Review: Sloe Ride by Rhys Ford

sloe ride by rhys fordFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: M/M romantic suspense
Series: Sinners #4
Length: 246 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date Released: September 4, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

It isn’t easy being a Morgan. Especially when dead bodies start piling up and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it.

Quinn Morgan never quite fit into the family mold. He dreamed of a life with books instead of badges and knowledge instead of law—and a life with Rafe Andrade, his older brothers’ bad boy friend and the man who broke his very young heart.

Rafe Andrade returned home to lick his wounds following his ejection from the band he helped form. A recovering drug addict, Rafe spends his time wallowing in guilt, until he finds himself faced with his original addiction, Quinn Morgan—the reason he fled the city in the first place.

When Rafe hears the Sinners are looking for a bassist, it’s a chance to redeem himself, but as a crazed murderer draws closer to Quinn, Rafe’s willing to sacrifice everything—including himself—to keep his quixotic Morgan safe and sound.

My Review:

tequila mockingbird by rhys fordI had planned to wait until Friday to review Sloe Ride, since that’s the day it comes out. But I couldn’t wait. I wanted some contemporary, and more important, I wanted to see how the Sinner’s Gin story wrapped up. Tequila Mockingbird (reviewed here) ended on quite a bombshell, and I just couldn’t wait any longer to see how THAT got resolved.

After the events in Sloe Ride, I am even more firmly convinced that the new band’s name should have been Bad News Bears. Or Bad Karma Bears. Or even Love and Near-Death. These guys have some serious bad luck.

However, unlike the previous books in the series, the bad luck this time mostly falls on the Morgan in the story, and not on the guy who hopes to be in the band. Not that it’s all sunshine and roses for Rafe Andrade – more that he’s already inflicted all his bad karma on his own self. His part of this story is him getting his shit all the way back together.

Quinn Morgan’s side of this story is that someone seems to be targeting Quinn with extreme malice – and murdering anyone who gets too close. The question is, who?

Rafe was Quinn’s teenage crush. Rafe is just a few years older, but he was running off to tour the country with a rock band while Quinn was still in school. While Quinn graduated with multiple degrees, Rafe hit the stratosphere as a rock god, then pissed it all away with drugs and bad choices.

Three years post-rehab, Rafe finds himself jonesing for his two remaining addictions – Quinn Morgan and getting back up on stage. Rafe is still a great bass guitarist, and whatever the remains of Sinner’s Gin are going to call themselves, they need a bass player to complete the band.

sinners gin by rhys fordRafe’s adopted family, all those Morgans from Sinner’s Gin (reviewed here), Whiskey and Wry (here) and Tequila Mockingbird, may be the entree that Rafe needs to get an audition. But just as Rafe gets close to his dream of playing again, he discovers that nothing is as important as keeping Quinn Morgan safe, and alive, and in his arms.

Escape Rating B+: I can’t imagine Sloe Ride making sense without having read the other books first. Start with Sinner’s Gin and just wallow. It’s awesome.

That being said, what about Sloe Ride as a book and as a culmination of this series?

There are lots of things to like in Sloe Ride. One of the threads that has run through the whole series is about the way that his family treats Quinn. He’s different. At first, it just seemed that he was different because he went into academia, where nearly all the other Morgans have become cops like dad. (There is one who became a firefighter instead, but he’s the black sheep of the family).

It turns out that it’s not just that Quinn took a different life path, it’s that Quinn really is different. In Sloe Ride, we finally get to see a bit into Quinn’s head, and it’s a fantastic place. Like M.C. Escher painting fantastic. If I were practicing psychology without a license, I would say that Quinn has a high functioning form of autism, probably Asperger’s. Exactly what makes Quinn different is never specifically said, but his mind is definitely wired slightly off-kilter. Particularly in the middle of a family of no-nonsense police officers.

That Quinn is gay is not what makes him different. That’s also cool. Whatever is strange about him has nothing to do with who he sleeps with, and that’s a much more interesting way to tell his story.

We also have a story about making a real relationship with your high school crush/older brother’s best friend. It’s a classic for a reason. There’s been lots of looking without touching, lots of history of friendship that can’t be anything more, lots of bittersweet memories. Again, not because Rafe is gay, but because Quinn needed to grow up first.

And because Rafe went out and made a complete clusterfuck of his life. He reminds me of Ezra Hurley in Lauren Dane’s Broken Open. Both men were rock stars, and both men fell into a vicious cycle of drugs and broken promises. Now both have come out the other side of rehab and are trying to find ways to go on with their lives and make up for their assholery with as many people as are willing to listen.

A big part of this story is about Quinn standing up for himself against his family. They all mean terribly well, and they all treat him as fragile as glass. It’s partly because he’s not a cop, and partly because he attempted suicide in his teens. But now he’s pushing 30, and he wants to stand on his own two feet. He just has to elbow his entire family out of the way to get there.

That they all have had this pattern for so long means that no one sits back and looks at a reasonable way of dealing with what is a very real threat to Quinn’s life until it is almost too late. They’ve all been so busy trying to protect him for his own good that he pushes them away, and it is not an unreasonable reaction on his part – it’s just the one most likely to get him killed.

As much as I adore this series, I’m kind of glad that it’s over. I don’t want anything else bad to happen to any of these guys, I love them and they’ve all been through enough. And I’ll confess that the one part of the story that stretches my willing suspension of disbelief is the way that all four guys have become targets of crazed murderers. No group this small has luck this bad.

And even though the reasons that Quinn, and eventually Rafe, were targeted seem slightly more plausible than in a couple of the other books, it was starting to feel like living in the small town where Murder She Wrote used to take place. Too many crazed killers too close together.

Hopefully, now they are all safe. And YAY! there’s a new band in town and they are awesome.

***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.

Review: Tequila Mockingbird by Rhys Ford

tequila mockingbird by rhys fordFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: M/M Romantic Suspense
Series: Sinners #3
Length: 250 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date Released: June 27, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Lieutenant Connor Morgan of SFPD’s SWAT division wasn’t looking for love. Especially not in a man. His life plan didn’t include one Forest Ackerman, a brown-eyed, blond drummer who’s as sexy as he is trouble. His family depends on him to be like his father, a solid pillar of strength who’ll one day lead the Morgan clan.

No, Connor has everything worked out—a career in law enforcement, a nice house, and a family. Instead, he finds a murdered man while on a drug raid and loses his heart comforting the man’s adopted son. It wasn’t like he’d never thought about men — it’s just loving one doesn’t fit into his plans.

Forest Ackerman certainly doesn’t need to be lusting after a straight cop, even if Connor Morgan is everywhere he looks, especially after Frank’s death. He’s just talked himself out of lusting for the brawny cop when his coffee shop becomes a war zone and Connor Morgan steps in to save him.

Whoever killed his father seems intent on Forest joining him in the afterlife. As the killer moves closer to achieving his goal, Forest tangles with Connor Morgan and is left wondering what he’ll lose first—his life or his heart.

My Review:

I’m really enjoying this series. I’m reading the back numbers so that when I get to Sloe Ride next month, I’m all caught up.

Caught up in all the fun, that is.

This series blends two rather disparate groups that go even better together than peanut butter and chocolate, even though at first blush (not to mention all the blushes later!) they shouldn’t.

The combination is of a “getting the band back together story” with an interconnected family romance – and the members of the band do not start out as members of the family, and half the band is dead. On the other hand, that solid family are all cops, so if someone is needed to investigate what went wrong, the detectives are right there.

But this series follows a pattern, and it’s a good one (with one minor quibble which we’ll get to later).

sinners gin by rhys fordSinner’s Gin is dead, to begin with. The only surviving member was Miki St. John, and when the book Sinner’s Gin begins (reviewed here) he’s still in recovery, both from grief and from the accident that killed all his friends. When someone starts trying to kill him, he winds up in the very protective arms of San Francisco Police Lieutenant Kane Morgan. And so it begins.

In Whiskey and Wry (reviewed here), we discover that one of the other members of Sinner’s Gin survived. Damien Mitchell is alive and not very well, locked in a sanitarium while guards and drugs try to convince him that he’s someone else, and that Sinner’s Gin is just a coma dream. Until someone tries to murder him, and he escapes to find Miki. He discovers Sionn Murphy, the killer nearly finds them both, and Damien finds Miki at a Murphy/Morgan Sunday dinner.

The other two members of Sinner’s Gin are not coming back from the grave. This isn’t that kind of story. Instead, Miki and Damien need a drummer and a bass player to get back on stage. Into that vacancy walks Forest Ackerman, a young drummer that they met in the way back, when Sinner’s Gin was still scratching their way up, and Forest’s adopted father owned a small recording studio. Their late drummer is the one who got Forest started on the drums. Now it’s his turn to take that achingly vacant place.

But not before an awful lot of shit goes down. Just like in the previous two books in the series, someone is trying to kill Forest, for reasons that are not initially clear. When the killer starts by murdering Forest’s dad, and tries to take out a bunch of cops in the process, Forest finds himself face to face (and body to body) with SFPD SWAT Lieutenant Connor Morgan.

The lust at first contact surprises them both, since Connor has always believed he was straight, and Forest has always believed that no one good could possibly care for him.

As they grope towards each other, and their possible future, the killer continues his attempts to remove Forest from the land of the living. And while it is great that he keeps missing Forest, he does a lot of collateral damage while he tries to zero in on his target.

When he hits Miki and Damien in yet another attempt to take out Forest, he brings the wrath of all the Morgans down on his head.

Escape Rating B: I enjoyed this story a lot. I was on the long flight home from Spokane to Atlanta, and it made the trip fly by. Pun intended. Speaking of puns, I also loved the two plays on words involved in the book. Tequila Mockingbird is a fairly common mangling of the much more famous title, To Kill a Mockingbird. If this doesn’t make sense to you, just say the two titles out loud, one after another. The other bit of wordplay is in the name Forest Ackerman. Forest with one R is one of the protagonists of this story. Forrest Ackerman, with two Rs, is a famous “Golden Age” science fiction writer. Just having returned from Worldcon, which has an award named in Ackerman’s honor, the similarity was a bit hard for this reader to miss, whether it was intended or not..

One of the strengths of this series is the Morgan family dynamic. They are amazing, and being adopted by them would be awesome. It is a family that sticks together and in a good way. In spite of some ups and downs and stresses and tensions, they are something that you don’t often see in fiction, especially the families of the protagonists – the Morgan family is absolutely the opposite of dysfunctional. Not that the members of the family don’t have stuff to overcome, but whatever it is, it isn’t a result of parental abuse or divorce or anything else nasty within the family. Donal and Brigid love and support all of their children and whoever they drag in. And also, the author has made it abundantly clear that the spark between Donal and Brigid is alive and well, even though they’ve raised 8 children to adulthood.

Because the Morgan children mostly have their respective acts together, it stands to fictional reason that the people they bring home with them are particularly damaged, even though they are all very strong in their broken places. Forest is no exception.

His biological mother pimped him out until he was old enough and emotionally strong enough to break away physically if not necessarily emotionally. He was adopted by Frank Marshall, an old hippie who gave him a home and structure and sent him to school, and more importantly didn’t expect to either get a blow job or use him as a punching bag in return. When that old hippie is murdered at the beginning of the story, it sets Forest’s world into a tailspin. Just because Forest is legally an adult doesn’t mean he is remotely ready to let go of the only stable and good person in his life.

Connor steps into the breach, literally, as he is the one who holds Forest as he cries for the man he called “Dad”. What surprises Connor is how much Forest gets under his skin. Connor is the oldest Morgan child, and he always expected to grow up to be his father. That meant becoming a cop, rising in the ranks, finding a wife, having a family. Finding a husband instead has never been on his conscious radar, so falling for Forest throws Connor for an internal loop of epic proportions.

In the middle of the internal angst, there’s the big external elephant in the room. At first, Frank Marshall’s death looks either like an accident or possibly murder for gain. But when someone starts targeting Forest and the studio and coffee shop he inherited, it begins to look like something else.

This is my quibble with the book. As much as I love the Morgans, and loved Connor and Forest together, and I especially loved seeing Forest become part of whatever Miki and Damien’s new band is going to be, the reasons for the suspense in this series are getting a bit further out there.

The band that replaces Sinner’s Gin should probably be named the Bad Luck Bunch, or something along that line. The reason why Miki got targeted in Sinner’s Gin made sense. While the reasons for Damien’s troubles almost made sense, the explanations didn’t quite cover the motives completely. And for Forest, the killer’s motives end up being pretty far out in la-la land. No group this small should be the target of this many completely separate crazed killers. On this score my mind is officially boggled.

sloe ride by rhys fordBut I still love the series and I’m definitely looking forward to Sloe Ride next month. It’s going to be especially fun to see the Morgan in the story as the protectee instead of the protector for a change.

***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.

Review: Whiskey and Wry by Rhys Ford

whiskey and wry by rhys fordFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: M/M romantic suspenses
Series: Sinners #2
Length: 254 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date Released: August 19, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

He was dead. And it was murder most foul. If erasing a man’s existence could even be called murder.

When Damien Mitchell wakes, he finds himself without a life or a name. The Montana asylum’s doctors tell him he’s delusional and his memories are all lies: he’s really Stephen Thompson, and he’d gone over the edge, obsessing about a rock star who died in a fiery crash. His chance to escape back to his own life comes when his prison burns, but a gunman is waiting for him, determined that neither Stephen Thompson nor Damien Mitchell will escape.

With the assassin on his tail, Damien flees to the City by the Bay, but keeping a low profile is the only way he’ll survive as he searches San Francisco for his best friend, Miki St. John. Falling back on what kept him fed before he made it big, Damien sings for his supper outside Finnegan’s, an Irish pub on the pier, and he soon falls in with the owner, Sionn Murphy. Damien doesn’t need a complication like Sionn, and to make matters worse, the gunman—who doesn’t mind going through Sionn or anyone else if that’s what it takes kill Damien—shows up to finish what he started.

My Review:

sinners gin by rhys fordWhen I first read the awesome Sinner’s Gin (reviewed here) it was so much Miki St. John’s story that I couldn’t figure out where a series might take off from until the very, very end. So much of Miki’s angst in that story is that his family-of-choice, his bandmates in Sinner’s Gin, are all unequivocally dead in the accident that wracked, and nearly wrecked his body.

You can’t get the band back together if most of the members are in the afterlife. This isn’t that kind of series.

But at the very end, we discover that Damien Mitchell, Miki’s brother-from-another-mother, isn’t really dead. People just want him to believe that he is someone other than Damien Mitchell, and have locked him in an asylum to make him believe it. And sometimes he nearly does.

Then the shit hits the fan, and some unknown villain torches the place and guns down Damien’s attendant/bodyguard. Damien seizes his chance with both hands and one stitched-together body and escapes.

His memory is swiss cheese, but there are a few things he’s sure about. Miki and San Francisco. So he hitchhikes from middle-of-nowhere Montana to the City by the Bay, and starts busking for spare change in front of one of the bars that Sinner’s Gin used to play in front of, hoping against hope that Miki will find him.

Instead, Damien finds Sionn Murphy, now the owner of Finnegan’s and a wounded man in search of his own answers. As they begin to tentatively reach for each other, Damien’s would-be killer finally tracks him down. Damien flees, hoping to draw the deadly fire away from the man that he might be starting to love.

With bullets and eventually body parts flying all around them, Sionn and Damien finally figure out that their two battered hearts are much better together (and safer) than either of them is separately.

By admitting they belong together, Sionn’s relationship with Damien finally gives back to Damie the one person he has missed above all – because Sionn’s cousin Kane Morgan is Miki St. John’s lover, and it’s through that extended family that Damien is exposed to the almost predatory whirlwind that is Brigid Morgan, and that he is reunited with the brother of his heart.

Just in time for the target to focus on both of them.

Escape Rating B: After the OMG moment at the end of Sinner’s Gin, I was really looking forward to Whiskey and Wry. And while I liked this one, I didn’t like it as much as the first book in the series.

So much of Miki’s personality and the depths of his heartbreak are tied up with Damien’s death. Having Damien come back to life, while it is a joyous thing, mutes some of that.

The accident that took out the band was just that, an accident. But all the crap that happens to Miki in Sinner’s Gin, and the shit that happens to Damien in Whiskey and Wry, are very deliberate. I think my WTF meter filled up somewhere along the way. It stretched my belief that two guys who were that close could have that much bad shit happen to them. I want to think that nobody’s karma is THAT bad.

Also, while the psycho that was after Miki made a certain amount of sick sense, the hit man after Damien went into bwahaha territory for me. He didn’t just murder for hire, he also carved them up and tortured them beforehand. We do find out why he’s after Damien, but we never do get to figure out why he is the way he is. Evil for evil’s sake isn’t enough for this reader.

At the same time, the guy who hired the hit man remains in the shadows. Because he stays in the shadows, and no one ever talks to him, we never get his explanation for why he started this mess in the first place. It is one hell of an elaborate scheme, even for a LOT of money. And wouldn’t it have been simpler to kill Damien back when everyone thought he was dead? How was that particular flim-flam accomplished in the first place? Who or what was buried in Damien’s place? Too much skullduggery, not enough explanation.

Again, I’m glad Damien turns out to be alive, but there’s nowhere near enough explanation for how he got dead and why, and everything else, in the first place. However, the danger that everyone is put into because Damien is alive and has escaped felt very real and very scary.

I liked the relationship building between Sionn and Damien. It happens in fits and starts, and that seemed right. They both have an awful lot of wounds that need healing, ones that they come into the story with but haven’t completely dealt with.

tequila mockingbird by rhys fordAfter looking at plot summaries for the next two books in the series, Tequila Mockingbird and Sloe Ride, it is obvious that there is a “getting the band together” thing going on here. But it’s not the same band – it’s going to be something new for Miki’s and Damien’s new lives. And that’s good.

***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.

Review: Ink and Shadows by Rhys Ford

ink and shadows by rhys fordFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: paranormal M/M romance
Series: Ink and Shadows #1
Length: 304 pages
Publisher: DSP Publications (Dreamspinner Press)
Date Released: July 7, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Kismet Andreas lives in fear of the shadows.

For the young tattoo artist, the shadows hold more than darkness. He is certain of his insanity because the dark holds creatures and crawling things only he can see—monsters who hunt out the weak to eat their minds and souls, leaving behind only empty husks and despair.

And if there’s one thing Kismet fears more than being hunted—it’s the madness left in its wake.

The shadowy Veil is Mal’s home. As Pestilence, he is the youngest—and most inexperienced—of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, immortal manifestations resurrected to serve—and cull—mankind. Invisible to all but the dead and insane, the Four exist between the Veil and the mortal world, bound to their nearly eternal fate. Feared by other immortals, the Horsemen live in near solitude but Mal longs to know more than Death, War and Famine.

Mal longs to be… more human. To interact with someone other than lunatics or the deceased.

When Kismet rescues Mal from a shadowy attack, Pestilence is suddenly thrust into a vicious war—where mankind is the prize, and the only one who has faith in Mal is the human the other Horsemen believe is destined to die.

My Review:

Ink and Shadows is a paranormal romance of the angels and demons school. Well, sort of. Lots of demons, no angels in sight.

As the first book in a series, Ink and Shadows spends a lot of its narrative introducing the world that the author has created for the series. And it’s one hell of an introduction.

Not quite literally Hell, although I think you might be able to see it from there.

In Ink and Shadows, the world is the one we know, with one, big giant exception. The elemental concepts, Death, War, Faith, Hope, etc., have been embodied into beings that live behind “the Veil” and come to humans when someone calls them. It’s their duty, and this story is about the conflict between some incarnations that serve their calling willingly over the centuries, and some who are corrupted by the humans they serve and observe. That corruption is not always or necessarily intentional.

So the story is about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, except that they are no longer “horsemen”, they aren’t all men, and they predate the Christian vision of the Apocalypse. Death and War have a conversation where they describe how they came into being. ‘When the first human looked around and realized that some day he wouldn’t be there, Death was conceived. And when the first human looked at the second human and thought to himself that he wanted what the other guy had and was willing to fight him to get it, well, that’s when War was born.’

They are still around, along with Famine and Pestilence. The difference is that Death and War are the same “people” using a very loose term for “people” that they have always been. Over the millennia, there seem to have been several incarnations of Famine and Pestilence, as the beings in those roles have become tired or depressed and have chosen to go back to wherever incarnations go when they cease to exist.

Famine is the only female in this group. Death and War, as the two oldest “horsemen” have a long-term case of mostly unresolved sexual tension. Death is afraid to let anyone get too close, out of fear that they will, well, die. War doesn’t care, he lives for today because tomorrow may never come, although since they are all immortal it probably will.

That Death and War love each other makes a certain amount of existential sense, too.

But Mal, the new Pestilence (and it’s never quite established how new Mal is) is still learning his role. He’s also still quite a bit human in his sensibilities. And he’s lonely.

Kismet Andreas is a part-time tattoo artist and sometime junkie who needs heroin to keep him from seeing the shadows all around him. The shadows populated with very scary creatures who want to eat him – and the ghost of his little brother, who still hasn’t figured out that he’s dead.

Kismet thinks he is crazy, seeing things that aren’t there, using the drugs to keep those things away. But he isn’t crazy, those things really are there. And someone is using his addiction to get him to cross over from our world to the Veil that the immortals inhabit. He’s a guinea pig, and now that the experiment is nearly complete, the mad scientist (read sorcerer) wants to grab his experimental animal out of the cage and take it apart to analyze what made it tick.

Experimental animals do not survive that type of testing, and neither will Kismet. If the magus and his allies catch him, that is.

Mal and the rest of the Horsemen end up intervening in Kismet’s mess, because whatever was done to him has worked so well that Kismet has become an immortal without a calling, but with a whole pack of shadowy demons on his trail.

The Veil between the worlds has been shredded, and it’s up to the Horsemen to end the threat before everyone can see the demons – and get eaten by them. It’s happened before and this is not a piece of history that the Horsemen are willing to see happen again.

Even if they have to break more of the rules to get the job done.

Escape Rating B+: There is a lot of set up to this story, but the payoff in the last third makes it definitely worth it.

The idea of embodying universal concepts so that they can act independently has been done before. This is, after all, the idea behind the character “Death” in the Discworld. Piers Anthony did something similar in his Incarnations of Immortality series in the (OMG) 1980s. Anthony used Death, Time, Fate, War, Nature, Evil and Good.

Death and War seem to be the constants. While I suspect the Anthony series doesn’t wear well (it’s been decades since I read them) the idea struck me as very similar to the Horsemen (and other immortals) in Ink and Shadows.

The world behind the Veil is much bigger than we imagine, and the Horsemen aren’t the only ones out there who deal with humanity. There are hints that there are lots of these “Fours” around. The one that comes into this story is the Four that consists of Faith, Charity, Hope and Peace. In spite of who or what they are, all is definitely not well at their end of the Veil.

You could say that this story is the result of humans corrupting the immortals. We do awful things to each other, and having to watch us takes a stronger stomach or higher moral fiber than even some immortals manage to possess.

Going with the theme of Kismet’s addiction, Ink and Shadows serves as a terrific gateway drug – for those who love angels and demons type paranormal romance or urban fantasy it is a great way to dip one’s romantic toe into the waters of male/male romance. For those starting from the M/M side, it’s a good way to introduce them to paranormal and urban fantasy.

And it’s a great gateway drug for everything Rhys writes. Count me an addict.

***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.

Review: Sinner’s Gin by Rhys Ford

sinners gin by rhys fordFormat read: ebook borrowed from the library
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: M/M romantic suspense
Series: Sinners #1
Length: 260 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date Released: December 24, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

There’s a dead man in Miki St. John’s vintage Pontiac GTO, and he has no idea how it got there.

After Miki survives the tragic accident that killed his best friend and the other members of their band, Sinner’s Gin, all he wants is to hide from the world in the refurbished warehouse he bought before their last tour. But when the man who sexually abused him as a boy is killed and his remains are dumped in Miki’s car, Miki fears Death isn’t done with him yet.

Kane Morgan, the SFPD inspector renting space in the art co-op next door, initially suspects Miki had a hand in the man’s murder, but Kane soon realizes Miki is as much a victim as the man splattered inside the GTO. As the murderer’s body count rises, the attraction between Miki and Kane heats up. Neither man knows if they can make a relationship work, but despite Miki’s emotional damage, Kane is determined to teach him how to love and be loved — provided, of course, Kane can catch the killer before Miki becomes the murderer’s final victim.

My Review:

I pulled Sinner’s Gin out of the endless TBR stack as a treat to myself. It’s seldom these days that I get a chance to read a book just because “I wanna” and not because I’ve promised a book tour or picked up an ARC from NetGalley or Edelweiss that comes packages with its own commitment to read and review.

Not that I don’t love a good chunk of the books I get from those sources and in those ways, but sometimes I miss the days when I could read something “just because”.

I had to provide myself with an excuse this time, too. I wanted to read at least one book for Pride Month, and I’ll confess that I needed a relatively short book (under 300 pages) to round out the week because of, well, reasons. And because I love Rhys’ Ford’s other series and have had the Sinners series on my iPad forever, this seemed like the time to finally read it.

Boy, howdy, am I glad I did!

The story in Sinner’s Gin is incredibly sad, horribly frightening, and ultimately marvelous. It takes a lot of twists and turns to get to its surprising, in fact, downright shocking, conclusion. And I loved every minute of it.

One of the terrific things about this story is that it starts in a way you don’t expect. Where Olivia Cunning’s Sinners on Tour series shows a rock band at the height of its success, and sometimes excess, Sinner’s Gin shows the pride before the fall, and it cuts like a knife.

They’ve just won a Grammy. The garage band has finally made it to the top, and while they are all still young enough to enjoy it. Tragedy strikes in an instant, and a drunk driver totals their limo on the way back from the awards show, ending three of their lives, plus the limo driver, in a squeal of crashing metal.

We meet survivor Miki St. John months later, and he’s just barely surviving. His extensive injuries are still providing more than enough physical pain to give him nightmares, but its the survivor’s guilt that keeps him stuck in the sea of despond.

Until the dog he won’t even admit is his drags a cop into his life. And until someone leaves the dead body of one of the men who abused him as a child stuffed into his dead bandmate’s classic car.

A car that Miki can’t even drive. It’s just one of the many memories he hangs onto of the only time in his young life that he belonged. Or was happy.

The murder changes everything. But Miki has to wade back through all the bad shit in his life before he is truly ready to reach for something good. The cop that his dog drags into their lives, and into their hearts.

Escape Rating A-: Sinner’s Gin starts with a tragedy, and ends with a shock that kicks over everything that the characters have assumed at the beginning, although they don’t know it yet.

I will say that the whipcrack of that ending answered my questions about how this series was going to continue. Just before the end, it seemed like Miki had worked out his demons, and the mystery was solved with the murderer pleading his case before a much higher court. I didn’t know where the story could go next. And then boom!

Although Kane (and Dude’s) introduction into Miki’s life provide the impetus for the story, and sometimes the impetus for Miki to just manage to get out of bed, this is Miki’s story. It’s his pain, his anguish, and ultimately his re-emergence into the light that gives the story its heart and keeps the reader on the edge of their seat.

At first, the mystery of the trail of dead bodies (and dead body parts) feels like insult added to injury. Miki was lost in the foster care system until he got himself out at 15 and was discovered by the very fledgling band Sinner’s Gin.

He wasn’t able to get justice for the men who physically and sexually abused him, because they were upstanding members of the community and he was considered mixed-race trash who should be grateful for the roof over his head.

In other words, the system failed him. And it starts out failing him again when the body of one of his tormentors is discovered in his garage. It’s obvious that Miki couldn’t have committed the crime, but the cops still circle him like vultures. Until Kane Morgan reaches into the mess and pulls Miki to safety, and into his arms.

It’s a tough time for either of them to be starting a relationship. Miki has never healed from any of the damage that was done to him, either by his childhood or the accident that took his friends. Kane should not get involved with a suspect, or even a person of interest, in a murder case he’s investigating. But it happens anyway.

One of the lovely and marvelous things about the start of Kane’s and Miki’s relationship is that no one is giving Kane any crap over being gay. He is accepted for who he is by everyone, both his fellow cops and his family – not that there isn’t considerable overlap between those two groups. He does take some heat for getting involved with a potential suspect, but that’s an equal opportunity problem.

We do end up following Kane as he is frustrated by his inability to deal with Miki’s very dark night of the soul. Miki is being victimized all over again by the deaths of his tormentors, and by the media leak of his trauma. All Kane can do is be there for him, because Miki has to conquer his demons himself.

I also liked the way that Miki figures out not who exactly, but what drives the person who is attempting to frame him. And the way that he ultimately saves himself.

Just a couple of little niggles that keep this from being an A or A+, as much as I enjoyed it. Kane and Miki’s relationship feels like it goes from zero to 60 in no time flat. While sometimes a sex-into-love relationship works, this was more of a “get under each other’s skin into love and sex” relationship. They seemed to fall in love with each other without this reader feeling it happen. YMMV. It also seemed like Kane’s mother Brigid was a bit of a stereotype of the overpowering mother. I would have pushed her out of my apartment, too. I wanted a bit more nuance to her. Or something.

But I loved Dude. He is such a cute scamp, and exactly what Miki needed.

whiskey and wry by rhys fordI can’t wait to make up an excuse to read the next book in this series, Whiskey and Wry. I desperately want to discover how that BOOM of an ending plays out.

***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.


Review: Murder and Mayhem by Rhys Ford

murder and mayhem by rhys fordFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: M/M Romantic Suspense
Series: Murder and Mayhem #1
Length: 236 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date Released: June 5, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Dead women tell no tales.

Former cat burglar Rook Stevens stole many a priceless thing in the past, but he’s never been accused of taking a life—until now. It was one thing to find a former associate inside Potter’s Field, his pop culture memorabilia shop, but quite another to stumble across her dead body.

Detective Dante Montoya thought he’d never see Rook Stevens again—not after his former partner’d falsified evidence to entrap the jewelry thief and Stevens walked off scot-free. So when he tackled a fleeing murder suspect, Dante was shocked to discover the blood-covered man was none other than the thief he’d fought to put in prison and who still made his blood sing.

Rook is determined to shake loose the murder charge against him, even if it means putting distance between him and the rugged Cuban-Mexican detective who brought him down. If one dead con artist wasn’t bad enough, others soon follow, and as the bodies pile up around Rook’s feet, he’s forced to reach out to the last man he’d expect to believe in his innocence—and the only man who’s ever gotten under Rook’s skin.

My Review:

So I’m a little early with this review. Sue me. I absolutely love both Rhys’ Cole McGinnis and Hellsinger series, so when she offered me a review copy of Murder and Mayhem, it was off to the races and on my schedule.

While this is the first book in a new series, I can’t help wondering if it doesn’t tie into Cole McGinnis’ life just a bit. One of the cops refers to his former partner as Dawson, and if that doesn’t turn out to be Bobby Dawson, I’ll eat my non-existent hat.

The concept for this story combines a couple of classic ideas. One is the story of a former thief turned legit. It’s not that Rook Martin has forgotten any of his old skills, or his old friends, but that he has finally decided to put down roots and make a real life for himself where he doesn’t have to hide in the shadows.

He’s still working on convincing himself that everything he has earned on the legally straight and narrow adds up to a life that he deserves. Partly because he’s been a thief and a carny for so long, and partly because while he may be legally straight, sexually he’s anything but.

The author has also mixed in a cop and crook romance, even though Rook is now a former crook. Dante Montoya and his late partner lost their way trying to pin the last of Rook’s second-story jobs on him. While Rook did the crimes, he was always very good at sliding out from under the legal consequences.

Dante’s partner went very much to the dark side in order to plant evidence and get Rook convicted. Instead, the late Vince got all the charges thrown out and ended his career dishonorably. The worst part was that he nearly took Dante’s career out with his own.

Actually, that turns out to be the second worst part.

So Dante has been a homicide cop with a shadow over his career and a secret that jumps up to bite him. Literally.

Dante is gay. That’s no secret. The secret is that he nearly had an almost anonymous club encounter with one thief. Dante has a yen for Rook Martin that he has never been able to get out of his system.

And very much vice versa.

When the dead body of one of his late enemies turns up at Rook’s collectibles shop, sliced to bits and covered in blood, Rook finds himself in the middle of a shootout, as the cops mistake a Wookie in the window for an armed assailant. When the former thief runs for his life, he finds himself taken down by the cop he’s never lost a taste for.

Unfortunately for Rook, someone is trying to frame him for murder, and those hits just keep on coming. Fortunately for Rook, he begins to trust Dante enough to keep his abused body and eventually his equally abused heart safe from someone who obviously intends to wipe Rook from the face of the earth in any way that they can.

As Rook and Dante trace the strands of Rook’s former life to figure out who hates him so much that they don’t just want to kill him, but seemingly want to absolutely obliterate him and anyone close to him, they get the chance to explore the chemistry between them.

For the first time, they are both more-or-less on the same side of the law. The question is whether they can both stay there, and alive, long enough to reach for each other for keeps. And if Rook even has a chance at “for keeps”.

Escape Rating B+: It took a little while for this story to get going, in spite of starting in the middle of what felt like the gunfight at the not-so-OK Corral. We don’t know why Rook is running, or even initially who he’s running from.

And we need a little background to figure out why Rook is so shy of the cops, and why the cops are so ready to shoot him first and ask him questions later. Or never.

The tension between Dante and Rook steams off the page from the first moment that Dante finds Rook under him in the street, as he’s putting on the handcuffs. That tension never lets up, and it helps the story take flight.

As Rook nearly does on more than one occasion.

There is a lot of tension of all kinds in this story. There’s the obvious sexual tension between Dante and Rook. They both desperately want to explore their chemistry and know that any exploration is a really bad idea. Dante is, after all, a cop, and a cop who has a history of investigating Rook for a crime that Rook really did commit. Now Dante is investigating Rook again, but this time for a crime that screams set up from the very beginning. Once Rook is cleared, a relationship between them is still a bad idea, just less bad.

Rook doesn’t believe that he’s worth having a relationship with anyone, but all the people in his life conspire to make him finally consider that he is worth loving. Not just Dante, but Rook’s very old and extremely wealthy grandfather has recently discovered that Rook exists, and even better, that he is a chip off the old block.

Rook’s other relatives are furious, and his grandfather is furiously funny about the whole thing. But it also throws into the mix Rook’s desire not to get tied down or held back, and his grandfather’s attempt to control Rook, which is mostly born out of a desire to keep Rook safe. They butt heads repeatedly, and there are times when peace between them seems far away. But they need each other, and have a terrible time expressing it.

On the other side, Dante has been rejected by his Catholic Hispanic/Latino family, and has made his peace with that. He’s also taking care of his uncle Manny, who is also gay and has also been rejected by their family. They’ve made their own family and are pretty happy with their choices. Manny just wants to adopt Rook right alongside Dante. The family relationship that Manny and Rook eventually develop is heartwarming, sweet and often hilarious.

Then there’s the case. Although some readers figured out whodunnit before the end, I’ll confess to not being one of them. As we meet more and more of Rook’s former associates, we (and Dante) get a clear picture that Rook truly has gone legit, and even more, that he’s doing his best to pay back everyone who helped him and anyone who sincerely needs a hand getting out of the life. He’s become a good man, but he’s clinging to one last stash from his old life that someone feels entitled to a piece of. Or all of. And is willing to leave a trail of bodies in their wake in order to get it.

While I didn’t totally buy that person’s motivations, the way that they went about their road to riches and revenge gave me chills and had me flipping pages fast to discover whether or not everyone escaped mostly intact.

I am definitely looking forward to more in this series. Ex-thief and righteous cop make a fantastic detective duo.

***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.

Review: Down and Dirty by Rhys Ford

down and dirty by rhys fordFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: M/M romance, contemporary romance
Series: Cole McGinnis #5
Length: 200 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date Released: January 2, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KoboAll Romance

From the moment former LAPD detective Bobby Dawson spots Ichiro Tokugawa, he knows the man is trouble. And not just because the much younger Japanese inker is hot, complicated, and pushes every one of Bobby’s buttons. No, Ichi is trouble because he’s Cole McGinnis’s younger brother and off-limits in every possible way. And Bobby knows that even before Cole threatens to kill him for looking Ichi’s way. But despite his gut telling him Ichi is bad news, Bobby can’t stop looking… or wanting.

Ichi was never one to play by the rules. Growing up in Japan as his father’s heir, he’d been bound by every rule imaginable until he had enough and walked away from everything to become his own man. Los Angeles was supposed to be a brief pitstop before he moved on, but after connecting with his American half-brothers, it looks like a good city to call home for a while—if it weren’t for Bobby Dawson.

Bobby is definitely a love-them-and-leave-them type, a philosophy Ichi whole-heartedly agrees with. Family was as much of a relationship as Ichi was looking for, but something about the gruff and handsome Bobby Dawson that makes Ichi want more.

Much, much more.

My Review:

Because the entire Cole McGinnis series until now has been told from inside Cole’s head, we only see what he sees and know what he knows. Cole’s first-person narrative is fantastic, because he’s an interesting and intelligent character and his head is therefore an interesting point-of-view. But it does mean that we don’t know what’s going on in places where Cole isn’t, unless he finds out later.

dirty deeds by rhys fordDown and Dirty is the story of all the things that happened out of Cole’s sight during the events of Dirty Deeds (reviewed here). Down and Dirty explains the world-rattling sentence that ends Dirty Deeds, and watching that explanation unfurl makes for a terrific romance.

Cole laid down the law that his younger half-brother Ichiro Tokugawa and his best friend Bobby Dawson were not, under pain of his wrath, to get involved with each other. It’s more than the usual prohibition against your friends dating your family, although there’s that too.

Ichi is Cole’s recently discovered half-brother, and Bobby is Cole’s best friend. If they get involved and then break up, choosing between them is not a place Cole wants to go. And he figures he’d end up there fast, because if there’s one thing that Bobby Dawson hasn’t done since he came out, it’s fidelity. Or even something approaching serial monogamy. Bobby is only interested in one-night stands, with as many twinks a night as he can handle.

The problem isn’t even that Bobby has a son Ichi’s age, it’s that Cole is certain that Bobby is guaranteed to break Ichi’s heart, because that’s what he does. Of course, Cole is also being big brother and believing that Ichi wants the same thing he has – a happy long-term relationship, possibly heading towards permanence.

Ichi and Bobby have been driving each other crazy for months, ever since Ichi showed up at Cole’s door. But they snipe around each other because they both love Cole and know that he’s leery of the fallout if Ichi and Bobby getting involved. What Cole doesn’t reckon on is Ichi’s shocky reaction to being caught in the crossfire while helping Cole with a case. Ichi, a newly arrived transplant from Japan, just can’t get emotionally past the prevalence of guns in America, especially when people start shooting at Cole and him. And Ichi really can’t deal with Cole running towards the gunfire, because risking his life to help others is who he is.

In the aftermath, Ichi turns to Bobby as not just a safe haven, but as someone who can hopefully help him make sense out of Cole’s life and his choice to repeatedly run into the line of fire. Ichi also wants Bobby to help him feel alive in the face of death. In spite of breaking all the rules, Bobby finally gives Ichi what they both want.

What Bobby doesn’t count on is Ichi making him feel alive, too. Which is terrific, unless Cole makes them both dead when he finds out.

Escape Rating B+: I made the mistake of reading Down and Dirty before Dirty Deeds, and it felt like there was something missing. Only because there was. As much as I enjoyed Down and Dirty, it isn’t a complete story, but rather an accompaniment to Dirty Deeds. For full enjoyment of Down and Dirty, it is necessary to know the characters, and to be aware of the full context of the case that Cole is involved in.

Also, because this story isn’t, and couldn’t possibly be, Cole’s narration of events, it feels different. Not bad in any way, just different from expectations. Also, where the stories that feature Cole are romantic suspense, Down and Dirty is strictly a romance. There’s no case to solve, only two people exploring something oh so wrong that feels oh so right.

Down and Dirty is a sex-into-love story, which fits perfectly with Bobby’s character. He hasn’t been looking for Mr. Right, just Mr. Right Now, since he retired from the LAPD and came out. He’s been making up for lost time, and acting a bit like the teenager he hasn’t been in decades. Bobby is as surprised as Ichi that what they start to just scratch an itch stirs up a lot of emotions.

This is also a May-let’s say September romance. Bobby has a son the same age as Ichi. Although it’s only explained in one of the free shorts on the author’s website, Bobby is 52 and Ichi is 27 or 28. Any relationship between two people with that kind of age gap has some hurdles to go through for believability. The way that Bobby, who is older but often acts like a young idiot, and Ichi, who is young but has been through a lot and definitely has an old soul, work out a way to be together is well done.

And nearly totally derailed by the fact that they are keeping a huge secret from Cole, one that he will discover sooner or later. So Bobby sticks both his feet in his mouth at the end and tells him in the worst way possible.

Which is completely fitting for Bobby’s character. I can’t wait to find out how this new family dynamic plays out in the next book in this series. Please SOON?

***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.

Review: Dirty Deeds by Rhys Ford

dirty deeds by rhys fordFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: M/M Romance, Romantic Suspense
Series: Cole McGinnis #4
Length: 228 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date Released: March 28, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Sheila Pinelli needed to be taken out.

Former cop turned private investigator Cole McGinnis never considered committing murder. But six months ago, when Jae-Min’s blood filled his hands and death came knocking at his lover’s door, killing Sheila Pinelli became a definite possibility.

While Sheila lurks in some hidden corner of Los Angeles, Jae and Cole share a bed, a home, and most of all, happiness. They’d survived Jae’s traditional Korean family disowning him and plan on building a new life—preferably one without the threat of Sheila’s return hanging over them.

Thanks to the Santa Monica police mistakenly releasing Sheila following a loitering arrest, Cole finally gets a lead on Sheila’s whereabouts. That is, until the trail goes crazy and he’s thrown into a tangle of drugs, exotic women, and more death. Regardless of the case going sideways, Cole is determined to find the woman he once loved as a sister and get her out of their lives once and for all.

My Review:

down and dirty by rhys fordFirst of all, read this before reading Down and Dirty. The two books present two different perspectives on the same set of events. Dirty Deeds is the foreground story, with Cole McGinnis, as usual, knee deep (or higher) in a case that he probably shouldn’t have gotten involved in but couldn’t help himself.

Down and Dirty is all the stuff going on at the same time that happens out of Cole’s sight and hearing. It’s the story of how things got to the point of the last line in Dirty Deeds, which will drive you crazy if you’ve read the rest of the series.

And you should read the rest of the series (Dirty Kiss, Dirty Secret, Dirty Laundry) . It is awesome romantic suspense, sometimes more suspense and sometimes more romance, featuring Cole McGinnis and the man he falls in love with, Kim Jae Min. Like so many excellent detective series, it’s not just Cole and Jae-Min, but also the family they create around them (especially Jae’s cat Neko) who make the series special.

Cole has a bad case of “white knight” syndrome. He has a tendency to try to jump in and rescue everyone, whether they want it or not, and whether it is a good idea from his perspective, or not. Or rather, Cole always thinks its a good idea at the time, while his friends and family are left either bailing him out of jail or waiting at a hospital, sometimes both.

But the case in Dirty Deeds hits very close to home. Cole became a private detective after a few years on the LAPD. As an out cop, Cole made as many enemies as he did friends, but he didn’t know just how many enemies he had until after his cop partner and best friend shot Cole, Cole’s lover, Rick, and himself. Cole’s never known why. But his settlement from the LAPD enabled him to set up his P.I. business.

While Cole hasn’t put any of the events completely behind him, he has moved on into a new life with Jae-Min. That life is threatened when his ex-partner’s drug-crazed widow comes to Cole’s house and shoots Jae-Min, then flees into the wind.

Cole needs to find Sheila so that he can feel safe. Or as safe as he ever lets himself be. What he needs is to make sure that Sheila can’t come back and try again, because Cole can’t face the idea of anyone else he loves dying in his arms.

Which doesn’t mean that hunting Sheila down won’t get him killed. Because Sheila wasn’t just out for a twisted kind of revenge. She’s gotten herself in much too deep with some very nasty people, in addition to falling down the meth rabbit hole.

If Sheila doesn’t kill Cole, her enemies just might.

And if you can’t get the phrase, “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap“, the title to an old rock album by AC/DC, out of your head, it’s totally appropriate. This is definitely a story where a lot of dirty deeds get done on the cheap, and it’s disastrous for all concerned.

Escape Rating A: I read Down and Dirty first by accident, and wondered why that felt like half a book. This is the other half, and it’s awesome.

dirty kiss by rhys fordThis story, like all the previous entries in the series (start with Dirty Kiss, reviewed here), is told by Cole from his first-person perspective. We only see what he sees and know what he knows, which is how he manages to get blindsided by the events that happen outside his narrow focus on Sheila.

There’s a whole lot of stuff that Cole will find out about after the fact. But before the fact, we have Cole’s hunt for the woman who shot his lover. Cole and Ben, his police partner, were best friends. Cole spent time with Ben’s family, and knew the woman Sheila used to be before Ben killed himself. He’s shocked at the change in her, and sees her as another one of Ben’s victims. What he doesn’t know is why she came back around and shot Jae-Min. Cole has to find out what set her off, so he can prevent her from doing it again.

So Cole, as usual, is in the middle of a case, but not the case he thought he was solving. First, it turns out the Sheila was into a whole lot of nasty stuff as a way of paying for her drug habit. The kind of nasty business that gets people killed by gunfire long before their drug of choice does them in.

Except that Cole’s drug of choice seems to be adrenaline, so…

In addition to the case, because it’s Sheila, Cole finds himself dealing with all the crap he still has in his head about Ben’s and Rick’s deaths. Cole spent so much time in rehab after the shooting, that he managed to completely suppress his feelings about the sudden loss of two people he loved. He’d kept himself trapped between the DENIAL and ANGER stages of grief, and hadn’t moved on. This case forces him to deal with some of the past crap. It’s necessary if he wants to move forward in his relationship with Jae-Min, not that Jae doesn’t have crap of his own.

But Cole’s past gets dredged up, and it needs to. There’s also some of the usual trademark snark and banter between Cole and Bobby, and a marvelous scene between Cole and his office manager/adopted mother Claudine. I laughed out loud, to the point of annoying my husband, over Cole’s thoughts about Jae’s cat Neko, who is a terrifying little treasure. I love reading the perspective of someone who is just as annoyed at feline behavior as I am.

I just love these people, this family. I want more stories of their adventures.

***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.

Review: Dirty Laundry by Rhys Ford

dirty laundry by rhys fordFormat read: ebook borrowed from the library
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: M/M romance
Series: Cole McGinnis, #3
Length: 260 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date Released: April 18, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

For ex-cop turned private investigator Cole McGinnis, each day brings a new challenge. Too bad most of them involve pain and death. Claudia, his office manager and surrogate mother, is still recovering from a gunshot, and Cole’s closeted boyfriend, Kim Jae-Min, suddenly finds his teenaged sister dumped in his lap. Meanwhile, Cole has his own sibling problems—most notably, a mysterious half brother from Japan whom his older brother, Mike, is determined they welcome with open arms.

As if his own personal dramas weren’t enough, Cole is approached by Madame Sun, a fortune-teller whose clients have been dying at an alarming rate. Convinced someone is after her customers, she wants the matter investigated, but the police think she’s imagining things. Hoping to put Sun’s mind at ease, Cole takes the case and finds himself plunged into a Gordian knot of lies and betrayal where no one is who they are supposed to be and Death seems to be the only card in Madame Sun’s deck.

My Review:

I love Neko. I would say that I want to have an evil little world dominator cat just like her, but I already do. LaZorra and Neko are definitely members of the same species. The author has captured that feline ability to look winsome while plotting their human’s downfall and wrapping their slave around their little paws so very well.

Even better, all the side-characters in the Cole McGinnis series are drawn every bit as well as Neko. They just aren’t all quite as cute.

Like the other books in this series so far, the title Dirty Laundry reflects both the case that Cole has to solve and the dramas that are going on in his own life and that of his sometimes partner Jae-Min.

The case is about two fortunetellers in the Korean community. One is a little old lady who thinks that someone is out to get her clients. Either that, or the poor woman has some seriously bad karma. Three of her clients either dropped dead or were killed right after their appointments with her. She’s worried because she didn’t tell any of them that she saw darkness in their futures.

Her rival fortune teller is an old man who manages to embody every single gay stereotype known to man, including keeping an obvious twink as his receptionist. But the receptionist knows the truth; the old man is only pretending to be gay, so that he appears safe to all the women (and their protective husbands) who come to him to have their fortunes told. In reality, he’s sleeping with way too many of his younger female clients, and has been for far too long.

Something that comes back to serious bite him in the ass, but not until after it has shot its way through the community.

This story is all about family; the family you’re born to, the family you make, and the family that creeps out from under the carpet years after you thought everything was settled.

Jae-Min’s sister runs away from their crazy mother. While staying with Jae-Min, she is introduced to the truth about her brother. Unfortunately, the way she gets introduced is by Cole sneaking up behind her thinking she’s Jae-Min. Cole’s mistake nearly costs him the love of his life.

Meanwhile, Cole discovers that his family tree has a few secrets of its own. He’s always thought his mother died giving birth to him. That would be too easy for his life. Instead, he discovers that he and Mike have a younger half brother who is fully Japanese, unlike either of their two half-Irish selves.

Cole’s mother ran back to Japan, and had another family. His half-brother Ichiro is now an adult and wants to meet the two men who are his family. Cole is not ready to have another brother, and he’s especially not ready to accept that his mother abandoned him with his abusive father; no matter what her excuse might have been.

And last but definitely not least, Cole is still dealing with his guilt over the near-fatal shooting of his adoptive mother and office manager Claudia. She stopped a bullet that was meant for Cole. He can’t deal with her illness, and he definitely can’t deal with her absence. But Claudia is a force of nature that absolutely will not be stopped from doing what she wants, including coming back to work and taking care of Cole. As far as Claudia is concerned, she may have given birth to 8 sons, but she has 9, and Cole needs her.

Neko just manipulates everyone and everything to maintain her place as the center of it all.

Escape Rating A-: I love the extended family that continues to wrap itself around Cole and his cases. I haven’t mentioned his best friend Bobby Dawson for a while, but Bobby has a big part to play in this story in keeping Cole among the living and sober while Jae-Min is dealing with the problems that his sister’s discovery have dragged into his life.

Jae-Min’s culture, and his guilt complex, tell him that he should give Cole up. But Cole is the only person who has ever made him happy, and he just can’t. But the difficulties tear him apart, and often look like they are going to tear Cole and Jae-Min apart too.

I really liked the way that the case that Cole is investigating parallelled his real-life problems. It’s all about family. Cole and Jae-Min are both incapable of completely abandoning theirs, no matter what they do. They get hurt again and again because of their parents. At the same time, they are trying to move forward in their lives. Cole often refuses to acknowledge how much pain he is in, while Jae-Min acts like he doesn’t feel he deserves happiness.

The way that Claudia’s family rallies around both her and Cole serves as a counterpoint to all the various families in this story that abandon and neglect each other. Cole (and this series, are lucky to have her at its heart.

***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.

Review: Dirty Secret by Rhys Ford

dirty secret by rhys fordFormat read: ebook borrowed from the library
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: M/M Romance, Romantic Suspense
Series: Cole McGinnis #2
Length: 234 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date Released: September 28, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Loving Kim Jae-Min isn’t always easy: Jae is gun-shy about being openly homosexual. Ex-cop turned private investigator Cole McGinnis doesn’t know any other way to be. Still, he understands where Jae is coming from. Traditional Korean men aren’t gay—at least not usually where people can see them.

But Cole can’t spend too much time unraveling his boyfriend’s issues. He has a job to do. When a singer named Scarlet asks him to help find Park Dae-Hoon, a gay Korean man who disappeared nearly two decades ago, Cole finds himself submerged in the tangled world of rich Korean families, where obligation and politics mean sacrificing happiness to preserve corporate empires. Soon the bodies start piling up without rhyme or reason. With every step Cole takes toward locating Park Dae-Hoon, another person meets their demise—and someone Cole loves could be next on the murderer’s list.

My Review:

One of the things I love about this series is that way that the author starts each book with a seemingly unrelated short case that has a way higher humor component than the rest of the story (not that Cole doesn’t have a fine line of snark of his very own).

But the opening bit is like the funny version of a James Bond film; the opener doesn’t seem to have a relationship to the rest of the story; in fact it’s mostly played for laughs. But later, the events come back to bite Cole in the butt–and not in a good way.

In Dirty Kiss (reviewed here), it was two little old ladies in fetish wear chasing him with a shotgun. In Dirty Secret, the story starts with a guy with his dick in a glass bottle. Of course, not either one of our heroes, they’re both too smart, too sober, and a little too grown up to do something quite that stupid.

The scene is funny as hell. Cole’s running internal (and external) commentary on the idiocy made me laugh out loud.

Cole’s voice frequently does, but he is just as often laughing at himself in chagrin. Not this time. This was just plain hilarious.

Another thing that I love about this series is that it provides an introduction into the tight-knit South Korean/American community, and in some ways shows at least how a fictional slice of that community both does and doesn’t adapt to living in the U.S. While Cole’s on-again/off-again lover Jae-Min lives his life in fear that he will be outed, Cole is a fish out of water in a world that is not his own.

But part of the heartbreak for both Cole and Jae-Min is that Cole’s very westernized sensibilities let him feel free enough to come out of the closet as a young man, it didn’t mean that his family didn’t reject him every bit as much. And that he isn’t still feeling the pain, in spite of creating a new family around himself.

Cole wants Jae-Min to take the same leap he has, and has a difficult time dealing with Jae-Min not being ready to give up his family responsibilities for love; especially since Jae-Min hasn’t got much experience of love sticking around.

A lot of people who get near Cole seem to get shot. That includes Cole himself, another one of Jae-Min’s fears. With Cole’s track record, there’s a justifiable worry that Jae-Min will throw in his lot completely with Cole, only to have Cole get himself killed.

The “dirty secret” in this story is both Jae-Min’s justifiable fear of telling his family that he is gay, and the story of a man who was presumed dead 20 years ago, and who seems to have either disappeared or been killed because he was also gay. At first, the question seems to be whether he walked away or is at the bottom of a river somewhere.

As the case progresses, the question revolves around who is willing to kill to keep the man’s secrets. Because there are suddenly a LOT of dead bodies left in the wake of this old missing person’s case.

Escape Rating B+: If Cole were a writer, he’d definitely be a pantser. He doesn’t just do everything by the seat of his pants, it often seems like he’s making stuff up on the fly as he’s pulling them on. I don’t mean this in a sexual context (not that that doesn’t happen too) but because Cole gets ideas and theories the way that the rest of us mortals do; at odd moments, apropos occasionally of nothing, and just as often wrong as right. He keeps moving towards his goal, but his plans usually go to hell in a handbasket.

And he usually doesn’t get the job done without someone (including himself) taking a bullet. He often figures out he’s on the right track by getting someone shot at, or by following the trail of bodies.

It’s been mentioned that it seems like every Korean that comes to him with a case is both gay and sleeping with his cousin. While this is unlikely in the real world, detective series often compress communities. I think it’s a bigger problem that Cole and everyone he contacts gets shot at in every case. He’s going to start losing more friends, one way or another, if this keeps up.

The situation reminds me of small-town mystery series, where the homicide rate appears higher than the population could possibly support. (Would you want to live in Midsomer County, England? The residents drop like flies.)

Because this particular story reaches into the rich end of the Korean old line families, we see the way that fortunes are preserved and family honor is protected among the rich and relatively famous. The story also offers us a lot more info about the fine line that Jae-Min and Cole’s friend Scarlet must straddle in order to have some life with her lover.

Scarlet, a transvestite, is not welcome at any family functions for her lover Hyung. In formal settings, he is alone or his wife comes from South Korea. The rest of the time, his hired bodyguards protect Scarlet’s every move. And there’s a poignancy that for all his money, this life is the best they can manage to have, if he is to keep the standing that protects them both.

The case that Cole is hired to solve is as convoluted as usual. Also as usual, he starts out thinking it will be simple, and it turns out to be anything but.

This one ends with an emotional whammy that will tear at your heart and make you dive for the next book, Dirty Laundry.

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.