Review: Handsome Death by Sara Dobie Bauer

HandsomeDeath
Cover Artist not credited in my ARC

 

I would rate this 4 stars.

How vampire lore works in this story is layered in through the musings of an unknown narrator, which we learn is Ethan. He uses his skills as a mercenary for a man named Marco. He becomes intrigued by a pretty man in front of a coffee shop, who is a student named Tristan. His protective urges grow, but I’m unclear as to whether vampires have a mating instinct or are obsessive by nature? I don’t like stalking as love, so frankly, I’m glad it’s illegal here, so I guess that answers the question really. Since Tristan has a vampire fetish and their kinks line up well, the story gets steamy very quickly. What saves this for me is that Ethan is actually trying to do the right thing, the struggle is real. It’s also hot, hot, hot. Parts of it are a lust fueled haze of toys, light blood play, bondage, and shibari. If the book would have stayed that way, I’d have been perfectly happy with it as an erotic romance.

This didn’t quite go how I thought it would, so I struggled to figure out why. First, the cover would fit in quite well with the dark erotic gay romance series Criminal Delights (twelve different authors), so I think I subconsciously put it in that category. Of course, Ethan is portrayed over and over again as a ruthless killer for hire, albeit he now kills “the bad guys” although I am unclear who decides that. Mario? So, when this turns into a sweet, sappy romance with flashes of dry humor and a meet the parents, I am perplexed. Then I figured out why: it heads into New Adult territory even though the sole POV is from an ancient vampire. Tristan’s parents are fantasy perfect. Tristan makes Ethan human again. Ethan goes from unlawful to legit without anyone blinking an eye. Tristan realizes his own self worth, thanks to Ethan’s love. It’s all very enjoyable with “all the feels,” but it could have been something more nuanced, more intellectually interesting–and I’ll probably still read it again.

Buy From Amazon

Sara Dobie Bauer’s Website

 

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.

Buy From Amazon

Buy From Kobo

Buy From Barnes and Noble

Buy From Dreamspinner Press

Amy Lane’s Website

 

Review: Without A Trace by RJ Scott, Lancaster Falls Trilogy 2

withoutatrace
Cover design by Meredith Russell

 

I would rate this 4 stars.

This is the second book in a trilogy that shares a story arc, thus should be read in order. As such, it’s difficult to review without spoilers. The first book builds a relationship between Chris, a famous horror writer, and a local police Captain, Sawyer. They start to share their lives together whilst navigating strange graffiti, a domestic violence case, and the gruesome discovery of several human remains. Sawyer’s best friend Drew comes back to town after his missing brother Casey is identified as one of the bodies. But ten years in the military has changed him; Drew is no longer that teenaged boy that left. Rumor blamed Drew for Casey’s disappearance, but frankly, everyone’s a suspect, except Drew. Logan, a cop introduced in the first book as ex-military, has made Lancaster Falls his home after he was discharged from the Army. This story focuses on his part in working on the strange graffiti, Casey’s last days before his disappearance, and trying to help a veteran with PTSD, Adam Gray. As a landowner near where the bodies were found, and related by marriage to one of the two dynastic families in town, Adam is one part of this small town puzzle.

Being inside Drew’s and Logan’s POV makes this book completely different in tone to the first book. Drew, tortured by whatifs and PTSD, is determined to find out what happened to Casey. As he goes around town asking questions, he’s like a kid hitting a bee hive with his stick, stirring up trouble to see what pops out. Logan is a more steady presence; as the outsider who moved there, he is unburdened with a lifetime of memories of the deceased. As Drew starts to pull him off balance, all Logan’s cases start to dovetail together. Drew is at turns seductive and bratty, vulnerable and angry, which creates a sort of enemies to lovers vibe. The attraction between them didn’t seem as natural at the beginning, but that may be because Drew is desperately grabbing at anything to hold back grief and memories. He’s confused about his past, future, and present all at the same time…which is why I think their romance is less stable than I would like.

The pacing also feels like marching relentlessly towards a conclusion. At the end of this you will know who, but not all the whos, and why, but not all the whys. I don’t know why I did this to myself because I hate cliffhangers. The first book was excellent, but it focused more on character development and the romance; this book, I think the romance suffered a little as the actual case was ratcheted up to the forefront. Of the three best friends, Sawyer and Drew have been paired off leaving Josh for book three. So far, I feel like I know some of the secondary characters better than Josh. The FBI will come to investigate the remains found in book one, so expect new characters for book three, although the reader should know all the essential players on the board at this point. While some of the resolution for this relied on someone cracking under pressure, there has been plenty of foreshadowing for where this is going to go, so I have very high hopes for the next book.

Buy From Amazon

RJ Scott’s Website

**This author usually wide releases her books for a few days and then makes them exclusive to Amazon for a set time, then wide releases them again. If you don’t want mobi or KU, subscribe to her newsletter where she is excellent at communicating when the books are for sale, when, and where.

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.

Buy From Amazon

Buy From Barnes and Noble

Buy From Kobo

Buy From Apple

T.J. Nichol’s Blog

 

 

 

 

Review: Alpha Chef by Sue Brown, J.T.’s Bar 2

AlphaChef
Cover Design by Garrett Leigh

I would rate this 3.25 stars.

Mitch’s brother Greg shows up out of the blue to J.T.’s Bar. He’s on the run from someone trying to kill him, having been in witness protection for fourteen years. When his marshall Riordan tracks him down and takes him away to safety, the attraction they have been battling for the last few years boils over with the forced proximity. The numerous sex scenes are steamy and more detailed in this one, so it works better as an erotic romance than a suspense/thriller. It is on the insta-love side because although Riordan may know almost everything about Greg, Greg knows next to nothing about Riordan and it’s his POV.

Unfortunately the character descriptions are still not very detailed, so there is nothing more about the covert ops team members, nor about the sheriffs or marshalls either. There are a few plot twists as they try to catch the bad guys, including the mole in WITSEC. When the danger is over Mitch’s and Greg’s parents show up, so the last third is family drama. This is actually my favorite part as Mitch and Greg bury their past and start fresh with Greg working as a cook at the bar. Greg also has to figure out how to move forward with Riordan. I felt more attached to Mitch and I really liked Greg and Riordan as characters.

Buy from Amazon

Follow On Payhip

Sue Brown on Facebook

Sue Brown’s Website

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.

Buy From Amazon

Follow On Payhip

Sue Brown on Facebook

Sue Brown’s Website

**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: IM by Rick R. Reed

ReedIM
Cover Art by Natasha Snow Copyright © 2020

I would rate this 3.25 stars.

The title of the book IM (Instant Message) refers to how the killer meets his victims online. There is plenty to terrify anyone who thinks meeting up with a stranger to get off is a good idea. The men do it for a variety of relatable reasons: to alleviate loneliness; maybe they aren’t out and want the anonymity; or they like the thrill of it–the surprise of who will come to the door. I didn’t see a date (except for flashbacks), but I think this takes place during the late 90’s in Chicago. The whole book is told as a series of little vignettes, slices of life, with each chapter from the different points of view of the people affected. Many of them are told from the men right before they are murdered with sick and gruesome details emerging later as a detective from the Chicago PD, investigates. Ed loses his job, likely due to homophobia in the department, but he can’t let this case go and continues on his own, trying to find the killer who has taken to toying with him.

The author builds the tension slowly with creepy noises, creaky floorboards, whistling and howling winds, and the thoughts of paranoia the characters experience. The writing style is piecemeal as the reader struggles to figure out what happened to the killer to “make him this way,” but really it’s probably a little bit of nature and a little bit of nurture. Be aware there are necrophilia elements, murder, rape, child abuse, drugs, AIDS, and dismemberment. I’m glad that the point of views are short so as not to become too attached to the people who die, and the style which is also removed, like an outside observer allows a distance. That is also a criticism because nothing feels too immediate and I think the book suffers for it with a lack of emotional investment on my part. The writing style also makes the book drag on so it feels much longer than a regular narrative.

Ed repeatedly puts himself in danger, (unarmed!), due to his curiosity. Even his boyfriend Peter is at his wit’s end with it and I am on his side. The book references all the famous serial killers with a nod to how they ultimately got caught, but they all went out with a whimper, not a bang. It was pretty anticlimactic. Here, the final confrontation and wrapping up of loose ends is strange and OTT (over the top). Then there is the fact that the story relies on a small, slight man described as elfin without much strength who outsmarts and physically outmaneuvers an ex-policeman that is in good shape and has 50+ pounds on him. This didn’t work as a romance (Ed and Peter), but was slightly more successful as a suspense/thriller.

Buy from Smashwords

Buy from Kobo

Buy from Barnes and Noble

Buy from NineStar Press

Buy from Amazon

Rick R. Reed’s Website

 

 

 

Review: Back In Black by Rhys Ford, McGinnis Investigations 1

BackInBlack
Reece Notley reece@vitaenoir.com

I would rate this 3.75 stars.

This is really a continuation of the Cole McGinnis Mystery series, but takes place a few years after the previous books. Being thrown into the fray with Cole in first person POV as he takes a job checking a property’s security as a favor for a friend reestablishes his character’s long history of hijinks. He is not only shot at, but finds a dead body on accident because that is a very Cole thing to do. Said dead body is a former client so he can’t let it go, determined to find the killer. The recapping should allow the reader to start here if they haven’t read the first six books, but it’s a lot to throw at someone coming in fresh–it will sound crazy OTT. It’s also a lot of telling instead of showing, yet this is the style of these with humorous asides in that hardboiled detective novel way that sounds like a voice over. It’s completely self aware of that as it describes parts of Los Angeles: “there were entire blocks of stone and metal whose shadows held the ghosts of noir detectives and gum-snapping dames.”

I did experience frustration at all the recapping though; if it was taken out, there would be little story left. Having said that, the main enjoyment comes from the prose rather than the action. It’s like Dragnet on steroids crossed with a beginner’s guide to ethnic foods of L.A. wrapped up in the feelings of love and family that finally flavor Cole’s life. I enjoyed seeing all the characters again, slightly older and more settled in their lives, I just wish there had been more depth to the glimpses. The heat level is ratcheted down here as compared to the previous books, which I didn’t mind, but I did wish I felt more of the emotional connection between then in the moment rather than having to rely on past events to know it’s there. In other words, I wish they were making new memories instead of reliving the old ones as a way to tell the reader they love each other. The previous focus was on Cole and Jae establishing their relationship with the mysteries and past traumas as a backdrop. Here the focus is on Bobby and Cole establishing a more formal business arrangement between them moving forward as consultants for the LAPD with O’Byrne being their main point of contact. It’s a focus that will rely way more heavily on how interesting the cases are moving forward unless there is manufactured drama to disrupt the happiness of all the couples and that won’t make longtime fans happy. I’m willing to see where it goes.

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Kobo

Buy from Barnes And Noble

Buy from Dreamspinner Press 

Rhys Ford’s Website

 

Review: Conspiracy Theory by Elle Keaton, Hamarsson and Dempsey 1

ConspiracyTheory
Cover art by Garret Leigh at Black Jazz Design

 

I would rate this 4 stars.

Seattle Homicide Detective Niall Hamarsson is feeling burnt out with a sense of futility about bringing criminals to justice. Instead of letting him resign, his boss puts him on leave. He’s even fed up with his boyfriend Trey and needs to get away. Without a plan, he ends up going to the San Juan Islands, specifically Piedras Island, the only home he’s ever known. Here, in the shadow of all his ghosts, he ends up trying to repair his grandparents’ beach house he had left abandoned. Sheriff Mat Dempsey used to be a cop in San Francisco, but came home after his father died to help his mom. He navigates the feuds of the locals and the increasing drug problems with his small department stretched thin working on five islands. When a local girl gets murdered, Mat and Niall will need to work together to find the killer and figure out why this usually safe island is having a crime spree.

This is a good first book in a series to introduce the reader to the location and all the major players. Although there are two towns on Piedras, there is still a small town feel where everyone knows everyone and everyone else’s business–for centuries. With hundreds of islands in the chain, although only five that are really inhabited, there is plenty of territory to explore in other books and Seattle is a ferry away. There are enough deputies to cover each of the major islands, but in this story the reader mostly only sees Birdy Flynn. With a lack of resources for equipment and training, Mat is doing the best he can. His best friend Marshal who followed him from San Francisco, is the county’s volunteer medical examiner. No one is out in this conservative community except Niall, who was outed as a boy, making the bullying he endured that much worse.

Although the POV switches every other chapter between Niall and Mat, Niall’s chapters have much more emotional resonance as he deals with his nightmares, anger at his past, and grief for his grandparents that he had ignored instead of dealing with. Mat’s chapters are more focused on him doing his job dealing with all the strong, stubborn members of his community that would prefer to take justice into their own hands whenever there is conflict. When the murder case he is working hits close to home, the reader gets to see more of his emotions. His mom Alyson is the bridge between past and present, having been close friends with Niall’s grandmother: she knows more about Niall than he would like. They are both fighting this attraction so be prepared for this enemies to lovers vibe to pass slown burn into almost glacial pacing. The romance feels like it’s not the point, it’s a byproduct of them working together, trying to let go of the past, and opening themselves up during the course of the investigation.

The whodunit is really cleverly woven together so that the reader knows by following all the individual threads as it takes shape, the how and why of it, before the conclusion. It will still take some sorting out legally, which the reader may or may not see in book two. There is plenty to build on here for future stories with the dynastic families, although the indigenous population wasn’t touched on at all, so I hope that changes. The majority of the population is transient and seasonal, leaving all sorts of crime possibilities. The key was making the reader care about these two men and have us wanting them to get their HEA, which I expect will be at a tortoise pace over many books. I’ll look forward to the next book in the series.

Buy from Amazon

Paperbook at Amazon

Elle Keaton’s Website

 

Review: Unveiled (Master Chronicles #2) by Jamie Craig

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Gideon and Jesse work together as private investigators and after years of friendship, become an established couple in book one. This isn’t difficult to follow if you haven’t read the first book, but your understanding of the characters will be very different. The case investigated here revolves around a missing young woman found killed after an exclusive party. Right after leaving a hideous crime scene where Jesse is emotionally devastated, Jesse and Gideon go to the vampire club Sangre where they participate in a gang bang that involves other vampires and a lot of blood. Why this isn’t traumatic for Jesse after the way the woman was killed, is a mystery to me. While there they rescue an empath named Emma who can sense and transmit the feelings of others.

The world building never had a hint of anything else paranormal except vampires, so it felt abrupt to have an empath thrown in to this world. The vampires must know Gideon works with the police. Why would they do anything illegal like sell him a human slave? They were able to rescue Emma because no one already “owned” her, so if she had already been bought, they wouldn’t have helped her? The author seems to skirt the line, maybe not wanting to go into non consensual territory, but that’s too little too late with these characters. Clearly there are limits and rules as to when they are the good guys. In book one, Gideon is not always shown in the best light so it felt like here, Emma was used to reassure the audience (and Michelle and Jesse) that he really is a good guy. I’m not sure why this is actually necessary since the audience can have more of Gideon’s POV any time the author chooses to write more of it. Both main characters seem pansexual so adding Emma into their mix wouldn’t be too unexpected if it were just sex, but laying the groundwork to add her to their relationship was unexpected. In this book, she is just used for titillation–a will they, won’t they–that could be expanded upon in later books.

Emma is also utilized to give them a lead on the case; she was taken while trying to find her sister, who went missing after dating a vampire. I didn’t like when a scene suddenly switched to Emma’s point of view for a very short time. The usual POV is Jesse’s. However, once Gideon and Jesse go undercover, Emma goes to help Michelle and there needed to be another point of view as action happens in different places. As the only other established character, I am unclear why this couldn’t have been Michelle’s POV. My concern is that because she’s a lesbian, and therefore will not be having sex with Jesse or Gideon, her POV is considered unimportant. For me, this seemed like a lost opportunity.

The interaction between law enforcement and the private investigators is really lacking. The world is built with humans knowing about vampires, but this is another situation where the author seems to hedge and not commit to that. Why are the police not asking Gideon for help on vampire cases? Why do the police only raid the party when Gideon says so? This is written as Gideon being the only vampire who actually cares about humans, but then the author has Rina, who was friends with the murdered woman, and promptly dismisses her of being capable of being a complex person.

While the use of humans, alive or dead, to entertain the wealthy is not an original idea, the “art” created by Jesse and Gideon with Emma’s help sounded interesting. Sadly, it wasn’t described in a way that came alive as scenery, it was used as a means to an end. The other artists and their creations weren’t shown, even though the story was Gideon’s POV at that point. Then, the final confrontation with the killer(s) fizzled out. In the end, I felt like I was left with many sex scenes, some more successful than others, without an intriguing enough plot or emotional connection to the characters to hold them all together.

The cover design is by Written Ink Designs (written-ink.com) with image(s) used under a Standard Royalty-Free License. It shows Jesse and elements of the art exhibits mentioned in the book.

Sales Link:  JMS Books LLC |   Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 176 pages, JMS Books LLC
Published: (first published August 1st 2007)
Original Title: Unveiled (Book II of The Master Chronicles)
ASINB001JMFBPW

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Unveiled (Master Chronicles #2) by Jamie Craig — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words