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Romance and other things

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.  

 

Review:

 

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.

 

Review:

 

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+

 

SPOILER ALERT!

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.

 

Review:

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+

SPOILER ALERT!

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.

Review:

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-

SPOILER ALERT!

I liked but had some issues

Bring Me the Dead - Becky Black

A million years, ago a galactic empire fell. That ancient empire is a source of many things. Wonder, knowledge, academic careers, and treasure. Treasure is what Beau Johnson seeks, tracking down artifacts for high-paying clients. Once a top student at the specialist institute for the study of the ancient empire, Beau rejected respectable archaeology and academia in favor of adventure. Unlike his one-time rival Park Ki-tae, a brilliant student who became an enforcement agent tasked with keeping Imperial artifacts out of private collections. Beau thinks Ki-tae needs to loosen up, have more fun, and stop making it his life's work to send Beau to jail. Ki-tae thinks Beau is a rogue and a criminal, and that it was a big mistake to sleep with him that one time... When a client sends Beau after a legendary artifact that allows communication with the dead, Ki-tae pursues, sure that this time he'll nail Beau. But circumstances force them to work together and deal with the feelings for each other they've both long denied. They have very different plans for the artifact they're seeking--if it's not a myth. Will they ever agree on their plans, or on anything else at all?

 

Review:

Dear Becky Black, as I said quite a few times I tend to gravitate towards m/m stories set in SFF or mystery setting. By now of course I read quite a few good contemporary books, but if the story is a science fiction or mystery, it is always an extra attraction for me.  The blurb of your book promised space opera and “from enemies to lovers” romance, so of course I one clicked.

Let me say right away that overall I did like the story even if I had some issues. The major issues was a world building.  I would argue that on the macro level it was vague almost non- existent; certainly the readers should not expect to find themselves in the new and complex imaginary world.  As the blurb states the Empire felt, apparently hundred thousand years ago (or maybe not – I made this conclusion based on the one sentence that empire fell when the humanity was learning to throw rocks, or something like that). Maybe it fell further back in time to when the events in the story are taking place, or closer in time, I am not sure.

Apparently the Empire left behind many interesting artifacts on various planets and now there are people who collect them, people who find them (and finding the artifacts could be very dangerous affair) and there are people who are working for the government  and arrest people who collect the artifacts on behalf of the collectors or for themselves if those artifacts are protected.

Beau and Kie – Tau were the students in the Institute together, only Beau chose the life of artifact collector and Kie chose the life on the other side .  In the very beginning Beau and his work partner Marz are offered a job by the very rich client whom they worked for before.  The client told them that he has a lead on the famous artifact and he wants Beau and Marz to investigate the lead.  The problem is that every collector, every artifact hunter, everybody who studied the Empire knows that such artifact does not exist. Or does it?  The client offers a lot of money even if they will only go and investigate and if they find the non-existent Holy Graal of this world he offers Beau and Marz and their crew ten million dollars.

Beau comes from the one of the richest families on Earth, he really does not need money, but he is tempted by the possibility to set his crew up for life and of course even if there is only tiny chance that artifact is a real thing he is tempted by that tiny chance as well. They decide to take the job.

Small complication to their mission is that Beau’s nemesis and former classmate Ki-Tae who now works for the Institute learned about the mission and decided to see if he would be able to arrest Beau.

Beau and Ki-Tae were students in the institute together but chose different sides of the barricades after graduation. They also slept together once few years ago, but every time they see each other now they fight.  I am a little bit conflicted as to how I feel about the execution of “from enemies to lovers” in this book.  On one hand, sure the guys have perfect reasons to dislike each other.

As I said they are on the different sides of the barricades. I also liked that they had been attracted to each other and at least seemed to realize that the attraction was part of the package. They did not come to the realization somewhere in the middle of the book that they don’t just hate each other, but also have the mutual angry attraction going on.  When this happens, I always want to smack the characters across their heads, because to me it makes them sound stupid.

Here I felt that both men were aware what was going on and tried to fight it (kind of tried anyway) for some time. What was missing for me is that pretty quickly I decided that the reason for them being on different sides of the barricades was not all that convincing.  So Beau and Marz and their small crew collect artifacts.   They collect artifacts and rich collectors pay them money to go on adventure and risk their lives.  The Institute as a Government Institution seemed to feel that protected artifacts need to be out on display for everybody to see or the private collectors should at least loan them to Institute for their research.

I guess I just wanted to ask Kite Tai what was Beau doing which was so bad, if he tried for a little objectivity. Institute wants to study something that private collector got their hands on first? Go talk to this collector and negotiate, pay them a fee for studying the item they got. I did not even get the impression that Beau and Co were thieves. I have no problem with the fictional thieves by the way, if I like the characters and their motives, but was Beau even doing that? I was not clear.

And mind you, what does it mean that the artifact is protected? Is there a law that forbids private collectors to take those? If such law existed, I could at least understand why Kie Tae wanted to place Beau under arrest.   Once again I was not sure.  And the artifact Beau was trying to find in this story was not even protected because how can one protect something that does not exist and the official story was that it did not exist.

What I saw in Beau was modern Indiana Jones ( I only make this comparison because he was finding interesting things – I watched movies years ago and do not remember the plot), who was born to the life of privilege ( his Grandma was the US president at some point), but who seemed like a decent guy who cared about his partner and his employees and who cared about Kie Tau a whole lot, their mutual snarling notwithstanding.

By the way I do not blame Kie Tau for disliking Beau in the story, I just do not think that the author went into too much depth to tell me why, but she probably meant to portray him and his team as the law breakers, I just wish I knew which laws they were breaking

I feel like I spent a lot of time criticizing the world building, but when the adventure started I thought it was a lot of fun. The characters faced some serious danger, they learned some things about themselves and at the end I liked both men better than I liked them at the beginning of the story. To me this usually means that both of them grew up at least a little bit and I liked that.  I also appreciated that several sex scenes did not interrupt the flow of the story and happened at times when the characters were not in mortal danger, because I hate when the mortal danger is put on hold. I mean I think one was pushing it, but I could still buy that when they knew that the bad guy would board their ship several hours later they would have plenty of time to get some sex in in case they will die soon. Stretching, but possible if you ask me.

 

What I also appreciated very much was the ending. For me it was strong HFN ending in their personal lives, but in their professional lives we leave the guys as they are about to face pretty serious repercussions for the events that took place earlier in the book.  I liked that it was not an ending with the neat bow.

Grade : B-

 

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT!

Dali By E.M. Hamill

Dalí - E.M. Hamill

Dalí Tamareia has everything—a young family and a promising career as an Ambassador in the Sol Fed Diplomatic Corps. Dalí’s path as a peacemaker seems clear, but when their loved ones are killed in a terrorist attack, grief sends the genderfluid changeling into a spiral of self-destruction. Fragile Sol Fed balances on the brink of war with a plundering alien race. Their skills with galactic relations are desperately needed to broker a protective alliance, but in mourning, Dalí no longer cares, seeking oblivion at the bottom of a bottle, in the arms of a faceless lover, or at the end of a knife. The New Puritan Movement is rising to power within the government, preaching strict genetic counseling and galactic isolation to ensure survival of the endangered human race. Third gender citizens like Dalí don’t fit the mold of this perfect plan, and the NPM will stop at nothing to make their vision become reality. When Dalí stumbles into a plot threatening changelings like them, a shadow organization called the Penumbra recruits them for a rescue mission full of danger, sex, and intrigue, giving Dalí purpose again. Risky liaisons with a sexy, charismatic pirate lord could be Dalí’s undoing—and the only way to prevent another deadly act of domestic terrorism.

 

Review:

Dear E.M. Hamill, I stumbled upon your book by accident when I was reading Amazon reviews for another book and decided to check out more reviews by somebody whose review I enjoyed.

I decided to take a chance on your book, and I am very glad I did. However I want to warn romance readers that this book IS NOT A ROMANCE. The last sentence is not trying to signal the beginning of romance either – not at all! It signals at something dark, dangerous and complicated, something Dali did as part of the rescue mission (even if it ended up being sexually satisfying for him too). 

There is another person in the book whom Dali met early enough but ended up having strictly business arrangement with for 99 percent of the story. At the end basically this person is raising the question whether the flirting is out of the question and Dali seemed to be okay with that, but nothing happens on page and if the story were to continue it may or may not happen in the next book. I strongly suspect that the second book is possible, because this book ends without answering pretty big question Dali needs answered and it is hinted that it could be answered later, but we shall see I guess.

Now when I told you what this book is not, I can tell you what this story is. I thought it was a great science fiction with the excellent, detailed world building, complicated political fights taking place and great narrator called Dali.  In the blurb Dali is called gender-fluid changeling and that’s how I imagine them and think about them – gender-fluid human being. However, in order not to misstate the author’s intention as to who Dali is, I will quote from the glossary at the end of the book.

 

"Third-gender: An intersex human being, usually with a dominant set of male or female reproductive organs.

Changeling Third-gender: A genetic mutation within the third-gender population, these individuals possess neither male nor female gonads and are incapable of reproduction. Their anatomy has specialized hormonal glands, which allow them to assume of a male or female, at will. They possess a vaginal-like organ without a cervix or uterus, and spongy, nerve-filled tissue in the mons, or pubic area, which can become internally or externally engorged. When externally erect the mons can serve the sexual function of male genitalia."

The book is very well written and as blurb tells you at the beginning of the story, Dali is in the spiral of self – destruction. Dali’s career in the diplomatic corps was doing very well and their emphatic talents and pacifist leanings made them very well suited to the work he excelled at.

Till one day his beloved young husband and pregnant wife were killed in the explosion and Dali had been reliving that explosion for several months. The reader can feel Dali’s grief and Dali is self-destructing, they are looking for the fights, for the dangerous sex, for the alcohol, anything that can give them oblivion. One of his oldest friends suggests Dali visit the planet where he learned the defense system which is part of the philosophy Dali tried to live by before the attack claimed the lives of his family.

Visit to the planet seems to help Dali a little bit to start living although of course their grief does not magically disappear or anything like that. However very soon after Dali’s stay on the planet began, somebody from the mercenary organization that is mentioned in the blurb recruits them. They learned that changelings had been disappearing and as much as Dali concentrates on his own grief they decide to participate in the mission that may help them to shed light on what was going on.

Dali was such an interesting character, somebody who lived his whole life as a pacifist (Dali served and very well trained in self-defense, they just never killed a person before), but who is now discovering where darker desires may lead them , even if such dark desires serve good purpose.

The large scale political fight in Dali’s home system was mixed up with the fight for the third gender folks’ rights and of course some of the political stuff invoked easy parallels with the today world, but I did not feel that it was anything else than part of this specific story, it made sense in this specific fictional world as well if that makes sense.  

I think most of the characters in this story which had more than one sentence to speak were interesting and several had nice shades of grey, I would love to learn more about them as well, not just about Dali.

I want to end with another note about what this book was not. Despite throwing me into the detailed and interesting world, I did not feel that this book was an escapist read. I am not only talking about associations with the real world, not at all. I am talking about Dali’s state of mind. Dali at the end of the book feels better than in the beginning and it felt that the new path they chose to travel on suited them. However, I felt that for the most of the story they were in the dark state of mind, which made perfect sense, but we are in their head all the time and to me this was not a comfort read at all.

Grade: B+/A-

I liked but

Kill Game (Seven of Spades) (Volume 1) - Cordelia Kingsbridge

I had issues with the only book by this writer I had read prior to this one ( the one that was also published by Riptide), but I remember finding it compulsively readable and deciding to give this one a try.

 

I think the words "compulsively readable" applies to this story too, or should I say to the beginning of the story, because this is the first of five books I believe. Is it series? I am not sure and to be honest with you I am very nervous to see whether the writer would be able to keep the tension up for five books, because from what I understand this is just one story in five parts and what will be happening is the development of the one investigation of the serial killings and one budding romance.

 

This is the part where their romance *just started*, strong attraction is there, but Levi just broke up with the boyfriend of three years whom he still has some feelings for and what they had besides attraction and being entangled in the investigation of serial killer is basically rebound sex. Speaking about sex - we only have one sex scene thank goodness, which made perfect sense considering that Levi was just out of the serious relationship and the sex scene started at 73 percent of the  story or so, but did it have to be so freaking detailed, almost pornographic really? It was as if the writer was told, or decided on her own to make up for the fact that they were not having sex on every page with the length and explicitness of this one.

 

Sex scene aside, I really liked both Levi and Dominic. As much as I like the romance where both men are clearly alphas, I always worry that what I get with this type of pairing is GFY trope, and I had been consciously avoiding this one for quite some time now. Luckily, this was not what was happening here, not even close. Levi identifies as gay, we do not hear how Dominic identifies ( gay or bi, or anything else) or if we do, I missed it, except we do know that he does not think of himself as straight and definitely likes men.

 

I liked that the author kept  their initial sniping to the believable amount of page space and a little bit of hostility in the beginning did not last during the whole book. Once they know they can trust each other in the work environment, they do so and I thought on the personal level trust was there too, even if as I said their romance is in the very early stages.

 

The serial killer investigation is just as important if not more important than romance. We have the vigilante killer who seems to fancy themselves being able to do what law enforcement could not have done, because they seem to kill people who either escaped punishment or gotten much lesser punishment than they should have  done. That killer also took weird personal interest in Levi and  Dominic - at some point even protecting Levi's life.

 

As I said before I was very engaged in the thriller/mystery storyline, but I also think that the killer was glaringly obvious same as one major red herring. We shall see if I am correct in the next books.

 

Grade B

SPOILER ALERT!

Good anthology

The Long Past: & Other Stories - Ginn Hale

The Long Past and Other Stories

1858 –Warring mages open up a vast inland sea that splits the United States in two. With the floodwaters come creatures from a long distant past. What seems like the End Times forges a new era of heroes and heroines who challenge tradition, law, and even death as they transform the old west into a new world. --In the heart of dinosaur country a laconic trapper and a veteran mage risk treason to undertake a secret mission. --A brilliant magician and her beautiful assistant light up stages with the latest automaton, but the secrets both of them are hiding test their trust in each other and pit them against one of the most powerful men in the world. --At the wild edge of the Inland Sea, amidst crocodiles and triceratops, an impoverished young man and a Pinkerton Detective must join forces to outmaneuver a corrupt judge and his gunmen.

 

Review:

Dear Ginn Hale, your publicist sent an ARC copy of this book to DA which ended up in my email box as well, but I have not started reading till the book was out on Amazon and I purchased it.

Usually I have no will power when it comes to your books, but I think that I just could not bring myself to get too excited about the dinosaurs. I do not hate the creatures, but I was never inspired to learn more about them behind school history lessons.

I also have to warn the readers. There is a warning in the beginning of the book, but there is nothing on Amazon, so beware second and third story in this book were previously published in the different anthologies. The second one “The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus” was in “Magic & Mayhem” from GRNW Press 2016 and the third one “Get Lucky” in the “Once Upon a Time in the Weird West” anthology from Dreamspinner Press. I also know that “Get Lucky” was expanded but I am not sure how significantly because I have not reread its previous reincarnation before starting this book.

I did not think that I have read “The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus”, but now when I am finished I know that I have at least started it before, so I do have that anthology somewhere on my kindle. Sadly, my impression remains the same, I found the second story to be least impressive out of the three and I am pretty sure that I DNFed it the first time around.

Let’s go back to the beginning though. My indifference towards the dinosaurs notwithstanding the writer created a fascinating world in these stories. It reflected some dark events in the real American history, but it has magic (and the way Ginn Hale shows how magic works in her fictional worlds is one of my favorite ones in history) and it has dinosaurs of all kinds coming back from the long forgotten past due to stupidity or arrogance and carelessness of some of the mages.

The time frame of these stories is from 1858 to 1900.

The first story which gave the name to the anthology is called “The Long Past” and takes place in the Collorado territory in the year 1864. This was my favorite story in this book and the longest one. I do not think that I enjoyed it the most simply because it was the longest novella ( it occupies roughly half of the book ), but because it was the longest novella I suspect the writer had more pages to flesh out the characters and plot.

The three stories feature different characters but since they cover over forty years in the history of this world, the most significant events that changed the timeline of this world from ours were mentioned even briefly in all three stories. “The Long Past” starts in the beginning, or to be more precise six years from the beginning – when the mages opened the rifts, which caused various natural disasters, killed many people, split America in two and brought the dinosaurs back to this world.

The POV character in “The Long Past” is Grover, who is a trapper and who also happens to be a black man. In the very beginning of the story Grover is watching the airship landing in the place which he calls home.

 

"Theurgist professors, soldiers and maybe even a mage floated up there. All of them coming here to investigate the big blue sea that had flooded the states and territories from Kansas to the Gulf of Mexico. The High Plains had transformed into a seabed. The foothills of the Rocky Mountains had become a chain of islands dotting the blue water, while high peaks now stood like a vast, great levee. As the waters had spread, so had lush fern jungles and the strange, old creatures that inhabited both. Land and lives had been lost, and Fort Arvada had been inundated with refugees.

And yet after six years, this single airship was all the aid the federal government sent. Grover just hoped they’d brought plenty of powdered alchemic stone. The city’s fortifications had been uprooted and stretched thin as paper to enclose as much farmland as possible, but the spells were old and growing weaker with every season. Soon nothing would stand between the farmers of Fort Arvada and the old creatures.”

 

The mages that came on the airship are not very forthcoming with the local population about their plans, but shockingly enough one of the mages who came on the ship is Lawrence Wilder. Lawrence left the town eight years ago to join the war in China and six years ago the town received notice of his death.

Lawrence and Grover were also a couple for several years, before Lawrence lost his mind (I do not mean it literally), got himself briefly engaged to their mutual friend (who is now happily married to another wonderful man in town) and then went to fight a war in the country “half way across the globe” (I think this is a paraphrase). Grover mourned his lost love for a long time so of course now he is confused and conflicted.

I really like when novella with a romantic relationship in it portrays an established couple, for me it makes the happy ending more believable, because when novella tries to cram into the short amount of page space their whole love story, it feels rushed to me. I did buy that these two men were still in love with each other, even if they of course had to clear out a lot of air between them.  I absolutely believed in their happy ending, especially because they earned it in such a dangerous adventure. Since the blurb does mention it, I will talk a little more about it.

 Lawrence came back because he wanted to see Grover and his loved ones and friends, but his most urgent goal was indeed to close the rifts. As it turned out he was part of the reason why the rifts opened in the first place (not because he wanted it, but basically because he was a soldier).  Lawrence also eventually asked Grover to help him, after it was clear that Grover actually wanted anything to do with Lawrence. I will not tell you the details of their journey to close the rifts, I will only reiterate that I enjoyed it very much, but I wanted to share with you some comic relief of this novella, especially since this seemed to be the only comic relief ( understandable giving what was going on in their world).

Grover is this world equivalent of the cowboy, only his “horse” is a riding bird called Betty. As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, I am indifferent to the dinosaurs, but she won me over and on the way to the place where the rift was opened Betty acquired a suitor. Grover initially was reluctant to allow the courtship since he was very protective of Betty but true love won.

 

"Lawrence’s expression turned to confusion. “Is that thing yours?” He didn’t drop his hand but nodded in Betty’s direction. “Betty? Sure. She carries me all around. She’s quicker than any horse and don’t need shoeing.”

As he spoke Grover realized why Lawrence had appeared so shocked. Though now his expression melted into something more like amusement. “You domesticated an avemosaur?” The hint of an English accent lent Lawrence a disconcertingly foreign tone. He dropped his left hand to his side and peered at Betty, who paid him little mind as she pecked a plump spider from the trunk of an apple tree."

 

"In response Lawrence shed enough of his self-consciousness to allow Grover to see him without his shirt in the morning sunlight. Grover suspected they might have laid in late and indulged in some fun if it hadn’t been for Romeo attempting to sneak into their camp and causing a wild commotion when he stepped on a hot coal in the fire"

 

"That evening, Grover hiked a little distance to refill their canteens from a fresh water spring. He nearly jumped out of his skin when a form burst through the underbrush. Grover whipped up his rifle only to find Romeo gawking at him with disappointment. Clearly he’d picked up Betty’s scent off of Grover’s leathers and gotten his plumage all glossy and proud for their assignation. “I’m already spoken for,” Grover muttered. Romeo quickly scuttled away, and Grover won a good laugh out of Lawrence when he related the story over dinner that night."

 

Grade: B+

 

“The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus”

In this novella which takes place almost thirty years later after the first story we meet two remarkable women who have a lot of secrets lurking in their past, but who eventually deal with the secrets heads on and hopefully they would be able to live together in a safer future after helping to save somebody else from a terrible danger.

The blurb does not really mention any important plot points and as I said before I was the least impressed by this story – not because of the setting but also because of the romance. I think it needed to be fleshed out way more than it was.  After I finished I thought that I still was not sure why Geula and Abril fell in love with each other.  I honestly believe it was mostly because this was the shortest story in the anthology (roughly twenty percent of the book).

I think the moment in this story that hit me the hardest was the simple recitation by Abril of something that happened in this world that office of Theurgists now made free registered mages to wear the color. I think because the first story gave me hope that horrors of the real American history could eventually be dealt with in a better way in this world and this was a sharp reminder that nothing is easy in this world either.

Grade: C.

 

“Get Lucky”

The story starts in Riverain Country, Illinois in the year 1896.

Dalfon Ellias is pursuing an outlaw who recently murdered another person and on his way to arresting the guy meets a young man named Lucky and falls in love.

Few pages after the beginning of the story it moves up in time three years later – 1899. I am not sure if this choice worked for me, because the attempt is made once again to show the established couple and I just did not buy Lucky and Dafton as established couple. Once again not enough time was spent to show them falling in love and contrary to the first story where Grover’s longing and remembering his time together with Lawrence  convinced me that they were already in love, here I just did not buy it.

We only see their first meeting and then three years later we meet Lucky again, who is still pissed off that his lover left him after several months ( I think several months passed, but I am not hundred percent sure).

And Dalfon is indeed back under very dramatic circumstances and he and Lucky pretty much have to run for their lives and neutralize some bad people in the process.

The good thing was that contrary to the second story I did see the couple in love, only for me their second meeting was as if they were falling in love for the first time, while I do not think that this was the author’s intention, I think it is better than me not feeling their chemistry at all. Once again I enjoyed the plot, enjoyed the adventure and appreciated that some positive societal changes did happen after all in the world of the book.

Grade: B-

 

Books...

Reblogged from Hol:

Books...

Reblogged from Hol:

Mostly did not work for me

Provenance - Ann Leckie

Following her record-breaking debut trilogy, Ann Leckie, winner of the Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke and Locus Awards, returns with an enthralling new novel of power, theft, privilege and birthright.

 

A power-driven young woman has just one chance to secure the status she craves and regain priceless lost artifacts prized by her people. She must free their thief from a prison planet from which no one has ever returned.

 

Ingray and her charge will return to her home world to find their planet in political turmoil, at the heart of an escalating interstellar conflict. Together, they must make a new plan to salvage Ingray's future, her family, and her world, before they are lost to her for good.

 

Review:

Dear Ann Leckie,

I enjoyed your “Ancillary Justice” trilogy well enough to spend thirteen dollars on this book. Unfortunately I will not be in any hurry to buy your next one.  I want to get something out of the way first – I thought it was technically well written and well edited, so I absolutely can see how it could be a five star read for other readers. I however was mostly disappointed with the plot and characterization.

The book takes place in the “Ancillary Justice” universe, but I think you can easily read it as stand alone. It had been awhile since I read the trilogy and I was not confused at all. Radchai ambassador is a minor character and certain political treaty which I think was about to happen at the end of the trilogy is being mentioned more than once, but it is mostly part of the setting and serves as rare amusing plot point (because it must not be violated but our heroes do certain things which technically violated it more than once).

This story is mostly about completely different human culture which Ingray is a part of, although another alien culture also makes a more detailed appearance in these books.

So why was I disappointed? First and foremost I hate it when the book blurb does not play completely fair with the reader. Oh there are no outright lies in there of course, but I thought it was should we say misleading. Ingray indeed wants to return some priceless artifacts which were supposedly stolen (one can debate as to how valuable those artifacts really were, but her people think them very valuable) in order to gain favor of her idiot mother who is a successful politician, but who thought that encouraging her foster children to compete against each other is the best way to make them succeed in life. Add to this that one of Ingray’s foster brothers was forced to leave her mother’s house ( or so she thinks) and the other seems to be an asshole who is happy to embarrass, blackmail, humiliate his sister in order to gain favor of their parent and here you have it.  I already hated the woman from the first pages of the book and wished Ingray would grow up and realized that it was not worth it. Note, calling her an idiot is my interpretation of course, she is very smart and supposedly very talented politician, I just find her behavior towards her children idiotic.

But let me go back to explaining why I think the writer of the blurb did not play completely fair with the reader. Second sentence read to me as if Ingray will be freeing somebody from the awful prison, right?

Well, not quite. I mean she certainly freed that person from the prison but it was already done in the very beginning of the book and there was certainly no exciting action I was expecting based on the blurb. Now I was even more disappointed. The first problem Ingray truly tries to solve is how to transport her and the person she freed to her home planet.

There were certain potential dangers they were about to face due to the captain of the ship they booked having certain secrets in his past, but nope, once again any promise of fun action dissolved right in front of my eyes and they got to Ingray’s home safely.

When Ingray, the person she freed and the captain arrive to her home world they are indeed thrust in the complicated political issues waiting to be resolved, hopefully peacefully. People talk with each other, they talk a lot, over and over – at some point I became very bored.

Remarkably, the hints of the action to come kept coming. At some point of the book *murder* happens. I love mysteries. Alas, that was not to be either.   Everybody in the story called the murderer few pages afterwards.  Even more remarkably, unless I missed it, closer to the end of the story somebody tried to cast doubt upon the alleged murderer’s identity, but since no new revelation took place I have to assume that this person did it. At least I hope so.

Readers, understand please I am fully aware now when I am finished that the story is not a mystery. I am a little bit at loss as to how characterize it, but mystery it was not. However surely I could be excused for thinking that maybe mystery is happening when the dead body pops up in the book and the investigation started?

Oh, almost at the same time when everybody calls the correct person the murderer wrong person is accused of murder (same person that Ingray freed from the awful prison) and briefly detained. It seemed like it will require a lot of scheming and a lot of effort to free the guy and clear his name and sure, a little bit of scheming took place? But action did not happen once again. I thought it happened quite easily overall.

I want to say I was rewarded with some action at the end of the book. Last five or six chapters certainly moved much faster than the rest of the book but quite honestly by now I was not sure how satisfied I could be.

I talked about lack of action, but if I have the great characters I can relate to, I am okay with slower moving plot. I remember for example how much I enjoyed “Goblin emperor” and that book did not move fast either.

Ingray does grow up quite a lot by the end of the book, so I suppose she has a coming of age story arc, but I did not quite warm up to her even at the end. In the beginning somebody pretty much pulls a fast one over her, she was also involved in the scheme I could not relate much to, basically she bored me.

I appreciated seeing her as a kind human being, as somebody who grew to realize her own worth and deciding to pursue her own very worthy goal at the end, but as I said, I wanted to relate to her from the beginning and I just could not.

"And after all, she was just Ingray, nobody special, not beautiful or brilliant or particularly important to anyone. No. She was Ingray Aughskold, who had freed a wrongly convicted person from inescapable Compassionate Removal. Who had, completely unarmed, faced down Danach threatening her with a huge dirt mover. She’d had some help there, but she was also a person who sometimes had help from mysterious and unnerving aliens. She might have help here now."

 

Her relationships with her brother, mother and nuncle (no, I don’t know what is the difference between nuncle and uncle) were indeed interesting, but could have had so much more depth.

I have to say something about pronouns. Those of you who read “Ancillary justice” remember “pronouns controversy” I am sure. Well, I am just going to give you an example with the caviat that “e” and “em” show up very often in the narrative and you will decide if writing style in this story will suit you or not.

"E looked so much like Pahlad I said something to em about it, but e said e wasn’t. And I got to talking to em and e said e was stranded and out of money and had no one to help em get home, so I thought I would help.”

Grade: C/C-

 

SPOILER ALERT!

Solid new entry in the series

Mafia and Magics (Aberrant Magic Book 5) - Lyn Gala

Angel Zamora has always looked out for numero uno, even after getting sent to prison for robbing a convenience store at knife point. But now two crazy feds show up to tell him he has undeveloped magic. And they want him to inform on a group that has been recruiting and disposing of magic users. When Angel agrees, he expects to play the feds until he can make his own escape plans. However, once he's inside the mafia and developing his Talent, he starts to realize that he's not as concerned about his own skin as he is young Matteo. The only son of the mob boss Mr. Luschese, Matt is even more trapped than Angel. His hot temper, disdain for authority, and deeply in-the-closet attitudes are all so familiar that Angel aches for the young man. A relationship that starts with Angel seeking one more potential advantage quickly turns into Angel's worst nightmare--a deep sense of commitment to another human being. Escape routes are closing, and Angel fears he is going to end up one more body dumped in the river...and if Angel plays this wrong, Matt could die with him.

Review.

Dear Lyn Gala, I really enjoyed the previous books in this series. Darren, Kabon and the rest of FBI Talent team were such wonderful characters and Darren’s spirit guide Bennu stole my heart. However, I will be honest as much as I wanted to see more adventures set up in this world, I thought that at the end of the book four Darren and Kabon’s love story was pretty much completed. I did not think that they had any more of internal obstacles to overcome on the way to their happy ending. I suppose what I am saying is that I both wanted and did not want to see more of them because I did not want to see the guys overcoming contrived obstacles.

When one of my book buddies mentioned that book five is out I of course bought it despite my reservations and was so pleasantly surprised because the story continued with the new couple being front and center and we still got to see Darren and his lover and their teammates because they fit in the story and not just came to play “oh how happy we are” cameo.

How does the FBI talent team fit in the story of Angel and Matt? They were investigating the case of course and Angel managed to end up front and center of the investigation. Apparently one of the mafia families was recruiting untrained magic users in prison, trying to teach them how to use their craft and then use them to commit crimes with more ease. Only the previous three recruits either did not like their new classes and tried to quit, or mafia decided to get rid of them on their own. In any event the result was that three men ended up dead and Darren and the rest of the team try to prevent Angel from ending up dead next.

At the beginning of the story Darren and Rima came to prison trying to explain to Angel that a) he is already being watched by mafia most likely and he has untrained magic talent and b) he should basically go undercover when mafia boss will make contact with him and help them out . As I said Angel was already in danger so the offer made sense to me. FBI did not try to place him in danger in the first place, they were indeed trying to help him to make the best out of the situation, although of course having Angel go undercover and tell them more about who was trying to recruit untrained magic users in prison would have been advantageous for FBI as well.

I really liked Angel and his pragmatism. I liked that he decided to agree to FBI offer not because he suddenly discovered in himself hidden desire to help out law enforcement, but more out of the self -preservation. I also thought that Angel always had a scenario in mind where he would tell FBI to go take a hike if staying with mafia would be better scenario for him. Having said that, since we (the readers who had been reading these series) know that Darren and Rima and the rest of them are indeed good people, it was fun for me to see how a new character like Angel who is also not very sympathetic to them initially sees them and slowly develops at least some grudging admiration (or I thought so anyway).

Of course when Angel decides to accept FBI offer to spy for them if he is recruited, he leaves the prison and very soon he is approached by mafia people and invited (kidnapped basically) to join one of the mafia families where Boss Mr. Luschese will supposedly teach him magic.

Mr. Luschese is indeed very happy to teach Angel more magic to make him more efficient criminal for the most part and as a bonus we learn that Angel is a pretty fast learner. Initially when Rima and Darren tried to help Angel learn some initial lessons, it was made that Angel was not a shaman since Darren could recognize other shamans and he didn’t, and I thought it was made clear that Angel had the potential to be incantations user so Rima was teaching him some spells amongst other things.

I thought Angel did an excellent job as a reluctant undercover agent, or more precisely as somebody who was put in a difficult situation and was trying to survive while trying to keep at least small part of his decency to himself no matter how hard it was because he sure was forced to do some terrible things while “visiting” Mr. Luscheze.

I actually thought Angel was one of the most self-aware flawed characters I have read about in m/m for a while. I loved that he did not make excuses for himself and knew exactly who he was and what his faults were. Of course he had some kind of moral compass, but I would say he could make his piece with some things that a lot of people would not do. I also think that Angel learned a lot by the end of the book. He was not changed in the fluffy bunny by love of course, but I do think that love did play a role in his character growth.

 "“If Reynolds was stupid enough to borrow money, then he can live with the consequences,” Angel said with a shrug. He had to believe that, because he was crossing a line here, and he had to know where his new line was. He needed to hold on to some piece of his decency."

"“And we’re collecting.” Angel kept his voice even, but his head started to spin. Angel had hurt people in the past. He’d laid one security guard out with a football tackle. He’d threatened people with knives to make a living holding up convenience stores. He had lost his innocence a long time ago, but he had never set out to hurt another person. Physical violence was something that happened when Angel lost control of the situation. It was never his primary purpose."

"How the hell had this kid survived growing up in this house? Sure, he was about the same age as Angel, but he shot right past optimistic and idealistic and landed in the land of fairy tales. “Look, I haven’t been a crusader for good in my life. Not only did I go to prison, but I deserved it. I didn’t trust my gut on that last robbery, and I got caught. That sort of stupidity is worse than my willingness to rob stores. So if you’re trying to appeal to my ethical side, realize my ethics are limited to what benefits me.” Angel expected that to drive Matt away. Instead he said in an almost fond voice, “You’re oddly self-aware and honest.” “Odd. That’s me,” Angel agreed. “Then again, I think most people are motived by their own self-interest. The ones who aren’t are either saints or conmen, and there aren’t many saints in this world.”"

Speaking about a love story between Angel and Mob Boss’ son Matt, I actually thought that as a beginning of the romance it did work quite well for me, but only as a beginning, I do not think they had much time to work on their relationship and can’t live without you did feel kind of sudden. I would not mind seeing couple more books with them as main characters at all. I really liked Matt too and thought that he could do some growth as well in the future books. In this one he seemed more simplistic character than Angel.

We learned some new things about magic and how it works in this world. I also liked that this book continued to develop the theme that incantation users are not inferior magic users to Shamans. I am not sure if this was made clear in the first book ( although maybe it was deliberately vague so I could check their own assumptions and discovery that I was wrong), but I interpreted that Shamans’ magic was vastly superior since they can power the tools that other magic users use and their magic came from spiritual plane.   I was very happy that we learned in this book that incantation users get their powers from the earth magic same as shamans from the spiritual plane.

Grade: B/B+

 

 

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT!

sweet but...

The Love Song of Sawyer Bell - Avon Gale

A Tour Dates Novel Victoria “Vix” Vincent has only two weeks to find a replacement fiddle player for her band’s summer tour. When classically trained violinist Sawyer Bell shows up for an audition, Vix is thrilled. Sawyer is talented, gorgeous, funny, and excited about playing indie rock instead of Beethoven. Their friendship soon blossoms into romance, even though Vix tries to remember that Sawyer’s presence is only temporary. Sawyer’s parents think she’s spending the summer months touring Europe with a chamber ensemble. But Sawyer is in dire need of a break from the competitiveness of Juilliard, and desperately wants to rediscover her love of music. Going on tour with her secret high school crush is just an added bonus. Especially when Vix kisses her one night after a show, and they discover that the stage isn’t the only place they have chemistry. But the tour won’t last forever, and as the summer winds down, Sawyer has to make a tough decision about her future—and what it means to follow her heart. Word count: 62,000; page count: 232.

 

Review:

Dear Avon Gale, I loved your solo hockey books, but passed on two of your recent books with coauthors because those did not sound like my cup of tea. So when DA commenter Cleo recommended your solo f/f romance with Riptide publishing I was very excited to buy it and started reading.

In many ways this book had what I came to associate with your writing style. Two charming likeable heroines, low angst story, a lot of funny banter between the characters – this story had all that and I really enjoyed it up to the point.

The blurb describes the set up perfectly. Victoria aka Vix Vincent and her band are looking for the substitute fiddle player for their summer tour and almost ready to give up till Sawyer who will start her senior year in Juliard shows up and wins them over very fast.

Sawyer felt incredibly stressed at Juliard for couple of years, but did not quit it for many reasons. She hoped to rediscover her love of music by trying something different than auditioning for the spot in the classical orchestra for the summer.

Audition shows that she was a perfect fit for the band and Sawyer feels that she may rediscover her love of music without much of extra stress on top of it. She and the band members hit it off right away and off to start the tour they go.

As blurb also told you Sawyer was in high school with Vix who was three years older and spent a year they were in the same school having a major crush on Vix even though they met and spoke only one time (which for this story and these characters made perfect sense to me). Crash went nowhere but now when Sawyer realized that the leader of the band is the same Vix she is even happier. Vix of course did not remember her.

I really liked the beginning of the story – I felt as if I was with them in the small van they were driving between the tour cities, I felt their love of music and appreciated some glimpses in the process of song writing. I liked how Vix and Sawyer seemed to have such a sweet chemistry together before they ever started having sex and how natural the first kiss felt to me.

Sawyer is aware (or should I say almost aware) that she is a lesbian but she did not have any experience with the women, she had one relationship with the guy in Juilliard which did not go anywhere. Vix is bisexual.

Both women find out pretty fast that they really enjoy each other’s company and even though initially Sawyer is nervous, they end up having sex together and start a relationship. Sawyer embraces the confirmation of the fact that she indeed prefers to be with women with little or no angst and good humor.

"Well, that was a ringing endorsement right there, wasn’t it? Sawyer picked up one of the packages and eyed Vix thoughtfully. “I should get this. It’s like an investment, right?” “Um.” Vix raised both eyebrows at her. “Are you going to collect dildos?” “Well, everyone needs a hobby,” Sawyer said, which made Vix want to kiss her. “But I mean, an investment in my lesbian lifestyle.” She smiled at the woman helping them. “I’m new to all of this, can you tell?” The shopkeeper giggled. “That’s amazing. In fact, I’ll give you a twenty percent discount on all your purchases today, how’s that?” “Thank you,” Sawyer enthused."

"After a few more songs, Vix nudged Sawyer with her elbow. “So, we’re driving straight on tonight to Portland. And we’ll have one last chance to rock out to Racer tomorrow.” “Thank you for the reminder, Google Calendar,” said Sawyer. Vix stuck her tongue out.. “I was thinking we could go find that alcove for a bit while no one’s missing us.” Sawyer slipped her hand in Vix’s and squeezed. “Mark me as attending that event,” she joked, and let Vix pull her away."

 

For quite a while both Vix and Sawyer seem to worry about one thing – where would their relationship go after summer ends. Sawyer would have to come back to Juilliard and Vix is not going to abandon her band and will be once again on tour much more often than not. That worry seemed reasonable and understandable to me.

 

However what comes after the solution was presented came out of left field to me. I understand of course that human beings do not always act consistently to put it mildly but I keep coming back to this quote about the difference between fiction and reality being that fiction has to make sense. Vix’s reaction made no sense to me. All summer she was freaking out about one thing and now she was freaking out about a completely opposite one.

Without going into spoiler territory I also would like to say that of course fictional character can act inconsistently as well, I just need to be convinced that she had reasons to *act inconsistently* and to me Vix’s freak-out was not sufficiently supported by the text (it is as if the editor looked at the book and said to the writer – oh wait, not enough angst for the separation plot point. Must have one no matter how contrived it sounds).

 

And to be honest in the second part of the story I also wanted more plot. Note I am not trying to rewrite the story which was presented, I am just saying that I was a little bored by what was presented in the second half. They tour, they have sex, and they write songs. It became a bit repetitive for me.

 

Grade C+/B-

 

 

SPOILER ALERT!

Disappointed

The Druid Next Door (Fae Out of Water) (Volume 2) - E.J. Russell

Professor Bryce MacLeod has devoted his entire life to environmentalism. But how effective can he be in saving the planet when he can’t even get his surly neighbor to separate his recycling? Former Queen’s Enforcer Mal Kendrick doesn’t think his life could get any worse: he’s been exiled from Faerie with a cursed and useless right hand. When he’s not dodging random fae assassins in the Outer World, he’s going toe-to-toe with his tree-hugging neighbor. And when he discovers that the tree hugger is really a druid, he’s certain the gods have it in for him—after all, there’s always a catch with druids. Then he’s magically shackled to the man and expected to instruct him in Supernatural 101. All right, now things couldn’t possibly get worse. Until a mysterious stranger offers a drunken Mal the chance to gain back all he’s lost—for a price. After Mal accepts, he discovers the real catch: an ancient secret that will change his and Bryce’s life forever. Ah, what the hells. Odds are they won’t survive the week anyway.

Review:

Dear EJ Russell, I quite liked the first book in this series (as evidenced by my review here) which dealt with older of three Fae brothers Alun finding love with David and having some dangerous adventures in the Faery Land. As a result of such adventure, Alun’s middle brother Mal lost the use of his right hand. Faery Queen told him that the curse will disappear if they would be made whole, but the way Mal interpreted this was not too hopeful for him going back to his magical life anytime soon.

So now we see Mal living full time in the human land in the house that David, kind and grateful guy he was bought for him. Mal is also bickering with his new neighbor on a regular basis. Bruce Macleod is very conscious about the environment and Mal being a Fae even in the temporary exile sometimes does things that may seem reasonable to Mal, but annoy Bruce a great deal.

One day after another face to face altercation Bruce accidentally hurts Mal a little and this leads to David and his aunt Cassie appearing in Mal’s house to help him. Well, David appeared at Mal’s house before, but his aunt didn’t.

Surprise! As we know from the first book Cassie is a powerful druid and can recognize other druids. Apparently Bruce is one too and his love for nature was one of the indicators of that. As we also know from the first book Cassie is a woman of action, so acts she does.  She offers Bruce the internship with her (and when I say offers I mean insists that he should take it) AND decides to bond Mal and Bruce together so Mal could give Bruce a crash course in all things magical before he would start learning all things druid .

I want to be very clear here – the bond Cassie imposed on them was not sexual *yet*. To be quite frank I was puzzled as to why the bond was needed in the first place. However as the book proceeded I interpreted the bond to be an artificial and highly irritating plot device needed to make sure the second bond between the characters would happen.

It was just so weird to me. I am usually very hesitant to use the expression “lazy writing”, because I usually start questioning myself right away, thinking my writing skills and knowledge would never be strong enough to have a right to call writing professional’s writing “lazy”.

However, sometimes this is just how I feel and this is one of those times. Let me expand on what I mean by “lazy writing” in this book.  I feel like the writer could not be bothered to write an actual development of the relationship and instead imposed that weird bond on Bruce and Mal which did I am not even sure what it did.

So after Cassy bonded them, they have sex and ended up wanting each other more and more and it became some kind of D/s bond when Mal who never bottomed wanted to bottom and kneel for Bruce all the time and Bruce who never topped wanted to. Okay, I am perfectly happy to read about D/s relationship if it is executed to my satisfaction but both men instead constantly questioned whether what they want is the consequence of the bond or their own desires.  I could not understand how we got from Point A (we find each other hot) to Point B (we cannot live without each other). I could not understand how the relationship was developing?

And while on the publisher’s page the book warns of dubious consent, it is not as if Bruce even wanted to force Mal to do anything. I mean the first two times he did not know that the bond was activated, but then he constantly fights the desire in his mind to give Mal *any* orders, so I could not even read the book as having any true dubcon/ non con scenes that may work for me sometimes. It was just very weird.  

"“Our bond is different. You’ve never used the power voice on me, and trust me, I’d know. Maybe you have to pass your druid O levels before you qualify, or some shite.” “Are you positive? Have you behaved that way before? Begged someone to allow you to blow him? Begged to get fucked? Promised a guy anything? Everything?” Mal wouldn’t meet his eyes, and if that didn’t tell Bryce what he needed to know about consent, then none of Mal’s glib words would hide the truth. “No,” he muttered. “You’re the first.” “A first time for me too.” Bryce was suddenly too hot in the sun, despite the cool breeze on his back. He ripped his hat off and threw it on the grass. “Aren’t we just so fricking special?” “You’ll not convince me you’re a virgin.” “Hardly. But I’ve never—” Why was this so hard to admit? “I’ve never topped anyone before.” Mal’s mouth fell open. “You’re joking. Nobody can aim like that. Not their first time.” Bryce sat down on the grass, facing the slough. “Guess I’m a fucking prodigy.” He let his arms flop over his knees. “What the hell are we doing, Mal? I’m so turned around and irritable this morning, it’s as if my clothes are lined with sandpaper”

 

 

 

Cassy behaved weirdly from the beginning, because guess what? She could have told Mal to tutor Bruce without bonding them and Mal would have done the very same thing. Then after she started all that she lectures them how to mitigate effects of the bond or not mitigate the effects of the bond. It was just bizarre.

Same as in the first book, in this book the men also have to go on the quest in Faerie land and I enjoyed it more than in the first book because the story was more suspenseful and at the end made more sense to me than in the first book. However the storyline was also a major disappointment to me because I felt that it was a a missed opportunity for the men to actually work together and get to know each other better instead of one of them trying to get some information out of Mal and Mal constantly sabotaging himself and lying to Bruce as to what was going on.

I was not mad at Mal, because he did not have much choice, but I was still disappointed. I am not trying to grade the story that was not on page, but let me be very clear that what was on the page did not work for me at all, even if it was well written and as far as I could notice copy editing was pretty good.

Grade: C-

 

Dissapointed

Foxglove Copse (Porthkennack) (Volume 5) - Alex Beecroft

A standalone contemporary novel in the Porthkennack universe After a massive anxiety attack, Sam Atkins left his high-powered job in the City and committed himself to life on the road in a small van. Six months in, he’s running out of savings and coming to the conclusion that he might have to go home to his emotionally abusive family. Needing time to think, he takes a walk through a copse by the Cornish roadside, only to stumble upon the body of a ritualistically killed sheep. As he’s trying to work out what the symbols around the animal mean, the sheep’s owner, Jennifer, and her nephew, Ruan Gwynn, come upon him. Ruan is a kind-hearted young man with a large supportive clan, and since he and Sam feel almost instant attraction, he doesn’t want to believe Sam is a sheep-killing cultist. In fact, the moment he lays eyes on Sam’s miserable solitary life, he wants to rescue the man. But as the killings escalate, he and Sam need to stop whoever is actually to blame before they can concentrate on saving each other. Word count: 66,700; page count: 245

 

Dear Alex Beecroft,

I always enjoy your writing and usually buy your new books hoping that I will enjoy the story as well. Sometimes it works sometimes it does not.

As blurb tells you this book is set in the small town of Porthkennack and part of another series that Riptide publishing seems to be fond of doing – each book is a stand –alone basically, but it is set in the same city and sometimes the characters from the previous books make a very minor appearance.

I have not read (and not planning to read right now) any other books in the contemporary Porthkennack universe and I was not confused reading this one at all.

Let me just get this out of the way – I thought that the book was beautifully written and I liked two main characters a lot which is a big deal for me in Romance novel.

As blurb tells you Sam had an anxiety attack at his previous job which paid the bills well but was not bringing him happiness. His family was not very supportive of him, in fact they were emotionally abusive (and still are when Sam called his mother couple of times in this book) and after several years of therapy he managed to leave them and his past life behind. Since he gave away almost all his savings and code writing was not paying much, he found himself in dire financial condition and he is now living in his car in the town of Porthkennack.

Sam didn’t kill Jennifer’s sheep, but Jennifer and Ruan found him right near by examining it. I understood the desire to blame somebody who is the most convenient to blame, but frankly I thought Aunt Jennifer was being an idiot and decided to bring the charges against Sam I am not even sure why she did that.  I think she said to make police look for the real criminal because she didn’t seem to really believe that Sam did it either (no blood on him should have been a big clue).

In the meantime Ruan discovers that other bad things were happening in town – somebody is engaged in the online bullying of teenage girls and his niece Tegan is the one who makes Ruan aware of the issue. One of her classmates committed suicide and Tegan and her other friend think that bullying may have something to do with it. Tegan wants help from Ruan to catch the bastard who may be doing that and Ruan decides to ask Sam who mentioned that he was good with the computers during their unfortunate meeting.   I personally thought that Ruan had a lot of nerve to ask Sam for help after his Aunt brought charges against him, but it is made clear in the text that Ruan was attracted to Sam and didn’t believe that he really was the villain.

I have to admit that I really liked our heroes together – they have had that quiet, gentle chemistry I enjoy so much in this writer’s books and for that reason I am all the more disappointed that the story didn’t take its time to develop their relationship. Yes, they were very sweet together. NO, I do not have a clue as to *why* they decided to get together, especially because I didn’t get any hot sexual attraction vibe from them either. NO, I am not complaining about the absence of hot sex – there were couple of not very explicit sex scenes, which would have been perfectly fine for me, but I got the impression that we were supposed to see that the boys fell in love, that the attraction was because they liked each other as people, and I just don’t get how one can like one another as a person when they just met.

I am not sure how I feel about lets catch the bad guy storyline either. Initially I liked it very much because I had no idea where it was going and how all the horrible things were connected together and whether the occult was involved or not. It was suspenseful and interesting, but I thought that at the end it just fizzled out. I mean motivations for the bad things happening made perfect sense, but it seemed to me that the only family villain could come from was given to us early enough in the story and sure enough, that’s where the villain came from. To add insult to the injury the villain themselves was a completely new person.  I was disappointed.

Grade: C/C-

 

Good story

Cutie and the Beast (Fae Out of Water) (Volume 1) - E.J. Russell

Book one in the new Fae Out of Water series Temp worker David Evans has been dreaming of Dr. Alun Kendrick ever since that one transcription job for him, because holy cats, that voice. Swoon. So when his agency offers him a position as Dr. Kendrick’s temporary office manager, David neglects to mention that he’s been permanently banished from offices. Because, forgiveness? Way easier than permission. Alun Kendrick, former Queen’s Champion of Faerie’s Seelie Court, takes his job as a psychologist for Portland’s supernatural population extremely seriously. Secrecy is paramount: no non-supe can know of their existence. So when a gods-bedamned human shows up to replace his office manager, he intends to send the man packing. It shouldn’t be difficult — in the two hundred years since he was cursed, no human has ever failed to run screaming from his hideous face. But cheeky David isn’t intimidated, and despite himself, Alun is drawn to David in a way that can only spell disaster: when fae consort with humans, it never ends well. And if the human has secrets of his own? The disaster might be greater than either of them could ever imagine. Word count: 76,300; page count: 303

Review:

Dear EJ Russell,

I enjoy the retellings of fairy tales in m/m romance and “Beauty and the beast” had always been one of my favorites. I however never read any of your books so I borrowed this one from a friend. For the most part I really liked it. The blurb describes the set up perfectly. Alun Kendrick is our “Beast”, an old and powerful faerie of Seelie court who was cursed couple hundred years ago for the reasons which would become clear to you if you decide to read the story. For a while now he had been working as a psychologist for super natural community and he also counsels humans who had been diagnosed with PTSD from the encounters with super natural community which took place despite the Secrecy Pact. Alun has a problem, his office manager who also happens to be a werewolf went on maternity leave and it is unclear whether she would even return to her position.

In any event, Alun needs a temporary coverage for now. He is working with the temporary agency whose owner is aware that Dr. Kendrick only wants super natural candidates for the positions in his office. Too bad the owner is out with the flu that day and the other person decides to send David to cover that position. The problem with that decision was that David’s several previous placements hadn’t been successful – supposedly he tends to cause various conflicts in the work place. What kind of conflicts we never learned exactly but we definitely learned the reason and it was not David’s fault and I cannot tell you about the reason because it would be a pretty big spoiler. But the woman who was performing owner’s duties liked David and wanted to give him another chance. She also was not informed that Dr. Kendrick did not want human candidates to be sent to him, so David went to start his new job.

When Alun met David, he was shocked because he realized that David was human and because he was attracted to David. David was attracted to him as well, but Alun tried very hard to replace David by leaving many messages with the owner of the agency who was still out sick.

David was adorable in the best sense of the way. Sweet, kind guy who wanted to make the doctor’s office if not an enjoyable then a comfortable place for his patients and who ended up helping more people than he expected. So the guys were attracted to each other very fast – if you are looking for a slow burn romance, I do not think this is a book for you. On the other hand Alun is trying very hard to fight his attraction because of what he went through in the past and just because he did not want to endanger David since allegedly human and faerie do not really mix in long term relationships for all kinds of reasons.

I am not sure if I should call their attraction Insta!Love . It probably was but because Alun was as I stated fighting it for a while, it did not read as rushed to me as it could have been, especially since his fears made total sense to me even if they did not make sense to David.

But David is a glass half full kind of person, somebody who wants to help people and see the best in them. I wondered why I have not interpreted him as an annoying Goodie two shows kind of character and decided that his quirks were amusing and made him feel more real to me.

Basically I thought these two suited each other very well and it really worked as a retelling of “Beauty and the beast”. However, it so happens that both men spent a lot of page time in Faerie land in the second part of the book. Faery Royalty wanted another loyalty oath from everybody apparently and Alun had to make an appearance as well. I won’t tell you how he managed to get back but got back he did.

I don’t know what I think of that part of the story. I mean it was still a good read, but as much as I understood that Alun needed to face his past, I was not quite sure why he could not do so in our world. It felt a little artificial to me.

B