3.5 Stars, G.B. Gordon, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Janet, Riptide Publishing

Review: When to Hold Them by G.B. Gordon

Title: When to Hold Them (A Bluewater Bay Novel)

Author: G.B. Gordon

Publisher: Riptide Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 213 Pages

At a Glance: There is a complicated bit of character building that is skillfully done by the author, though I did have some issues with the time jumping around, and days passing with the POV changes.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: Doran Callaghan doesn’t know when to fold ’em. His gambling has landed him in debt and in jail, and now it’s got him stuck in the sticks in a reintegration program. He wants to turn his life around, but old habits come knocking, and some creditors are harder to shake than others.

Xavier Wagner cares more about the National Park he works in than the people around it, until a stranger awakens desires he didn’t know he had. Doran’s natural submissiveness turns Xavier’s ideas of how to treat a lover upside down. But Doran doesn’t seem to know about boundaries—or even to have any—and Xavier’s not sure that Doran will say no if he needs to. Which means someone’s going to get hurt.

While Xavier struggles with his principles, Doran’s past comes calling. Trusting each other is suddenly a matter of life or death, but Doran has to decide whether counting on Xavier—or himself—is a gamble he’s willing to take.

Dividers

Review: When to Hold Them is another great story in the Bluewater Bay universe. Gordon is not a writer that I am very familiar with, and I can only hope there are more books coming from this author soon. This book grabbed my interest very quickly, and kept surprising me along the way. I loved that the focus was not pretty, and clearly showed the physical surroundings and glorious nature of this fictitious town.

The concept of a youthful (former) gambler, who is struggling so hard to get ahead, is unique. We really have to work to see his value, as he doesn’t see his own worth very well. Actually, we see both Doran and Xavier through the other’s eyes so much clearer than how they perceive themselves, and that is a complicated bit of character building that is skillfully done by the author. I didn’t mind the alternating POV, as it was clear who was speaking at all times. The problem for me was time jumping around, and days passing with the POV changes. I had to concentrate more on the individual paragraphs of the story to ensure that the flow was not interrupted.

The mystery based plot kept me enthralled as it unfolded with lots of conflicts and twists and turns. Events were explained very well, and the relationship between the MCs progresses in such a way that the reader is rooting for them long before they’re a couple, because we can see that they would work and could be happy before they can see it themselves. I enjoy being given that assurance by an author, as I feel it draws us into the story and keeps us invested in the outcome.

I think that one of the hardest things to do as a writer is to keep the continuity of tone in a multi-authored universe, while having set points of interest, or previously described characters appear in the current story, and stay believable. This is a strong draw for me personally, and was successfully accomplished while presenting a unique book in the universe for our enjoyment. Kudos to the author for a welcome addition to this particular universe. I look forward to trying more of G.B. Gordon’s work in the future.

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5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Mickie B. Ashling, Reviewed by Janet

Review: Enforcing Emory by Mickie B. Ashling

Title: Enforcing Emory

Author: Mickie B. Ashling

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 226 Pages

At a Glance: Enforcing Emory is a sweet coming of age love story that is rich in detail and full of hope.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: Olympic figure skater Emory Lowe falls in lust the moment he lays eyes on his new neighbor, hockey player Nikolai Vetrov. On the surface, Nik is a typical badass enforcer, intimidating and dangerous, on and off the ice. The only son of Ukrainian immigrants, Nik has been groomed from childhood to fulfill his father’s dreams of seeing him in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Igor guides his son toward that goal with a controlling—and abusive—hand, steering him clear of anyone who might ruin his chances.

Although Emory is the US National Figure Skating champion, he’s in-your-face gay, and his audacious persona rubs Nik and his family the wrong way. Raised by supportive and loving parents, Emory is Nik’s polar opposite in every way but one—his desire to succeed. Underneath the fluff and glitter beats the heart of a fierce competitor, and this side of Emory’s personality begins to close the distance between the two athletes.

While the attraction is one-sided in the beginning, Nik finds himself responding to Emory’s flirting. But before the incongruous pair have a chance at any sort of relationship, they must survive the pressures of career, separation, and most importantly, Igor’s ruthless homophobia.

Dividers

Review: One of the best things about this author is her abundant knowledge and her authenticity in developing her characters. I loved this story and it is in no small part due to the feeling of completeness I had throughout each step of the storyline.

Emory is a shining star in the world of men’s figure skating, a glittering star! He has qualified for the Olympic Games in Sochi, and has some intensive work to do to be ready. He has a new neighbour move in across the street who is a rough and tumble hockey player. They are at odds immediately, and their little conflicts continued throughout the story, much to my enjoyment. Nik is Ukrainian, by way of Canada, and starting on the Chicago Wolves as a junior on his first pro hockey team. Hopefully it is a stepping stone for him on his way to the majors.

Mickie B. Ashling has set the stage for a very emotional story that sucked me in and blew me away at the same time. There are so many layers of ideas and conflicts at play that the story should be jumbled – or awkward. But it isn’t. It is a sweet ride on a rollercoaster that grabbed my heart and tickled my brain. There is much humour in these pages, as well as some gentle pokes at our perceptions. There is also some intense action on the ice and some very scary moments of acute homophobia that made my skin crawl.

Mostly what there is is a sweet coming of age love story that is rich in detail and full of hope. You cannot help but feel for these young men, and hope for them, and worry for them, for they are real. Their characters are so well built that from the first page they are believable, and you are invested in their hopes and dreams immediately. One of the very best things about this author’s skill is that the supporting characters are fully fleshed out people who add so much depth to the overall story. Her world building is also strong; the characters live and play in real places that I can recognise. All of these factors help to make this novel resonate with the reader, and gives you a very satisfying reading experience.

I really can’t recommend this author highly enough. Every one of her stories is a delight to read, and Enforcing Emory is no exemption. The pace is quick and the story flows so well and so vividly that you are drawn into the world right along with the characters. There is no better feeling than finishing a book and knowing that you have been a part of a great story, carrying the world that you read about in your head and heart for days afterward. This is what a good author does, through skill and talent combined, and Mickie B. Ashling is a very good author indeed.

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5 Stars, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Janet, The Romance Authors

Review: Strange Bedfellows by Cardeno C.

Title: Strange Bedfellows

Author: Cardeno C.

Publisher: The Romance Authors, LLC

Pages/Word Count: 226 Pages

At a Glance: Strange Bedfellows is definitely a story I can recommend highly.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: Can the billionaire son of a Democratic president build a family with the congressman son of a Republican senator? Forget politics, love makes strange bedfellows.

As the sole offspring of the Democratic United States president and his political operative wife, Trevor Moga was raised in an environment driven by the election cycle. During childhood, he fantasized about living in a made-for-television family, and as an adult, he rejected all things politics and built a highly successful career as far from his parents as possible.

Newly elected congressman Ford Hollingsworth is Republican royalty. The grandson of a revered governor and son of a respected senator, he was bred to value faith, family, and the goal of seeing a Hollingsworth in the White House.

When Trevor and Ford meet, sparks fly and a strong friendship is formed. But can the billionaire son of a Democratic president build a family with the congressman son of a Republican senator? Forget politics, love makes strange bedfellows.

Dividers

Review: Every book by Cardeno C. is an event. It is a guaranteed happy ending and a journey of the heart with some of the best characters I have met. And it shouldn’t be, really. The characters are introduced to us and we are intrigued, but it doesn’t seem real. I mean, a rock star and a barman/accountant? Or a Republican and the son of the Democratic President? Yeah, right!

What is so amazing is the talent that Cardeno has to create these characters and make them real. Yes, Trevor has more money than most of us can ever imagine, but he is built and explored in multiple layers, and within just a few chapters, we believe in his character and are invested in his life. He is a real person, one who just happens to be rich and connected. The same is true of Ford. We may not have many republican sympathies, but he is a real man and his politics are just a reflection of him as opposed to a symbol of his life. This ability that Cardeno has to present us with real characters to respond to and be invested in is truly awesome.

I can’t say that there is a complicated plot unfolding in this story. I would be lying. This book is a character driven love story. And I loved it. There are plenty of conflicts to overcome, lots of angst to work through, especially for Ford, but the MCs are on the same page. They realize they are heading towards a committed relationship, and they step up for each other. If there is a formula to a love story then I suppose all the boxes are ticked, but it at no time felt contrived. The world building is rock-solid and reinforces the characters at every stage of their love story; the details about hotel rooms and chartered planes are spot on and accurately portrayed on the pages. The amount of detail that Cardeno C. provides the reader with is so well done. We are a part of two men’s lives and can picture each scene and conversation they share, and it all resonates with us. This story is almost 60,000 words and it flew by so quickly, smooth and rich, and my only regret is I would have liked it to last longer.

Strange Bedfellows is definitely a story I can recommend highly, and one I will look forward to reading again. Sweet and clever is always a winning combination for me, and as a bonus, it is not cloying at all, and it gave me yet another favorite couple to add to my list.

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5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Paranormal Romance, R. Cooper, Reviewed by Janet

Review: Little Wolf by R. Cooper

Title: Little Wolf (A Being(s) in Love Story)

Author: R. Cooper

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 380 Pages

At a Glance: Expect to be wowed by this book, and expect to smile for weeks after reading it.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: On the run from his old-blood werewolf family, Tim Dirus finds himself in Wolf’s Paw, one of the last surviving refuges from the days when werewolves were hunted by humans and one of the last places Tim wants to be. Kept away from other wolves by his uncle, Tim knows almost nothing about his own kind except that alpha werewolves only want to control and dominate a scrawny wolf like him.

Tim isn’t in Wolf’s Paw an hour before he draws the attention of Sheriff Nathaniel Neri, the alphaest alpha in a town full of alphas. Powerful, intimidating, and the most beautiful wolf Tim has ever seen, Nathaniel makes Tim feel safe for reasons Tim doesn’t understand. For five years he’s lived on the run, in fear of his family and other wolves. Everything about Wolf’s Paw is contrary to what he thought he knew, and he is terrified. Fearing his mate will run, Sheriff Nathaniel must calm his little wolf and show him he’s more than a match for this big, bad alpha.

Dividers

Review: I truly love an author whose world building skills are so strong that I have no choice but to be pulled into the worlds they create. R. Cooper is one of the best, and Little Wolf is a fantastic addition to A Being(s) in Love Story universe.

This story is set in Wolf’s Paw, a sanctuary of sorts, a town full of humans and weres and all sorts of Beings. The town itself is a very important part of the story, as Timothy is very much in need of sanctuary when he arrives, and it gives him a comfortable place to spread his wings and learn that he has more going for him than he first thought. The character of Nathaniel is such a clever foil for Tim that his awesomeness takes a while to sink in. The strength that he has is obvious, but the openness that he displays is a reaction to the love for Tim that is growing within him, and not a natural characteristic of his. This is just one of the many delightful conflicts that are layered so cleverly in this story.

The witty dialogue and the tone that flows throughout the story are hilarious to read. That R. Cooper makes me blush right along with Tim at his ridiculous babbling is impressive. She creates emotions that sink into the reader; we are there with the characters, feeling what they feel, but omnipotent and able to see the backgrounds of where they are at the same time. The fact that their courtship is going on under the fascinated eyes of their town is another layer of humor and a display of world building craftsmanship at the same time. The whole story is just solid. There are new facts revealed on each page, and the characters are built in layers that expose them and endear them to us with every word we read. This is a book I was not able to put down until the very end. I was fully engrossed and eager for the final resolution. This is something that I have come to expect from an R. Cooper book, and it is so refreshing to find an author who can continue to expand the world she builds with every subsequent story.

I can honestly say that there is nothing gratuitous in these pages; the sex is hot and fitting to the stage of the story, there are moments of tenderness and also of violence. Moments of bumbling awkwardness and also enraging revelations of abuse, but through all of this is the overwhelming sense of hope for Nathaniel and Tim and their HEA. It is felt by the whole town, all of its people, and by the reader at the same time. It makes the ending even sweeter because we have been such an important part of the story. Expect to be wowed by this book, and expect to smile for weeks after reading it when a phrase or scene pops into your head. I can’t wait to see what is coming from this author next.

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4 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Jacob Z. Flores, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Janet, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: Spell Bound by Jacob Z. Flores

Title: Spell Bound (The Warlock Brothers of Havenbridge: Book One)

Author: Jacob Z. Flores

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 216 Pages

At a Glance: I can easily recommend this book for a wonderful escape for a few hours, with the bonus of more to come.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: Mason Blackmoor just can’t compete with his brothers, much less his father. They represent the epitome of black magic, strong, dark, and wicked, and though Mason tries to live up to his respected lineage, most of the spells he casts go awry. To make matters worse, his active power has yet to kick in. While his brothers wield lightning and harness the cold, Mason sits on the sidelines, waiting for the moment when he can finally enter the magical game.

When a dead body is discovered on the football field of his high school, Mason meets Drake Carpenter, the new kid in town. Drake’s confident demeanor and quick wit rub Mason the wrong way. Drake is far too self-assured for someone without an ounce of magical blood in his body, and Mason aims to teach him a lesson—like turn him into a roach. And if he’s lucky, maybe this time Mason won’t be the one turned into an insect.

Not surprisingly, the dislike is mutual, and Drake does nothing to dispel Mason’s suspicion that the sexy boy with a southern drawl is somehow connected to the murder.

If only Mason didn’t find himself inexplicably spellbound whenever they are together, they might actually find out what danger hides in the shadows.

Dividers

Review: There was a bit of a sense of trepidation when I opened this book. Jacob Z. Flores has a style of writing that I very much enjoy, but it’s quite down to earth and rather basic, therefore I wasn’t entirely convinced that he could handle a foray into the mystic world – and keep me as a devoted and enthusiastic reader. I have never been quite so happy to have all my fears evaporate. This is a fun, involving story with multiple plots and a wide variety of characters of all ages.

The main characters that are the focus of this story are senior high school aged boys, but this is not a YA book in that sense at all. Or, to be more accurate, the book does start out YA and then grows into a New Adult classification as the story unfolds. As the first novel in a series, there are lot of characters to be developed and a serious plot line to layer as a base to the overall series, but it’s still relevant to this book. It sounds complicated, but it is actually a very smooth unfolding that Jacob treats us to. I never felt that the story I was reading was incomplete, and I was very involved in the characters right away. The maturity that the boys developed grew in direct proportion to their relationship and their realization that there was a much bigger drama/mystery unfolding in their lives.

Because the witches and warlocks in this story are an unrealized part of the regular world, I was able to be a part of the story very easily. The world that Flores built was already familiar to me, so the mystical elements were realistic and easy to believe. I think this was a very clever process used by the author, and it will carry forward to the remaining books in the series as well. My only point of conflict came from the first person narrative. It is not my favorite style and although it suited this story, I would have enjoyed the extra depth that a multiple person POV offered.

Mason and Drake are two very vibrant characters, and I thoroughly enjoyed their journey towards a future together; I can’t wait to see where they will end up. I also am intrigued by the rest of the Blackmoor warlocks, and the relationship that Mason has with his family is a big part of the book. There are many directions the author has opened up for us as possibilities for future stories, it remains to be seen how many there will be, but I am looking forward to reading them. Spell Bound is a delicious appetiser for a new series, but it packed a punch on its own. I can easily recommend this book for a wonderful escape for a few hours, with the bonus of more to come.

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5 Stars, B.G. Thomas, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Janet

Review: Autumn Changes by B.G. Thomas

Title: Autumn Changes (Seasons of Love: Book Three)

Author: B.G. Thomas

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 266 Pages

At a Glance: I can’t recommend this newest offering in the series highly enough.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: Asher Eisenberg is a brilliant actor, destined for fame and fortune. But a traumatic incident in his past has caused him to reject his Jewish heritage and hide from everyone behind walls of arrogance and selfishness, and he blurs his loneliness with a lot of sex and alcohol. When he meets Peniamina Faamausili, however, he strangely can’t stop thinking about the young man.

Peni is struggling with his sexuality, the Mormonism he was raised in, and the Samoan heritage that calls to him. He longs to receive the pe’a—the traditional Samoan tattoos– and learn more of his people’s ways. He has no interest in a man like Asher, who appears to use men and put them aside and whose drinking can’t help but remind him of the drunk driver who killed his father. But he can’t deny his attraction to Asher and finally agrees to a date if Asher can go thirty days without a drink.

Asher is about to go on a journey that will awaken him to his friends, his past, his future, and even to love. But that awakening could well demand the sacrifice of the dream he holds most dear.

Dividers

Review: I was so looking forward to this book. How could B.G. Thomas create a situation or a series of events that would transform Asher into a worthy man? Could he possibly be more than the ass I thought he was? At the same time, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read a book about him if he wasn’t redeemable in my eyes. This author had his work cut out for him with Autumn Changes, and I am thrilled to report that he aced it! Wow!

The novel begins with the refreshing of the characters in this four book set of stories, but through Asher’s eyes, which are pretty disparaging to start off with, we get to see just how low Asher has fallen, and how much the tunnel vision of his life has affected his outlook on life in general. He is a sad character, and although I didn’t love him, I did feel for him, and I started to have hope for him. One of the things that B.G. Thomas does so very well is create characters with incredible depth, with many facets that catch our attention and draw us into the stories he writes. Peni is a man who would be unfamiliar to most of us simply due to his race and religion, but the author inundates us with cultural and family history about him in such a manner that he is relatable almost immediately, and we, the reader, are never overwhelmed by this. The information we need to identify with the characters is delivered in a fun and eager way that builds the story and the characters at the same time.

I must admit to loving B.G. Thomas’s writing style. I am being spoken to by the book in an inclusive way that invites me into the story rather than simply observing it, but the descriptive phases he employs create graphic images nonetheless, and color the pages well enough to visualize the characters’ surroundings throughout the book. He has written a very rich tale that is filling for the senses, and that lingers in the mind long after the pages are read, and engaged all of my emotions along the way. I laughed and cried with this book, and I am just dying to see the next one in the series arrive. Wyatt is a little bear who is so deserving of happiness, and I can’t wait to be a part of it all.

This is the key element of a successful series; deliver a great third book and create interest in the next book in line, and let us visit with the favorite characters we have already met. Thomas has done all of this in a fabulous fashion, and I can’t recommend this newest offering in the series highly enough. Autumn Changes was a joy to read, and I sincerely believe that it is some of this author’s best work ever.

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3 Stars, Ariel Tachna, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Nessa L. Warrin, Reviewed by Janet

Review: Dance off by Ariel Tachna and Nessa L. Warin

Title: Dance Off

Author: Ariel Tachna and Nessa L. Warin

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 230 Pages

At a Glance: This book was disappointing for me personally, but I will be giving the authors another try.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: On the reality show Dance Off, pro rugby player Olivier Gautier and Olympic swimmer JC Webster each have one goal in mind: to stay on the show as long as possible to earn his charity of choice maximum exposure and a larger donation. As the competition heats up, their goals expand to catching each other’s interest, but Olivier is firmly in the closet and plans to stay there. JC is willing to be discreet, but not to hide forever.

Starting a romance with another man is challenge enough for any celebrity, but doing it under the microscope of reality TV—and one majorly intolerant costar—is even harder. Add in meddling dance pros, JC’s overbearing family, and the need to play up chemistry with dance partners to win America’s hearts, and JC and Olivier’s time together is looking more and more like a recipe for disaster.

As the pressure to stay in the competition mounts, JC and Olivier must face their inevitable separation at the end of the show as well as decide whether a relationship as complicated as theirs can survive in the real world, outside the bubble of the set and practice studios.

Dividers

Review: This was the first story I have read by either of these two authors, and I was pleased with the harmony of their writing. I felt that only one voice was speaking throughout the story, as it was smooth and flowed well, and the tone was consistent for the whole book.

The story was cute and a very fun idea. The MCs were believable in their roles; the family of characters that made up the secondary players surrounding them also resonated with me as being realistic. I got to know the characters well, and seeing a dance competition unfold was kind of fascinating, but at the end of the book I was not enthralled with the characters or completely invested in them, so I was left with a sense of disappointment in the story. I think this failure to engage was mostly caused by the tone of the dialogue. There wasn’t that much direct dialogue between the main characters that wasn’t overshadowed by description of the circumstances they were in, or the background to the scene that was playing out on the pages. There was a sense of being told what the characters were up to as opposed to the reader doing it with them. That feeling of distance is what kept this book from being great for me, as I am very partial to clever dialogue and revel in submerging myself in the characters through their voices. I missed being able to do that with this book.

I think the plot was the strongest feature of the story, and the idea of having a bird’s-eye view of a reality TV show centered on dancing was brilliant. The authors totally captured the conflicts between the different types of people involved in the show, and gave us fascinating glimpses of how it all plays out for the contestants in a very realistic manner.

This book was disappointing for me personally, but I will be giving the authors another try. There was too much good about this story not to check out some of the other books they have written, though I believe this is their only collaboration, so maybe separately first.

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4 Stars, Andi Van, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Janet

Review: Starting With the Unexpected by Andi Van

Title: Starting With the Unexpected

Author: Andi Van

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 200 Pages

At a Glance: I found the pace of this story to be fairly quick, mostly because I couldn’t put it down. The pages flew by and I enjoyed each one.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: Zachary Blaise is having a weird week—even by his standards. Though he’s gay, the radio personality has been dumped via text by a girl named Marian—and he’s never even met her. On top of that, he’s developed a massive crush on Marcus, the new waiter at his favorite diner. His best friend thinks the whole thing is hilarious.

Marcus’s week hasn’t been his best either. He’s been betrayed by those closest to him, and although he isn’t the guilty party, Marcus is the one getting harassed.

Impossibly, things are about to get even weirder. Marian has secrets, and those secrets are going to make some serious ripples in Zach’s life. When he discovers that the girl called Marian is actually the man named Marcus, Zach stumbles down a rabbit hole of abusive ex-boyfriends, psychotic relatives, and revelations from his own past. If he can survive the chaos, the journey might prove worth the effort.

Dividers

Review: When I first read the opening lines of Starting With the Unexpected, I howled with laughter and knew it was going to be good. What this book really turned out to be was pretty awesome, and it in no way read like a debut novel. There are serious authoring skills at use in this book, and if the old ideas of authors growing into their talent and developing skills along the way are true, then we are all so lucky and hopefully, Andi Van is going to be prolific. This debut novel is first class.

The characters are well developed and so vividly described that they were colorful in my head as the story unfolded. They reacted to others, and to each other, in such a real way that it was hard not to think of them as real people, and the conversations they have are also spot on in both timing and humor.

The author allowed the MCs to develop a real friendship before she mixed romance into the story, and I loved that aspect of the plot. And, speaking of plot, there is a good one in this book; full of twists, emotional drama, and physical hurts that we feel right along with the characters. It is smooth and a joy to read as the holes are plugged, and as soon as I figured something out, it played out. Very nicely done.

I found the pace of this story to be fairly quick, mostly because I couldn’t put it down. The pages flew by and I enjoyed each one. Starting With the Unexpected is a book I will read again, as it filled a gap I didn’t realize was missing in the genre – namely a well-crafted, humorous romance with a killer plot.

I definitely want to read more from this author. She gave me a fresh, fun, and lively story, with two MCs I just adored. I would even be open to a sequel about these same characters at a random point in their future; they were simply that impressive.

Congratulations on your debut novel, Andi Van, and good wishes for a productive future.

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4.5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Mickie B. Ashling, New Adult, Reviewed by Janet

Review: Chyna Doll by Mickie B. Ashling

Title: Chyna Doll (Horizons Series: Book Four)

Author: Mickie B. Ashling

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 320 Pages

At a Glance: The hope that endures through the pages is the absolute best reason to pick this story up and delve into the world Mickie B. Ashling has created.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: Lil Lampert’s forty-fifth birthday turns the effervescent architect into a brooding mess, and his partner, Grier Dilorio, takes him to Italy to help him regain his zest for life. The timing is bad—almost-fifteen-year-old Luca has just started high school, and his mother and stepfather are also traveling. Luca is left in the care of Chicago Bear, Clark Stevens, and his partner, Dr. Jody Williams.

Growing up with two dads and two gay uncles has given Luca a unique perspective on gender roles, but not all the answers. He’s had a secret crush on his straight best friend, Chip, for years. Suddenly, Luca finds himself attracted to Chyna, Chip’s twin sister. Now he’s wondering if this means he’s bisexual.

Born with a sexual development disorder, Chyna should have been raised as a male, but due to an epic parenting fail, is being raised as female. Hiding the truth becomes more difficult when Chyna hits puberty, and crushing over Luca adds another element to Chyna’s struggle to fit in.

Is Luca’s moral compass strong enough to guide him successfully through this period of discovery or will he succumb to peer pressure and shatter Chyna’s dreams for happiness?

Dividers

Review: Wow! This was an intense book to read. I had read all of the previous books in the series, and had concerns about a book with a teenaged MC, what with the backdrop this series is based on. I really shouldn’t have worried, though. There was no squick about Luca at all. The teenage angst was appropriate to his age, and more importantly, was felt to be realistic and protective at the same time.

Jody and Clark, and Greer and Lil, were both further explored. Their relationships grew, and the effects of time on those relationships were exposed and defined to allow Luca to grow up to be the teenager he is in the story. If it wasn’t for the solid carryover of these very adult relationships, I might define this as a YA novel. The issues discussed: gender identity, bullying, peer pressure and family responsibilities are classic YA topics and are handled in an impressive manner. But…this is not a YA book. We are carried into the story as adults, protecting the young, nurturing their growth and allowing them to blossom safely, with our compassion at the forefront of our awareness as we read.

I have so much respect for this author for freely visiting topics that most would be wary of. I am a curious reader, and I love learning new things about people and places, and at no time when reading one of her books do I ever not learn something. Kinks and fetishes are a delight to learn about in the privacy of my own home, but the difficult topics she covers, like bullying and self-identity, are also explored, and these are emotionally felt by the reader as we are so immersed in her books that the events almost seem to happen to us. I would not say that Chyna Doll is an easy book to read, but it is now one of my favorites. The ability to force her readers to see things from multiple sides, and learn about new things in a balanced way, is a pretty awesome talent. It speaks to amazing research and world building, as well as character development which invests us in her work. We want the resolutions to work, and the characters to be happy, but we also want hope for the future, and she always delivers.

I would love to have parts of this book be compulsory for high school English classes, or maybe social studies, if that is still in the high school curriculum, but either way this is a book that should be read; for knowledge and awareness and personal growth. It is not a casual story to be enjoyed on a whim, but is an engrossing tale that will sustain you in ways I can’t describe. It manages to draw on so many emotions; it’s sexy, it has some great dialogue that’s funny and full of wit, it has moments that are disgusting for the portrayal of bullying at their worst and made me angry at parental powers that had been abused. And yet, the story still ended with hope. There are so many reasons to read this book, but I think the hope that endures through the pages is the absolute best reason to pick this story up and delve into the world Mickie B. Ashling has created.

Do yourself a favor and check out the first three books first, though: Horizons, Taste, and Daddio, to see the series journey so far and then tease your senses even more with Chyna Doll.

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4.5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Kate McMurray, Reviewed by Janet

Review: The Windup by Kate McMurray

Title: The Windup (The Rainbow League: Book One)

Author: Kate McMurray

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 214 Pages

At a Glance: This first offering in the Rainbow League series was excellent.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: Ian ran screaming from New York City upon graduating from high school. A job offer too good to turn down has brought him back, but he plans to leave as soon as the job is up. In the meantime he lets an old friend talk him into joining the Rainbow League, New York’s LGBT amateur baseball league. Baseball turns out to be a great outlet for his anxiety, and not only because sexy teammate Ty has caught his eye.

Ty is like a duck on a pond—calm and laid-back on the surface, a churning mess underneath. In Ian, he’s found someone with whom he feels comfortable enough to share some of what’s going on beneath the surface. The only catch is that Ian is dead set on leaving the city as soon as he can. Ty works up a plan to convince Ian that New York is, in fact, the greatest city in the world. But when Ian receives an offer for a job overseas, Ty needs a new plan: convince Ian that home is where Ty is.

Dividers

Review: The Windup is the first of what looks to be three novels in a series about a Rainbow baseball league in New York City. The subject of baseball in no surprise to any fan of Kate McMurray, and as usual, it is easy to see that she knows her stuff. But what it also does is provide a timeline for the relationships that are examined in the book. Baseball has a season, spring to fall, and that is the timeline for the characters to interact and develop their relationships, both of friendship between the players and other teams, and the romances that are the focus of the story.

As the first book in the series, The Windup has a lot of information about a lot of characters, I found the vast amount of names to be rather confusing in the beginning, almost like I was the new player in an established league, and I had to play catch up to fit in and get caught up on the histories and conflicts of the group. It was a sneaky technique that the author used to firmly place our sympathies with Ian, and invest our emotions in him. We were him. At the same time, we got our first impressions of him and the difficulties he faced each day, living with an anxiety disorder. Ty was harder to get a fix on, and again that was on purpose, as his insecurities were hidden and we had to learn to see below the surface of his character and get to know him in a deeper way. Very clever character building by Kate McMurray.

New York City is also explored in this book as a tactic of Ty’s mission to help Ian see another side of it, and to grow to love the city, in the hopes that he might want to stay there, as Ty doesn’t want him to leave. It was fun to do the not so touristy things along with the guys, and I enjoyed the outings and the glimpses into a city that has whole worlds within its limits.

While the Rainbow League was playing, we meet future story’s characters and are able to see where their stories might go. But at the end of the season, the story fall’s back on Ty and Ian, and focuses on the resolution of their conflicts, allowing them to shine as this novel’s MCs and prove their worth to each other. I loved the ending of the book. The lust they shared was allowed to grow into love, and a future together was defined. It all worked for me, the ends were tied, and all of the issues were addressed.

Kate McMurray may be known for her love of baseball, but I really hope this series establishes her mastery of dialogue and humor in her work. The book plays out like a movie reel in your head, constantly full of color and sound, the action of the games, and the bars the players go to afterwards. But for me, the snark and verbal clues that she crafted are what lingered, and I am eager to see what happens next in the series.

I have to admit to going immediately back and re-reading this book, as I turned the pages so quickly in excitement of the story I was worried I hadn’t absorbed all the details. It was as good as I thought it was, and that is where I recognised the quality of the verbal play in the book. I can only urge you to read this book and discover for yourself the skills and talents Kate McMurray shows her mastery of. This first offering in the Rainbow League series was excellent, and I am looking forward to getting my hands on the next books as soon as they are ready.

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4 Stars, Cardeno C., Genre Romance, Reviewed by Janet, Self-Published

Review: Love at First Sight by Cardeno C.

Title: Love at First Sight

Author: Cardeno C.

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 274 Pages

At a Glance: A cheesy and sweet feel-good story.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: The moment naïve, optimistic Jonathan Doyle glimpses a gorgeous blue-eyed stranger from afar, he believes in love at first sight. Unfortunately, he loses sight of the man before they meet and then spends years desperately trying to find him. Just as he is about to give up, Jonathan gets a break and finally encounters David Miller face to face.

Successful, confident David turns Jonathan’s previously lonely life into a fairy tale, giving him more than he ever imagined. But the years spent searching were hard on Jonathan, and he’s terrified his young son and scandalous past will destroy his blossoming relationship. For David and Jonathan to build a future together, they’ll both have to dig deep: David for the courage to share himself in a way he’s never considered and Jonathan for the strength to tell the truth.

Dividers

Review: The tone of this story is set by the opening line, “Do you believe in love at first sight?” And thus we are invited into a fairy tale romance, but we are not asked to believe along with Jonathon, rather, to enjoy the story and watch what unfolds.

This story, of all of the Home series books, is the most cheesy, sweet, and unbelievable, but it is acknowledged by the characters in such a way as to include us in the story and participate in the disbelief David feels at his words and actions. We don’t scoff at the sweetness because we feel the earnestness that Jonathon and David feel; we are swept into the whirlwind of emotions and uncharacteristic actions that occur so rapidly in the story. At the same time, the very basics of living are transposed on the characters: cooking meals and doing laundry, daycare for Sam, and working for a living are balancing the sweetness of the new love and intense physical relationship that Jonathon and David are experiencing.

And time passes. Time is one of the best parts of this series. Each book is a standalone story, but characters crossover into other books at very different times in their own stories. What this use of time does for us as the reader is give us a sense of maturity in the relationship – Yes, they move in together very quickly, but they do real things and have real bumps in the road, and the bonds that grow are felt to be accurate to any couple in their situation. In this particular story, this means that the fairy tale aspect dissolves into a really sweet story as time passes, and the characters grow so much that they get recognised as being real to the reader as well.

This is a character driven book, light on plot but strong in character development and relationship building. Jonathon grows into a confident young man, aware of his strength and sure of his place in David’s life, and David grows into an aware partner, capable of supporting another and able to show his love of family.

Cardeno C. has created a world in Emile City that is inviting and charming. It is an ideal in equality that I would love to see in reality. The craftsmanship involved in creating this series is absolutely mind boggling. I can only imagine the flowcharts and timelines that must have been used in writing this series to incorporate all of the characters and accurately reflect their individual situations at an appropriate time in each book. The bonus ending added to each book with the rerelease of the series is the icing on the cake, still sweet but adding a richness that is appreciated and resonates with each couple. I can so easily picture the dinner that is being cooked in David and Jonathon’s kitchen.

Love at First Sight is my personal favorite of the Home series, although He Completes Me is a very close second. I love it for the guaranteed feeling of happiness I get each time I read it. I also like that Sam is simply a part of Jonathon; that David loves him first for that, and grows to love fatherhood second. I will continue to recommend this book as a feel good story, one that delivers far more depth and comfort than could be believed possible by the description and beginning alone.

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5 Stars, A.J. Thomas, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Janet

Review: The Intersection of Purgatory and Paradise by A.J. Thomas

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Title: The Intersection of Purgatory and Paradise (Least Likely Partnership: Book Three)

Author: A.J. Thomas

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 204 Pages

At a Glance: I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I loved it.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: Life in small-town Montana has become hell for former San Diego homicide detective Christopher Hayes. No one will hire him, he has made the seething racism his lover Doug Heavy Runner faces at work worse by adding homophobia to the mix, and his most recent jog through town ends when two gay-bashing teenagers hit him in the head with a rock. Deputy Sheriff Doug Heavy Runner has never overcome the abusive relationship that traumatized and shattered him as a young adult. The memories, the lingering shame, and the fear he has never acknowledged have left him resigned to endure the discrimination he faces in Elkin. But he can’t stand it when Christopher becomes a target for that same hatred.

When the mutilated body of one of the boys who assaulted Christopher is found in Doug’s garage, Christopher and Doug return from a vacation in San Diego and uncover a tangle of secrets, lies, and tragedy lurking beneath Elkin’s small-town façade. With their relationship at a crossroads, they’ll have to work together to catch the killer and maybe find a paradise of their own.

Dividers

Review: My life is now complete. AJ Thomas has fulfilled the promise she created with A Casual Weekend Thing, the HFN, and that she alluded to in Holding Out For A Fairy Tale, and she has given us our HEA. But OMG! I loved the drama and the lengths she went to in order to prove to her characters they were it for each other. We knew this from the first book, but they needed to have it proven without a doubt, and Thomas dragged us right into the story again as witnesses to the tale unfolding. I think it is harder to pick up a couple and recreate the bonds we had felt before, to expose the weaknesses they have and yet have us fully invested in them all over again. Sincere kudos to the author for accomplishing this. Very well done.

As this book is the third now in the series, we are blessed with another visit with Ray and Elliot, and I won’t say more…but, wow. Constantly surprising us with details and ideas seems to work very well for this author; presentation is everything is true. The book is full of accurate details which simply resonate with us; they give us a surety of location and the policing aspects of the book. The plot is extremely well crafted and flows smoothly from one scene to another. There is so much going on in the book that the pages just fly by, but we are never left hanging. The MCs are developed to a higher degree as their relationship is dissected and patched up by each of them. What we get is a true and balanced appreciation of just how much they have grown up and also how well they have grown together. The HEA they get at the end of this story is so deserved. The sense of elation I felt for them is usually reserved for real life couples.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I loved it. Certainly read the first two books in the series if you haven’t already, but do read this book. If you enjoy a mystery; if you enjoy a sexy romance; if you like to see the best man win; then read this book and be prepared to be wowed by this author. She is one of my all-time favorite authors, and this book has only served to strengthen my belief in her work.

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4.5 Stars, Cardeno C., Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Janet, Self-Published

Review: Johnnie by Cardeno C.

Title: Johnnie (Siphon: Book One)

Author: Cardeno C.

Publisher: The Romance Authors

Pages/Word Count: 224 Pages

At a Glance: Read this book if you like a shifter story, and enjoy the twist of a well written world delivered in its pages.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: A Premier lion shifter, Hugh Landry dedicates his life to leading the Berk pride with strength and confidence. Hundreds of people depend on Hugh for safety, success, and happiness. And at over a century old, with more power than can be contained in one body, Hugh relies on a Siphon lion shifter to carry his excess force.

When the Siphon endangers himself and therefore the pride, Hugh must pay attention to the man who has been his silent shadow for a decade. What he learns surprises him, but what he feels astounds him even more.

Two lions, each born to serve, rely on one another to survive. After years by each other’s side, they’ll finally realize the depth of their potential, the joy in their passion, and a connection their kind has never known.

Dividers

Review: Any book written by Cardeno C. is bound to be a pleasure, as I enjoy the aww factor that’s a part of every book written by this author. Johnnie is a shifter story that did not go in the direction I assumed it would. Just when I figured there wasn’t a fresh shifter story to be told, Cardeno C. came up with a beauty.

Although the story is told by Hugh, and is from his point-of-view, this book is about Johnnie—the who, what, and why of him is the basis of the story. There is some pretty decent world building done in this story too, to balance the information we are absorbing about the characters. In fact, the author is able to have me suspend disbelief very quickly and become invested in Johnnie’s welfare almost immediately. The yearning he has for an identity is easily seen by the reader, while Hugh struggled with the concept at a level that infuriated me. This is exactly how a good author creates a bond with the reader and the characters in their books. Reacting emotionally to words on a page is a gift for a reader, and having the talents and skills to constantly create these stories in fresh new ways is but one of the accomplishments at Cardeno C.’s disposal.

Creating a relationship that gives so much value to the characters is another. The growth of the strengths and abilities between the Premier and the Siphon is a reflection of the personal growth of their relationship. It’s that aww factor at work—the more you truly love and appreciate another, the stronger you are as an individual. This is the lesson of this story and is a favorite of the author. The “moral of the story” aspect of Cardeno C.’s books is another favorite part of reading them for me.

Read this book if you like a shifter story, and enjoy the twist of a well written world delivered in its pages. Read this book if you like a definite HEA, full of hope and a future full of joy. My only complaint is that the story was over far too soon. At just under 60,000 words it’s a full novel length, but the story was so good I would have liked it to be longer.

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5 Stars, Ashlyn Kane, Genre Romance, Morgan James, Reviewed by Janet

Review: Winging It by Ashlyn Kane and Morgan James

Title: Winging It

Author: Ashlyn Kane and Morgan James

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 300 Pages

At a Glance: From the terrific world building, the endearing characters and the solid plot and timelines, this book was simply so much more than I could have hoped for.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: Gabe Martin has a simple life plan: get into the NHL and win the Stanley Cup. It doesn’t include being the first out hockey player or, worse, getting involved with one of his teammates. But things change.

Dante Baltierra is Gabe’s polar opposite—careless, reckless… shameless. But his dedication to the sport is impressive, and Gabe can overlook a lot of young-and-stupid in the name of great hockey. And Dante has a superlative ass in a sport filled with superlative asses.

Before Gabe can figure out how to deal, a tabloid throws him out of his comfortable closet into a brand-new world. Amid the emotional turmoil of invasive questions, nasty speculation, and on- and off-ice homophobia, his game suffers.

Surprisingly, it’s Dante who drags him out of it—and then drags him into something else. Nothing good can come of secretly sleeping with a teammate, especially one Gabe has feelings for. But with their captain out with an injury, a rookie in perpetual need of a hug, and the race to make the playoffs for the first time since 1995, Gabe has a lot on his plate.

He can’t be blamed for forgetting that nothing stays secret forever.

Dividers

Review: This book was absolutely brilliant!! I loved it. The writing duo of Kane and James is producing stories that are technically perfect, full of humor and excitement, and guys you just can’t help falling in love with. I can see the progression to excellence through their writing history, as each book gets better than the last; a single voice for the pair, strong characters, and seamless plots that are really out there and so very original.

This particular book is about hockey, professional NHL hockey players, and coming out against that background of media frenzy and the politics of professional sports. It may sound strange, though, that I don’t think of it as a sports book, per se, as the characters are so well developed that the focus is on them, their emotions and reactions, so the hockey is just a backdrop, a part of them and their world, and this is made clear to the reader.

Let me state clearly that even though I am Canadian, I have never had a pair of ice skates on my feet, nor have I ever watched an entire hockey game, clips on the news being my only personal knowledge of the sport, and yet I got the book. Ashlyn Kane and Morgan James present all the knowledge any reader needs to enjoy the book fully. It is hockey 101, total immersion. Any and every detail is covered – from the chapter headings as periods of play, the glossary of terms and players for reference – all come together to create an experience for the reader.

Gabe and Dante are the MCs and getting to know them was a real treat. Watching them dance their way into a relationship was even better. The sex was hot and their awkwardness was sweet. Gabe’s obliviousness made me want to shake him sometimes, and Dante’s earnest determination made me so proud. The full cast of characters were so well developed that reality just resonated off the pages. Winging It is masterfully written, a completely engaging story from start to finish, and really, just writing this brings it all back and I want to read it again. From the terrific world building, the endearing characters and the solid plot and timelines, this book was simply so much more than I could have hoped for – I can’t recommend it highly enough. This is not simply a book, it is an experience, and you will love it.






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4 Stars, Amber Allure, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Janet, Toni Griffin

Review: Bryce’s Cop by Toni Griffin

Title: Bryce’s Cop (Hot Encounters: Book Two)

Author: Toni Griffin

Publisher: Amber Allure

Pages/Word Count: 92 Pages

At a Glance: This was a quick, fun read that was over all too soon.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: NOTE: This is a previously published work. The title, author, and/or publisher may have changed.

The last thing centuries-old vampire Bryce Denahli expects during a routine night at Hot Encounters is to get arrested. He’s even more surprised when the sexy, straight police detective turns out to be his mate. Bryce has been alone for a long time, and he doesn’t care what the law says about stalking…the man is his!

In all his life, Lucas Ford has never had romantic feelings towards a man. But after one meeting with a certain vampire, he can’t get the man out of his head. It doesn’t help that Bryce keeps showing up everywhere Lucas goes. Unable to fight the feelings, Lucas tracks down Bryce and puts the man’s life in danger with his actions.

With bodies piling up around the city due to rogue vampires moving in, the last thing Lucas needs is a complicated love life. Can Lucas reconcile his thoughts and feelings towards another man before it’s too late?

Dividers

Review: This was a relatively short novella that I wished were longer. I really enjoy this author’s voice and find it easy to suspend disbelief and drop into the vibrant worlds she creates.

This story is set in an alternate earth, where vampires and all sorts of creatures exist side by side with humans; although this is a recent development, as the paranormal were only exposed to the humans five years previously. Lucas is a cop who is investigating a series of attacks and murders involving rogue vampires. He is a straight man and not a relationship sort. He meets Bryce in the course of his investigations, and things do not get off on a good footing.

Toni Griffin writes with colorful language; we can easily picture the environment that a story is being told in. She also has an awesome sense of humor that comes through the book so well. One of my very favorite lines is at the end of Chapter One, when we have met all the characters and are getting a sense of where the story is going –“Bryce just groaned as he was walked outside and placed in the backseat of an unmarked police car. He was having a little trouble reconciling the fact that his mate had just arrested him.” Mates are still something relatively secret within the vampire community, and Luc doesn’t know what being a mate entails. Even though Luc is straight, he is very attracted to Bryce, so the learning curve as Luc adjusts to the idea of mates and the feeding process that is required is pretty huge. The entire situation is amusing and also kind of touching as a real relationship evolves between them. The sex is hot too.

This was a quick, fun read that was over all too soon. I am glad to see there are plans for two more books in this series, as I really want to spend more time in this world Toni Griffin has created and spend more time with the characters we met. It was great to get a glimpse of Freddie and Merrick again, and to see them from another POV. Overall, I am very impressed with the author’s world building skills and can’t wait to see more of it. Her characters are fully formed, solid people who I had a great time getting to know. I did find the ending very abrupt, though, as I was not ready for the book to be finished yet.






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4.5 Stars, Andrew Grey, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Janet

Review: Backward by Andrew Grey

Title: Backward

Author: Andrew Grey

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 200 Pages

At a Glance: Backward is a well-crafted addition to this series.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: Club owner Harry Klinger has had his eye on Tristan Martin for months, but never had the nerve to approach him. He’s watched as Tristan dated Eddie and then reluctantly sat on the sidelines during the emotional breakup when Tristan discovered Eddie was dealing drugs. Now that Tristan seems to be healing, Harry hopes to get his chance.

When Eddie sends his men into Harry’s club to harass Tristan, Harry steps in to help. Tristan is reluctant at first since he admittedly has terrible taste in men, but Harry seems genuine, and Tristan can’t help but think Harry’s sexy as well and begins to hope for happiness for both of them.

Unfortunately, Eddie isn’t behaving rationally, sampling too much of his own product. With his determination to take Tristan back, it’ll take more than Harry’s help to keep Tristan safe as Eddie ratchets up his attempts to get what he wants.

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Review: I had been looking forward to this book, as I had loved Inside Out and Upside Down, and was looking forward the conclusion to the series; so, I dived right into it. I was somewhat concerned when I hit the third chapter and hadn’t developed a real connection to the MCs. So I stopped and re-read the first two books again to refresh my memory about the characters, and then restarted Backward. For me, this was the only way to read and appreciate this book – I don’t feel it is a standalone book. There are a lot of character clues, and information or plotlines, that continue in the current book and are established in the first two books of the series.

Once I had myself prepared properly, I totally enjoyed Backward. Watching the tenderness that Harry displayed towards Tristan was sweet, and at odds to the brashness and reserve he regularly showed to the others. Although there is a kind of insta-love moment, we know this has been building for a long time. The guys have noticed each other, and admired each other, but hadn’t really spent time together until the events that happen in this book. There is a lot of intense drama in this story to tie up all the plotlines of the series, but Andrew Grey tempers that with real emotions shown by all the characters so it all flows seamlessly off the pages for our enjoyment. There did not seem to be any gratuitous actions either; the actions all played out realistically and were totally believable. I do like the way that the author shows us that love makes us all better people; that our true strength comes from loving ourselves and our own special person. I enjoy a story with a lesson built into it, and Andrew Grey does a remarkable job of presenting these morals in hopeful and endearing ways.

Backward is a well-crafted addition to this series, and it felt like a conclusion. The Fab Four has only one member left single, so there may be a story left to tell, but I am happy with the one I read, and I am sure others will be too. I do believe this is my favorite Andrew Grey series now; from the covers, to the concept, to the great characters he created, this entire series was very rewarding.






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5 Stars, Amy Jo Cousins, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Janet, Samhain Publishing

Review: Nothing Like Paris by Amy Jo Cousins

Title: Nothing Like Paris (Bend or Break: Book Two)

Author: Amy Jo Cousins

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 249 Pages

At a Glance: One of the strengths of this author is her character development skills; the guys are real, I could relate to them, and I loved joining them in this story.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: Humble pie wasn’t supposed to taste this sweet.

Jack Tarkington’s life is in the toilet. He was supposed to be spending his junior year studying someplace cool like Paris or Rome. Instead, after taking out his anger on the campus “golden boy”, whose dad ripped off his parents, Jack is facing possible expulsion.

Sure, it’s all his own fault, but coming back to the small Iowa town he thought he’d escaped, after crowing about his admission to a prestigious school, has been a humbling experience.

When he runs into Miguel, Jack braces for backlash over the way he lorded it over his old friend and flame. Instead, Miguel offers him friendship—and a job at his growing farm-to-table store and café.

Against the odds, both guys bond over broken dreams and find common ground in music. But when Jack’s college gives him a second chance, he’s torn between achieving a dream that will take him far from home, and a love that strikes a chord he’ll never find anywhere else.

Dividers

Review: This is the second story in the Bend or Break universe, written by a fairly new author. It delivered quite the punch, and Amy Jo Cousins should be very proud of her work, as I found the book to be gripping from start to finish, and couldn’t put it down. I had the good fortune to not have read the first book which meant that I had another book to dive into as soon as I finished this one, because I just had to see for myself the wrong that Jack had done.

What a novel concept to have an MC I was sure I shouldn’t like or feel sorry for, but liking him anyway. Really! I don’t usually have only one side of a story, as I am pretty careful to read related stories in order, so this was a totally new experience for me. Jack is quite the character too, and totally worth the mixed emotions I felt as I read this book. I also loved the fact that although these are college age guys, they are not boys fresh out of high school, so there was no squick factor for me as I read. The ritual of being a grown up and owning your actions is given a fresh look with these MCs. Jack and Mike are each from difficult families, difficult for very different reasons, and the way they achieve their independence is a powerful plot of the story. The relationship that was theirs all through high school, and where it will go in the future, is another. The steps they take in their dance towards a relationship again are equal parts sweet and tentative, with a good dash of hot thrown in.

I really enjoyed the pace and flow of this story. There were many storylines going on all the time, but nothing felt jumbled or off track. The love story and hope for the future built up throughout the story and really kept my focus for the entire book. The sex scenes were hot but not gratuitous, and really helped the reader to be more invested in the MCs’ lives. I really liked the humor the author has in her tone of voice while narrating this story; it invites the reader in as a sympathetic witness to the MCs’ struggles, while letting us giggle at some of the shenanigans they get up to.

This story is a standalone novel, even though it is based on events from the prior book. I had no issues with a lack of understanding, as the POVs are totally separate and the link between the novels is simply the college and crossover characters. One of the strengths of this author is her character development skills; the guys are real, I could relate to them, and I loved joining them in this story. The HEA the MCs earned, as well as the hope and excitement for their future, means this book will be a favorite reread for me – although I hope it won’t be too long of a wait for another book from this author. I really enjoy her work.






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4 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Kris T. Bethke, Reviewed by Janet

Review: Pumpkin Rolls and Porn Sounds by Kris T. Bethke

Title: Pumpkin Rolls and Porn Sounds

Author: Kris T. Bethke

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 52 Pages

At a Glance: Although I am not at all a fan of anything pumpkin in real life, I am definitely a fan of this story.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: Will Grant only attends the PFLAG meeting because his mother guilts him into it. But the instant he hears the night’s speaker, Will is glad he showed up. Joshua Rhinehardt is dynamic and engaging. Although Joshua isn’t physically Will’s type, Will can’t get the man out of his head.

Joshua may be comfortable in his own skin, but it isn’t often men like Will are attracted to him, and he’s not comfortable changing for someone else. He wants to make a life with Will, but his own insecurities keep getting in the way.

Will’s unwavering acceptance helps Joshua see that when two people connect, physical appearance just might not matter at all.

Dividers

Review: What a great title! This is a debut novella so I really had no idea what to expect when I opened this book, but the title grabbed my attention, so I was intrigued right away.

The first pages hooked me; great contrast between the characters – a bear and a twink – but both very confident gay men, with strong family support. Will’s parents are delightfully meddlesome and maneuver an introduction between them. What follows is a humorous and sweet story of building a relationship. Jason is reluctant to trust Will’s desire for him, and Will is almost as surprised to feel the attraction. There is conflict here, but it is not nasty or angry; it is the conflict of opposites and learning to appreciate the differences between each other, and trusting in the feelings of the other person.

I was pleased with the pace of the story – Jason’s insecurities are not instantly appeased – and the timeline of attraction, lust and love felt appropriate to the characters’ development. This story is told from Will’s point-of-view, and the author used this effectively to show the differences between Jason’s laid back style and Will’s much more fussy behavior without creating unnecessary drama, which I appreciated greatly. Bethke shows great world building skills, especially for a new author; each step of the story is housed in a realistic background that resonated well and was an easy part of the narrative that flowed smoothly throughout the book.

Although I am not at all a fan of anything pumpkin in real life, I am definitely a fan of this story. Kris T. Bethke’s voice is solid, and I am looking forward to reading more from her. If you are looking for a fun, spicy and slightly sweet story, with vibrant, real characters, then Pumpkin Rolls and Porn Sounds is definitely for you. It was a real pleasure to read.






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5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Mary Calmes, Reviewed by Janet

Review: Quiet Nights by Mary Calmes

Title: Quiet Nights: Mangrove Stories

Author: Mary Calmes

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 80 Pages

At a Glance: I loved Quiet Nights; it was an adventure and I enjoyed the way the plot unfolded.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: It’s a lovely little life Kelly Seaton leads. He’s got his own landscaping business, a nice little house, and his best friend, Cosimo Renaldi, and Coz’s goofball family who have adopted Kelly as their own. Sure, it’s a little lonely at night, but it’s a sweet deal, and Kelly can’t chance ruining it by letting on that he wants more—has always wanted more—with Coz.

Then Kelly’s past comes to town, bringing bad memories and hurt feelings that start to break Kelly down, and Coz just doesn’t understand why Kelly won’t let him be the support and strength that Kelly’s always been for him. They’ve already been through war, Coz’s devastating injury, and starting new careers in Mangrove, Florida. Why shouldn’t they face their chaotic pasts and build their future of quiet nights… together?

Dividers

Review: This is the second offering from Mary Calmes in the Mangrove series, and all I can say is keep them coming.

I expect brilliance from Calmes and yet I am awed by her ability to create the deep connections I feel towards her characters in so few pages. Usually in a novella we can see and relate to the MCs, but somehow Mary Calmes creates living, breathing secondary characters throughout this book who are equally as vivid as the MCs. The scene in Annalise’s kitchen is absolutely hilarious, but it is also a carefully crafted scene that allows the family dynamics and the core values of the characters to be revealed. This kind of depth added to the characters, with humour and clever conversations, is an example of the talent and skill that is a trademark of Mary Calmes. Her characters do not exist in a vacuum, but are surrounded by family and friends who are as real to us as the MCs are, and with this ability she has given the reader a story that can be enjoyed over and over again.

The plot is simple, the pace is quick, and the story was typically humorous. What elevates this book to awesome entertainment is the quality of world building that occurs, and the character development that rolls off the pages so smoothly and fills our minds with glorious colors, sounds and even textures. We are a part of the story and are fully invested in reaching the HEA with the guys. There is absolutely nothing better than reading a book that carries you away into its world and fills you with so very many emotions as well.

Even though this is a novella in a series, and we get to see a glimpse of the characters from Blue Days, this is still a standalone story. I loved Quiet Nights; it was an adventure and I enjoyed the way the plot unfolded. I also think it cemented the series as being full of possibilities, with a sneaky little plot monkey in the background. I really can’t wait for the next installment in the Mangrove series; I can only hope there are lots more stories to be told. If you haven’t read Blue Days, grab it along with Quiet Nights. You will not be disappointed.






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4 Stars, Diana DeRicci, Genre Romance, MLR Press, Reviewed by Janet

Review: Shadowboxing by Diana DeRicci

Title: Shadowboxing: Arbor Heights

Author: Diana DeRicci

Publisher: MLR Press

Pages/Word Count: 176 Pages

At a Glance: I simply enjoyed the book so much.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: Wayne Hightower has lived with a secret since he was a teenager. Debilitating to relationships, his condition stands in the way of his father’s ultimate expectation: Finding a woman to marry. Of course, if he could do that, he’d have the grandchildren his mother was craving. And everyone would be happy happy happy. Or so he’d been raised to believe. If he could find her. If he could get over his problem.

Ditched by his brother for their planned night of sibling bonding, Erich Villalobos invites Wayne out instead as a simple act of friendship. One night that throws Wayne into an environment he’d never been exposed to and revealing a playfully animated side of Wayne Erich had never imagined. One that he quickly learns he’s actually attracted to.

Secrets. Everyone has them. Wayne. Erich. Even Wayne’s parents. If Wayne’s brother Curtis were still alive, he could tell Wayne the cause of his condition and how to cure it. But dead men don’t talk.

Dividers

Review: I have enjoyed every one of Diana DeRicci’s books I’ve read so far, and I am pleased to add Shadowboxing to this list. She is an author who writes fun books with quirky characters that are well described and realistic, in whatever situation she places them. In this book we meet Wayne and Erick, co-workers who are friendly but have never socialized before. Erick sees Wayne just after he has been dumped by yet another girlfriend, and offers to take him out for a drink to commiserate. Erick takes him to a gay bar, and life takes a turn for the humorous.

I love the way DeRicci uses laughter to tell her stories. She creates laugh-out-loud situations which are tender lessons of discovery and personal growth so we, as readers, feel protective of the characters and are totally invested in their futures and hope they overcome the issues before them. Wayne is so closeted even he doesn’t know he is gay, and the author created a heartbreakingly awful family background to temper the sweetness of the growing relationship between him and Erick, as well as Wayne’s developing awareness of his orientation. I really enjoyed the drama of this story and the layered feelings that were created. The contrast between the easy falling into a relationship and pairing up that the characters do and their own rough backgrounds and personal histories adds depth to the story and resonated well for me.

I found this to be a fairly quick read, as I simply enjoyed the book so much. There were several plot lines that were explored throughout the story, and all of the parts fell into place at the conclusion. The background of Arbor Heights, the location of the story, is well built and easy to picture and a place I hope to see again in further books of the series. For me, Diana DeRicci is a trusted author of character driven love stories which always have a happy ending, and I was pleased to find Shadowboxing is another winner from this author.






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5 Stars, Amy Lane, DSP Publications, Reviewed by Janet, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: Vulnerable by Amy Lane

Title: Vulnerable (Little Goddess: Book One)

Author: Amy Lane

Publisher: DSP Publications

Pages/Word Count: 306 Pages

At a Glance: I strongly recommend you read this book, as I would hope it would please you as much as it did me.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: Working graveyards in a gas station seems a small price for Cory to pay to get her degree and get the hell out of her tiny town. She’s terrified of disappearing into the aimless masses of the lost and the young who haunt her neck of the woods. Until the night she actually stops looking at her books and looks up. What awaits her is a world she has only read about—one filled with fantastical creatures that she’s sure she could never be.

And then Adrian walks in, bearing a wealth of pain, an agonizing secret, and a hundred and fifty years with a lover he’s afraid she won’t understand. In one breathless kiss, her entire understanding of her own worth and destiny is turned completely upside down. When her newfound world explodes into violence and Adrian’s lover—and prince—walks into the picture, she’s forced to explore feelings and abilities she’s never dreamed of. The first thing she discovers is that love doesn’t fit into nice neat little boxes. The second thing is that risking your life is nothing compared to facing who you really are—and who you’ll kill to protect.

Dividers

Review: Vulnerable is the first book of the Little Goddess series, and is a re-edited release of the first book published by Amy Lane. When I first heard of this book almost two years ago, there was talk of maybe a re-release upcoming so I decided not to read it then. Instead, I read everything else she had ever written apart from the Green’s Hill books (except, accidentally, I Love You Asshole; it was too late after I bought it) and in the process, I became all about Amy Lane all the time. Really she has never disappointed me with a story of any length. I expect to read stories about amazing characters who are real and flawed, but hopeful and looking for love and redemption, and that’s what she delivers every time. In the process I may laugh, usually cry, but always experience a sense of awe at the sum total of emotions she can invoke within the covers of the book. All of this to say that I have now had the pleasure of reading Vulnerable for the first time, and Wow!!

I had wondered how this author would be able to build a fantasy world filled with elves, vampires, and assorted weres, and yet set it in the hills outside of Sacramento in a fashion that could be believable for me and which could sustain a series of five books . Not because of doubts about her skills in wordsmithery; but because she is simply so good at M/M, drama filled novels of a contemporary nature that I felt this was her strength. She did it by creating Green’s Hill, a blessed mound that houses all of the beings loyal to Green, an elf King, and Adrian, the vampire King who is his long-time lover and consort.

Cory is a student working the local gas station on the overnight shifts, and has been interacting with the residents of Green’s Hill for the past year without having any idea of who all her customers have really been. Until one night a regular customer awakens something inside of her with a touch, and she is soon seeing all of the supernatural beings around her as they really are – minus their glamour. And that was it for me – the connection had been made: There were people to meet and places to see, battles to be fought and creatures to protect. I was on a path of discovery and a part of the magic that was unfolding before my eyes.

World building is a necessity for any book but is the major requirement for a book about supernatural beings, and when you are placing them in a split real-world situation, then you need to have an even stronger talent for merging these realities smoothly to hold the attention of the reader in the present as the book is narrated. There were moments in this book that were so vividly described I actually had to close my eyes and digest all of the images Amy’s words inspired. The morning in the grove that grew from the joining of the three of them was intense, and I needed time to picture the majesty created, and the trees, with their images molded into them, are still shimmering in my head. So many images feel real that even the memories of Adrian’s torture as a young man, prior to becoming a vampire, is indeed a testament to the skills Amy Lane has had from the very start.

As an opening book in a series, there are a lot of details being layered into the background of the story, but I never felt a lack of connection to the characters due to this. They were always clearly identified in whatever they were doing, either as a narrator of a chapter or as the actors in the scene taking place on the page. Amy Lane introduces us to many of the characters we will see in future books, but she still managed to kill off a few in Vulnerable, which just about killed me too. Who does this? Makes me love a character, then promptly kills him? I can’t wait for the next book, sincerely can’t wait.

The only other thing I can add is I strongly recommend you read this book, as I would hope it would please you as much as it did me. It will give you hours of enjoyment, and there is the promise of more as the rest of the series unfolds.






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5 Stars, Eli Easton, Paranormal Romance, Pinkerton Road, Reviewed by Janet

Review: How to Howl at the Moon by Eli Easton

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Title: How to Howl at the Moon

Author: Eli Easton

Publisher: Pinkerton Road

Pages/Word Count: 196 Pages

At a Glance: How to Howl at the Moon is a book you should read.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: Sheriff Lance Beaufort is not going to let trouble into his town, no sir. Tucked away in the California mountains, Mad Creek has secrets to keep, like the fact that half the town consists of ‘quickened’—dogs who have gained the ability to become human. Descended on both sides from Border Collies, Lance is as alert a guardian as they come.

Tim Weston is looking for a safe haven. After learning that his boss patented all of Tim’s work on vegetable hybrids in his own name, Tim quit his old job. A client offers him use of her cabin in Mad Creek, and Tim sees a chance for a new start. But the shy gardener has a way of fumbling and sounding like a liar around strangers, particularly gorgeous alpha men like Sheriff Beaufort.

Lance’s hackles are definitely raised by the lanky young stranger. He’s concerned about marijuana growers moving into Mad Creek, and he’s not satisfied with the boy’s story. Lance decides a bit of undercover work is called for. When Tim hits a beautiful black collie with his car and adopts the dog, its love at first sight for both Tim and Lance’s inner dog. Pretending to be a pet is about to get Sheriff Beaufort in very hot water.

Dividers

Review: Once again Eli Easton has nailed it. She has written a humorous story about shifters that is sweet, and has a little bit of a mystery woven into it, but that has a major twist – the shifters are dogs!

Lance is the alpha of the pack in Mad Creek. He is also the Sheriff of the small town where the pack makes its home, and he takes all of his responsibilities very seriously. Tim is human; he has had a hard life and has run away to Mad Creek to try to rebuild his life. He has a home there for 6 months in exchange for trying to grow a hybrid rose no one has ever developed before. He has strong hopes but little money, and needs the haven Mad Creek provides.

I am so grateful that the M/M genre has grown so much in recent years to allow authors like Eli Easton a home here – talented romantic comedy writers are few and far between. And talent is the operative word here. Eli Easton has written a shifter comedy, without farce but with plenty of pratfalls, in such a way that her love of dogs is obvious; she uses her knowledge of the characteristics of different breeds to create the characters in this book. It is done in a way that both pokes fun at the shifter genre, but also allows for a truly fun bunch of characters that we are able to be invested in and enjoy.

Eli Easton is a technically perfect author. Her plot flows well, with no stumbles or holes. The story and the relationships grow with conflicts and resolutions, and the character are well built and fully developed. They are believable, as is the world she builds for them in Mad Creek. This is all absorbed by the reader and because the base is so solid, she is able to direct the focus of the book to the story itself; the “aw” moments and the smiles and outright laughing we do are a result of these skills, and reflect the feelings her words invoke in us.

How to Howl at the Moon is a book you should read. It is a well written, fun book. It will capture your attention and hold it firmly until the last page, although you will probably smile at random memories for a few days after you have read it, because that is another skill that this author has – her words stay with you, and just seeing the cover of the book on my kindle makes me smile still weeks later. This story has cemented Eli Easton as an auto-buy author for me. I loved this book. I could not put it down until I had read it all the way to the end, and I enjoyed every moment. I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next!






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4 Stars, Draven St. James, Loose Id, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Janet

Review: Wolf’s Sacrifice by Draven St. James

Title: Wolf’s Sacrifice (Pack of Light: Book Two)

Author: Draven St. James

Publisher: Loose Id

Pages/Word Count: 154 Pages

At a Glance: Overall, I would say this was a fun book with some great characters.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: Sean Maddox has one basic goal: to protect the Northwest Pack. That priority helps him stay grounded–until the day the pack rescues Liam. Suddenly Sean is finding any excuse to be around the sweet, blind shifter. But trying to focus his thoughts on keeping Liam safe and not exploring the whole laundry list of carnal fantasies he’s been having is anything but grounding. It doesn’t help that Sean’s wolf makes it damn clear it believes Liam belongs to him.

From the first deep breath of Sean Maddox’s intoxicating scent, all Liam wants to do is strip naked for the sexy beta and let the wolf claim him. Hiding away his desires seems like the best plan, given after a lifetime in captivity Liam is just learning what it means to be free. What does he know about being a mate? More to the point, would Sean even want him if he knew the truth?

As Sean and Liam struggle with their growing craving for each other an old enemy steps out of the shadows. With secrets lurking and fate twisting two worlds together a sacrifice must be made, but can the two mates live with the consequences?

Dividers

Review: This is the second book in a series about the Northwest Pack. They are shapeshifting wolves who, in the first book, were able to rescue a couple of shifters who had been held captive, and were tortured and being experimented on. A deranged Alpha shifter and his bunch of crazy scientists created these hybrid shifters by cross breeding regular shifters with enslaved females of the Pack of Light, an extraordinary and rare pack with extra senses and abilities.

Sean is the Beta for the Northwest Pack and as such, he is very concerned for the safety and wellbeing of the members of the pack, and for the pack as a whole. Liam is frail and blind from the abuse he suffered in captivity so at first, Sean believes he is drawn to him due to the weakness he perceives. Liam has no scent, so Sean is unaware that Liam is his mate, but Liam knows and tries to avoid him as he has a secret he doesn’t want Sean to know and, in fact, he doesn’t want a mate at all. Emma is the pack healer and is a member of the Pack of Light as well, although she hides this information from most of the pack, for their safety. She treats Liam and keeps his secret with her own for as long as she can.

The Alpha is still hunting Liam and his brother, though, so there are a lot of safety concerns to keep Sean and his enforcers busy, and allow Liam to make his sacrifice and do what he can to help the pack. St. James clearly has more stories to be told in this series, and this book drops hints to future stories while the action takes place. More shifters are rescued from another testing installation while rescuing Liam again, and we discover that there are many more types of shifters and others in this world as well.

There wasn’t a lot of gratuitous sex in this book, it was hot and sweet as befitting the virginal status of Liam, and it grew even hotter at the end of the book as Liam heals and claims his mate. This book was an easy read as the author juggled all of the plotlines very well, never dropping them, and holding a few on standby for possible future stories. Overall, I would say this was a fun book with some great characters, and I will look forward to the next installment in the series. It can be read as a standalone, but I would recommend reading Scent of a Wolf first, for added enjoyment of the characters and their interactions.






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5 Stars, Drama, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Lucy Marker, Reviewed by Janet

Review: Broken Mercies by Lucy Marker

Title: Broken Mercies

Author: Lucy Marker

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 200 Pages

At a Glance: Broken Mercies is a book that held me in thrall from start to finish.

Reviewed By: Janet

Blurb: Musician Daniel Gilchrist has decided he’s broken.

He doesn’t deserve Jeremy Evans, a sensible, sweet artist who insists they belong together. Bad choices after a hellish childhood make Dan more suited to guys like his ex-lover, a toxic mega-star who wants to resume their affair.

But Jeremy is irresistible, and he’s survived a few nightmares of his own. He challenges Dan to get rid of the false shame imposed by his mentally ill mother. Her twisted zealotry had influenced his choices, and it’s time to stop blaming himself for inadequately protecting his little sisters from her cruelty.

While Dan wrestles with old guilt, his former lover persuades him to collaborate on a song that protests religious bigotry. Dan grows suspicious of the star’s odd behavior, and then law enforcement shows up.

That clinches it—Dan really isn’t good enough for Jeremy. Somehow he’s managed to drag the poor guy into danger.

Dividers

Review: I loved this book, but I cannot say I enjoyed reading it. Lucy Marker has written a book that is very painful to read. Mental illness, abuse, and addiction are just a few of the themes in this story; add in religious angst and hate crimes, and you can easily see why this might not be an easy book to read.

Dan and Jeremy, though, they are a wonderful couple and we instantly want a future for them. Dan is a musician/songwriter and feels in sound and lyrics. Jeremy is an artist with paint and color and sees things so differently from Dan. They are drawn to each other and share strength and wisdom from their different perspectives to build up each other throughout the story. They are so good for each other that we can’t help but wish them well, and feel for all their stumbles.

The skill that Lucy Marker has to capture the reader is really quite phenomenal. There are so many truly ugly details of the MCs’ history that we learn, but they themselves are never ugly. We completely empathise with them because they are firmly aware of their personal responsibility for their addiction, and are sincerely trying to overcome it and move ahead in life. Each character in this tale is given so much depth; built in layers of history and interactions between the MCs, and it enriches the experience of the reader very much.

Broken Mercies is a book that held me in thrall from start to finish. I could not put it down; there were no gaps or pauses in the flow that would allow it. I felt completely wrung out at the end of the book; so many emotions had been tugged at and drawn upon throughout the story. This is a book that I will read again, but only after time has passed, as the hangover lasted for weeks and random comments or phrases that I heard in the days after I finished it sparked flashbacks to different scenes in the book. BUT, and this is a big but, there is so much hope and love and determination in this story that even though I was exhausted, I was smiling. The HEA that Dan and Jeremy earn is so believable and well written that I was thrilled for them. The journey may have been hard to read but the ending was exactly right. I couldn’t have been happier with the author.

Broken Mercies is an excellent book and well worth any tears that may fall.






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