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Romance and other things


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.


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.


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.




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?




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.
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+


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


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-


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?


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-




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.



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


Reblogged from Hol:


The Preacher's Son by Lisa Henry and J.A.Rock

Jason Banning is a wreck. His leg’s been blown to hell in Afghanistan, his boyfriend just left him and took the dog, and now he’s back in his hometown of Pinehurst, Washington, a place that holds nothing but wretched memories…and Nathan Tull. Nathan Tull, whose life Jason ruined. Nathan Tull, who will never believe Jason did what he did for a greater good. Nathan Tull, whose reverend father runs the gay conversion therapy camp that Jason once sought to bring down—at any cost. Nathan Tull is trying to live a quiet life. Four years ago, when Nate was a prospective student visiting UW, his world collapsed when senior Jason Banning slept with him, filmed it, and put the footage online. A painful public outing and a crisis of faith later, Nate has finally begun to heal. Cured of the “phantoms” that plagued him for years, he now has a girlfriend, a counselor job at his dad’s camp, and the constant, loving support of his father. But when he learns Jason is back in town, his carefully constructed identity begins to crumble. As desperate to reconcile his love for God with his attraction to men as Jason is to make sense of the damage he’s done, Nate finds himself walking a dangerous line. On one side lies the righteous life he committed himself to in the wake of his public humiliation. On the other is the sin he committed with Jason Banning, and the phantoms that won’t let him be. But is there a path that can bridge those two worlds—where his faith and his identity as a gay man aren’t mutually exclusive? And can he walk that path with the man who betrayed him?


Dear Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock,

In the past I enjoyed several books you wrote together, however I won’t lie. I was both tempted and hesitant to try this one. Tempted because we all have our catnips and one of mine is to see how one of the guy deals with the betrayal from his lover ( in any setting, really) and off the top of my head I can remember exactly one story where I was happy with how such plot development was executed. So it is not as if I oversaturated myself.   I was extremely hesitant not because this book is about religion, I just could not imagine how one could introduce the “grayness” in such horrific subject matter as torture of the gay kids by trying to make them give up part of who they are. I definitely feel very “black and white” about it.

Overall I am glad I read the story. I think I should issue a conditional warning though (as somebody who is straight and who had been blessed to never experience the “disease of the camp” the kids in this book experience). I think (but have no way of knowing obviously) that if somebody was forced to undergo “conversion therapy” this would be a painful read for them.  There is also a suicide attempt, two actually, one in the past and one very much in the present.

The blurb is good for the set up. Jason is coming back home to care for his ailing aunt and because of his bad leg injury he suffered in Afganistan. Four years ago he slept with Nathan, a son of the preacher who runs camp “Moving forward” where gay kids are brought by their “loving” parents to make them straight. I put “loving” in quotes on purpose, because once again this is a very black and white subject for me.

Jason you see also had a noble goal to bring the camp down at all costs, literally and that’s what he did and what’s a little collateral damage of violating Nathan and his privacy?

I will tell you this much readers, I had no idea how the writers would make me believe that the romance between these two was believable in any way, shape or form. I am happy to report that for the most part they did.  It is not that I liked what Jason did. I hated it, however I understood Jason’s motivations, I most certainly saw his regrets and eventually I reached the moment when if Nathan was able to forgive, I was ready to not just be happy for him, but forgive Jason too.

I am struggling to explain this, but I really liked the writing in this book. I thought the very good attempt was made to portray complex and complicated people and I thought the writers mostly succeeded.

Of course the character I am most torn about was Nathan’s father. I skimmed some reviews of the book and I saw one on Amazon which argued that it was not stated enough in the book that “conversion therapy” was wrong. I strongly disagree with that.  I do not believe that the authors attempted to justify what was going on in that camp, not once.  However they did not make a cartoon villain out of Nathan’ father and it made sense to me. I mean don’t the most people have the reasons in their brains to justify the awful things they do. 


“Even though a part of him knew that Nate was right: Timothy Tull genuinely love the kids who came to Moving Forward. And that just made it more of a fucking tragedy, didn’t it?”


Let me repeat though, genuine love or not, the authors do not shy away from showing what horror conversion therapy is even in most loving hands.

Overall I thought the shades of gray in both Nate and Jason’s characters were done really well. I mean Jason is a deeply flawed character, considering how far he went for “ends justify the means” road and Nathan was victimized by him and then all over again by his father ( unwillingly but who cares, result was just the same).  Normally I would be so very troubled at the very idea of Nathan going back to him. I actually thought Nathan’s comparison about his father and Jason both being zealots in some way was really well done.

I was also amused that at the end Nate addressed that very idea ( because him and Jason being together is likely to be in the public eye again).


"Nathan looked at him. “I think about... what kind of example it’ll set for the kids that have come through here. For gay kids all over. Because the media is probably gonna get wind of this, and it is gonna be a thing. And what does it tell young people, if I let myself be in a relationship with someone who abused me like that?”"

"“But I also think that this has to be about me now. It can’t be about what other people think of me. And can’t be about some... like, social definition of right and wrong. I believe that God’s the only one who can decide right and wrong. And people have to do what’s in their hearts. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. If I’m making a mistake with you—If, if it is a sin to be gay, or if it’s a sickness to want someone who’s hurt you… Then I’ll answer to God. And only God. Not my father. Not the media. Not even to the kids.”"


I think because Nate is a person of faith even though his faith is constantly evolving as he searches for answers throughout the book as to what his relationship with God should be, it helped me to buy his willingness to forgive Jason and it did not come easy to Nate either. I believed that he made his choice freely.

And what about Jason? I had no doubts at the end that he had his priorities straightened out and agonized over his choices almost from the beginning of the book but four years ago he did try to bring down the evil thing. It is almost as if the writers tried to show that in life there are often no neat answers to every question.


"“I don’t owe anyone anything!” he snapped. He shook his head, trying to clear it of the perpetual ache he seemed to live with now. “I’ve paid. Okay? I paid in Afghanistan. And I’m paying now, watching my aunt die. I pay every fucking time I see the scar on Nate’s wrist. I do not owe you. I do not owe ‘the world.’ The only one I owe anything to is Nate. And what I owe him is the choice I failed to give him before. The privacy he’s been denied over and over again.” Jason’s voice grew ragged. “Trotted out like a show animal by his father, for each new group of kids. Forced to fucking perform, to use his suffering to contribute to theirs. To deny who he was, and ask them to deny who they were. To defend his father, and that fucking disease of a camp…”


“But it wasn’t quite that simple. Age might cement beliefs, but it also put you on more intimate terms with uncertainty. Vulnerability. With everything that came to challenge those hard-won beliefs. The jaws that clamped around all your hopes and wishes and shook them until stuffing popped from the seams. Those beliefs, those dinosaurial certainties, became your toeholds on the crumbling mountain you were forced to climb. Jason felt like he’d aged a hundred fucking years since Tacoma. He could look back on that twenty-two year old who’d “leaked” a video of himself fucking Reverend Tull’s son and not have a clue why.


What sort of blinding stupidity, careening arrogance, or dearth of understanding had let him do that? But he could also look back, and somewhere, under scars and skin, feel the same blood pulsing through him, feel the same tough threads of righteousness holding together a frayed and faded man. He couldn’t escape what had happened by claiming he was a different person. He had to accept what he’d done into the whole of himself. He’d hurt Nate in a bone-deep way that nothing could ever justify. Collateral damage, he’d told himself when he couldn’t quite believe the lie that he was doing Nathan Tull a favor. Collateral damage. Well, that was something he and Reverend Tull had in common, wasn’t it?"


Overall I thought it was a very well written and quite dark book. I doubt I will ever reread it but I am glad I tried the story.



Relay (Changing Lanes Book 1) - Layla Reyne

Captain is not a title Alejandro “Alex” Cantu takes lightly. Elected by his teammates to helm the US Men’s Swim Team, he proudly accepts the role, despite juggling endless training, team administrative work, and helping out on the family farm. And despite his ex-lover, Dane Ellis—swimming’s biggest star—also making the Olympic Team. Dane has been a pawn in his celebrity parents’ empire from crib to pool, flashing his camera-ready smile on demand and staying deeply in the closet. Only once did he drop the act—the summer he fell in love with Alex. Ten years later, Dane longs to cut his parents’ strings, drop his too-bright smile, and beg Alex for another chance. Alex, though, isn’t ready to forgive and forget, and Dane is a distraction he doesn’t need on his team, until an injury forces Alex to accept Dane as his medley relay anchor. Working together, their passion reignites. When Dane’s parents threaten reprisal and Alex is accused of doping, the two must risk everything to prove Alex’s innocence, to love one another, and to win back their spots on the team, together.


Dear Layla Reyne,

I like watching Olympic swimming a lot and I enjoyed the first book in your series about FBI agents, so this book had all the potential to be a winning combination for me.  Alex and Dane fell in love when they were sixteen years old, however Dane left Alex rather than come out to his parents.

Ten years later they both made it in the sport and made the Olympic team again. As blurb tells you Alex is elected as a captain and Dane is one of the best players in the world. Could they work together for the good of the team? Will their romance resurface?

Let me be blunt, in the first twenty five – thirty percent of this book there was absolutely no way I would have thought that either of these guys was 26 years old. Immature behavior was on full display from both of them while they were supposed to train for the soon coming Olympics. I actually did not begrudge Alex the right to be upset over what happened between them ten years ago, but the degree to which the newly elected captain took it? You would begrudge your team mate who is the best swimmer in that stroke the place on the relay team? Seriously? That’s only one stunt he pulled and Dane was not too far from Alex in the immature behavior department for me.

At thirty percent of the book or so these guys decided to remember that they are Olympic swimmers and seemed to try to behave like ones, most of the time anyway. Despite what I wrote in the previous paragraph, I actually liked both of them. I did not feel like their behavior made sense from the 26 year olds adult males, but the author somehow still managed to elicit sympathy from me.

Dane’s parents were horrible, cartoonish villains if you will ask me. I do not call them cartoonish because they were awful. I do know that parents who are horrible to their LGBT kids are a plenty in real life still sadly. No, I rolled my eyes at their absolute boldness and entitlement to control Dane’s life and *his money*.

I never hold against any character their unwillingness to come out and I did not hold it against Dane. I probably said it before that if our society ever becomes a wonderful place where all people will feel safe to come out, I will be so happy. However as a straight woman even if that utopia ever happens it still won’t be my place to make any judgments about that. So, the fact that Dane was scared to come out did work for me, what *didn’t work* was the fact that at 26 years old he did nothing to assert the financial independence from his parents. It is not that I think that 26 year old cannot be controlled by evil parents or anybody else who is skilled enough to control the other person in many ways. No, I get that it is possible, but the author did not establish to my satisfaction why exactly Dane did not feel like he could tell his parents to take a hike instead of being in charge of his endorsements and generally run his life.

So this bothered me because I was not convinced that Dane could not just tell his parents bye bye much earlier than he did.

I actually liked some stuff in this book. I liked that even though we do not see Olympics just yet, we see training being shown. I liked the main characters together they were sweet and hot.

Grade: C

DNF after two chapters

Daughters of the Night Sky - Aimie K. Runyan

People who read my reviews know how rarely I do DNF reviews , pretty much never but this crappy book ( no I never judge the book after two chapters either usually) warrants that.


Also a note, because I do not follow many people and those few who follow me know some of my background - I am from the part of the world the book attempts to portray, I grew up with the books and movies and stories and books and movies about Great patriotic war. Of course some of them were propaganda pieces but a lot of them were really good and great. Oh and I had family members suffering and being killed in that war. It does not make me a great expert obviously, it especially does not make me an expert on "Night witches", on whose adventures the book is supposedly based, but "Night witches" were part of my casual knowledge about that war. Look it up if you don't know who those women were, they were heroes and they were awesome.


So, to be frank I would be tempted to give this book an F for the author note at the end alone - period.  I read two chapters, the main character did not sound as Russian woman in the 1930s, the setting did not come even close to Russia in the 1930s , friend who read first chapter told me it sounded more like American frontier (yay?) and I figured let me read what research author did.


She starts her note with basically she is not an expert on Russia, she is not an expert in Second world war, but she still felt the need to write this story. Let's rewind here ,  she is trying to write a story about the experiences of *Russian* women in the *Second world war*.


Now don't get me wrong , I do not expect a writer to *become* an expert in the setting of the book she is trying to write, but I sure as hell expect them to make a good faith attempt and nope, that was not it.  Guess what? Russian girls in 1930s were taught the same subjects as boys. The parents did not have to go and fight the teacher to let their daughters study math. Yep, it did happen and women studied and were accepted in the pilots schools before the war. Oh you know you also do not need to imply that the heroine hated Stalin. She sure *may have * but the chances are she didn't . She may have had no idea of him being a murderous dictator, but she was likely to think she was a good leaders. Millions of otherwise decent people who had nothing to do with murders and genocide died with Stalin's name on their lips during the war. UGH.

Well written but did not work for me

Daughter of Mystery - Heather  Rose Jones

Margerit Sovitre did not expect to inherit the Baron Saveze’s fortunes—and even less his bodyguard. The formidable Barbara, of unknown parentage and tied to the barony for secretive reasons, is a feared duelist, capable of defending her charges with efficient, deadly force.

Equally perplexing is that while she is now a highly eligible heiress, Margerit did not also inherit the Saveze title, and the new baron eyes the fortunes he lost with open envy. Barbara, bitter that her servitude is to continue, may be the only force that stands between Margerit and the new Baron’s greed—and the ever deeper layers of intrigue that surround the ill-health of Alpennia’s prince and the divine power from rituals known only as The Mysteries of the Saints.

At first Margerit protests the need for Barbara’s services, but soon she cannot imagine sending Barbara away—for reasons of state and reasons of the heart.

Heather Rose Jone debuts with a sweeping story rich in intrigue and the clash of loyalties and love.





Dear Heather Rose Jones,


I got interested in your book after I saw it mentioned on File 770. I bought it a while ago so I did not remember much from the review that intrigued me except that it talked about fantasy, adventure and lesbian romance.  This sounded exactly like my cup of tea, however I started the book twice and put it down before I managed to finish it just now before writing this review.


I will be honest first few chapters (despite very good writing) bored me silly.


I was not sure why I should care about Margerit. Oh she seemed like a nice enough young woman, who wanted to be a scholar and who suddenly inherited a fortune from the godfather she did not know too well and together with that fortune she inherited her godfather's duelist Barbara.



Was Barbara late Baron's slave? Well, the story Baron told Barbara was that he bought her ,so in the beginning my answer was absolutely yes. She was treated well, but she did not seem to have personal freedom to leave his employment, and as I said Margerit seemed to inherit her with her Godfather's fortune. The man promised Barbara to free her upon his death but never did. Ooops.


Margerit attempts to free Barbara when will is read, but it becomes clear that she would lose the inheritance if she tries and that in a couple of years when she and Barbara reach the majority, some other terms in the will shall come into play and Barbara's situation may change.  So she becomes Margerit's bodyguard (armin) and duelist if needed. It seemed that the narrative wanted me to accept her situation and move along which I tried to do.


And then we are dealing with Margerit's  adjusting to her new role as heiress and her figuring out how to leave her uncle's house and start her own household in order to start attending lectures in the university and  I  just did not care.  I was not sure why Margerit was interesting as a character and I even felt guilty because here is the woman who is supposedly living in the fictional equivalent of 18 or 19 century European country ( not sure which one - some reviews said Austria, some reviews said Germany, I will leave it up to the readers to decide which country Alpenia reminded them the most of) and who wants to escape the conventional route of marriage for her and become a scholar. 


I *should have * loved her journey and empathized with her, but I did not and I place the blame solely on the writing for failing to convince me .


Did you know that Margerit has a gift?  Only what are the implications of that gift had not become clear to me till 57% of the long book ( over 6000 locations ) on my kindle.  See, for a long time I could not figure out why the heck the story would belong in the fantasy genre.  Oh, I understood that since it was not strictly historical, it could be called historical fantasy for that reason alone, but reviews talked about magic and I was reading and thinking - hey magic, please feel free to show up any time now.


Eventually I realized that the religious ritual of mysteries ( asking Saints to answer people's prayers) was supposed to be the magic of this book, and Margerit's gift lied in that area, but once again for the longest time it was discussed in such abstract that I could not figure out why should I care. It seemed like such an important point and something Margerit enjoyed reading about and wanting to study and I was growing more and more impatient, wondering when will we see mysteries in action.  This happened in the second half of the book and overall the second half moved faster than the first one which I liked, but I still failed to be fascinated if that makes sense.


There is a building romance in the book which should be very much front and center.  I really liked Barbara and by the end of the book I stopped being irritated by Margerit, but I felt no chemistry between them ( the romance is not explicit but when I talk about the lack of chemistry it is not a substitute for the lack of sex).  They seemed to become good friends, but I just did not see them as lovers.


Grade: C-

Wedding Bellskis

Wedding Bellskis (Holidays with the Bellskis Book 3) - Astrid Amara

Wedding Belskis (Holidays with the Bellskis book 3)

Seth Bellski and Lars Varga have opened their own law firm that specializes in representing the underrepresented--whistleblowers, disadvantaged employees, and those lacking power. The good news is, business is never slow. But that also means they are busy when all Seth really wants to do is plan his pending nuptials. So when his brother-in-law approaches him with concerns about his own business, and when Lars's brother gives them the cold treatment, Seth wishes he could just tune them all out. But holidays are all about families, even the annoying members. If Seth and Lars are going to enjoy their joint Hanukkah/Christmas celebration this year, they're going to have to deal with the brother that has a problem, and the brother that IS the problem. And do so before anything else comes in the way of them and their happily ever after.


What was it about being a decent, social human being that required one to persistently attend compulsory social engagements? Seth wasn’t introverted by nature, but he also preferred spending his time with people who shared more than a last name and a predisposition for maple syrup urine disease. He had a profound distaste for small talk in general, especially with people that he needed something from—in this case, a long-term affability. "


Dear Astrid Amara,

Seth and Lars are probably my favorite characters from your Hanukah novellas and I was so happy to meet them again, I suspect that this was the last time and if so, their story ended on pitch perfect note for me. Almost a decade passed in their world since we first met Seth and Lars in the first novella of this mini trilogy “Carol of the Bellskis”, which SaraF reviewed here at DA. As blurb states Seth and Lars have their own law firm and a lot of their clients are “little guys”, in particular they are taking a lot of employment discrimination cases.

Holidays are approaching and after another case almost ended ( we see the end of the trial and the only thing left is to wait for the judge’s ruling), Lars proposed and of course Seth accepted and now it looks like Holidays are going to be busier and more stressful than usual for both of them. We also learn that Lars’ family decided to come and visit for the Hanukah/Christmas celebrations and Lars decided to tell them about upcoming wedding in person.

I said it before and I will say it again, I am perfectly okay with reading stories about the men meeting for the first time and the book ending at the moment when they decide to stay together, but I love the stories which show what happens after that moment, I love the stories which show the challenges which established couples may face and grow as a couple and realize once again that they belong together. I love those stories.

This novella is a story about established couple. Seth and Lars had been together for ten years, give or take. I say give or take, because I am not sure from what moment we were supposed to count the decade they had been together, but no matter what they had been together for a while. They had been through a lot, and they are still deeply in love even if to some degree their love transformed into something different than what it was in the beginning.

"Seth had once imagined finding his soul mate would mean two minds becoming one, a constant state of partnership and bliss. But Lars wasn’t his soul mate. He was nothing sacred or special. He was a man who left whiskers in the bathroom sink and still thought burping a song was funny. But he was also the man Seth loved more than anyone else on this earth. There may not be astral strings entwining the two of them, but after nearly a decade of waking up in each other’s arms, Seth couldn’t define where his life ended and Lars’s began. And that seemed more tangible, real, and valuable than any fairytale soul mate."

The conflicts in this story were mostly of the external type and I appreciated that a lot, it is not that couple who was together for a long time cannot have problems (I am aware that divorces after long term marriages do happen!), but I always worry that I will not be convinced that the conflict in the long term fictional relationship will make sense and will indeed cause problems between two people who were so much in love after the first two stories ended. I appreciated that the writer did not try to break them up, especially because the story was on the shorter side and it would take a lot to make me believe that Seth and Lars decide that they did not want to be together anymore.

Believe me, they had enough to deal with in this novella and preparation for the wedding was only a part of that.

I appreciated that legal part of the story once again made sense to me ( yes, the judges do not always issue a decision from the bench right away), I appreciated that in Seth and Lars we saw the lawyers who practiced law not just because they loved the job and wanted to make a living ( which is a perfectly respectable reason to practice law or any profession if you ask me), but also because they wanted to help people.

Oh and this is a Hanukah novella, so of course the holiday is a backdrop for the story, and as always I liked and appreciated it.

I am having a hard time naming something that I did not like about the story therefore my grade is A-.

Pleasure to read but I expected more creativity with the set up

It Takes Two to Tumble: Seducing the Sedgwicks - Cat Sebastian

Some of Ben Sedgwick’s favorite things:

  • Helping his poor parishioners
  • Baby animals
  • Shamelessly flirting with the handsome Captain Phillip Dacre


After an unconventional upbringing, Ben is perfectly content with the quiet, predictable life of a country vicar, free of strife or turmoil. When he’s asked to look after an absent naval captain’s three wild children, he reluctantly agrees, but instantly falls for the hellions. And when their stern but gloriously handsome father arrives, Ben is tempted in ways that make him doubt everything.


Some of Phillip Dacre’s favorite things:

  • His ship
  • People doing precisely as they're told
  • Touching the irresistible vicar at every opportunity


Phillip can’t wait to leave England’s shores and be back on his ship, away from the grief that haunts him. But his children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors and he must set things right. The unexpected presence of the cheerful, adorable vicar sets his world on its head and now he can’t seem to live without Ben’s winning smiles or devastating kisses.


In the midst of runaway children, a plot to blackmail Ben’s family, and torturous nights of pleasure, Ben and Phillip must decide if a safe life is worth losing the one thing that makes them come alive.  




Dear Cat Sebastian,


I enjoyed all of your previous works, and for that reason I preordered this book as soon as I saw that Amazon made it available for the preorder.  And overall  I had a good time with the story. Same as in your previous stories the main characters were so easy to like.


Ben, who became a vicar not necessarily because of being very religious person, but because he thought that this was the best path to do the right thing , to help poor and needy parishioners stole my heart almost from the moment he appeared on page.


I liked him even more when I realized that the man did not take himself too seriously and after I saw him playing with the ducklings (don't ask!) I was a goner and only wanted the best for the guy.


Of course he would agree to look after three motherless children whose father was not back from the sea in a long time, I was pleased to see how well Ben dealt with the children.


As an aside, children characters in the romance book or any book do not usually bother me, unless I do not like how they are written, same way I may enjoy or not enjoy any adult character and I loved all three kids in this story, they felt real to me and I very much wanted them to be happy.


And when Philip comes home the sweet dance begins.  Philip may have no clue how to relate to his children after have not seeing them for few years while being at sea and he may be really used to issuing commands, but I liked him too, a lot I have to say.


It was a joy watching him relearning how to interact with the kids and actually getting to know them all over again and of course seeing him and Ben dance around each other and figure out that they cannot be without one another.


This story just as all previous Cat Sebastian's books are low on angst and for me that worked. The characters have issues to overcome, but it was done in a low key way.


Another thing I liked in all previous books by this writer was that the women our characters have to interact with are not cartoonish, not demonized and this book was no exception.


You would ask if I liked everything, why the grade is not higher then?  Simple - as much as I enjoyed the plot and the characters interacting and figuring out what to do with their lives, separately as individuals and together as a couple, I expected more creative set up. I know romance has tropes and I know sometimes it is not possible to avoid giving a nod to other creations of popular culture, but this set up read to me as almost being lift up whole sale from "The Sound of Music" and I was disappointed because of that.


Grade: B-

I really enjoyed this novella

All Systems Red - Martha Wells

A murderous android discovers itself in All Systems Red, a tense science fiction adventure by Martha Wells that interrogates the roots of consciousness through Artificial Intelligence.

"As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete failure."

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it's up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.




Dear Martha Wells,


I found out about this novella in the same place where I get most of my SFF recommendations - Mike Glyer's "File 770".


I was always drawn to the stories featuring androids of all kinds and enjoyed reading about how those characters perceive themselves in the stories and what made them tick.


I thought Murderbot was a great character, I loved Its voice so much. The character has It pronoun in the books and when others say It the Murderbot does not seem to mind, so I am going to continue referring to them as It.


Basically blurb gives you a perfect set up. Murderbot is assigned to the team who has important stuff to do on the certain planet , but somebody or certain somebodies decides to sabotage them and Murderbot does its best to help "my humans".


We are in Murderbot's head all the time and the story is written from Its first person POV, therefore it makes sense to me that Murderbot has the most in-depth characterization. I did not think any of the human characters came even close to that depth, but they were okay, definitely interesting chess pieces who had potential if the writer would decide to give them bigger parts to play in the series ( yes it is a series, at least two more books are coming up next year based on what I saw on Amazon).


So, who is Murderbot? This droid has a dark past and for that reason refers to itself as Murderbot. It was however a wonderful character who wanted to do the job well and protect the humans to the best of its ability.


Murderbot also did not want to have any ( or as little as possible) social interactions with the team it was protecting and just wanted to be left alone to watch the serial it loved for many hours. In other words Murderbot was shy and it made for some delightfully snarky monologues we were privy to.


"Confession time: I don’t actually know where we are. We have, or are supposed to have, a complete satellite map of the planet in the survey package. That was how the humans decided where to do their assessments. I hadn’t looked at the maps yet and I’d barely looked at the survey package. In my defense, we’d been here twenty-two planetary days and I hadn’t had to do anything but stand around watching humans make scans or take samples of dirt, rocks, water, and leaves. The sense of urgency just wasn’t there. Also, you may have noticed, I don’t care."



"What was I supposed to do, kill all humans because the ones in charge of constructs in the company were callous? Granted, I liked the imaginary people on the entertainment feed way more than I liked real ones, but you can’t have one without the other."


"Yes, talk to Murderbot about its feelings. The idea was so painful I dropped to 97 percent efficiency. I’d rather climb back into Hostile One’s mouth."



We get to see how action/adventure plot makes our narrator (Murderbot) not grow up exactly, because its not a child, but I guess figuring out something more than they want from life and I thought it was a lot of fun and look forward to their new adventures.


Grade B/B+



Tap Dancing the Minefields by Lyn Gala

Sometimes the fiercest battle a man faces is against himself.


In the hidden alleyways of New York City, George “Tank” Tankersley defeated what he believed were demons. But the victory cost too much. Tank joined the Army in the hope of outrunning the guilt haunting him—only to stumble into a vast and deadly conspiracy, the enemies he’d hoped to never encounter again, and the arms of the brilliant, eccentric scientist tasked with saving humanity.


In a world where the line between dark magic and alien science is thin, Dr. Lev Underwood must reverse engineer recovered alien technology to give humans a fighting chance against the extraterrestrial beings who consider Earth nothing more than a petri dish. His old friend, Colonel Clyde Aldrich, wants to protect Lev from entanglement with the scarred and emotionally volatile young soldier, but Lev cannot help the pull he feels toward Tank. Still, his first loyalty is to the secret government program, and love might have to take a back seat to protecting the world. But if he can find a way, Lev wants both.



Dear Lyn Gala,

I have reviewed a lot of your books here at DA and hopefully will review more. Over the years you became one of the most reliable m/m writers for me, but even if I did not like the story much, your stories always gave me something to discuss and something to think about and I appreciate it very much.

I have to admit, that while I obviously expected SF adventure to take place in this book, based on the blurb, the book was nothing that I expected it to be and I think it was a good thing.

For that very reason the review was a bit painful to write, since every other sentence felt like a spoilerish one to me. I took almost all of it now and if the review became too vague, please forgive me readers, but I am very much convinced that you have to experience this story almost entirely on your own.

So, we have a young soldier ( twenty year old) George Tankersley aka Tank joining the army and Tank who spent his formative years in New York gets to join a strange army base in Alaska.

The story is written in third person limited POV and it switches between Tank and Colonel Clyde Aldrich, which to me worked perfectly. I think I understand why the author needed Clyde’s POV in addition to Tank’s - Tank was not a very reliable narrator, but I will be curious to hear what other readers think.

Almost from the outset we learn that Tank has a past, but the author kept teasing and hinting as to what kind of past he had and once again it was *not* what something I imagined. I also really liked that the story of what Tank endured as a teenager kept coming in tantalizing bits and pieces instead of coming as one or two long info dumps. I do not like info dumps, I understand that occasionally those might be necessary, but I still prefer when the writer does something else and creative choice made in this book was something I really enjoyed.

I also wonder what was supposed to be the main theme of the story. Several book buddies of mine found structural problems in the story which I did not see and still do not see, but I think that part of the reason they saw the issues I didn’t was because while I definitely think that the story had an obvious adventure storyline front and center, I think Tank’s journey of self-discovery and coming to terms with his past was the main storyline.   If I am right (of course opinions will differ), then everything else (even love story) existed to push Tank’s story forward and I think it was handled very well.

Speaking about a love story, please beware that the heroes fall for each other pretty fast, but once again, to me it felt quite appropriate for this specific book.   As I said before, to me the focus was on Tank and his journey, for that reason it made sense that the writer did not really do full blown relationship development.  And of course there was adventure, just because I was not sure whether the adventure was the focal point of the story does not mean it was not there. In any event just wanted to be clear that this was one of those rare occasions when Insta! Love did not bother me.

It also helped that I really liked Lev. I thought his character (same as Tank’s) had a lot of depth and his flaws and good qualities complimented Tank’s. Basically the writer made me believe that these two have a shot at staying together long term.

I thought several secondary characters also had a lot of depth and I was eager to get to know them if more books will come later. There is no indication that this is a first book in the series, but considering that stand alone novels are becoming more and more rare and several questions were not answered,  my speculation is that sequels may indeed happen.

Even the title of this book feels as close to perfect as they come to me. Here is an attempt at explanation from the book.

"“I should be out there.” Tank looked at the door. If he even tried to leave base, some officer was going to shove him in the stockade and call Aldrich in the morning, but Tank still felt that itch to try. He was tap-dancing through a minefield, but he couldn’t hear the music—and he wasn’t sure which wrong step might lead to failure or more dead friends or alien enslavement. Without someone giving him better directions, he only knew how to keep on flailing and hoping he didn’t set off one of the mines, even while he knew he would. The sense of impending doom was a second skin clinging to him”.

Please beware of the potential line editing issues as often happens with this publisher. As I said many times before I tend to miss a lot of the problems and this is even more true if I loved the book as much as I did this one.

Grade: B+


Liked well enough but

The Necessary Deaths (Delingpole Mysteries) - David C Dawson

The Delingpole Mysteries: Book One A young journalism student lies unconscious in a hospital bed in Brighton, England. His life hangs in the balance after a drug overdose. But was it attempted suicide or attempted murder? The student's mother persuades British lawyer Dominic Delingpole to investigate, and Dominic enlists the aid of his outspoken opera singer partner, Jonathan McFadden. The student's boyfriend discovers compromising photographs hidden in his lover's room. The photographs not only feature senior politicians and business chiefs, but the young journalist himself. Is he being blackmailed, or is he the blackmailer? As Dominic and Jonathan investigate further, their lives are threatened and three people are murdered. They uncover a conspiracy that reaches into the highest levels of government and powerful corporations. The people behind it are ruthless, and no one can be trusted. The bond between Dominic and Jonathan deepens as they struggle not only for answers, but for their very survival.


Dear David C. Dawson,

Your book was languishing in my TBR list almost for a year now till I saw the second book coming out and deciding to read the first one.

Readers please beware, this is NOT a romance, this is a gay mystery with romantic elements and if you decide to try this one I suggest adjusting your expectations accordingly.

Blurb describes the set up quite well. Dominic gets involved in the case initially by accident, when he observes his neighbor losing conscience after receiving news about her son being in the hospital after the suicide attempt.

Dominic decides to drive her to Brighton since he feels bad for her and feels a little bit conflicted about what to do if she would ask for free legal advice. He also decides that this is a good chance to visit his lover Jonathan, with whom they had been together for couple of years, even though they were not living together.

Once Dominic and Samantha get to Brighton and Samantha gets to visit her son’s bedside the events starts to unfold really fast. Somebody is trying to kill Simon while he is still in coma, Dominic and Jonathan also get involved once again initially at least partially by chance, but then they decide to get involved in the investigation.

Samantha was convinced from the beginning that something was wrong. She was persistent that Simon did not do drugs and he was not in the state of mind to try suicide. Now it is pretty clear that it was not a suicide, but murder attempt, what is less clear however who is behind all of these events?

Dominic and Jonathan initially get involved in the investigation because Samantha asked Dominic for advice after all (not a free one), however very soon Dominic finds several other reasons to stay involved. I was okay with all those reasons, although I rolled my eyes at how fast Dominic decided to not inform the police about several important things they discovered. I may have mentioned it before that when I start the book about private sleuth; I expect to do a certain suspension of disbelief as to how and why the guy would start the investigation and why he would be the main investigator instead of law enforcement. I however expect the author to help me out some and in this story I just did not think that he did do that much. Dominic is a lawyer for crying out loud and I expected better from him.

Even though overall suspense/mystery plot felt very over the top to me, I liked it, it was fast moving and entertaining, there were several chapters closer to the end that I was reading very fast, because I was anxious to see how it will all get resolved and to me the resolution was satisfying enough.

Now, let me talk about romantic storyline. As I said the story is not a romance, but it has a romantic couple and I think it is fair to talk about it.

Dominic and Jonathan are in the open relationship and I want to stress that I am an odd romance reader in that regard, I am more than happy to have a gay couple in the loving open relationship in my romance, and this is not even a romance, this is a gay mystery with romantic elements, so I feel like gay couple in the open relationship could be even more at home in this book.

But you know, I expect the open relationship in such a book to be something that both partners want and it was made abundantly clear to me that it is something Dominic agrees with for Jonathan’s sake (Jonathan wanted the freedom to hook up with other guys while Dominic was not there) but not something Dominic likes, or would have preferred to if I was his choice. So bottom line is Jonathan pissed me off for being an ass and the end of romantic storyline was not convincing to me.

I do not think I will be in any hurry to read the second book sadly even if I liked the mystery and Dominic well enough.

Grade: B-