Monthly Archives: September 2016

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.

Vespers by Irene Preston & Liv Rancourt

Vespers

Vespers by Irene Preston & Liv Rancourt

Series: Hours of the Night, Book 1
Published by: Prescourt Books on September 13, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Sarasija Mishra knows there’s reason to be concerned about his new job. But he’s not going to admit that to his mother. After being hired without so much as a real interview, Sara drives from Seattle to New Orleans to become the new assistant for the mysterious Thaddeus Dupont. Sara couldn’t even find anything about the man on the internet. But he’s been offered $80,000 a year for part-time work–and his family needs the money.

Of course when Sara arrives and it seems he wasn’t expected, things seem even stranger. And when his new boss sends him away, he resolves to fight–he has a contract after all. But the desire to fight takes on a new meaning when the pair are suddenly attacked in the night, sending them off on an adventure that both excites and terrifies Sara. Until Sara learns what his contract meant about providing his new boss with meals that cater to his special diet…

Thaddeus isn’t sure what to do with his new assistant. He’s specifically always had women assistants, and for good reason. He needs to feed to stay alive, and the act of feeding always ends up a bit more physical than one might think. And the White Monks, the Catholic order that is supporting Thaddeus, have given him a set of rules. Among them: he cannot engage in what they deem to be sinful relations. And they are the last line of defense for his soul.

But proximity and adrenaline seem to increase temptation. And eventually the two of them will need to make a decision about not just the contract, but what they really want out of life. Can Thaddeus provide the sense of meaning Sara’s been looking for in his life? And can it be Sara–not the White Monks–who holds the real power to save Thaddeus’s soul?

Well, my friends, all I have to say is this was an unexpected gem for me. I mean, I read the blurb and figured I would enjoy it. But I was pleasantly surprised at the sense of adventure that carried through the entire story. The pacing here is wonderful, consistent, and sustained. And that’s partly how I read this in a single day, finding it difficult to put it down.

There are some characters I didn’t care for, but I think that’s more just a function of who they are (ugh, the White Monks are not my friends). And Sara is a dynamic character who seems to find himself in a lot of ways during the story. Although the timeline of the book is relatively short, none of the character development seems overwrought or contrived.

Definitely give this one a recommendation. And I’m personally looking forward to the next book in the series.

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

 

Skyships Over Innsmouth by Susan Laine

Skyships Over Innsmouth

Skyships Over Innsmouth by Susan Laine

Published by: DSP Publications on August 2, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Twenty years ago, the world changed for humanity. In an event known only as the Cataclysm, everyone lost their memories. They lost not only memories of who they are but also how the world worked. Technological advances were all lost. Relying on a small number of books that have survived, society has started anew.

The Scout and Ranger Corps was started to seek out any missing survivors and to acquire additional resources that may have been left behind. Dev is the captain of a ship involved in this work, and he’s been joined by Shay, a scholar who has spent time looking for clues to secrets of the past. They are on their way to Innsmouth, Massachusetts, to try to learn about this mysterious city that doesn’t show up on any maps.

What awaits them is beyond anything they could have expected. It turns out humanity is not alone. And the true threat is borne right out of their own imaginations.

I loved the concept of this book. An omnipotent villain who fashions their weapon out of old-school science fiction texts? Not only is it an interesting throwback, but it’s an interesting notion to see people’s own ideas used against them in this way. But I found the execution to be challenging for me. Most of these key aspects of the story seem to be glossed over. And the resolution seemed way too easy.

There’s also the issue of Dev and Shay’s relationship. Talk about 0 to 100 in less than 60 seconds. How these two go from the occasional glance to pledging their undying love with nothing in between seemed far-fetched, even for a speculative fiction novel.

But I’m still giving this a mild recommendation. Why? Because if you go in knowing these things, I think it can be fun and enjoyable. It’s one of those books where the concept itself is so fun and intriguing, everything else is secondary and can be overlooked.

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

Connection Error by Annabeth Albert

Connection Error

Connection Error by Annabeth Albert

Series: #gaymers, Book 3
Published by: Carina Press on September 5, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Josiah Simmons can’t believe he’s late for one of the most important flights of his career. He’s on his way to Germany to meet with the design team for an expansion to his company’s wildly popular game. Despite his best efforts, though, here he is. And although part of him says he should remain focused–he gets distracted easily enough on his own–he can’t help taking notice of the wildly attractive man sitting next to him. And it’s a bonus when he learns the guy is a gamer, and he just happens to play Josiah’s game.

Ryan Orson is hoping for an uneventful flight back to Washington, D.C., so he can get back to his physical therapy. His injuries have put his future as a Navy SEAL in question. But Ryan plans to do all he can to get back to active duty. When he meets Josiah, however, he decides the flight may as well be a little more eventful than he’d planned.

When their plane is rerouted to St. Louis due to weather, Josiah sees an opportunity to get to know Ryan better. But after he sticks his foot in his mouth, he figures he’s ruined that opportunity altogether. There’s something about Josiah that gives Ryan pause, however, and he finds himself willing to let things go long enough to help Josiah out for just one night. But what that one night might lead to is something neither of them has really figured out just yet…

This series is absolutely wonderful. The way Annabeth Albert writes characters is simply masterful. It’s so easy to get into their world as a reader. And the writing is so engaging that I always find it difficult to put these books down.

I do recommend starting from the beginning just for the purpose of catching these in order. But they can all be read as stand-alone books as each focuses on a different set of main characters.

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

FanExpo

This week I’ve ventured north to FanExpo Canada in Toronto. Talk about a humongous convention! (Total attendance expected to reach 140,000. After wandering around here for a few days, I think they probably hit that mark.) It’s been an interesting experience, both as my first visit to Toronto and to be at a convention of this size.

One thing that has hit me, perhaps partly due to just coming off of WorldCon a couple weeks ago, is that I think I’ve become less enamored of the commercial cons. Yes, they’re the ones that bring in the big media celebrities from movies and TV. But they’re also expensive, overcrowded, and clearly focused on making money off of fans. The contrast to a fan-run, nonprofit convention like WorldCon is a stark one.

I already planned to focus more on the fan-run conventions in the next year due to my schedule. But I have a feeling I can expect a better overall experience for me in the end anyway…

An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

An Accident of Stars

An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

Series: The Manifold Worlds, Book 1
Published by: Angry Robot Books on August 2, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Saffron Coulter is a typical teenage girl dealing with the things teenage girls, well, deal with. Except she’s stuck in a school system where the “boys will be boys” mentality means her and her classmates have to put up with some really rough behavior. Which is why Saffron is taken aback when the mysterious Gwen Vere stands up for her to one of the biggest bullies in the school. Gwen tells her she’s looking for a job at the school. Saffron is intrigued and wonders if someone like Gwen could give her hope for change.

When Saffron learns Gwen has been spotted behind the school, she rushes to find her and thank her. What she finds is something she never could have imagined. She comes upon Gwen running into what looks like a portal of some kind. Throwing caution to the wind, Saffron follows–something that could lead to great adventure or be the biggest mistake of her life.

Saffron finds herself in Kena, one of several other worlds besides her own. And while Kena is full of magic, it’s not a happy fantasy realm. Its leader, Vex Leodon, misled people to come to power and is nothing short of a tyrant. But it just so happens that Gwen is part of a group dedicated to bringing him down. Having followed Gwen into Kena, Saffron has little choice but to take a side and hope she can find a way back home. But when the opportunity to get back presents itself, will she take it? Or will Kena prove so inviting she will choose to stay there forever?

I know that describing a book as “fun” isn’t very specific, but that’s really how I have to start this one. I enjoyed being thrust into the world of Kena with its people and its history. Foz Meadows has done an outstanding job building and presenting this world to readers. The rich backstory and the political dynamics make for a strong setting and compelling plot.

Of course, I have to also acknowledge a well-written young adult science fiction/fantasy story that doesn’t revolve around the female protagonist’s love interests or include a love triangle. Have we finally moved on from that trope? Let’s hope so.

What I would say I most love about this story is the strong character development. As I went through the story, there weren’t many moments when I found myself questioning a character’s behavior. And those moments were shortly answered with a bit more history of a character or relationship dynamics.

I definitely recommend giving this one a read.

The Night Screams by Devon McCormack

The Night Screams

The Night Screams by Devon McCormack

Published by: Harmony Ink Press on July 28, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

After his family abandoned him, Cal took refuge at a shelter for homeless LGBT youth. But one night he woke up in a dark room, naked, and with no idea where he was. And the torture that followed was nearly unbearable. When he manages to escape on a whim, he first heads to take care of his basic needs (clothes and food). But he’s caught shoplifting from a store, and he finds himself in a position where he’s once again unable to run.

Cal certainly doesn’t expect the kindness shown to him by the owner of the store. Gary and his wife Luce are willing to give Cal the benefit of the doubt (even though his trauma has left him speechless). They welcome him into their home and help him work with the police to find the man who abducted him. It’s a bit overwhelming for Cal but it’s definitely the support he needs.

Though what’s truly overwhelming for Cal is Luce’s nephew, Jake. Jake is skeptical of Cal at first, but Cal can understand why. Cal also understands why so many people are drawn to Jake. He’s attractive and he has an edge to him that is nothing short of intriguing. But Cal know Jake isn’t interested. He has a girlfriend. And Cal’s the guy who tried to steal from his family. But as Jake hints there might be a possibility for a relationship, Cal finds himself confused. Even if Jake is interested, should he take such a leap? Is he ready to be with someone like that after all he’s been through? Can he trust someone on that level? And would he be taking advantage of his generous hosts?

I enjoyed this one more than I originally expected I would. The characters–all of them, including the supporting cast–are complex and dynamic. The storytelling is engaging and descriptive. And the plot is paced well with just the right twists at the perfect time. Add to that the fact that it’s difficult not to feel for these two guys on a number of levels, and you can see why it was hard for me to put it down.

There are layers of issues that the author touches on in this story: abandonment, abuse, assault, kidnapping, religion, small town issues, violence, family, homophobia, etc. But none of it is done in a way that comes across as patronizing. And the intersection of these issues adds some realism to the story. We’re never dealing with just one issue at a time in our lives.

Despite this being a Harmony Ink title (Dreamspinner’s young adult imprint), I find myself questioning where this fits in the young adult spectrum. Yes, the main characters are in their late teens, but the content is really heavy and at times graphic. It seems like this may be more of a new adult title.

Content warnings: sexual assault, graphic violence, forced imprisonment, hate crimes

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