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

Review: Games of Rome by JP Kenwood

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Amazon

Title: Games of Rome (Dominus: Book Two)

Author: JP Kenwood

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 339 Pages

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

Reviewed By: Lisa

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

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

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

Dividers

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

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

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

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

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

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You can buy Games of Rome here:

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

Review: By That Sin Fell the Angels by Jamie Fessenden

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Title: By That Sin Fell the Angels

Author: Jamie Fessenden

Publisher: DSP Publications

Pages/Word Count:  191 Pages

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

Reviewed By: Taz

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

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

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

Dividers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You can buy By That Sin Fell the Angels here:

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

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

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Title: Daron’s Guitar Chronicles: Volume Eight

Author: Cecilia Tan

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 258 Pages

At a Glance: And the beat goes on…

Reviewed By: Lisa

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

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

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

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

Dividers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: King John by Edmond Manning

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Amazon US

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

Author: Edmond Manning

Publisher: Pickwick Ink Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 245 Pages

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

Reviewed By: Sammy

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

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

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

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

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

Dividers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You can buy King John here:

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4.5 Stars, Bey Deckard, Genre Romance, Literary Fiction, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Review: The Last Nights of the Frangipani Hotel by Bey Deckard

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Title: The Last Nights of the Frangipani Hotel (The Actor’s Circle: Book Two)

Author: Bey Deckard

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 78 Pages

At a Glance: Yet another lovely read from Bey Deckard

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: All James wanted was a little solitude at his favourite resort: bright sunshine overhead, soft, white sand underfoot, and a hammock to read in while the warm breeze rustles through the coconut palms and almond trees. However, when an old acquaintance shows up, and James is obliged to share “his” beach, a profound exchange over a bottle of rum leads to a lust-fuelled encounter in the dark.

Reeling from the intensity of the drunken tryst, James decides to cut his vacation short rather than face what he’s kept hidden under mountains of denial.

However, his escape is thwarted when Rudie, handsome and plainspoken, calls him out on his behaviour and makes him see that life needn’t be spent running away from his desires.

Set at a rundown old resort on a small Caribbean island, The Last Nights of The Frangipani Hotel is a story about letting go of fear and learning that passion and love can be found in the most unexpected of places.

Dividers

Review: In The Last Nights of the Frangipani Hotel, the second (standalone) novella in Bey Deckard’s The Actor’s Circle series, the author once again explores sexuality through his narrator, James Talbot, an actor who’s found his own corner of paradise in a shabby little hotel on a tropical island. The Frangipani Hotel is James’s escape when the pressures of Hollywood and his own fame begin to hem him in, and it’s here that James learns he’s also been running away from his own reality. That river in Egypt everyone’s always talking about? James has been treading its waters his whole life.

Rudie Brauer is a fellow actor who shows up at the Frangipani in search of a bit of solitude. We know that Rudie is beautiful because James tells us so every single time his eyes wander to the next perfect spot on Rudie’s body—which happens rather frequently. And it’s at that point that we, the readers, know what James doesn’t seem to get—or, at least what he’s not willing to admit to. That he’s not altogether straight.

Watching through James’s somewhat skewed lens of self-awareness, we see him struggle with his lust for Rudie, his using Rudie’s body to satisfy a need James doesn’t fully understand, and we see in Rudie a man who doesn’t mind being used for a little bit of rough, so long as they both get off on it. What Rudie does seem to mind, though, is James’s obtuseness with respect to what his desire for Rudie truly means.

Deckard uses his gift for scene setting to its fullest effect in this novella—ocean waves breaking on the shoreline; the sun shining on the soft white sand; the palm trees swaying languorously on tropical breezes; and the warm, humid nights spent in a rundown hotel room—each add to the sensuality of the story, creating a dreamy backdrop and underscoring the steamy scenes between these two men.

The Last Nights of the Frangipani Hotel isn’t a traditional romance, but there is a romanticism to the story in the sentimentality James feels towards his island hideaway, especially when it becomes clear the hotel is about to be swallowed up in the all-inclusive resort machine. Part of those sentimental feelings become wrapped up in and around Rudie, who, in their short time together, appears will become something more than just a vacation affair for James, which leads James to some decisions about his future and their little slice of heaven on earth.

I don’t know that I’d call this a coming out story. Perhaps it’s more of an awakening for James, as his story isn’t about what he’s willing to show the world but what he’s willing to admit to himself and, now, to Rudie.

This is yet another lovely read from Bey Deckard.

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You can buy The Last Nights of the Frangipani Hotel here:

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5 Stars, Literary Fiction, Nicole Castle, Reviewed by Lisa, Self-Published

Review: The Result of a Straight Razor by Nicole Castle

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Title: The Result of a Straight Razor (The Mako Shark: Book Two)

Author: Nicole Castle

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 168 Pages

At a Glance: Three cheers for the morally complicated!

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Miko is in mourning. He is plotting. Miko is thinking about death and vengeance. About forgiveness. And love. Miko is getting some new tattoos.

Dividers

Review: There’s one thing author Nicole Castle will never be accused of: writing sane characters. Or, at least what might be considered sane by most people. Not up to this point, anyhow. Ms. Castle writes about a group of assassins, after all, and their lives revolve around murder and mayhem, something they pursue quite passionately, I might add. Sometimes with a glee that can only be called disarming and charming in a disturbing sort of way.

These people make me happy.

The Result of a Straight Razor picks up where The Consequence of High Caliber left off, so it’s an absolute must to read these books in order. Miko, our sweet and broken man-child, returns to his would-be lover Toby—would-be if Toby didn’t give Miko a sense of normalcy that only serves to make Miko realize how not-normal he really is, and how dangerous it is for him to be in Toby’s life.

Relationship Status: It’s complicated.

We get a bit more of Miko’s backstory in this installment of the series, through flashbacks that show us how he came to be where he is; not exactly the best assassin in the bunch but having been nursed on a steady diet of violent and murderous bedtime stories about people who became his heroes, it’s given him a lot to strive for. But poor Miko. ::sighs:: He just seems to have a big Murphy’s Law target tattooed on the business end of his best intentions.

Plus, he needs to stop pointing his gun at the wrong people.

The linchpin of The Result of a Straight Razor’s plot is a carry-over from book one, and the death of Miko’s best friend Ophelia—a death everyone but Miko believes was suicide. Miko is determined to prove there’s murder afoot!, even as every one of his efforts to do so seem bent upon proving him wrong.

The murder business is so fickle.

And it also distances him from Toby, not only geographically but mentally and emotionally too.

It’s also hard on relationships.

Razor-sharp wit and a skillfully honed sense of pace and timing have been the hallmark of not only these books but those in the Chance Assassins series too (several characters from that series make brief cameos in “Straight Razor”). Bella, as usual, steals every scene she’s in, and every single nuance, from the overt to the subtlest, adds to its charm. These are not your typical heroes and heroines, nor are they strictly antiheroes—they’re far too loveable for that. Maybe they’re just demiheroes. Because, really, are any of our favorite characters all good or all bad?

Three cheers for the morally complicated!

I love this book. I love this author for being just a little demented. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this, or any of Nicole Castle’s books, for that matter. They’re disturbingly comical and comically disturbed novels.

They’re disturmical in the very best way.

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

Review: Daron’s Guitar Chronicles: Vol. Seven by Cecilia Tan

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Title: Daron’s Guitar Chronicles: Vol. Seven

Author: Cecilia Tan

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 421 Pages

At a Glance: “Love is a friendship set to music.” – Unknown

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Ziggy went to India. Daron traveled the world. Is the music business ready for what happens when they meet again?

When last we saw guitar prodigy Daron Marks, he was on a beach in Australia on the very last day of 1989. A new decade has dawned and Daron has little choice but to embrace change in the face of Ziggy going AWOL and poor record sales. Daron embarks on a journey of artistic growth, studying more styles of guitar and music, a journey that takes him from Virginia to Spain to New York City.

But while he prepares for whatever may come next in his career, is Daron prepared for his inevitable reunion with Ziggy? Ziggy is back and he’s got a plan.

Dividers

Review: Five-hundred and eighty-four chapters. That’s how far Cecilia Tan has taken her readers into the life of Daron Marks—so far—in Daron’s Guitar Chronicles, a grand feat of altogether consummate storytelling.

From the moment Daron was introduced as a teenager in the 80s in Chapter One, not only afraid of anyone finding out he’s gay but so afraid of simply being gay, Tan has taken readers on a journey deep into the life of her young guitar prodigy. We’ve followed Daron through creative highs and lows; through family drama; through falling in love with the one boy who would turn his life upside down and inside out (not once but a multitude of times…and still is), and the author has done so with an ease so seemingly effortless that we ourselves are notched directly into the world of music and the lives of the characters who people it. This series truly is realistic fiction at some of its finest, consistently blowing me away, chapter after chapter, with attention to detail and a protagonist I’m invested in to the extreme. Daron’s narrative voice is so utterly sincere, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes frustrating, but always engaging. This is one of those series where I want so badly to see whether or not he gets his happy ending (read: the happy ending I want for him), yet…the thought of there being an end is too much to consider.

For seventy-nine chapters in this installment of the serial, we head into the 1990s as we follow Daron from the US to Spain, where he spends a brief interlude with Orlando, a guy who can’t seem to admit out loud that he’s probably gay, or at least bi. And, we get a glimpse of a Daron who is becoming more comfortable in his own identity as a gay man, something his time with Jonathan helped him to do, even though the relationship didn’t end up being what either man needed. Daron’s love for his lead singer Ziggy is always there, always at the forefront of everything for Daron—sometimes even in his music—and we’re teased by an almost-mending of their relationship in these chapters. Now, if only Ziggy were singing the same tune. One of the most frustrating and compelling aspects of this epic masterwork is the push me/pull you of the relationship between these two characters, and how invested I’ve become in their future. It’s an addiction of the sweetest kind.

One of the things Cecilia Tan has done so brilliantly in the first person storytelling is to not only disappear behind this character but to allow us to see Daron through Daron’s eyes. Rather than his voice telling us how we should think and feel at any given moment, I love that there are times when his frustration makes me sad; his sadness makes me frustrated; his anger makes me glad that he’s angry, while at other times I wish he’d step a bit more carefully. And his happiness… well, his happiness only comes in fits and starts, so that makes me sad too. But therein lies the beauty of this series—Tan builds upon the story and characters layer by layer—there are no cookie-cutter caricatures or cardboard stereotypes (even when the music business might demand it)—until you feel a degree of certainty that the author has known these people at some point in her life because they’re so authentic, the investment in them so complete. There isn’t a lot of action in these chapters, nor is there a lot of sex—this is, simply put, literary fiction at its finest: character driven and filled with all the flaws and challenges and perfect imperfections of the human condition, set against the backdrop of Daron’s near-obsessive need to play his guitars.

I know the word count in this series is intimidating. I can’t even begin to fathom how many words into Daron’s life we are now, nor do I know how many more words Cecilia Tan has left to offer her readers, but if there’s ever been a work of storytelling I’d beg someone to dig into, it’s this one. It’s pretty amazing, in my most humble opinion, and deserves all the recognition it’s received so far.

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You can buy Daron’s Guitar Chronicles: Vol. Seven here:

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4 Stars, DSP Publications, Ethan Stone, Literary Fiction, Reviewed by Maryann

Review: Flesh & Blood by Ethan Stone

Title: Flesh & Blood (Flesh: Book Two)

Author: Ethan Stone

Publisher: DSP Publications

Pages/Word Count: 260 Pages

At a Glance: I like the tone Ethan Stone in Flesh and Blood. It may have been a risk, but I think it turned out well.

Reviewed By: Maryann

Blurb: Detective Cristian Flesh is about to find out that he can only run from his past for so long.

When a local man is attacked and the suspect is a hustler, Cristian knows there’s more to the case than meets the eye. His investigation will lead him into a maze of lies, deceit, and underage prostitution. But that’s only the beginning as people start disappearing and turning up dead. Cristian begins to realize that solving the case and stopping the murders won’t be enough. If he wants to make his new life with lawyer Colby Maddox work, he’ll need to face the demons of his past and put them to rest once and for all.

Dividers

Review: I always seem to look at Cristian “Bello” Flesh as the tough, snarky guy, but he has a lot of issues and demons that he’s dealt with all of his life. While he faces and fights his demons, we see him becoming a more emotional and caring person toward Victor, the homeless kids, and with the deaths of friends. We see him come face-to-face with his family, and confront his past. Most of all, I think he comes to realize how much he does love Colby.

Colby “Big Guy” Maddox is still very protective of Cristian, and little by little they work together and chip away at Cristian’s rules. Colby has so much love, patience and understanding for Cristian. Colby is in this relationship, no matter what. I couldn’t have been more in agreement when Colby left the law firm; he should have done it sooner. Cristian has always been supportive of Colby opening his own law firm.

There’s also some new characters, FBI agent Drew Bradley and Jed Harper, a homeless kid. I hope Jed Harper gets a story of his own to see how the ranch is working out.

I like the tone Ethan Stone in Flesh and Blood. It may have been a risk, but I think it turned out well. There was crime, court trials and justice prevailing, and humor, but more so, this was a story about Cristian and Colby’s decisions about their own personal lives and their life together. There also are two blurbs at the end of this story for books 3 and 4. I sort of wish they hadn’t been there because one of them surprised me. I hate spoilers, so I am not going to tell!

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You can buy Flesh & Blood here:

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

Review: Violated by Jamie Fessenden

Title: Violated

Author: Jamie Fessenden

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count:  256 Pages

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

Reviewed By: Taz

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

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

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

Dividers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You can buy Violated here:

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

Review: What No One Else Can Hear by Brynn Stein

Title: What No One Else Can Hear

Author: Brynn Stein

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count:  220 Pages

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

Reviewed By: Taz

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

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

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

Dividers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You can buy What No One Else Can Hear here:

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3 Stars, DSP Publications, Literary Fiction, Reviewed By JJ, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Yeyu

Review: The Relics of Gods by Yeyu

Title: The Relics of Gods

Author: Yeyu

Length: 350 Pages

Publisher: DSP Publications

At a GlanceOverall, reading this book was a pleasant experience.

Reviewed By: Johanis

Blurb: What is worse: Being so broke you can barely afford food, getting hired for dangerous missions way out of your league, suffocating under mountains of unanswered questions—or wanting to sexually dominate someone who can kill you without lifting a finger?

Lu Delong is a mercenary who evaluates antiques most of the time and deals with the paranormal on rare occasions—even though it’s supposed to be the other way around. When he joins a dangerous quest for an ancient artifact, he meets and becomes strongly attracted to a mysterious and powerful immortal named Cangji. Despite his friends’ warnings and Cangji’s icy, unsociable demeanor, Delong is unable to resist befriending him. However, Cangji is deeply involved in a matter beyond mortals, and Delong is drawn into a chaotic struggle by both visible and invisible forces.

Always the pacifist who wanted to live a simple human life, Delong never imagined he’d end up involved in a conflict that will affect everything from the lowest insects on earth to the highest gods in heaven.

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Review: Lu Delong, an ordinary man with some magical training, joins a mission in search for special artifacts.  Though Delong doesn’t know the reason for the mission and why the artifacts are so important, he goes along and does his best to assist. At the beginning of the quest, Delong meets a man who appears to be a god named Cangji. Delong is immediately taken by the beautiful but reclusive man. Though Cangji will not speak a word to him at first, the two grow closer with each passing battle with ghosts, creatures, and gods. Cangji saves Delong on numerous occasions, which leads Delong to believe that Cangji might have feelings for him. Meanwhile, parts of the mystery surrounding the relics are uncovered, but the mission continues. Toward the end of the book Delong realizes that despite Cangji appearing untouchable, he may just have a chance with him.

The Relics of Gods is filled with adventure but revolves around a love interest. If it were not for the sex scene, which involves dubious consent, I imagine this book would be great for the Young Adult crowd. Though I found the dense world building and myth explanations difficult to follow, Cangji’s character was very sexy and appealing. I really liked the idea of a dominant man sexually pursuing a dangerous immortal who is quiet, threatening, and the least likely being to submit sexually. I enjoyed the interactions between Delong and Cangji, but I would have preferred more communication between them. Following the dubious consent scene, I was left wondering where the couple stood. Then, when the book ended, I was a bit surprised.  I felt like there was so much left unresolved in their relationship, and I really wanted to know how things worked out between them.

Overall, reading this book was a pleasant experience.

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You can buy The Relics of the Gods here:

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5 Stars, Carole Cummings, DSP Publications, Literary Fiction, Mystery/Suspense/Action Thriller, Reviewed by Lisa, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Steampunk

Review: Blue on Black by Carole Cummings

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Title: Blue on Black

Author: Carole Cummings

Publisher: DSP Publications

Pages/Word Count: 380 Pages

At a Glance: Blue on Black is an alternate universe, twisted history, sci-fi/fantasy/steampunkish feast for the imagination and senses.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Kimolijah Adani—Class 2 gridTech, beloved brother, most promising student the Academy’s ever had the privilege of calling their own, genius mechanical gridstream engineer, brilliantly pioneering inventor… and dead man. But that’s what happens when a whiz kid messes with dynamic crystals and, apparently, comes to the attention of Baron Petra Stanslo. Killed for his revolutionary designs, Kimolijah Adani had been set to change the world with his impossible train that runs on nothing more than gridstream locked in a crystal. Technically it shouldn’t even be possible, but there is no doubt it works.

Bas is convinced the notoriously covetous and corrupt Stanslo had something to do with Kimolijah Adani’s tragic and suspicious end. A Directorate Tracker, Bas has finally managed to catch the scent of Kimolijah Adani’s killer, and it leads right into Stanslo’s little desert barony. For almost three years, Bas has tried to find a way into Stanslo’s Bridge, and when he finally makes it, shock is too small a word for what—or, rather, whom—he finds there.

Dividers

Review: If ever there was a book written that deserves to be an illustrated novel, it’s Carole Cummings’ Blue on Black, an alternate universe, twisted history, sci-fi/fantasy/steampunkish feast for the imagination and senses that sends readers on a synesthetic journey to an Old West-like place that, had it ever existed in reality, would have changed our own world dramatically.

Blue on Black is a story that’s not so much woven together from beginning to end as it is deconstructed and put back together again. What I mean by that is the plot and characters, and how they relate to each other, are constructed of a series of knots at the outset that must be untangled in order for us to see the “big picture” resolve itself in the end. Everything in this novel is layered—the colors, the characters, the setting, the Tech, the grandiose scheme which has brought the outlier Stanslo’s Bridge and its robber baron, Petra Stanslo, to the attention of the Directorate—with a subtlety that makes you look just that little bit deeper to make sure you don’t miss a thing. Who are enemies, who are allies, and who is simply looking out for number one? When does servitude represent freedom and freedom, servitude? It’s a web we’re snared in from the start, and we must decipher it right along with our intrepid hero.

Stanslo is both the Pandora’s Box and the Prometheus in the novel, dictator of a place where life often means death, where language is mind control, where double-think and its controlled insanity is delivered with a feral grin. Stanslo has opened up his twisted mind and spilled out an insane amount of narcissism upon his world, using people as leverage to oppress and fear to motivate them to carry out his plans, leaving the reader wondering where is their hope. He is predator and scavenger, exploiter and extortionist, both law and lawlessness, and he has stolen the spark (a spark he’s having trouble harnessing, by the way) necessary to unleash a technology upon humankind that humankind will not appreciate. Rather than a tool of progress, the technology in this novel is the agent of greed and lust and evil, and there seems to be no way to stop Stanslo before his delusions of grandeur give free reign to unchecked horror.

This is where Bartholomew Eisen becomes integral to the story. Bas is a Grade 3 Tracker with the Directorate of the Consolidated Territories, which is a fancy way of saying he can not only sense Tech but can taste its colors, and by taste, can tell what sort of Tech a man or woman possesses. He’s been assigned to track a missing weatherTech, a case which ends up intersecting with another, a murder case he’s been investigating involving one of the most promising minds in gridTech ever to be born, Kimolijah Adani, and Kimolijah’s father Ajamil. And this is how Bas ends up in Stanslo’s Bridge posing as a gunslinger called Jakob Barstow.

Narrated with no small amount of sarcasm and tongue-in-cheek humor, not to mention a flair that invokes comic book storytelling, Blue on Black is motion and movement in not only in its crafting but in the very magic of its Tech. Kimo’s power is all about the kinetic energy that flows through and from him, which draws all manner of attention to him, not to mention attracts the bad to him like a negative to a positive charge. “Everything that leaks from the Bruise goes after gridstream,” and poor Kimo is the target of the worst of it.

The Bruise itself is a place, a contusion in the skin of this world from which mutant beasts escape, a place where Nature has been made wild and toxic, a foe of the humans who, in all its karmic glory, are the ones guilty of corrupting it in the first place. It is the place that has offered Stanslo the means to control and the method to compel his madness and incite his avarice, jealousy, suspicion, and obsession with his most prized possession, playing god in his own little corner of hell. But, as with all oppressors, a day of reckoning awaits, and it’s one of the book’s greatest and most satisfying ironies when it happens.

There is action and suspense and danger between the covers of this novel, and while there is something building between Bas and Kimo amidst the destruction, Blue on Black is not a love story, though it is the story of two men who don’t know they’re falling into something that could be love, and doing it quite humorously, I might add. Really, how could they know, though, when one of them is in denial of his feelings, and the other is so full of anger and distrust that there isn’t much room for anything else? You’ve heard the idiom about someone having a burr under his saddle (or in other ::ahem:: delicate areas)? Well, the burrs in this book aren’t figurative, they are literal, and they play far too significant a role in Kimo’s life for him not to be more than a bit prickly. Plus, it’s hard to know love in the presence of fear, and it’s also rather difficult to recognize it when fear and love present some of the same physical symptoms—another lovely irony that.

Blue on Black is yet another outstanding novel by this author. I have had the pleasure of reading all her published work to date and can say without reservation that each of her books is an experience that may make you think a little harder, but the payoff in the end is always well worth the journey.

When you’re in the mood for an Alt U, Sci-Fi, Action/Adventure trip into an (un)reality of (un)imaginably fantastic proportions, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Blue on Black.

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You can buy Blue on Black here:

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10264965_252539888266926_3416999939270236877_nCarole lives with her husband and family in Pennsylvania, USA, where she spends her time trying to find time to write. Recipient of various amateur writing awards, several of her short stories have been translated into Spanish, German, Chinese and Polish.

Author of the Aisling and Wolf’s-own series, Carole is currently in the process of developing several other works, including more short stories than anyone will ever want to read, and novels that turn into series when she’s not looking.

Carole is an avid reader of just about anything that’s written well and has good characters. She is a lifelong writer of the ‘movies’ that run constantly in her head. Surprisingly, she does manage sleep in there somewhere, and though she is rumored to live on coffee and Pixy Stix™, no one has as yet suggested she might be more comfortable in a padded room.

…Well. Not to her face.

Carole is a Rainbow Con 2015 Attending Author

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2 Stars, Kokoro Press, Literary Fiction, R.P. Andrews, Reviewed By Carrie

Review: The Czar of Wilton Drive by RP Andrews

Title: The Czar of Wilton Drive: A Novel of Self-Discovery, Betrayal and Deceit

Author: RP Andrews

Publisher: Kokoro Press

Pages/Word Count: 152 Pages

At a Glance: I can’t say I’d recommend this book. The lack of any kind of moral compass – for any of the characters – was just too much for me.

Reviewed By: Carrie

Blurb: The new boss is in…

In the course of minutes, twenty-one year old Jonathan Antonucci, barely out of the closet gay man from suburban New York, finds himself a multi-millionaire. His great uncle Charlie has unexpectedly died of a heart attack, leaving Jon the sole owner of several of the most successful bars in Wilton Manors, Ft. Lauderdale’s gay ghetto.

Flying down to Lauderdale to claim his bequest, Jon encounters Uncle Charlie’s dubious friends and business associates, and is immediately drawn into Lauderdale’s scene of unbridled sex and heavy drugs. He also discovers his great uncle’s memoirs which reveal truths not only about Jon’s own past but also what may have really happened to his uncle. In the end, Jon is torn between avenging Uncle Charlie’s death or loving the very man responsible for it.

Dividers

Review: The Czar of Wilton Drive is a book within a book. The main character, Jon, inherits a fortune, a BMW, and two leather bars in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Jon is introduced as a twenty-one year old virgin of everything: of both life and love. When looking through his great uncles things, he discovers an online diary of the man’s life. This is where the story becomes a book within a book—we get to read the entire diary.

I have to say, this book was not a good one for me. It is billed as a mystery, but what it is, is a bald look at what the gay lifestyle was like in the 60, 70s, and 80s. If the author wanted to write a documentary on the lack of values and consciousness of the gay evolution, I feel it should have been billed as such. The drug use, unprotected sex at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and amoral choices of the main characters was hard to read.

We hope that Jon will read his uncle’s narcissistic life story, and make better choices with his life. Instead, he embraces the same drug use, unprotected sex, and poor choices. Heck, he even chooses to become the partner (in every way) of the drug lord who got his uncle hooked on the product that eventually killed him. Really! This is hard to read, as you want Jon to grow, mature, do something good with all that life has given to him…but he just doesn’t.

So, I can’t say I’d recommend this book. The lack of any kind of moral compass – for any of the characters – was just too much for me.

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You can buy The Czar of Wilton Drive here:

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5 Stars, A.J. Marcus, DSP Publications, Literary Fiction, Mystery/Suspense/Action Thriller, Reviewed by Maryann

Review: Grizzly Discovery by A.J. Marcus

Title: Grizzly Discovery (Mountain Spirit Mystery: Book Two)

Author: A.J. Marcus

Publisher: DSP Publications

Pages/Word Count: 200 Pages

At a Glance: I highly recommend Eagle’s Blood and Grizzly Discovery, especially if you are an animal lover.

Reviewed By: Maryann

Blurb: Landon Weir and Brock Summers are happily settling into their life as a couple, easily balancing Landon’s work as an animal rehabber with Brock’s career as a Colorado Parks and Wildlife Officer. When they find a bear shot and skinned, they set out to discover who’s behind the heinous act.

Events force Brock to come out to his boss, causing him and Landon to rethink how public they want to make their relationship. As more bear sightings – and more carcasses – show up in the area, Brock is attacked by a black bear he’s trying to release back into the wild, but his injuries don’t prevent him from helping Landon and their friends with the investigation. Despite leads being thin on the ground, the two men try to uncover the poachers before more bears are killed. But when the evidence points them in an unexpected direction, Teller County’s bear population may not be all the killers have in their sights.

Dividers

Review: Brock Summers is a wildlife officer working for the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. He gives his all to a job that he loves.

Landon Weir is a local wildlife rehabber, and he runs Mountain Spirit Wildlife Rehab, with recovery pens on twenty acres of land. He also gives his all to a job that he loves. Most of all Brock and Landon are true soul mates, and they give one-hundred percent to each other. Brock has just recently moved in with Landon, but not everyone is aware of their personal connection. Brock doesn’t want to lie, but is he ready to admit to his relationship with Landon.

Both Brock and Landon share a special bond with the eagle, Frigga, and Brock spends a lot of his time rescuing and relocating animals and dealing with poachers. Whenever an animal is injured, Brock takes them to Landon, who tries his best to rehabilitate them so they can be released back into the wilderness. Animals that are injured to the point they can’t go back into the wild he keeps or sends them to specialized rehabbers. The ones that he does keep, he uses for educational purposes at events where he introduces them to people. He educates people on what happens when the animal cannot go back to their habitat because of injuries that are caused by humans. In a day’s work, Brock and Landon could be dealing with lynx, moose, osprey, deer, eagles, raccoons, kestrels, elk and bears.

Carl Matz has come to town and wants to meet with Brock and Landon. He is doing research on the bear population in different counties by setting up eight-foot poles with game cameras on them. They discover a carcass of a bear that looks strange to Landon. Landon calls Brock, but it would take him some time to get to Landon. Once Brock and Dara show up, they conduct their investigation and take the carcass with them. Even checking out the photo files doesn’t give Brock and Landon any information. Brock seeks permission from his Captain to have the carcass taken to Dr. Angela Lanstrom at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo to perform a necropsy.

Even with everything that’s going on, Brock has made time to give Landon an amazing surprise. When the time comes for Brock and Landon to get back to work, things get crazy. Brock facing a dangerous bear release, too many dead bears, and a human. What’s the answer to all the bear killings, and who is in danger next?

In 2014 I read Eagle’s Blood, the first book in this series and re-read it to refresh my memory before tackling Grizzly Discovery, and I have to say both books are amazing and informative. A.J. Marcus shares so much knowledge in Eagle’s Blood about birds (of course, he is a falconer). In Grizzly Discovery, you’ll find Brock, Landon, Dara, Bear and Frigga, but most of all, A.J. Marcus shares knowledge about different animals in the wilderness. Both of these stories show how greedy people can be. Land is not the only thing taken away from the wildlife; they are killed for their pelts and body parts too. I highly recommend both of these books, especially if you are an animal lover.

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3.5 Stars, Connie Bailey, DSP Publications, Literary Fiction, Reviewed By Carrie, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: The Bastard’s Pearl by Connie Bailey

Title: The Bastard’s Pearl

Author: Connie Bailey

Publisher: DSP Publications

Pages/Word Count: 324 Pages

At a Glance: The Bastard’s Pearl is a rather difficult read at times, and sometimes Sheyn is a difficult man to like, or even tolerate.

Reviewed By: Carrie

Blurb: When Sheyn, a headstrong young aristocrat, disobeys his parents and travels to the far east, he passes through Kandaar, an isolated country of strange customs. He is abducted, transformed by a mysterious ritual, and sold to a barbarian king as a pleasure slave. When the king is killed by Kashyan the Bastard, dispossessed prince of Clan Savaan, Sheyn becomes Kashyan’s possession.

The Bastard expects Sheyn—now called Pearl—to behave as an obedient pleasure slave, but compliance is not in Sheyn’s nature. Nor does Sheyn’s ordeal stop at being held captive by people he considers savages. The Red Temple covets Sheyn as a living gateway to the demon realm and plans to use him to summon the God of Death.

Kashyan loathes Sheyn, and Sheyn despises Kashyan, but when the Red Temple kidnaps Sheyn, honor compels Kashyan to rescue his slave, and he starts a war in the process. If they hope to stop the Red Monks from bringing hell to earth, Sheyn will have to accept Kashyan is more than an uncivilized brute, and Kashyan will have to admit there’s more to his Pearl than a pretty, arrogant exterior.

Dividers

Review: The Bastard’s Pearl is the story of Sheyn and Kashyan, one a spoiled aristocrat prince and one a bastard prince. It’s the story of a caustic, self-righteous prince made low, and an honorable, decent man receiving the recognition and hard won power he deserves.

We enter a land made by gods, who then fought and divided that land, and so, the people who live there as well. Sheyn is kidnapped from his philosophically forward country and brought to the backwards land of Kandaar, where he is transformed into a pleasure slave, or daaksi, and meets Kashyn, who is his one true mate. Their worlds clash and collide as they attempt to understand one another and the customs and ways of which they have each been taught. In the end, they each learn the value of service and devotion over self and love of country over all.

Connie Bailey has created a complicated mythical world in which these two men meet and ultimately, fall in love. It’s a rather difficult read at times, keeping up with all the words and new language vocabulary. Sheyn is a difficult man to like, or even tolerate, at times as his sarcasm and pretentiousness can be off-putting. In the end the gods are happy, the men receive their HEA and their respective countries become allies, so if you are a fan of mythical worlds and fantasy, then this book would be a good read for you. If you are not a fan of sarcasm, then I would pass this one by.

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5 Stars, DSP Publications, Literary Fiction, Reviewed by Jennifer, Yeyu

Review: Erasing Shame by Yeyu

Title: Erasing Shame

Author: Yeyu

Publisher: DSP Publications

Pages/Word Count: 350 Pages

At a Glance: This book will rip your heart out and stomp all over it.

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: The son of a Han traitor who had let the Xianbei Mongols invade the borders, Jiang Shicai swears to restore his family’s honor, hoping to better the Hans’ lives through peaceful means. He believes violence is never the answer, but to gain respect, he finds himself fighting for the Xianbei.

Ten years later, an annoying but handsome playboy, DuguXuechi, arrives as the incompetent new military inspector of Shicai’s region. Shameless, irresponsible, and obnoxious, Xuechi tests Shicai’s patience almost every second. Despite their mutual dislike, Shicai finds himself drawn to the capricious man, especially when he sees the resemblance between Xuechi and his deceased best friend. Yet Xuechi’s self-destructive behavior and refusal to accept help require attention that distracts Shicai from his goal for peace–and it doesn’t help that Xuechi is Shicai’s strongest political opposition. Haunted by a childhood promise he never had the chance to fulfill, Shicai must choose between his feelings and his values.

Dividers

Review: YOU THERE. HALT. RIGHT THERE. If you, like me, are a person who absolutely MUST have a happy-ever-after, or at least a very strong happy-for-now, STOP. Seriously, think twice about this book. I am not saying you shouldn’t read it, because the book is phenomenal and beautiful, but really, think twice about the amount of pain you’re going to be in. I might never recover from this. I sobbed buckets of tears through this story, and my heart hurt so much I thought it was going to burst.

No, I’m not being dramatic.

And yes, I still loved it.

When I requested this book for review, I thought it sounded amazing. What I didn’t notice was the nice little Bittersweet Dreams notification. Yeah. You know what that means if you’ve read from Dreamspinner Press before. But no. I was a fool and didn’t notice that. So, I simultaneously regret reading this book, and do not regret it. How confusing is that? Bear with me.

Despite being seriously upset at Yeyu for stomping all over my heart, the author is incredible. The alternate history Chinese world she has written is so complex and detailed. It is clear how passionate she is about the story she has written, and she does the culture complete justice, even though it’s a combination of several dynasties. I read through the notes at the beginning, and there are even endnotes throughout the book that I was happy to click on with my Kindle Fire. That made the story that much more richly detailed for me. What can I say, I’m a footnote/endnote nerd. Despite having a difficult time with pronouncing names and things, I tried, but sometimes gave up. I think the only name I really got the hang of was Shicai.

Content wise, there is some dubious consent/rape later in the book, so be mindful of that if you have triggers. There are many aspects of the book that are painful to read, though, and that is just one, but I know some people have a big problem with it, so I thought it was fair warning. Though, given the world and time period, I wasn’t surprised when it popped up.

The characters in Erasing Shame are rich and fully developed. Both Xuechi and Shicai are headstrong and will stop at nothing to achieve their goals, and that is what is both their strong point and their downfall. Shicai made a promise when he was younger, and he failed to live up to the promise as most children do, though it’s not through any fault of his own. As a result, he is a driven young man who will do what is necessary to regain his family’s honor and fix his land. Meanwhile, there is Xuechi, who is at first completely irritating and abhorrent in his behavior to both readers and Shicai, but manages to worm his way into your heart. It is clear that he is damaged and wearing masks to hide from everyone, and all is not as it appears to be.

Unfortunately, love doesn’t always win. It’s just not realistic. Not every story has a happy ending, and this novel is a bitter reminder of that. As much as it pained me to read to the end, I appreciate the author for keeping the book so realistic. I know I demand happy endings in my books because life is often painful enough, but not all characters can have the fairy tale ending, especially in a world as torn as the one Yeyu has created. And for that reason, Shicai and Xuechi are perhaps more human than any characters I’ve ever read before. They strive to succeed and they fail, reminding readers that not everything will work out despite how hard we try, and we are not the only ones who have had it happen. Given the struggles these characters face, it really put my own problems in perspective, and for that I was grateful.

If you decide to read this book, you might want to keep some light, fluffy romances around to read immediately after. And you might want to stock up on a few boxes of tissues as well. Will I read another book by this author again? Absolutely. Because her beautiful writing is totally worth the pain.

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4 Stars, Evernight Publishing, J.R. Gray, Literary Fiction, Reviewed by Lisa

Review: Veil of Scars by J.R. Gray

Title: Veil of Scars

Author: J.R. Gray

Publisher: Evernight Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 100 Pages

At a Glance: Veil of Scars is a single sitting read, compelling and well told.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Steven is tall, dark, and damaged. He doesn’t let anyone close, comfortable on the outside of normal life where he can hide his scars behind a wall so high that nothing gets through…except them. Despite a childhood marred with black and blue, he’s survived and moved in with his two best friends, Sam and Charlie.

Life should get better, but it was Sam who held him when the dark threatened to swallow him whole, Sam who gave him a place that felt like home, and Sam who knew every scar and every broken place.

And it’s all been taken away with Charlie sharing Sam’s bed.

Without his former comfort, Steven realizes what’s been hiding in the deep corners of his heart, and the truth sinks him like a weight. He’s in love with one or maybe both of his roommates. Navigating unrequited love tears Steven apart and brings him to the precipice, and he has to choose: his feelings or Sam’s…and Charlie’s?

Dividers

Review: Eighteen-year-old Harvard freshman, Steven, is a character who reads like a man standing on the outside always looking in on life. And it seems, sometimes, he prefers it that way. Surviving a childhood marred by a physically abusive father has left him with not only trust issues but an inability to allow anyone, save for his roommates and best friends, Sam and Charlie, close to him in any sort of meaningful way.

Veil of Scars, as it turns out, is the perfect title for this short novel, as it’s the psychological scars Steven brought forward into adulthood that served not only to construct and solidify his close bond with Sam but prevented him from understanding what it is about himself that feels wrong and keeps him on the fringes of a deeper connection with anyone, a connection such as the one Sam and Charlie have with each other. Steven is searching for an elusive sense of “normalcy”, and is trying, with a sense of both desperation and defeat, to find a label that fits his lack of physical desire as aptly as “introvert” describes his personality.

The emotional connection J.R. Gray constructs for readers throughout this story is in Steven’s struggle to understand and then accept he’s in love with Sam, even when he knows Sam’s very much in love with Charlie and can never be more than a friend. The greater design in the construct, however, is Steven’s certainty he’s in some way wired wrong because within his id, the emotional concepts of love and physical desire don’t go hand-in-hand. He works to come to terms with his love for Sam, but it’s the sexual part of the equation that leaves him confused and combing the internet in search of a label that fits him, one which also shows him that somewhere he fits in.

Gray layers Steven’s pain and sadness in a pattern of horrific childhood memories, confusion, guilt, and ultimately, the realization his love for Sam may come at an awful price. He could lose Sam or Charlie, more likely both, and no matter his feelings, those are outcomes he isn’t willing to risk. The substance of this story exists in the understanding that sexuality and gender aren’t a black and white binary, that love and sex are sometimes mutually exclusive, and that as abnormal as Steven believes he is, he isn’t. In the end, and perhaps most importantly, there is the realization that love and relationships of all shapes and sizes take patience and work, and there are no clear cut answers to the myriad opaque questions raised within this story nor in life.

Veil of Scars is a single sitting read, compelling and well told, which delves into the complex and complicated realms of sexuality in an honest and touching way.

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3.5 Stars, Liam Livings, Literary Fiction, Manifold Press, Reviewed by Sadonna

Review: Escaping from Him by Liam Livings

Title: Escaping from Him

Author: Liam Livings

Publisher: Manifold Press

Pages/Word Count: 148 Pages

At a Glance: A story of liberation and transformation that had me cheering on Ford and his family of choice.

Reviewed By: Sadonna

Blurb: Darryl’s on the run – from controlling boyfriend Chris, an air-conditioner called Dave (deceased), an intolerable, claustrophobic situation and a person he just can’t be any more. The trouble is, he doesn’t have a plan – or any money – and all he knows is he needs to get away from everything. That’s where a lucky lift to Glasgow comes in, which turns out to be just the beginning of a whole new life …

Dividers

Review: This is a pretty new to me author, as I’ve only read one short story of his in an anthology prior to this book. I enjoyed that story so thought I’d give this longer volume a try.

Darryl has been living with Chris, a much older boyfriend, in London. Chris found Darryl when he was quite young and slightly desperately in need of some love. He’d grown up in foster care, and met Chris at age sixteen. When Chris asked Darryl to move in, he figured he’d hit the jackpot. But after four years of increasingly controlling behavior from Chris, Darryl is about to crack. Finally, he can’t take it anymore, after one more suggestion from Chris that he shouldn’t waste his time with art but should instead get a job a KFC. Darryl has had enough, and he goes a little bit crazy before he finally takes off.

As luck would have it, he manages to get a ride to Glasgow with Douggie, a truck driver on his way home. Douggie seems a genuine sort, and keeps Ford (as Darryl has now decided to call himself so that Chris can’t find him) entertained on the trip. Once in Glasgow, a serendipitous encounter with Douggie’s wife leads to a potential job as a photographer’s assistant, which is exactly what Ford has been looking for. It turns out that Ewan is a good guy and a good boss.

Finally Ford, with the encouragement of Lena, the one friend from London he is in touch with, decides he can’t stand one more Saturday night in his rented room alone. He goes out to a club and meets Charlie. Charlie is older and he would like to be with Ford, but Ford’s having none of it. He’s taking a break from relationships, or anything else. Charlie seems to accept that and introduces Ford to his band of friends. They are quite the eclectic crew – a drag queen, a florist and his boyfriend (both called Gavin), and other assorted hangers on. They become Ford’s Glasgow family.

Eventually, Ford meets Callum, an aspiring actor, when he comes into the photography studio for some new headshots. They begin dating and things get pretty serious. Neither is making a lot of money, but they are getting by, and their lives are going well on the jobs front. Lena comes to visit from London, and she’s satisfied that Ford is doing okay. There are some tense moments with Charlie, who isn’t necessarily happy to give up on Ford. Lena also gets tired of travelling to Glasgow, but Ford is unwilling to go back to London.

I don’t what to spoil the rest of the story, but eventually Ford has to face going to London, and possibly face his past as well. Callum and Lena are wonderfully supportive friends. The Glasgow family has Ford’s back as well, and it seems that Ford has finally come into this own.

I enjoyed this story quite a bit – from Ford’s meltdown, to his naïve rushing off to Glasgow, to his finally standing up for himself with Charlie. He really learns a lot about life and himself in the course of this story. He learns what love really means and what it doesn’t. I liked that he figures out that self-reliance and taking control of his own destiny still leaves room for someone else in his life, even if it isn’t always easy. Yes, things work out surprisingly easy for him, in that he lands pretty softly in Glasgow after a very shaky start, but some people are just lucky ;) I liked Ford’s voice in this story and look forward to reading more from this author.






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3 Stars, Driven Press, Literary Fiction, Reviewed by Lisa, Rodd Clark

Review: Rubble and the Wreckage by Rodd Clark

Title: Rubble and the Wreckage (A Gabriel Church Tale: Book One)

Author: Rodd Clark

Publisher: Driven Press

Pages/Word Count: 254 Pages

At a Glance: Not a bad story, but doesn’t live up to its fullest potential.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Gabriel Church knows you can’t take a life without first understanding just how feeble life is, how tentative and weak it stands alone. If you desire murder, you hold a life in your hand. Whether you release it to grant life or grip tighter to end it, it is at your command and discretion. Gabriel is a serial killer with a story he wants told.

Christian Maxwell studied abnormal psychology in college but chose instead to focus on a career in writing. His background comes in handy when he thinks of writing about a serial killer. He can’t think of anyone more qualified to write the story of Gabriel Lee Church, and do so in the murderer’s own words. It’s been done before, but never with a killer who has yet to be captured or convicted.

There was never anything more than a gentleman’s understanding between the two men that Christian would record Gabriel’s life story. The killer did not ask for his complicity in any crimes, nor did he ever ask for his silence. Christian’s interest in the man, though, is fast becoming something more than academic. When the writer and his subject become unexpected friends and then lovers, the question remains: What is Gabriel’s endgame . . . and why does he want his story told?

Dividers

Review: The mind and motives of a serial killer are rich soil from which an author may reap myriad plots. The killer, after all, is the ultimate antihero—immoral, unrepentant, an insane man skirting social norms while participating in the day-to-day lives of unsuspecting humans. This while he studies and bides his time, the predator awaiting a moment of inspiration and a viable opportunity to present itself so he may successfully cull an unwitting sheep from the herd of victims.

Abnormal psychology and atypical behavior are the norm in Rodd Clark’s Rubble and the Wreckage, a book with a fantastic premise and a wealth of suspense that should have been waiting to unfold within its pages. There are no definably sane characters found in this novel, other than the possibility of it being Gabriel Church’s victims, but amongst the living, they are each suffering from bouts of psychopathy, sociopathy, or simply display a disturbing penchant toward obsessive bouts of fantasy.

Christian Maxwell is the author who, through feats of investigative prowess and deductive reasoning, has discovered the identity of this book’s antagonist, Church, a prolific serial killer. There may be some suspension of disbelief required to accept Maxwell has done what neither local authorities nor the FBI have been able to accomplish; Church having admitted to committing some forty murders across state lines, yet eluding capture. Christian, however, tracks Gabriel Church down in Seattle and sets out to interview the man, thus hoping to collect enough material to pen the ultimate biographical account of a killer, in that killer’s own words, while he remains at large and unfettered by the legal system.

As is expected with a premise such as this, there are questions raised, the most significant perhaps being Christian’s legal and ethical obligation where Gabriel’s crimes and identity are concerned. This is addressed in a couple of ways—the first being Christian’s own admitted antisocial personality, which allows him the leeway to behave other than how we’d expect; though, to his credit, he does suffer pangs of doubt and conscience from time to time. The second is Church’s own charisma and magnetism to which Christian, who had up to then been portrayed as asexual, succumbs as the two men spend more time together. When the question of God comes into play during the interview process, the names Christian, Gabriel (man of God), and the obvious Church all play cleverly into the story’s plot as well, as the religious motif contrasts the ultra-secular behavior of these characters, also juxtaposing quite nicely Gabriel’s justification for doing what he does.

Of course, as Christian and Church delve into a sexual relationship, the chemistry and composition of the biographer/killer relationship changes as well, bringing along with it the expected complications and questions, the most complex being what sort of a future can these men possibly have together, regardless of whether or not Christian’s book is published? Will Gabriel quit killing for Christian, or will Christian deign to accept his lover is a mass murderer? This case in point provides for the greatest of conflicts and ultimately, would be the saboteur of any sort of relationship.

There is a lot to sink one’s mental chops into in this novel, much of which I enjoyed, but where I feel this book fails itself is in the execution. The third person omniscient narration offers a great deal of telling but not much showing throughout. All the murderous events being recounted in hindsight, told in third person rather than in the first in Gabriel’s own words, leaves the reader with the unfortunate byproduct of a peripheral view of the crime scenes. The result of this detached delivery, in what could have been a quite chilling narration, is no more effective in eliciting an emotional response to the events as they occurred than if one were reading a newspaper article about the crimes weeks, months, or years after they’d occurred—somewhat dry and rote.

Sadly, this same sense of detachment plagues the development of these characters and the relationship between Christian and Gabriel as well, again leaving the reader a spectator of the events as they’re being told rather than our being drawn into the privacy and intimacy of their growing bond by being made privy to more dialogue rather than an extensive narrative prose. This issue coupled with the apparent lack of a good solid editing to smooth transitions, eliminate grammatical errors, and do away with extraneous or repetitious content which neither advanced the plot nor further developed the characters were each a detriment to this novel’s delivery.

As the dénouement of Rubble and the Wreckage approaches, the snake in the tree of knowledge is introduced and becomes the metaphorical apple of temptation upon which Church feeds. This particular character appears every bit as atypical as either Church or Christian, fantasizing a meet-cute with Church, then displaying a stalker level of behavior which placed her dead-center on target as a convenient means of climactic catalyst for the two men. I must say this character felt more a caricature than a portent of conflict at times but did provide a viable means for the author to wind down to the end of this novel, and was also the perfect method for allowing Church to display his “Scorpion” nature to Christian’s “Frog”, which I enjoyed.

Rubble and the Wreckage is labeled the first book in the Gabriel Church series. As this book seems to have concluded quite decisively, I’m not sure where the next will go, but there’s a wealth of chills and horror which could be tapped into with this character. I can only say I hope it’s mined more effectively in the books to come. Overall, this wasn’t a bad novel, not by any stretch, but, as I see it, simply didn’t live up to its fullest potential.

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5 Stars, Chase Potter, Literary Fiction, Reviewed by Kathie, Self-Published

Review: Remember My Name by Chase Potter

Title: Remember My Name

Author: Chase Potter

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 265 Pages

At a Glance: Remember My Name is a story that shows a passion for love and family.

Reviewed By: Kathie

Blurb: Every action can have devastating consequences. For Jackson Roanoke, the greatest consequence of his parents’ divorce was watching his mother drive away with his twin brother Ben, putting thousands of miles between them.

Eight years later and with college looming, Jackson is tasked with reroofing his father’s house. After a tempting offer of help from a young man, Jackson finds himself caught up in a growing attraction he’s hesitant to embrace. But when his brother Ben reappears at the front door, Jackson is confronted by more than he’s prepared for.

Brought together by circumstance, the estranged brothers are forced to navigate a relationship that persists only in their memories. Marked by the heat of a Midwest summer and rolling wheat fields, the short months are punctuated by scattered moments of closeness between the two brothers, hinting at the possibility of rekindling the connection they once shared.

Dividers

Review: Weaving a story filled with passion, family, new love and rebuilding of old love is what I feel Chase Potter’s Remember My Name is about.

For seventeen years Jackson has had to navigate the waters of living with an abusive father, as well as the feeling he’s gay, but he’s afraid of those feelings. Acting on an attraction for the first time, the summer between his junior and senior year of high school, is where this story starts. Jackson isn’t sure if he will end up with a fist in his face or the feel of another man’s lips for the first time.

At the beginning of the book, we get hints that all is not right between Jackson and his Dad, Jeff. What I appreciated about this is that instead of simply making Jeff an abusive father, Potter allows Jeff to have good points too. Not everything he did was bad, just some things, and that’s life, isn’t it? Everything is not black and white, but what really drew me into this story were Jackson and his twin brother Ben.

The story moves along at a nice pace, each character growing and changing throughout the summer. I especially was drawn to reading about Jackson and what his limits were in a new relationship. The scenes between Matt and Jackson were raw and filled with painful emotion, and takes a turn when Ben and Jackson start dropping some of their defenses and tentatively start rebuilding their trust in each other. What did it take it to do that? I don’t want to ruin the story for you, but sleeping in the same bed (not like that) and talking to each other helped a lot. There is a happy ending for both Ben and Jackson, one that will last a lifetime.

Chase Potter, your stories show a passion for love and family, you write with texture and intelligence. Please go forth and write another. I will be waiting…






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5 Stars, Joseph Lance Tonlet, Literary Fiction, Reviewed by Lynn, Self-Published

Review: Brothers LaFon by Joseph Lance Tonlet

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Title: Brothers LaFon (Part One)

Author: Joseph Lance Tonlet

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 56 Pages

At a Glance: This is a strong beginning of a series.

Reviewed By: Lynn

Blurb: Alexander LaFon lives a nightmare, but he deals with it. Deals with the fact that his mother abandoned him as an infant, deals with the fact that his father is never home, and deals with the fact that his older brother, Jeremiah, tortures him.

He dreams of escaping his mobile-home prison and finding a normal life. Of breaking free of his agony, finding a woman to love, becoming a teacher.

But some horrors you can never outrun. There’s nowhere to hide. Some nightmares chase you in your sleep and steal your freedom like a brutal thief. Some brothers never give up and never answer why.

Dividers

Review: Wow, just wow. This is my first time reading this author and he’s got me hooked. I’m definitely going to be reading more from him in the future. This brotherly bond has to be, hands down, the most warped, heinous and blood curdling relationship I’ve ever read, and I loved every minute of it. I know, I’m warped, it’s okay.

In the stories I’ve read that have a twisted brother relationship, there has always been a reason to the question of ‘why?’ Why are they behaving this way? Why do they do the things they’re doing? With this one, however, there is no complex backstory or sympathetic yet unjustifiable reason offered for Miah’s sickening behavior towards his younger brother, Alex. At least in this first installment, anyway. Oh yeah, “I don’t like you” is the only response we get. Chilling.

The author makes you totally empathize with Alex by putting us in his shoes and his head while these traumatizing events are going on, feeling the emotions right along with him, the pain, the hurt and most of all the immense fear he feels around his brother. I just wanted to yank him out of the book to stop him from being hurt. He’s a gentle person who only wants to be loved and doesn’t understand his brother’s hatred towards him. But this is where my head goes while reading stories like this: what happened to make Miah into this monster? Was he born psychotic? Was he abused in some way early in life? Why does he need this control over Alex? We are privy to Miah’s thoughts too, and his lack of feelings for his brother is frightening. He gets pleasure from causing his brother pain, that much we know. What we don’t know are the whys. This leads me to think the author purposely left out any explanation to Miah’s behavior, and I’m okay with that. It’s a serial, there’s more to this story.

With this being such a short read, the author makes it seem like a novel. There’s so much story here. It starts out with them as adults and transports us back to when they were kids. I can tell you, it got my heart beating with fear for Alex because I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty; what it was is downright disturbing. We then come full circle to present day. Alex has severed ties with his brother, leaving for college right after high school, and never looking back. But Miah has set in motion a series of events that brings Alex to him. With an ending that had me screaming for Alex to run, I can only imagine what the author has planned for these two. I await anxiously for part two.

Now, as I read in the acknowledgements, I see the author lists Kol Anderson as one of his inspirations. I’ve read all of Mr. Anderson’s books and can see his influence in this story. The similarities I’ve picked up on are how both authors make you have a love/hate relationship with the bad guy. For me, there is always a reason as to why a person becomes who they are. My hope is that Mr. Tonlet give us some kind of resolution behind Miah’s actions towards his brother. Will it condone his behavior, absolutely not. But I believe it’ll make us understand the why of it.

This is a strong beginning of a series. The author does a great job of whetting the reader’s appetite and left me wanting more. I know this isn’t going to be for everyone, but for those like me who love a dark, gritty read, don’t miss out. Read. This. Now.

I will give a warning here, this isn’t for the faint of heart or those with triggers. There’s physical abuse, animal abuse/killing, incest and dub-con sex.






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4.5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Joe Cosentino, Literary Fiction, Reviewed by Lisa

Review: An Infatuation by Joe Cosentino

Title: An Infatuation

Author: Joe Cosentino

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 103 Pages

At a Glance: An Infatuation is a sweet and simple tale with a nontraditional happy ending, one that will break your heart and make you smile in spite of it.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: With his ten-year high school reunion approaching, Harold wonders whether Mario will be as muscular, sexy, and tantalizing as he remembers. As a teenager, it was love at first sight for Harold while tutoring football star Mario, until homophobia and bullying drove Mario deep into the closet. Now they’re both married men. Mario, a model, is miserable with his producer wife, while Harold, a teacher, is perfectly content with his businessman husband, Stuart. When the two meet again, will the old flame reignite, setting Harold’s comfortable life ablaze? How can Harold be happy with Stuart when he is still infatuated with his Adonis, his first love, Mario? Harold faces this seemingly impossible situation with inimitable wit, tenderness, and humor as he attempts to reconcile the past and the future.

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

Dividers

Review: Joe Cosentino proves there’s more than one way to a happy ending in An Infatuation, a story of first love and heartbreak delivered in a fresh and funny voice.

Harold High gets the chance of a teenage lifetime when he’s asked to tutor football hunk Mario Ginetti, but before you go about thinking this is yet another nerd/jock high school romance, let me assure you it’s not. Harold’s teaching methods and Mario’s endearing obtuseness add a layer of charm to this already humorous, if not unlikely relationship, and watching the equally unlikely friendship that grows between the two boys was poignant in its inevitable conclusion.

Told in flashbacks, Harold is now a happily married man, whose husband, Stuart, plays along in the telling of this tale, acting as sidekick to both Harold and the reader. The author’s method of delivering Stuart’s choicest lines was an original twist to the narrative, and I couldn’t help but love it because in only a few words, Cosentino brings Stuart to the fore of the plot in spite of his not appearing throughout much of the story, giving readers the opportunity to connect with him and sense not only the devotion he feels for his husband but the security of their marriage as well.

Where the author sets up the tragedy of An Infatuation is through Mario. Mario is the stereotype: he’s the loveable dumb jock with the overbearing father, who can’t be gay, who can’t possibly fall for a guy like Harold. He’s the boy who has to date the cheerleader and marry her and have the white picket fence and 2.2 kids in order to comply with the status quo. And it’s through Mario that we see the contrast between what his life becomes—a life of denial—and where Harold has ended up—living a fulfilled life with a wonderful man, even though he’s never forgotten his first love.

The anticipation builds toward Harold and Mario’s reunion, ten years after their high school graduation, and their meeting evolves in a will they/won’t they moment of truth. There is a sadness that plays out in the different paths their lives have taken, one that culminates in the unexpected and bittersweet ending this story’s blurb promises. Joe Cosentino delivers it at just the right moment and in the most touching of ways, proving sometimes there are no second chance at first love. And yes, there were tears, and yes, they were earned through skillful manipulation on the author’s part, making us care for these characters and investing in them and their story.

An Infatuation is a sweet and simple tale with a nontraditional happy ending, one that will break your heart and make you smile in spite of it.






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5 Stars, James Oliver French, Kaituhi Press, Literary Fiction, Reviewed by Lynn, Tragic Romance

Review: Return to Me by James Oliver French

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Title: Return to Me

Author: James Oliver French

Publisher: Kaituhi Press

Pages/Word Count: 326 Pages

At a Glance: A powerful, off the grid and fascinating read

Blurb: What would you do if the man you loved vanished without a trace?

Kyle and Todd meet at a party in their freshman year at college. They fall in lust at first sight, then deep in love. In spite of Kyle’s melancholy past, their future together looks bright. Then Kyle disappears, leaving Todd heartbroken and alone, and their dreams in ruins. Fifteen years later, Todd is a successful but lonely psychiatrist. He still hasn’t come to terms with the loss of his first love. When a dangerous amnesiac arrives at the hospital, Todd is forced to confront the past, and is driven to find answers to the questions that have haunted him all these years.

Return to Me is a tragic love story that stands out in a genre dominated by M/M romance. It’s a story about love, loss, heartache, acceptance, and hope that will stay with you long after you’ve reached the end.

Dividers

Review: Wow, this story was an amazing read. I had expectations when I started the book but set them aside, one by one, the deeper I read. The complex inner workings of Todd, the main character, is the true focus of the story and kept me fascinated. We see him meet a man while they are both in college, and their relationship blossoms quickly. Still, this is not your typical romance. The author goes places I did not expect, which I appreciate. And there is neither a HEA, nor does it have a HFN. Just putting that out there. You’ve been warned.

I’m not one for insta-love, but when Todd and Kyle meet as freshman, it just felt right. All the pieces fell into place and they just clicked. This could have been cheesy or rushed, yet it was smooth, sweet and hopeful. The author’s portrayal of first time love was spot on. As a reader I was definitely feeling the deep connection with these two. I wanted nothing but the best for Kyle and Todd. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.

As quick as it starts, everything stops. We know from the blurb that Kyle vanishes. He’s nowhere to be found, and his estranged family is no help either. Todd’s pain is palpable. I felt the anguish, the desperation, the feeling of helplessness, and it was heartbreaking to read. The author did a great job bringing these emotions from the page right to your gut. The same attention to detail, the same finesse seen when the pair fell in love is now used here, making everything so real and believable. Todd’s frame of mind while torturing himself by rehashing his last moments with Kyle, and how none of it makes any sense, will stay with me for a while.

I loved how the author broke this story up into two parts. He could have easily started the book years after Kyle’s disappearance, and had Todd having flashbacks of his time with Kyle. The problem with flashbacks is that they can sometimes dull events because the characters are removed from the situation, everything has already happened, so there is no knee-jerk, spontaneous reaction. I feel the author wanted us to really connect with these characters in a way that can only be done “in real time”, along with setting up for the second part of the story. He does it splendidly well.

So, now the story jumps fifteen years, and Todd has moved on with his life. He’s recently met a new man but is still affected by the loss of Kyle, has never stopped wondering what happened. Some answers finally come from an unlikely place, with an impossible patient and unexpected events. The change in Todd as he helps the patient is subtle at first. He is older now and less innocent than he was in the beginning of the story. I was immediately curious how the author was going to connect all the dots. The method seems to have confused or disappointed some reviewers, but I thought it was amazing. A little advanced medicine with a bit of a sci-fi element thrown into the mix. It allows Todd to go on a fact finding mission and finally get some inkling as to what happened to his first love. The truth is very shocking. There is only one piece of the puzzle that I shook my head at, even though something had to happen. I will warn readers, it’s not a walk in the park. It’s another massive punch in the gut.

I personally don’t need a story with a HEA, but I wanted it with this one. I really fell in love with both characters. I had hope and then nothing. What this author does is build up that hope, gives the reader a light at the end of the tunnel and then abruptly snuffs it out. I loved it. I never wanted to get off the emotional roller coaster the author had me going on.

This is a very strong debut book from an author I will definitely read again. The story is fresh and real, the writing is precise and flowed smoothly. From Todd to Felix, who is Todd’s best friend, his rock, and biggest supporter from the very beginning, to Simon, a hopeful candidate for Todd’s future happiness, the characters, even those we meet for only brief moments, really moved this story along. If you want butterflies and buttercups, look elsewhere. If you want a powerful, off the grid and fascinating read, try this. You won’t be disappointed.






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

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

Title: Daron’s Guitar Chronicles: Volume Six

Author: Cecilia Tan

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 547 Pages

At a Glance: Cecilia Tan continues to deliver

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

After the tumultuous events at the end of the tour in 1989 leave Daron and the band reeling, it’s time to get off the road for a while. When an opportunity to stay in Los Angeles comes up, Daron takes it. There’s session work and music industry schmoozing galore to be done in LA, but Daron’s true reason for wanting to be on the West Coast temporarily is simple: Ziggy is in isolation drug rehab in Cailfornia. Daron wants to be nearby, even if Ziggy can’t communicate with the outside world. Is Daron prepared to deal with Digger, record company politics, and creative challenges alone?

Bonus Content: Ziggy’s Diary

Dividers

Review: The first person narrative has rarely been used to greater effect than in Cecilia Tan’s online serial Daron’s Guitar Chronicles. The relationship between Daron and the reader is something I’ve never experienced before, and I don’t believe could have been achieved in the third person, limited or omniscient, as brilliantly as it’s been done here. Daron’s narrative is intimate, personal, and it’s, of all the oddest things, interactive. Or maybe it’s reactive. Whatever one wishes to call it, there are times during the reading of this, and the previous books, that I wanted to hug him, shake him by the shoulders, give him an earful, and then go right back to hugging him through his pain and torment. I’ve rarely ever connected to a character this way, maybe never on this level, and it’s a testament to Cecilia Tan’s storytelling that Daron exists as something more than merely a character on the page but as a person who feels real and alive, if only somewhere in the realms of pure imagination.

Daron’s Guitar Chronicles is a fictional autobiography, which is an oxymoron, true, but fits, as Daron himself is chronicling his life from a point in the future that’s unknown to readers. We can assume he’s settled but with whom we can only guess, nor do we know yet what it’s taken to get him to the point of sharing his memories with us, but these are variables with which the author can, and I’m sure will, still mine a wealth of storyline from this man’s life.

There is a Ziggy shaped hole in this installment of the Chronicles, and never has the presence of a character been felt so keenly than in his absence. For those who are unfamiliar, Ziggy is (or was) the lead singer of Moondog Three. The band was on the cusp of superstardom when Ziggy had a meltdown for the ages that landed him in the Betty Ford clinic and left Daron in the arms of Jonathan, the man Daron tries, almost desperately at times, to allow to fill the Ziggy shaped hole in his heart.

Volume Six reads like an interlude of sorts. Where Volumes One through Five are a sumptuous overture, this installment offers the chance for readers to pause and reflect along with Daron on everything that has happened to this point in his short life: the successes, the failures, the joy and the heartbreak. Moondog Three appears to be crashing just as quickly as they rose, and Daron Moondog, under threat of lawsuit, is no longer permitted to exist, forcing Daron to reclaim his surname, if not his identity, as his estranged father Digger Marks’ son. One of the loveliest juxtapositions in this book, from the view of the first person, is the role reversal–Daron is at loose ends without Ziggy, while Ziggy, who has always been the loose cannon and free spirit, is pulling his life together after rehab, jetting off to India, where he’s gone for a little spiritual reflection. It’s not until the bonus chapters at the end of the book that the reader gets a glimpse into Ziggy’s world, which is saddening and maddening at the same time, but sets up what will be the inevitable reunion with Daron. Daron and Ziggy have both learned some things about themselves in their time apart. What remains to be seen, though, is if what they’ve learned will help or further damage their relationship (at least for those of us who don’t follow the serial online).

With everything in limbo for Daron, including Ziggy’s exact whereabouts once he leaves rehab, we watch Daron take a crack at domesticity with Jonathan, an experiment that on the surface may seem a failure but did, in truth, serve a purpose other than to cause me to shout at my e-reader that Daron is with the wrong man. And then, eventually, didn’t I tell you so, Daron?, when the inevitable happens. But, as difficult and frustrating as it was to watch Daron going through the motions of playing house, this act is a necessary part of Daron’s evolution, and it allows the reader to get to know and love Jonathan a bit better. It would have been an insult to Daron, Ziggy, Jonathan, and to readers if Cecilia Tan hadn’t given thorough examination to this time in Daron’s life. No deus ex machinas, no pat answers and simple resolutions could have happened at this juncture. Everything that happens in this book, Daron’s growing and growing up, his cutting off ties with his father while strengthening his bond with Remo Cutler—Daron’s best friend and surrogate father figure—as well as his friendship with Jonathan and separation from Ziggy, is necessary to the whole of this saga.

As always, the author’s attention to detail is meticulous, not to mention impressive, never once weighing down the pace of the narrative. Reading this serial has been like getting an insider’s view of the music business, told to us by a young man who is charming, vulnerable, tenacious, and so easy to love. Daron’s relationship with his guitars and music transcends and informs his relationships with people, and serves as the foundation for his coming to terms with being gay, finding the courage to come out to his closest friends, and learning how to say what he feels and ask for what he wants. How this will play out in Volume Seven, when Daron and Ziggy reunite, promises to be epic.

The first five books in this serial made it onto my Best Books of 2014 list. There is no question Volume Six, and if I’m lucky this year, maybe even Volume Seven too, will make it onto the list for 2015.






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

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