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 : A Fluid State by Rob Browatzke

I would rate this 4 stars.

In the beginning, Patrick is seeing his son Peter for the first time in two years after coming home from Afghanistan. Patrick’s ex-wife Christy really drop kicks Patrick into the deep end, and expects him to adapt and act appropriately without any frame of previous reference for how to deal with his new gender bending, vegetarian, 11 year old son who loves Saturday morning Drag Queen Storytelling at the local library. Of course, the idea that Patrick’s ex is a POC, that he acknowledges the issue for his son, was the only thing that made me give him the benefit of the doubt. Then, it switches to Andrew’s POV: he is lonely and having trouble dating. At first most of his personality is funny and snarky asides, which come from his drag persona Ann. When they meet while Andrew is out of drag, Patrick realizes maybe it’s a good idea to get to know who his son spends time with. If this keeps him from looking like a bigot, then all the better.

Being inside Patrick’s head and listening to what is coming out of his mouth at the beginning is cringeworthy. All anyone has is what they are taught until they know better, then they need to do better, and he does. Patrick’s most important consideration seems to be for Peter be happy, but Peter is still figuring things out and the effects of bullying are difficult to read. I’m not a huge fan of babies or kids in books, but Peter is a huge part of why this all works rather than just an excuse for Andrew and Patrick to get together. I like that Patrick likes Andrew, and isn’t just attracted to Ann. Although that can be hot too when written right, the author is clear that Patrick isn’t ever pretending Andrew is Ann or fetishizing Ann in any way. In many ways Andrew is too good to be true: always patient, kind, understanding, good with kids, and good natured in general.

The timeframe is a bit too short to believe the 180 Patrick does from the beginning of the book to the end because there’s nothing gradual about this, but I remember seeing an episode of a show called Faking It on Channel 4 in the UK in 2002. It was about people who have a complete career change in four weeks and a heterosexual ex-navy officer learns to be a drag queen. Not that Patrick goes that far (lol), but that someone really can learn to have empathy, respect, and integrate into a new way a thinking, a new community, if they make the effort.

As for the bi for you and first time tropes, Patrick reads demisexual to me, having only been in two prior relationships, one of which was his wife. This is a heartwarming story of a father who discovers who he is and what he wants for himself later in life. While it has all the feels and hot love scenes, it’s because I wanted the fairytale, rather than it was entirely realistically fleshed out–it’s an easy read with surprisingly low angst. But, sometimes life does slot into place just like it ought to and those times are magical whether real or on the page.

The cover design is by Alexandria Corza. I think it’s striking, but it doesn’t show the family aspect of the story.

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review :A Fluid State by Rob Browatzke — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: The Rise Of Virginie by Katey Hawthorne

Virginie
Cover designed by Natasha Snow

I would rate this 4 stars.

Stefan is homeless, couchsurfing from friend to friend. Whilst staying with Megan, they decide to start a new band. Since she had a previous bad experience dating her bandmade Deanna, they make a vow to not have sex within the band. Sounds simple, yet Stefan’s fear that no one will want him around without sex highlights what his life has been like since leaving home. When he meets Han, who works at the library, they eventually bond over poetry and music. Han is one of the only POC in this small town in West Virginia. Being the reverend’s adopted son, he’s set up as a good boy; a virgin who sings in the church choir. This alternates between the first person point of view of Stefan and Han as they grow closer. Once they add Deanna as the base player, the four of them form a queer punk band named Virginie.

Stefan and Han are writing original songs together in between working at their jobs and practicing covers with the band. I liked the song lyrics in this, the poetry. The no sex rule actually allows Stefan to get to know Han without falling into his default of meaningless sex or friends with benefits. Once they start having sex (because of course they do) everything is playful; Han gets to experiment and learn from a friend. Things start moving forward for them when they get noticed by a promoter and talent agent. Of course, that’s went everything implodes, both with jealousies within the band, and Stefan’s mother Angela, who is a drug addict in an abusive relationship.

What I really liked about this was the things I expected to be a big deal (e.g. Han coming out, premarital sex, religion) weren’t. Addiction is a major storyline in this book, so petty dramas fall by the wayside. Most of the conflict comes due to Stefan’s past abuse and trauma. This book also tackles many issues through the music: Big Pharma, the opioid problem, and condescension towards the poor and Southerners. I did wonder if the difference in upbringing between Stefan and Han would be too huge a crevasse to bridge, but Han works hard to educate himself so he can be a good friend and support to Stefan. It was nice to see Han’s father be a positive and supportive Christian character. Han’s mother takes longer to come around, but Han’s issues with his mother are not all about Stefan. Caring too much what other people think, judging children because of their parents, lack of empathy and shaming others–these things divide communities. So while this is a cute story about young adults trying to become a successful band, with lots of fun sex, the author puts the band in it’s context geopolitically, and that makes all the difference to elevate this above many similar works.

Katey Hawthorne’s Website

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Review: Ghost House by Jacqueline Grey

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The main characters are a college student named Andrew, who is trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life, and a mysterious man named Caius, whom he keeps dreaming about after spending the night in a haunted house. I think the blurb tells you everything you need to know about this book, so if it sounds intriguing, go ahead and jump right in. I really hesitate to give any spoilers. Part of the fun of the book is it walks a fine line of many genres: horror, ghost story, historical romance, fairy tale, contemporary romance, paranormal, and urban fantasy. Is Caius the charming man of Andrew’s dreams, or an entirely different kind of nightmare?
Is he hallucinating? Is he going mad? I was often unsure where this was going to go; the fun is in trying to find out. At turns this is creepy, but never too much or for very long. It’s also fun with cute banter and some fantastical moments. Of more interest to me are the times when Caius is confronted about the fairness or morality of some of his past actions. This is actually a slow burn romance where the author successfully provides sexual tension at various points. While most of the book is chaste, when they finally do come together, it is really about them.

The book is divided in half with the first half told from Andrew’s point of view. His friends Charlie, Amanda, and Marie help round out the cast a bit, but don’t seem as real as Jason, Andrew’s best friend since childhood and college roommate. The reader also gets to meet Andrew’s parents, his father being a major source of anxiety for him. Yet, most of the first half I wasn’t sure if parts of what were happening were real or not. Once the second half starts, the reader gets to see some things from Caius’s point of view. I was still left waiting for the shoe to drop–waiting to see the real Caius as his thoughts were slowly revealed. Strangely, I was waiting to see the real Andrew as well since he wasn’t being honest with anyone, while letting his father plan a life for him that he didn’t want. So wrapped up in this bizarre tale, is still a new adult coming out story that has to be resolved. I think some people will really like this, and other people will not agree with all the choices the author made to go in different directions. For myself, I like quirky and different, so I enjoyed it.

The cover is by Kanaxa. I found it compelling and apropos for the way the book unfolds.
https://www.kanaxa.com/

Sales Links:  Amazon | Smashwords

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 244 pages
Published September 24th 2019
ASIN B07W7DFVXZ
Edition Language English

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Ghost House by Jacqueline Grey — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Master Of Restless Shadows by Ginn Hale, Book One

GinnHale Restless Cover
Cover Illustration by Zaya Feli Cover Design by Dawn Kimberling

I would rate this 4 stars.

I thought this was a standalone, but apparently it would have been helpful to read the Lord of White Hell and the Champion of the Scarlet Wolf duologies first. The world-building is amazingly detailed, yet I still feel like I might have had a rounder view of this universe if I read those first, as there are several characters from those books included in this one and they are written in linear time. Things about the court intrigues, neighboring countries, power struggles between church and state, all the differnet types of religious beliefs, and the use of magic obviously all have more background than I was privy to here. While the plot is always easy to follow, the explanations about the magic are not–until the second half. All of the sudden the magic is explained, the emotional connection I wanted kicks in, and the book really comes alive, which saved this story for me. I am left wondering if maybe I would have felt more emotionally attached from the beginning if I had read the other four books? The writing style for the first half is removed, like an observer focused on the main plot and moving about chess pieces. While there is clever dialogue and witty banter, the author never lets them succumb to passion or deeper emotions that the reader can actually sit with and let breathe. Then again, maybe that is because of the constant explanations of past events, but recaps are entirely necessary for this to work.

The story is told from four points of view: Narsi, Atreau, Ariz, and Fedeles. Narsi is a great character, a genuinely kind, clever, brave and warmhearted physician. Atreau the charming rake and novelist, but that deflects from what he is really doing as a spymaster. Ariz is the tragic tale, living under compulsion and being made to do things he doesn’t want to do. Fedeles as the Duke of Rauma is treading a fine line of facing his fears and past traumas to become the hero everyone needs. Although these main leads are all male, there are many strong females characters in this book and the cast is large and diverse. Clara and Oasia are the most intriguing, rich, intelligence, three dimensional female roles I’ve read in secondary characters in a long time. Everyone has various shades of grey as many are not whom they seem on the surface, even Narsi takes to subterfuge with ease. The characters are what bring this to life–why I even cared about all the plots and subplots. Honestly though, more than rooting for them individually, I was rooting for good to win over evil and for anyone to have even a dash of happiness. Just like real life, there is racism, sexism, homophobia, religious zeal, and xenophobia. In the end, it’s about averting a war. The corruption, greed, torture, assassinations, servitude…they are what you would expect from the rich and powerful. There is nothing fast about this book; it’s all slowly built brick by brick. That’s not to say that no action happens, but the pacing is slowed by the world-building–even though this all takes place in a week, it feels much longer. Suddenly everything happens at once and it’s over.

If you are wanting an m/m romance, this may not hold your interest. If you want a complex, painstakingly detailed, queer renaissance type high fantasy novel with a tangle of multiple plots and slow burn, fairly chaste romantic pairings, then you might like to try this book. This is also going to be a duology, so be aware this doesn’t end here. Right now I am frustrated on many levels. While I acknowledge the first half was neccessary, I didn’t love it and was getting bored. After the second half, I am completely sucked in and want to read the next book right now this minute. I am also sad that reading this might have ruined the four previous books for me, because I will know what happens as I believe this duology is the end of the series.

Ginn Hale’s Website

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Review : Hitting Black Ice (Heart and Haven #1) by Heloise West

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

For the first nine chapters, the reader is in Hunter’s POV as he navigates his crush on Shawn, a colleague at the hospital he works at. He is beset by guilt over the death of his boyfriend. Hunter’s drinking and PTSD are a source of worry for his friends and family, who are all in medical services and law enforcement. Life changing events happen fast, allowing Hunter and Shawn to break down some barriers and bond more quickly than would otherwise happen. The reader is thrown into this weird drama because Hunter’s emotions, doubts, and fears are like a roller coaster. Add in Shawn’s PTSD and fear, and neither of them are operating on all cylinders; having said that, the beginning could have flowed more smoothly. I found the dialogue and conversations strange. There are characters thrown in who are underutilized. Luckily, it gets better.

When the magnetic FBI agent Truman shows up, I was intrigued. I don’t think the sexual tension works quite as well as I would have liked to better sell this character. Relying on Hunter as a bit of a cop chaser isn’t enough for this to really shine as it could have. Who doesn’t like a bit of will they, won’t they? By chapter ten when the POV switches to Shawn, aka Alex, I was hooked into the story intellectually and wanted to know the why of everything. The flashback helps make sense of how everyone got to where they are. Between the betrayals, criminals, and dangerous ex-lovers, Hunter and Alex make perfect sense together.

There could be a debate about cheating in this book. It’s something I know some people can’t stand, so I’m warning you. In my opinion, it is all completely understandable: they weren’t really together yet (maybe), and they were on a break (sort of). It made sense for the character as written because that’s one of his coping mechanisms. One of the best things about this book is that the three major characters are complex. They make good and bad decisions; they do good and bad things.

Even with the unexpected turns, this whole book is careening towards a final confrontation. Here is where everything would have been more intense if Hunter’s family had been completely fleshed out beforehand. Also, the feeble attempt at any sort of redemption for the bad guy (he did this awful thing, but he had a really good reason) didn’t work for me. I am happy it was just a sentence thrown in and not given legs. This is still where I became more emotionally hooked into the story for Hunter and Alex. I would call this a HFN. Everyone is changed by the events and I would like to see what happens next with these characters.

The cover art by Natasha Snow fits the story well. I am going to assume this is Truman.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book Details: ebook
Published August 19th 2019 by NineStar Press (first published December 1st 2014)
ISBN 139781951057145
Edition Language English
Series: Heart and Haven

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review : Hitting Black Ice (Heart and Haven #1) by Heloise West — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Heart Strain (Interlocking Fragments #1) by Michele Notaro & Sammi Cee

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Holden moved away from Baltimore nine years ago; his life is now in Ithaca where he’s a veterinarian. He has his best friend Gavin and his pit bull Peanut. But when he gets a call his twin brother Hendrix has been shot in the line of duty, he rushes back to be by his side. While Drix is in a coma, Holden gets close to Jameson, his brother’s work partner and his own high school crush. There was a reason Holden left this place and Jameson has family problems of his own. As their lives start to slot together into a routine, they need to decide if this is something they want to keep.

The authors switches POV between Holden and James every other chapter, so the reader gets immersed in both men’s feelings. I got attached to both characters quite quickly. Although this is a hurt/comfort trope, it never gets too angsty. Since the authors dwells on the positive rather than negative aspects of the story, the shooting and the past traumas for both men, are easy to navigate. This is a slow burn that is unexpectedly sweet with sexy love scenes. The characters are spending so much time together, they get to know each other well. This all feels natural. They are in their own little bubble–with Jameson on leave after the shooting, they spend every day at the hospital. I felt that time go by, but I wasn’t bored. I felt a real sense of intimacy was achieved. It’s impossible not to like Drix and Gavin, but I really connected with Luwanna, a volunteer at the hospital. I think most people who have spent time in a hospital have known a Luwanna.

This is a complete story. Yet, there are many threads that could get pulled for a sequel. Holden’s aforementioned past trauma is something he needs to talk about with his brother one day. Jamison’s family issues may never get fixed, but it’s his professional problems at work that are the real issue, considering his uncle is his boss. His brother and cousin are all also cops. Throw in Jamison’s father situation, and the reader knows exactly where this will all logically come to a head moving forward. Just because I think I know the plays, doesn’t make this less enjoyable to read. I prefer foreshadowing to things coming out of left field. Still, life comes at you hard, so I’ll wait to see Gavin get his own story which way the authors go to wrap those things up.

The cover was done by Michele Notaro and Sammi Cee. I would say this is Holden. He has a lot of past hurts he keeps hidden so I get using the hair as a veil, but I feel like the book deserves a more wow cover.

Sales Links:  Amazon |  Universal Buy Link: mybook.to/HeartStrain

Book Details: Kindle Edition, 262 pages
Published July 22nd 2019
ASINB07VC8P6QC
Edition Language: English
Series: Interlocking Fragments

 

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Heart Strain (Interlocking Fragments #1) by Michele Notaro & Sammi Cee — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: The Exile Prince (The Castaway Prince #2) by Isabelle Adler

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

This is a short novella starting six months after the previous story, The Castaway Prince. You could read this as a standalone with no issues, but it would be more enjoyable read in order. Prince Stephan of Seveihar is living in the southern kingdom of Segor with his lover and former servant, Warren. They’ve sold Stephan’s jewels to set up a Mercantile business. Revelling in the openness and acceptance of Stephan in Segor, they have not been discreet. The previous story made clear Stephan is a crossdresser. He identified as male. This book is a bit murkier in the gender bending. Stephan’s brother Robert has ascended the throne and declared war between Seveihar and their rival Esnia. He sees Stephan as a threat, even in exile.

The annoying part of this is, once again, Stephan dismisses Warren’s concerns for his safety. Warren also has concerns about Stephan being too young and that the peril may be the reason they are together. This story solidifies their relationship, moving beyond friendship and lust, to a deeper love where they choose one another above all else. Their choices become their life, as they flee from Robert’s wrath. This doesn’t have a lot of detailed world-building, just enough to understand the surroundings in term of a seaside town with an Indian or Middle Eastern feel. In the epilogue, the reader gets a view of King Robert that signals this story is not over. I couldn’t help but think people get the ruler they deserve when they let hate and intolerance reign. I fully expect at least one more story to wrap up this story arc. Would people rather have an unstable tyrant or a caring cross-dresser as their king? Time will tell.

The cover art by Natasha Snow matches the first book in the series, but echos the colors of their more sunny, southern location.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book Details: ebook
Published July 22nd 2019 by NineStar Press
Original Title: The Exile Prince
ISBN 139781951057077
Edition Language: English

Series: The Castaway Prince

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: The Exile Prince (The Castaway Prince #2) by Isabelle Adler — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Jaeger’s Lost and Found by Ofelia Gränd

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Archie, Archibald Jaeger, is from a long line of respected finders. Unfortunately, his talent for finding doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. His business partner and best friend Edie, is the only person keeping him from being a hermit. When a vampire named Gael comes looking for a finder to help with his missing coven, there is more on the line than ever before. Archie is completely out of his comfort zone with someone’s life in his hands. Gael is having to face home truths in the face of his imminent death. Coming to care about each other in these circumstances, no one saw coming.

What made this novella work for me was all of Archie’s quirks, compulsions, and neuroses. Gael has to face his own bad judgments, regrets, and mistakes. They had no room to judge each other, and with the clock ticking down, no time. It’s their foibles that make them dimensional. Their support of each other is uncharacteristic of how they interact with others. They just fit together. The author does a good job of capturing steamy moments of carpe diem. I enjoyed the flashes of humor. The moments that tugged my heart made this worth reading.

Unfortunately, there is not much world building so details about nagi, shifter, or vampire culture, or life in the human or nonhuman zones aren’t explored. Edie is a large part of the plot and is only on page at the beginning and the end. The big issue is how Gael’s mental connection to his coven is described as a “Milky Way of linked minds, his internal sky of diamonds” which seems too similar to the Psy-Changling series by Nalini Singh. With the way this was resolved, I do wonder about what changes in character Archie would have, but there is no way to know.

The cover design was done by Written Ink Designs. I think that is supposed to be rain, which most of the story takes place in. There is also supposed to be a ghostly hand, so it could be that? I’m not really sure this cover communicates anything about the story at all except showing Archie.

Sales Links: JMS Books LLC | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Book Details: Kindle Edition, 100 pages
Published June 1st 2019 by JMS Books LLC
ASINB07S9PP8L5
Edition Language: English

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Jaeger’s Lost and Found by Ofelia Gränd — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Fox Hunt by J. Leigh Bailey, Shifter U 4

Fox Hunt
Cover Art © 2019 Aaron Anderson aaronbydesign55@gmail.com

I would rate this 4 stars.

This is the fourth book in this series, but can sincerely be read as a standalone. I haven’t read all the series in order, but didn’t feel at a disadvantage at all. In fact, this is a great example of how to blend pertinent information into a story without awkward or wordy recaps. In the course of doing a favor for a friend, David hacks something that brings him to the attention of the Moreau Initiative, a group of scientists researching and experimenting on shifters. He mother assigns him a bodyguard, Buddy aka Theo, he doesn’t think he needs, as he goes on a three week cross-country road trip for a college campus tour before he starts graduate school for journalism.

This is a great road trip story featuring a slew of tropes: age gap, forced proximity, fake boyfriends, gentle giant, and bodyguard crush. Since Buddy is a bear shifter, there is some humor thrown in during a leather night at a LGBTQ+ Irish pub. David’s skills match his foxy, inquisitive nature, lending him maturity when he could fly off the handle and derail things. I like that he stops and thinks. His family plays a large part as his mother is the head of the Western Division Shifter Council Headquarters, his older brother Aidan is her aide, and his mother’s fiance Darren is a member. I liked that there is a strong female leader who can direct the shifters, even in battle. Although Buddy’s family is not highlighted in this book (I think his brothers are in previous books), he helped raise his brothers. His patient and nurturing way is just what David needs. David’s fierce loyalty and consideration is just what Buddy needs. Though fast, they grow close by being honest and sharing confidences. The action throughout the book was always leading to a violent conclusion. It’s a shame the bad guys here, at every step of the way, are quite one dimensional, and none too clever. Also, the emotional exchanges with and between the other characters are not as rich as those between David and Buddy. This was an enjoyable ride, with an interesting plot, likeable leads, and a fast but realistically compact romance in intense situations. I think I’ll go back and read the ones I missed.

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