Review: Tramps and Thieves by Rhys Ford

Review: Tramps and Thieves by Rhys FordTramps and Thieves by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, mystery, romantic suspense
Series: Murder and Mayhem #2
Pages: 210
Published by Dreamspinner Press on September 18th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Whoever said blood was thicker than water never stood in a pool of it.

Retiring from stealing priceless treasures seemed like a surefire way for Rook Stevens to stay on the right side of the law. The only cop in his life should have been his probably-boyfriend, Los Angeles Detective Dante Montoya, but that’s not how life—his life—is turning out. Instead, Rook ends up not only standing in a puddle of his cousin Harold’s blood but also being accused of Harold’s murder…and sleeping with Harold’s wife.

For Dante, loving the former thief means his once-normal life is now a sea of chaos, especially since Rook seems incapable of staying out of trouble—or keeping trouble from following him home. When Rook is tagged as a murder suspect by a narrow-focused West L.A. detective, Dante steps in to pull his lover out of the quagmire Rook’s landed in.

When the complicated investigation twists around on them, the dead begin to stack up, forcing the lovers to work together. Time isn’t on their side, and if they don’t find the killer before another murder, Dante will be visiting Rook in his prison cell—or at his grave.

My Review:

Tramps and Thieves is a terrific follow up to its series opener, Murder and Mayhem. And it gets off to an equally explosive start. Last time it was a shoot out over a misidentified Wookie, this time it’s a prank heist that turns up a real murder, and nearly turns into one as well.

Rook Stevens has been fighting with most of his newly re-discovered family ever since his rich and eccentric grandfather discovered his existence back in the first book. His grandfather’s insistence on Sunday family dinners at his over decorated mansion have kept all the relationships on the boil – and none of them are brewing anything tasty.

So when his slimy cousin Harold winkles a collectible Maltese Falcon out from under Rook’s nose, Rook has to get it back. Being able to exercise his disused skills as a thief is just a bonus. Until Rook finds Harold in a pool of his own blood, with the contested Falcon resting on his corpse.

His killer tries to take Rook out on his way out, but when Rook calls the cops, he gets yet another variation of asshole who is just sure he must have committed the crime, and seems willing to bend the rules to make it stick.

LAPD Detective Dante Montoya rides to his lover’s rescue, and they find themselves in the midst of yet another pissing contest with a bad cop, and another trail of dead bodies that leads right to Rook’s door.

This time the question is whether it’s his own past that has caught up to him, again, or if it’s someone else’s. As Rook gets caught by one close call after another, he retreats to lick his wounds while Dante chases down the villains. Only to discover that it was Rook they were after all along.

And that he might be too late.

Escape Rating A-: If you like your romantic suspense with a heaping helping of chaos and destruction, this series is a winner from that first downed Wookie. In Tramps and Thieves, Rook and Dante are driven from crisis to crisis from the very first page, and the action doesn’t let up until the story winds to its breathtaking conclusion.

Where the first book, Murder and Mayhem, was all about Rook’s past reaching out to grab him, and his final decision to let it go, this second book is all about family. And both birth family and family-of-choice.

We see the influence of family-of-choice in Dante’s police partner’s reactions when Dante decides to investigate Rook’s sudden rash of problems on his own. They are partners, and the man rightfully will not let Dante go it alone, even if it is safer for his career.

Speaking of Dante’s partner, he is the link between this series and the fantastic Cole McGinnis series. And in a roundabout way, Cole almost gets dragged into this case. It’s always nice to hear that old friends are doing well.

But the heart of this case turns out to revolve around the birth family that Rook never knew he had until he stepped out of the shadows of his old life.

There are all sorts of variations on this saying, but the one that applies here is “You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your relatives.” Rook may be the spitting image of his grandfather as a young man, but the family that has gathered around Archie Stevens hoping for a piece of his massive estate hates Rook with nearly every fiber of their collective being – some of them with more reasons than others.

He has stepped into a stew of boiling resentment, one that splatters onto him because no one wants to challenge the old man. And it’s in that stew that the bodies are bubbling. It’s messy from beginning to end, and an absolute page-turner.

I can’t wait to see what kind of chaos finds Rook and Dante next. If you want to get in on their action, there’s a blog tour for Tramps and Thieves going on now, giving away $20 gift certificates at every stop. There’s also a bit of a prequel story being spun out over the course of the tour. Check it out!

Finally, I gift you with an earworm. I have had this damn song running in my head ever since Rhys sent me the eARC for this book. As the song very much fits Rook’s shady background, I had to share, even though I know that no one will thank me later.

Review: Dim Sum Asylum by Rhys Ford

Review: Dim Sum Asylum by Rhys FordDim Sum Asylum by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Pages: 240
Published by Dreamspinner Press on June 9th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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* Novel-length expansion of original short story found in Charmed & Dangerous anthology. *
Welcome to Dim Sum Asylum: a San Francisco where it’s a ho-hum kind of case when a cop has to chase down an enchanted two-foot-tall shrine god statue with an impressive Fu Manchu mustache that's running around Chinatown, trolling sex magic and chaos in its wake.
Senior Inspector Roku MacCormick of the Chinatown Arcane Crimes Division faces a pile of challenges far beyond his human-faerie heritage, snarling dragons guarding C-Town’s multiple gates, and exploding noodle factories. After a case goes sideways, Roku is saddled with Trent Leonard, a new partner he can’t trust, to add to the crime syndicate family he doesn’t want and a spell-casting serial killer he desperately needs to find.
While Roku would rather stay home with Bob the Cat and whiskey himself to sleep, he puts on his badge and gun every day, determined to serve and protect the city he loves. When Chinatown’s dark mystical underworld makes his life hell and the case turns deadly, Trent guards Roku’s back and, if Trent can be believed, his heart... even if from what Roku can see, Trent is as dangerous as the monsters and criminals they’re sworn to bring down.

My Review:

If Cole McGinnis from Dirty Kiss found himself in Kai Gracen’s world from Black Dog Blues, you’d end up with someone like Roku MacCormick in something like his Chinatown Division of the Arcane Crimes Squad in someplace like his fae-infused San Francisco. Possibly with a bit of Detective Inspector Chen from Liz Williams’ Snake Agent to add just that extra touch of the really, really supernaturally magical.

And it would be an excellent thing. And it is.

Roku’s San Francisco is just a side-step away from our own, and feels like it is built on the same somewhat shaky foundations. We don’t know when or how this history split off from our own, but whenever it did it created an analog of our world that is just close enough to identify with, and just different enough to make it really, really weird. And magical.

The story begins with Senior Inspector Roku MacCormick chasing down a man who has just stolen a clutch of eggs from a flock of little, tiny dragons. Yes, there be dragons here, and this bunch is pissed. Really, really pissed. And so is Roku, because the egg-thief is his soon to be ex police partner, and if Roku doesn’t get him the dragons will, or possibly the other way around. And the chase and eventual capture is only the beginning of this wild ride.

Roku, as is true of most urban fantasy heroes, is always in more than a bit of trouble. He’s also a man who is always caught between a rock and a hard place, and who is such a mass of contradictory identities and loyalties that he seems to always be on the outside looking in, no matter what he’s on the outside of, or where he’s looking into.

First, he’s a natural-born fae-human hybrid. It’s rare, but it does happen. And there is plenty of prejudice going around on all sides, humans vs. fae, fae vs. humans, and both sides vs. hybrids. But Roku’s also stuck with a foot on both sides of the cops vs. criminals fence as well, and it’s damned uncomfortable. His fae mother came from generations of cops. His mother’s fling was not merely human, but the son of the head of one of San Francisco’s most powerful crime families, the Takahashi. And while Roku’s father turned out to useless as both a father and as a son, Roku’s grandfather is absolutely certain that Roku is the perfect heir to the family criminal empire, even though Roku bleeds blue.

The case that brings Roku his new partner Trent Leonard and all the excitement he can handle is all about family. Roku’s family. His grandfather has put him in the crosshairs of his own family, as everyone thinks that the way to promotion is to wipe out the competition. And his grandfather’s enemies are after him because he looks like the best way to get at the well-guarded old man.

Meanwhile, there is deadly magic loose on the streets of Chinatown, aimed at Roku and anyone who gets close to him. It’s a road he’s been down before, and it cost him everything he held dear. He’s not sure he’s ready to go down that road again, but he has no choice if he wants to save the city and the people that he loves.

Escape Rating A-: It may be Pride Month, but that’s just an excuse for me. I read everything that Rhys writes, and usually fall somewhere between merely liking it and loving the hell out of it. Black Dog Blues was on my Best Ebook Romances list at Library Journal in 2013, before it was picked up by Dreamspinner and re-published. (I like to think the article helped!)

But seriously, Dim Sum Asylum is terrific urban fantasy, right on the border with paranormal romance. There is a romance here, but it feels like it takes second place to the mystery that desperately needs solving, and that’s just the way I like my urban fantasy.

The mystery is a wheels within wheels within wheels kind of thing, and as those wheels unspiral we get deeper and deeper into Roku’s world as well as his head and heart. The case starts with him chasing a sex-magic homunculus, middles with stone scorpions trying to leap down his throat, and ends with the destruction of animated statuary dragonflies. The magic gets bigger and the stakes get higher.

Roku begins the story with no hostages to fortune except Bob the Cat, and ends with him finding a partner for both his work and his life, and his possible return to both his adopted and his birth families, at least in some capacity. His circle gets wider as the stakes get more dangerous.

The ending of the case was marvelous and surprising, and I don’t want to spoil it. But there’s also a fascinating lesson in there for anyone who wants to take it.

And last but not least, Bob the Cat is my new favorite book pet. (Other people have book boyfriends, I have book pets). He’s completely different from Neko in the Cole McGinnis series, but equally manipulative and equally cat.

If you like the sound of Dim Sum Asylum, or maybe I should say the taste of Dim Sum Asylum, there’s a tour going on right now with a chance to win a $20 Gift Certificate to the etailer of your choice as well as chapters of a short story set in the same universe as Dim Sum Asylum. (Click on the logo above to connect to the tour) Me, I want to read that story!

Review: There’s This Guy by Rhys Ford

Review: There’s This Guy by Rhys FordThere's This Guy by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, M/M romance
Pages: 220
Published by Dreamspinner Presss on March 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

How do you save a drowning man when that drowning man is you?
Jake Moore’s world fits too tightly around him. Every penny he makes as a welder goes to care for his dying father, an abusive, controlling man who’s the only family Jake has left. Because of a promise to his dead mother, Jake resists his desire for other men, but it leaves him consumed by darkness.
It takes all of Dallas Yates’s imagination to see the possibilities in the fatigued Art Deco building on the WeHo’s outskirts, but what seals the deal is a shy smile from the handsome metal worker across the street. Their friendship deepens while Dallas peels back the hardened layers strangling Jake’s soul. It’s easy to love the artistic, sweet man hidden behind Jake’s shattered exterior, but Dallas knows Jake needs to first learn to love himself.
When Jake’s world crumbles, he reaches for Dallas, the man he’s learned to lean on. It’s only a matter of time before he’s left to drift in a life he never wanted to lead and while he wants more, Jake’s past haunts him, making him doubt he’s worth the love Dallas is so desperate to give him.

My Review:

No one gets shot at. Or the equivalent. Which makes this a first among this author’s books, at least for this reader.

Unlike any of her other series, particularly the awesome Cole McGinnis series and the equally marvelous Sinners series, There’s This Guy is not romantic suspense. Nor does it have the paranormal element of Hellsinger or the urban fantasy element of Kai Gracen. Even Half Moon Bay has the potential for a higher body count than this story.

And it felt like I was missing something, or the book was. I kind of liked There’s This Guy, but the lack of danger and/or suspense meant that for this reader, at least, it lacked the spice that makes all of the author’s other series so compelling.

I liked these guys, and all of the characters except the obvious one you’re not supposed to like (and for excellent reasons), but I didn’t get that strapped-to-my-seat-need-to turn-the-next-page-to-see-if-or-how-they-managed-to-escape-whatever-desperate-danger-their-author-had-just-dropped-them-into-this-time feeling that I expect from the author’s work.

Because that element just isn’t there. And I missed it. A lot.

Escape Rating C: This story is a very slow-burn romance with a whole lot of hurt/comfort/angst stirred into it. The characters, particularly Jake, start the book in a very, very dark place, and it takes a long time and a lot of patience, friendship and love for him to begin to see much daylight in his world.

That the relationship is therefore a slow-build romance makes sense. But Jake is coming from such a dark place that his initial, early and middle angst is very, very hard to read. I wanted to reach through the book and give him a hug. Frequently. Since I couldn’t, I let Dallas, and occasionally Celeste, do it for me.

But there is just so much dark, and so much peering into that dark. The story felt like mostly exploration of that darkness for a long time, without much actually happening. It might have worked better for this reader, as a story, if we’d seen a bit more of the rehab of the club. Or at least more external events to tie all the difficult introspection together.

Along with a bit less of what felt like overly purple prose, although your reading mileage may vary on that.

In the end, this one felt a bit too long, as though the author padded a novella out to novel length with all that purple prose. While there is a happy ending, it’s a long, hard slog to get there, not dissimilar to Jake’s long, dark night of the soul to finally find daylight. I’m happy for the happy ending. While I’m sure that slogging through the angst was worth it for the characters, I’m much less sure about it being worth it for their readers.

This was a book I really, really wanted to love. But I just didn’t.

Review: Hanging the Stars by Rhys Ford

Review: Hanging the Stars by Rhys FordHanging The Stars (Half Moon Bay #2) by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, romantic suspense
Series: Half Moon Bay #2
Pages: 206
Published by Dreamspinner Press on December 5th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Angel Daniels grew up hard, one step ahead of the law and always looking over his shoulder. A grifter’s son, he’d learned every con and trick in the book but ached for a normal life. Once out on his own, Angel returns to Half Moon Bay where he once found…and then lost…love.
Now, Angel’s life is a frantic mess of schedules and chaos. Between running his bakery and raising his troubled eleven-year-old half-brother, Roman, Angel has a hectic but happy life. Then West Harris returns to Half Moon Bay and threatens to break Angel all over again by taking away the only home he and Rome ever had.
When they were young, Angel taught West how to love and laugh but when Angel moved on, West locked his heart up and threw away the key. Older and hardened, West returns to Half Moon and finds himself face-to-face with the man he’d lost. Now, West is torn between killing Angel or holding him tight.
But rekindling their passionate relationship is jeopardized as someone wants one or both of them dead, and as the terrifying danger mounts, neither man knows if the menace will bring them together or forever tear them apart.

My Review:

fish stick fridays by rhys fordIf it wasn’t for bad luck, the Harris family in Half Moon Bay wouldn’t have any luck at all. Or so it seems. In the first book in the series, Fish Stick Fridays, Lang Harris is being stalked by a deranged ex-lover. While Lang does get his happy ever after, it only comes though a LOT of pain.

In Hanging the Stars, the story switches from Lang to his twin brother West. And someone is trying their damndest to kill West. So far, they keep missing, but not by much. They get close enough often enough that West retreats to his remote retreat, a house outside of Half Moon Bay.

It’s where Lang, along with his husband Deke and their niece Zig (the stars of Fish Stick Fridays) can look in on West frequently, and where West has the opportunity to spoil Zig at every turn. West’s and Lang’s relationship has always been a bit fraught, thanks to the way that their icy-cold father pitted them against each other at every turn. But West’s relationship with chaos-agent Zig is a thing of beauty. And joy. Both brothers seem to be lavishing the little girl with all the affection neither of them got as children.

But there’s something else waiting for West Harris in Half Moon Bay, and it’s something that he has been avoiding for years. His past. And that past is all wrapped up in the person of Angel Daniels, the only man that West has ever loved. Even though they left each other behind, in pain and tragedy, back when they were teenagers, no one and nothing has ever gotten that close to West since.

Angel hasn’t moved on either, at least not in that sense. But Angel now has other demands on his time and his heart. He’s become the default guardian for his kid brother Roman, a pre-teen boy dealing not just with the vicious onset of puberty, but also coping somewhere on either the ADHD or autism spectrum, or possibly both.

And someone recovering, just as Angel still is, from their physically and emotionally abusive father.

Angel is also coping with managing the Moonlight Hotel in Half Moon Bay, a decrepit fleabag of a place that he has somehow managed to cobble into a last chance home for all of the town’s misfits. He became the manager of the old hotel, and the owner of the adjacent bakery, in a deal with West and Lang’s grandmother.

It’s all that Angel has, and all that keeps Child Protective Services from sweeping Roman into foster care. And West’s company has been trying to take it away from him, in order to build expensive condos on beautiful Half Moon Bay.

When the threats against West’s life escalate, he’s forced to come back to Half Moon Bay, to confront his past, his company’s rather rapacious present, and all his unresolved feelings for Angel.

While somebody takes potshots at both of them from the shadows.

Escape Rating A-: The mystery here is quite a puzzle. Someone is after West. Someone is also after Angel. And that same someone, whoever it is, keeps trying to pin those crimes on the two would-be victims. In other words, someone is doing a damn good job of making it look like Angel is behind the attacks on West, and vice versa. That nefarious someone doesn’t succeed, but they do make a damn good try of it.

In addition to living through seemingly random attempts at murder, arson and kidnapping, some of which are more successful than others, West is also forced to deal with the discovery that one of his best friends and business partners has been robbing him blind. But that “friend” can’t be the person behind all the mayhem, because the dangers keep escalating after the bastard gets himself killed.

The hits just keep on coming. But in the middle of all the fires, and gunshots, and everything else that keeps going wrong, West and Angel manage to grope their way back to each other. Sometimes through broken glass.

And they start making a home for Roman. It looks like West is planning to spoil Roman every bit as much as he does Zig. Watching the family dynamic start to come together is awesome.

But there is a whodunnit behind it all. I’ll admit that I figured out who must be doing it, or at least part of it, fairly early on. Angel was so worried, and rightly so, about one basty-assed-nastard coming back into their lives that it was bound to happen. I’ll also admit that the motives behind the mess were not completely what I expected.

As much as I loved this book, and as much as I enjoy this series so far, I’m wondering where things go from here. In the author’s Cole McGinnis series, because Cole was a private investigator, it made sense that he kept dodging baddies and bullets, But the level of violence that Lang and West both had to face doesn’t seem organic to what would otherwise be a marvelous small-town romance series. So, even though both characters needed to work through a lot of pain to figure out what they really wanted out of life, I hope that in future installments either the danger ratchets down, or it attaches itself to someone who faces those dangers for a living. No family has this much bad luck.

Or at least I sure hope not. My last name is Harris too!

Review: Mad Lizard Mambo by Rhys Ford

Review: Mad Lizard Mambo by Rhys FordMad Lizard Mambo (Kai Gracen, #2) by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, M/M romance, urban fantasy
Series: Kai Gracen #2
Pages: 220
Published by DSP Publications on September 13th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Kai Gracen has no intention of being anyone’s pawn. A pity Fate and SoCalGov have a different opinion on the matter.
Licensed Stalkers make their living hunting down monsters and dangerous criminals… and their lives are usually brief, brutal, and thankless. Despite being elfin and cursed with a nearly immortal lifespan, Kai didn’t expect to be any different. Then Ryder, the High Lord of the Southern Rise Court, arrived in San Diego, Kai’s not-so-mundane life went from mild mayhem to full-throttle chaos.
Now an official liaison between the growing Sidhe Court and the human populace, Kai is at Ryder’s beck and call for anything a High Lord might need a Stalker to do. Unfortunately for Kai, this means chasing down a flimsy rumor about an ancient lost Court somewhere in the Nevada desert—a court with powerful magics that might save Ryder—and Kai’s—people from becoming a bloody memory in their Merged world’s violent history.
The race for the elfin people’s salvation opens unwelcome windows into Kai’s murky past, and it could also slam the door on any future he might have with his own kind and Ryder.

My Review:

There’s more than one very mad lizard in this story. Whether or not any or all of them are doing the mambo? I’ll leave you to make your own decision.

What definitely does get danced around is Kai’s heart and soul, and his carefully constructed identity. Kai has stitched together who and what he is around a soft squishy heart and whole lot of tough gristle. To come from where he did, and to do the job he does, that outward projection of untouchable toughness is absolutely necessary.

The soft, gooey center is unexpected. And likely to get him killed.

Black Dog Blues by Rhys FordReaders were first introduced to Kai and his world in the completely awesome Black Dog Blues. And while it is not strictly necessary to have read the first book to enjoy the second, it is highly recommended. It’s been three years for this reader, and I wish I had done some catch up before opening Mad Lizard Mambo.

This world is very complex. In this alternate universe, something folded Underhill, the formerly legendary world of the Sidhe (elves) and Unsidhe (dark elves) into what used to be our world. Some places in each world survived relatively intact, like San Diego, and some places clearly didn’t. The humans and the sidhe fought to determine who would be the apex predator in this new combined reality, and the peace was hard won. Also a bit indeterminate.

Kai has a foot in every camp, and is uncomfortable at best and hunted at worst in all of them. Technically, he is a chimera, a genetic mixture of sidhe and unsidhe, possibly with something else thrown in. But after his first few horrific decades, he was raised by humans who make their living hunting the deadly creatures that now populate the wilderness. So while he may genetically be part of one race, he is socialized in another.

And sidhe and unsidhe are not supposed to be able to mix. Kai may look sidhe, but he knows there is darkness literally buried in his psyche. He doesn’t feel like he really belongs anywhere.

But Ryder, sidhe lord of the Southern Rise Court, believes that Kai belongs to him. Not in any of the terrible ways that Kai has been possessed and used in the past, but in the way of family, friends, and hopefully someday, lovers.

It’s probably going to be a long time before that happens. Kai has been tortured and abused in not just the past, but the very recent present. Ryder may believe that blending all of the races is the key to everyone’s salvation, but Kai is far from certain that he even wants, or deserves to be, saved.

The sidhe are dying out. Slowly but inexorably. Their birth rate is not high enough to maintain a healthy gene pool. Ryder wants to hunt for the possible site of an ancient sidhe fertility ritual, deep in the no-man’s land outside New Vegas. He has gently coerced Kai, by forcing him to abide by his Stalker contract with the SoCalGov, to guide him to a place where no sane being would ever want to go, through lands that are claimed by wild black dog packs and hungry sand dragons.

This quest might be the salvation of the sidhe. It might just get them all killed. And it might deliver Kai to a fate that truly is worse than death.

Escape Rating A-: Mad Lizard Mambo is the wildest of wild rides. If you like your gritty urban fantasy with a side of dragon and only the tiniest glimmer of romance on the far horizon, Kai’s misadventures make for fantastic reading.

I say misadventures because Kai’s life seems to be one long run of “out of the frying pan into the fire” and back again. In his whole life breaks have been very few and far between. In this story, there are none. It’s a non-stop thrill ride that always seems to headed for the bottom of the trough, only to pull up and out at the last possible minute. Then it swoops down again, leaving the reader’s stomach hanging on for dear life as the story twists around the next turn.

Through Kai’s eyes, we see the most post-apocalyptic view of this brave new world. When Underhill folded into our Earth, it left a terrible mess. The three races have achieved an extremely uneasy peace. Kai and his friends make their living by hunting down rare creatures and strange objects out in the desert wastes. The unsidhe seem to see humans as prey to be toyed with and then eaten. The sidhe are only slightly better, they mostly see humans as inferior animals, like pets, or apes who have learned to wear clothes.

Ryder seems to be the only person who recognizes that at least the sidhe and the humans are going to have to band together in order to survive. And while he’s right, getting there is going to be a walk through hell, fighting both the unsidhe and his own family all along the way.

And then there’s Kai, shakily straddling all the worlds, certain that he belongs in none of them. He’s too human to be unsidhe, too unsidhe to be sidhe, and too sidhe to be human. He’s scared to let anyone get too close, because he has no belief that he deserves any consideration at all.

And he is utterly fascinating.

Review: Absinthe of Malice by Rhys Ford

Review: Absinthe of Malice by Rhys FordAbsinthe of Malice (Sinners, #5) by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, M/M romance, romantic suspense
Series: Sinners #5
Pages: 200
Published by Dreamspinner Press on June 22nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

We’re getting the band back together.
Those five words send a chill down Miki St. John’s spine, especially when they’re spoken with a nearly religious fervor by his brother-in-all-but-blood, Damien Mitchell. However, those words were nothing compared to what Damien says next.
And we’re going on tour.
When Crossroads Gin hits the road, Damien hopes it will draw them closer together. There’s something magical about being on tour, especially when traveling in a van with no roadies, managers, or lovers to act as a buffer. The band is already close, but Damien knows they can be more—brothers of sorts, bound not only by familial ties but by their intense love for music.
As they travel from gig to gig, the band is haunted by past mistakes and personal demons, but they forge on. For Miki, Damie, Forest, and Rafe, the stage is where they all truly come alive, and the music they play is as important to them as the air they breathe.
But those demons and troubles won’t leave them alone, and with every mile under their belts, the band faces its greatest challenge—overcoming their deepest flaws and not killing one another along the way.

My Review:

I want to strangle the author. Except I really don’t. I loved this book. But…while the story is pretty much wrapped up at the end, a bombshell gets dropped on the last page that makes a terrible wait for the next book. Which means I can’t strangle the author, because then I’ll never find out what happened. Damn, a good plot ruined.

And there bloody well better be a next book. After THAT. Which I’m going to leave for readers to discover for themselves. Then we can share the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

sinners gin by rhys fordThe Sinners series so far has been leading up to this. In the beginning, back in Sinner’s Gin, Miki St. John was all alone and drowning in his pain, both physical and emotional. As the story has progressed, Miki has been putting his life back together, along with putting a band back together.

That band, Crossroads Gin, is a mix of the old and the new. Damien, back from the dead and the wreck that killed Sinner’s Gin. Rafe and Forest are new, but have so many demons of their own that they fit right in.

In each book in the series so far, Sinner’s Gin, Whiskey and Wry, Tequila Mockingbird and Sloe Ride, the band has added a new player, the Murphy family has lost one wild child to the lure of loving a broken rock star, and the old Sinner’s Gin has become the new Crossroads Gin.

But in each book in the series, each man has battled his own internal demons, and at least one external demon has arrived on the scene in an attempt to snatch at their newfound happiness.

Now that there is a band, Absinthe of Malice moves the story into a new chapter. To see if they’ve really got what it takes to make great music, and to see if they can bond into something truly special in spite of the heavy baggage they all carry, they decide to carry some real baggage.

Crossroads Gin takes the band on the road, in a rented bus and with no roadies. They play dives and broken down clubs all across the U.S., with no one to rely on except each other, and their men back in San Francisco who drop everything at a moment’s notice whenever help, support or love is required. Or carpentry and electrical work.

And just as in every Sinners book, the band is dogged by a string of near tragedies. Fate does seem to be out to get them, but there is also someone or something who is trailing their every step, willing to stick in both a figurative and literal shiv whenever they think they might be getting it all together.

They start out wondering if they can survive each other on tour. They end up questioning whether they can survive at all.

Escape Rating B+: Compared to some of the other stories in the series, Absinthe of Malice has a few more slow spots. Also, there is no budding romance here to drive up the emotional tension. All the guys have found their true loves in the earlier books. That doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of lovely romantic moments, but there’s no chase. Everyone has already been caught.

This is a book where everyone who has been involved so far gets at least one terrific scene and a real chance to shine. And that includes the Murphy parents, Donal and Bridget, who each get their turn to finally make Miki see that he is every bit as much their son as the ones they gave birth to.

There’s also a fair bit of minutiae of a band traveling together and gelling into a unit,, along with a lot of rubbing each other very much the wrong way. Being cooped up in a single vehicle on boring roads for long stretches of time will do that to anyone.

But danger always dogs this bunch. If it wasn’t for all of them finding the loves of their lives, I would say that if it wasn’t for bad luck, they don’t have any at all.

The beginning of the tour closes with a knife attack. The perpetrator is never caught, but fear of that unknown follows along every mile of the tour. Either it’s Chekhov’s gun, which I doubt, or there is more nastiness to come in future books in the series.

Along with the aftershocks from that exploding bomb at the end.

Review: Dirty Heart by Rhys Ford

Review: Dirty Heart by Rhys FordDirty Heart (Cole McGinnis, #6) by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, romantic suspense
Series: Cole McGinnis #6
Pages: 204
Published by Dreamspinner Press LLC on March 21st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Final book in the Dirty Series arc.
Former LAPD detective Cole McGinnis’s life nearly ended the day his police partner and best friend Ben Pirelli emptied his service weapon into Cole and his then-lover, Rick. Since Ben turned his gun on himself, Cole thought he’d never find out why Ben tried to destroy him.
Years later, Cole has stitched himself back together. Now a private investigator and in love with Jae-Min Kim, a Korean-American photographer he met on a previous case, Cole’s life is back on track—until he discovers Jeff Rollins, a disgraced cop and his first partner, has resurfaced and appears to be working on the wrong side of the law.
As much as Cole’s fought to put the past behind him, he’s soon tangled up in a web of lies, violence, and death. Jeff Rollins is not only trying to kill Cole’s loved ones, he is also scraping open old wounds and long-forgotten memories of the two men Cole loved and lost. Cole is sure Rollins knows why Ben ruined all their lives, but he isn’t looking for answers. Now Cole is caught in a cat-and-mouse game with a cold-blooded killer with the key to not only his past but his future.

My Review:

dirty kiss by rhys fordThe entire Cole McGinnis series has been, not surprising based on the title, Cole McGinnis’ journey. He began the series in Dirty Kiss as an ex-LAPD cop, scarred, bitter and confused, still mourning the death of his lover Rick. The confusion Cole feels is due to the manner of Rick’s death. Rick was killed by Cole’s LAPD partner Ben, who also shot Cole and then ate his own gun.

So the man Cole thought of as a brother shot him and killed the man he loved before killing himself. And Cole, surviving but grief-stricken and wounded, has no idea why. The lack of that “why” haunts Cole though the entire series, as he moves from broken to standing tall, as he falls in love again, as he gathers a family around himself that is a mix of the best parts of his family-of-birth and the family-of-choice that bonds to him and his lover Kim Jae-Min.

But Cole is still looking for that why. Even when Ben’s widow jumps out of the shadows in an attempt to punish Cole for surviving when Ben died (in Dirty Deeds) Cole still has no clue why Ben tipped all their lives into the trash.

In Dirty Heart, Cole finally, finally gets the answers. He gets closure. And so do we.

But nothing for Cole has ever come easy, and this story is no exception.

It all starts with a case. As it usually does. Cole’s brother Mike owns a security company, and one of Mike’s clients keeps getting shot at. His client is an important man in the LA Korean business community, and has more than a few enemies, along with an estranged wife. But Mike’s client is the brother of one of Jae-Min’s mentors, so it also loops back to Cole.

As does the identity of the shooter. The would-be assassin is also an ex-LAPD cop, and he was Cole’s first partner. That is, until Rollins resigned in a huff over a few days desk duty after a very righteous shoot.

Then Rollins shoots Mike, and Cole finds himself holding his brother’s life together, and stuck with the conclusion that whatever this mess is, it’s all about him. Someone is out to get him. Again.

So Cole chases Rollins, and Rollins chases Cole by hunting down everyone Cole is close to. Cole finds himself frantically trying to keep all his “hostages to fortune” in safe places while hunting a crazed killer who wants to make Cole bleed before he kills him.

And it all circles back to Rick, Cole and Ben, and the night his life went into the crapper. Cole can’t move all the way forwards until he clears up that one broken question from his past. If he survives.

Escape Rating A: Dirty Heart is the awesome ending to a six-book series, so don’t start here. Start with Dirty Kiss and immerse yourself in Cole’s journey. It’s sometimes desperate and nearly always death-defying, but it makes the payoff in Dirty Heart so much sweeter.

I’ve loved this series from the beginning, and I couldn’t wait to see how things finally got wrapped up. So I read this book the afternoon I got the ARC, and finished about three hours later, absolutely mind-blown. But I had to promise not to reveal that final why in order to get my review copy, so if you are a fan of the series and desperately want to know, you’ll have to read the book for yourself.

And it is so worth it. One of the things that has made this series so marvelous is the way that Cole has found himself in the middle of his family without ever intending to create a family. Or fall in love again. Each person who has become part of his life, from his ex-cop buddy Bobby to his adopted mother (and office manager) Claudia to his lover Jae-Min brings Cole one step closer to healing. The banter between all of these very disparate characters brings a human-ness and a frequent chuckle to what is often a dark case.

I love the way that Cole takes care of Jae-Min’s little cat Neko. Neko is an everycat, and she so clearly has Cole wrapped around her little paw in a way that is just so very feline.

I will say that the case that gets solved in this book gave me a bit of a mixed reaction. The pacing was relentless. Cole is always one step behind a man who is gunning for him by proxy. He is always scrambling to either get out of the way of the next bullet, protect his loved ones, or visit someone in the hospital. His brain is toast half the time and he’s desperate all the time and he never catches a break.

The information about Cole’s past, the time before Rick and his early years in the LAPD, added even more layers to an already complex and interesting character.

But, while it was fantastic to finally get the answers about Ben’s actions long ago, I’ll admit that I never quite got why Rollins was gunning for Cole now, beyond him being a crazed psychopath. But I’ll also admit I rushed through that bit to get to the stuff I really wanted to know. An ending which completely satisfied.

If you’ve ever even dipped into the Cole McGinnis series, Dirty Heart is the heart-stopping, heart-breaking conclusion that you’ve been waiting for.

Review: Fish Stick Fridays by Rhys Ford

Review: Fish Stick Fridays by Rhys FordFish Stick Fridays by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, romantic suspense
Series: Half Moon Bay #1
Pages: 204
Published by Dreamspinner Press on November 30th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Deacon Reid was born bad to the bone with no intention of changing. A lifetime of law-bending and living on the edge suits him just fine until his baby sister dies and he finds himself raising her little girl.
Staring down a family history of bad decisions and reaped consequences, Deacon cashes in everything he owns, purchases an auto shop in Half Moon Bay, and takes his niece, Zig, far away from the drug dens and murderous streets they grew up on. Zig deserves a better life than what he had, and Deacon is determined to give it to her.
Lang Harris is stunned when Zig, a little girl in combat boots and a purple tutu, blows into his bookstore, and then he s left speechless when her uncle, Deacon Reid, walks in hot on her heels. Lang always played it safe, but Deacon tempts him to step over the line just a little bit.
More than a little bit. And Lang is willing to be tempted.
Unfortunately, Zig isn t the only bit of chaos dropped into Half Moon Bay. Violence and death strike, leaving Deacon scrambling to fight off a killer before he loses not only Zig but Lang too. "

My Review:

I’m guaranteed to fall in love with any story where the cats are named Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser. (If you like sword and sorcery and want to visit its most awesome progenitor, get thee to a bookstore and pick up Fritz Leiber’s fantastic stories of this ill assorted pair, starting with the parent of all sword and sorcery, Ill Met in Lankhmar, included in Swords and Deviltry)

Moving away from my squeeing digression, let’s go back to Fish Stick Fridays. Zig owns this story, and both of the men in it, even though it probably wasn’t intended as her book. Zig is eight, and an absolute magnet for chaos, with her marvelous bad attitude, a chip on her shoulder a mile wide, and her pink and purple tutus.

With Zig follows her uncle Deacon Reid. Deacon has come to Half Moon Bay on the Oregon coast with his niece Zig, his skills as a mechanic and motorcycle restorer, and a hope or a prayer that he and Zig can start a life together far away from the mean streets where Deacon spent time in jail and where his sister, Zig’s often addicted mother, finally took a one-way ticket out of the life she had destroyed for herself, leaving Zig in the foster care system until a judge was willing to take a chance on her ex-con brother.

Deacon bought the auto repair shop in Half Moon Bay sight unseen, praying for a fresh start. The shop turns out to have been a good investment, but trouble follows them.

Deacon, who may look like the baddest of bad boys but is an absolute marshmallow on the inside, at least when it comes to Zig, is the picture of temptation to bookstore owner Lang Harris. Lang not only owns his own bookstore, he also owns a big chunk of real estate around town, and the two cats who seem to have stolen Zig’s heart – or vice versa. Once Zig met the cats, Lang was probably doomed.

As Deacon practically turns himself inside out being a terrific parent to Zig, Lang Harris finds himself tempted by this man who has blown into his life with the force of a hurricane – or the hurricane force powered by the dynamo little girl.

It’s 2015 or thereabouts, and that Deacon and Lang are gay doesn’t seem to be a big deal to anyone but the two of them. Attempting to create a relationship when neither of them has experience with much more than one-night stands is enough of a challenge, along with Deacon’s single-parent worrying about Zig becoming too attached to someone who might or might not become a permanent part of her life.

But the real fear is whether any of them have a chance at happy ever after – not because of the relationship, but because a series of near-fatal incidents has followed Deacon and Zig from their old haunts all the way to Half Moon Bay. There are too many possible suspects, from the bad guys that Deacon did occasional business with to the bad guys that Zig’s mother did occasional business with to the possessive psycho who carved Lang up before he got carted off to prison.

But someone is out to get either Deacon, Lang, Zig or the lot of them. Deacon finds himself forced to trust the local cops to keep them all safe, or at least to help them investigate the mess. Because one of these days, whoever is after them is going to get in a lucky shot. Unless Deacon gets there first.

Escape Rating A-: I’d say I want my own Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser, but my own feline brood would strongly object. However, the way that Zig takes over their purry little hearts, as well as running the life of the two men who fall into her whirlwind orbit is definitely part of the charm of this story.

Lang and Deacon never hide who they are. It’s 2015 and they just don’t have to any more. Lang has plenty of his own issues, but they have to do with his knifed up history and his screwed up family – no one in town cares. A psychopathically possessive ex is an unfortunate possibility for any of us, at least in fiction.

It’s the relationship between Deacon and Zig that gives this story its heart and soul. Deacon never expected to become a parent, but he feels a strong obligation to do better by Zig than he did by her mother, his much younger sister. He does feel as if he could have saved her if he’d been around, but it wasn’t meant to be. So he is devoting his life to keeping Zig out of the foster care system and giving her the loving home that he and his sister never had with their own alcoholic mother. Part of the sweetness in the story is all about Deacon making things up as he goes along, and always fearing that he is doing the wrong thing. He wants the best for Zig, and is doing his damnedest to give her the love she needs, as well as the roots and boundaries she’ll require to grow up strong and happy. The loving push-pull of their relationship is a joy to watch.

The romance between Lang and Deacon takes a bit of a back seat to Deacon’s relationship with Zig, and that seems right. At this stage in their lives, making sure that Zig has a solid grounding in her new life is more important to Deacon than anything else – which is what makes him such a good father for his niece.

The suspense ratchets up to boiling over tension as the story goes on. At first, Deacon is sure that whoever is after them is after him. Lang, with the psychotic ex in his past and the scars to remember him by, is equally certain that whoever is shooting at them and trying to burn them out is after him. The police have too many suspects at first to sort out who might be gunning for whom, and why. It’s only as Zig feels safe with Deacon and Lang that anyone is able to get a handle on their would-be killer.

Zig learning to trust, knowing that the adults in her life will believe in her and back her up, both solves the mystery and lets us see just how far they have all come down the road of becoming a family – tutus and all.