Review: Scintilla by Elizabeth Noble, El Corazon 1

Scintilla
Cover not credited.

 

I would rate this 3.5 stars.

Brandon goes on vacation to fulfill his sexual fantasy with a werewolf Dom at the El Corazon adult entertainment club in Arizona. The werewolf he gets is Raul, grandson to the club owner and professional bounty hunter. One scene is not enough for either of them and a bond is struck. But Brandon is a scintilla, a magical human that wields electricity, and an expert with using electronics to glean information. Months later Brandon disappears and his father shows up to hire Raul to find him, leading everyone down a path filled with paranormals, human trafficking, and betrayal.

For me, this book is split in two with the first half being a bit awkward where some things are explained, and the second half where there is a lot of action and a better connection between the characters. The first love scene wasn’t quite as hot as I would have liked, but that’s just sex. They hang out for a week, having more sex, which is not shown. Too many sex scenes back to back can be boring, but skipping out on the time they spend together lessens the intimacy. The reader is told they emailed for months after, but that didn’t make me feel attached to either of them. Then, the second half has the intimacy and connection I wanted–almost too much as it also actually distracted them from their own undercover operation. There are a plethora of kinks here, with the age gap, Raul being a hairy bear type, knotting, and Brandon basically being a violet wand. I did like that Raul is actually a wolf, it is always part of who he is and that is consistent.

The world-building was a bit haphazard. There are four classes of magical humans, so what are they? There are five types of jinn, but only effrit and sila are referenced. There is a leprechaun and a prism character, but neither are explored. Later, acoustic and aether paranormals are also mentioned. The only thing I know about werewolf culture is they are pansexual and matriarchal. Raul’s family is also Latin, so that comes across the most. As the matriarch, Natty is a force to be reckoned with, and a welcome, loving presence. A jinni, Fahim, who is a business partner of Raul’s cousin, Tad, is always there to lend of hand, but I don’t know anything about him. At first I felt I missed something as a character named Janey was introduced; I had no idea who she was. She is described as a prism, and ends up being the police captain, but I have no idea what she or her lieutenant, Iva, whom Raul has known since grade school, actually look like. So, really, the world-building here is contained to Raul’s family life and glimpses of his work as a bounty hunter. Things that need to be known are thrown in scene by scene. That’s a shame since the plot is actually interesting. This is really just a fun, low angst for the subject matter adventure, with some steamy sex scenes, a bit of violence, and likeable lead characters. Expect that instead of urban fantasy and it’ll be an enjoyable diversion.

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Review: Executive Decision by Alice Archer

Executive Decision
Cover design: Tracy Kopsachilis Art & Design Cover image of man in blue suit: freepik.diller / Freepik NOTERIQUE font: Hareesh Seela Cover image of man and moon: iStock/ApryIRED

I would rate this 4 stars.

With a cleverly built science fiction spin, what appears to be a blue collar/white collar meet cute becomes much more when Pierre is vulnerable and Dar switches the power dynamics to make this intriguing story soar. The writing style is different and quirky, always the way to my heart. Kudos to the author for making me care about these two people in such a truncated amount of time. Rather than focusing on sex, this focuses on a heartfelt connection of equals. If the connection is based on truth, people being who they really are without artifice, I believe that can happen in a short amount of time. I enjoyed this short story about people who are a good match, lucky in their timing, and save each other.

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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: Virgin Flyer by Lucy Lennox

virginflyer
Cover Art: Steamy Designs Cover Photo: RafaGCatala

I would rate this 4.5 stars.

At first glace this seems like a love triangle with Teo in love with his childhood friend of twenty years Chris, and his growing feelings for a one night stand turned friend, Jack. But Chris, who is bisexual, acts heterosexual for his parents, and while happy to have sex with Teo if they keep it on the down low, is not ready to come out and settle down in his twenties. When Teo loses his virginity to Jack, he starts to realize childhood dreams are just that. Teo is ready settle down and he is a forever type of guy. As Chris does everything in his power to manipulate his friend in order to keep him close and under his power, Teo is finally learning that there is a difference between love and being in love. Jack learns that maybe his happiness with traveling and playing the field is just what he tells himself to avoid being hurt or hurting others. What Jack wants is Teo, but being in love with someone who is in love with someone else is not on his agenda.

Switching POV between Teo and Jack is utilized to great effect, allowing me to enjoy seeing them fall in love from both sides. This led with the erotic, but subtly pulled me into a romance; the sex scenes are hot, hot, hot…yet surprisingly sweet. This features an age gap and a fake boyfriend trope with forced proximity. Their conversations flow naturally. I laughed and got choked up; I got so attached to everyone. They are adorable together, and as their passion grows into friendship, I was rooting for them. As their friendship changes, it’s not that they don’t communicate, it’s that they don’t check-in with each other when their feelings start to change, leading to misunderstandings. Learning about Teo’s relationship with Chris through his fleeting thoughts about past events makes me want to smack him, but it’s his current treatment of Teo that makes me want to punch him out. I also realized he is navigating the difference between his vision of his future and holding on possessively to the person actually most important to him, like a safety net. Kudos to the author for giving me an understanding of Chris without his POV, humanizing him through Teo’s eyes.

All the side characters here are very effectively integrated into the story: family, co-workers, patients, clients, etc. Jack is a pilot and Teo is a nurse while Chris works in the family’s medical business. If I had a quibble, it would be that while Jack’s family is shown, Teo’s family is not. However, the secret to Jack is his family whereas Teo’s character is best seen through his caregiving for everyone he knows, especially parts of Chris’s family he has known all his life. It’s nice to see people handle things maturely without a lot of drama: people who grow through their experiences, work out their differences, and support each other. The author foreshadows the story well, so I knew exactly where this was going, but I never felt like it was formulaic even with the expected grand gesture. It’s great to have a romance story actually touch me emotionally without me feeling manipulated, without the focus on some sort of emotional trauma or being high angst. I have to say this is an excellent romance that I throughly enjoyed.

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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.

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Review: Like A Dervish by Olivette Devaux, Disorderly Elementals 7

dervish
Cover Art © 2019 Pavelle Art

I would rate this 3 stars.

The blurb said it could read as a standalone, but I would recommend reading them in order. Obviously, there will be spoilers otherwise, so I was surprised about many things like the truce with Brian and the polyamory between Cooper, Ash, and Sigmund. I have missed three books and there wasn’t always enough recapping about who people were. Also, Brian’s part in this (past actions) plays a huge role in the dynamic between Sigmund and David–they both worked for him and he’s had an effect on their trust of one another. Brian suggests Sig and David go to Las Vegas in order to practice with their powers out in the desert in an unpopulated area. While they obviously don’t trust Brian, they agree to help track down his missing cousin.

Some of this plot didn’t make sense to me. Who are they worried about kidnapping them? Who is chasing or tracking them now? Who is Lynn? Brian is supposedly looking for his cousin Zack who has disappeared, yet he’s a big time illusionist in Vegas and Brian has his own people there who spy for him. I didn’t understand Sig and David going back into a casino or populated areas where everything is being videoed/monitored if they are afraid of being found. They end up camping in the desert and practice working on their control over their elements. David’s wind element seems way more interesting to me in this book than Sig’s fire, but I am assuming that has been covered more in previous books.

Zack is an interesting character that isn’t full fleshed out even though he has the third largest role in the book. The POV switches between David and Sig except at one point where Sig’s POV seems to accidentally switch into Zach’s POV for a few paragraphs. There is also some of Cooper’s POV near the end that didn’t really add anything to the story. I understand lust and being touch starved, but I didn’t like the insta-love that David and Sig have with the introduction of Zack. The sex scenes are somewhat explicit, but not that steamy. I do think the dynamic worked as it helped take away David’s awkwardness about never having been with a man before due to Zack’s lack of experience also, but I thought David’s established jealousy melting away seemed unrealistic. As for secondary characters, Joe is more real than Celeste or Gianna. While this may signal Joe will pop up again in another book, making all the characters realistic would have added depth. Also, it’s a shame two powerful women characters aren’t better utilized. When the book ends abruptly, I am left wondering if the two triads will merge, with Sig as the bridge. While Sig seems to take a step back from Cooper and Ash when they go back to Pittsburgh, I wasn’t emotionally invested in their relationship since I have missed reading previous books. Also, if/when Zach comes to Pittsburgh…Sig being in love with four other men is a bit much for me. With a murky plot, lukewarm sex, and a ton of questions I am not sure I care about answering, this just didn’t work for me.

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Review: Alpha Home by Sue Brown, J.T.’s Bar 3

AlphaHome
Cover design by Garrett Leigh, Black Jazz Design

I would rate this 3 stars.

Si and Howie became a couple in book one, but that was a side story so their romance was never explored. It’s mentioned in book two that they’ve had some issues and now we get to see what they are. Unlike Mitch, Si doesn’t leave the team so Howie is having to deal with weeks of separation at a time without knowing where Si is or if he’s okay. He doesn’t want to move to North Carolina, he’s happy in Wyoming. But again, there is no communication here. His mother is also a problem; his family doesn’t approve of his being gay and she’s here from Ohio. At one point, it’s only his aunt and cousins left alive, but then he is supposedly from a big family. He seems to not care what anyone thinks except his mom. In fact, he still dates when his mom is alive, just keeps it out of her face, but I have to assume his aunt or cousins are telling her anyway? Why couldn’t he have just done that with Si instead of other men? There is some repetition about how Howie is kind and gentle, not a warrior, but I was frustrated with him not standing up for himself. This plot frustrates me as much as what happened between Jake and Mitch, but two years later, Si and Howie finally get their second chance.

Si is a volatile character, not that he would ever be violent with Howie, but he seems to need calming influences. His friends tend to “manage” him. The dynamic of Mitch and Jake as team leaders, follows into their personal lives as well. I didn’t understand the inclusion of Mark, who is ex-agency and now a physical therapist that just happens to be in this small town in Wyoming. When someone has it out for Howie, the team tries to figure out who, and whether someone is trying to kill him or just scare him. Clearly, something needed to happen to set up the next book so that it makes sense for these men to keep doing military type scenarios when they are supposed to be civilians. There also needs to be some sort of connection to the bar, or it wouldn’t make sense to be part of the J.T.’s Bar series. Everything is sorted, but I still am not too attached to most of the characters except Mitch, and by extension Jake.

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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: 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.