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Job Hunt - Jackie Keswick

Does this sound like 00Q fanfic? (James Bond/Hot Q!)? It set off my is-that-fanfic-radar.

(Not that I'm complaining. I love me some 00Q.)

"You don’t greet your new boss dressed like an underage rent boy. But when Jack Horwood—ace hacker and ex-MI6 operative—opens the door to Gareth Flynn, he's too busy to worry over details like that. And anyway, his potential new boss is his former Commanding Officer – the same guy Jack has had a crush on since he was seventeen. So he should understand, right?

When he applied for the job in Nancarrow Mining's corporate security division, Jack had hoped for peaceful days repelling cyber attacks. Maybe a bit of corporate espionage on the side. His plans didn't include rescuing abused children, hunting pimps, or dealing with his overly protective and hot-as-hell boss, Gareth Flynn.

Walking away is not an option. Jack never takes the easy way out. More than that, meeting Gareth raises old ghosts that Jack needs to put to rest. Rescuing kids. Taking risks. Saving the day. Jack can do all that – but deciding what to do about his attraction to Gareth isn’t the sort of cloak-and-dagger game Jack plays well. Yet Gareth, strong and smart and always on hand when needed, might be Jack’s salvation.


I'm totally going to buy this to see how it rates at 00Q, even though it has rescuing children in it. :O

Qunn's Gambit

Quinn's Gambit (AURA Book 1) - Angel Martinez, Bellora Quinn

Overall, this is a really enjoyable and imaginative urban fantasy romance, and fans of that genre should have good time with this fantastical romp in New York City.

What I liked: Overall, I dug the world and all its fantastical beings running around. Also the developing romance between straight-arrow Val, who is an Elf and has difficulties understanding human customs and nature, and skittish Quinn, a human magic-user who tries to lay low, especially from officers of the law (like Val.) Fortunately for romance fans, things keep pushing them together.

I appreciated that the authors threw in a bunch of other characters to carry the story along. It felt colorful without feeling crowded, and I give props to any authors including a Yeti in a romantic relationship. Yetis need love too!

What was harder: The climax happens somewhere between 70-76% of the story, and after that, it's like a longish epilogue and wrap-up. Because the climax happens so early, I kept pondering if something else was going to happen, or if it was something like Samhaim and the story was going to end by 90% and we would be hit with excerpts. I kind of wished for more energy in that last quarter to keep the pacing up.

Do you like urban fantasy? If you do, then this may be a fun ride for you. It's got magic, fairies, cops, baddies, romance, sex, swords, not-mean river trolls, loving Yetis, centaurs, flirting incubi, the roving dead, and more. It's chock full of stuff and an overall fun and very readable story.

Good Audio Version

Kick Start - Josh Lanyon

**Review of Audio Version**

I bought the ebook version of this installment, the 5th part in Lanyon's Dangerous Ground series, but I noticed it was on sale on Audible so picked up the audio version as well, and ended up listening to it before reading it.

How was the story? Overall, it was a fun outing for Will and Taylor, not out of government service and forging their own path as independent security consultants (and struggling a little bit with finances.) The bulk of the novella is them traveling to Oregon to visit with Will's family, who didn't totally know that Will is gay and is in a committed relationship. That, and other things pop up, like stalkers and released convicts. You know- normal stuff for these guys.

What I wished for: I felt like there was a lot of build up but less climax to fit that build-up. (Like all the references to the Russians. Will that go somewhere?) When the climax happened, I was kind of, "Oh-is this the climax? Will there be more?"

But I'm a big Lanyon fan, so I still always find dipping into his stories a good way to spend time. The audio version also made it a longer experience (Over 4 hours of listening). I think I would have sped through faster if I was reading.

How was the audio? I liked it! I thought the narrator did a cool job of distinguishing between (gruffer, deeper) Will's voice and (tonally lighter) Taylor's voice. He was a good narrator, and would look forward to listening to other stories by him.

How as this for a Dangerous Ground story? I didn't find it groundbreaking for the series, but if you're already a big DG fan, it should be a fun outing for you. If you haven't read the series yet, I would start with part 1 Dangerous Ground. You might be confused diving in first here (especially with Taylor's random musings about David Bradley, Will's old flame.)

Some issues, but surprisingly fun

Family of Lies: Sebastian - Sam Argent

4.5 stars - Surprisingly, this might be one of my fave reads of the year. Surprisingly because I had some issues, but in the end, I really enjoyed it. For fantasy fans, it can be a fun ride.

Do you like fantasy? If so, that’s good, because I think that might be necessary. This is based in a magical world with wizards, the fey, trolls, and other magical beings. There is little-to-no-explanation or exposition about the world and all the magical beings, so you have to either go in with some idea of fairies and incubi, or just take a relaxed “go with the flow” feeling.

What this reminded me of? Argent’s style, especially with its crowds of characters, reminded me a lot of Diana Wynne Jones' books. Jones, who wrote a truckload of awesome YA fantasy books, also would often toss you into the deep end of the pool with little explanation, and you just had to swim through her imagination and magical worlds.

Argent’s style, especially MC Sebastian, who is quick with an insult, grouchy (yet secretly kind) and loves books, reminded me also of Megan Derr’s works, and other fantasy works from Less Than Three. If you like fantasy, and stories like Derr’s Dance in the Dark or Isabella Carter’s Dragon Slayer, this may also work well for you too. (I’m personally a big fan of both those books.)

What was harder for me? This book is CROWDED. Sebastian has, like, nine siblings? Plus his parents, the kids of some siblings, the partners of other siblings, his romantic interest, the prince (who is gloriously persistent against Sebastian’s grouchiness), the prince’s parents, the castle guards, some villains, LOTS of people. It took a while to sort through, and because there are a lot, I didn’t always feel connected, and at times, they just felt like listed names. I sound like one of the heartless villains, but if I could have removed 3-4 of Sebastian’s siblings, I would have been happier, although his family would not since even when they’re devising poisons for each other, they really do love each other.

The amount of characters and how there was not a lot of explanation were probably the hardest parts for me. I was more frustrated in the beginning, but then I got into the “go with the flow” vibe, and like Sebastian in the story, I warmed to this frenetic world and its devious (but loving) characters, especially Sebastian, who feels like he can never let down his shields, but then he meets his match with the tireless Turren. (I have such a soft spot for those who can wear down grouches!)

When I knew I really dug this book? I have two commute choices—the twenty minute express bus that is usually too crowded to sit or the 40 minute slower bus that leaves at erratic times but you can always get a seat. (Great for reading!) And I found myself making sure I could take the slow bus so I can spend 40 more minutes reading about what will happen to Sebastian next. After wading in, I was HOOKED, and really enjoying the story, the emerging romance, and even the crowded dinner table at Sebastian’s house. (It’s also nicely long! At over 300 pages or 100,000 words, so I was able to enjoy a few commutes with this one!)

If you’re a big fantasy fan, you may also really dig this. Heads-up that it can be confusing, and there are a lot of people running around, but within it, there’s a sweet romance about a young magical man, and his tenacious, ever hopeful prince.

Would I read more? Well, my jury is out. Sebastian was definitely my fave character, so I would be up for reading more with him, but I didn't feel much for other potential romantic leads.

I think Argent did a fun job and is an author I want to keep tabs on. You may also dig this one too.

Heat Trap (Plumber's Mate #3)

Heat Trap - J.L. Merrow

Straight up, this is one of my most awaited books of 2015.

Why? Because I love- LOVE- Tom Paretski and how he charms, stumbles, and psychically senses his way through life, love, and a few murder mysteries here or there.

Heat Trap is book 3 in Merrow’s The Plumber’s Mate series, which starts with #1 Pressure Head and follows with #2 Relief Valve. In those volumes, you meet Tom, a plucky (and in my mind, adorable) plumber who has a bum hip (from an incident in his teens) and a special ability to find things, which works great when he’s searching for leaks in a pipe, but also means he can find hidden items or…bodies. Along with Tom, Merrow introduces you to a gaggle of quirky characters as well as to Phil, Tom’s former high school bully who is now a private investigator, and after a few trials and missteps, is also now investigating Tom’s privates (ahem) as The Boyfriend (one who is often exhausted by how Tom tumbles into trouble.)

I LOOOOVED the first two books, and I LOOOOOOVE Tom. I love his narrative voice—quick and charming (and a little over-talkative, but I still love him.) Loved the side characters. Loved the push-pull-push away-grasp back of his and Phil’s careful courtship, both of them a little scared and wary of being hurt or falling too hard, but both unwilling to let go.

So how did book 3 hold up?

I loved it. I went in with high expectations, but also a sincere feeling of joy and excitement because I was so happy to dive back into Tom’s head. And I’m happy to say that feeling was maintained throughout as I devoured this volume. (Far too quick, even though it’s gloriously longer at 250+ pages.)

What I liked: This volume’s mystery was good. Loved the further progression of both Tom and Phil’s relationship as well as the mystery that unspooled at the end of book 2. As always, Merrow includes wonderful and realized side characters who really feel like an extended family for Tom, and for this reader, were great to return to.

Like the previous volumes, the sexy times are mostly low-key or fade to black, with a few intimate scenes. I don’t mind that this series isn’t “high heat” because the characters and their progression are so much fun to read.

What was harder: I wasn’t 100% satisfied with how the mystery wrapped or was explained, but overall, I was so won over by the Tide of Tom and his Phil and his friends, that I didn’t really care too much to dwell on details.

Who’s going to like this? If you enjoyed book 1 and 2, then my strong recommendation is to try book 3 because it’s more of that goodness. It’s very much a fun ride, and I loved following along on it.

Did you not like book 1 and 2? Did you find Tom’s voice “too British”? Did you find him too talky? Or maybe you didn’t like Phil or the mysteries? If you didn’t enjoy the earlier volumes, I don’t see this one winning you over because it’s similar in style.

Can you jump in cold here? Maybe? I would strongly recommend not to though because things make way more sense if you start with book 1 Pressure Head. It’s a great book, especially if you like mysteries with a strong romance subplot.

This is definitely one of my favorite series—it’s understated but filled with charming characters and fun mysteries. The scene is set for a few more (I believe and hope) which makes me endlessly happy that we can return to this village in Britain and ride along with Tom and Phil to find out where they go next.

My dream would be to watch this series on TV, because it would be RAD British television, but my second dream would be for Samhain to make an audio version. Because LISTENING to Tom would be super awesome.


Jackdaw - K.J. Charles

For those still gnashing their teeth in frustration over not having more Magpie Lord to dive into, behold! You have here a sequel/extension of Charles’ popular paranormal historical romance series, this time following the side character of Jonah, who had played an important and villain-ish role in Flight of Magpies (#3 in the Charm of Magpies series). Unlike some of the horrible baddies in that volume, he wasn’t completely and utterly irredeemable. He did have a heart, or at least, he had someone he very much wanted to protect and was willing to do whatever it takes to keep that person safe.


Jackdaw follows sometime after book 3, when disgraced former policeman Ben comes to London to track down the bane of his existence (and former love of his life), but he’s not the only one looking for Jonah Pastern, and he comes face-to-face with five feet of menacing power, Stephan Day, who more than anything wants to drag Jonah kicking and screaming to justice.


It’s almost hilarious how Charles did a twist on her much loved Magpie characters, where here, from another POV, especially one of lesser power like Ben’s, Stephen and his crew come off as impatient, dangerous, unsympathetic, ruthless, and particularly with Stephen, a little bit of a high-minded jerk who has NO PROBLEM using Jonah’s possible affections for Ben to flush him out of hiding. (I’m glad I had three books to ingrain my love for Stephen, because if I came into this one cold, I don’t think I would have warmed up to him.)


Jackdaw is different from the other books in the series in a couple ways—first the obvious one is the story follows Jonah and Ben’s journey as once lovers, now wracked by bitterness and regret, but still can’t give up on each other, and when the Victorian version of the Heat come crashing down on them, they flee London together. Along the way, truths are revealed, apologies spoken, and promises made, and the two of them see if they can get beyond their pasts to see if a future is possible.


Besides the starring characters, the other big difference is the thrust of the story. The Charm of Magpies series normally had a big Baddie or three and some kind of case to push the story forward and torment Stephen and Lucien. In Jackdaw, technically Stephen IS the big baddie, but the focus of the volume is really on Jonah and Ben reuniting and tentatively repairing what was broken, and those repairs play out over the windswept coasts of Cornwall as they adjust their lives to living in a small village.


For me, who is a big fan of Charles’ work (with The Magpie Lord being my fave read of 2013 and Think of England being my #1 in 2014), Jackdaw was a fun time revisiting the Magpie world, but I did feel less connected to it than the other books in the series. Since the focus is more on Jonah and Ben’s wary reconciliation, I found the pace much slower than the other books. That, and Ben is a somewhat morose and grim character. (He has every right to be with his recent history, thanks to Jonah.) But this means their relationship felt much more somber, a soft, tentative glow, as opposed to the zinging sparks that you could feel between say, Stephen and Lucien (or if you jumped books, Archie and Daniel in Think of England.) As happy as I was that Jonah and Ben were reforming the fierce bonds between them, I did miss that energy, and found the book easier to set aside compared to the others.


With that said, I think if you have enjoyed the Magpie series, then I think you will enjoy diving into this one as well, both to revisit with such beloved characters, envelop again into Charles’ marvelous writing, and follow two lost souls who, when given the chance, will fight tooth and nail for the one the love.


Can you read this one without reading the others? Maybe? I wouldn’t recommend it though since Charles saves time by providing only minimal world-building in this one, and you may feel less connected with the drive-by references to earlier characters or plots from the other books. I think those that have read the other books are primed to enjoy this volume the most.


If you’re a diehard fan like me, you’ve probably already pre-ordered this one, but for those wondering, my rec is—If you liked the others, then it’s a safe bet that you will enjoy this one.


And for those wondering, yes, you do get some great glimpses of our four main Magpie troublemakers, enough to be quite satisfied. :-) (And if you haven’t seen yet, there is a fun Jackdaw prequel comic here.)

Safe Passage by Kate Owen

Safe Passage - Kate Owen

Safe Passage is a delightful lesbian romance novella set in contemporary New Orleans, and follows Jules, former rowing Olympiad who is currently teaching high school math. This school setting is a perfect set-up since she discovers an old safe in the house she inherited from her aunt, and inside there some old letters in French. From that surprise mystery, it gives her a splendid opportunity to talk with Gen, the hot toddy of a French teacher at her school, and Gen is just as interested in finding out the meaning of these hidden letters, and the long ago secrets they reveal (as well as have the chance to spend some quality time with Jules.)

Kate Owen’s first work, published in 2014, was one of my picks for the Boys in our Books New Author week, and I was happy to find it such a fun read. I haven’t read much f/f romance yet, and I found this definitely a great choice to launch off from. Jules is a funny and charming MC, and she might have that hot athletic body that comes from all that rowing, but she’s also humbly sweet, and admittedly has “little game,” so it’s not surprising that Gen pretty much has to intentionally spell out her interest. I loved their flirty dialogue as they learned more about each other, and overall I found the dialogue and writing nicely naturalistic and real. (I won’t lie, I felt a little swoony every time Jules called Gen the Cajun endearment of “cher”. (Maybe it’s all that Gambit I loved from the 90’s X-Men…)

I’m not normally a straight-up contemporary romance fan, but this was a sweet read, and I found the mystery of the letters added a nice impetus for these two stars to start orbiting around each other, and things like miscommunication conflicts didn’t have room to surface to make things unnecessarily complicated. Both Jules and Gen were refreshingly adult, even as they texted and emailed each other little notes, or as Jules worried about revealing some of her hidden self.

If I had a down point, it would be that the mystery itself is pretty light. I think part of that is due to the length of the work, since it’s around 28,000 words, so not a huge amount of space to balance complex mystery with strong character development, but did I enjoy that the relationship was given time to grow and feel real and not rushed.

Overall, this is definitely the type of contemporary romance that I like—sweet, a little sexy, refreshingly adult in how people treat each other, great dialogue, zesty chemistry, and a fun, light story that’s very readable.

If you’re looking for a lesbian romance to try, I would definitely recommend this one. I would look forward to either further adventures of Jules and Gen, or whatever Owen decides to work on next.

Winter Hearts by Fyn Alexander

Winter Hearts - Fyn Alexander

When I saw that Fyn Alexander, who may be best known for her contemporary BDSM romantic suspense series Angel and the Assassin, released what looked to be a historical western romance, my interest was piqued. Although Angel and the Assassin pushed up against my envelope of things that I want to read, I dug Alexander’s straight-forward writing style and her development around the ruthless assassin Kael and his evolution as he learned to become more “human” around his Angel. Since I also enjoy historical romances, I was interested to see how Alexander’s style would translate to the lonely prairie of the 1880’s.


This is a straight-up historical. (No BDSM dungeons in the back of Luke’s prairie shanty.) The focus is on our two leads, seasoned farmer Luke, who has been living a lonely life on his own, and newcomer Sam, who has come to the Dakota Territory to farm his new claim, but his “book learnin’” about how to tend the land doesn’t cover everything. Thankfully for him, he is rescued from a blizzard by Luke, who takes in young Sam, and they soon realize that they have much more in common—they both prefer to be with men.


For fans of historicals, especially historical westerns, Winter Hearts is a good pick. It feels very much like a traditional historical romance, with the focus being on the trials these two men face, whether it’s with the terrain, or surviving with their secret relationship in a time where being gay was illegal. Alexander’s style is still very straight-forward, but I find it easy to sink into, and she dots her passages with sparse but fitting details that bring to life Luke’s small but cozy shanty (thanks to Sam for bringing the warm light in) and the harsh terrain they’re toiling away at.


My only down point is some of the conflict is based on one of my least favorite tropes (lack of communication). Also, since the novel is a historical, its mood is weighed down by the very heavy, very true conflict that you could be murdered for being gay back then, and Luke lived with an underlying fear that they would be caught and killed. It felt pretty heavy, and made me think that I probably love sci-fi and fantasy romance so much because the “queer factor” is often more accepted in those fantastical settings.


Do you love historicals? If so, and especially if you like ones with a western setting, then this is an easy book to recommend. Alexander sweeps you along with Luke and Sam’s love story. If you’re a nervous reader (like me), I can promise the ending is good.


Do you hate historicals? Then this is probably not the book to turn you over to the historical-side. It feels lovingly traditional, and is well-paced as it follows the seasons with Sam and Luke as their land and love grow.


I was super surprised that Alexander, whose Angel and the Assassin series has some BDSM scenes that I don’t want to ponder too much about (the Humbler!), could write such a sweet (although still very sexy-times laden) story set in the Old West. Very happily surprised. I look forward to seeing what the author comes up with next.

Chugging along for the side characters

Rack & Ruin - Charlie Cochet

Read but not rating since I'm pretty much only reading for the side characters. (I find the main couple, Dex and Sloane, very dull together. Once I started allowing myself to skim their sex scenes, things felt much easier.)

I really love the trope/pairing of Cranky and Kind, so am pretty much here for the Cael/Ash (CASH) development. The new character of Austin is okay. I feel ambivalent about Hudson's unhappy love story, and find Hobbes still almost a non-character except for being huge, strong, and quiet. In true Cochet style, there is a lot of love stories (or potential love stories) flying around. I just wish we didn't have to follow Dex and Sloane's arc for four books before we start to get to the others. (The irony here is that I usually love series that focus on one couple. I just don't find much tension/chemistry between the main two here.)

That being said, I had some sudden medical things pop up this week, very stressful, and #2 and #3 of this series were pretty much the only thing I could read. I think the fact that it's a fairly light read, like reading a script almost for an action movie, and I could skim the parts that weren't working for me. But I am also grateful that it kept me entertained during a time when I really needed entertaining/distraction.

Will break my no-buy plan to pick up book 4 next month, and will be gnawing my arm for when the CASH book comes out this summer.

Year End Review 2014 - Favorite Books, Most Surprising, and More

My "end of year" review post is up on Boys in Our Books, including fave books, most surprising, and what I've learned from this year.

One of my take-aways is that I've read waaaaaaaay less this year than in the past, mostly due to lack of time, but I've also bought a bunch (and accumulated a stack of XMFC fanfic) so am planning a challenge in 2015 to try to get through a portion of the 275+ books, stories, and fanfics that I own.


(Still allowing for buying--not going cold turkey, but focusing on trying to get through the backlog.) :-)

What were some of your fave reads from this year? (And what are you looking forward to in 2015??) :D

End of Year Review 2014

The Dream Alchemist

The Dream Alchemist - Joanna Chambers

An interesting and imaginative read, although I had a few issues.

The story: It's our world, but there are those who exist who can "dreamwalk" or when they sleep, they enter the dreamworld of Somnus, lucid and having powers, while drone-like zombies mill around (that's us when we're sleeping.)

The first time dreamwalker Bryn meets Laszlo, it's when he's visiting this dream world. They don't know each other in the waking world, but that meeting starts a chain-reaction of realizations, as Bryn learns his skills in dreamwalking run much deeper (and dangerous) and Laszlo finds that he can't run from his dreams any longer, especially if it means risking never seeing Bryn again.

How were the MCs? Bryn was very likeable and it was easy to follow his journey, whether it was in the real world or when he was dreamwalking in Somnus. I felt less connection to Laszlo, where much of his journey was focused on coming to grips with who he really is. Together, they were fun, although I'll admit, it felt pretty "insta", so much so that I wondered if there was some greater meaning to their instant attraction--like if they had met before in Somnus, but couldn't remember. So far, that hasn't been spelled out.

What worked for me? Fun ideas, and good tension built up as Bryn and Laszlo are automatically pulled closer and closer to danger when they enter their dreams.

For those who are nervous about their couples and the endings, readers should feel safe here. Chambers does not pull a "Provoked" with this volume. (I say that will love, BTW.) :-)

What was harder for me? I found this book a bit frustrating, but I'm not sure how frustrated I'm supposed to be.

I like the pacing at first as the novel's world unspooled and you tried to figure out what was going on, but it did feel very "well-paced" or a little slow in development. Around 60% or so, I started thinking that I must be in a first book of a trilogy or a multi-book character arc, because I wasn't getting a feeling that we would get much character development in this first book. I was a little frustrated because it felt like much of this first volume was set-up, and didn't feel like a solid story on its own.

The last quarter, things speed up, but then I felt frustrated because it was almost too fast after that first half, and felt a bit anti-climactic after all the build-up before then.

I honestly don't know what to think of the book. Will Bryn and Laszlo have their story continue in book 2? If so, I feel more forgiving and will just wait for things to be developed further.

But I got the feeling that their love story is done at the end of this, even though so much of the novel felt like setting up something much longer. Side couples are also introduced here, so I'm wondering if the side couples are now going to be main characters in the next volume. If so, I feel more frustrated because I didn't feel enough development with the first couple, and don't really care about the side couples.

So for me, it was hard to understand how this first volume fit. It felt like mostly set-up, but then a fast close-up for the MCs. Will we get more with them to match that set-up? If so, I'll look forward to that. If it's progressing on with the conflicts between the side characters, then I care less.

Overall? An interesting and imaginative read. Those who like sci-fi-ish/speculative fiction with their m/m may dig it.

For me, the frustration over the pacing, the slow and then fast development, and the uncertainty of how things will progress make me pause when thinking about whether I should continue to vol. 2. I guess I'll wait for the blurb. If it's jumping to the next couple, I probably won't continue.

Reviewed first for Boys in our Books.

Mainstream M/M what?

I noticed that this upcoming Summer Devon historical is coming out...from McMillan/St. Martin's Press. Like, hey, that's mainstream!

I just think it's interesting. We're all waiting for Captive Prince from Penguin, but in the meantime, Z. A. Maxfield has released books with another Penguin ebook imprint, there's this one from HarperImpulse, and KJ Charles has a new series with Loveswept.

I feel like, mainstream....has kind of happened? But in this weird way? Like, it's not Cut&Run everywhere, but obviously enough has happened to get mainstream to jump in (with their cheaper ebook imprints.)

What do people think?

Signal to Noise

Signal to Noise - Talya Andor

A fun and thrilling sci-fi/action/romance about twin brothers who are the only survivors of an alien attack on the planet Noise, and have been living alone for three years, hoping for rescue, and developing a close, loving, and devoted relationship to each other. When rescue finally happens, it’s not for what they hoped for, and they have to navigate who is friend and who is an enemy, along with facing the real threat of the aliens returning for them.

What I liked:

This novel feels very much an homage to sci-fi classics like Alien, Aliens, and The Thing, but in a good way. The story is action-packed, and I found myself sitting in the bath for two hours last night, water going from hot to lukewarm, as I finished it.

The brothers, Theo and Bastian, are compelling characters, 16 and both forced to learn to survive on their own in an empty compound. (Heads-up--The twins are *together*, and have formed a loving, sexual relationship during their isolation.)

I thought the incest would squick me out, and I avoided this book for a while because of it, but Andor made it believable and fitting for the characters, and she added a few touches that hit my buttons.

1- I’m a SUCKER for mind bonds, and Theo and Bastian have a little something extra that ties them together, a talent that has helped them survive. You can find out the rest of the extras if you read it. :-)

2- Very Devoted – They LIVE for each other, and are each other’s worlds. Codependency like that can be off-putting, especially in real life, but it worked for this story as Theo and Bastian did whatever was in their power to protect each other from the many real threats around them.

This is mostly an action/sci-fi adventure story with some dollops of romance and sexy times. The romance fan in me was not left wanting since I found Bastian and Theo’s strong connection to each other compelling.

What was harder:

There were a few threads not completed, so I wondered about those. Also, and this may be heresy, but I almost wish some of the sex scenes had been trimmed down. Not because they weren’t good, but I found they slowed down the pace in an overall very fast-moving story. I wished that pace had been consistent throughout.

It ends well, for those who are nervous readers like me. No cliffhanger to worry about, but I’m also ready now to jump into the sequel, Klaxon at the Core, and see how things have progressed.

If you like movies like Alien and Aliens, and can be okay with for-real brotherly love, then this could be a fun read for you. I’m definitely glad I read it.

The Arnifour Affair (Colin Pendragon #1)

The Arnifour Affair  - Gregory Harris

First off, this book will be appreciated by those who like gay mysteries, especially the historical kind, and are fine with diving into a *very Sherlock-inspired* mystery that has little to no heat between the detective and his live-in lover who also helps him solve crimes on the dark gritty streets of Victorian London.


I didn’t know what to make of Colin, to be honest. This is VERY MUCH an homage to Sherlock Holmes, but an homage where Sherlock and Watson were together, like together-together, albeit under the radar since this is Victorian England.


In this homage, Sherlock is named Colin Pendragon, who is the brilliant and handsome son of a high-ranking government official, is in his late 30’s, solves mysteries, has a cranky woman who runs his house (who is NOT named Mrs. Hudson), and who lives with his lover, Watson, but in this case, Watson is named Ethan, and is NOT from the military, but is from a well-to-do family that had fallen on hard times and had been an opium addict in his youth. Sometime in his terrible drug-addled travels, he was rescued from that life in the slums by Colin, and they have been together for over a decade.


That is all hinted backstory, and you only get a few glimpses when Ethan angsts about his past and falling back into his addiction, especially when their current case of solving an Earl’s murder takes them to a local opium den to find answers.


I didn’t know which Sherlock Harris was most tapping into, and I am not a Sherlock scholar since I think I only made it through the Hound of Baskervilles way back in my teens. Colin is very arrogant and rude, which made me ponder this Sherlock.




But he is also very handsome and athletic, features described in the text by his random habit of lifting dumb bells and doing pushups in the middle of a conversation, participating in fighting matches, and also having women literally fawn over him (while they side-eye Ethan with a “What’s HE doing here?” air.


Which made me ponder this Sherlock, since that version had some of the fighting, and Colin is mentioned to be shorter and more strapping/broad.




I also got the feeling that he was a bit of a Marty Stu, but maybe I’m just annoyed by characters who are brilliant and excessively attractive, who are fawned over by women, and who are really unlikeable. I didn’t understand why Ethan stuck around him, and assumed they must have some killer back-story with the whole getting-rescued-from-opium-den-youth.


Colin and Ethan as adults in their 30’s were a little dull, and I almost would have preferred a story set when they started their relationship, just to see how that happened, as opposed to the worn, comfort level that they are at now.


How was the mystery? It wasn’t bad. It kept me guessing, and is really very cozy and a closed-room mystery. Only a few minor thrills here, and I would have been much more involved in there was a dash or three more excitement, but if you like cozy, closed-room mysteries, this should be an interesting read. There were definitely some twists I hadn’t expected, so kudos for that.


What drove me nuts: There were a couple words I really wished the author stopped using, including:

Colin and Ethan snicker and smirk A LOT, as well as chortle, tease, roll their eyes, and drolly say things, and I found it hard to picture these two men in their mid-to-late 30’s smirking and snickering this much. It made it hard for me to take them seriously, especially when it would lead with a line of dialogue, which I would imagine them saying seriously, and then end with the tag of “I snickered” or “Colin smirked,” and I’d get kicked out of the scene as I now imagine these men laughing about. I wanted to cull all those tags out.


The romance is very low-heat. Seriously, don’t go in looking for a smoochfest between Sherlock and Watson, because you will be disappointed. I almost wondered if their love was subtext until a non-explicit, fade-to-black bath scene. There are a few mentions, and a few touches, but very low heat. In that way, it might be more in the Doyle style, but the romance-fan in me wished for a little more, especially since I hoped for Colin to be a little more human and caring in a way that showed why Ethan stuck around.


But if you like mysteries, especially those that are Sherlock-esque, then I’d say try it and see what you think. I got my copy at the library! That was a nice bonus, so I recommend also checking your library or if they don’t have it, asking if they’d purchase it. I also noticed that this volume is part of the Kindle Unlimited plan, for those using that.

Flight of Magpies (Book 3 of A Charm of Magpies)

Flight of Magpies - K.J. Charles

4.5 stars - I honestly don’t know what the deal is with KJ Charles. Did she sell her soul to the Devil? Has she been secretly writing for years excessively readable works in some other genre, say, gothic thrillers or werewolf comedy-of-manners or Pre-K fiction? Maybe under the sly secret pseudonym of JK Charles? I ask, because I just sit back sometimes and stare at my much-loved ebooks of The Magpie Lord and Think of England, and ponder that if they were paperbacks, they would be bent and creased and probably wine-stained from all the reading, and hugging, and page-turning and rereading, and to think this just started...last year? When her first book came out? LAST YEAR.

I steered away from the Magpie Lord when it first came out, because I dunno, new, unknown author, whatever, seemed like a commitment, and two weeks from running a conference, so wasn’t doing anything new, but I couldn’t miss all those surprisingly gushing reviews on my GoodReads feed, and a couple days before running my first gay romance conference, I found some time and read it.

And I loved it. I thought it was delicious and thrilling and sexy and surprising, and it ended up being my favorite book of the year. And with this series, and Think of England, which is one of my favorites for this year, Charles is in this auto-buy group in my mind now with Josh Lanyon, Ginn Hale, and Jordan Castillo Price, where I don’t know what they’re doing next, maybe it’s a werewolf comedy-of-manners, but I’ve already mentally pre-ordered it.

Stop gushing. What about book 3?

Sorry, I just get...carried away when I go back and think of the Magpie Lord journey over the series, and what’s transpired for poor overworked Stephen and his demanding, entitled, and sexily supportive Lord Crane, and what terrible things they have survived, including attacks by hair(!!!), killer giant rats, invading spirits, and a group of merciless warlocks that want nothing more than to rip the Magpie Lord’s power from Crane’s bones.

So how was book 3? Well, did you like book 1 and 2? Because if you did, then you’re going to like book 3. It’s a similar style and tone, still surprising with some shocking turns (as the villains are very villainy!!), similar wit and sexy banter between Stephen and Crane as they push-pull each other about their relationship, about keeping secrets, and about whether committing to each other is what’s best for them, especially since being gay is still illegal in Victorian England. (But even with the fear of the Law or blackmail, these two can’t stay away from each other, thankfully for us hungry readers.) Also, like in past books, you will find some more hot sexy times as Stephen leaves his obligations outside the bedroom, and willingly surrenders control to his Lord.

Have you not read book 1 or 2 yet? Then don’t start here. It would be a crime against your possible reading pleasure to jump in at this point. What I would recommend is to go try book 1, especially if you’re a fan of historicals and paranormal, since Charles’ world is a mix of dangerous magic and Victorian morals, with a grateful dash of face-punching, thanks to always-good-back-up manservant Merrick and the not-really-all-that-noble Crane.

Was it a perfect read? No. There’s one development where I shared Stephen’s shock, and it felt less organic than other parts of the series. As a reader, I didn’t “buy it,” and it did feel like a convenient move to comfortably pair other characters off. But even with that point, it was still easy to be carried along with the story’s quick pace and plot.

How do I feel about the series overall? I think it’s a stellar trilogy, and if there are no more novels, I think it is reads great as is, and any reader who has enjoyed the ride thus far with Stephen and Crane should feel good about the ending these two so much deserve after all that they have survived.

What’s next? There actually IS a new Magpie story coming in early 2015, but it’s labeled A Charm of Magpies 2.5, so is set technically before this volume. Also, early next year, there is Jackdaw, which is a related book that follows a secondary character from this volume and his adventures, and by the hints in the blurb, we may also see some Magpie Lord sightings there as well.

Would I read more of this series? Of course! I’m a greedy reader and if the next book was just Stephen and Crane talking about the weather (“Looks like rain.” “That it does.”) I’d pick it up in a heartbeat, but end of the day, even for this greedy reader, this journey settles very well in this volume, and I think other greedy readers will be quite pleased.

I do wonder what Charles, her pseudonym JK, and their Devil companion will come up with next though… I am hoping for more Feximal myself, and of course, the sequel to Think of England...

Reviewed first for Boys in our Books.

Wings of Destruction - Okay book, but still bought it

Wings of Destruction - Victoria Zagar

Wings of Destruction is a dystopian/post-apocalyptic novella about Martin, who is asexual in a world built around fulfilling carnal desires. He is unable to keep relationships (or Mates as it is referred to here), and tries to survive on his own while trying to stay off the radar of roving gangs who rape and pillage whatever they can find.

At the beginning of this story though, Martin is at the end of his resilience, and he decides that dying would be better than anything this desolate world can offer him, so he prepares to kill himself, and when trying, he meets the angel Anael who has been sent to judge whether those on earth should remain or be destroyed.

What I liked:

Wings of Destruction is an imaginative story, and went into a couple directions that I hadn’t expected, which was a nice twist. I also very much appreciated how some of the characters weren’t all that they appeared.

I went into this story primarily because I was looking to read something with an asexual character. Being ace myself, it’s really rare to find romances with ace characters so I wanted to check this out.

I have complicated feelings about fantastical pairings with ace characters. Here Martin is happy to find someone, a literal angel, who can love him for him, and won’t pressure him for sex. A part of me is, “Yay!” because Martin deserves love. A part of me is wary because of the (not intentional) message that ace characters can only find love with those not of this world. I think it’s hard for authors now writing ace characters because there is so little available in romance now, and so anything that comes up is looked at as an example of representation, and asexuality is really complex, and there are so many ways to write about it.

For those who want a quick primer on asexuality, I’m going to steal what I wrote for my City of Soldiers review:

“Asexuality is the orientation when a person doesn’t feel sexual attraction. They can feel romantic feelings, and they can fall in love. They can like touching and kissing and cuddling. Some are into kink, some aren’t. Some can like sex and be aroused while others can be repulsed by sex. There are hetero-romantic and homo-romantic and pan-romantic and aromantic asexuals. I’ve come to understand that it’s a really wide spectrum of people, where the real commonality is the lack of feeling sexual attraction towards others.”

Martin is ace and also suffers from depression, so overall really devalues himself, especially since no one will stay with him because he doesn’t want to have sex. Meeting Anael is for him, like finally feeling what love can be, even for him, which was nice.

Was the Asexual character “fixed” in the end? No, he’s not. And I bring it up because my worry with reading ace romances is that the ace character will be changed somehow in order for there to be an HEA that is considered more “normal”. But, no, Martin’s asexuality is not changed or erased.

What was harder for me: The writer’s style felt simplistic, and felt like an early work. I’m really psyched that the author wrote a story with an ace lead, so I encourage them to continue writing and working on their craft. There was a lot of ideas here in a short amount of space (20,000 words), and for me, the execution felt too simple or bare for what being called within the fantastical plot.

Do I recommend buying it? This is partially an activism issue with me. For me, who sees so few stories with ace characters, I feel the need to buy them when they do come out to send the message to keep writing more.

The market is very cyclic--so if you want more diversity in your romances, whether it’s more trans*, bi, or gender fluid characters, more characters of color or diverse backgrounds or characters with disabilities, the cycle is this: Write  Publish  Buy. If a part of that cycle isn’t working, it can encourage the other parts to also stop. So, if you want it, people got to write it, people got to publish it, and people got to buy it, and that’s how it gets into the market more.

So, although this story was just an okay read for me, I’ve already pre-ordered my own copy, and my encourage to the author is to keep writing, and to the greater field, I’d love to see more ace characters getting their Happily Ever After. (I see Alex Beecroft has a book on the horizon.)

And there are a couple lists over at GoodReads, Asexuals in Fiction and Queer Romances with an Asexual MC. If you know of other titles, feel free to add!


Reviewed first for Boys in our Books.