Guardian by Carole Cummings

Guardian

Guardian by Carole Cummings

Series: Aisling, Book 1
Published by: Prizm Books on December 15, 2010
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Strange crimes aren’t new to Constable Dallin Brayden. But as he sits across from Wilfred Calder and hears the story of the incident he was involved in, something doesn’t add up. And Wil’s reaction to Dallin leaves him even more surprised.

The truth of the matter is that there’s an entire history that Dallin doesn’t know. At the same time, the truth that Wil has been given isn’t exactly accurate. What is certain, though, is that Wil is on the run. And Dallin is more connected to him than he could ever have imagined.

I enjoyed the world that Carole Cummings created here. There’s a rich history, and the unexpected connections between Wil and Dallin makes for an interesting set up. And it gives us, as readers, some great insight into Dallin’s character.

What I would have liked to see, though, is a bit more of the relationship development between these two. I’m guessing this is a set up for more in later books in the series, but there’s just not that much to find in this first book.

But if you’re looking for an interesting and engaging fantasy story with intrigue and rich world building, you’ll find it here.

A Helping of Love by Andrew Grey

A Helping of Love

A Helping of Love by Andrew Grey

Series: Of Love, Book 3
Published by: Dreamspinner Press on March 15, 2012
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Peter Christopoulos had it all. He was attractive and athletic, with the possibility of being an Olympian one day. But since his accident three years ago, he’s had to adjust to a completely different life. And while being in a wheelchair isn’t so bad on its own, it’s hard for Peter when no one seems to look past the chair to see him. Even so, he’s managed to become a successful salesman in the restaurant supply industry. And it’s on a job that he meets Russ Baker, an attractive chef who gets Peter going.

Russ is in a relationship, which leaves Peter disappointed at first. After seeing Russ and his boyfriend interact one day, however, the disappointment turns to concern. And Peter is there for Russ when he finally gets up the courage to leave his abusive relationship. Peter’s support touches Russ, and he decides to give Peter a chance and see where things go. Around the same time, Peter learns he has a half-sister that he’s never met and that his mother was never able to track down. As they both navigate their new emotional realities, Peter and Russ need to decide together what it all means for the two of them.

One of the nice things about this series is that you get to see the characters from past installments. It helps to underscore that this all taking place in the same world, even though the books focus on one couple at a time. The connections provide a solid backdrop for the story without having to explain who the side characters are in any in-depth way.

My only issue with this book is how quickly Russ rushes into the relationship with Peter. Granted, it’s not an impossible sort of thing. It just struck me that he doesn’t really take any time to get over his trauma. And then things just seem to settle in an odd sort of way.

But the way Russ’s friends gather to help and support him is inspiring…

Family Man by Heidi Cullinan & Marie Sexton

Family Man

Family Man by Heidi Cullinan & Marie Sexton

Published by: Samhain Publishing on March 12, 2013
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Vince Fierro is forty and still bouncing back from his third divorce. His job with a family plumbing firm is going well. But Vince knows something’s missing in his life. And when he works on a job for a gay couple, he starts to wonder if there’s a reason his marriages failed. Could Vince be gay? He doesn’t think so. And he can’t be. That doesn’t jive with being an Irish Catholic, after all. After getting some advice from his sister, he sets out to explore the gay bars of Chicago to see if anyone stirs his interest. And no one does until he runs into someone he knows from his neighborhood.

Trey Giles keeps busier than anyone else he knows. He’s going to school, working two jobs, taking care of his grandmother, and dealing with his alcoholic mother. There’s no time for a relationship, or even a hookup, so he’s never pursued one. But when he spots Vince Fierro at a bar in Boystown, he can’t help but ask some questions. And even though Vince tells Trey he doesn’t think he’s gay, Trey sees something that makes him think otherwise. And he figures he can make some time to help Vince find his way.

But can Vince come to terms with who he is? And how will he reconcile it with his religion and his family? And even if he does, can Trey make time for the two of them to be together?

Taking a journey with these two guys was quite fun. And I enjoyed hearkening back to the year that I lived in Chicago with all the local references. Even better than they were all spot on.

I honestly had expected to see Vince do a bit more soul searching regarding his sexuality. We really didn’t see too much struggling aside from a few moments or how it appeared to Trey without getting a chance to see things from Vince’s perspective. And while I sympathized with Trey’s position near the end, exploring his feelings a bit more from his perspective would likely help readers who don’t have the experience of dealing with a loved one who is an addict or an alcoholic.

Overall, though, this is an enjoyable read and it warrants a recommendation from me!

Nothing But Smoke by Daisy Harris

Nothing But Smoke

Nothing But Smoke by Daisy Harris

Series: Fire and Rain, Book 3
Published by: Samhain Publishing on June 10, 2014
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Michael Larson has decided to steer clear of closeted men. He spent enough time in a relationship with one, and he’s not doing that again. When he spots a hot guy in a leather jacket while he’s on a run in Volunteer Park, Michael cruises him and gets him to follow. Michael senses the man’s unease–a clue that maybe he’s not out–but it’s just a random hookup, so what does it matter?

Nicky O’Brian isn’t gay. Right? He can’t be. He’s a firefighter from an Irish Catholic family who is focused on taking care of his terminally ill mother. But the videos he watches at night and his occasional forays into the park to cruise for guys say otherwise. And when he hooks up with an incredibly hot strawberry-blond guy who keeps showing up again and again, he can’t help wondering if maybe he wants more than just the occasional romp in the woods.

As Michael and Nicky spend more time together, both will need to confront their issues. Can Michael be with a guy who isn’t open about who he is? And can Nicky get past his hangups and accept himself?

I find myself continuing to enjoy this firefighter series set in Seattle by Daisy Harris. And one of the things I always love about her novels set in the city is that it almost becomes a character in the story itself. The descriptions of the places, the people, the streets–they’re all very real and authentic. And it helps the story come to life so much more easily in my head.

The story of these two is a bit different than the previous two books. While the dynamic puts them at odds, it didn’t have quite the same intensity that I was used to seeing. Part of this may because there are a few skips in time where we miss some of the relationship development that struck me as an odd choice. That said, it’s still fun and interesting to watch their journey from where they start to where they finish.

Black Wolves by Kate Elliott

Black Wolves

Black Wolves by Kate Elliott

Series: The Black Wolves Trilogy, Book 1
Published by: Orbit on November 3, 2015
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Black Wolves. Where to start? Several friends recommended this book to me, so I figured it was about time I picked it up and gave it a read. This is the first Kate Elliott novel I’ve read, and I promise I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve realized I am missing out. It may seem daunting–coming in at 780 pages–but it reads smoothly and quickly. It’s so engaging and well-paced on every single page.

The book starts with a story that sets up the plot. We’re introduced to several of the major players–especially Captain Kellas and the princess, Dannarah–and then advance to 44 years later. Dannarah’s nephew is king and the whole situation of the kingdom has changed. Part of me wants to describe all of the various players and subplots that are going on a this point, but I really, really don’t want to spoil anything. The story is so wonderfully written, and the reveals of the various twists and turns are so magnificent, I don’t want to steal their thunder.

I’ll suffice it to say that if you’re a fan of epic fantasy, I think you’ll enjoy this one. There’s also a bit of mystery, intrigue, betrayal, and all the other trappings that make any story about nobility transcend setting. And some incredibly complex and strong characters. Pick this one up and check it out!

The Mystery of Nevermore by C.S. Poe

Mystery of Nevermore

The Mystery of Nevermore by C.S. Poe

Series: Snow & Winter, Book 1
Published by: DSP Publications on August 30, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Antiques dealer Sebastian Snow never expected his world to turn upside down so quickly. After a heart is found beneath the floorboards of his shop, he finds himself a victim of a string of crimes straight out of Edgar Allan Poe stories. And Sebastian was lucky to not be the victim of one of the more violent crimes in the string of attacks.

The investigation puts a further strain on Sebastian’s relationship with closeted detective, Neil Millett. Sebastian has never liked being Neil’s secret, but when he needs to use Neil as his alibi, he realizes that Neil may never be willing to be open about what they mean to each other. And to compound things further, the lead investigator on Sebastian’s case, Calvin Winter, has caught more than Sebastian’s eye. But Sebastian’s not even sure he’s gay. And even if he is, could he be interested in someone as unassuming as Sebastian?

As the crime spree continues, Sebastian can’t help inserting himself into the investigation. And by doing so, he may not only be risking Calvin’s ire–he may be risking his life.

This story represents a rather fun way to integrate and reference other popular literary works without being a straight up adaptation. The references to Poe’s work are interesting, advance the plot, and hooked me as a reader. With each new twist in the case, I found myself reminiscing about the first time I’d read the referenced story or poem.

What’s also nice about the way this story is developed is that the story stands on its own. The characters and the plot aren’t dependent on understanding all of the references to Poe. They’re fully explained, keeping it accessible to those who may not be as familiar with his body of work. And the romantic subplots and overarching mystery are well worth reading in their own right.

This appears to be the first installment in a series, and I’m very much looking forward to reading more about Sebastian and Calvin in the future.

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

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

The Wolf Road

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

Published by: Crown on July 5, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

When Elka wanders away from her grandmother’s house, the last thing she expects is to be taken in by a local hunter. But that’s exactly what happens. And, to her surprise, he treats her well–provides for her, teaches her skills. And he protects her.

Imagine Elka’s surprise when she learns the man is wanted for several murders. She wants to believe it’s not the man who has become her surrogate father. But before she really has time to do anything about it, she knows she needs to run. The ruthless magistrate is after her, too, assuming she’s somehow connected to the crimes.

Elka sets out on a mission to find her parents. Perhaps by finding them, she can disconnect herself completely from the one adult she’s trusted for years. And hopefully she can get there before either of the people chasing her–the Trapper and the Magistrate–catch up with her.

When I finished this book, I told myself it was a decent historical fiction novel. But then when I went back to start this review, I noticed it’s marked as “dystopian”. I guess there’s a reference in the blurb, but it didn’t really come through at all in the book. I just thought the lack of technology, homesteading, etc. was an element of the time setting.

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

In the Twist by L.A. Stockman

In the Twist

In the Twist by L.A. Stockman

Series: The Wild Hunt, Book 1
Published by: NineStar Press on August 22, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

David Shaughnessy hoped when he moved to California and became a police detective, he’d left dealing with truly dangerous creatures behind him. But after a series of murders, it’s clear he’s not dealing with a human killer. And when the mysterious Dallan Jaeger shows up, he learns it’s something new he’s never dealt with before. And David used to be a demon hunter.

Together, the two of them must work to stop the creatures that are killing children before they strike again. And according to Dallan, who is used to hunting these types of spirits, it will take everything they’ve got. He’s never seen anything like this before.

But then Dallan has never seen anything like David before, either. The attraction between them is fast and mutual. And it proves to be a lot for both of them to deal with–especially on top of this case. Which just adds to the tasks before them as they race against a ticking clock…

The overall idea here is great. The concept for the story is something I actually enjoyed. And the characters’ backgrounds provide a great setup to the whole thing.

But there are some issues for me here in the execution. For one, Dallan is referred to alternately as Jaeger and Dallan early on in the story. It isn’t until later that Dallan Jaeger is referred to as his full name. So for a brief period I was confused about whether there was a third person involved. Secondly, the relationship moves super fast with very little explanation as to why.

The imagination in creating and crafting the story is clear. So I give this a decent recommendation, though there were some parts that definitely made me scratch my head.

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

Secrets in the Air by Liz Borino

Secrets in the Air

Secrets in the Air by Liz Borino

Series: Secrets, Book 1
Published by: Liz Borino on July 15, 2014
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Rhett O’Neil is pleasantly surprised to learn his grandfather is leaving the family business to him. He’s loved flying for as long as he can remember. The idea of continuing their charter flight business leaves him excited. But his grandfather also lets him in a secret. The business has been collaborating with the FBI to assist in their efforts to break up human trafficking rings. And it’s time to bring Rhett into the fold.

Rhett’s more than happy to help with the FBI missions. And he’s even more inspired when he learns his grandfather started doing the missions after the death of Rhett’s twin, Annabelle. It’s a testament to her memory he’s glad to carry. But things go amiss on the first mission. Not only is he forced to cross paths with his estranged mother, but he comes face-to-face with one of the traffickers. And he returns home to his husband, Kaden, more than a little worse for wear.

But Rhett remains determined to bring down the traffickers at whatever the cost. And as he’s soon to find out, the cost may be greater than he’d ever imagined…

Can I just say that I hope no one ever has parents like Rhett’s? Seriously. I was pretty much appalled with them from the beginning. And it all just seems to go downhill from there.

Kaden and Rhett make for an interesting couple. There’s something about their playful banter that helped keep the book light despite some of the heavy plot points. It was so evident how much they care for each other throughout the story.

This book underscores the meaning of family. So many times people talk about the family you choose versus the family you’re born with. And as much as we often thing we’re stuck with the latter, I don’t think we should necessarily feel that way. Family is about love, trust, and caring. If you don’t have that with the people who are supposed to be your family, then go out and find it elsewhere. The people who give you those things because they want to (blood or otherwise)–not with some begrudging attitude–are the ones who you should truly value in your life.

Strings Attached by Nick Nolan

Strings Attached

Strings Attached by Nick Nolan

Series: Tales from Ballena Beach, Book 1
Published by: Booksurge on January 1, 2001
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Teenager Jeremy Tyler leads a challenging life. His single mother is an alcoholic, and he’s often left to take care of her. But when he comes home to find her almost dead, he knows this time things need to change. Not only do the doctors say rehab is his mother’s only option, but he’s not sure how much longer he can be her caregiver. He’s due to finish high school soon, and he’d like to at least have the chance to attend college.

With Jeremy’s mother reluctantly agreeing to rehab, Jeremy finds himself whisked away to the home of a rich great aunt whom he doesn’t remember ever meeting. But when he arrives, he finds that life with Aunt Katharine might just be exactly what he needs. She dotes on him and provides everything from clothes to a new haircut to advice on how to fit in. Though with that advice comes a clear message: a Tyler needs to be perfect in every way and nothing less is acceptable. Which is the one thing that makes Jeremy’s new life bittersweet. If his great aunt ever found out his one flaw, would she disown him? Would he lose everything? And is that worth denying himself true happiness?

A charming and interesting story. Jeremy is a surprisingly resilient young man considering the upbringing he had. And although life in Ballena Beach is much different from what he had in Fresno, he quickly adapts to his new surroundings. It’s all the forces moving around him that create the conflict in this story.

While I enjoyed several of the side characters, I did find the character of Jeremy’s uncle confusing. It’s Jeremy’s story, so maybe it didn’t seem important–but there’s no real indicator of his motivation. All of the secrets he kept for all of these years? Why? It just seemed a bit strange. But again, maybe we as readers are not really supposed to understand.

Overall, this is an easy read. It’s got some comedic moments as well as some sad ones too. Entertaining enough to get you through a rainy afternoon.