Review: Gabriel’s Storm By Sue Brown

GabrielsStorm
Cover Art © 2020 Brooke Albrecht http://brookealbrechtstudio.com

 

I would rate this 4 stars.

Gabriel has become a recluse, grieving the loss of his wife Jenny and his son Michael. The only one keeping him alive is his brother-in-law and neighbor Toby and Toby’s husband Damien. But Toby has been enabling Gabriel as helping him staves off his own grief. When Gabriel’s obsession with searching the sea finds an injured man in a boat, his life is jumpstarted in ways he never saw coming. With the man who becomes Sam having amnesia due to a head injury and emotional trauma, are his nightmares of someone trying to murder him true? As Sam and Gabriel become close during the forced proximity, they may be building castles in the sand that have an expiration date when real life floods in to their intimate bubble.

An alternating POV between Sam and Gabriel is used to good effect; I got to know and like both characters well. Gabriel has changed nothing in the house since his family died, he’s made no effort to move forward in his grieving process. Having someone in his home who doesn’t know anything about him or his family makes him confront what he has been avoiding, his home has become a shrine to them down to the mug that was his wife’s favorite. Sam has terrifying nightmares and flashbacks of people trying to murder him; little facts and bits of his life come back to him over a few days. Gabriel is his savior and safety in his world gone mad. The attraction is there, but the timing isn’t right, until it is. Both of them are experiencing fear, loss, and grief that helps them grow together. Toby, as the local doctor, grabs at the chance to support Gabriel by playing instigator and matchmaker. A well written category romance, this could have gone into great territory if the emergency that pulled the community together was a chance to really explore the others living there, but they are mostly just names with enough care from Gabriel’s POV to tug at the heartstrings without the work of making them more three dimensional. I did love the English seaside as a character that while beautiful, adds complex moods, both good and bad, to the tale.

Of course, there is that pesky attempted murder thing to deal with. By the time Sam is recognized from a news report for a missing person, the story is already emotionally satisfying. Is five days long enough to fall in love? I vote yes for a HFN, a promise to try to confront how to blend their radically different lives together after senseless loss. Much of this is down to good, believable dialogue. The angst is broken up by moments of genuine care for others and humor. For me, this was a lovely way to spend three hours.

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Review: Without A Trace by RJ Scott, Lancaster Falls Trilogy 2

withoutatrace
Cover design by Meredith Russell

 

I would rate this 4 stars.

This is the second book in a trilogy that shares a story arc, thus should be read in order. As such, it’s difficult to review without spoilers. The first book builds a relationship between Chris, a famous horror writer, and a local police Captain, Sawyer. They start to share their lives together whilst navigating strange graffiti, a domestic violence case, and the gruesome discovery of several human remains. Sawyer’s best friend Drew comes back to town after his missing brother Casey is identified as one of the bodies. But ten years in the military has changed him; Drew is no longer that teenaged boy that left. Rumor blamed Drew for Casey’s disappearance, but frankly, everyone’s a suspect, except Drew. Logan, a cop introduced in the first book as ex-military, has made Lancaster Falls his home after he was discharged from the Army. This story focuses on his part in working on the strange graffiti, Casey’s last days before his disappearance, and trying to help a veteran with PTSD, Adam Gray. As a landowner near where the bodies were found, and related by marriage to one of the two dynastic families in town, Adam is one part of this small town puzzle.

Being inside Drew’s and Logan’s POV makes this book completely different in tone to the first book. Drew, tortured by whatifs and PTSD, is determined to find out what happened to Casey. As he goes around town asking questions, he’s like a kid hitting a bee hive with his stick, stirring up trouble to see what pops out. Logan is a more steady presence; as the outsider who moved there, he is unburdened with a lifetime of memories of the deceased. As Drew starts to pull him off balance, all Logan’s cases start to dovetail together. Drew is at turns seductive and bratty, vulnerable and angry, which creates a sort of enemies to lovers vibe. The attraction between them didn’t seem as natural at the beginning, but that may be because Drew is desperately grabbing at anything to hold back grief and memories. He’s confused about his past, future, and present all at the same time…which is why I think their romance is less stable than I would like.

The pacing also feels like marching relentlessly towards a conclusion. At the end of this you will know who, but not all the whos, and why, but not all the whys. I don’t know why I did this to myself because I hate cliffhangers. The first book was excellent, but it focused more on character development and the romance; this book, I think the romance suffered a little as the actual case was ratcheted up to the forefront. Of the three best friends, Sawyer and Drew have been paired off leaving Josh for book three. So far, I feel like I know some of the secondary characters better than Josh. The FBI will come to investigate the remains found in book one, so expect new characters for book three, although the reader should know all the essential players on the board at this point. While some of the resolution for this relied on someone cracking under pressure, there has been plenty of foreshadowing for where this is going to go, so I have very high hopes for the next book.

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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: IM by Rick R. Reed

ReedIM
Cover Art by Natasha Snow Copyright © 2020

I would rate this 3.25 stars.

The title of the book IM (Instant Message) refers to how the killer meets his victims online. There is plenty to terrify anyone who thinks meeting up with a stranger to get off is a good idea. The men do it for a variety of relatable reasons: to alleviate loneliness; maybe they aren’t out and want the anonymity; or they like the thrill of it–the surprise of who will come to the door. I didn’t see a date (except for flashbacks), but I think this takes place during the late 90’s in Chicago. The whole book is told as a series of little vignettes, slices of life, with each chapter from the different points of view of the people affected. Many of them are told from the men right before they are murdered with sick and gruesome details emerging later as a detective from the Chicago PD, investigates. Ed loses his job, likely due to homophobia in the department, but he can’t let this case go and continues on his own, trying to find the killer who has taken to toying with him.

The author builds the tension slowly with creepy noises, creaky floorboards, whistling and howling winds, and the thoughts of paranoia the characters experience. The writing style is piecemeal as the reader struggles to figure out what happened to the killer to “make him this way,” but really it’s probably a little bit of nature and a little bit of nurture. Be aware there are necrophilia elements, murder, rape, child abuse, drugs, AIDS, and dismemberment. I’m glad that the point of views are short so as not to become too attached to the people who die, and the style which is also removed, like an outside observer allows a distance. That is also a criticism because nothing feels too immediate and I think the book suffers for it with a lack of emotional investment on my part. The writing style also makes the book drag on so it feels much longer than a regular narrative.

Ed repeatedly puts himself in danger, (unarmed!), due to his curiosity. Even his boyfriend Peter is at his wit’s end with it and I am on his side. The book references all the famous serial killers with a nod to how they ultimately got caught, but they all went out with a whimper, not a bang. It was pretty anticlimactic. Here, the final confrontation and wrapping up of loose ends is strange and OTT (over the top). Then there is the fact that the story relies on a small, slight man described as elfin without much strength who outsmarts and physically outmaneuvers an ex-policeman that is in good shape and has 50+ pounds on him. This didn’t work as a romance (Ed and Peter), but was slightly more successful as a suspense/thriller.

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Review: Back In Black by Rhys Ford, McGinnis Investigations 1

BackInBlack
Reece Notley reece@vitaenoir.com

I would rate this 3.75 stars.

This is really a continuation of the Cole McGinnis Mystery series, but takes place a few years after the previous books. Being thrown into the fray with Cole in first person POV as he takes a job checking a property’s security as a favor for a friend reestablishes his character’s long history of hijinks. He is not only shot at, but finds a dead body on accident because that is a very Cole thing to do. Said dead body is a former client so he can’t let it go, determined to find the killer. The recapping should allow the reader to start here if they haven’t read the first six books, but it’s a lot to throw at someone coming in fresh–it will sound crazy OTT. It’s also a lot of telling instead of showing, yet this is the style of these with humorous asides in that hardboiled detective novel way that sounds like a voice over. It’s completely self aware of that as it describes parts of Los Angeles: “there were entire blocks of stone and metal whose shadows held the ghosts of noir detectives and gum-snapping dames.”

I did experience frustration at all the recapping though; if it was taken out, there would be little story left. Having said that, the main enjoyment comes from the prose rather than the action. It’s like Dragnet on steroids crossed with a beginner’s guide to ethnic foods of L.A. wrapped up in the feelings of love and family that finally flavor Cole’s life. I enjoyed seeing all the characters again, slightly older and more settled in their lives, I just wish there had been more depth to the glimpses. The heat level is ratcheted down here as compared to the previous books, which I didn’t mind, but I did wish I felt more of the emotional connection between then in the moment rather than having to rely on past events to know it’s there. In other words, I wish they were making new memories instead of reliving the old ones as a way to tell the reader they love each other. The previous focus was on Cole and Jae establishing their relationship with the mysteries and past traumas as a backdrop. Here the focus is on Bobby and Cole establishing a more formal business arrangement between them moving forward as consultants for the LAPD with O’Byrne being their main point of contact. It’s a focus that will rely way more heavily on how interesting the cases are moving forward unless there is manufactured drama to disrupt the happiness of all the couples and that won’t make longtime fans happy. I’m willing to see where it goes.

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Review: First Rodeo by Jodi Payne and BA Tortuga, The Cowboy And The Dom 1

first_rodeo
Cover illustration by AJ Corza http://www.seeingstatic.com/

I would rate this book 3.25 stars.

This is the first book in a trilogy and as such is the introduction to the romance of Sam and Thomas. It’s not a cliffhanger, so the reader can just read this and be content, or read the second book coming out soon for a continuation of their relationship. When Sam’s brother James gets murdered in New York, the family sends Sam to take care of his apartment and send back his things. Both his mother and older brother Bowie put a lot of unreasonable pressure on Sam to also find James’s killer. This is supposed to be a suspense element, but it’s not the focus and stays on the back burner. When Sam meets his brother’s lover, Thomas, neither of them are expecting to need each other. Thomas is missing James and feeling the pull to help Sam, but he’s smart enough to worry the grief could lead to something unhealthy.

Sam is floundering and needs direction; he’s also too busy trying to please everyone else, he can’t seem to get his own life together. They were getting to know each other, and then suddenly Thomas is using what he’s learned about human psychology as a dom, to help Sam. I felt the transition could have been smoother, especially the part about Thomas finding out Sam is also gay. The way Sam learns about his brother James being a sub was an easy way for Sam to understand who Thomas is, who James was. The book seemed to flounder with introducing some of James’s friends, coworkers, and neighbors. No one is fleshed out, and I assume these are meant to give the reader suspects to James’s murderer? There were more jarring moments like his job interview when all of the sudden Angel, someone he met at the BDSM club, is also at the biker bar and helps him home. This seems like too huge coincidence. The main point here seems to be BDSM is healthier than bar fights. This all happens a bit too fast for me, there is still an element of Thomas taking advantage of Sam, his naivete, or even them using each other to escape processing their shared grief.

James and Sam are somewhat alike, they were brothers, but they are also different enough and those differences are never forgotten. The writing here is deftly handled so James doesn’t feel forgotten, but they are not constantly compared–rather Thomas struggles to learn how to be what Sam needs. For the subject matter, there is surprisingly low angst and guilt which seems at odds with the way the book was set up. Sam has always felt he was was supposed to stay in Emory, help with the ranch, have babies, and die there. Yet he suddenly throws off the expectations of his family quite easily and dives into a relationship with his brother’s lover. It’s good that Tommy is not an all seeing, all knowing dom. I like that he makes mistakes and recognizes them. I like that he realizes that where James fit into what he wanted, his style, Sam is much for challenging, taking him out of his comfort zone. They build their relationship and trust scene by scene, yet this is a bit messy–not just the emotions of the characters, but the writing. The sex scenes are always hot, it’s moving the characters around to get them there that seems to not flow well.

I like both these characters, so I’m a bit frustrated that the whole book isn’t as smooth as the parts are or I would have rated it much higher. With more time and effort, this could have had so much more depth, but maybe that’s just what I wanted and not where the authors wanted to take it. I’d like to see more of Sam and James, but this was all too easy, so I’d like to see more about the conflict with Sam’s family. Also, there is nothing about Thomas’s family at all. There is a little intrigue about James having different characters or roles he fulfilled for different people; I definitely would like to see more about that. For right now, James doesn’t seem like a real person, so I don’t care who killed him. I hope the second book takes more time to draw the audience into that part of the plot.

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Review: Ghost House by Jacqueline Grey

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The main characters are a college student named Andrew, who is trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life, and a mysterious man named Caius, whom he keeps dreaming about after spending the night in a haunted house. I think the blurb tells you everything you need to know about this book, so if it sounds intriguing, go ahead and jump right in. I really hesitate to give any spoilers. Part of the fun of the book is it walks a fine line of many genres: horror, ghost story, historical romance, fairy tale, contemporary romance, paranormal, and urban fantasy. Is Caius the charming man of Andrew’s dreams, or an entirely different kind of nightmare?
Is he hallucinating? Is he going mad? I was often unsure where this was going to go; the fun is in trying to find out. At turns this is creepy, but never too much or for very long. It’s also fun with cute banter and some fantastical moments. Of more interest to me are the times when Caius is confronted about the fairness or morality of some of his past actions. This is actually a slow burn romance where the author successfully provides sexual tension at various points. While most of the book is chaste, when they finally do come together, it is really about them.

The book is divided in half with the first half told from Andrew’s point of view. His friends Charlie, Amanda, and Marie help round out the cast a bit, but don’t seem as real as Jason, Andrew’s best friend since childhood and college roommate. The reader also gets to meet Andrew’s parents, his father being a major source of anxiety for him. Yet, most of the first half I wasn’t sure if parts of what were happening were real or not. Once the second half starts, the reader gets to see some things from Caius’s point of view. I was still left waiting for the shoe to drop–waiting to see the real Caius as his thoughts were slowly revealed. Strangely, I was waiting to see the real Andrew as well since he wasn’t being honest with anyone, while letting his father plan a life for him that he didn’t want. So wrapped up in this bizarre tale, is still a new adult coming out story that has to be resolved. I think some people will really like this, and other people will not agree with all the choices the author made to go in different directions. For myself, I like quirky and different, so I enjoyed it.

The cover is by Kanaxa. I found it compelling and apropos for the way the book unfolds.
https://www.kanaxa.com/

Sales Links:  Amazon | Smashwords

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 244 pages
Published September 24th 2019
ASIN B07W7DFVXZ
Edition Language English

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Ghost House by Jacqueline Grey — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Complementary Colors by Adrienne Wilder

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Paris is a successful artist who picks up Roy, a maintenance man, at his gallery showing. He’s trying to get away from his overbearing sister, Julia and the patrons who all want a piece of him. This one night stand doesn’t go like all his others. By the time his other sister Alice is introduced, it’s obvious something is very wrong with not only Paris, but everyone who surrounds him. It’s a story of greed, lust, and betrayal.

First, I would say this book has very dark themes with: angst, violence, drugs, drinking, brutal sex, deaths, PTSD, and past trauma. But those are just words; if you read this book, you will feel all of those words. Second, it is written in the first person POV of a mentally ill person who is in tremendous pain, is self medicating, and has no sense of self worth. Add in the layer of abuse Alice heaps on him as his legal guardian, and the story is quite harrowing. There is a really pivotal scene where I realized Paris can take care of himself…does he let Julia hurt him because of guilt? or is it just fear and habit?

The meaningless sex here is brutal and explicit as Paris exercises some of the only power he has. Then there is the dubious/non consensual sex. As Roy starts to realize the sex means nothing, he tries to date Paris without it. All the meaning comes from Roy’s care giving, but Roy quickly realizes he’s in over his head and Paris needs professional help. Roy is also clever enough to realize he can give Paris a positive sexual outlet for the first time in his life, with someone who loves him. I made a point to mention this because, sex is a major, integral part of this book. I didn’t feel the story lacked anything at all, it’s just important to remember the reader is never given anyone’s POV but Paris’s. Paris’s world is filled with wealthy, bloodthirsty sharks. Paris is drowning from the inside out. Roy may be a flotation device, but Paris still has to hang on, and he is still in the sea.

By the halfway mark, the reader should understand almost all of the demons that drive Paris, but it’s not until the end that the demons driving Julia and Alice are understood. There could be a debate about whether this is a romance or not. While I love Roy, for me, the HEA comes from Paris getting the professional help he needs from a doctor he trusts. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I knew it was going to be an emotionally devastating read, so I kept putting it off. I can say without a doubt, this will be on my best of the year (and possibly ever read in this genre) list.

The cover design is by Adrienne Wilder with a photo from Dan Skinner. While it does show the colors in Paris’s mind, and the photo shows the darkness, it’s not terribly compelling.

Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited

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Book Details: ebook, 320 pages
Published June 20th 2014 by Adrienne Wilder (first published June 19th 2014)
Edition Language: English

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Complementary Colors by Adrienne Wilder — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Ramen Assassin by Rhys Ford, Ramen Assassin 1

Ramen Assassin
Cover Art © 2019 Reece Notley

I would rate this 4.75 stars.

Kuro Jenkins owns a ramen shop in Los Angeles. Rescuing former child star Trey Bishop one night leads him back into a lifestyle he thought he left behind. Trey has his own past he is trying hard to shake. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Trey’s life is in danger, but as a recovering addict, no one believes him. Growing close as they try to figure out who’s trying to kill them, is it just proximity and convenience, or something more?

Every time I feel like I’m being mean, not giving higher star reviews, I read something like this to remind me why I’m just being honest. This author describes scenes I can picture in my mind, with so many little details stuck in, they create snapshots. Her words tease all my senses, giving me characters I care about and can root for. This is like an action adventure, yet so intimate. The writing is a rat-a-tat style that fits this genre well. Here, the secondary characters shine–especially the females. The plot twists actually move the story forward with nice symmetry. This is a spy tale–ex-spy tale–so the reader should expect some suspension of disbelief. Overall, this is a gripping, sweet and totally smoking romance, with a few dead bodies and a satisfying ending.

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Review: The Case of the Voracious Vintner by Tara Lain, Middlemarch Mysteries 2

the-case-of-the-voracious-vintner
Cover Art © 2019 Kanaxa

I would rate this 3.75 stars.

Although this is the second Middlemark Mystery, you can read this as a standalone. Llewellyn and Blaise from book one (The Case of the Sexy Shakespearean) are planning their wedding at Marchand Wineries and get drawn in to the intrigue happening amongst the cut throat wine community. Bo Marchand tried to escape Georgia and start his own vineyard in California, but Bo’s whole family followed him and now live with him. As the “man of the house” at the age of 26, he is struggling with everyone’s expectations. Jeremy Aames, owner of Hill Top Wineries at the ripe old age of 24, has been in the area for a year and is starting to make a name for himself until a competitor seems to be undermining him at every turn. With Jeremy not who he says he is, Bo in the closet, and a murderer on the loose with a long list of suspects, I felt like I was in a soap opera. Thank goodness, because this is a load of fun.

The author shows both points of view, but Bo is so much more likeable as a character. He is the driving force in trying to save Jeremy from going out of business by teaming up to combat Ernest Ottersen, who is taking over most of the wine contracts. Eventually I got drawn in to Jeremy’s background story, but being intrigued by his story and interested in him as a character are two different things. There are times I felt sorry for him, times I was impressed by his cleverness and success, and other times where I think he is too naive, especially given his background. There is not a lot about the side characters: Jeremy’s assistant, Christian, Bo’s best waiter RJ, the ruthless competition Ernest Ottersen and his PR person Sage, the Cop O’Hara, Bo’s whole family, Jeremy’s family…really they are all there to be suspects, except Bo’s Momma, who is there to drive him nuts. The intrigue is very well done with different forks in the storylines. I don’t want to spoil it.

With this author I am used to OTT fabulous characters with a lighter plot. This book has more subdued characters and an OTT plot. There is some murky Dionysian group or secret society involved. There is also Jeremy’s past coming to bite him in a big way. Yes, some of this is completely unrealistic. I love how after people get killed, no one seems at all upset or traumatized in any way. There is one little thing that bothered me. There is a scene with some dubious consent that I am not sure added anything to the book unless you have that kink. I am not sure if it was meant to be hot or funny, but it didn’t work for me because it didn’t seem to match the rest of the story. Also, many more people should have gone to jail. Never mind, because the rest of the book is quite entertaining. Everything gets resolved and wrapped up with multiple bows. The banter and bad jokes between Jeremy and Bo are cute. The sex scenes are hot. I wanted these guys to have their happily ever after.

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