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

Review: Games of Rome by JP Kenwood

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Title: Games of Rome (Dominus: Book Two)

Author: JP Kenwood

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 339 Pages

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

Reviewed By: Lisa

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

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

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

Dividers

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

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

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

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

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

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You can buy Games of Rome here:

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4 Stars, Genre Romance, JL Merrow, Mystery/Suspense/Action Thriller, Reviewed by Sammy, Samhain Publishing

Review: Heat Trap by JL Merrow

Title: Heat Trap (The Plumber’s Mate: Book Three)

Author: JL Merrow

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 255 Pages

At a Glance: I think fans will be pleased with this one, despite a few glitches here and there.

Reviewed By: Sammy

Blurb: It’s been six months since plumber Tom Paretski was hit with a shocking revelation about his family. His lover, P.I. Phil Morrison, is pushing this as an ideal opportunity for Tom to try to develop his psychic talent for finding things. Tom would prefer to avoid the subject altogether, but just as he decides to bite the bullet, worse problems come crawling out of the woodwork.

Marianne, a young barmaid at the Devil’s Dyke pub, has an ex who won’t accept things are over between them. Grant Carey is ruthless in dealing with anyone who gets between him and Marianne, including an old friend of Tom and Phil. Their eagerness to step in and help only makes them targets of Grant’s wrath themselves.

With Tom’s uncertainty about Phil’s motives, Tom’s family doing their best to drive a wedge between them, and the revelation of an ugly incident in Phil’s past, suddenly Tom’s not sure whom he can trust.

The body in the Dyke’s cellar isn’t the only thing that stinks.

Dividers

Review: Fans of JL Merrow’s Plumber’s Mate series will be both gnashing their teeth at this installment and deliriously happy at the outcome simultaneously. Many loose ends are tied up in this third novel, and a few secrets that threaten to tear Phil and Tom apart are uncovered as well. It’s a challenge to create a synopsis for this one due to the fact that there are so many relationship-changing events taking place. Suffice it to say that while trying to dig up dirt on an unsavory boyfriend from the barmaid’s Marianne’s past, a devastating secret comes to light that is almost the undoing of Tom’s fragile trust in Phil.

All the old regulars are present in this one. Gary and Darren are married and continue to provide some real comic relief throughout the story. The news about Tom’s real father is finally discussed between Tom and his Mum, after an awkward attempt by Greg to force the family to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Mayhem and physical injury are once more part and parcel of the latest mystery, and Tom lands in the hospital once again. All in all, some pieces of the book were formulaic but so comfortable—so witty and sweet and just darn fun.

However, I felt there were some threads introduced that never really went anywhere—Phil’s desire to see Tom develop his abilities, for instance. It was the source of an argument between them, and then left fallow till almost the end of the novel when a strange, brief incident scared Tom and lay to rest any further exploration of his gift. All in all, it was underdeveloped and too easily tied up.

Also, there were a few new side characters introduced who had some devastating interaction with the bad guy, Grant Carey. I really didn’t understand why they were a part of the story since there was never any resolution to their problems. I understood that the couple’s stress and obvious marital discord would feed into a bigger issue between Tom and Phil, but again, I’m not sure those scenes did much to further the plot line.

Heat Trap is definitely not a standalone story. Reading the first two books is important to understand the dynamics between this motley crew, and their easy repartee. I think fans will be pleased with this one, despite a few glitches here and there. Tom and Phil come full circle in this novel and those who have been waiting for the two men to finally commit to some sort of future will not be disappointed.

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5 Stars, Historical Romance, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Lisa, S. Joy P., Self-Published

Review: We, King Henry VIII by S. Joy P.

Title: We, King Henry VIII: Part One

Author: S. Joy P.

Publisher: Self-Published via Amazon

Pages/Word Count: 188 Pages

At a Glance: With a unique plot and lush prose, We, King Henry VIII takes readers on a supernatural trip to the 16th century.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Henry VIII of England seeks his way home – into the arms of his long-lost lover

On the 27th of January, 1547 AD, at eleven o’clock at night, Henry VIII is mere three hours from his death. On his deathbed, he only pines to behold his true love for one more time. To catch but a glimpse of Adhamh’s face – that he desires above all things. For his whole life fearful of God, he would now give his mind, body, and soul to the Devil if the Dark Lord promised him but one moment with his lost lover. Only his heart Henry could not give, for Adhamh has it in his keeping. It has always been so, from the day they met. And there the story of their star-crossed love truly begins.

In the hot August of the year 1521 AD, England lazily revels in its still young King Henry VIII, the most accomplished and the handsomest monarch of the Christendom. For whole the world, Henry plays the King who lacks nothing, and who fears nobody save God. Deep inside, he is a man tormented by dark secrets shrouding his marriage, tortured by fears for the fate of his dynasty. His summer morning is not filled with idle delight; it brims with barely concealed terrors – until the moment when God sends him a sign: a wolf trapped in the royal chapel. From the first heartbeat of the unexpected encounter, the beast exudes an aura of unalloyed loyalty vested in Henry alone. Overcome with the sight of the wolf’s unconditional surrender into his hands, Henry believes him to be a messenger of God and spares his life.

But… a human heart beats in the wolf’s chest. Adhamh the Seventh, the only son of the House of Svar, the Margrave at Zuria Labarra is the second most powerful man after the King of Cerbeden – and a werewolf cast out of his world as a punishment for a fateful failure. The High Immortal who so sentenced him to die as the Devil’s Own knew nothing about an uncanny resemblance between the King of England and the King of Cerbeden. Neither does Adhamh. In Henry, he sees his own beloved liege lord, whom he could never harm. The moment of his surrender gives birth to a new unbreakable bond and triggers a chain of inescapable events. The affection that arises between them faces constant dangers, both seen and unseen. Constraints placed on them by social norms and Henry’s religious beliefs can be overcome, but what if Adhamh is yanked back into his own world one day? This ever-present peril cannot be provided for. Nor is it the darkest threat lurking close.

Dividers

Review: S. Joy P.’s We, King Henry VIII is a book that came at me out of nowhere and proceeded, quite frankly, to impress me from beginning to end.

What I know of King Henry VIII would fit on the head of a pin: A.) I know it wasn’t necessarily fortuitous to be his wife, and B.) I know he spent much of his reign balking at the strict edicts of the Roman Catholic Church. That’s the extent of it, so with regards to this book’s “controversial” label, I must say I don’t know enough about the subject at hand to find it particularly scandalous, but I will say the author has managed to take a monarch who, inarguably, has not been portrayed throughout history as a benign ruler, and made him the sympathetic hero of this novel, and, to a certain extent, also portrays Henry Tudor as the victim of sorts in the story—a pawn of his duty to crown and country, to his God, to the women he’d married in hopes of producing a male heir to the throne, as well as to his love for Sir Adhamh Svar.

One of the things I found most appealing about this novel is the author’s writing style, which is at times poetic and at the same time feels utterly organic to the 16th century; not in that the narrative and dialogue are filled with thous and forsooths and yea verilys, which would make it tedious to some of us contemporary readers, but that the author’s use of opulent language and lush dialogue along with a descriptive prose supports and enhances the historical setting, which effectively sweeps us into the court of Henry VIII. I not only appreciated the author’s attention to detail but also salute the inspiration that struck which sent the story headlong into the realm of speculative fiction and gave it its supernatural twist.

We, King Henry VIII is a deathbed confessional, told in large part through flashbacks, of Henry, the man in the prime of his life and in the midst of his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon when he is visited upon by a wolf. Whether this is an evil omen or divine blessing is unclear, most especially once it’s revealed the wolf is, in truth, a man—Adhamh—and he is not of the realm which Henry rules. Indeed, he is not even of the world in which this story takes place.

Within these flashbacks, we also see Henry as a loving father even as the bloom has withered and fallen off the rose of his marriage to Catherine, two things being made clear; the first, that Catherine did not come to their marriage bed a virgin; the second being that infidelity has left Henry in the painful throes of a sexually transmitted disease, which is when his suspicions are aroused by his wolf and the certainty the animal is something other, as he leads His Grace to a remedy for his discomfort that, quite literally, saves the king’s manhood.

As the bond between Henry and Adhamh strengthens, Adhamh’s influence over the king becomes evident as well, in the forbidden thoughts and deeds Henry’s heart leads him toward. The story takes a poignant turn amidst the court intrigue and royal politics, in which we see Henry war with his love for Adhamh and his fidelity to God. We also see his initial steps toward dissolving his marriage to Catherine, for which Adhamh becomes a trusted and useful advisor. In this first installment of the series, we are also treated to the introduction of Lady Anne Boleyn, the woman about whom Adhamh also has some strong opinions. And the woman whose fate we are, of course, all too familiar with.

Because We, King Henry VIII is book one in a series, there is no resolution to the conflict introduced in this novel. If you don’t enjoy the “to be continued” that happens in episodic storytelling, consider this a small inconvenience to the overall grandeur of the story being told. This book left me with a “just when I thought I’d read it all…” sense of satisfaction that I’d come across something a bit unique in the gay fiction genre: one part reality, one part history lesson, one part fantasy, and one-hundred percent intriguing.

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You can buy We, King Henry VIII here:

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4 Stars, Genre Romance, Historical Romance, Loose Id, Willa Okati

Review: The First Hello by Willa Okati

Title: The First Hello

Author: Willa Okati

Publisher: Loose Id

Pages/Word Count: 143 Pages

At a Glance: This is a poignant tale of love and loss and love again – beautiful and lyrical and at times, heartbreaking. It grabs the reader and doesn’t let go until the final sentence.

Reviewed By: Sadonna

Blurb: Shawn Tillerman thinks he’s losing his mind. Wary and damaged after a hard life filled with broken promises, he’s been having dissociative episodes for the past few months. Flashes of different lives he didn’t live. Walking in the footsteps of men he knows he never was. In these waking dreams, he’s always with a lover, but he can’t see the man’s face and doesn’t know his name. Though the episodes are becoming more frequent, he hasn’t told anyone what’s happening to him. He’s too busy taking care of his twin sister and keeping her away from Oxy. If he can sell the house he’s inherited from a distant relative, he’ll finally have enough money to put her in a good rehab center. He can turn their lives around.

Or not. Because Raleigh, the compelling stranger who wants to buy their house, swears that Shawn isn’t experiencing psychotic episodes, but is reliving memories. That he and Shawn have come together in life after life and time after time.That he is the man from Shawn’s dreams, and has been searching everywhere for him. Even if Shawn remembers nothing, Raleigh remembers it all, and he isn’t going to give up now.

Shawn doesn’t believe Raleigh–but he’s beginning to wish he could. What if it is true, after all? What if saying goodbye to all he thought he was sure of is only the first part of hello?

Dividers

Review: The First Hello is a really beautiful story that is just so well written that is best experienced by reading. You can see from the blurb that this is a tale of an endless love, but it’s so much more than that.

Raleigh and Shawn meet and while Raleigh always seems to be holding something back, Shawn always seems to be unable to grasp something just out of reach. They are at the opposite ends of a tug a war, and the rope is their sanity and possibly, their very existence. Shawn thinks he’s losing his mind and Raleigh thinks Shawn’s being willfully obstinate.

As they dance around one another, Shawn is extremely fearful that if he gives in to his attraction to Raleigh, something awful will happen – that his mind will truly shatter. He’s trying to hold on to something that he can’t even define. He’s worried about his sister, who has a drug problem, and he’s trying to keep it together long enough to get her the help she needs.

Raleigh tries to be patient, but he’s terribly worried that Shawn is not even taking care of his own basic needs. He does his best to try to help without overstepping, but Shawn is proud and doesn’t want to accept his help. Shawn feels a constant pull towards Raleigh, but he’s convinced it will literally lead to his ruin. Shawn hasn’t had an easy moment in this life, and he really is just hanging on by a thread – a thread that could easily snap at any moment, with disastrous consequences for many.

The prose of this story is just lovely. The descriptions of time and place, the beauty of the love between the characters in various incarnations is exquisite. Shawn’s pain and Raleigh’s desperation are so well balanced. The secondary characters also contribute to the loneliness and beauty and sadness in this story. I honestly felt like this story was longer than one-hundred-forty-three pages, not because it dragged at all but because it felt like so much happened and so much of this love story played out over so many incarnations. Crossing from contemporary to historical and back again, this is very well done and recommended.






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