Review: A Summer Of Smoke And Sin by T.J. Nichols

a-summer-of-smoke-and-sin
IDK, no one is credited on the copyright page of my ARC

I would rate this 3.75 stars.

This is an historical urban fantasy romance set in an alternative London in 1907. Three years ago Jericho left the Army in disgrace, was disowned by his family, and has done what he needs to survive his possession by the demon Eulalia. He owns a gentleman’s club, the Jericho Rose, and comes under investigation when a young noble named Doxley dies there. Nathaniel is sent to investigate Doxley’s death and stumbles onto evidence in a snuff pornography case. His father is unhappy about him being a policeman on the Nobility Task Force as he wants him to join the Church. In this London, men can marry but premarital sex between men is still illegal. Women are struggling to wed other women along with the right to vote. The first half of the book is told through Jericho’s eyes, whilst the last half is told through Nathaniel’s.

The crux of the book is Eulalia. It may not stay like this since mine is an uncorrected proof, but in the middle, for a page or two, is Eulalia’s point of view. I found it wholly unnecessary because it doesn’t do what I think it was supposed to do. This is the most important character in the book and she just doesn’t work for me. She stays in Jericho for three years, but never tells him the truth. Jericho tries to only take the souls of those who are corrupt or evil in some way, but that is Jericho’s decision. Eulalia reminds him that good souls taste better. He tries to keep her satiated so she doesn’t take control. When she is in control, he has no memory of what she does with his body. When she kills Doxley, it was for no other reason than she was hungry and she could; he was not evil. Yet later we are supposed to believe the demon wants to help Nathaniel catch the killer he is looking for because she wants justice. Eulalia swears she won’t kill Jericho once inside Nathaniel, yet later she says she cannot help what happens when he begs her not to kill Nathaniel. Yes, she is supposedly a demon, so one can assume she lies…yet we aren’t ever given that impression either. Then there is the Big Reveal where Nathaniel is privy to information Jericho never had, yet somehow Jericho all of the sudden knows even though they have been ordered kept apart and are not able to speak to each other. I feel like she could have been an amazing, complex character that instead was used as a plot twist–that would be a major spoiler so I won’t say, but I didn’t like it.

I did like Nathaniel’s interfering sister. I liked the symmetry of how the plot points got resolved for everyone else involved, except the case. Nathaniel’s boss doesn’t seem too worried that there was never any proof of who committed the crimes. Nathaniel’s feelings of being trapped, his frustration of life not being fair, his chopping at the bridle of his father’s control over his life–these were well written so that I felt them. There were times I wanted to wring his stubborn, fool neck. While there are some steamy moments, I wanted more for these two; I felt their longing, but not their love. Historical romance is not usually my favorite, so I wish I could dismiss my concerns for that reason, but this has some plot holes that wouldn’t work no matter the time period. I usually like this author’s work, so I am disappointed I didn’t connect with this one.

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Review: Honour by A.F. Henley

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

This is an historical romance set in a fictionalized England circa the late 17th century (at my best guess, owing to the clothing), but the speech is fairly modern with reference to the subconscious mind. If the author had called the country anything but England, I would have called it fantasy. There isn’t too much world-building, just enough to get a sense of place. First, the reader is thrown into the pivotal action sequence of the book without knowing what is happening. It then flashes back to four months earlier and the story unfolds to explain how things got to that point. Emmett is a merchant’s son who cares for people, yet he also seems to have been indulged and not learned the hard lessons of life. He is said to have a head for numbers in business, but obviously not the skill for diplomacy and trade negotiations that his father has. When his father’s ship lands in order to trade, he has a disastrous meeting with Prince Andrewe. This sets up an enemies to lovers scenario for most of the rest of the book. While Emmett’s duty to protecting Aleyn’s virtue and trying to help him establish a living is admirable, possibly honorable, Emmett’s honor comes into question soon enough when everything doesn’t go his way.

The misunderstanding…where Emmett thinks his father has sold him to be a companion to the Prince is rather interesting to me. Did Emmett’s father want to get rid of him because he doesn’t think his son is right to take over the business one day? Did he think this experience would teach Emmett a lesson? Yet Emmett is as enamored with the Prince, as Andrewe seems to be with him, thus he becomes First Gentleman. This is not necessarily dubious consent…but the power imbalance is inescapable and used to salacious effect. Since this is Emmett’s point of view, it’s unclear whether he is an unreliable narrator because: he doesn’t understand interpersonal communications well enough, he is naive in the ways of court politics and intrigue, he lacks the life experience to deal with a real intimate relationship, or he is too swayed by his emotions rather than logic. Emmett willingly made himself a servant to the Crown, not understanding he was essentially making himself a slave, and then chafes at his lack of freedom.

Andrewe is completely uneven throughout the book, at times sweet and loving, only to turn vicious, cold, or distant. Lust can only allow Emmett to overlook the Prince’s behavior for so long, but the Prince isn’t the only problem and Emmett never takes any responsibility for their discord. At one point I did wonder if Andrew was mentally ill. Is he just unsure about how to behave in this relationship? Is he taking it out on Emmett, so that his parents will make him marry and produce an heir? Is he being mean and cruel on purpose to create distance to protect himself? Andrewe’s use of Aleyn against Emmett to keep him in line is repulsive. It’s also when Emmett finally loses his way and the lack of real communication and respect between them, causes dangerous circumstances to arise. This is where the book starts to go off the rails for me with the introduction of Thomas.

His dalliance with Thomas is not lust, more the rush of being able to be himself again–someone’s equal where he can say what he wants and do as he pleases. However, Thomas is not three dimensional enough to pull this plot off and it all falls flat. I was really enjoying this, even with all the questions I have about the other characters’ motivations, until I felt the author wrote Emmett into a box he couldn’t get out of. The whole last 20 percent of the book was completely unbelievable to me, and that was mainly down to not having the characters be more present and rounded out. All that sex and time spent with just Emmett and Andrewe made the plot suffer. The reader only sees the royal couple a handful of times and what is there in the characterizations doesn’t match from scene to scene. Did the King and Queen think Emmett would somehow tame Andrewe or make him easier to control? At one point the Queen threatens to get rid of Emmett, yet when the perfect time comes to do so, she shows mercy that is not warranted. In the end, even Emmett is contrary: the overindulgence and opulence he previously found so distasteful is in full force at the end, yet Emmett no longer minds. Even though Emmett is the central figure, the only consistent character is Aleyn, who on the cusp between boyhood and manhood, has a good reason to be inconsistent, yet seems to be the only one to actually understand what is happening and why. I’m left feeling really torn because so much of this was well done, but I had too many issues with the way the author chose to resolve the plot.

The cover design is by Written Ink Designs (written-ink.com). I admit to having no clue what the cover is about, maybe I missed a pertinent passage.

Sales Links:  Amazon |  JMS Books LLC

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, Second Edition
Published October 23rd 2019 by JMS Books LLC (first published February 6th 2013)
Original Title: Honour
ASINB07Z7F3YHL

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Honour by A.F. Henley — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

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: The Secretary And The Ghost by Gillian St. Kevern

Secretary Ghost Cover
Cover by germancreative on Fiverr. https://www.fiverr.com/germancreative

I would rate this 4 stars.

This is a gothic paranormal romance. Mr Leighton is broke and trying to do his best by his daughter by allowing her to stay in London and find a suitable husband but he owes Lord Cross money that is due to be repaid. He offers Cross a deal: that his son Pip fills a secretary position in lieu of wages, with his work counted against Leighton’s debt.

Cross is demanding and difficult and Pip tries to please him. Once Pip realizes that their tension comes from attraction, he surrenders quite easily at a time when homosexuality can mean death. Cross however knows, and tries to do the right thing by his secretary, which leads to confusion and angst. When Pip finds a portrait in a disused parlor that startles him and Cross forbids him to speak of it, the strange happenings at the manor come to the fore. There are plenty of enemies for a man of wealth, and a scandal can undo a family.

I have to admit this is not one of my usual genres, but I found it captivating. The writing style is well suited to the time period. It was clever to have Pip reading the Lord’s letters just before his cold and callous behavior so the reader might know something is afoot and see beneath his demeanor. I liked the characters and found the ghost intriguing. I do wish it had been a bit more scary and atmospheric. The reader knows the servants are frightened, but I personally didn’t feel that. Still, the push-pull between the Lord and Pip is at the heart of this and it was an enjoyable story.

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