A- #BookReview: Port in a Storm by Rhys Ford

A- #BookReview: Port in a Storm by Rhys FordPort in a Storm (Sinners #8) by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, M/M romance
Series: Sinners #8
Pages: 192
Published by Dreamspinner Press on January 23, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

San Francisco SWAT Lieutenant Connor Morgan and Crossroads Gin drummer Forest Ackerman make an odd couple. Connor, an Irish-born cop from a tight-knit family, never imagined he’d find his happily-ever-after with a raised-on-the-streets musician, but Forest had the gentlest soul he’d ever met. After a long, hard road of heartbreak, murder, and trouble, they fell hard in love and married.
Then Fate intervenes and throws their lives into a chaos neither one of them is prepared for.
During a brutal SWAT raid, Connor stumbles on Tate, an abused, vulnerable little boy caught in a shoot-out with his father’s drug-running gang. As heavy fire riddles the walls, an injured Connor rescues Tate from the fray… only to be struck numb when a caseworker pries a sobbing Tate from his arms.
Scarred from his own childhood experiences, Forest doubts he can be a good enough father, but Connor assures him they can give Tate what he needs and more. Soon they are on an insane ride where trust and affection are hard-earned, especially when coming from a little boy raised in society’s filthiest gutters. Facing down every challenge thrown their way, they battle to give Tate what Connor treasures and Forest never had—a family to call his own.

My Review:

Port in a Storm, the long-awaited final book in the utterly awesome Sinners series combines coda and confirmation into one beautiful if sometimes heartbreaking package, coming full circle halfway around the world to end where it all began. With a dog named ‘Dude’.

We first met the Morgan Family and the members of Crossroads Gin back in 2012, in Sinner’s Gin – although I personally didn’t discover the series until five years later after falling in love with the author’s characters and work through her Cole McGinnis series.

Either way, it’s been a long road, getting from there to here. But here we are just the same.

As this story opens, it seems as if the current generation of the Irish-American, mostly SFPD cops of the Morgan family have found their various happy ever afters, often by pairing up with one of the members of Miki St. John’s resurrected band, Crossroads Gin.

That’s certainly true for Kane Morgan and Miki himself, whose meeting, facilitated by a dog that neither of them has ever fully admitted is theirs – honestly they are his, anyway – kicked off the entire series back in that first story.

But SFPD SWAT Lieutenant Connor Morgan and the band’s drummer Forest Ackerman, as happy as they are together – and they most definitely are – discover that there’s a child-shaped hole in their lives that they need to fill with Tate Robinson, a seven-year-old boy that Connor rescues in the midst of a drug raid.

A raid that was intended to net the major drug cooker listed as ‘father’ on Tate’s birth certificate.

Connor’s team may have come up empty-handed as far as the drugs or their maker were concerned, but left with a heart full of the need to get one desperate child out of the foster care system that still gives his husband Forest so many nightmares.

The battle in Port in Storm isn’t the Morgan family’s usual fight against criminals and drug dealers nor is it an attempt to break up or break down the band or any of its members. Instead it’s the battle against an overworked – at best – foster care system that seems to be more about ticking off boxes and protecting bureaucrat’s asses than it is about making the right decision for a young child even though that right decision has been handed to them on a silver platter.

Escape Rating A-: Those of us who are fans of the Sinners series were pretty convinced that book six, Sin and Tonic, was the ending – a happy ending that all the characters had earned and deserved – especially Dude.

And that the short story collection, ‘Nother Sip of Gin, was basically lagniappe. A lovely treat, a bit of a filling in of the corners, a chance to visit with old and dear friends one last time.

Until this. Until Port in a Storm and this nearly heartbreaking but ultimately just happily teary story that confirms that happy ending for everyone and ties it up with a really marvelous bow. Even better because we weren’t expecting it so we’re all crying a bit that it’s over but smiling because it happened.

(In other words, treat the above as a huge hint not to start here OR with either ‘Nother Sip of Gin or Sin and Tonic, because these are the endings. Start with Sinner’s Gin and settle in for a fantastic read!)

The actual story in Port in a Storm – is about just that. About a young boy finding his very own port in own storm with a badass cop and a rockstar drummer who also happens to be a foster care survivor himself. It’s about Tate Robinson finding the best home he could ever have found, with two men who have stepped up to be his dads in every single way, backed by friends and families who will help them figure out how to be dads and help Tate himself figure out how to love and trust again in spite of everything he’s been through.

That the social worker and agent of the system who does her damndest to break up their family is an avatar for Dolores Umbridge – complete with pink suits and simpering non-smiles – says all that needs to be said about how wrong the system was in this case and how right Connor, Forest and their whole entire family are for Tate.

And I’ll admit I wish we got just a bit more explanation of why and how she got involved and was so determined to break their family apart. But that was the only tiny niggle in one whole, entire, utterly marvelous wrap to a terrific series. So I’m left being just thrilled that we got to see everyone’s HEA confirmed and with bells on.

And that’s awesome – but maybe it’s time to go back and read the whole saga from the very beginning. Because that would be awesome too!

 

Review: A Power Unbound by Freya Marske

Review: A Power Unbound by Freya MarskeA Power Unbound (The Last Binding, #3) by Freya Marske
Narrator: Josh Dylan
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy romance, gaslamp, historical fantasy, M/M romance
Series: Last Binding #3
Pages: 432
Length: 16 hours and 7 minutes
Published by Macmillan Audio, Tordotcom on November 7, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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A Power Unbound is the final entry in Freya Marske’s beloved, award-winning Last Binding trilogy, the queer historical fantasy series that began with A Marvellous Light.
Secrets! Magic! Enemies to. . .something more?
Jack Alston, Lord Hawthorn, would love a nice, safe, comfortable life. After the death of his twin sister, he thought he was done with magic for good. But with the threat of a dangerous ritual hanging over every magician in Britain, he’s drawn reluctantly back into that world.
Now Jack is living in a bizarre puzzle-box of a magical London townhouse, helping an unlikely group of friends track down the final piece of the Last Contract before their enemies can do the same. And to make matters worse, they need the help of writer and thief Alan Ross.
Cagey and argumentative, Alan is only in this for the money. The aristocratic Lord Hawthorn, with all his unearned power, is everything that Alan hates. And unfortunately, Alan happens to be everything that Jack wants in one gorgeous, infuriating package.
When a plot to seize unimaginable power comes to a head at Cheetham Hall―Jack’s ancestral family estate, a land so old and bound in oaths that it’s grown a personality as prickly as its owner―Jack, Alan and their allies will become entangled in a night of champagne, secrets, and bloody sacrifice . . . and the foundations of magic in Britain will be torn up by the roots before the end.

My Review:

This series, The Last Binding, has always been a story about power, wrapped inside a bit of pretty fantasy romance and steeped in the verbal byplay of a comedy of manners. But at the heart of all the fluff and froth, of which there has been a delicious amount, is a core of cold, hard steel.

The question has always been whose, whose power, whose needs, who decides who are the many and who are the few, and who gets to wield all the power at the foundation of British magic.

Because there really is a crisis coming, not just to British magic but to the world as a whole. That crisis, based on timing, is World War I. So the looming threat on the horizon is all too real. The problem is that too many at the pinnacle of power have decided that they are the only people capable of wielding that power, and that anyone who stands in their way is to be cut down. Permanently – and all too often with malice aforethought.

That they’ll frankly be doing their enemy’s work for them doesn’t occur to any of them. That no one has had even a thought to how the power was intended to be held and wielded doesn’t even cross their minds.

But it does cross the minds of our ragtag group of, let’s call them questioners of whether any ends justify the means that are being gone to. Especially as ALL of them have been the victims of those means in one way or another.

A Power Unbound begins by answering the questions raised early in A Marvellous Light, the questions about how and why Jack Alston, Lord Hawthorn, lost his magic and his twin sister in the first place. The questions about just how long this nefarious plot has been going on, and just how early it sunk to its terrible depths.

Depths which are displayed on the grandest stage possible for all the magical world to see, as no one bats an eye as long as they get to keep their own power. But magic itself has a say, and it has finally found agents through whom it can be said.

Their world will never be the same. Nor should it be.

Escape Rating B: I am all over the map about this story, because it is such a wild mixture of historical fantasy, power tripping and political shenanigans, mystery, romance and comedy of manners. Whether any reader will fall in love with the series probably depends on which parts of the melange they are in this thing for.

Which is where all the reading mileage is going to end up varying. A LOT.

I got into the first book, A Marvellous Light, for the magical and political skullduggery. It begins as a murder mystery and then dives into the murky depths of magic and politics and starts the whole series on its meditations about power and its ultimate corruption. A marvelous queer romance also occurs during the course of that story, but it never took a backseat to the magic and the mystery.

But the balancing act between the romance and the magical mystery tour started to tip in the second book in the series. I did enjoy A Restless Truth for its shipboard antics and the way it moved the search for the Last Contract two steps forward and one step back, but it felt a bit like the romance got a bit in the way of the parts of the story I was there for.

From my perspective, A Power Unbound got a bit too bound up in the romance between Jack and Alan for the first half of the book. A reader who is in this series for its romances will probably feel a lot differently, but for this reader it felt like the story was spinning its wheels in endless setup as Jack and Alan teetered on the knife edge of ‘will they, won’t they’. In the first half of the story the romance was at the center of the story rather than the magical mystery political pot boiling over and scalding our entire band of heroes, and I had hoped for the reverse.

At about the halfway point, which is where I switched from audio to text because I needed the story to just get on with it, the pace picked up, the amount of feces hitting the oscillating device increased dramatically, the plots on both sides got ever more convoluted, Murphy’s Law rained all over everyone, and the whole thing galloped towards an epic conclusion that was not quite the one that anyone expected but was absolutely perfect as a way of bringing the runaway plot train to a satisfying stop.

(For anyone considering the audio, the narrator did an excellent job, I just wanted the whole thing to move along faster than audio naturally or even unnaturally does. I do listen to audio because I love the voices. Mickey Mouse’s voice is another thing entirely – although it would have been hilarious for the sex scenes, it would absolutely have set the wrong tone.)

I find myself back at my earlier statement. How much a reader will love A Power Unbound will depend on which parts of the story that reader is here after. If you’re here for the romance, this one is a delight. If you’re here for the magical power and politics contest, the second half is fantastic but the romance-centered first half gets in the way of figuring out all of the whos and why they done what they done. (The whos are mostly obvious, but the whys are considerably less so.)

No matter which side of that divide you fall on, anyone who has fallen for this marvelous cast of sinners with the occasional saintly impulse will be thrilled by the epic, world-shattering ending!

Review: The Holiday Trap by Roan Parrish

Review: The Holiday Trap by Roan ParrishThe Holiday Trap by Roan Parrish
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: F/F romance, Hanukkah romance, holiday romance, M/M romance, romantic comedy
Pages: 312
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 6, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

For fans of Alexandria Bellefleur and Alexis Hall comes a charming, hilarious, and heartwarming LGBTQIA+ romcom about two separate couples finding love over the holidays from acclaimed author Roan Parrish!
Greta Russakoff loves her tight-knit family and tiny Maine hometown, even if they don't always understand what it's like to be a lesbian living in such a small world. She desperately needs space to figure out who she is.
Truman Belvedere has just had his heart crushed into a million pieces when he learned that his boyfriend of almost a year has a secret life that includes a husband and a daughter. Reeling from this discovery, all he wants is a place to lick his wounds far, far away from New Orleans.
Enter Greta and Truman's mutual friend, Ramona, who facilitates a month-long house swap. Over the winter holidays, each of them will have a chance to try on a new life...and maybe fall in love with the perfect partner of their dreams. But all holidays must come to an end, and eventually Greta and Truman will have to decide whether the love they each found so far from home is worth fighting for.

My Review:

There’s a saying about “blooming where you’re planted”, but with the best will and the most love in the world, that’s not always possible. No matter how much a person may love their hometown or their family or their job or whatever is keeping them in place, the place may not be a great fit for them

And sometimes we need to be kicked out of our not-quite-comfy little pots before they become ruts. Or plots, as in “the only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions” kind of plots.

Both Greta Russakoff and Truman Belvedere each need a good, swift kick out of their always slightly squirmy but suddenly seriously uncomfortable pots. Which is where their mutual friend and regular sounding board Ramona comes in.

Greta needs to get away from her close-knit-to-the-point-of-codependency family on teeny, tiny, Owl Island, Maine. Truman needs a getaway from a spectacular failure of a relationship in New Orleans. Ramona suggests a house swap. For the entire month. Of December.

What happens to Greta and Truman is that both of their worlds expand once they transplant themselves. In New Orleans, Greta finds friends and community. She’s able to spread her wings in a place where she’s not literally the only lesbian in town, and where her every single act isn’t discussed ad infinitum, ad nauseum AND reported back to her parents and sisters. She loves them all but finds the extreme insularity of the town and especially her family a strait-jacket.

In New Orleans she can breathe. She can be herself without everyone around her trying to lovingly push her to conform – at least on the outside. And there’s someone she can fall in love with in a place that warms her heart and soul.

Truman is a fish out of water, but a fish that is more than willing to try living on land once he thaws out and gets some warmer clothes. Now that he’s out of his comfort zone, he’s willing to see if he can fit into this new place. And discovers that the townspeople, as curious as they are about Greta’s temporary guest, are more than willing to let him warm himself in their friendship.

Especially Ash, a local boy who managed to leave, but got sucked back to Owl Island as an adult when his mother was diagnosed with dementia. Now Ash is juggling a failing florist shop, his mother’s declining health and the loss of her true self even as he’s with her – and a rapacious land developer who wants to buy the prime downtown real estate where his shop is located. Ash doesn’t have nearly enough spoons to start a relationship with a man who’ll be leaving in a month.

But he does it anyway – then breaks both of their hearts when he can’t cope.

Before the month’s even half over, Greta knows she wants to stay in New Orleans, not just because of her new love, but because it’s where she belongs. She’s a hothouse varietal just like the carnivorous plants she desperately tries to keep alive on Owl Island – a climate for which neither they, nor she, are suited.

Truman wants to stay in Maine, with Ash, in this quirky little town that has healed his heart and shown him that he has more to give than just his overdeveloped sense of order.

All Greta has to do is deal with her smothering family. All Truman has to do is convince Ash that he doesn’t have to let himself be smothered by his responsibilities. That help – and love – are eagerly waiting for him to just let them in. Before their lives take them in directions that all of them will regret. Forever.

Escape Rating A: Part of what makes The Holiday Trap such a fun read is that it is a holiday romance that doesn’t center on the holidays at all. That the holiday that gets more emphasis in this holiday romance is Hanukkah and not Xmas was absolutely the flame that lights all the menorah candles in this story.

But the way the holiday was treated encapsulated the whole point of the story. Because it’s not the holiday, it’s that the tribe gathers for the holiday and the traditions that surround that gathering.

The Russakoffs are the only Jewish family on Owl Island. For her family it has become important to celebrate the holidays with the whole community while at the same time cleaving unto themselves as a tight tribe of their own. Which leads straight into the issues that cause Greta to practically flee into the night.

Because no one in Greta’s family is ever supposed to say what they really want or need. They have been coerced by longstanding tradition to always seek a compromise and to suffer in silence if their needs don’t get considered. It’s all out of love, it’s all done with the best intentions, and the tradition did begin with some excellent reasons as they are a family of six – mom, dad and four daughters – and during the early years there just wasn’t quite enough to go around. Nobody went hungry, no one went without any necessities, but treats, toys and outings all had to be shared, so what got bought or eaten or done was the thing that displeased the least amount of people rather than what was actually desired by anyone.

It’s good for children to learn to compromise, it’s good for all humans and we need a little more of it in the world. But it can easily reach a point where, instead of everyone saying what they do want and meeting in the middle, everyone starts asking for what they think everyone else wants or will accept. It’s can work if everyone accepts that’s the way it works, but if the family brings in an outsider – like a son or daughter in law – or if one of the children leaves the cozy nest and is in a place where they have to stand up for themselves, or if one or more of the grown children is just too different to compromise their entire self all the time in order to get along and not rock the boat, you get the situation Greta finds herself in, where as much as her parents and sisters love her they keep trying to push her to fit into the family codependency and she just can’t. And won’t. And shouldn’t have to.

Truman’s situation is more self-inflicted. He’s both broken-hearted and completely embarrassed and kicking himself from New Orleans to anywhere he can take himself off to because he’s spent a year in a relationship with a douchebag and ignoring all the many, many, red flags that should have told him that he was someone’s dirty secret and not remotely the love of their life. Because they already have one of those and Truman is not it.

I liked Truman’s story, and it made a very nice foil for Greta’s, but I LOVED Greta’s story. It’s not just that she’s Jewish, although that certainly helped because there aren’t nearly enough Hanukkah romances in this world. But when Greta takes herself away from home, she goes to one of the most fascinating cities in the U.S. if not the world and makes a place for herself in it. I’m a sucker for stories set in New Orleans and Greta’s discovery of the city and herself captured me from the very first page.

That Greta’s family strongly resembles one I very nearly became a part of and gave her side of this house swap a whole lot of extra resonance that I wasn’t expecting. At all. But it helped me understand so much of where she was coming from because everyone means so very well, they have so much the best intentions and can be so, so good at laying on the guilt when someone doesn’t conform.

To make a much longer story than I intended a bit short, The Holiday Trap is an excellent holiday romance that puts its emphasis on the romance and the relationships that surround a romance and make a village – big or small – without getting into the religious aspects of any holiday. This could have been set at Thanksgiving and it still would have worked – it just wouldn’t have been nearly long enough.

But speaking of things that were not quite enough, the one person we don’t get nearly enough of is Ramona the almost magical matchmaker. I’d love to see more of her talents in a future story!

Review: Love, Hate and Clickbait by Liz Bowery

Review: Love, Hate and Clickbait by Liz BoweryLove, Hate & Clickbait by Liz Bowery
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, M/M romance
Pages: 336
Published by Mira Books on April 26, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Politics is shaking hands and kissing coworkers
Cutthroat political consultant Thom Morgan is thriving, working on the governor of California’s presidential campaign. If only he didn’t have to deal with Clay Parker, the infuriatingly smug data analyst who gets under Thom’s skin like it’s his job. In the midst of one of their heated and very public arguments, a journalist snaps a photo, but the image makes it look like they’re kissing. As if that weren’t already worst-nightmare territory, the photo goes viral—and in a bid to secure the liberal vote, the governor asks them to lean into it. Hard.
Thom knows all about damage control—he practically invented it. Ever the professional, he’ll grin and bear this challenge as he does all others. But as the loyal staffers push the boundaries of “giving the people what they want,” the animosity between them blooms into something deeper and far more dangerous: desire. Soon their fake relationship is hurtling toward something very real, which could derail the campaign and cost them both their jobs…and their hearts.

My Review:

“Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much” as he’s tripping over that infinitely (and infamously) fine line between love and hate. Pardon me for mangling Shakespeare and mixing metaphors in the same sentence, but if the shoe fits – or in this case both shoes fit – I’m wearing them.

All three of the titular events happen in this enemies-to-lovers in a fake relationship romance. As the story begins, campaign operative Thom Morgan and pro-level geek Clay Parker are office enemies working on California governor Lennie Westwood’s pre-campaign campaign to become the next president of these United States.

Thom and Clay are office rivals because they are completely opposites. Not that either of them start out exactly likable, but they’re on totally different ends of pretty much any workplace spectrum, and they rub each other the wrong way pretty much just by breathing in each other’s vicinity.

Clay pretty much lets his geek flag fly all the time. He’s a refugee from Silicon Valley and is used to that kind of workstyle – meaning one that may be “working” 24/7 but sometimes that work looks like play and everyone is out to be the biggest nerd.. But he’s also the child of a family that loves him unconditionally and celebrated ALL of his accomplishments ALL the time. So he toots his own horn a lot. Too much. To the point of cringing absurdity – at least as far as Thom is concerned.

Thom, on the other hand, is a shark. Every relationship is calculated for the maximum benefit to him. He’s always dressed to the nines in a style appropriate to the event. He’s all about making his candidate look good so that he can make himself look good. But he’s from a family that treated him like a cuckoo in their cozy suburban nest. It’s not that anyone hated him, it’s that no one truly saw him or was there for him because he was just so different. He’s a version of Michael J. Fox’s character in Family Ties, but one that was neither supported nor even accepted by his family. He’s used to taking on protective coloration, not to blend in but just to get by.

The campaign that Thom and Clay are working on is in trouble, seemingly constantly, by huge gaffes committed by both the governor/candidate and her dysfunctional family. When Lennie is recorded making an off-the-cuff remark that the reason her hair isn’t properly styled is because there are no gays on her campaign staff, the liberal voters that her campaign is courting are up in arms.

The campaign’s answer is to have Thom and Clay pose as a gay couple working for the campaign. A candid video of them has been posted having an ugly argument that looks like it’s about to morph into throwing each other on the ground for sex instead of the kicking and punching that nearly happened for real. Twitter and Insta are both loving the picture, to the point where OMG fanfic is starting up.

With their jobs on the line, the enemies reluctantly agree to not just a temporary truce, but a fake relationship for the inevitable cameras. From both their perspectives, the whole thing is so implausible they can’t imagine it will work.

But it has to. And surprisingly, it does – at least as far as social media is concerned. Whether it can possibly save the campaign is an entirely other matter…

Escape Rating C+: This is a story that threatens to go completely off the rails at multiple points. It never quite does, but it toes that line awfully, awfully hard in multiple ways and multiple directions.

As unlikable as both Thom and Clay are in the beginning, once I got into the story it became clear that Clay’s behavior was a result of not knowing the work culture and feeling out of his depth and a bit insecure. Once he got a bit more settled the things that made him annoying smoothed out quite a bit. So I ended up feeling FOR him considerably more than I did Thom – not that in the beginning Thom seems to have any feelings whatsoever.

OTOH, Thom is both cold-blooded and narcissistic from jump, and it takes a long time for him to change and for the reader to see what is really motivating his shark-like behavior. While it was easy to see that Clay, for all his faults, was the kind of person who could give themselves in a relationship. With Thom I had to wonder if he was capable of having a real relationship of any kind with anyone but himself. He starts out with no real friends, no family (either birth or found) and no real romantic interests.

That the campaign required them to fake a romantic relationship, and that they agreed to do so, may be the trope that powers the story, but it crossed so far over so many lines that it was hard to take even though agreeing to the pretense felt very much in Thom’s wheelhouse if not Clay’s. Even though Thom is the one that has ALL the objections, mostly because he isn’t shy about pointing out that he’s “lowering his standards” to date someone like Clay.

I could see Clay falling for Thom if he was willing to let his heart sliced into bloody chunks, but that happens. People fall in love with all sorts of people who they either know or refuse to admit are either bad for them or just plain terrible.

What was harder to believe was the way that Thom slowly – very slowly – let some of his walls down. Even if he couldn’t admit to himself he was doing it. Thom’s in denial until the very end, and even then he’s more than a bit of a douche about it. Which fits his personality to a T. Even as much as Thom is dragged, kicking and screaming, into being a real human being, his redemption was a bit too pat.

But the hardest part of this story is the political shark tank they operate in. We all know that politics is a dirty business and is the epitome of the old joke about not wanting to see how the sausage is made. In fiction, especially in a romance, I think we want to see a few less of the warts that surround the process. Or more consequences for those warts. Or we want our heroes to be heroes and our villains to be villains and that’s not what happens here. Or, perhaps, all of the above.

Lennie Westwood is a piece of work, for all the negative connotations of that phrase. Thom’s colleague Felicia seems to still think that politics can do some good for people, but she’s generally a realist and a pragmatist. That Felicia sees the excesses of Westwood’s behavior and STILL thinks that getting the woman elected POTUS is her best chance at making a positive difference in people’s lives feels disingenuous at best and self-sabotage at worst. Or Felicia is playing everyone for a fool, including, quite possibly, herself.

To make a rather long story short, I ended up with extremely mixed feelings about Love, Hate & Clickbait. As much as I love both enemies-to-lovers and fake relationship romances, this one didn’t quite gel for me. As always, your reading mileage may vary.

Review: Detroit Kiss by Rhys Ford

Review: Detroit Kiss by Rhys FordDetroit Kiss by Rhys Ford
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: M/M romance, urban fantasy, vampires
Pages: 150
Published by Dreamspinner Press on April 12, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

For Javi Navarro, Detroit will become another blood-splattered city in his rearview mirror after he puts its dead back into the ground. Expecting an easy hunting job, Javi instead finds a kiss of ancient vampires on the hunt for a descendant of their long-dead creator.

Reclusive Ciarnan Mac Gerailt abandoned his family legacy of blood and death magic after it nearly destroyed him. Unfortunately for Ciarnan, the Motor City can only be saved if he resumes his dark arts and joins forces with Javi Navarro, the hunter who brought the vampire apocalypse—and hope for the future—straight to Ciarnan’s front door.

Previously published as "Legacy of Blood and Death" in the anthology Creature Feature 2

My Review:

Have you been wondering where urban fantasy went? I certainly have. Once upon a time, it was the hottest thing since, well, whatever metaphor seems appropriate for the 1980s or thereabouts, but then it kind of died off, sort of like the vampires that seemed to be the backbone of its antiheroes and tormented villains, sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Not that ongoing series didn’t continue, but new ones just didn’t emerge from the shadows.

So to speak. Ahem.

I love urban fantasy and missed it when it slunk back into those shadows. It was one of my go-to genres when I was in a reading slump. But it’s starting to feel like it’s back from the dead. Or the graveyard. Or wherever it’s been hiding for the last decade or so. (If you don’t believe me, take a look at Holly Black’s Book of Night when it comes out next month. Because the heroine Charlie Hall is pretty much every hard luck and worse trouble kick ass heroine to ever stalk the pages of an urban fantasy. But I digress. Sort of.)

Because when I started reading Detroit Kiss, the first, second and third things I thought of were just how much it reminded me of the early Dresden Files books, to the point where I’m not sure whether Javi’s musings as to why so many magic-wielding heavy-hitters ended up in Detroit instead of Chicago. It felt like half explanation, half intercity rivalry and half homage to Harry Dresden’s stomping ground.

I realize that’s too many halves, but there are always too many somethings nasty in this kind of urban fantasy. In the case of Detroit Kiss, too many feral vampires. The bloodsuckers are definitely not the heroes of this piece. They’re the evil pests, to the point where the good guys call them “ticks” because they are mindless evil bloodsuckers.

So the tone of Detroit Kiss, with Javi Navarro working as a bounty hunter for the beleaguered Detroit Police Department, had the same feel as the early Dresden books, minus Harry’s somewhat leery male gaze. Plus, however, a slightly better love life – eventually – as Javi’s luck turns out to be better than Dresden’s frequently was. At least so far.

We’re introduced to this version of Detroit in decay when a construction crew attempting to revive the city yet again uncovers a “kiss” of vampires who have been trapped underground, gnawing on the bones of their makers and each other for a century. They’ve been stuck in the ruins of a speakeasy since Prohibition with nothing to drink except each other.

Until they eat the construction crew, that is.

But these ticks are fixated on the two magic users whose bones they’ve been picking clean all these years, so once they escape they go hunting for whoever is left of the bloodlines that made them.

And that’s where Ciarnan Mac Gerailt comes in, the only descendant of one of those mages within easy reach. Ciarnan is existing someplace between hiding out and living in an old theater he’s never bothered to refurbish in one of the many down-at-heels neighborhoods in this version of the city. He’s given up the death magic that is his family’s heritage and taken up growing vegetables and just trying to get himself, his wolf dog Elric and his fae familiar Shaddock through the day and the sometimes very long and dark nights.

Ciarnan looked into the abyss, the abyss looked back and took his friends, his apprentice and very nearly his life. He’s given up magic. Really, truly.

At least until Javi Navarro helps him put down one of the entirely too many ticks that has come after him in place of his several greats-grandfather. Javi wants Ciarnan to help gather up the ticks so they can pick the place and time and have a better chance at bringing them down.

And honestly, he just wants Ciarnan the minute he sees him – even though Ciarnan clocks him with a shovel the minute after.

But in order to help Javi, Ciarnan will have to look back into that abyss – and hope to heaven or hell that this time it doesn’t swallow him whole. While praying that the vampires don’t either.

Escape Rating A-: I have one and only one complaint about Detroit Kiss. It’s too damn short.

I mean that. Seriously. It’s too damn short and there aren’t any more. Rather like the author’s Dim Sum Asylum, which was another gem of urban fantasy that bordered just a bit on paranormal romance AND also had a fascinating world that seemed like there was oodles of backstory to explore, a riveting case to solve, a terrific pair of heroes and DAMN no sequel.

I loved the way that this almost-now/nearish future Detroit felt like an all too easy extension of where the city has been for the past decade or two (or maybe three), partially devastated and partly gentrifying and still trying to get back up on its feet in spite of all the forces trying to tear it down.

The magic system seems cool and interesting, and the whole idea of finding a buried speakeasy filled with rogue vamps was an absolutely chilling way to kick things off.

Ciarnan is one of the author’s signature wounded-but-trying heroes who do the right thing even if sometimes for the wrong reasons and are always one half-step away from backsliding into darkness.

The climactic scene is dark, deadly, dangerous AND squicky and heroic at the same time. I’d absolutely adore seeing where these guys and their world go next. I hope the author gets there someday because I’d be all in for it!

Review: Dirty Work by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Dirty Work by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawayDirty Work (Dirty Deeds #1) by T.A. Moore
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: M/M romance, romantic suspense
Series: Dirty Deeds #1
Pages: 182
Published by Rogue Firebird Press on March 4, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Crime Scene Cleaner [kraɪm siːnˈkliːnə] - Cleans up crime scenes…before the cops know there is one.

People always say ‘you can’t go home again’. It turns out that doesn’t count as a guarantee…especially not during a global pandemic.

After the jobs in LA started to dry up, crime scene cleaner Grade Pulaski was forced to pack up and move home. He loves his family, but the last thing he ever wanted was to face the ghosts he’d left back in Sweeny, Kentucky.

Also, the place just sucks.

He certainly isn’t going to stay any longer than necessary. The plan is to save up enough money to move back to LA and give his business a kick-start. The problem is that, as previously mentioned, Sweeny’s a hole and the locals are anything but professional.

Now a body has gone missing, Grade’s reputation is being held hostage, and people keep asking whether his Dad really did run off with 100 grand of meth in the back of Dodge. Plus, even though you shouldn’t sleep with your employers, crime lord Clay Traynor is exactly the sort of bad idea that Grade can’t resist. Tattooed, bad news, and dangerous.

…oh, yeah. Grade’s job is to clean up the crime scene before the cops know someone’s dead. That’s why he needs to sort this out before he gets a bad review on dark net Yelp.

My Review:

“It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it,” or so the old saying goes. And then there’s the whole idea of “dirty work” which is not the same thing at all. Although when we first meet crime scene cleaner Grade Pulaski, the job he has to do is both. Cleaning a public washroom that hasn’t been cleaned since the turn of the century – possibly since the turn of the 19th into the 20th – is just a dirty job that someone really ought to have been doing all along. Cleaning up the place so thoroughly that no evidence of the headshot corpse currently “littering” the place remains to be found – ever – is dirty work all the way around.

But that clandestine clean-up job is only the beginning of Grade’s misadventures with the “Catfish Mafia” that runs everything dirty and/or operating under the table in Sweeny – and it seems like that whole region of Kentucky.

Grade’s stuck in the middle – every bit as much as he’s stuck back in Sweeny – when his truck, with the evidence sloshing around in a barrel in the back gets carjacked. (Truckjacked?)

The job he thought was going to add to his “getting out of Sweeny” fund instead starts adding to his “reasons he wanted to leave yesterday.” Along with one long, tall, dangerous reason to stay.

Escape Rating B: I don’t think I was expecting a “Mafia romance” to be set among the tiny towns of Kentucky. So I have to admit that threw me for a bit. As did the fairly graphic description of just what Grade has to go through to clean up the mess that body made – in a place that surely didn’t need to be any messier.

But once the suspense part of this romantic suspense story kicks into gear – with the truckjacking – the need to figure out just what the hell is going on sets its hooks deep. Into Grade because he has to solve it to get out of this mess alive – and into the reader because it’s just such a damn convoluted puzzle.

On top of that – sometimes literally – there’s the hard, slightly mean and a bit edgy relationship that springs up between Grade and Clay Traynor. Clay seems to be the enforcer for the local branch of that Catfish Mafia, and its his job to keep an eye on Grade until someone decides whether the cleaner is in this mess up to his neck – or whether he’s going to end up in one of his own cleaning barrels. That Clay does most of Grade-minding from up close and personal is a surprise to pretty much everyone. Especially the two of them.

But it’s that suspense plot that kept this reader turning pages. Because the situation that seemed fairly simple at the beginning is absolutely anything but by the dirty, twisty end.

Guest Post from TA Moore + Chapter 2 of Clean Hands (check out Chapter 1 at MM Romance Reviewed)

Thanks for letting me pop in to talk about my latest book, Dirty Work, which comes out on March 4. This is the first book in the Dirty Deeds trilogy and I had a lot of fun with it! It’s available online – https://books2read.com/Dirty-Work-Dirty-Deeds-Book-1 – and I hope you like it! I had a lot of fun writing it!

I also hope you enjoy ‘Clean Hands’ a short story prequel to the series.

Clean Hands – Chapter Two

Harrison sat on the floor in front of the stained couch, a slice of frying steak held to his face, Watery blood dribbled down his face and stained the pearl-decorated collar of his blouse. Grade wasn’t sure if it was his blood or cow blood.

“That’s for a black eye,” Grade said. “It’s not going to cut it.”

He did have a black eye. His cheek was also puffed out and swollen, red and shiny-tight, and his lower lip split. Old blood scabbed along his chin and down his neck. Grade looked away uncomfortably as his stomach turned.

Shannon stopped their restless pacing of the room to give Grade an aggrieved look. “It’s not going to hurt is it?” he snapped. “Or do you have a better idea?”

“Call an ambulance,” Grade suggested. 

That made Harrison move the steak away from his face. Under it his eye was swollen shut, like a golf ball jammed into the socket, and his eyebrow was split. He slurred out something that was probably an objection from the way he gestured ‘stop’ with his free hand.

“We can’t,” Shannon said, to back him up. “The accident…it wasn’t…we didn’t come off worst.”

Shit.

“There was another car?” he asked.

Shannon opened their mouth to answer, thought better of it, and pressed their lips together as they shook his head in a quick ‘no’.

“And Harrison already has a record. If it goes to court, he’ll get the book thrown at him.”

“Say you were driving.”

Shannon pulled their glasses down their nose and leaned in so Grade could get a good view of their pupils. They were huge, blown so wide that the blue of Shannon’s iris was a pencil line around them. “You think I’m gonna pass a drug test?”

Their breath was stale with weed and the hot, sweet hit of formaldehyde. Grade leaned away from it.

“Why is this my problem?” he asked.

Shannon wiped their nose on the back of their hand and sniffed loudly. They gave Grade a challenging look. “You think you’re going to find somewhere else to live this cheap? Or that my aunt will keep you on at the funeral home if I get sent down?” they said. “Not that you’ll need to worry about that when Harrison’s dad finds out you’re the reason his son’s in court. I told you he’s connected.”

That part Grade wasn’t so worried about. Harrison had also claimed, at various times, that his mother was a movie star, that he had friends in Hollywood, and that there was an A-List actor who’d take him away from all this in a heartbeat…if Harrison’s independence wasn’t so important to him. And yet he had a shitty room in a shared house with the rest of them, and he regularly stole other people’s food.

The job thing was real though. Even with his shifts at the funeral home Grade was barely able to pay rent and buy food without dipping into his savings. If he lost it he’d be on the bus back to Sweeny in a couple of weeks. If he could beg the money for a ticket off his mom.

“I didn’t have anything to do with this,” Grade said.

“That’s not what I’ll tell them.”

Grade stared at Shannon for a grim second. Yeah, that was what he should have expected.

“OK,” he said. “OK. What the fuck do you want from me?”

Shannon just stared at him blankly for a second. Then they sniffed again and shrugged jerkily. “I don’t fucking know! Something.”

It could be argued that Grade had brought that on himself. He took a deep breath and held it for a second.

“OK,” he repeated. “Maybe it’s not as bad as you think. Where did the accident happen? We’ll go out there, see what state he’s in and…”

The confused look on Shannon’s face wasn’t going to lead to anything good. Grade could just tell. He stopped for a second and wondered if it had been such a bright idea to leave Sweeny after all. LA had been the dream, but it turned out there were shitty, dumb people here too.

Except that he had to pay rent to them.

“What did you do?” Grade asked.

Shannon apparently still had enough brain cells linked up to feel awkward. They shuffled their feet and then pointed down, at the ground between their mismatched trainers.

“…it was in the garage,” he said in a small, hoarse voice like a failed whisper.

The two of them stood on the cracked concrete floor and stared at the man. He was pinned against the wall of the garage by the grille of Harrison’s dune buggy looking jeep. His torso was slumped forward from the hips, limply sprawled over the crumpled, bright yellow hood of the vehicle. In the silence Grade could hear the sound of something dripping. It might be blood. It might be brake fluid. It could be both.

Dead bodies didn’t bleed once the heart stopped beating, but they could be drained. It was what they did at the funeral home, although the method there was a lot tidier. They had a bucket, for a start.

“Maybe he’s not dead,” Shannon said. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his shoes scuffed over the concrete floor, and chewed on the ragged edge of his thumbnail. “Do you think maybe…”

Grade pulled his attention away from the mangled obvious corpse and gave Shannon a disbelieving look.

“No,” he said sarcastically. “I don’t think he’s alive.”

He had been. That odd, quiet switch in Grade’s head, the one that he had instead of panic, had flicked on and methodically noted all the evidence that pointed to that. The smeared bloody hand prints slapped onto the dirty hood and the evidence of flesh slippage along the man’s thighs where he’d tried to pull himself free. It had taken him a while to die. That wasn’t uncommon with some catastrophic crush injuries, the body really didn’t want to deal with something like that. So it just didn’t. He probably would have died quicker if Harrison had tried to reverse–although the fact she hadn’t would not do her any favors if it got to court.

Right now, though, the man was definitely dead.

Grade shoved both hands back through his air and laced his finger together around the back of his skull. 

“Shannon,” he said. “What happened?”

“I told you!” Shannon said. “It was an accident. Sorta.”

That was such an obvious lie that Grade didn’t even bother to point it out. “Not what I asked.”

“He’s a dealer, I know,” Shannon said. They fiddled nervously with the button on the cuff of their shirt as they tried very hard to stop looking at the dead man. “I’ve bought from him before, but at work. You know? Except Harrison and I wanted to pre-game tonight, before we went out to the club. So I asked Johnny to meet me here. He had the gear, the deal went down fine, but then Harrison got back and he fucking freaked out.”

“Harrison or Johnny?”

Shannon twisted the button hard enough it snapped. They let it drop to the floor. “Both?” he said with a shrug. “Apparently Harrison had sugar-trapped him or something, stole a shitload of money. I don’t know, they were fucking screaming at each other. Harrison got in the car–to go, to run–then Johnny said that he’d be back and he’d have his boss with him…and I think it was an accident. I think Harrison just put the car in the wrong gear. You know?”

“If it was an accident, we can call the cops,” Grade pointed out. “Just explain what–”

“No,” Shannon said. “We can’t. OK? You need to deal with this.”

“Me? I need to deal with it?” Grade said, his voice thin and incredulous. He jabbed his fingers against his breastbone. “Why the hell is this suddenly my responsibility?”

Shannon looked shifty. “I don’t know,” he said. “Someone has to and you deal with dead bodies all the time. I don’t wanna touch it.”

Grade pulled a face at that and turned back to the dead man as he weighed up his options. He could ignore Shannon and call the cops. It wouldn’t actually do the dead man any good, he was past that, and it would screw them all over. And…Grade had his own reasons for wanting to stay off any cop’s radar.

“You owe me,” Grade said. Most of the time he worked to keep the Kentucky out of his voice, sanded it off with Youtube videos on elocution and careful mimicry of the rest of LA. This time he didn’t bother, it lay thick on the words. “After this. You really owe me.”

Catch the next chapter Wednesday at Two Chicks Obsessed and follow the tour for the rest of the story!

 

About the Author:

TA Moore is a Northern Irish writer of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance novels. A childhood in a rural, seaside town fostered in her a suspicious nature, a love of mystery, and a streak of black humour a mile wide. As her grandmother always said, ‘she’d laugh at a bad thing that one’, mind you, that was the pot calling the kettle black. TA Moore studied History, Irish mythology, English at University, mostly because she has always loved a good story. She has worked as a journalist, a finance manager, and in the arts sector before she finally gave in to a lifelong desire to write.

Coffee, Doc Marten boots, and good friends are the essential things in life. Spiders, mayo, and heels are to be avoided.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads |

 

 

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

TA Moore is giving away a $10 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky winner on this tour!
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Review: A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

Review: A Marvellous Light by Freya MarskeA Marvellous Light (The Last Binding, #1) by Freya Marske
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy romance, historical fantasy, M/M romance, gaslamp
Series: Last Binding #1
Pages: 384
Published by Tordotcom on November 2, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org
Goodreads

Robin Blyth has more than enough bother in his life. He's struggling to be a good older brother, a responsible employer, and the harried baronet of a seat gutted by his late parents' excesses. When an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society, he discovers what's been operating beneath the unextraordinary reality he's always known.
Now Robin must contend with the beauty and danger of magic, an excruciating deadly curse, and the alarming visions of the future that come with it--not to mention Edwin Courcey, his cold and prickly counterpart in the magical bureaucracy, who clearly wishes Robin were anyone and anywhere else.
Robin's predecessor has disappeared, and the mystery of what happened to him reveals unsettling truths about the very oldest stories they've been told about the land they live on and what binds it. Thrown together and facing unexpected dangers, Robin and Edwin discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles--and a secret that more than one person has already died to keep.

My Review:

In many stories, magic serves as a brilliant light upon the world, a light that is often hidden from those who are unable to share in its wonders. In many of the worlds portrayed by those stories, that light is lit within some, or sometimes many, of the people who populate the world of the story.

But with the presence of light comes its absence – darkness. Humans, whether magical or not, already have more than enough of that within themselves. Magic, whether for good or for ill, is power. And as the cliché explains all too well, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Thus, A Marvellous Light is a story about magic, and about the revealing of magic to someone who has none. But just as the light of magic is “unbusheled” for Robin Blyth, so too is the darkness that surrounds it – and him – cast into the darkest of shadows. Shadows that threaten to swallow him before he ever learns what is hidden within them.

But Robin has more experience with the darkness created by brilliant lights than anyone might ever suspect. And in the person of his reluctant guide, Edwin Courcey, he has a partner who has been battered by those shadows for far too long. Someone who might be willing to help Robin find his own light – and share it.

If they’re smart enough – well that’s Courcey’s department. If they’re brave enough – that’s Robin all over. And if they can find their way to the heart of the puzzle before it’s too late. For themselves. For their loved ones. For their country.

And for each other.

Escape Rating A-: A Marvellous Light is a story about power and privilege. Yes, it’s about the power of magic, but it’s also about the power of money, the power of knowledge, the power of social position and about all the privileges that power can buy, especially for those who are so steeped in its exercise that they can’t even see those with less power as people. Even when they are members of their own families.

It’s also a flamboyantly beautiful story, set in a world as complex and intricate as the Morris prints that Robin Blyth loves.

But it’s the “casual, unthinking malice” of nearly every person with magic that makes this book a frequently uncomfortable read, particularly in the early stages where it seems like all the jokes are on poor Robin and everyone else, including Edwin Courcey, is part of the circle laughing around him.

At least until the reader, along with Robin, figures out that Edwin’s cold, brusque manner is a defensive mechanism to cover up, well, pretty much everything that he feels about everything in his life, including, most especially, his casually, maliciously cruel family.

Because Edwin has been the butt of those exactly same painful “jokes” for his entire life, while Robin has only been suffering from them for a few days. And Robin has much, much better armor against them because the scars don’t run nearly so deep.

Someone has learned that objects of power in the magical world have resurfaced after centuries of quiescence. Forces are arrayed to procure those objects – no matter who or what stands in their way. Or how much collateral damage they do in the search. Starting with Edwin Courcey’s colleague and continuing through Robin, the civil servant assigned through malice – again malice – to take that man’s place.

Drawn to each other by happenstance, by circumstance, by affinity and by shared pain as well as shared inclinations, Edwin and Robin embark on a quest to thwart their opposition, never realizing that it will lead them to the highest circles of power – and back into the rotten heart of Edwin’s family.

But they’ll have each other – if they can just get past their own fears and their individual heartbreaks, and accept a bit of help from some surprising people along the way. It can be enough – if they just let it.

One final thing, something that took me until the next morning to figure out, and now I feel like I just got unbusheled. Or hit with a clue-by-four. Throughout the story, they’re all aware that something huge and terrible is coming, and much of what happens is due to too many people taking desperate and wrong-headed methods to stop that thing or overpower it. The “thing” that is coming, the doom that is hanging over all their heads, is World War I.

Which may not happen for quite a while during the course of this series, The Last Binding, of which A Marvellous Light is merely the first marvellous part. I searched high and low for a title and publication for the next book in this series, but it has not been “unbusheled”. At least not yet. But I live in hope that it will be soon.

Reviewer’s Note: I listened to the first third of this one, until it got past the really uncomfortable, tooth-gritting bits. Not that Edwin’s family got any better – actually they got worse – but once it heads towards Edwin and Robin against the world the pace picked up, the magic got even more fascinating and at least some of the awfulness became part of the much larger point. And I was hooked.

Review: Shiftless by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Shiftless by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawayShiftless (Night Shift #3) by T.A. Moore
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Night Shift #3
Pages: 112
Published by Rogue Firebird Press on June 19th 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Night Shift is the city's thin, silver line- and some nights it's thinner than others.

It isn't the fact he almost died last night that's thrown Night Shift officer Kit Marlow. He's used to that. It's the fact that instead of a werewolf trying to rip his throat out, it was his friend and colleague who tried to put him in the ground.

Well, 'friend.'

Now Marlow's been framed for a murder he didn't commit by a man who's committed more than his fair share. Half the cops in San Diego want to see Marlow behind bars for what he's supposedly done, and the other half want him dead before he can tell his side of the story. The problem is that he can't tell them apart.

There's only one person in town that Marlow can trust, even though he knows he shouldn't drag Cade Deacon into his problems. The sharp-tongued CEO of a private security firm might have gotten close to Marlow over the last few weeks, but taking on the SDPD is a lot to ask.

Marlow doesn't have much choice, though. If he can't clear his name before the last full moon of the month sets, he might not see another one. That'd be a shame since Marlow would really like to spend the night with Cade without needing protective gear.

My Review:

The one thing I knew going into this book was that she couldn’t do it to me again. Thank goodness.

Shiftless is the final novella in the Night Shift trilogy, which meant that the author simply couldn’t end the book on a damn cliffhanger the way that she did the first two books, Shift Work and Split Shift.

Honestly, if she’d managed to do it again anyway I’d have figured out a way to reach through the screen and deliver a Howler from up close and personal because damn that would have been the absolute limit.

Not that I won’t be riveted, again, if the author ever returns to Marlow and Cade’s world. Because it’s fascinating and they’re snarky, hot and a whole lot interesting to follow.

Escape Rating A-: First of all, the Night Shift series isn’t so much a “series” as it is a single story split into three bite-sized pieces. So if you love paranormal romance, if you enjoy enemies-into-lovers, if a world where even though it isn’t quite ours the story still captures your attention from the first page, takes you away and still manages to say quite a bit about our world into the excellent bargain, start with Shift Work and settle in for a compelling ride – and read.

This is a world where werewolves rule, and the laws are bent to fit them, because they have all the power and it seems like a fair amount of the money. One of the things that makes this world a bit different is that being a werewolf also seems to be completely normal – it’s the so-called “nulls” that are weird.

If you’ve ever heard of the 80/20 law, it’s kind of like that, only the proportions aren’t nearly so even. Some people, not a big percentage at all, can’t be turned. They don’t “wolf out” the three nights of the full moon and can’t be changed to do so.

Kit Marlow is one of those nulls. He’s a police officer, a member of the “Night Shift” who works those three nights. Because someone has to serve and protect the people who don’t have an inner wolf – and sometimes even the werewolves need to be protected from themselves or each other.

The problem Kit has – well, he has two, come to think of it. He can’t trust his fellow officers at his back. Too many of them are tied in with the dirty cop he sent to prison a few years ago – and the rest looked the other way. The one person he can trust is the one person he really shouldn’t. Because three nights of the month, Cade Deacon thinks Kit Marlow is dinner – and not in any good way from Kit’s perspective.

But Kit has been framed, and Cade is his only hope of something. Whether that’s rescue, protection or the opportunity to clear his name is to be determined. What they’ll be at the end of it all, if Kit will still be anywhere at all, is anybody’s guess.

So a big part of this story is Kit trying to clear his name. An important part of the story is Kit and Cade trying to figure out what they are to each other, as neither of them has any experience with relationships to begin with – and theirs has the possibility of being especially fraught. The occasionally-partially-resolved sexual tension between the two of them heats up the entire story.

The third part is, in its way, even more interesting. Because Marlow needs to figure out who he’s going to be when this whole mess comes out the other side. Unless he’s dead or in prison and then dead which is still a possibility. He trusts a person who’s supposed to be an enemy way more than anyone who is supposed to be at least a colleague if not a friend. There’s a whole lot wrong with that picture and what that says about the Night Shift in specific and possibly about the real world in general is still keeping me thinking.

I’m going to miss Marlow and Cade and their very fascinating world. While they seem to have reached as much of an HEA as either of them is capable of, I’d love to explore this place more. Lots, lots more.

Guest Post from TA Moore + Chapter 2 of the Night Shift short (check out Chapter 1 at Love Bytes)

First of all, thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here with my new release, Shiftless by TA Moore, which completes the Night Shift trilogy! I believe it is still technically a novella, although it’s the novella that kicked the other novellas out of the nest and ate all the food!

For the blog tour I’ve written a short story set in the Night Shift world. I hope you enjoy!

Chapter Two

Warden Brunell stepped back from the door and waved Marlow into the hut. He glanced over at the crowd of people still stuck behind red tape and reminded himself that there was only one way to find out what he needed to know.

Or only one he could think of.

Associate Warden Brunell’s office was warm and faintly ripe with the odor of old sweat and recent fear. There was no shame in that. Brunell spent the full moon with only pre-fab walls and chains between him and a few dozen hungry wolves, and not even a single silver bullet for emergencies.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it? The quiet echo of Piper’s voice bounced around inside Marlow’s skull. Shouldn’t there be a level playing field?

It sounded reasonable, but Piper always did. That was why Marlow was here and not at the bar with the rest of the squad. He wanted to make up his mind before Piper made it for him.
Brunell extended his hand. “Officer…?” he trailed off, one eyebrow raised expectantly.

“Marlow.”

“First or last?”

“Yes.”

There was a pause, and then Brunell laughed. It sounded scratchy and exhausted, but genuine.

“There it is,” he said. “Never met a Night Shift officer who wasn’t an asshole. No offence. Midnight under the full moon, that’s a survival instinct. Sit down. How can I help you?”

Brunell waved Marlow to one of the chairs—metal and folding. Like everything else in the hut, it was portable and cheap… just in case—as he went back behind his desk. There was a stack of folders by his elbow, intake forms that needed to be matched with the release forms being signed right now, and a glass of something that probably wasn’t water by one hand.

“Kit,” Marlow provided as he sat down. “Thirsty work running the Crate?”

“It is,” Brunell agreed, unphased, as he took a drink. If it was liquor—and Marlow would put money on it that it was—Brunell didn’t flinch as it hit the back of his throat. “But while I can’t leave until the last inmate has gone through their exit interview, my shift ended at the same time as yours. So, technically, I’m not drinking on the job. Want one?”

It was tequila, and it wasn’t good tequila. Marlow recognised the bottle that Brunell pulled out of a drawer. The idea of it made Marlow’s mouth twist in a confused mixture of parched and revolted. He might want a drink after last night, but the idea of getting cheap tequila drunk didn’t appeal.

“I’ve plans for the day I need to be upright for,” Marlow said. “At least, for part of the day.”

Brunell chuckled and winked at Marlow. “Enjoy it while you can. Night Shift don’t die in bed, so make the most of the time you do spend there, that’s what I say.”

He raised his glass in a toast. Marlow didn’t have the heart to disillusion him.

Night Shift could get laid, that was true. Sleep was more elusive. Given a choice between the two…

Okay, most of the time they’d pick sex. On the second day of the Full Moon? An empty mattress, cool sheets, and no-one who needed anything from you? Then it was a harder question.
Marlow’s only plans for his bed involved him, slightly more Tylenol than recommended on the bottle, and a good six hours of not doing anything at all. He didn’t want any company. If it got Brunell onside, though, let him think that Marlow had a much more Piper-like life.

“Doctor Ben Crenshaw,” Marlow said.

“Who?” Brunell asked, head cocked to the side.

“Could you check your records?” Marlow asked. “See if someone by that name checked out last month?”

Catch the next chapter tomorrow at Book Gemz and follow the tour for the rest of the story!

 

About the Author:

TA Moore is a Northern Irish writer of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance novels. A childhood in a rural, seaside town fostered in her a suspicious nature, a love of mystery, and a streak of black humour a mile wide. As her grandmother always said, ‘she’d laugh at a bad thing that one’, mind you, that was the pot calling the kettle black. TA Moore studied History, Irish mythology, English at University, mostly because she has always loved a good story. She has worked as a journalist, a finance manager, and in the arts sector before she finally gave in to a lifelong desire to write.

Coffee, Doc Marten boots, and good friends are the essential things in life. Spiders, mayo, and heels are to be avoided.

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Review: The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by KJ Charles

Review: The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by KJ CharlesThe Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by K.J. Charles
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, M/M romance, regency romance
Pages: 276
Published by KJC Books on February 24, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonKoboBookshop.org
Goodreads

Robin Loxleigh and his sister Marianne are the hit of the Season, so attractive and delightful that nobody looks behind their pretty faces.
Until Robin sets his sights on Sir John Hartlebury’s heiress niece. The notoriously graceless baronet isn’t impressed by good looks, or fooled by false charm. He’s sure Robin is a liar—a fortune hunter, a card sharp, and a heartless, greedy fraud—and he’ll protect his niece, whatever it takes.
Then, just when Hart thinks he has Robin at his mercy, things take a sharp left turn. And as the grumpy baronet and the glib fortune hunter start to understand each other, they also find themselves starting to care—more than either of them thought possible.
But Robin's cheated and lied and let people down for money. Can a professional rogue earn an honest happy ever after?

My Review:

Like their namesakes, Robin Loxleigh and his sister Marianne (from Nottinghamshire, no less!) have entered the ton’s Marriage Mart to steal from the rich and give to the poor. The difference all lies with who the later Robin and his sister have put in the positions of ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ and just how they intend to accomplish that ‘steal’.

That’s also where all the tropes, along with everything we ever thought about Regency romance, get turned on their heads.

Because Robin and Marianne, in spite of their carefully constructed appearances and personas, know themselves to be the poor – especially in comparison with the high-flyers and high-sticklers of the ton’s elite. Who are, in this scenario, the rich that the Loxleighs are planning to steal from.

Not directly. They are not pickpockets or jewel thieves – although Robin does cheat more than a bit at cards in order to help keep their precarious gamble afloat. What they plan to steal is not so much a thing but rather a place – each – among the upper crust who would spit on them – quite possibly literally – if they managed to see behind the pair’s carefully constructed facade.

They are well on their way to using their exceptional good looks and exceptional well-crafted images to find themselves rich – and if possible titled – spouses to provide them with the financial security they’ve craved.

It all seems to be going entirely too well. Marianne has a marquess well in hand while Robin has been making steady progress with an awkward but intelligent young woman eager to marry and finally gain access to the money her father left for her.

And that’s where the carriage of their intentions comes to a screeching halt, as a protector comes to town to save the young lady that Robin has been pursuing from any designs on her fortune.

At first, Sir John Hartlebury casts himself as the enemy that no plan survives contact with. But all is not as it seems. Not Robin’s plans to marry, not John’s plans to interfere, and not even the young lady’s plans to marry.

It’s damnably difficult for Robin to continue his pursuit of the young lady’s fortune when what he’d really rather chase are her protector’s muscled thighs!

Escape Rating A: The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting is an absolutely delightful Regency romp, if not exactly the kind that Georgette Heyer made so much her own.

There’s so much that gets completely turned on its head – and that’s what makes the whole thing such an absolute pleasure to read.

At first Robin and Marianne seem like grifters, out to take what they can get. But as the layers peel back we see that what they really are is fairly young and desperate for security. Money and position buy a lot of security so that’s what they are hunting for when they hunt those fortunes.

The story also exposes the darkness underneath the glitter of the ton. As long as they pretend to be impoverished but well-born, they can be accepted. Any exposure of who and what they really are will get them kicked out the door. But they are the same people either way.

While it’s Robin’s enemies-to-lovers romance with Sir John that strikes all the romantic sparks in this story – and are they ever explosive together! – the character I really felt for was young Alice, the bride that Robin initially pursues.

Because Alice has her own plans. She wants to be a mathematician. She has the capability, the capacity and the talent. What she doesn’t have is the money to pursue her studies, at least not without marrying so she can get the money set aside for her. She’s looking for a deal, or a steal, every bit as much as Robin is and is just as willing to use him to get what she wants as he initially was willing to use her.

In the end, there are a whole lot of witty and intelligent characters who finally discover ways to reach towards their own happiness by learning to ignore all the voices that tell them they shouldn’t have it.

This is one of those times when I know I’m not quite conveying it well. My words feel about as awkward as the brusque and blunt Sir John. Describing what I liked about this book so much feels like trying to capture the effervescence of champagne.

A dry champagne, a bit tart, but with plenty of sparkle and lots of bubbles – of happiness and joy. So if you’re looking for a romance filled with heat, bubbling with laughter and having just a bit of a bite, this one is a winner.

Review: Split Shift by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Split Shift by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawaySplit Shift (Night Shift #2) by T.A. Moore
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Night Shift #2
Pages: 117
Published by Rogue Firebird Press on April 19, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

The hard thing about Night Shift is when you realize werewolves are bad news, but people can be worse.

After Night Shift officer Kit Marlow solved the murder of child star Haley Jenkins, he figured he was due a little down time. Maybe even a dinner date with Cade Deacon, the sarcastic security consultant, very good kisser, and werewolf who'd helped with the investigation.

That was before someone in a Night Shift uniform drove them both off the road. With the full moon up the only dinner date Cade is interested in...has Marlow served up on a plate. And not in a sexy way.

It's the second time that corrupt Night Shift officers have tried to kill Marlow. If he has his way, it will be the last. Problem is he only has twenty-eight days before the next full moon. If he hasn't identified who wants him dead by then, he'll have to take to werewolf filled streets with a team at his back he can't trust.

First things first, though. Get through the next twelve hours alive and uneaten, and hope that if a second date is still on the cards it's less eventful.

My Review:

The awesome tease that was the first book in this series, Shift Work, left me screaming for more because it ended on an honest-to-goodness (more likely badness or badassness in this case) cliffhanger.

As in someone just T-boned Marlow’s car – with Cade in it – and left them precarious hanging onto the end of a literal, actual cliff as dusk descends and the full moon comes up over the horizon.

Meaning that Cade is about to wolf-out and Marlow is going to be on his menu – and not in the way that the two men were both hoping.

The thing is, though, that the car that crashed them onto that cliff’s edge was driven by someone in a Night Shift uniform – one of Marlow’s fellow officers. Someone he’s supposed to be able to trust to have his back on those nights when it really isn’t safe out there.

Marlow’s all too aware that it isn’t safe for him inside his own squad – a safety that he hoped he’d gotten back after a past betrayal by a dirty cop nearly ended both his career and his life. But the case that put Marlow and Cade into each other’s orbits in Night Shift isn’t done yet.

Someone is still out to get him. He just has to figure out who before they succeed. Because he’s still hoping for that date with Cade – and he has to be alive to enjoy it.

Escape Rating A-: Godsdammit but she did it again. I turned the last page of this book and realized that this case still isn’t done yet. At least Marlow isn’t hanging over the edge of an actual cliff this time. But I’m not satisfied – actually neither are Marlow and Cade – because this case still isn’t over.

ARRRGGGHHH!

One of the things that this series so far is doing really well, besides teasing its readers half to death, is showing that no matter who or what the monster of the day is in urban fantasy – this time it’s werewolves – that the real monsters, forever and always, are human beings.

The wolves are just following biological imperatives. They aren’t culpable for what happens when they are shifted. They really aren’t.

When the wolves are assholes, and some of them are, it’s not because they are wolves. They are assholes because they are humans for all except the three nights of the full moon. And human beings frequently, often, suck.

And not in a fun way.

So, the problem that Marlow is having has nothing to do with wolves – even when they are chasing him. It’s humans every single time. The question that he has just begun to solve at the end of his Split Shift revolves around exactly which ones? And just how far will they go to get him out of their way?

Maybe we’ll find out in the next book in the series. Pretty, please, Ms. Author? Soon, please!

Guest Post from TA Moore + Chapter 2 of the Night Shift prequel short (check out Chapter 1 at Love Bytes)

First of all, thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here with my new release, Split Shift by TA Moore, the second novella in the Night Shift series.

For the blog tour I’ve written a short story set in the Night Shift world. I hope you enjoy!

Chapter 2

Sorry.

It was technically the third apology. So far Brian hadn’t responded to any of them. Marlow stared at the phone screen for a second and then dropped his head back against the cushioned, pleather back of the booth in frustration. He stared up at the ceiling, a single cobwebby string of dust strung from one chrome light fitting to the tiles.

Three months ago Brian had thought dating someone in Night Shift was exciting. Hot. Dangerous in a sexy way. He’d wanted Marlow to turn up at his apartment in uniform, the more battered the better.

Now he had either left Marlow on read the morning after the full moon, or he’d slept through their dinner/breakfast date.

The call-and-response rhythm of food orders pitched up and down in the background. Start the Day Right was open at breakfast, but it mostly catered to the night shift. Both the Night Shift who kept the city safe during the full moon, and the less celebrated ones who kept the city running during it. So there was the occasional pancake order or call for fried beets and eggs–who didn’t like breakfast food all day?–most of the orders were for fried chicken, avocado sandwiches, and beers.

“You ready to order, love?” the waitress asked.

Marlow lifted his head. “Sorry,” he said.

For all the ‘love’ the waitress looked about twenty four. She winked at him and clicked her pen.

“Not the first who’s dozed off in here,” she said. “Not even the first today. You ready to order.”

Piper had left his order before he’d stepped out to make a call. That was easy.

“Buffalo Chicken Sandwich, extra spicy,” he said.

The waitress scratched half the order down, and paused on the spicy. “Are you sure?” she asked. “When we say something is extra spicy, it’s made people go blind.”

“That’s what he wants,” Marlow said, with a nod to Piper’s jacket on the other chair. While the waitress wrote the rest of the order down, Marlow gave the menu a quick once over. The thought of food made his stomach knot, but he supposed he had to have something on the plate. “Crispy ginger latkes?”

She nodded and scrawled it down. A swipe of the pen underlined the order and she turned to go, only to rock back on her heels as she came face to face with Piper.

“Oh!” she said. A wide smile crossed her face. “Ned! If I’d known it was your table I’d not have questioned the extra-spicy sauce.”

“I’d hope not,” Piper said. “Make that two of the same, along with whatever Marlow ordered.”

She amended the order quickly and headed off to the kitchens. A few other diners tried to catch her attention on the way past, but she waved them off. Piper pulled the chair on the other side of the booth out and sat down.

“Budge up,” the tall, blond man told Marlow as he slid into the booth next to him. His elbow nudged Marlow in the ribs and he smelled of fresh soap and leather. “You’re in my spot.”

Piper took a drink of coffee. “Marlow,” he said. “Meet Colin Franklin. He just got cleared to get back to work.”

“I got a new hip,” Franklin said with bluntly weaponised good cheer as he took his jacket off. “I try and think of it as more cybernetic than geriatic.”

“How’s that going?” Marlow asked.

He shifted up the bench to put space between them. Franklin promptly shifted back

into the space, his leg pressed against Marlow’s under the table.

“Better some days than others. On the plus side I learned to play a mean hand of bridge,” Franklin said. He stole Marlow’s coffee and took a drink. The taste made him grimace and give it back. “Bean juice. Gross. You can keep that.”

“It isn’t mine,” Marlow lied blandly. “It was on the table when we got here.”

There was a visible pause as Franklin stopped the schtick. The genial goofball slipped for a second and Franklin’s heavy-boned, handsome face settled into a thoughtful expression. It only lasted a moment then was banished with a lazy grin.

“All right, at least people won’t think you’re funnier than me,” he said.

“He’s better at hand to hand,” Piper said conversationally. He unwrapped his cutlery and laid it out on the table. “Drives like an old lady, though.”

Franklin laughed, despite the flicker of annoyance he’d shown at the first part of the sentence. “Shows what you know,” he said. “Some of the old dears in getting their hips done would have put half the cops on the force to shame. They’d run down a toddler down to get to a toilet paper sale.”

Marlow resisted the urge to move further up the bench. He’d just end up squashed into the corner and still have Franklin’s thigh against his.

“No offense, sir,” he said. Piper made a face at the ‘sir’ and Franklin sucked air through his teeth. “What is this in aid of?”

There was a pause as the waitress came back from the kitchen, plates in hand. She slid them onto the table, introducing each as she went, and grabbed a pot to top up their cups. When she finished she chirped ‘enjoy your meal’ and headed over to a nearby table that had been trying to get her attention.

“…we were here first,” one of the men grumbled. “How come they got served first?”

Marlow missed the justification for that as Piper reclaimed his attention.

“Franklin was my first pick for Night Shift,” he said as he tucked his napkin into his lap. “You both know that. He has the experience, I know he has the nerve, and the skills I want to bring to the team.”

Shit.

For a second Marlow’s chest cramped, tight and wet as if he’d just swallowed water, and then he relaxed. It wasn’t exactly what he’d wanted to hear, but it was done. He took a bite of his latkes and started to play what next.

Robbery hadn’t been that bad, but with six months on Night Shift under his belt he could move to Homicide. Or just…move? The Sheriff’s Department had their own Night Shift division, for the small towns and out in the desert. That was another option. Or another city? State?

The idea felt huge. Marlow had spent his whole life in San Diego, but his family was gone and his friends weren’t lifelong ones. There was Brian, but…

It wasn’t like he’d texted back yet.

“See?” Piper said to Franklin. He sounded obscurely pleased. “That’s what Marlow brings to the team. He’s unflappable, even in the middle of a fight. So yeah, Franklin was my first choice but you were always a close second, Marlow. I’d rather not get rid of either of you. It puts us over-budget on our wages for the year, but Quints is retiring in six months and we can absorb it until then.”

Franklin slapped Marlow on the shoulder. It was a little too hard to be friendly. “You sitting there near shitting yourself,” he chuckled, “And for what?”

“The other shoe,” Marlow said. He watched Piper over the rack of condiments in the middle of the table. “We aren’t getting a free meal for nothing are we?”

Piper smirked. He added more hot sauce to his sandwich and took a bite. The batter crunched between his teeth and juice dripped over the plate as he set back down on the table. He wiped his mouth and then his hands on a napkin as he chewed until he could swallow.

“Are you two going to be able to work together?” he asked. “Or you going to be butting heads about who’s my favorite the whole time?”

Franklin shrugged and picked up his burger. “I just want to get back to work,” he

said. “I’m not in it for back pats and medals.”

He took a huge bite and chewed contentedly–and noisily–on it.

“I don’t care who’s the favorite,” Marlow said. “I just want to do the job.”

Piper dipped a fry in the hot sauce and bit it neatly in half. He gave both of them a slow, greasy-lipped smile.

“Good,” he said. “Tonight you get to prove it. I’m going to yoke you two together, see if you can put aside your egos and do what needs done. If you can’t, well, then I guess I have a decision to make.”

He waved the waitress down again and asked for the rest of sandwich to go. It came back to the table in a neat box with a ‘little bit of something sweet to get through till tonight’.

“See you tonight at the briefing,” Piper said as he stood up. “Get some sleep.”

He walked out, bag swinging from one hand.

“I mean, you know I am the favorite right?” Franklin said as he shoved the last bite of chicken and fries into his mouth. “First choice. See you tonight, rookie.”

He bumped Marlow with his shoulder, slid out of the booth and left. The smear of hot sauce left on his plate was sour and strong enough to wrinkle Marlow’s nose. He’d not left any money.

The latkes were only ok. Marlow finished his coffee and tilted his head to catch the waitress’s eye. She topped up a coffee and sauntered over.

“Refill?”

“Just the bill,” Marlow said.

She laughed and shook her head. “No. It’s always on the house for Piper,” she said. “He saved the owner’s kid one full moon. And you, of course, thank you for your service!”

Catch the next chapter tomorrow at Two Chicks Obsessed and follow the tour for the rest of the story!

About the Author:

TA Moore is a Northern Irish writer of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance novels. A childhood in a rural, seaside town fostered in her a suspicious nature, a love of mystery, and a streak of black humour a mile wide. As her grandmother always said, ‘she’d laugh at a bad thing that one’, mind you, that was the pot calling the kettle black. TA Moore studied History, Irish mythology, English at University, mostly because she has always loved a good story. She has worked as a journalist, a finance manager, and in the arts sector before she finally gave in to a lifelong desire to write.

Coffee, Doc Marten boots, and good friends are the essential things in life. Spiders, mayo, and heels are to be avoided.

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