4 Stars, Comedy, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, Lex Chase, Paranormal, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: Loving and Loathing Vegas by Lex Chase

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Amazon

Title: Loving And Loathing Vegas (Sleigh Ride: Advent Calendar 2015)

Author: Lex Chase

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 62 Pages

At a Glance: This little snippet is sure to delight and amuse you this holiday season.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Jackson has loved Vegas since God created Man—literally. As a demonic incubi hailing from the Seventh Circle of Hell, Jackson and Vegas have never been anything more than roommates. Now living among humans, they run Eaven, a TripAdvisor-recommended detour-worthy diner famous for its devilishly decadent pies. Business is dead on the holidays, and Jackson will gleefully stab himself with a spatula if he has to clean spotless pots and pans one more time.

For fun—or torture—Vegas makes him a bet that should Jackson win, they take a much-needed vacation. Should he lose, he’s doomed to clean out grease traps for all eternity. When the challenge is to fall in love with other people by Christmas, it proves Vegas isn’t the least bit interested. But when they find an abandoned baby in the trash, she could be the Christmas miracle to warm Jackson’s cynical heart.

Dividers

Review:   Author Lex Chase offers up a devilishly sweet story for the Sleigh Ride 2015 Dreamspinner Advent Calendar. Even demons, in this case incubi who feed off sex, deserve a holiday, and are determined to have it when they make a bet with each other to see who can fall in love by Christmas. The only hitch is Jackson is already in love—with his long time roommate and fellow demon, Vegas. The two have settled down and run a diner that is best known for its devilishly decadent pies, but Jackson is tired of cleaning the diner’s grease traps, and more than fed up with trying to hide his feelings for Vegas. To top off the whole crazy wager, a baby is left on their doorstep, and it is up to Jackson to make sure she is taken care of, especially since she can’t seem to stand the sight of poor Vegas.

Only Lex Chase could create such a crazy-hot and adorable Christmas story with a decidedly unique twist. The relationship and interchanges between Jackson and Vegas were sharp and humorous while also bordering on the frustrating—-all they had to do was admit how they felt, and yet the constant dance around those emotions made for a fun romp of a story. With more than a fair share of snark and sarcasm, the story flew along, fraught with sexual tension that you could cut with a knife. The resolution of that tension made for a very hot sex scene that left me breathless!

Loving and Loathing Vegas is an unusual and clever contribution to this year’s Advent calendar. While it would have been great to know a bit more about the baby’s origins and the backstory of the two incubi themselves, this little snippet is sure to delight and amuse you this holiday season.

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You can buy Loving And Loathing Vegas here:

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5 Stars, Comedy, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, John Inman, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: Scrudge & Barley, Inc. by John Inman

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Title: Scrudge & Barley, Inc.

Author: John Inman

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 200 Pages

At a Glance: I found this story to be just brilliant.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: A classic tale takes off in sexy new directions! Poor Mr. Dickens must be twirling in his grave.

When E.B. Scrudge, putz extraordinaire and all-around numbnuts, is visited by his dead ex on Christmas Eve, he can’t imagine how his life could sink any lower. But the three ghostly spirits that come along after are even worse! Good lord, a dyke, a drag queen, and rounding out the trio, a big, hunky bear with nipple rings and a butt plug! What’s next?

What’s next is a good deal of soul-searching and some hard lessons learned with a dash of redemption thrown in for good measure.

And love too, believe it or not. Love that had been simmering all along at the heart of Scrudge’s miserable existence, although he was too selfish to see it—until a trio of holiday beasties pointed his sorry ass in the right direction.

Dividers

Review: Such a well-known story—that of Scrooge and his miserly life, which is interrupted by three ghostly apparitions one lonely Christmas eve. It’s a classic tale that is performed and read every holiday season. Imagine my delight when I heard that author John Inman had re-imagined the old tale and given it new life, a clever twist that morphed into an amazing story called Scrudge & Barley, Inc.

E.B. Scrudge is a nasty man. Having learned from his predecessor, Barley, Ebbie has taken to the love of money and the glee of inflicting misery on others with gusto. He has no regard for his fellow man and unashamedly uses his faithful secretary, Willie, for occasional physical release. This Christmas Eve finds Ebbie handing out his special brand of Christmas cheer in the guise of termination notices delivered by poor Willie. Once done, he ignores the small gift his secretary has for him, uses him for sex and then sends him on his way without a backward glance. After attending the ballet, Ebbie returns home to his penthouse apartment, and a night of terror, revelation and soul searching begins. By morning, E.B. Scrudge will be a changed man—but will it be too late to undo all the harm he has done and prove to Willie he does have a heart after all?

If you have never read Dickens’ version of Scrooge, then this brilliant and campy version may not mean quite as much to you, dear reader, but trust me when I tell you this piece of work was so cleverly done. Not only are the three “ghosts” who visit Ebbie simultaneously terrifying and amusing, the build up to the visits, the eerie setup with lights going off and noises rattling the night, are rather scary to read. But it is the transformation in Ebbie himself that is so genuinely played out as the hours race by—this is the real beauty of the story. Far beyond a truly delightful retelling of an old classic, Scrudge & Barley, Inc. explores the place in each of us that allows for that bit of selfishness to grow. How many times have we passed the homeless and thought they could find work if they truly tried? Or perhaps remarked that it is not “our responsibility” to save everyone? Just these few scenes—and the uncanny voice of the narrator reminding us that we too may see a bit of “Scrudge” in the mirror is enough to realize that lurking behind this simple Christmas fare is a deeper message: hold on to your humanity at all costs lest you find yourself a scrooge as well.

I found this story to be just brilliant. I enjoyed the careful way this author reworked a somewhat tired and overused story and made it relevant and entertaining again. Not only that, I loved that Willie was not a carpet for Ebbie to walk over but more a compassionate and loving man who faced his difficult life head on and knew his own mind. Scrudge & Barley, Inc. is a fantasy wrapped in love and a touch of whimsy. If you are looking for a fresh and well-written holiday story, Scrudge & Barley, Inc. will fill that ticket nicely. I highly recommend this one to you!

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You can buy Scrudge & Barley, Inc. here:

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4.5 Stars, Holiday Romance, Kenzie Cade, Less Than Three Press, Reviewed by Sammy, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Short Story

Reindeer Games by Kenzie Cade

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Title: Reindeer Games

Author: Kenzie Cade

Publisher: Less Than Three Press

Pages/Word Count: 68 Pages

At a Glance: If you are looking for a nice little story filled with Christmas cheer and sexy men, then definitely take a chance on Reindeer Games.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Dashing von Stride has one thing on his mind: winning the window display contest for the Miracle on Main Christmas Contest. His plans are set and ready—and then he walks into his toy store, Reindeer Games, to find a sleigh that shouldn’t be there. The mystery sleigh sparks a new plan, however, and now all Dash needs is the perfect Santa to model his display after.

This year, the pranks with his reindeer have gotten out of hand. Instead of preparing for the Big Day, Niklaus Kringle is hunting for his missing sleigh. Locating it should have been easy, but games easily won are seldom worth playing…

Dividers

Review: Cute, sweet, lighthearted: any and all of these words could be used to describe author Kenzie Cade’s Christmas offering, Reindeer Games. If you are looking for a well written bit of fluff to take your mind off the holiday and its mad rush, look no further. This little story is the perfect ticket to some much needed getaway time from reality.

Cleverly based on the idea that Santa has children and that elves are the magic that is Christmas, the story begins with the reindeer having played a trick on Nik Kringle by hiding his sleigh right before the “big day”. Found by a toy store owner who turns out to have a little magic of his own, Dashing von Stride (Dash) discovers the sleigh standing in his display room and immediately uses it as the inspiration for the window decorating contest held annually in the small town of (wait for it) Wassail. I was laughing so hard at these fantastic names and the tongue-in-cheek humor the author obviously used when coming up with them.

When Nik and Dash meet, there is an immediate sense of rightness—of everything finally falling into place for both of these fellows. Once Dash is clued in to exactly who Nik is and why he is in town, the story moves swiftly to an immediate and delightful happy ending.

Pure fun and a sexy happy-ever-after is what this novella is all about. Nik and Dash could not be more perfect for each other, or sweeter, and did I mention hot? But honestly, there was little to criticize in this story simply because you can sense the pure delight the author took in crafting this holiday offering. The two main characters sensed their immediate bond, and wasted no time in exploring exactly what that meant. The mischievous and aerodynamically correct reindeer only added to the fun. Perhaps the only criticism I might have is that the smarmy and nasty shopkeeper who always seemed to take first place in the window contest was under utilized in this story. I felt like a slight tussle with him, one that might have threatened Nik and Dash getting to know one another, would have spiced up the story a bit. However, that was more a matter of my personal taste than a real fault in the story.

If you are looking for a nice little story filled with Christmas cheer and sexy men, then definitely take a chance on Reindeer Games by Kenzie Cade.

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You can buy Reindeer Games here:

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4 Stars, Comedy, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, Reviewed by Sammy, Rob Rosen, Short Story

Review: Best Laid Trap by Rob Rosen

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Title: Best Laid Trap (Sleigh Ride: Advent Calendar 2015)

Author: Rob Rosen

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 24 Pages

At a Glance: Fans of Rob Rosen will immediately latch on to his wickedly humorous writing style and slightly crazed characters.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Roy has a crush on Steve, so when a work-related ski weekend is offered, Roy jumps at the chance to finally lay a trap for his hunky coworker. An abandoned cabin nearby is perfect for his scheme, and Roy stocks it with champagne, rubbers, and lube. But fate intervenes, and it’s not Steve, but Ranger Josh, who ends up trapped in the cabin with Roy during an avalanche. Roy’s plan might be ruined, but there’s still a chance for a very happy New Year indeed.

Dividers

Review: It’s holiday time and Rob Rosen offers up Best Laid Trap, another offering form the Dreamspinner Advent Calendar: Sleigh Ride. I must admit I am a huge fan of Rosen’s acerbic wit and snarky repartee, and this little short starts out in typical Rosen style, replete with a near stream of consciousness from the narrator and star of the story, Roy.

The plot is a simple one: Roy has been crushing on a coworker and accidentally finds an abandoned cabin right off the bunny trail at the ski resort they are both staying. With seduction on his mind, Roy sets the trap for his amour and sits back to wait. Little did he know that Mother Nature, a randy forest ranger, and some karma would change his whole night–and perhaps his future as well.

Be forewarned, this short story is about as insta-lust as you can get, but with lots of humor and a fairly hot, lengthy sex scene to boot. This is a mere snippet, so if you are looking for a great deal of character development, or much past a short rendezvous with a hint of a happy-ever-after, then this might not be the selection for you. However, fans of Rob Rosen will immediately latch on to his wickedly humorous writing style and slightly crazed characters.

Roy is sweet and funny as he lays out his night of seduction for a coworker. When he finds that he is going to be left high and dry, he barely has time to be disappointed before the ranger of his dreams appears and he grabs opportunity with both hands! Barely a short story, Rosen still manages to pack this gem with soppy moments filled with inner dialogue from Roy’s head that will have you laughing. All in all, this was a fun romp that will leave you wanting just a little more!

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You can buy Best Laid Trap here:

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4.5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Holiday Romance, Pat Henshaw, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: Blame It on the Fruitcake by Pat Henshaw

Small Gems

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Title: Blame It On The Fruitcake (Sleigh Ride: Advent Calendar 2015

Author: Pat Henshaw

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 36 Pages

At a Glance: Blame It on the Fruitcake is a sweet and funny love story. A perfect morsel of yummy goodness for this holiday season!

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Fruitcake is the laughingstock of the holiday season. But can it be an aphrodisiac instead? Motorcycle mechanic Sam McGuire is surprised to find a gaily wrapped box on his doorstep with a piece of fruitcake accompanying an invitation to a holiday party.

Wondering if he’ll fit in, Sam attends the party—mostly to get more of the fruitcake he falls in love with—and meets Jay Merriweather, his new neighbor. The lure of Jay’s big family and its holiday tradition of enjoying Grandma’s fruitcake hook Sam, as does the sexy man himself.

But Sam can’t imagine why handsome, college-educated Jay would want someone like him, who was raised in a children’s home and barely graduated high school. Maybe the magic of the holiday season can help two men who seem so different come together like the ingredients in a well-made fruitcake.

Dividers

Review: Blame It on the Fruitcake by Pat Henshaw is another delightful story from the Dreamspinner Advent Calendar Package entitled Sleigh Ride, a swiftly moving short story that brings together what seems like polar opposites and solidifies the idea that the heart knows what it wants despite what seems like insurmountable differences.

Sam McGuire has lived most of his life knowing that he is not the kind of guy anyone would choose to love. For years, as an orphan, he watched others be snatched up into middle class happiness by beautiful people who barely gave him a second glance. Now, as a successful mechanic and shop owner, he still believes that he is hardly a catch for some well-educated college boy who cleans up way better than he ever would.

Very much a loner, he is shocked when a small package appears on his doorstep containing an amazing piece of fruitcake and an invite to his neighbor’s party. After suspiciously and grudgingly tasting the cake–after all, everyone knows fruitcake is literally scraping the bottom of the holiday treat barrel–Sam decides to attend the party…in order to get more cake! Little does he know he is about to meet a guy who will challenge all his tightly held low opinions of himself, and of his certainty that he will never be worthy of being loved.

Author Pat Henshaw is a new author for me and I can honestly say, based on this little gem of a story, I will be looking up her backlist ASAP. Sam is such a sweet guy under his gruff exterior. Everything about him, from the way in which he dresses to his rough dialogue, was just so right and realistic. I honestly felt both these main characters were the perfect example of guys I’d be likely to meet in real life. There was such a genuine air about this author’s writing that made this instant attraction between Sam and Jay so understandable and believable.

Sam’s past created such a deep well of loneliness within him that it lent credibility to his automatic decisions that he would never be good enough for Jay. Jay’s admissions of feeling like he was pretending to be something he’s not allowed Sam to understand that appearance really is not all it’s cracked up to be, and it’s what lies beneath the exterior that really counts.

Blame It on the Fruitcake is a sweet and funny love story. A perfect morsel of yummy goodness for this holiday season!

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You can buy Blame It on the Fruitcake here:

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4 Stars, DSP Publications, Lissa Kasey, Paranormal, Reviewed by Sammy, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: Evolution: Genesis by Lissa Kasey

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Title: Evolution: Genesis (Evolution: Book Two)

Author: Lissa Kasey

Publisher: DSP Publications

Pages/Word Count: 200 Pages

At a Glance: Genesis is an interesting, if somewhat tangled, read for paranormal fans.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Evolution made music history when one bandmate turned vampire and another joined the vampire hate movement Preservation Group. Gene is trying to cling to the music as his relationship with Kerstrande begins to spiral into the darkness of hidden demons. Jaded by his years as a vampire flunkie, Kerstrande uses his newly won power over New York City to destroy his enemies and protect Gene. But a demon called a Fallen begins to take control of KC, slowly devouring his soul and through him the entire city. Battling against the evil that wants to destroy him, Kerstrande fights to hold onto Gene’s brightness.

A power unlike any other grows within Gene and shines like a beacon to the demons surrounding him. Realizing that only he can save his lover, Gene is willing to do anything to shake the darkness loose. Even if it means reshaping the future, the band, and his own existence.

Dividers

Review: I was thrilled to see a sequel to the riveting novel Evolution by author Lissa Kasey. With book two, Genesis, two of the most exciting characters in the paranormal genre are back, center stage, and sparks fly once more—and by sparks I mean an all consuming fire, which is exactly what Gene is currently dealing with at the story’s beginning. I cannot state more clearly than this that you must read this series in order to appreciate all the nuances and relationships that are further developed in book two. If you have not, then please stop reading this review and go read Evolution, for I will be remarking upon some of the themes and incidences from the first book to set the stage for book two.

At the opening of Genesis, Gene is still grappling with the fact that he is a human hybrid in the form of a phoenix. Those who know their mythology will remember that the phoenix never really dies but instead is reborn from flames—dying when engulfed from inner fire—and that is exactly what Gene had discovered he could do when he took down Hane—the maker of Kerestrande (KC), Gene’s vampire, again/off again lover—in the first novel. But remember vampires cannot be fully destroyed by flames—instead, they must incinerate by being exposed to sunlight, which burns them to ash never to rise again. This is exactly what KC does to Hane, and when he does so, the dark shadow—the fallen that clung to Hane—consumes KC and begins to slowly take him over.

Meanwhile, every bad guy and paranormal on the earth seems to be after Gene as a means to get to KC. Consequently, Gene undergoes several horrific deaths only to be reborn again each time. However, Gene is weakening, and coming back to human form takes longer and longer each time. Instead, he is trapped in darkness where he can clearly see what is eating at KC, and all the undead that cling to his lover as well. In the end, it will be up to Gene to save his vampire lover from certain death, as the Fallen within KC pushes its way into his soul and consumes that which is KC at his very core, taking him over completely.

Okay. That was a major oversimplification of a very intricate plot that I must admit I lost my way in at certain points in this novel. Not only were there additional characters to learn about, there were also so many creatures after Gene that it was hard at times to keep up with who was after whom, and why. Still, the bones of this story were really solid and KC and Gene, when they were together, were pure gold in terms of an “it’s complicated” relationship. Every time KC pushed Gene away, Gene’s pain and dejection was so poignant to read—really just heartbreaking. And this author was so smart in that she alternated the point of view almost chapter to chapter so we were privy as to why KC was sending Gene away. Plus, we saw just how it guts the vampire when he does so.

Alongside these two was a cast of secondary characters that were convincingly real, and each became an integral part of Gene’s life—some with deadly and evil intent. Without them, Gene would have never been able to survive all that he does at the hands of evil forces determined to use Gene as bait to draw out KC and the shadowy evil that holds him captive.

So why wasn’t this a five star read? Well, when it came down to it, this story got very involved with the mystical side of both vampires and Gene himself—this phoenix hybrid. In doing so, I honestly was often confused as to where this whole plot was moving and just exactly why Gene kept getting…well, brutally beaten and killed, only to rise again. I felt that the plot was sometimes unanchored and drifted too far into mystical realms that were not always fully realized or fleshed out in the story. That made for some real frustration when I just wanted this story to “get on with it” and come to some conclusion I could understand.

As a result of all this action without a solid plot theme to plant itself on, the ending seemed way too easy and a bit rushed. The final outcome was nice, but after all the angst and miscommunication between KC and Gene, a sweet happy-ever-after seemed just a bit contrived. Still, this is an author whom I really admire and whose writing is often involved and well executed, therefore I would encourage fans of the first in this series to see how things play out between Gene and KC. Genesis is an interesting, if somewhat tangled, read for paranormal fans.

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You can buy Evolution: Genesis here:

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4 Stars, BDSM/Kink/Erotica, Dreamspinner Press, Grace R. Duncan, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: Beautiful Boy by Grace R. Duncan

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Title: Beautiful Boy

Author: Grace R. Duncan

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 280 Pages

At a Glance: All in all, Beautiful Boy is a good BDSM story with some wonderfully intimate moments that carried the novel.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Malcolm Tate hung up his flogger when his submissive sought out another Dom and landed in the hands of a serial killer. Convinced his lack of dominance sent his sub away, Mal has spent two years blaming himself for what happened. But when his best friend finally convinces him to go back to the local dungeon, Mal’s grateful. Especially when he wins beautiful, submissive, firmly closeted Kyle Bingham in a charity slave auction.

College grad Kyle hasn’t earned enough to move out of the loft his conservative, homophobic parents bought, much less to buy any of the other things still in their name. When he’s won at auction by the hot, amazing Mal, he’s shocked that anyone would want him. No one else seemed to—not his parents, his former Doms, or any of his disastrous dates.

But Mal does want him and Kyle lets his guard down, only to be outed to his parents. With his world crashing down, he must find a way to trust Mal—and their developing relationship—or risk losing everything.

Dividers

Review: Two men who feel they have little left to give find one another in Grace R. Duncan’s novel Beautiful Boy. One is a submissive who has been misused by other Doms who failed to see the worth of the man who had the strength to offer his submission to them. As a result, Kyle is certain he has nothing to offer a Dom. Not only does he feel his outward appearance is lacking, he is sure his inward need to serve is somehow inadequate and simply not good enough. The other man is a Dom who blames himself for the reckless behavior of his former submissive whose life ended at the hands of a serial killer. Mal cannot bring himself to even consider taking on another submissive and has not dabbled in the lifestyle for some time.

A charity auction brings the two men together, and when they engage in a scene, there is an instant attraction that is hard for them to resist. Before long, they become deeply involved and despite Kyle’s persistent worry that he will never be good enough for Mal, the two men find themselves on the cusp of committing to a D/s relationship. However, Kyle comes from a wealthy family desperate to maintain appearances. In their lives, there is no room for a less than perfect son—certainly not a gay one. Now Kyle worries just how long Mal will be content to hide in the closet Kyle currently inhabits.

Beautiful Boy has some incredibly rich moments of loving care between its two main characters. Mal and Kyle are so well suited to each other, and the way in which Grace R. Duncan writes the numerous scenes these two engage in is both realistic and breathtaking. The aftercare—the compassion and protection that Mal extends to his submissive after pain play is rife with incredible tenderness. It is so sweet that you cannot help but fall in love a little with these two. The BDSM elements are definitely hardcore at times and yet always carefully controlled by Mal and, as such, they ring with an air of authenticity.

While the story did have an overload of sex, it was well thought out and fit within the plot such as it was. I felt that more interaction between Kyle and his parents would have lent some credence to their role in his life and, in turn, would have allowed for his need to remain closeted to be a bit more realistic. Because we spent time in this novel with Mal’s friends and his family, he became a fully fleshed out character with what felt like genuine needs and concerns. Kyle was much more one-dimensional and, as a result, not nearly as interesting to read about as his Dominant, Mal. Consequently, the big showdown between Kyle and his parents was more of a passing moment and hardly seemed worthy of the buildup it received in the story.

All in all, Beautiful Boy is a good BDSM story with some wonderfully intimate moments that carried the novel.

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You can buy Beautiful Boy here:

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3.5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Mary Calmes, Reviewed by Sammy, Short Story

Review: Easy Evenings by Mary Calmes

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Title: Easy Evenings (Mangrove: Book Four)

Author: Mary Calmes

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 77 Pages

At a Glance: Several huge plot holes turned this novella from a sweet little romance into a rather confusing story.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Lazlo Maguire doesn’t do relationships—he does transactions. Six months of the year, he’s an expensive rent boy in Manhattan, and he moves so fast that settling down could not, would not, ever enter his mind… except for once. Britton Lassiter he meets man to man, not as hustler and mark, and it’s too good to be true when the lawyer wants to keep Lazlo even if he has to share him with the job.

But Lazlo has his reasons to walk away from the man he’s grown to love. The other six months of the year, he is laid-back Laz, a shopkeeper in the sleepy coastal town of Mangrove, Florida, where the artist he never allows himself to be in the Big Apple shines through. He lives for his time by the ocean, the place he hides his secrets and nurses his broken heart.

Then fate intervenes, and Laz gets the surprise of his life when he spies Britton in Mangrove—but it’s not meant to be… not until Britton sees the change in him and wants to be a part of Laz’s new life so that every evening can be easy… together. Hopefully the secrets that tore them apart won’t come back to haunt them.

Dividers

Review: Let me begin by saying that author Mary Calmes writes very sweet and lovely romance stories. This is an author I go to when I really want a bit of escapism. Her stories are most notable in that any great conflict is usually quickly resolved, her people are beautiful, angst is minimal, and there is always a swift and loving happy ever after. So, it’s safe for me to say that when I choose to review one of her stories, I look at them in this light, with an eye more toward fantasy than realistic m/m relationships. Her latest installment in the Mangrove series, Easy Evenings, is no exception.

Lazlo Maguire is a rent boy. He divides his year between time in Manhattan, where he provides sexual hookups for a variety of clientele, to the quiet town of Mangrove, Florida, leading a quiet life as a shop keeper and creating sculpted wind chimes and various other things out of metals. When he meets Britton Lassiter, his world is turned upside down. Britton makes him want things that he can’t possibly have, and feel things that he’s never felt before. For the first time, here is someone who could possibly make Laz walk away from his rent boy existence. But Lazlo’s life is not his own and despite how much he would like to have that happy ever after with Britton, the responsibilities he has will never allow him to give up the empty life that holds him prisoner.

The story picks up when Laz return for his six month stint at home in Mangrove, and discovers that Britton has moved his law practice to the same town. Without much of a clue as to the why and how, we discover Britton has taken out a restraining order against Laz, and one can only assume that is because Laz has been attempting to reestablish their relationship. This would be the same relationship that Laz walked away from after realizing that Britton was worthy of much more than a rent boy for a life partner. All of this is done in flashback style, narrated by Laz himself—so it is sketchy at best. Then there is a sudden twist in the story when a little three-year-old girl is unceremoniously dumped on Lazlo’s front porch, and he is informed that he is the father. Suddenly everything changes, including his relationship with Britton.

Laz is one of the sweetest characters I’ve ever read about. The reasons behind his being a rent boy almost broke my heart. The sweet little girl that he is left with is quite precocious. While she seems a bit too old in her outlook for the age of three, and her dialogue is way too sophisticated for that age as well, I was able to overlook that as the way in which she was written made her truly delightful. These two really captured my heart in a big way—I wanted them to be happy in every way possible.

Britton was a real study in contrasts. Needing to submit to Laz in the bedroom while, at the same time, so fiercely eager to take care of Laz outside of it, I felt I knew so little about him. This was really Laz’s story from beginning to end, and I felt that Britton was a bit underdeveloped as a main character. However, the two made a fiery match and were very well suited to each other. Unfortunately, this was a swiftly moving story and as a result, I felt like major chunks of the story were left untold. For instance the reasons for the restraining order were never really discussed. And just as quickly as it was mentioned, Britton was dropping it in order to be with Laz.

Also, the declaration that he had never had unprotected sex other than with Britton was a blatant lie, particularly since earlier in the story he relates how one evening he had sex with a trick’s wife which apparently produced the little girl Katie. Then again, we are told in the story that he never gives out his real name while turning tricks in Manhattan, except to Britton, yet three years after that one evening, the stepfather currently stuck with Katie after her mother had died is able to track Laz down without knowing his real name. There is a hint that Lazlo knew more about Katie’s mother, but it was never explained so it left me unsure as to how Katie even came to exist.

Ultimately, it was these huge plot holes that turned this novella from a sweet little romance into a rather confusing story. Every time one of these inconsistencies ripped me from the pages, I had to make a concerted effort to put my head back in the game and continue the story. I have read other short stories by this author and found them to be quite lovely. Unfortunately, Easy Evenings had too many troublesome and conflicting details to make this a romance I could recommend.

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You can buy Easy Evenings here:

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5 Stars, Anthology, B.G. Thomas, Dreamspinner Press, Eli Easton, Genre Romance, Jamie Fessenden, Kim Fielding, Paranormal, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: Spirit by Jamie Fessenden, Kim Fielding, Eli Easton, and B.G. Thomas

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Title: Spirit (Gothika: Book Four)

Authors: Jamie Fessenden, Kim Fielding, Eli Easton, B. G. Thomas

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 260 Pages

At a Glance: Four top-notch authors have once again created an incredibly well written anthology with stories that are both entertaining and thoughtful.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Seeing dead people. Haunting and being haunted. Ghosts and those trying to deal with them add a supernatural flair to these four tales of romance. 

In Among the Dead, Neil Gaven sees dead people. A gentle ghost guides him to Trist, who needs his help. But Trist is tormented by spirits, so maybe together they can find a way to live among the dead.

Dei Ex Machina is the story of Sabbio, a Roman slave who was killed 1700 years ago. He’s been alone until he meets landscaper Mason. But because they’re separated by centuries, it will take a miracle to make love work.

The Mill brings a supernatural challenge to Frank Carter and his team of paranormal investigators. The owner’s personal psychic, Toby Reese, is supposed to help. Frank doesn’t have much respect for psychics, but when the dangers of the old mill threaten his team, he realizes he and Toby will have to work together to survive.

Mike Ellsworth finds himself suddenly deceased. Now he’s a ghost with lots left undone in Unfinished Business. He’s never been able to be honest with his wife. He’s never been able to tell the man he loves how he feels. He’s barely been able to admit he’s gay. If only there were a way he could make up for all he’s failed to do….

Dividers

Review:   There is a new Gothika anthology out, Spirit: Volume Four, and this time it has a supernatural and ghostly bent. Four top-notch authors have once again created an incredibly well written anthology with stories that are both entertaining and thoughtful.

The Mill by Jamie Fessenden:

Our first story is an incredibly well-crafted tale about paranormal investigators and psychics. Drawing from historical fact about the many horrific warehouse fires that took place in the early 1900s, the story focuses on an old sewing factory that burned to the ground with over one-hundred souls locked inside. Since then, Hawley Textile mill has attempted to house other industry, but most recently, plans were made to demolish the old building and turn the land into a shopping mall. However, several unexplained injuries and setbacks caused any renovation or demolition to come to a screeching halt.

The current owner, elderly Mrs. Hawley, has hired a paranormal investigative team to come in and debunk or verify the idea that the building is haunted. While visiting her favorite psychic, she also enlists his help to check out the site. When Frank Carter and his team begin to investigate, his little brother sees something on an upper floor of the building. Before any of the team can move to help him, Louis runs screaming from the large hall and falls down a flight of stairs. While he only suffers a concussion and a broken leg, for some inexplicable reason Louis slips into a coma-like state, and nothing the doctors can do seem to wake him up. Around this time, Frank and his team meet up with Toby Reese, and the general reaction is a lot of skepticism and even a bit of hostility. However, Frank slowly begins to understand that Toby is the genuine article. Not only that, but feelings long dormant are stirring in both Toby and Frank, and now they must team up to confront whatever is haunting the factory–and hope they come out unscathed.

What an incredible story. The pacing, the charged atmosphere that permeated every scene in the abandoned factory, and the growing attraction between Toby and Frank made for an exciting tale all around. Ghost stories are tricky things, and to make them raise that tingly feeling along your spine takes some real dedication to making the story as believable as possible. I really enjoyed how Jamie Fessenden used the distrust between the science of paranormal investigation as opposed to the “feelings” of the psychic. Setting up this foil between Frank and Toby made each supernatural moment in the story just that much scarier and more realistic. This was one of those types of short stories that I would love to see in serial form with many more adventures for this paranormal team. Rating: 5 stars

Dei Ex Machina by Kim Fielding:

In her story, Dei Ex Machina, Kim Fielding offers up a story of second chances. Focusing on two men–one corporeal, who has recently lost his husband, and the other one, who has lived in limbo for hundreds of years–this author brings the two together in a lovely story that focuses on the healing and redemptive power of love.

Once upon a time, centuries before Mason ever walked the earth, a young slave named Sabbio was taken from his home and forced to work on building a majestic palace in a small coastal town called Split.  When he died, he did so without ever understanding what real love is, without ever feeling the touch of a lover’s hand, and without ever fully realizing how love transforms a person. Because of that, Sabbio was destined to live a life in darkness, in a terrible form of limbo where he would often forget who he was and what he had once been. When he is able to pull himself from the dark pit, he walks the small town of Split to which his spirit is forever chained.  One day he sees a young American man, Mason. Mason is still grieving several months after his own husband was shot down on campus grounds where he worked. Having the one man he loved ripped from his life has left Mason empty and hurting.

As the days progress on this vacation Mason has agreed to take with his brother and friends, he will become increasingly aware of the feeling that someone is watching him. Little does he know that a chance encounter with one of the locals will lead to his dreams of being able to love again becoming a reality.

More than a ghost story, Dei Ex Machina, speaks of an instant connection, a spark that only one person can provide for another. That spark leads to recognition and, in Mason’s case, to a second chance at love. When two wounded hearts come together there is often healing, but Kim Fielding goes one step further in the story. Not only are Mason and Sabbio destined to be together, they discover they are the one thing that completes the other, they are soul mates.

This delightful story is complete and total fantasy, and I dare you not to fall in love with its two main characters. Rating: 4 stars

Among The Dead by Eli Easton:

In the third offering of this wonderful anthology, author Eli Easton gives us Among the Dead.

After a near fatal accident while windsailing, Neil finds himself with a brand new ability: that of being able to see dead people–spirits who are not yet at rest. At first he thought he was crazy, and after some intensive therapy, he realizes that the knock on his head has actually left him with this very real and horrifying ability. In an attempt to save his sanity, slowly but surely Neil becomes a recluse, only leaving the house every first Tuesday of the month for a check in with his boss at his IT job. Other than that, he has little interaction with the world around him.

On one such Tuesday jaunt, Neil sees a man in a bowler hat. Unlike other spirits, this man seems calm, slightly sad, and desiring to somehow communicate with Neil. At first Neil is terrified, for right after his accident he did try to help the spirits that he saw, sometimes with disastrous results. So, when this gentleman appears in Neil’s apartment, he decides to engage him in conversation. After many attempts, Neil is finally able to understand what the man wants. There is someone who needs Neil’s help; someone who Neil had seen before the accident, at the local park. When he agrees to help the man, the comfortable, quiet life he has been enduring will change forever.

This story had quite the shocker of an ending, but the ride getting there was really sublime. Neil was so cut off from everything and everyone after his accident. Alternating between the thought that he was insane, and grappling with the reality that he could see dead spirits, Neil coped by simply choosing to shut out life as much as possible. When he finally decides to help Trist, at the prodding of the ghost in the bowler hat, he is overjoyed to finally find someone like him–someone who also interacts with the spirit world. The instant attraction, the need to cling to one another, and the reality that neither of them is alone anymore is so incredibly beautiful. While the transition into lovers is rapid, it is also utterly believable. This was such a sweet story about finding your soul mate and defying all odds to hang on to him forever. Rating: 4.5 stars

Text by B.G. Thomas:

The last thing Mike remembers is that stupid text, the one that now has him walking the earth as a dead man–or nearly so. Prior to the accident, Mike had lead a double life. For years he has denied that he is gay; instead, he runs a successful business alongside his trophy wife. And for the last year, has been meeting the one person he really loves, Joel. Having met at one of Mike’s seminars, Joel and he have been meeting clandestinely every time Mike can get into the city. In fact, it is Joel who Mike is texting when he accidentally runs that red light and loses his life…sort of…

You see Mike is now seemingly brain dead, on life support and running out of time. He must somehow reach out to both Joel and his wife to let them know how he feels. He must set things straight before he passes on. But will there be time?

B.G. Thomas writes the most compelling story about what is most important in our lives, and the foolish way we have of taking it all for granted. By writing the character of Mike, the author hits the reader hard with the idea that any second may be our last, and we must live life to the fullest, be honest with those we love and never, ever take our eyes off the prize–love.

One should not look at this short story as just an advert against texting and driving—although it is a very strong reminder of just that idea. No, there is a bigger message here. While we watch those who Mike loved, and who loved him in return, agonize over things that were left undone and words of love that were left unspoken, we are forcibly reminded that every second of our lives counts. Now the question remains, what will you do with that very important message? Rating: 5 stars

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5 Stars, Audio Book, DSP Publications, Narration Rating - 5 Stars, Reviewed by Sammy, Rhys Ford, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Audio Review: Black Dog Blues by Rhys Ford – Narrated by Greg Tremblay

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Title: Black Dog Blues (The Kai Gracen Series: Book One)

Author: Rhys Ford

Narrator: Greg Tremblay

Publisher: DSP Publications

Run Time: 8 hours and 50 minutes

At a Glance: The audio version of this novel was well done and hooked me immediately, drenching me in the mood and pathos of the story.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Ever since being part of the pot in a high-stakes poker game, elfin outcast Kai Gracen figures he used up his good karma when Dempsey, a human Stalker, won the hand and took him in.

Following the violent merge of Earth and Underhill, the human and elfin races are left with a messy, monster-ridden world, and Stalkers are the only cavalry willing to ride to someone’s rescue when something shadowy appears.

It’s a hard life but one Kai likes—filled with bounty, a few friends, and most importantly, no other elfin around to remind him of his past. And killing monsters is easy. Especially since he’s one himself.

But when a sidhe lord named Ryder arrives in San Diego, Kai is conscripted to do a job for Ryder’s fledgling Dawn Court. It’s supposed to be a simple run up the coast during dragon-mating season to retrieve a pregnant human woman seeking sanctuary. Easy, quick, and best of all, profitable. But Kai ends up in the middle of a deadly bloodline feud he has no hope of escaping.

No one ever got rich being a Stalker. But then few of them got old either and it doesn’t look like Kai will be the exception.

Dividers

Review: If you are approaching Rhys Ford’s novel Black Dog Blues looking for a traditional romance or even a sci-fi classic, think again. This is no typical anything. Instead, author Rhys Ford creates a world that has both human and fey, magic and monsters and everything in between, and places them inside a story that is so rich in character and long in plot that you are nearly breathless by novel’s end.

The main story centers on the Sidhe and Unsidhe—those who are elfin and those who are…something evil altogether. They coexist next to humans and multiple creatures of every species, from dragons to the elfin shadow dogs and many other mutant forms of different species. In this new society there are stalkers—those who go hunting our worst nightmares and deliver their hides for payment. One such stalker is the mysterious Kai Gracen, a young elfin who has been humanized to the point of virtually becoming a loner, neither cohabitating with his own kind nor humans. Kai was raised by Dempsey, a stalker who won him in a poker game. At that time, Kai was barely recognizable as any kind of boy, more animal than human or elfin. As this story evolves we come to find out about his past and are mystified as to how Kai not only managed to survive the horrors of his former life but rise above them to be the compassionate man he has become.

He is commissioned to retrieve a pregnant human from the chief city of the sidhe (the good elves, in essence). Accompanying him will be the prince of that dynasty who has come to Kai’s neck of the words to establish a “dawn court” for the disenfranchised sidhe who live in the city. This mission will challenge Kai in many ways and unlock the mystery of who he is and just what stalks his own nightmares. He will be confronted by the horrors of his past and feel himself slipping into love with a man who wields much power for good. The question remains, though, will Kai survive this mission intact, and can he really love another person—especially when he is unsure that love can ever really be his at all.

The brief and admittedly shallow synopsis above touches only the bones of this story. There is one mystery after another in this novel, and Rhys Ford unravels each one, even while intertwining them into the most intricate of plots I have ever read. However, by virtue of her excellent storytelling abilities, I was never lost in the weaving of this tale. Kai is a conundrum whose story just begins in this novel. While he is on every page, his past is slowly and carefully alluded to over and over, with the startling revelation of who and what he is being revealed finally near the end of the novel. Even then, you know there is a wealth of background information just waiting to surface, which becomes the springboard for future novels about this brave young elf.

Speaking of elves—these are not your waif-like forest creatures. No, this author not only makes her elf-kind cunning and smart but strong and determined as well. I was so impressed by the way that the supernatural creatures in this story were three-dimensional and fully fleshed out. The result was that I cared for them, was drawn into their story and captured by their troubles. The story itself was captivating, with so many twists and turns that I found myself trying to solve the many mysteries and was delightfully surprised when the answers turned out to be ones that I would have never thought of in a million years.

Greg Tremblay did a great job with Kai’s sarcasm—that weary ennui that the character wears like a mantle. The variation of voices was quite good—including Dempsey’s lilting brogue that was so reminiscent of those turn of the century New York City Irish cops. Every once in a while Mr. Tremblay would allow the brogue to bleed into the beginning of another character or the narration but overall, the delineation between voices and their cadence was spot on. The narrator’s gravelly tones really added to the gritty feel of the novel as well. Quite frankly, his pitch, speed of delivery and variation in voices enriched the overall mood of the story. Black Dog Blues is a dark tale and the narrator’s approach added to the mysterious feel to this story.

All in all, Black Dog Blues was a compelling mystery with a touch of romance and excellent supernatural shadings thrown in. The audio version of this novel was well done and hooked me immediately, drenching me in the mood and pathos of the story. I enjoyed this narrator immensely and would highly recommend this audiobook.

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3 Stars, BDSM/Kink/Erotica, Reviewed by Sammy, Sean Michael, Torquere Press

Review: Jack of All Trades by Sean Michael

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Title: Jack Of All Trades (Box Of Nails: Book Four)

Author: Sean Michael

Publisher: Torquere Press

Pages/Word Count: 137 Pages

At a Glance: Unfortunately, Jack of All Trades is not one of this author’s better works.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Brad is crashing in his cousin Stephen’s room while he tries to sort out his life. A perpetual student, he still hasn’t settled on a major after a half dozen years at University. He loves learning, but so far that’s the only thing that’s been a good fit.

Dill is a full-time Dom who hasn’t found the right sub yet. He’s not worried about it — he figures it’ll eventually happen and in the meantime, there’s plenty of boys at the Hammer Club who are eager to share a scene with an experienced master.

When Brad and Dill meet at a party at Barney and Devon’s house for subs, the attraction is immediate and undeniable and Master Dill feels that Brad is the perfect sub for him. He also believes that as his submissive, Brad will learn the focus he needs to fulfill his potential and find satisfaction with his life. Now he just needs to help jack-of-all-trades Brad see they belong together

Dividers

Review: Brad is adrift—more than just a perpetual student who floats by from one major to the next, he is barely surviving monetarily as well. Now couch surfing at a friend’s place, Brad meets Dill, a Dom in search of a submissive. When the two meet, Brad is still a virgin and certain that the kinky life of BDSM is not for him…or so he thinks. Dill recognizes in Brad a sub in need of direction and education, and sets out to be the impetus for both in Brad’s life.

After arranging for Brad to become his intern who will help research his many articles concerning the D/s world, Dill begins to wear down Brad’s resistance to trying out the lifestyle for himself. With much gentle reassurance and a heap of nudging, Brad seems ready to consider the idea he could be a submissive—but, will he be willing to explore that with Dill as his Master? Only time will tell.

If you know anything about Sean Michael’s work then you know it is filled with hot sex and varying degrees of BDSM, and Jack Of All Trades is no exception. Honestly, were this a piece of erotica and not a novel that should have a serious and steadily moving plot, I could have given this story five stars and called it a day. There is no doubt that this author can churn out one hot sexual scenario after another. In fact, the Doms that proliferate this author’s books are always kind, gentle and fully invested in their submissives, even when that means pushing them well beyond their comfort zone and exploring deeply ingrained painful memories that often seem to go hand in hand with being a submissive in one of Sean Michael’s stories.

Jack of All Trades delivers on this successful formula of needy sub and patient Dom quite nicely. However, what’s lacking here are the specifics surrounding Brad’s insecurities. I never really got to know Brad on any other level than he was a virgin and in need of being told it was okay to explore BDSM. He seemed to have no real family, there was no real meat or hidden reasons behind his inability to commit, and, to be frank, I was hard pressed to see his character’s growth throughout the novel. Other than his committing to a relationship with Dill, Brad remained one-dimensional and I am sorry to say, rather boring.

This novel fell short merely because it failed to establish what was really the root of Brad’s inability to commit to life—whether that be a college major or being Dill’s submissive. Instead, there was simply heaps of great sex and little else.  I found myself wanting this story to move on—to get to the point where Dill would dig deep enough to see why Brad was so adrift. Instead, he took the man into his home, gave him a rather contrived “internship” by becoming his “patron,” and introduced him to the world of BDSM. Other than Brad agreeing to becoming exclusive and willing to “try” the lifestyle, I failed to see any real change in either character. Hence, we had a series of sex scenes tied together with very little plot.

Sean Michael has turned out some very good and provocative novels where the characters develop and change, finally growing into a less wounded and more complete person. Unfortunately, Jack of All Trades is not one of this author’s better works and therefore, fell short of the kind of stories this author is capable of producing.

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5 Stars, Drama, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Sammy, Wilde City Press, Zathyn Priest

Review: Inside His Reflection by Zathyn Priest

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Title: Inside His Reflection

Author: Zathyn Priest

Publisher: Wilde City Press

Pages/Word Count: 294 Pages

At a Glance: Once again, Zathyn Priest proves he is an outstanding storyteller.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: A blind date leaves Harry reeling, and another date goes as badly.

Scars on Elijah’s face are clues of a broken soul, yet Harry can’t walk away. Not even when he learns Elijah sees a dead man in mirror reflections.

Elijah’s sanity snaps. Blamed for crimes he didn’t commit, Elijah has already survived a brutal murder attempt and now hides under a Protection Program. Harry must have faith he is innocent and fight for Elijah’s stolen rights.

Can Harry do this without losing his mind, his own rights, and the man he loves?

Dividers

Review: Harry lives in the outback—on a farm that also serves as a five star resort that is run by him, his identical twin brother, Henry, and their family. After agreeing to meet a blind date in Adelaide, Harry actually ends up meeting the wrong guy. Harry tells himself to step away—to leave the strangely aloof “Elijah” alone, but there is something so haunting about the young man, so lost, and so broken. Before he knows it, Harry is wrapped up in the nightmare that has haunted Ashley for so many years.

Elijah, aka Ashley, has been hiding for ten years under federal protection. Relocated from England to Australia, Ashley must hide who he is due to being accused of raping his foster brother, Rylan, then age 6. When he was supposedly discovered enacting the deed, Rylan’s father brutally beats, rapes and nearly kills Ashley, leaving his body disfigured and his mind fractured. When Ashley is forced into relocating, he loses contact with his twin brother Chris. Now, thinking Chris is dead, and terrified that Harry will discover who “Elijah” really is, Ashley begins to fall apart. And when all is said and done, there may be nothing left of Ashley for Harry to love.

Inside His Reflection by Zathyn Priest boasts a multi-layered plot with ample twists and turns. With each chapter, the author leaves a trail of crumbs for the reader to decipher, and brings them one step closer to understanding just what happened to fourteen-year old Ashley on that horrific night so long ago. As the layers of lies and secrets unfold, you begin to understand just how fragile a hold on reality Ashley has, and how difficult it will be for Harry to gain his trust. Yet Harry is nothing but patient, and perhaps the most compassionate character this author has written to date.

Loving and gentle, Harry sees beyond the shadows that surround Ashley, and remains steadfast in protecting him as best as he can. Ashley is so broken—mourning the loss of his twin brother who was his to take care of—his to guard and his to love; in essence, his world. Cast off by their parents, both boys have only each other to cling to, and in the end, even that is taken from them.

Inside His Reflection is a rich and tender love story that takes some very dark twists and turns. This is a love story that nearly expires before it can achieve stability. Yet, again and again, this author re-knits these two gorgeous characters together, making Harry and Ashley true survivors in a world that is determined to keep them apart. This novel is a story of healing and love and one man’s fight for sanity and reason. It is a journey that two men take to establish their love for each other despite the very real truth that time for them may be running out.

Once again, Zathyn Priest proves he is an outstanding storyteller who creates deeply wounded characters who learn to live with their brokenness and find the strength to move beyond it into a world where love and happiness are truly possible.

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4 Stars, Cate Ashwood, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Sammy, Self-Published

Release Day Review: Bloom Box by Cate Ashwood

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Title: Bloom Box (Heartsville)

Author: Cate Ashwood

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 61 Pages

At a Glance: Bloom Box is a delightful addition to this collection.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: If there’s one thing William Sullivan knows less about than how to run a business, it’s flowers. When Will is left carrying responsibility for the flower shop he’d leased for his cheating ex-boyfriend, he is sure it will lead him into financial ruin.

Just when he’s about to abandon all hope, in walks Milo Hart—young, overflowing with energy, and perhaps best of all, a genius when it comes to flowers. Will hires him on the spot and they begin a working partnership that might be Will’s only saving grace. The more time they spend together, the more Will’s feelings for Milo evolve and Will must choose between keeping things strictly business, or taking a chance to let love bloom.

Dividers

Review: Will is adrift in more ways than one. He has lost a man he thought would be his forever in a heartbreaking revelation of cheating and lies. Left behind with a building in desperate need of a facelift, a floral business that he knew nothing about, and was now somehow expected to launch, and a heart that needed some serious mending, Will is not sure which way to turn next. Then Milo arrives and with more than a little flower know-how, and heaps of infectious good will, he slowly transforms both the shop and Will. Despite the age difference this rose was bound to bloom, and Will could only hold on tight as the spark between him and Milo grew and grew.

Cate Ashwood delivers another sweet romance direct from Heartsville. With Bloom Box, this author solidifies the idea that this imaginary town is the place to visit if one is looking for romance. More than a little healing also takes place in this story as Will begins to come back from a horrid breakup and realizes that, just maybe, a May/December affair is not too shabby a thing to let happen in his life. Milo is like a giant puppy dog at first glance. However, before long the author adds dimensions to both characters that make them more realistic and terribly appealing.

Bloom Box is a delightful addition to this collection. With just a hint of angst, we are drawn into a world where love can happen only if we allow it. Will resists as best as he can, but Milo is determined to have his man. When these two finally embrace their feelings for each other, this story takes flight and offers up a tender love affair between two lovely men.

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5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Marguerite Labbe, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: Other Side of the Line by Marguerite Labbe

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Title: Other Side of the Line

Author: Marguerite Labbe

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 330 Pages

At a Glance: Other Side of the Line is a journey of love and endurance you will not want to miss. I highly recommend it to you.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Caleb Hudson and Hal Zimmer became best friends the day they stood up against the schoolyard bully together. Life’s complicated enough with their friendship crossing racial lines in 1960s Charleston, South Carolina, but as time passes, they realize it’s more than their friendship that sets them apart from other kids. At first, Caleb denies his feelings for Hal could be more than companionship. He supports his friend when Hal admits he’s gay, but Caleb isn’t ready to face his own truth.

Hal becomes a staunch antiwar protester, and the divide between them widens after Caleb is drafted. But when Caleb returns from Vietnam, the time for denial is over. His homecoming sets off a series of events that force Caleb and Hal to confront their desires and what lines they’re willing to cross to get what they truly want out of life.

Dividers

Review: It’s a tricky thing, beginning a novel with the ending. Establishing that your couple has achieved their happy-ever-after before the end of the first chapter means that their journey to that place must be both compelling to read and entertaining. One of those belies conflict that may have made for a rocky relationship; the other must guarantee that the main characters will have traits that lure the reader into wanting to know all about them and how they ended up together. It is a tricky business indeed, and I would venture to say that if you want to see how a masterful storyteller achieves all of the above, and more, then you must step into the gorgeous novel Other Side of the Line, created by author Marguerite Labbe.

In a distant era that still resonates loudly today, two boys, one white and one black, meet in a school that has been forced to desegregate in Charleston, South Carolina. The early 1960s was a violent and unstable time when standing up for a man of color could bring about the death of both the victim and his defender. But to Hal Zimmer, who has just relocated from New York, all he knows is that Caleb Hudson is an outsider just like him and those who are marginalized and tossed aside by others must always stick together. And so they do…through elementary, middle and high school, these two boys become the best of friends. But something happens to shake their friendship to the core. First is a relocation of Hal to New York and the looming enrollment in a military academy his father insists on sending his “pansy” son to once they return to their roots. The second is far more unsettling, for it is the growing realization from both boys that their feelings for each other are deeper than either of them fully understands.

As the story unfolds, we are given the chance to walk down memory lane with Hal and Caleb—now in their 70s and happily married to each other. At a late summer party, they receive an anniversary gift from their children that sparks one story after another, and outlines how these two very different men came to be partners for life. Their musings will take us from their early school days to the moment when they finally acknowledged that they were in love with each other—in between, their lives would be touched by war, separation, and, for one of them, a longing to stay buried in the closet where he would be safe but always apart from the man he loved.

For those of you who doubt there could be much to discover in a story whose ending is already a sure thing, think again. Marguerite Labbe thrusts the reader into events in history that reshaped generations of people and her two boys grown into men would be both flint and stone in this story. Sparks of anger and cries for justice would flow from Hal as surely as he breathed. Seeming to float from one cause to another, Hal was there in the front lines of both anti-war rallies and gay pride parades. With seemingly inexhaustible strength, he would rise above bigoted parents, bolstered by the love and fierce loyalty of a younger sister and the steady guidance of the best friend he would ever have, Caleb.

Nearly a polar opposite to the fiery Hal, Caleb was thoughtful and slow to anger. With a deep love for his family and a desire to remain close to his roots, which included settling down in the city of Charleston, Caleb strove to stay under the radar, never wanting to stand out unless it was to defend Hal against a bully on the playground. These two seemingly incompatible boys would find solace, understanding and an indefinable peace in each other’s presence.

I could go on and on describing these amazing characters. I could speak of the lush and vivid prose that creates the setting for each life event discussed in the book. I could remark on how I have never experienced such a rush of emotions that included true worry that these two men would never admit their love for each other in time—even knowing they’ve already achieved their happy-ever-after. I could say again and again, read this story—it is a beautiful slice of history wrapped in a love that transcends all obstacles life chooses to throw in its path. But I will leave it at this…Other Side of the Line is a journey of love and endurance you will not want to miss. I highly recommend it to you.

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4.5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, K.C. Wells, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: First by K.C. Wells

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Amazon US

Title: First

Author: K.C. Wells

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 296 Pages

At a Glance: In spite of some flaws, this was a gorgeously written love story.

Blurb: It’s taken Tommy Newsome a while to get his head around being gay. Growing up in a small town in Georgia, hasn’t prepared him for the more liberal life of a student at the university in Athens. Add to that the teachings of his parents and his church, and you have one shy young man who feels out of his depth. Working on his daddy’s farm hasn’t given him any chance of a social life, certainly not one like the clubs of Atlanta have on offer. Not that Tommy feels comfortable when he gets to sample it—Momma’s lectures still ring loudly inside his head.

All that changes when he goes to his first gay bar and sets eyes on Mike Scott.

When Mike’s not behind the bar at Woofs, he’s busy with his life as adult entertainer Scott Masters. Twenty years in the industry and the times, they are a-changing. Mike’s not had much luck in the relationship department, but as his mom is fond of telling him, you keep fishing in the same pond, you’re gonna reel in the same kind of fish. Maybe it’s time for a change.

And then a beautiful young man asks Mike to be his first….

Dividers

Review: Tommy was raised in an ultra-conservative farming community where “god-fearing” men and women did not discuss sex, nor did they deviate from the bible subscribed man/woman pairing or even allow impure thoughts to occupy space in their minds. Now, in college, all the worries Tommy has had over the last few years have come home to roost, and for the first time, he is fairly sure he may be gay. Added to that, his roommate is definitely bisexual and a bit of a slut to boot, and is constantly encouraging Tommy to pop his “cherry” and find someone to date.

In short time, Tommy begins to undo all the untruths and close-minded bigotry he has grown up with over the years, beginning with a trip to his very first gay bar. Once there, Tommy finds himself drawn to the older bartender who seems to be the very embodiment of someone Tommy could not only trust but might actually be the one man Tommy could give himself to sexually for the first time. Mike Scott is a weekend bartender at the gay sports bar that Tommy visits every weekend. While he has definitely spotted the handsome young man who sits at the end of the bar nursing his cherry coke, Mike also knows the kid is way too young for him. Besides that, once Tommy got wind of Mike’s real occupation, he would no doubt run far away…just like so many others had done in Mike’s life. However, Mike hasn’t pegged Tommy correctly—he is a determined, if awkward and painfully shy, young man. Tommy knows one thing with great certainty—he wants Mike to be his first and he won’t take no for an answer.

First is an incredibly beautiful coming-out story, featuring a tender first love trope and two gorgeously written leading men. I’m not sure how anyone could read this novel and not fall head over heals in love with both Mike and Tommy. Tommy’s shy and innocent demeanor was so well crafted that he made even the hardest of hearts melt in his wake, and no doubt readers with any maternal instincts will want to scoop this boy up and keep him safe from harm. Tommy’s journey to self-discovery and sexual awakening was one major story line in this long novel.  The way in which the author kept tightly to Tommy’s journey, making it both realistic and compelling to read, was sheer genius. Such depth and clarity was given to creating both men in this story—making it a real delight to read such well-formed and realistic characters despite how incredibly innocent and unschooled Tommy appeared to be during the bulk of the novel.

Mike Scott’s journey was the second major plot point to this story. Mike was an incredibly conflicted man. Wounded by past failed relationships and growing ever more weary in an industry that seemed to be steadily embracing more and more risky decisions regarding unprotected sex, Mike is at a real crossroad when young Tommy Newsome steps into his life. Every person who Mike had grown to care for outside the porn industry has left him. Either they could not accept his participating in sex with multiple partners, or they balked at the idea of being in a relationship with him after finally discovering he had no intentions of walking away from the job. Either way, Mike had no one to share his life with in a time when he was so desperate to have that kind of intimacy in his life. Not only did Tommy’s age give him pause, the idea that Tommy would run straight for the hills should he find out Mike’s real job was a constant worry for the handsome bartender.

I fear this review is not really doing justice to the subtlety of this author’s expertise at striking the careful balance she achieved when writing such an innocent character as Tommy. It takes a very deft and skilled hand to create such an innocent young man, who is on the cusp of both sexual and mental awakening. On the other hand, it also takes immense patience to not go the easy route and make an older, world traveled porn star into a stereotypically callous and sexually preoccupied character, but that was not the case in this novel. Tommy and Mike were depicted as real men grappling with honest emotions and fears, and who bravely struggle to live their lives on their terms. In short, I was awed by the realism that infused every page of this story.

For a good portion of First, we watch these two cautious men dance around each other, each giving up bits of themselves in a slow building pas de deux that is as mesmerizing as it is beautiful. The tenderness, the romance, the gradual sharing of confidences and the sweet tendrils of growing love between Tommy and Mike create such a delicate bond that is constantly overshadowed by Mike’s secret. It was the fear of that ax falling, that secret being revealed, that also lent a hand at making this a gripping tale.

Unfortunately, there were also two minor plot points that left me a bit confused and ultimately pulled me from this sweet romance, which temporarily left make me a bit uncomfortable with the trajectory the plot took as a result. The first was the idea of “cuddling up” to a porn buddy that was casually tossed into the storyline. Mike seemed to fully embrace this practice despite being in serious relationships both in the past and presently with Tommy. Since the storyline doesn’t put parameters around Mike’s “cuddling,” which I assumed was a euphemism for casual sex or comforting holding and kissing when the need got to be too great, I was led to believe by Mike’s inner musings that he did not consider this cheating. Even though while involved with Tommy Mike does resists actual sex with a former lover, he still kisses and holds the man in bed. Perhaps it’s my narrow view of relationships, but I felt that was crossing a big line from a hug and kiss on the cheek to comforting a friend. Plus, considering Mike was already lying to Tommy about his porn job, it felt doubly wrong and smacked of cheating. I felt Mike was fully aware of how much Tommy trusted him, therefore in any reading of this discussion on cuddling, I felt fairly certain Mike had crossed a line.

The second had to do with the ending—which, given Tommy’s difficult time with accepting Mike’s job and the fact that he lied to him, seemed way too easy a fix. Please don’t get me wrong, this was a gorgeously written love story and despite the age difference, I was fully on board with this partnering and with their genuine love for each other. I simply thought that the same amount of time spent in building this loving dynamic should have also been spent on the rebuilding of trust that needed to take place once Mike’s lying had been revealed. No other place in this novel did I feel that the author was trying to veil some form of ignorance on Tommy’s part as just virginal and relational naïveté. But the ending and Tommy’s quick capitulation after being blindsided by the discovery of Mike’s occupation was just a bit too out of character. Wisely, K.C. Wells created Tommy to be a pragmatic and thinking young man—this too rapid acceptance and reestablishment of a trusting relationship thrust all that into suspect for me.

However, nothing can negate the fact that K.C. Wells has risen to an all new level of storytelling with this latest offering. This author continues to hone her craft and plum depths of excellence in creating outstanding stories time and again.

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3.5 Stars, BDSM/Kink/Erotica, Loose Id, Lyn Gala, Reviewed by Sammy, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: Without a Net by Lyn Gala

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Title: Without a Net

Author: Lyn Gala

Publisher: Loose Id

Pages/Word Count: 266 Pages

At a Glance: Without a Net just needed a bit more attention to details in order to work out a few inconsistencies in the story.

Blurb: Oliver Robertson has been assigned to go undercover in one of the shade clubs that litter the seedier parts of town. He has never engaged in the sort of edge play found in those places, preferring the BDSM in the more mainstream control clubs. However, to find the criminals behind a series of kidnappings, he must go in undercover as a shade sub. The mission becomes more complicated when his captain asks him to collect evidence against a lieutenant who might be a dirty cop.

The case quickly gets out of hand, and Ollie finds himself caught between wanting to do his job and not knowing who to trust. That confusion grows worse when a number of sexy and dominant men challenge his assumption that he prefers safe, contractually negotiated sex. It turns out he has more of a wild side than he expected, and given that he’s surrounded by dangerous men, and he can’t distinguish the good guys from the bad, that’s terrifying.

When Ollie gives his trust to Travis Goode, a dominant who appears to be a federal agent, he might be making the connection of a lifetime or dooming himself forever.

Publisher’s Note: Contains dark BDSM elements.

Dividers

Review: This is my first Lyn Gala novel, and I will say that I knew in advance that she writes about BDSM—her work being edgier and often allowing for a good deal of introspection on the part of her characters. In Without a Net, the author uses the vehicle of a mystery/police sting operation to explore a cop’s awakening realization that he likes to walk the edge of consensual D/s experience. In fact, Ollie Robertson will discover that he has a much darker side to him then he has ever fully explored before, while trying to remain an active participant in the center of a sting operation to bring down corrupt law enforcement officials–namely his own captain.

Ollie is supposed to pose as a submissive seeking employment in one of the rougher shade BDSM clubs in the city. Along with a whole heap of scenarios where submissives are losing themselves in dangerous and dubious consent relationships with abusive Doms, the shade club in question also has been noted for a series of disturbing kidnappings. When the game shifts and Ollie is asked by his captain to continue his undercover work in the club, but also to expand it by allowing himself to be backed up by fellow officers who may indeed be dirty cops on the take, he reluctantly agrees to continue. Then, Ollie falls into the hands of a man who has decided to break him and remold him into a shade submissive, all in order to achieve his own revenge against the captain.

Suddenly, Ollie finds himself bound and being brutally trained, his entire fix on who he is sexually and professionally is thrown into a tailspin, and whom he can trust is murky at best. When a former neighbor visits the compound where Ollie is being held, it is hard for our hero to decide if Travis is one of the good guys or another corrupt agent. Not knowing whom to trust, and rapidly realizing he is not the controlled sub he supposed himself to be, Ollie’s life is spinning out of control…and Agent Travis Goode may be the only true anchor Ollie can trust.

There were many layers to this story of corruption and greed. First and foremost this was a story revolving around the corruption and shake down practices of a law enforcement agency. Ollie had already gone on record calling out fellow officers who were biased or bigoted against the gay community within the force; therefore, the story line that had him being the eyes and ears of what seemed a genuinely concerned captain over potentially racist officers was very realistic and valid.

The tensions created between he and other officers were very well written and gave Ollie’s fears over a lack of support from his back-up team credibility. When Ollie was finally taken into captivity by a seeming bad guy, the flow of this mystery novel deepened, and the plot twists and subsequent “breaking’ of Ollie’s resistance and spirit was on target. However, there were several elements in this story that were muddled and left unclear; for instance, the time frame of the story. There was talk of life on Mars about three quarters into the story that made me really jerk in surprise. At the onset of the novel, I got the feel that the setting was a bit different or other worldly, given some of the technology the cops were using, but I never got the idea it was definitely a world set in the future. It was a shock to me that I was now also reading a futuristic novel with possible sci-fi leanings.

Secondly, Ollie’s near constant internal dialogue, which had him self-doubting all that happened, was sketchy and stretched the bounds of believability.  His accepting the fact that he was brutally handled and involved in several non-consensual scenarios just because his captor was seeking revenge on those who had allowed his lover to be brutally treated, left me shaking my head in disbelief. I feel the guilt that Travis felt would have been a bit more justified if there had been even the slightest anger on Ollie’s part against his captors.

All in all, Without a Net seemed unfinished. I am not sure if I ever fully understood who was doing the kidnapping and where those people ended up in the story. If it was explained, I must have missed it while trying to get a handle on Ollie’s evolving reactions to being forced into submission to a man who mocked and used him repeatedly.

I will definitely be visiting this author’s backlist. I believe she writes in depth characters and exciting stories. Without a Net just needed a bit more attention to details in order to work out a few inconsistencies in the story.

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4 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, New Adult, Reviewed by Sammy, S.C. Wynne

Review: Hiding Things by S.C. Wynne

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Title: Hiding Things

Author: S.C. Wynne

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 71 Pages

At a Glance: Hiding Things is one to add to your bookshelf if you are looking for a sweet coming of age story with a lovely happy ever after ending.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Mason Downing is good at a lot of things, but math isn’t one of them. What he is good at is hiding the fact that he’s a poor kid on a full scholarship at elite Bragson University—though he won’t be there for long if he can’t get his grades up.

Carter Lantor is the embodiment of all that Mason pretends to be: rich, confident, and smart. But when Carter is handpicked to be Mason’s new math tutor, Mason learns that he’s not the only one hiding things. Soon, Carter’s picture-perfect façade begins to crack under the pressure of his father’s expectations and his own unhappiness.

Together, Mason and Carter must teach each other that no matter how much they question their place in the world, their love for one another might be the answer they are looking for.

Dividers

Review:   Mason has lost nearly everything: his parents, his emotional support, and now lives a secret life—one where he is not a poor orphan, financially strapped, with only his scholarship keeping him at the prestigious private university. Instead, he pretends to be one of the majority—wealthy, unencumbered and “good enough” to breathe the same air as those that surround him at school. Unfortunately, math would be his undoing, as he finds himself in need of a tutor but with no way to pay for it. Now he must take on the burden of a part time job while still maintaining his taxing academic schedule. Determined not to let others know of his humble status, he keeps to himself and quietly hopes no one will recognize him as he drives the shuttle on campus. However, his first night brings with it an encounter that will ultimately be his undoing and, at the same time, his redemption.

Carter lives behind his camera. With a burning desire to become a famous photographer one day, Carter wants nothing more than to be free to pursue his dreams and his art. However, between his being gay and his chosen field of study, his father is threatening to cut him off. Carter freely acknowledges that he enjoys the money he comes from, but he simply cannot envision his life as the heir apparent to a firm his father has lovingly nurtured. With his mother encouraging him not to make waves, Carter realizes his parents may never accept him and that he may indeed lose everything he is accustomed to having. When he meets the shy yet intriguing student he is to tutor in precalc, he feels things he never thought possible. But can the two young men open up and trust each other with their secrets?

S.C. Wynne writes a short story that immediately captures the imagination and presents two characters who both yearn for the same thing–acceptance. While the story develops rapidly, there is real depth to both Carter and Mason. This story could have devolved into a “poor rich boy meets mousy poor boy” so very quickly, and yet, this author smartly saves it from becoming so by making Carter and Mason so very down to earth and real. Carter admits he loves the wealth that allows him to do the things he want—he acknowledges that it would be more than difficult to give it all up to pursue his dream career. Because of this, you develop great compassion for him and see him as much more than the shallow façade that kind of wealth can produce. He stands up for himself and for his feeling towards Mason, and, in doing so, utterly captures the reader’s heart.

Mason’s fears that he will be viewed as being beneath those he attends school with stems from a real place of fear of failure. He allows himself to believe that he is less than his fellow classmates, and it colors everything he does. Trusting Carter does not come easy for him, and we experience his struggle with believing that someone obviously out of his league could truly care for him.

While there were a few glitches in this story—minor things like Mason being on his knees one moment and then being able to kiss Carter the next without transitioning to his feet, and other awkward movement issues like that within the story, it was still a sweet college romance that was well done in many ways.

Overall, Hiding Things is one to add to your bookshelf if you are looking for a sweet coming of age story with a lovely happy ever after ending.

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5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Kim Fielding, Reviewed by Sammy

Rattlesnake by Kim Fielding

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Title: Rattlesnake

Author: Kim Fielding

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 240 Pages

At a Glance: Rattlesnake is an incredibly gorgeous love story, a story of healing and of finally coming home. I cannot say enough about this beautiful novel.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: A drifter since his teens, Jimmy Dorsett has no home and no hope. What he does have is a duffel bag, a lot of stories, and a junker car. Then one cold desert night he picks up a hitchhiker and ends up with something more: a letter from a dying man to the son he hasn’t seen in years.

On a quest to deliver the letter, Jimmy travels to Rattlesnake, a small town nestled in the foothills of the California Sierras. The centerpiece of the town is the Rattlesnake Inn, where the bartender is handsome former cowboy Shane Little. Sparks fly, and when Jimmy’s car gives up the ghost, Shane gets him a job as handyman at the inn.

Both within the community of Rattlesnake and in Shane’s arms, Jimmy finds an unaccustomed peace. But it can’t be a lasting thing. The open road continues to call, and surely Shane—a strong, proud man with a painful past and a difficult present—deserves better than a lying vagabond who can’t stay put for long.

Dividers

Review: Jimmy and Shane…holy smokes. Kim Fielding’s Rattlesnake should be on your ‘must read’ list, and if it’s not, I hope it will be by the end of this review. Smartly written, incredibly tender and romantic, but never giving way to soppy, unbelievable romance, this novel is an exceptionally well done novel that grabs your heart at page one and never lets go.

Jimmy is the consummate drifter, never staying in one place more than a few weeks, rarely involving himself in the humanity that swirls around him, and never getting his hopes up higher than the grass beneath his feet. Hopes and dreams are for people who deserve such things, and never in Jimmy’s entire life has he felt deserving of anything more than scorn from his fellow man. You see that is what he grew up with—from a mother who was never certain who Jimmy’s father was and who never took the time to love her son, much less encourage him at anything, to the brutality of a stepfather who hated the sight of him, and the cruelty of brothers who wanted him gone. Jimmy has learned never to expect anything and has resolved himself to live his life seeking what lay around the next bend in the road.

So when Jimmy sees a drifter like himself alongside that road, he stops to offer the man a lift. Never in his wildest imagination did he think that the dying man he’d offered a ride would become the catalyst in a life-changing event that would bring him face to face with a man who would somehow sneak under all the barriers he’d built around his heart. Suddenly, the small town of Rattlesnake would become his new home—but not for long if Jimmy had his way, because men like him didn’t deserve a home, and thinking otherwise only led to unhappiness and pain.

Shane knew all about pain, for he lived with it every day. Recovered from a near fatal car accident, Shane now limps his way through life with a terrible secret hanging over him. Never able to forgive himself, the past haunts him, and when Jimmy lands at his bar one evening, Shane finally sees the opportunity to do something right–try to save another hurting soul. As these two men become friends and then lovers, the idea that Jimmy will be leaving any day hangs over them like a pall. Unfortunately, both of these lonely men have begun to realize that time is running out for them, and there seems to be nothing Shane can do to change Jimmy’s mind about running away once again.

There are so many reasons this novel was outstanding—I hardly know where to begin. Suffice it to say that I rarely cry at the end of novels, but I surely had the tissue box handy at the close of this one. Beautiful comes to mind, tender, redemptive, emotionally overwhelming—all these could be used to describe Rattlesnake. The real treasure here, the true gem hidden inside this book, was that these two men were so incredibly real—never whiny and yet god knows they both had reason to be so–never distant or stubborn, always so kind, caring, invested. That is the real gem, that the incredible characters Kim Fielding created are fully three dimensional and invested in the people around them, and in each other.

The secondary characters in this story were just as important to them as they were to each other. The town was central to the story, never perfect yet so accepting, so careful when watching out for one of their own–and Shane was certainly that, a young man the entire town watched over, often to his consternation. Jimmy fought tooth and nail against this loving town, this caring younger man, this tempting respite from a road that had so often beaten him down. To give in would mean that he forgave himself, that he loved himself, and that was so foreign to Jimmy for you see, it was second nature for him to loathe the man inside. When Shane and the town get too close, breach the walls around Jimmy’s heart, he has to go, to run.

Rattlesnake is an incredibly gorgeous love story, a story of healing and of finally coming home. I cannot say enough about this beautiful novel. Kim Fielding is a consummate storyteller who weaves a magic spell around two lost souls, and reminds us that if we trust with our hearts, there will always be a home waiting for us just around the bend. I highly recommend this novel to you.

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5 Stars, Genre Romance, Keira Andrews, Reviewed by Sammy, Self-Published

Review: Valor on the Move by Keira Andrews

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Title: Valor on the Move

Author: Keira Andrews

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 250 Pages

At a Glance: Valor on the Move has it all: action, intrigue, romance, and a glimpse at the turmoil and fears surrounding coming out to the world.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Growing up gay in the White House hasn’t been easy for Rafael Castillo. Codenamed “Valor” by the Secret Service, Rafa feels anything but brave as he hides in the closet and tries to stay below the radar in his last year of college. His father’s presidency is almost over, and he just needs to stick to his carefully crafted plan. Once his family’s out of the spotlight, he can be honest with his conservative parents about his sexuality and his dream of being a chef.

It’s definitely not part of Rafa’s plan to get a new Secret Service agent who’s a walking wet dream, but he’s made it this long keeping his desires to himself. Besides, it’s not like Shane Kendrick would even look at him twice if it wasn’t his job.

Shane’s worked his way up through the Secret Service ranks, and while protecting the president’s shy, boring son isn’t his dream White House assignment, it’s an easy enough task since no one pays Rafa much attention. He discovers there’s a vibrant young man beneath the timid public shell, and while he knows Rafa has a crush on him, he assures himself it’s harmless. Shane’s never had room for romance in his life, and he’d certainly never cross that line with a protectee. Keeping Rafa safe at any cost is Shane’s mission.

But as Rafa gets under his skin, will they both put their hearts on the line?

Dividers

Review: Keira Andrews’ Valor on the Move is a fast paced and tender m/m romance wrapped up in a mystery full of political intrigue. Like this author’s other works, this story is fairly flawless and the May/December trope is very well written and completely believable.

Rafael is the youngest child of the President of the United States. Having literally grown up in the public eye, and received both its admiration as well as the harsh and almost bullying personal critique that happens to every person in the spotlight, Rafa has remained aloof, exceptionally quiet, and never rocks the political boat like some of his sibling have during their father’s term in office. “Valor,” as Rafa is code named by his security detail, is also nicknamed the “mouse” and rightfully so. Years before, as he was entering college, Rafa’s father took a stand with the Republican Right, who put him in office based on his stance against marriages defined as anything other than between a man and a woman. At that time, on the cusp of coming out to his family, Rafa was devastated to realize he would have to remain closeted, at least until the term of office was up. Using his best friend, who is also a closeted lesbian, as a beard, no one suspected that he was anything other than a “normal” young man with a girlfriend.

When budget cuts predicated that the secret service detail in the White House change so that agents could be assigned to the front-runners in the upcoming election some few months hence, Shane Kendrick finally gets the assignment he had been dreaming of—guarding a family member of the President. While his true goal would be protecting the man in charge, his son would do for now, while Shane continues to move up in the ranks. Openly gay himself, it did not take long for Shane to uncover Rafa’s secret; however, agents never involve themselves in the lives of those they were sworn to protect—it would compromise their effectiveness to serve. But one late night invitation by Rafa morphs into more, and before Shane can even fully understand what is happening, his heart is more than a little interested, and Rafa is head over heels in lust with his Secret Service agent.

Let me begin this review by saying with absolute conviction that this is one of the very best May/December romance tropes I have ever read. With eighteen years dividing Shane from Rafa, and the younger man’s incredible naïveté about relationships, in general, as well as being a virgin, this story had all the potential to be sappy and false. Quite the opposite happens here under the deft and creative hand of Keira Andrews. Instead, we are given a tightly woven action adventure novel, with a tender and evolving romance on the side. Never losing sight of the fact that this is a novel full of political maneuverings and fraught with the danger one associates with being the first family in a world where kidnapping and murder are rampant, Valor On the Move manages to weave both action and romance into an incredibly entertaining story.

Rafa is so intent on just finishing his stint in the fishbowl his life has become that he never accounts for potentially falling in love with the person who has vowed to “protect and serve”. Shane is so busy evading the grief and guilt over losing his parents to a horrendous home fire that the last thing he is looking for is a romantic entanglement with someone nearly two decades his junior. And yet, fate throws these two together and the romance that develops between them is some of the finest storytelling I have ever read. Richly detailed and well researched information on how the safeguarding of the White House members happens, every facet of the inner workings of the Secret Service men and women rang true, lending this novel an air of authenticity that made it even more exciting to read.

The inner turmoil we are privy to as we watch the relationship grow dangerously intimate between Shane and Rafa was so palpable. Rafa could have come off as whiny and just too young despite his age of twenty-two, and yet the strength he has to continue his lie when all he desires is the freedom to live a life free of the closet makes him multi-dimensional and fascinating. The pain he feels over his father’s political betrayal is just heartbreaking to endure as you read how deeply it wounded him and nearly shattered their relationship.

Shane is so lonely, so horribly guilt ridden that the very weekend he was to be with his parents, he chose to pursue his career over his mother’s birthday celebration. When they are lost to a house fire that would claim their lives, Shane is devastated. He carries all that pain and remorse deep inside, so when he promises to always keep Rafa safe, the declaration rings with sincerity and makes the events that unfold in the novel even more realistic.

Valor on the Move has it all: action, intrigue, romance, and a glimpse at the turmoil and fears surrounding coming out to the world. I found this novel to be an outstanding piece of m/m fiction from beginning to end, and I highly recommend it to you.

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3.5 Stars, CJane Elliott, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, New Adult, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: Sex, Love, and Videogames by CJane Elliott

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Title: Sex, Love, and Videogames

Author: CJane Elliott

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 264 Pages

At a Glance: The story was a bit of a ramble for me, but there were definitely some winning elements to this installment.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Shy guy Jed Carter has always felt invisible next to his charismatic older brother, Kent. Kent’s master plan for Jed is simple: University of Virginia, fraternity, business, sports, and ladies’ man. None of it is Jed, except for playing on the rugby team, which he joins in defiance of soccer-loving Kent. Jed comes out in his sophomore year and starts seeing Pete, an attractive junior, who uses him for sex and videogames. Jed wants more—in life and in love—and starts making his own plans. First on the list: getting to know Charlie, the handsome guy working at the local videogame arcade.

Charlie Ambrose has always felt like an oddball, and not just for his tendency to stutter. Being gay sets him apart from his African-American community, and as a “townie,” he doesn’t fit in with the college crowd. Charlie’s inspiration is his cousin, Morocco, who’s transgender and doesn’t give a fig about fitting in. Art is Charlie’s passion, and when a local videogame designer discovers him, Charlie’s living a dream. The only thing he’s missing is love. But the last person Charlie expects to find it with is a cute, white U.Va. rugby player named Jed.

Dividers

Review: Author CJane Elliott has released the third in her Serpentine series, Sex, Love, and Videogames. Interestingly, this one could be read as a standalone and does not hinge on the first two having been read to lend it continuity. Having read the others, the setting (University of Virginia) was once again represented well, and the college atmosphere was spot on. The story was a bit of a ramble for me, but there were definitely some winning elements to this installment.

Jed has followed, reluctantly, in his big brother Kent’s footsteps most of his life. The “plan” now is for the two of them to be in an on campus frat together, along with Kent’s best buddy, Tucker. Unfortunately, as Jed’s freshman year gets underway, the stress of hiding his sexuality from his brother and the realization that he really doesn’t want to follow in Kent’s footsteps comes crashing down on Jed. When he accidentally outs himself to the frat, things seem to ease up a bit, albeit slowly. Unfortunately for Jed, finding a boyfriend is not as easy as he is assured it should be by his best friend, Myesha. The one boy he does like seems to treat him as a dirty little secret despite being openly out himself. For Jed, life is not the dream he had hoped it would be, and his self-esteem plummets more and more as he moves through the year into his second; unattached, lonely, and questioning whether he will ever find someone to love.

In town, Charlie Ambrose wiles away the hours wishing for so much more in his life. Occasional clandestine meetings with a school friend leave him wanting more than hurried and secretive blowjobs. He wishes he could be like his cousin, Morocco, a transgender whirlwind who constantly pushes at Charlie to come out, pursue his talent for art, and live the life he so desperately wants. But Charlie’s fears as a half white/half black man in the African American community, along with his sexuality, make him so very fearful that he will never fit in. Stuck with a painful stutter when he is stressed, Charlie prefers to hide and not make waves.

When these two boys meet, life seems to continually pull them apart until a rally for the LGBT community finds them working together, and then sparks begin to fly. But can two young men who see themselves as only inferior and lost find the courage to be together?

Sex, Love, and Videogames had many good elements. CJane Elliott excels at painting her characters with a realistic brush and allowing us to get inside their heads to see what makes them tick. I felt I really understood the fears both of these guys faced and how similar their struggles were with fitting into a world that seemed poised to condemn them. I also appreciated how the boys were just that—boys who still needed their friends and family to help them as they grappled with their futures, their career paths and their coming out. I loved the fact that there were strong female characters and not the typical screeching harridans we so often see in m/m novels. The fact that Morocco was a transitioning/questioning transgender leant depth to the story in many ways, and allowed us to see a bit of the way families sometimes accept their child’s struggle often by not addressing it.

The story itself seemed to languish at times, and once again I was struck by this author’s tendency to tell us the story rather than putting us in the moment and allowing us to experience it along with her characters. There were huge leaps in time and place so often that I had to stop at times to get my bearings. Major life events were often glossed over—in particular, Morocco’s attack. It was presented as severe enough to cause her to leave school and nearly revert back to being a boy. Yet, there was next to no mention of how she grappled with this horrible attack. One moment she was battered and bruised in the hospital, then she was wearing boys clothing, then suddenly Charlie managed to convince her to come help with the community rally and she was headed back to school the next fall. Yes, there was mention of therapy, but we never saw even a glimpse of the healing process she was undergoing. It’s as if her attack was placed in the story to solidify Charlie’s fears that he would never be accepted. So, that begs the question, why wasn’t Charlie the one attacked? There was certainly enough potential for that plot point to happen since the old school friend Charlie hooked up with sexually was trying to be pulled into a gang—that hates gays. I really felt the story skimmed the life events surrounding Jed and Charlie rather than developing them and using them as a means to mature the two boys. This, coupled with the fact that every roadblock facing them was neatly and conveniently tied up in the last three chapters of the book, made for an unbelievable ending and a lackluster story overall.

With the story being told in alternating points of view, I thought we would get more ‘in the moment action’ rather than a heap of emotional angst and regret each boy seemed to have after nearly every life event and little more than a description of that event from their understanding of what had occurred. Again, the biggest concern with this novel was the author’s way of talking at us—describing what had taken place as an afterthought rather than placing us in the action and allowing us to live there and enjoy the moment.

All in all, Sex, Love, and Videogames had some wonderful characters whose potential was lost in the wake of a sprawling storyline that lacked enough development to make the story as gripping as it could have possibly been.

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5 Stars, Edmond Manning, Literary Fiction, Pickwick Ink Publishing, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: King John by Edmond Manning

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Title: King John (The Lost And Founds: Book Four)

Author: Edmond Manning

Publisher: Pickwick Ink Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 245 Pages

At a Glance: Every second with this story is a second well spent.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: English attorney Alistair Robertson can’t quite believe an astonishing tale of kingship and transformation he hears at Burning Man, the annual counter-culture art festival in the Black Rock.

Who are the Found Kings? Is “being kinged” as magical as it sounds?

Determined to find the mysterious garage mechanic named Vin who helps men “remember who they were always meant to be,” Alistair catches his quarry amid the extravagant sculptures, fire worshipers, mutant cars, and lavish costumes. After searching for three years, he’ll finally get to ask the question burning inside him: “Will you king me?”

Wandering together through the desert, Vin Vanbly and Alistair explore Burning Man’s gifting culture and exotic traditions, where they meet the best and worst of their fellow burners. Alistair’s overconfidence in Vin’s manipulative power collides with Vin’s obsessive need to save a sixteen-year-old runaway from a nightmarish fate, and the two men spiral into uncontrollable, explosive directions.

In this fourth adventure of The Lost and Founds, beneath the sweltering summer sun and the six billion midnight stars, one truth emerges, searing itself on their hearts: in the desert, everything burns.

Dividers

Review: I must admit–I am not very clever, not when it comes to riddles or subtle clues. For some reason, while I can often suss out who the bad guy is in a mystery novel, I really do very poorly at picking up clues in any other form of writing. For this reason, I hesitated to review the latest novel in Edmond Manning’s Lost and Founds series, King John. I was afraid I could not do it justice–not give it the credit it deserved as being a clever and multi-layered work of fiction. With these thoughts in the back of my mind I moved on, knowing full well I would read this lyrically beautiful piece of fiction–whether for the purposes of reviewing it or not. There is a good reason for this. You see, I am a “kingite”, a hardcore fan of this series and this author. And, yes, I just made that title “kingite” up, and I rather like it!

So, here would be the place I attempt to provide a succinct synopsis of this incredible tome that spans a mere few days but feels as though it has exposed more raw emotional material than ever before. Returning to the place where he has truly felt at home for the only time in his life, Vin partakes of the Burning Man festival held in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, a seven day exploration of self expression that has few boundaries and is geared toward inclusion, self-reliance, and the idea that they will leave no trace of themselves after the end of their time in the desert. Everything that can burns in the end, including the gigantic man who is built to herald in the event and mark its closing.

Vin meets all manner of people, but as in the past with this man, there is always an edge of worry—for you see, this is not his first year, and he has a reputation that precedes him—he has made an enemy. A ranger discovered Vin many years before when he broke the law and jumped the barrier that keeps the burning man participants safe from wandering off and getting lost in the desert. The fence is also a way to contain those who attend the festival so that there can be some stability in what appears to be well established chaos. The rangers do not like rule breakers, and poor Vin is a veteran rule breaker

So he moves about the festival, happy in many ways and yet cautious, for this is the Vin we know from previous novels: controlled, careful, self-critical and condemning, lost while still being the near perfect guide for men in need of rediscovering their kingship. While this was not meant to be a king weekend, Vin will be approached by a man desperate to become just that—a found king. Alistair is an enigma, a British lawyer on American soil, who has met one of Vin’s success stories, another Found King, Liam.

Alistair is positive he knows it all—has got a fix on Vin and his many bags of tricks—his “magic”. Alistair pursues Vin, who almost grudgingly gives in and sets the wheels in motion for this Lost King to find his way to cross over and return to his destiny. But Alistair is full of questions and resists Vin’s best attempts to guide him on the right path. In fact, Alistair will be the linchpin to cracking wide open a time in Vin’s past that he has kept hidden for so long. Vin will be forced to share a memory that, to this day, still has the power to gut his soul and remind him of the failure he is so certain he is—a Lost King who will never be found.

King John begins slowly, unwrapping the festival and establishing its background, setting the scene for us. Even when Alistair arrives to make Vin’s final days at Burning Man a frantic scramble for setting up a king weekend, the story almost lazily takes on the challenge set before Vin. Then something happens. I am not sure at what point this story became so intense, but the moment it did, I could not put this book down. So much was at stake, suddenly, lives in peril, a dredged up past threatening to destroy the fragile equilibrium that Vin clings to in order to not see how horribly he does not belong. All of a sudden this is not about Alistair, but rather, about survival…and not only Vin’s.

This was perhaps the most gut wrenching King novel to date. In previous books, we had been privy to Vin’s great moments of self-doubt and frantic worry that he was not going to do right by his Lost King—that he would be the thing to prevent a king from crossing over due to his fumbling, heavy handed acts that were meant to aid his king rather than hinder. This was the Vin we had grown used to—the one that we would shout at again and again to stop berating himself, stop worrying, stop running away from his own destiny. In this novel, author Edmond Manning has done the unthinkable—he has lulled us into this false sense of security. He’s come along side us and, with a nudge and a wink, assured us that Vin was just doing that “Vin stuff” he does and all would work out in the end. Till now. Till King John. Till an ending so shocking that I actually dropped my Kindle. No, say it is not so, Mr. Manning—say it is all just another elaborate clue that will lead to a happy-ever-after for our Vin–our Lost King who surely will get found.

Instead, we got… I am afraid you will have to read this novel to complete that sentence for yourself. Is this long trek into madness and mayhem in the desert worth the emotional wreckage it might leave you with? I must say, dear reader, it is. There are such wonderful moments in this story, and there are such heart breaking times as well. However, it is the journey—as always it is the journey that will make you race through this novel and, once again, recognize a piece of your own humanity within its pages. I bid you calm winds and cooler days as you traverse this desert with Vin. Every second with this story is a second well spent.

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4 Stars, Felice Stevens, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Sammy, Self-Published

Review: Beyond the Surface by Felice Stevens

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Title: Beyond The Surface

Author: Felice Stevens

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 229 Pages

At a Glance: Author Felice Stevens used a delicate hand when developing her story, and left us with a romance that was very much worth every moment spent reading it.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: On 9/11, firefighter Nick Fletcher’s world changed forever. He’s unable to rid himself of survivor’s guilt, made worse by the secret he hides from his family and co-workers. Nick’s life is centered around helping burn victims, until he is reunited with the man he’d once loved but pushed away. Now he has a second chance at a love he thought lost forever.

For fashion designer Julian Cornell, appearances mean everything. His love affairs are strictly casual, and the only thing he cares about is making his clothing line a success. A chance encounter with the man he loved long ago has Julian thinking for the first time in years there may be more to life than being seen at the best parties and what designer labels to wear.

When Julian’s world takes an unexpected turn, it’s Nick who helps him regain perspective on what matters most in life. Julian, in turn, helps Nick accept who he is and understand he isn’t responsible for tragedies he couldn’t prevent. Lost love found can be even sweeter the second time around and after all the years apart, both men learn to look beyond the surface to find the men they are inside.

Dividers

Review: Two damaged men reach beyond their many years of separation to find that there may yet be a chance for them both to find love…with each other. One is a survivor of 9/11—a then rookie firefighter who obeyed an order until the last minute and found himself the only member of his squad to survive, albeit badly burned across his chest and scarred for life mentally. The other man has lived by his wits and his flair for fashion since his mother died, leaving him alone. Fighting for every scrap of fame he has earned, there is also something hollow in it all—something missing. Both look back to the past when they were in love with each other, one certain, the other frightened. A fashion designer who is fearlessly out and proud, a firefighter who is deeply closeted and horribly wounded, reunited. They will become incredibly strong and free when they finally tear down the walls that surround their hearts.

Felice Stevens’ Beyond the Surface is a tender love story that pairs two men who both have been masters at keeping the world at bay for so very long. The appeal of Julian and Nick is not their chosen professions or even their friends and family; rather, it is the way in which they slowly, fearfully emerge from behind the high, thick walls they have built around their emotions. Never allowing more than a one night stand for pleasure, both of these men are so incredibly needy, so lost and so desperate to be loved. While there were times when this novel got a bit too predictable and the language just a bit too flowery for me, one cannot deny the chemistry between these two main characters or their journey from the darkest of moments to the light of a life together.

Occasionally, I felt the continual reminders of Nick’s fears and Julian’s self-doubt were overplayed—it was at these times when I wished for more background on a few plot points that seemed shallow. For instance, I was truly mystified by Julian’s arch enemy, fellow designer Devon Chambers. Given what he did to Julian and his career, I wanted to hear a whole lot more about his backstory and their fleeting past relationship. Without that information, the level to which Chambers obviously hated Julian did not ring authentic. Also the swift capitulation by Nick’s father toward the last quarter of the novel seemed a bit forced to me, too soon and too easy. I felt that and the swift tie up at the ending of most every roadblock the two men had encountered did not do a good service to an otherwise carefully constructed story.

While Beyond The Surface may have had a few glitches, overall, one cannot deny the warm and tender love story that lay at the base of this novel. Author Felice Stevens used a delicate hand when developing her story, and left us with a romance that was very much worth every moment spent reading it.

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5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, John Inman, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: Coming Back by John Inman

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Title: Coming Back (Belladonna Arms: Book Three)

Author: John Inman

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 200 Pages

At a Glance: This novel wraps around you like an old comfy blanket, and makes you part of the magical place where some of the most amazing characters live.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: Barney Teegarden knows what it’s like to be alone. He knows what it’s like to have a romantic heart, yet no love in his life to unleash the romance on. With the help of a friend, he acquires a lease in a seedy apartment building perched high on a hill in downtown San Diego. The Belladonna Arms is not only filled with the quirkiest cast of characters imaginable, it is also famous for sprinkling love dust on even the loneliest of the lovelorn.

At the Arms, Barney finds friendship, acceptance, and an adopted family that lightens his lonely life. Hell, he even finds a cat. But still true love eludes him.

When his drag queen landlord, Arthur, takes it into his head to rescue a homeless former tenant, he enlists Barney’s help. It is Barney who shows this lost soul how to trust again—and in return Barney discovers love for the first time in his life.

It’s funny how even the hardest battles can be fought and won with laughter, hugs, friends, plus a little faith in the goodness of others. All it takes to begin the healing is the simple act of coming back.

Dividers

Review: I have hardly made it a secret that I believe author John Inman is perhaps one of the most gifted voices in the M/M genre. Moving easily from horror and suspense to romantic comedy, there truly is not a more versatile writer on the scene today than Mr. Inman. I may have squealed with a bit of delight when I saw that there was a third installment in the entertaining Belladonna Arms series. You may wonder why, and I can tell you it doesn’t simply rely on the fact that these novels are sweet love stories at their finest. No, it is much more than that. You see, these tales are a slice of Americana, a gay Americana, no doubt, but still as familiar as small town parades and neighbors who support and love each other despite their flaws. What Mr. Inman has done with this series is create a small community that quietly goes about the business of propping one another up when needed, saving each other when disaster looms, and loving each other regardless of what past mistakes may have been made. In short, he has created a family, and I defy you not to fall hopelessly in love with each one of them.

Welcome to the Belladonna Arms, run by the mountainous cross-dressing landlord, Arthur; where gay men, trans folks, and kleptomaniacs all reside in blissful harmony. A new resident has arrived, a friend of Pete’s, and his name is Barney. Those knowing the series will remember Pete, the accountant, who married Sylvia, who has recently transitioned into a gorgeous female. Barney is small in stature but huge in heart, and that is the main problem. You see, while Barney may love, he is never loved in return, nor does he think he will ever be.

However, the decaying old apartment building seems to weave a magic of its own, and nearly everyone who has come to live within its walls finds love following swiftly behind. All, that is, except for Ramon. Again, if you are familiar with these stories, you will remember that Ramon recently accidentally killed his abusive drug addicted lover, ChiChi, in what may have clearly been part freak accident and part ChiChi running into the knife in Ramon’s hand. Regardless of what truly happened, Ramon fled Belladonna Arms and disappeared nearly six months before Barney arrived. Now Arthur has a bead on where Ramon is, and needs his newest renter’s assistance tracking his lost and emotionally wounded friend. The real question is not whether Arthur will bring Ramon safely home; it is, will Ramon be able to shed the pain and guilt he carries and find hope and, yes, love back in the arms of this magical apartment building where his and Barney’s destiny awaits.

A good novel has an interesting and well-paced plot, likeable characters who draw you into their imaginary lives, and solid dialogue that is both intelligent and clever. A great novel has all those components ratcheted up to the nth degree, making it more complex, its people more multi-layered and believable, and the story captivating and memorable. This is the type of story John Inman writes, and in the case of this series, and specifically Coming Back, you must add witty repartee and breathtakingly wounded characters to the list.

I fell in love with the eclectic band of brothers and sister that peopled this novel. I did so, easily and agreeably, because the way in which each one was delicately written to hinge on the life of the others made them rich and unique and so very easy to care about. Ramon, oh golly, I wanted to hold him till the nightmares went away. I wanted to reassure Barney that love was most definitely out there waiting for him despite his very bad track record of one unrequited crush after another. With each description of yet another apartment dweller, I was pulled inexorably into the story, where I happily remained, gobbling up page after page, sometimes shiny-eyed with tears but more often weeping with laughter.

Coming Back, the third installment of the Belladonna Arms series, is truly brilliant story telling. This novel wraps around you like an old comfy blanket, and makes you part of the magical place where some of the most amazing characters live. I highly recommend it to you.

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3.5 Stars, BDSM/Kink/Erotica, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Mickie B. Ashling, Reviewed by Sammy

Review: Forged in Trust by Mickie B. Ashling

Title: Forged in Trust

Author: Mickie B. Ashling

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 215 Pages

At a Glance: For me, this may be the weakest story to date, but even that does not detract from the fact that the Bay City Professional series is definitely a great one to invest some time in.

Blurb: Dr. Ethan Marshall is the young medical student on call the night Tessa Duran murders her husband for abusing her twelve-year-old-son, Rino. Ethan stays in the cubicle while the rape kit is performed and is surprised when the boy resorts to prayers instead of tears.

Despite compelling evidence, Tessa is sent to jail for life. To avoid placing Rino in foster care, their parish priest agrees to raise him. Ethan is touched by Rino’s plight and visits whenever possible, but the connection is broken when the priest and young boy leave the area months later.

Raised by the Dominicans in California, Rino considers joining the order until a romance blossoms with a fellow student. After much soul-searching, he turns his back on everything familiar, and chooses his orientation over his perceived vocation. Upon graduating dental hygiene school, Rino takes a job at the office of Scott Gregory and Robin Kennedy.

Seventeen years have passed since that horrible night in the emergency room. Forty-three-year-old Ethan is now a Dominant in search of a full-time submissive. Twenty-nine-year-old Rino is adrift, longing for someone or something to help him find the serenity he’s lost along the way. As they rekindle their friendship, they realize they might be perfect for each other.

Dividers

Review: Forged In Trust is the fourth installment of Mickie B. Ashling’s Bay City Professionals series. While this novel does have some returning characters, it definitely could be read as a standalone, given that the two main guys are new to the storyline. I have read the others in this series and really enjoyed them. This one, however, left me shaking my head just a bit. Also, just a note for those who may need to be careful, while the scenes are minor in terms of time on the page, and handled very well by the author, the two instances of rape, one of which was a case of child molestation, may be potential triggers for some. I feel these were handled with great enough care as to not dwell on the subject matter, but still make the reader aware of the horrors that occurred in Rino’s past, and set up his introduction to Ethan.

The story begins with a woman and her young son seeking to leave their country when the U.S. forces begin their troop withdrawal. Having been much the company “whore” for various servicemen, she finally manages to find a man who will declare her as his fiancée and take care of her and her boy, Rino, when they get stateside. However, the man has a dark side to him and before long, both she and Rino are barely surviving his angry outbursts. To make matters worse, he is not satisfied just using Rino’s mother for sex; he wants the boy as well. After Rino experiences a particularly violent rape, which was dealt with off page, Rino’s mother fulfills the promise she made to herself and kills her husband. She then rushes her twelve-year-old son to the ER, where a young resident helps take Rino through the awful rape case examination. A special bond is created between the young doctor, Ethan, and Rino that night. Months later, when Rino is now in the foster care of a Dominican priest, due to his mother being incarcerated, Ethan attempts to keep in contact with the boy until the priest is relocated from Texas to California and they lose contact with each other.

Fast forward many years, and Rino is now a dental hygienist just finding work with some old familiar faces from this series. By luck, Rino decides to check out a club, not knowing it is a private BDSM establishment, and stumbles upon the very place where Ethan has invested his time and money, socially. Now the two men are thrown together again but much has changed for each of them. Ethan is a Dominant who has had little luck finding a sub to fulfill his rather stringent standards, leaving him unsatisfied and lonely. Rino is a tangled mess of conflicting beliefs and emotions, stemming from his rigid catholic upbringing and his realization that being gay means he will never be welcomed in his beloved church. The two meet and all the past trust and tenderness they had for each other bubbles rapidly to the surface. But can a fast and furious lust actually translate into a love that can last for the long haul?

Fast and furious is a good way to describe the passionate relationship that erupts between Rino and Ethan. In fact, for two men who’d been described as mostly unable to trust others and do more than one night encounters that were solely sex-driven, the speed with which these two fell for each other was stunning. Unfortunately, I felt the author gave up precious story time dwelling on both the “how to” be a submissive and the rather complex exposition about the career field that Ethan ended up pursuing. First, there were several pages dedicated to explaining just what a BDSM relationship could look like—giving us rudimentary explanations as to what was and was not standard fare.

Alongside that, we had extensive details on Ethan’s chosen field of urology as it specifically focused on sexual re-orientation surgery. As a third side story, we also had quite a lengthy subplot concerning faith, specifically as regards catholic beliefs. While all these elements were good for the story, overall, I felt they tended to go on and on, pushing me out of the story and making it difficult to really grasp and believe this near instant attraction and sexual intensity that Rino and Ethan experienced. There was too much discussion and not enough action. Further, Rino had an actual negative physical reaction as well as genuine emotional turmoil over the whipping scene he witnessed at the BDSM club. Given that, and the fact that it was Ethan administering the whipping, it was quite a stretch to swallow that he would fall into a D/s situation with Ethan so very easily. Here was a man who was raped—twice—and yet it took just two or three days of being together for him to allow for anal sex with Ethan? I just didn’t buy it.

I have really enjoyed other installments in this series, but Forged In Trust had too much explanation and set up, and not enough interaction and relationship building to make it palatable. For me, this may be the weakest story to date, but even that does not detract from the fact that the Bay City Professional series is definitely a great one to invest some time in.

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