Review: The Infinite Onion By Alice Archer

theInfiniteOnion
Cover design: Tracy Kopsachilis Art & Design Front cover book photograph copyright © iStock.com/ranplett Front cover circles illustration copyright © iStock.com/Svetlana Kachurovskaia Lanpochka

 

I would rate this 4.5 stars.

Grant is so unhappy being a worker drone in Seattle, he burns his whole life down six months after his divorce. His defenses are so high, the only one he seems to lower them for is his nephew Kai. When he ends up camping rough on Vashon Island to try and figure out his life, he meets an artist named Oliver who challenges him. Sparks fly as Oliver likes irritating Grant with a strange arrangement meant to get him back on his feet. Oliver has demons of his own and stripping Grant bare exposes his own defense mechanisms. Both of them will need to battle their own and each other’s walls if they are to have a chance at living happily ever after.

Grant ignores unpleasant realities. Yet, he has a big heart for those who accept him as he is instead of trying to change him. The tweens (his nephew Kai and his friends Jill, Clover, Penelope, and Abelino) are there as the catalysts to show who he is behind his anger, fear, and desperation to find himself for himself, instead of always bending to fit the will of others. Some might say, where are their parents? But, I grew up on an island and ran wild for hours, all day and night in the summer and no one knew where I was or who I was with, so this made me think of my own adventures. How wonderful they have someone to treat them like the individual people they are. One of Grant’s lessons is that sometimes order and boundaries are needed, that their are times they are appropriate and should be respected; another is that if the rules he lives by don’t serve him, it’s time to make up new rules.

Oliver flouts the idea that you can’t help people who don’t want to be helped. I’m glad Oliver had a come to Jesus moment about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but it didn’t make him more likeable for me at that moment. With his artistic nature, his fantasies often overcome or overwrite his reality…but people who are lonely or traumatized often live in their head. His circle (Talia, Clementine, Freddy) is only people who will respect his boundaries and not expect more from him. Freddie, Oliver’s friend with benefits for seventeen years, is a deceptively complex look into Oliver’s world as he has ordered it. I liked Oliver the most when his art therapy ends up saving him from his avoidance techniques.

Being creatives, this is a wild ride with characters that explore the absurdity of their inner worlds. Memories, nostalgia, how the past shapes our reality, and thus the present, is what is battled here. This is what it looks like when people take a self inventory. So many stories focus on violence or sexual abuse as the only thing that wounds people; you will not find that here. Having said that, I was not enamored with the stalking for love trope. In the end, these two wounded men fit like puzzle pieces–their strengths and weaknesses merging to create a stronger whole. My mind was a swirl of grief and enchantment, painted with vivid art and inner imagery. The ending left me touched, breathless, and happy knowing in all the world Grant and Oliver found the one special person who gets them, crazy and all.

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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: 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.

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**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: 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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Review: The Rivalry by Beth Bolden

Rivalry
Book Cover © 2019 AngstyG Book Cover & Media Design

I would rate this 4.25 stars.

Although there is a previous book (The Rainbow Clause), I can say with absolute confidence this can be read as a standalone, since I had no idea. This is the story of Heath and Sam, NFL quarterbacks on different teams at different points in their careers, who end up on the same team after a holiday fling that left them both wanting more. Moving from opposites attract to frenemies to love, as they navigate both their personal and professional issues, the book also changes from erotic romance to something more interesting and nuanced as the psychology of the characters is touched upon. I would describe it more as tension-filled rather than full of angst, since past trauma isn’t dwelt upon just addressed so that the leads can have a believable HEA.

That tension is stretched taunt at several points–the longing, that breathless feeling, the fear of discovery–all of which are palpable. I like how the author also breaks the tension, with some fun at Heath’s expense. Heath is endearing in his awkwardness; knowing his thoughts is crucial to liking him. Sam is actually the more emotionally mature of the two in some ways, even though he is younger. As much as Heath watches football film to find tells for rival plays, Sam studies Heath for his tells, finding ways to break down the walls Heath has spent a lifetime fortifying. Heath is the mind of the book, while Sam is supposed to be the heart; but Sam, while nice and fun, only becomes more three dimensional to me when he starts to play football. Their miscommunications are very realistic, as is their using past experiences to “fill in the blanks” and decide what the other is thinking. I really liked that Heath allowed himself to explore his sexuality and realize his need to see a mental health professional.

This may only be me, but for the first five chapters it was difficult for me to keep Frankie and Felicity straight when the POV flipped between Heath and Sam–maybe because they weren’t real to me yet as they hadn’t been introduced as characters. I still wish the best friends of the main characters hadn’t had similar names. I also found that even though the book changes POV between Sam and Heath, the book seems more skewed towards Heath, explaining him to create empathy for him and show his character development. Sam’s bits tend to be more geared to how his personal development helps his career development. So, it felt a bit uneven. Also, I know we sometimes want that big gesture, but here I felt it detracted from the team and their achievement–not a way to win over your teammates. Overall, I enjoyed this immensely. With interesting lead characters, heartfelt emotions, steamy sex scenes, and a good supporting cast of friends, this was an entertaining read with the right amount of football for fans and non fans alike.

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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.

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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.

Review: Four By Tia Fielding, Love By Numbers 2

Tia Fielding Four
Cover by © 2019 Garrett Leigh http://www.blackjazzdesign.com/

I would rate this 3.5 stars

Although this is book two in the series there are (thankfully) brief recaps. You could read this on its own just fine, but it would have more emotional impact if read them in order. This one focuses on “Doc” Padraig Donovan the town veterinarian. He’s introduced in book one when helping Makai with a pregnant stray cat but other than knowing he’s a widower, and gay, there hasn’t been much character development. At the end of book one, Kaos, Makai’s genderqueer friend from prison, has arranged to come visit. He spent two years inside with Makai before he was released from prison after serving his four years. His life on the outside with an abusive boyfriend has been traumatic.

Since Marcus’s death, Padraig has buried himself in work. After seeing Makai and Emil get together, he starts tentatively moving forward with his life by using the space where his husband’s clinic used to be and getting in touch with mutual friends again like Marcus’s best friend Francis. They all went to college together and when Francis comes for a visit, it’s clear he will feature prominently in the next book. With Makai’s and Emil’s house being too small, Kaos moves in with Padraig while Francis’s character works as a buffer to allow a slow burn as both Padraig and Kaos work out their issues as individuals and as the couple they are becoming. Kaos’s issues revolve around his PTSD and exploring their gender identity in a safe environment whilst Padraig is having to deal with his grief and guilt, being honest rather than nostalgic about his marriage, and exploring his attraction to someone more feminine.

These books are about people with real issues that work at dealing with them in a mature way and actually communicate with each other, support each other, and treat other with respect. While they discuss their trauma, in order to understand each other, they aren’t bonding over their traumas. They bond spending time together. Their age gap doesn’t come into play except in relation to their experiences within the gay community. Everything is going so well but, triggers are triggering, so there are things to work out. There is more time spent with Kaos than Padraig, but I was grateful as seeing Padraig’s POV in dealing with hurt or abused animals would have been difficult for me. This book is focused more on the little things, the joys and annoyances of daily living, than the first book, but also has more steamy love scenes.

Although Padraig moved back to the area because of his family, neither his sister Mairead (or Mary) nor his dad are fleshed out. All the locals pop up, but there isn’t much done to expand them as characters. Sherriff Kalle is more sympathetic, more willing support Kaos since he already did his time. Kaos’s boss Christa at the tattoo shop and one of his clients are thrown into the story, but are not fully realized. Athena, as Padraig’s employee studying to be a vet tech is also underutilized. Having been established as homophobic in book one, the sheriff’s deputy Mark has a turnaround here that didn’t ring true without any foundation for how it happened–I expected more here, especially since it’s obviously a setup for him being paired off with Francis in the next book. There were some missed opportunities for more depth here but, I want to see Mark’s POV so I’ll read the next one.

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** This book was previously published by Dreamspinner Press and has now been self-published. It is currently exclusive to Amazon.

Review: Ten by Tia Fielding, Love By Numbers 1

TiaFieldingTen
Cover Art © 2019 Garrett Leigh

I would rate this 4 stars.

After ten years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Makai heads to Acker, Wisconsin to start his life over. There he meets Emil, still suffering his own PTSD from his ten day ordeal at the hands of drug traffickers. The hurt/comfort trope is high with this one as they stumble into a relationship while Emil’s father Kalle, the Sheriff, tries to keep them apart. We get to see both sides of law enforcement here, from Makai’s conviction for being brown, to an honest small town sheriff trying to protect his son from heartbreak and conquer his own prejudice (about excons, not because Makai’s a POC), and deputies Erin and Jason, who show Makai kindness. Unfortunately another deputy, Mark, is concerned with everyone’s sexuality and gender instead seeing them as people.

Watching Makai emotionally and mentally navigate being out of prison is sad. I am not usually a fan of so much inner musing, but with Makai fresh from prison and living alone in a sparsely populated area, it is appropriate to the story. Emil has trouble being around people too, so his POV is also self contained. Yet, when the dialogue happens it is real and pertinent, it helps paint a picture of their lives. Here the slow burn is entirely necessary; there is no other way for these men to interact. The bravery, the honesty they share is astonishing but in their excitement to have found someone who understands, they get too close too quick. As with all mental health issues, it’s a few steps forward, a few steps back. The sex is a natural extension of their relationship, but not eroticized for the reader. They are building a life together and that is just one small part of it as they struggle to be healthy.

The vet Doc, Emil’s shrink Evy, Emil’s mom Nora, the grocery store owner Mr. Miller, Joy/Joie and their mom Lotte–this is loaded with caring characters that feel real because they are described and their interactions with each other feel real. Joy/Joie is a wonderful 5 year old age appropriate character exploring their gender. It’s heartwarming to see the effort some of the town members take to welcome Makai, encouraging his integration–yes, some are bigots and homophobes, that’s just life. The small town feel is well written and surprisingly diverse. The whole town is invested in Emil because they had to share in his tragedy, so they want share in his happiness also. I do think Makai has to go above and beyond to prove to everyone, especially the sheriff, he is a “good guy” even though we was exonerated of the crime he committed and was unjustly convicted. This makes me wonder what kind of reception Kaos, Makai’s friend from prison, will get when he arrives for book two. Over all this is a well done, low angst for the subject matter, solid romance.

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**This book was previously published by Dreamspinner Press and has now been self-published by the author. I have an older edition of this book and it is exclusive to Amazon at this time.