Category Archives: Reviews

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.]

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Series: Flame in the Mist, Book 1
Published by: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers on May 16, 2017
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Mariko, the daughter of an influential samurai, finds she has few choices in life. Though she is intelligent, skilled, and driven, her place is to marry the son of the emperor and do her duty to her family. But when her convoy is attacked by the Black Clan on her way to the imperial city, Mariko escapes and finds herself alone. Using her cunning, Mariko infiltrates the Black Clan in disguise, and she soon learns there is more to the story of this rogue gang that she had imagined. She also finds that the Black Clan values her knowledge and skills in a way her family never seemed to do. And as she grows closer to the Black Clan’s leader, she finds she may need to make a hard decision about whether her duty to her family is the most important thing for her to consider.

I was a little uncertain of what to expect when I started this book, having only scanned the blurb but hearing a lot of buzz about it beforehand. It is certainly an intriguing story, one where history, social class, and vengeance are big influencers on the lives and actions of the characters. There are a few surprises along the way, which keep the story interesting, and it does a good job of setting up the rest of the series. I will note that while I have seen some categorizations of this as a young adult book, I question that–or at least place some caveats–because of some graphic depictions of violence that may not be appropriate for younger readers.

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance reading copy received from the publisher via the First to Read program.]

A Little Complicated by Kade Boehme

A Little Complicated

A Little Complicated by Kade Boehme

Published by: Kade Boehme on September 2, 2013
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Ryan Borja missed out on the perfect guy when he was in college. Brady Novak was everything Ryan could want. He was attractive, charming, funny, and caring. Ryan even had a soft spot for Brady’s daughter too. But Brady seemed more interested in Ryan’s sister, Ellie, so Ryan thought it best to move on. Now, years later, Ellie let Ryan know that Brady has moved in nearby. She ran into him and is looking to see if she can pick up where they left off. What she doesn’t know is that Ryan longs for the same chance. If only Brady was looking to do the same…

To me, it is often a mark of good writing when a book goes by quickly but tells a complete story. The flow here is excellent, and I reached the end of the book surprised that it had gone by so quickly but not for a moment feeling like anything was missing. The story is interesting–some interesting family dynamics at play on both sides–and is a nice read for a rainy day or a warm afternoon on the beach.

 

Playing for Keeps by Avery Cockburn

Playing for Keeps

Playing for Keeps by Avery Cockburn

Series: Glasgow Lads, Book 1
Published by: Avery Cockburn on June 17, 2015
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Fergus has been burned by love, and now he knows better than to mix it with his soccer team, which he is bound and determined to lead to a winning season. And when a determined–and quite attractive–lad shows up with an offer for the team to participate in a charity match, Fergus sees it as a perfect opportunity to rally the team and get them some exposure at the same time. It’s just that, well, having this guy around makes it very hard to stick to his new rules.

John has always kept guys at an arm’s length. It hasn’t stopped him from taking a guy home, but he knows it can never be more than that. No one can know the truth about John’s family, and he is determined to keep it that way. Until he sets his sights on Fergus, and he knows he needs to leave his family’s secret behind. But will Fergus be able to accept him if he knows the truth?

Honesty. Is it really always the best policy? And if it is, when is the best time to enact it? Do people have the right to reveal themselves in their own time? Or when entering a relationship, is there an obligation to put it all out there, even if it seems likely the other person will not be able to accept it? For John and Fergus, every one of these questions is put to the test. And when you’re dealing with people who have been burned by secrets and dishonesty in the past, it just adds fuel to the fire in trying to create, maintain, and grow a relationship. And in this case, it leads to some unintended and unexpected explosions.