4.5 Stars, Genre Romance, Historical Romance, Kate McMurray, Paranormal, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Review: Across the East River Bridge by Kate McMurray

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Title: Across the East River Bridge (2nd Edition)

Author: Kate McMurray

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 239 Pages

At a Glance: Across the East River Bridge, in its second go-round, is every bit as good now as it was in its original release.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: When historian Christopher Finnegan walks into a new museum in Brooklyn, he’s chagrined to learn its curator is his old academic rival, Troy Rafferty. Worse, Troy is convinced the museum is haunted and wants Finn’s help learning more about the ghosts. Finn and Troy have never gotten along and Finn wants to run screaming, but then Troy offers him an intriguing proposal: Troy will help Finn with a research project for his overbearing boss if Finn will help Troy solve a mystery involving two men who died in the building under mysterious circumstances in 1878.

Finn and Troy piece together the two men’s lives–and the quiet romance that grew between them–through diaries, newspaper clippings, and police reports. They’re both soon convinced the men were murdered. They’re also convinced the ghosts are real even Finn witnesses paranormal phenomena he can’t deny–and that they’re capable of affecting thoughts, feelings, and actions. When Finn and Troy start falling for each other despite years of animosity, Finn worries he’s being manipulated by the ghosts to stay with Troy and solve the case. Troy is convinced the love between them is real, but he’ll need to figure out how to get rid of the ghosts in order to prove it.

Dividers

Review: I first read Kate McMurray’s Across the East River Bridge back in September of 2012. A few years and more than a few hundred books later, when I chose to review it in its second edition release, I’ll confess that while I had the plot basics down, I clearly had forgotten some of the finer details that made it such a fantastic read—both the first time and now, the second. This book is many things rolled into one: an enemies-to-lovers story, a contemporary romance, a historical romance, a tragic romance, and then, to top it all off, there’s a paranormal mystery dating back to the 1870s that this author managed to finesse into a touching and sometimes intense read.

McMurray leads us into the story in modern day Brooklyn, where we learn that Christopher “Finn” Finnegan and Troy Rafferty have a history of their own—rivals from their college days, Finn has spent more than a decade loathing golden boy Troy for sabotaging his academic career by discrediting his dissertation research, which then resulted in Finn’s funding being pulled. Amongst the animosity that Finn still feels toward Troy all these years later is an undercurrent of sexual tension that’s been there between them from the start. And, added to it, there’s an intense frustration that Finn is still attracted to someone he hates so thoroughly—or tries to hate so thoroughly, at least. The setup for them working together, then, is a great foundation for the conflicted feelings Finn has throughout the book—how can he hate Troy and still want him so intensely? And how can Finn look inward in any sort of honest and rational way and continue to blame Troy for his failings? I have to say I felt a lot of frustration myself toward Finn throughout this book. His stubbornness and scapegoating of Troy makes it hard to excuse some of Finn’s actions and reactions, but a lot of that for me is because Kate McMurray makes Troy such a likeable and charming character. Where Troy may be intended to be Finn’s foil, it actually worked the other way around, and I liked the turning of the tables.

Where the author infuses this book with a terrible poignancy is in the historical research Finn and Troy delve into to uncover the mystery of Brill House, the museum of which Troy is now curator. There is a ghostly presence or two in Brill House that seems to lead directly to one-time owner Theodore Brill, and a border who eventually became Teddy’s lover, George Washington Cutler. Their story, of course, carries with it all the ingrained difficulties of the time in which these two men lived and loved. As Troy and Finn continue their investigation into Teddy and Wash’s deaths—an apparent murder/suicide—they uncover more questions than answers about the way in which the couple died. And, in the process, begin to agitate the spirits of the deceased as the ghosts become desperate for the truth of their deaths to be revealed. I 100% loved this aspect of the novel, not only from an emotional standpoint but from a writing standpoint as well. As Finn and Troy get closer to the truth, the more the tension and suspense escalate, and once the storyline reaches its climax, it plays out in true page-turner fashion.

Troy and Finn’s interactions throughout the story are part antagonistic, part full-on sexual, and their relationship builds from that as well as the eventual realization on Finn’s part that he’s going to have to give up the ghost, so to speak, and stop trying to make Troy the enemy. As feelings change and begin to look a lot like two men falling in love, the underlying question they can’t answer for sure is, how much is this metaphysical mystery manipulating them and their emotions. Finn’s not only skeptical about nearly every aspect of Troy’s theories on what happened to Teddy and Wash, but he’s so busy hanging on to the past that he can’t see what a great future Troy’s offering him, and I liked how these relationships contrasted—we see what a gift it is for Troy and Finn to be able to live together openly, a luxury that Teddy and Wash didn’t have. And, it may well have cost them their lives.

Across the East River Bridge, in its second go-round, is every bit as good now as it was in its original release. Whether you’ve read it before, or are considering reading it for the first time, I can say it’s a solid story that comes highly recommended.

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5 Stars, Bey Deckard, Holiday Romance, M/M/M and More, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Review: Careened: Winter Solstice in Madierus by Bey Deckard

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Title: Careened: Winter Solstice in Madierus (Baal’s Heart 3.5)

Author: Bey Deckard

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 43 Pages

At a Glance: I loved this savory and sweet little morsel.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: A Baal’s Heart short, following the events in Fated: Blood and Redemption

Plagued by terrible dreams, Jon begins to distance himself from Baltsaros and Tom. Perhaps a little holiday cheer is just the thing to help the three of them find common ground again.

Dividers

Review: Well, this is a first. I never thought I’d use the words “sweet” and “Bey Deckard” together in a review, but here I am doing that very thing. Never say never…

Careened directly follows the events in this series’ Fated: Blood and Redemption, so if you’ve not read book three yet, this short holiday novella may not pack quite the same punch for you as it would knowing the full scope of events in that novel. Of course, though I say this story has a tinge of the sweet to it, it also offers just that much of the bitter to remind you that the alternate universe Captain Baltsaros, Tom, and Jon inhabit isn’t one without its dangers and grief and pain.

Jon is in a bad way after what happened to him in Sormaheine, the dark shadows of anger and regret following him through his days and nights as he tries to drink away the memories that dog him…though he can’t escape his sub-conscious and the nightmares that manipulate his thoughts and drive his depression. This is where the bitter tempers the sweet in this story, complements the storyline without overwhelming, and, in the end, makes the turnabout that much more satisfying.

Writing a convincing threesome is exactly what Bey Deckard has done. Believing in this threesome and the dynamics of that relationship is exactly what readers of this series are able to do because this author has created three men who just work, plain and simple, in spite of the challenges thrown their way. Crafting this short story to coincide with this verse’s version of a winter holiday is the perfect scenario to offer healing to Jon and begin a mending of the relationship between him and Baltsaros. There was, without a doubt, some truly romantic gestures in Careened, and, as has been the case all along, a Baal’s Heart book wouldn’t be a Baal’s Heart book without a wildly sexy scene or two to watch these three connect and command and show readers the bond they share.

I loved this savory and sweet little morsel. What a great interlude with these characters at a wonderful time of the year.

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4 Stars, Holiday Romance, JMS Books LLC, John Amory, Reviewed by Lisa

Review: It’s a Wonderful Afterlife by John Amory

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Title: It’s a Wonderful Afterlife

Author: John Amory

Publisher: JMS Books LLC

Pages/Word Count: 25 Pages

At a Glance: It’s a Wonderful Afterlife is a short, sweet and to the point story with a magical twist that, brief though it is, packs an emotional punch.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Workaholic Logan rests only one day of the year: Christmas Day, and then only because when he tried to open his coffee shop on that day once and no one showed up. Ever since his parents died on Christmas Eve over ten years ago, Logan keeps busy to keep his feelings at bay and keep people at a distance, even going so far as to ignore his younger brother’s invitation to spend the holiday together.

But a car accident and a Christmas Eve encounter with a mysterious stranger named Michael, which may or may not be a dream, will change the way Logan sees his past, his present, and his future.

Dividers

Review: Logan doesn’t have a wonderful life. In fact, he doesn’t have much of a life at all. He works, he goes home, he sleeps, he wakes up, and repeats the cycle on a continual loop. He’d do it 365 days a year were it not for the fact that the one year he tried opening his café on Christmas Day, he had no customers.

Logan is alone by choice, estranged from his younger brother—avoiding him, more to the point, working his life away and existing in a state of perpetual grief. Christmas is not a great time of the year for Logan, to say the least, and when we meet him, he’s driving home from work, yet again, on a dismal Christmas Eve.

John Amory does a splendid job of painting a visual of Logan, the man who brushes up against the same people every day but never bothers to make personal connections. He’s the archetypical loaner—the man you know will one day look back on his life and see the trail of regrets he’s left behind, a man who’s in dire need of a chance to turn his life around before it’s too late. Logan is in the process of rejecting yet another invitation from his brother Dave to come spend the holiday with him and his girlfriend, Tia, when a sudden turn of events sets the course for this touching little story filled with the magic of Christmas.

In the film It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey makes a wish. He wishes he’d never been born, and when that wish is fulfilled, he gets to experience the fallout firsthand, and subsequently is able to understand how beautiful the world with him in it truly is. In this short story, Amory puts his own twist on the second chance trope by showing Logan a significant moment from his childhood through his adult eyes, a past event filled with all the pain and sadness that’s brought him to this point in his life. And eventually, with the help of something a little supernatural, Logan is gifted with the opportunity to see it is indeed a wonderful life—even if life isn’t always wonderful.

It’s a Wonderful Afterlife offers a poignant look at one man’s salvation. It’s a short, sweet and to the point story with a magical twist that, brief though it is, packs an emotional punch.

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3 Stars, Ceci Thornton, Paranormal, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Lisa, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Self-Published

Review: Saved by the Shifter by Ceci Thornton

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Title: Saved by the Shifter

Author: Ceci Thornton

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 212 Pages

At a Glance: In spite of some niggles here and there, the action sequences in Saved by the Shifter made for some suspenseful reading.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Nate Palmer is desperate enough to try anything to find his missing niece…

Nate has cared for his niece Beth since she was a baby, and now the sixteen-year old has disappeared without a word. The only clue he has is a letter she left behind from her birth mother. He’d do anything to find her, even if it means turning to a down-on-his-luck private investigator working out of a store front in a strip mall—one with the ability to sniff out more clues.

Dexter Armstrong is a lone wolf looking to use his tracking skills to do some good…

Dexter had a pack once, but left, disgusted by their lack of appreciation for their gift. But business is bad and his roof is leaking. He’s just about ready to throw in the towel on that lonely life when Nate walks in the door, looking helpless and smelling delectable.

Together they will travel to the seediest parts of LA

Even as he’s focused on finding his niece, Nate can’t help but be drawn to Dexter’s powerful dominance. And Dexter becomes more and more certain that Nate’s his fated mate. Can their attraction survive the reveal of Dexter’s true nature? And can they both survive the supernatural perils that they will face in their quest to find Beth—and to find the kind of love and family both have been dreaming of?

Dividers

Review: When Nate Palmer’s older brother, Craig, was busted for selling drugs to an off-duty cop and sent to prison, Nate became sole caretaker of his niece Beth. Beth’s mother isn’t in the picture any longer, having fled to parts unknown years before, so Nate truly is Beth’s only hope at a normal life—and they’d gotten along well, too, until Beth hit the terrible teens. Now Beth has gone missing, Nate is beside himself with worry and fear, and his one hope of finding his niece and getting her back home safely seems to be Private Investigator Dexter Armstrong.

That’s the quick setup for Ceci Thornton’s Saved by the Shifter, a novel that taps into the shifter bonding trope, albeit only shallowly, to bring Nate and Dexter together as partners in sex as well as in tracking down Nate’s niece. As I’ve said any number of times before, sometimes the device works for me, sometimes it doesn’t. A lot depends on how well the author convinces me, after that initial spark of lust has struck, that the two guys have what it takes to be a couple. I liked Dexter and Nate, and though I had some quibbles over their initial meeting and the lack of exploration in what they have in common other than lust, the fact they go through hell and back with each other did help to make the bond somewhat more believable. There’s something to be said for not only going into battle together but then surviving.

While Saved by the Shifter is categorized as a Mystery, I have to say I felt Dexter’s role as a PI was pretty well in title only, made so by the simple lack of a true mystery in this plot. We don’t have to wait long to discover what happened to Beth, and Dexter isn’t even the one who searched for the clues to track her down, so we don’t get to see him at work much in that role. The information on Beth’s whereabouts is effectively dumped in his lap, which I felt was a bit of a let-down as I’d prepped myself for a good missing person investigation, but once I understood the storyline was more Urban Fantasy than an all-out Mystery, the positive becomes the author’s ability to write a tense and suspenseful action scene. Of course, Dexter’s shifter half comes in handy along the way too, as he’s fairly certain of the danger Beth is in before it’s confirmed, so that added to the tension in the storyline and made for some excitement during the book’s climactic scene.

There are several things that, overall, I felt could have been explored in greater detail in this book, much of it revolving around Dexter as a character. I think the potential for him to be more interesting and layered was missed in the lack of background details about him—we get a few facts, but to make him more interesting, knowing where he came from, who he came from, what he came from, what shifter mythology inspired his character, would have gone a long way to building interest in him as a supernatural character for me. Essentially, we get no world-building to speak of (which left me with some distracting questions during Beth’s rescue), and even more confusing for me, was a group of shifters that materialized and disappeared from the story and left me scratching my head—one moment they appear threatening, the next, they were there to cover Dexter’s back. There’s a history there that most definitely was missing, and I’d have loved to know more of it—why they were antagonists one moment, saviors the next. And while I’m on the subject of characters, here, I will say I liked the sweet reunion between Nate and Beth, and felt the affection between them was genuine and well portrayed.

In the end, though I feel the book could have used some more exposition, I liked Saved by the Shifter for what it was—a vehicle to bring two likable men together to form their own little pack.

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5 Stars, Annabelle Jacobs, Dreamspinner Press, Freebie, Holiday Romance, Reviewed by Lisa, Short Story

Release Day Review: A Serious Thing by Annabelle Jacobs

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Title: A Serious Thing (Will & Patrick: Book 1.5)

Author: Annabelle Jacobs

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 36 Pages

At a Glance: Annabelle Jacobs gives readers a sweet and FREE holiday treat.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Patrick has a plan, and he’ll go to great lengths to see it through.
After three weeks apart due to work and school commitments, he and Will are finally getting to spend some time together. Patrick is staying with Will over the Christmas holidays, and he intends to tell him how he feels on Christmas Day. It’s going to be perfect.
But of course, Patrick’s plans don’t always go smoothly….

Dividers

Review: For those of us who fell in love with Patrick and Will in Annabelle Jacobs’ A Curious Thing, this sweet little Christmas vignette, A Serious Thing, is the perfect follow up to the story that left us with their happy-for-now-ish ending.

Patrick is so near to completing school, and he and Will have had to make do with weekends together, but life in general and Will’s obligations have kept them apart for three weeks now, and Christmas is just around the corner. Patrick has plans to make this holiday a special one for both Will and himself, but there’s a trick to the timing of it that Will not understanding may make things tricky for Patrick to pull off. The chemistry between these two guys is still white hot, and Jacobs doesn’t bother to keep readers in suspense, waiting for the sparks to fly between them. That’s the beauty of the short story, though—the instant gratification—especially when we already know the characters, and let me tell you, Patrick and Will burn up these pages in such a delicious way.

Ben, the best brother ever to Patrick—not to mention, the best friend ever to Will—also shows up again to be supportive and generally awesome too. Bottom line here is that this short story is wonderful, beginning to end, but I wouldn’t recommend reading it as a standalone. Get to know these guys in A Curious Thing first, and while you’re at it, you can grab this freebie as a sweet bonus holiday treat.

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4 Stars, Clare London, Holiday Romance, Jocular Press, Reviewed by Lisa

Review: Nice and Snow by Clare London

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Title: Nice and Snow (With a Kick: Book Six)

Author: Clare London

Publisher: Jocular Press

Pages/Word Count: 43 Pages

At a Glance: Nuri and Eddy are still just that lovable.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Nuri’s expecting a quiet Christmas, driving his cab, doing some studying, enjoying good food and drink – and devoting some serious loving to boyfriend Eduardo. Occasionally he misses his homeland of Turkey, but he’s content to share the London celebrations with Eddy.

But what with Eddy’s distress over his new role at the local comedy club, interference in their love life from Nuri’s irrepressible brothers, a disturbing number of costumed Santas on the street, the dangerous slush on the roads, and then the portly, bearded man dressed in red, in need of an urgent cab ride…

It doesn’t look like things will be that quiet after all!

Dividers

Review: Nuri and Eduardo first met in With a Kick, a book that oozed an excess of charm and wit, and now Clare London has brought them back in the excessively adorable and heartwarming Christmas short Nice and Snow, reminding me why I’d warmed up to this couple so well in the first place. Some of it, no doubt, has to do with Nuri’s family—in this case, his brothers—but there’s also no arguing that a lot of it has to do with this author’s sense of humor and, of course, then it doesn’t hurt that Nuri and Eddy are still just that lovable.

Eddy feels the same way about all the pseudo-Santas larking about the city as most people feel about clowns. But this time of the year, they’re near impossible to avoid—seems Eddy couldn’t swing a reindeer by the tale without hitting one of those jolly faux elves. As for our dear Nuri, this holiday season has brought on a bout of nostalgia for his childhood in Turkey, and the memories the two men share with each other are what make this story just that little bit extra special. That, and the fact they pick up a rather unusual fare in Nuri’s cab. Their passenger is an interesting man, to say the very least. But then, what would the holidays be without a touch of magic to make the season bright?

And what would a holiday romance be without a completely heartwarming ending? London deftly delivers that too, for this charming couple who maybe, in theory, shouldn’t work because they’re both so different, but do because they’re both so warm and wonderful.

If you haven’t read With a Kick, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend reading Nice and Snow as a standalone, but I can most definitely recommend getting to know Nuri and Eddy, so now’s as good a time as any to catch up on their story while you’re cuddled under a blanket on a chilly winter weekend.

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5 Stars, JP Kenwood, Literary Fiction, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Review: Games of Rome by JP Kenwood

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Title: Games of Rome (Dominus: Book Two)

Author: JP Kenwood

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 339 Pages

At a Glance: If you love a plotty and well written historical with plenty of intrigue and interesting characters, I can’t recommend this series enough.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: In this sequel to Dominus, Gaius Fabius Rufus, the victorious general of Rome’s brutal Dacian Wars, finds his loyalties and his affections pulled in different directions. Should he return to Rome and secure his claim to the imperial throne, or remain at his seaside villa and protect his pleasure slave, the fierce Dacian prince, Allerix? Retaliation for the murder of his beloved friend beckons him home, but his desire for justice could put both him and Allerix in mortal danger. As Gaius’s deceptions multiply, another tragedy strikes. Will the Lion of the Lucky IV Legion be forced to sacrifice his besotted heart to achieve his aspirations for supreme power?

Every moment since Allerix’s violent capture has tested the young prince’s fortitude and cunning. If he can kill the triumphant emperor who decimated his Dacian nation, revenge and immortality will be his glorious, everlasting rewards. But to realize his scheme for vengeance, he must deceive the Roman master whose body he lusts, the handsome, arrogant man whom he has grown to adore and admire. Can two former enemies—the conqueror and the conquered—find trust and true love, or are the consequences of war destined to tear them apart? Can Gaius and Allerix survive the perilous games of Rome?

Dominus is a plot-packed erotic m/m fantasy set in ancient Rome during the reign of Emperor Trajan (AD 98-117). Games of Rome is the second book in this alternative history saga—a tumultuous journey of forbidden love, humor, sex, friendship, political intrigue, deception, and murder.

Dividers

Review: I love when a book meets every one of my expectations. I love even more when a book exceeds them, and JP Kenwood’s Games of Rome does just that in every way. I was so impressed by the author’s Dominus, and now, that book’s sequel has proven Kenwood’s talent for solid storytelling, building beautiful settings, offering the perfect amount of historical context, creating engaging and layered characters, and tapping into readers’ emotions. I don’t mind admitting this book wrung a few tears from me either. When an author can accomplish that, forming those sorts of attachments between reader and characters, it makes the reading all the more rewarding.

Gaius Fabius Rufus, the Lion of the Lucky Fourth, is many things–Commander, war hero, husband, master, and friend and former lover of Lucius Petronius. Where this book exceeded my expectations is not only that the historical setting is portrayed in such a way that grounds the reader in what feels like an authentic Ancient Rome, but that the book also is a compelling mystery–both in the past and in modern day Rome. Lucius’s murder becomes a central focus of Games of Rome as we watch Gaius grieve, promise retribution, seek absolution while often seeming a walking contradiction–warm and tender one moment, cold and commanding the next, charming and sometimes cruel. Gaius is nothing if not a mercurial man whose arrogance seems to know no bounds–if I’m being honest, he isn’t always easy to like–but is tempered by that ability to charm. Where the book offers a bit of the unexpected, however, is in its supernatural elements. This was so unexpected that I wasn’t certain how I felt about it at first, but it was woven into the storyline in such a way that became integral to the plot, and now I can’t imagine how the story would have been better without it. As for the modern day mystery, this is being teased out in the tiniest of morsels, and this installment has only served to pique my interest even more. Archeology uncovers its share of secrets from the past, though it doesn’t always provide answers. There are definitely more questions than answers right now surrounding the pair of skeletons discovered at a dig site, and I haven’t a clue what JP Kenwood will reveal in further storylines. All I know for sure is that the author baited that hook and I’m hanging on gladly.

From the Emperor to clients to slaves, Gaius has a life filled with a variety of diverse people and experiences, all entrenched in the Ancient Roman culture and portrayed beautifully in these books. I don’t know much about this historical period but can say Kenwood seems to have not only an interest in but an affinity for the era. Ancient Rome dominated, it was the seat of some of the world’s most impressive art and architecture, and the Romans were responsible for many advancements in civilization at the time, but, to our sensibilities, it was also a barbaric time in which people sat in arenas and watched prisoners of war be eaten for sport. Slavery was commonplace – both household servants and pleasure slaves, male and female, owned by both Gaius and his wife, Marcia – and these books feature several prominent slaves in key roles. Sex, for Gauis, is a near sport in itself, where he can display his prowess and dominance and, with one slave in particular, his benevolence, and those moments of contradictory cruel tenderness come to the fore. Alle, a Dacian prince, war prize, and now, Gaius’s most prized possession, has captured his Dominus’s heart and has added another dimension of intrigue to the plot. Their relationship is fraught with complications and questions and potential hazards. Can either of these men manage not to betray each other? I can hardly see how it will be avoided and am anxious to see how their relationship progresses.

One of the more interesting characteristics of this series is Gaius’s marriage, as well as the social contradiction of men having sex with other men. There is no expectation of monogamy in the marriage as is certainly portrayed on Gaius’s part; nor is bisexuality strictly taboo. It was, however, unacceptable for men to engage in a sexual relationship with a peer. Same sex encounters were left strictly between slave and master, which is what adds such a poignant end note to Gaius and Lucius’s affair. I love that these books are informative but not in a textbook way. The author weaves these small details into the plot in a way that makes them all the more interesting, and, when it comes down to it, makes this series unique in the LGBT fiction genre.

If you love a plotty and well written historical with plenty of intrigue and interesting characters, I can’t recommend this series enough.

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5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Lisa, Santino Hassell

Release Day Review: Sunset Park by Santino Hassell

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Title: Sunset Park (A Five Boroughs Story)

Author: Santino Hassell

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 230 Pages

At a Glance: Think Sunset Park can’t possibly live up to the beauty of Sutphin Boulevard? Think again…

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Raymond Rodriguez’s days of shoving responsibility to the wayside are over. His older brother wants to live with his boyfriend, so Raymond has to get his act together and find a place of his own. But when out-and-proud David Butler offers to be his roommate, Raymond agrees for reasons other than needing a place to crash.

David is Raymond’s opposite in almost every way—he’s Connecticut prim and proper while Raymond is a sarcastic longshoreman from Queens—but their friendship is solid. Their closeness surprises everyone as does their not-so-playful flirtation, since Raymond has always kept his bicurious side a secret.

Once they’re under the same roof, flirting turns physical, and soon their easy camaraderie is in danger of being lost to frustrating sexual tension and the stark cultural differences that set them apart. Now Raymond not only has to commit to his new independence—he has to commit to his feelings for David or risk losing him for good.

Dividers

Review: Sunset Park is a book that had a lot to live up to. At least, it did for me. Santino Hassell set the bar in this series pretty damn high with Sutphin Boulevard, and I can’t lie: I was worried that Raymond and David would pale in comparison to Mikey and Nunzio. I shouldn’t have worried, though. While “Sunset” does have a different vibe to it (it’s lighter without being fluff), it’s a fantastic opposites attracts story in its own right, and what’s become true to form with this series, now I can’t wait for book three, First and First.

The differences between the two novels in this series begin with not only the fact that Raymond and David are night and day to each other, but that the drama in Sunset Park is different from that in Sutphin Boulevard. It’s also all kinds of good. Where Mikey and Nunzio went through hell apart and together, they went through it on equal footing, their lives so deeply intertwined, and they knew each other so well. But who saw Raymond and David’s friendship coming? Hassell explores some interesting cultural divides in Sunset Park through these two men—David, the privileged white guy; Raymond, the Puerto Rican man from the blue collar neighborhood. Watching their worlds converge and their friendship coalesce was sometimes a study in frustration (I wanted to thump both their melons on more than one occasion), but the emotional and physical affection between these two is off-the-charts. And eventually, as we watch their relationship grow and change, we see this night and day contrast is actually more Yin/Yang—opposites that complement each other—and it’s kinda gorgeous.

There’s a palpable undercurrent of tension that flows between Raymond and David in the way they feel about each other—David’s out, while Raymond isn’t sure of much of anything where his feelings for David are concerned. Ray’s trying to figure out what to do with his attraction to David, and all the while, the friendship and the frisson of UST that’s always right there on the surface is crazy-making and crazy hot when they touch and wrap themselves around each other. And then, when they finally start to resolve some of that tension… holy hell. I don’t talk much about sex in my reviews, but I have to say there aren’t many authors I’ve read who can write a sex scene like Santino Hassell does. Just sayin’.

There’s a lot more to the conflict between Raymond and David than just their attraction to each other, though; it goes way beyond sex and has a lot to do with not knowing how to ask the questions that need to be asked, let alone how to answer one of the biggest: how to deal with exactly what it is they want from each other. Hassell teases these problem out through the entire book, until it comes down to make-or-break time, and they each are forced to figure out how to deal with what’s going on between them. The one thing I can respect about these books is that they’re layered with so much realism. There are family and friendship issues, work issues—this book doesn’t read like an angst for angst’s sake story, it reads like a story about real people with real problems, and what it all comes down to in the end is that Raymond doesn’t want to stop being Raymond, nor does David want him to. Raymond just wants to be a better version of himself—and that better version of himself is the man David already sees. It’s kind of gorgeous in its complicated simplicity, really.

This author has such a great voice, which bleeds into his characters feeling raw and real and sweet and sincere, and since “Sunset” is narrated by both Raymond and David, we also get to see the author flexing his writing skills to their best effect by making both characters so completely individual. Some books you read with your head, some you read with your heart. This series is one I can’t seem to help throwing myself into, full immersion, and I can’t recommend it enough. Sutphin Boulevard is simply stellar, and Sunset Park finds its own place to shine just as brightly alongside it.

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You can buy Sunset Park here:

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5 Stars, L.B. Gregg, Mystery/Suspense/Action Thriller, Reviewed by Lisa, Riptide Publishing

Release Day Review: With This Bling by L.B. Gregg

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Amazon

Amazon

Title: With This Bling (Romano and Albright: Book Three)

Author: L.B. Gregg

Publisher: Riptide Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 264 Pages

At a Glance: Dan Albright and Caesar Romano are back and better than ever!

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Caesar Romano’s catering career is doing better than he’d ever dreamed. And so is his love life—even if his boyfriend’s house in Staten Island is way too far from civilization for his liking. But then in short order, Caesar is duped into helping his cousin propose, is tricked by his best friend and business partner into appearing on live television, and is harassed by a thug-like personal trainer and his far too beautiful wife. In fact, Caesar is almost too busy to notice that something is troubling his PI boyfriend, Dan Albright.

Almost.

Laid-back, open, charming—that’s the impression hunky former NYPD Detective Dan Albright gives everyone. Caesar can add sexually adventurous and a bit of an exhibitionist. But he also knows that Dan is hiding something—something dark and a little dangerous—and when Dan’s silence over his mysterious past threatens to harm them both, it’s Caesar’s turn to save the day.

But then again, a break-in, a gallery party, an heirloom ring, a new suit, and a stalker with bad BO are all just a typical week for Caesar Romano.

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Review: Oh, Caesar Romano, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

1.) ALL OF THEM

It feels like we’ve been waiting forever for Ce and his big ol’ sexy Private Investigator lover Dan Albright to return to an e-reader near us, doesn’t it? The humor, the sex in somewhat super conspicuous places (Dan and Ce are just a wee bit kinky that way), the mystery and danger—did I mention the hilarity?—they’re all back and then some in With This Bling, and I’m beyond ecstatic to say it was worth the wait. Okay, a little less waiting would’ve been nice, but who’s happy now? Me.

Ce is now out of the art business and contentedly ensconced at Posh Nosh with his pregnant BFF Poppy (my grumpy spirit animal), who happens to be carrying the offspring of Ce’s cousin Joey. Why is this significant? Because a seemingly cursed (and kinda gruesomely acquired) ring, an appearance on a schmaltzy New York morning show, and the single most hilarious cooking segment on television all leads up to what was supposed to be an epically romantic wedding proposal. Supposed to… The thing is, where Ce’s involved, what’s supposed to happen and what does happen rarely are one and the same—so much shenanigans ensue, I swear. Trust me when I say it always makes for great reading, though, and this installment of the Romano and Albright series is no exception.

Of course, then there’s the woman who keeps rubbing her girly junk all up against Dan’s fine-ass form. What the oh-hell-no is up with that? Well, she’s a nasty blast from Dan’s past, and her hygienically challenged husband is a tad on the stalkery side—though the smell, well, that may just be a second hand stench Ce was smelling. At any rate, the Lutzes are a couple of putzes, and one of them is making it awfully easy for a certain someone to try to get his hands on Dan. The interaction between Caesar and Blair, though, it’s priceless! On a scale of one to snark, it’s a total verbal bitch slap:

Blair: “Caspar. We meet again.”
Ce: “Blade. Are you enjoying the show?”

Okay, you had to be there, but oh my god, the only thing missing from this scene was shoulder pads and a catfight. No one should go up against Caesar Romano in a battle of snits, let me assure you, especially when that someone is trying to get with Ce’s man. But there’s so much more to the story than Blair Somerset-Lutz, skank extraordinaire, trying to sink her claws into one Dan Albright. I can’t tell you what it is, though, or it’d spoil all the fun. Just suffice it to say that L.B. Gregg is in top form here, and she did nothing but make me realize how much I missed her guys, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have Romano and Albright back on my e-reader. This book doesn’t start off with quite the bang of the other two in the series, but that’s okay because it doesn’t take long before all hell breaks loose, and this time Ce gets to be the hero in the uber-tight suit. That poor suit… God.

For us dedicated fans of this sexy couple, Gregg also gives us a pretty sweet payoff in the romance department, and I loved every minute of it. Listen, our heroes aren’t ones for the shmoops and candy conversation hearts, that’s definitely not their M.O., but still, they find themselves in uncharted waters by the end of the story, and it was completely fabulous, and now I can’t wait for book four, just on general principle alone, but also to see how this new development develops.

With This Bling may have been a long time coming, but have mercy, it was worth the wait. I’m still cackling over that cooking scene. Comedy gold.

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You can buy With This Bling here:

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4 Stars, Christina Lee, Genre Romance, Giveaways, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Review and Giveaway: The Deepest Blue Blog Tour with Christina Lee

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Amazon

Amazon

Title: The Deepest Blue (Roadmap to Your Heart: Book Two)

Author: Christina Lee

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 228 Pages

At a Glance: There’s just enough angst to go with the sweet to make The Deepest Blue a pleasant way to spend a few hours reading.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Rugged and conventional Callum Montgomery enjoys running Shady Pines hunting preserve, except for the secret that’s eating him alive. When his sister brings a date for a family wedding, he can’t stand the arrogant city slicker with the stick up his perfectly fine ass. He doesn’t understand his draw to Dean, who pushes his buttons at every turn, but he’d never dream of betraying his sibling over some lust fueled fantasy.

Handsome and conscientious Dean Abbott is a research assistant in his university’s biology lab. When his roommate, Cassie, begs him to be her pretend date in front of her meddling family, he begrudgingly agrees to help. He doesn’t anticipate being enchanted by the countryside, the colorful cast of characters, or her sexy and brooding straight brother.

When contempt turns to passion and leads to stolen moments in a sugar cane field, Callum can’t help longing for the kind of connection he believes he can never have. But not even the world’s most heart-melting kiss can bridge the vast philosophical differences between the men.

Dean’s return to his urban lifestyle leaves him restless, his mind continually wandering to the charming setting that spoke to something missing deep inside him. Because you can take the city boy out of the country but you can’t make him forget the intriguing man he left behind.

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Review: After running across Christina Lee’s The Darkest Flame on my Amazon recs, and One-Clicking it, I knew I wasn’t really taking much of a risk in accepting The Deepest Blue for review. I liked the author’s voice in The Darkest Flame—though I must admit I’d expected it to be a bit grittier since the story is set in and around an MC—but her characters Smoke and Vaughn were easy enough to root for through the drama and on to their happy ending. Now, having finished this second book in the series, I have to say if I had to pick a favorite of the two, it’d be no contest. The Deepest Blue wins.

At its heart, this book is a City Mouse/Country Mouse story, and has everything you might look for in an angsty genre romance: one man out and proud, the other deeply in the closet; two men on the opposite ends of the spectrum, socially. This is a true opposites attract story in almost every way. Dean Abbott is the college student, environmentalist, vegetarian city boy to Callum Montgomery’s small town rural guy. Callum helps run his family’s hunting preserve; he’s the brains behind the business, so before you go and think he’s a backwater hick, he’s most definitely not. He and Dean are an intellectual match, no question, and once Callum stops being so abrasive and decides Dean isn’t a half bad guy, we see how each of these men begin to open up to each other, and how they really do complement one another. They may have diametrically opposed views on what Callum’s family does for a living, but all that does is serve to ignite the spark Christina Lee lights between them.

The primary issue when these two meet and those sparks fly, however, is that Callum believes Dean is straight. And, why wouldn’t he? Dean is attending a family wedding at Shady Pine’s as his best friend and roommate Cassie’s date/maybe boyfriend. Cassie…who just so happens to be Callum’s sister.

The complication is all neatly served, and then the fun is in getting to watch the story unfold—through the friction, the secret Dean and Cassie are keeping, and most especially through the sexual tension that’s always thisclose to the surface between Dean and Callum. The story is told in alternating points of view, so we get both sides to their story, which I thought worked well given their situation. We don’t stand by and watch Callum struggle with his attraction to his sister’s “boyfriend,” we get a firsthand account of the fear he feels of someone in his family discovering his deepest, darkest secret. And the why of it is plain as well. We also get to experience Dean’s conflict—his wanting to be truthful with Callum because the attraction between them definitely goes both ways. I ended up really liking both of these guys, individually and as a couple.

As secondary characters go, Callum’s family was pretty great. I especially loved his younger brother Billie and would gladly read a novel with a grown up version of him in it somewhere down the line. He’s sweet and innocent and struggles with some physical limitations, and he stole every scene he was in. He’s the kind of kid you just want to hug the stuffing out of. What becomes evident quickly, something we see through Dean’s point-of-view, is that Callum underestimates just how wonderful his family truly is.

Overall, as contemporary genre romance goes, The Deepest Blue ticks all the relevant boxes in the category. Its characters are engaging, and there’s just enough angst to go with the sweet to make it a pleasant way to spend a few hours reading.

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You can buy The Deepest Blue here:

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(photo credit: Elaine M. Johnson)

(photo credit: Elaine M. Johnson)

Once upon a time, I lived in New York City and was a wardrobe stylist. I spent my days shopping for photo shoots, getting into cabs, eating amazing food, and drinking coffee at my favorite hangouts.

Now I live in the Midwest with my husband and son—my two favorite guys. I’ve been a clinical social worker and a special education teacher. But it wasn’t until I wrote a weekly column for the local newspaper that I realized I could turn the fairytales inside my head into the reality of writing fiction.

I’m addicted to lip gloss and salted caramel everything. I believes in true love and kissing, so writing romance novels has become a dream job.

I write Adult, New Adult, and M/M romance.  I also own a hand-stamped jewelry business, which requires me to stamp letters and/or words onto pieces of silver. They go hand-in-hand perfectly.

Visit my WEBSITE. Or my FACEBOOK author page. You can also find me on TWITTER.

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4 Stars, Fairy Tale/Mythology/Folk Lore, JL Merrow, Josephine Myles, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Lisa, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Self-Published

Review: Boys Who Go Bump in the Night by Josephine Myles and JL Merrow

Amazon

Amazon

Title: Boys Who Go Bump in the Night (Mad About the Brit Boys: Book Two)

Author: Josephine Myles and JL Merrow

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 84 Pages

At a Glance: Short stories and the supernatural and this pair of authors combine to make for some really good reading.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: When boy meets (supernatural) boy

Buckle up as two queens of British gay romance take you on a whistlestop tour of all things paranormal. Vampires, genies, ghosts, magicians and shifters all get their chance for a bit of boy on boy action, in five erotic stories that span the range from the humorous to the sublime.

Will you seek to make your fortune with magic and ritual, or pin your hopes on a genie’s power to grant wishes? Discover a shifty young man on a Scottish shoreline, meet a hapless garlic farmer who’s been turned into one of the undead–and if you dare to venture into the cellar, gird your loins for a horny ghost!

These stories have all been previously published, but are now available exclusively in this anthology.

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Review: Some authors you read no matter what: don’t care about the blurb, don’t care about the sub-genre, you just read them. Josephine Myles and JL Merrow happen to be two such authors for me. Combine this with my love of short stories, and Boys Who Go Bump in the Night was pretty much a guaranteed win.

Several of the stories in this anthology are short enough I might even call them flash fiction, but the common theme (besides the fact they’re all previously published) is that they share a paranormal/fantasy element, and some of them are just purely erotic and don’t play at being otherwise. JL Merrow starts the collection with Leeches and Layabouts, and the first thing that stands out is that the story is told with the author’s trademark sense of humor and gift for taking a fairly mundane human woe and turning it into a clever boy-meets-vampire story. A vampire who grows garlic? Yep. A human who loves living off of government assistance just a little too well. Yep. It’s the perfect marriage of need and want when Art interviews for a job with Crispin, who loves his garlic but can no longer eat it because, well…vampire. But ingenuity abounds, and Crispin gets both his man and his garlic fix.

A horny incubus in Something Queer, blood magic and stone circles in Sacrifice add to the mix of supernatural offered in this anthology, leading to the final two tales. JL Merrow’s Et in Orcadia is my absolute favorite of the five in the collection. It’s a story that blends the tragedy of lost love, the romanticism of man’s call to the sea, and a mysterious stranger who knows that call better than any human. But he also knows the allure of the land and the desire to comfort a man in his grief. A grief they both share. I loved the emotional intimacy of Runi and David’s story, brief though it was. It did a fantastic job of plucking at my sentimental heartstrings.

Finally, bookending the lighthearted beginning of Boys Who Go Bump in the Night is Josephine Myles’ One Last Wish, a fun and sweet little story about a poor genie who’s just tired of being imprisoned in his lamp for the past two hundred years. Scott is the lucky human to rub Xavier’s lamp just the right way—three wishes are his—but Scott ends up surprising Xavier with the way he chooses to use them. And then, well, they end up rubbing each other just the right way.

If you love one of these authors, or both of them, and love a good short story, I don’t think you can go wrong with this collection.

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You can buy Boys Who Go Bump in the Night here:

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4.5 Stars, Annabelle Jacobs, Holiday Romance, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Release Day Review: Magic & Mistletoe

Amazon

Amazon

Title: Magic & Mistletoe

Author: Annabelle Jacobs

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 114 Pages

At a Glance: Annabelle Jacobs has the recipe for holiday magic and romance all sewn up in a sweet little package in Magic & Mistletoe.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Christmas is Harry’s favourite time of the year, but it looks like he’ll be spending it alone. When it comes to the men he fancies, his luck is non-existent. Harry’s nerves always get the better of him—especially when he tries to talk to Andrew, the hot guy downstairs.

Everything changes when Harry meets a mysterious girl in the woods who professes to be a witch. He dismisses her claims, but when odd things start happening to him, he has to reconsider.

Andrew was attracted to Harry from the start, but their awkward encounters put him off. All goes well until Harry opens his mouth—and ruins it with his stupidity and silly comments. When Harry suddenly becomes more relaxed and they have a proper conversation, Andrew realises his first impression was wrong. As the days count down to December 25, they get swept up in the Christmas spirit and their relationship moves faster than either expected.

A little winter magic might have been the push they needed, but Harry worries that when it wears off, he’ll no longer be the man Andrew wants.

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Review: Harry has a problem with overstating the obvious. He gets tongue tied and has a tendency to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind—even if that thing makes him look like a bit of a git for pointing out stuff that doesn’t need pointing out. He’s gotten so tongue-tied around his sexy neighbor, and has managed a near perfect record of saying the wrong thing at the right time, that Andrew thinks Harry’s nothing but a big jerk. Which sucks for Harry because Andrew is a guy he’d really love to know better.

Annabelle Jacobs has the recipe for holiday magic and romance all sewn up in a sweet little package in Magic & Mistletoe, a title I couldn’t resist any more than I could its adorable cover. A walk through the woods with his friends brings Harry face to face with a woodland nymph who decides to take matters into her own hands where Harry’s concerned, and gives him the gift that keeps on giving—namely, the ability to keep his gob shut when he’s about to put his foot in it again.

Little coincidences, surprise favors, helpful nudges (a fortuitously placed mistletoe here and there) all serve to bring Harry and Andrew together. And then, of course, the magic isn’t only of the supernatural variety, if you catch my drift. It turns out that these two guys are pretty great together. But… is that because of Harry’s interfering helper? And if so, what possible hope does Harry have of keeping Andrew once the spell wears off and Harry goes back to being his usual tongue-tied self? This is where we get a little bit of angst in this otherwise feel-good holiday romance, just enough to give us a reason to cheer for the story’s happy ending.

It’s a good thing Christmas comes but once a year because I don’t think my heart could take being warmed so thoroughly the other twelve months. Magic & Mistletoe is another check mark in the winter romance win column, and a book that’s sure to bring you a little holiday cheer.

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You can buy Magic & Mistletoe here:

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Amazon UK

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4.5 Stars, Historical Romance, Joanna Chambers, Reviewed by Lisa, Samhain Publishing

Review: Unnatural by Joanna Chambers

Amazon

Amazon

Title: Unnatural (An Enlightenment Story)

Author: Joanna Chambers

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 230 Pages

At a Glance: Unnatural is a beautifully written friends-to-lovers romance.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: The heart breaks but does not change.

Captain Iain Sinclair. Perfect son, perfect soldier, hero of Waterloo. A man living a lie. The only person who really knows him is his childhood friend, scientist James Hart. But they’ve been estranged since Iain brutally destroyed their friendship following a passionate encounter.

Iain is poised to leave the King’s service to become an undercover agent in India. Before he leaves his old life behind, he’s determined to reconcile with James. An invitation to a country house party from James’s sister provides the perfect opportunity to pin the man down.

James has loved Iain all his life, but his years of accepting crumbs from Iain’s table are over. Forgiving Iain is one thing—restoring their friendship is quite another.

In the face of James’s determined resistance, Iain is forced to confront his reasons for mending the wounds between them. And accept the possibility that James holds the key to his heart’s desire—if only he has the courage to reach for it.

Warning: Contains a dashing military hero with one weakness—a scientist who feels their chemistry in every cell of his body. Kissing in the rain, skinny dipping, and emotional flashbacks. Huzzah!

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Review: Joanna Chambers’ Unnatural is a beautiful love story between two friends, a friendship that began long ago when James Hart, a then nine-year-old boy, was saved from drowning by thirteen-year-old Iain Sinclair. Or, at least Iain thought he was saving James from drowning. That not being the case, however, James took great offense at Iain babying him. But that all changed slowly as their first awkward encounter blossomed into a years long friendship, one in which James fell madly in love with Iain, and Iain dutifully ignored those feelings as well as his own.

Chambers has such a lovely writing style which plants you directly into the atmosphere of this novel of manners and its early 19th Century setting. Iain is by far the more complex of the two men—a painful family history; a father whom Iain is ever doomed to disappoint, regardless of his heroism; his eye toward duty meaning he must keep James always at arm’s length. James, meanwhile, as the younger and less worldly of the two, may be the more innocent but is also the far more pragmatic of the two men. As a scientist, James sees his surroundings with a more studious eye and therefore, he understands his feelings for Iain as a simple part of his nature. It’s Iain for whom this book is titled, no doubt about it.

At the outset of the novel, James and Iain have gone through a situation so troubling that it’s caused them to part ways on the worst of terms, and then it’s through flashbacks that Chambers unravels their story. James never strayed far from his family home, while Iain had joined the army with dreams of his heroism perhaps helping to earn his father’s regard and respect. Upon his leaving the army, Iain is determined to make things right between himself and James before he leaves for India and a new mission. This is where the story sets about resolving the conflict that presents itself through the flashbacks, and it’s perhaps one of the hardest battles Iain has ever fought—both with himself and against his feelings for James, as well as with James, as James has no desire to open himself up to being hurt by Iain ever again. There was a good bit of struggling on Iain’s part to come to terms with his feelings, his own happiness, and the danger of loving James, and the journey to their reconciliation was well worth the trip.

If you love a good historical romance with all the built-in turmoil the time period presented for the men who loved the love that dare not speak its name, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Unnatural to you.

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

Review: Hidden Shifter by Abraham Steele

Amazon

Amazon

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

Author: Abraham Steele

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 249 Pages

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

Reviewed By: Lisa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You can buy Hidden Shifter here:

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4.5 Stars, Avery Cockburn, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Review: Play It Safe by Avery Cockburn

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Amazon

Title: Play It Safe: A Glasgow Lads Story

Author: Avery Cockburn

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 65 Pages

At a Glance: I just keep loving on these boys so hard.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: In this followup story to Playing for Keeps, Fergus and John must overcome bad advice, broken headboards, and the Doppelgänger from Hell to find their forever bliss. A must-read for Glasgow Lads fans—and for new readers, a short ’n’ sweet intro to this hot new Scottish gay-romance series!

“Fancy a game of hide-and-seek?”

After living together for three months, Fergus Taylor and John Burns have come to love each other’s quirks, and the bond between them is starting to look permanent. But when John wants to take things to the next level, Fergus balks, haunted by the betrayals in his own past.

To overcome these fears, Fergus and John must embark on an epic journey, one that tests their faith, their trust, and their ability to keep a cool head in a hot, hot place.

Note: Like all Glasgow Lads books, Play It Safe may be read as a stand-alone story.

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Review: It’s no big secret how much love I have for Avery Cockburn’s Glasgow Lads. John and Fergus, Colin and Andrew (I have yet to read the prequel, Play On), both couples stole my heart in their respective books and never even tried to give it back. And I love that sometimes when that happens, when I get the couple’s HEA but wish there could still be just a wee bit more to the story, the author goes and gives me exactly what I want. That’s what Cockburn’s done for John and Fergus in Play It Safe.

First let me say that though this novella is billed as a standalone, I don’t feel as though I’d have experienced the fullest depth of love for it had I not had the boys’ backstory. Or, the likelihood is that I’d have liked it on a different level, because there’s no disputing it’s still heartwarming and sexy. John and Fergus’s beginning in Playing for Keeps hinged a good bit on trust issues—Fergus was short on trust because of a bad breakup; John didn’t do much to foster it because of a rather volatile secret he was keeping. The inability for Fergus to give of himself fully becomes the cornerstone upon which the author builds Play It Safe. Does Fergus trust John enough to take their relationship to the next level—a level that requires complete faith in a place where Fergus has been burned before? I thought they were there, but I was wrong, so that’s my roundabout way of saying that had I not had all the puzzle pieces in place, the story would have been perfectly lovely but maybe not as emotionally engaging as it was.

That said, I adore this little vignette. This is the true beginning to John and Fergus’s happily-ever-after, as they work through one final obstacle so they can start their future together. And I must say, they got a little creative in a fun and seductively suggestive way; playful, but there was also a good bit of tension of the non-sexual variety that gave the story an edge too, which does nothing but make the sweet part that much more gratifying once we get there.

If you haven’t read this series yet but are planning to, please don’t read this first. Read Playing for Keeps first. It’s so worth it, and then you can slip right into Play It Safe without a hiccup. Again, it’s so worth it and I’d bet you’ll want to anyway. I can say this with almost no reservations because Avery Cockburn has created all these new adult characters you can’t help but love, with all their charm and charisma just oozing off the pages. That’s how they get under your skin and worm their way into your heart, they’re just that loveable.

The conflict in this story is so real for Fergus, and John just keeps going on to prove how utterly wonderful he is. Fergus was afraid he may have given John enough rope to hang himself. John didn’t tighten the noose, though. He didn’t even come close. He just left the rope behind as a trail to lead Fergus back to him. And it was priceless.

I’m head over heels for this series and its characters. It’s one of my best discoveries of 2015, no question about it, and I’m hoping like crazy to hear more from Colin and Andrew, sooner rather than later.

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You can buy Play It Safe here:

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4 Stars, Alice Griffiths, Genre Romance, Leta Blake, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Review and Giveaway: Will and Patrick Do the Holidays by Leta Blake and Alice Griffiths

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Amazon

Title: Will and Patrick Do the Holidays (Wake Up Married: Episode Three)

Author: Leta Blake and Alice Griffiths

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 117 Pages

At a Glance: The soap opera fun continues for our bold, beautiful, young, and restless duo.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: A couple’s first holiday season is always a special time. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve are magical when you’re in love. Too bad Will and Patrick’s marriage is a sham and they’re only faking their affection for each other. Or are they?

Sparks fly in this episode of the Wake Up Married serial. Will the sexual tension between Will and Patrick finally explode in a needy night of passion? Or will they continue to deny their feelings?

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Review: Do you ever wish you could put your own words into characters’ mouths? Words like, “I’m a big boy and you’re a big buttinski, so I would enjoy it if you’d just butt your buttinski face right out of my adult beeswax.” And, “God, Ryan, you’re such a ginormous friggin’ douchenozzle assface, so I would love if you would just bugger off right now, thank you.” Yeah, me too. I want to write Will Patterson’s dialogue. No, not really. But those are an approximation of words I wish Will would say. He’s too busy being a nice guy, though, and is also too busy feeling like shoe poop because of stupid Ryan the assface boy. I love Will. I don’t love Ryan.

But, let’s move on before this gets any more immature, shall we?

What is it about the holidays that make occurrences occur? Especially occurrences of the warm and fuzzy variety. Whatever it is, Will and Patrick do the holidays. But, do they do each other? It’s what we’ve all been waiting for since their drunken marriage and raucous sexcapades in Vegas, yes? Well, I won’t tell, but what I will say is that I love where Leta Blake and Alice Griffiths have gone in this episode of the further adventures of Will and Patrick, fauxlyweds and pseudo-husbands who, hey, I think are becoming rather fondish of each other.

I also think Patrick’s heart grew three sizes in this special holiday episode, and even though we’re still learning bits and pieces about his past, he’s showing an incredible depth of regard for Will and his health, both his mental and physical health, in spite of Patrick acting somewhat like a feral human at times. Now, for a guy who’s supposed to be an arrogant jerk, he’s behaving uncharacteristically solicitous toward the man he’s also supposed to be trying to divorce. He also kisses babies, or baby, at least, so I think Patrick’s fronting. He’s just a marshmallow playing at sauerkraut. One might also observe that Dr. Patrick McCloud seems to be getting entrenched in the day to day operations of Healing’s hospital. One might also think the place is subconsciously growing on him. Just like Will is. If you ask me, I think he’s starting to like some of the Whos down in Whoville.

As has been the case since Episode the First, Blake and Griffiths have blended their voices seamlessly to create a sometimes funny, sometimes warm, sometimes touching and even a little bit angsty story. I’ve grown to love these guys, have a full on loathe-fest with Ryan, love Will’s grandmas, think his little brother and sisters seem pretty cool. And wish his mom and uncle would quit with their opinionated opinionating (see: adult beeswax buttinski faces). But they mean well, and Will is showing some signs of learning to quit letting other people tell him how he should think and feel. That Ryan… oh, he just has everyone so snowed. Everyone except for Patrick, that is. Patrick has had Ryan’s number since day one. Now Will just needs to accept that maybe he doesn’t love Ryan as much as he’s addicted to the idea of needing him in order to stay sober. You know, replacing one unhealthy addiction for another. Patrick would hate that bit of psychobabble.

Will and Patrick have already rung in the New Year in this episode, in a wonderful way, I might add, so we won’t be seeing them again until after our holidays. Will 2016 find our lawfully wedded duo undone? Or will the clean slate of a new year see them turning over a new leaf? Is the L-dash-dash-dash word anywhere in their future? And, more importantly, when the hell is someone going to give Ryan a good old fashioned roundhouse to the nuggets for me?

Stay tuned, readers. I don’t think we’re going to want to miss any of the action and suspense and drama yet to come as this world turns.

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You can buy Will and Patrick Do the Holidays here:

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Amazon UK

Amazon UK

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Author Bios

Leta BlakeLeta Blake

Author of the bestselling book Smoky Mountain Dreams and the fan favorite Training Season, Leta Blake’s educational and professional background is in psychology and finance, respectively. However, her passion has always been for writing. She enjoys crafting romance stories and exploring the psyches of made up people. At home in the Southern U.S., Leta works hard at achieving balance between her day job, her writing, and her family.

You can find out more about her by following her online:

On the web || On Facebook || On Twitter

Author BioAlice Griffiths

A long-time reader of romance novels, Alice Griffiths finally took the plunge into writing, teaming up with best-selling author Leta Blake for the ‘Woke up Married’ serialized comedy. A lover of tropes, Alice enjoys mining old ideas and putting a fresh, funny spin on them. Formerly working in the newspaper industry, Alice is now an art curator. She lives in Sydney, Australia.

You can find out more about her by following her online:

On Twitter || On Facebook

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

Review: Deranged by Niko McQueen

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Amazon

Title: Deranged (Ivy Hollow Chronicles: Book One)

Author: Niko McQueen

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 126 Pages

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

Reviewed By: Lisa

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

Until now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You can buy Deranged here:

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5 Stars, Holiday Romance, Indra Vaughn, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Release Day Review: The Winter Spirit by Indra Vaughn

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Amazon

Title: The Winter Spirit

Author: Indra Vaughn

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 125 Pages

At a Glance: Indra Vaughn played me like twelve drummers drumming and eleven pipers piping, and I adored it down to the story’s final words.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Nathaniel O’Donnelly likes his life quiet, his guests happy, and his ghosts well-behaved.

Although a boyfriend wouldn’t go amiss. Someone to share his beautiful B&B with, even if it is in the middle of nowhere and he’s long past the wrong side of thirty. Problem is, Nathaniel’s living with a ghost who thinks he’s cupid, and whose arrows fly a little too straight.

Gabriel Wickfield had the unfortunate luck of dying before his time, and now he’s stuck trying to make romance happen to earn his right to move along. Not that he’s bored in the meantime–Nathaniel is just too easy to tease. And also a little bit scrumptious…

With the curse reaching its expiration date, Gabriel needs to make this final match this Christmas. Without it, nothing but darkness awaits.

Love can conquer all, but can it beat death?

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Review: Indra Vaughn’s The Winter Spirit included a couple of firsts for me.

1.) This is the first book I’ve read by this author.
2.) This is the first holiday story I’ve read so far in 2015.

Speaking on both points one and two: yay, I win!

This short novel tells the story of a man, Nate O’Donnelly, who isn’t the six-pack-abbed-mega-stud-muffin we generally tend to see as the leading man in M/M romance. Nate is way better, in my most humble opinion, because he’s the guy you want to snuggle up next to under a blanket in front of a roaring fire. He’s the guy you know you can count on, can trust, and he’s thoroughly huggable, that Nate is. If you couldn’t already tell, I loved him.

Nate is the owner of a B&B in Michigan. In case you’re not familiar with Michigan, it snows there in the winter. A lot. Which makes for the perfect setting for this story. The snowy rural landscape is portrayed in the idyllic sort of way it can only be during the holiday season—pristine, sparkling, magical in a way that the other seasons just aren’t—and Vaughn uses this setting to its best effect as we wend our way through the storyline. Nate has been single for quite a few years, but even being single, he’s never been entirely by himself at the Lake House, not even in winter when guest bookings are at their lowest—and this doesn’t include the company of his best friend Elisa, either. No, the Lake House B&B is haunted, so Nate isn’t really alone at all…he’s just a little lonely.

Gabriel Wickfield has been dead a long time. He’s been haunting the B&B, on the land that was once owned by his family, since well before the day Nate inherited it from his uncle and restored it to its current beauty. I love the way the author portrayed Gabriel and Nate’s friendship, because, yes, it truly is that in many ways, but the real beauty of their relationship is watching it grow and evolve as Nate begins to see Gabriel, not even so much with his eyes but with his heart. When Nate decides to learn a bit more about his resident ghost, we learn as much about who Gabriel was and the tragic circumstances of his life at its end as we do about Nate, which is when we’re given the opportunity to embrace the wonder of this story. Gabriel isn’t an intangible, he was and is a man who still feels and thinks, so we’re able to see him as more than just a ghost.

With a guy from Nate’s past showing back up in town to stay on as a guest for the holidays, it begins to look like maybe Nate will be able to use a Christmas wish or two to his benefit, and that Gabriel could very well get up to a little holiday matchmaking, something he must do in order to rescue himself from this limbo he’s been residing in for so long. And this is the part of the storyline that reached right out and grabbed me by the heartstrings. Indra Vaughn played me like twelve drummers drumming and eleven pipers piping, and I adored it down to the story’s final words. Oh, the feels. I felt them.

There’s more than a little holiday magic afoot in The Winter Spirit, and I thought it was rather sublime, like the sweet mini-marshmallows to my warm cuppa cocoa.

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You can buy The Winter Spirit here:

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3.5 Stars, Kari Gregg, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published, Short Story

Review: Sightings by Kari Gregg

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Amazon

Title: Sightings

Author: Kari Gregg

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 42 Pages

At a Glance: Sightings is a sweet romance with a nice little twist.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Quinn Laramie moved to Mill Valley to care for his sick Aunt Betsy. After her recovery, he invested hours once spent in hospitals hiking and exploring the surrounding hills rather than returning to an empty apartment in the city.

Patrick, a photographer and self-proclaimed paranormal expert, saved Quinn from tumbling into a flooded creek where a bridge had washed away years ago, taking a pair of doomed lovers with it. Quinn and Patrick meet for other creepy jaunts thereafter: a derelict one-room schoolhouse, an abandoned cemetery, the burned-out shell of a home… Quinn hasn’t seen any ghosts yet, but Patrick’s shy kisses haunt him after each paranormal adventure ends.

Quinn wants more, and with their next spooky tour set to begin, Patrick is finally ready to give in. But what surprises wait them in the eerie manse atop Warner Hill?

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Review: Kari Gregg’s Sightings is a romantic and sexy paranormal story, with a bit of a twist to keep things interesting. The story is so short that summarizing the plot even a bit would risk giving away too much, the blurb serves just fine for that, so I’ll just say that I really liked the way Gregg brought Quinn and Patrick together. Patrick’s shy hesitance and Quinn’s longing for something more with the man who’d become a friend, and who’d even saved his life once, kept me wondering what the conflict was.

I also liked the role Margaret Warner plays in the story. She was a bit mysterious and I couldn’t help but be curious about what her significance was in helping Quinn to understand Patrick, which then plays right into the nice plot twist. While it’s no big secret something supernatural is at play in this story, I still liked the “what” of it, and once all was revealed, I thought it was a sweet resolution to the romance between these two men.

If you’re looking for a quick little ghost story that will tug at your heartstrings a bit too, Sightings will fill that need.

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You can buy Sightings here:

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4.5 Stars, Cecilia Tan, Literary Fiction, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Review: Daron’s Guitar Chronicles: Volume Eight by Cecilia Tan

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Amazon

Title: Daron’s Guitar Chronicles: Volume Eight

Author: Cecilia Tan

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 258 Pages

At a Glance: And the beat goes on…

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: The latest volume in the award-winning web serial about coming out and coming of age in the music business of the 1980s and 1990s.

As the calendar moves from 1990 to 1991, Daron Marks is trying to stay true to his heart.

But life is tough when you’re a talented musician whose life is controlled by gigantic mega-corporations. Daron is trying hard not to think about that, though, when he invites Ziggy to spend Christmas with Daron’s chosen family: his mentor Remo and the guys from the band Nomad. Ziggy’s career is taking off at rocket speed; meanwhile Daron spends a few months living in New York City working with one of the music industry’s hottest producers and then takes a gig to hit the road with Nomad. Even with the industry pulling them in different directions, Daron and Ziggy’s paths keep crossing. Can they rebuild a relationship without music tying them together? And what is that mysterious song Daron keeps hearing on the radio?

Volume 8 cover chapters 585 through 636 of the online web serial.

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Review: Have I mentioned yet how much I love this series. Yeah, I thought so, and that opinion hasn’t changed yet. I do have to say, though, that I’m wondering how much more gah! there can possibly be. It’s gah in a good way, though.

Daron and Ziggy. Well, they’re still dancing around each other—same tune, different beat—and tiptoeing over their issues and feelings, so not much has changed there in spite of the fact I thought, “Oh, here we go! There’s the ‘L’ word…” Then nope. I kind of L-word, in a masochistic sort of way, that Cecilia Tan is keeping things so close to the chest with these guys, though, because knowing that Daron’s telling this story in an autobiographical fashion, we’re seeing decades of his life from a current day perspective, and there are many years to go before we get to the 21st century, let alone to 2015. There’s time. There’s time to find out who Daron ends up with. Assuming he ends up with anyone.

And then there’s Colin… Say what, now?

I grew to feel an immense amount of love for Colin—sometimes guitar tech, sometimes CPA—in Volume Eight, and I have to wonder if it’s been sneaking up on me or if that love for him has been there on a slow simmer all along, and it’s finally just bubbled over because it became more evident how well he sees Daron and is sensitive to his moods and needs. Colin can take one look and know that Daron’s keyed up, and knows what it’ll take to undo him, and if that’s not something worth exploring, I don’t know anything about anything. Which I probably don’t because there’s still the enigma that is Ziggy. Is the real question (at least, my real question) whether either of these guys—Ziggy or Colin—are long-term boyfriend material? Cecilia Tan sure threw me a curveball with Colin here, and while I wasn’t expecting it, I can’t wait to see what, if anything, is going to come from it. Which is the awesomely aggravating thing about serialized fiction: that long slow burn of the payoff. But, if nothing else, Colin has proven to be the best friends-with-benefits guy ever.

Or, maybe I’m just reading too much into it.

One of the things I’ve feared as this series progresses is the “second verse same as the first” potential inherent in Daron and Ziggie’s maybe/maybe not relationship, and yet with each installment, Tan has thus far displayed an impressive ability to balance their storyline with Daron’s journey as a musician and a young man who’s growing into his sexuality and finally owning the fact that sex with men isn’t shameful. This is an author who knows her character intimately, and because she loves writing him, I love reading him, angst-ridden guy that he is and all.

We see Daron as more than the guy who loves Ziggy, and we even see him as more than a guitarist, although music is a massive part of who he is. We see him as a brother, a friend, and a surrogate son to Remo Cutler, and Daron allows us in on his most intimate thoughts and feelings and conflicts, and the bottom line is that he’s one of the most deeply drawn and thoroughly explored characters I’ve ever read. If you love character driven fiction and getting into the headspace of the people telling you stories, not to mention fabulous dialogue, this series pretty much owns that in an intricate and what I would declare a singular way. At least, I’ve never read anything like it yet in the M/M genre.

I obviously can’t force anyone to read a book, but if there ever was a series that I’d love to have someone to share my love of it with, it’s this one. Reading these books isn’t even akin to reading fiction, really. It’s like reading a man’s diary, and because Daron’s open and honest and human, which means he’s flawed, he’s also completely endearing.

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You can buy Daron’s Guitar Chronicles: Volume Eight here:

Amazon US

Amazon US

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5 Stars, BJ Sheppard, Horror, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Review: Devil’s Jawbone by BJ Sheppard

Amazon

Amazon

Title: Devil’s Jawbone

Author: BJ Sheppard

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 139 Pages

At a Glance: This author’s creativity is not only impressive, but he’s also just a bit disturbed in only the best possible way.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: As night descends on the town of Devil’s Jawbone, no one is safe. The veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest, and the darkest side of human nature is boiling to the surface. The supernatural and the natural are colliding, and in this sleepy town, the bump in the night is taking human form. Innocence will be lost; the villain will become the victor; spirits will rise and Satan himself will come to town.

In an eerie collection of short speculative fiction, author BJ Sheppard will grab your imagination, bringing new life to the classic campfire tales synonymous with the scariest of occasions. Halloween will never be the same again.

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Review: Welcome to Devil’s Jawbone, the place where a person’s convictions can be every bit as terrifying as their afflictions…where the only difference between a surgeon and a butcher lies somewhere within intent.

Author BJ Sheppard has tapped into the darker side of his imagination and pulled together a collection of horror stories that showcase the human monster which has the potential of lurking within all of us. Starting with “Legion,” this anthology takes on an eerie tone as the author begins to draw his circle. Imagery and allegory are painted in rich tones of the unknown in a poetic prose that does nothing but make the reader curious about what sort of place he’s leading us into. As it turns out, this author’s creativity is not only impressive, but he’s also just a bit disturbed in only the best possible way for those of us who love a good chill up our spines.

As we move along through each of the subsequent tales, we witness every human failing that can be twisted into horrifying realities—because, as we all know, it’s not the unknown and impossible we should fear most. What ought to strike true terror in the hearts of man is the potential for evil that lives among us, those whose fanatical persuasions and twisted passions and psychological maladaptation are as nearby as the killer who walks by us on the sidewalk and decides whether today is the day we live or die. This omnibus of the macabre leads its readers through the valley of the shadow of death, and we… we should fear its evil.

No one is immune from Sheppard’s distorted treatment of life and death and the in-between in Devil’s Jawbone. From mothers to serial murders, we are offered a glimpse inside the minds of the afflicted. From a twisting of the innocence of a child, to the betrayal of a lover which sets the wheels of retribution into motion, to the reimagining of “The Hook” (that scary little childhood tale so many of once told as we huddled under our blankets), each of these short stories seem to have nothing in common save for their setting and the fact that they’re each more deliciously disturbing than the next. Until, that is, the author’s deft and well-crafted finale, “The Devil at the Crossroads,” which brings the entire collection back around upon itself and ties everything together into a single tapestry that left me more than a little gleeful at its cleverness.

Being a true lover of horror, especially the sort of which exposes a terrifying side to our humanness, I found myself flipping the pages of Devil’s Jawbone and telling myself, “This story is my favorite.” Until I got to the end of the next and had to reevaluate my opinion. Do I have a favorite? If hard pressed I would say it’s “The Ties That Bind,” only because there’s a special sort of depravity in its romantic notions, which I found wickedly lovely.

As the horror genre isn’t a niche everyone frequents, I can’t say I’d recommend this novel to the tried and true romance aficionados, but I can say without an instant of hesitation that BJ Sheppard has offered enthusiasts of the morbid an unsafe haven called Devil’s Jawbone, a place I was more than glad to reside in for a while.

From the safe distance of my Kindle, of course.

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You can buy Devil’s Jawbone here:

Amazon US

Amazon US

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5 Stars, Mystery/Suspense/Action Thriller, Nicole Castle, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Review: The Inauspicious List by Nicole Castle

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Amazon

Title: The Inauspicious List (Chance Assassin: Book Three)

Author: Nicole Castle

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 200 Pages

At a Glance: I have what could probably be described as an unhealthy love for this series, and The Inauspicious List only reaffirms it!

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: With a new handler and Silva’s book of hits, Frank and Vincent’s marital bliss is only interrupted by the occasional spat over whose turn it is to kill. But when their jobs stop going according to plan, a detour takes them down a path that could bring the end of their careers. And their lives.

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Review: So, if you haven’t started reading this series yet, let me catch you up: Everyone in it is certifiably insane. There. Now you’re caught up.

After a brief respite to allow Bella and Casey to have their say in Les Recidivists, Nicole Castle has brought two of my all-time favorite assassins back for book three in the Chance Assassin series, The Inauspicious List. Just to catch you up even further on what exactly the list is, it’s a book full of names…which doesn’t sound all that exciting until you know those who are named in this book are people who someone has hired our assassins to kill. Fun, right? Well, the “Inauspicious” part of the title means not so much fun for our hitmen and hitwomen (Bella <3), but it adds up to loads of entertainment for us readers.

Frank and Vincent are our happily wedded couple, blissfully come out of retirement after V was forced to take some time off to recuperate, having sustained some serious head injuries whose aftereffects still haunt him but for which Frank made the kidnapper pay dearly. One of the most absolutely awesome things about these characters, I must say, is their hunger for violence—yet they’re so damned likeable. They live for the kill, and I know that adoring them sounds crazy, but it’s nonetheless true. These guys barter hits like kids trading baseball cards, and their gleeful anticipation of wreaking havoc is infectious, to say the least. That’s how lovely Nicole Castle’s storytelling is: she’s created this band of social and psychological misfits who kill for fun and profit, who, outside of these books, would be considered irredeemable (at best), and she makes them completely lovable…in a pathological and twisted and joyful sort of way.

In an even lovelier addition to this installment of the series, V’s narration of certain events which occurred with our sweet and loopy Miko in The Result of a Straight Razor (book two in the Mako Shark companion series about a rival set of assassins), have now overlapped into Chance Assassin. One of the things I loved about getting these particular scenes from Vincent’s point-of-view was not only the effect the encounters had on Frank and V, but also seeing Miko through someone else’s eyes. The beauty in this is that had we only seen our oddball outsider assassin via V’s storytelling, Miko wouldn’t be nearly as wonderful and sympathetic as he is in his own books. Honestly, it made me love him a li’l bit more. He’s sincerely broken and somehow a little bit smishable too.

I’d also be somewhat remiss not to add somewhere in here how beautifully warped Frank and V’s relationship is, so I’ll say it now. Looking for a non-traditional romance? This is it. These two men met after Vincent had been stabbed during a job-gone-wrong he’d been set up for. V was only a teenager at the time, though he had an unfortunate amount of experience with sex by then, and he set about seducing Frank in a rather comical and tenacious way. Let me assure you, though, that Frank waited until Vincent was of legal age to consummate their relationship. So even with their age difference and in spite of the way they met, even in their twisted “yes, of course I shot you on purpose because, hello, you shot me on purpose years ago” way, these two guys just fit like a custom tailored straight jacket. I love every single one of their interactions because they’re so sincerely in love with each other. They just so happen to show it in a different way. When these two men said “‘til death do us part,” they meant it. Probably in a hail of gunfire.

So, in the end, the merde has hit the ventilateur. I’m trying that out in French in honor of Frank. For the rest of us, that means the shit has hit the fan. Seems there’s an assassin war on the horizon, one Miko may factor into in an interesting way, and based on the final sentence of this book, holy merde, it’s already underway. And I can’t wait to see what Nicole Castle has in store for us next.

This series has quickly become an absolute favorite, what with its quirky characters and sharp dialogue and plenty of laughs to go along with the killer bits, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it if you’re looking for something just a little bit different and a lot cuckoo for cocoa puffs. I felt like this installment started off a little slowly, but it didn’t take too long to get moving, and once it did, it was another fun ride on the crazy train to Murdertown.

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You can buy The Inauspicious List here:

Amazon US

Amazon US

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4 Stars, Alice Griffiths, Genre Romance, Giveaways, Leta Blake, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Review and Giveaway: Will and Patrick Meet the Family by Leta Blake and Alice Griffiths

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Amazon

Title: Will and Patrick Meet the Family (Wake Up Married: Episode Two)

Author: Leta Blake and Alice Griffiths

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 117 Pages

At a Glance: Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of their lives… and woot! it’s fun.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Meeting the family is challenging for every new couple. But for Will and Patrick, the awkward family moments only grow more hilarious—and painful—when they must hide the truth of their predicament from the people they care about most.

Throw in the sexual tension flaring between them, uncomfortable run ins with Will’s all-too-recent ex-boyfriend, an overprotective mobster father, and a mafia spy tailing them around Healing, South Dakota, and you’ve got a recipe for madcap laughs and surprisingly heartwarming feels.

Episode 2 of 6 in the Wake Up Married serial.

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Review: You know how sometimes you just want to nut-punch a character right through your Kindle? Yeah…

Episode Two of Leta Blake and Alice Griffith’s “Wake Up Married” serial finds our wayward spouses in Healing, South Dakota, trying to pass themselves off as a pair of loved up newlyweds…because to do otherwise would be bad for Dr. Patrick McCloud’s health. Will’s family is family, a.k.a. mafia, and a caveat his grandfather placed upon Will’s inheritance is making it impossible for Patrick and Will to divorce. So, what do you do when you’re married but don’t want to be; are suffering from a case of unresolved sexual tension; have an ex you think you’re still in love with (but he treats you like sh*t on his shoe); and you maybe just might be starting to feel pangs of the warm-fuzzies for the hubby you’re simultaneously trying to unload? I. Don’t. Know. Blake and Griffiths haven’t directed this romantic little saga there yet, but I sure am enjoying the bumpy ride to get there.

Building upon what we learned about Patrick and Will in the first episode, we see how sincere Will is about the work he puts into the foundation that benefits the hospital. We also see what an incredible butt-munch his ex, Ryan, is (see: the exuberant nut punching). I have to say, kudos to these two authors for engaging so many of my emotions in this installment of the series. I have much love and empathy for Will because he’s so committed to being a recovering alcoholic that he can’t see how much the continual reminder of his past failures are sabotaging his future successes. And then, there was that one time I just wanted to hug the ever-loving crap out of Patrick in this story, so yay! for that.

Patrick, as it turns out, really is arrogant as all get out, but Meet the Family begins to peel back some of his pricklier layers to expose how and why he’s so maddeningly irritating, and then it goes and shows glimpses of a kind thoughtfulness toward his hubby. Revelations of bits of Patrick’s past make him more human and relatable, and the slow melt in the growing burn these two men are feeling for each other is so sweet to anticipate. How long can they resist it? Hopefully not too, because it’s becoming obvious they could be so good for each other with just a little time to get to know each other better.

Will’s family—heck, a lot of the townsfolk too—are skeptical of this love-at-first-sight Vegas act. Only Will’s Nonna knows the truth, and she’s pretty awesome from what we’ve seen of her so far. So, in trying to prove to everyone else how in love they are, will Patrick and Will themselves begin to believe it too? Will Patrick take a permanent position at Healing’s hospital? How long will our dear Will be able to resist Patrick’s downward dog?

And, most important of all, who’s going to sucker punch Ryan for me???

For the answers to those questions and more, stay tuned for the further episodes in this fun and engaging little serial. (*Episode 3, Will and Patrick Do the Holidays, drops November 23rd to a Kindle near you. :-D)

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You can buy Will and Patrick Meet the Family here:

Amazon US

Amazon US

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About the Authors:

Leta BlakeLeta Blake: Author of the bestselling book Smoky Mountain Dreams and the fan favorite Training Season, Leta Blake’s educational and professional background is in psychology and finance, respectively. However, her passion has always been for writing. She enjoys crafting romance stories and exploring the psyches of made up people. At home in the Southern U.S., Leta works hard at achieving balance between her day job, her writing, and her family.

You can find out more about her by following her onlineOn the web || On Facebook || On Twitter

Alice GriffithsAlice Griffiths: A long-time reader of romance novels, Alice Griffiths finally took the plunge into writing, teaming up with best-selling author Leta Blake for the ‘Woke up Married’ serialized comedy. A lover of tropes, Alice enjoys mining old ideas and putting a fresh, funny spin on them. Formerly working in the newspaper industry, Alice is now an art curator. She lives in Sydney, Australia.

You can find out more about her by following her onlineOn Twitter || On Facebook

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Excerpt:

Keying open the door to their hotel room, Will tries to fake some cheer. “Honey, I’m home! And I brought dinner!” He stops and grips the bags more firmly as his cock rushes with a sudden influx of blood.

“Just put it over there.” Patrick’s ass is in the air, his hands flat on the floor, and he’s wearing nothing but his black boxer-brief underwear. “I’ll eat it when I’m done.”

Will stares as Patrick swivels, his body moving fluidly and his legs flexing in strong, limber movements.

“What are you doing?”

“This is downward dog. And this—” Patrick moves down with careful, slow strength. “Is plank position.” The muscles in his arms, back, and thighs are like bundles of wires, and Will’s mouth goes dry, remembering clearly how they felt under his hands.

“Looks hard.”

Patrick doesn’t answer. Will turns to put the food on the table, because if he keeps watching, something else is going to be hard too.

He clears his throat, glancing over his shoulder at the flexing muscles in Patrick’s back. “When we met, I wouldn’t have pegged you as a yoga kind of guy.”

Patrick grunts. He’s in a position now that Will can’t even imagine twisting himself into.

“I mean, you don’t seem like an ‘om’ type.”

“Yoga, and meditation for that matter, are legitimate, effective, and scientifically proven means to an end: physical health and reduction of mental stress. In other words, it helps keep me sane.” Patrick moves into an upright position, sweeps his arms over his head, and brings them back to a prayerful place at his chest. “Sanity is something you could stand to try. And none of that spiritual mumbo jumbo has anything to do with it.”

“So says the guy who believes in astrology.”

“Sure, be a Libra about it.”

Will feels heat in his cheeks. “The yoga doesn’t seem to hurt as far as keeping the rest of you in shape either.”

Patrick’s lips turn up into a smirk.

Will clears his throat, turning to the bags of food. He keeps his back to Patrick as he unpacks the takeout packages onto the small dining table. “So, do you want the gyros or the mac ‘n’ joes, because I can go either way.”

Patrick’s breath is tingly in Will’s ear and his body heat warm along Will’s back. “I go both ways too. It’s your call.” He reaches around and plucks up one of the Styrofoam boxes without looking inside.

Will swallows and gestures at the box still on the table. “This will be fine.”

He doesn’t know for sure which it is, but it will be fine, so long as his dick stops acting like a traitor and his mind stops supplying him with images of Patrick bent over, taking Will’s fingers into his tight, hot—God!

He shakes himself.

“Mmm, gyros,” Patrick murmurs from his perch on the bed. “So good.”

Will’s eyes flutter closed as he sits at the table and spreads a napkin over his crotch. No matter how good Patrick looks almost naked, they aren’t doing that again. It would be wrong. Because Will loves Ryan.

Who are you trying to convince?

He sighs and begins to eat. Mac ‘n’ joe is always tasty. Though at the moment it seems hard to choke down.

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5 Stars, Genre Romance, JCP Books, Jordan Castillo Price, Reviewed by Lisa, Short Story

Review: Memento by Jordan Castillo Price

Small Gems

Amazon

Amazon

Title: Memento (A PsyCop Short)

Author: Jordan Castillo Price

Publisher: JCP Books

Pages/Word Count: 22 Pages

At a Glance: If you love the PsyCop series, don’t miss Memento.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Seasons change, and so do fashion trends. But in this heartstring-tugging PsyCop short, what’s beneath the clothes matters most.

Do clothes make the man? Jacob Marks cuts an impressive figure in his tailored suits, but Victor Bayne is another story. Nowadays, Vic does his ghosthunting in off-the-rack blazers, polyester blend slacks and cop shoes with nonskid soles. But back before he was a PsyCop—or even officially psychic—he rocked combat boots and a beat up biker jacket…and lots and lots of punk T-shirts. When he finds a faded tee in the back of a drawer, he’s eager to lob it in the trash. Jacob, however, finds himself waxing sentimental about Vic’s younger, more carefree days.

This steamy 5000-word PsyCop short in Jacob’s voice takes place after PsyCop #6, GhosTV.

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Review: On the list of things I love about the PsyCop series is the first person narrative. Victor Bayne tells a great story, sticks to the facts—which are often spare when it comes to personal details—and in that, we always see Jacob through the filter of Vic’s penchant for understatement and, perhaps, underestimating just how much Jacob loves him. And this is why I adore Jordan Castillo Price for giving us these little day-in-the-life snippets from Jacob’s point of view.

Memento shows us the sentimental side of Jacob Marks, gives us a glimpse of the Vic we never get to see from Vic’s POV. In this vignette we get to see just how much Jacob treasures even the smallest tokens of Vic’s past—before the asylum and before Camp Hell—and how distractible Vic is when it comes to his excessively sexy man. This is such a sweet and erotic little scene—no ghosts to contend with (except the ghost of a memory), just Jacob showing us how much he treasures these quiet and mundane moments at home with Vic. It’s an unexpectedly sincere peek inside the framework of a partnership that shows us Jacob loves Victor Bayne for much more than his ability to see ghosts.

If you love the PsyCop series, don’t miss Memento. I’ve already read it twice because, like Jacob, I have a miles-wide mushy sentimental streak, especially when it comes to these two men.

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You can buy Memento here:

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Amazon US

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