Master Of Restless Shadows by Ginn Hale, Book One

GinnHale Restless Cover
Cover Illustration by Zaya Feli Cover Design by Dawn Kimberling

I would rate this 4 stars.

I thought this was a standalone, but apparently it would have been helpful to read the Lord of White Hell and the Champion of the Scarlet Wolf duologies first. The world-building is amazingly detailed, yet I still feel like I might have had a rounder view of this universe if I read those first, as there are several characters from those books included in this one and they are written in linear time. Things about the court intrigues, neighboring countries, power struggles between church and state, all the differnet types of religious beliefs, and the use of magic obviously all have more background than I was privy to here. While the plot is always easy to follow, the explanations about the magic are not–until the second half. All of the sudden the magic is explained, the emotional connection I wanted kicks in, and the book really comes alive, which saved this story for me. I am left wondering if maybe I would have felt more emotionally attached from the beginning if I had read the other four books? The writing style for the first half is removed, like an observer focused on the main plot and moving about chess pieces. While there is clever dialogue and witty banter, the author never lets them succumb to passion or deeper emotions that the reader can actually sit with and let breathe. Then again, maybe that is because of the constant explanations of past events, but recaps are entirely necessary for this to work.

The story is told from four points of view: Narsi, Atreau, Ariz, and Fedeles. Narsi is a great character, a genuinely kind, clever, brave and warmhearted physician. Atreau the charming rake and novelist, but that deflects from what he is really doing as a spymaster. Ariz is the tragic tale, living under compulsion and being made to do things he doesn’t want to do. Fedeles as the Duke of Rauma is treading a fine line of facing his fears and past traumas to become the hero everyone needs. Although these main leads are all male, there are many strong females characters in this book and the cast is large and diverse. Clara and Oasia are the most intriguing, rich, intelligence, three dimensional female roles I’ve read in secondary characters in a long time. Everyone has various shades of grey as many are not whom they seem on the surface, even Narsi takes to subterfuge with ease. The characters are what bring this to life–why I even cared about all the plots and subplots. Honestly though, more than rooting for them individually, I was rooting for good to win over evil and for anyone to have even a dash of happiness. Just like real life, there is racism, sexism, homophobia, religious zeal, and xenophobia. In the end, it’s about averting a war. The corruption, greed, torture, assassinations, servitude…they are what you would expect from the rich and powerful. There is nothing fast about this book; it’s all slowly built brick by brick. That’s not to say that no action happens, but the pacing is slowed by the world-building–even though this all takes place in a week, it feels much longer. Suddenly everything happens at once and it’s over.

If you are wanting an m/m romance, this may not hold your interest. If you want a complex, painstakingly detailed, queer renaissance type high fantasy novel with a tangle of multiple plots and slow burn, fairly chaste romantic pairings, then you might like to try this book. This is also going to be a duology, so be aware this doesn’t end here. Right now I am frustrated on many levels. While I acknowledge the first half was neccessary, I didn’t love it and was getting bored. After the second half, I am completely sucked in and want to read the next book right now this minute. I am also sad that reading this might have ruined the four previous books for me, because I will know what happens as I believe this duology is the end of the series.

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A Chaos Moondrawn Release Day Review: World Turned Upside Down by Elyse Springer — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 Set at the McMurdo station in Antarctica, this story is told through the first person POV of a janitor named Simon. It follows his crush on Asher, a new researcher. With them stuck there for four months to over winter, Simon is afraid of rejection and making it awkward […]

via A Chaos Moondrawn Release Day Review: World Turned Upside Down by Elyse Springer — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

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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Review: Renewing Forever by Kelly Jensen, This Time Forever 2

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Cover Artist Natasha Snow

I would rate this 4 stars.

Frankie kissed Tom when he was 17 and Tom punched him, ending their friendship. Then, Frank left town and hasn’t been back in 30 years. When his uncle dies, he has to go back to deal with his inheritance. Tom has been working for Frankie’s uncle and has now lost his friend, his home, and his job due to his death. He has given up everything to take care of his mother, who is now in a nursing home. The story has dual POV and their childhood is shared through flashbacks. Frankie is still caught in the sadness of the past. Much of this book is sad, reminiscences often are–of dreams lost, bad decisions made, the things you can’t take back. As Frank and Tom start to relive the good times they shared as boys, rather than dwelling on the incident, you would think it would liven up, but for me it doesn’t.

I am not a fan of second chance romances. I tend to think things didn’t work out for a reason. I am not a fan of nostalgia or glorifying the past. But avoiding dealing with things from your teenage years until you are nearing your fifties is not healthy. While my heart ached for both men for different reasons, I was frustrated with them too. Tom has let fear rule him for so long; after fighting it, he finally gives in and decides to explore what they have. Frankie was hard for me to relate to for some reason. His demisexuality seemed to keep him isolated from deep relationships and even his friends didn’t really know him. There was a little bit of comic relief about 60% in when they tour a neighboring resort. I wish that type of interaction had been included more. The best parts are having them recapture their love of the woods and each other–sharing the dream of remodeling the resort.

While this was interesting and well written, I felt removed emotionally at times. That’s okay, because I like to read books that are about many types of people. How boring would it be if we were all alike? It’s a good reminder that other people’s logic and life experience can be completely different and will affect their decisions and outlook. Charlie, Simon, and Brian from book one show up. Brian seems the next one to be paired off, but as he cheated on Simon over and over for a decade, I am not much enthused by this prospect. It will take a lot to redeem this character in book three, but if any author can do it, Kelly Jensen can.

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A Chaos Moondrawn Prerelease Review: The Bones Beneath My Skin by T.J. Klune — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5 After the death of Nate’s parents, he takes the truck he inherited to the cabin they left him in order to take some time to grieve. The drive to the cabin lets us get to know Nate and his family history; it should come as no surprise it is […]

via A Chaos Moondrawn Prerelease Review: The Bones Beneath My Skin by T.J. Klune — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Criminal Intentions, The Man With The Glass Eye, Season One Episode Three By Cole McCade

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Cover Artist: Cole McCade, Cover Design Template: Les Solot

Cole McCade Criminal Intentions Season 1 Episode 3

This is a serial written like a TV show crime drama. We get a novel each month. As such, you will like some better than others, each episode so far has had its own murder to solve, but there are over arching storylines for the whole season. I would recommend you read these in order for maximum enjoyment. There are content (re:trigger) warnings in the front of each episode. Since this is a crime drama based on two homicide detectives, one should assume explicit, graphic violence. If you read the content warnings, there will be spoilers galore, so I would recommend skipping them if you don’t need them. This series is completely inclusive of all peoples so if that bothers you, don’t read it.

If you want to see my review for episode one or episode two, click on the links.

We start this episode with a bit of a retread of Malcom, being Malcolm with the usual stranger and hangover. His interactions with Seong-Jae make me laugh, but I am used to men with a dry, sarcastic, or dark sense of humor. To continue the dynamic, Malcolm is trying to not be attracted to Seong-Jae, and Seong-Jae is trying to not be jealous of the boy toys whilst hiding behind judgement of Malcolm for dereliction in his duty for turning his phone off whenever he has sex. Their undercover work in this episode goes a little too far. The UST (unrequited sexual tension) is ratched up to a fevered pitch in this episode, which may be too much too soon, straining their relationship. We follow them through their rituals while working the case, or is it cases? Even they aren’t sure.

In this episode, a junkie is executed and there is a tenuous connection to our last case because of a Hookah bar themed like an opium den, previously owned by the late Marion Garvey. We know Malcolm used to work in narcotics, but Seong-Jae seems to know a lot about addiction. Lillienne Wellington is now a major investor/owner in all Marion’s businesses. She also has control of Maximilian’s holdings. She and her father are both out on bail. Does she know about the illegal parts of the business(es) or not? Did someone set Maximilian up to kill Marion?

One of the things I love about this author is the writing style. Having said that, one of my favorite books so far this year is Over And Over Again, also by this author, and the writing is very different in many ways, as is the subject matter. This author has a lot of range and depth.

As ever, the dual POV is there for us to immerse ourselves in Malcolm’s and Seong-Jae’s psyches. It is the little things, mundane intimate moments between them, that make us catch our breath. The reason this works so well is that the moments–the humor, the fights, the sniping–are so real.

During a stakeout of Jason Huang, the drug dealer we met last episode, he is receiving goods marked for shipment to Wellington Industrial. The plot thickens. Sade pops up out of nowhere! But, we knew they were up to something and now we get to see what that something is (sort of). Is Sade dirty, or undercover? What did they mean warning Malcolm about Seong-Jae? And what are they doing with Jason Huang? We know there has to be dirty cops…

I don’t even care they caught the killer at this point because I want to know all the things.

Our world expands with Jason’s POV and then we get a sense of someone, possibly someone we haven’t been introduced to yet, pulling the strings. Time will tell.

I will say there is a sneak peek of the next episode and it is a gruesome murder from an abuser’s POV, so if that will bother you, be warned. The author answers questions from fans at the end of the book, so you can find out more interesting info.

I love this series. I would rate this 4 stars.

Unfortunately, this author only sells on Amazon right now and just took down his Patreon.

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