

But where I felt my experience with this book suffered most, as I said at the outset, is in the world-building. There’s no background story here, so we don’t know anything at all about these shifters, their origins, their mythology, or why the gay omega shifters are the only males who can get pregnant and give birth. I honestly was at a loss here, and will say this—on a personal level, a dripping, self-lubricating anus didn’t conjure up any sort of appealing mental images for me. Juicy wet underwear calls to mind an inherently female eroticism, and while this anatomical detail may or may not be canon in the mpreg lexicon, readers do deserve some foundation to make this aspect of the story even slightly more palatable.

By the time the final deus ex machina is pulled out of the pocket of miracles in an effort to save Caden’s life, I was so distracted by all my unanswered questions that I think any resolution to the story would have been less than satisfying to me. The Alphas didn’t act all that alpha-like, and Caden, the Omega, wasn’t as submissive as one would expect an omega to be. In the end, the motivation for Caden’s flight wasn’t thoroughly fleshed out—we’re told why he ran but get no supporting details about why his wolf misbehaved; we’re told that humans are a factor, but there’s technically only one significant human in the entire storyline; and when the danger does arrive at Samuel’s doorstep, the motivation was not only a bit flimsy but the antagonist doesn’t come off as dangerous as much as he does spoiled and juvenile.

Hidden Shifter is one of those books where I loved the premise but the follow-through suffered under a lack of backstory and knowledge of the -verse. Your mileage, of course, may vary if you’re already familiar with the series.

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2 Stars, Extasy Books, Melody Lane, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Lana

Review: Midnight Passion by Melody Lane

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Title: Midnight Passion (City Shifters: Book One)

Author: Melody Lane

Publisher: eXtasy Books

Pages/Word Count: 98 Pages

At a Glance: Midnight Passion left me disappointed beyond belief.

Reviewed By: Lana

Blurb: Dr. Ryan Collen detests being a vampire although there is hope on the horizon in the form of a monthly infusion. Not only does Ryan hunger for the light of day but the touch of the man who might save him from his demons.

Eric Beck is a shapeshifting recovery agent by day and Muay Thai kickboxer by night. While assisting at the aftermath of a vampire convention attack, he meets his old high school flame Ryan who ignites a craving inside him like he’s never known. Can Eric help crush the evil that threatens to destroy many lives and lose his heart at the same time?

Dividers

Review: My love of vampires knows no bounds, but Midnight Passion left me disappointed beyond belief. The story did have an interesting plot, but the author did not develop it at all. I’m guessing here, but I think humans turned into vampires through some DNA mutation. There are shifters and other paranormals, too, but there’s no info or backstory on them, so we are left in the dark.

Ryan, the vamp, runs into his high school crush, Eric, who happens to be a shifter. There is nothing I love more than a hot vamp and shifter getting it on, but here the characters were just mediocre. I think the biggest issue I had was the dialogue. I can only describe it as amateurish and cringe-worthy. It didn’t convey passion or sadness, so I was not interested in the leads or in what they were doing.

The writing can also be described as only so-so. The descriptive language should paint a three dimensional picture, but here it was one dimensional, boring, and not interesting.

At the end of the day, Midnight Passion left me cold and unsatisfied.

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2 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, K.A. Mitchell, Reviewed by Karen

Review: Put a Ring on It by K.A. Mitchell

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Title:  Put a Ring on It (Ready or Not: Book One) 

Author:  K.A. Mitchell

Publisher:  Dreamspinner Press

Page/Word Count:  204 Pages

At a Glance:  I’ve really enjoyed other books by K.A. Mitchell, but unfortunately, this one just didn’t do it for me.

Reviewed By:  Karen

Blurb:  Kieran Delaney-Schwartz—adoptee, underachiever, and self-professed-slacker IT guy—lives his under-the-radar life by the motto: Don’t try, don’t fail. His adopted siblings are all overachievers thanks to his driven, liberal parents, but Kieran has elected to avoid disappointing anyone by not getting their hopes up. He’s coasting through his early twenties when he’s hit head-on by Theo. The successful decade-older Broadway producer sweeps him off his feet for a whirlwind thirteen months that are pretty sweet, until it all comes screeching to a halt on Valentine’s Day, with an unexpected proposal via an NYC Times Square flash mob.

Now everyone wants in on the wedding, except the grooms….

Dividers

Review: When I read the blurb for this book, I was really excited. I’ve enjoyed other books by K.A. Mitchell, but unfortunately, this one just didn’t do it for me. I found that I didn’t really like any of the characters…well, maybe not that I didn’t like them as much as I felt no connection to them. There have been a lot of books I’ve read where I found myself not liking a particular character, or even a main character, but I almost always come around. There is usually some kind of explanation behind the actions that turns it around for me, but I just didn’t get that with this book.

We are introduced to the four friends in the Prologue, and as I read on, there was nothing about them, other than a loyalty between them, that appealed to me. The back and forth about the marriage decision seemed to drag on, with no real explanation as to why the characters were acting the way they were, and the brief mentions of how they felt didn’t really put it into perspective for me.

There isn’t any real backstory about Theo and Kiernan’s relationship prior to the proposal, either, and it was hard for me to understand what it was they saw in each other. I didn’t feel invested in their relationship and kept waiting for everything to come together, but, in the end, Put a Ring on It just didn’t work for me.

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2 Stars, Charlie Richards, Extasy Books, Reviewed by Lana, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: An Unforgettable Bite by Charlie Richards

Title: An Unforgettable Bite (A Loving Nip: Book Three)

Author: Charlie Richards

Publisher: eXtasy Books

Pages/Word Count: 83 Pages

At a Glance: An Unforgettable Bite is a vampire story that left me underwhelmed and a bit disappointed.

Reviewed By: Lana

Blurb: Nathan Hanson is still working through the recent changes to his life. When he walks away from Diana, his long-time girlfriend, he comes out to his father, Owen. To his surprise, he learns that Owen is gay, too. Unfortunately, Diana doesn’t want to move on. When she continues to call him, Nathan changes his phone number. Next, she starts dropping by his work, so he gives her description to his work’s lot security, asking them to keep her out. Nathan even moves into an apartment on the far side of town, near to where his father now lives, but sometimes he still feels like he’s being watched.

When Nathan finally gets up the courage and accompanies a few friends to a gay bar, he just wants to have a little mindless fun to take his mind off his problems…and maybe, finally act on his desires for another man. There, he meets Lexington Paistro, who is handsome, sexy, and into Nathan. He’s also a vampire. Having learned of paranormals when his father bonded with one, it’s not the biting that Nathan fears. It’s the possessiveness. He’s still trying to extricate himself from a woman who thinks she owns him. Will Lexington behave the same way?

Dividers

Review: An Unforgettable Bite is a vampire story that left me underwhelmed and a bit disappointed. This wasn’t a horrible story, but it could have been much better.

The plot was the usual vampire storyline: A vampire finds his true mate in a club and proceeds to bite him, thus binding them. His human mate knows about the existence of vamps because he’s part of the paranormal clique. He just got out of a controlling relationship with a woman, and is gun shy, but wants to explore his feelings for men. They meet in the club, sparks fly, pants come off, and the vamp can’t help but bite him. This formula should produce a pretty hot read, but here it never takes off. The characters were a bit one dimensional, and though Nathan, the human, was likeable, he wasn’t fully developed. We got very little of his backstory, and some of his interactions with the secondary characters, and Lex, the vamp, were just awkward.

Lex is an enforcer for the vampire council, and the storyline about why he was in town was just hard to understand. I found it to be amateurishly written. As a couple they could have worked, and they did in some scenes, but their dialogue at times was just cheesy, and I was turned off.

Then the crazy girlfriend plotline was just that—crazy—and the resolution was ridiculous, not believable at all. Yes, this is a fantasy, but I wanted to be engrossed in that fantasy and I wasn’t.

An Unforgettable Bite was a subpar effort that could have done more with its characters, storyline, and in the writing department. It could have been more memorable, but it wasn’t.

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2 Stars, Elaine White, Encompass Ink, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Lisa

Review: The Cellist by Elaine White

Title: The Cellist

Author: Elaine White

Publisher: Encompass Ink

Pages/Word Count: 260 Pages

At a Glance: The Cellist is a loosely plotted novel, lacking a clear objective and offering pat resolutions.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: After six years, cellist Roman returns home with boyfriend Ben, in search of more than just international fame. There’s one complication he didn’t count on. His high school crush, the straight, untouchable, Jaxton is there when he arrives.

One performance at local club Crimson 8, stirs emotions that were better left forgotten.

With prior warning that the club is a gay man’s fantasy come true, where anything and everything can happen, Jaxton is dragged along with a group of his friends, to see Roman play.

What happens next, will change the course of all their lives forever.

Dividers

Review: The review business is a game of chance—the author takes a chance on the unknown reviewer as much as the reviewer takes a chance on the unknown author. Sometimes it pays off, while at other times book and reader don’t click. Sadly, Elaine White’s The Cellist is a book I didn’t click with in spite of the fact the blurb intrigued me enough to give it a go.

The cellist in question is Roman, a young man who has made a successful career of his music. He’s introduced as having been a nerd in high school, but it isn’t long before we discover that he has transformed into a sexually provocative swan since those ugly duckling days, his transformation owed in whole to a group of men he meets online in a chat room for the club Crimson 8.

The club in question, which I anticipated would be more a focal point of the story, isn’t delineated much beyond the fact that it’s something like a show/voyeur club where men can go to have public sex without consequence. When Roman meets this group of men at the age of sixteen, he has just experienced the blow of unrequited first love and is suffering the woes of a broken heart. As we learn more about Roman, we see he’s bearing the burden of poor parenting as well, through what we are able to perceive as an emotionally abusive and controlling father, though we’re only offered enough detail about their relationship to allow for this to become a device used to remove Roman from his home and throw him into the arms of Ben, a man five years Roman’s senior, who becomes Roman’s lover.

The club Crimson 8 itself is also an ill-used device within the storyline, which really serves no greater purpose than to highlight how comfortably Roman has grown into his sexuality. There are a few scenes set there, but only one that proves significant to the storyline, when Jaxton witnesses Roman’s sexualized cello performance and subsequent interlude with Ben, which is a catalyst to Jaxton’s own transformation.

The Cellist is a loosely plotted novel, lacking a clear objective for a good portion of it, and offering pat resolutions at times, which, with a melodramatic build up to Roman’s relationship waffling, finally exposes its true aim as a ménage story. The narrative itself is riddled with editing issues, both in the content and copy department, and while I can often overlook those things, there were so many in this novel that they soon became burdensome, to the point where I had a hard time finishing this book. I also had difficulty suspending belief some of the time, while at others laboring to get beyond head hopping, unclear pronouns that made it hard to keep track of which he/him was being referred to, and the somewhat erratic behavior of the characters, particularly, as I’ve mentioned, with respect to Roman and his relationship with Ben.

We are reminded, quite frequently, theirs is a happy six year relationship, which made all the sudden conflict with Roman’s still-overwhelming feelings for Jaxton difficult to buy into when they hadn’t seen or spoken to each other at all in that six year time span. I feel a healthy portion of my disinterest in their relationship originated in the fact that we’re told how in love these two men are rather than shown what, in six years, should be a connection based on more than the fact they still like having sex with each other. Their meeting, and Ben’s help in gaining Roman his emancipation, did include some sweet and tender moments, but overall, they lacked that all important chemistry that might have drawn me into investing in them and their story.

When Jaxton and Roman’s storyline is introduced, we’re led to believe he and Roman had known each other since high school, where Jaxton was Roman’s closeted sometimes love interest, while at the same time being Roman’s public tormentor; though much later we discover they’ve actually known each other much longer, leading to another of my issues with the content and continuity problems which cropped up on several occasions—facts and tidbits are thrown into the plot at random times without prior support for their inclusion, down to even the smallest but no less niggling discovery at the 82% mark that Jaxton smokes. Things of this nature are thrown in, in a deliberate way though with seemingly no forethought, with this scenario becoming little more than an afterthought for the purpose of allowing Roman to further explore an oral fixation for the reader. On a number of occasions, I found myself asking, how, why? because the narrative had lacked a solid foundation for those additions to the story.

Pared down to its barest bones, The Cellist is somewhat of an overwrought ménage story that I had difficulty engaging with. Jaxton’s eventual acknowledgment of his bisexuality came at the expense of another character being asked to settle for what amounted to an insulting consolation-boyfriend status, while Ben’s invitation for Jaxton to enter into his and Roman’s relationship as a third partner again was not introduced in a way I felt was organic or realistic; certainly not in such a way that one would assume something of this magnitude would be handled. Again, Ben and Roman’s relationship has been pointedly established as a loving, committed and happy one, after all, with no prior hint that either man had been considering veering into the realms of a threesome. One would presume a relationship changer such as this would be precluded by at least a little deliberation and the weighing out of potential pros and cons through conversation rather than it coming out of what felt like left field as a convenient means to introduce the polyamory storyline.

Once a happy throuple, The Cellist doesn’t then delve into an exploration of the dynamics of the relationship between Ben, Roman, and now, Jaxton; seemingly there are no life-altering adjustments or obstacles one might assume would be inherent to their new partnership. Rather, the story becomes a sexploration of who gets to top and/or bottom at any given point, and little else happens of consequence beyond that. There is a certain lack of finesse to this narrative, nor does it appear there was much foresight given to certain tangents that bogged down the flow and pace of the reading and failed to further build upon or layer the plot or characters with depth and substance. In the end, I felt the cast were all rather flat in their portrayals, which led to a lack of emotional investment in them and their story on my part.

As much as I wanted and expected to enjoy The Cellist more than I did, I simply couldn’t get past all the things that stood out as glaring issues for me. I don’t believe this is all due to the author’s lack of talent or storytelling ability, though. Some of it does owe a great deal to the lack of solid editorial support on the part of the publisher.

As the job of a review is to give you, the reader, the information you need to help you decide whether or not you might decide to spend your book-buying dollars on any given novel, I’ll leave you with the wish that if you decide to take a chance on The Cellist, it works better for you than it did for me.

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2 Stars, Harmony Ink Press, Reviewed by Jules, Young Adult

Review: The Geek and His Artist by Hope Ryan

Title: The Geek and His Artist

Author: Hope Ryan

Publisher: Harmony Ink Press

Pages/Word Count: 320 Pages

At a Glance: At the end of the day, this book just wasn’t for me.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: Simon Williams spends his lunch periods drawing his geek and trying not to think about the terrors waiting for him at home. He needs to get away from his abusive father before he suffers the same grisly fate as his mother. Because he’s learned the hard way running away doesn’t work, he’s counting the days until his eighteenth birthday.

Jimmy Bennet should be spending his lunch studying so his senior GPA is good enough to get him into college, but he can’t seem to focus thanks to his distracting artist. When he’s given the opportunity to tutor Simon in Trig and discovers Simon’s home-life nightmare, he wants nothing more than to get Simon out of danger. This need becomes more urgent when Simon comes to school the Monday after their first date with bruises, but it takes a broken leg before Jimmy can convince his boyfriend the Bennets really want him.

But the danger Simon thought was past shows up at the most unexpected time, and he must stand up to the fears he’s held so long to protect not only himself, but the man he wants to spend his life with.

Dividers

Review: I tried with this book…I tried changing my framework – looking at it from a purely YA perspective; i.e. would the things that were bugging me about it have bugged me if I were in the target demographic? Would my fifteen or sixteen year old self have thought the handling of many of the topics was as After-School-Special-ish as my grown-up self did? I tried suspending belief on some of the dramatics, and giving the benefit of the doubt that these things did and could happen… But, at the end of the day, this book just wasn’t for me.

A Geek and His Artist tells the story of two high school kids who have both been watching each other from afar. Jimmy is a smart, sweet, mostly-closeted gay guy who has secretly been admiring “his artist” from a nearby cafeteria table for a few months. Simon is a quiet, artistic, skater boy who has similarly been watching, and drawing, Jimmy, “his geek”, for those same few months. They finally run into each other outside of school during winter break, and soon after begin talking – when Simon needs some tutoring – and then immediately begin a very serious relationship. I’m not kidding when I say immediately. These guys were calling each other “baby” (or, at least Jimmy was using the pet name for Simon, with zero surprise or objection from him) and labeling themselves as boyfriends within hours of their first conversation. And were discussing how serious they were, and actually getting engaged within a few months. Months! And, did I mention they were in high school? Yeah…

Aside from the über sweetness of the book, there was also tons of melodrama that was so completely over-the-top I couldn’t overlook it. Simon’s dad was an abusive prick. Full stop. It was well documented in the story. He even murdered – though he got away with it – Simon’s mother. It was also covered that The Bastard (this is how he was referred to in the book) did not sexually abuse Simon. There was huge worry, and then huge relief, for Jimmy after discovering Simon at least hadn’t been hurt in that way. So, I ask you, WHY did the author feel it was necessary to add the line, “…He, uh, he once told her if she’d had a girl, he might have left her alone.”? Completely unnecessary in my opinion, and added nothing to the story.

Any fondness I might have had for these guys was unfortunately completely overshadowed by the unrealistic gushy-sweetness with which they interacted, and the aforementioned melodrama. I wanted to love this book – I LOVE stories with geeks of all kinds, and artsy boys – and, in fact, I thought the Epilogue was well-done and very cute, but it wasn’t enough to save the book as a whole.

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2 Stars, DSP Publications, Lyn Gala, Reviewed by Jennifer, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: Desert World Allegiances by Lyn Gala

Title: Desert World Allegiances (Desert World #1)

Author: Lyn Gala

Publisher: DSP Publications

Pages/Word Count: 240 Pages

At a Glance: To be honest, I struggled to get through this book.

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: Being condemned to slavery is a common enough occurrence on the desert planet of Livre, but this time, priest Shan Polli is determined to prevent the corrupt, soul-eating system from destroying one more life. Temar Grazer was sentenced for what amounted to a criminal prank—but Shan soon finds that the dangers extend far beyond Temar’s crime.

Caught between guilt and hope, Shan must find his true path in either the priesthood or in a man whose strength and survival defies the odds. Can the two men unravel a plot that threatens the entire world before Temar is broken by a system of slavery that has twisted out of control?

Dividers

Review: I knew going into this book that there would be no romance, so that aspect didn’t bother me. If you really want to read a romance, then this book is not for you, but if you want to read a science fiction novel with some terraforming and a world where water is scarce, then you might enjoy Desert World Allegiance.

To be honest, I struggled to get through this book. While the world-building is well done and the descriptions are vivid, I just couldn’t connect with the characters, and that’s what made most of the book so difficult for me. I didn’t care. From the first pages I was immediately frustrated because I knew how horribly wrong things were going to go, and it didn’t leave me in suspense. It just left me screaming at Temar for being an idiot. I knew everything was going to go from bad to worse. Temar and his sister are the victims of water theft, which is a big deal on a planet where water is scarce. An accident occurs and Temar’s sentence is short-term slavery. Enter Shan, who is against the sentence for Temar, and as he investigates the story he uncovers a conspiracy.

There is a lot of politics in the novel, which I have to be in a certain mood to read. I guess I wasn’t when I was reading Desert World Allegiance, because while it intrigued me sometimes, most of the time I didn’t want to read it. I often felt compelled to put the book down and do something else.

I also struggled with some of the concepts of the book. While I’m not averse to stories with slavery, in some it just doesn’t make sense. This book was borderline. On one hand I could see that as a severe punishment, the threat of slavery would be a deterrent to committing crimes. But on the other hand, for this society, which seems to be advanced, slavery felt a bit incongruous.

There is a second book to this series which I hear has more of a romantic aspect in it. Will I read it? Probably not. I don’t have enough of an emotional investment in the characters.

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2 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Paranormal Romance, Petra Lynn, Reviewed by Lana

Review: Shifting Gears by Petra Lynn

Title: Shifting Gears

Author: Petra Lynn

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 98 Pages

At a Glance: Shifting Gears is a shifter story that missed the mark for me.

Reviewed By: Lana

Blurb: One rainy night, bike-shop owner Kenton Palmer finds an injured dog on the road and takes him to the nearest vet clinic, only to discover he’s actually a wolf. Undeterred, he wants to nurse the injured animal following a necessary surgery. The handsome Dr. Will Barclay’s interest and his own brand of animal attraction overwhelm Kenton, who’s been doubting himself after a failed romance.

Gray Fowler is a wolf-shifter and pack alpha. After Kenton rescues him and takes him home to heal, he’s forced to remain in wolf form. But that doesn’t prevent him from falling hard for Kenton. It begins as jealousy, but Gray soon discovers Will, Kenton’s new admirer, is caught up in something sinister. However, he’s forced to wait until he’s healthy before he can shift and enter Kenton’s life as a man. Then Gray must discover how Will’s shady activities are linked to the men who ran him down and expose the scheme before Kenton gets too involved with Will.

Dividers

Review: Shifting Gears is a formulaic paranormal romance. This story was mildly entertaining. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t have that extra something to make it great.

I’ve read this plot type before, and I do find it interesting because I love shifter stories, but this one wasn’t fleshed out properly. A man rescues a wolf that’s hit by a car, thinking it’s a dog but it’s really a shifter, and the human takes him home to heal. Because he’s hurt, the shifter can’t change and must stay as a wolf. The shifter, Gray, falls in lust with the human, Kenton. Kenton loves having his new pet wolf around, but then develops feeling for Gray in human form. There is also a crooked vet involved with selling animals on the black market, who Kenton falls for too. It was convoluted and confusing

What didn’t work for me was the storytelling. To me it was a bit amateurish. The whole relationship between Kenton and Will, the villain veterinarian, was blah. The vet’s shady dealings were just that—shady—there was no suspense or emotion. Even in the resolution, there wasn’t any tension. Gray was the alpha of his pack and two of his pack mates went missing, but their whereabouts was never resolved, and Gray just didn’t seem to care.

The whole pack interaction didn’t get me interested in the pack. I liked Kenton and Gray together. They were entertaining but still, something was missing for me. I also felt the scenes did not flow together. There needed to be more continuity and explanation of what was happening.

Shifting Gears is a shifter story that missed the mark for me.

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2 Stars, Erotica, JMS Books LLC, Reviewed by Taz, Short Story, Wayne Mansfield

Review: An Island, Lost by Wayne Mansfield

Title: An Island, Lost

Author: Wayne Mansfield

Publisher: JMS Books

Pages/Word Count: 42 Pages

At a Glance: I feel this author tried to accomplish too much in the short amount of space he used for the story.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: Clint is travelling on a small Cessna Citation over the Pacific. When the plane hits a pocket of turbulence, he is wrenched from his nap and plunged into a nightmare. The plane plummets into the ocean.

Clint and one other passenger, a man named Carlos, survive. The hulk of the plane sinks, leaving them adrift with no land in sight. They fight to stay alive, but thirst and exhaustion overtake them.

Purely by luck Clint finds himself washed ashore on a mysterious island. But where is Carlos? Did sharks get him? Did he drown? With survival foremost in his mind Clint finds clean water and fruit and a safe place to rest.

Then Clint discovers the island is inhabited by other castaways, men who have been washed ashore on this unknown island over the years. One of the men is Andy, with whom Clint falls in love.

Only much later does he discover Carlos’s fate, along with the fact that the island has more secrets to reveal. One that could cost him his life.

Dividers

Review: Every once in a while I choose a short story, somewhere between 10K – 20K words, mostly during the summer, as an enjoyable and quick read. An Island, Lost is one such book and was a first for me from author Wayne Mansfield.

This story opens with one of the best hooks you can imagine. A plane crash and the protagonist is one of only two survivors. I had high hopes for the story, but it quickly fell short of my expectations once it got going. The relationship with Alan was hot, and I enjoyed it, but when confessions of love were made, I had a hard time connecting to the strength of their emotions.

The lone woman on the island, who’d been banned from the male village because of her vampiric tendencies (although she’s never called a vampire) seemed a contrived conflict, placing Clint, our main character, in harm’s way. As quickly as the conflict arises, it is resolved (which makes sense in a story of just over 10,000 words).

In short, I feel this author tried to accomplish too much in the short amount of space he used for the story. Had this been about a man who crashed, landed on an island, and found love (with lots of smexy scenes woven in) I would have enjoyed it more. Or, if the conflict had been more about Clint struggling with his fate and then accepting it in the end, I might have found the story a bit easier to digest.

As it is, this story was not for me. Although I did have to cover myself when reading the sex scenes so as not to embarrass myself or anyone around me.

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2 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Sammy, Tia Fielding

Review: Up to Boil by Tia Fielding

Title: Up to Boil (A Daily Dose Story)

Author: Tia Fielding

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 36 Pages

At a Glance: Up to Boil doesn’t live up to Tia Fielding’s usual standards.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: When plumber and builder Jordan Novotny goes to take a look at the home of the town’s openly gay, recently dumped librarian, he doesn’t expect to find anything other than a falling-apart old house and a water heater in need of repair.

Instead, he finds an older man in need of some TLC and a new circle of friends after his ex tossed him aside for a newer model. Stephen might be attracted to Jordan, but he thinks the young man is exactly that—too young. It takes Jordan’s family interfering and a bit of a mishap to make them see that it’s never too late to find a new love, and that age is just a number. All that matters is compatibility and the courage to take a chance.

Dividers

Review: I just do not know where to begin on this one. Tia Fielding has written some wonderful novels. I have really enjoyed her work, but this short story, Up To Boil, was so out of character for this writer I am just dumbfounded.

The story is built on the May/December trope; in other words, one fairly older man falling for a much younger one. In this case the town librarian, Stephen, is fifty-one, and the town plumber, Jordon, is twenty-two…I think. I mean, the age twenty-two was mentioned and then it disappeared. In fact, this entire nuance to the story seemed to be hit on and then tossed quickly aside, as did most of the highlights of their courtship. And that is the key issue I have with this story. We were told what happened in a pseudo outline fashion, with very little detail, and then expected to swallow that these two fell in love.

Let me give you a quick synopsis. Stephen lost his partner of many years to a younger man, so how funny is it that when the bisexual/possibly gay plumber Jordan Novotny comes to fix his pipes, both men are instantly attracted to one another? The very thing that Stephen hates his former partner for doing, he, in turn, does. As Jordon comes to terms with his attraction to the much older man, Jordon’s family begins this strange courtship of their own—inviting Stephen over for meals, fixing up his house for just the cost of supplies, etc. In fact, Jordon’s parents seem to have no issue with the fact that their twenty-two year old son is attracted to a man their age; actually, they seem to encourage it. That left me a little nonplussed.

From there the story goes at lightning speed, showing us snippets of Stephen and Jordon’s interactions. Next to none of these moments were done in real time; rather, they were mentioned as having had occurred, and we were to take it on faith that the guys were falling in love. I cannot express to you how disappointing this was. The lack of chemistry, of action, and of intimacy leaves the reader with little more than a retelling of events in fast forward speed.

Finally the story ended abruptly, and at 66% on my kindle. This means that roughly 34% of the document was given over to Ms. Fielding’s past novels. To be frank, I felt cheated. Surely more time could have been dedicated to evolving this story? All in all, Up To Boil was not the story I have come to expect from this author. I know how exciting Tia Fielding’s stories can be, but this was not up to her normal standard.

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2 Stars, Alexa Silver, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Jennifer

Review: LifeFlight by Alexa Silver

Title: LifeFlight (A Daily Dose Story)

Author: Alexa Silver

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 34 Pages

At a Glance: A daily dose with promise, but too many ideas packed into too short a space.

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: When winged paranormal Dante is injured in a demon attack, he faces certain death unless he can reach a healing spring just off the Pacific coast. With his strength waning and the demon poison infesting his system, the spring is his only hope. He never expects to find salvation in the arms of the property’s caretaker, a much younger man. Bren is fascinated by the beautiful winged man who arrives at his family’s sanctuary. He’s determined to save Dante’s life, but he’ll have to find a way to help Dante heal without infecting himself with the demonic poison, and time is running out.

Dividers

Review: I was really excited to read this story because the blurb sounded fantastic. A bit of Urban Fantasy with winged creatures? Yes, please. There’s something about wings that gets me. And while the idea is great, it’s just too much for a short story, and it felt incredibly rushed from nearly the beginning.

The author builds an interesting world where a variety of creatures coexist with humans. Alexa Silver even connects the attacks of 9/11 into the story, which made it even more intriguing. The human world wasn’t the only world that lost people in the aftermath.

Bren is the son of the caretakers of a hot spring that heals paranormal creatures. He is in charge while his parents are away, even though he shouldn’t have the job to begin with. There’s an interesting bit of backstory in there involving his recklessly amorous twin brother and a witch. When Dante ends up at the springs after a demon attack, Bren is immediately drawn to him. And by immediately, I mean in a matter of minutes they are moving insanely fast. There is no real build up in their relationship, and then suddenly they’re mates, and Bren is part paranormal and… what?

It moved so fast my head spun.

I was also confused by the paranormal creatures mentioned in this story. I wanted to know more about them, but there’s little explanation. Again, I know it’s meant to be short, but it’s just too much of a new world in a thirty-four page story. Were this expanded about two hundred pages and over a longer period of time, I would be thrilled. But, as it stands, it just didn’t make the cut for me.

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2 Stars, Ellen Cross, Extasy Books, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Jennifer

Review: Throwaway Mate by Ellen Cross

Title: Throwaway Mate

Author: Ellen Cross

Publisher: eXtasy Books

Pages/Word Count: 63 Pages

At a Glance: Good premise that would have been better executed as a novel.

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: One man’s trash is another man’s destiny.

Aiden is the black sheep of his family. Of course, always being covered in grease hasn’t helped, but put anything mechanically broken into his hands and he can fix it. His cold-hearted parents have lived off his talent for years, but apparently, it wasn’t enough. They sell Aiden to slavers and plan to use the funds to buy themselves a life of high social standing within the city. Dumped on a refuse recycling planet along with other enslaved women and children, Aiden uses his talent to transform an ancient wreck of a cargo transport into their escape plan. His plan would have gone off without a hitch, if he hadn’t been shot in the escape. Bleeding, dying, Aiden locks himself into the cockpit of the ship the second help arrives and aids their landing, knowing that unlike the other slaves who have eager families to return to, he has no one. It’s just better if he fades away from this existence.

Jaylon lost all hope of love years ago, when his intended killed herself on the morning of their wedding, rather than face him over her betrayal. Now, as a medic, he has no time to think of what could have been, until a hunk of metal posing as a ship literally falls from the sky. When Jaylon breaks down the cockpit door to the sight of a pale, skinny, yet breathtaking man, bleeding out on the floor, he has to wonder if fate has sent him a second chance at a future, or if it is just reopening an old wound and pouring salt onto it.

Dividers

Review: I had high hopes for this story because the blurb sounded fantastic, but in the end, it was just too much packed into too short a space.

The author has a good idea: Aiden is treated terribly by his family, and when they need money, they sell him off to slavers. Aiden manages to save other slaves but endangers his life to do so. A healer named Jaylon is there when he crash lands and has to fight Aiden in order to save him from himself. In order to do that, he needs to mate with him. There are a lot of twists revealed, and several different alien species with complex societies that I wanted to know more about, but it really needed more space to fully flesh them out. Sixty-three pages just wasn’t enough.

I liked Jaylon and Aiden. Their unique abilities make them a good pair. Once Aiden is rescued, the truth of his origin is revealed, and everything moves too quickly. A hidden species is very quickly found and brought into play, even though they’re supposed to be secretive and nearly extinct. And did Aiden’s captors ever come back? They seemed to give up so quickly.

I should also mention that the title is actually pretty clever. While it at first appears that Aiden is the throwaway mate, it could actually go both ways if you take into consideration Jaylon’s previous circumstances.

There is a lot of telling rather than showing in this novel, and quite a bit of info dumping. If this were rewritten as a full novel, however, I think that would take care of those problems. A strong edit would also help tighten everything.

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2 Stars, Kokoro Press, Literary Fiction, R.P. Andrews, Reviewed By Carrie

Review: The Czar of Wilton Drive by RP Andrews

Title: The Czar of Wilton Drive: A Novel of Self-Discovery, Betrayal and Deceit

Author: RP Andrews

Publisher: Kokoro Press

Pages/Word Count: 152 Pages

At a Glance: I can’t say I’d recommend this book. The lack of any kind of moral compass – for any of the characters – was just too much for me.

Reviewed By: Carrie

Blurb: The new boss is in…

In the course of minutes, twenty-one year old Jonathan Antonucci, barely out of the closet gay man from suburban New York, finds himself a multi-millionaire. His great uncle Charlie has unexpectedly died of a heart attack, leaving Jon the sole owner of several of the most successful bars in Wilton Manors, Ft. Lauderdale’s gay ghetto.

Flying down to Lauderdale to claim his bequest, Jon encounters Uncle Charlie’s dubious friends and business associates, and is immediately drawn into Lauderdale’s scene of unbridled sex and heavy drugs. He also discovers his great uncle’s memoirs which reveal truths not only about Jon’s own past but also what may have really happened to his uncle. In the end, Jon is torn between avenging Uncle Charlie’s death or loving the very man responsible for it.

Dividers

Review: The Czar of Wilton Drive is a book within a book. The main character, Jon, inherits a fortune, a BMW, and two leather bars in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Jon is introduced as a twenty-one year old virgin of everything: of both life and love. When looking through his great uncles things, he discovers an online diary of the man’s life. This is where the story becomes a book within a book—we get to read the entire diary.

I have to say, this book was not a good one for me. It is billed as a mystery, but what it is, is a bald look at what the gay lifestyle was like in the 60, 70s, and 80s. If the author wanted to write a documentary on the lack of values and consciousness of the gay evolution, I feel it should have been billed as such. The drug use, unprotected sex at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and amoral choices of the main characters was hard to read.

We hope that Jon will read his uncle’s narcissistic life story, and make better choices with his life. Instead, he embraces the same drug use, unprotected sex, and poor choices. Heck, he even chooses to become the partner (in every way) of the drug lord who got his uncle hooked on the product that eventually killed him. Really! This is hard to read, as you want Jon to grow, mature, do something good with all that life has given to him…but he just doesn’t.

So, I can’t say I’d recommend this book. The lack of any kind of moral compass – for any of the characters – was just too much for me.

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2 Stars, Genre Romance, Kay Ellis, Reviewed by Pia, Wayward Ink Publishing

Review: Young at Heart by Kay Ellis

Title: Young at Heart

Author: Kay Ellis

Publisher: Wayward Ink Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 129 Pages

At a Glance: I really wanted to like this story, but it just wasn’t for me.

Reviewed By: Pia

Blurb: Devon Alexander is a wealthy successful businessman. The world is his oyster. In his work life he is decisive and in control.
His private life is another matter.
There, he doesn’t know if he’s coming or going in his on-off relationship with Jesse Young, an unemployed aspiring model half his age.
Can Devon and Jesse overcome the obstacles and outside influences standing in their way? Can they leave behind their own fear and mistrust? Or will they be their own worst enemies?

Dividers

Review: In Kay Ellis’s Young at Heart, we meet Devon Alexander, older, wealthy business man; and his much younger boyfriend, aspiring model Jesse Young. I love May/December romances and think they’re wonderful when done right. Unfortunately, in my opinion, this book didn’t quite pull it off.

I always get nervous when our MCs are an established couple at the beginning of a book, because you kind of hold your breath waiting for something bad to come along and break them up. In Young at Heart we don’t have to wait long at all, and the whole book felt a little rushed, the characters all over the place. At times I wanted to shake both Devon and Jesse; they should have either been sticking together and helping each other, or just staying away from each other. I think that if the pace was slowed down and we had more backstory and depth in the characters this book could have been a real winner. They were supposed to be together but hardly ever actually speak to each other.

I was also concerned about how nobody thought to get Jesse any kind of help after everything that had happened to him. Don’t get me wrong, Jesse is no angel, but it broke my heart that nobody helped when he clearly needed it.

I really wanted to like this story, but it just wasn’t for me.

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2 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, L.J. LaBarthe, Reviewed by Jules

Review: Waiting for the Moon and You by L.J. LaBarthe

Title: Waiting for the Moon and You

Author: L.J. LaBarthe

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 240 Pages

At a Glance: Waiting for the Moon and You definitely didn’t work for me.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: All his life, Leith has loved Aaron, and all his life, Leith has wondered if Aaron returns his feelings. Through high school, college, and beyond, Leith and Aaron are drawn together and pulled apart. Leith is finally convinced he and Aaron are not meant to be when a cowardly act of violence against Leith changes everything.

Aaron returns to Leith’s side, but Leith struggles to accept that Aaron can love him now.

If Leith doesn’t overcome his doubts and fears, he will forever be waiting for the moon and Aaron… and true love.

Dividers

Review: Sucked in by a gorgeous cover and intriguing blurb…sigh. I wanted Leith and Aaron’s story to be a great one. I liked both characters in the beginning; in fact, most of the characters – friends and parents – were lovely. But, unfortunately, Waiting for the Moon and You ended up being a bit of a mess. I don’t want to sit here and hammer on the story, though. I appreciate what the author was trying to do. So, I’m going to keep this short.

The blurb suggests that Leith was wondering for his whole life if Aaron returned his feelings. This is simply untrue. Aaron, in fact, tells Leith MANY times that he cares about him as more than a friend, and invites him to both move to NYC while he is attending college at Columbia, and come to Hong Kong with him when he moves there for work. Also, the timeline in the book had several glaring inconsistencies. It’s tough to tell a story in flashbacks, I get that, but the ball was dropped here with things that should have been simple to keep track of. There were also tense issues, and a simple math error that had me banging my head on my fist. If you sleep from roughly 6am until 11am, you did NOT get “seven hours or so” of sleep. Another thing that really threw me was when the author all of a sudden began using the device of ‘addressing the reader’. If she had started this from the get-go, I could have perhaps gotten on board. But she didn’t, so when it randomly began, and then was used so inconsistently, it simply didn’t work; it was distracting. Overall, the writing just did not feel polished, and there was so much repetition throughout that I found myself wanting to skim.

Now, it has been the case many times that someone has given a book that I thought was amazing two or three stars, and vice versa. This is a very subjective thing we do. But, this one definitely didn’t work for me.

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2 Stars, Jace Payne, Loose Id, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Jennifer

Review: Shifter by Jace Payne

Title: Shifter (Dark South: Book One)

Author: Jace Payne

Publisher: Loose Id

Pages/Word Count: 183 Pages

Pages at a Glance: A lot of sex, an interesting plot, but the pacing was off.

Blurb: Kayden Garrett’s ready to head home to Georgia, after four long years in Boston attending university. An unexpected fight with an abusive lover leaves him battered—and cursed, into becoming a werewolf. Immediately after leaving the plane, he’s introduced to a man, Paul, who makes his former flame dwindle in the dark. Their connection is instant and explosive. The two can’t explain the attraction to each other, but don’t waste time trying to figure it out.

Between struggling with being a werewolf, and getting in with a local pack, Kayden has to acclimate to being with someone who treats him as an equal, instead of a possession. And all their progress comes to a halt when a dark figure from Paul’s past resurfaces, threatening their newfound love, and their very existence.

Going home isn’t always easy—but for Kayden, the experience is a true test of his strength, his ability to adapt to the shifter world he’s been thrown into, his need to protect his family and friends, and his overwhelming desire to be loved.

Dividers

Review: Shifters of all kinds fascinate me. Their world is usually so dark and violent, and this book adds another entry to that dark and violent world. Kayden is made a shifter after a lover attacks him, and when his friend shows up to save him, his entire world is turned upside down.

I wanted to like this book so much more than I did. Kayden initially intrigued me, as did his relationship with Paul. It’s – as the blurb says – instant and explosive. Their sex is rough and hot, and there were some humorous one-liners sprinkled throughout the book that kept me chuckling, especially on the last page.

However, the book just didn’t do it for me in the end. I felt the pacing was off. Some things happen too quickly, such as when Michael shows up at the end. I literally sat up, excited, ready to see a huge knockdown, drag out fight between two werewolves. I turned the page to the next chapter…and it was over. No fight. That was disappointing. Sure, everyone took turns beating on him once he was tied up, but the actual fight didn’t happen.

There was also confusion for me with regards to Paul’s son. He’s a completely different type of shifter than everyone else, and that’s not brought up at all. Paul gawks at him but then doesn’t question it. Granted other things are happening, but they never do get back around to it.

Also, many characters conveniently popped up just when they were needed, either as a return from nowhere or newly introduced, Alastair being one of them. He is pretty awesome, though. But then there was Ronnie, riding to the rescue.

So, in the end, was the book hot? Yes. If you want some rough sex between shifters, and some threesomes and foursomes. Were the characters interesting? Yes. I did like them and I did want to know and see more, but I was rushed past things. Would I pick up the next book in this series? For me, probably not.

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2 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Jennifer, Susan Laine

Review: Sauna Lover by Susan Laine

Title: Sauna Lover

Author: Susan Laine

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 94 Pages

At a Glance: The ending is tied up too quickly, too neatly, and with little conflict after the set up given

Blurb: When Shawn Wells learns a planned development project threatens the quaint gay neighborhood of Trickstown, he jumps into action. This is his home turf. Plus, his favorite hangout, bathhouse Hot Haven, is the heart of the community–along with its owner, Toby Macintyre, who has been a sort-of friend to Shawn for years.

Surprisingly, Toby seems opposed to Shawn’s community-wide campaign to save the uniqueness and unity of the area. Even so, an unexpected attraction sparks between them, further fanning the flames of change.

Shawn has to fight for the future of his community, his beloved bathhouse, and for Toby. The sauna lover quickly finds himself in some real hot water.

Dividers

Review: Seeing as my first review for The Novel Approach was a Susan Laine book, I jumped at the opportunity to review Sauna Lover. I had high hopes for the novella, but ultimately it was disappointing for me. There were some good moments and it did grow on me; however, the ending was too neatly resolved and it had me rolling my eyes.

Shawn is the narrator of this story, and a self-professed, unashamed slut. Given his title you’d expect to see more sex on the page, but there’s not much. A few hookups, not very detailed. I was fine with that. It was his personality that grated on me. He’s very energetic, over-the-top, and fits the description of a twink—given by himself and other characters—perfectly. He did grow on me, however, once he toned it down a bit and fixated on Toby, and that’s when I started to like him. At least a little bit.

Toby is a good character, though. I enjoyed reading about him, and honestly I would have loved this story more if it had been told from his perspective. Seeing the business owner quietly wanting his most valuable customer, and observing his interactions with others (read: sleeping with every male that walks into the business except him), would have added a deeper emotional layer to the story.

When things start to heat up between the businesses of Trickstown and the land developer, I settled in for a good battle. Shawn thought he had something figured out, made a call to talk to someone…and then suddenly everyone he knew was happily gathered and problem solved. I had wanted something more, wanted Shawn to use his wit and snarkiness to take someone down, but it didn’t happen.

I did learn quite a bit about sauna culture from this book, though. I had no idea there were so many different types and different techniques. In the cold weather I’m facing right now, it made me want to go take a steam bath of my own.

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2 Stars, Audio Book, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, Reviewed by Kathie, Zahra Owens

Audio Review: Happiness for Beginners by Zahra Owens – Narrated by Michael Stellman

Title: Happiness for Beginners

Author: Zahra Owens

Narrator:: Michael Stellman

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Run Time: 1 Hour, 51 Minutes

At a Glance: The storyline was too basic, with very few details about the main characters’ lives

Blurb: Jesse harbored a crush on his TV series costar, Kaye, for more than eight years, but when the show was canceled and he realized those years of playing gay hadn’t convinced Kaye to leave the straight and narrow, Jesse turned his back on acting for good. Ten years later, Kaye is back in Jesse’s life, on Christmas Eve—and the eve of his third divorce. Jesse’s not sure his heart can take another beating, but Kaye has a few tricks up his sleeve—and a few truths from his own heart—that might just convince Jesse that the gifts of love and happiness are not just for Christmas.

Dividers

Review: This was a hard audio for me to review. I wanted to really like Happiness for Beginners, as Zahra Owens is one of my favorite authors, but sadly, I didn’t enjoy it at all. Wow! I have a harsh opinion, but why didn’t I like it? The storyline was too basic, with very few details about the main characters’ lives during the time they worked together, or the ten years since they have seen each other. Kaye is a stereotypical “star” being told what to do to make his image more marketable, and even at the end of the story he checks with his agent. Billed as a Christmas Story, to the point of being bundled in a Christmas anthology , Christmas played no role in the plot or storyline—one afternoon spent with a sister, and it wasn’t even on Christmas.

Kaye shows up at his former co-star Jesse’s travel agency two days before Christmas. They have not seen each other for over 10 years, after having worked together for eight years performing as life partners on a late night television series. With Kaye coming back into his life, Jesse realizes that he is still very much in love with Kaye but also harbors a lot of hurt feelings, feeling that Kaye had been avoiding him for all those years.

Then it’s Kaye turn to explain to Jesse. After spending an evening with Jesse’s sister and her kids, they return to Jesse’s apartment. Kaye, it seems, has lots of issues. Over the course of three days, he lets Jesse in on a few of them. The rest of the story is listening to Kaye talk about his sexual hang-ups, and Jesse helping him overcome them. I did like the ending; I always enjoy a happily ever after.

In every story I have read, or listened to, there is always a nugget of goodness, and Happiness for Beginners is no exception. “Maybe he’s got a picture stashed away somewhere that ages so he can stay young”. I want one of those pictures, please. “‘This is crazy, J.’ ‘Lust always is, Kaye. And so is sex. It’s crazy and messy and explosive’” — my two favorite parts of the story. What I didn’t like about this story was the story development. Kaye shows up at Jesse’s, they make tea, Kaye confesses to Jesse all of his sexual hang-ups, Jesse “fixes” him, and they have lots of steamy sex . I can almost see the bullet points of the outline.

As far as the narration of this audio, the lack of inflection or emotional color made it hard to stay with the story. If the audio would have been any longer, I wouldn’t have been able to finish it. I am glad I listened to the end, though. As I said earlier, I like a happy ending.






You can buy Happiness for Beginners here:

Audible.com

Audible.com

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Author: T.S. Morgan

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 21 Pages

Rating: 2 Star

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Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Run Time: 2 hours, 1 minute

Rating: 2 Stars – Plot/3 Stars – Narration

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Author: Barbara Geiger

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