Review: The Rivalry by Beth Bolden

Rivalry
Book Cover © 2019 AngstyG Book Cover & Media Design

I would rate this 4.25 stars.

Although there is a previous book (The Rainbow Clause), I can say with absolute confidence this can be read as a standalone, since I had no idea. This is the story of Heath and Sam, NFL quarterbacks on different teams at different points in their careers, who end up on the same team after a holiday fling that left them both wanting more. Moving from opposites attract to frenemies to love, as they navigate both their personal and professional issues, the book also changes from erotic romance to something more interesting and nuanced as the psychology of the characters is touched upon. I would describe it more as tension-filled rather than full of angst, since past trauma isn’t dwelt upon just addressed so that the leads can have a believable HEA.

That tension is stretched taunt at several points–the longing, that breathless feeling, the fear of discovery–all of which are palpable. I like how the author also breaks the tension, with some fun at Heath’s expense. Heath is endearing in his awkwardness; knowing his thoughts is crucial to liking him. Sam is actually the more emotionally mature of the two in some ways, even though he is younger. As much as Heath watches football film to find tells for rival plays, Sam studies Heath for his tells, finding ways to break down the walls Heath has spent a lifetime fortifying. Heath is the mind of the book, while Sam is supposed to be the heart; but Sam, while nice and fun, only becomes more three dimensional to me when he starts to play football. Their miscommunications are very realistic, as is their using past experiences to “fill in the blanks” and decide what the other is thinking. I really liked that Heath allowed himself to explore his sexuality and realize his need to see a mental health professional.

This may only be me, but for the first five chapters it was difficult for me to keep Frankie and Felicity straight when the POV flipped between Heath and Sam–maybe because they weren’t real to me yet as they hadn’t been introduced as characters. I still wish the best friends of the main characters hadn’t had similar names. I also found that even though the book changes POV between Sam and Heath, the book seems more skewed towards Heath, explaining him to create empathy for him and show his character development. Sam’s bits tend to be more geared to how his personal development helps his career development. So, it felt a bit uneven. Also, I know we sometimes want that big gesture, but here I felt it detracted from the team and their achievement–not a way to win over your teammates. Overall, I enjoyed this immensely. With interesting lead characters, heartfelt emotions, steamy sex scenes, and a good supporting cast of friends, this was an entertaining read with the right amount of football for fans and non fans alike.

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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: Kanaan & Tilney: The Case of the Man-Eater by Jenna Rose and Katey Hawthorne

Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5 

This book is the second in the series and it would help to read them in order, but there is enough subtle recapping to read this alone. The series has a fun modern noir vibe. Be aware they describe brutal murders and this case deals with cannibalism. Lowell is a gruff, cuddly sort. Being a packless wolf shifter and ex-cop makes him a little prickly what with the prejudice and lack of respect the public has for either. Lowell’s boyfriend and business partner is John, pyrokinetic and mystery author. How he manages to not set certain people on fire makes him a better person than me. The series is set in Boston and they serve a diverse praeternatural community. They get hired by a young Terran named Fergus to look into the murder of his Beast (lion shifter) boyfriend Mateo. Lowell’s obnoxious hedgehog-shifter stalker is back to help with the case. The reader gets to see more of John’s friend Macy. I hope she gets to help on a case in the future. The few “good” cops are highlighted as helping them. As with the first book, most of this is “pounding the pavement” to solve the case with brief moments of their life they try to fit in around trying to find the killer and not getting killed.

Soon the bodies start to pile up. The victims being packless allows the opportunity of learning more about werewolf culture and pack structure. The blatant prejudice against packless with an actual hate group was sad. Being packless seems a lot like being shunned and has spiritual implications also. It is against the law for packless to form a pack, so they are afraid to even be friends or gather in groups for anything social or meaningful life events. I definitely want to see some activism on that front in future books.

As always, John is a bundle of energy and much a source of amusement. His complicated relationship with his mother is a source of stress that being with Lowell gives him the strength to deal with. Lowell has the strength to emotionally deal with the way things happen with his mother’s pack thanks to having John. These two are just so cute together and the love scenes are hot, but also emotionally move their relationship forward. I may have unfairly judged the first book because I think I have been reading a lot of science fiction in which the world building is all in the first book like a huge info dump–then I get upset if it’s never used or revisited again. This series works the other way–the world building happens gradually in the stories as more characters are added that the author will revisit again in the future and the reader will learn more about them when the time comes. Overall, I enjoyed this book. As with any P.I. series there will be some cases more interesting than others, but with likable main characters, intriguing side characters, and poignant social commentary to give this unexpected depth, I will continue to read these.

The cover was designed by Aisha Akeju. It matches the first cover in the series and catches that modern noir vibe well, but doesn’t give you much about the story

Sales Links:  Less Than Three Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Book Details: Kindle Edition, 193 pages
Published March 25th 2019 by Less Than Three Press, LLC
ASINB07NRV981M

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Kanaan & Tilney: The Case of the Man-Eater by Jenna Rose and Katey Hawthorne — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

***Sadly, Less Than Three Press has gone out of business.

Review: The Case of the Arms Dealers (Kanaan & Tilney #1) by Jenna Rose and Katey Hawthorne

Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

This is urban fantasy with Elementals, Beasts, Psychogenics, Necromorphs, and Terrans living alongside humans without them knowing. John Tilney is an author wanting to shadow the PI, Lowell Kanaan, for help with research for a book. Lowell is willing to have a free office assistant, but is slow to let John really be involved with his cases.

Although told Lowell has “gritty, noir-detective glory,” he wasn’t actually physically described for awhile, so he was difficult to picture in the beginning. There is a good description of John as Lowell meets him, but not one of Lowell when the POV is switched. John is guileless, honest, and in some ways socially awkward, but certainly not shy. His directness and persistence seem to usually get him what he wants. He finally figures out he wants Lowell. Although self described as demisexual, he jumped right into sexual attraction with Lowell. The sex scenes are smoking hot. In fact, early on the plot was thin and with those scenes I thought it was just going to be erotic romance. Then, the actual cases start to be interesting.

A man reports his neighbor missing. As they look into his whereabouts, they notice others missing as well. The (supernatural) police aren’t looking into it. In fact, their other client is a women being stalked and the police don’t seem to care about her case either. Lowell is the real hero here, working hard once it’s clear there is something wrong, whether he gets paid or not. As the suspect list gets longer, this is no longer about John writing a book, but finding a killer. John and Lowell have fallen into a work relationship and a romantic relationship easily. When John’s life gets threatened and Lowell gets overprotective, the easy camaraderie falls apart. John’s contacts have helped with the case, but he’s not a PI. Lowell, as a former cop, is now unsure how to make this work. They use actual words to work it out–yay for communication!

The side characters aren’t really fleshed out yet: like John’s mother or his neighbor Macy, and Lowell’s friend Mina. The Zombie Mafia boss Tony was interesting, as was his right hand person, Serafina. There is also very little made of the fact Lowell is a Beast (lupine) and John is a Psychogenic (pyrokinetic). I’m hoping the next book expands these characters and shows us more about the praeternatural factions. I ended up enjoying this and wanted to know more about everything. This is a very good first book in a series and the guys are adorable together.

The cover was designed by Aisha Akeju. It’s striking and a clever play on “pounding the pavement” to look for clues, noirish but with color. The zombie hand made me laugh.

Sales Links:  Less Than Three Press | Amazon

Book Details: Kindle Edition, 204 pages
Published January 15th 2019 by Less Than Three Press, LLC (first published October 27th 2015)
ASIN B07MTY62FD
Edition Language: English
Series: Kanaan & Tilney

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: The Case of the Arms Dealers (Kanaan & Tilney #1) by Jenna Rose and Katey Hawthorne — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Empire Of Light by Alex Harrow, Voyance 1

 

EmpireOfLightCover
Cover Art by Natasha Snow

I would rate this 4.5 stars.

Damien is a guy trying to survive by making the hard choices. He’s loyal and will do anything for the family that’s been cobbled together in this dystopian future, especially his lover Aris, which puts him right between a rock and a hard place. He’s working as an assassin for the Watch, the police force of the Empire of Consolidated Nations, run by Commander Faelle Valyr. The story is set in Helos, previously New York before the Wars of 2090. Everyone is corrupt. When Damien gets sent to take out a corporate guy named Mael Taerien, he’s caught and blackmailed into killing Valyr instead. Taerien’s henchman Raeyn sticks close to his side to make sure he cooperates. As the action intensifies, battle lines are drawn but they are fluid and everyone has to adjust to the ever changing landscape.

This is a gritty story with an almost frantic pace. Damien is like a mountain goat, stubborn yet quickly adapting to all terrains. It’s not like he has any choice. The poor guy is in one fight after another (beaten, choked, kicked, stabbed, and shot). Darien tries to play whichever side will help save Aris, himself, and their friends. Aris has his own plans and his own lovers. He’s between his own rocks and hard places. The thing is Damien and Aris are both broken and the pieces don’t quite match together. That doesn’t change anything that is going to happen as everyone runs head first into their future. Damien doesn’t ignore things as well as he thinks he does, so the reader understands he sees what he wants to about the people he loves. He also forgets that everyone he loves is not like him. I’m of two minds about the secondary characters not being that fleshed out: that’s a huge missed opportunity for emotional connection to the story, and thank goodness or I’d be a blubbering mess.

As Damien gets closer to Raeyn, I wasn’t sure who to root for, or against. In many ways Raeyn is a better match for Damien, but there are some major obstacles and their relationship has it’s own dysfunction. About halfway through this story my mind was partially blown, because a good author foreshadows. At about three quarters of the way in, my mind was fully blown. The only way this story works at all is because the reader only has Damien’s POV. There is no way at all to describe this plot without spoilers. It’s an impossible task and I don’t want to do that. Just trust that there is a plot twist around every corner in this complicated web of lies and conspiracies. Yes, some seem improbable but that’s half the fun. This is action packed from beginning to end and could have benefited from some more quiet moments. They are there, but they are usually gut wrenching in their mental dysfunction, so they are not restful for the reader. They are necessary to understand the psychology of the characters. I also think the unrelenting pace is to stop the reader from looking at holes in the plot, or to try and work out what will happen. But after going through this journey, the end is too optimistic for all the brutal world building that has taken place. Even though this has an ending, I was left floundering around wondering what now, but that might just be that I kept moving after the ride stopped. I’m going to say I enjoyed the ride.

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Review: Not Yet Dead by Jenn Burke

Not Dead Yet cover
Book covers at Carina Press are done in house.

I would rate this 4.25 stars.

An immortal, Wes Cooper is technically dead, but able to travel between this world and the otherplane. Lexi Aster is his best friend and a witch; it was her great grandmother’s spell to resurrect Wes after he was killed. He’s not a ghost since he has a living body, but he can make himself disappear, so that resurrection went a bit wonky. When he witnesses a murder, he is frozen and doesn’t act in time. His guilt motivates him to try and help with the investigation. Except for the first time, the killer actually sees Wes while he’s invisible. Now his ex from 33 years ago, Detective Hudson Rojas, gets assigned the case and Wes’ life gets complicated.

The author takes a huge risk giving the POV to an amoral character who is not terribly mature and so self-absorbed that he has spent no time getting to know or understand the magic that allows him his life. Over the course of the book, it becomes obvious that Wes isn’t a bad guy, that he cares for his friends. Knowing the time period and how he dies explains why he is the way he is, but he is so much more as he starts to care more for others and things outside of himself. Hudson has his own growth that needs to happen for them to get their second chance. As with most of the books I have been reading lately, most of their issues come down to lack of communication, but timing in life is everything. In the end, these guys are sweet together. Wes reads as demisexual, although that word isn’t used. The final love scene was hot and funny at the same time–quite an accomplishment and it helps to make the whole thing real.

The lovers reunited element works well in the story. Lexi and Evan (to avoid spoilers, I’ll say he’s Hudson’s friend) are fleshed out enough to care about what happens to them, but I did want a little more. The mystery and the murders are interesting with enough action to keep the suspense going. If witches, vampires, secret societies and ancient artifacts sound exciting, this is the book for you. I’d be happy to read more in this world.

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Review: Renewing Forever by Kelly Jensen, This Time Forever 2

RenewingForever_400x600_41b041ee-8566-4e2f-bb68-375efd54a6b6_1024x1024
Cover Artist Natasha Snow

I would rate this 4 stars.

Frankie kissed Tom when he was 17 and Tom punched him, ending their friendship. Then, Frank left town and hasn’t been back in 30 years. When his uncle dies, he has to go back to deal with his inheritance. Tom has been working for Frankie’s uncle and has now lost his friend, his home, and his job due to his death. He has given up everything to take care of his mother, who is now in a nursing home. The story has dual POV and their childhood is shared through flashbacks. Frankie is still caught in the sadness of the past. Much of this book is sad, reminiscences often are–of dreams lost, bad decisions made, the things you can’t take back. As Frank and Tom start to relive the good times they shared as boys, rather than dwelling on the incident, you would think it would liven up, but for me it doesn’t.

I am not a fan of second chance romances. I tend to think things didn’t work out for a reason. I am not a fan of nostalgia or glorifying the past. But avoiding dealing with things from your teenage years until you are nearing your fifties is not healthy. While my heart ached for both men for different reasons, I was frustrated with them too. Tom has let fear rule him for so long; after fighting it, he finally gives in and decides to explore what they have. Frankie was hard for me to relate to for some reason. His demisexuality seemed to keep him isolated from deep relationships and even his friends didn’t really know him. There was a little bit of comic relief about 60% in when they tour a neighboring resort. I wish that type of interaction had been included more. The best parts are having them recapture their love of the woods and each other–sharing the dream of remodeling the resort.

While this was interesting and well written, I felt removed emotionally at times. That’s okay, because I like to read books that are about many types of people. How boring would it be if we were all alike? It’s a good reminder that other people’s logic and life experience can be completely different and will affect their decisions and outlook. Charlie, Simon, and Brian from book one show up. Brian seems the next one to be paired off, but as he cheated on Simon over and over for a decade, I am not much enthused by this prospect. It will take a lot to redeem this character in book three, but if any author can do it, Kelly Jensen can.

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Review: A Dance of Water and Air (Elemental Magicae #1) by Antonia Aquilante

Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

Due to rising tensions with their neighbor, Tycen, the King of Thalassa is pushing an alliance with Aither on their western border. The king’s son Prince Edmund is to marry Aither’s Queen Hollis and conceive within two years. The author nicely sets up some political intrigue at court in an understated way that will germinate in later books. The prince and his secretary, Peregrine, travel to Aither for the wedding to take place in three months time. Since the Queen’s father died and she is still in mourning, the wedding can’t take place any faster. This allows the author to also set up political intrigue for this court.

The queen’s brother, Prince Arden, is told to spend time with Edmund–time the queen should be spending to get to know her betrothed, but is avoiding. We meet Arden’s best friends, Larkin and twin brother Ciaran, who are the eyes and ears for court politics. The alternating POV between Arden and Edmund allows the reader to know he is unhappy about being attracted to Edmund and that Edmund doesn’t really allow himself to admit or understand he might feel it too. As they get to know each other better, the ways of Aither being open to people of all elements, challenges everything Edmund has learned from his father and the way he rules Thalassa. This also plants seeds for future books. We get to know a little bit about Edmund’s affinity with water and Arden’s affinity with air and how that magic can be used. Their common enemy Tycen is know for their affity with fire. We know little about the earth affinity, so I guess that will be in future books.

This author is known for high fantasy and political intrigue so I expected the world-building to be good and it was, but I have hopes there will be a lot more detail later. I was enjoying the story, the court, the politics, the slow burn as they were getting to know each other, yet nothing is in great detail. When someone with an affinity with water tries to kill the Queen, Edmund is arrested and after spending so much time with him, Arden is in a precarious position. We are told Hollis and Arden were close once, but we never see it. There could have been more done with that plot-wise. We only get a glimmer of Arden’s feelings of muted hurt. If fact, we know little of the queen or any of the characters beside Arden, Ciaran, Peregrine, and Edmund.

Once they flee the castle, it was like the author no longer knew what to do with them. Edmund and Arden are suddenly stumbling around when they already know how they feel about each other. It was all handled in an awkward, drawn out way. I liked the depictions of Edmund as a demisexual, and Arden, who reads as non-binary (the publisher’s tag is trans). Their love scenes were sweet, yet circumspect and while explicit, were not really erotic. At this point even Ciaran, who has grow up in political intrigue and has a spy network, starts to act childish. He shouldn’t be failing apart about something he knew would happen. Then, all of the sudden they start writing in code as he communicates with his sister. As if this had never occurred to him before whilst they are fleeing for their lives? Ciaran and Peregrine are also in a relationship now which seems to consist of a lot of handholding. For me, this read as high fantasy that turned into YA.

As Tycen prepares for war, Arden and Edmund meet with Queen Hollis along the border, whereupon she acts like an unreasonable child. This is the most we get to see of the queen and I was not impressed. Unless we get to see her POV in future books and a lot more backstory, I am not sure how this character can be redeemed for me at this point. Maybe she won’t be, but everything is so sweet and slots into place so easily, I expect the sister and brother will eventually make up, somehow.

The end of the book really points to learning more about the various magics and how they can be utilized together. Right now, they are like kids studying and playing with magic. We’ll see if that changes if war actually happens. I would have liked a lot more of the elements and their creatures that magic wielders can communicate with. I wanted this to have more detail and depth about everything. While I liked the MCs, I didn’t feel emotionally attached to them. This is a nice, sometime sweet, easy read for a couple of evenings and I recommend it be enjoyed as such.

The cover art by Natasha Snow is fitting for the story, showing a blend of the two main elements covered in this story and a castle. The color palette fits with the dark intrigues. Although most of the story takes place in Aither, this seems to be the palace in Thalassa, where the story starts and finishes.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book Details: ebook
Published October 1st 2018 by NineStar Press
ISBN139781949340853
Edition Language: English

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: A Dance of Water and Air (Elemental Magicae #1) by Antonia Aquilante — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words