Review: Conspiracy Theory by Elle Keaton, Hamarsson and Dempsey 1

ConspiracyTheory
Cover art by Garret Leigh at Black Jazz Design

 

I would rate this 4 stars.

Seattle Homicide Detective Niall Hamarsson is feeling burnt out with a sense of futility about bringing criminals to justice. Instead of letting him resign, his boss puts him on leave. He’s even fed up with his boyfriend Trey and needs to get away. Without a plan, he ends up going to the San Juan Islands, specifically Piedras Island, the only home he’s ever known. Here, in the shadow of all his ghosts, he ends up trying to repair his grandparents’ beach house he had left abandoned. Sheriff Mat Dempsey used to be a cop in San Francisco, but came home after his father died to help his mom. He navigates the feuds of the locals and the increasing drug problems with his small department stretched thin working on five islands. When a local girl gets murdered, Mat and Niall will need to work together to find the killer and figure out why this usually safe island is having a crime spree.

This is a good first book in a series to introduce the reader to the location and all the major players. Although there are two towns on Piedras, there is still a small town feel where everyone knows everyone and everyone else’s business–for centuries. With hundreds of islands in the chain, although only five that are really inhabited, there is plenty of territory to explore in other books and Seattle is a ferry away. There are enough deputies to cover each of the major islands, but in this story the reader mostly only sees Birdy Flynn. With a lack of resources for equipment and training, Mat is doing the best he can. His best friend Marshal who followed him from San Francisco, is the county’s volunteer medical examiner. No one is out in this conservative community except Niall, who was outed as a boy, making the bullying he endured that much worse.

Although the POV switches every other chapter between Niall and Mat, Niall’s chapters have much more emotional resonance as he deals with his nightmares, anger at his past, and grief for his grandparents that he had ignored instead of dealing with. Mat’s chapters are more focused on him doing his job dealing with all the strong, stubborn members of his community that would prefer to take justice into their own hands whenever there is conflict. When the murder case he is working hits close to home, the reader gets to see more of his emotions. His mom Alyson is the bridge between past and present, having been close friends with Niall’s grandmother: she knows more about Niall than he would like. They are both fighting this attraction so be prepared for this enemies to lovers vibe to pass slown burn into almost glacial pacing. The romance feels like it’s not the point, it’s a byproduct of them working together, trying to let go of the past, and opening themselves up during the course of the investigation.

The whodunit is really cleverly woven together so that the reader knows by following all the individual threads as it takes shape, the how and why of it, before the conclusion. It will still take some sorting out legally, which the reader may or may not see in book two. There is plenty to build on here for future stories with the dynastic families, although the indigenous population wasn’t touched on at all, so I hope that changes. The majority of the population is transient and seasonal, leaving all sorts of crime possibilities. The key was making the reader care about these two men and have us wanting them to get their HEA, which I expect will be at a tortoise pace over many books. I’ll look forward to the next book in the series.

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Elle Keaton’s Website

 

Review: Whiskey And Moonshine by Elizabeth Noble

WhiskeyMoonshine
Cover Art © 2020 TL Bland http://thruterryseyes.com

 

I would rate this 3.75 stars.

The book starts by establishing what Colt’s life has been like for the past ten years after he was kicked out of the house for being gay at age 15. He needs out of Toledo quick and buys a bus ticket to Charlotte, but a stop in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee changes his life forever. Enamored with the area, he quickly tries to get a job at a distillery owned by Malone Kensington. Colt gets hired as a janitor, but soon sees his chance to really change his life and reach for something more. When he meets Mal, his Cinderella dreams come true wrapped in a My Fair Lady bow.

Except for the beginning and the end, the book doesn’t focus on anything angsty. Cole is likable because he is a hard worker and is grateful for the opportunities he is given. He appreciates his change in circumstances. He respects the people he works with and doesn’t begrudge them their success. He hasn’t let his misfortune turn into bitterness or resentment against people who haven’t struggled in the same way he has. Yet, his parents taught him to be sort of a con man, so he is a bit too good to be true. On the other hand, Mal has had all of the opportunities life could give him. He knows he was lucky, but he has also worked very hard to get where he is, to be able to do what he was raised to do and loves, yet he is not always his own boss as he answers to the Board of his company. When he takes Colt into his life, into not just his business but his home, he shows an unlikely amount of trust to a perfect stranger–especially with corporate espionage an issue. He’s a little too sweet to be true also.

This had some interesting parts about the distillery: the process of distilling, the product design and marketing, and the tasting room and restaurant. It was enough to root the reader in that backdrop if you have experienced any agritourism. Colt and Mal never lie about who they are, where they have been, or what they’ve done. They share what’s important to them. When Colt’s past comes back to haunt him, it wasn’t in the way I expected. One the one hand, I love a surprise. On the other hand, I was disappointed by the cartoon villians. Even though this all seems farfetched, it is charming. The references to the TV show Firefly made me smile. The romance is a sweet slow burn as they date while they work and live together. Mal really wars with Colt’s being an employee and the age difference between them as he is a nice guy and doesn’t want to take advantage. The secondary characters Audrey, Philippe and Gwendolyn all help play matchmaker in different ways. The epilogue is divided into sections and wraps up any loose ends. I connected with them and wanted them to have their happily ever after.

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Elizabeth Noble’s Website

Author Page at QueerRomanceInk

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**The book was previously released by a different publisher as a category romance. It is now self-published and has a new cover.

 

Review: Rescuing Kyle (Special Forces: Operation Alpha #1) by Lynn Michaels

I would rate this 3 stars.

Kyle is a motorcross racer traveling across Europe when he mets up with his cousin Warren, an Army Ranger, in Germany. Which is how he meets Warren’s colleague, a CIA agent named Steve. Warren and Kyle grew up together, acting more like brothers than cousins due to some family rift not really explained. Being of Chippewa heritage, much is made of the fact they look so much alike that people can’t tell them apart. When mercenaries kidnap Kyle instead of Warren, the race is on to rescue him before it’s too late.

Even though Steve feels his job makes a relationship impossible, he sure dives into one pretty fast. After their first night together, Kyle leaves for his next race but they keep in touch, have phone sex. Even when they meet back up, there are sentences like: “they managed to see each other a few times during the week.” So really the story is telling you without showing you what happens between the sex, which doesn’t encourage the reader to be emotionally connected to the characters, their lives, nor their relationship. I didn’t feel the chemistry even though I’m told it’s there. The sex scenes, though explicit, didn’t feel that hot to me, but I appreciated the sense of fun and laughter at times. Yep, you are allowed to be stupid and have fun during sex. Yet, as soon as he is out of the hospital, of course there is sex, which I’m not sure is necessary. Then later in the story is this quote: “He used it [lube] liberally, trying to get the stretching done fast. Even though that was normally fun foreplay for them, he wanted to get to the best part, the most intimate part.” No. That is not the most intimate part of sex. So as an erotic romance, this didn’t work for me.

It also didn’t work for me as an action adventure. When Kyle is not at the ticket booth at the festival, Steve freaks out and I’m not sure why. He could have gone to use the toilet! Why is the immediate response panic? After the fact that Kyle and Warren look like twins is mentioned to the reader numerous times, the only one who thinks about that when Kyle is taken is Steve, who has to point it out to the rest of the highly trained, elite, special forces team. Spy novels are referenced several times and it seems there wasn’t too much research done into what a CIA agent’s job might be like, even for Steve before he became one. Steve is supposed to be trained at gathering intelligence, but doesn’t know how to search the dark web. That is ridiculous. In fact, because it is mentioned so much in books, I tried it. It’s not the navigating that is difficult; it is paying for things without getting caught that is difficult. Then there is the complete lack of professionalism when Kyle is taken and Warren falls apart and ceases to function.

I have to say, this wasn’t my cup of tea. There wasn’t much depth here, so all the characters fell flat for me. There are about eighteen characters in this story, but the reader only gets to know three of them: Kyle, Steve, and maybe Warren. This is not helped by the fact that one character is half of the time called Chase, and half of the time called Jackson. In fact the author seems to know this since in chapter 17, the reader is told that Oz is Kyle’s manager, again, but I actually found it helpful. Most of the characters are interchangeable military men with nicknames. When Steve and Kyle make changes to their lives in order be together, all new characters get thrown into the last five percent of the book. Or are they from another book and I missed something? Some guy named Jeff lectured to Kyle at the end and it really annoyed me, but it felt like a poke at people who think they know how dangerous these men’s jobs are, but honestly have no idea. I think the point here is that Kyle knows more than most since he “lived it” for two days in an attempt for the author to show that they will have their HEA and can make it for the long haul.

The cover by Kris Jacen shows the motorcoss part of the book, but don’t communicate the terrorist and military action elements.

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Rescuing Kyle (Special Forces: Operation Alpha #1) by Lynn Michaels — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Spare The Rod by Marie Sexton, The Heretic Doms Club 3

SpareTheRod
Cover art by Garrett Leigh of Black Jazz Design

 

I would rate this 4 stars.

This is the third book in the series and by now, I feel like they need to be read in order for the full emotional experience because much of the information about each of the doms is layered into each book, weaving a greater whole. This book focuses on Gray, who is way more interesting than I’ve seen previously, yet less time is spent with him. The majority of it feels like this is Avery’s story as a spoiled, ungrateful, selfish brat; his character development is forced as he is finally having to be responsible for himself, beholden to Gray instead of his parents. Even with what he’s seen as a veteran and working as a beat cop, Gray still has things to learn too–the age gap doesn’t seem all that large when gauged by emotional maturity. When his trying moments come, they are devastating. As they traverse the issue of trust between a masochist and a sadist, they learn the hardest parts are sharing more of themselves than just their bodies.

This series is so rich in main characters, it doesn’t need much from its secondary characters. Information about Charlie has been building in each book and he will get his story soon. As the advice giver, peace maker, and heart of the group, his character is frequently the bridge that connects everyone. Avery’s friend Derik is a good mirror for Avery–the more he grows and changes from the way he was, the more he sees how shallow, vain, and cruel his life used to be. The author did set up situations that I felt deepened the friendships of all the men, and yes, that includes more shared sex scenes. The sex between Gray and Avery at the beginning and the sex at the end are completely different with the added intimacy gained on their journey.

Large parts of this are a huge indictment against social media and against people who don’t educate themselves so they are well rounded citizens. While it is couched in terms of Avery’s character development, and Gray’s upbringing, there are times when the pointed social commentary subsumed the narrative. I support the positive message, about building the world you want to have, even as I think the way the story all fell into place was too pat. That made this relationship less realistic to me than the ones in the previous books. I enjoyed Avery and Grey moving through their story together, I just felt like it wasn’t Avery who was meant to be learning the life lessons, but the reader and that made their love story take an occasional backseat to the larger themes.

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Marie Sexton’s Website

**The ebook is only on sale at Amazon at the time of this post. Amazon also is the only place the paperback is for sale, but book one and two are sold at Barnes and Noble as well as Book Depository, so you could check those later.

Review: Terms Of Service by Marie Sexton, The Heretic Doms Club 2

TermsOfService
Cover Art by Garrett Leigh of Black Jazz Design

I would rate this 4.5 stars.

Even though this is the second book in a series written in linear time, I feel like you could read this first and go back to learn more about Warren and Taylor’s story from book one. For maximum emotional impact, I feel they are best read in order. River is grieving over the break-up of his marriage and floundering through his days when he meets Phil in a professional confrontation at the hospital. River is naturally submissive and is drawn to Phil’s personality even though he doesn’t understand why, doesn’t really understand what he wants or needs. His husband works at the same hospital with his new boyfriend, but River hasn’t signed the divorce papers yet. Phil is set in his ways, his rigid control only serviced through one night stands or rentboys, yet he responds to River in a way that makes him want to try for a casual arrangement. As they work through the change from an arrangement to a real relationship, these two lonely men find they have more in common than they would have believed. Both men are lucky to have the support of Phil’s friends, in every regard and there is certainly sharing, so if you have to have a couple that has no sexual contact with others, this is not the series for you. The sex scenes are hot and explicit, but the confidence, care, and camaraderie throughout the book is even more appealing. I felt much more attached to the other characters in this series, as little details about Gray and Charlie are sprinkled throughout, than in the first book.

The first part of this book was a little difficult to get into because I felt Phil’s distance through the writing; the pay-off comes at the end when Phil is finally overtly emotionally engaged, rather than his usual suppression. Strangely, it’s the second half of the book that is easier to navigate as everything gets more complex professionally and personally for all the characters. When people have a personal epiphany, they can choose to ignore it and explain it away, or they can fall into the change it encourages. This requires taking a personal inventory. Both of them need to slough off the expectations of others, in different ways. Phil is dealing with his upbringing and ghosts of past expectations, while River is trying to find himself again after stuffing himself away to be what his husband wanted.

What I really like about this series is the sexual freedom the characters experience as they each do what is best for themselves, as they struggle to not be embarrassed or ashamed of what they individually need as it clashes with what society says relationships “should” be like–or even what other people in a BDSM lifestyle think. They are “heretics” for a reason. It’s also a good reminder that sometimes people need to let go of their own rules, that what served you in your twenties, might not be what serves you in your forties. I found this journey of self realization for both men very satisfying. Although my own bias is for Warren and Taylor, I enjoyed seeing River and Phil create the life they want. I am excited for Gray’s story next and hope to learn more about Charlie in book four.

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Marie Sexton’s website

**Currently the ebook is only available from Amazon.

Review: Rebound (Overtime #1) by V.L. Locey

 

I would rate this 3.75 stars.

This is a spin-off starring characters introduced in V.L. Locey’s Point Shot Trilogy and again in Coach’s Challenge, Book 3 of the Cayuga Cougars series. You could read this on its own, but you wouldn’t love the main character as much as you need to for this story to shine. Victor, aka “The Venomous Pole” is the coach of an ice hockey team, married to the forward Dan, but when Dan gets sent up to the NHL, their settled life gets flipped upside down. This builds on all the trials they have faced as a couple and takes the story in difficult places, showing what many romances fail to–what happens after Happily Ever After. This is for those people that want to see what everyday love looks like, when two people repeatedly choose to stay together through thick and thin, blended family, health scares, separation, and alcoholism. I assume this will also be a trilogy also.

Because this book is told from Victor’s POV, expect rude, crass, angry and defeatist thinking. It’s also written in common vernacular. Besides having a traumatic childhood, he has brain damage from concussions and has named the worry wort voice in his head Igor. Victor is also in love with his husband, loves his 5 year old son, is working to forgive his dad, whilst also trying to maintain good relations with the mother of his son and her fiance. Sometimes he succeeds and sometimes Igor, or the cruel inner voice of his mother, wins instead and so he fails. One of the most difficult parts of the book is seeing him fall off the wagon. The other difficult part is feeling his worry over how to protect his genderqueer son from people’s meanness and judgment when Heather moves Jack to Louisiana. Jack is a huge part of this book with age appropriate dialogue.

While some of the decisions Vic made upset me, I understood why – because Dan, Heather, Brooks, and Gene all upset me more. There are hot, gritty sex scenes here, but I felt distant from Dan because Vic did. I didn’t like Dan’s response to Vic’s drinking. I also felt like this was just completely ignored afterwards. I applaud him for not participating in AA, as there are good science based programs out there, but he wasn’t participating in one of those either. I enjoyed his therapy sessions with Doc L and Professor T for the comic relief, rather than for seeing any actual type of support for Victor. He is still demoralized and depressed, although the book ends on an uplifting note of hope for him. It will be interesting to see Jack as he grows older, and that time when Dan (like all sports figures) can no longer play hockey–how will that change their relationship?

The cover design is by Meredith Russell. It communicates that is about hockey and shows a darkness I imagine Vic’s head is in.

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Rebound (Overtime #1) by V.L. Locey — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

My Best of 2019 List

The Best Of The Best

This year I read approximately 200 stories/books, although I didn’t review them all. If you have been reading my reviews, both here and on my own blog, you’ll know I like quirky–books that do things a little differently than the status quo. They still have to make sense, connect with me emotionally, and tell a good story. I gave 5 Stars, without rounding up, to these book that were published this year:

Digging Deep, Digging Deep 1, by Jay Hogan
This book gave a realistic depiction of being in a relationship with a chronically ill person with humor, honesty, and dignity whilst still managing to be a romance. The author didn’t cover over the gross or inconvenient things about illness the way most books do.

The Ghosts Between Us, The West Hills 1, by Brigham Vaughn
People handle grief differently and sometimes they fall in love at completely the wrong time with someone others might deem inappropriate. Oh well, that’s their problem.

The Story Of Us by Logan Meredith
Literally, no one agreed with me about this book featuring an older prudish, judgmental man falling in love with a young student and porn star. With breaking the fourth wall and only one point of view, some people didn’t dig it.

Best Covers

The King’s Dragon cover by Natasha Snow, The Witchstone Amulet cover by Tiferet Designs, Anhaga cover by Tiferet Designs, Hell And Gone cover by Danonza, Ramen Assassin cover by Reece Notley, Earth Fathers Are Weird cover by Lyn Gala, Clean Break cover by Natasha Snow, Healing Glass cover by Miranda from Pavelle Art, and Taji From Beyond the Rings cover by Lyn Forester

20191230_18501820191230_18503820191230_185255

The Best Of The Rest

Best Contemporary

Arctic Sun, Frozen Hearts 1, by Annabeth Albert
Best Behavior by Matthew J. Metzger
Heated Rivalry, Game Changers 2, by Rachel Reid
Ramen Assassin by Rhys Ford
The Other Book, Those Other Books 1, by Roe Horvat
We Still Live by Sara Dobie Bauer

 

Best Fantasy/Paranormal/Science Fiction

Anhaga by Lisa Henry
Dead Man Stalking by T.A. Moore
Empire of Light, Voyance 1, by Alex Harrow
Healing Glass, Gifted Guilds 1, by Jackie Keswick
Space Train by David Bridger
The Shoreless Sea, Liminal Sky 3, by J. Scott Coatsworth

 

Best Holiday

A Faerie Story by Barbara Elsborg

 

Best Dark Themed/Taboo

Sick And Tragic Bastard by Rowan Massey
Please read the tags and get ready for a big, fat, ugly-crying meltdown if you have a soul. Then, read or watch the fluffiest, sweetest stories you can find for a week after.

Best Rerelease

Release, Davlova 1 and Return, Davlova 2, by Marie Sexton
This dark romance duology (pay attention to the tags) was originally released under the name A.M. Sexton. I don’t think there are any substantial changes. Expect rich, bleak, dystopian world-building.

 

Honorable Mention

The King’s Dragon, Fire And Valor 1, by W.M. Fawkes and Sam Burns
The Stone Amulet by Mason Thomas
I read so much fantasy this year. These two books stayed with me even though I rated them lower than the others. Why? Maybe I didn’t have enough coffee.

via More Best of 2019 and This Week at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Forbidden Bond by Lee Colgin

I would rate this 3.25 stars

Historically enemies, there is now a peace treaty between vampires and shifters. As vampires push to announce their existence to humans in the face of technological advances in order to control the PR, many shifters disagree, threatening the peace. The real problem is that it’s just an armistice: there is no integration or friendship. Sinclair, a living vampire, has been accepted at a shifter college for graduate study, which is an historic opportunity. His father, who presides over the Vampire Council, is worried about his safety. He might be right as Sinclair is met with hostility and suspicion. The POV then switches to Mitchel, the Alpha on campus, whose uncle Marcus runs the Werewolf Council. Mitchel’s parents where killed by vampires, so he has no love of their kind. As Sinclair and Mitchel actually get to know each other, they become friends while they try to help maintain peace between their species. Others struggle to accept a world where vampire and werewolf date and humans know of their existence.

Each chapter is started by a news report updating the reader about the issues and fears in the supernatural community. I thought it was a little gimmicky. This is firmly in the new adult genre even though Mitchel is older. It has an enemies to lovers, slow burn vibe–fun, flirty, a little juvenile–at the beginning. Then, all of the sudden, their relationship is serious with sexy times and a violent, action packed plotline. The vampires are ruthless and bloodthirsty when threatened, while the wolves come off as more squeamish and less prepared for violence. Other supernatural species are mentioned in passing, but not focused on so they have no face. It was great to see Erika as a strong female Alpha wolf who takes charge in the crisis, yet none of the secondary characters are very detailed. This story is enjoyable even though it doesn’t break any new ground in this subgenre.

The cover art by Natasha Snow works well with the titles to convey much of the story.

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Forbidden Bond by Lee Colgin — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: One Man’s Trash by Marie Sexton, The Heretic Doms Club 1

OneMansTrash
Cover Art by Garrett Leigh of Black Jazz Design

 

I would rate this 4.75 stars.

The blurb here tells you the whole plot. Warren is ex-military, with survivor’s guilt, and has created a life for himself many would feel was unconventional. He helps people in his own way, but isn’t terribly happy. Taylor is a rent boy with past demons whose moments of fleeting happiness aren’t enough to give him a life raft. When these two damaged people meet, it’s a case of them finding the right puzzle piece–they match in the way they both most need. I’m not talking about love conquers all, but rather hope giving them each the chance to make changes, make different decisions to increase their happiness. I loved both these characters. I always felt like they were real people. For me, there is a HEA, but I feel like they are both out there, stuggling to continue to make the best choices for them.

This novel goes to some dark places, so pay attention to the tags. I will highlight two things because, frankly, this book is awesome and I don’t want people leaving bad reviews just because it isn’t their cup of tea. There is humiliation. There is urination. Although a flogger and BDSM eqipment is used, it’s not really the focus of this book. The author concentrates on the psychology of the characters and their daily lives. There is no “play.” Also, Taylor is a whore and has sex with multiple people in this book. There is no cheating because there is no expectation of monogamy at the time, but I know some people don’t like that. I felt like this was all very realistic and well written without feeling full of tropes. Yes, there is an age gap and plenty of hurt/comfort, with a power exchange–they are there because they are real for this couple, not just to have a list of buzzwords to attract readers. In other words, things aren’t just there to be salacious, not that they aren’t intriguing, just that it is all very heartbreaking and heartwarming in turns.

If I have any small complaint, it’s that I wanted to see more of Warren’s friends and have them be as real also. They all get books, so I will have my wish, but it would have made this even more compelling. I don’t feel like I know Warren’s friend Charlie as well as Taylor’s friend Riley, for instance. Then again, everyone’s life is very bleak already, so focusing on this bubble of happiness that Warren and Riley fight hard to create by being truthful and brave…that is everything and it is more than enough.

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Marie Sexton’s website

**As an ebook, this is only available at Amazon, so I purchased a paperback copy.

Announcements Regarding: Reviews, Dreamspinner, and Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

As you know if you follow this blog, I write reviews to post here, but I also review for Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words. They have made the announcement that Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is Going on Hiatus as of February 1, 2020. It is intended to return as of June 1, 2020. I will still be reviewing on this site during that time. I also post my reviews on Goodreads and Bookbub; you are free to follow me wherever you wish.

There is also a statement about Dreamspinner Press. I understand and support their stance–it is their website to do as they wish. I support all authors trying to make a living and I hope they all get paid. My stance is…I will support the author wherever they choose to publish. Many authors have chosen to ask for their rights back, but some authors have chosen to stay with Dreamspinner Press. I hope that works out for them so if they ask me to review their book, then I will here on my site. I am not going to ask to be removed from any author’s ARC team. This may have all created a bit of a mess for book links everywhere. Since many authors are republishing their books after the rights revert, there will be new covers, sometimes new titles, and a book may not be sold at all retail outlets any longer. I would advise readers to subscribe to an author’s newsletter or follow them on social media to find out the lastest information. You can click on the link below to read their statement for more information.

Please know, I don’t have any friends in this industry. I do not work for, nor have ties to any publisher or author. I do not friend authors on social media, although I am in their groups on Facebook and MeWe in order to see announcements about new publications, sales, etc. I pay attention to them on Goodreads and Bookbub or receive their newsletters, but only as it pertains to their work. I know next to nothing about them as people unless they way overshare in a way that I can’t help but notice. I did join a football pool. My point is: I am not trying to take sides or be political in any way. They write the books and publish them. It is their choice where to publish their work. I read the books and review them. I do not get compensated in any way and I am not an affiliate for any bookseller. Sometimes the review copy is free to me for my honest review, sometimes I win them in a contest, and sometimes I buy them. Please see the legal disclosure in the footer if you haven’t already.

via Announcements and This Week At Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words