February Wrap-Up & March Goals

February is already a short month, and being productive made it feel even shorter. Or maybe that was the old-fashioned cold that laid me up for a week of it. Major changes lately include settling into my new multi-computer setup for officially working from home full-time, setting up the new mattress and bed frame that give the cats even more space to take up, and figuring out how to read my Kindle while on the elliptical. These things mean more productivity, better sleep, and even more reading than before (and I guess being healthy).

On the reading front: Despite condensing blog posts into reviews of full series rather than individual books, I’m still reading enough that I’m scheduled out pretty far (as of right now, through the first third of May). Therefore, I’ve started limiting what I’ll be reviewing here on the blog. Everything will always get at least a short paragraph on Goodreads, so friend me there if you don’t want to miss out on anything!

On the outside of my house front, the spouse received his Covid-19 vaccine through the military, which makes me feel a million times better about him working full-time at his base. Other than that, there is really nothing much going on outside my house, so it’s a good thing I’m an indoor cat.

If you’ve ever wondered about my writing/editing/gaming environment, check out the new setup! My brand-new desk, featuring my work laptop, my personal tablet, and gaming PC (not shown underneath). For moral support of my major task, always in sight (see lower right of picture), I’ve got a TARDIS, my labrys, and a picture of the squad.

Look, I cleaned up my office for you so you can see the rest of it, too! That chair is where I spend a lot of time reading, covered by the TARDIS blanket and usually two or three cats. The blue cabinet holds my convention kit of promo material and extra book stock, and the bookshelf holds my craft books, gaming books, and the physical to-be-read pile. (Alex-cat shown for scale.)

And since I know you’re dying for me to answer this question: As of current count, the office holds 16 TARDISes.


February Wrap-Up

  • This is really the first time I’ve tried to edit a previous project while also adding words to the current project. It turns out that my brain doesn’t work that way. Between this revelation and the above-mentioned cold, I put Steel Legacy on hold with no regrets.
  • I did, however, finish the necessary line edits to Steel Justice and submit it to my editor for layout! I know the cover art is in progress, and I’m so happy that this project is coming together for release in summer 2021.
  • One of the highlights of the month was definitely attending virtual panels for Farpoint 2021! You can read my con report here. Did I manage to mention The Old Guard in every panel? You’ll have to join me for my next virtual convention to find out.

March Goals

  1. Add 10k to 15k words to the first draft of Steel Legacy!
  2. Write the back cover description and acknowledgements text for Steel Justice and get them to my editor.
  3. I have theme songs for my books and characters on my website, but I’ve been considering putting together actual play lists. So, I’ll leave this random thought here and see whether it actually coalesces into a completed goal next month.

In Case You Missed It

On the Website

Book Reviews

  • Door of Bruises (Thornchapel #4) by Sierra Simone (5 stars)
  • Wrecked: Guardians Series by Kelly Fox
    • Hard Target (#1) (5 stars)
    • Full Contact (#2) (5 stars)
  • Four Mercenaries Series by K.A. Merikan
    • Their Bounty (#1) (4.5 stars)
    • Their Obsession (#2) (4 stars)
    • Set Aflame (#2.5) (4 stars)
    • Their Property (#3) (4 stars)
  • Kink Chronicles Series by Luna David & Morningstar Ashley
    • Open Mind (#1) (4 stars)
    • Open Encounters (#2) (4 stars)
    • Open Play (#3) (4 stars)
  • Return To You Series by Rebecca Raine
    • Finding Grey (#1) (5 stars)
    • Becoming Us (#2) (5 stars)
  • Havenwood Series by Riley Hart
    • Giving Chase (#1) (5 stars)
    • Murphy’s Law (#2) (4 stars)
    • Hard Knox (#3) (4 stars)
    • Griff’s Place (#4) (5 stars)
  • Twist of Fate Series by Lucy Lennox & Sloane Kennedy
    • Lost and Found (#1) (4.5 stars)
    • Safe and Sound (#2) (4.5 stars)
    • Body and Soul (#3) (5 stars)
    • Above and Beyond (#4) (5 stars)
  • We Have Till Dawn by Cara Dee (5 stars)
  • On the Market Series by E.M. Lindsey
    • Love Him Free (#1) (4.5 stars)
    • Love Him Breathless (#2) (4.5 stars)
    • Love Him Wild (#3) (5 stars)
    • Love Him Steady (#4) (5 stars)
    • Love Him Desperate (#5) (5 stars)

Hogging my comfy reading spot.

Review: On the Market Series by E.M. Lindsey

Love Him Free (Book 1)

A Jewish baker and a deaf adult film star walk into a bar. It sounds like the beginning of a joke, except here the joke is that they never go to a bar, but the characters are very much real. Simon is a small-town guy battling massive amounts of anxiety who can no longer keep his grandmother’s bakery afloat. Rocco’s own life threatens to go up in flames, and he develops a surprising friendship with a fan who reaches out to him via social media and only seems to care for him rather than his crafted onscreen persona. The fan is Simon, of course, whose heart is too big for him, but little does he know that Rocco is about escape Los Angeles and sweep into his life instead.

Simon has been slightly obsessed with Rocco since college, in possibly the sweetest (and sexiest) way imaginable. The sparks between them fly immediately, and Rocco offers Simon a path out of his financial burdens by capitalizing on how Simon reacts physically to Rocco. It’s a slightly unexpected twist to how I expected this book’s plot to go, but it’s incredibly imaginative and provides some delicious sexy bits.

Intriguing secondary characters populate the small town of Cherry Creek and flesh out this book’s cast of characters. Though it’s evident that they either pop in following their own love stories or are included to set up future romances of their own, I enjoyed Simon’s growing realization that he no longer has to go through life without friendship, even though his anxiety has cut him off from the rest of the world for so long. I immediately sought out some of the other books promised by this premise and was delighted to find that some are by different authors. Cherry Creek is a true melting pot of love stories, and I look forward to spending time there.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.


Love Him Breathless (Book 2)

The first book in this series introduced readers to an entire small town’s worth of fascinating people, so I was excited to dive into the next love story. A fire chief with extensive burn scars is pretty distinctive, and I was pleased that Fitz’s story was up first. He’s the quintessential small-town guy who’s the hub of his community. He wants to see his community thrive, but not at the expense of ruining it by expanding too much, too fast. Needless to say, he’s not going to get along with the marketing guru hired to boost tourism.

Antoine is kind of a train wreck, but none of it is his fault. It seems like the town of Cherry Creek really is out to murder him. (Was one of my favorite parts of this novel the goat conspiracy? Absolutely.) Sparks fly, and not all of the sexy kind, between Fitz and Antoine as they continue to meet under less than auspicious circumstances. This book is an enemies-to-lovers story, though less on the enemies and more on the “annoy each other greatly” end of the spectrum. As an external reader enjoying both points of view, I cheered every time they clashed, and the sparks became hotter and hotter.

However, as much as I enjoyed Antoine and Fitz’s shenanigans, I love how expansive and fleshed out the rest of the cast of characters is. Even Antoine, the newcomer to town, makes connections while we also learn much more about his backstory and current family relationship issues than I would have expected. Similarly, we get a great glimpse into Fitz’s relationships with his sister and his long-time friends, Parker and Ronan.

The finale is entirely swoon-worthy, the perfect ending to a fun book, and I can’t wait to jump into this series’ next installment.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.


Love Him Wild (Book 3)

Ronan and Parker have been a married couple in Cherry Creek since the start of this series, but I was thrilled that this novel opens with their own origin story. Their road to happily ever after was neither simple nor easy, but I can’t imagine two characters less perfect for each other. Neither of their medical issues (limb loss and multiple sclerosis) defines their lives, and I was equally thrilled to see such representation (something this series has been pretty amazing at across the board, actually).

Enter Jonas to up-end their lives, and potentially all of Cherry Creek. Since Parker and Ronan had a somewhat nontraditional courtship, watching these two older men stumble through the dating and long-distance relationship process was entertaining and heartwarming. Even though it is clear that Jonas is joining an already stable relationship, he enhances the love on all sides rather than unbalances anything. It’s pretty amazing that he isn’t a more damaged character, but even his younger age didn’t cause any roadblocks to the mutual attraction between him and Parker and Ronan.

The external conflict focuses pretty specifically on Jonas’ life. This worked for me because of how effed up his family and occupational situation was. Though the resolution felt a bit like a cop-out, anything more dramatic would have made the overall story more complicated and taken the focus away from the romance angle.

Multiple moments in this book tug at the angsty heartstrings, but in all the best ways. This is easily my favorite book of the series so far, and it has set a high bar for the remaining two. I look forward to reading them anyway, and then moving on to other books by this talented author.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.


Love Him Steady (Book 4)

This book brings together two secondary characters we have met previously in the series as protagonists in their own right. Both men more than deserve their own happily ever after, and it was lovely to see them find it in each other. I appreciated that another character points out how Lorenzo and Wilder find their love in literally the same building as Lorenzo’s brother Rocco and Simon do in this series’ first book. However, there is no sense of repetition in this book, but instead, a complete love story in its own right. As usual, Lindsey shines with their use of complicated, well-developed characters, including the story’s secondary characters.

Wilder’s history, even back to his childhood, is not necessarily an easy read. He only begins to heal once he establishes himself in Cherry Creek, and it was lovely to see him get closure through the course of this story. Even better, he does so separately from Lorenzo because a couple should be stronger together rather than merely two halves of a whole.

Lorenzo’s character arc can be defined as “poor little rich kid,” but Lindsey makes his angst relatable in how difficult it can be to connect to the people in your life regardless of your financial standing. This isn’t an enemies-to-lovers story, but it speaks to Wilder’s character that he puts Lorenzo on his own path to healing even when Wilder deals with his own issues.

As a secondary plot, the burgeoning friendship between Lorenzo and Raphael was also fun to read. It’s a great example of a platonic friendship between two men who are not afraid to express affection, and I can’t wait to read about Raphael’s own happily ever after in the final book of the series.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.


Love Him Desperate (Book 5)

This book was the lovely and satisfying conclusion to the On the Market series…but I’m still mad that it’s come to an end. I was familiar with both of these protagonists and their extended family/support systems from previous books. It can be read as a stand-alone, but why would you want to when all of the books in this series are so good? I’ve had a blast falling in love with Cherry Creek and its unique complement of love stories. (Luckily, it appears that this series is a spin-off of one by a different author, so that’s where I’m headed next.) Lindsey doesn’t end with a bang so much as with a sweet whimper, and I adored Raphael and Dmitry’s slowest of burns romance story.

Once again, Lindsey creates unique, three-dimensional characters from under-represented populations in romance novels. Dmitry is asexual, and Raphael experiences physical limitations due to his cerebral palsy and epilepsy. None of these things prevent these men from deserving their own love stories, even if it takes them too long to end up with their perfect partner. Plenty of angst abounds, especially as readers suffer through Raphael dating the wrong man until these idiots get their acts together. Luckily, “idiots in love” is one of my favorite romance tropes.

The heat level is appropriate to the context and the characters, but that doesn’t stop this book from being as sexy as the others in this series. I’m currently reading another series by the same author, and she has quickly become one of my favorite romance writers. I highly recommend this series to readers looking for that small-town feel but with thoroughly realistic, modern characters.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Con Report: Farpoint 2021

Let’s face it — for the weird sorts of introvert like me, who can put that on hold for a certain amount of time to people it up for two or three days at a convention and then hide at home for a week afterward, a virtual event will never be the same. As much as I enjoy participating in panels, conventions are also about the random hallway chats, evening room parties, and overall bonding with writer and reader friends I only see once or twice a year.

That being said, I’m thrilled that some of my annual events have been virtual during this crazy time we live in, and I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend as part of Farpoint 2021.

Saturday

The spouse had his monthly military commitment last weekend, so I had the house to myself for two days. I slept in on Saturday, but woke in plenty of time to participate in a panel that discussed the Disney+ show The Mandalorian. In our discussion ahead of time, the panelists agreed that we would discuss the character of Cara Dune, but that the situation involving her actress was a topic for a different panel. Once our audience joined the call, we had a great time discussing the various methods of storytelling employed in the show and how it relates to other Star Wars properties, such as the animated Clone Wars series. We loved how much female representation it contains, and appreciated that the story focused on a brand-new character (even though we’re all looking forward to the upcoming Boba Fett series). Other topics included the future of Baby Yoda, the fate of the Razorcrest, and THAT cameo in the season 2 finale.

I spent the rest of the day tackling some long-neglected organization of my clothes closet, even though I would have much preferred to be spending money in the dealers room and geeking out with people in person.

Sunday

I had grand plans to work on line edits for the book I have coming out this summer in between my two panels — I ended up reading instead. However, the panels themselves both went very well!

Heather E. Hutsell and I discussed all the cool television shows and movies we’ve “discovered” while on lockdown. Our tastes both diverged and combined in various places, and I’ve been sold on checking out Upload and giving Schitt’s Creek a chance. I limited my raving about The Old Guard to the bare minimum, I promise.

Later, I joined Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Mary Fan in a conversation on how fandom can make you a better writer. This included the benefits to using fanfic as both writing practice and a place to find community, and how the communities of various fandoms themselves can provide some of the social requirements necessary to make a well-rounded writer (and human).

This week, I’m back to those pesky line edits for Steel Justice. Here’s to Farpoint 2022 back at the glorious Hunt Valley Inn!

Review: We Have Till Dawn by Cara Dee

This author wrote my favorite book of 2020, so I did not hesitate to dive into her latest release. The premise of this book hinges on sex work, so this book will not appeal to readers who take issue with that particular profession. Nicky has been retired from that life for a few years, making him perfect for a specific client’s needs. Gideon has caved under his family’s expectations but wants the opportunity to explore his sexuality and needs before he marries. Despite the obvious assumption, this book is not 24-7 sexiness. Instead, it’s a lovely tale of two people, who don’t seem compatible on the outside, growing closer together outside of the purely physical.

Because this book is a romance, it was easy to see the expected outcome from a mile away. However, the journey Dee leads readers on to get to that point is nothing like what I anticipated. In addition, most books with a kink-themed beginning involve characters who get more comfortable in that world. As Nicky helps Gideon realize what he truly needs, that almost the opposite happens here is a humorous and sweet take on the typical dynamic.

As usual, Dee also does a fantastic job creating the world at large; in this case, it includes Nicky’s extended family and the music he loves. It was so easy to fall into Nicky’s head and appreciate the care he has for his family and chosen career. While this romance has plenty of heat and feels, I also enjoyed that the cracks in Gideon’s carefully developed plan begin to show in how he cares for Nicky and slowly becomes part of his life, rather than Nicky having to hide Gideon from those closest to him.

This book works very well as a stand-alone, but I look forward to revisiting this world in the promised sequel featuring Nicky’s brother.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Review: Twist of Fate Series by Lucy Lennox & Sloane Kennedy

Lost and Found (Book 1)

As the series name implies, a twist of fate (and/or sheer coincidence) brings Xander and Bennett together after 15 years. The circumstances around their parting were traumatic for both, so their reunion is significantly less “meet cute” and much more “It’s a good thing Xander probably knows the best place to hide a body up in these mountains.” The sparks that fly between both men, despite the audience of Bennett’s best friend and a troupe of teenagers, are mostly negative, except when they do come together in explosive fury (pun totally intended).

I would not have put up with the length of their animosity had the authors not balanced it with frequent visits to the past to show the origins of their friendship. Even back then, the men are so different as not to make much sense, but that’s never stopped love. The slow reveal of their origin story pulled me along in the novel until I desperately wanted the grown-up versions to sit down, have an actual conversation, and clear the air. Both blamed each other for the tragedy of their parting when external forces were entirely to blame.

Unfortunately, even coming together doesn’t solve the external conflict, and I’m not even referring to how they live and work on opposite sides of the country. Their willingness to sacrifice shows the real strength of their love, just as they were willing to sacrifice for friendship’s sake in the past. As in real life, the relationship and its tangles are messy and complicated—this reality does not stand in the way of a particularly swoon-worthy gesture toward the end of the story. Nor does the gesture solve all their problems, but it shows them the future is open to plenty of possibility for their happily ever after.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed previous books by these individual authors, so I’m not surprised by how much I enjoyed a story by Lennox and Kennedy working in tandem. I look forward to continuing this series and following the secondary characters in their own love stories.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.


Safe and Sound (Book 2)

On the surface, this book is about two people who make a connection with each other, date, fall in love, and live happily ever after. However, that doesn’t make for an exciting read, so luckily, Lennox and Kennedy take the reader on a wild ride instead of the well-worn path. It’s not often that authors manage to completely surprise me, so I’m delighted when it happens. The twist in this book connecting Aiden and Ash was both shocking and poignant. One of those “oh, that makes total sense” when looking back at the clues, but I yelled aloud at the final reveal. (Any book where I manage to scare the cats is pretty good.)

This book delves into some pretty dark issues, such as domestic violence, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and death in a family. (This is a book to read the trigger warnings for if you even suspect you might not be able to read it safely.) As usual, I appreciate that the main characters falling in love isn’t a “cure” for these issues; instead, they draw strength from each other to confront them head-on and begin the healing process. The authors connect the characters’ issues to enhance the book’s dark moment, using a message that only made sense to the two men in a situation where communication is difficult, which got me right in the feels.

This isn’t a romance geared specifically toward nerdy readers, but the authors work in plenty of references and jokes that will be hilarious to those with more than a passing familiarity with Star Trek. Also, it overlaps nicely with the previous book in the series so that we are reunited with familiar characters, giving Aidan an excellent support system when he needs it.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.


Body and Soul (Book 3)

Lennox and Kennedy drop some intriguing clues about Jake’s character in the first book in this series, so I was excited to get to know him here. They do an excellent job of revealing information appropriately to advance the plot without ever making me feel like Jake is an unreliable narrator. He and Oz have a rocky start, but the chemistry between them is obvious. Jake tries to stay away from the temptation to open himself up to another person, but he finally gives in to his attraction in the midst of the most hilarious dinner party I’ve ever read.

Oz is also a fun character with his share of baggage, trying to lean into changing his career trajectory so that he’s more than just a pretty face. It would have been nice if his and Jake’s snowbound interlude lasted forever, because neither man holds back once they come together.

However, real life has to come back eventually. Rather than the external conflict relating to only one of our heroes, the dark moment ends up affecting both men. Jake’s past finally catches up with him, and he has to play the hero to keep Oz safe instead of leaving the man he loves behind forever. Luckily, he’s stayed in one place long enough to make actual friends. The grand finale is clever and action-packed, a fun contrast to the sweetness of story’s middle.

I love a happily ever after that is well-deserved by the characters, and that appears to be a trend in this excellent series. While I’m sad that the next book in this series seems to be the last, I still have plenty of books to read by these authors that I can’t wait to experience.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.


Above and Beyond (Book 4)

In this book, Lucky and Zach are both train-wrecks. Zach’s issues are more pronounced due to his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the residual effects from his traumatic brain injury, both of which were involved in him leaving military service. Suddenly finding your place in civilian life is not easy for most veterans, especially for those dealing with medical issues not well-recognized by the military, much less the general public. However, Lucky has mental hang-ups due to his own history and recent developments with his adopted family.

Together, they fight crime!

That’s a lie. Together, the two men commit their lives to alpine search and rescue, not that Zach is thrilled to find Lucky enrolled in the training program he helps teach. Keeping secrets from their direct families while also fighting an intense attraction for each other puts both men through the wringer. Zach tries to reduce said attraction by allowing a physical relationship between them, but neither man is good at pretending to do the friends-with-benefits thing. It’s all very angsty and heart-wrenching, and I wanted to talk some sense into them. Instead, Zach tries to use the eventual danger in which they find themselves due to their chosen professions to drive Lucky away. Spoiler alert: Lucky may be younger than Zach, but he’s not an idiot. The sparks between them come to a head during this book’s heart-pounding climax, and I was thrilled by the ending.

This excellent series brings together two authors I’ve recently fallen in love with. Each book is different in terms of characters and theme, but they are all satisfying romances that I thoroughly enjoyed. I look forward to continuing to work my way through the extensive back catalogs of both of these talented writers.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Review: Havenwood Series by Riley Hart

Giving Chase (Book 1)

Falling for the older brother’s best friend isn’t necessarily a trope I lean toward, but I’ll make an exception when the characters are far beyond high school and the best friend has just returned from over a decade away. The chemistry between Chase and Kellan is undeniable, but they face multiple obstructions to their happily ever after: the small-town atmosphere, the protectiveness of Kellan’s older brother, the suspicion of Kellan’s best friend, and—oh yeah—the angst that accumulated over that decade-long separation after a hasty hookup.

I do, however, adore the “idiots in love” trope. Kellan and Chase attempting a secretive friends with benefits arrangement that was a poor replacement for the real relationship they both craved amused me greatly. The love story intertwines dramatically with the external conflict when their secret is blown open in a pretty terrible way. An adversary in Chase’s present, connected to demons from Kellan’s past, forces an inevitable confrontation. The subplot is not a traditional murder mystery, but it does provide another excellent bit of closure for the reader that I thoroughly enjoyed.

I love stories where the romantic leads do not exist in a vacuum. Hart fills Havenwood with friends and allies for both Kellan and Chase. Some will end up starring in romances of their own, but they don’t come across as existing solely for that purpose. I also adore Kellan’s two best friends, especially his strong relationship with Josh—proof that just as straight friends of opposite genders can be friends without romance, so can two gay men.

This is a medium-angst story in which watching our heroes get their act together is more enjoyable than painful. I look forward to checking in on Kellan and Chase’s happily ever after as I dive into the rest of the books in this series.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.


Murphy’s Law (Book 2)

If anything that can go wrong will go wrong is a bit like destiny, then it is undoubtedly destiny that brings Remy and Law back together. Not only in the town of Havenwood, which was intentional on Remy’s part, but as literal next-door neighbors, which feels much more like fate. Law is determined not to fall into old patterns with his ex-lover, but it’s also clear from the very beginning that the two men are meant to be together, no matter how hard they try the “friend” thing while Remy attempts to protect his family and career.

This story is relatively one-sided in the conflict department, and I found that I didn’t mind it that much. I worried about Law being hurt again, but at least he is surrounded by a reliable support system of the friends who populate the town of Havenwood. (I also enjoyed meeting his immediate family and laughing at their ridiculousness.) However, it is Remy who must battle his significant anxiety to live his authentic life. In the grand finale, he finally puts Law first in the most unexpected way possible. It shocked me as a reader, but I completely adored it.

Hart does a bit of work to set up the next book in this series, and I can’t wait to read it. I look forward to checking in on Remy and Law’s new normal as this series progresses.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.


Hard Knox (Book 3)

On the one hand, this is not usually the type of romance novel I pick to read. I have mixed feelings about the “bisexual awakening” trope, and as a childfree person, I tend to stay away from stories in which children are a vital plot element due to lack of interest. However, I’m thoroughly invested in this series and these characters, especially based on meeting Callum’s mother in the previous book, so I have no regrets about taking the time to enjoy this one.

Knox is a little too perfect for words—a great friend, first to his circle and then extending that to Callum. A great father who would do anything for his kids. He has some typical anxieties about both his kids and his evolving relationship with Callum. Still, he doesn’t hesitate to express his emotions with either Callum or his best friend Law.

Callum is also kind of perfect, but I enjoyed his story arc more. I loved watching him make a space for himself in Havenwood, both in terms of his relationship with his mother and developing friendships with other characters we’ve met so far in this series. His concerns about falling for his “straight” friend are realistic without being overly angsty, so they were easy to wade through.

So, even though it’s not my preferred character types or plot, Hart has more than proven herself with this series. I enjoyed the coziness and love of this romance novel like wrapping myself in a warm blanket. However, I’ve now gone through THREE books of teasing about Griff and Josh’s relationship, so I’m super excited to dive into that story next.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.


Griff’s Place (Book 4)

I’ve enjoyed this cozy series like a warm blanket. A little bit of angst but a lot of love and found-family sweetness. So, I was not prepared for the final installment to metaphorically destroy me. Like, full-on crying as I tried to come to terms with Josh’s reality and why he’s put certain limitations on his heart. I refuse to elaborate because I’d prefer not to ruin the heart-wrenching twist to this book. But don’t let me chase you away from this book. It’s the perfect conclusion to this lovely series.

Now that all of their best friends have found their happily ever afters, it’s no surprise that Josh and Griff would end up being the odd man out together. And while there is a certain amount of symmetry to Kellan’s brother and best friend ending up together, I love that Hart builds up the unlikely friendship between Josh and Griff first, even as background detail in the previous books. I may have whined to my spouse that Hart does not use the “only one bed” trope as intended, but I’ll tell you a secret: her decision to up-end certain expectations makes the story even better.

As much as I love the representation of Griff claiming the demisexual label, my biggest quibble about this book is how Griff thought he could handle a friends-with-benefits relationship with Josh. His being sexually interested in the other man means he has already caught feelings for him. But I will accept that everyone needs time to learn and accept who they truly are—I did not see this development as Griff making poor choices, but instead anticipated potential heartbreak and cared for him as a character.

My favorite moment of the book was Josh and Chase bonding over their relationships toward the end. “There’s something about Caine men”—what a lovely bookend of love stories for a charming series. I look forward to reading more books by Hart in the future and already have some of her other series added to my extensive to-be-read list.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Farpoint 2021 Schedule

Farpoint 2020 was the last event I attended in person before the world went bonkers. Alas, like so many other conventions, it is being held online this year. I’m pleased to participate in three panels from the comfort of my own home, but you know I’ll miss seeing all of your lovely faces.

Find more information about Virtual Farpoint 2021, with my personal schedule below. Attendance is FREE and does not require advanced registration. (As of right now, I literally only know the titles of my panel discussions. This post will be updated as I receive more information, such as descriptions and the names of my fellow panelists.)

Saturday

  • 12 PM: The Way of the Mandalorian [register]
    • Disney Plus’ wildly successful hit has wrapped up its second season. What will the future hold for our heroes? What other Star Wars spinoffs are on the horizon? And how much Child (Baby Yoda) is too much?
    • With T.A. Chafin and Rigel Ailur

Sunday

  • 11 AM: Discovered During Lockdown [register]
    • What little-known gems or guilty pleasures did you watch during the pandemic? We’ll discuss our favorites.
    • With Heather E. Hutsell
  • 2 PM: How Fandom Can Make You a Better Writer [register]
    • Whether it’s books, movies, TV, or games, we’ve all experienced the guilt of indulging in fandom instead of working on our next novel or story. But what if all that reading/viewing/playing was actually helping you become a better writer? This panel will discuss how fandom, rather than being a guilt-inducing “waste of time”, can actually help writers improve.
    • With Mary Fan and Danielle Ackley-McPhail

I look forward to some great discussions, and I promise to only talk about The Old Guard a little bit during the lockdown panel. (That might be a lie.) (My request for why I should be on the panel was literally “Hello, I am here to talk about The Old Guard,” but they let me in so it’s totally not my fault.)

Review: Return To You Series by Rebecca Raine

Finding Grey (Book 1)

This story is the slowest burn of all slow-burn romances, making the eventual reveal all the more delicious. However, I also love that adult Dante and Sean connect in friendship even before the weight of their history crashes down. Their story could have taken so many other paths, and this one might not necessarily be the “best” for them, but it’s a lot of fun as a reader.

I certainly don’t blame Sean for his efforts to protect his heart from Dante because even he knows that a happily ever after for them has no place in “reality.” However, these efforts come straight out of the romantic comedy genre, and I’m still giggling over the pool party scenes. As for the other half of this pairing, I adored Dante’s character arc of finding the passion in his music again, followed by his willingness to fight for it.

The reveal itself, in which Dante finally finds his Grey, left me breathless. Possibly because I held my breath from the moment it looked like it might actually happen. The opposite of angst suffused the moment, but it still tugged at every one of my heartstrings. Even better—it wasn’t the end of the story.

Though there is a sequel to this novel, featuring Sean’s best friend, I find that I’m not craving a follow-up to Dante and Sean’s story. It is one of the rare books I’ve found in which I have no desire to “check in” on the couple because they’ve already gone through the hardest part and will ride off into the sunset together.

This book is my second by this author, and I am thoroughly enjoying the change from a contemporary American setting. Modern-day Australia is not so different as to be “exotic,” but it’s nice to spread the love to additional authors around the world.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.


Becoming Us (Book 2)

The usual unflattering stereotype for people who identify as bisexual, when not being told that they’re just confused, is that they’re “selfish.” However, sexual desire is a spectrum, even within the established categories. I love that Lawrence is honest enough with himself to both identify as bisexual and recognize that what he wants in life is a relationship with more than one person. This MMF story isn’t a case of all the characters making an exception for their happily ever after. Instead, for at least one of them, this is his only version of happily ever after. Even during the moments of the story when I thought Law was an entitled jerk, I still wanted this happiness for him.

This book is a slow burn in that it opens with the characters as teenagers and shows the initial conflict that forces them apart for so long. It’s nice to see how they come back to each other as adults, people who do not need a relationship to be whole but fall (back) in love with each other anyway. Connor has the most external conflict to wade through as he figures out what he wants to do with his life to stay healthy. Gabi and Law are more settled in their lives and careers but are happy to make room for Connor.

As much fun as the steamy bits in this book are, I found that I most loved the quiet moments when all three enjoyed being together. I have faith in their solid happily ever after. This is an excellent book to prove that a potential, satisfying future exists for everyone, no matter their sexual or romantic identity.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Review: Kink Chronicles Series by Luna David & Morningstar Ashley

Open Mind (Book 1)

This book is one of those rare stories that sucked me in while I read, enjoying every scene as I tore through them, and then realized after I finished how much some elements of the plot bugged me. I don’t have triggers in the traditional sense, but I suppose part of me is still cynical enough to be bothered by a romance between people who work together, especially when one is a direct supervisor of the other. For all that Ronan convinces Jamie that their relationship will not affect Jamie’s role as a nurse in Ronan’s medical practice, I still scoffed and wondered what the hell these two men are doing together.

However, I devoured this book because the chemistry between Jamie and Ronan is off the chart, and I thoroughly enjoyed Jamie’s journey into kink. On the other hand, his introduction to kink gave me some problematic vibes due to Jamie’s voyeurism (again, something 0that didn’t sink in for me until after finishing the story). It jumpstarts the heat between him and Ronan once he’s “caught,” and I did appreciate that Ronan is upfront about both explaining to Jamie what’s going on and, afterward, open with the participants of the scene Jamie accidentally viewed. (Consent is always sexy.)

Communication difficulties lead to the dark moment of this book. While the authors set up Ronan’s backstory to explain his flawed internal logic, his actions run contrary to his initial promises at the start of his relationship with Jamie. I understood Jamie’s stress and reaction, and luckily, the happily ever after was satisfying on all counts.

I do look forward to reading more by these authors, including continuing this series and learning more about secondary characters introduced in this first book.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.


Open Encounters (Book 2)

This book is not a dark romance, but some aspects within this story may be triggering to readers based on how the authors present the sexual scenarios. David and Ashley dive deep into their characters’ minds, even though the actual relationships are between two unrelated, consenting adults. The story itself is lighter on the plot and heavier on the freedom of exploring taboo fantasies within the “safe, sane and consensual” framework of BDSM. Misha and Geoff do not have a traditional relationship, but the love and care shared between the two men drip off the page.

This novella appears to set up the next full-length book’s events and potential relationships. I’m a sucker for a love story, kinky or not, and these men have swept me up—I look forward to continuing the ride.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.


Open Play (Book 3)

This book picks up shortly after Open Encounters, and they are best read as a pair for the full context and story arc. Despite the premise of the series and the previous book’s events, this story is lighter on the BDSM and more about the negotiations of opening a relationship. Misha and Geoff have a loving, kink-based relationship, and while they have played with others before, this is the first time emotion has come into the picture. Geoff and Lukas have a previous friendship, and it seems like it should be no issue for them to all live happily ever after.

Except even though romance novels promise that ending, the journey to get there is never simple. The sexy bits between all three main characters are fantastic, but the problems crop up when Lukas is at his home across the country. His workaholic tendencies clash with his desire to be a good partner to his lovers. Even when he’s physically closer to them later in the book, the problems keep piling up until all three men are finally honest with each other.

Though Lukas is the cause of the initial problems, Misha and Geoff are not without blame for the issues that continue to plague their relationship. I rolled my eyes a lot while reading because even I could see the problems they all insisted on creating for each other as the story continued.

These authors are excellent writers, but unfortunately, this particular series did not live up to expectations for me. This does not stop me from looking forward to checking out their other works.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Review: Four Mercenaries Series by K.A. Merikan

Their Bounty (Book 1)

I’m a sucker for found family stories, and even though this book is only partially that, it ensured my interest beyond the main plot. Clover is kind of a disaster, but he quickly becomes THEIR disaster despite lots of kicking and screaming on some sides (looking at you, Drake). Despite their role in dismantling a human trafficking organization in the first part of the book, the “Four Mercenaries” in question are very much gray-area characters rather than strictly on the hero or villain side of things. This makes them all the more intriguing to Clover, and honestly, to me as well.

The probable realism of this book’s external plot varies from vaguely ridiculous to terrifyingly plausible. The events bind Clover ever closer to his unlikely saviors, even forcing Drake to confront emotions he has long suppressed. The sexy bits in this book can be read on a spectrum from over-dramatized for reader enjoyment to the perfect makings of four individual love stories. Like it says on the back-cover description, Clover has distinct relationships with each of the four men. Through those relationships, and especially from Clover’s point of view, we also see the bonds between the four mercenaries that are stronger than friendship on multiple levels and by various definitions.

My favorite part of this book is Clover’s character development, especially how he insists on not lingering as a passive victim in need of others to protect him. Thus, the later protection is born out of genuine affection rather than a sense of transaction, heightening the external plot’s tension. This book does not end on a cliffhanger. However, I look forward to revisiting these characters to see both Clover’s progress as an individual and the progress of his convoluted, yet so simple, love stories.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.


Their Obsession (Book 2)

This book picks up about a year after the first in the trilogy. On the surface, Clover is living happily ever after with his four boyfriends, enjoying the various relationships he has with each man. Except his four boyfriends also happen to be badass mercenaries who need to get back to work. Despite their trepidation, they allow Clover to join the team and accompany them on what appears to be an easy job. However, Clover is significantly younger (and therefore less experienced) than the rest of the team, and he immediately shows both of those traits.

Clover’s actions annoyed me greatly, making me remember why I don’t often read books featuring younger (nearer to 20 years old than 30) protagonists anymore. I have no patience for the immaturity or the dramatics that accompany being forced to acknowledge mistakes. The job goes poorly, and even worse, it appears to connect with the unfortunate events that led Clover to his four mercenaries to begin with.

Though he might be the primary protagonist of this trilogy, being the center of the various relationships, Clover is not necessarily the true hero of this story. He is a player, but his part does not go back nearly as far as Drake’s, who has much more reason to be invested in going after Clover’s initial kidnapper. Unfortunately, this leads Clover and Drake (with poor Boar along for the ride) to make some pretty terrible decisions that wind up putting the men into an even worse predicament. The “dark” portion of this dark romance series slams to the forefront, and it’s not an easy read. While book one stands alone, this middle trilogy installment left me immediately anxious to dive into the finale to find out what happens next. And things are dark enough that I’m much more worried about everyone making it out alive, putting even their potential happily ever after on the back-burner of that priority.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.


Set Aflame (Book 2.5)

At the beginning of this series, it is evident that Boar and Pyro are already in an established, long-term relationship. This is the story of their meeting, which is less “meet cute” and more “Boar, you sweet cinnamon roll, you shouldn’t follow strange men home.” Luckily for Boar, it all works out for the best. I’m more interested in learning how the Four Mercenaries came together as a unit, but this peek into a part of their shared past is satisfying and sexy.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.


Their Property (Book 3)

I made a false assumption that the finale to this trilogy would pick up immediately after the exciting yet traumatic events in the middle installment. Instead, months have passed; this badass mercenary crew is barely hanging on while one of their own is missing. Not only do they have to rescue Boar, but multiple broken relationships (romantic and friendship) need healing between the five distinct characters. Clover may have started as the “center” of this reverse harem story, but at its heart, this is a found family story.

As befitting the apex of this dark romance, there is plenty of angst to go around. My heart broke multiple times, especially for Drake and Boar. Certain events from book 2 would never be resolved if Drake avoided Clover forever, and I especially enjoyed the changes in how Drake and Tank related to each other. I even experienced some begrudging sympathy for Pyro by the end, even if I think his character is pretty damaged (even beyond his issues with addiction) to the point of being borderline abusive toward both Clover and Boar.

I’m not sure that Clover will ever truly take up the mantle of mercenary, like his partners, but it’s pretty clear that he’s going to live happily (and slightly violently) ever after with this group. All of them certainly find out by the end that they work better together.

Overall, this was an exciting trilogy that I enjoyed reading. The “dark” on the cover refers more to some external plot events than the relationships themselves, which range from fun to sweet to sexy AF. Not all of these authors’ books are for me, but I’m glad I checked these out. I’d even love to read more about their adventures, inside and outside of the bedroom.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.