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.

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Elle Keaton’s Website

 

Arctic Heat by Annabeth Albert, Frozen Hearts 3

 

ArcticHeatcover
Cover art made by Carina Press.

I would rate this 4.25 stars.

Although the third book in the series, this can be read as a standalone with no issue. Owen is a former investment banker. After a bout with cancer, he has decided to volunteer alongside park rangers in the Alaskan wilderness. There are little glimpses of his Asian family home life. His illness has made him less shallow, more willing to have fun and try new things. As a professional ranger Quill has no interest in a green city slicker volunteer but his best friend and partner Hattie has a new desk job and he can’t do his job alone. Quill hates change–set in his ways he is a private man. Owen is a people person and has the experience needed to slot into Quill’s work, and life, if Quill will let him. Owen needs to recognize some things might be more important than his bucket list. Even for people with a lot of snow experience, this is a dangerous job. If they can learn to trust each other, they can both have everything they didn’t know they wanted. This is a slow burn, opposites attract story that ratchets up the sexual tension over several months out in the wilderness together.

I like that Owen is a take charge, independent man who doesn’t take help because it’s easy, but will ask for help or listen when he needs it. I like that he is honest about how he feels and what he wants. I like that he is thoughtful, that he never takes charge in a way that would be taking advantage of Quill. Being privy to Quill’s past experiences is necessary as he doesn’t always communicate that with his words, whereas Owen will. Most of this book is about Owen battling his own wants and needs–confronting his own past traumas and unhealthy learned behaviors. Quill also accepts responsibility for his decisions, never blaming Owen for them.

This book focuses on the delicate dance of shared intimacy moving them forward, and different life experiences holding them back. The most difficult part is Quill battling the hyper-masculinity he was taught and learning to let Owen be a real partner and take charge when it’s the best thing to do instead of fighting it because he thinks he should. Owen’s cancer isn’t just mentioned once as a plot reason for this volunteer experience; it’s discussed naturally throughout the course of the book, both to explain its mental affect on Owen’s outlook, and as something a lover of his would need to know and understand. Every time I started to feel a little cabin fever, there is some emergency or situation with park visitors to break up that monotony. All the things that happen emphasize the effect of learning to live in the now and enjoying the ride. That’s when Owen’s POV is the most poignant, when he realizes this is not just fun and games to him, that things happen that can’t be planned for.

All three of the books in this series show how people think themselves into a box. I love it so much when they allow themselves to think their way out of the box too. I liked how even with the circumstances, things are not magically fixed, conflicts not glossed over. The sex scenes, always hot, ramp up as the intimacy turns them into something more. Yet, Quill’s eloquence was still a little too smooth all of the sudden, the epiphanies and big gesture a tiny over the top. Still, if that’s the only real fault I can find, that means this is a really well done, solid romance novel with likeable characters that I wanted to find happiness together.

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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: Hunter by J.V. Speyer, Hunted 1

 

Hunter cover
Cover design by Bad Doggie Designs

I would rate this 3.5 stars.

Luis is a federal agent, trained as a profiler, sent to Boston where he is assigned to work a murder case with a state police detective named Donovan. Donovan was his roommate and lover in college thirteen years before. Part of why they broke up was Donovan’s unwillingness to come out of the closet. Luis already faces discrimination for being Brazilian, so being gay is one more reason for his colleagues to dislike him; so he may as well be in their faces about it. Only Donovan knows Luis’s history and how people are unfairly judging him. For them to get their second chance, Donovan has to be honest about who he is and Luis has to value himself and stop pushing people away.

Many of Luis’s issues are his childhood trauma that he hasn’t dealt with. As a psychological professional, it is sad how mentally unhealthy Luis seems to be. His stressful work environment is not helping, and neither does he help himself. He is also dealing with racism at work–nothing overt, more like micro-agressions. Donovan’s family, also all police officers, are also not very accepting of Luis being brown, or gay. It takes awhile for Donovan to acknowledge he’s done anything wrong, or for him to admit he hasn’t ever recovered from their breakup either. Although I liked seeing flawed characters, it’s also difficult to not dislike them all at times throughout the book.

The writing is uneven. For example, Donovan is seemingly impressed with Luis being an FBI profiler at the beginning, but then he says it’s a pseudoscience and is disrespectful of Luis during the case. Then, he has an about-face defending him to Kevin, even citing Luis’s qualifications. Donovan belives in ghosts and psychics, but not psychology? Why is a police detective acting as an intermediary between FBI agents? At the point that Kevin and Luis are having issues, Donovan and Kevin are acting more like professional partners even though they don’t work for the same branch of law enforcement. Why does the FBI captain even listen to Donovan at all? The paranormal aspects of the case are only signaled by the cover. The entrance of paranormal activity is thrown abruptly into the middle of the story. I’m not sure it needed this aspect at all. I don’t think it added anything to what was already an interesting murder case. I think it took time away from character development and interpersonal communication that would have strengthened this book.

There are many things I liked about this book, and there are several parts I feel could have been better executed. By the time they have their HEA, everyone feels bad they were mean to poor Luis. At least in two sentences Luis acknowledges he needs to handle things better moving forward…but I wanted to see that as an actual realization. I wanted to see the work that would go into that, not to assume everything will magically be better after he gets out of the hospital and goes back to work, with his new boyfriend in tow.

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J.V. Speyer’s Website

Review: Arctic Wild by Annabeth Albert, Frozen Hearts 2

Arctic Wild Cover
Cover made by Carina Press

I would rate this 4.25 stars.

This is the second book in this series, but can be read as a standalone without any issues. Rueben’s best friend Craig, the spouse of a colleague at his law firm, has talked him into finally taking a vacation for his 48th birthday. Unfortunately, his friends cancel, leaving him alone with his guide. This trip wasn’t his idea and he doesn’t want to be in Alaska. It takes time for the scenery and companionship to grow on him. After Rueben unplugs from his phone and laptop, he is grudgingly starting to have a good time, and flirt with his guide. Tobias may be a smooth talker, but he has hidden depths behind his charming personality and quick smile. He also digs out his ethics and doesn’t sleep with his client when he has the chance. By the time the plane crash happens, I was already hooked on both these characters. Tobias is devastated his injuries might keep him from helping his sisters and his dad. He has little choice but to accept help from Reuben while he recuperates. The crash mades Rueben question his future and what he wants out of it. He vows to spend more time with his 14 year old daughter Amelia. What could go wrong with renting a house for the summer for all three of them?

For a relationship guy like Rueben, who likes to care for people, to agree to a summer fling is rare. For a hookup guy like Tobias to be friends with, and basically live with someone he’s having sex with, is equally unusual. I liked watching them both learn more about themselves. It’s not the age gap coming into play so much as the fact that this is Tobias’s first real relationship; he is not used to dealing with sharing his feelings or burdens. It’s also the first time he has prioritized something he wants for himself. Tobias’s father is such a large influence on him and his thought processes, that it takes him time to navigate through his inner conflict. Rueben hasn’t had the best luck at relationships, learning to put his job first because it gave him most of his sense of self worth. He has to work through breaking old habits–relearning to prioritize his daughter over his job, his life over his work.

This had all of the great writing, depth, and hot love scenes I would expect from this author. This book had an expansion of characters without making them flat or sacrificing any of the love story for the main characters. I thought the interactions with their respective family members all rang authentic. As a long novel, this really takes its time to immerse the reader in details about the activities, scenery, and characters. I found the plane crash to be realistically described while actually adding to the character development, rather than only as an excuse to trap the MCs together. This has some great tropes: opposites attract, fish out of water, age gap, slow burn, hurt/comfort and second chances. I would recommend reading both of these and look forward to the third one.

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Annabeth Albert’s Website