Read my review of the first book in the Reckless Damned series, Devil’s Mark.
The slight downside to knowing how some of the worldbuilding works in an established series is that it can be harder to draw certain elements out for the audience. It’s fairly obvious from the epilogue of the previous book in this series that Harlowe and Bailey are fated mates in the same way that Cal and Oscar were. Taylor deftly keeps this from becoming stale by throwing very different obstacles in the way of this new pairing, mingling them with character history in a way that leaves both men with a lot to overcome for a happily ever after together.
What’s more interesting than “insta-love”? (A lot, but that’s an entirely separate blog post.) Two characters determined to keep each other in their lives through friendship when all they want is so much more. The result in this story is unapologetic idiots-in-love vibes that I thoroughly appreciated, especially because Taylor also carefully threads that line of characters being dumb when they are genuinely protecting their hearts. Thus, the first half of this book is a much slower burn than I expected but not high angst, which was an excellent mix for this pairing.
On the side, the external plot started in the first book in this series escalates quickly. Once Harlow and Bailey get their acts together through the power of movie cuddles, we also get a hell of a plot twist (pun only half intended). Taylor makes up for the previous lack of angst by making me genuinely wonder how my new favorite demon family is going to fight their way out of this one. This is still a romance, so rest assured that the HEA is solid—but I enjoyed the wild ride it took to get there, especially since it layered in such intriguing world-building and heightened the stakes of the overarching non-romance plot.
Taylor once again teases the next relationship at the very end of this book (and the romance for the fourth brother has been dangled in front of us all along). I look forward to both relationship stories just as much as the further reveals of the connecting plot in this strong paranormal romance series.
The previous narrator of this series is so vibrant that Cody takes a risk with this departure, especially since Edovard is vastly different from Romily in multiple ways. However, while the narrative voice definitely is different, Cody is so good at creating distinct characters that I had no problem embracing change for the next part of the ride for this clever and creative series.
Cody easily balances Edovard’s surface-level simplicity with an awareness of the depths and dimensionality shared by the concepts of both good and evil. Balance is the guiding premise behind this series, and I thoroughly enjoyed Edovard’s determination to share the importance of hugs and positive reinforcement no matter the character or their motivation. The “romance” aspect of this story is as unpredictable and nontraditional as the now-established relationship between Romily and Fox. While I did feel like Edovard kind of just rolled with Santanos declaring them mated, he does actively care for and choose Hassan and Gregory. Overall, I’m here for both the accidental polycule and the fun ripple effects Cody creates in her stories and then is forced to address in ever-more creative fashion.
I might have gotten tired Edovard’s point of view in a longer book. This one isn’t necessarily short, but it’s the perfect length for the story it tells and to establish the new normal for this ridiculous, extended found family. I can’t wait to see where things go from here.
Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author.
The world-building nerd in me loves when authors write multiple stories in the same universe, even if the characters and events can stand alone. This is my third visit to this low-key shared world, and I thoroughly enjoy the sprawling connections of friendship and family that link the characters. And though the previous books were poly romances, this unexpected love story between Gray and Lake proves Crane is more than able to craft an equally compelling story with only two characters in a relationship and no overt external plot.
Though I’d met each of these heroes in previous books, I did not immediately connect them as a romantic possibility (even without the explicit knowledge of Lake identifying as straight). However, I knew I was in for a ride with Lake by page 2 and that I was in trouble for starting the book 10 minutes before I had to leave for an appointment. Lake drew me in immediately, and he more than worked as a delightful foil to Grady’s sharper edges. Sometimes I find the grumpy/sunshine trope to be contrived, but Crane layers enough other elements into these men’s personalities that here it drew me in.
For the first half of the book, Crane spends as much time developing the solid friendship between Lake and Grady as most authors do with a romance. Following Grady as he melted for Lake was compelling, and this book proves that initial low heat doesn’t mean it can’t also fulfill the requirements of slow burn. I knew that the eventual fall-out would break both my and Grady’s hearts, but Crane takes a last-minute turn that avoids too much drawn-out angst.
I’m a fan of “bi-awaking” books mostly because I like stories about someone finding their person, no matter what form that person takes. However, I’m more than over the “bi-panic” that tends to accompany the trope, so Lake’s evolution as a character was both refreshing and delightful. It’s never directly identified, but I think Lake also makes for an excellent representation of potential demisexuality based on what he shares about past relationship experiences.
While I not-so-patiently wait for more in two series Crane is currently developing, this was a lovely and enjoyable story. Hot and emotional in all the right ways without dipping into overwrought territory. Readers who don’t necessarily enjoy poly romances should check out the love story between Grady and Lake so that they don’t miss out on writing by this wonderful author.
Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author.
In the past few years, I have participated in virtual panels on multiple topics for Con-Tinual: The Con That Never Ends. Yesterday, I also contributed to their weekly #DestinationResearch about my visit to Israel in October 2022. The content of those posts is included below, but if you’re interested in a great Facebook community with a wide range of pop culture topics, I highly encourage you to check out the group itself.
Jerusalem & the Judah Family Reunion
Last October, I visited Israel for the first time. The visit was not for writing research, though everything eventually becomes grist for my book mill, but could be considered research of a different sort. Family members from the United States, England, and Australia converged on our cousins in Israel for an epic family reunion. Why Israel?
Here’s the short version: My great-grandmother was Lilian Judah, the oldest of 8 siblings. She was born in Baghdad as part of the Baghdadi Jewish community and emigrated with her family to Rangoon, Burma. There, she married an Indian Jewish man, Joseph Saul, and had four children, including my maternal grandfather. The extended Judah family evacuated the country and fled to India during World War 2. My branch of the family ended up in the United States because my grandfather’s older sister was the first American war bride from India, and the immediate family followed (and became spread all over the country due to various branches of military service). Many of Lilian’s siblings left India for England, where some stayed and others emigrated to Israel after the country’s founding. And just to make things complicated, one of Lilian’s sisters wandered all the way to Australia, where she started her family. (Scheduling the annual Zoom call for one night of Hanukkah is fun!)
I flew into Tel Aviv with my parents, younger sister, aunt, and a California cousin on a Saturday morning, and we took a car into Jerusalem. I’ve been to Salt Lake City multiple times, and the city is always disconcertingly dead on Sundays. Jerusalem on a Saturday for Shabbat is exactly the same way, but it was cool to see it come alive later in the day.
The official reunion was based out of Jerusalem, where we gathered for delicious dinners with the local branch of the family. The travelers were treated to 2 days of amazing tour, led by fantastic author/speaker Ken Spiro, who was originally from Brooklyn (and still sounded like it). Since my immediate family also did some exploring on our own prior to the official reunion start, I’ve broken the Jerusalem portion of this series into 2 parts rather than trying to keep events in chronological order. Below are pictures and descriptions from places in the city that are NOT part of Old City Jerusalem. That’s coming up next!
The Old City of Jerusalem is such a distinct part of the city that it deserves its own post. I visited twice, wandering with my immediate family and as part of the official reunion tour.
Since context always matters, I should note here that I consider myself ethnically Jewish, but I was not raised in the religion, and I don’t consider myself part of any particular religion as an adult. But I am a history buff, so I’m always going to be excited by what one of the local cousins referred to as “more old rocks.”
On the second day of the official family reunion tour, we headed out of Jerusalem toward the southeastern part of Israel, which drops in elevation toward the Dead Sea. Our stops included the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, Masada, and the Dead Sea itself.
Ein Gedi is an oasis within canyons that feature spectacular waterfalls. We hiked the Wadi David lower section. We were lucky to catch glimpses of local wildlife and dip our feet in the water before the area was overwhelmed with (loud) school kids.
Masada, an ancient fortification atop a mesa, has been on my bucket list since I learned about it in high school. We took the cable car to the top to see cool archeological things (more old rocks) and stunning views.
We closed out the day with the mandatory visit to the Dead Sea. I was…underwhelmed. Learning about how humans are contributing to the recent (and very obvious) shrinkage of this body of water was disheartening. I did get in the water, which is so laden with salt and minerals that it has a unique (and almost creepy) texture. Floating around was fun for about 10 minutes, which is when the blisters on my feet acquired earlier in the trip (thanks, new shoes) demanded to know what I was thinking. I’m glad I did it while I had the chance, but it’s not something I’d be anxious to revisit.
After the official close of the Judah Family Reunion, my immediate family spent the second half of the week in Tel Aviv. My mom devised walking tours of sites in the southern and northern portions of the city. This city of 450k people did not exist barely a century ago.
The southern part of the city was cool, where we visited the original port town of Jaffa, then wandered into the new portion of the city, including stops at the Great Synagogue and other notable local highlights. We had a mid-morning treat of gelato from a local chain called Golda (named after Golda Meir, a former prime minister) and a great lunch outside a wine bar during an outdoor festival that featured local artists and handmade crafts.
We started our northern tour at the Eretz Isreal Museum, where we visited pavilions featuring thousands of years of artifacts of different types, such as glass and pottery. My stepdad talked our way into the planetarium show. It was good that we were only one of two families in the audience because I ended up digging for memories of a college course 20 years ago to narrate the history of astronomy and the life cycle of a star during a Hebrew presentation with no subtitles. My mom planned a walk through parks and neighborhoods back to the hotel, which would have been lovely — except it was Saturday and everything was closed, even in a nominally more secular city than Jerusalem.
Haifa, Caesarea, Rosh HaNikra, Acre
One of the day tours we took out of Tel Aviv traveled up the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. We had a brief stop in Haifa to see the Bahá’í Gardens before a longer visit and tour of the amphitheater and colosseum ruins of Caesarea. At the northern tip where Israel meets Lebanon, we took a cable car to wander through the gorgeous Rosh HaNikra grottoes. We finished up the whirlwind day with a visit to an excavated Crusader-era fortress in Acre. (I’m pretty sure this was the day I managed to drink three iced coffees in multiple towns.)
For our final tour out of Tel Aviv, we headed into northeastern Israel and the Golan Heights.
Our first stop was at a gas station to see Armageddon, which is really just a hill where the world is supposed to end. Everything about that felt ironic and perfect. Yes, I bought an iced coffee.
The theme of this tour was high-up places because next, we stopped at a viewpoint to see the Sea of Galilee. That was also the day I learned that the Sea of Galilee is actually a giant freshwater lake. I have absolutely no idea where my brain thought it was located before then.
Next, we headed up (literally) again to a viewpoint to take in the Golan Heights region, on a spot that used to be a military base — because we could also see Syria.After, we stopped at a small manufactory and learned about olive oil, where we also had one of the best meals of the trip cooked by a local Druze family, one of the ethnic minorities of Israel.
We closed out the day at a tiny outdoor archeological museum of an ancient Katzrin village, a Byzantine-era Jewish settlement (4th-8th centuries CE). My final chance to spend time with old rocks!
We flew back to Newark, then drove back to Baltimore the following day. I’m incredibly thankful to my cousins who arranged the Judah Family Reunion and to my parents who helped make it possible for me to take this trip. Since the spouse couldn’t accompany me due to work constraints, I know I’ll be back one day to share this with him. Thanks for taking this walk down memory lane with me!
Lindsey doesn’t leave us hanging off the cliff they left us in the previous book for long. However, while Kane’s kidnapping is established, his rescue isn’t quite so straightforward. The guys go through a lot to find him, and Lindsey makes this work for the story and characters in multiple ways. It shows a decent amount of greater context of the activities of this mafia world while also highlighting the various ways in which Phoenix, James, and Ari interact with and balance each other.
If you’ve read the previous book, you should know what you’re getting into with this one already. There’s a lot here that’s fairly dark and violent and shocking, but since I was willing to roll with that, everything mostly made me fall even more in love with this unique band of misfits and their intricate dynamics. One unique aspect of this book I also enjoy is that Kane and Phoenix are older characters. Lindsey makes it clear from the get-go that the misfits have nothing close to a balanced, equal relationship, but I do like that the connection between Kane and Phoenix runs deeper simply because it has lasted longer, even if it doesn’t diminish their love for the other two men.
I especially appreciate that, after his rescue, one of my wishes from the previous book is granted and we get a lot more of Kane’s point of view. His focus and involvement got me much more interested and invested in the twist and reveals of the external mafia plot. Unfortunately, Alice continues to feel more like a human MacGuffin of that plot rather than a character in her own right who enhances the romance aspect of this trilogy. I’m still not clear what she brings to the table beyond (un)conventional social status for Kane. Even without my personal biases regarding the one independent goal Alice does eventually express, I mostly found her to be every worst reaction from a Disney princess while the misfits are the true dynamic characters of this trilogy.
The ending of this installment is more of an emotional cliffhanger for Alice than direct danger for any of the book’s heroes. However, I’m still much more interested in the truth of the full story itself than necessarily in how it affects her.
Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author.
Dee once told me that she was worried I’d eventually be disappointed by a book in this series. This is not that book. As usual, this nominally works as a stand-alone, but the main characters have been introduced (and teased) in previous books, and it also features multiple favorites from earlier in the series. The first prologue hits us with Macklin’s pain right out of the gate, circling back to complete the teasers we got in both Senseless and The Secret Plan. After my glimpses of him in those books and Hostile Takeover, I had a feeling that learning more about him would solidify his place as “my” character in this series. After I finished this book (and then read it again two days later, because I could), I can confirm that while Greer and Reese are still my Mclean House book boyfriends, Macklin is definitely my person.
This book is part second-chance romance between Walker and Macklin, but it is also the most potentially awkward first-chance romance between Macklin’s sweet boyfriend Lane and an older man from Lane’s past. Sound complicated? It’s really not, but it’s also not a book in this series without extended dynamics with the potential for extra steaminess. The chemistry between Lane and Ty is real, both between the sheets and as intrepid reptile handlers. Dee builds excellent tension on multiple levels by setting up epic collision courses for Macklin and Lane because even if their relationship is solid, they cannot be 100 percent of what the other needs.
Vacations are a step outside real life, where anything can happen, and Dee upends the status quo for both Macklin and Lane on their adventure to Florida. The book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, but absolutely on a “happily for now” note regarding the new and rekindled relationships on which this book is centered. Macklin’s reconnection with Walker as described here didn’t wreck me as much as I expected, but their full second-chance arc is far from over. I understand why Dee ended up breaking this book into two parts because there is more to come on both fronts. Instead of this story getting cut short, I’d much rather wait longer for the conclusions to these romances and find out how everything (and everyone) ends up tied together in the end. (Pun totally intended.)
And, a final thought that is relevant to many of Dee’s series: It’s probably a very good thing that River Tenley doesn’t want to take over the world.
Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author.
Read my review of the first book in the Immortals Descending series, Storm Front.
Like the previous book in this series, this one starts with a fascinating origin story. This time, it’s not the origin story of a god, but of the inciting event to his evolution. Foxglove kicks us off with lots of questions, then makes us work for answers that aren’t anything close to simple.
This story settles neatly into the enemies-to-lovers trope, but as usual, this author never follows a linear progression to Arwyn and Declan’s happily ever after. Once they start interacting directly (i.e., Declan becomes Arwyn’s prisoner), this story could be overwhelmingly angsty. However, these men are both way too bratty for that, and I thoroughly enjoyed their epic hate sex as much as Declan pretended not to. Even when secrets are revealed and elements of this story could have gone in the direction of heavy angst, Foxglove keeps moments poignant instead of overwrought.
The unexpected and heartbreaking truth revealed at the end of this story means yet another book in this world that led me to plenty of tears. The amazing world-building that evolves from this revelation once again blows me away in the face of these authors’ collective creativity. The character development that both main characters go through is fantastic, especially because each leads the other to become the best version of themselves rather than being the absolute reason for it. For too long, Avarice has believed themself to be the god of Greed. I love the eventual resolution of their characterization and found it more than satisfying, but I’d even have taken it a bit farther and argued that they are really the god of humanity itself.
Characters and timelines here cross over with the previous book in this series. Like Storm Front provides historical context for lands we’re familiar with from other stories in this world, Shadowfall does the same with an even more incredible reveal. Assigning deities to facets of life and making them integral aspects of historical events presents Foxglove with an interesting conundrum in this book, but they work out a clever way to avoid stepping on Ares’ toes with a traditional war.
I look forward to seeing Arwyn and Declan pop up in future stories and continue to be their delicious, bratty selves. Finally, this is very much a book for cat lovers, and not just for the way Foxglove presents the fantastical wyverns. Each book by these authors gets better and better, and I don’t regret supporting them and this incredible world.
Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this book from the authors.
One of my favorite things about Hawthorne’s writing is the way she plays with tropes in a manner that takes the story beyond the obvious. This is very much a second-chance romance, as a family tragedy forces one character home for the first time since leaving his high school boyfriend behind. However, that’s where the easy description ends and the subtlety begins for these intricate characters. Many questions were left unanswered when Max abandoned Rome, especially because their relationship included a power exchange dynamic when neither was mature enough yet for the necessary self-examination involved.
In their time apart, Rome develops that side of himself, while Max…does not. His life away from his hometown ultimately places him in a holding pattern, while Rome examines and embraces all aspects of himself, including building a life when the original plan was for them both to leave together. This creates an amazing immediate tension between the characters when they find themselves face to face again, even before we have any idea what the original conflict between them was about. The connection between them still very much exists, despite their older age and their time apart. Is giving into it a good idea? Not necessarily, but that’s half the fun of this sort of romance. I love a good “idiots in love” story, but here, Max is just an idiot with little emotional intelligence. Hawthorne’s deft touch with characterization means that I kind of love him anyway.
This book is an incredible example of how character development is an integral part of any good romance arc. Max’s personal journey, including the conflict he also experiences with his sister, is as compelling as anything he experiences with Rome. At the same time, Rome’s role in this book more than satisfied the need for hope that elevates the romance from a potential angst-fest to a narrative I had a hard time putting down. (Seriously, I made time to read in the middle of my busiest event of the year, even when it meant wiping away tears right before presenting.)
As always, Hawthorne’s books are never just about the kink, even when it’s also totally about the kink. I highly recommend this book to any readers interested in checking out this writer’s work, because it is a well-written stand-alone that features so many elements that define her as a talented, unique voice. Familiar readers will also find plenty to love here, and I have the feeling that Max and Rome will become characters as popular as many in previous stories.
Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this novel from the author.
Though Cam, Saint, and Alexei are the characters we followed in the first books of this series, every officer of the Rebel Kings MC played a role in events that drastically affected them all. In this book, while I loved seeing those three men start to enjoy a happily ever after together, I also enjoyed exploring two brand-new characters. Leigh does an excellent job bringing her secondary characters to life, but there’s no substitute for getting inside their head and learning their secrets. And Mateo and Embry are both keeping a lot of secrets.
I quickly became invested in the slow-burn nonsense that flared hot and cold between them. To be fair, the secrets both men keep had a lot to do with how they try to protect both themselves and each other from the burdens of their past. However, while Embry and Mateo try to get their acts together, the external plot rolls on. Crime abhors a vacuum, so the aftermath of the previous books is almost as much of a mess as the events themselves were. Leigh doesn’t go with a plot twist here so much as pull off a stunning reveal that ties all the threads of this book together with how Mateo’s past is also very much influencing all of their presents. This amps up the danger for everyone and blows up all the work our two heroes have done in stumbling toward each other.
Angst gets a bad rap, but sometimes it is absolutely necessary for emotional storytelling. Leigh gives us the perfect amount for how the drama of the relationship and external plot weave together here and genuinely made me fear for the bonds between all of these men, not just Embry and Mateo. However, we do get the happily ever after assured by romance genre expectations, along with a delightful promise that there is still more to come for this fascinating cast of morally gray heroes.
Stickle doesn’t pull any punches with the start of this chapbook, which starts the way I anticipated but then gets very weird. Despite the back cover description, I had expected more “realistic” stories, so this is an immediate departure from Stickle’s previous collection. But like the dedication says, weird is not a bad thing. Even the weird here is sometimes sweet, sometimes dark, and always poignant. Each of these microfiction selections uses a spark of magical realism to say something about the real world. This isn’t a collection to rush through, because once again, Stickle’s unique take on fiction deserves to be heard and savored.
“AITA for falling apart at a dinner party?” excellently parodies both a familiar story format and the strange cultural way we look back on the last few years with such impossible expectations.
Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this chapbook from the author.