Guest Review: Manipulation by Eden Winters

manipulation by eden wintersFormat read: ebook
Formats available: ebook
Genre: m/m romance, mystery
Series: Diversion #4
Length: 240 pages
Publisher: Rocky Ridge Books
Date Released: November 1, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KoboAll Romance

Lucky Lucklighter has a new life. His old life wants him back.

He traded trafficking for taking down criminals with the Southeastern Narcotics Bureau, and a drug-lord lover for a man on the right side of the law. Bo Schollenberger found the way past the thorny defenses of Lucky’s heart, and made Mr. I-Get-Along-Fine-Alone think about his and his closets, stevia in the sugar bowl, and a picket fence—with a good lock on the gate.

Now Bo is missing, and a voice long silenced asks, “Did you miss me?” Lucky must deal with a devil from his past to get Bo back.

And if Bo isn’t willing to come? A drug ring needs its back broken before flooding the US with a designer high, seductive and undetectable. But there’s a fine line between good and evil, and a truckload of temptation urging Lucky to cross.

Guest Review by Cryselle:

corruption by eden wintersOh yay! Bo and Lucky are back for more stomach-churning, heart-pounding adventures. This fourth installment in the Diversion series lets Bo shine as an undercover narcotics operative when a figure out of Lucky’s past and current nightmares turns out to be behind the influx of drugs in their case from the third book (Corruption).

The author offers Lucky a vision of happiness with Bo, where their biggest problem is rekeying locks on a newly purchased home, but it’s still a dream. Lucky’s trademarked smartassery gets out in full measure here. The real estate agent probably needs a stiff drink or three after a day viewing houses with him. Humor surfaces in flashes elsewhere—Lucky doesn’t let fear, danger, or language barriers stop the snark, but even so, we can see him turning his wit. In caring for Bo, he sees the world differently, and a few of his observations will tear your heart right out of your chest. Some of the others will put coffee on your ereader.

diversion by eden wintersBo’s cover hasn’t been breached when he’s taken to Mexico at the orders of the drug lord with big plans. But he’s there with no backup, no communications, nothing that an undercover operation should have, until Lucky charges down south. Lucky’s no longer willing to do things by the book, since Walter Smith, head honcho of the Southeastern Narcotics Bureau, has compromised his integrity in Lucky’s eyes. Nothing is exactly as it seems, and the world tilts farther sideways when Nestor Sauceda, a cartel leader and former associate of Lucky’s late lover, Victor Mangiardi, takes an interest in the new designer drug and the remains of Victor’s empire. (How Lucky goes from boy toy to a drug lord to narcotics agent is backstory presented in Book 1, Diversion (reviewed at Cryselle’s Bookshelf)

Deep undercover work is hard on Bo’s psyche—he still slides from one persona to the other, being Cyrus Cooper when he needs to be a tough leader of tough men, and wobbling through Bo Schollenberger when questions of right and wrong arise. Here, little is simple, and loyalties mean something different than they did back in the States. Add to that Bo’s forced dependence on a terrifying new drug, and it could all fall apart in a heartbeat.

The prose is strong and gritty, told from Lucky’s POV. He has to watch Bo’s disintegration, maintain his own ever more fragile hold on his new life, while still sinking just far enough into criminality to convince the cartels that he’s going to help peddle their designer poison. Lucky’s among those who “knew him when,” and it would be so easy to slip into the role he’d been prepared for all those years ago.

The entire series is good reading, with action, law enforcement, a reluctant romance between two guys who love each other desperately and are terrified of needing each other, and plot twists through the drug trade going in unexpected directions. With this fourth book, the author seems to have found an even higher gear, with death breathing down Bo and Lucky’s necks at all times, and their reliance on each other both the stuff of strength and the stuff of heartbreak.

Escape Rating A: I can depend on the Diversion series for an edge of my seat adventure with a heaping side of romance. Manipulation is the best yet. I’m greedy for the next book already.

cryselles bookshelf logoCryselle can regularly be found blogging and reviewing at Cryselle’s Bookshelf.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Review: A Forbidden Rumspringa by Keira Andrews

forbidden rumspringa by keira andrewsFormat read: ebook
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: M/M romance
Series: Gay Amish Romance #1)
Length: 184 pages
Publisher: KA Books
Date Released: August 31, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

When two young Amish men find love, will they risk losing everything?

In a world where every detail of life–down to the width of a hat brim–is dictated by God and the all-powerful rules of the community, two men dare to imagine a different way. At 18, Isaac Byler knows little outside the strict Amish settlement of Zebulon, Minnesota, where there is no rumspringa for exploration beyond the boundaries of their insular world. Isaac knows he’ll have to officially join the church and find a wife before too long, but he yearns for something else–something he can’t name.

Dark tragedy has left carpenter David Lantz alone to support his mother and sisters, and he can’t put off joining the church any longer. But when he takes on Isaac as an apprentice, their attraction grows amid the sweat and sawdust. David shares his sinful secrets, and he and Isaac struggle to reconcile their shocking desires with their commitment to faith, family and community.

Now that they’ve found each other, are they willing to lose it all?

Note: Contains explicit sexual situations and graphic language. This is not an inspirational/Christian romance.

cryselles bookshelf logoGuest Review by Cryselle:

When two young men fall for each other in an atmosphere as circumscribed as the Amish town of Zebulon, there’s only a few branches on the decision tree if there’s going to be an HEA. So everything rides on the style and the details. Once in a while a chunk of research looks like a chunk of research, but for the most part the details are organic to the story.

Keira Andrews gives us a book that flows, in plain language that fits the community that Isaac and David belong to. This offshoot of a larger group is struggling to make ends meet in a new place, with less interaction with the outside, and tighter rules than ever before. Where these young people had expected to have a time of freedom and tasting the “English” way of life, now, no such chance exists. As for joining the church under these circumstances—it doesn’t feel like a choice. The families that emigrated to found Zebulon all seem to be touched by tragedy brought by the young people experimenting, and therefore, no one shall experiment again: it’s too dangerous.

But the young will test their boundaries, and some cannot fit within the narrow confines.

Finding out the details of why strict went to straightjacket took long enough to make me impatient, because there had to be a reason why an already austere group would do this to themselves and their children. When even an orange safety reflector on the back of the buggy is too worldly, there has to be a reason. It was a while coming.

Not for Isaac and David to question why, though; they’re young, not yet “following church” or slipping into the life path expected of them. Isaac eyes David’s sister with fear—she’d make him a fine, hard-working wife, and if people pushed them together any harder there’d be bruises. Meanwhile, down in the barn, David and Isaac make more than furniture.

The two of them dance around the growing attraction as long as possible, but once they acknowledge the heat between them, they can’t keep their hands off each other. There were a lot of sex scenes which mostly drove the plot, but no sense of fumbling or inexperience, and I really don’t believe one raunchy magazine read by David long ago was enough to make them as adventurous or skilled as they were.

The author put a lot of effort into understanding the culture she writes about, and the respect is clear and unjudgmental. The sense of following the Ordnung, the religious directions, as a way of life is strong, though for David and Isaac, the sense of religion as faith is almost absent. Thinking for one’s self is anathema, and difficult for the young men to do. To do so risks friendship, family, and all ties. Isaac’s older brother Aaron never came back after rumspringa, and the youngest brother doesn’t even know Aaron exists. The pain of such choices weighs heavily on Isaac, who is our only POV character.

Escape Rating B+: The author tackled a tough situation where the characters have few options, writing with skill and dignity. David and Isaac have another book following, where they could solidify as a couple, which should be equally good reading.

In a separate but related note, the ebook is very prettily formatted, with custom chapter headers and horse-and-buggy dingbats.

queer romance month

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Review: Slam by J.L. Merrow

Slam by J.L. MerrowFormats available: ebook
Genre: Contemporary
Length: 275 pages
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Date Released: April 9, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Limericks, lies, and puppy-dog eyes…

Jude Biggerstaff is all the way out and loving it—mostly. The Anglo-Japanese university graduate is a carnivore working in a vegan café, an amateur poet with only one man in his life. His dog, Bubbles.

Then there’s “Karate Crumpet”, a man who regularly runs past the café with a martial arts class. Jude can only yearn from afar, until the object of his affection rescues him from muggers. And he learns that not only does this calm, competent hunk of muscle have a name—David—but that he’s gay.

Jude should have known the universe wouldn’t simply let love fall into place. First, David has only one foot out of the closet. Then there’s Jude’s mother, who lies about her age to the point Jude could be mistaken for jailbait.

With a maze of stories to keep straight, a potential stepfather in the picture, ex-boyfriends who keep spoiling his dates with David, and a friend with a dangerous secret, Jude is beginning to wonder if his and David’s lives will ever start to rhyme.

Warnings: Contains a tangled web of little white lies, a smorgasbord of cheesy limericks, a violin called Vanessa, some boots that mean business, and the most adorable little dog ever. Poetry, it’s not…

Guest Review by Cryselle

After that blurb, the question isn’t what happens, it’s how. And it’s fun.

Stream of consciousness barely contained, that’s Jude. He’s flamboyant, funny, and when he bleeds internally, he bandages it with another joke. He’s head over heels for David, but what doesn’t go strange in one way goes strange in another. JL Merrow has “frequently been accused of humor” and this story earns her the shaky finger again, in the best way.

Opposites—Jude looks like Gok Wan, only prettier and gayer, and David’s so butch Jude’s not sure he’s gay—the man hasn’t seen a musical in years, and likes watching football. David’s got reason—he works construction in the management end of the business, but he’s not out at work and doesn’t plan to be any time soon. We don’t have any scenes from his POV, but that’s okay, Jude can rattle along for three.

Emitting limericks at irregular intervals to express his anxiety or frustration, Jude keeps us smiling, even when we’d like to whap him for withholding pertinent information from David. Granted, it seems rational at the time, but it does create a sequence of Big Misunderstandings. I can’t summarize better than this brief sequence, where Jude and David have gone on their first real date. Rescuing Jude from some gay-bashers isn’t exactly social life after all.

He shrugged. “I’ve never really been into gay bars. I’d rather go to a normal pub. Uh, does that come off as a bit homophobic?”

I swallowed my last mouthful of saltimbocca. “Yeah, but I’ll let you off because (a) you’re gorgeous and (b) I think my mouth just had an orgasm.” Dreamily, I put down my fork. “Although on second thoughts, that’s not a great mental picture when you’ve just eaten. We have got to come here again.”

“If you like. I’m still hoping to persuade you to try the raw fish at TTY.”

Oops. That again. I bit my lip. Should I come clean and tell him it was all to do with Stinky Cheese Guy? He’d understand, and then we could have a laugh about it…

I grimaced. Yeah, right. Because it’s always so attractive, finding the guy you’re out with is still hung up on his Evil Ex.

David laughed. “Why do I get the impression I just missed a whole conversation taking place in your head?”

That last sentence—really important.

The supporting characters shore everything up nicely: best gal pal Keisha keeps Jude grounded and provides a sharp foil for his wit, and Mom is a hoot. Mom has a younger boyfriend and a couple of secrets, which slop onto Jude and incidentally demonstrate that he comes by his talent for complications honestly.

In fact, everyone seems to have some way to affect everyone else, and it’s to the author’s credit that this crazy quilt of plot points winds up so neatly. Secrets and confessions fall out of the closet like improperly stored skeletons, and it all winds up as a big AW! in several directions, in spite of the epidemic of foot-in-mouth disease.

The title applies to Jude’s participation in slam poetry fests, where poets recite their work as performance art and are graded by how they affect their audiences. It’s not a huge plot aspect unless it’s needed—this story is more character driven than plot driven, aside from the eventual boy-gets-boy. The limericks are spice rather than meal. I’m very partial to external plot, of which this is rather short: the external elements are subservient to the relationship, and the title theme is nearly invisible for most of the book.

All in all, this is a sweet feel-good-eventually of a story. The Brit flavor is undiluted, not impenetrable to American readers, and is a wonderful antidote to stories where the English charm has been genericized away. If you’re in the mood for flamboyant, funny, British characters and situations, this is the story for you.

Escape rating: B+

Cryselle can regularly be found blogging and reviewing at Cryselle’s Bookshelf.

Guest Review: Naked Tails by Eden Winters

NakedTailsFormats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: Shapeshifters
Length: 234 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date Released: December 17, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, All Romance eBooks, Kobo

Seth McDaniel wasn’t raised among a shifter passel and has no idea what it’s like to turn furry once a month. An orphan, torn from his father’s family at an early age, he scarcely remembers Great-aunt Irene. Now her passing brings him back to Possum Kingdom, Georgia, to take up a legacy he doesn’t understand and reconnect with a friend he’s never forgotten.

As Irene’s second-in-command, Dustin Livingston has two choices: assume control of the passel or select another replacement. Unfortunately, the other candidates are either heartless or clueless. Dustin’s best hope to dodge the responsibility is to deliver a crash course in leadership to his childhood pal Seth, a man he hasn’t seen in twenty years. However, while Dustin’s mind is set on his task, his heart is set on his old friend.

Seth’s quest for answers yields more questions instead. What’s with the tiny gray hairs littering his aunt’s house? Why do the townsfolk call each other “Jack” and “Jill”? Do Dustin’s attentions come with ulterior motives? And why is Seth suddenly craving crickets?

Guest Review by Cryselle

That smarty-pants possum on the cover tells you right away that this is no ordinary shapeshifter story. No wolves, no big cats, and most importantly for me, no insta-luv based on “finding your one true mate.” These fellas have to work to find their HEA.

And Seth has to work to find his spine. He’s the heir apparent to a band of shapeshifters he has no clue about, and he’s ill-equipped for the task. People run roughshod over him, and it isn’t until he returns to Possum Kingdom, Georgia to discover all he missed in the way of family, friends, and moonlit nights that he starts to stand up for himself.

Seth’s torn between his grandmother, who seems to care about appearances more than Seth’s well-being (although she does raise a small boy by herself when it’s pretty clear this is a major imposition) and his Aunt Irene, who has to balance Seth’s well-being against her passel’s when she decides how hard to fight for a child who’s not in danger of anything worse than living in a city. There are no easy choices, and while the grandmother is not precisely three dimensional, she’s certainly not evil or cruel as much as terrified that the passel will cost her another family member. Irene is a much more loving figure, but she’s cut off from Seth when he’s eight years old.

So twenty years later, when Seth can decide what he wants without his grandmother’s opinions coming first, he’s got to cope with a town of strangers who are all behaving rather peculiarly and his best friend from way back when, who’s never stopped missing him. Dustin’s grown up to be the town doctor and Irene’s second in command become temporary leader, a position he doesn’t want. He can either step up to the pump or find a suitable replacement, and hope he survives the experience either way.

The story spends a lot of time with the possums in their animal form, which is often quite humorous, occasionally dangerous, and sometimes political, and always told in a way that moves the story forward. Seth also needs to learn to be part of the passel, a role he’s thrust into rather more firmly than Dustin could have imagined. Seth hasn’t been shapeshifting all along, but finds he enjoys it once it’s inevitable. “I am the Crickinator!” he exults after a chirpy snack.

In two-leg form, Seth grows hugely as a person, blossoming with the responsibilities that are thrust upon him, but Dustin’s not sure this will be enough to make him a leader. These qualities do lurk within him as dormant as his shapeshifting, but with a little coaching on method, he seems to have a talent for it. Between Dustin and Monica, Dustin’s current second in command, Seth will get whupped into shape one way or another.

The secondary characters are drawn vividly: Monica, Irene, and even the hapless Tiffany have clear personalities. The grandmother’s characterization is heavily tinted by being seen as the adult tyrant through children’s eyes, and it probably isn’t possible for her to be portrayed sympathetically after taking everything important away from young children, no matter what her reasoning. Monica is formidable and not easily won over—she’s a hoot, and I don’t ever want her plotting against me. Seth finds her advice valuable precisely because she doesn’t like him.

The relationship between Seth and Dustin is hugely complicated by the leadership issues, doubts about each other’s motives and sincerity, and the occasional foot planted firmly in mouth. It moves in fits and starts around these other issues. It’s never as simple as “childhood buddies destined to be lovers.” Dustin had to part with his long term lover over shifter politics, which he still regrets, and Seth has an ex who can mess with his mind. Both Seth and Dustin have to learn to see each other as men as much as long ago pals, long term disappointments, and solutions to a problem. No fated-mate handwaving here: it’s a real relationship that has to be built in the current day.

This story is charming for its characters, offbeat shifters, and the author’s clear understanding of small Southern towns, which all come together into a well-balanced read. A couple secondary characters deliver their messages with a slightly heavy hand and a running gag got one repeat past the funny, but that doesn’t keep this story from being a lovely afternoon’s entertainment.

Escape rating: A-

Cryselle can regularly be found blogging and reviewing at Cryselle’s Bookshelf.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Review: Skybound by Aleksandr Voinov

Format read: ebook provided by the publisher
Formats available: Paperback, ebook
Genre: M/M Romance, Historical Romance
Length: 44 pages
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Date Released: August 20, 2012
Purchasing Info:Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance

Germany, 1945. The Third Reich is on its knees as Allied forces bomb Berlin to break the last resistance. Yet on an airfield near Berlin, the battle is far from over for a young mechanic, Felix, who’s attached to a squadron of fighter pilots. He’s especially attached to fighter ace Baldur Vogt, a man he admires and secretly loves. But there’s no room for love at the end of the world, never mind in Nazi Germany.

When Baldur narrowly cheats death, Felix pulls him from his plane, and the pilot makes his riskiest move yet. He takes a few days’ leave to recover, and he takes Felix with him. Away from the pressures of the airfield, their bond deepens, and Baldur shows Felix the kind of brotherhood he’d only ever dreamed of before.

But there’s no escaping the war, and when they return, Baldur joins the fray again in the skies over Berlin. As the Allies close in on the airfield where Felix waits for his lover, Baldur must face the truth that he is no longer the only one in mortal danger.

Guest Review by Cryselle

The viewpoint and setting of Skybound is truly startling: the losing side of a desperate war is bleak ground for a love story, yet here it is.

Baldur, a pilot of such skill as to make him royalty to his fellows, takes chances in the sky and on the ground. He’s an ace among aces, and Felix might love him or merely have a bad case of hero-worship.  Baldur is the one bright spot for Felix in this war—he rebuilds tattered planes enough to fly again, but the growing despair of the war is sapping him badly.

One air battle proves nearly fatal for Baldur and Felix is the one to rescue him. Felix would walk through fire for Baldur, and is overcome to be chosen as companion for the few days the war effort can spare the pilot to recover. Both anxious and hopeful, Felix isn’t sure what the few days of solitude will bring, and even when they return to the airfield, it isn’t entirely clear how deeply Baldur is invested. Sentiments like “I love you” have no place in this war, but the chances Baldur runs to be with Felix   speak loudly.

The clues to what happiness they might find in the end are scattered cleverly though the text, but it is a mixed happiness, the best they could hope for.  The tone of the story recalls parts of All Quiet on the Western Front, where ending the day with all arms and legs had to be accounted a triumph. Desperation drives Felix, both for the war and for Baldur.

The author has gone to great lengths to provide solid research and a vivid sense of time and place, not only at the airfield and in battle but in the village where they take their leave.  Knowing how this war ends provides a special poignancy to the small comforts they can take. Even the characters’ names add to the atmosphere: Baldur, named for a god whose death presaged Ragnarok, and Felix, the one small bit of happiness.

With all this care taken, it was a  jolt to repeatedly encounter a term translated literally from the German that means something entirely different and unrelated in English, and which wasn’t explained until nearly the end.  The reorienting needed to get back into the story after each use took away from the total submersion of reading. Even so, I would give this short, unusual tale a B+.

Cryselle can regularly be found blogging and reviewing at Cryselle’s Bookshelf.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand? 12-23-12

We made the mistake of trying to go shopping yesterday. The outing was successful, but ACK! I know there are people who love being part of the pre-holiday shopping madness, but count me out for next year.

Parking lot vulturing is insane. You know what I mean? Driving behind people as they leave the mall, like packs of vultures wheeling over a hopefully dying carcass in the desert, hoping against hope that the shopper is going to leave the mall and is not just returning to their vehicle to unload.

Like I said, parking lot vultures.

In much happier holiday news, the Holiday Gifts of Love Blog Hop winner at Reading Reality was Holly J. Lucky for Holly, the $10 Amazon Gift Card does not require a trip to a shopping mall. Way to go Holly!


Speaking of Blog Hops, there is still plenty of time to enter the Gifting Books Blog Hop, here at Reading Reality and elsewhere. The prize at Reading Reality is the winner’s choice of either a $10 Amazon Gift Card (they’re so easy to send, and you get to pick what you want) or a copy of The Hobbit or one of the parts of The Lord of the Rings, sent to anywhere the nice folks at the Book Depository ship.


About the rest of last week…

Red Hot Holiday: A+ Review: Breath on Embers by Anne Calhoun, B+ Review: I Need You for Christmas by Leah Braemel, B Review: Wish List by K.A. Mitchell
A Review: The Walnut Tree by Charles Todd
B Review: That Night by Diane Dooley
Gifting Books Blog Hop
Five Golden Rings: B+ Review: Tempting Mr. Witherspoon by Vivienne Lorret, A Review: War of the Magi by Rena Gregory
Stacking the Shelves (27)

This week coming up is the week that slows down at work–at least for most people. It’s a three day week at my place. Whoopee!

But on the blog, it’s still a week. One last Christmas review, All I Want for Christmas is a Duke, by Delilah Marvelle and Maire Claremont. Well, not me personally, but the heroines in the two novellas.

Also, my review of Cast in Peril, the latest in Michelle Sagara’s marvelous fantasy/urban fantasy Elantra series. I already can’t wait until next year’s installment. Write faster, Michelle!

And my fantastic friend Cryselle is back with another fantastic guest review. This time for Eden Winters’ The Wish.

One more treat this week. As the year winds down, it’s time to take a look at the best of the year, at least from this reviewer’s perspective. This week I’ll post my best dozen for 2012, and next week, December 31, my baker’s dozen (13, of course) of my most anticipated books for 2013.


Guest Review: Emerging Magic by Angela Benedetti

Formats Available: Mass Market Paperback, ebook
Genre: M/M Urban Fantasy
Release Date: July 25, 2012
Series: Sentinels #2
Length: 290 pages
Publisher: Torquere Press
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher, Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, Book Depository

Rory’s mother took him to psychiatrists, let them circumscribe his life, let them give him drugs, while knowing all along there was nothing wrong with him. When Rory finds out, he’s angry and confused and just wants to get away for a while. His mother’s betrayal plus another kidnap attempt make a visit to the father he hasn’t seen in ten years seem like a great idea.

When Rory, Paul and Aubrey get to Seattle, though, it’s obviously not going to be just a normal family Christmas. Someone north of San Jose tried to kidnap Rory twice before they left, and it’s too much of a coincidence that Nathan, Rory’s dad, has magic talented friends. While Rory tries to reconnect with his only other family, Paul is trying to figure out whether anyone in Nathan’s group is after Rory. They definitely have secrets, and at least one of them has been playing around with things he doesn’t understand. The local fey are after him, and elves aren’t known for caring too much about collateral damage.

And there’s a master wizard in the area who’s up to something big and would really like to have Rory’s help….

See the first installment of Rory and Paul’s story in A Hidden Magic: Sentinels Book One.

Guest Review by Cryselle

I’ve been waiting for this book for every minute since I finished A Hidden Magic. The Sentinels universe, as well as Paul and Rory, had way too many possibilities to leave it at one lone novel, and my (im)patience has paid off at last. Magic exists here, though not everyone believes in or perceives it, and humans are considered low on the magical power scale.

Spoiler for book one, sorry, but we left Paul bereft of his magic—the only way he saw to accomplish a greater good. Rory, his new lover and possessor of magic beyond most mages’ dreams, is there for him during this time of adjustment. Paul in turn is a bulwark for Rory as he processes the monumental betrayal that is the reality of his mother’s protective instincts gone berserk. Left defenseless against magical attack and confused why anyone would try, Rory’s had more adventure than he could stand in A Hidden Magic.

Matters don’t stay peaceful for long in Emerging Magic. Having fended off two attempts on another abduction, Rory figures that getting away from his usual haunts is good, getting away from Mama Manipulation is really good, and reconnecting with the father who left during his youth is the best reason to leave town. If at the same time Rory and his magically talented friends can track down the rogue mage calling himself Aziraphale, better yet.

This is very much a sweater to ball of yarn story—tug on one loose end and a row comes loose, followed by a sleeve; another tug, and there goes the neckline. Each small yank reveals another skein of the truth, but until all the major players are gathered together to find out exactly how deep in hot lava they stand, Rory is the center of several plots devised by persons of greater or lesser integrity and good will.

Trusting his own instincts is something Rory is ill-equipped to do, though he’s working hard to develop his own judgments. Paul is wise enough to not step into the judgment vacuum, but cares enough to pick up the pieces should they go smash, and fortunately, Rory has enough strength and enough trust in the trustworthy to keep most of the Pacific Northwest from turning into wasteland.

Several delightful characters from the first book return here, from Azzy the junk-food-junkie pixie to Willowen, an elf of enormous power, boundless curiosity, and caustic words for the terminally stupid. Aubrey, a centuries-old mage, and his apprentice Cal, who is the only one who can curb Aubrey’s stinging teaching methods so that the students actually benefit, have a large supporting role. They bring a mordant humor plus a good look at a loving relationship between the magically unequal.

The story is a lovely mix of new relationship between Paul and Rory, a huge dust-up among the magically gifted and those who wish they were, and mages who think they have a Grand Plan for saving their corner of the world all the while riling beings whom it does not do to annoy. The ending wraps matters justly and ethically, if not always happily, an excellent choice on the part of the author, who understands that fairness doesn’t mean everyone’s pleased.

My niggles: a few issues wrap more smoothly than perhaps they should, and Rory’s sense of self-preservation ought to make him question everyone and everything, though he remains dangerously trusting in some directions. Every time he brushes his hair he has reason to remember how others would use him for their own purposes: an elven lady grew it to his knees for her pleasure, not for his. Naïve perhaps, but Rory gives the readers incentive to talk back to the book, and a facepalm moment or two.

Rory’s personal and magical growth and the machinations around him that provoke it are the primary focus of the tale, although the romantic aspect is indispensable and important. Paul’s role is supportive and contradictory: what he would do as a lover is not what he can or should do as a Sentinel. His and Rory’s physical relationship is mostly fade to black and when not, couched in language more poetic than earthy. It’s a joy to watch them learn each other—their relationship is only weeks old in their timeline and they still have a lot to work out.

This universe is rife with characters who should have stories: Aubrey and Cal are strong supporting characters here but could easily star in their own book, and Manny, left behind in San Diego, needs face time. The Sentinels universe has endless possibilities both romantically and magically. The series currently has two novels available in ebook and trade paperback and several e-shorts; I hope Angela Benedetti is busy plotting the next installment.  Escape Rating: A-

Cryselle can regularly be found blogging and reviewing at Cryselle’s Bookshelf.

Guest Review: Cop Out by KC Burn

Formats Available: Mass Market Paperback, ebook
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Release Date: November 18, 2011
Length: 200 Pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher, Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, Book Depository

Detective Kurt O’Donnell is used to digging up other people’s secrets, but when he discovers his slain partner was married to another man, it shakes him. Determined to do the right thing, Kurt offers the mourning Davy his assistance. Helping Davy through his grief helps Kurt deal with the guilt that his partner didn’t trust him enough to tell him the truth, and somewhere along the way Davy stops being an obligation and becomes a friend, the closest friend Kurt has ever had.

His growing attraction to Davy complicates matters, leaving Kurt struggling to reevaluate his sexuality. Then a sensual encounter neither man is ready for confuses them further. To be with Davy, Kurt must face the prospect of coming out, but his job and his relationship with his Catholic family are on the line. Can he risk destroying his life for the uncertain possibility of a relationship with a newly widowed man?

Guest Review by Cryselle

Cop Out starts out with a bang, literally; Kurt’s been shot and his partner killed. He’s been paired with Ben a long time, but in a work relationship, not a true friendship. They have nearly no personal interactions, no shared confidences, and Kurt is floored with the realization of exactly how little he knew the man he trusted with his life.

It isn’t until Ben’s funeral and then by accident that Kurt realizes Davy was Ben’s partner for ten years, and then he’s further horrified to find out what sort of narrow existence Davy was forced into by Ben’s secrecy. Nothing of Davy’s personality could contaminate Ben’s life, not even a few colorful items sprinkled around their home.

Knowing that Davy would need support in his bereavement, and thinking it very unlikely that he’d get it from anyone else, Kurt appoints himself a friend and guardian; he’s got quite a bit of spare time during his recuperation, and later he’s a constant, as much as Davy will let him be. Appalled by how far short of a loving relationship between equals Ben and Davy had, Kurt wants to help Davy heal. Little moves like cheering his own favorite sports teams and bringing out the crazy quilt to stain a pristine white room mark Davy’s grieving and recovery, and Kurt’s pleased with helping along each small step.

Kurt’s own life requires some recovery: a new partner with a normal curiosity and friendship to offer helps heal him of Ben’s miasma. His new partner is there for him in a series of small milestones, and to worry about him when he’s not doing well. Simon is the antithesis of Ben; he’s a complete and decent human being.

As Kurt and Davy do a slow build back to normal, Kurt starts’ to question his feelings—this isn’t friendship as he knows it, not with ever-harder-to squash-back sexual feelings, culminating in a bout of angry sex that brings matters to a head. Because Davy rightly calls BS on Kurt for treating him the way Ben did, in many important ways.

This book is an extreme emotional roll-coaster; we see everything through Kurt’s turmoil, first over the existence of a long term relationship he never suspected, then his anger over Ben’s treatment of Davy, and especially over his own growing sexual desires. Kurt’s always thought of himself as straight but not highly sexed, and the slow reveal of the truth, first to himself, and then to family and friends, is the main focus of the story. Cop work is a background topic: even the eventual take-down of the crime lord responsible for Ben’s death is treated as a throwaway scene.

The emotional upheaval makes this a very vivid out-for-you story, and as long as we’re focused on Kurt, it’s enjoyable: even his falling-to-pieces times were well-drawn and believable. Davy though, has a decade of what is essentially an emotionally abusive relationship, and while I loved that he grew confident and even assertive, and refused to tolerate a second round of it, thinking too hard about those ten years is a little stomach churning. I hated Ben deeply by the middle of the book, and he gets no screen time as a live person.

Kurt does eventually decipher himself and comes out, although his choices of people to tell were a matter for headdesking.  Unfortunately, whacking him with a clue-by-four was not an option for the reader.

Davy and Kurt do reconcile nearly as traumatically as they met, and it’s quite satisfying to read. We’re even allowed to share a bit of them being happy together, and one closes the book with a lascivious but happy smile. Escape Rating B

Cryselle can regularly be found blogging and reviewing at Cryselle’s Bookshelf.

Cop Out has previously appeared on Reading Reality as one of Dreamspinner Press’ November 2011 featured titles.

What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand? AKA The Sunday Post 8-5-12

Looking at the calendar, it’s pretty clear that the break is over. Three tours this week AND three next week.

Oh, and I’m going to a family reunion over the weekend. Can I schedule or what?

Lucky for me, my friend Cryselle from Cryselle’s Bookshelf will be guest reviewing on Friday! Thank you, Cryselle!

But between now and Friday, what’s going on?

Monday’s Ebook Review Central features Dreamspinner’s June titles. This was the month they released their Time is Eternity Daily Dose collection of short stories, novellettes and novellas. Let’s just say it felt like eternity compiling the review list with all the added titles. You’ll see tomorrow.

Tuesday I’ll be interview Sheri Fredrick’s about her contemporary fantasy Remedy Maker, as well as reviewing this fun new book. Her Remedy Maker, Rhycious, is a centaur with PTSD after a century-long war against the wood-nymphs. One of the cooler things about this story is that the mythological creatures live in real-world Pennsylvania, in Amish country.

Wednesday is the day that Laurie Frankel will be giving away a copy of her new book, Goodbye for Now, in conjunction with an interview and a review of that absolutely fascinating story. I’m still trying to find the right words to describe the story. It’s a love story for the 21st century, absolutely. What happens when a geek decides that he doesn’t want to let go?

Thursday’s guest is Nana Malone. She’ll be at Reading Reality to talk about Forsaken Protector, the second book in her Protectors series. (The first book, Reluctant Protector, is available free for Kindle, check it out!) These read like superhero romances to me, and they’re fun!

And if this week isn’t awesome enough, there’s next week to look forward to!

Jane Kindred will be here early next week to talk about her wicked angels and protective demons series, The House of Arkhangel’sk. The first book in the series, The Fallen Queen, was amazing and intense, and the second book, The Midnight Court, promises more of the same. Along with convoluted angelic court politics and demonic love. Reviews will be posted with the interview. Yum!

Speaking of yummy, I couldn’t resist Adrienne Giordano’s Relentless Pursuit when it popped up on NetGalley. I’ve read the entire Private Protectors series, and I’ve loved every single one of them, so a new one is a real treat. If you like romantic suspense of the security-agency persuasion, give Giordano’s series a try. Start with Man Law. (Not thrilled with the title, but the book was terrific!)

That should be enough for one week. Or even two. But it’s not. The next Robin Owens Celta book, Heart Secret will be out on August 7. Yep. Already pre-ordered.

Guest Review: Hawaiian Gothic by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane

Ori and Kalani were childhood friends too afraid to be lovers. Now in their darkest hour—Ori disgraced and Kalani a wandering spirit—they’ll fight the world and death itself for a second chance.

Gregorio “Ori” Reyes thought there was nothing left for him in Hawaii. A former Army Ranger and promising MMA fighter, his dishonorable discharge turned him into the family disgrace, and his childhood best friend Kalani never could love him back–not the way Ori needed to be loved–even before Kalani’s doctors declared him to be in an unrecoverable coma. Ori’s return to Hawaii seems fated to be a depressing reminder of every chance he never took… until Kalani himself impossibly welcomes him home.

Kalani’s body is bedridden, but his spirit is free to roam, and it turns out it’s not just Ori who had unspoken yearnings. Kalani is eager to prove that he can still savor all the pleasures of this world. Together, they remember all those years of surfing, wrestling, touching and aching but too afraid to act; now, they cross that final barrier and struggle against each other in an entirely different way.

Passionately but tenuously reunited, the pair must solve the mystery of Kalani’s unlucky life, sorting through dark family history and even journeying to the Hawaiian ghostworld. And the greatest terror of their journey is that Ori might have to put Kalani to rest.

Guest Review by Cryselle

“Gothic” implies dark and mysterious goings on, an interesting balance against the bright sunniness of Hawaii. This book is a juxtaposition of many more things, with an unique structure, and it works out in a most surprising fashion.

The story opens in the middle—Ori’s now released from Leavenworth, and Kalani’s lying comatose in a hospital bed, the victim of a savage attack. Many things are not what they seem, including Kalani meeting Ori at the airport.

Ori’s spent much of his life yearning after Kalani, who’s always been there as a friend, but there’s never been anything else between them, until Ori return’s from the mainland, wracked with guilt over Kalani’s condition—he wasn’t there to prevent the catastrophe, and now feels that he lost every chance. It’s never that simple, though, because Kalani finds that being freed of his body has freed him from a lot of inhibitions. As a wandering spirit, he can manifest near his best friend, but he can’t stay in this form forever, and there are choices to make.

This is an extremely non-linear story—important chunks of flashback take us back and forward in time, revealing important details about the men and their relationship—fast friends since nearly forever, they complement each other in many ways, but haven’t taken the step to be lovers until it’s nearly too late. Ori also has a mystery to solve—who did this to Kalani, and how can his spirit go on to its proper destination, wherever that might be?

A substantial portion of the story takes place in the Hawaiian spirit realm, a place I’ve never visited even in fiction, because of Kalani’s background. Ori tries to follow and understand, and his own Filipino and fighting background gives him tools to work with. The spirit realm is far from benign, and for Ori to reach it takes a bold and gruesome act, so this story may not be for the squeamish, though the rewards for the persevering reader are great.

At one point the story steps backwards in time and out of the main characters’ POV, to a time before Kalani’s birth. His mother Malia, who is variously loved and reviled, lays the foundations of all that is to come, in a brief excursion into a non-standard but loving relationship. Ladybits warning for the M/M purist, but this section is important, beautifully done, and both romantic and tragic.

A few things seem a little overdone, like Ori’s career as both an Army Ranger and an MMA fighter, but serve to highlight his fall from grace and his return to it. He is a man who understands sacrifice and duty, and doing the hard tasks. I wanted to hurt one of the secondary characters for taking steps to harm the innocent, but that character does achieve a kind of redemption.

I loved this story for bringing me into unfamiliar cultures and places, including the parts of Hawaii tourists never see, and for letting me share the evolving relationship between Ori and Kalani. It’s is hot, loving, a little tentative in its changes but built on a solid foundation. Also, hot. These characters have to work extremely hard for their happiness, and I was glad to follow along.  Escape Rating B+

Cryselle can regularly be found blogging and reviewing at Cryselle’s Bookshelf.