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: Shades Of Henry By Amy Lane, A Flophouse Story 1

ShadesOfHenry-1
Cover Art © 2020 L.C. Chase http://www.lcchase.com

 

I would rate this 3.75 stars.

Do yourself a favor and don’t read this unless you have read the following series by Amy Lane first: Johnnies, Racing For The Sun, and Fish Out of Water. You could read this first, or out of order, and enjoy the romance between the main characters Henry and Lance, but the main events of the novel come at you sideways via the fifth book in the Fish Out of Water series; you would have to keep track of two different names for a plethora of characters from the Johnnies series, since each has their real name and their porn star name. The true emotional payoff will come for the faithful fans who will enjoy all the series being woven together and already know all the side characters in this.

Henry is finally at rock bottom when he goes to visit his brother Davy (aka Dex), a former porn model, in Sacramento with his husband Carlos (Kane). After nine years in the Army he flounders with what to do now that he has been discharged. His brother sets him up at a flophouse used by a stable of young guys who work for Johnnies. His tragic story is layered into the book as he tries to avoid thinking or talking about it unless he has to. He acts as a “den mother” for Cotton, Randy, Zeppelin, Fisher, Billy, and Curtis along with Lance. As a resident finishing his internship at the hospital, Lance still does the occasional porn scene to pay off his student loans. As the oldest in the house, and the same age as Henry, it’s inevitable they are drawn together. Right when I started to get everyone straight, and Lance and Henry are forming a bond, there’s a murder, which drags the P.I. Jackson Rivers and lawyer Ellery Cramer, among others, from the Fish Out Of Water series into it.

Maybe the absolute worst time for a relationship, might be the best time. As Henry navigates his abusive relationship from the past eleven years or so, he doesn’t even know how broken he is. This makes his journey from internalized homophobic abuse victim to over the top hero at the end, without any counseling, a bit unbelievable for me. Lance is the stable presence here, not because he doesn’t have issues of his own, but because he knows what they are and seeks treatment both for himself and to inspire the other Johnnies in the house. To me, Lance is the real hero. Then, there is what I wanted to happen versus what I could realistically expect to happen based on the story so far; having something be emotionally satisfying doesn’t make it a realistic conclusion. What saves this for me are the genuine moments of intimacy and connection Amy Lane is known for invoking in her writing. I will probably read everything again, catch up on the few books I missed, and read this last.

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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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Review: Running To Him by P.D. Singer, Men Of Monument 1

runningtohim
Copyright © P.D. Singer 2020

 

I would rate this 4.5 stars.

At 22, Tim is still being controlled by his mother, Lorraine, a HR specialist at a pharmaceutical company, where she is desperate to get him a job. Carson, who also works there, is on Lorraine’s bad side and it becomes increasingly clear it’s because he’s gay. Lorraine’s hatred, and need to control, spurs Carson into getting to know Tim a little better–and Tim certainly doesn’t mind. As attraction turns to love and friendship, Carson is increasingly the port in the storm that Tim needs to break free from the increasing danger he doesn’t even understand he is in.

As a young adult trying to flee the nest, Tim is completely age appropriate teetering between childish dreams and naivety, with startling moments of insight and strength. Carson has had no choice but to be a realist after learning his own harsh lessons about failed family relationships. Since the POV switches between the two of them, it’s sad to read enough to extrapolate Carson’s experiences and witness the loss of Tim’s innocence. Happily, Carson’s support and care allows Tim the time to catch up to reality. The genius of this book is Carson’s realization that when he tells Tim what to do, things don’t go well, but when he lets Tim make his own decisions, mistakes and all, that’s actually the way to be a good friend and partner, rather than be another controlling parental figure–especially with their inequities and age gap. I believe what Carson believes wholeheartedly, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Carson’s friend, a chemist named Wes, is a chaos-agent I wish was more rounded out. Ditto the coworker Angie, although she does indeed prove herself to be a “wonderful, wonderful human being.” The star here is Carson’s old math teacher Mrs. Hedstrom, who happens to be Tim’s neighbor. Tim’s brother Paul and his wife Miyoko round out the cast. I guess Paul didn’t want to poison the well with Tim about Lorraine; maybe he didn’t think Tim would believe him. Obviously Carson’s relationship with his neighbor John is close since Carson shows trust in him, but it wasn’t explored at all.

What at first seemed funny and annoying, soon turned scary, filling me with tension and anxiety. Sexual tension builds throughout the book as Tim navigates many firsts. This is all leading to the inevitable conclusion, mostly where I wanted it to go. I’m sorry for this spoiler, but my concern, after reading the whole book, is that actions have consequences; it was disheartening to see violent behavior not prosecuted. Still, watching Tim grow through this journey was as amazing as watching Carson release his tight hold on the past. I was rooting for them! I’m glad the epilogue reminded us all that friends are the family we choose. Well written, engaging, with likeable and relatable characters, this was more than I expected from the blurb.

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When The Smoke Clears, An Anthology for Australia

AUCharity

When the Smoke Clears is a gay romance anthology that contains stories related to the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires and the heroes who helped control them and save lives. It is a multi-author anthology raising money for the Country Fire Authority and Wildlife Victoria.

Authors include Ann Grech, Becca Seymour, Bronwyn Heeley, L.J. Harris, L.J. Hayward, Lisa Henry, Louisa Masters, Meg Bawden, Naomi Aoki, Nic Starr, T.A. Bellmond, & Zoe Piper.

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Review: Virgin Flyer by Lucy Lennox

virginflyer
Cover Art: Steamy Designs Cover Photo: RafaGCatala

I would rate this 4.5 stars.

At first glace this seems like a love triangle with Teo in love with his childhood friend of twenty years Chris, and his growing feelings for a one night stand turned friend, Jack. But Chris, who is bisexual, acts heterosexual for his parents, and while happy to have sex with Teo if they keep it on the down low, is not ready to come out and settle down in his twenties. When Teo loses his virginity to Jack, he starts to realize childhood dreams are just that. Teo is ready settle down and he is a forever type of guy. As Chris does everything in his power to manipulate his friend in order to keep him close and under his power, Teo is finally learning that there is a difference between love and being in love. Jack learns that maybe his happiness with traveling and playing the field is just what he tells himself to avoid being hurt or hurting others. What Jack wants is Teo, but being in love with someone who is in love with someone else is not on his agenda.

Switching POV between Teo and Jack is utilized to great effect, allowing me to enjoy seeing them fall in love from both sides. This led with the erotic, but subtly pulled me into a romance; the sex scenes are hot, hot, hot…yet surprisingly sweet. This features an age gap and a fake boyfriend trope with forced proximity. Their conversations flow naturally. I laughed and got choked up; I got so attached to everyone. They are adorable together, and as their passion grows into friendship, I was rooting for them. As their friendship changes, it’s not that they don’t communicate, it’s that they don’t check-in with each other when their feelings start to change, leading to misunderstandings. Learning about Teo’s relationship with Chris through his fleeting thoughts about past events makes me want to smack him, but it’s his current treatment of Teo that makes me want to punch him out. I also realized he is navigating the difference between his vision of his future and holding on possessively to the person actually most important to him, like a safety net. Kudos to the author for giving me an understanding of Chris without his POV, humanizing him through Teo’s eyes.

All the side characters here are very effectively integrated into the story: family, co-workers, patients, clients, etc. Jack is a pilot and Teo is a nurse while Chris works in the family’s medical business. If I had a quibble, it would be that while Jack’s family is shown, Teo’s family is not. However, the secret to Jack is his family whereas Teo’s character is best seen through his caregiving for everyone he knows, especially parts of Chris’s family he has known all his life. It’s nice to see people handle things maturely without a lot of drama: people who grow through their experiences, work out their differences, and support each other. The author foreshadows the story well, so I knew exactly where this was going, but I never felt like it was formulaic even with the expected grand gesture. It’s great to have a romance story actually touch me emotionally without me feeling manipulated, without the focus on some sort of emotional trauma or being high angst. I have to say this is an excellent romance that I throughly enjoyed.

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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: Alpha Barman by Sue Brown, J.T.’s Bar 1

AlphaBarman
Cover design by Garrett Leigh, Black Jazz Design

I would rate this 3 stars

After J.T.’s sister Sharon is murdered, he resigns from a covert ops organization. Riley, his best friend since grade school and Sharon’s husband, goes to prison while JT just leaves his whole life behind, including his boyfriend Mitch and starts going by the name Jake. With the loss of Riley and Jake, the whole team crumbles as even two years later half the team thinks Riley is guilty, and half think he’s innocent. When Riley escapes from prison and makes his way to the bar, is he there to kill Jake, or something else?

Most of the characters are all veterans and ex or current law enforcement except for Howie, the bar’s co-owner. Jake seems a little clumsy for an elite ex-soldier. His abandoning his boyfriend without a word is a source of conflict for me. The one thing Jake and Mitch do right is sex, the talking not so much; even at the end of this I am not convinced they can have a mature adult conversation about their feelings. The other team members (Del, Si, and Ruiz) just seem to take this all in their stride and forgive Jake for disappearing, or at least there isn’t anything that shows differently. There is also a side insta-lust romance with Howie and Si. The foreshadowing is a little clumsy all heading towards a confrontation with the bad guy with a suprise plot twist coming out of nowhere. As a short novella, this is just a bunch of fun–nothing too detailed or angsty, with some mildly spicy sex scenes.

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**This series was originally published by Dreamspinner Press and has been self-published by the author. It is now exclusive to Amazon. She does sometimes sell through Payhip first, so signup for her newsletter.

 

 

Review: Thirteen by Tia Fielding, Love By Numbers 3

TiaFieldingThirteen
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.