Golden Dancer by Tara Lain

Golden Dancer

Golden Dancer by Tara Lain

Series: Dangerous Dancers, Book 1
Published by: Loose Id on September 27, 2011
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Mac MacAllister is a reporter on a mission. He knows that billionaire Daniel Terrebonne is the one who stole the priceless Golden Dancer statue. It’s going to be difficult to prove, and he’ll need to focus. Which is why he doesn’t need the distraction of writing a ballet review. But since his parents are well-known dancers and he knows ballet, it’s an assignment he gets.

Mac quickly forgets the story is a distraction once he meets Trelain Medveyev in person. There’s just something about him that draws Mac in. (Though Mac’s not sure what it is; he’s straight, after all.) As the two spend more time together, Mac begins to realize that maybe there is a physical attraction between them that can be explained.

If Mac’s sexuality isn’t enough of a hurdle, another wrench is thrown into the mix. Terrebonne is also interested in Trelain, and he makes a decisive move while Mac’s head is still spinning. But Mac sees this as an opportunity; he might be able to use the connection to investigate Terrebonne more closely. Until that close investigation leads Mac to wondering if he might have feelings for his suspected thief, as well.

But Mac isn’t the only person looking for the Golden Dancer. The original owner wants it back. And he is prepared to stop at nothing to see it returned to his collection. Even if it means danger for Terrebonne and everyone close to him…

This is one I don’t think I would have come across if it hadn’t been for a reading challenge. But I’m glad I picked it up. I’m always a fan of Tara Lain’s writing. She has a way of developing characters and worlds that allows the reader to feel like they’re very much along for the ride. And this one is no exception.

There are certainly a lot of twists and turns along the way here–especially with the romantic elements. I hadn’t expected the outcomes of some of the conversations and situations that came up. But none of those unexpected events seemed out of character or out of line with the story.

I had honestly expected more tension and drama with the parents (especially Trelain’s) based on how they were described in the story. But I also know that it’s common for a child to describe their parents differently than they really are–especially if they have any reason to feel unsupported by them.

If you’re looking for a fun, interesting, and engaging read, then look no further.

WorldCon

I’ve just returned from MidAmeriCon II, the 74th incarnation of the World Science Fiction Convention. It was such a blast and provided the opportunity to connect with authors, artists, and other fans. My first WorldCon attendance certainly hooked me, and I’m excited for the opportunity to attend WorldCon 75 next year.

I collected a number of new books at the con, which I expect you’ll see reviewed here in the coming months. But this also means I’m a little bit behind on a few things. There are some review requests I’ve received that should hopefully get responses today. And book reviews should resume tomorrow.

Relief Valve by J.L. Merrow

Relief Valve

Relief Valve by J.L. Merrow

Series: The Plumber’s Mate, Book 2
Published by: Samhain Publishing on March 25, 2014
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that things have been smooth sailing for Tom Paretski and Phil Morrison since they reconnected and became romantically involved. They both agreed to put the past behind them, recognizing they’ve both changed. But there’s still something tentative about the relationship. And that’s even without family opinions being considered.

Tom’s older sister, Cherry, gets back in touch with him to let him know two things. One, their former neighbor, a woman he knew affectionately as “Auntie Lol” has died and he’s named in the will. Two, she’s met a man that she would like him to meet. Of course neither of these are as simple as they seem.

First, Auntie Lol’s will is incomplete. The second piece of it is hidden in her old home, and she asked that Tom use his “gift” for finding hidden things to fetch it. And this is something her ex-husband and current resident of the home isn’t very keen on.

Second, Cherry’s new man, Gregory, has asked her to marry him. It seems a bit sudden considering they haven’t been together long. And it gets even more complicated when Cherry is poisoned at her own engagement party.

Suspects quickly emerge, from Gregory himself to members of a writing circle of which Cherry had previously been a member. With Tom’s gift and his boyfriends private investigation skills, they are hot on the trail. But can they find who wants Cherry dead before they strike again?

I absolutely love how fun and cheeky this books are without losing any of their seriousness or legitimacy. I enjoy a good whodunnit, and the added humor that the author provides here is honestly icing on the cake for me. The twists and the reveals are always dramatic (while not being over-the-top) and Tom is just one of those characters you have to love.

Catching Homelessness by Josephine Ensign

Catching Homelessness

Catching Homelessness: A Nurse’s Story of Falling Through the Safety Net by Josephine Ensign

Published by: She Writes Press on August 9, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

The homelessness epidemic in the United States evokes many different reactions from people. What did they do to end up homeless? Why don’t they just get a job? How can I help? Should I help? Could this ever happen to me?

The answers to those questions are as varied as there are people to ask them. But one thing is clear, the number of homeless in our country is increasing. And we need to think more critically about how we, as individuals and as a society, respond to it.

In Catching Homelessness, Josephine Ensign, a nurse practitioner, chronicles her work with the homeless. She discusses why she initially got involved, the people and issues she saw, and what she’s learned about trying to help. She also talks, rather frankly, about her own period of homelessness. When she started working with the homeless, she was one of those who thought it could never happen to her. Her story and experience not only provide readers with a firsthand look at helping the homeless, but also with the voice of someone who has been there. Both sides of the coin are reflected here.

To say the subject is heavy would be an understatement. Not because this is a book that left me near tears on every page; it’s not like that. But “heavy” just doesn’t capture the rawness and reality of the stories contained in this book. Even if you’re someone who works with the homeless or already has your eyes “open,” I highly recommend picking up this book. It’s honestly a quick read, but it’s very powerful. I find myself still reflecting on it a few days after I finished it. And I expect I’ll continue to think about it for some time to come…

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

The Vinegar Girl

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

Published by: Hogarth on June 2, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Kate Battista knows people can perceive her as abrasive at times. But she’s honest, independent, and isn’t intentionally mean. Everyone just seems to expect her to fit a mold that doesn’t fit. Even the coworker she really wishes would notice her.

Everything comes to a head when Kate’s father presents her with a ridiculous demand. He wants Kate to marry his lab assistant, Pyotr, so he can stay in the country. Kate rejects the proposal outright (How could he ask her that?) at first, but eventually she decides it might not be so bad. She can manage it for a year, right? And it will get her out of her father’s house, where her needy father and sister dominate her life.

Pyotr gets on Kate’s nerves, especially at first. He’s always so optimistic and reads their interactions more positively than Kate intends. But as she gets to know him better, could she discover something deeper? What really makes Pyotr tick? An unexpected event on their wedding day gives Kate the chance to truly see what life with Pyotr would be like. Can she manage it for a year? Or could it even become something that lasts?

I often enjoy modern retellings of Shakespeare plays. There’s something about adapting a classic into a new work that reflects the challenges and realities of today’s society that gets me thinking. Some issues we face as people transcend time. And others change shape but still linger over us regardless of the decade. I have to say that I do like what Anne Tyler did here with The Taming of the Shrew.

If you weren’t a fan of 10 Things I Hate About You (or even if you were), this is probably the story that you needed instead. It’s well-written, dynamic, and paced in a more interesting and realistic way.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.]

Native Wind by A.M. Burns


Native Wind

Native Wind by A.M. Burns

Series: Native Ingenuity, Book 1
Published by: DSP Publications on July 19, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

After the murder of his family, Trey McAllister found a home among the Comanche. Not only did they give him a place to live and a tribe to support him, but his innate magical abilities led to him being taken on as a shaman’s apprentice. The new home also gave Trey the opportunity to bond more closely with his friend Grey Talon. And their relationship quickly became more to both of them than they might otherwise have imagined.

As part of a bargain made by the tribe’s shaman, Trey and Grey Talon find themselves on a mission to track down a dragon’s daughter. But it’s not just a simple tracking mission. It’s a task that may bring them face-to-face with people more vile and more powerful than they’ve faced before. The two of them will need to work together, and they’ll need to be willing to rely on any extra help they might find along the way.

There’s quite a convergence of genre here. There are elements of historical fiction when it comes to place and people. Then one will find some fantasy in the use of magic. There’s mythology with the mention of spirits of the elements and dragons. And the mechanical creations that show up early in the book bring in a healthy helping of steampunk. But comes together in a way that really works.

This is one that I finished in a single sitting. Not only is it a relatively easy read, but it’s engaging. I had no real desire to put it down and go do something else until it was finished. This is the first book I’ve read by this author, but I am certainly looking forward to more.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Saugatuck Summer by Amelia C. Gormley

Saugatuck Summer

Saugatuck Summer by Amelia C. Gormley

Series: Saugatuck, Book 1
Published by: Riptide Publishing on May 17, 2014
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Topher Carlisle is looking forward to this summer. He’s staying with his best friend, Mo, at her family’s beach house on Lake Michigan. Well, he’s staying at the house more than with Mo, since she’ll be spending most of the summer working at a camp. But it’s a free place to stay with easy access to getting in the daily swims he needs to keep in form to hold onto his swimming scholarship when he gets back to school. And he might even be able to make some money to bridge the difference between his scholarship and his full expenses.

Topher also thinks there might be a chance he could meet a guy or two at the beach. And he’s not there long before he sees a total hottie. There’s just one problem–he’s Mo’s straight, married father, Brendan. So Topher shakes that one off and tells himself he needs to get over it since Brendan will be staying at the house with him all summer.

And Topher finds a much-needed distraction in Jace, an artist from Chicago who is more than willing to be Topher’s birthday one-night stand. But Topher lets Jace into a place where no one else is allowed to tread, and that just might come back to haunt him later.

As the summer goes on, everything starts to fall apart. Issues surface between Topher and Brendan. His night with Jace led to some unexpected results. And there’s some family drama that Topher hoped he could stay out of that demands his attention. And none of this is good for someone like Topher who is nursing some long-standing issues as a result of emotional and sexual abuse in his childhood. Can he accept that it’s okay to put those things in the past and move on? Is it possible for Topher to recognize the patterns he’s stuck in so he can break out of them? And can he maybe, actually, find love?

I’m often a bit nervous when it comes to first-person narration. I find that it can be difficult for many authors to sustain a character voice for the entire length of a novel. And then there’s the whole issue of only being able to show what the narrator sees, thinks, and feels. But when a good storyteller does first-person well, I find myself hooked from beginning to end. And this author has managed to construct a well-written narrative that never lost me at any point.

Topher’s story is a complex one. There’s not only a large cast of characters in his life during the summer of the story, but there’s also the issues that haunt him from his past. And every one of those–the people and the issues–seem like they want to pull him in a different direction. There’s definitely a great deal of tension throughout this story, though it never veers too far into the angst camp.

The only reason this doesn’t pull a higher rating from me is pacing. It’s not a tremendous problem–the writing is great, so I never felt myself wandering–but the story could probably have been shored up just a bit to add to the tension and drama. Still give this a solid recommendation, though.

Straight Shooter by Heidi Belleau

Straight Shooter

Straight Shooter by Heidi Belleau

Series: Rear Entrance Video, Book 3
Published by: Riptide Publishing on April 5, 2014
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

College hockey player Austin Puett appears confident but is often the odd one out. Most of his roommates are gay, but he’s straight. While the rest of his team is straight, Austin’s pretty sure he’s the only one who gets turned on when someone calls him “pussy” or “fag.” And both facts just might do him in.

One of Austin’s roommates is exploring his gender identity. And while Austin hasn’t had any problems living in the house, this fact is one that’s harder for him to deal with. But if he can’t get past things and start treating his roommate better, he’ll be evicted.

The solution to how Austin reacts to being degraded is nowhere near simple. But when a customer returns a fetish video during one of Austin’s shifts at the video store, he finds himself intrigued. There’s something about the premise of the video–and Master Puck, the man on the cover–that draws him in. Austin’s not gay, but neither are the guys in the scenes, right? Getting lost in the video fantasy might just be what he needs to get past his “problem.” But when Master Puck shows up at the store, Austin wonders if there might an even better and more lasting solution… Of course, things are never nearly as simple as we sometimes think they are.

Learning about these young men who live together and work at Rear Entrance Video has been interesting. Each one has faced some interesting complications in understanding and coming to terms with who they are. And Austin’s story is no exception.

There’s a lot of angst here. But one might expect that in a story where the main character is reconciling his sexual desires with his identity. And especially when those desires and that identity don’t seem to match up. The journey isn’t easy, but the author gives us a glimpse while keeping things real and respectful.

Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat

Kings Rising

Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat

Series: Captive Prince, Book 3
Published by: Penguin Australia on February 2, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

To keep order, Damen had to allow his identity to be revealed. Now that the men know who he is, he must claim his place as Damien, rightful king of Akelios. And he can safely assume his budding relationship with Laurent, rightful king of Vere, will be destroyed by this revelation.

But Damen and Laurent need to put their relationship issues aside. There are bigger problems that need their attention. Laurent’s uncle, the Regent, is still set on claiming the throne of Vere for himself. And his alliance with Damen’s brother, who wrongfully claimed the crown in Akelios, gives Damen all the more reason to help Laurent.

The path before them won’t be an easy one. Their armies are sworn enemies. Damen killed Laurent’s brother. And Laurent kept Damen as a slave. Any alliance between the two of them is likely to be rife with dissent and dysfunction. If they can manage to find a way to work together, they might not only achieve their respective birthrights but also get back to the place they were in before Damen’s truth was revealed.

Even a king can hold out hope, no?

I remember finishing the second book in this series. The cliffhanger ending caused me to literally scream out loud. It was one of the most wonderful and frustrating endings of a book that I’ve ever read. So I was so excited to pick this one up and see how the story continued.

Overall, this is a very fitting conclusion to the trilogy. So many of the questions are answered and gaps are filled. And some of the things that readers didn’t even know to question are explained. The twists and turns are in line with what someone who read the first two books would expect.

Winterwode by J. Tullos Hennig

Winterwode

Winterwode by J. Tullos Hennig

Series: The Wode, Book 3
Published by: DSP Publications on October 6, 2015
Rating: 5 stars (★★★★★)

Robyn’s band is all back together. His sister, Marion, is back at his side. And he’s recovered the lost love of his youth, Gamelyn. Except Gamelyn isn’t just Gamelyn anymore. Guy of Gisborne, Templar, still resides in there somewhere. It’s an identity that can’t easily be shed. But Robyn is patient, and Gamelyn sometimes seems willing to try.

When a traveling minstrel informs the Shire Wode outlaws that the Queen Mother is essentially being held prisoner by Prince John, their relatively happy reverie is broken. Despite being branded outlaws, they’re too noble to let that stand. Of course, it helps that it’s an opportunity to stick it to the tyrannical prince.

There are a few problems, though. Not only do they need to sneak in and break out the Queen Mother. They will need to take her to Temple Hirst, thrusting Gamelyn/Guy right back into the Templar order. And to complicate matters even more, someone with knowledge of the Wode’s magic is on their trail. And he may just be a force to be reckoned with.

Can they pull off the rescue? And if Gamelyn rejoins his fellow knights, will he fall back into the life of Guy? Will Robyn lose him forever? And what would that mean for the Lady’s prophecy?

I’m such a fan of this series, and I’m so glad there are some additional books coming. It’s such a well-written retelling of the Robin Hood story. This history, the imagery, and the fantasy combine to create such a rich, dynamic world. And I’ve honestly devoured every page since I started the first book in the series.

There are some wonderful twists and turns in this book that certainly serve to keep readers on the edge of their seats. And the tension that exists throughout creates an incredible thread to pull you along. Writing of this caliber is a rare find.