3.5 Stars, Extasy Books, Kazy Reed, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Taz

Review: Remember Him by Kazy Reed

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Title: Remember Him (The Amsel Clan: Book One)

Author: Kazy Reed

Publisher: eXtasy Books

Pages/Word Count: 162 Pages

At a Glance: As a first book, this was a commendable contribution to vampiric storylore.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: While sketching the Temple of Dendur, graduate student Carter Denwright meets—and is seduced by—a powerful vampire by the name of Alder. Though they were once kept secret from the human world, now everyone knows of their existence. Blinded by mistaken feelings for Alder, Carter allows himself to be drawn into his life. Too late, he realizes two things: one, Alder is vicious and cruel, and two, Carter’s true love is Alder’s brother, Freyr.

The attraction between Carter and Freyr is strong, but they must fight this feeling or face the wrath of Alder. Despite their best efforts, Alder discovers the truth, and punishes Carter, hiding him from Freyr in a cruel game of cat and mouse.

Freyr is not as strong as his brother, but he vows that he will find Carter again and will stop at nothing to get him back. Carter, caught in Alder’s cruel grip, commits an act of desperation that will change all their lives forever. The question is: can Freyr find Carter, and is the bond between him and Carter enough to break Alder’s hold and spoil his plans to ruin them both?

Dividers

Review: I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Kazy at two of the GRL Retreats. I remember several things about her, including her awesome hair, her friendliness, and later, her heartfelt posts on Facebook about her family. Her personality rings of coolness and good energy…which was evident in her book.

Carter and Freyr are wonderfully lovable characters. Their emotions and love for one another are strong and grip the reader, forcing us to root for their happy ending. Alder is a magnificent villain, made even more so when a small piece of his emotions are revealed towards the end of the book. His motivation for throwing the proverbial wrench into the beautiful lives of our protagonists were self-serving, yes, but also driven out of respect for Carter.

It did not take long for the story to fall into motion. With a prologue that begins to do some world-building, followed by a leap to the present where we see how the history of the two main characters bleeds into the lives of the support cast, I was drawn in. The sex scenes were vivid and plentiful, always an enjoyable aspect to reading.

As a first book, this was a commendable contribution to vampiric storylore. Told in the first person and shifting points of view from chapter to chapter, we are taken on not one but two emotional journeys. As the action revs up, those points of view draw closer and closer together until we reach the climatic finale.

A couple of things which would have helped me to enjoy the book without any distraction at all would be in the finer details of revision and editing. I’ve heard from many authors who look back at their first work and note how much they’ve grown since they began writing. The traps Ms. Reed skimmed are common and, given the strength of the story, minor distractions. There were a few times when Ms. Reed told the reader the characters’ feelings rather than showing us through description and actions. Also, the initial chapters required me to suspend my view of how things might naturally occur. For instance, the love interest sparked instantly with proclamations of love happening without a getting-to-know-you phase. If we’d had some time to explore Freyr and Carter’s attraction and love in the face of the threat of Alder finding out and retaliating, the tension would have been amplified on two levels. First, we would have rooted for the protagonists even more (although I was rooting for them the whole time). Also, the ugliness of Alder’s character could have been an even greater obstacle because we’d be able to really hate him on a personal level rather than seeing him as an abuser of power who needed to be taken down.

Other than these two elements, the story gripped me and kept my attention right to the very end. I’m now invested and am looking forward to reading the next installment when it releases.

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5 Stars, Genre Romance, Love Lane Books, Reviewed by Taz, RJ Scott

Review: Max and the Prince by RJ Scott

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Title: Max and the Prince (Bodyguards Inc.: Book Three)

Author: RJ Scott

Publisher: Love Lane Books

Pages/Word Count: 131 Pages

At a Glance: To read one of RJ Scott’s books is like stepping into a perfectly crafted world.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: Bodyguard Max Connery is used to being mistaken for being younger than he is.

Being carded every time he buys a beer is usual. Even though he’s just turned twenty eight and has two tours in Afghanistan as a pilot under his belt.

When a threat is made on the life of a prince attending University in the UK, Max is the perfect choice to blend in with students and to keep Prince Lucien safe. Even if it means joining the swim team to be by his side.

But, when death visits the University, abruptly this job is a long way past keeping the prince happy and safe. Instead Max has to keep Lucien alive.

Dividers

Review: Ah, to read one of RJ Scott’s books is like stepping into a perfectly crafted world where you know you’ll meet rich characters and experience a satisfying plotline and well-developed emotions. And this book did not disappoint.

Max is a bodyguard, and everything about him goes along with the images you’d expect for such a beefy hunka deliciousness. The prince, Lucien, is truly a prince, strong, a swimmer, along with all of the images you’d expect to go along with that.

As would be expected, the two get off to a rocky start, Max believing Lucien is a spoiled heir to wealthy parents. Of course, that’s far too simple a story for someone like RJ Scott. No, Lucien may be innocent and somewhat inexperienced (especially when it comes to sex), but he’s no pushover and definitely not spoiled. I will say that Lucien’s lack of sexual experience makes for some really hot scenes.

As the story unfolds and max digs deeper and deeper into the mystery of a stalker whose set Lucien in his sights, feelings of love and connection ignite, and the gravitational pull of the attraction between these two men is unmistakable.

Since this isn’t a long story, I don’t want to give away too much, but each chapter drove the story forward, and I couldn’t wait to find out how the mystery unfolded.

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4 Stars, Amber Allure, Reviewed by Taz, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Vivien Dean

Review: Savage Estate by Vivien Dean

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Title: Savage Estate

Author: Vivien Dean

Publisher: Amber Allure

Pages/Word Count:  272 Pages

At a Glance: I would recommend this book without reservation. It kept me on my toes, and I stayed up later than I probably should have to find out how the book ended.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: For his twenty-fifth birthday, Alec Savage gets the gift of a lifetime—the chance to meet his father for the very first time. What he finds upon his arrival in Washington, DC, however, is a smashed window, an empty house, and a scrawled note with only his name and a phone number on it. Panicked, he dials the number and talks to an uncle he never knew he had, one who insists Alec is in danger if he stays in the house. That’s when everything starts to get really weird.

Within minutes, he’s teleported all the way to nowhere Montana, in the company of the most gorgeous guy he’s ever seen, hearing about how he’s the latest mage in the Savage line. Alec doesn’t want to believe Rowan Bouchard, but it’s hard to argue with the reality of his new snowbound location or the confirmation from the uncle who greets him. He even thinks staying on the estate while they hunt for his father won’t be so bad if he has Rowan as eye candy.

Except Rowan is more than that. He’s a shifter, the most beautiful black panther Alec could imagine. And according to his Uncle Martin, he’s now Alec’s familiar, too…

Dividers

Review: Savage Estate has so many of the things I love: familiars, mages, magic, action. One character discovering he likes guys. All-in-all, a very satisfying read. For the most part, this story follows timid Alec, someone who’s kind of lost until he meets Rowan, right at a crucial turning point in his life. He’s about to come into his powers and, therefore, come under direct threat by those who would rid the world of mages. Rowan, a stoic and dutiful man, arrives on scene to save belligerent Alex, and the story rolls on from there.

Alec and Rowan start a little like oil and water, but feelings quickly develop. While Rowan is supposedly “straight,” or at least had been up until he met Rowan, the instant bonding of mage and familiar unlocked something in him that he’d not known existed. Once the plotline began to unfold, the story took wings. Dirty politics, not knowing who to trust, estranged father reconnected with abandoned son.

While the book was an enjoyable read, and I became more and more engrossed in the story as it unfolded, there were still certain aspects of the storyline which seemed a bit too convenient for my tastes. Primarily it seemed a bit of a cop-out to have Rowan become gay once he connected with Alec. People don’t become gay, they either are or aren’t…or they’re bisexual or asexual, or some other combination of the many identifications out there. I would have preferred that Rowan had discovered his true nature as a gay man, even if his attraction was only, and would always be, for one man. Also, I wish a bigger deal had been made of Alec coming into his powers. The fact he was about to receive his powers at the onset of the book created the conflict necessary for the plot to move forward, and we do get a taste of his powers, but in the end, his magic isn’t what brings us to the climax and ending.

With all that said, I would recommend this book without reservation. It kept me on my toes, and I stayed up later than I probably should have to find out how the book ended.

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4 Stars, DSP Publications, Jamie Fessenden, Literary Fiction, Reviewed by Taz

Review: By That Sin Fell the Angels by Jamie Fessenden

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Title: By That Sin Fell the Angels

Author: Jamie Fessenden

Publisher: DSP Publications

Pages/Word Count:  191 Pages

At a Glance: This is the second book I’ve read by Jamie Fessenden, and while the topics are tough and some of the events made me squirm, I applaud this author’s courage and talent.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: It begins with a 3:00 a.m. telephone call. On one end is Terry Bachelder, a closeted teacher. On the other, the suicidal teenage son of the local preacher. When Terry fails to prevent disaster, grief rips the small town of Crystal Falls apart.

At the epicenter of the tragedy, seventeen-year-old Jonah Riverside tries to make sense of it all. Finding Daniel’s body leaves him struggling to balance his sexual identity with his faith, while his church, led by the Reverend Isaac Thompson, mounts a crusade to destroy Terry, whom Isaac believes corrupted his son and caused the boy to take his own life.

Having quietly crushed on his teacher for years, Jonah is determined to clear Terry’s name. That quest leads him to Eric Jacobs, Daniel’s true secret lover, and to get involved in Eric’s plan to shake up their small-minded town. Meanwhile, Rev. Thompson struggles to make peace between his religious convictions and the revelation of his son’s homosexuality. If he can’t, he leaves the door open to eternal damnation—and for a second tragedy to follow.

Dividers

Review: I read Violated by Jamie Fessenden and was so impressed by his courage and style that I had to pick up this book as well. I wasn’t disappointed.

In By That Sin Fell the Angels, we face the tragic issue of teen suicide and homophobia in a small town. The book opens with an ominous phone call from a teen who needs someone to talk to before he kills himself. One of the main protagonists, Terry, who received the call, is helpless to do anything to prevent the horrific event.

As the story unfolds, we meet Jonah, the other main protagonist in the story. He is a high school student who is closeted and gay. We see him interacting with the one open gay student, as well as his crew of homophobic friends. Slowly, as the story develops, we see how he comes to terms with his own failings and, ultimately, acceptance of who he truly is.

Add to this a zealous preacher (the father of the child who committed suicide), a flamboyantly gay peer at Jonah’s school, a ridiculously supportive boyfriend to Terry, Jonah’s mother, who is dating a man half her age, and a general town aura of intolerance. The mixture is a recipe for nail biting intensity.

My only complaint about this book was that it went a bit over the top. I only say this from my deep familiarity with school systems and school boards. The manner in which the school board and the principal handled the events was extreme and wouldn’t happen in real life. The feelings might be there of intolerance and hatred, but the words and actions wouldn’t have unfolded the way they did. That said, it made for good drama and added to the depth of the emotions in the story.

What I loved about the book was how the author wove together a rich web of experience, shifting point of view frequently so that we could get inside the heads of a full range of characters. By doing so, we were able to truly look at this town and the topic of homosexuality, and see a highly religious small town through the eyes of an outsider with omniscient knowledge of everyone’s thoughts and feelings. Had the story only been told from one point of view (and I have no idea whose point of view Mr. Fessenden would have chosen), the story would’ve suffered for it.

As I said, this is the second book I’ve read by Jamie Fessenden, and while the topics are tough and some of the events made me squirm, I applaud this author’s courage and talent. I certainly intend to continue reading his work (starting with a backlog of his sizable completed manuscripts).

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4 Stars, Genre Romance, Lou Harper, Reviewed by Taz, Samhain Publishing

Release Day Review: Secrets and High Spirits by Lou Harper

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Title: Secrets and High Spirits (Secrets: Book Four)

Author: Lou Harper

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pages/Word Count:  137 Pages

At a Glance: I found this an enjoyable book, and I plan to go back to the first three books to read the stories of the other characters I met in Secrets and High Spirits.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: Their love is an explosive cocktail—stirred, shaken, and served with a twist.

Teag and Bruce dream of opening their own bars, but that’s where the similarities end.

Teag, a popular bartender at West Hollywood’s hottest club, is willful, opinionated, and likes to take charge. He envisions his future bar as a boozy oasis for craft cocktails. Unfortunately, while he’s big on ideas, he’s short on funds.

Bruce, on the other hand, is a tower of pirate-tattooed muscle with a laid-back attitude. While he’s good with people, he’s a walking paradox—a wannabe boss with a weakness for bossy men.

Their partnership is a natural fit, but every time they meet, sparks fly as they rub each other the wrong way. Or is it the right way? In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to tell.

Between renovation pitfalls, meddling friends, and miles of police tape, Teag and Bruce struggle to keep their venture—and their budding relationship—from going up in flames. And not the good kind. More like the one on the top of a B52 shot.

Warning: Contains a whipcord-lean and whip-smart bartender who knows what he wants—and how hard he wants it—and a go-with-the-flow bar manager who secretly likes to be told how hard to give it.

Dividers

Review: Secrets and High Spirits was a wonderful read. I was a little nervous about picking up a series at Book Four, but this was a complete standalone and easily enjoyable without having read Books One, Two, and Three. In doing a little research on Amazon, I recognized the names of characters from this book, so my guess is that each book is its own story, and the various characters take center stage in different books. I’ll have to verify with the author to make sure this is right, but it appears to be the case.

Let’s start with the title. It was perfect. The main characters are opening a bar together, and both are adept at mixing drinks…but there’s also a subplot of the history of the building they bought, which had once been a bar called the Blue Parrot. The establishment seems to be haunted by one of the original patrons, although this particular ghost is more of the friendly variety and kind of a presence but not a character.

The two protagonists were an interesting match. There was a definite Dom/sub feel to this book in the sense that one character loved to be in control and the other loved to be controlled, although there was no BDSM (in case you associate Dom/sub and BDSM). The Dom is smaller and guarded, whereas the sub is a burly tattooed muscle man whose looks belie a gentle and accommodating nature.

Along the journey of coming together to become partners—first in business, later in bed—we meet a rich cast of characters who bring humor and depth to the storyline. Each character pushed the story further and helped the reader to better understand the main characters. There is a suspenseful mystery element woven in which helps to ramp up the action and pace of the book. The sex, while infrequent, is very hot when it occurs.

Since the book was more of a novella length, or perhaps a short novel, the relationship between Teag and Bruce was not as fleshed out as if could have been. The two take a while to lower their guards and accept the other one in. This slow process helped to ramp up the tension and to build suspense and maybe a bit of anxiety as we read to find out how they will find one another. Once they are together, the stresses, fears, and misunderstandings that threaten to tear brand new relationships apart are not as fully developed. For instance, when Bruce sees that an old lover had called Teag, it could have been a great catalyst for the two characters to hit a conflict only to work through it and become stronger because of their struggle and communication.

In the end, I found this an enjoyable book, and I plan to go back to the first three books to read the stories of the other characters I met in Secrets and High Spirits.

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4 Stars, Genre Romance, Love Lane Books, Reviewed by Taz, RJ Scott

Review: Undercover Lovers by RJ Scott

Title: Undercover Lovers (Bodyguards Inc.: Book Four)

Author: RJ Scott

Publisher: Love Lane Books

Pages/Word Count:  135 Pages

At a Glance: Overall, I found this to be a pleasant read. It had all the elements I enjoy in an erotic romance.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: Even if Ross and Kyle make it out of this alive, will the secrets in Kyle’s heart stay safe?

Kyle gets caught up in a case that is entirely unrelated to Bodyguards Inc. Not only does he abruptly need time off, but he has to have absolute trust and complete support from Ross without being able to tell Ross a thing.

CIA Agent Stefan Mortimer needs Kyle’s help with a case of a geneticist and a missing formula. Trouble is being led right to Kyle’s door, endangering the life of the team he has built and the man that he loves.

Going undercover, with Ross as his husband, is the worst kind of torture in so many ways, but it is the only answer. Kyle and Ross may well live through this but Kyle is convinced his heart won’t survive.

Dividers

Review: I am a huge fan of RJ Scott. She consistently puts out great book after great book. Undercover Lovers is no exception. In this story we meet Kyle and Ross. Both have worked together in the capacity of employer (Kyle) and PA (Ross). When an assignment comes up where Kyle needs a second person to complete his cover, he invited Ross to come along as his husband. Of course, we find out right away that Kyle has harbored feelings for Ross from the first day they met, and Ross has similar feelings. Up until this assignment, they’d kept their relationship professional, neither willing to risk messing up their strong working relationship.

This story moves at an easy pace, shifting back and forth from Kyle and Ross’s point of view. Rather than focusing on a tight action plotline, the relationship and feelings take center stage as we watch the two men slowly open up to the other. Once the action plotline explodes, the pace picks up and carries through until the end.

Overall, I found this to be a pleasant read. It had all the elements I enjoy in an erotic romance. Two awesome characters, real feelings developed with finesse, and some hot sex scenes. For me, I would have liked the action plotline to have played a slightly larger role. As I read, I found myself enjoying the back and forth of the protagonists but wondering when their assignment would pick up (after all, that was the premise for why they’d gone to all the trouble of posing as a married couple).

A great read that moved at a steady pace, I’d recommend this as a nice weekend read or something to enjoy over a vacation between whatever events you have scheduled.

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5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Jamie Fessenden, Literary Fiction, Reviewed by Taz

Review: Violated by Jamie Fessenden

Title: Violated

Author: Jamie Fessenden

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count:  256 Pages

At a Glance: I had no idea how Mr. Fessenden would handle this sensitive topic, and was impressed by the testimony he portrays through this story.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: Derek Sawyer thinks he has it all—a high-salaried position, a boyfriend, a dog, even a new cabin on the lake—until a business trip with his manager and best friend, Victor, shatters his world.

One night of drunken horsing around in their hotel room leads to the most intensely personal violation Derek has ever endured. As if the humiliation of working under his attacker every day isn’t enough, Victor reports Derek for sexual harassment. Now he’s without a job, without a boyfriend, and the mortgage on the cabin is due.

Officer Russ Thomas has worked with rape victims before, and it doesn’t take him long to sort out the truth in Derek’s tale. With his support, Derek finally reports the crime, months after it happened. But restraining orders and lawyers further Victor’s anger toward him, and even though a relationship develops between Derek and the policeman, Russ can’t be there to protect him all the time.

Dividers

Review: WARNING: This book deals with rape, both the experience and the aftermath. This review may serve as a trigger for some people, so please proceed with caution. ~ TAZ

Violated is a sensitive and vivid portrayal of the impact a rape has on a person, with a particular focus on a male being raped. When I read the description of this book, I felt immediately compelled to read it. On the one hand, rape is one of those topics that is usually banned as part of submission guidelines. Of course, that is rape depicted gratuitously (whatever that means). The subject matter itself is permissible, but still taboo.

I had no idea how Mr. Fessenden would handle this sensitive topic, and was impressed by the testimony he portrays through this story. The first chunk of the book established the main characters and their relationships to one another. I had wondered whether the author would’ve chosen to begin the story where the rape had already occurred. This was not the case. Once we meet the characters, we experience the rape, rather graphically, from the point of view of our protagonist victim, Derek. While highly disturbing and difficult to read, it was clear Mr. Fessenden had researched the experiences of men who had been raped. The honesty of the physical experience was described, but moving forward, the book focused on the emotional damage as the protagonist struggles to regain his shattered sense of self-control and power.

And that was what made this story a brave and important read. I don’t know of anyone who has admitted being raped to me, and therefore I have no first-hand knowledge of what the experience is like after the fact. In reading Violated, I feel like I have a better understanding of the multi-faceted and deeply rooted injuries (both physical and emotional) that impact the victim, making recovery an uphill battle.

The author also chose not to over-dramatize the events following the rape, in terms of dealing with filing charges, giving testimony, facing the possibility of plea bargains, and the continued threat of physical violence. Derek had a very real set of concerns for his own safety and how others would view him, and the author provides a believable portrayal of the inner thoughts and worries. But the most disturbing and beautifully portrayed element of Derek’s suffering is the betrayals he endured from people who were supposed to be there for him, no matter what. I can’t even imagine how a victim of rape can heal when even the people they are supposed to trust the most aren’t able to provide appropriate support.

The other protagonist, Russ, was an amazing man. I appreciated that there was a preface that explained that the author had spoken to officers to learn about procedure, and then took some liberties to suit the love interest in the story. While there was clearly a conflict of interest with Russ having any involvement in the activities surrounding the investigation into Derek’s rape, I was prepared for this when it happened.

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5 Stars, Brynn Stein, Dreamspinner Press, Literary Fiction, Reviewed by Taz

Review: What No One Else Can Hear by Brynn Stein

Title: What No One Else Can Hear

Author: Brynn Stein

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count:  220 Pages

At a Glance: Though there’s no romantic plotline in this book, it is an excellent story and well worth your time to read.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: Young Stevie Liston is diagnosed with autism, but is really an overwhelmed empath who mentally called out for help. Jesse McKinnon heard him in a dream from clear across the country, and that dream sent him on a six-year search to find Stevie. Once they meet, they think everything will work out and Jesse will help Stevie cope.

Stevie does improve immensely, but a disgruntled coworker of Jesse’s conspires with Stevie’s estranged but politically powerful father to keep Stevie and Jesse apart with trumped-up legal charges claiming Jesse sexually abused the boy. Jesse must watch helplessly as Stevie loses all the advances he’s made.

If it wasn’t for his growing relationship with his coworker Drew Ferguson, Jesse knows he wouldn’t have the strength to fight for his rights and Stevie’s future. Drew just might be the real thing, but with the very real possibility of serving jail time for a crime he didn’t commit, Jesse’s hopes for a future with Drew might be doomed.

Dividers

Review: What No One Else Can Hear is a heartwarming and sometimes disturbing story about a man and a boy who share a deep connection. Stevie is an autistic boy who lives in a trancelike state, not talking or interacting except through his drawings. Through an empathic connection, he draws Jerry to him at an institution for other children with autism. When Jerry arrives, Stevie awakens and begins to speak and interact with others. But, he can’t filter out the emotional noise of others around him. This is fine if the emotions are warm and fuzzy, but living in a place filled with children who often have emotional meltdowns, Stevie has a long way to go to learn how to manage the input he receives from everyone around him.

Before I provide the review, I want to mention that this book was not what I’d expected from a Dreamspinner Press title. There was little to no erotic romance in this story. While there was a love interest, there were only a few erotic scenes, and none of them were full out descriptions of sweaty man-sex. Since this is what I was expecting, I found myself getting frustrated as I tried to figure out who the love interest was and why it was taking so long to get to the love story. Had there been a warning, or if the title had been published under DSPP, this pitfall would have been avoided and I would have enjoyed the book for what it was: an excellent story about a boy and a man who shared a connection no one else could understand.

While there were several disturbing events in the book, the action and pace remained tight. Stevie had severe breakdowns when he was receiving too much input from those around him. This would cause him to tear at his clothes, scratch himself, beat his head against solid objects, and basically shut down. Jerry was the only person who was able to get through to Stevie, and slowly helped him to learn how to handle emotionally wrought situations.

Add to the mix several side stories, and the plot kept on spinning with problem after problem. Between the disgruntled colleague at the institute, who hated Jerry from the first day, to Stevie’s political figurehead of a father, who was basically just a sperm donor, trouble just kept piling up, pitting obstacle after obstacle in Jerry’s path as he tried to help Stevie come out of the world he’d secluded himself in. The interactions with these two antagonists resulted in some truly ugly things happening which made me cringe as I read, but that’s good writing if the author can get me to squirm.

As I said, the love interest was a secondary plotline. There were some sex scenes, but none were described in detail. Once I realized this was not an erotic romance, but more of a paranormal story with a romantic side-story, I was able to get on board with the experience of reading the book. What I liked about Drew, Jerry’s love interest, was how he complimented Jerry perfectly, serving as the alpha for Stevie while Jerry provided the nurturing support Stevie needed.

But by far, the star of the book is Stevie. The author absolutely rocked getting inside this kid’s head, clearly did her research about autism, and painted a picture of a boy everyone fell in love with, including me, the reader.

So, if you are interested in reading a story that definitely provides a HEA, but that does not contain a strong erotic plot line, this is a book well worth your time.

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4 Stars, Genre Romance, Jeff Adams, JMS Books LLC, Reviewed by Taz

Review: Heat Wave: Tuscaloosa by Jeff Adams

Title: Heat Wave – Tuscaloosa

Author: Jeff Adams

Publisher: JMS Books LLC

Pages/Word Count:  51 Pages

At a Glance: As a heart-warming love story, Heat Wave: Tuscaloosa hits the spot.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: Ethan is a grad student stuck in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for the summer. Though he’s thrilled about his teaching assistant position at the university, he’s not at all excited about the record-breaking heat wave plaguing the area.

In the midst of an oppressively hot summer night, Ethan meets fellow grad student Marcus. While their initial encounters are scorching, can two busy students have more than a heated seasonal fling? Or could it be the beginning of something that will last beyond the stormy southern nights?

Dividers

Review: Heat Wave: Tuscaloosa definitely lived up to its name. Set in Alabama in the summer, we meet Ethan, a grad student who is teaching during the summer. Since he couldn’t cool down his apartment enough, he spent a few nights sleeping on his patio. On the first night, he spots a man he names Shadow Man (since that’s all he can make of the stranger) beating off on a neighboring balcony across from his own. Ethan joins in and this becomes a nightly event…until one night the power goes out, and all the people in the community of buildings are hanging around outside. That’s when he meets Marcus, aka Shadow Man, and the heatwave moves from the actual weather into the bedroom, a farm, a bathroom, and several other places as well.

As a light summer read, this hit the spot. There wasn’t a whole bunch of drama, misunderstandings, or obstacles to overcome. Like any exciting new relationship, this was fun and exciting and new. Along with hot sex, the two characters learn they have an easy time getting to know one another, and that there’s a real connection that runs deeper than the hormones rushing through their veins whenever they are together.

That said, I’d recommend this book when you want something that reads quick and is completely free of any angst or worry. There isn’t much of a plotline, other than the two characters getting to know one another and learning that they make a great pair. This book is free or internal and external pressures that can stand in the way of a developing relationship.

As a heart-warming love story, Heat Wave: Tuscaloosa hits the spot.

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5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Neil Plakcy, Reviewed by Taz

Review: Love on the Web by Neil Plakcy

Title: Love on the Web

Author: Neil Plakcy

Publisher: Loose Id

Pages/Word Count:  211 Pages

At a Glance: Love on the Web is a very satisfying read!

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: Larry Leavis is too smart and geeky for his family, too gangly and awkward among other gay guys. He’s never felt like he fits anywhere until he meets handsome entrepreneur Julian Argento and agrees to help him build a website for his fledgling web translation company.

Julian isn’t the only guy with his eye on Larry, though. Sexy client Victor Kunin has plans for Larry that go way beyond developing an app for his modeling agency. All this attention has Larry confused. Is Julian using him for his awesome coding skills, or is there something more between them – something that could be destroyed if Julian finds out about some very kinky trysts at Victor’s place?

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Review: Whew! This was a book I couldn’t put down. In fact, I woke up this morning with my Kindle resting on my chest after having lost the battle to stay awake late into the wee hours. Of course, I simply picked the book right up and continued on the journey. What I enjoyed about the book was how all the elements I love about stories were present. The main character had a clear talent for coding of computer apps (well, anything techie really), and the pages were filled with descriptions of the work he needed to do and how his work made him the cream that rose to the top. Along with that, the author included a cadre of weird family members, co-workers and roommates who fleshed out the main character. And, of course, Larry had not one but two extremely hot men who were both pursuing him. One of those men was sweet as sugar, while the other was vile. Don’t you just love when there’s a villain you can hate?

Mostly, this was a story about a guy who didn’t see in himself what everyone else saw in him. He was tall, awkward, and geeky, with a poor self-image. When we first meet Victor and Julian (the two successful and handsome men who pursue Larry), he thinks they are way out of his league. And that was the storyline I loved the most. As the events unfold, we watch Larry learn to see himself the way others see him. As one man treats Larry like scum, he learns to stand up for himself and prioritize what’s important to him. While he’d been afraid to come out to his family at the beginning of the book, we watch him own himself unapologetically. And, best of all, we get to enjoy the slow and awkward romance of two sweet men who complement each other in wonderful ways.

All in all, Love on the Web is a very satisfying read!

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4 Stars, Amber Allure, Genre Romance, Kris T. Bethke, Reviewed by Taz

Review: Something Like Hope by Kris T. Bethke

Title: Something Like Hope

Author: Kris T. Bethke

Publisher: Amber Allure

Pages/Word Count: 35,000 Words

At a Glance:

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: Television actor Aaron Zeller is thrilled when the character he plays on a popular primetime crime drama begins a gay relationship with one of the main characters on the show. While the cast and crew are mostly supportive, lead actor, Lucas Logan, is not. Aaron feels nothing but inexplicable coldness from the man.

Lucas admits his attraction for Aaron, but he is reluctant to act on his desires because of the potential detriment to his career should his sexuality become public. What they have between them could be sizzling hot. But is it worth the risks?

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Review: I loved the premise of this book. Closeted superstar actor falls for another actor, but can’t express that love publicly for fear of damage to his career. Whenever I read stories about guys who want their cake but are too afraid to make the personal sacrifices to deserve it, I tend to get frustrated, but this story was handled in a way that I really appreciated the conflict between love and career. I think the reason this element didn’t bother me was because it was addressed by both characters in a direct and honest way. Each knew what they could tolerate, and made sure the other was okay with the limits their circumstances created on how public they could be about their relationship.

On top of the love interest, the sex was smokin’ hot. The passion and heat between the two protagonists was undeniable, as was the passion of their desire for one another. As I read, I could feel the intensity of Lucas’s possessiveness and jealousy. At the same time, my heart beat a bit faster at the strength of Aaron’s desire for Lucas.

One thing that I would have liked to witness was some form of a pitfall threatening the development of the central relationship. The way the book progressed was natural and believable, but if there had been a dramatic moment or set of events that forced Lucas to face his decision to remain in the closet, or perhaps to push him to make the decision to go public, there would have been a bit more of a dramatic flair and a greater sense of overcoming obstacles by the end.

That said, this story was highly satisfying and very believable. The honesty, emotions, and flow made for an engaging read and a hot love story.

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3 Stars, Devyn Morgan, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Taz, Self-Published

Review: Unfading by Devyn Morgan

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Title: Unfading (Books One, Two, and Three)

Author: Devyn Morgan

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 200 Pages (Est.)

At a Glance: While I tend to overlook the occasional editing error, there were enough in these books to distract me from what otherwise was a pleasurable story.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: Logan Walters is used to attention. He waltzes through life in his tight jeans slung low on his hips, everyone’s appreciative eyes upon him. He can practically hear hearts break when walks out on his conquests. Once he decides to get a tattoo, he knows it’ll make him feel complete – all grown up. Except in a heartbeat, Logan – beautiful, arrogant Logan – is nervous, and he can’t understand why.

Connor Dixon gave up on finding true love. An award-winning tattoo artist, he’s traveled across the country, guesting at many parlors but never staying too long. His last relationship ended like they always have: his boyfriend was cheating on him. But his reservations fly out the window when he sees Logan for the first time. Is he really falling for this guy, so cute but so vulnerable at the same time?

Logan and Connor can’t stop the intense mutual attraction and what inevitably follows, but it’s not all smooth sailing. Bad habits die hard, and Logan’s insecurities rise up to deal a devastating blow to their budding relationship…

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Review: This story, Unfading, starts with a twenty-two year old hottie letting the reader know just how hot he is. Who hasn’t gone to the club and yearned for that God who seems to rule the whole scene. If that guy would choose you, how awesome would that be? Just to think that you might be able to put some part of yourself into him, or he might put something into you. I mean, if that were to happen then your life would be pure heaven. Right?

But we meet Logan at a time when he’s beginning to question his illustrious career as “the man” on the circuit. The chemistry flies when he meets Connor because for once, he’s met someone who doesn’t immediately drool over him. In fact, Connor pushed Logan to dig deep and find that human being he’s been hiding behind a mask of lust, sexuality, and alcohol…and, in his case, a hyper-clean apartment.

When the two unite in sexual conquest, it’s like the Fourth of July. Serious fireworks and hot. After an initial hook-up, misunderstandings and unfortunate choices place a wedge between our two protagonists, and we are set on a path of wondering how they will find their way back to one another.

Overall, I enjoyed these three books (which I received as one volume). I cared about the characters, I admired the way Logan grew from a caricature of a club-goer to a decent man. I enjoyed the honesty between the two men. And the sex was hot.

The biggest detractor for me during the story was the editing. There were many instances of misused words where the homonym was used instead of the correct word (for example, taught instead of taut and to instead of too). There were also some punctuation errors, like a missing apostrophe to indicate possessive. While I tend to overlook the occasional editing error, there were enough in these books to distract me from what otherwise was a pleasurable story.

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3.5 Stars, Aundrea Singer, Dreamspinner Press, Reviewed by Taz, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: Aiden’s Angel by Aundrea Singer

Title: Aiden’s Angel

Author: Aundrea Singer

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 147 Pages

At a Glance: I would recommend this to someone who loves stories about angels and their role in the battle between light and darkness, and those who aren’t as interested in the sex scenes but more interested in the expressions of emotional love and connectedness.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: Aiden Lobo is a graduate student in a world where magic, gods, and demons are part of everyday life. After a terrible betrayal, he is cursed with a Crack in his heart, turning him into a living doorway for an ancient demon of war to come to Earth and kill millions. Aiden is rescued by his guardian angel, who seals the Crack with his own Light. As a servant of the divine, the nameless angel was supposed to kill Aiden to prevent the growing cataclysm inside him. But he loves Aiden too much to end his life, even to save the world.

Aiden falls for his guardian and names him Eskandar, but then learns to his horror that because Eskandar was created for him, when Aiden dies Eskandar will too. Aiden will do anything to keep his beloved angel safe. But with no choice except to sacrifice himself to prevent the apocalypse, he only has one option: a terrible betrayal of his own.

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Review: The premise of Aiden’s Angel is really interesting: a light versus dark magical world where out protagonist is literally torn between two worlds. It opened with a nail-biting hook, and the tension and action remained ramped and fast-paced throughout. The world building was subtle yet well done. While I could picture this happening within a contemporary setting, the prevalence and acceptance of magic, the Divine, light forces, and dark forces were seamlessly woven into the narrative. Add to that the use of swords and other weapons more commonly associated with historical pieces, and the blend of where this story happened and what life was like for these characters; it was artfully crafted.

The love interest in this story was soulful. Descriptions of feelings were marrow deep. I would have enjoyed more physical intimacy between the two characters, but it seemed the author was going more for the nature of true love and how that manifests, as opposed to the physical acts of two people hot for each other.

There was something about the story that kept me from truly sinking all the way in, though. I enjoyed the action, loved the characters, and was interested in how the conflict would be resolved. I think if the story had been a bit longer and the focus on Aiden and his angel developed more fully, this story would have fully satisfied my appetite for a fantasy/sci-fi romance. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy this book, but it’s a factor to consider.

I would recommend this to someone who loves stories about angels and their role in the battle between light and darkness. I would also recommend this to readers who aren’t as interested in the sex scenes but more interested in the expressions of emotional love and connectedness.

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4 Stars, Becky Black, Dreamspinner Press, Fairy Tale/Mythology/Folk Lore, Reviewed by Taz, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: Immutable by Becky Black

Title: Immutable

Author: Becky Black

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 62 Pages

At a Glance: I read Immutable with an eye for what the author was trying to teach, and that lesson seems to fall somewhere between the importance of honesty and the perils of selfishness.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: Every night, in the tiny cottage he shares with his dying mother, lonely young shepherd Callum dreams of having a lover by his side. A man to share his bed and his life. One day, as he gathers driftwood on the beach, he finds Breen, a beautiful, naked stranger. Breen makes love to him, leaving Callum certain he’s only a fantasy. But the stunning Breen is there again the next day—fulfilling Callum’s every wish. Then Callum’s hopes are shattered when he learns of Breen’s true nature. Panic and desperation drive Callum to commit a terrible betrayal to try to keep Breen from leaving him.

A Bittersweet Dreams title: It’s an unfortunate truth: love doesn’t always conquer all. Regardless of its strength, sometimes fate intervenes, tragedy strikes, or forces conspire against it. These stories of romance do not offer a traditional happy ending, but the strong and enduring love will still touch your heart and maybe move you to tears.

Dividers

Review: Immutable has a fairy tale/folklore feel to it. Set on an island with old fashioned views, where everyone knows everyone, our main character, Callum, is unable to live his life fully and completely. He cares for his ailing mother until she dies, but in his time of darkness, he finds happiness in Breen, a stranger he found by the sea, who seems more than human.

I’m really glad the publisher provided a disclaimer that the story was bittersweet because it does not have a HEA or HFN. Since I was prepared for this, I wasn’t frustrated when the relationship between the two protagonists began to falter and ultimately failed. Instead, I read with an eye for what the author was trying to teach, and that lesson seems to fall somewhere between the importance of honesty and the perils of selfishness. As the story progressed, Callum was outright deceitful in an attempt to hold onto Breen. This made him rather unlikable, but since I knew the story was bittersweet, I was able to look past his selfish choices.

Breen too was less than forthcoming about who he was, but as the story unfolded, we learned that his behavior was part of his nature. As a mystical creature of the sea, he would one day leave and not return. When Callum discovered this, he took steps to prevent that from happening, which, in turn, created animosity and disappointment between the two of them. Only at the end did he realize the error of his choices.

Even though Callum did not end up with his love, he didn’t crumple to pieces and face an eternity of empty despair. The author leaves us with the idea that our central character, Callum, will go into the world a wiser person and, with some luck, will find the happiness he’d not found before. But we are also left with a sense of disappointment in him for having manipulated another person in order to suit his own needs. Even out of insecurity and longing for companionship, true love does not manifest itself in the form of trapping or compelling others to do things.

For me, this was a flaw in the story. Once Callum behaved selfishly, disregarding the needs of the man he loved, it became difficult for me to continue liking him and caring about the relationship. I was glad Breen left in the end, and hope Callum will remember the importance of honesty and the importance of giving rather than taking when in a relationship.

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3.5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Grace R. Duncan, Reviewed by Taz, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: Healing by Grace R. Duncan

Title: Healing (Pandemus Chronicles: Book Two)

Author: Grace R. Duncan

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 75 Pages

At a Glance: An enjoyable read that I’d recommend if you’re sitting by the pool watching the kids or killing some time.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: When Duncan stumbles into a pharmacy in search of something to fix his broken leg, he’s surprised to find someone else there. Like the rest of the post-pandemic world, it appeared empty. Instead, he discovers Mark, a former nurse who walked away from his profession after losing too many patients to the virus. Despite swearing he’d never practice medicine again, Mark patches Duncan up over Duncan’s protests. He even finds an abandoned house in the tiny town, and they settle in until Duncan heals enough to look out for himself. Much to the chagrin of both, they find themselves caring for each other.

Duncan welcomes it, thrilled at finding someone he can trust. However, he’s well aware of the shadows in Mark’s eyes and understands Mark’s reticence as he learns the story. But as he’s starting to do things for himself again, Duncan realizes he doesn’t want Mark to leave. He’s not sure if can get Mark to let go of his fears so they can stay together and love. But Duncan’s damned sure going to try.

Dividers

Review: I’m a pretty big fan of pandemic, post-apocalyptic, rebuilding life type stories. There’s something so powerful and heroic about the main characters who, despite the odds, managed to survive. Like they’re super human or something. So when I read the blurb for this book, I was pretty excited to see how the author would handle the genre.

Grace R. Duncan handled the story well. The characters had distinct personalities which complemented one another. Through description of the setting, the world became clear and added an element of isolation to the story. The way each man harbored their feelings, fearing that allowing them out would push the other away, helped to keep the tension high. And the fears were believable. In a world where most of the human race has perished, trusting that you won’t continue to lose the people you love is a very believable fear.

While the book was enjoyable, something I was able to read quickly without putting it aside and then coming back to it, there were elements to the story which left me wanting for more. This is the risk of writing shorter stories. There’s never enough space to fully develop the emotions and relationships when the word count is lower.

In this case, there were two key points where the length of the story impacted my response to it: One was when the two men met and had a discussion about why one helped the other in a world where suspicion runs high and people are out for themselves. The other was the pacing of the connection…a bit too fast for my taste.

All in all, an enjoyable read that I’d recommend if you’re sitting by the pool watching the kids or killing some time.

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

Review: An Island, Lost by Wayne Mansfield

Title: An Island, Lost

Author: Wayne Mansfield

Publisher: JMS Books

Pages/Word Count: 42 Pages

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

Reviewed By: Taz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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4.5 Stars, Edward Kendrick, Genre Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Action Thriller, Reviewed by Taz, Totally Bound

Review: The Hit Man Cometh by Edward Kendrick

Title: The Hit Man Cometh

Author: Edward Kendrick

Publisher: Totally Bound

Pages/Word Count: 178 Pages

At a Glance: All in all, a fun and exciting read. Well worth the experience.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: Mick is a hit man sent after Gavin. Can Gavin, an ex-conman and a shifter, convince Mick they should join forces before Mick kills him?

Mick Whalen is a hit man hired to kill Gavin Wilde. However, when he tracks Gavin to a remote mountain cabin, he discovers that killing the coyote shifter is not in the cards. Especially when Gavin offers sex as an incentive to spare his life—an offer Mick does not refuse.

At Gavin’s insistence, they find out who hired Mick before someone else is sent to finish the job. The most probable person is a vampire with an ax to grind because of something Gavin did to him in the past. With the help of Gavin’s bear shifter friend Torben, and Torben’s vampire friend Brynja, they set out to stop the vampire—perhaps permanently.

Mick and Gavin decide to join forces since, as Gavin points out, he can teleport Mick away after a hit. The contracts come, and their rough bouts of sex heat up in the process.

However, they’re almost killed on a job—a job no one knew about except Mick’s friend and handler Johnny. When Johnny is murdered, they team up with the two other hit men who also once worked for Johnny, to find and eliminate his killer as well.

With death and destruction now both men’s way of life, will it draw them closer together—or destroy what has become more than just a friendship?

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Review: It’s been a while since I read a book by Edward Kendrick, and I won’t wait too long to read another. This book started out with an exciting hook: talented hit man meets even more talented shifter. Have your gun swiped from your hands before you can pull the trigger and…have incredibly hot sex? Yeah, good start to a book that kept me on my toes for the duration.

This story had a strong plotline to begin with. Gavin, the intended target, partners with Mick to figure out who had ordered the hit. Together they uncover that mystery only to find themselves lodged in a second, and equally intriguing, one. You, that’s right, you basically get two intense stories for the price of one.

There were some elements to the story which forced me to suspend my disbelief beyond the normal paranormal stuff. The main one was the plot twist once the first mystery was solved. I found it hard to imagine that Gavin would make the choice he made and had to say to myself, “The story is awesome so I’m just not going to over analyze that little twist.”

By far, the action and pacing of the story was its greatest strength. I found myself rushing to the next chapter just to find out what would happen. There was ample sex and it was written with a hint of BDSM, although I wouldn’t classify this story in that sub-genre.

What I loved about The Hit Man Cometh was how masculine both men were. There were no overly sentimental moments. One man wasn’t more manly than the other. And both had the same guarded typically guy trait of questioning their own feelings, wary of using the “L” word.

All in all, a fun and exciting read. Well worth the experience.

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4 Stars, Douglas Black, Genre Romance, Loose Id, Reviewed by Taz

Review: Port in a Storm by Douglas Black

Title: Port in a Storm

Author: Douglas Black

Publisher: Loose Id

Pages/Word Count: 274 Pages

At a Glance: Port in a Storm is a book I couldn’t put down.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: Alex is stuck in a rut. He’s facing a big decision about his future, namely, what to do with it and so far he hasn’t managed to come up with an answer.

Until he meets Jake.

Jake blows through Alex’s world like a hurricane and Alex falls hard and fast for the perpetual traveler with a penchant for secrets and a perfect smile. Jake wants Alex, but life isn’t as simple as that. Jake never settles in one place for long and already their long-distance relationship is driving a wedge between Alex and his family. With no compromises on offer, Alex’s decision about his future becomes a decision about Jake.

For Alex, the idea of losing Jake doesn’t even bear thinking about, but choosing him looks like it will mean throwing away everything Alex knows, including his relationship with his parents. And so, Alex finds himself with another question to answer: how much is he willing to give up, to be happy?

Dividers

Review: This was a book I really wanted to like. It opens with a strong hook. Handsome guy is in a bad relationship and meets a hot stranger who sweeps him off his feet. Emotions run strong in this book, something I truly enjoy. And despite the secrets both protagonists keep, when they do communicate, they are brutally honest. You can’t help but love Alex and Jake individually and as a couple. The scenery is beautifully developed, and I can’t help but believe that this author has experienced many of the places in the story firsthand. And the sex. Let’s just say Mr. Black is masterful and trigger the reader’s g-spot, all of this wrapped up in angst. As a reader, I found myself walking along a tightrope for the duration of the book, wondering how these two characters would finally manage to break down the wall separating them and arrive at their happy ending.

That said, I found it frustrating how each character held back when they knew talking was the solution. Each character had painful issues from their past which colored the way they viewed other people and their own futures. Each man knew that revealing their deepest secrets would pave a way for greater understanding and connection. But they remained silent, withholding rather than giving the thing the other needed.

As the book ramped up towards its climax, the issues begin to surface, secrets are revealed, and even then, one of the characters makes a stupid choice (which the character acknowledges), continuing his pattern of taking an easy route of problem-avoidance as opposed to taking the reins of his own life and destiny. It was hard to feel sympathetic when this character only needed to buckle down and grab hold of what the other offered as opposed to waiting until he almost lost everything.

Still, Port in a Storm is a book I couldn’t put down. I needed to see how their journey would end. These two men, originating from the same hometown, yet so vastly different from one another, were like a whirlwind of heat and excitement.

This is a great exploration of living one’s own life, tossing aside the shackles of expectations and obligations. It’s about living life in the now, learning to appreciate what is instead of dwelling on what was or what might be. It’s about forgiving oneself and healing. And ultimately it’s about embracing love, accepting that living honestly, leads to happiness.

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4.5 Stars, Genre Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Action Thriller, Reviewed by Taz, Samhain Publishing, SE Jakes

Review: No Boundaries by SE Jakes

Title: No Boundaries (Phoenix Inc.: Book One)

Author: SE Jakes

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pages/Word Count:  187 Pages

At a Glance: Highly satisfying and definitely not the last book I’ll read by this talented author.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: When your past closes in, running isn’t always an option…

The jobs Marcus Lowry works for at Phoenix, Inc. Investigations are quick and easy, and they don’t give him the nightmares his days as a CIA operative did. That is, until he gets involved in a case that grabs him by the throat and won’t let go.

Cole Jacobs left behind his old life as a rent boy to make a name for himself rebuilding high-end and vintage cars and bikes. But when a stalker threatens to kill him—and to hurt anyone who stands in his way—his past closes in on him, and he’s not sure where to turn.

The last thing Marcus wants to do is take on a charity case, and to say that he and Cole don’t see eye to eye at first is putting things mildly. But when the first attempt on Cole’s life nearly kills them both, Marcus realizes that Cole is in real danger, and Cole is forced to reveal everything. Almost everything. Because Cole’s deepest secrets could destroy them both.

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Review: No Boundaries is the first book I’ve read by SE Jakes. All I can say is, what the hell is wrong with me that it took me this long? In this story, we meet Marcus and Cole. Both men have spotty pasts which haunt them, which makes them hesitant to accept what the other has to offer…namely, happiness and acceptance.

The action in this story is crafted beautifully, interwoven seamlessly with the emotional struggle of each character. The cast of secondary characters are well-developed, although they don’t deter from the main protagonists and their journey.

As I read the story, I found myself bounding toward the next chapter, eager to find out how this mystery would unfold. The sex was well crafted, bringing the reader along with the physical and emotional experiences of the characters.

It isn’t often that I come across a book that satisfies both my love of a good action packed plot line AND the beauty of two people finding love (along with all the emotional baggage that comes with it).

Highly satisfying and definitely not the last book I’ll read by this talented author.

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5 Stars, Jane Davitt, Reviewed by Taz, Riptide Publishing, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: Lucky Strike by Jane Davitt

Title: Lucky Strike

Author: Jane Davitt

Publisher: Riptide Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 202 Pages

At a Glance: Lucky Strike was a book I’ll probably go back to read again and again.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: Death’s a heartbeat away, but love is even closer.

Flying a traveler to Leap celebrations on the luxury planet Crestal is no problem for intrepid partners Jake and Rill, even if they have to navigate a deadly meteor shower to get there. But their fresh-faced, privileged passenger is carrying more than Leap gifts: Lian has a message to deliver, treachery and murder to avenge, and a killer close on his heels.

Lian thought he was ready for independence from his overbearing extended family, but his first solo trip off-planet has landed him in a nightmare of deadly intrigue. Though he’s devastated by betrayal, and no longer able to tell friend from foe, he’s fascinated by the gruff pilot and scorchingly handsome first mate who’ve become his reluctant rescuers.

With a dazzling fortune at stake and the fate of the United Protectorate of Planets in their hands, there’s no time for the three men to fall in love. But with their future measured in hours, crew and passenger may have just enough time to discover that three can become one, and that together they are strong enough to beat any odds.

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Review: What a fantastic book. From the opening scene to the end, the action remained riveting. This is the first book I’ve read by Jane Davitt, and it certainly won’t be the last.

The ingredients for success were woven together beautifully in this sci-fi romance. The world was so vivid and detailed that I didn’t feel like I had to spend a chapter or two getting to learn the lay of the land. Nope. Immediately immersed and kept there throughout the duration of the journey. Language was used with purpose and finesse. Each emotion and thought portrayed through action. Each comment tagged with behaviors revealing how the characters feel, and deepening their richness. The relationship between the characters evolved throughout…steady, believable, and sexy. And the plot just kept on going. Intense, but not in a shortness of breath sort of way, but more of a nail-biting experience where you just have to keep reading to see how they get themselves out of trouble. And once they do, they land in more trouble and once again, you can’t stop reading.

I find that I’m a critical reader of sci-fi. I love it so much that I’m easily disappointed if the author doesn’t craft a story that attends to the world with fastidious care. No disappointments here. I also find ménage stories are hit or miss for me, always feeling like one of the triad are less part of the whole, but in this story the author has created three distinct protagonists, each with his own personality (strengths admirable and flaws endearing). They work together and I couldn’t imagine them apart.

Ms. Davitt is truly a joy to read and Lucky Strike was a book I’ll probably go back to read again and again for the story, and to improve my own craft.

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4 Stars, Alt U, Devon Rhodes, Genre Romance, Reviewed by Taz, Totally Bound

Review: Bonfire Heart by Devon Rhodes

Title: Bonfire Heart

Author: Devon Rhodes

Publisher: Totally Bound

Pages/Word Count: 65 Pages

At a Glance: If you are looking for a fun, quick read to satisfy your romance palate, this is a great book for you.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: Sometimes fires burn and destroy, but from the ashes, new growth can heal and cleanse.

Thierry Alexander is the deputy mayor of Chicago, a city he loves but can’t save on his own from the corrupt political system. His assistant and lover, Eduardo, is also known as Cesar, the head of the underground resistance movement. He has been working behind the scenes for years and finally gets what he needs—enough information to get the US government involved and take down the criminal elements strangling the city he loves.

But they need to act fast because legislation is about to be enacted that will give rise to social and ethnic purging in Chicago. Not knowing who they can trust, they will have to put their faith in one another and risk everything to save a city.

Publisher’s Note: This story has been previously released as part of the An Unconventional Chicago anthology by Totally Bound Publishing.

Dividers

Review: I have always been a big fan of Devon Rhodes. Not only a sunshiny person, but an author who knows how to deliver a story filled with depth. Shorter stories are usually hit or miss for me, mostly because with fewer words, there is less opportunity to develop plot, setting, and characters. While there was a small degree of that present in Bonfire Heart, I found myself drawn into the story from the opening pages. My only criticism: with more story I could have learned more about each character, the secondary characters, and the central problem in the story could’ve been fleshed out more deeply.

That being said, let’s get to what this talented author was able to deliver in such a short amount of space.

First and foremost, the two main characters, Thierry and Eduardo, are clearly in love. Their sex is piping hot, but more than that, they are clearly committed to each other. The central conflict in the story places both men in a dangerous situation, and they weather the struggle to persevere as a solid team. The tension within the story kept the pace fast and moving forward at all times. Even though I would have loved to learn more about the underbelly of Chicago and the sinister intentions of its corrupt leaders, the information would only have served to lengthen my reading experience (something I was yearning for but which the story certainly didn’t need). No part of the story was drawn out or disproportionate to other parts of the story, a difficult task when writing something under 15,000 words. What I mean by this is that Ms. Rhodes crafted an experience that gave us just enough to become invested, but avoided the pitfall of getting mired down on any one character or situation.

If you are looking for a fun, quick read to satisfy your romance palate, this is a great book for you.

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3 Stars, Reviewed by Taz, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Torquere Press, V.L. Locey

Review: Two Guys Walk Into an Apocalypse 3 – He’s a Lumberjack and He’s Undead by V.L. Locey

Title: Two Guys Walk Into an Apocalypse 3: He’s a Lumberjack and He’s Undead

Author: V. L. Locey

Publisher: Torquere Press, Inc.

Pages/Word Count: 130 Pages

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb: Paul and Gordon aren’t your typical zombie hunters. They’re a loving couple of educators who might be infected by the virus that is turning the world’s population into mindless, undead eating machines. So why haven’t they turned? Well, Gordon has a theory about that. He suspects that those who march under the rainbow flag just might be carrying the cure for the plague in their bloodstream. Zendra, the massive pharmaceutical company where the mutated virus was made, certainly seems to be in a hurry to round up all the gay survivors they can grab.
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3 Stars, Literary Fiction, Missouri Dalton, Mystery/Suspense/Action Thriller, Reviewed by Taz, Torquere Press

Review: Sleeping on the Job by Missouri Dalton

Title: Sleeping on the Job

Author: Missouri Dalton

Publisher: Torquere Press

Pages/Word Count: 118 pages

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb: At sixteen, Simon Murphy was an accomplished jewel thief, at eighteen he was released from a boy’s reform school and these days, he’s a detective with Chicago’s Night Shift. When a familiar killer strikes again, Simon is forced to confront his past, his mob boss father, and the brother he hasn’t seen in years. Of course, on the Night Shift, Simon also contends with ghosts, vampires and other things that go bump in the night. Add angry boyfriends in the mix, and Simon’s going to need all the help he can get. Continue reading

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4.5 Stars, Ari McKay, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Taz, Torquere Press

Review: The Demon’s Door by Ari McKay

Title: The Demon’s Door

Author: Ari McKay

Publisher: Torquere Press

Pages/Word Count: 42000 Words

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb: When Thomas Carter discovers his grandfather’s hidden journals, detailing the old man’s fight against the supernatural, he knows he’s found his true calling at last. Yet when he sets out to stake a local vampire, he quickly learns that the difference between Good and Evil is very different than what he had believed. Continue reading

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