Monthly Archives: August 2016

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.

The Bridge Beyond Her World by Brandon Barr

The Bridge Beyond Her World

The Bridge Beyond Her World by Brandon Barr

Series: The Boy and the Beast, Book 2
Published by: Enchanted Starship on August 1, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

The situations on Loam and Hearth are becoming increasingly volatile. Winter and Aven almost lost their lives. Meluscia has no idea of the various plots being carried out all around her as she continues her quest for the throne. And there’s something much bigger than everyone afoot.

Aven and Winter find themselves suddenly among the mysterious Guardians. The Guardians oversee the portals on various worlds, guarding them to make sure nothing that could be dangerous to a planet or its people come through. And they’re especially interested in keeping control of portals away from the Beasts–ancient creatures opposed to the Makers and their creation. Aven and Winter should feel safe among the order. But there is a plot from within the order that makes their diligence extremely important.

Meluscia must still face her detractors. What she doesn’t know is that her sister, Savarah, has several secrets of her own. But Savarah wants to see Melusica become Luminess, and she has made it her mission to see that happen. Meluscia’s own desires might get her into some trouble, especially if the wrong people find out about her indiscretions. But she plans to stand firm on her plan for peace.

None of them are fully aware of the importance their planets play in a prophecy of incredible proportions. And that prophecy is the reason that the Beasts have taken an interest in these otherwise unassuming worlds. Will they find out the truth and be able to do something about it before it’s too late?

Delving further into this world was quite the adventure for me as a reader. The history of the Guardians, the detail the author has created for the order, and their interactions added an additional layer to the world created in the first book. The new characters introduced play off the existing characters in new and interesting ways.

The feeling of an epic fantasy comes through loud and clear. And the multiple and varied conflicts will leave readers glued to the pages, while wondering just how everything might turn out in the end.

I’m absolutely looking forward to the next book.

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

Her Dangerous Visions by Brandon Barr

Her Dangerous Visions

Her Dangerous Visions by Brandon Barr

Series: The Boy and the Beast, Book 1
Published by: Enchanted Starship on August 1, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

The people of two nearby planets, largely unaware of each other, fight for survival.

On Loam, Aven and Winter’s family farm their land under the harsh and tyrannical rule of the local baron. A failed plot to escape leads to tragedy, leaving them to find their own way in the world. While there are many that would stand against the baron, his own army is much larger and far more ruthless. Aven wants to see things peaceful; going against the baron only leads to death. But Winter is a Seer and her visions sometimes urge her down a different path.

In contrast on Hearth, Meluscia is a royal who feels similarly powerless over her destiny and that of her people. Daughter of the Luminary, she should inherit the throne. But there are many who feel she is unfit. Her desire is to end a war and join together to stop a much larger threat. What some see as weakness, she sees as strength. But how can she convince them to see it her way?

I’m going to try to focus my thoughts on this installment, as I actually read the first two books in this series back-to-back before sitting down to write a review. This one does an excellent job of setting up the story. It’s a great “act one” in what looks to be a three-act work. The world, the major players, and the conflict are all introduced. The characters are unique, well-developed, and complex. And the author assembles his story in an interesting and engaging way.

I love a fantasy story set in a universe with a rich history and a compelling story. And that’s exactly what we get from Brandon Barr here. The first book does seem to end a bit abruptly, but since the second book was released at the same time, it worked–because you can just pick up the next installment and keep going.

Definitely recommend this one!

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

The Heart of Texas by R.J. Scott

The Heart of Texas

The Heart of Texas by R.J. Scott

Series: Texas, Book 1
Published by: Love Lane Books on January 30, 2013 (2nd Edition)
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Riley Hayes, second son of the Hayes family, leads a charmed life. His family owns the incredibly successful Hayes Oil. And with Riley’s father, Gerald, nearing retirement, he’ll surely leave it to his children. But when the plan for control is outlined, Riley learns he’ll be getting far less than his older brother. That is, unless he gets married–for love–and stays that way for a year.

Riley’s beyond upset, but he has a plan to get back at this father. He contacts Jack Campbell, son of one of Gerald’s biggest rivals, with a proposition. Jack’s gay, and Riley enlists him to get married to fulfill the terms of Gerald’s agreement. Jack’s reluctant, obviously, but one thing Riley has learned as a Hayes is how to manipulate people. And so Riley’s plan to get his fair share of the company while upsetting his father by masquerading as gay and marrying into a rival family looks like it might just work out.

But there are a few things Riley didn’t quite count on. For one, Riley’s father and brother will not go down without a fight. And they both might just be even more heartless than he’d ever imagined. There’s also the issue of Jack. As Riley spends more time with him, he can’t help wondering if maybe he wants something more than what their contract stipulates. But could that really be true? And if it is, could Jack want him back?

We all have those moments when we can’t help thinking our family is dysfunctional. Some of us have them more often than others, but they’re still there. But what we don’t ever realize is that maybe we’re not quite as bad as we think. Unfortunately for Riley, the opposite is true. And he’s stuck trying to sort through the question of whether our family can define us. Or can we really rise above it all to be our own person?

Riley and Jack are such an unlikely pair. And it’s interesting to see how they come together–not only just the two of them, but their families as well. Though it’s all very intense. And way more any two people should have to go through.

Content warnings: violence, domestic violence, discussions of sexual assault

A Hard Winter Rain by John Inman

A Hard Winter Rain

A Hard Winter Rain by John Inman

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on March 4, 2012
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Sean Andros is a street hustler. He’s good at what he does, and it pays well, but it’s not what he’d planned for his life. Having run from his conservative religious family in Indiana, it’s what he fell into when he arrived in San Diego. But he takes some solace in that he’s bringing pleasure to his clients.

When one of Sean’s clients is murdered, he panics. Not least because the murderer is still in the apartment. Fearing for his life, he runs to a nearby bar, looking for help even if he doesn’t know what shape it might take. He just knows he needs to get away.

Harry Connors has been interested in Sean since his friends gifted Sean to him for his birthday. There’s something about him that Harry just can’t shake. But he knows he should. The age difference is one thing. What Sean does for a living is another. But Harry knows what he wants. So when a disheveled Sean comes into his bar one night in need of help, Harry jumps at the chance.

But the danger is very real. An unexpected demon from Sean’s past has found its way to San Diego and no one is safe…

This one is a bit intense. Certainly more intense than I’d expected from the description. And it’s full of twists that kept me glued to the page.

I did feel like Sean and Harry went from zero to sixty a bit quickly. But I do recognize they had some history and the circumstances probably pushed things to the extreme. It just took a little time to wrap my head around it.

Recommended read, with content warning caveats.

Content warnings: sexual assault, violence, incest