Category Archives: Reviews

The Tomato Thief by Ursula Vernon

The Tomato Thief

“The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon

Series: Jackalope Wives, #2
Published by:
 Apex Magazine on January 5, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Grandma Harken lives out on the edge of town, away from most everyone else. Many speculate on why that is: Is it for privacy? Is she a witch? Does she just not like people? But maybe the real question is: Does it even matter? One thing Grandma Harken does like are her prized tomatoes. When they start disappearing from her garden, however, she finds herself with her own set of questions about the thief. And what follows is a double lesson on why one should never make assumptions or judge people based on the little information we can get from just a glance or two.

There was no question for me that this was destined to win the Hugo Award in the novelette category once I had a chance to read all the finalists. In a relatively short space, Ursula Vernon packs in a well-paced fantasy story with a touch of mystery and some action to go along with it. The storytelling is gripping, and while the overall message seems like a serious one, I felt a lightness to it all that kept it from becoming too heavy. I do find reviewing shorter fiction to be difficult because sometimes I worry about having enough to talk about without spoiling the plot. There is so much here, though, that I know I have not even come close. The story is available to read for free on the Apex Magazine website, so I suggest checking it out when you get a chance.

On Point by Annabeth Albert

On Point

On Point by Annabeth Albert

Series: Out of Uniform, Book 3
Published by: Carina Press on June 5, 2017
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Is it better to have someone you love in your life as a friend than to pursue romance and risk ruining that connection forever? That’s Maddox Horvat’s dilemma: his best friend, Ben Tovey, is everything he could want in a man. But their friendship, and the fact that they are SEALs in the same unit, makes him hesitate to make a move. Of course, Ben is not exactly opposed to the idea himself–he thinks Maddox is great. But past relationships gone wrong make him cautious about ruining their connection for a tiny shot at something more. When the two of them are stranded together on a mission awaiting rescue, they find themselves forced to confront their feelings–and each other.

There is something about Annabeth Albert’s writing that always draws me in. Her development and depiction of characters and relationships feels real without relying on tropes. Her storytelling is engaging, and I always find myself rooting for the characters from very early on in the book. And this one is no exception. Even though I found myself wanting to bop both of these guys on the head more than once for being too obtuse to acknowledge their feelings and make something of it. A well-written continuation of this series–which does not need to be read in order.

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

Peter Darling by Austin Chant

Peter Darling

Peter Darling by Austin Chant

Published by: Less Than Three Press on February 15, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Peter Pan left Neverland ten years ago, willing to give growing up a try, even if it was in a world where he never felt comfortable. But they say time will always tell, and in this case it told Peter that he could not leave his truth behind. So he returns to Neverland, only to find that the game has changed. In fact, there is far more danger than fun. And when he crosses paths with his arch-nemesis, Captain Hook, he finds that time has also brought about new feelings that he never experienced before…

I love a well-written adaptation. And I love fantasy. So this is an absolutely winning combination for me as a reader. This is also the first work by Austin Chant that I have read, but I am willing to label myself a fan. The complexity of the characters, the slow and organic reveals, and the ways of being true to the original while telling a new story demonstrate a skill in storytelling. We definitely need more well-written stories with transgender characters like this to reflect the diversity of human experience. And while this is a fantasy story, the humanity is universal.

The Bones of the Past by Craig A. Munro

The Bones of the Past

The Bones of the Past by Craig A. Munro

Series: The Books of Dust and Bone, Book 1
Published by: Inkshares on May 30, 2017
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

There are threats to the people in the kingdom of Bialta that one cannot always see. And even when they can be seen, they are not easy to defeat. The Night Guard, an elite and specially trained force, are responsible for rooting out these threats and eliminating them. Salt never expected that he would find himself among their ranks, yet here he is.

Nial hasn’t had the greatest childhood. Her father is not the most attentive, and he’s quite fond of the drink. So when a mysterious new friend arrives and offers her power beyond her imagination, she takes it. But the power may be darker than Nial understood, and there’s a chance this power may also be beyond her control.

Add to this the mysterious reappearance of a long-lost city and the rise of a vicious tyrant, and the relatively quiet lives of the people of Bialta–and the world–are about to be changed in unexpected ways.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I picked this book up. Yes, I read the blurb, as I always do. But I guess I hadn’t expected just the sheer amount of people and places that the reader is introduced to here. That said, the author does an excellent job of keeping everything clearly defined for readers to follow. Their motivations aren’t always entirely clear, but that’s part of the mystery that I anticipate will be revealed in future installments. I am looking forward to seeing where this story goes.

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.]

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…