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

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

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

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

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

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: Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat

Review: Captive Prince by C.S. PacatCaptive Prince (Captive Prince, #1) by C.S. Pacat
Format: paperback
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, fantasy romance, M/M romance
Series: Captive Prince #1
Pages: 270
Published by Berkley on April 7th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

From global phenomenon C. S. Pacat comes the first in her critically acclaimed trilogy—with a bonus story.
Damen is a warrior hero to his people, and the rightful heir to the throne of Akielos. But when his half brother seizes power, Damen is captured, stripped of his identity, and sent to serve the prince of an enemy nation as a pleasure slave.
Beautiful, manipulative, and deadly, his new master, Prince Laurent, epitomizes the worst of the court at Vere. But in the lethal political web of the Veretian court, nothing is as it seems, and when Damen finds himself caught up in a play for the throne, he must work together with Laurent to survive and save his country.
For Damen, there is just one rule: never, ever reveal his true identity. Because the one man Damen needs is the one man who has more reason to hate him than anyone else…
Includes an exclusive extra story! 

My Review:

I picked up the opportunity to review the Captive Prince trilogy because my friends at The Book Pushers raved about it – especially those Book Pushers who were outside the U.S. and couldn’t take advantage of the publisher’s offer of review copies.

I’m glad I did.

Captive Prince is fantasy, but not in the sense that there is magic operating in this world, at least not so far. It’s fantasy because this decadent quasi-Renaissance society is manifestly not the world we know from our history.

The countries of Akielos and Vere are at war, and seemingly have been for decades. Or possibly centuries. They each think of the other as decadent and corrupt, but to our 21st century eyes, that decadence and corruption is only a matter of degree.

The economies of both countries include slave labor, from the lowest levels to the highest. Slaves perform menial labor. Slaves are also trained as pleasure-slaves, meaning sex slaves. While it seems that slaves in Akielos are treated better than they are in Vere, it is all somewhat relative, as they are still slaves and can still be bought and sold, even away from their country and home.

The institution of slavery plays an important part in this story, because when we first meet our hero, Damen, he is being informed that his half-brother has killed all of Damen’s supporters, friends, and slaves, and Damen is being sent to Vere as a pleasure slave. Until that moment, Damen was the Crown Prince of Akielos and the rightful heir to the throne. In one move, his bastard half-brother has stripped him of his identity and his future.

And he has sent him to the one place where Damen cannot reveal his true identity and drum up support for retaking his kingdom. Not just because Vere is an enemy, but because Damen killed the Crown Prince of Vere in battle, and no one in Vere will ever forgive him for it.

Tortured, beaten, drugged and raped, Damen is better off as a slave in Vere than in revealing his true identity among people who will kill him on sight. If they recognize him. As punishment, as revenge, his bastard half brother has guaranteed that this revenge is not only served cold but will keep on chilling for as long as Damen lives.

If he can manage to adapt and keep his mouth shut, that is. Damen is used to giving commands and having them obeyed. Swallowing enough of his pride to keep himself alive is a challenge. We see this story entirely from Damen’s perspective, and we watch his struggle to piece together a way to submit enough to bend but not break.

His punishment is compounded by his half-brother’s diabolical choice of just whom to give Damen to. His owner is Laurent, the second son of the late King of Vere. Laurent is blond, cold and 20 years old. His uncle, who is possibly the equal of Damen’s half-brother in evil, is Regent. It is clear to Laurent, and to the reader, that his uncle does not intend Laurent to survive the ten months needed for him o turn 21 and achieve his majority and his throne.

Damen and Laurent should be allies, but they can’t be. If Laurent ever discovers that Damen is the man who killed his beloved brother, Damen’s life is forfeit. But if they don’t stick together, they are both dead.

princes gambit by cs pacatThe horns of this dilemma sweep them, and us, into the next book in the trilogy, Prince’s Gambit.

Escape Rating B: It took me a while to get into this story, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down.

So far, at least, this is fantasy of the “it isn’t real history so it must be fantasy” school. So far, there’s no magic.

What there is, however, is dense political corruption along with a level of sexual decadence that reminds me a bit of Kushiel’s Dart. It’s not that, at least so far, anyone derives direct sexual pleasure from torture, so much as everyone has 16 layers of agendas, and most of those in power derive a lot of pleasure, including sexual, from forcing their will on everyone they can.

And public sex and public rape seems to be a spectator sport among the upper crust. I can’t manage to call them noble, even in context.

Writing the story strictly from Damen’s point of view was an absolutely brilliant choice. As readers, we are lost in this world, and Damen is also lost in his new role. As he picks up the pieces, so do we. Having him gather his intel slowly and carefully worked much better for this reader than vast infodumps.

Howsomever, there are multiple vectors that make the reader uncomfortable. Damen’s forced immersion in slavery is cruel enough, and his exploration and survival of his new circumstances is not for the faint of heart or stomach. He is beaten and abused, but the way that slaves are treated in general, not just Damen, does cause the gorge to rise. In other stories I have said that slavery dehumanizes the masters more than the slaves, and that is certainly true here. This world is ugly.

A different discomfort arose for this reader at Damen’s situation. In fantasy, we’ve seen this trope before. The heir is presumed dead and either enslaved or hidden. It’s not uncommon. And Damen’s journey does follow the trope. The description of his dehumanizing circumstances went on just a bit too long for this reader. I got the point and wanted to get on with the story.

Speaking of getting to the point, it felt obvious to this reader that Laurent’s debauched postures were just that, postures. He knows he’s slated to be killed, and that his uncle is setting him up. Everything we see him display is so blatantly a mask, I’m amazed that no one in the story sees it. I’m not saying he isn’t as much a cold bitch as he pretends to be, but it is also very clearly a mask. Whoever or whatever Laurent is under that mask is something we haven’t seen a glimpse of yet.

This is also a very slow-burning male/male romance between Damen and Laurent. Very, very slow, and that’s appropriate. They are on opposite sides of so many divides, that anything other than an extremely slow buildup of trust would seem fake.

But their society’s approach to love and sex is fascinaating. It’s also a big twist from the world we know. There is a very large stigma attached to illegitimate births, and the stigma seems to fall equally on both the man and the woman. Male/female sex is almost taboo because of its potential for procreation. But the prohibition is on procreative sex, not on sex. Therefore, romantic relationships seem to be almost exclusively same-sex, both men with men and women with women. These relationships are public and accepted, even celebrated in some cases. It’s a very different take on sexual mores and sexual equality, and I’m curious to how this will fit into the next parts of the story.

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

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.

Review: Otter Chaos by P.D. Singer

Review: Otter Chaos by P.D. SingerOtter Chaos (Includes Tail Slide) by P.D. Singer
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal
Pages: 276
Published by Rocky Ridge Books on October 9th, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Lon Ewing snowboarded in and turned economist Corey Levigne’s life upside down, introducing him to a world he didn’t know existed. Corey’s still adjusting to a boyfriend who shifts into an otter and raids the koi pond—and now Lon says Corey’s department chair is a werewolf?
Wolves at the university, wolves in the bank—across Lon’s desk sits Professor Melvin Vadas and his hench-wolves, demanding a construction loan for the pack’s new lodge in the mountains. There’s just one little problem: the proposed building site is home to a breeding population of rare fish.
What do wolves care for stupid human rules, an otter who’d barely make a good snack, or one pesky human determined to protect the environment? Once they’re snout to snout with Corey and Lon, there’s more than silverscale dace on the Endangered Species List.
Includes Tail Slide, the short story that launched Otter Chaos.
Fresh powder snow and running water in the Colorado back country call Lon like the moon calls the wolves. Belly-sliding to a good time on the weekends makes up for a workweek at a desk, and meeting Corey adds a whole new level of fun to snowboarding.
It’s easy to slip away for time alone in the woods without raising suspicion, but how’s Lon to entertain himself when bad snow and a worse spill force them off the mountain too early?
Never give an otter a box of Cheerios.

My Review:

What would you do if you found out your boyfriend was an otter?

Not all the time. But what if you discovered that your new love had to “put on his fur” for at least an hour every week and quite literally turn into an otter? How freaked would you be?

Now, let’s make life even more confusing. Say that you are a relatively freshly-minted Ph.D. on the tenure track at your college. And your new otter-boyfriend lets you know that your department chair, the man who will decide whether or not you get tenure and remain gainfully employed, is a werewolf?

It should be time for a complete freak out. But Corey takes things mostly in stride, unless Lon comes back in the house with raw koi on his formerly otter-breath. And even that is mostly because the koi he just ate is from the koi pond in their backyard, that they spent hours digging out. And koi seem to cost $1 per inch.

It looks like catching your own sushi is more expensive than anyone thought!

tail slide by pd singerThe short story Tail Slide, included with Otter Chaos, tells the story of Corey and Lon’s first meeting and the beginning of their relationship. Including the moment when things almost go completely off the rails, when Lon puts his fur on in the shower, and Corey discovers that the otter-version of his lover thinks that Cheerios are the BEST TOY EVER!

Tail Slide is adorably cute (so is Lon) and it does a good job of setting up the much more serious situation in Otter Chaos.

It’s not just that Corey’s department chair is a werewolf, but also that he is the leader of a pack of werewolves that plans to build a werewolf sanctuary out in the middle of an endangered species habitat. Werewolves are apex predators, and they are all-too-used to getting what they want just because they want it. Those werewolves expect to get a loan from the bank to build their sanctuary, but Lon is their loan officer, and he stands in their way.

For the sake of his two-footed job, Lon needs all the paperwork filled out properly, including the environmental impact statement and some idea of where on earth they will be getting the money to pay back the loan. That Lon didn’t just roll over and play dead shows the werewolves, as if they couldn’t already smell, that Lon is a shifter who knows just what they are.

Corey is researching economic effects of endangered species preservation, and he knows that there is a not-very-cute-or-photogenic species of endangered fish living on the proposed preserve. So he and Lon both stand in the way of werewolf progress. Or at least werewolf recreation.

When they try to investigate on their own, Corey and Lon find themselves caught in the middle of a werewolf dominance struggle, and it looks like everyone is going to lose.

Melvin, Corey’s boss, may lose his life. Lon is forced to remain in otter-form for too long, and he may lose his humanity. And Corey could lose the love of his life.

Escape Rating A-: Tail Slide is just plain fun, but Otter Chaos takes a dip into very serious. There are a lot of mixed agendas here. Corey wants to keep Lon and his job. It shouldn’t be difficult.


For someone whose view of the universe has taken a giant cosmic shift, Corey is surprisingly laid back about the whole thing, at least until Lon gets himself trapped in an aquarium for a day and has a very, very hard time switching all the way back from “fur on” to “fur off”. It’s pretty obvious that this episode is a foreshadowing of something terrible that will happen later.

The werewolves, even in their human form, are deliberately scary. They expect people to roll over without knowing what they are – they just kind of ooze predator. And it mostly works, but only if you are not conscious of what’s going on. And once you know, you can’t pretend the reaction, because it’s just too instinctive.

Corey is afraid of Melvin, and rightfully so. Melvin is threatening his job and his lover, and isn’t being at all subtle about it. Corey stands up to Melvin because not showing fear is the only way to survive. Their interactions carry just the right amount of fear and menace, without it seeming completely foolish that Corey refuses to bow.

I found Corey and Lon to be cute as a couple, but the way that Lon’s otterish behavior carries into his human life on a daily basis would make him a challenge in the long term. Otters seem to have relatively poor impulse control, and that affects Lon as a human in ways that sometimes make him seem irresponsible. But when he loses his human side altogether, it is horribly frightening.

If you have a friend who isn’t sure about male/male romances, Otter Chaos is probably a great story to introduce them to the genre, especially if they like a touch of paranormal in their romances. This could have been a male/female, or female/female, romance with very little change. The issue in the relationship between Corey and Lon, or between Corey and Lon and the rest of the world, after all, isn’t that they are gay. It’s that Corey turns into a small furry animal at least once a week! That has a huge potential to freak anyone, and everyone, out.

I’m not sure that most of us would handle things half as well as Corey does. Especially when Lon’s mother tells him that she wants grandotters.