Review: Asylum by Julian Burnes

I would rate this 4.5 stars.

Based on the blurb, this book wasn’t quite what I thought it would be, so I struggled to rate it and review it without spoilers. This is billed as a paranormal erotic romance, and while that is true, it is so much more. Tags are spoilers, so as per usual, I will only give them when I think stories could be triggering to people. This book contains multigenerational family trauma, sexual abuse, incest, attempted suicide in first person, suicide, bipolar and OCD mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, and ghosts thrown in with kinky sex. Since this is told in a single first person point of view, I got very attached to this character, but talking about him is a spoiler. This story is not told in linear time, so it might be difficult to get into the first two or three times it goes from the present to the past, but then it seems very natural as he shares his life through memories. The characters become complex and multifaceted the more the book goes on–one minute I might hate a character and the next I felt sorry for them even though that doesn’t absolve them of their awful choices.

Let’s start with the erotic romance, which I think worked very well. He meets a Dom named Devon in a club and everything goes sideways. Luckily another Dom named Mike helps him when he needs it, allowing the reader to get to know more about the main characters before any sex actually happens. The trust comes when the paranormal aspects are believed by everyone involved, which helps the romance move forward. I think this was effective. All the characters here are likeable and believable. The sex scenes are hot. With an 11 year age gap, the huge disparity in circumstances, and the added D/s aspect, there is plenty of the hurt/comfort trope in play. Devon ends up being compelling as a Dom and very endearing as a person.

There are so many great secondary characters in this book: Officer McBride, Devon’s sister-in-law Maya, Dom Mike, and the medium Maxine are the obvious favorites. There are also well written characters that evoked very negative emotions for me like Uncle Barry, Mom Dana, and Vern. Barry seemed confused about right and wrong without ever trying to figure it out. Dana deserves credit for doing the best she could at the time, she made an effort…but not enough of one to actually heal, so that saddened and frustrated me. She had plenty of opportunities to get help from mental health professionals, but just didn’t. That may seem like victim blaming to some, but she had children to raise and could have done better by them. As for Vern, I hate him. At its heart, this is the story of two brothers and their tragedy, as well as how everything got to this point–it’s a story of an American family tragedy.

As for the paranormal aspects, occultism is treated with respect here, not as a party trick. I believe in energy work, in cleansing, in the benefits of ceremony and feel like this is a really good idea for anyone who wants to find closure for grief and trauma…we have funerals for a reason. Often, the difference is at a funeral people focus on the good, forgetting the bad…and that might not help people find any sort of resolution, especially with the ridiculous notion of not “speaking ill of the dead,” which is just a whole layer of guilt people get wrapped up in. I don’t agree that intention matters most. For many, this will be a lot of woo but this is based in what some people actually practice, so either the author does believe or has done excellent research on the topic. It does walk a fine line…and then gets preachy at the end. I would have rated this higher, but I don’t like being prostalitized to. Also, evoking Robert Monroe and the Matrix Control System is strange in an LGBTQIA book because he believed one reason for his theory is because all mobiles are split into two genders, ever seeking reunion with each other. Ugh.

This book is a rare gem–entertaining and packs an emotional wallop without wallowing in emotional pornography. I like how the ideas of Platonic solids, sacred geometry, and reincarnation are synthesized together, yet the New Age ideas used to explain the phenomena were a bit offputting for me. There is a lot to unpack here, but I’m not going to get into spiritual arguments about an erotic fictional book. Finally, there is an epilogue about 4 years later than the main events of the book. I liked the range of reactions to what happened because in the end, people still choose how to process things. Having or creating an opportunity for closure doesn’t mean everyone will let go and move forward in a positive way. I’m glad theirs is psychological work with a therapist, rather than only relying on New Age ideas.

The cover design was made by Written Ink Designs | written-ink.com. At first I thought the images combined with the title were a bit misleading, but the more I think about it, I really like them for the metaphorical imagery. The main character is trapped until he gets to see the bigger picture and find his asylum, his safe place where he is free.

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Asylum by Julian Burnes — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Earthquakes (New Amsterdam #4) by Kelly Wyre

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

This is the fourth book in the series focusing on Ellis and his crush on one of his customers from the firing range named Bryndon. Previously Ellis seemed enamored with Clark; there is definitely still hero worship involved, complicated by doing BDSM scenes with Clark and his husband, but Ellis knows the difference between what he has and what he wants. He’s decided that he wants Bryn.

I was irritated when Ellis “realizes” he’s in love with Bryn, even though he’s only spoken a few sentences with the guy. Having said that, in the same conversation Daniel was talking to Ellis about Clark, which I loved. So, while the recapping will let you read this as a standalone, it has more emotional impact if you’ve read book one, story 1.1, and book three. Once Clark, Daniel, and Lucien try to help Ellis get noticed by Bryn, their worlds crash together. Bryn’s friend Medea is annoying, but she is also a force of nature as she helps play matchmaker. It’s also nice to have wealthy friends Ellis can borrow a plane from whenever he wants. While this widens the friends as family cast, the focus is on the two main characters. The alternating points of view between Ellis and Bryn actually made me worry for both of them.

Bryn is a ballet dancer with mental health issues. The creepy parts of this are him being haunted by someone who’s dead. He keeps everyone at arm’s length, but Ellis sneaks into his thoughts…and then Ellis ignores all Bryn’s boundaries. Even though he is the submissive, it is Ellis that pushes this whole thing forward. The more the author reveals about Bryn, the less likeable he is to me. At the same time, I see why Ellis wants to save him. His mother has been emotionally abusive his whole life so it’s not any different when Bryn goes home for his father’s funeral, Ellis in tow. Unfortunately, most of this is about Bryn’s revenge on his Mom and a plot twist that seems to have been written to heal Bryn. For me, it all comes down to this: how can Ellis trust Bryn to tie him up, to hurt him? Ellis is basically a saint, but I thought he had a somewhat healthy view of the situation until he agreed to a scene when Bryn was angry, under stress and emotional duress, and had been drinking. This was just a big turn-off for me. I was not convinced that the cathartic release was worth more than having this be safe and sane.

While love will not cure mental illness, it can give a person hope and support. If that had been the focus, I would have enjoyed this more. Complex PTSD would make sense for this character, but the author chose to have Bryn be on antipsychotics. My understanding is that hallucinations can be suppressed, not cured–even his epiphany, his closure, wouldn’t stop real hallucinations that require antipsychotics. In the end, even though there is a happily ever after, it didn’t seem realistic to me. There was no follow-up about the state of Bryn’s mental health, no therapy, no mention of Ellis meeting Bryn’s therapist, no way to know if Bryn was still having hallucinations or still taking medication…the whole thing is just dropped out of the plot. I know this is fiction, and I applaud having mental health issues being represented, but it does a disservice to people if it’s not portrayed accurately or just used as a plot device until it’s no longer needed.

The cover design is by Natasha Snow. It matches the rest of the series with the city view, but this one shows Bryn–dancing, but to me also wrestling with his darkness

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

Book Details: Kindle Edition, 228 pages
Published September 28th 2019 by JMS Books LLC (first published February 29th 2016)
Original Title: Earthquakes
ASIN B07Y3TL7XB
Series: New Amsterdam

Review: Intoxicating (Elite Protection Services #1) by Onley James

Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

I like my erotic romances with some depth and this fit the bill. There are many triggers in this book so please pay attention to the tags: past and present abuse, off page rape, self harm, flashbacks, alcohol, drugs, and suicide attempts. Of course, this all means the hurt/comfort trope is quite strong. Wyatt is full of pain from parents who don’t know what love means; he is acting out recklessly in his hopelessness. Lincoln is hired by Wyatt’s father as a babysitter for him during the Senate reelection campaign.

Much of this story takes place in a fish bowl of forced proximity. The attraction is immediate for both of them and while a misunderstanding keeps them apart for a little while, once that is gone there is no stopping the lust from boiling over, even if it all seems like a horrible idea, bound for heartbreak all around. As an erotic romance, the sex scenes are plentiful and smoking hot if light Daddy play is your thing. My heart hurt for both of them pretty quickly. Linc’s usual scenes and after care haven’t prepared him for actually caring for a boy of his own. He is in denial about his PTSD from the service and glosses over his own childhood abuse. Wyatt’s never had a man care for him at all, in any capacity. This is completely dysfunctional, but at least Linc understands that. Linc is an intimate witness to Wyatt’s life without his consent; it is Linc’s choice to share his life with Wyatt in return. With this dynamic, I wonder if anyone who showed Wyatt affection would have sufficed. Still, the moment that it becomes less about play and more about making love, the sex is real including the fear, communication, and humor.

The pacing is fast due to the feeling of racing against the clock. This has an expiration date, not just because of the senator’s campaign, but because this bubble is not sustainable. There are thankfully some interesting supporting characters involved: Linc’s boss and former service buddy Jackson, Graciela the housekeeper, Charlemagne or Charlie as Wyatt’s best friend, and Wyatt’s grandmother Violet. Charlie has the largest, much needed role as support for Wyatt when he can’t support himself. Some might criticize her for not doing more, but I think she did what she could whilst not humiliating and outing Wyatt against his will. When he makes the choice to change his circumstances, she protects them all. I admit Linc and his sister’s circumstances make no sense to me: caring for someone who hurt, neglected and abandoned them over someone Linc is falling in love with seems like a fake box to put him in. Neither does Wyatt’s situation make a lot of sense: if at 22, Wyatt is so abused and mentally screwed up that he can’t get out of the situation with his father, then he is not fit to be anyone’s partner. There are two scenes where Wyatt shows he can be supportive of Linc also–enough to give me some hope. With all the angst I had to wade through, I would have liked to see the epilogue expanded to show more of the happiness a romance brings to the table. Their kinks and childhood traumas match enough for them to bond, but I do wish there had been a bit more as to why they would work as a couple in real world circumstances for a more believable HEA.

The cover design is by We Got You Covered Book Design. This doesn’t have anything to do with the story. This model is a bit more built than I pictured Wyatt and less built than I pictured Linc. The tagline makes this seem more about discipline or BDSM, which doesn’t match the flavor of this book at all.

Sales Links: Amazon | Universal Link 

Book Details: ebook
Published July 12th 2019 (first published July 8th 2019)
Original Title: Intoxicating
Edition Language: English
Series: Elite Protection Services

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Intoxicating (Elite Protection Services #1) by Onley James — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Healing Glass (Gifted Guilds #1) by Jackie Keswick

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

This is an intriguing fantasy novel about the political machinations amongst the Craft Guild. Most of the story revolves around a city made of glass that is suspended over the ocean. When the Craft Guild arrived and needed shelter they took it over, but the glass in the city is failing and no one knows why, or how to fix it. Between the need for Minel’s skills as the glass master, and the strange obsession Regent Wark has for him, Minel is unwittingly made into a pawn of the corrupt councillors. When Minel is taken strangely ill, his friend Captain Falcon tries to help him. He is not the only male craftor suffering from a lung evil and he must be pairbound to save his life. Regent Wark tries to force Minel to be pairbound by any means necessary, forcing Minel to flee the city.

I had my doubts–I thought this was just going to be an excuse that forced Minel into having sex with Falcon. I’m glad that was not the case; not because I would have minded that as a plot point per se, but that the rest of the book would have gone in a completely different vein. I would have missed reading what is there. Although sex does ease the symptoms of his illness, the author worked hard to remove concerns of dubious consent for the main characters. There are bleak references to dubcon/noncon for other characters (off page). It’s a tale of greed, power, sorrow, pain, and betrayal. Thankfully, the author makes the relationship between Minel and his warrior Falcon the touchstone, giving the book love, hope, and friendship. I enjoyed seeing flashbacks of moments of their friendship, while watching them carve out a future amongst all that life had to throw at them. With the way his character is described in the beginning, I worried how Minel would be able to be the mate of a warrior. The author crafts Minel’s character in a believable way throughout the story, showing how adapting to this new culture and way of life brings out the best in him. Falcon’s adjustments are there too: how to live with someone else, how to communicate effectively with a loved one, how to let go of pride if it’s in the way, and how to work through fear of danger for someone else. Minel too has to learn to bend his priorities to include others.

There are many layers to this story, spanning three generations. Warriors, craft masters, and merchants have different gifts (talent, magic) in general, with variety among individuals. Elements of spirituality are subtly incorporated here. This isn’t world building in the traditional science fiction sense–no description of flora or fauna, minimal history, and only the politics pertinent to the story. This novel is more focused on human factors and infrastructure for the city since the city is a main character. For an exciting change, all the female characters are strong, smart, and talented. It was easy to picture the world created here, without being overwhelmed by wordy descriptions of the terrain. The social commentary about personal choice and freedoms, political corruption for personal greed, people in power who don’t have the knowledge or skill to govern, and giving them free rein without proper oversight packs a wallop. Still, there are individual moments in this that are filled with joy and quite enchantingly described. With the way the warrior talents are used as a major plot point, I would have liked to have felt a little more of their brotherhood.

I think fans of the author’s Dornost stories will like this too. I hope there are other novels set in the Warriors’ Guild and Merchant Guild, or even more stories in the Craft Guild since this author likes to play in different timelines. I’d love to see more about talent and shapings, with some of the side characters involved; and more of the history of this world, which I expect will be layered in with other novels. I enjoyed this story and all of its characters.

The cover was done by Pavelle Art. It is perfect for this novel, depicting an important scene from the book.

Sale Links: iBooksAmazon | Nook

ebook, 229 pages
Published: May 13, 2019, by Jackie Keswick
ISBN: 9781386061410
Edition Language: English

Series: Gifted Guilds
Series: Healing Glass

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Healing Glass (Gifted Guilds #1) by Jackie Keswick — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words