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Romance and other things

Dirty Games (Dirty #2) by Helen Kay Dimon

Dirty Games (The Dirty Series #2) Sometimes, to get what you want in business or in love, you have to get your hands dirty. Luckily for Finn and Justin, dirty comes naturally. Finn Drummond is the baby in a family of sharks—which means he’s worked twice as hard to make a name for himself. After learning the tricks of the trade from his brothers, Finn’s just as ruthless and dominant. Out in the field, his appetites are legendary: for success, for money, for women and men. But when supplies from Drummond Charities go missing, Finn has to partner up with the smoldering ex–Army grunt who’s always challenging his authority—or giving him mixed signals. Justin Miller wanted his attraction to Finn to be mutual, but the cocky brat always had a girlfriend. Who could blame Justin for trying to move on? Despite their history, they’ve got to work together to figure out who’s been derailing their humanitarian work. But after Justin and Finn are thrown together against gunrunners and kidnappers, their simmering chemistry turns explosive. Turns out, Finn knows how to handle himself in a crisis—and in the sack. Justin only hopes that hot sex is enough to persuade this spoiled pretty boy to do the right thing. Review: Dear Helen Kay Dimon, I do not remember being that torn about what I thought about the book for quite some time. This is apparently a second book in the series which are in turn spin off the other series. I have read a book and a half in the first series, but have not tried the first book in the current ones. I however do not feel that I was confused reading this story. Dirty series seem to feature Drummond brothers who lead a huge corporation, they are also finding love while getting in some very dangerous situations. First book apparently featured oldest Drummond brother Alec and he makes a brief appearance in this story, since he is in charge of Drummond corporation, however as blurb tells you the main couple in this book are youngest Drummond brother Finn and Justin Miller who leads the charitable division of Drummond corporation on the ground. Apparently after the father of Drummond guys got the company participating in some unsavory dealings, when Alec took over he tried his best to do business well, including making huge commitment to charity. Justin is in charge of charitable operations in Morocco and they are basically providing food and supplies to refugees, they are located between Morocco and Spanish city of Seuta. Actually no, I think their operations are in Morocco AND Seuta. Justin requested the help from the headquarters because the shipments of food and supplies go missing lately more often than ever and the chances are high that people who steal them exchange them for the arms. The help from the headquarters arrives, only instead of Alec Finn appears and Justin is pissed. Why Justin is pissed? Supposedly because Finn is not Alec, Finn is a rich boy who does not know much, etc, etc, etc. I have to admit I rolled my eyes at Justin almost right away. He knows Finn is a partner, he may not be in charge of everything, but surely Alec sending his younger brother means that Justin’s concerns were heard. And we learn very quickly that Finn is planning to take on more responsibilities in the company and plans to stick around to help take care of the problem, so it is not as if he came just to take a vacation. Of course very quickly we also learn that Justin had a crush on Finn for several years and just sniping because he cannot have Finn/does not want to show his attraction/ come up with your own reason here. I mentioned in the beginning that I have not been so torn about the book as I was about this story for a long time. This is the main reason why. I think the writing was superb and better than a lot of m/m books that I have read and enjoyed. I think antagonistic chemistry between the guys was *off the charts* and the sex was hot (and it takes a lot of writing chops to make me care about the sex scenes). But my goodness the reasoning for Justin being so antagonistic and annoying got old and got old so fast for me. He went through some painful shit in the past, but I just did not buy that as a full explanation for him running so hot and cold throughout the book. And he did it several times to Finn. I want you, I don’t want you, I am afraid you will leave here and leave me, I want you. “I thought you wanted me gone.” “I suck at this, okay?” Justin hated the begging in his voice. Admitting even that much cost him something. “At what?” Damn. Finn wasn’t going to let him weasel out of this intact. “Just… don’t make me say it.” “Your mood changes from one second to the next.” Finn shook his head. “It’s hard to keep up.” “I know.” Justin did. He wasn’t an easy man. He fought emotions and tried to limit ties. He hated that Finn mattered, despised that weakness. But he was determined to control the knee-jerk reaction to shove people away and launch" This was all taking place amongst action and them trying to figure out who is betraying the company, so I was not bored in the slightest, because if I was subjected to Justin’s mood swings without action/adventure story, I would have wanted to slap him silly and DNF the book. I found this especially bizarre since through Finn’s eyes we do see and hear that Justin was not being annoying to anybody else, only him, so clearly the thing that happened during his past did not affect his complete personality, only his behavior towards Finn. "Somehow, Justin held it all together. With an iron fist, yes, but he never snapped. Finn hadn’t seen him be anything but decent to the people milling around him. He listened. He directed. For the most part, his only angry outbursts seemed to be aimed at Finn, and even those came in short attacks then disappeared. Despite their personal issues, Finn admired Justin’s ability to balance competing interests and keep people calm. It likely had something to do with the way he commanded any space he occupied. He spoke and people listened. People panicked over big and small issues and he never lost control. Never gave any indication that the big issues were big. A sense that he could handle any crisis seemed to follow him." But where Finn is concerned, 37 year old man is acting like a child. The story acknowledges it at some point thank goodness, but it did not make the actions more convincing to me. "“So, instead of dealing with your feelings and filling him in on your longtime unrequited love, you’re lashing out. It’s cute, really. I imagine it’s how five-year-olds act.” The verbal blow landed, but Justin pretended to ignore it." Note again how I mentioned being torn about the book and characters? Here it comes again, despite wanting to slap Justin at times I found him (and Finn) sympathetic and likeable. Note that I did not have much to say about Finn? That’s because I just liked him without limitations and he may have been a rich guy ( okay a very rich guy), but he did not annoy me in the slightest. I am not sure how to grade this one. C+?
SPOILER ALERT!

The perfect whore by Josephine Myles

Being the object of everyone’s sexual fantasies ain’t all it’s cracked up to be… On a mining colony planet a long way from Earth, bandit Jedd Lightning dreams of making enough money to get his ship spaceworthy again. During a robbery at a high-class brothel, he meets gorgeous alien rentboy Storm and is instantly smitten—but the heist goes south and Jedd has to high-tail it out of there with only half the loot. Enslaved by a fierce Madam, Storm’s shapeshifting talents make him the most sought after whore on Talmak. He literally can’t stop himself becoming his client’s fantasy lover. Sick of enforced transformations, he wants to escape, but he’s closely guarded and has no experience of the unfamiliar city outside the brothel. Storm is willing—and eager—to do anything to persuade Jedd to break him out of his gilded prison. Lucky for him the arrogant outlaw needs Storm’s help to free his crewmate, held as hostage by a vicious mob boss who wants Jedd to complete the theft he was hired for. Storm keeps blowing away Jedd’s expectations—but with both the law and the mob against them, they could end up with nowhere left to run. Review: Dear Josephine Myles, I loved a lot of your stories in the past and was very happy to see a new one (and it was on Kindle Unlimited too). And it sounded as if it was a science fiction romance, which is a subgenre I enjoy very much, so I eagerly dived in. Alas, I was disappointed. I should say that before I read the book I accidentally read one review of it ( accidentally because this reviewer is one of my not very numerous friends on Good reads), which alerted me to one potentially annoying plot point, but I certainly did not expect to be disappointed in pretty much everything else as well. First of all, let’s talk about world building. I understand, really I do, that romance book can use the science fiction background as either complex and interesting setting which is a part of the story, or as a mere window dressing. Honestly, as much as I prefer interesting world-building, I am not about to lower my grade if I am otherwise enjoying plot and characters, I know that romance is the main storyline here. However, the windows in this story were *barely* dressed in my opinion. Planet is what blurb tells you and it has two races or as we are shown a bit later three races living there and it has two Suns and the days are called “Fiveday. Eightday” and such. It was not enough for me. As I said above, I may ignore this if I find a fun plot and cool characters. Plot could have been fun, it moved fast and the dialogue was amusing, but I felt nothing but irritation towards the main characters and that reflected how I felt towards the plot itself. So as blurb tells you Jeff and Storm meet in the brothel where Jedd is trying to commit a robbery for his client. Something goes wrong and Jedd has to run but of course he is in lust and he promises to come back for Storm. Jedd does come back and rescues Storm, soon they are both running from the several important people, and moreover, since Jedd screw up his previous mission, his criminal client took Jedd’s navigator as a prisoner till they complete the job. So Jedd and Storm are trying to rescue Jedd’s crew member too. Storm was a sex slave who as blurb tells you had some interesting abilities and when I have read the blurb I was so very intrigued. But I was not happy about his abilities after I finished the book. Basically Storm can become everybody’s favorite fantasy lover. He is not human, he can take the male or female shape, but he is neither. His body is literally forced to change the shape, size, etc, every time new client touches him. So he may become a large woman and then he has to transform in the guy of the smaller size or vice versa. And it hurts him a lot after certain transformations and he loses a lot of energy. It is not fun in other words at all. I am trying to be very clear here as to what disturbed me so much besides exploitative nature of Storm’s abilities. Okay, it is not as if I went blind in not knowing that this will be an erotic romance. Most stories from this writer that I read and loved in the past were on the erotic side. But those guys were interesting and sex was not the thing that defined them ( part of their human nature, but not the sole definition of who they were). I felt as if sex was the only thing that defined Storm, that the sole reason he was in the story was to provide sexual pleasure to the characters if this makes sense. As I said he was a slave and he made it clear that he wanted to escape from the forced sexual labor in the brothel and make no mistake it was forced. So what does he want the first chance they escape from Jedd? He wants more sex. I am more than happy to see the attraction between him and Jett, who was kind and did not want or ever forced Storm to do anything, but shouldn’t a little more time pass before Storm was interested in sex? Storm did have a sense of humor and as I said before the dialogue between him and Jedd was snappy and fun; and Storm wanted to see if anybody survived from his people so maybe we will see him as better rounded person with more depth in the next book. I am just not sure if I will be interested in reading it. Jedd was not irritating per se, as I said he was kind and did not leave crewmate in trouble. I just met his type so often before. We may as well call him Han Solo and be done if you ask me. Ending is HFN, but I was prepared since I saw book one on the cover. Grade: C-
SPOILER ALERT!

I enjoyed it but it did not knock my socks off

Robby Riverton: Mail Order Bride - Eli Easton

Being a fugitive in the old west shouldn’t be this much fun.

The year is 1860. Robby Riverton is a rising star on the New York stage. But he witnesses a murder by a famous crime boss and is forced to go on the run--all the way to Santa Fe. When he still hasn't ditched his pursuers, he disguises himself as a mail order bride he meets on the wagon train. Caught between gangsters that want to kill him, and the crazy, uncouth family of his "intended", Robby's only ally is a lazy sheriff who sees exactly who Robby is -- and can't resist him.

Trace Crabtree took the job as sheriff of Flat Bottom because there was never a thing going on. And then Robby Riverton showed up. Disguised as a woman. And betrothed to Trace’s brother. If that wasn’t complication enough, Trace had to find the man as appealing as blueberry pie. He urges Robby to stay undercover until the danger has passed. But a few weeks of having Robby-Rowena at the ranch, and the Crabtree family will never be the same again.

Damn, what a kerfuffle. If only Trace can get rid of the fugitive while hanging on to his own stupid heart.

 

Review:

 

Dear Eli Easton,

 

I was looking for a historical romance to read and somebody at my GR group recommended your book .  I have read a lot of your stories before and liked them more often than not and the blurb sounded like a hoot so I dived in.

 

First and foremost readers please beware - despite some suspense moments which made sense based on the blurb, the book was first and foremost a romantic comedy to me.  Which was perfectly fine and I was pleased that the humor worked for me, I just don't want anyone to form incorrect expectations if they decide to try this one.

 

The blurb describes the set up very well. Robby Riverton who worked his ass off to get where he was at his career accidentally witnesses a murder.  He also has a bad luck to be seen by the two gangsters who commit said murder.

 

Pretty soon Robby realizes that the gangsters are looking for him and he has a good sense to run and RUN.  He runs very far from New York as blurb tells you , unfortunately he was being followed almost as far as he runs . Weird events allow Robbie to transform himself in the mail order bride and Trace Crabtree who is the sheriff of the town Robbie comes to saves him from his pursuers while Robby was already presenting himself as Rowena.

 

Lucky for Robby he gets to stay alive and meet a handsome sheriff.  Unlucky for Robby sheriff saw a Wanted poster for Robby and pretty quickly (very early in the book) figures out that Robby is Rowena and confronts him with that revelation.

 

Trace manages to convince Robby to stay on his family's ranch as fake mail order bride for one of his brothers till the danger to Robby could be dealt with and Robby reluctantly agrees.

 

 

Note all that I just described covers the very beginning of the book, most of the book is the hilarity that ensues when Robby has to interact with the Crabtree family (Trace's father and his three brothers and the two wives - one brother is still not married) and some additional suspense at the end when mobsters come for Robby again.  Oh and of course there was some romance.

 

 

I thought that Robby was a *great* character. The guy who did all the menial jobs at the very beginning of his acting career and who had enough talent to actually advance on New York stage and who no doubt would have become a big star had the fate not intervened.

 

But what impressed me the most was how Robby manipulated the Crabtree guys in the best way possible and helped them to become better human beings.  I was so impressed because I usually really don't care for the manipulative characters, but Robby was just so charming and had the best intentions and he won me over.  Robby at the ranch is the major part of the book so I really don't want to discuss the details of his stay, since I consider this part to be spoilers, I will just say that I found the events that occurred before the last part of the book to be quite funny.  Of course humor is subjective and I cannot guarantee it will work for you, but for me it will.

 

Sadly I was underwhelmed by the romance between Robby and Trace.  As I said before, I really liked Robby and Trace was a sweet guy too even if he was not as impressive as Robby to me  ( As my friend said Robby dominated the book anyway), however for the longest part of the book I just did not see them being in love. Maybe it was the point that they were falling in love and at the end we could see that they both liked each other as people and not just were in lust. I don't know.

 

 

Oh and another thing I found underwhelming was Robby's "let's be stupid" final moment. Yes I get that the author tried to justify it, no it did not quite work for me.

 

Grade: B-

SPOILER ALERT!

The Count of Monte Christo Manga Classics

The victim of a miscarriage of justice, the Count of Monte Cristo is fired by a desire for retribution and empowered by a stroke of providence. In his campaign of vengeance, he becomes an anonymous agent of fate. The sensational narrative of intrigue, betrayal, escape, and triumphant revenge moves at a cracking pace. Alexandre Dumas' novel presents a powerful conflict between good and evil embodied in an epic saga of rich diversity that is complicated by the hero's ultimate discomfort with the hubristic implication of his own actions.

Review:

Dear readers Alexandre Dumas” “Count of Monte Cristo” together with his “Three Musketeers” and “Twenty years after” are amongst my top ten favorite books I have ever read. I read the novel several times ( even though I have not revisited it for four or five years), loved it and can highly recommend it to everyone who loves historical adventure and in my opinion unsurpassed tale of the character taking his just revenge over his enemies.  Here I am not reviewing the original though; I am reviewing a manga based on the Dumas’ novel. 

Please understand that when I read/watch the stories based on the classical stories that I love my main criteria for evaluation was, is and always will be is how faithful to the original it is. I am very firmly convinced that nobody can transform “Three musketeers” or “Count of Monte Christo” and make it better than the original was therefore I require faithfulness in spirit at least.  I understand of course that the movies or manga as it is in this case is a different kind of art and cannot bring to life every detail of the original, but I am not interested in watching/ reading the story which claims to have an original as a basis for it and ends up being something else entirely.  I have to say that this manga did pretty good where the faithfulness to the original is concerned while using the pictures extremely well to condense some parts of the story.

For those of you who do not know the plot of the novel, here is a very brief set up. Count of Monte Christo in his past life used to be called Edmund Dantes, a young sailor whose life was destroyed or I shall say almost destroyed by those he considered his closest friends. Those “friends” falsely accused him of working against his own country, he was sent to the horrible prison for many years (fourteen) and the woman he loved did not wait for him and instead married one of his former friends.

Edmund suffered horribly in prison but luckily another prisoner whom he befriended helped him a great deal and basically because of that prisoner ( trying to keep the details as vague as possible here in case there are people who have not seen the movie either) Edmund reinvented himself and like Phoenix became Count Monte Christo. He decided to execute elaborate revenge upon his former friends and when I say elaborate boy do I mean elaborate! 

The rest of the book is basically Count executing his revenge and what comes out of it J.  Well, and occasionally he is helping some nice people in the terrible circumstances too.

One of the main reasons why the novel resonated with me so much was because way too often in fiction I *want* a beloved wronged character to have their revenge over their enemies and the authors rarely if ever allow it. Oh believe me; I know that revenge can destroy you, but I do not think that this is the only possible outcome and I was and still am beyond grateful to Dumas that he allowed Count to come out on top. It does not mean that the guy does not struggle with the consequences to the certain degree, but I thought that the only issue was that innocent people can be hurt during the execution of one’s plans no matter how carefully one plans.  The bad people in Dumas’ novel still deserved everything that came upon them whether one agrees with Count that he became a weapon of God in punishing his enemies or not.

But I digress, as I said I am reviewing the Manga here, even though I am not sure how I could have done so without talking about the plot of the novel. As I said I thought overall it did pretty well keeping the story pretty close to the original – a lot of story is in the manga, and the creators did an amazing job condensing some points of the story in the drawings.  The artist and the writer specifically talk about how they condensed the plot at the end of the manga and the example they give, how they condensed three chapters of the novel by drawing the certain Ball was awesome and I did agree that it was very well done.

However, as much as I loved the drawings, I did not care for the summaries of the certain plot points by the writer. I understand that the original was a VERY long book, however I did not find those very impressive.  Luckily the authors did not subject the reader to that many summaries and of course opinions may differ on how well the parts of the stories were verbally summarized.

I was anxious about manga style art in the book in the first place, however for the most part I found it suited the story very well.

Grade: B

I still liked but was kind of annoyed too

Strength of the Pack - Kendall McKenna

A Marine werewolf and his commander bring legends to life while surviving combat deployment in Afghanistan. Lieutenant Lucas Young doesn't know much about shifters. When Sergeant Noah Hammond is assigned to Lucas' platoon, the Marine Corps' True Alpha werewolf challenges the Lieutenant's authority and his self-control. As Lucas learns to dominate and command Noah, he struggles against a strong attraction and deepening emotional bond. During their combat deployment to Afghanistan, Lucas and Noah begin mirroring legendary partnerships. Their bond and their power grow as they survive dangerous combat and ambushes. When one of them is wounded in battle, they both must embrace the strength of their bond before they lose each other forever.

Review.

Dear Kendall MacKenna,

I first read this book shortly after it was published. The characters stayed with me and I have reread some parts of it, but never did a complete reread. I was a little worried that I won’t like the book nearly as much as I did when I first read it since several years passed and I have read a lot of m/m books since then.

For the most part the book hold up for me upon reread, however I certainly saw more problems with its execution than I did originally.

We first meet Lucas when he is training his Marines shortly before their deployment to Afghanistan. The author shows us a young officer who cares deeply about his soldiers and who wants to do his best to ensure they all are trained well and will come back home.

In fact it was clear even to me (a civilian) that the author researched military procedures, military protocols very well. I believe I read somewhere that the author had family in the military (but could not find it now) and couple of book buddies who had military family members also commented upon authentic portrayal of the US Military in her books. Moreover some of the reviews complained that the author went into too much detail in the description of the military protocols and in explaining all the military abbreviations. Please understand that this is not my complaint at all. I enjoyed the well-researched setting very much and thought it helped to show the strength of the main characters.

The book is set in “our” world with the addition of the fact that the werewolves openly serve in the military and there are additional procedures set up to help incorporating werewolves in the military.

When Lucas arrives in Afghanistan he learns that several werewolves will be assigned to his unit and amongst them will be Noah Hammond, True Alpha Werewolf of the Marine Corps. Of course Lucas is confused and worried as to how he would handle Noah, whose rank of the Sergeant and his status of True Alpha set up a conflict of the sort for Lucas because Noah would be enlisted under his command and somebody who would be pretty much in charge of all shifters nearby.

When Noah arrives he very quickly takes charge of the shifters, and does indeed challenges Lucas a little bit, but only a little bit – he does not resist Lucas or anything like that, just checks his worth out I guess.

Very quickly Noah and Lucas realize that they have a connection. Actually, Noah is the only one who recognizes all the possible repercussions of their connection. Lucas did not have much experience with dealing with the werewolves before and his company commander is of no help. He of course realizes the attraction but all he is bothered about is being attracted to somebody who is below in the chain of command.

The fact that their bond is something extraordinary escapes his attention for pretty much the whole book. Noah manages to explain that the fact that he is a True Alpha consented to their bond supersedes chain of commanded, but nothing else was explained to Lucas and this would bring me to my main annoyance with this book.

As much as I loved both Lucas and Noah as honest soldiers and strong leaders, as much as I thought this book had well researched setting, Lucas’ cluelessness as to his connection with Noah eventually got old and pretty fast. Okay fine, he did not have shifters under his command before, but he is living in the world where shifters seem to be treated well, not discriminated at all and he has no clue that his bond with True Alpha just may be something special? The parts I quoted below are early enough in the book, but this idiocy continued through the whole book – with Lucas asking questions and people either promising to explain and explaining nothing, or giving him information in such small doses that it sounded really artificial. This is the main reason why I am lowering the grade the way I did.

 

"Lucas paused, wondering how to answer. It might be easier if he had an answer. “I would if I knew. It’s nothing I can explain. I just know.” Vince glanced at him askance. “Next you’re gonna tell me the two of you know what the other is feeling.” Lucas stared out his window and didn’t answer. “Well I’ll be damned,” Vince muttered. “Does command know about this?” Lucas looked at Vince in confusion. “No. Why would they?” Gunny glanced repeatedly from the road to Lucas and back again.

“The Marine Corps’ True Alpha willingly submits to his human platoon commander; that’s a weapon they’d like to have.” An icy chill swept through Lucas. “Weapon? I don’t understand.” This time Vince shrugged. “I don’t know the ins and outs of it. Have Hammond explain it; it’s werewolf mythology.” They lapsed into silence as Vince negotiated the rough, rutted road. Lucas tried to shake off the dark feeling the conversation had left him with."

 

"“I could feel you start to worry about what was behind you, so I looked.” Noah ran the backs of the fingers of one hand lightly down Lucas’ cheek. “You looked because you felt me sense something behind me?” Lucas fought the urge to lean into Noah’s touch. “That’s how this works, Lucas,” Noah replied, hooking his fingers into the webbing of Lucas’ armor. “I still don’t understand how it works,” Lucas sighed. “But right now, I’m just glad it does.”"

 

"Lucas stared at the captain in confusion. Madison noticed Lucas’ expression. “Christ, Hammond sure is taking his time explaining all this to you. It doesn’t help that Stanley got you absolutely no training on how to handle an Alpha were.” “So explain it to me!” Lucas shouted in frustration."

 

Grade: B-

Entertaining but

Head On - John Scalzi

John Scalzi returns with Head On, the standalone follow-up to the New York Times bestselling and critically acclaimed Lock In. Chilling near-future SF with the thrills of a gritty cop procedural, Head On brings Scalzi's trademark snappy dialogue and technological speculation to the future world of sports.

Hilketa is a frenetic and violent pastime where players attack each other with swords and hammers. The main goal of the game: obtain your opponent’s head and carry it through the goalposts. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible. But all the players are “threeps,” robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden’s Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real and the crowds love it.

Until a star athlete drops dead on the playing field.

Is it an accident or murder? FBI agents and Haden-related crime investigators, Chris Shane and Leslie Vann, are called in to uncover the truth―and in doing so travel to the darker side of the fast-growing sport of Hilketa, where fortunes are made or lost, and where players and owners do whatever it takes to win, on and off the field.

Review:

Dear John Scalzi,

I reviewed the first book in this series “Lock in” here at DA. I had no idea that you were planning to write a sequel, but I was eager to read more about Chris and Leslie’s adventures. I was even more excited when I read that the book would be set in the sport setting – I love those.  First and foremost, readers I have to warn you – do not expect a lot of actual games described on page.  Oh there was a long description of the game during which Duane Chapman died, but that was pretty much it.  It is not a criticism, the book was definitely set in the sport setting, but we are not seeing much of the actual games, a little bit here and there, but overall not much at all.  I just don’t want anybody else to develop the expectations that I developed after reading the blurb.

I am also not sure if I agree with the blurb characterizing this book as a *stand-alone* follow up to “Lock In”. I mean the murder investigation definitely stands alone, and I suppose the author recaps the world building sufficiently enough in order for the reader not to be confused, however I would still recommend reading “Lock in” first in order to get the world building fully.

We catch up with Chris when she is running late to watch the game with her parents because the Hilketa league really wants her father to invest in league’s upcoming Washington DC franchise.

"I ALMOST MISSED SEEING Duane Chapman die. I didn’t know it at the time. All I knew was that I was running late for the “special exhibition game experience” that I was supposed to be having along with my mother and father.”

Note that I will be using “she/her pronoun” in relation to Chris even though same as in the first book her gender is not mentioned. I believe that when I was reviewing “Lock In” I read somewhere that the author did it deliberately and Chris was meant to be a woman. I cannot be hundred percent sure that Chris was meant to be a woman, but even if her gender meant to be ambiguous, I think it is a fair game to imagine her or any character any way the reader wants. I am used to thinking about her as a woman by now.

Investment opportunity though quickly turns into a suspicious accident of Duane Chapman’s death and then certain irregularities that accompanied that “accident” quickly turned it into a murder and then multiple murders. Chris was already on the scene, so she and her partner Leslie Vann once again assume a lead on the investigation.

Murder investigation in this story was a very entertaining and fast moving affair. For me it was a little harder to guess the villain than in “Lock in”, although it was not very hard either. Once again though, maybe the author did not want to write a complex mystery, maybe the social commentary behind the suspenseful investigation was the main point of the book.  Chris and Leslie once again have to investigate the world of the big business that caters to Haden customers and how business had to adapt after Congress in the previous book passed “Abrams Catering” bill which cut a lot of medical and other services for people with Haden Syndrome.

I really liked Chris’ voice – just as snappy and funny as it was in the first book. There is also a cat in this book that couple of times gets thrown right in the middle of action.

"Then Donut the cat came out of the twins’ room and meowed down the stairs, as if to say, What the actual fuck, humans? The tank threep lashed out, knocking me and Tayla off balance, and lurched up the stairs toward Donut. Donut took one look at the rampaging tank and bolted, running in the direction of my room at the far end of the upstairs. I righted myself and took off up the stairs after the tank, grabbing at its legs."

 

As much as I liked Chris’ voice and enjoyed her partner not mincing words either, I was more than a little disappointed because I did not feel that any of them got any character development in comparison with the first book. Chris is a POV character, we are in her head all the time, I expected some character growth and besides her getting more comfortable in her job I honestly did not think I got much.

Grade: B-/B

Looking forward to the next book

Night Drop - Marshall Thornton

It’s 1992 and Los Angeles is burning. Noah Valentine, the owner of Pinx Video in Silver Lake, notices the fires have taken their toll on fellow shopkeeper Guy Peterson’s camera shop. After the riots end, he decides to stop by Guy’s apartment to pick up his overdue videos, only to find Guy’s family dividing up his belongings. He died in the camera store fire—or did he? Noah and his downstairs neighbors begin to suspect something else might have happened to Guy Peterson. Something truly sinister. The first in a new series from Lambda Award-winner Marshall Thornton, Night Drop strikes a lighter tone than the Boystown Mysteries, while bringing Silver Lake of the early 1990s to life.

Review:

Dear Marshall Thornton, I kept thinking that I should try your Boytown mysteries but never actually got around to do that. When I saw this book on Kindle Unlimited I thought to myself why not. At the moment there is one more book available in these series also on Kindle Unlimited and I have no idea how many if any more books will be coming.

As blurb tells you the book is starting during Rodney King Riots. The whole story is written in first person POV and I liked Noah’s voice right from the beginning.

"Looking back, it seems odd that I opened the store the second day of the riots, but that morning we weren’t especially afraid."

Attempt to open the store was short lived on Noah’s part that day because as soon as he came in he realized that the riots were still continuing and one of his employees Mikey convinced Noah that they really should not be opening. Mikey actually annoyed me a little bit because of him telling his Boss what to do, but I suppose he genuinely cared about the place where he worked and hopefully he cared about Noah too.

Noah opened the store in 1989 with his late partner Jeffer Cole. We get to hear Noah’s musings as to what he should be calling Jeffer.

"My late—my late what? I never knew how to talk about Jeffer Cole. I suppose I could say he was my late boyfriend, though that lessened the relationship. My late lover sounded like a tragic romance novel—Read My Late Lover and bawl your eyes out! My late partner sounded like we were in business together, and though we were that too, it made me feel like I was trying to hide something. My late husband was the one that felt right, but I had no legal claim to it. Usually, I went to great lengths to avoid the phrase entirely."

Noah unsuccessfully tries to make Mikey go home and goes home himself. I liked that he was friends with the couple living in the same building, Louis and Mark.  I was glad that he seemed to genuinely like those people and they liked him in return. I was glad that Noah seemed to have a support system even if it initially felt like a small one.  Normally I don’t like when the character starts describing how he looks, because it feels artificial to me. I just don’t see too many people describing their looks for others in real life, however here somehow it made sense to me, considering what mood Noah seemed to be in.

"I put on a Dionne Warwick CD and kicked off my shoes. I went into the bathroom to wash my face. I don’t think it was dirty, but just the idea of a riot made everything seem sooty and thick. I tried not to look at myself. If I had I would not have seen the ghost I felt like but instead a reasonably attractive young man of around twenty-eight. I had brown eyes and unremarkable but symmetrical features. The most noticeable thing about me was my hair. It was massively thick and stubborn. It did whatever it chose and I had little say in the matter. I’d tried every product out there and nothing tamed the beast on my head. At that particular moment it needed cutting, but I could hardly put out a bulletin to stop the riot so I could find a barber."

 

I do know that I took a lot of time basically describing the set-up of the book, however this is a mystery and more often than not I really do try not to describe much of the plot when I review mystery. I hope readers you got some feel for Noah’s voice. I was really impressed that the writer managed to keep light touch in the narrative which dealt with serious, realistic issues. I thought Noah was a trooper, liked and respected him and really wanted the best for him when I finished the book.

 

I feel like I should talk at least a little bit about the mystery plot since this is what the book is about. I thought it was well done for the most part. I was impressed how amateur detective’s (Noah in our case) involvement in the murder investigation happened in more or less believable way. As blurb states Noah basically became worried about what happened to a fellow shopkeeper and it all skyrocketed from there.

 

There were not a lot of the suspects in the story however I have to say that the final twist was a surprise for me. When I read the mystery with the amateur detective playing the main role, I am often annoyed at when the detective goes to confront the villain. I do think Noah did indulge in a bit of “let’s act stupid because we investigate” act, but as he said he at least attempted to “do a smart thing” first. I guess I could live with that.

 

Grade: B

Books...

Reblogged from Hol:

Dellightfully awesome!

The Tea Master and the Detective - Aliette de Bodard

Welcome to the Scattered Pearls Belt, a collection of ring habitats and orbitals ruled by exiled human scholars and powerful families, and held together by living mindships who carry people and freight between the stars. In this fluid society, human and mindship avatars mingle in corridors and in function rooms, and physical and virtual realities overlap, the appearance of environments easily modified and adapted to interlocutors or current mood. A transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow's Child now ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space-travellers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study. When Long Chau walks into her office, The Shadow's Child expects an unpleasant but easy assignment. When the corpse turns out to have been murdered, Long Chau feels compelled to investigate, dragging The Shadow's Child with her. As they dig deep into the victim's past, The Shadow's Child realises that the investigation points to Long Chau's own murky past…and, ultimately, to the dark and unbearable void that lies between the stars…

 

Review:

Dear Aliette De Botard,

I think you are an amazing writer and I look forward to every new novel or short story from you. However I have to admit that when you advertised this story as “gender swapped” Sherlock Holmes, I stopped short in my tracks for few minutes, because I usually have no interest in gender swapped anything and Sherlock Holmes’s stories written by anybody except Arthur Conan Doyle as a rule is not my thing either. I of course purchased the story, because you are authored it and because it is set in the same universe as “On the Red Station, Drifting” which I loved to pieces.

First and foremost readers, yes I know that the price is very high. While I did pay and I know I will pay again thirteen dollars for some SFF novels, I cannot come up with any other name for whose short story (It has 852 locations on my kindle), I will pay $4.99.  I think the price is so high because it is coming from the publisher who does collection editions. Hardcover on preorder was $40.00, and when I am typing this review, it is $32 dollars and change on Amazon.  In any event, I do not regret paying this price, but beware of the short length.

This story only strengthened my opinion that Aliette De Botard is an amazing writer. As I stated above this is a short story, however so much is packed in the narrative that when I finished it, I felt as if I read if not the novel, then a long novella for sure. The world building is effortless. I do not believe you need to read “On the Red Station, Drifting” at all to understand what is happening in this one,  even though couple of key world building points were mentioned before.  The stories are different and the writer mentions the pertinent information again, without any info dumping whatsoever if I may say. She does not waste words at all, in my opinion. Every sentence, every word was important to the narrative.

I liked how the familiar SF themes were given fresh twist. For example, of course intelligent ships which play important role in this world were not a new concept. However, off the top of my head I cannot remember a story where the mind of the ship was born in the human womb and then brought to the ship. I believe in this world all of mindships are born by humans, it makes them members of extended families and can create some interesting dynamics, which were barely hinted at in this story.

Mindships in this Universe also have an interesting way of socializing with humans and between themselves through their avatars. The Shadow Child as the blurb tells you was a military transport ship who few years ago experienced significant trauma due to the mission gone wrong and as blurb tells you now makes her living by brewing special drugs for the space travelers to help them get through deep spaces as painlessly as possible.  I was not sure what “deep space” was actually – meaning how one gets there, at first I thought that it was simply something in your own mind that your conscience goes too.

However considering that Long Chau was asking The Shadow Child to take her there, I abandoned my conclusion and decided that they indeed traveled somewhere in the real Space. I could be wrong, but in any event, where they went was not nearly as important as what they found and what they decided to do about it.

Long Chau needed to find herself a corpse for her scientific studies and The Shadow Child helped her find one. Only it turns out that the young woman was murdered and when Long Chau walked in The Shadow Child’s office she kindly left out what it was that she did for a living.  Apparently Long Chau was a consulting detective and she decided to investigate the murder.

I have to tell you, if I did not hear that Long Chau was supposed to have some Sherlock Holmes similarities; I may not even have realized that. She is a detective who does not really think about people’s feelings when she is concentrated on solving the problem, although she is eager to do her job and help.  Oh, I guess the drugs’ use is supposed to be main similarity?  I am not sure. I only know that if there ever was homage to the classics done right, to me this story was it. We do have a brilliant, acerbic detective, who may have some personality traits that are similar to Holmes, but she was not “gender swapped Holmes”, not to me anyway. 

I really enjoyed imagining The Shadow Child as Doctor Watson though. Why? Because original Watson was not a stupid man, he just was not a detective genius and at times I felt bad as to how unfrequently narrative emphasized that. Here it is very clear that The Shadow Child may be dealing with the trauma and she may not be able to solve crimes on the spot with brilliant deductions, but I did not have to look for hints about her being smart.

If the author decides to write more adventures for this couple I am so looking forward to reading those.

Grade: A

 

Childhood favorite which came with me to the adulthood

The Mysterious Island - Caleb Carr, Jordan Stump, Jules Verne

Five Union prisoners escape from the siege of Richmond in a balloon, are blown off course and crash on an uncharted island. They must learn to rebuild a society for themselves while awaiting rescue.

Review:

Dear readers,

Even after living in the US for two decades, I cannot quite figure out whether Jules Vern is a popular writer here (or in any other country, really). I mean I do see his books occasionally when I walk in the Barnes and Noble, but none of my book buds seem to have him amongst their favorites. So I have no idea, but Jules Verne was quite popular in the Soviet Union when I was growing up. I first read a lot of his stories when I was very young and same as many of my favorite books that I read at that age, “Mysterious Island” traveled with me to my adulthood and I love it today as much as ever.

I love it because my heart went out to all the five men (well four men, and fifteen year old boy – when our story begins) who wanted to escape siege of Richmond and who were ready to risk anything for that and possibly even their lives. And they escaped all right – to the island where nobody else was living, they had to throw in the ocean their meager possessions they managed to take with them before they run, so when they crashed they had nothing with them. They only had their strength, bravery, intelligence and their quickly formed friendship to survive together.

Of course the writer helped them out a lot by making sure the island had a lot of natural resources. A lot of them! However, they literally had to build so many things from scratch and their hard work (and engineering knowledge of the man who became their leader) was a big part of their success.

I have read some answers to the questions and some reviews of the book at Goodreads, because I really was interested in the opinions of those who actually read the book.

First and foremost there are two books that have some characters in common with this book. “In Search of the Castaways” and “Twenty Thousands Leagues Under the Sea” should be read *before* this book regardless of when Verne wrote those two.  These three books connected very loosely, they do not tell you the same continuous story as the normal trilogy would, however, the story of one character from “Search of Castaways” and the story of one character from “Twenty Thousands Leagues” gets satisfying conclusion ( for me) in “Mysterious Island”.

 Some reviews compared the story with “Robinson Cruzo”.  I agree that comparison works – if for no other reason then only because it is also a story of survival at the uninhabited island.  However, I also liked this book so much better than Robinson. I read Robinson but never had any desire to reread it and I think the main reason was because these men had each other, they supported each other, sacrificed for each other and worked together to make the island where they crashed good place to live in.  They had no reason to think that they would ever leave it after all.

Another review of the book I have read basically stated it was boring because there was not much plot. I do not agree with it, however I think I can *see* how somebody else can view this book as boring, because a lot of the plot describes the work men did , be it building the place for the animals they tamed, or making clothing for themselves, or gardening. The work together occupies a lot of page space for sure.

But this is not all our colonists did, not at all! They got to save a life, they had to battle pirates, they kept saving each other from various dangers and they got to discover the secret that their Island had.

I always love a redemption story too and for one of the characters the book told such a story.

I have almost a sentimental attachment to this book. Not all childhood favorites survived the rereads, but this one did and I remember reading this book to my brother before bed when he was four and I was eight, so please understand that even though I am giving it the highest grade, I am aware of the issues the book may have for other readers.

First and foremost there are no women in this story. I was not bothered by that, because it made sense to me, but if you do not want to read the book with only male characters, this is not a book for you.

I also read that Jules Verne did not do a very good job describing the Richmond of 1865, but I would not know one way or another, just something to keep in mind.

Also, one of the characters is a Black guy who was initially a slave. The former owner freed Nab long time ago, but Nab decided to stay and be a free servant because he loved this guy so much. I do not feel qualified to decide if his portrayal was problematic. I do think that Nab is portrayed in the same very sympathetic way as other main characters, but if it bothers you that he chose to stay with his former owner, one more time, just beware.

Grade: A

SPOILER ALERT!

American Road Trip by Sarah Black

A single moment—or a single mistake—can change everything. When Captain James Lee Hooker and his lover, Sergeant Easy Jacobs, were in the Army, they made a mistake that got a young soldier hurt. Three years later, they’re civilians again, living far apart, haunted by what they lost. Now that young soldier needs their help. With his grandmother’s one-eyed Chihuahua riding shotgun, James Lee climbs into Easy’s pickup for a trip across the American Southwest. They set out to rescue a friend, but their journey transforms them with the power of forgiveness.

Review:

Dear Sarah Black,

I was so happy when I learned that you will have a new story out soon. I missed your writing. For the most part I really enjoyed this novella and your prose still sang to me.

The blurb gives you a good set up. Our main characters walked away from the military life three years ago after young soldier under James (Jamie)’ command was badly hurt. Both guys were deeply in love with each other and they fell in love before realizing that they were both in the army and both ended up in the same platoon. Jamie was a captain and Easy Jacobs was the sergeant. The men walked away from army and each other.  Three years later Easy comes to seek Jamie’s help in finding Austin (young soldier who got hurt three years ago) who went on a trip across America months ago and besides post-cards his family have not heard from him. Austin was also Easy’s cousin so Easy had a very personal interest in finding him.

“I turned the postcards over. Austin had written home about his trip: he was having a wonderful time, he was heading west, looking for America. He wasn’t going to stop until he had found America. His handwriting looked as bad as ever. “

Of course, despite being apart for three years James and Easy are still deeply in love; and the reader hopes almost right away with James that Easy’s arrival means that they will find their way back to each other.

"What was he doing here? If he’d wanted help with Austin, all he needed to do was call. Send me an email. But he came out here, and he climbed into my bed when I pointed into the bedroom. Did he come out here to find Austin, or to find me? We’d have to wade through a lot of hurt if he’d come out here for me. But the possibility made me feel like something in my chest was growing wings."

Our guys are wonderful, honorable men who would do anything and everything to help a friend, literally would interrupt their lives if their help is needed and they devote their meager resources to search for Austin and search for Austin they do.

And I do not think I will spoil much if I say that yes, they do find their way back to each other. Have I believed in their connection? Yes, absolutely.  We never even hear from Easy, James is the only one who narrates the story and I could feel their love for each other.

"He rolled over too, blinked sleepy eyes at me. He reached out, traced along my face, pushed stray hair behind my ear. His hands were tender, eyes so full of hope and love I felt like I was looking at a night sky full of stars. I blinked back the tears I couldn’t seem to control."

 

The comic relief in this novella was a little unexpected for me. It mostly involved tiny dog named Tino. The dog belonged to Jamie’s grandmother. Jamie was taking care of her for six months before her death and she asked him to take care of Tino. Supposedly Tino was a source of constant irritation for Jamie, but one did not need to look hard for the evidence of how Jamie really felt and Easy fell for Tino right away.  Of course they took Tino on their road trip and some hilarity ensued when people wondered how Tino lost his eye.

"I looked down in time to see Tino lift a leg on the base of a potted plant tucked into the corner of the reception area. I snatched his leash so hard he let out a squeak, tiny toenails skidding a bit when I dragged him across the tiles. “Did you see those fucking pine trees outside, Tino?” Easy opened the door for us. “He’s kind of got a blind spot about that dog, though.” “Poor little thing. How’d he lose his eye?” Easy reached for another donut. “Bar fight.”"

"The man stopped, gave Tino an admiring look. “That’s a very little dog for hiking! He must be stronger than he looks!” He bent over, petting the tiny walnut head, then pulled his fingers back when Tino snarled at him. “What a sweetheart. How’d he lose his eye?” “Knitting needle,” I said. “He’s looking for a new home.”"

"“Go,” I said, pointing to a dried-up piece of tumbleweed. “I am at the end of my fucking rope with you. Pee or get off the pot.” Tino turned his back on me, raised a leg, and aimed in my direction. Pee or get off the pot? I was tired; I couldn’t even think up a decent metaphor for a little one-eyed shit of a dog."

I really liked the story. I hope you will too.

SPOILER ALERT!

DNF after twelve chapters

Heart of the Steal - Avon Gale, Roan Parrish

Responsible, disciplined William Fox channeled his love for art and his faith in the rules into being an FBI Art Crimes agent. Right and wrong, justice and injustice—the differences are clear, and Will has spent his career drawing a line between them. Maybe his convictions have cost him relationships, but he’s not willing to compromise what he knows is right. Until the night he meets Amory Vaughn.

As the head of his family’s philanthropic foundation, Vaughn knows very well that being rich and powerful can get him almost anything he wants. And when he meets endearingly grumpy and slightly awkward William Fox, he wants him more than he’s wanted anything. Vaughn is used to being desired for his name and his money, but Will doesn’t care about either.

When Vaughn falls back on old habits and attempts to impress Will by stealing a painting Will admires, their nascent bond blows up in his face. But Vaughn isn’t willing to give up on the glimpse of passion he saw the night he took Will apart. Before Will knows it, he’s falling for the man he should have arrested, and Vaughn has to realize that some things can’t be bought or stolen. Love has to be given freely. But can a man who lives by the rules, and a man who thinks the rules don’t apply to him, ever see eye to eye?


Heart of the Steal is a standalone romance with a happy ending. It features a Southern gentleman who thinks he’s always right, a buttoned-up FBI agent who secretly likes his buttons unbuttoned, and wall sex. And desk sex. And picnic blanket sex.

 

Review:

 

Wow, okay. There was a reason why I was a bit hesitant to get this book and it spent a few months on my Kindle before I attempted to start it and actually forced myself to get beyond chapter one. The blurb was pretty clear about unprofessional professional trope, but I suppose I hoped that the authors could write something that at least would made me swallow this trope. No such luck.

 

Will and Amory meet at the art related party which Will's sister Charlotte (aka Charlie) was hired to cater. This is Charlie's chance to get new clients, could be make or break of her career, so as always she insisted her brother should come ( and if needed to help her out).

 

Will meets Amory, super generous, very rich patron of arts ( he leads the foundation that supports many different projects) and lo and behold they have sex during the party amongst all the beautiful paintings - they are that attracted to one another.  Only we don't know yet to what extent Amory is attracted. Will especially admired one of the paintings and Amory wants to continue their um bidding friendship with sex, so what do you do when you want to WOO somebody?

 

I know, I know. YOU STEAL THE PAINTING THE GUY ADMIRED FROM THE PARTY AND DELIVER IT TO HIS DOOR STEPS.

 

Only oops, Will's profession is revealed, he works in the arts division of FBI and he realized that he now needs to go and arrest Amory Vaugn.

 

One guess as to whether he did. Oh he tried, but eventually one of them dropped his pants indeed, sorry I cannot be bothered to go and double check who.  It was so ridiculous I started laughing.

 

As I said, I expected to be bothered by FBI agent's conduct, but hoped to be convinced. What I really didn't expect is to laugh and roll my eyes at hilariously bad characterization of Amory. Tell me again, why super rich patron of arts ( he genuinely likes to support student artists and other people who struggle - not like his foundation is a fraud, he inherited it from his parents and spent a lot of time running it) need to have stealing business on the side? That's a serious question, because the character was giving me a whiplash.  He says he cannot call himself a Robin Hood because he steals for himself, then he talks about all kinds of things he could do and he does not have to steal for years.

 

So is that super smart and super rich genius thinks that if he met the guy for the first time it is totally okay to reveal that he is a thief?  Because Will gets it all right, was hard not to get it.  I just can't with this book.

 

Oh and hey, apparently since he can not steal for years, now he needed to steal two paintings one after another. Why?  I skipped to the end after chapter 12 and there was a monologue at the end, something about changing the world or art not being the art.

 

Just cant.

 

 

 

 

What a wild ride!

Where Death Meets the Devil - L.J. Hayward
Jack Reardon, former SAS soldier and current Australian Meta-State asset, has seen some messy battles. But “messy” takes on a whole new meaning when he finds himself tied to a chair in a torture shack, his cover blown wide open, all thanks to notorious killer-for-hire Ethan Blade.

Blade is everything Jack doesn’t believe in: remorseless, detached, lawless. Yet, Jack’s only chance to survive is to strike a bargain with the devil and join forces with Blade. As they trek across a hostile desert, Jack learns that Blade is much more than a dead-eyed killer—and harder to resist than he should be.

A year later, Jack is home and finally getting his life on track. Then Ethan Blade reappears and throws it all into chaos once more. It’s impossible to trust the assassin, especially when his presence casts doubts on Jack’s loyalty to his country, but Jack cannot ignore what Blade’s return means: the mess that brought them together is far from over, and Ethan might just bring back the piece of Jack’s soul he thought he’d lost forever.
Review:
Dear L.J. Hayward,
I bought this book mostly because I found the blurb intriguing.  I have skimmed a couple of reviews and couple of book buddies liked it but I literally bought it couple of days after the book was out. And I was so glad I did, because this was some very entertaining wild ride and I thought it was well written too.
Please note readers that I thought this was first and foremost spy action/adventure story. I guess you can call it a thriller too.  I did not think it was a romance even though I believed in the romantic connection between Jack and Ethan and I believed that if they choose to work on their relationship they may end up being in one in the future.  In this story both men were being very VERY busy with spy/assassin investigative stuff and even though they could not escape their attraction towards each other, the relationship stuff took a back seat.
The book begins with Jack being caught by the bad guy (mobster) whose activities Jack was supposed to investigate and did investigate for some time and report to the organization Jack worked for (Australian Meta State). Alas, as blurb tells you Jack finds himself in torture chair, and Mr. Valadian (the mobster guy whom Jack was investigating prior to his cover being broken) is clear that he is going to torture and eventually kill him. In fact Mr. Valadian calls in the man to the room who will allegedly be doing torturing and killing and this man’s name is Ethan Blake.
Instead of showing to the readers what happens however, the story jumps forward almost a year. Jack is back home, recovering from whatever he endured back in the dessert and still not being fully back to the active duty within his organization, because his director allegedly is still not sure that Jack is ready to go back.  Suddenly Ethan Blake shows up in the office of the Meta State and he would only talk to Jack and would only surrender to him and the situation for Jack just went from bad to worse or did it?
From that point forward the timeline of the story is divided between NOW and THEN. For example we have the chapter 5 which also labeled NOW and then the chapter 6 is labeled THEN and so forth and so on till the story ends in the present.
As I stated previously I thought the story was a wild ride.  Even though half of the chapters were basically one long flashback, it worked perfectly for me as a reader because the writer kept me guessing as to what really occurred between Jack and Ethan a year ago and how it would influence the events in the present. I was glued to my seat and yes, eventually I flipped to the end and looked at the ending because I could not stand all the tension.  Although because I looked at the last page only it did not help me much with getting rid of all that tension and it was a good thing.
I really do not think I can tell you much about the action plot because I would have to talk spoilers, however I can say this.  Jack works for a fictional spy agency and the people who work there are supposedly white hats, or at least grey hats. However so many things were not as they seemed to be from the first glance. There were events in the book that I thought there over the top, but they made sense to me in this specific fictional world, it also probably helped that the agency is fictional ( actually I should say I think it is fictional), so I could shrug almost everything off by saying I have no idea how this or that may happen in real life.
 
I can also tell you that I found both Jack and Ethan to be fascinating characters.  As I said in the beginning I absolutely believed in their connection even though I did not think the integrity of the action plot was compromised.  I am not an easy sell on the fictional assassins at all, but here the author somehow made me like Ethan which was not a small feat.  The beginning of the love story between them ends on the very tentative HFN.
 
Grade: B+

Excellent!

The Wolf at the Door (Big Bad Wolf) - Charlie Adhara

A former FBI agent is partnered with the enemy in this suspenseful male/male shifter romance from debut author Charlie Adhara Hunting for big bad wolves was never part of Agent Cooper Dayton’s plan, but a werewolf attack lands him in the carefully guarded Bureau of Special Investigations. A new case comes with a new partner: ruggedly sexy werewolf Oliver Park. Park is an agent of The Trust, a werewolf oversight organization working to ease escalating tensions with the BSI. But as far as Cooper’s concerned, it’s failing. As they investigate a series of mysterious deaths unlike anything they’ve seen, every bone in Cooper’s body is suspicious of his new partner—even when Park proves himself as competent as he is utterly captivating. When more people vanish, pressure to solve the case skyrockets. And though he’d resolved to keep things professional, Cooper’s friction with Park soon erupts…into a physical need that can’t be contained or controlled. But with a body count that’s rising by the day, werewolves and humans are in equal danger. If Cooper and Park don’t catch the killer soon, one—or both—of them could be the next to go. This book is approximately 90,000 words

Review:

Dear Charlie Adhara,

My friend Raine told me that she was going to be brave and try a new author and when Raine recommends books to me I listen, because our tastes tend to run very close to each other. I am so pleased that I now have a new author whose works I can look forward to. I love books about werewolves in theory, but same as it tends to be with BDSM themed books I rarely find the book about shifters that I enjoy. This one I enjoyed very much.

Beware though, that even though the narrative does give us the beginning of romance between two great guys, the focus of the story is on the mystery/suspense storyline which I thought was very well done. Do not get me wrong, for me the book had more than enough romance (and some great sex too). The men were very busy doing their jobs and I appreciated how the author made the romantic storyline believable for me by not making them forget about their jobs in favor of romance but I can see how it may not be enough for some readers.

In this world, the werewolves recently came out to some of the human world and in order to deal with the werewolves related crimes the BSI was formed where some former FBI agents were recruited and told the secret which they either encountered by accident, or for whatever other reason.

Of course not everybody amongst the werewolves was/is happy about even such limited coming out and tensions between werewolves and BSI are heating up for various reasons. To improve cooperation between werewolves and the rest of the human world ( that part of the world that knows about them anyway) our main characters are paired together as blurb tells you. They are paired together and sent to the town of Florence to investigate the series of murders that could have been done by werewolves.

Cooper was basically told that his regular partner is not going to be a part of this investigation and instead he gets himself a temporary new partner – a former university professor and now the agent of “Trust” Oliver Park. Of course Cooper is not happy with such development, but his Boss in BSI tells him basically to be on his best behavior and make it work.

The book is written from Cooper’s third person limited POV and he is the only one who tells the story for the reasons which are made clear perfectly well at the end of the book. We only see Oliver’s through Cooper’s eyes and I thought it was very well done; I loved how we got to know him through Cooper while Cooper was working through his missteps and some unintentional prejudices. Cooper honestly wanted to do good in his investigations and not target innocent people, but nobody is perfect and Cooper certainly had to learn/re –learn some stuff where werewolves were concerned.

And I just loved Cooper’s voice. The story was dealing with gruesome murders, so by and large this was not a humorous book, which made perfect sense considering the subject matter, but the author managed to insert some humorous touches and occasional sarcasm in his narrative.

“Rudi Abouesse stared at him from the open doorway. It was a toss-up whether her expression was more hostile or disbelieving. “Why aren’t you as sick of me as I am of you?” She looked over his shoulder. “You know, the good cop/ bad cop routine is usually more effective with two people.”"

 

As you can see the next couple of short quotes are more closely related to the romance storyline. Please note that when Cooper is thinking in these, he literally is stuck in the certain place and is waiting for Park to come and help him out. I did not find romantic comments inappropriate in this part of the narrative at all. I know opinions may differ.

 

“Stupid. Maybe he deserved to have someone drop a rock on his head and put him out of his misery. “C’mon, you bastard. Show me your super hearing. Asshole Park. Huge alpha Park. Big, strong, muscular Park. Amazing Ass Park. Pretty Eyes Park.”"

 

“But his surprise at the comment distracted him from the aching in his back for one or two precious milliseconds. Had Park checked him out? Was he interested in him sexually? Was this a reasonable time to be thinking about it? Probably not seemed to cover all three."

Romantic storyline does include some bickering between the men, but once again I thought the author kept it to the minimum and I also thought that while Cooper did occasionally go overboard, he learned throughout the story and he did not do it at the expense of the job. We do see him acknowledging that he trusted Park and was attracted to him as well.

I thought the mystery plot was *extremely* well done. I was very impressed by the final twist, because the author managed to came up with the scenario where Cooper being clueless till the very end about the main villain and his motives ( supposedly he did figure out another one a little bit prior to the big confrontation) made perfect sense and I would have even been upset if it did not happen. I am unable to explain it without any spoilers, dear readers.  Cooper even tries to get help before he goes to confront the villain whose identity he did figure out and I appreciated that after reading about so many characters in m/m mysteries just bravely and idiotically go to confront the villains all alone.  And  still asking for help does not help Cooper much!  You would have to read the book if you want to find out the meaning behind me being cryptic, but I loved the ending. I thought it was very cleverly done.

I am very much looking forward to the next book.

Grade: B+/A-

SPOILER ALERT!

Very mixed bag

Tactical Submission: A Windsor Club Story - Ada Maria Soto

SWAT commander Jack Burnside is haunted by his craving to kneel before another man. Of all the things he hates about himself – his overtly masculine size and strength, his blue eyes, his insecurities – it is the need to submit that he fears will destroy him. Doctor Isaac Bard is close to achieving his perfect life. He has a great job with the Coroner’s Office and an open marriage to a loving wife who understands his needs better than he does. The only thing he is missing is a handsome young man to dominate, spoil rotten, and love. Jack and Isaac might be a perfect match in the back rooms of the exclusive Windsor Club, but will the outside pressures of perception and duty tear them apart?

Review:

Dear Ada Maria Soto,

  When I saw your book on Kindle Unlimited, I was very pleased. I loved your novella “His Quiet Agent”.  The novella did not have any explicit sex scenes, but in theory I very much enjoy BDSM themed romances, so “Tactical Submission” sounded as very much my cup of tea.  What can I say? It was very hard to grade this book because it ended up being a strange reading experience for me.

Some reviews mentioned too much sex, but in the books with BDSM in it I am willing to tolerate more sex than I usually do if I like the execution and I mostly did like it in this story. Although this is definitely an erotic romance, I thought there was a lot of sex indeed, but for this book it made sense to me.

Where BDSM is concerned, I cannot stand Psychic!Dom trope. I am sure you know that one. There we have arrogant Dom, who of course knows best what his Sub needs and he will make sure that Sub will like whatever Dom wants to inflicts on him , darn it, even if initially Sub thinks he hates it. 

It is also important for me in BDSM themed romances to be not just in Dom’s head but in Sub’s head as well, because I want to see that Sub is enjoying the activities and not just enduring them.

I was beyond pleased to find out that Isaac was a kind Dom, someone who wanted to please Jack very much and not just indulge his own desires. Someone who took time to find out what kind of specific things Jack may have liked in the scene and not what Isaac assumed Jack might like.  I also thought it was not done in the didactic way, but integrated in the characterization.  I liked that Isaac had no desire to “set Jack up for a fall” and even though he offered the parameters for punishment when they negotiated (no, I am not complaining about punishments in the scene!), he then realized that Jack responded much better to positive reinforcement and pretty much stuck to the positive reinforcement. 

I liked that Isaac very much respected Jack’s limits in the scene. To make a long story short, I have almost no gripes with the portrayal of BDSM aspect of the story. Although take my opinion for what its worth because I am only discussing fictional portrayal of it and have no experience with real life BDSM.

Jack has some self-esteem issues and some issue which relates to one of his limits in the scene and he does realize that seeing a therapist will probably help him. I get really grumpy when BDSM is used as a substitute for therapy in some romances. I do not believe that this is what this book did. I think the narrative was pretty clear that Jack wants to play because he was wired this way and this brings him peace but in addition to just make “his brain less loud”, he does realize that he may benefit from the actual therapy. I hesitated initially because one of the issues Jack needs help with is very specific and about what he does not like in the scene, but it ended up being okay for me.

What I did not like? I am not asking you to disregard all that I wrote prior to this sentence, but I felt like every other aspect of their building relationship was grossly underrepresented. As much as I enjoyed them playing and having sex, I missed seeing them doing something else. I understood they attempted to go out couple of times, but it was not enough for me.  I mean, the only conversation they were having where they exchanged important information about themselves was in the last pages of the book.

I also have to call the mandatory separation moment inconsistent with everything we learned about Isaac so far. I understand that it was briefly mentioned that he could have been a jerk to his past liasons, but him just letting Jack go and not talking to him for months to me was inconsistent with the guy who as blurb tells you has a successful open relationship with his wife Amelie/Amalie (there is a reason I call her that – would be nice if text stuck to one variation of her name but it did not). This open relationship requires a lot of talking and a lot of negotiating and we *see* Isaac doing all of this.

Amalie has a female long term lover on the side, and when I say on the side, I mean that Lydia has an “almond milk in their fridge and power suits in their closet” and the only reason she did not move in with them was because Lydia is not out at work and she did not want even accidental publicity.

So when Amalie and Lydia want to have sex at her and Isaac’s house, Isaac leaves them to this and when Isaac wants to do the same with other people , they do the same. They also go to other places.  When Isaac wants to bring Jack home he tells his wife, in fact he tells his wife after the first night he met Jack because he liked Jack a lot and they have a rule if somebody wants to or thinking about bringing somebody home long term, these two talk to each other.

And the author wanted to sell the idea that the guy like Isaac who successfully negotiated an open relationship would let somebody whom he almost fell in love without a fight? Actually forget about a “fight”, that Isaac would not ask questions, especially knowing how nervous Jack could become? I am sorry I am not buying it.

In fact as one of my book buddies said, the real strong love connection that we get to *see* was between Isaac and Amalie and do not get me wrong, I enjoyed that relationship, but I wanted much more than I got out of Isaac/Jack relationship.

 

I also thought that the ending was very rushed and the line editing could have been stronger.

 

Grade: C/C-

 

 

SPOILER ALERT!

Enjoyable but killer is too obvious

Trick Roller (Seven of Spades) (Volume 2) - Cordelia Kingsbridge

It’s the height of summer in Las Vegas. Everyone believes the serial killer Seven of Spades is dead—except Levi Abrams and Dominic Russo—and it’s back to business as usual. For Levi, that means investigating a suspicious overdose at the Mirage that looks like the work of a high-class call girl, while Dominic pursues a tough internship with a local private investigator. The one bright spot for both of them is their blossoming relationship. But things aren’t so simple. Soon Levi is sucked into a dangerous web of secrets and lies, even as his obsession with the Seven of Spades intensifies. Dominic knows that Levi isn’t crazy. He knows the Seven of Spades is still out there, and he’ll do anything to prove it. But Dominic has his own demons to battle, and he may be fighting a losing war. One thing is certain: the Seven of Spades holds all the cards. It won’t be long before they show their hand.

 

Review:

Dear Cordelia Kingsbridge,

This is book two of the presumably five book series (that’s how many I saw advertised by Riptide Publishing). Actually, I still doubt that these books count as separate books in the series, because to my mind the book in the series has to have *something* resolved while overarching story is only going to be resolved at the end.  There were some murders in book one and book two where we learned who did it at the end of book one and book two , but I just don’t know, I guess I still did not feel that anything important was resolved. 

Dominic and Levi are working on their relationship and they were stronger at the end of this book than at the end of book one, which made me very happy, however I just did not feel that they achieved any milestones yet so to speak, therefore while the ending of this book did not offer any cliffhangers in their relationship, it felt like it was developing and there was no satisfactory place to stop.

As to suspense/mystery storyline, Seven of Spades feels like the main story and the individual murders that take place all seem to be connected one way or another to our mysterious killer, that’s why even though individual murders were resolved, I did not feel like they were if it makes sense.

But I am running ahead of myself. The second book fast forwards three months and we see Levi and Dominic deciding that they waited long enough to make sure Levi was not jumping in the new relationship too fast after his break up with the ex- boyfriend and they want to spend the night together. They were not completely celibate, but their sex was brief and kind of reminded casual encounters. I took it that they both enjoyed themselves very much during the “spending the night” event.

As blurb tells you Levi and his partner Martine in this book investigate an overdose in the “Mirage” which ends to be a homicide and initially the woman whom they arrest is the woman from high class escort agency, and soon it becomes clear that somebody is trying to frame her for murder. Soon Levi’s case takes unexpected twists and turns while Dominic is pursuing the internship with Kate McBride’s private detective agency. I really like that Dominic listened to Levi ( and to himself) and decided that he wanted to not do bounty hunting anymore and decided to throw himself in becoming Private Investigator. In fact I really enjoyed a lot of Dominic and Levi’s interactions. I think the author found a balance here that really appealed to me.

The men may not have shared all their secrets and issues with each other, which made sense, because literally their relationship was only few months old, but the more time they spent together the more they did talk. Those may not have been the longest conversations, but somehow I felt that the men did open up to each just enough for me to believe that two guys who had been dating for few months may share that much stuff.

And I thought the author also achieved the right balance (for me) in making both Levi and Dominic flawed, but so very likeable. If I were ever to choose great romantic leads these guys would fit the bill to the T for me.

The development of the relationship takes place amongst all the investigative action. Levi investigates murder/s, Dominic while interning at private detective agency gets to participate in the investigating allegedly cheating spouse. I doubt anyone will be surprised that at some point their cases collide.  We also should not forget that Levi does not believe that Seven of Spades is dead and apparently neither does Dominic. Since this is only a second book of the series, I do not think I will be revealing any surprises when I say that our super intelligent killer is indeed not dead.

This brings me to my main annoyance with these books so far and that would be the same annoyance that I have had with the first book. Here it goes. To me it is glaringly obvious who the Seven of Spade is. When I read the mystery even with the prominent romance storyline, I want to enjoy figuring the puzzle; I want the author to leave me some clues, to tease me with the red herrings candidates. That’s part of the pleasure of reading the mystery.

After the first book I hold a small hope that one of the characters would at least end up being a red herring. Alas, the author had to go and state that this person could not be one because they were present during the time when the Seven of Spades called Levi on the phone. Huh. I would LOVE to be wrong, but unless the killer will be introduced as a new character ( which to me would be hugely dissatisfactory and cheating the reader), I just don’t see who else could be Seven of Spades besides the person I now very firmly pegged as one.

I guess I should be happy that at least for now I do not have the reason to call Levi and Dominic idiots just yet. While I think that the identity of the Seven of Spades is obvious to the readers, for now I do not think that Levi and Dominic have reasons to suspect this person just yet. This could all change in the blink of an eye though.

Grade: B