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: Hearts Under Fire (New Amsterdam #1) by Kelly Wyre

Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

When two Doms meet in a bar and are enamored with each other…someone has to submit or they need a third. There are plenty of books like either of those scenarios, but this is something more nuanced. Clark owns a Bar named Glow, but is also part owner of a BDSM club and has a nebulous side job working for Lucien that isn’t entirely explained. Daniel is a college professor and professional Dom. The awkward dance really begins as Clark tracks Daniel down and invites him to visit the club for a possible job and membership. When the characters start acting differently than the way that had already been established, the care given as both characters unfold in really unexpected ways, just because of each other, was great to read. The key is that their reactions to each other are different than their reactions to others, so this goes serious very quickly.

With the way their first night happens, they actually have to talk about it–still no one uses the words switch or vers. Not everything has to be labeled or put in a box. The answer for me is…Clark will refer to Daniel as Sir occasionally in this book, but Daniel never calls Clark that, so that’s all I need to know. Arguably there is very little D/s at this point in their relationship, but there are power dynamics that are fluid. They tend to naturally flow in and out of fairly mild “scenes.” There are several explicit, beautifully written sex scenes, but a tad too many “Oh, God” and “Nnngh” moans. These guys are vocal and they do like to talk during sex. The hurt/comfort trope is maximized here in a way that doesn’t seem forced or exploitative. Be aware there are flashbacks from Clark’s time in the service. Daniel has had his own trauma and loss. The story does switch points of view between them, however I noticed that it’s usually in the vulnerable POV during sex, yet not during the sharing of trauma with each other. The times when Daniel lets himself be taken care of are some of my favorite parts–him trusting Clark and relinquishing control doesn’t change who he is. They hold a safe space for each other.

The book is broken into two parts. I felt like the romance was established enough in order for this next part to work. There is foreshadowing, but I was still shocked. It is one of my own worst nightmares, so it was very difficult to read. The reader will be in Daniel’s POV for a very traumatizing event. I appreciated the aftermath of the event being focused on, the other people affected by the violence, not just the relationship. I felt the action sequences were well done and believable. However, it’s also in the last quarter where it goes off the rails a bit for me. As Clark’s boss, friend, and one of the club’s co-owners, Lucian’s behavior towards Clark may make some sense, but it doesn’t make sense for Daniel, whom he had just met. It’s distracting because the reader knows Clark has known Lucian for years, but has not been shown that relationship for more than a few lines. I realize I might be in the minority about this, but with Daniel being a police insider and Clark heavily involved in elite politics…the privileged ending and special treatment was a bit off-putting to me instead of romantic. However, I think this book establishes a comfort level and trust for a real BDSM relationship to develop over time while they are an established couple in a way other books miss when they rush to play with equipment or just expect the sub to be vulnerable to a dom who has never reciprocated. This is a new to me author and I found this erotic romantic thriller to be more thought provoking than most in its genre.

The cover design was done by Natasha Snow. It’s a bit generic, but along with the title should let the reader know a bit of what to expect.

Sales Link:  Amazon

JMS Books

Book Details: ebook
Published January 17th 2018 by JMS Books (first published July 1st 2011)
ISBN139781684311729
Edition Language: English
Series: New Amsterdam

 

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Hearts Under Fire (New Amsterdam #1) by Kelly Wyre — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review : Hitting Black Ice (Heart and Haven #1) by Heloise West

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

For the first nine chapters, the reader is in Hunter’s POV as he navigates his crush on Shawn, a colleague at the hospital he works at. He is beset by guilt over the death of his boyfriend. Hunter’s drinking and PTSD are a source of worry for his friends and family, who are all in medical services and law enforcement. Life changing events happen fast, allowing Hunter and Shawn to break down some barriers and bond more quickly than would otherwise happen. The reader is thrown into this weird drama because Hunter’s emotions, doubts, and fears are like a roller coaster. Add in Shawn’s PTSD and fear, and neither of them are operating on all cylinders; having said that, the beginning could have flowed more smoothly. I found the dialogue and conversations strange. There are characters thrown in who are underutilized. Luckily, it gets better.

When the magnetic FBI agent Truman shows up, I was intrigued. I don’t think the sexual tension works quite as well as I would have liked to better sell this character. Relying on Hunter as a bit of a cop chaser isn’t enough for this to really shine as it could have. Who doesn’t like a bit of will they, won’t they? By chapter ten when the POV switches to Shawn, aka Alex, I was hooked into the story intellectually and wanted to know the why of everything. The flashback helps make sense of how everyone got to where they are. Between the betrayals, criminals, and dangerous ex-lovers, Hunter and Alex make perfect sense together.

There could be a debate about cheating in this book. It’s something I know some people can’t stand, so I’m warning you. In my opinion, it is all completely understandable: they weren’t really together yet (maybe), and they were on a break (sort of). It made sense for the character as written because that’s one of his coping mechanisms. One of the best things about this book is that the three major characters are complex. They make good and bad decisions; they do good and bad things.

Even with the unexpected turns, this whole book is careening towards a final confrontation. Here is where everything would have been more intense if Hunter’s family had been completely fleshed out beforehand. Also, the feeble attempt at any sort of redemption for the bad guy (he did this awful thing, but he had a really good reason) didn’t work for me. I am happy it was just a sentence thrown in and not given legs. This is still where I became more emotionally hooked into the story for Hunter and Alex. I would call this a HFN. Everyone is changed by the events and I would like to see what happens next with these characters.

The cover art by Natasha Snow fits the story well. I am going to assume this is Truman.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book Details: ebook
Published August 19th 2019 by NineStar Press (first published December 1st 2014)
ISBN 139781951057145
Edition Language English
Series: Heart and Haven

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review : Hitting Black Ice (Heart and Haven #1) by Heloise West — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Craving’s Creek by Mel Bossa

Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

The blurb to this book really captured my attention. The story, seen through Ryde’s point of view, takes place over 15 years and is broken down into three main parts. The first part shows Ryde’s intense attraction and focus on his neighbor Alastair. The reader gets to see the juxtaposition of Ryde’s supportive, though neglectful family and Alastair’s strange and scary religious upbringing. Then, this gut wrenching tragedy happens taking away all their youthful hopes and dreams. The second part shows Ryde’s life fourteen years later. Surveying the landscape is bleak as Ryde hits rock bottom when his selfishness, pain, and grief become more important than his love for anyone, even Alistair. Meanwhile, seeing Ryde again makes Alastair realizes his life is not what he thinks it is. The third part of the story deals with them both trying to put their demons to rest and move forward. This is where most of the hurt/comfort trope plays out.

For this 2019 edition, the author has mentioned she “really toned down the drama” from the 2015 version, which boggles my mind since I cried several times while reading it. This book has a very high angst level with themes of rape, sexual abuse, mental illness, PTSD, addiction, religious fervor, and betrayal. It is stark in its depiction of what Ryde’s whole family has lost. Ryde’s best friend Sheryl is fighting her own battle since she made the decision to let Ryde drag her down with him.

I am of two minds about this book. Obviously, it was well written enough to affect me so deeply. There is so much nuance here to complex issues like religion versus spirituality and coping mechanisms. Watching Father Masson wrestling with his own conscience about what is best for Alastair is compelling. Father Cornwell, as Alastair’s spiritual advisor, shows the bad side of the Church in wanting to control the situation, or save his soul, rather than do what may be best for Alastair’s mental health. There is certainly a compelling argument that he should not have been allowed to take his vows. Through it all, Alastair never losses his Faith in God, even when he loses faith in the Church.

I think the main flaw of this book is the subtle implication, even after apparent rewrites, that love can cure mental illness, trauma, and stop alcoholism. Ryde’s sobriety is nearly instantaneous. Alastair almost never shows any sign that it isn’t all about him except for asking about Ryde’s nightmares. Their one attempt at sexual intimacy ends disastrously. He warns Ryde he may never be able to have sex, but I’m not sure Ryde actually thinks that might be true–his focus on the physical rather than the mental issues here is astounding. A lifetime of trauma can’t be solved in a few months of once a week therapy or even after one huge breakthrough. Going back to Craving’s Creek seems just thrown in for the dramatic affect.

Shared history and trauma are important components to their relationship, but in the end it can’t be the only thing that keeps them together. There is not much here to convince me they can live together on a daily basis and navigate normal life yet, so I would argue this is a HFN rather than a HEA. Still, the book ends on a hopeful note of catharsis as they move towards their futures, finally together, with Ryde much more able to cope with the reality of Alastair than his 17 year old self would have been.

The cover design was done by Written Ink Designs. This is not how I pictured Alastair at all. The picture does signal that religion will be a main theme and shows the place that is ground zero for what happens to them.

Sales Links:  JMS Books LLC | Amazon | Smashwords | Barnes & Noble |  Kobo

Book Details: ebook, 224 pages
Published June 29th 2019 by JMS Books LLC (first published August 18th 2015)
ISBN 139781634869560
Edition Language: English

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Craving’s Creek by Mel Bossa — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Keeping Cade (Crave Club #1) by S.E. Jakes

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Related to the Men Of Honor and Phoenix Inc. series, you can read this without reading the other seven books, as there is plenty of recapping, (over two dozen characters are mentioned in the first few chapters alone), but be prepared for the plot to be connected. I picked this because I remember reading said series a long time ago. This first paragraph is usually where I try and give a little synopsis of the plot, so here goes: Cade, a professional fighter working for the Russian mob, dates the wrong man, a spook named Courier. Courier then blackmails him into doing sexual things or else he will kill one of his best friends, a Delta Force active duty serviceman now in Africa. Of course, the BDSM club named Crave, which he is forced to go to, is run by ex-military men who run a mercenary group named Gray Ops. Is he an unwitting honeypot to get to the owners Tegan and Vic, or is something else happening? I am going to give you a spoiler, so if you don’t want to know, don’t read anymore. It’s also a major trigger, so I’m not even going to feel bad about it. Be prepared for multigenerational child abuse happening here.

At this point, I will say the erotic parts can survive without the plot, but the plot is pure angst and sex–bonding over past trauma and lust. At first, it’s difficult to emotionally engage, because the characters are like caricatures. The men teeter between heavy testosterone “f*ck or fight,” (the author’s words, not mine) hyper-masculinity, to swoony heroes in a bodice ripper. I’ve been reading m/m romance for almost a decade now and I think my expectations of this genre are much higher. Also, fairly or not, it’s difficult not to compare this to other works by this author that are much better, especially since most of her characters are very similar. The depth always seems to come from the characters having been tortured during their military service, or being abused in foster care, and suffering from PTSD. Then you get hit in the gut by all of the child abuse, both current with a character who is a minor, and past with several main characters. That’s not even talking about the paedophile ring and the human trafficking.

This starts out well, if you don’t mind sexy dub-con, but Tegan and Vic go into alpha protective dom mode immediately after one scene with Cade, a complete stranger, and start acting like they are life partners. This is done knowingly, with a nod and wink, as werewolf mates are referenced by an old friend. Cade, a former Ranger and Delta Force member, and professional street fighter, is treated like a helpless kitten. I also never like it when books use former sexual abuse as the reason people like BDSM–because they are damaged and then let people continue to abuse them, but it’s okay because they need it. It’s so busy recapping the past and writing in various new characters and topics that can be revisited in the future, that this plot suffers. This triad is compared to two other triads from the previous series as well, so I guess it’s an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mentality. The rest of the book is finding a way for this threesome to get closer, exploiting all of their past pain, to build up to a rescue that isn’t all that exciting. I had a difficult time rating this because it has so much going on that it doesn’t do any one thing particularly well or believably. I know there are fans who will love this book because they get to see some of their past favorites, but for me having a few walk on roles wasn’t enough.

The cover art design is by Croco Designs. I would guess this is Cade and the red cover is evocative of an emergency or danger, but this really doesn’t give you anything else about the story.

Sales Link: Amazon

Book Details: Kindle Edition, 321 pages
Published May 24th 2019 by Stephanie Tyler LLC
ASINB07S7KDVLX
Edition Language: English
Series: Crave Club

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Keeping Cade (Crave Club #1) by S.E. Jakes — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Rook by T. Strange

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Rook is sent to the alien prison planet B-226 for twenty three years for killing his husband. The average life span on the hostile planet is three weeks. His plan is to live as long as possible to honor his husband’s wishes, and then die and join him. Upon landing he is partnered with a prisoner named Stevie to help guard the miners, or he won’t get fed. There is a strange thrill in fightening off the local fauna and surviving, or having a specific daily purpose, that Rook didn’t count on. Their days are stressful, consisting of violent episodes bracketed by fighting boredom for concentration. Through his POV, the third character is Rook‘s dead husband Carlos. Stevie walks a fine line of teaching Rook how to survive, being wary of any attack or signs of madness setting in, using him for company and sex, but trying not to care too much in case Rook gets killed like all his previous partners.

I found this plot enticing as I personally enjoy when an author explores the psychology of a character. This is a new author to me so I really didn’t know what to expect. The main question here was always going to be, are they just together because of the circumstances? While that is actually asked, finding out the real answer takes the whole book. Bonding over shared trauma isn’t bad as a short cut, as long as it’s not the only thing there. While they are just trying to survive, they don’t actually know anything about each other’s previous lives. What they do know is: how they each react in an emergency, if they are trustworthy and to what extent, how each deals with conflict and triggers, and what factors motivate or de-motivate them. I would argue not knowing facts about someone’s life, or even their particular thoughts at any given moment, is less important than knowing if they can be counted on. I loved that there were so many issues touched on like the complications of choice, personal sovereignty, stages of grief, and PTSD. Having said that, it’s shocking that no one even makes a mention or an attempt at trying to deal with said mental health issues.

There are parts of this book that at times reminded me of movies like Predator, Reign of Fire, Pitch Black, Starship Troopers or Enemy Mine. I mention movies because I saw this story as pictures in my mind. That the author manages to sustain a feeling of suspense and terror for such a large (80-85%) portion of this book is amazing. There are breaks in the tension just when they are needed. There are breaks in the setting, just when they are needed. The focus of this book is very narrow, with the characters in their own world, creating a very intimate rather than epic feel so without the breaks, this could have been stifling. As it is, I felt like I went through everything with them.

Romance is not the point of this book. Finding someone you love and can get along with during one of the worst times of your life is another thing altogether. Sex is also not the point of this book–mostly it is fade to black, or described as a celebration of survival or stress relief as a realistic part of Rook‘s life and circumstances. While there is a HFN/HEA here, it is done in a realistic way consistent with the flavor of the novel as a whole. I am so thankful this author didn’t just slap a bow on it and negate all the work it took to get to the end of this journey. I thought this story was great and complete as it is.

The cover designed by Aisha Akeju is evocative of desolation and beauty. You can clearly tell it is science fiction. I do appreciate the use of the jungle as both reality and allegory.

Buy Links:  Less Than Three Press | Amazon

 

Book Details: ebook
Published February 7th 2018 by Less Than Three Press
ISBN139781684311804
Edition Language: English

 

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Rook by T. Strange — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

***Sadly, Less Than Three Press has gone out of business.

Release Day Review: Inked Music by Sean Michael

Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

Rene Conette is a bored businessman looking for…something. The first impression is of complete privilege so I wasn’t sure if I liked him, but I found myself warming to him more and more as he is patient and kind, if used to getting his way. Gavin Turner is a musician with a haunting past: an obsessed fan kidnapped and tortured him. Once his interest in BDSM became public, people judged that he either enjoyed it or got what he deserved. The cast is completed by twin brothers Silas and Dev, former police who helped rescue Gavin and now work as his private security.

Gavin’s history sets up a way for Rene and Gavin to take time to establish trust before adding mild BDSM elements into their relationship. The sexual aspect does start surprisingly fast. The book is definitely erotic romance going from one hot sex scene to another, which is what the author does well. It’s the the dialogue in the getting to know each other scenes and the scenes between sex scenes that don’t seem to flow as easily. After setting up Silas and Dev as Gavin’s protectors and family, they are largely ignored for the rest of the book. There is more than one conversation about Gavin’s relationship with them not being sexual, which is a little repetitive. If they are supposed to be Gavin’s family and closest friends, it seems strange that Rene ignores them. I know they are supposed to be on duty, especially when outside, but in Rene’s home in a secure building where you have to be buzzed up, the fact that they are on high alert is a little odd to me. Really though it’s the smallest part of the book. The majority of the book is the sex scenes. While hot, they are pretty tame so this may be a good book for people who don’t like anything hardcore.

They are both wealthy, so they do live in their own little bubble on their own schedule. Work is only mentioned briefly. At the beginning, it did seem as though Rene was in the closet, or just very discreet, taking a female friend to all of his work or social functions. Given the issues Gavin’s last Dom had with his fame after what happened, it did make me wonder if that would also be addressed with Rene, but it’s never mentioned again. This book does end on a HFN/HEA. If the author does write another book with these characters, maybe focusing on the twins, I would like to see what would happen if Gaven was recognized and no longer able to be incognito and how that would affect their relationship. In the end, even for an erotic romance, I guess I wanted a bit more plot and a few more details. The book is surprisingly low angst for the subject matter, has steamy scenes, and a sweet, quick romance.

The cover art is by L.C. Chase. It shows Gaven, insular and alone, focused on what matters most to him. He’s described as being thin with dark hair, dark eyes, and tattoos so this isn’t quite how I pictured him.

Buy links: Dreamspinner Press |   Amazon |  Kobo |  Barnes and Noble 

Book Details: ebook, 1st edition, 193 pages
Expected publication: April 9th 2019 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 139781644051092
Edition Language: English

via A Chaos Moondrawn Release Day Review: Inked Music by Sean Michael — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Arctic Sun by Annabeth Albert

Artic Sun Cover
Cover Art Copyright by Harlequin Enterprises Limited

I would rate this 4.5 stars

Griffin Barrett is ex-military and a recovering alcoholic mourning the loss of his best friend and a series of bad decisions. Griff’s dream is to have his own little cabin in the middle of nowhere. The only thing keeping him from being a lone mountain man is helping with his family’s wilderness adventures business. When his uncle’s surgery means he has to be the tour guide for a group booked for photography, he is way out of his comfort zone having to deal with the customers on a 10 day trip. His mother and uncle seem determined to use this as an excuse to meddle: make Griff be more social, more involved in the family business, and more involved in life in general. But Griff is using the isolation and routine to help manage his demons.

One of said customers is River Vale, a former supermodel and now travel writer. Known as a foodie and “professional nomad,” he doesn’t have or want a home. Or is that true? It seems he’s been on the run from one place to another since his mother died. It becomes clear right away he has an eating disorder but he’s not quite the pampered, spoiled model Griff was expecting. Griff’s antisocial behavor intrigues River, who is used to everyone liking him and doesn’t know what to make of Griff’s attitude. The author does a good job of setting up a dynamic where both of them are off balance during their interactions.

There is an instant opposites attract dynamic. It soon becomes apparent they both have enough baggage for an airport, and more in common than either would have thought. The seduction of a reluctant Griff is strangely fun to witness. River is enticing. What is supposed to be a casual fling gets complicated. The love scenes are meant to further the characters’ intimacy and it’s great to see that they match the personality of the characters–the scenes are about them, not just to tantalize the reader. Yes, they are still hot.

Unused to letting people know him, Griff gets attached to the one man he has finally let in. River starts to get attached to the one man who seems to actually take care of him. It’s easier to be the best you, when you are in an environment you can control. The best part of the book comes when Griff visits River in Vancouver and meets his friends; it really highlights all of the challenges they will face if they are going to be a couple. I still would have liked to see more interactions with both families and friends (even flashbacks), which would have added more depth.

One of things that often frustrates me in books is where a miscommunication about something not that important is the plot device that keeps the MCs apart just a little longer. This book is a perfect example of how to use the fear everyone has that if someone really gets to know you, warts and all, they won’t like you. The author gets into the psychology of the characters to show their vulnerabilities and coping mechanisms. But what helps these characters in survival mode, often doesn’t benefit them the rest of the time. There is no overnight fix, just the slow working out of things over time and actually talking about the difficult things. In the end, they are sweet building their life together and planning for new adventures.

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Kobo

Buy from iTunes

Buy from Barnes and Noble

Buy from Audible

Annabeth Albert’s Website