A Marriage Below Zero by Alan Dale

A Marriage Below Zero

A Marriage Below Zero by Alan Dale

Published by: G.W. Dillingham in 1889
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Elsie Ravener knows something is up with her husband, Arthur, but she can’t quite seem to figure it out. Her mother suggests it’s another woman, but Elsie won’t believe it. Her husband would never do that to her. But as her suspicions continue to grow, she decides that she needs to know the truth. And when a private detective puts her on Arthur’s trail and she catches him in the company of his best friend, Jack, she still isn’t quite sure what to think. But as time goes on, it becomes harder and harder to deny a love, even when it is one that is forbidden to be spoken aloud…

I found myself going back and forth between feeling sympathetic for Elsie and being enraged by her. While I can understand her feeling of betrayal when Arthur disappears for periods of time, her responses to him are sometimes rather vicious, making it somewhat understandable why he won’t just break things off and move on. Even as Arthur finds what might be a new happiness, Elsie seems unable to just let things go and try to find a real happiness for herself…and that may be the real tragedy of this story.

 

Texas Heat by R.J. Scott

Texas Heat

Texas Heat by R.J. Scott

Series: Texas, Book 3
Published by: Silver Publishing on August 18, 2012
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Despite a nontraditional start and a few obstacles thrown in their path, Riley and Jack Campbell-Hayes finally seem to have things going right for them. The Jack is expanding the ranch and Riley is working on business ventures of his own. A newcomer to the ranch, Robbie, is still reeling from a loss but happy to be on board and assisting Jack in any way he can. And Riley’s photography friend Eli has convinced the guys to let him use the Double D for a cowboy-themed photoshoot. When Eli and Robbie’s paths cross, it’s lust-at-first-sight for Eli…but Robbie’s hesitant to get involved with someone new. As the various business opportunities are pursued all around, it’s Eli and Robbie who need to decide what to do about the Texas heat this time around…

I find myself thoroughly enjoying this series–more than I expected I would. With everything that went on in the first book, I was not sure if the author would be able to sustain an interesting story that continues to develop the characters and keep readers interested. But while everything did blow up in the first book, I still find myself along with these guys every step of the way and on every single page.

Smoke and Mirrors by Lillian T. MacGowan

Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors by Lillian T. MacGowan

Series: Smoke and Mirrors, Book 1
Published by: Loose Id on July 22, 2014
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Dr. Naim Moreau leads a quiet unsuspecting life. So when firefighter Frank “Deck” Dekker saves his life, he is appreciative but sees Deck as just another patient. Though he can’t argue with the fact that Deck is a rather attractive patient. And when Deck makes some statements that make Naim blush, he tells himself he’s just being delusional and when he comes around he will take it all back. But Deck doesn’t exactly do that. And Naim isn’t sure he can share his deepest secrets about his past with Deck…and if he did, wouldn’t Deck just run away?

If you like books that are paced well, then this is one that certainly meets that criterion. The reveal of the important parts of the story, the tension between Naim and Deck (and between Naim and himself) ebbs and flows in a pattern that seems just right, and the resolution comes at the right point. Solid writing and character development make this a worthwhile read.

Building Arcadia (Blueprints Not Included) by Ryan Loveless

Building Arcadia

Building Arcadia (Blueprints Not Included) by Ryan Loveless

Published by: Ryan Loveless on March 22, 2011
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Connor Adams and Sam Henning are best friends and fellow musicians who find themselves often mistaken for a couple. They usually just let it go–Connor is married and Sam has a boyfriend–but when they find themselves cornered by three intimidating men spouting homophobic taunts, that might not be an option. They come out on the other side with Sam shot and unconscious and one of their attackers dead while Connor has no memory of what happened. With all signs pointing to Connor shooting the perpetrator, while he was walking away, and no evidence to contradict that narrative, Connor soon finds himself facing criminal charges and serious prison time. As traumatic as that one night turned out to be, it’s just the beginning in the trials that Connor, Sam, and Connor’s wife, Kelly, will only be able to get through if they can do it together.

I had a visceral (not necessarily negative) reaction to much of the early part of this book. Imagine being cornered into a life-or-death situation only to come out on the other side alive but with no memory of what happened and facing the reality that you’re still in danger of losing your life in a completely different way. And the system is not good to Connor. Not at all. I found that the second half the book seemed to drag, though, in comparison since it did not possess the intensity that the early book carried with it. Overall, though, this is a thought-provoking read that goes off the beaten path in a number of interesting ways. And it’s worth the read.

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Miracles

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett

Series: The Divine Cities, Book 3
Published by: Broadway Books on May 2, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Sigrud je Harkvaldsson has been waiting to be called up by his old friend, former Prime Minister Shara Komayd, thinking it possible the day may never come. But when Shara is assassinated, Sigrud knows he must act, that he must avenge his friend. It quickly becomes clear, however, that Shara was more active than anyone expected in retirement and she fully intended for Sigrud to pick up her war exactly where she left off. And when it comes to anything mysterious going on in Bulikov, you can almost guarantee there’s some connection to the Divinities. And even though they’ve all supposedly been defeated, they always seem to keep coming back. But to win Shara’s war and, as it seems, to survive, Sigrud will need to find a way to put an end to what amounts to an ancient curse that tests the limits of even his own understanding.

This is an action-packed final installment in what I personally consider to be an epic fantasy trilogy. It is interesting to read a Sigrud-driven story, considering his involvement in the previous two books. And there are elements here that tie back to the very beginning, where the motivations for the events that triggered the start of the first book are explained. And the explanation and Sigrud’s journey take readers down some unexpected paths. An excellent read, and a fitting close to this series…

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via the Blogging for Books program.]

Something About Trevor by Drew Hunt

Something About Trevor

Something About Trevor by Drew Hunt

Published by: JMS Books on June 29, 2010
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Paul is in a bind. His house has flooded…again…and he needs a place to stay. It’s just that there aren’t many options for him to choose from. Except Trevor. And Trevor’s a nice guy, but he’s gay and rather obvious about it. And it’s not that Paul has a problem with gay people, he’s just not sure he’s comfortable staying with one in such close quarters. But when all other options exhaust themselves–and as Paul realizes he is maybe being just a bit unfair to his colleague–he takes Trevor up on his offer for a place to crash. What Paul doesn’t expect is that he will learn a lot more about Trevor and about his preconceptions of gay guys than he ever thought he would. Of course, he also doesn’t expect that he’s about to learn something even more unexpected about himself…

This is a charming and entertaining read. Some of Paul’s reactions, especially early on, are a bit humorous. And it is interesting to watch his journey as he starts to come to some unexpected realizations. With our identities being self-constructed based on social influences, it is easy for us to think that our own experiences are universal. But not everyone gets to the same place in the same way, and stories that help us see the perspective of another person help to enrich the ways in which we view the world. That’s probably a bit deeper analysis than the author intended, but I kept it brief–especially for those of you who are just in it for the steamy scenes, of which there are a few to keep you interested…

 

Out of Bounds by A.R. Barley

Out of Bounds

Out of Bounds by A.R. Barley

Series: Boundaries, Book 1
Published by: Carina Press on March 14, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

When Kelly finds Jesse Cole beaten and bloodied on the quad after his roommate attacked him, he brings him back to his dorm and puts him in a room with his friend and ex-boyfriend, Nick Moretti. Jesse is glad to be away from Ryan, but he is wary of his new stranger roommate who is much larger than him and apparently a total slob. And then there’s the fact that Nick isn’t exactly excited to find that he now needs to share his room. But Kelly lets Nick know that Jesse has been through a rough patch, and Nick is willing to give him a chance. And while Jesse is distant at first, the two quickly find a comfort with each other that takes them down a path that makes them clearly more than roommates. But Jesse is not the only one who has experienced some trauma in his past, and Nick finds himself struggling to be the man he thinks Jesse wants and needs him to be. And the pressure may just be what breaks them both…

Give and take is an important part of any relationship. And sometimes we give what we are asked to give and we take what we explicitly request. And then other times we guess what we think should be given or we take more than we probably should. Communication can help us to navigate and mitigate these issues, but it’s one thing to say we will be open and honest and another to truly let go of our fears and do so. Nick and Jesse each carry their own laundry list of things they think they other wants or needs, but they don’t really ever sit down and reconcile those lists. And even though we all know that can be a recipe for disaster, the two end up going through those motions anyway. And when you add a dash of stubbornness into the mix, well, I guess you’ll have to read to find out…

Slide by Garrett Leigh

Slide

Slide by Garrett Leigh

Series: Roads, Book 1
Published by: Dreamspinner Press on October 14, 2013
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Tattoo artist Ash has trouble trusting people. A life that started in foster care and ended on the streets taught him to be self-reliant. Which is why even he is surprised when he starts to fall for his paramedic roommate, Pete, and the feelings seem to be mutual. What he finds with Pete helps to keep his demons at bay, and he thinks he may just be able to make it. But it can take quite a bit to exorcise the ghosts that haunt us. And a series of unexpected events and miscommunications send everything crashing down for Pete and Ash, leaving them unsure if they will be able to piece everything back together…

Sometimes it is easy to forget that bring able to trust someone, to give them your heart and really mean it, can be a scary and difficult prospect. And that’s not just for those who have experienced heartbreak, abuse, or violence in their past. But those experiences certainly complicate matters in ways that we can’t always understand. By recognizing this and understanding that everyone brings things to a relationship that are beyond their control, perhaps we can be a bit easier on ourselves and give ourselves permission to love freely, to trust another person, and to really engage. Some deep themes here in what is a well-written story of acknowledging and confronting the past rather than simply hoping it will go away.

Wicked Frat Boy Ways by Todd Gregory

Wicked Frat Boy Ways

Wicked Frat Boy Ways by Todd Gregory

Published by: Bold Strokes Books on May 16, 2017
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Phil Connor and Brandon Benson live to challenge each other to a dare. But they do not always think about how their actions affect the people around them. With Phil being president of their fraternity for their senior year, the two know that a wild ride is in store. New pledges, transfers, and straight brothers who have no problem getting a little help from the willing gay guy next store provide so many opportunities for Phil and Brandon to play. But love, sex, and life–these are not games. And if they’re not careful, they just might be faced with unintended consequences they can never take back…

I must say these two guys did very little to make me want to root for them. They are not upstanding young men, but that also seems to be very much the point of the story. And at least some of the people around them see them for who they really are, even if they are quite good at hiding themselves from those who are closest.

There were two things that bothered me a bit as I was reading. First, there are references to how hard it would be to be out and gay in the fraternity. Yet there’s at least a handful of gay men who are brothers, and their sexuality isn’t really a secret from anyone else. And second, the ending was a bit more abrupt than I was expecting. As I take more time to reflect on it, I think it does have an interesting effect in terms of how the story flows. But I would have liked to see at least something about what came after…

But it’s still an interesting read with some very steamy moments.

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance reading copy obtained from the publisher via NetGalley.]

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

The Shadow Cipher

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

Series: York, Book 1
Published by: Walden Pond Press on May 16, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz like where they live. Not only is there a community in their apartment building, but it is one of the five remaining Morningstarr buildings, part of the architectural vision of the mysterious Morningstarr twins who built much of early New York City. But the Morningstarrs did more than just build magnificent buildings before they disappeared; they built a puzzle, the Old York Cipher, into their design of the city. And legend has it that the one who solves it will find an untold treasure waiting at the end. Tess, Theo, and Jaime set out on a mission to solve a puzzle that no one has been able to solve for nearly 200 years. They hope doing so will prove the cipher is real and save their building. And they also know that once the remaining buildings are destroyed, the likelihood of anyone ever solving the puzzle will go from slim to none. Their journey involves solving a mystery, but it is not one that is without danger. For where there is talk of treasure, there will always be people with less-than-honorable intentions sniffing around…

This is a fun urban fantasy story with some hints of steam punk that I really enjoyed reading. Following these amateur sleuths on their adventure was even a bit exhilarating at times. This is billed as a middle grades book, and it has a spirit and energy that fits for that audience (but also audiences of all ages) quite well. It is a bit on the hefty side for middle grades, both in terms of length and some aspects of the plot, but I think it would be a great choice for earlier advanced readers or older students looking to jump into reading longer novels.

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance reading copy received from the publisher.]