Review: Zest by Clare London, The Accidental Baker 2

Zest Cover
Copyright ©2019 Clare London Jocular Press

I would rate this 3 stars.

This is actually the second book in this series. The first book, Accidental Baker, works like a prequel. It would be helpful to read it first because it introduces the reader to four couples. Yes, it’s an insta-everything meet cute, but it has a magical realism quality that makes it charming. Zest is very different stylistically, with less dialogue and being more inside the characters heads, with a lot of explaining. It focuses on Donnie and Will, alternating their POV. There are three more books planned, one for each couple, with obvious involvement of all the couples in this small community. Since it starts the next day after the previous book, I found the long recap odd and a little annoying.

I wanted to like these characters, but it was difficult for me. Will is too good to be true, but there isn’t much depth there. He seems less fleshed out than Donnie even though the reader gets his POV also. Donnie is uneven. Yes, at his age he is still figuring things out. This is his first real relationship. Still, at times I found him patiently and softly taking charge when he needs to and then wobbling to please everyone. He has self esteem issues, but is pretty easygoing and gets taken advantage of. He doesn’t like Will speaking for him, yet he he opens up to Trev and allows him to intercede on his behalf rather than dealing with his friends and their expectations on his own. When he has to take on so much responsibility, he is overwhelmed and shuts down. I also found it odd that Will talks to Donnie about employment right after sex with neither of them seemingly worried about dating and working together every day, or what would happen if this doesn’t work out, let alone Will making himself vulnerable as a business owner to being exploited or a lawsuit. The love scenes themselves don’t really add anything to this story.

As for the secondary characters, I didn’t like Donnie’s friends, Maisie or Henry. Abi isn’t in this book at all. Will has no friends, having just moved to town. Simon has a walk-on. Trev is used as a foil for Donnie to find help in unexpected places. Jez and Eric pop up. Will’s ex is vapid. Will’s mother is very inconsistent as a character all within the same scene. My opinion would be that the character interactions weren’t handled deftly. People are complex and the writing needs to show that rather than having the people be so contradictory, which doesn’t automatically make them multidimensional. When the main conflict of the story comes to a head, it didn’t ring true to me and I wasn’t emotionally invested. I have read other books by this author that I have enjoyed in the past, so maybe this series just isn’t my cup of tea.

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A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Fairground Attractions Series by L.M. Somerton — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 I read and liked the Investigating Love series by this author years ago, so I thought I would try these. This trilogy has one overarching storyline, so although each novella focuses on one couple, they have to be read in order and together for maximum enjoyment. Garth, Stevie, Adam, […]

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review:Fairground Attractions Series by L M Somerton — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Intoxicating (Elite Protection Services #1) by Onley James — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5 I like my erotic romances with some depth and this fit the bill. There are many triggers in this book so please pay attention to the tags: past and present abuse, off page rape, self harm, flashbacks, alcohol, drugs, and suicide attempts. Of course, this all means the hurt/comfort […]

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Intoxicating (Elite Protection Services #1) by Onley James — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Warm Heart by Amy Lane, Seach And Rescue 1

warm-heart-search-and-rescue-1-by-amy-lane-
Cover Art © 2019 Alexandria Corza http://www.seeingstatic.com/

I would rate this 4.25 stars.

This is not a typical full length Amy Lane novel; it is part of the Dreamspun Desires line and has to fit into those parameters. This is like reading those romances with the red covers when I was younger–you know, the ones with blazing heat you can get a subscription for and can read in about four hours? My rating is for what it is, rather than what it isn’t. Mallory is the finance guy hired by Tevyn’s grandmother Missy five years ago to take care of his financial future for when he retires or gets injured. Tevyn is a professional Olympian level snowboader. He’s young and has fun with whatever guy or gal catches his eye. With Tevyn being a client as well as a bit of a player, what chance does a ten years older, built for monogamy guy like Mal, have? Turns out, he has a really good chance and maybe Tevyn has only been biding time until he can have the man he really wants. Of course, now Tevyn has his own reputation to overcome. As Missy lays dying and a snow storm rolls in, their lives will change forever.

An emergency can draw people closer and tell you who they really are; Missy’s decline and the crash are just catalysts that allow them to be real about the things that matter. The reader knows right away they are in love with each other. In fact, everyone may know but them. With the author’s writing style, having both points of view enhances the story. Tevyn knows snow and emergency training from working at resorts. Mallory is the sensible, dependable one who is used to calculating risk so even though completely out of his depth, he is an asset to the team as they try and survive. Tevyn stepped up to show he is not a kid and can be a mature partner for Mal. Even though he is older, Mal lets Tevyn take the lead and as this dynamic kicks into place, so does their relationship.

The other great character here is the pilot Damien, who is badly injured when their helicopter goes down. Damien is former military and now works for a rescue outfit. Having Damien there adds a layer of depth that keeps this story grounded, ensuring that the crash is not an excuse for them to just be alone together or focus on sex. Don’t worry, there will be some steamy sex also but this is heartwarming and romantic. After such a traumatic event Mal’s business partner and friend, Charlie, tries to be the voice of reason about Tevyn, but the reader already knows there is no need. Still, it’s good he has someone in his corner.

Amy Lane is known for a bit of angst, but in this shorter format, I didn’t feel it. Even with the harrowing circumstances and the grief, the overwhelming notes here are of life and love. After five days where the survival details sounded plausible–the way they are rescued is not. I will say the end got a little too saccharine for my tastes, almost to make up for any of the actual realism. I really did enjoy this though and hope Damien gets his own story soon.

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Review: Love Is All: Volume 2 edited by Xio Axelrod

LoveIsAllVol2
Copyright © 2019 by Xio Axelrod LLC

I would rate this whole collection 3.75 stars.

This is a charity anthology, so I tend to think of the stories as a thank you for donating money. All anthologies are a mixed bag and people will like different stories than I do, but here are a few of my favorites from this collection. There is a variety of combinations (M/M, F/F, M/M/F, M/F) with bisexual, trans, and ace represented. They are all contemporary except for the one historical, paranormal romance. The foreword by Roan Parrish is quite eloquent.

R.L. Merrill, Pinups and Puppies (F/F, 4 stars)

This is told from the first person POV of Marianne, who is struggling with grief and reintegration after her retirement from the Air Force. She owns a vintage plane and volunteers to transport dogs to help shelters who find them homes. That’s how she meets Dinah, who co-owns the shelter. They both seem to have great support systems filled with family and friends. With great chemistry, their lives and interests slot nicely together, making them a cute couple.

Susan Scott Shelley, Sugar Crush (Bliss Bakery Series) (M/M, 4.5 stars)

Jack, a horror novelist, gets to know a baker named Gabriel when he joins a softball team to help his friend Shane. This has an opposites attract trope with great sexual tension and friends as extended family. This is about fitting into someone’s life and making room for them to fit into yours–giving each other a safe space and carving out shared time, while still having their own interests. Also, not letting fear or the past get in the way of the future.

Xio Axelrod When Frankie Meets Johnny (M/M, 4.25 stars)

DJ meets contractor/teacher in this hurt/comfort tale with an age gap. This story is what you make it. I highly recommend listening to all the songs that he plays for a hell of a good time. If an artist is mentioned, but not a song, pick one that has a title that fits the scene. I would have rated this higher, but I couldn’t tell if this was Johnny’s first time with a man or he was demisexual? There is certainly a misunderstanding I think could have been handled better, but the story is charming.

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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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Review: Waited So Long by J.M. Dabney

Waited so Long
Cover by: J.M. Dabney Cover Image by: Golden Czermak (FuriousFotog) Cover Model: Caylan Hughes

I would rate this 3.5 stars.

Devon’s secret is…he wants a Daddy, but has not ever told anyone–not even his husband. After their 30 year relationship, and 20 year marriage, has ended, Devon is beaten down by life. Who would want a boy who’s almost 50? Bern, the son of Devon’s best friend just returned from the service. Devon has no idea that Bern has always wanted him. What was once a crush, became caring nearing on obsession for Bern so that he went away to college and then joined the service. As soon as Bern learns of the divorce, he hands in his papers so he can come home and claim what he has always believed was his.

This starts in the past with Bern’s POV, which is a brilliant way to establish him as a character. His Dad Murray gets it because he had a similar dynamic with his wife. Father and son are honest with each other and he knows who his son is as a person. Bern’s upbringing and personality have resulted in him being a dominant caregiver, making him perfect for Devon. Of course, Devon has no idea. Devon’s POV lets us see his shock at Bern as a man. We get to see his sadness, his loneliness, his longing. He has never asked for what he wanted, and buried it in shame.

Bern has a plan, and takes charge…parts of this hit me as a little intense or creepy, him having studied every little thing about Devon’s likes/dislikes for YEARS. This is not just age gap, but age play. While Daddy/little is mentioned more than once, there is not too much detail–the reader is not immersed in this kink, but it has a little more than most novels out there that just use the words. Once they get together, this goes fast with explicit content. There is less dialogue, with large portions of the book happening in their heads. It is also slightly repetitive in their thoughts. I get annoyed when authors write older or younger characters unrealistically so I am happy to report that is not the case here. Devon is age appropriate when he is not a little. It’s great to see Devon embracing his submission, being less self conscious, less insecure, and unashamed about what he wants with Bern. This is a sweet, hot, wish fulfillment story.

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Review: Home Coming by Elizabeth Noble, Pain And Pleasure 1

Home coming cover
Cover Design: Written Ink Designs | written-ink.com

I would rate this book 4 stars.

Ian is the CEO of the family business and a slightly bratty sub. Teran, his husband and Master of five years, is an investigator with the state police. This is a short prequel to a future book that establishes: how they met, their couple dynamic, and what a typical day is like for them. This works well from Ian’s POV to show how much he enjoys all of this. He loves and is proud of his husband. This story has elements of BDSM, but describes the tools in terms of sound and touch, more than visual–shapes are described more than color, for instance. This is sexy, but really a primer for the book that will explore their vacation at a BDSM resort. I liked when they took a break from those roles for regular dinner conversation. I would say this is effective at establishing them as a couple and giving the reader a taste of the author’s writing style.

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Review: Arctic Wild by Annabeth Albert, Frozen Hearts 2

Arctic Wild Cover
Cover made by Carina Press

I would rate this 4.25 stars.

This is the second book in this series, but can be read as a standalone without any issues. Rueben’s best friend Craig, the spouse of a colleague at his law firm, has talked him into finally taking a vacation for his 48th birthday. Unfortunately, his friends cancel, leaving him alone with his guide. This trip wasn’t his idea and he doesn’t want to be in Alaska. It takes time for the scenery and companionship to grow on him. After Rueben unplugs from his phone and laptop, he is grudgingly starting to have a good time, and flirt with his guide. Tobias may be a smooth talker, but he has hidden depths behind his charming personality and quick smile. He also digs out his ethics and doesn’t sleep with his client when he has the chance. By the time the plane crash happens, I was already hooked on both these characters. Tobias is devastated his injuries might keep him from helping his sisters and his dad. He has little choice but to accept help from Reuben while he recuperates. The crash mades Rueben question his future and what he wants out of it. He vows to spend more time with his 14 year old daughter Amelia. What could go wrong with renting a house for the summer for all three of them?

For a relationship guy like Rueben, who likes to care for people, to agree to a summer fling is rare. For a hookup guy like Tobias to be friends with, and basically live with someone he’s having sex with, is equally unusual. I liked watching them both learn more about themselves. It’s not the age gap coming into play so much as the fact that this is Tobias’s first real relationship; he is not used to dealing with sharing his feelings or burdens. It’s also the first time he has prioritized something he wants for himself. Tobias’s father is such a large influence on him and his thought processes, that it takes him time to navigate through his inner conflict. Rueben hasn’t had the best luck at relationships, learning to put his job first because it gave him most of his sense of self worth. He has to work through breaking old habits–relearning to prioritize his daughter over his job, his life over his work.

This had all of the great writing, depth, and hot love scenes I would expect from this author. This book had an expansion of characters without making them flat or sacrificing any of the love story for the main characters. I thought the interactions with their respective family members all rang authentic. As a long novel, this really takes its time to immerse the reader in details about the activities, scenery, and characters. I found the plane crash to be realistically described while actually adding to the character development, rather than only as an excuse to trap the MCs together. This has some great tropes: opposites attract, fish out of water, age gap, slow burn, hurt/comfort and second chances. I would recommend reading both of these and look forward to the third one.

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Review: Benoit by RJ Scott and V.L Locey, Owatonna U Hockey 3

Benoit cover
Cover by Meredith Russell

I would rate this book 3.75 stars.

This is the third book in the series and would benefit from being read in order, but could be read as a standalone. This is a spin-off series (think second generation) of the Harrisburg Railers series. It focuses on the senior year of Ryker, Scott, and Benoit who play college hockey on a team known as the Eagles at Owatonna University. Ryker and Scott were paired off in the first two books, so this book is about Ben meeting Ethan Girard, the team’s new defensive consultant and famed Boston defenseman.

Ethan is 32 and possibly nearing the end of his career, while Benoit is just getting started, so besides the ten year age gap are their choices, their outlook, and their life experiences. Sure Benoit is a bit jealous of all his friends, but he just wants to focus on hockey and go skate for Edmonton. He is navigating a lot of pressure to help make it big and care for his family, keep his grades high and earn a degree he can use if he gets injured and can’t play anymore. He also needs to decide if coming out publicly is a good decision when he is already battling racism. Ethan can afford, in every sense of the word, to do what he wants. He got drafted right away and never went to college. If he retires, he won’t have to face as much blowback for his sexuality. I feel like I was told all of that instead of being shown.

I have to say this third book is somehow removed from the characters for the first half because it is busy sharing the story with everyone else. A lot of it takes place in Benoit’s (or Ethan’s) head, but weeks go by without anything happening. Although this makes sense because Ben is avoiding Ethan, it makes it difficult to get into the story until about 35% of the way in. Everything seems skimmed over though, without much detail. Thankfully everything snaps back into focus with a detailed description of the hotel dining room for a Railers dinner. The book comes alive, with Stan and Ten, when Ryker convinces Scott and Benoit to go to a Railers game and hangout with his dads after. You do not have to know or have read about these characters to read this book–it was like the authors didn’t have a focus for the writing itself until this scene, when the reader is finally given enough details to actually picture the surroundings.

Benoit’s story really clicks into place when he and Ethan are a couple, spending time together, and stops worrying about what everyone else is doing. This is the writing at its best. There is a plot point that gets shoved in the background and pulled back out later to be used as a source of conflict. All this did for me was really highlight the age differences between Benoit and Ethan, making a HEA less believable. I personally would call this an HFN because they are not on equal footing and Benoit’s lack of maturity shows in how he deals with conflict. Some of the best scenes in the book were the ice hockey games at the end; this also highlighted the other parts of the book that were supposed to be suspenseful, but weren’t. Overall this was a good trilogy featuring college players and this book was a way to tie up any lose ends for Benoit, Ryker, Jacob, Scott, and Haynes. It gave the authors new characters to mention later. The next phase seems to be a new series with Ryker playing for the Arizona Raptors with Aarni, the guy who hurt his father’s fiance, which will pull the reader back into the NHL.

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*P.S. These authors are amazing at being non Amazon exclusive. They do a lot of work moving their books in and out of KU to allow their fans to buy from other platforms/formats. If you are reading this post way after it is written, the best way to know what books are on sale where, and for how long, is to subscribe to their newsletters.