Review: Dirty Kiss by Rhys Ford

dirty kiss by rhys fordFormat read: ebook borrowed from the library
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: M/M Romance, Romantic Suspense
Series: Cole McGinnis #1
Length: 216 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date Released: July 1, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Cole Kenjiro McGinnis, ex-cop and PI, is trying to get over the shooting death of his lover when a supposedly routine investigation lands in his lap. Investigating the apparent suicide of a prominent Korean businessman’s son proves to be anything but ordinary, especially when it introduces Cole to the dead man’s handsome cousin, Kim Jae-Min.

Jae-Min’s cousin had a dirty little secret, the kind that Cole has been familiar with all his life and that Jae-Min is still hiding from his family. The investigation leads Cole from tasteful mansions to seedy lover s trysts to Dirty Kiss, the place where the rich and discreet go to indulge in desires their traditional-minded families would rather know nothing about.

It also leads Cole McGinnis into Jae-Min’s arms, and that could be a problem. The death of Jae-Min’s cousin is looking less and less like a suicide, and Jae-Min is looking more and more like a target. Cole has already lost one lover to violence he’s not about to lose Jae-Min too.

My Review:

In the story, Dirty Kiss is a place, a surprisingly not-seedy nightclub where men in the Los Angeles Asian community can pretend that being gay is their normal life, when in fact they are pretending to be straight, at least on the outside and in front of their families.

It’s also a metaphor for the way that multiple families feel about the gay members of their families, and how some traditionalists believe that being gay is transmitted, as opposed to being born in.

And this is a family story, about the ties that bind, and the ties that strangle, both literally and figuratively. Both the protagonists in this story are reacting to their families and dealing with the reaction from them.

Last but not least, there is a deadly plot in motion to kill everyone who might know one particular family’s dirty secret, a plot that may victimize both the protagonists.

Cole McGinnis doesn’t act as though his being gay is a dirty secret. In fact, it is not a secret at all, something that has cost him more than he ever expected to pay. His Japanese/Irish Catholic father has cut off all ties with him, but Cole maintains a relationship with his brother Mike. And dad gets regular updates about Cole from his brother.

But Cole is a former police officer. His police partner shot and killed his domestic partner, then turned the gun on himself. His best friend and his lover were taken from him in an instant, and he still doesn’t know why his partner snapped. He just knows that he has both the physical and the emotional scars left to deal with. He’s pretty good about taking care of the physical scars; the emotional ones, not so much.

After the settlement from the police department left him much more than solvent, Cole took up private investigation as a way of exercising his desire to solve mysteries AND still have a reason for getting out of bed every morning. It mostly works.

The case his brother hands him should be an easy one. A Korean-American family wants someone to be certain that their only son really did commit suicide, even if he did it within the embarrassing confines of the Dirty Kiss nightclub.

All, of course, is not as it seems. The more Cole digs, the less likely it seems that Kim Hyun-Shik killed himself. Especially when everybody (perhaps that should be every body) who might possibly have any information for Cole winds up dead.

The person who seems to have as many lives as his own cat is Kim Jae-Min, the deceased’s cousin. Jae-Min, treated by his family as the ultimate poor relation, seems to know more about his cousin’s business, his cousin’s life, and the Dirty Kiss club more than is good for him if he wants to survive.

But something about Jae-Min draws Cole out of his self-imposed isolation, even though it is obvious to Cole that Jae-Min is keeping no end of crucial secrets to himself. His continuous lies of omission should damn any relationship before it starts, but Cole just gets more intrigued.

Although if Cole doesn’t put it all together soon, their relationship will end with both of their deaths, as a murderer gets away.

Escape Rating B+: Dirty Kiss is a marvelous character-driven story; things happen because the characters are fully developed and can’t act other than the way they must.

A big part of the appeal of the story is Cole’s first-person perspective; we see the world through his eyes, and hear his thoughts. He’s a confused, sad and slightly tormented person with a sarcastic sense of humor. He tells it like it is, except when he tries to look into his own grief. Then he does what most of us do and tries to pretend it’s not there.

His circle of friends and family is fascinating. His relationship with his brother Mike is complex and filled with a sense of love and obligation on both sides. They drive each other crazy, and sometimes they don’t like each other much, but they are both aware of how much they love each other.

Cole’s relationship with his best friend, the retired police officer Bobby. Bobby is from a different generation of cop, one who stayed in the closet for the sake of his career. Now that he’s out of the police force, he is definitely out of the closet. There is irony in their relationship, that Cole was more out when he was a cop but is much less in-your-face about it than the formerly secretive Bobby.

Every PI needs someone to mind the office, and Cole has Claudia. an African American grandmother who bosses Cole around every bit as much as she does her sons and grandsons. There’s love and caring and a lot of pushy snark; Claudia calls everything like she sees it and doesn’t take BS from anyone, not even her employer.

Jae-Min is a mysterious young man. He’s beautiful, but he also keeps a lot of secrets and hides a lot of scars. His whole life is dependent on his continuing to pretend that he’s either not gay or that it is a phase he is going through. It’s not just that his mother and sister will cut him off if he comes out, it’s that he is supporting them and if he comes out, they will feel obligated to refuse his help. And Jae-Min really is from the poor branch of the family and his sister and mother absolutely need his assistance.

You would think that a PI would want a relationship where there is honesty, but Cole seems happy with the mystery that is Jae-Min. The romantic part of the story ends in a Happy for Now, because Jae-Min feels obligated to his family.

One of the funniest characters in the story is Jae-Min’s cat Neko. Neko means “cat” in Korean, so Jae-Min has named his cat, Cat. But Neko is a force in her own right, converting the formerly cat-skeptical Cole into a reluctant but effective cat-servant.

Cats rule.

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.

Review: Clockwork Tangerine by Rhys Ford

Clockwork Tangerine by Rhys FordFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genre: steampunk, M/M romance
Length: 69 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date Released: February 18, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

The British Empire reigns supreme, and its young Queen Victoria has expanded her realm to St. Francisco, a bustling city of English lords and Chinese ghettos. St. Francisco is a jewel in the Empire’s crown and as deeply embroiled in the conflict between the Arcane and Science as its sister city, London—a very dark and dangerous battle.

Marcus Stenhill, Viscount of Westwood, stumbles upon that darkness when he encounters a pack of young bloods beating a man senseless. Westwood’s duty and honor demand he save the man, but he’s taken aback to discover the man is Robin Harris, a handsome young inventor indirectly responsible for the death of Marcus’s father.

Living in the shadows following a failed coup, Robin devotes his life to easing others’ pain, even though his creations are considered mechanical abominations of magicks and science. Branded a deviant and a murderer, Robin expects the viscount to run as far as he can—and is amazed when Marcus reaches for him instead.

My Review:

I was hoping that Rhys Ford had another Hellsinger book out. Even though I was disappointed in that search (until this Fall when every anticipated book in the universe will be released) I found this little steampunk gem, and decided to give it a try. I love Ford’s urban fantasy Black Dog Blues (want more) so the steampunk alternative seemed like a good idea.

It was.

The story takes place in an alternate Victorian era where Charles Babbage seems to have been part of a deranged organization that tried to change the structure of society by using golems and machina to wipe out the upper-crust. While it didn’t work, it left a hell of a mess, and everyone is still recovering decades later.

It also seems that the U.S. Revolution must not have succeeded, because the city of St. Francisco is still very much a part of the British Empire.

St. Francisco is a place where peers of the British realm govern a city of Chinese laborers and colonial upstarts. Being in the midst of the Victorian era, the world is all decorum on the one side, but those with money and connections pay for corruption in the shadows that they decry in the light.

Due to the failed coup, the laws against the use of the Arcane, especially when mixed with mechanical powers, are draconian and downright detrimental.

Into this mix the author throws two men, Marcus, Viscount Stenhill, and Robin Harris. Two men who should never have met. Marcus is a scion of the upper crust, and Robin is not merely an Arcane practitioner, but was the genius scapegoat behind the inventions used by the plotters.

While this is a society that considers sex between two men a perversion (the Victorians seem to have considered sex between two humans unspeakable), that Robin and Marcus fall in love is just part of the story. It’s the why of it that’s interesting.

Robin is still trying to save people, using a forbidden mixture of science and the arcane. He’s trying to continue to be a doctor, in spite of having his credentials stripped. Marcus wants to see the injustices done to Robin reversed, and his method of saving Robin is to take him under his sponsorship.

Money can reverse some of the damage that has been done. Love can take care of the rest.

Escape Rating B: The love story between Marcus and Robin was actually kind of sweet. Due to all the societal restrictions, it takes them quite a while to move their friendship to a deeper level.

But the worldbuilding is absolutely terrific. The mixture of Victorian surface prudishness combined with the hidden world of deniable sexual sadism felt all too possible, similar to the way that the Victorians vilified prostitutes while patronizing them. It was done, it just wasn’t talked about.

That the revolution seems to have been magical rather than industrial takes this world down a different track completely. I wondered why St. Francisco was still British. That’s a heck of a change.

Also, the revolution left behind the equivalent of dirty bombs, in the same way that UXBs are still found in England. That Marcus’ father was one of the last victims, while Robin’s ideas were co-opted to create the damn things, made an interesting juxtaposition.

Clockwork Tangerine is a neat little story, I just wish I could see more of the world in which it takes place.

***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: Cut & Run by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux

Cut & Run by Madeleine Urban and Abigail RouxFormat read: print book borrowed from the Library
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: M/M romance, mystery/thriller
Series: Cut & Run
Length: 376 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date Released: September 1, 2008
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

A series of murders in New York City has stymied the police and FBI alike, and they suspect the culprit is a single killer sending an indecipherable message. But when the two federal agents assigned to the investigation are taken out, the FBI takes a more personal interest in the case.

Special Agent Ty Grady is pulled out of undercover work after his case blows up in his face. He’s cocky, abrasive, and indisputably the best at what he does. But when he’s paired with Special Agent Zane Garrett, it’s hate at first sight. Garrett is the perfect image of an agent: serious, sober, and focused, which makes their partnership a classic cliché: total opposites, good cop-bad cop, the odd couple. They both know immediately that their partnership will pose more of an obstacle than the lack of evidence left by the murderer.

Practically before their special assignment starts, the murderer strikes again – this time at them. Now on the run, trying to track down a man who has focused on killing his pursuers, Grady and Garrett will have to figure out how to work together before they become two more notches in the murderer’s knife.

My Review:

First we have the typical buddy-cop scenario, one agent is completely buttoned-down and by-the-numbers; and the other one blows off all the rules but closes so damn many cases that the constant insubordination is just barely tolerated.

We’ve seen this play before. Of course they can barely stand each other. Of course the rule-breaker pushes the buttoned-down agent’s buttons until they explode.

Of course they’ve been assigned to work together because their approaches to a case complement the heck out of each other. Analytical mind meets gut instinct, or so it seems.

Then they switch personas in the middle of the case, and nothing is as it seemed. Except that they still need each other to solve the case. And they just plain still need each other.

I left gender out of the above description deliberately. Without adding a romance, Cut & Run might have worked as merely a buddy-cop story. There is a serial killer on the loose, and the FBI is dragged in to solve the case. Once they’re in, the finger starts pointing to a crooked agent (or a crazy agent) in their own house.

As mystery/thriller, Cut & Run would still have worked. There was plenty of tension to go around. A standard romantic suspense with a male/female pair of agents might have been possible. For an example where it does work and the female is treated as an equal, just look at Kensi and Deeks in NCIS: LA. But I’d submit (no pun intended) that Marty Deeks is definitely the beta fish in that school of sharks.

Instead of doing anything that would have been remotely standard, Urban and Roux took their mystery/suspense/thriller story and threw their two male FBI agents into a highly dysfunctional romantic relationship. I say highly dysfunctional because both Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are themselves dysfunctional human beings throughout the story. They are both fantastic agents, but as humans, they need a lot of work.

And as FBI agents at the top of a very competitive food chain, they are both used to being top dogs. Once they enter into a relationship with each other, no matter how on-again/off-again, they constantly jockey for the position of top.

While someone else is showing off their particular prowess as a serial killer for their own express amusement.

Escape Rating B+: I found Cut & Run to be a compelling mystery/thriller with two flawed men as the romantic leads. I will admit that I did figure out “whodunnit” long before Grady and Garrett did, but that wasn’t the point for me, the point was in watching them figure out not just whether they could work together, but sometimes simply whether they could manage to work at all, either personally or professionally.

I enjoy mystery/suspense/romantic suspense a lot. But even with a dominant couple in the picture, I find it more fun when there is a solid support network to follow. I hope that these two develop some reliable backup, because they surely do need it.

They are not merely stronger together, they are pretty damn co-dependent. Watching them negotiate a relationship is going to fun, at least from the reader’s perspective. Now that I’ve started, I understand why so many people recommend this series.

***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: The Rare Event by P.D. Singer

The Rare Event by P.D. SingerFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: M/M romance, Contemporary romance
Length: 350 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date Released: March 30, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Hedge fund trader Ricky Santeramo has it all: money, looks, and fellow trader Jonathan Hogenboom. The two couldn’t be more different: Jon is from old money, while Ricky clawed his way out of blue-collar New Jersey. Jon hedges his positions; Ricky goes for broke. Jon likes opera and the Yankees; Ricky prefers clubbing. Jon drinks wine with dinner; Ricky throws back a beer. Jon wants monogamy… but Ricky likes variety.

Bankrupt airlines are facing strikes, the housing market is starting to crumble, and Jon can’t wait any longer for Ricky to commit. One last night alone and one last risky trade make Jon say, “Enough.” Then Jon’s old friend Davis comes to New York City, ready for baseball and forever. The whole world is chaos, but there are fortunes to be made—or lost—and hearts to be broken—or won.

Faced with losing it all, Ricky must make the savviest trades of his life and pray for a rare event. His portfolio and Jon’s love are on the line.

My Review:

A “rare event” in stock market terms is often referred to as a “black swan event,” something that is both disastrous and whose effects were impossible to predict in advance. A hurricane has a disastrous effect on the economy, but they can’t be predicted more than a few days out, for example.

All you can do is hedge your bets. Have insurance. Or not live in a hurricane-prone area. Or have an emergency evacuation plan.

P.D. Singer’s The Rare Event came down to two interwoven themes. One theme was that of redemption. In this opposites-attract romance, Jon Higgenboom is a trust-fund baby. He was raised with all the advantages. But there was an event in his life that undercut his sense of worth, and because of that one thing, he doesn’t feel advantaged in any emotional way. He’s still looking to redeem that one thing that cost him the man he loved, his entire social circle, the love of a family he thought of as a second set of parents and the brothers who weren’t born to him, and very nearly his future career. He still doesn’t know what he did, if anything.

The event he doesn’t understand has made him a hedge fund trader in a very unsavory firm, but one who carefully hedges his bets on every trade. He plays things both loose and safe in ways that make him and the firm a lot of money. But he’s someone who still wants things to be sane and stable, yet he’s pinned his heart on a man who sees commitment as a trap.

Ricky Santeramo pulled himself into a senior trader’s position at that same firm by playing every trade for the maximum gain, and hedging as few of his trades as possible. And also by being very, very lucky at a time when the market was going up, up, up like it was never going to stop. He wanted to have his cake and eat it, too, including in his relationship that wasn’t a relationship with Jon. Because Ricky didn’t do relationships. He wanted to keep everything as open as possible and never play anything safe. Not with Jon, and not at work.

Until Jon got tired of pretending that it didn’t break his heart to know that Ricky went clubbing with other men on the nights that they weren’t together, and equally tired of covering Ricky’s ass at work when Ricky refused to cover his exposed trading positions when millions of the firm’s dollars (and Ricky’s job) were on the line.

It’s only when Jon finally says that he has enough and breaks things off for good that Ricky discovers not just what he’s had all along, and lost, but that being a player is really about using people, and being used. He wasn’t as big or as smart as he thought he was, and it’s cost him the best thing he ever had.

Escape Rating B+: You do learn a lot about hedge funds and the stock market, and I found it fascinating. The how and why of it was absorbing, and I could see why people do this for a living. All the secondary characters of the firm were interesting, quirky people, even if there was one I wanted to strangle.

I said there were two themes. The other big thing going on in this story reminds me of the saying “for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing.” The story takes place in the months before the great recession of 2008. Jon sees the dominoes and can predict what’s coming, but only worries about making sure that their hedge fund will not get burned and how they can take advantage of the problem. No one thinks to warn the SEC that there’s going to be a major crash in the housing market because of repackaging the mortgage derivatives. Everyone was out for what they could get, even the good guys.

But on a smaller scale, the majority partner in the hedge fund is an equal opportunity sexual predator. All of the junior analysts, regardless of gender, are required to provide sexual services to this asshat in the office at regular intervals and everyone knows about it. Everyone knows who has been called into his office to service him and when. This is a private firm, and no one has been able to stop him. People either leave or swallow. That people in the firm felt like there was absolutely no recourse was, unfortunately, something I could understand. (Yes, the bastard does eventually get his comeuppance)

However, that all of the senior traders continued to have sex in the office where they had no expectation of privacy and where this known predator might walk in and/or have cameras filming (he didn’t, but how could they know?) tripped my willing suspension of disbelief a bit every time. I could accept that the owner was that evil, or I could accept the sex in the office, but not both in the same place.

If only for teaching me the financial term “dead cat bounce” I would think this story was fantastic. It’s certainly an image that is not going to fade any time soon. But it’s both Jon’s and Ricky’s redemption that sticks in the heart long after the story is over.

***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: 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.

Ebook Review Central, Dreamspinner Press, August 2012

This week at Ebook Review Central, it’s time to take a look at the August 2012 titles from Dreamspinner Press.

But before we do that, I’d like to give a little shout-out to one of the blogs that I regularly find coming up as a source for reviews for Dreamspinner (among others). This is one of my favorites because the picture always makes me smile. And wakes me up. I’d like to thank Oh My Gigi! for introducing me to the cute little fellow at the left, as well as providing me with some great reviews for ERC.

And speaking of great reviews, you might be wondering which books picked up those all important terrific reviews to get them one of the featured spots on this week’s Ebook Review Central.

I kind of dropped a hint in yesterday’s Sunday Post that one of the featured titles might have a tiger by its tail. It does. But it turned out that all the featured titles came at the end of the alphabet. By title, anyway. (What can I say, I’m a librarian. We alphabetize. It’s a thing.)

But the number one featured title this week is Sean Kennedy’s Tigers and Devils. This book made Jenre’s Best of 2009 list at Well Read when it was first released, and it has just been re-released in ebook, collecting a whole new set of fans and reviews. Tigers & Devils is a romantic story about a sports star (a rugby celebrity in Australia!) and an arty geek whose only previous serious relationship seems to have been with his cat. The other problem is that the sports star is not ready for the world to know that he’s gay, but he’s also not ready to give up the best thing he’s ever found. And his lover is okay with that. But when the world finds out anyway, their love is definitely put to the test. Reviewers love the story and Sean Kennedy’s writing. A LOT.

The second featured title this week is in the classic “fated mate” trope. Except that it twists the trope into some very different (and interesting) directions. Wake Me Up Inside by Cardeno C. uses the fated mate drive that often marks werewolf romances and gives it a new twist by switching the fated pair into a male/male bond AND placing in a paranormal setting where bonding between shifters and non-shifters is highly frowned upon. In this particular equation, the shifter’s pack isn’t sure which part they like least! But it makes for an epic love story that begins with a childhood friendship and is fated to last a lifetime.

I’m still laughing about the blurb for featured title number three, and it may be the blurb that got readers to pick up the book. Number three is Andrew Grey’s Strengthened by Fire. The story itself isn’t funny. The men in the story share, not only a romance, but also the very important job of saving lives through being firefighters. The problem is that their city is planning to cut costs by closing a fire station. And one characters answer is to hold the annual Fire Fighters’ Fundraising Chicken Dinner with the Firemen all going shirtless. It’s one of those hot firemen calendars come to life! One man thinks it’s a great idea, and the other one is embarrassed as possible, and there’s where the misunderstanding comes in. And eventually a happy ending.

Tigers. Werewolves. Chicken dinners with half-naked firemen. I think that’s enough for one week. Don’t you?

Ebook Review Central will be back next week with the August 2012 titles from Samhain Publishing.

 

 

 

Ebook Review Central, Dreamspinner Press, July 2012

Welcome back to Ebook Review Central! In today’s post-Labor Day edition of ERC, we’re taking a look at the titles from Dreamspinner Press for July 2012. There’s a certain symmetry to that, isn’t there? July was the last holiday month, and here we are again, just after another holiday.

But before we move to this week’s featured titles, I can’t resist one more look at Dragon*Con. (I know, I know, you’re wondering when I’m going to stop) But this is relevant.

At Dragon*Con I had the pleasure of meeting Adrienne Wilder, one of the authors on this month’s Dreamspinner list, and listening to her read from Worth, one of her Gray Zone novels, published by Dreamspinner. One of the fantastic things about cons is the opportunity to meet authors whose works I’ve read, reviewed or featured.

But we’re here to talk about the July books, so let’s take a look at the featured titles. It turns out that this week’s features are all character-driven stories.

Sometimes there’s a theme. Sometimes there isn’t.

Coming in at number three this week is After Ben by Con Riley. This is a contemporary romance about loving, grieving, and deciding whether or not to open yourself up again, even though there might be pain, later. The title of the book is After Ben because this is the story of Theo Anderson’s life after the sudden death of his longtime partner, Ben. A year later, Theo is still trying to pick up the pieces, but he’s starting to live again, instead of merely existing. On the one hand, he feels a physical attraction for Peter, a fellow gym member. But the one who really challenges him is Morgan, someone he met through a political chat room. Online, no one knows who you are or what you look like, only how intelligent, and occasionally how snarky you are. Morgan becomes a friend first, and it’s only after their relationship develops online that Theo discovers that Morgan is half his age. Just as Theo was to Ben. He’s afraid that he’s been there and done that and isn’t sure he wants to do it again. Is love worth the risk? Is the joy worth the potential pain. Again and so soon? Readers thought that Theo’s struggle and all the characters in this story were genuine and authentic.

In second place we have another emotional piece, The Wish by Eden Winters. It starts off with another character who is dead before the book begins. Byron however, wants to influence the world he left behind. But he’s a ghost. So Byron helps his partner Alfred get their nephews to see how perfect they are…for each other. The problem is that Paul and Alex have known each other most of their lives, and seem to be the epitome of the cliche that familiarity breeds contempt, because they certainly hold each other in plenty of contempt. It takes a lot of ghostly interference, including a lot that backfires, to make this romance work out right in the end. But ghost Byron deserves his own happy ending, and there’s only one way that can happen. Have some tissues handy.

Speechless by Kim Fielding is the winner for this roundup. This is a quietly sweet story about two lonely men who have survived some of the worst that life can throw at them. They are two people who would ordinarily never have met, but accidents and circumstances have created a situation where they have a chance to break through the biggest barrier that separates them, one of them has aphasia and can neither speak nor write. But they need each other enough to find a way to communicate. If you’re motivated, even that’s not a barrier. But what happens when one of them has to leave town? One reviewer described this story as “cute with a side of angst”. Read it for yourself and see.

This week’s stories are all character-driven. Next week it will be Samhain’s turn at the wheel, and maybe we’ll have a different theme. Maybe every story will have a completely different spin.

Tune in next week and see what happens!

 

Ebook Review Central, Dreamspinner Press, June 2012

I have one thing to say about the June 2012 titles for Dreamspinner Press. Time is very definitely eternity, and so was this list.

In June, Dreamspinner published their summer “Daily Dose” set of shorter works, short stories, novelettes, novellas, all based around the theme of time travel. It’s a fascinating concept. And reviewers definitely agreed, because every single entry in the set got reviewed, usually by at least two reviewers. (The Advent set didn’t do quite as well with reviewers.)

But the advent (sorry, irresistible pun) of one of these sets increases the Dreamspinner list from the usual thirty titles to an incredible 60 titles for the month! Ouch.

It also seems to do a kind of “vote-splitting” similar to the academy awards. Or maybe attention splitting would be a better analogy. Regular readers (regular reviewers) have so many titles to choose from, that the reviewing attention divides among the larger number of menu choices.

Reviewers only have so many hours of reading time per day, and we all have to sleep sometime. (Darn it!)

But it means that in a month like this one, where there were so many reading choices, the ratings were very, very close.

The first featured title this week is Andrew Grey’s A Foreign Range. While this is the fourth book in Grey’s Range series, reviewers say it’s not necessary to read the other three to get caught up. On the other hand, you’ll want to read the other three, because they’re just that good. Country singer Willie Meadows is so tired of faking everything “Western” in his image that he buys a ranch in big sky country, Wyoming, under his real name, Wilson Edwards. Wilson wants to find some reality behind the glitter his life has become. Along with the ranch he gets Steve, a destitute young ranch hand, on the run from a gay deprogramming cult run by his own father. Steve turns the broken-down place into a real ranch, a real home, and they start to make a real life together. The only problem is that Wilson has been really deep into the closet to protect his career. And Steve’s dad sends the cult to come and get him.

The second featured title is about a different desperate young man and a different rescue. In Amy Lane’s Sidecar, the young man is Casey, and he starts the story as a teen, thrown away by his parents for being caught having sex with another boy. If their attitude seems outdated, it hopefully is, but this story starts out in the 1980s. Casey is picked up by Joe, a nurse (unusual profession for a man in the 1980s, slightly less so now) as Casey is preparing to jump off a bridge. Joe offers him a home, and friendship. The chance to see that it will get better. It takes Joe a damn long time to realize that the boy he offered a hand to in the 1980s has grown up to become a man who loves him.

Last but definitely not least, except for the pint-size of one of the characters in the book, is We Danced by Jeff Erno. In a small-town in Kentucky, Rex Payton is raising his nephew Tyler and keeping his late father’s bar afloat. His parents and sister died suddenly, leaving him with the bar, Tyler and no time for romance. Especially since for the sake of a peaceful small-town life, Rex is firmly in the closet. At least until Josh, the new veterinary intern comes to town. Their instant attraction changes all their lives. Because the most important person in Rex’ life is Tyler. And the most important goal in Josh’ life is finishing vet school, which he can’t do if he stays in their little town after his summer internship is over. And eight-year old Tyler isn’t used to sharing his “dad” with anyone.  (Tyra at Guilty Indulgence rated this one as an “Ultimate Indulgence”)

This week’s featured books were pretty much tied. Which made it very difficult to use any sort of Olympic themed medals (darn!) Come back next week for the Samhain June feature and see if we can’t do better at awarding Gold, Silver and Bronze medals.

Ebook Review Central, Dreamspinner Press, May 2012

Welcome back to Ebook Review Central. We’ve had two weeks off for the American Library Association, the 4th of July summer slack-off (did anyone really do anything last week?) and the flu, but ERC has returned to cover the Dreamspinner Press titles from May 2012.

This was a “feast or famine” month as far as reviews went.  The titles that were reviewed, were reviewed a LOT. On that proverbial other hand, those that weren’t, really, really weren’t.

But my favorite comment is about the cover of Gambling Men by Amy Lane. The reviewer at Insta-Love quipped that the model on the cover “must spend a LOT of money on manscaping”.  Or the photographer did a fantastic job of airbrushing.

Some months, the eight good to excellent reviews received by Gambling Men would have been enough to earn it a feature spot in addition to my spit-take on that comment, but not this month. This month three titles had more than fifteen reviews each. It’s hard to compete with a new book in the Cut & Run series and anything by Mary Calmes.

So you’re wondering what the third book is, right?

The number one featured title for Dreamspinner in May is One Small Thing by M.J. O’Shea and Piper Vaughn.  Nineteen, count ’em, nineteen reviews, all in the 4/5 or B range, or higher. Everyone loved this book. Why? Because it tugs at the heartstrings. Rue Murray becomes a single dad, after an experimental one-night stand with a woman friend turns into a baby — that she didn’t plan on and doesn’t want. Rue grabs onto his one chance at fatherhood, but managing single-parenthood along with work and school turns out to be more than he can handle. So he gets some help. The only problem is that Erik, the shy and reclusive sci-fi writer he hires fits into his and his daughter’s life in more ways than any of them expected. Baby Alice isn’t the only person in this story who turns out to have a lot of growing up to do.

Mary Calmes’ Acrobat is the number two featured title in this month’s Dreamspinner wrap up. The acrobat in the title is Andreo, a man who is trying to juggle the responsibility of raising his nephew, extracting himself from a very unsavory situation, and starting his own business. He’s also falling in love with Nate, an English professor at the University of Chicago. But while Dreo is trying to convince Nate that he would make a suitable partner, his old connections are looking for ways that he might be vulnerable. That unsavory situation, it’s Family, the underworld kind. Dreo wants out of the mob, and his old connections think there is only one way out of their world. The more Nate is seen with Dreo, the more he becomes a target. Can Dreo juggle things enough to protect the ones he loves.

The final book for Dreamspinner this month is book number 5 in the popular Cut & Run series. The earlier volumes were co-authored by Madeleine Urban & Abigail Roux, but this latest book, Armed & Dangerous, is a solo work by Roux. The Cut & Run series is mystery/suspense, with two FBI agents, Ty Grady and Zane Garrett as the heroes/protagonists/lovers/crime solvers. This is action/adventure at its finest according to every single reviewer. When I saw this on the list for Dreamspinner this month, I knew the reviews would be off the chart. But don’t start with this one, this series is meant to be read in order, and Roux & Urban’s Warrior’s Cross is meant to be read between Divide & Conquer and Armed & Dangerous.

And I need to carve out some reading time for this series, because every single review says they are awesome.

That’s a wrap for this week! Ebook Review Central will be back next week with Samhain’s May titles.

 

Ebook Review Central, Dreamspinner Press, April 2012

In the real world, it’s mid May. Which means that Ebook Review Central is looking at the books published in April. This week, the spotlight is turned on Dreamspinner Press, and the titles that they published in April of 2012.

Before I start on the features, I want to talk about book covers for just a second. In spite of the warnings, we do judge a book by its cover. And using the same stock image multiple times can make readers wonder if they’ve read a book before, when they haven’t.

Dreamspinner uses the exact same cover image for their Day Dream series of, I think they would be classed as short stories. The ebooks are very short, and sell for a very low price. If they weren’t ebooks, they probably couldn’t be marketed except in anthologies. Ebooks have created an entirely new channel for short fiction that hasn’t existed since the golden age of magazines.  Using a stock image for the Day Dream series establishes a brand.

On the other hand, repeating a stock image for a novella or novel can give readers a feeling of deja vu. I thought the cover image on Murder at the Rocking R by Catt Ford looked awfully familiar to me. That’s because it’s the same image as the one on the cover on Wilder’s Mate by Moira Rogers, just reversed and further away. Although both Rocking R and On the Trail to Moonlight Gulch are westerns, Moonlight Gulch’s cover looks better because it’s more distinctive. Knowing that Rocking R is stock makes it lose something, at least for me.

But we’re here to talk about reviews.

Book number three this week is First Impressions by Christopher Koehler. They say that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Maybe that’s true, but in this romantic comedy, you can get a second chance at love, if your friends are willing to arrange a lot of painfully funny coincidences. Especially since your friends set you up in the first place and it all went so horribly wrong, when it should have been right. They have to make it better. At a very posh party, Cameron’s friends arrange for him to meet a new man. Unfortunately for him, they also help him dress. First part good, second part bad. They dress him like a bar pickup, and a sleazy one at that. Even worse, poor Henry, the man that Cameron is supposed to meet, is a former, emphasis on former, gay porn actor. Henry left that life behind him, and he wants to make sure it stays behind him. Cameron’s outfit is a reminder of lifestyle Henry left, and Henry spits insults instead of walking away. They trade barbed comments instead of the “meet cute” their friends had planned. The rest of the story is how they past that initial bad first impression, with a lot of help from their friends.

Next up, Frog by Mary Calmes. Frog is a story about city slickers playing cowboys for the weekend. Well, for a lot of weekends. And, it’s a about a lonesome cowboy. Really two lonesome cowboys, but one of them happens to be a city slicker. Brilliant surgeons are often cowboys back in their hospitals (House, anyone), and Cyrus Benning is the city slicker who finds perspective by pretending to be a real cowboy a few times a year. He also finds a real cowboy who, like the desperado in that old Eagles song, had better let somebody love him before it’s too late. Both Cyrus and Weber have been abandoned by fate, and they find what they need in each other.

Final book for Dreamspinner in April is the ebook release of a title that, when it was originally published just a few years ago, won several Rainbow Awards for Gay Fiction including Best Characters, Best Setting, Best Gay Historical and finally, Best Overall Gay Fiction. I’m talking about The Lonely War by Alan Chin.

This is a bittersweet story. It’s a historical story about a gay Asian-American seaman serving with the US Navy in World War II who falls in love with an officer aboard the ship on which he serves. Then his ship is captured by the Japanese and the entire crew become POWs. The final part of the book takes place after the war. No part of this book is an easy journey for the main character. I can’t do this book justice in a brief summary. Read the reviews, especially Leslie’s review at Speak Its Name, and you’ll understand why this book won all the awards.

And why one of the marvelous things about ebooks is the opportunity to bring books like this back and give them new and longer life and a wider audience.

That wraps up Ebook Review Central for this week. And after The Lonely War, a book about World War II, let’s talk about next Monday, Memorial Day in the United States. Although Memorial Day originally commemorated the fallen Union soldiers after the U.S. Civil War (I live in Atlanta now, I’m finding that very interesting) it has come to be a holiday to honor all those who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

It also marks the beginning of summer. And it’s a three-day weekend. Ebook Review Central is going to take next Monday off. I need to get another sort of “leap day” in the calendar, and Memorial Day is a good enough reason.

Ebook Review Central will be back on June 4 with the Samhain April feature.