First Rodeo by Jodi Payne and BA Tortuga, The Cowboy And The Dom 1

first_rodeo
Cover illustration by AJ Corza http://www.seeingstatic.com/

I would rate this book 3.25 stars.

This is the first book in a trilogy and as such is the introduction to the romance of Sam and Thomas. It’s not a cliffhanger, so the reader can just read this and be content, or read the second book coming out soon for a continuation of their relationship. When Sam’s brother James gets murdered in New York, the family sends Sam to take care of his apartment and send back his things. Both his mother and older brother Bowie put a lot of unreasonable pressure on Sam to also find James’s killer. This is supposed to be a suspense element, but it’s not the focus and stays on the back burner. When Sam meets his brother’s lover, Thomas, neither of them are expecting to need each other. Thomas is missing James and feeling the pull to help Sam, but he’s smart enough to worry the grief could lead to something unhealthy.

Sam is floundering and needs direction; he’s also too busy trying to please everyone else, he can’t seem to get his own life together. They were getting to know each other, and then suddenly Thomas is using what he’s learned about human psychology as a dom, to help Sam. I felt the transition could have been smoother, especially the part about Thomas finding out Sam is also gay. The way Sam learns about his brother James being a sub was an easy way for Sam to understand who Thomas is, who James was. The book seemed to flounder with introducing some of James’s friends, coworkers, and neighbors. No one is fleshed out, and I assume these are meant to give the reader suspects to James’s murderer? There were more jarring moments like his job interview when all of the sudden Angel, someone he met at the BDSM club, is also at the biker bar and helps him home. This seems like too huge coincidence. The main point here seems to be BDSM is healthier than bar fights. This all happens a bit too fast for me, there is still an element of Thomas taking advantage of Sam, his naivete, or even them using each other to escape processing their shared grief.

James and Sam are somewhat alike, they were brothers, but they are also different enough and those differences are never forgotten. The writing here is deftly handled so James doesn’t feel forgotten, but they are not constantly compared–rather Thomas struggles to learn how to be what Sam needs. For the subject matter, there is surprisingly low angst and guilt which seems at odds with the way the book was set up. Sam has always felt he was was supposed to stay in Emory, help with the ranch, have babies, and die there. Yet he suddenly throws off the expectations of his family quite easily and dives into a relationship with his brother’s lover. It’s good that Tommy is not an all seeing, all knowing dom. I like that he makes mistakes and recognizes them. I like that he realizes that where James fit into what he wanted, his style, Sam is much for challenging, taking him out of his comfort zone. They build their relationship and trust scene by scene, yet this is a bit messy–not just the emotions of the characters, but the writing. The sex scenes are always hot, it’s moving the characters around to get them there that seems to not flow well.

I like both these characters, so I’m a bit frustrated that the whole book isn’t as smooth as the parts are or I would have rated it much higher. With more time and effort, this could have had so much more depth, but maybe that’s just what I wanted and not where the authors wanted to take it. I’d like to see more of Sam and James, but this was all too easy, so I’d like to see more about the conflict with Sam’s family. Also, there is nothing about Thomas’s family at all. There is a little intrigue about James having different characters or roles he fulfilled for different people; I definitely would like to see more about that. For right now, James doesn’t seem like a real person, so I don’t care who killed him. I hope the second book takes more time to draw the audience into that part of the plot.

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Jodi Payne’s Website

BA Tortuga’s Website

A Chaos Moondrawn Review: The Witchstone Amulet by Mason Thomas — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5 What helps makes this successful for me is that Hunter is well established as a character, and the reader is immersed in his POV, before anything extraordinary happens. Hunter’s choices, based on who he is as a person, lead him to another realm after he follows a thief stealing […]

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: The Witchstone Amulet by Mason Thomas — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

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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Annabeth Albert’s Website

Review: Shift by Joel Abernathy, Flesh And Bone 3

Shift cover

I would rate this 3.75 stars.

This is the third book in the series about werewolves, vampires, and hunters. These should be read in order for the overarching storyline. These books don’t have white hats, but shades of gray with graphic sex and violence. This is Andrei’s story of how he meets Mihail showing alternating POV. It makes sense, in this world, that they would end up thrown together–both know death and the hunt. This is a coming of age story in many ways and shows their gradual loss of innocence, breaking away from their family influences/duties and finding out who they are and what they can live with.

After all the nontraditional pairing in the first two books, I’m not sure why everyone expects Andrei to just fall in line with tradition, especially with his past. This has that Romeo and Juliet quality, except they actually have known each other for most of their lives. The plot is similar to the second one featuring Mason and Vasil, so the author had to throw us a curveball out of nowhere in regards to Andrei. That’s not quite fair, there was a little foreshadowing, but I feel like the actual plot didn’t need it on top of everything else. It just seems to be there for a certain type of sex to occur. This is trope city with friends to enemies to lovers, dirty little secret, alpha/omega, first time, and dubcon all present.

One of the emotional components I really liked about this story was something I understand: abuse, being feral, and then being vulnerable when you feel loved and unable to access that rage for protection anymore. There are so many psychological issues that ring true to human existence included to help ground the story a bit. That’s especially important when writing about characters who are not “good” or necessarily likeable.

In the beginning the story seems slow and clunky, but gets better as you see the threads of the plot weave in and tighten. The author is consistent and committed to this over the top, angsty style so it makes sense to just revel in it. Then it all ties back to books one and two, making it all inevitable. All the interesting world building from book one isn’t really used or visited again. It’s also a shame that we see all the characters from the first two books, but they have just walk-on parts with no sense of their personality. These books have been about finding home and someone who will love you, scars and scarred psyche and all, yet I didn’t really feel it. The way this book ends for Andrei and Mihail, the way the series ends, has a nice symmetry.

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A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Dangerous Times by Isobelle Winter — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5 This book starts out with a civil war started by King Taen by appropriating the lands of Lord Mavren, making him an enemy. Really there are huge ideological differences between the two and Mavren speaking out against what they see as issues in their society has lead to this. […]

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Dangerous Times by Isobelle Winter — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Sometimes, I get it wrong. I couldn’t decide if I was going to try to use the author’s pronouns for this review (ne/nem/nir) or use they/them. I wrote it with masculine pronouns because it was easier for me, meaning to switch it later, but the review was due and I forgot why I hadn’t sent it in yet. I had been out of town for two weeks and was rather sleep deprived. So, yes, I think I messed up. It was not my intention to upset anyone. Here is the review rewritten with more neutral pronouns.

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I would rate this 4.25 stars.

This book starts out with a civil war started by King Taen by appropriating the lands of Lord Mavren, making them an enemy. Really there are huge ideological differences between the two and Mavren speaking out against what they see as issues in their society has lead to this. Lord General Aiomonni is the head of King Taen’s military and Lord Mavren’s previous lover. Mavren becomes King of their own rebel Catalyst forces. The reader is thrown into the mind of a Soldiercaste of the Augment Empire during a battle in which they are captured by the enemy. The Augment are a cybernetic species that need organic tissue for digestion, or a host body to assimilate. They are bipedal, yet insectile. This soldier becomes Nact of Quen and the reader will follow them as they raise up in the Catalyst army after their defection. When Nact and Aiomonni engage in battle beyond the charted galaxy to land on a hostile planet, their only hope of survival lies in cooperation, and maybe more.

I would recommend reading an excerpt to see if this book appeals to you. It is written with agender pronouns (ne/nem/nemself/nir). What makes this so compelling is that Nact’s POV shows what freedom and choice look like to someone who’s never had it. It takes six years for Nact to become a general, due to their skills, not because they were born into it. They channel their anger for how their caste was deprived and ill treated into battling King Taen’s forces. By the time they are sent to capture Aiomonni, my sympathies were engaged with them. But for all their privilege, Aiomonni is as much a captive of the system, of convention, as Nact was. The crash shows Aiomonni that their crew have skills beyond their caste. Alive on a populated planet named Colti, being Augment seems more important than their civil war. Showing Aiomonni’s POV makes them extremely sympathetic. At one point they have a common enemy, Plackart, who the author gives a moment of his own: a chance for the reason to see and understand who he is. (I used the he pronoun here because I have no idea if this species is agender also.) This would have been more poignant and heartbreaking than it is, if it had been explored more so my sympathies lay with him also, but that opportunity passes–it is an intellectual scene showing the psychology of his character rather than an emotional scene where I felt his pain and loss.

I feel like the whole book takes the first 25 percent to set-up until they crash land. Then, it gets really interesting. There are so many ethical issues raised throughout the book: the caste system, ruling by fear, being a parasitic race, acceptable behavior during war, what makes a person a person, the parameters of loyalty, etc. This is obviously not a traditional romance. Intimacy is earned by respect or allegiance, but there are layers to the intimacies they grant and even having larvae together doesn’t guarantee anything approximating love. There is never any doubt that these are alien creatures. The sex is completely alien. The sex scenes show aspects of their culture and personal characters as a normal part of life, however, at least for me, they weren’t terribly erotic. This book captures that forbidden feeling of wanting your political enemy whilst being stuck by duty of birth, oaths, and family obligations. This book is so intriguing because the characters are acting honorably–in their own fashion. Their temporary alliance for the greater good allows them to live in a bubble and indulge themselves, but it is temporary and the vanities of others await–continued war still awaits.

I would have liked to get to know some of the other passing characters more. At first I was not sure about the purpose of the character of Feylc, but they become a good foil and I realized it is something I’ve missed in other books as it’s an underutilized tool these days. Still, they are the only other Augment with a real personality here.

I’m not going to say this wasn’t sometimes a little difficult to fully picture, because it was. I’m not going to say the non-binary language wasn’t sometimes confusing (even having read many non-binary characters previously), because it did get awkward in places since the author still uses we and they. What I will say is that for me the effort was worth it. I liked that the world building was character focused and driven without all the extraneous descriptions of things that have no real bearing on the story. There is little attention placed on the various home worlds, which may annoy readers who expect and enjoy that type of detail. While there is tech involved, this is not hard science fiction in any way. The reader is told that things work, not how they work. The end wraps up in a satisfactory way with a (mostly) HEA, although it was startling to be narratively told, like a voice over, after living in the character’s heads for so long. I have to say I really enjoyed this book. If you like things that are different from the norm, give this a try.

The cover was designed by Aisha Akeju. I suppose it shows the ship going through the wormhole. It really isn’t intriguing enough for this book.

 

A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Wrong Way Home (Criminal Delights: Taken) by K.A. Merikan — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Rating: 4 stars out of 5 This series has very dark themes. Each book is by a different author and can be read as standalones. Please pay attention to the trigger warnings and tags. The first two chapters are Colin’s POV as he takes a new route home to visit his parents and ends up […]

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Wrong Way Home (Criminal Delights: Taken) by K.A. Merikan — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words