Review: Omega Returned by Tanya Chris, Omega Reimagined 4

Omega-Returned-small
Cover art by Chay Fox (https://www.etsy.com/shop/chayebookcovers)

 

I would rate this 3.5 stars.

Fortis and Keesh have their own complicated history of dancing around their attraction for each other for five years, each for his own reasons. As an alpha and a beta, they have a certain dynamic they maintain. When Prince Angel asks them to escort an omega named Owen back to his home in Western Pack, they agree. Owen has been treated badly by Prince Devin, who has canceled their mating. With an alpha’s ability to command compliance and an omega’s pheromones, both need Keesh’s beta abilities as a peacemaker to make their travel go smoothly, especially when Owen goes into heat.

This goes exactly where it says it will, there aren’t many surprises. Except for what is needed for each scene, there also isn’t much world-building. Neither does this move the overarching storyline forward much. If you have not read the first three books, you would still have no problem following this story. I’m not sure how Owen is so sweet, having been raised in a political household and trained for court life. Still, it’s nice to see him learn to be more independent. Much of the book has that feeling of being in a bubble as the three travel through the forest. Even when they detour to Central Pack territory to stop at Keesh’s hometown of Hybernia, the only other character to stand out is Keesh’s mom. The book is at its best as the three men work out their hurt feelings when jealousies arise. They are all willing to step aside for each other to be happy, as they all struggle with how to make a triad work. There isn’t any need; they just have to open their minds to it. Mainly, there are sweet, cute, and adorable moments in this, broken up by hot sex scenes and pining. Read this when you want fluffy, steamy goodness to enjoy without being too taxing.

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**The ebooks are exclusive to Amazon but you can buy books 1-3 bundled together as a paperback at Barnes And Noble here, so check back later after book six comes out to see if books 4-6 are published as volume 2. Ditto for Book Depository here.

Review: The Infinite Onion By Alice Archer

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Cover design: Tracy Kopsachilis Art & Design Front cover book photograph copyright © iStock.com/ranplett Front cover circles illustration copyright © iStock.com/Svetlana Kachurovskaia Lanpochka

 

I would rate this 4.5 stars.

Grant is so unhappy being a worker drone in Seattle, he burns his whole life down six months after his divorce. His defenses are so high, the only one he seems to lower them for is his nephew Kai. When he ends up camping rough on Vashon Island to try and figure out his life, he meets an artist named Oliver who challenges him. Sparks fly as Oliver likes irritating Grant with a strange arrangement meant to get him back on his feet. Oliver has demons of his own and stripping Grant bare exposes his own defense mechanisms. Both of them will need to battle their own and each other’s walls if they are to have a chance at living happily ever after.

Grant ignores unpleasant realities. Yet, he has a big heart for those who accept him as he is instead of trying to change him. The tweens (his nephew Kai and his friends Jill, Clover, Penelope, and Abelino) are there as the catalysts to show who he is behind his anger, fear, and desperation to find himself for himself, instead of always bending to fit the will of others. Some might say, where are their parents? But, I grew up on an island and ran wild for hours, all day and night in the summer and no one knew where I was or who I was with, so this made me think of my own adventures. How wonderful they have someone to treat them like the individual people they are. One of Grant’s lessons is that sometimes order and boundaries are needed, that their are times they are appropriate and should be respected; another is that if the rules he lives by don’t serve him, it’s time to make up new rules.

Oliver flouts the idea that you can’t help people who don’t want to be helped. I’m glad Oliver had a come to Jesus moment about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but it didn’t make him more likeable for me at that moment. With his artistic nature, his fantasies often overcome or overwrite his reality…but people who are lonely or traumatized often live in their head. His circle (Talia, Clementine, Freddy) is only people who will respect his boundaries and not expect more from him. Freddie, Oliver’s friend with benefits for seventeen years, is a deceptively complex look into Oliver’s world as he has ordered it. I liked Oliver the most when his art therapy ends up saving him from his avoidance techniques.

Being creatives, this is a wild ride with characters that explore the absurdity of their inner worlds. Memories, nostalgia, how the past shapes our reality, and thus the present, is what is battled here. This is what it looks like when people take a self inventory. So many stories focus on violence or sexual abuse as the only thing that wounds people; you will not find that here. Having said that, I was not enamored with the stalking for love trope. In the end, these two wounded men fit like puzzle pieces–their strengths and weaknesses merging to create a stronger whole. My mind was a swirl of grief and enchantment, painted with vivid art and inner imagery. The ending left me touched, breathless, and happy knowing in all the world Grant and Oliver found the one special person who gets them, crazy and all.

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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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Review: Scintilla by Elizabeth Noble, El Corazon 1

Scintilla
Cover not credited.

 

I would rate this 3.5 stars.

Brandon goes on vacation to fulfill his sexual fantasy with a werewolf Dom at the El Corazon adult entertainment club in Arizona. The werewolf he gets is Raul, grandson to the club owner and professional bounty hunter. One scene is not enough for either of them and a bond is struck. But Brandon is a scintilla, a magical human that wields electricity, and an expert with using electronics to glean information. Months later Brandon disappears and his father shows up to hire Raul to find him, leading everyone down a path filled with paranormals, human trafficking, and betrayal.

For me, this book is split in two with the first half being a bit awkward where some things are explained, and the second half where there is a lot of action and a better connection between the characters. The first love scene wasn’t quite as hot as I would have liked, but that’s just sex. They hang out for a week, having more sex, which is not shown. Too many sex scenes back to back can be boring, but skipping out on the time they spend together lessens the intimacy. The reader is told they emailed for months after, but that didn’t make me feel attached to either of them. Then, the second half has the intimacy and connection I wanted–almost too much as it also actually distracted them from their own undercover operation. There are a plethora of kinks here, with the age gap, Raul being a hairy bear type, knotting, and Brandon basically being a violet wand. I did like that Raul is actually a wolf, it is always part of who he is and that is consistent.

The world-building was a bit haphazard. There are four classes of magical humans, so what are they? There are five types of jinn, but only effrit and sila are referenced. There is a leprechaun and a prism character, but neither are explored. Later, acoustic and aether paranormals are also mentioned. The only thing I know about werewolf culture is they are pansexual and matriarchal. Raul’s family is also Latin, so that comes across the most. As the matriarch, Natty is a force to be reckoned with, and a welcome, loving presence. A jinni, Fahim, who is a business partner of Raul’s cousin, Tad, is always there to lend of hand, but I don’t know anything about him. At first I felt I missed something as a character named Janey was introduced; I had no idea who she was. She is described as a prism, and ends up being the police captain, but I have no idea what she or her lieutenant, Iva, whom Raul has known since grade school, actually look like. So, really, the world-building here is contained to Raul’s family life and glimpses of his work as a bounty hunter. Things that need to be known are thrown in scene by scene. That’s a shame since the plot is actually interesting. This is really just a fun, low angst for the subject matter adventure, with some steamy sex scenes, a bit of violence, and likeable lead characters. Expect that instead of urban fantasy and it’ll be an enjoyable diversion.

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**This book is currently exclusive to Amazon, but not all the author’s works are. She sometimes offers books through her Payhip for a short time and publishes through JMS Books.

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

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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: Thirteen by Tia Fielding, Love By Numbers 3

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Cover Art © 2020 Garrett Leigh http://www.blackjazzdesign.com

I would rate this 3.5 stars.

As the third book in the series, while you could skip the first one, I feel like you would need to read book two before this one. They function like a duology, being concurrent in the time line, layering in information that wasn’t focused on during Padraig’s and Emil’s POV. This book focuses on what happens from Mark’s and Francis’s POV. As a nurse, Francis is a caring person and aches that Mark that has no support system, but he has to go back to New Jersey to deal with the fallout from his job and make decisions about his own future. He’s certainly not going to out Mark. Seeing Francis’s remembrances of Marcus helps give some of the depth I wanted in the second book.

This shows Mark’s job with welfare checks, keeping an eye on the campgrounds, domestic violence, and helping at a fire for crowd control. Mark didn’t want to study criminal justice, but it was one of the only subjects his parents would pay for, so I am left wondering if he ever wanted to be a cop or even likes his job. Getting Mark’s POV was as awful as I thought it would be with his internalized homophobia. With Francis in the picture, he finally has a reason to try and work out his issues and starts talking informally to Evy, the town shrink. Of course the moment he starts doing the work to shake off his parent’s influence, the more support he has if he can allow himself to ask for it. It’s difficult to take a previously unliked character and make him sympathetic.

Francis has been in Acker before prior to Marcus’s death, so he knows the townspeople. While that’s convenient, by book three I should know and be more emotionally engaged with all the side characters than I was. Instead of building on that, eight new people get added to the mix, two of whom even knew Marcus and Padraig in N.J., but are still not as fleshed out as they could be. Charles and Henrietta are an older couple with health issues that live outside of town and need live-in help, creating a perfect job for Francis when he moves to the area. Thankfully, they are a welcome addition, adding some heartwarming moments.

Francis reads Mark in a way no one else has and takes charge. The loves scenes here are steamy, more frequent and more explicit than the previous books. With all of Mark’s issues, this level of trust and sexual openness is not realistic so soon. I’m of several minds about the light D/s explored here…it works in book three, but there wasn’t enough forshadowing so it looks like it wasn’t plotted out beforehand. This plotline allows Mark to not have to be in charge of his pleasure, which could be a copout for someone with toxic masculinity. I have to say if Francis didn’t make him give verbal consent the whole way, it wouldn’t have worked for me at all. When Mark inadvertently triggers Francis, we don’t get to see Francis work it out from his POV. I think this was to keep things low angst for the reader; it wasn’t good enough for me. Knowing what happened and seeing a character’s psychology are two different things. However, I was happy with the resolution of Mark’s relationship with his parents. This is a happily ever after for all the friends and while I should have “all the feels,” the same distance that keeps out the lows (angst), also keeps out the highs (joy).

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**This book was previously released by Dreamspinner Press and has been republished by the author. It is currently exclusive to Amazon.

Review: Four By Tia Fielding, Love By Numbers 2

Tia Fielding Four
Cover by © 2019 Garrett Leigh http://www.blackjazzdesign.com/

I would rate this 3.5 stars

Although this is book two in the series there are (thankfully) brief recaps. You could read this on its own just fine, but it would have more emotional impact if read them in order. This one focuses on “Doc” Padraig Donovan the town veterinarian. He’s introduced in book one when helping Makai with a pregnant stray cat but other than knowing he’s a widower, and gay, there hasn’t been much character development. At the end of book one, Kaos, Makai’s genderqueer friend from prison, has arranged to come visit. He spent two years inside with Makai before he was released from prison after serving his four years. His life on the outside with an abusive boyfriend has been traumatic.

Since Marcus’s death, Padraig has buried himself in work. After seeing Makai and Emil get together, he starts tentatively moving forward with his life by using the space where his husband’s clinic used to be and getting in touch with mutual friends again like Marcus’s best friend Francis. They all went to college together and when Francis comes for a visit, it’s clear he will feature prominently in the next book. With Makai’s and Emil’s house being too small, Kaos moves in with Padraig while Francis’s character works as a buffer to allow a slow burn as both Padraig and Kaos work out their issues as individuals and as the couple they are becoming. Kaos’s issues revolve around his PTSD and exploring their gender identity in a safe environment whilst Padraig is having to deal with his grief and guilt, being honest rather than nostalgic about his marriage, and exploring his attraction to someone more feminine.

These books are about people with real issues that work at dealing with them in a mature way and actually communicate with each other, support each other, and treat other with respect. While they discuss their trauma, in order to understand each other, they aren’t bonding over their traumas. They bond spending time together. Their age gap doesn’t come into play except in relation to their experiences within the gay community. Everything is going so well but, triggers are triggering, so there are things to work out. There is more time spent with Kaos than Padraig, but I was grateful as seeing Padraig’s POV in dealing with hurt or abused animals would have been difficult for me. This book is focused more on the little things, the joys and annoyances of daily living, than the first book, but also has more steamy love scenes.

Although Padraig moved back to the area because of his family, neither his sister Mairead (or Mary) nor his dad are fleshed out. All the locals pop up, but there isn’t much done to expand them as characters. Sherriff Kalle is more sympathetic, more willing support Kaos since he already did his time. Kaos’s boss Christa at the tattoo shop and one of his clients are thrown into the story, but are not fully realized. Athena, as Padraig’s employee studying to be a vet tech is also underutilized. Having been established as homophobic in book one, the sheriff’s deputy Mark has a turnaround here that didn’t ring true without any foundation for how it happened–I expected more here, especially since it’s obviously a setup for him being paired off with Francis in the next book. There were some missed opportunities for more depth here but, I want to see Mark’s POV so I’ll read the next one.

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** This book was previously published by Dreamspinner Press and has now been self-published. It is currently exclusive to Amazon.

Review: Ten by Tia Fielding, Love By Numbers 1

TiaFieldingTen
Cover Art © 2019 Garrett Leigh

I would rate this 4 stars.

After ten years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Makai heads to Acker, Wisconsin to start his life over. There he meets Emil, still suffering his own PTSD from his ten day ordeal at the hands of drug traffickers. The hurt/comfort trope is high with this one as they stumble into a relationship while Emil’s father Kalle, the Sheriff, tries to keep them apart. We get to see both sides of law enforcement here, from Makai’s conviction for being brown, to an honest small town sheriff trying to protect his son from heartbreak and conquer his own prejudice (about excons, not because Makai’s a POC), and deputies Erin and Jason, who show Makai kindness. Unfortunately another deputy, Mark, is concerned with everyone’s sexuality and gender instead seeing them as people.

Watching Makai emotionally and mentally navigate being out of prison is sad. I am not usually a fan of so much inner musing, but with Makai fresh from prison and living alone in a sparsely populated area, it is appropriate to the story. Emil has trouble being around people too, so his POV is also self contained. Yet, when the dialogue happens it is real and pertinent, it helps paint a picture of their lives. Here the slow burn is entirely necessary; there is no other way for these men to interact. The bravery, the honesty they share is astonishing but in their excitement to have found someone who understands, they get too close too quick. As with all mental health issues, it’s a few steps forward, a few steps back. The sex is a natural extension of their relationship, but not eroticized for the reader. They are building a life together and that is just one small part of it as they struggle to be healthy.

The vet Doc, Emil’s shrink Evy, Emil’s mom Nora, the grocery store owner Mr. Miller, Joy/Joie and their mom Lotte–this is loaded with caring characters that feel real because they are described and their interactions with each other feel real. Joy/Joie is a wonderful 5 year old age appropriate character exploring their gender. It’s heartwarming to see the effort some of the town members take to welcome Makai, encouraging his integration–yes, some are bigots and homophobes, that’s just life. The small town feel is well written and surprisingly diverse. The whole town is invested in Emil because they had to share in his tragedy, so they want share in his happiness also. I do think Makai has to go above and beyond to prove to everyone, especially the sheriff, he is a “good guy” even though we was exonerated of the crime he committed and was unjustly convicted. This makes me wonder what kind of reception Kaos, Makai’s friend from prison, will get when he arrives for book two. Over all this is a well done, low angst for the subject matter, solid romance.

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**This book was previously published by Dreamspinner Press and has now been self-published by the author. I have an older edition of this book and it is exclusive to Amazon at this time.

Review: IM by Rick R. Reed

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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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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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