Review: Gabriel’s Storm By Sue Brown

GabrielsStorm
Cover Art © 2020 Brooke Albrecht http://brookealbrechtstudio.com

 

I would rate this 4 stars.

Gabriel has become a recluse, grieving the loss of his wife Jenny and his son Michael. The only one keeping him alive is his brother-in-law and neighbor Toby and Toby’s husband Damien. But Toby has been enabling Gabriel as helping him staves off his own grief. When Gabriel’s obsession with searching the sea finds an injured man in a boat, his life is jumpstarted in ways he never saw coming. With the man who becomes Sam having amnesia due to a head injury and emotional trauma, are his nightmares of someone trying to murder him true? As Sam and Gabriel become close during the forced proximity, they may be building castles in the sand that have an expiration date when real life floods in to their intimate bubble.

An alternating POV between Sam and Gabriel is used to good effect; I got to know and like both characters well. Gabriel has changed nothing in the house since his family died, he’s made no effort to move forward in his grieving process. Having someone in his home who doesn’t know anything about him or his family makes him confront what he has been avoiding, his home has become a shrine to them down to the mug that was his wife’s favorite. Sam has terrifying nightmares and flashbacks of people trying to murder him; little facts and bits of his life come back to him over a few days. Gabriel is his savior and safety in his world gone mad. The attraction is there, but the timing isn’t right, until it is. Both of them are experiencing fear, loss, and grief that helps them grow together. Toby, as the local doctor, grabs at the chance to support Gabriel by playing instigator and matchmaker. A well written category romance, this could have gone into great territory if the emergency that pulled the community together was a chance to really explore the others living there, but they are mostly just names with enough care from Gabriel’s POV to tug at the heartstrings without the work of making them more three dimensional. I did love the English seaside as a character that while beautiful, adds complex moods, both good and bad, to the tale.

Of course, there is that pesky attempted murder thing to deal with. By the time Sam is recognized from a news report for a missing person, the story is already emotionally satisfying. Is five days long enough to fall in love? I vote yes for a HFN, a promise to try to confront how to blend their radically different lives together after senseless loss. Much of this is down to good, believable dialogue. The angst is broken up by moments of genuine care for others and humor. For me, this was a lovely way to spend three hours.

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Sue Brown’s Website

Review: Like A Dervish by Olivette Devaux, Disorderly Elementals 7

dervish
Cover Art © 2019 Pavelle Art

I would rate this 3 stars.

The blurb said it could read as a standalone, but I would recommend reading them in order. Obviously, there will be spoilers otherwise, so I was surprised about many things like the truce with Brian and the polyamory between Cooper, Ash, and Sigmund. I have missed three books and there wasn’t always enough recapping about who people were. Also, Brian’s part in this (past actions) plays a huge role in the dynamic between Sigmund and David–they both worked for him and he’s had an effect on their trust of one another. Brian suggests Sig and David go to Las Vegas in order to practice with their powers out in the desert in an unpopulated area. While they obviously don’t trust Brian, they agree to help track down his missing cousin.

Some of this plot didn’t make sense to me. Who are they worried about kidnapping them? Who is chasing or tracking them now? Who is Lynn? Brian is supposedly looking for his cousin Zack who has disappeared, yet he’s a big time illusionist in Vegas and Brian has his own people there who spy for him. I didn’t understand Sig and David going back into a casino or populated areas where everything is being videoed/monitored if they are afraid of being found. They end up camping in the desert and practice working on their control over their elements. David’s wind element seems way more interesting to me in this book than Sig’s fire, but I am assuming that has been covered more in previous books.

Zack is an interesting character that isn’t full fleshed out even though he has the third largest role in the book. The POV switches between David and Sig except at one point where Sig’s POV seems to accidentally switch into Zach’s POV for a few paragraphs. There is also some of Cooper’s POV near the end that didn’t really add anything to the story. I understand lust and being touch starved, but I didn’t like the insta-love that David and Sig have with the introduction of Zack. The sex scenes are somewhat explicit, but not that steamy. I do think the dynamic worked as it helped take away David’s awkwardness about never having been with a man before due to Zack’s lack of experience also, but I thought David’s established jealousy melting away seemed unrealistic. As for secondary characters, Joe is more real than Celeste or Gianna. While this may signal Joe will pop up again in another book, making all the characters realistic would have added depth. Also, it’s a shame two powerful women characters aren’t better utilized. When the book ends abruptly, I am left wondering if the two triads will merge, with Sig as the bridge. While Sig seems to take a step back from Cooper and Ash when they go back to Pittsburgh, I wasn’t emotionally invested in their relationship since I have missed reading previous books. Also, if/when Zach comes to Pittsburgh…Sig being in love with four other men is a bit much for me. With a murky plot, lukewarm sex, and a ton of questions I am not sure I care about answering, this just didn’t work for me.

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Review: Alpha Home by Sue Brown, J.T.’s Bar 3

AlphaHome
Cover design by Garrett Leigh, Black Jazz Design

I would rate this 3 stars.

Si and Howie became a couple in book one, but that was a side story so their romance was never explored. It’s mentioned in book two that they’ve had some issues and now we get to see what they are. Unlike Mitch, Si doesn’t leave the team so Howie is having to deal with weeks of separation at a time without knowing where Si is or if he’s okay. He doesn’t want to move to North Carolina, he’s happy in Wyoming. But again, there is no communication here. His mother is also a problem; his family doesn’t approve of his being gay and she’s here from Ohio. At one point, it’s only his aunt and cousins left alive, but then he is supposedly from a big family. He seems to not care what anyone thinks except his mom. In fact, he still dates when his mom is alive, just keeps it out of her face, but I have to assume his aunt or cousins are telling her anyway? Why couldn’t he have just done that with Si instead of other men? There is some repetition about how Howie is kind and gentle, not a warrior, but I was frustrated with him not standing up for himself. This plot frustrates me as much as what happened between Jake and Mitch, but two years later, Si and Howie finally get their second chance.

Si is a volatile character, not that he would ever be violent with Howie, but he seems to need calming influences. His friends tend to “manage” him. The dynamic of Mitch and Jake as team leaders, follows into their personal lives as well. I didn’t understand the inclusion of Mark, who is ex-agency and now a physical therapist that just happens to be in this small town in Wyoming. When someone has it out for Howie, the team tries to figure out who, and whether someone is trying to kill him or just scare him. Clearly, something needed to happen to set up the next book so that it makes sense for these men to keep doing military type scenarios when they are supposed to be civilians. There also needs to be some sort of connection to the bar, or it wouldn’t make sense to be part of the J.T.’s Bar series. Everything is sorted, but I still am not too attached to most of the characters except Mitch, and by extension Jake.

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Review: IM by Rick R. Reed

ReedIM
Cover Art by Natasha Snow Copyright © 2020

I would rate this 3.25 stars.

The title of the book IM (Instant Message) refers to how the killer meets his victims online. There is plenty to terrify anyone who thinks meeting up with a stranger to get off is a good idea. The men do it for a variety of relatable reasons: to alleviate loneliness; maybe they aren’t out and want the anonymity; or they like the thrill of it–the surprise of who will come to the door. I didn’t see a date (except for flashbacks), but I think this takes place during the late 90’s in Chicago. The whole book is told as a series of little vignettes, slices of life, with each chapter from the different points of view of the people affected. Many of them are told from the men right before they are murdered with sick and gruesome details emerging later as a detective from the Chicago PD, investigates. Ed loses his job, likely due to homophobia in the department, but he can’t let this case go and continues on his own, trying to find the killer who has taken to toying with him.

The author builds the tension slowly with creepy noises, creaky floorboards, whistling and howling winds, and the thoughts of paranoia the characters experience. The writing style is piecemeal as the reader struggles to figure out what happened to the killer to “make him this way,” but really it’s probably a little bit of nature and a little bit of nurture. Be aware there are necrophilia elements, murder, rape, child abuse, drugs, AIDS, and dismemberment. I’m glad that the point of views are short so as not to become too attached to the people who die, and the style which is also removed, like an outside observer allows a distance. That is also a criticism because nothing feels too immediate and I think the book suffers for it with a lack of emotional investment on my part. The writing style also makes the book drag on so it feels much longer than a regular narrative.

Ed repeatedly puts himself in danger, (unarmed!), due to his curiosity. Even his boyfriend Peter is at his wit’s end with it and I am on his side. The book references all the famous serial killers with a nod to how they ultimately got caught, but they all went out with a whimper, not a bang. It was pretty anticlimactic. Here, the final confrontation and wrapping up of loose ends is strange and OTT (over the top). Then there is the fact that the story relies on a small, slight man described as elfin without much strength who outsmarts and physically outmaneuvers an ex-policeman that is in good shape and has 50+ pounds on him. This didn’t work as a romance (Ed and Peter), but was slightly more successful as a suspense/thriller.

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Rick R. Reed’s Website

 

 

 

Review: Back In Black by Rhys Ford, McGinnis Investigations 1

BackInBlack
Reece Notley reece@vitaenoir.com

I would rate this 3.75 stars.

This is really a continuation of the Cole McGinnis Mystery series, but takes place a few years after the previous books. Being thrown into the fray with Cole in first person POV as he takes a job checking a property’s security as a favor for a friend reestablishes his character’s long history of hijinks. He is not only shot at, but finds a dead body on accident because that is a very Cole thing to do. Said dead body is a former client so he can’t let it go, determined to find the killer. The recapping should allow the reader to start here if they haven’t read the first six books, but it’s a lot to throw at someone coming in fresh–it will sound crazy OTT. It’s also a lot of telling instead of showing, yet this is the style of these with humorous asides in that hardboiled detective novel way that sounds like a voice over. It’s completely self aware of that as it describes parts of Los Angeles: “there were entire blocks of stone and metal whose shadows held the ghosts of noir detectives and gum-snapping dames.”

I did experience frustration at all the recapping though; if it was taken out, there would be little story left. Having said that, the main enjoyment comes from the prose rather than the action. It’s like Dragnet on steroids crossed with a beginner’s guide to ethnic foods of L.A. wrapped up in the feelings of love and family that finally flavor Cole’s life. I enjoyed seeing all the characters again, slightly older and more settled in their lives, I just wish there had been more depth to the glimpses. The heat level is ratcheted down here as compared to the previous books, which I didn’t mind, but I did wish I felt more of the emotional connection between then in the moment rather than having to rely on past events to know it’s there. In other words, I wish they were making new memories instead of reliving the old ones as a way to tell the reader they love each other. The previous focus was on Cole and Jae establishing their relationship with the mysteries and past traumas as a backdrop. Here the focus is on Bobby and Cole establishing a more formal business arrangement between them moving forward as consultants for the LAPD with O’Byrne being their main point of contact. It’s a focus that will rely way more heavily on how interesting the cases are moving forward unless there is manufactured drama to disrupt the happiness of all the couples and that won’t make longtime fans happy. I’m willing to see where it goes.

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Review: The Stark Divide by J. Scott Coatsworth, Liminal Sky 1

The Stark Divide
Cover Art © 2017 Aaron Anderson. aaronbydesign55@gmail.com

I would rate this 4.75 stars.

First off, this was a really well done science fiction novel. I think if you buy into the ideas of: AI becoming a sentient autonomous being, bio mechanical technology becoming something that a human (or potentially AI) could be born with, and the idea of terraforming within a starship, then there is everything to enjoy and delight in within this book. The story carried me along and I went willingly. This book takes place over a thirty year span of time, skipping over the surface of three time periods. One of the reasons I think it is successful is because it was clever about contained world-building with a small cast for greater emotional impact. Each character is rounded out through flashbacks, memories, dialogue and actions enough so that the reader gets a sense of person. Because the joys and tragedies are shared, I became invested in each person and their wellbeing. Each location is described enough for the reader to picture it, without it being overwhelming or an info dump.

During the first third of the book, the focus is on Colin, Jackson, and Ana, on a ship called the Dressler. This sets the stage for everything that is to come after. Colin is a hardworking, compassionate, competent captain who responds well to emergencies and tries to do his best for his crew. Jackson is the ship’s engineer who is tested in ways he never imagined. Ana is the expert in ship genetics. It is she who created three seed ships to try and save humanity. In this way, they operate as the human heart, soul, and mind of the book. Saving Lex, the Dressler ship-mind, and allowing it to eat the asteroid Ariadne thus begins the creation of mankind’s first interstellar ship is their legacy.

Ten years later, the second third of the book focuses on the new world-ship Ariadne, that is called Forever. Colin is now Director, Ana is on board after being released from prison, and Jackson is somewhere else entirely. Colin has ensured a diverse and inclusive settlement. The second and third seed worlds are underway, but the reader is left wondering about them. Jackson’s son Aaron becomes the focus of this part of the story with his friends, Devon and Keera. The dangers of political and corporate espionage, and religious fantatical saboteurs are all getting worse as the wars on Earth continue to destroy the planet. Lex is also a danger as a mind grown without parents. Can anyone trust the world-mind? Who taught it right from wrong? This issue is addressed in a unique way.

The third part of this story finally shows what Earth has become and highlights Eddie and Davian as they become refugees trying to reach Transfer Station and Forever. Colin is now retired, married to Trip, and has a berry farm, but is being called up to help with the refugees. Aaron is the new Director. There is now a generation of kids raised in space, who have never been on Earth. Aaron’s daughter Andy has also grown up in the virtual reality of the world-mind. Some fear her power and very few people know the AIs have become their own autonomous personalities that think and feel.

For me, the book shines in all the micro worlds: the ships, the settled part of Forever, the part still terraforming, the virtual reality of Lex’s mind, the space station, the cave on Earth, the desperate flight of a small two man ship…the author has created great texture interweaving all of these parts together to make a complex whole. The book is psychologically interesting, philosophically challenging, biologically and technologically fascinating with enough details to picture the surroundings, without overwhelming the reader. This has the perfect amount of world-building for me. Even with all that, the human element is never forgotten; the characters are engaging and written about in a way that made me care about what happens to them. Although sad, it’s realistic that some will want power and control. Being in the mind of someone like that is difficult, but I am pleased that the author added those viewpoints. While there are relationships of all varieties here, be aware this is science fiction rather than romance and all sex is fade to black. Many times, in answer to the vast majority of books being caucasian heteronormative, an author’s response is to make everyone in their book be queer, or people of color, or some underrepresented group. In this case, the author chose to make everyone diverse, represented, and not just equal, but equitable as much as possible. For me, the book ends on both a sad and hopeful note and the future of humanity is in the stars.

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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: Shipped (Until You #1) by Karrie Roman

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

This is book one in a series called Until You. I read Sentinel, the second book, first so I wanted to go back and learn about the other characters. Ryan Lowe is an Aussie actor without a lot of experience, hired to play Sam on a weekly TV show called The Witches’ Hammer, based on a popular book. Lucas Evers is the more experienced actor having been on a previously successful show, hired to play Dominic. They become fast friends but as the show becomes more successful the pressures, especially from fans, mount.

The author does of great job of showing us the different sides of fame. Ryan is from a poor background with an alcoholic father. He doesn’t have a good support system, is increasingly feeling panicked and out of control, and spirals down when on break from filming. His anxiety issues increase throughout the book.

Lucas responds very differently to fame, seeming to thrive. He is married to his best friend Anna. Although, we know this is a convenient arrangement, she is often the voice of reason and so supportive. We’re told Lucas is close to his family, but we don’t get to see it. He is basically supporting his siblings and parents, but when they start to spend more of his money than he is, he finally says something. Then we see the crack in the veneer of family relationships.

A third of the way in, the focus and mood shifts. Ryan has a stalker named Leighton White so studio security and the police get involved. Some of you may be too young to remember the stabbing of Theresa Saldana, or when Rebecca Schaeffer was murdered, but I’m not. I have also lived in Los Angeles and have seen actors get harassed, once for an autograph while in the toilet at a restaurant. I was devastated when Dimebag Darrell got shot. All of the sudden my fun romantic romp got serious. While this is true to life, it took me a moment when used as a plot device to draw Ryan and Lucas closer.

This is told in dual POV, so we see as: each of them pines for the other; get frustrated as they don’t talk; and get dragged along as their mutual attraction (hot, hot, hot) threatens their friendship, their jobs, and their sanity. The author gets us inside their heads and makes us root for them to be together both on and off screen. I really like that they use geekdom and humor to defuse their tensions. By the time they actually get together, it’s handled more maturely than I thought it would be–especially with Ryan’s previous behavior. Although after all the delicious UST, the actual love scenes are just ok for me.

About halfway through, tragedy strikes. There is one heck of a plot twist, and I shouldn’t know what is going to happen, but I do because I read the second book first. Lucas gets nominated for an Oscar for the film he worked on during the season break and his life may be in danger so the studio hires bodyguards from a security company owned by the Krispins. Here is were we meet Ethan and Ben, who will be the MCs of book two. They save Lucas and Ryan from being killed. In the epilogue, we get to see Ryan and Lucas filming on location: out, happy, and in love.

I enjoyed this book and I enjoyed the second book, but my criticism of each is the same: the author only focuses on the two main characters, not fleshing out the secondary characters. Yes, two of them have their own story, but in a book this long, there was plenty of opportunity for us to get to know more about everyone, which would give this way more depth. Still, I enjoyed what was there and would recommend it for an easy read with steamy chemistry.

The cover art by Natasha Snow shows San Francisco where the TV show was filming. The red sky is signaling danger. I am confused over the cover because Ryan is described as Australian, but never Aboriginal nor Black Australian. He is first described as tall, dark, and handsome with dark-brown eyes and later there is a remark about dark skin. Lucas is described as having striking dark skin, shaggy black hair, and green eyes but never identified as African American. Now I am picturing the actors Gary Dourdan (green eyes) or Michael Ealy (although his eyes are blue). We do not get a good enough description of anyone in his family. I never got a sense of either of them as a POC and at this point, I am not sure which model represents which character.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press |  Amazon
Book Details:
ebook
Published June 18th 2018 by NineStar Press
ISBN139781948608855
Edition Language: English
Series Until You #1

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Shipped (Until You #1) by Karrie Roman — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words