Review: Love Is All: Volume 2 edited by Xio Axelrod

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.

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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