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.

Buy From Amazon

Tia Fielding on Facebook

Tia Fielding’s Reader Group

**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.

Review: Fight For This by Suki Fleet, For This 1

FightForThis

 

I would rate this 3.5 stars

Grey, has a crush on his friend and co-worker named Si. Good thing Si has a crush on Grey right back. But the school they both work at, run by Headmaster Greene, is full of secrets–secrets that could harm or save everyone there. At first the POV switches between Grey and Si, the main couple here, but also grows to include Jaime’s POV. They meet Jaime in a nightclub and their fates seem tied together. The cast is further rounded out by Jaime’s twin sister Harry, a student at the school Robyn, and another of the teachers Tabitha with her cat that is not a cat Luna. This is a good introduction to a range of supernatural beings, or Folk, and some of their powers.

The main romance relies heavily on the weeks prior to the book, that the reader is not privy to, in order for their relationship to work. The lust is already there but this still feels like insta-love. The love scenes have that bonded fated mate feel. Then there is a manufactured crisis to keep them apart, which goes nowhere. This book seemed fairly straightforward at first, but as the mythos is built, it gets more complicated leaving questions without answers. Everything is foreshadowed with where this story will go and the story made sense, but many things are not explained. I think the parts of the plot that are meant to be saved for the next book could have been handed more deftly, made more intriguing. As it is, it just seems like the world-building is lacking.

The other driving force of the story is the secrecy that Greene encouraged. The Veil between the worlds is failing. It’s the Veil that was created to allow Folk to hide amongst humans as long as they were careful about using their powers. Greene has been collecting faculty, staff, and students who are Folk, often some who don’t know it, and created the school for them. It is assumed for them to be safer when the Veil falls, but his is a complicated character, good and bad in turns. It is only when all the secrecy falls away, that the characters can work together to strengthen the Veil before it’s too late. This is a temporary fix, so a more permanent solution will need to found for the future to help those trapped protecting the Folk.

Since the younger characters Robyn, Harry, and Jaime will likely play a larger role in the rest of the series, this is more like a YA book about a school for Folk, like a paranormal urban fantasy version of the school in XMen. The world-building only shows what the reader needs for each scene, so it’s easy to read. I just need more than that if I am going to be kept mentally engaged. I didn’t feel attached to the characters; I feel like I know things about them, rather than that I know them, so my emotional investment was low even though it was entertaining. Overall this is a stress free read for when you want to relax with an interesting premise and cute characters.

Buy From Amazon

Suki Fleet’s Website

Suki Fleet on Patreon

 

 

 

 

 

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

ConspiracyTheory
Cover art by Garret Leigh at Black Jazz Design

 

I would rate this 4 stars.

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

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

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

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

Buy from Amazon

Paperbook at Amazon

Elle Keaton’s Website

 

Review: Spare The Rod by Marie Sexton, The Heretic Doms Club 3

SpareTheRod
Cover art by Garrett Leigh of Black Jazz Design

 

I would rate this 4 stars.

This is the third book in the series and by now, I feel like they need to be read in order for the full emotional experience because much of the information about each of the doms is layered into each book, weaving a greater whole. This book focuses on Gray, who is way more interesting than I’ve seen previously, yet less time is spent with him. The majority of it feels like this is Avery’s story as a spoiled, ungrateful, selfish brat; his character development is forced as he is finally having to be responsible for himself, beholden to Gray instead of his parents. Even with what he’s seen as a veteran and working as a beat cop, Gray still has things to learn too–the age gap doesn’t seem all that large when gauged by emotional maturity. When his trying moments come, they are devastating. As they traverse the issue of trust between a masochist and a sadist, they learn the hardest parts are sharing more of themselves than just their bodies.

This series is so rich in main characters, it doesn’t need much from its secondary characters. Information about Charlie has been building in each book and he will get his story soon. As the advice giver, peace maker, and heart of the group, his character is frequently the bridge that connects everyone. Avery’s friend Derik is a good mirror for Avery–the more he grows and changes from the way he was, the more he sees how shallow, vain, and cruel his life used to be. The author did set up situations that I felt deepened the friendships of all the men, and yes, that includes more shared sex scenes. The sex between Gray and Avery at the beginning and the sex at the end are completely different with the added intimacy gained on their journey.

Large parts of this are a huge indictment against social media and against people who don’t educate themselves so they are well rounded citizens. While it is couched in terms of Avery’s character development, and Gray’s upbringing, there are times when the pointed social commentary subsumed the narrative. I support the positive message, about building the world you want to have, even as I think the way the story all fell into place was too pat. That made this relationship less realistic to me than the ones in the previous books. I enjoyed Avery and Grey moving through their story together, I just felt like it wasn’t Avery who was meant to be learning the life lessons, but the reader and that made their love story take an occasional backseat to the larger themes.

Buy From Amazon

Marie Sexton’s Website

**The ebook is only on sale at Amazon at the time of this post. Amazon also is the only place the paperback is for sale, but book one and two are sold at Barnes and Noble as well as Book Depository, so you could check those later.

Review: Terms Of Service by Marie Sexton, The Heretic Doms Club 2

TermsOfService
Cover Art by Garrett Leigh of Black Jazz Design

I would rate this 4.5 stars.

Even though this is the second book in a series written in linear time, I feel like you could read this first and go back to learn more about Warren and Taylor’s story from book one. For maximum emotional impact, I feel they are best read in order. River is grieving over the break-up of his marriage and floundering through his days when he meets Phil in a professional confrontation at the hospital. River is naturally submissive and is drawn to Phil’s personality even though he doesn’t understand why, doesn’t really understand what he wants or needs. His husband works at the same hospital with his new boyfriend, but River hasn’t signed the divorce papers yet. Phil is set in his ways, his rigid control only serviced through one night stands or rentboys, yet he responds to River in a way that makes him want to try for a casual arrangement. As they work through the change from an arrangement to a real relationship, these two lonely men find they have more in common than they would have believed. Both men are lucky to have the support of Phil’s friends, in every regard and there is certainly sharing, so if you have to have a couple that has no sexual contact with others, this is not the series for you. The sex scenes are hot and explicit, but the confidence, care, and camaraderie throughout the book is even more appealing. I felt much more attached to the other characters in this series, as little details about Gray and Charlie are sprinkled throughout, than in the first book.

The first part of this book was a little difficult to get into because I felt Phil’s distance through the writing; the pay-off comes at the end when Phil is finally overtly emotionally engaged, rather than his usual suppression. Strangely, it’s the second half of the book that is easier to navigate as everything gets more complex professionally and personally for all the characters. When people have a personal epiphany, they can choose to ignore it and explain it away, or they can fall into the change it encourages. This requires taking a personal inventory. Both of them need to slough off the expectations of others, in different ways. Phil is dealing with his upbringing and ghosts of past expectations, while River is trying to find himself again after stuffing himself away to be what his husband wanted.

What I really like about this series is the sexual freedom the characters experience as they each do what is best for themselves, as they struggle to not be embarrassed or ashamed of what they individually need as it clashes with what society says relationships “should” be like–or even what other people in a BDSM lifestyle think. They are “heretics” for a reason. It’s also a good reminder that sometimes people need to let go of their own rules, that what served you in your twenties, might not be what serves you in your forties. I found this journey of self realization for both men very satisfying. Although my own bias is for Warren and Taylor, I enjoyed seeing River and Phil create the life they want. I am excited for Gray’s story next and hope to learn more about Charlie in book four.

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Barnes and Noble

Buy from Book Depository

Marie Sexton’s website

**Currently the ebook is only available from Amazon.

Review: Rebound (Overtime #1) by V.L. Locey

 

I would rate this 3.75 stars.

This is a spin-off starring characters introduced in V.L. Locey’s Point Shot Trilogy and again in Coach’s Challenge, Book 3 of the Cayuga Cougars series. You could read this on its own, but you wouldn’t love the main character as much as you need to for this story to shine. Victor, aka “The Venomous Pole” is the coach of an ice hockey team, married to the forward Dan, but when Dan gets sent up to the NHL, their settled life gets flipped upside down. This builds on all the trials they have faced as a couple and takes the story in difficult places, showing what many romances fail to–what happens after Happily Ever After. This is for those people that want to see what everyday love looks like, when two people repeatedly choose to stay together through thick and thin, blended family, health scares, separation, and alcoholism. I assume this will also be a trilogy also.

Because this book is told from Victor’s POV, expect rude, crass, angry and defeatist thinking. It’s also written in common vernacular. Besides having a traumatic childhood, he has brain damage from concussions and has named the worry wort voice in his head Igor. Victor is also in love with his husband, loves his 5 year old son, is working to forgive his dad, whilst also trying to maintain good relations with the mother of his son and her fiance. Sometimes he succeeds and sometimes Igor, or the cruel inner voice of his mother, wins instead and so he fails. One of the most difficult parts of the book is seeing him fall off the wagon. The other difficult part is feeling his worry over how to protect his genderqueer son from people’s meanness and judgment when Heather moves Jack to Louisiana. Jack is a huge part of this book with age appropriate dialogue.

While some of the decisions Vic made upset me, I understood why – because Dan, Heather, Brooks, and Gene all upset me more. There are hot, gritty sex scenes here, but I felt distant from Dan because Vic did. I didn’t like Dan’s response to Vic’s drinking. I also felt like this was just completely ignored afterwards. I applaud him for not participating in AA, as there are good science based programs out there, but he wasn’t participating in one of those either. I enjoyed his therapy sessions with Doc L and Professor T for the comic relief, rather than for seeing any actual type of support for Victor. He is still demoralized and depressed, although the book ends on an uplifting note of hope for him. It will be interesting to see Jack as he grows older, and that time when Dan (like all sports figures) can no longer play hockey–how will that change their relationship?

The cover design is by Meredith Russell. It communicates that is about hockey and shows a darkness I imagine Vic’s head is in.

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Rebound (Overtime #1) by V.L. Locey — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: One Man’s Trash by Marie Sexton, The Heretic Doms Club 1

OneMansTrash
Cover Art by Garrett Leigh of Black Jazz Design

 

I would rate this 4.75 stars.

The blurb here tells you the whole plot. Warren is ex-military, with survivor’s guilt, and has created a life for himself many would feel was unconventional. He helps people in his own way, but isn’t terribly happy. Taylor is a rent boy with past demons whose moments of fleeting happiness aren’t enough to give him a life raft. When these two damaged people meet, it’s a case of them finding the right puzzle piece–they match in the way they both most need. I’m not talking about love conquers all, but rather hope giving them each the chance to make changes, make different decisions to increase their happiness. I loved both these characters. I always felt like they were real people. For me, there is a HEA, but I feel like they are both out there, stuggling to continue to make the best choices for them.

This novel goes to some dark places, so pay attention to the tags. I will highlight two things because, frankly, this book is awesome and I don’t want people leaving bad reviews just because it isn’t their cup of tea. There is humiliation. There is urination. Although a flogger and BDSM eqipment is used, it’s not really the focus of this book. The author concentrates on the psychology of the characters and their daily lives. There is no “play.” Also, Taylor is a whore and has sex with multiple people in this book. There is no cheating because there is no expectation of monogamy at the time, but I know some people don’t like that. I felt like this was all very realistic and well written without feeling full of tropes. Yes, there is an age gap and plenty of hurt/comfort, with a power exchange–they are there because they are real for this couple, not just to have a list of buzzwords to attract readers. In other words, things aren’t just there to be salacious, not that they aren’t intriguing, just that it is all very heartbreaking and heartwarming in turns.

If I have any small complaint, it’s that I wanted to see more of Warren’s friends and have them be as real also. They all get books, so I will have my wish, but it would have made this even more compelling. I don’t feel like I know Warren’s friend Charlie as well as Taylor’s friend Riley, for instance. Then again, everyone’s life is very bleak already, so focusing on this bubble of happiness that Warren and Riley fight hard to create by being truthful and brave…that is everything and it is more than enough.

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Book Depository

Buy from Barnes and Noble

Marie Sexton’s website

**As an ebook, this is only available at Amazon, so I purchased a paperback copy.

Review: Captivating (Elite Protection Services #2) by Onley James

Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

This is the second book in this bodyguard series, written like the first with alternating points of view for each chapter. You could read it as a standalone or read it first, and then go back and read the first one if you want to know more about Linc and Wyatt’s story, even though this happens afterward. Elijah is damaged by past abuse and a Hollywood stage mom. Luckily his grandfather helps shield him for a few years before his death. The studio hires the security agency to protect Elijah after he’s attacked by a fan at a red carpet event. Enter Shepard as Elijah’s new bodyguard.

The book has something to say about actors as commodities, powerful people who act above the law, and mental health–although please know Shep’s diagnosis as a sociopath is a fictionalized version and not true to life. A conversation between Mac and Shep really illustrates how wrong in the head Shep is…so is it bad that I am on team Shep? Both of them are actors trying to blend in for their own survival, but the key to knowing why they work is that Elijah is a narcissist and hates uncertainty; once they are together, Shep makes sure he is certain of everything and is the center of his attention. I liked that the reader is never allowed to forget Shep is a sociopath. His pretending to be normal is always there. Elijah is sometimes surprised to be reminded life isn’t all about him and his dramas. He’s lucky to have Wyatt and Charlie as friends, but I wonder how well they really know him.

What I liked the least was the premise that Shep had to extract information from Elijah in order to help him. They are already exploring their sexuality together to find out what they like and don’t like. There seemed no need to make up this type of scenario just for the sake of a kinky scene with a child victim of rape. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t super hot though. The secondary characters didn’t add much here except for Lucifer, who though used as a foil, could have been more nuanced. I would like to see more of Shep’s twin brother. What I liked the best was Elijah taking back his agency and moving on with his life, letting the expectations of others go to do what he wants to do. Be prepared that this security agency all of the sudden turns into a vigilante group, so if you like your heroes wearing white hats, this might not be the book for you. This sets up the couple needed for the next book. There are many tropes here to enjoy: age gap, voyeurism, first time, and hints of Daddy with some topping from the bottom. Really it’s more that Shep runs everything except the bedroom, which is left to Elijah. This is an entertaining, over the top, revenge story that has sexy, albeit dark moments.

The cover design by We Got You Covered Book Design matches the first in the series. It shares the shattered glass image, signaling the books are about damaged lead characters, but adds the film to be a representation of Elijah and the industry he works in. The colors are bright and eye-catching.

Sales Link: Amazon

Book Details: Kindle Edition
Published December 4th 2019
Original Title: Captivating
Series: Elite Protection Services

via A Chaps Moondrawn Review: Captivating (Elite Protection Services #2) by Onley James — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Snowstorms And Second Chances by Brigham Vaughn

Snowstorms
Cover design by Brigham Vaughn. Cover Images: © Africa Studio/AdobeStock © theartofphoto/AdobeStock © janecocoa/AdobeStock © LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/AdobeStock

I would rate this 3.5 stars.

On Christmas Eve, Erik is stuck in an airport bar on a business trip to Buffalo when he meets a travel writer named Seth. This is a week after Erik’s twenty year marriage has ended. After a mix-up in their accommodation they end up being roommates. Erik’s company owns the inn. I was a little worried at first since Erik is not the nicest guy and stress seems to make him worse. Their odd conversations turns strangely sexual. The awkward flirting continues as Erik wrestles with being attracted to Seth, but it sounds like Seth has been the only person he’s been attracted to for over a decade so he just…goes with it. Seth is a little too good to be true. The intimacy and trust, since they are both open and honest people, makes the sex more than just physical. What’s great about this is they actually communicate about their hopes and fears. This happen fast yet had moments that were sweet and hot. However, I felt a little removed from it like it engaged my head rather than my heart.

Buy From Amazon

Brigham Vaughn’s Website

Review: The Rise Of Virginie by Katey Hawthorne

Virginie
Cover designed by Natasha Snow

I would rate this 4 stars.

Stefan is homeless, couchsurfing from friend to friend. Whilst staying with Megan, they decide to start a new band. Since she had a previous bad experience dating her bandmade Deanna, they make a vow to not have sex within the band. Sounds simple, yet Stefan’s fear that no one will want him around without sex highlights what his life has been like since leaving home. When he meets Han, who works at the library, they eventually bond over poetry and music. Han is one of the only POC in this small town in West Virginia. Being the reverend’s adopted son, he’s set up as a good boy; a virgin who sings in the church choir. This alternates between the first person point of view of Stefan and Han as they grow closer. Once they add Deanna as the base player, the four of them form a queer punk band named Virginie.

Stefan and Han are writing original songs together in between working at their jobs and practicing covers with the band. I liked the song lyrics in this, the poetry. The no sex rule actually allows Stefan to get to know Han without falling into his default of meaningless sex or friends with benefits. Once they start having sex (because of course they do) everything is playful; Han gets to experiment and learn from a friend. Things start moving forward for them when they get noticed by a promoter and talent agent. Of course, that’s went everything implodes, both with jealousies within the band, and Stefan’s mother Angela, who is a drug addict in an abusive relationship.

What I really liked about this was the things I expected to be a big deal (e.g. Han coming out, premarital sex, religion) weren’t. Addiction is a major storyline in this book, so petty dramas fall by the wayside. Most of the conflict comes due to Stefan’s past abuse and trauma. This book also tackles many issues through the music: Big Pharma, the opioid problem, and condescension towards the poor and Southerners. I did wonder if the difference in upbringing between Stefan and Han would be too huge a crevasse to bridge, but Han works hard to educate himself so he can be a good friend and support to Stefan. It was nice to see Han’s father be a positive and supportive Christian character. Han’s mother takes longer to come around, but Han’s issues with his mother are not all about Stefan. Caring too much what other people think, judging children because of their parents, lack of empathy and shaming others–these things divide communities. So while this is a cute story about young adults trying to become a successful band, with lots of fun sex, the author puts the band in it’s context geopolitically, and that makes all the difference to elevate this above many similar works.

Katey Hawthorne’s Website

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Smashwords

Buy from Barnes And Noble

Buy from Kobo