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

Review: Across the East River Bridge by Kate McMurray

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

Author: Kate McMurray

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 239 Pages

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

Reviewed By: Lisa

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

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

Dividers

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

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

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

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

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

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5 Stars, Historical Romance, Jordan L. Hawk, Mystery/Suspense/Action Thriller, Paranormal, Reviewed by Jules, Self-Published

Release Day Review: Maelstrom by Jordan L. Hawk

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Title: Maelstrom (Whyborne & Griffin: Book Seven)

Author: Jordan L. Hawk

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 268 Pages

At a Glance: Once again I am completely in awe of the talent and imaginative genius of Jordan L. Hawk.

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: Between his father’s sudden—and rather suspicious—generosity, and his own rash promise to help Christine plan her wedding, Percival Endicott Whyborne has quite enough to worry about. But when the donation of a mysterious codex to the Ladysmith Museum draws the attention of a murderous cult, Whyborne finds himself in a race against time to unlock its secrets first.

Griffin has a case of his own: the disappearance of an historic map, which quickly escalates to murder. Someone is sacrificing men in dark rituals—and all the clues lead back to the museum.

With their friends Christine and Iskander, Whyborne and Griffin must discover the cult’s true goal before it’s too late. For dark forces are afoot at the very heart of the museum, and they want more than Whyborne’s codex.

They want his life.

Dividers

Review: “Widdershins knows its own.”

Trying to write this review in any kind of linear fashion is proving to be impossible. I’m trying to stick to some kind of organized format, but my brain keeps jumping to the brilliance, the sheer brilliance, of chapter fifty-seven. Once again I am completely in awe of the talent and imaginative genius of Jordan L. Hawk. The entire book is extraordinary and mind-blowing – but chapter fifty-seven is indescribable. One thing I do know is that I don’t want to come down from this high; I want to wallow in this one for a bit. I truly think Maelstrom is my favorite of the series to date.

In this seventh book of the series, Widdershins, with its maelstrom of energy lying beneath the earth, is a hotspot for cultists far and wide, and our heroes once again find themselves smack in the midst of the goings on. The latest batch of books donated to the museum has brought all the crazies to the yard, and Whyborne and Griffin must, of course, work together to foil them before all is lost.

It should come as no surprise that one of the things I love most about Maelstrom is the continually growing relationship between Ival and Griffin. They are as in tune to each other as ever, and must draw on that closeness throughout the story. In parts of Hoarfrost, Griffin was in a rough place, and needed Whyborne to keep him from breaking apart – here, however, it is Whyborne who largely needs grounding and clarity. I love that turnabout and all of the different ways we get to see their love for each other. The tender, poignant moments toward the end (*cough* chapter fifty-seven *cough*) are magnified a hundredfold because of their ever-strengthening bond.

So, of course the love story is amazing…but you better believe that all the other Jordan L. Hawk trademarks are there as well. Action, peril, creepy creatures from the Outside, humor, and a razor sharp wit. Not to mention perhaps the hottest sex scene in the series yet. I actually thought my brain was going to explode. No joke.

I already mentioned the humor, but want to touch on it a bit more specifically. The magic of these books is obviously in the world building and the storytelling – but a part of that magic also has to do with the delivery. And Hawk nails the delivery every time. Whyborne has tons of great one-liners. Griffin has a new motor car, which is an endless source of comic relief. The wedding prep and talk that is peppered throughout the book is fabulous. And, I absolutely had to share this gem, from our dear Christine:

“We’re going to be married, damn it, and Whyborne is going to walk me down the aisle…It’s going to be perfect, even if I have to kill every one of these bastards myself!”

In short, Maelstrom is fantastic. I don’t know how the hell Hawk keeps making each book better than the last, but she does. She’s kept the series fresh through seven books, and I can’t wait to see what she has up her sleeve for the eighth! Coolest. Books. Ever.

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You can buy Maelstrom here:

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

Review: Unnatural by Joanna Chambers

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Title: Unnatural (An Enlightenment Story)

Author: Joanna Chambers

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 230 Pages

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

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: The heart breaks but does not change.

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

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

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

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

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

Dividers

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

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

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

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

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You can buy Unnatural here:

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4 Stars, Charlie Cochet, Dreamspinner Press, Historical Romance, Reviewed by Sadonna

Release Day Review: Between the Devil and the Pacific Blue by Charlie Cochet

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Title: Between the Devil and the Pacific Blue

Author: Charlie Cochet

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 60 Pages

At a Glance: A bittersweet tale from a favorite author that has all the elements I love about her writing: mystery, romance, style, history and above all, true love.

Reviewed By: Sadonna

Blurb: For the last six months, Detective James Ralston has worked the nightshift as security for the Pacific Blue Hotel, and every night at 2 a.m. his rounds lead him to the radio room where the handsome and mysterious Franklin Fairchild sits listening to waltzes as old as the hotel itself. James is drawn to Franklin, but Franklin is a man at the end of his rope, and James has no intention of getting caught up in whatever trouble Franklin is in. A heated encounter late one night sends James down a disturbing path and has him questioning everything around him, including his very sanity.

Dividers

Review: Oh my! This is a delicious little nugget from Charlie Cochet that is full of surprises.

James Ralston is a former soldier and a former detective who is now in private security at a hotel in New York City that is long past its prime. The Pacific Blue no longer shines, but evidence of her former glory can still be glimpsed among the faded paint and moldings and furniture from days gone by. James patrols the hotel at night under the less than watchful eye of the manager – son of the original manager. Every night he stops in the radio room where the handsome but melancholy Franklin Fairchild listens to old music from the heyday of the Pacific Blue. James doesn’t want to offend the man, but he’s also worried that he’ll get drawn into something he doesn’t want to be if he engages with him.

Until the night that Franklin is NOT in the radio room. James gets worried and goes to look for Franklin – much against his better judgement. Once he finds Franklin, he discovers that he is more drawn to him than he ever thought. He also finds some things about Franklin quite disturbing – like the obvious abuse he has suffered at some point, which has left visible reminders. He tries to find out more about what he has uncovered of Franklin’s past, and why he’s resigned to his fate – only, he’s actually more confused by what is revealed. James is then convinced that he is losing his mind, and the more he tries to figure out what’s going on, the more baffled he becomes. He knows Franklin is the key, but he’s not sure how to resolve his questions.

I realize this review is a bit cryptic, but truly I can’t reveal any of the surprises, or it will ruin the story. Just suffice to say that nothing is what it seems and that there are reasons for what happens that are not at all apparent to James until the very end of the story.

Charlie Cochet adds some beautiful touches of old New York style and the beauty that once was the Pacific Blue, as well as her signature romantic style. Above all, this is a love story that will hopefully leave each reader with a little sad smile in the end.

 

 

 

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4 Stars, Bonnie Dee, Historical Romance, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published, Summer Devon

Release Day Review: The Merchant and the Clergyman by Summer Devon and Bonnie Dee

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Title: The Merchant and the Clergyman

Author: Summer Devon and Bonnie Dee

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 186 Pages

At a Glance: If you’re looking for well written historical romance, you can’t go wrong with these two authors.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: A village clergyman

Curate James Fletcher is content shepherding his parishioners through the good and bad times of their lives. If he sometimes dreams of making a deeper connection with a man who truly knows everything about him, it is an impulse he ignores.

A devoted businessman

Declan Shaw solves problems at his family’s many business enterprises. Recently, he’s considered ceasing his travels to pursue a few desires of his own. He’d love to explore his secret love of cooking and perhaps have a relationship with a man that lasts longer than a night.

The event that brings them together

In town for his cousin’s wedding, Declan meets James just as he’s bested the annoying groom. Intrigued by the mild-mannered cleric’s surprising spirit, Declan asks James to help him discover if his aging aunt is being mistreated by her spouse.

As their paths repeatedly cross, the men reach an intersection of attraction they can’t ignore. Will they dare purse forbidden passion and continue to journey together into the future, or will their differences tear them apart?

Dividers

Review: One of the reasons I love historical romance is one of the reasons a lot of people don’t. Gay men and women had to settle for a very different sort of happy ending throughout history, often marrying for the sake of propriety while keeping their true natures a secret to all but those with whom they carried on their secret affairs. One of the reasons this book endeared itself to me is because Summer Devon and Bonnie Dee not only captured that romantic element but then, rather than allowing this story to rest on that tried and true trope alone, they added a bit of mystery and danger to the plot. That, as well as two charming characters in Declan Shaw and James Fletcher—our merchant and clergyman—drove this story along to an ending that was perfectly fitting for its historical setting, a resolution that fit the time and the characters, and allowed James to carry on in a calling he loved and was so obviously meant to do. To reiterate what Jennifer once summarized in another review of this writing duo’s work not long ago—if you’re looking for well written historical romance, you can’t go wrong with these two authors.

James’s rather limited, not to mention unfortunate, experience with men begins and ends with Kip Darnley. Kip is the prototype of the closeted bully, using James for sex then treating him horribly the remainder of the time. While James had tolerated Kip’s callous behavior in school for several reasons—not the least of which is that he’s a sexual submissive, and the way Kip commanded him turned him on more than a little—it’s clear when they come face to face again that Kip’s free pass to sex with James has long expired. When they meet again all these years later, Kip’s demands have nothing to do with scratching an itch (though he does try, which results in us seeing exactly the stuff James is made of) and everything to do with James officiating Kip’s marriage to a sweet and naïve young woman.

The authors thicken the plot when Declan Shaw is introduced…looking rather a lot like Kip, and pushing quite a few of James’s buttons. As it turns out, Declan is Kip’s handsome and far more interesting cousin, which sets the stage for their romance. But of course, as a relationship between two men was anathema in this story’s setting, especially when one of them is a man of the cloth, the getting together wasn’t easy. That doesn’t mean, however, that James isn’t wildly attracted to Declan while at the same time being a little turned off by him because of his familial connections.

As Devon and Dee move the plot forward, we’re treated to a story that endears James to us as we witness him questioning his beliefs while exhibiting an uncompromising devotion to his flock. We watch a subtle (then a not so subtle) flirtation unfold between him and Declan, all while James struggles with his sexual needs and how to confess them to the man. In short, James is human and, therefore, relatable on every level. As conflict is introduced alongside this romance, revealing that Kip’s impending marriage is a disaster waiting to happen, as well as an intrigue involving Declan’s aunt, Declan not only becomes James’s lover but also becomes this story’s hero.

The Merchant and the Clergyman is a tender romance that doesn’t struggle to give readers a happy ending unbefitting the time in which the story is set. Rather, the ending gives both James and Declan exactly what the time and setting demanded, allowing us to believe they loved long into the future, with none the wiser.

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3.5 Stars, Erotica, Historical Romance, Pride Publishing, Reviewed by Lisa, Scarlet Blackwell

Review: Stand and Deliver by Scarlet Blackwell

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Title: Stand and Deliver

Author: Scarlet Blackwell

Publisher: Pride Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 102 Pages

At a Glance: A lusty and erotic guilty pleasure read.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: A tale of dark, dangerous highwaymen and the man they take captive.

When Lucien Mayer, 14th Earl of Ravensberry is taken hostage by a gang of highwaymen, he is drawn to the damaged, reclusive Ambrosius and the dangerous, brooding Dante. Torn between escaping and satisfying his body’s needs, his life will never be the same again.

Publisher’s Note: This book has previously been published under the same title. It has been expanded, revised and re-edited for re-release with Pride Publishing.

Dividers

Review: Scarlet Blackwell’s Stand and Deliver was originally published back in 2009 by Total-e-Bound, before they were Totally Bound, before they were Pride Publishing. I read the book in its original incarnation way back when, when I was still a relative newbie to the gay romance genre but was more than familiar by then with Blackwell’s work. And to that I’ll add that my experiences with this author’s work over the years have been both hit and miss. If you’re familiar, then you know she has a formula. She has a tendency to write at least one of her protagonists as a bit of…dare I say…I’ll whisper it…an arse? But, there’s usually a good enough reason for his behavior, and then, of course, she sets about making him fall in love—at which point he usually redeems himself, if not entirely endears himself, to readers by the end of the book.

I wanted to get my hands on this reworked version of Stand and Deliver because I remember liking it the first time around, and I wanted to see what had changed, or whether the book had changed enough, that I’d recommend it to readers who’d already read and liked it in its original format. More on that in a moment, though.

First off I’ll say this novella is Erotic Fantasy—no apologies, no denying it. Not fantasy in a supernatural way but fantasy of the sort where one imagines themselves as the hero/heroine of a story, being kidnapped and ravished by a handsome marauder who falls madly in love with us (see: my pirate fetish), helpless against his charms. This fantasy, in particular, involves a band of land-bound pirates–highwaymen, to be more precise–who travel under cover of darkness, chasing down horse-drawn carriages, preying upon the wealthy with demands of, “Stand and deliver! Your money or your life!” If one was lucky, one surrendered a few baubles and coins, then was set free, virtue intact.

Lucien Mayer, 14th Earl of Ravensberry, the robbery and kidnapping victim in the story, is hardly a damsel in distress, nor is he hardly concerned about his virtue, as he is instantly drawn to and insanely in lust with two of his captors—one he could potentially love, the other he despises in spite of the fact he shares his body with Dante time and time again—with Ambrosius in the bed and without.

Though there isn’t much plot woven in with the erotic content of Stand and Deliver, there is a certain poignancy to the story which plucks at our empathy and helps to perhaps soothe a few of our qualms about accepting that Lucien falls so quickly for Ambrosius, with little supporting reason behind it. Lucien lives a lonely and seemingly aimless existence, Ambrosius is in deep mourning, Dante’s hiding a rather explosive secret, and both Ambrosius and Dante are warring with their emotions—Ambrosius with grief and guilt, Dante with grief and anger and bitterness and regret. Lucien doesn’t make it easy on himself either, being drawn to these two men, one emotionally and the other in a purely physical way. But, that’s Lucien’s story and he’s sticking to it, come hell or highwaymen.

Now, back to the story’s revisions. Has Stand and Deliver changed enough to purchase and read it again, if you’ve already read it in its original format? No, I don’t think so. Other than perhaps some polishing of the prose, which I noticed as I skimmed through my original copy of the book, this story is the same. If you haven’t read the book, would I recommend it? Well, as always, that depends upon the individual: do you like a little plot with your sex, or a little sex with your plot? Do you fancy historical erotica? Do you like threesomes? And snarling and sexy, slightly difficult to like men, two of whom do get their happy ending, with the third looking as though he may get his own sequel? If you don’t mind a little plot with your sex, among all those other things, then Stand and Deliver is a guilty pleasure read that stands and delivers.

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Brita Addams, Dreamspinner Press, Historical Romance

Release Day Spotlight: Beloved Unmasked by Brita Addams

Beloved Unmasked

Brita Addams’ Beloved Unmasked is a story of second chances set against the backdrop of a bygone New Orleans where Storyville—the city’s former red light district—flourished with legalized prostitution and a regulated drug trade. NOLA herself is a character in this book, as it is in nearly every book I’ve ever read set in this vibrant city rich in history and famous for its music, food, cemeteries, and ghosts, and the author presents The Big Easy with not only an obvious love for the place but an intimate knowledge of it and its history too.

As World War I heralded a change in Storyville and New Orleans, prostitution became a criminal offense, and this novel’s heroes, David “Picayune” Reid and Spencer Webb, begin an arduous journey. David, the unwanted son of a prostitute, strives to become more than the nothing the woman who’d given birth to him labeled him, aided by the man who would become his friend and mentor and savior. Spence, a prostitute and Pic’s friend, heads off to war after he’s conscripted…where he faces his own mortality.

Beloved Unmasked is a story whose romantic theme is a simple and timeless truth: you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. The story is Picayune’s evolution–from the boy called “nothing” to David, the man who became the beloved.

This first novel in the Cherished series can be found at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, All Romance eBooks

Dividers

Blurb: Born to a spiteful prostitute in Storyville, the red-light district in New Orleans, David comes into the world as Picayune, meaning “of little value,” or, as his mother reminds him, “nothing.” In the early 20th century brothels and clubs, his love of music sustains young Pic until a life-changing meeting places him on the road to respectability, and Pic reinvents himself as David Reid.

As David realizes happiness for the first time, conscription forces his friend and first love, Spencer Webb, into the Great War. While he pursues a law degree, letters from Spence connect David to his hopes for the future. After staggering news at war’s end, David must find a way to move forward. Under the tutelage of his benefactor, David’s career prospers, but specters from Storyville threaten all he’s worked so hard to achieve.

The past holds both pain and love. Will facing it head-on destroy David or give him everything he’s ever dared dream?

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4 Stars, AE Kendall, Historical Romance, Reviewed by Lisa

Review: The Quartermaster and the Marquis’ Son by AE Kendall

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Title: The Quartermaster and the Marquis’ Son

Author: AE Kendall

Publisher: Hermione Press

Pages/Word Count: 466 Pages

At a Glance: This is a fun, guilty pleasure, love and lust and danger on the high seas adventure.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: A gorgeous pirate, a handsome nobleman. A clash at sea.

Galen is the seasoned twenty-six year old Quartermaster of the Fair Wind and a fierce rover. Tall, dark and handsome with piercing green eyes. He cuts an imposing figure to any man foolish enough to get in his way. For the past seven years, he and the men of the Brethren of the Coast have scoured the Caribbean seas seeking the lone vessel traversing unawares, ready to steal her cargo. But he harbors a dark secret. He has spent the last three years haunted by the memory of a Spaniard named Obrigio who brutally assaulted him in Puerto Principe after a near disastrous raid. While setting his sights on Obrigio rumored to have since taken to the seas, Galen unleashes his fury on the unsuspecting merchant ships unfortunate enough to cross paths with him and his Brethren privateers.

Twenty year old Michel Laurent du Montbron is the third son of the Marquis d’ Sevigne-Chambord and harbors a secret. For as long as he can remember, he has been attracted to men. When his older brother is unexpectedly banished to Jamaica by their tyrannical father and made to oversee the building of a plantation, Michel decides to follow on his heels knowing the future holds nothing for him in France, though he is waylaid by illness. When he finally succeeds in leaving, just two days shy of Port Royal, his ship is besieged by buccaneers. Unwilling to stand idle while his ship is overrun, he takes up arms and encounters the stunningly handsome Fair Wind’s Quartermaster. He is ultimately disarmed and taken captive by the imposing figure and thrown into the hold. Michel must learn to fend for himself on a ship full of cutthroats and murderers while coming to grips with his predicament and his growing feelings for the man who took him captive.

While Michel is immediately smitten, Galen is slower to admit his true feelings, that he is equally enamored by his young prisoner. Together they embark on a saga of romance and self-discovery amidst the hardship and unforgiving conditions on a roving ship. Will their growing love survive and prevail on the high seas, or will the Quartermaster be proven correct that, despite their best efforts to stay together, rovers like Galen and men of Michel’s ilk just don’t mix.

Dividers

Review: Oh my lord. ::fans self:: I’ve just stepped into the wayback machine and returned to the days of my first swashbuckling bodice rippers—Valerie Sherwood’s Love series. With titles like Bold Breathless Love and Wild Willful Love and my wild and willful and bold hormones leaving me breathless for her pirate, van Ryker, I became a lifelong sucker for the bad boys who once sailed the seas, looting, pillaging and plundering the hearts of the ones who eventually became their willing captives.

AE Kendall’s The Quartermaster and the Marquis’ Son is very much the M/M version of a good old fashioned bodice ripper, and I ate it up rather gleefully. As the story opens, the author lays the foundation of plausibility for Michel Laurent du Montbron’s story, as we see the proverbial writing on the wall. The Marquis d’ Sevigne-Chambord has an heir who has been molded in his image to take over the reins of the family legacy. Michel and his older brother Alain, the boy’s only ally, are nothing but the disappointing spares who will never live up to their sire’s impossible standards. When the Marquis’ final and inflexible demand ends in an unseemly brawl between the brothers, it sets the foundation for the adventure this novel becomes and gives us the reason for Michel to set out on his own. Alain is exiled to Jamaica and Michel is determined to follow him, though his departure is delayed by a full two years when he comes down with the ague, which waylays his plans of escape.

But then, this is where the story truly begins.

As you might expect—since this is a seafaring romance, after all—Michel’s ship is attacked by pirates. And one pirate in particular, Galen, captures Michel because…reasons. Reasons such as Michel happens to be beautiful and fair, and Galen happens to be wildly attracted to him. Although, Galen’s nowhere near ready or willing to admit it to himself, let alone to Michel. Nor is Michel at all comfortable with admitting that he is far more attracted to men than women.

Michel is kept a prisoner in the hold of the ship, though he’s treated well, given the circumstances. Especially when his fever returns and he’s in need of near constant attention. And speaking of fever of a wholly different kind, Michel and Galen’s interactions are a slow burn of unresolved sexual tension, during which time we see that though Michel isn’t as full on alpha-male as Galen, far from it, he’s also far from the damsel in distress. He can hold his own when push comes to shove, though he does swoon a little bit. But, who wouldn’t when faced with a man like Galen, the dark and mysterious and beautiful hunk of a pirate. Michel isn’t immune to a little possessive jealousy.

Galen is hard edged and fierce, a man with a secret in his past that drives him to seek vengeance against the Spaniard who’d once brutalized him. Galen wants Obrigio dead at all costs. And the question eventually becomes whether or not the price of losing Michel is worth the pound of flesh that Galen has spent seven years honing a taste for. It all comes to an exciting climax, fraught with what I’d say was the inevitable make or break point in the story’s arc.

Let’s be honest here for a moment, shall we? Suspending belief is an absolute must when we’re talking about this particular brand of romance. Pirates who sailed the seas during the age of buccaneers likely suffered from all manner of unattractive hygiene issues and rotten teeth that would offend our modern sensibilities, but that’s part of the fun of this particular niche of historical romance—the fantasy of it. These were lawless men who fought and lived and died by their own particular codes of honor, and that’s what makes them sexy, the fact that they were beholden to none but themselves and their brethren. Until they found the one person they may have taken by hook or by crook, but would eventually come to lay down their lives for to keep them safe from harm.

And, while I’m busy being honest, let me also say here that this book could have used a bit more attention in the editing department, especially in what I felt was the over use of some period-appropriate words that were distracting in our modern usage of them, but didn’t detract too much from my overall enjoyment of the story. I also must say that if you’re not a fan of prose that has a tendency to run toward the purple, then proceed with the knowledge that both the narrative and dialogue ran a little florid at times, but it’s appropriate to both the genre and the story’s setting.

That said, Kendall tells a rousing tale of love and danger and revenge on the high seas. The action scenes were just that—filled with action. The love scenes were just that—filled with some pretty hot lovin’ and tempered by what seemed an impossible obstacle to overcome. Michel and Galen are two very different men who live in two very different worlds, and one question lies between them: will they find a way to be together, or are they merely ships passing in the night?

I can say with absolute certainty that the author accomplished her mission, at least for me: I was completely engaged by and invested in her two heroes. I wanted them to find their way to each other, and while there were plenty of stumbling blocks in their way, and their feelings seemed to grow more from lust than from a deeper exposition of their interests, I believed that they believed in the love they felt for each other, and that’s all that mattered in the end.

And speaking of the end, there’s a sequel on the horizon. It’s one I’ll read in a heartbeat.

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You can buy The Quartermaster and the Marquis’ Son here:

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5 Stars, Charlie Cochrane, Historical Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Action Thriller, Reviewed By Carrie, Riptide Publishing

Review: Lessons for Sleeping Dogs by Charlie Cochrane

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Title: Lessons for Sleeping Dogs (Cambridge Fellows Mysteries)

Author: Charlie Cochrane

Publisher: Riptide Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 208 Pages

At a Glance: If you like period appropriate verbiage and staging, REALLY GOOD mysteries, and colorful and witty characters, then this series is for you.

Reviewed By: Carrie

Blurb: Cambridge, 1921

When amateur sleuth Jonty Stewart comes home with a new case to investigate, his partner Orlando Coppersmith always feels his day has been made. Although, can there be anything to solve in the apparent mercy killing of a disabled man by a doctor who then kills himself, especially when everything takes place in a locked room?

But things are never straightforward where the Cambridge fellows are concerned, so when they discover that more than one person has a motive to kill the dead men—motives linked to another double death—their wits get stretched to the breaking point.

And when the case disinters long buried memories for Jonty, memories about a promise he made and hasn’t kept, their emotions get pulled apart as well. This time, Jonty and Orlando will have to separate fact from fiction—and truth from emotion—to get to the bottom of things.

Dividers

Review: It is now 1921. Jonty and Orlando are in their forties, and it has been awhile since that business with the wooden cat. While working at the University is challenging, Orlando is beginning to think they will never have another case to solve… But then Jonty goes to tea and a case is presented, along with a particularly good nosebag.

I knew from the opening salvo, “Inspired by the many mysteries in real life that defy solution.”, that I was in for a great mystery with this book, and it did not disappoint! How do you solve a mystery that isn’t really a mystery on the surface? A mercy killing by a doctor, who then takes his own life in regret, two suicide letters explaining it all, and the whole scenario happening behind a closed door which was locked from the inside. What’s left to know? Well, a lot it seems. What they find is a case that stretches them morally and emotionally, and the decision has to be made whether to publish their findings to the world, or just to let sleeping dogs lie.

Each of these books has not only a mystery which has to be solved but a personal battle which must be fought, and in this book the power is in Jonty’s hands to right an old wrong and to realize sometimes the truth can help old sleeping dogs to lie more comfortably. This book, while still being an intense mystery, was a little lighter than some of the others have been. Lessons for Sleeping Dogs is one of my favorites in the Cambridge Fellows Mystery Series. All of Charlie Cochranes books are amazing, but being historically accurate sometimes means the emotions of two men can be constrained. This book has a warmth to it between Jonty and Orlando reminiscent of some of the earlier books in the series when they were sorting through the beginnings of their relationship. The two men are celebrating the sixteenth year of their meeting, and in my opinion, the mysteries and the emotions just keep getting deeper and better. As the pair say,

“Happy Anniversary. May there be many more of them.”

“Amen to that. More anniversaries, more cases to solve, more mattresses to put through their paces.”

“I agree on all three counts. Especially the last.”

If you like period appropriate verbiage and staging, REALLY GOOD mysteries, and colorful and witty characters, then this series is for you. You do not have to read these mysteries in order, just pick one up – it will not disappoint – and then you will go back for more!

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You can buy Lessons for Sleeping Dogs here:

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5 Stars, Historical Romance, M. Keedwell, Mystery/Suspense/Action Thriller, Reviewed by Maryann, Samhain Publishing

Review: Dark Economy by M. Keedwell

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Title: Dark Economy

Author: M. Keedwell

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 287 Pages

At a Glance: Dark Economy is a jolly good story. This is my first time reading this author, and I was very impressed.

Reviewed By: Maryann

Blurb: Love can’t stay buried.

Medical student Cadell Meredith has been known to acquire “volunteers” from the occasional pauper’s grave in order to improve his surgical skills. While the legality of this practice is a bit murky, he wouldn’t go so far as to call it out and out robbery.

His latest acquisition, however, is different. The body on his table was obviously healthy, wealthy—and murdered. Cadell feels compelled to seek justice for the dead man, but while dissection comes naturally to him, crime investigation is unfamiliar territory.

Furthermore, he’s caught the attention of one of those new police officers, Blaine Breton. A handsome, sentimental fool who insists Cadell is a criminal. A criminal! Cadell is the first to admit he’s no saint, but he’s no killer.

A marvelous game of cat and mouse ensues as Cadell seeks to expose the truth while hiding his own secrets. A task that grows ever more difficult as his desire for Breton grows…and the danger deepens.

Dividers

Review: Dark Economy is set in London, in 1829, and the author has really brought this time period to life. The writing style, settings, and the old English accent give the book its historical feel. We find that it’s also a time of indecision in the medical field, as well as intolerance toward gay men. It’s quite the page turner, full of suspense, danger and humor.

As Cadell Meredith is a medical student, you will find an abundance of medical terms (you may find yourself checking the dictionary—I know I did) and an autopsy or two, so if you’re a little squeamish, you have been warned. Cadell is a fascinating character, and we find his emotions in a whirlwind over not only Blaine Breton but an old acquaintance, a new acquaintance, his medical studies, and sleuthing! He’s a brilliant medical student and artist who has connections to the burial sites of paupers. He does a little grave robbing in order to get hands-on practice, which, of course, is against the law, but he feels justified because his passion is medicine, and he strives to be the best. He uses his artistic talent to draw diagrams for his professor to use at lectures. When he acquires a particular body, and discovers a murder, though, he sets out to find justice for the individual.

Blaine Breton is a policeman, staunch in his belief that Cadell is grave-robbing criminal. They both have different opinions on grave robbing, and of each other, which causes hostility between the two. At almost every turn, Blaine is there to just make Cadell as miserable as possible. In fact, they are driving each other crazy! But, Blaine also has a soft side, and even though he tries to be tough, there’s also a shy side to him. Blaine is still a little bit of a mystery to me.

When tragedy strikes, the first person Blaine runs to is Cadell. That’s when the emotions and respect between them start to come through. After Cadell spends some time with Blaine, he decides to share information he has about the possible crimes and murders that have been happening. Blaine and Cadell team up with other fellow policemen to go after the suspects and try to solve this complicated murder mystery.

M. Keedwell’s Dark Economy is a jolly good story. This is my first time reading this author, and I was very impressed.

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You can buy Dark Economy here:

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5 Stars, Historical Romance, Loose Id, Nasia Maksima, Reviewed by Jennifer, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: Unbound, Unbroken by Nasia Maksima

Unbound, Unbroken

Unbound, Unbroken

Title: Unbound, Unbroken (In His Arena: Book Two)

Author: Nasia Maksima

Publisher: Loose Id

Pages/Word Count: 309 Pages

At a Glance: An excellent second installment in the In His Arena series.

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: When rising star gladiator Titian finds himself paired with the vainglorious champion Galadros, he finds himself in mortal danger. For a dark spell binds them together, using their lust to make them pawns in the wicked schemes of Alession, the Empress’s right-hand man.

Their only hope is to fight against the bond and hope to break it before Alession forces them to fight each other to the death in the arena. But with every challenge they face, Titian finds himself more and more drawn to Galadros, strengthening the dark spell even as they try to break it.

What begins as pure survival quickly spirals into a whirlwind of lust and love as Titian fights—both for his life and for an impossible future with Galadros. But Galadros has an even darker secret—one that might destroy them both.

Dividers

Review: Although Unbound, Unbroken is the second book in this series, you do not need to read the first in order to understand it. Though there are a few characters that make a reappearance, the lovers in this story are new. The previous lovers from book one are mentioned briefly, but as Titian and Galadros didn’t know them, they don’t know the entire story. Alession and the Empress return, as they are central, connecting figures of the series, but their history is explained for new readers and recapped for fans of the first.

Using the slavecraft from the first book, but this time as a stronger spell, Alession binds Titian and Galadros together for the cruel amusement of the Empress. In that, the storyline is not new; however, these two men are and the slavecraft is stronger. There are also darker elements. Monsters created by one of the houses from fallen gladiators appear which the lovers must fight in order to survive. Things are admittedly grim in this book, but the story was completely engrossing.

What I loved about Titian and Galadros was their personalities. Both are strong men, but their desires lie contrary to what the “rules” of Arena are. According to the unwritten rules, the weaker men are “seeded” by the stronger in order to make them stronger. But Titian, in his role as secutor, must submit to his mated provocator. Even though that’s his role, Titian wants to be the dominant man. Galadros, on the other hand, is the provocator, or another mated pair, and though it’s his role to give to his secutor, he craves a more submissive role in the bedroom. When fate throws them together, both men fight for and against what they want because of the rules their society has set in place. If Galadros truly submits like he wants to, he fears he will lose standing among the other gladiators when he wants to be the champion. While it doesn’t seem like a big deal, the admission of his desires could cause him to lose favor with the oddsmakers, which could be fatal.

If you liked the first book, Slave Eternal, you’ll love this one. If you like books with an alternate history intertwined with a bit of fantasy, then give this series a shot. A word of warning, however. There is some dubious consent in this book. It is at times masked by magic, but if that’s a trigger for you, just be warned.

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You can buy Unbound, Unbroken here:

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4 Stars, Historical Romance, Reviewed by Maryann, Taylin Clavelli, Wayward Ink Publishing

Review: Dakota Skies by Taylin Clavelli

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Title: Dakota Skies

Author: Taylin Clavelli

Publisher: Wayward Ink Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 350 Pages

At a Glance: Dakota Skies is an Old Western saga, an entertaining story with plenty of action.

Reviewed By: Maryann

Blurb: Born in the wrong time…

In 1875 Dakota, Sheriff Jamie Carter has to hide his interest in men, even from his gutsy twin sister, Anna. On a good day, the truth can mean a bullet between the eyes, and on a bad, one in the back.

A man on a mission…

Jamie leaves Anna in charge of Blackrock and he hits the bounty hunting trail, along with his faithful equine companion, Houston. Five territories, scores of ‘Wanted’ posters, and many bullets later, his path unexpectedly converges with that of enigmatic loner, Kit Brooks.

Two men with one soul…

Will the smoldering fire between them rage into an inferno and break down protective barriers, allowing them to find love? Or will it separate and kill them?

Beneath Dakota skies…

Jamie and Kit’s story is a sweeping saga of cowboys, Indians, persistent broads, and vengeful villains, where the cowboys aren’t always the good guys, and love can’t be taken for granted.

Dividers

Review: Jamie Carter shares the title of Sheriff with his twin sister Anna. Anna can shoot, fight and ride better than any man. We learn a lot about how Jamie and Anna followed in their father’s footsteps.

Kit Brooks has a story of his own to share, which is much different than Jamie’s. Mason Lee Anderson, the gambler, card player and sharpshooter, will be a big part of Kit’s story. Mason has a very special connection to Kit, Kate, and the Sioux tribe.

Anna befriends Hayley, who teaches her how to cook, as well as the fine art of being a lady. Anna teaches Hayley the fine art of shooting. Poor Morgan Haynes, Jamie’s best friend and saloon owner… Anna has a plan for him!

We meet members of the Sioux tribe, who are a very important part of this story. Chief Wahchinsapa, Tala, Howahkan (the medicine man), Takoda and others, and learn the beliefs and ways of the Sioux, taken into the spirit world along with Jamie and Kit, where we meet Chenoa.

And, last but not least, there’s Houston, Jamie’s faithful companion, his horse. Not just any old horse, a very talented one. He will have you chuckling!

I think the cover of this book deserves a mention, it really reflects the story behind it, as well as the map inside the book, which gives us an idea of the places Jamie and Kit traveled. Dakota Skies is an Old Western saga, an entertaining story with plenty of action, good guys, bad guys, working girls, heartbreak, hijinks, love, and the mystery of the spirit world. The story centers on Jamie and Kit, but the other interesting characters and their stories deserved a mentioned.

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You can buy Dakota Skies here:

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4 Stars, Bonnie Dee, Historical Romance, Reviewed by Jennifer, Samhain Publishing, Summer Devon

Review: The Shepherd and the Solicitor by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon

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Title: The Shepherd and the Solicitor

Author: Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 161 Pages

At a Glance: If you want a good historical fiction romance, you really can’t go wrong with this pair of authors.

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: When a storm is brewing, taking shelter could be the most dangerous move of all.

One careless, public sign of affection cost Daniel Pierce’s lover his life at the hands of a hate-filled mob. Grief-stricken, Daniel retreated from society to a sheep farm in the wilds of the north. Years later, Gregory Tobin erupts into his solitary life.

Sent to confirm the existence—or the death—of the Pierce family’s lost heir, Tobin isn’t sure he’s found the right man. The gruff, shaggy hermit calling himself Jacob Bennet bears little resemblance to photographs of the younger Pierce. Tobin needs more time to study his quarry.

With lambing season in full swing, Daniel grudgingly admits he could use an extra hand. Through a long, exhausting night, they parry back and forth as Tobin probes closer and closer to the truth. And something beyond casual attraction simmers between them.

They come together in a crash of desire, but ultimately Daniel must overcome the terrors of the past to reconcile the man he was with the man he’s becoming—a man capable of loving again.

Dividers

Review: If you want a good historical fiction romance, you really can’t go wrong with this pair of authors. I have yet to read a novel by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon that I didn’t enjoy. The two just know how to write good books, and together they’re a winning combination.

After the death of his lover, Daniel Pierce flees London to become the lonely shepherd, Jacob Bennet. Hiding away in the north, he fights his nightmares and tends to his sheep. Being alone is just what he wants. Or is it? When solicitor Gregory Tobin is sent to find Daniel, the missing heir, Bennet wants nothing to do with him. He’s alone for a reason, and he wants to keep it that way, but Gregory just won’t leave. And with lambing season in full swing, it’s hard to turn down the extra help. So Gregory stays, and the longer he’s there, the more the men begin to desire each other.

While this book might not have the most original plot, it’s well written and I truly enjoyed the characters. Gregory is dangerously open in his interest in Bennet, but as they’re alone, there’s only a small worry they’ll be caught. And Bennet is stubborn, but given his history, his caution is understandable. I loved their first meeting and all the way to the last page. I mean, it’s hard not to love a man who gets trampled by overly friendly sheep, or who names the newborn lambs and figures out a way to save the one who isn’t getting enough food from its mother.

The setting is also beautiful. From the rolling hills to the small cottage Bennet lives in, I could easily picture it and wanted to be there with the men. Like Gregory, I started to see the pleasure in the simple yet challenging life of raising sheep out in the wilds of the north, with hardly anyone around. Talk about peaceful.

If you’re looking for a read with two different yet strong male leads, set in the country of historical England, look no further. Fans of Summer Devon and Bonnie Dee will enjoy their latest collaboration.

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You can buy The Shepherd and the Solicitor here:

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4 Stars, Historical Romance, JL Merrow, Reviewed by Lisa, Samhain Publishing

Review: To Love a Traitor by JL Merrow

Title: To Love a Traitor

Author: JL Merrow

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 202 Pages

At a Glance: I think fans of historical romance will find plenty to love about To Love a Traitor.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Wounds of the heart take the longest to heal.

When solicitor’s clerk George Johnson moves into a rented London room in the winter of 1920, it’s with a secret goal: to find out if his fellow lodger, Matthew Connaught, is the wartime traitor who cost George’s adored older brother his life.

Yet as he gets to know Matthew—an irrepressibly cheerful ad man whose missing arm hasn’t dimmed his smile—George begins to lose sight of his mission.

As Matthew’s advances become ever harder to resist, George tries to convince himself his brother’s death was just the luck of the draw, and to forget he’s hiding a secret of his own. His true identity—and an act of conscience that shamed his family.

But as their mutual attraction grows, so does George’s desperation to know the truth about what happened that day in Ypres. If only to prove Matthew innocent—even if it means losing the man he’s come to love.

Warning: Contains larks in the snow, stiff upper lips, shadows of the Great War, and one man working undercover while another tries to lure him under the covers.

Dividers

Review: JL Merrow and a Historical Romance are an irresistible combination for me. Not only do I love her characters, but I love her writing voice—which probably goes a long way towards explaining why I love her characters.

In To Love a Traitor we get two of the better examples of this author’s gift for creating men who immediately endear themselves to us. George Johnson is on an undercover mission, assuming an alternate identity in order to find the traitor who’d betrayed his brother and cost Hugh his life in 1917. It’s effortless to feel compassion for George’s need to get answers to the questions that haunt him, as the loss of his brother only serves to underscore the overall consequences of him standing by his decisions during the war.

Meanwhile, Matthew Connaught is the man suspected of treason—of giving up England’s secrets to the Germans while Matthew himself avoided being sent on the mission that ended in the ambush where his fellow officers perished. Guilty? Well, JL Merrow makes it all but impossible for us to believe it from the moment Matthew makes his first appearance on the page, which creates a nice contrast to our empathy for George. As the story progresses, though, the question remains in the back of our minds whether Matthew’s charm is all smoke and mirrors, or, if he’s really just that lovely a man?

As the author lays out George and Matthew’s story for the reader, we want George to both succeed and fail—to succeed in his goal of finding closure for himself and Hugh’s fiancé, Mabel, but also to fail in proving that Matthew is the man who would commit such a foul and underhanded deed against his country and his fellow countrymen. Why? Because Matthew is one of the most charming and luminous characters this author has ever created. Matthew shines in every scene, our veteran who came back from the war physically less than whole, and because of this, we can’t help but root against George even as we watch the man fall victim himself to Matthew’s many charms.

To Love a Traitor is a sweet romance tempered by George’s subterfuge, his secrets and motives, and the story’s 1920’s setting, which, in itself, adds the built-in challenge of two men beginning a relationship and finding love in a less than accepting time. George and Matthew and the simple pleasures they find in spending time together elevate this story from one that might have offered us a standard-fare historical romance into a love story that speaks to the optimist in us all, and that hopeful part of us that wants to believe love truly does overcome every obstacle, while this novel’s climactic moment does nothing but reinforce what is felt from the beginning—that Matthew is utterly irresistible and that George never stood a chance against him. And, in the end, the only traitor in this story would have been the man who would betray what his heart knew long before his head.

I think fans of historical romance will find plenty to love about To Love a Traitor.

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5 Stars, Audio Book, Dreamspinner Press, Eli Easton, Historical Romance, Narration Rating - 5 Stars, Reviewed by Amy

Audio Review: The Lion and the Crow by Eli Easton – Narrated by Scott Richard Ehredt

Audio Gem

Title: The Lion and the Crow

Author: Eli Easton

Narrator: Scott Richard Ehredt

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Run Time: 5 hours and 3 minutes

At a Glance: If I could give this book 1000 stars, I would.

Reviewed By: Amy

Blurb: In medieval England, duty is everything, personal honor is more valued than life itself, and homosexuality is not tolerated by the church or society.

Sir Christian Brandon was raised in a household where he was hated for his unusual beauty and for his parentage. Being smaller than his six brutish half-brothers, he learned to survive by using his wits and his gift for strategy, earning him the nickname the Crow.

Sir William Corbett, a large and fierce warrior known as the Lion, has pushed his unnatural desires down all his life. He’s determined to live up to his own ideal of a gallant knight. When he takes up a quest to rescue his sister from her abusive lord of a husband, he’s forced to enlist the help of Sir Christian. It’s a partnership that will test every strand of his moral fiber, and, eventually, his understanding of the meaning of duty, honor, and love.

Dividers

Review:  If anyone knows anything about me when it comes to M/M books, it’s that I DO NOT read Historical Romance; however, this is Eli Easton we are talking about, and I have literally read every book she has written. So, I gave in and said, “Let me review this book,” and this is what I love about reviewing. I am exposed to greatness, and let me tell you, the combination of Easton’s writing ability and Scott Richard Ehredt’s narrating skills are absolute perfection. I would give this book 1000 stars, if possible.

The story is all things. It brings us this environment of life and death and honor. It does involve the whole “we can’t be gay thing,” but honestly, it didn’t bother me AT all because the author was sharing the journey of these two men, who are honorable.

Christian has been abused his whole life by his brothers, but instead of shrinking, he rose to the occasion and became a great bowman and hunter. William is an accomplished knight who is out to save his sister’s virtue. Through coincidence these two men are thrown together. This journey was the true brilliance of this story. The relationship that grows is one of, first, undeniable attraction but the sheer refusal to act on it, into respect, and eventually a love for all ages. I very seldom cry when reading a book, and Eli Easton makes me thankful for the true love stories in this world, and gives me hope through the written word.

Narration: I don’t know what to say about Scott Richard Ehredt, except pure BRILLIANCE. This man’s voice is truly gooseflesh inducing. His British accent is Sexy, Demanding, Soft, Romantic…etc. I could go on and on. All I will say is that after I listened to this audiobook, I went in search of other books narrated by him.

I put this story on par with my favorite audiobooks of all time.

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3 Stars, Historical Romance, Katherine Marlowe, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Review: Lord Loxley’s Lover by Katherine Marlowe

Title: Lord Loxley’s Lover

Author: Katherine Marlowe

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 91 Pages

At a Glance: In spite of a few niggles, I found Lord Loxley’s Lover to be a diverting read.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Lord Loxley is bewildered when his noble-born friend and former lover, Miles Rochester arrives on his doorstep and applies for a position as his valet. His friend has suffered a complete loss of status and finances, and has become bitter at the world, but Lord Loxley is determined to find a way to soothe his friend’s pain and restore their friendship and love.

Dividers

Review: Miles Rochester was once a young man of considerable means and social stature, despite his mixed-race heritage, now brought low by the loss of his family’s fortune. The downturn in financial circumstances translated to the abandonment of everyone he’d once considered a friend. Everyone, including Lord Fitzhenry Loxley.

When we’re introduced to Miles, he’s applying for the position of valet to Lord Loxley, and it’s here that we learn not only that Miles has fallen on difficult times but that he and Fitz were once lovers—not necessarily a surprise given we know from the title that this book is a romance—but the story doesn’t begin in a romantic way.

What the author introduces us to is a Miles who’s bitter and taciturn in nature, treating Fitz in a cold and distant way, clearly angered that his life has come down to one of servitude. What isn’t made altogether too clear is why Miles would stoop to applying for this particular position when it not only proves to be beneath his intellect and business acumen but also means humbling himself (though, he truly is less than humble) to someone from his past against whom he carries a grudge, a question that I felt was never answered in a meaningful way, but again, given that this is a romance we can make some educated guesses, and without the available position and Miles’ answering Fitz’s need, we wouldn’t have a story.

Lord Loxley’s Lover is a friends-to-lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers again story, though it’s Miles’ anger rather than Fitz’s lack of desire for the man that keeps them on opposing sides for much of this novella. Miles spends a good deal of the story’s word-count lusting after Fitz, then growing cold and distant, seemingly resentful, while Fitz remains ever hopeful, determined to do everything in his power to bridge the distance between them and mend what he’d unintentionally broken years before. Lord Loxley’s portrayal is close to that of the damsel in need of rescuing, definitely the more submissive of the two men, as Miles sets about the job of proving himself indispensable to Fitz and his family’s estate.

Katherine Marlowe knows her way around the Regency Era and a historical romance. The obligation of a man to marry for appearance’s sake, marriages of convenience that allowed gay men to avoid the questions and speculation they’d have otherwise been subjected to—there’s an authenticity to this story, with a tidy solution to Fitz’s marital issues, and then a bit of fancy thrown in to give it a sweet happily-ever-after.

The only thing I did feel deserved a bit more page time and dialogue paid to it, apart from the issue of why Miles applied for the position of Fitz’s valet in the first place, was Miles’ quick about-face at the end. Fitz’s final gesture to bring the man he loves some happiness was a kindness beyond measure, but one moment Miles was livid with Fitz, the next he was utterly forgiving, without much exposition of the turnabout in his feelings. In spite of those niggles, however, I found Lord Loxley’s Lover to be a pleasant diversion.

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5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Historical Romance, Reviewed By Carrie, Sue Brown

Review: The Layered Mask by Sue Brown

Title: The Layered Mask

Author: Sue Brown

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 108 Pages

At a Glance: I would love to have a whole Gentleman’s Club series…

Reviewed By: Carrie

Blurb: 2nd Edition

Threatened by his father with disinheritance, Lord Edwin Nash arrives in London with a sole purpose: to find a wife. A more than eligible bachelor and titled to boot, the society matrons are determined to shackle him to one of the girls by the end of the season.

During a masquerade ball, Nash hides from the ladies vying for his attention. He is discovered by Lord Thomas Downe, the Duke of Lynwood. Nash is horrified when Downe calmly tells him that he knows the secret Nash has hidden for years and sees through the mask Edwin presents to the rest of the world.

And then he offers him an alternative.

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Review: This is the story about Downe, the present Duke of Lynwood, and Lord Edwin, the future Marquis of Woodcote. Edwin is being forced to marry – NOW. At only twenty years old, he is lost in London society. The matrons have designated him “the lamb,” or the man they have picked for this London season to sacrifice on the altar of matrimony. When he escapes to the library at a masquerade ball, he meets Thomas Downe, and sparks fly. Downe, at twenty-seven, has learned to navigate the season and the matrons, and he is determined that the only one to have Edwin will be him.

Downe is a member of The Gentleman’s Club, a club started by two men, and a fiercely kept secret to the ton. I REALLY want Sue Brown to write a book about Asher and Leicester, the enigmatic couple who are the creationists behind the club. This book has all kinds of promise, if the author wanted to make a series out of it.

Sue Brown does a fantastic job with her characters. She discovers a solution – based on Victorian societal structures – for her main characters to achieve their HEAs. Is it historically accurate? No, but it is close. Is it a wonderful read based on the time period? Yes. If you enjoy Victorian novels, and aren’t too particular about the details, then this is a great book for you. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it heartily!

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4 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Historical Romance, Pearl Love, Reviewed by Jennifer

Review: The First Bloom of Winter by Pearl Love

Title: The First Bloom of Winter (Garden Series: Book Two)

Author: Pearl Love

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 136 Pages

At a Glance: I wish there had been more to this story. I look forward to the other books, though, to see what happens to everyone else.

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: Holden Peters is a normal, middle-class English lad in all respects save for his preference for his own gender. Caught in a compromising position with his father’s clerk, Holden is forced from his childhood home and sent to The Garden, a mysterious tea and flower shop located in the heart of the notorious Seven Dials slum. To his dismay, Holden soon learns that the shop sells more than floral arrangements. Behind its genteel façade, The Garden is as an all-male brothel, and he is to be its newest acquisition in order to pay off the debts his father owes the enigmatic owner, Mr. Leslie. But Holden’s nightmare grows only more grim when he learns that, before he is allowed to see his first customer, his new employer will personally see to relieving him of his inconvenient virginity. Now Holden must steel himself and face his fears if he is to survive his new life as a courtesan in Victorian London’s depraved underbelly.

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Review: Any book in a historical setting that includes an all-male brothel usually intrigues me, and that was the case with this book. Of course, it’s the second in a series, and I have not read the first one, but I don’t think that was a problem at all. I completely understood the story and was able to follow it.

Holden is a great character who gets caught by his father with another man. As a result he is sent away to Mr. Leslie, whom his father is indebted to. His father doesn’t know the extent of Mr. Leslie’s work, so it horrifies Holden when he discovers he will be one of the young men at a brothel. Especially since he’s a virgin.

He meets the other young men—Hibiscus, Peony, Gardenia, and Amaryllis—and earns his new name, Aster. I thought it was a great touch to have the boys named after flowers. It added to the allusion of The Garden.

While Holden is there against his will, and I was frustrated with him for feeling loyalty to the father that sold him, I enjoyed his interactions with the other boys. I also liked that he held onto his hatred for Mr. Leslie. It added to the story and made it a touch more realistic.

In the end, Richard and Gardenia are the most intriguing characters for me. Gardenia, because he keeps his past hidden, and Richard, for mostly the same reasons. Plus, I loved Gardenia’s playful nature when it came to Aster.

I wish there had been more to this story. I know it’s part of a series, but it seems like each book focuses on different characters, and I really wanted to see more of Richard and Aster, especially as Aster falls into his roll at The Garden, and as Richard becomes his handler. I look forward to the other books, though, to see what happens to everyone else.

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4 Stars, Ava March, Carina Press, Historical Romance, Reviewed by Lisa

Release Day Review: Viscount’s Wager by Ava March

Title: Viscount’s Wager

Author: Ava March

Publisher: Carina Press

Pages/Word Count: 275 Pages

At a Glance: Another sexy and romantic and emotionally satisfying read from Ava March.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: London, 1822

You never forget your first love, but is a second chance worth the gamble?

Anthony, Viscount Rawling, knows exactly what he wants in life and he isn’t above having a look about London for it. When he spots recently widowed Gabriel Tilden at a ton function, he thinks he might have found love…again.

Gabriel is as gorgeous and reserved as he was when he broke Anthony’s heart seven years ago. But they were only adolescents then…surely Anthony won’t hold the incident against him. And especially not when the attraction between them is stronger than ever.

Gabriel came to London in search of distraction, and a teasing Anthony is impossible to resist. As Anthony introduces Gabriel to the pleasures that can be found in the city—and in his bedchamber—their bond deepens into something more. Yet both men are hiding secrets that could pull them apart forever…

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Review: Author Ava March writes lust and romance so well, and stays true to her own special brand of Regency Era erotica in Viscount’s Wager, book three in the Gambling on Love series. While it’s not strictly necessary to read the first two books in the series before reading this one, I loved both All in with the Duke and Sharp Love (especially Sharp Love) enough to recommend them, if for nothing else than to catch up on the characters who make their appearances in Anthony and Gabriel’s story.

From the outset, the author goes right for the emotional connection between reader and characters, as we see two teenage boys tentatively explore the possibilities of a young and forbidden love with a first kiss, only to watch the risk they take become all for naught when Gabriel’s fear and insecurities lead him into the arms of a woman he doesn’t love and a marriage to the woman that neither of them wanted—a scenario that, sadly, was more likely to happen than not in the 19th century.

Years later this novel evolves from its bittersweet beginning to a story of second chances, when Gabriel (now a widower) and Anthony meet again in London. We see Anthony reflect upon the heartbreak he felt at being treated so callously, as that insight is observed through both distance and a more mature and sophisticated eye, knowing the reality that there often was no happy ending for gay men at this time. Circumstance affords the opportunity for the two men to rekindle their acquaintance and, eventually, for Gabriel to finally admit to and explore the attraction he’s harbored for Anthony, even over the long seven years of his marriage.

These two men don’t float easily along into their romance, though. They have obstacles to overcome brought on by secrets and lies, both outright lies and ones by omission, and they must confront a danger brought to their doorstep due to Gabriel’s own guilt and self-loathing. We watch Gabriel struggle with a push me-pull you yearning for Anthony—one that begins to present as his using Anthony solely for sex, and Anthony allowing it because he’s willing to take as much or as little as Gabriel is able to give. As always, however, there is a payoff to the emotional roller coaster we gladly ride, knowing that our persistence will be rewarded in the end when we see love win against the odds.

Ava March is a connoisseur of erotic historical romance. Her formula is laced with the restraint of the laws and social underpinnings of the time, and I’ve yet to find an instance where it hasn’t worked for me. She writes characters we root for with the knowledge that a happy ending befitting the time period won’t always be traditional but will be believable, and for Anthony and Gabriel it’s no different. They discover they have allies, people who become their inner circle of friends, they themselves sharing the same secret, which adds to the romance of her stories.

Viscount’s Wager ends as though it’s a wrap up to this series. We see all three of the couples settled and happy, and this alone makes Ava March, as always, a go-to author for me when I’m ready to escape into a sexy and romantic and emotionally satisfying read.

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5 Stars, Historical Romance, Reviewed by Lisa, S. Joy P., Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Self-Published

Review: Dragon’s Bounty by S. Joy P.

Title: Dragon’s Bounty (Dracula’s Love: Book One)

Author: S. Joy P.

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 299 Pages

At a Glance: This author’s imagination and delivery of the unique and unexpected continues to impress.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: In the fifteenth century Wallachia, the self-serving boyars will do anything to advance their own positions while the interests of the Hungarian king and the Ottoman sultan tear their country apart. One interest is shared by all. A weak prince on the Wallachian throne. A prince who bends easily.

But a fierce and spirited man rules the land – Vlad Dracula, and he would rather break than bend. Murderers robbed him of his closest family. Pretenders lay claim on his titles. A noose of intrigues reaching beyond the borders of his realm tightens around him. Undaunted, he fights for his ancestral rights and for the defense of the whole Christendom. In all struggles, Love known as The Englishman stands true and faithful by his side.

Only… Love is not an English mercenary as he says he is, but the god of love who accidentally used his magic on himself, and fell for the only one who claims not to have use for love – Vlad Dracula.

Turbulent events drag them both into a brutal clash of honor and duty against treachery and ambitions. Into a sword dance in which a single wrong step can bring death.

And only one of them is… immortal.

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Review: Sometimes the difference between a good book and a not so good book is the difference between the unexpected being made believable, and the expected being made unbelievable. Any author who succeeds at the first, something S. Joy P. has proven for the second time she can do with excellence, is an author whose books will make it onto my Must Read list every time.

Once again, the author has culled the annals of history and come up with our unexpected hero in Dragon’s Bounty. Vlad Dracula, the Prince of Wallachia, whose legacy earned him the epithet Vlad the Impaler, and who it is said was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s own Dracula, is (in what may seem impossible odds, given the chronicling of his deeds) a convincing and sympathetic hero, as the author does an excellent job of weaving hints of Stoker’s canonical themes into her novel of the real man’s legend.

A blend of mythology and history, this novel belongs in the category of an epic saga more so than a romance; though, if you broaden the definition of romance to include S. Joy P.’s obvious love of her subject and the setting, then a romantic saga Dragon’s Bounty is. It is also, at least thus far, a story of unrequited love that in all its metaphorical beauty brings Love personified directly into the life of Vlad Dracula, the man who has no use for the emotion but does have use for the god who has disguised himself in the mortal role of an English mercenary. We watch as a love spell backfires on Love, and we follow his journey as he is sentenced to torture and slavery and survives only with the help of his brother Death, and through his willingness to adapt to the most horrific of trials.

Written in a language that not only invokes the imagination as we picture the landscape but also gives this novel its texture, the author deftly weaves into the narrative what feels like a wholly organic tone within the 15th Century setting. S. Joy P. holds nothing back in her developing of the characters, the depiction of the brutality or, to our modern senses, showing what is nothing less than barbaric customs and practices which were native to Wallachia at the time.

Dragon’s Bounty is a story of sacrifice in the name of Love and love, both the man and the emotion. It’s the story of what happens to a god when he’s flung into the mortal coil and gains his humanity while, at the same time, we see him commit inhumane acts in the name of love and loyalty. It’s an allegorical tale of love, the emotion, and Love, the man, which builds a sense of sensual intimacy without being intimate in a sexual way. When love states, “Make no mistake, love can be brutal,” we see two sides to the declaration, that he himself is becoming as brutal as the emotion of which he speaks, and in another lovely contrast, we watch as the man who does not want or need love, call Love to him time and time again, keeping Love close by as the god acts as both narrator and author of his story.

Dragon’s Bounty is not a quick read. It’s a story rich in history and detail, one to be savored as S. Joy P. slowly and with an impressive skill draws her readers into the time and place and treachery of revenge and political affairs, and then leaves Love and Dracula’s story unfinished, much more of this saga left to be told, and I can’t wait for the rest.

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5 Stars, Charlie Cochrane, Historical Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Action Thriller, Reviewed By Carrie, Riptide Publishing

Review: Lessons for Idle Tongues by Charlie Cochrane

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Title: Lessons for Idle Tongues

Author: Charlie Cochrane

Publisher: Riptide Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 247 Pages

At a Glance: Just when you think you might have it all figured out… That would be a no. I love it!

Reviewed By: Carrie

Blurb: Cambridge, 1910

Amateur detectives Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith seem to have nothing more taxing on their plate than locating a missing wooden cat and solving the dilemma of seating thirteen for dinner. But one of the guests brings a conundrum: a young woman has been found dead, and her boyfriend is convinced she was murdered. The trouble is, nobody else agrees.

Investigation reveals that several young people in the local area have died in strange circumstances, and rumours abound of poisonings at the hands of Lord Toothill, a local mysterious recluse. Toothill’s angry, gun-toting gamekeeper isn’t doing anything to quell suspicions, either.

But even with a gun to his head, Jonty can tell there’s more going on in this surprisingly treacherous village than meets the eye. And even Orlando’s vaunted logic is stymied by the baffling inconsistencies they uncover. Together, the Cambridge Fellows must pick their way through gossip and misdirection to discover the truth.

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Review: How does she do it? How does Charlie Cochrane’s mind come up with this stuff? Just when you think you might have it all figured out… That would be a no. I love it!

Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith are amateur detectives who are gaining quite a reputation for themselves and their ability to solve crimes. Lessons for Idle Tongues is book 11 in the Cambridge Fellows mystery series, and in my opinion, they keep getting better and better. Charlie Cochrane is a master at writing period appropriate stories. Everything about her characters, from dress to speech, is spot on to the time period. How Jonty and Orlando have to work to solve the conundrums they are presented with is totally believable—they don’t make leaps of faith or accomplish feats only someone in a later time period would know how to do. Cochrane’s stories are about the mysteries, the search for clues, the people you meet, the delicious bits you find along the way.

Each of the installments in the Cambridge Fellows series is a standalone book; however, you do really get a continuity of characters if you read them from the beginning. Many of her main characters, Jonty and Orlando and their friends and family – even the servants – all have their places in the timeline.

There’s a wooden cat, and the problem of having 13 to dinner – which is just not done – and rumors of a dead girl. There is lots of gossip, layers of misdirection, and could there even be more dead bodies? Of course, the answer always lies close to home. The next installment is due out October 12th and that is just too far away for the next mystery to arrive… I cannot wait for Lessons for Sleeping Dogs!

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5 Stars, Ariel Tachna, Audio Book, Dreamspinner Press, Historical Romance, Narration Rating - 5 Stars, Nicki Bennett, Reviewed by Maryann

Audio Review: Checkmate by Nicki Bennett and Ariel Tachna – Narrated by Peter B. Brooke

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Title: Checkmate

Author: Nicki Bennett and Ariel Tachna

Narrator:: Peter B. Brooke

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Run Time: 10 Hours and 18 Minutes

At a Glance: There is never a dull moment and there’s a good pace to this story!

Reviewed By: Maryann

Blurb: When sword for hire Teodoro Ciéza de Vivar accepts a commission to “rescue” Lord Christian Blackwood from unsuitable influences, he has no idea he’s landed himself in the middle of a plot to assassinate King Philip IV of Spain and blame the English ambassador for the deed. Nor does he expect the spoiled child he’s sent to retrieve to be a handsome, engaging young man.

As Teodoro and Christian face down enemies at every turn, they fall more and more in love, an emotion they can’t safely indulge with the threat of the Inquisition looming over them. It will take all their combined guile and influence to outmaneuver the powerful men who would see them separated… or even killed.

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Review: Nicki Bennett and Ariel Tachna did a fantastic job with this old world adventure romance story set in 1624 Madrid, during the Spanish Inquisition. I read this novel in 2012 and enjoyed it then, and was eager to hear it on audio. I was not disappointed. There is never a dull moment and there’s a good pace to this story! Tension, jealously, danger, adventure, humor, love and passion run rampant, and, given the time and setting, there is what I consider to be some mild violence. I would have loved to hear some feisty Spanish music from that era, and some clanking to go along with the sword fighting; it would have been an added enjoyment to the audio, but, alas, we can’t have everything.

Peter Brooke does an amazing job with the narration and the performance of accents and emotions of at least six major characters, the tones and accents so distinct. Christian Blackwood is twenty-three and has an English accent, Esteban is fifteen and Spanish; both have young sounding voices but very different personalities and accents. Teodoro Cieza de Vivar is older than Christian and even though he has a smooth, calm tone at times, it also reflects his maturity and the passion shared between Teo and Christian. Raul is a gypsy and former lover and friend to Teodoro; his voice has a very distinctive accent and expressive tones to match different situations. Gerrard Hawkins, Christian’s former protector, has a gruff, Cockney accent.

Teo is actually a very upstanding character with much pride and stubbornness. He is worldlier than Christian, older, and has served in the war and has killed. He is loyal to the end to anyone he has to protect. Christian is a surprise to Teo. Even though he is young, he’s not as spoiled as Teo thinks he is. He’s smart, generous, passionate and also loyal to his new found friends. It was fun to see the jealousy that first takes place between Estaban and Christian, and Christian being jealous of Raul.

I would also like to mention the beautiful cover by Ann Cain. It reflects the old world feel and the caring of Teo by Christian.

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3 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Genre Romance, Historical Romance, Keelan Ellis, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Lisa

Review: I’ll Still Be There By Keelan Ellis

Title: I’ll Still Be There

Author: Keelan Ellis

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 200 Pages

At a Glance: In spite of some issues I had with I’ll Still Be There, I liked its message of the enduring power of love.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: The summer after high school, Eli Dunn and Jess Early explore an abandoned brothel in the rural Florida Panhandle. They’ve always kept their mutual attraction unspoken, but in an upstairs room at the end of the hall, everything changes. Suddenly, all the longing Eli and Jess have tried so hard to conceal bursts free, and passion like they’ve never experienced comes to light, along with the ghosts of Clay Bailey and Silas Denton, murdered owners of the brothel. And Clay and Silas have no problem possessing Eli and Jess in order to express their love for each other, without thought for the living.

Deeply disturbed by the experience, Eli and Jess part and try to get on with life as best they can. But after several years, Eli returns to Florida, only to find that Jess has made some questionable choices. These eventually lead him back to the abandoned house and a confrontation with Eli. Old scores are settled and Eli and Jess reunite. But Clay and Silas’s ghosts aren’t finished yet, for they’ve always believed in the power of open and honest love.

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Review: Keelan Ellis’s debut in Gay Romance, I’ll Still Be There, is an interesting blend of historical and contemporary, a bittersweet and tragic romance with a happy ending, and more than a little supernatural influence that comes into play to contrast the past and the present, giving this novel a touch of the unique.

Ellis pulls out all the emotional stops and offers readers not one but two love stories which juxtapose each other in one significant way. We first meet Eli and Jess in junior high school in 2002, when the two boys unite in defense of a girl, Cassie, who’s being teased on the playground. The three become the best of friends, but it’s not until high school that we begin to see clues their group dynamics are shifting.

In contrast to the contemporary we flashback to 1938, where we meet Clay Bailey and get a glimpse of him coming to terms with the realization that he’s wired a bit differently than other boys. When his father catches him in a compromising position with an older man, Clay leaves home, taking to the streets and caring for himself the only way he knows how—by exchanging sex for money. The anger I felt toward Clay’s mother for simply letting her son walk out was real and realistic and engaged me in the story, as we’re all too aware of the laws at the time. That anger only grows as we watch Clay being taken advantage of by the man who becomes his pimp. Eventually, though, opportunity gives Clay the freedom to strike out on his own again, where he soon finds a safe place to land and begins managing his own boys, meeting the one boy in particular who will steal Clay’s heart: Silas Denton.

The beauty of the contrast between the past and present in I’ll Still Be There is in the relationship between Clay and Silas, and what Eli and Jess are living out in the present. In a time (at this point, 1950) when Clay and Silas’s relationship was socially unacceptable, not to mention unlawful, we see these two men fall in love and then love each other with abandon, even as they’re unable to live out and proud. As tragedy befalls them, we see their love as timeless and immutable. Within the eternal nature of Clay and Silas’s love, we see the danger and struggles that existed for gay men in the not so distant past, how their need to hide affected them, influenced their opportunities to meet one another, and the sham marriages so many men felt forced into. And, in contrast, we see how difficult it still is today for some men to come out and live openly, even in a more enlightened time.

We watch Jess and Eli struggle privately with their feelings for each other as they come to terms with those shifting emotions, and we watch as Eli is weighed down by the fear of coming out in their conservative hometown. And though it takes the supernatural encounter with Clay and Silas’s ghosts for Jess to finally find the courage to admit his feelings for Eli, the damage is done—there is an all too important moment Jess and Eli are robbed of, though it also becomes this novel’s catalyst, causing a confused and angry Eli to panic and disappear in denial, leaving both Jess and Cassie behind him.

There are several characters I liked a lot in I’ll Still Be There, apart from Clay and Silas, and Eli and Jess. Ruth, the madam who became a friend, mentor and sort of surrogate mother to Clay, is a standout; as are Eli’s parents and Jess’s mom. The one character I felt was written as the disposable cliché in the book, though, is Cassie. She’s the woman we see portrayed quite often in this genre (the poor girl in love with the gay man), and while she served a purpose, the core of Jess and Eli’s story could have been told just as thoroughly without her, meaning she was more a convenience to Jess and Eli’s arc than a critical cog in the plot, then is used in a way that made Eli come off as callous at one critical point. While I’d have loved to see her as more than a device to generate conflict in the storyline, I did appreciate her being allowed to take the high road in the end.

I also enjoyed the way Clay and Silas became mentors to Eli and Jess, as a symbol of courage and the need to grab hold of love and happiness when you find it. And while I know flashbacks don’t always work for some readers, I personally was overall more invested in Clay and Silas’s story than Jess and Eli’s, those moments in the past adding a welcome emotional layer to what might have been an otherwise too-familiar plot.

While there were some points I felt might have been explored with more depth, especially when Eli returns to claim Jess in a way I found somewhat oversimplified in its resolution, it did serve to keep this novel low on the angst and moving forward at a brisk enough pace to make it a quick read, one I liked for its heartfelt message of taking risks and going for broke in the name of love.

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4.5 Stars, Bonnie Dee, Historical Romance, Horror, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Release Day Review: The Tutor by Bonnie Dee

Title: The Tutor

Author: Bonnie Dee

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 184 Pages

At a Glance: Chills, suspense, and romance work together beautifully in The Tutor.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Gothic romance with a twist.

Elements of The Sound of Music, The Enchanted Garden, Jane Eyre, and “true” ghost hunting shows make this story feel familiar. Gay love makes it unique.

Seeing an ad for a position at a Yorkshire estate, typesetter Graham Cowrie decides to make an upward career move by passing himself off as a tutor. How hard can it be to teach a few subjects to a pair of nine-year-old boys? But on his arrival at the ancient house, he finds the staff creepy, the twins odd, and the widowed master temporarily absent.

His first meeting with brooding, stern, but oh-so-attractive, Sir Richard doesn’t go well, but with no other prospects vying for the teaching position, Graham manages to keep it. His mission soon becomes clear, break down the walls of reserve both father and sons have erected and attempt to bridge the gap between them.

But strange sounds, sights and experiences keep Graham on edge until he finally admits the Hall is haunted by two entities with very different agendas. Graham works to appease one and combat the other while protecting the broken family he’s grown to care for.

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Review: Fans of gothic horror will find plenty to love in Bonnie Dee’s historical romance The Tutor, the story of a man who fabricates his way into a tutoring position at the decaying Allinson Hall, but who soon proves his value to a widower and his sons when a malevolent spirit threatens to drag them all into darkness.

The author does two things superbly in this novel, the first being that she sets the mood and tone of the story in bleak yet vivid detail. The starkness of the Hall and the somber image of its residents paint, in Poe-ish overtones, the dour picture of a family torn apart by the death of a wife and mother. You expect dire things to come as the scene is set, but don’t know exactly what it will be, and are immersed from the beginning in the tragedy and its aftereffects. And, we soon see the near impossible task Graham Cowrie has ahead of him in reaching out to his two young pupils, Whitney and Clive Allinson.

The second standout detail in this novel is the setting up of the supernatural elements that haunt the story and its characters. There are chilling moments throughout and plenty of suspense to keep the reader’s pulse pounding as the shadows and the macabre fairly cling to the walls of Allinson Hall. The tension is palpable at times and kept me glued to my Kindle as the eerie mixed with the more poignant moments of Sir Richard Allinson’s story. The distance from his twins sons—not in terms of measurable space but in the emotional vacuum that exists between them since Lavinia Allinson’s death—lends the novel a compassionate touch as we come to understand that Richard is not only suffering from grief over the loss of his wife but guilt over the lie that was his marriage.

As Graham begins to embrace his role as the boys’ tutor we see the Sisyphean task he has ahead of him. For each bit of headway he makes, not only as their teacher but as a man who comes to care about the boys and their wellbeing, he takes a giant leap back, especially with Clive, as distrust and grief soon take a backseat to the evil spirit that spreads its pall over the estate.

Graham and Richard’s interactions are initially colored by Richard’s guilt over and denial of his sexuality, and we see him as cold and aloof, perhaps even a little sinister, which makes it difficult to warm up to him as we watch him make no effort to bring comfort to his sons. But, the author does what must be done for us to see beneath the surface, and that is to begin a slow melting of the man’s icy exterior as the truth behind Lavinia’s death and the psychological effect it had on his boys is revealed. Graham’s natural charm and our sympathy for where he came from, not to mention our admiration for what he’s achieved in spite of his upbringing, was the perfect foil to Richard’s more taciturn personality, like the silver lining around the cloud, and I found myself quickly rooting for their happy ending.

The climactic scene of The Tutor is filled with tension as the physical and metaphysical collide, and the good vs. evil battle ramps up to its fullest extent before winding the story down to its deeply romantic conclusion, one that befits the time period in which the story is set. I liked The Tutor a lot, from the storyline to the characters to the author’s writing style, and can say that if you’re a fan of historical romance with more than a touch of the supernatural to give it a suspenseful twist, Bonnie Dee delivers.

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