Book Review: Open Ice Hit (Sin Bin #1) by E.M. Lindsey & Marina Vivancos

jlgribble.com | Book Review: Open Ice Hit (Sin Bin #1) by E.M. Lindsey & Marina Vivancos

I should state for the record that my mom grew up in Queens, but my best friend lives in Brooklyn, so I can’t really choose sides between the Sea Dogs or the Phantoms. Two players from rival teams falling in love seems a bit cliché, except the fact that Tommy and Vicki aren’t on the same team is almost incidental to their interactions and rivalry. Their conflict stems from a genuine accident on Tommy’s part that Vicki continues to question even when the rest of the individuals involved have assured him it’s a non-issue. However, the non-sexy sparks between them fly when they’re forced together for a promotional event.

For a while, those sparks combust into some truly epic hate sex. Both men probably expect the novelty to wear off, and then they’ll be done with each other, but obviously, that doesn’t quite happen. Their private encounters continue, but the dynamic shifts until it’s almost something like a begrudging friendship. Sometimes people experiencing emotions is adorable, and Lindsey and Vivancos hit the perfect notes as Vicki and Tommy care for each other in their own way throughout the hockey season.

Vicki experiences much more of an internal character arc than Tommy, which is probably a function of the character’s different ages (though that age gap is not an active component of this story). It’s hard to feel sorry for a professional sports player making millions. The authors once again engage the right story points and emotions so that Vicki’s evolution is much less “poor little rich guy” and more an active recovery from years of subtle emotional trauma.

Between this book and the prequel novella, I’m thoroughly hooked on this series. Hey, remember when I didn’t have any interest in sports romances? Apparently, hockey is the exception, and I’m not mad about it if some of my favorite writers keep providing the stories.

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

Book Review: Kiss Me Series by Charlie Novak

This post includes reviews of the currently available books in the Kiss Me series:

  • Strawberry Kisses (#1)
  • Summer Kisses (#2)
  • Spiced Kisses (#3)

Strawberry Kisses (Kiss Me #1)

jlgribble.com | Book Review: Strawberry Kisses (Kiss Me #1) by Charlie Novak

This story is the perfect read if you’re looking for a balance of sweetness, steam, and feels. Patrick and Connor have been best friends for years and are secretly in love. Except Patrick has been in the closet, and Connor is convinced he’s “too much” for a real relationship. Novak invokes one of my favorite tropes, the fake relationship, to finally bring these two cinnamon rolls together. When Patrick comes out to his family, they immediately insist he bring home his boyfriend for a large anniversary party because obviously he’s been dating the guy he’s talking about for years. Right?

This scenario could have been a recipe (pun intended) for disaster, but both men embrace (pun also intended) the opportunity to live their fantasy for a few days. The way they come together is a dream come true for both of them, especially when factoring in how Novak subverts a few expected tropes based on the characters she has created. Cue the panic on both sides that this can’t possibly work out—luckily, Novak also does an excellent job of fleshing out her secondary characters, so both men have supportive friends able to help them through the minor angst.

Between the baking and the romance, this book could have been teeth-rotting levels of sweetness. Instead, Novak delivers a delicate blend of comfort and escapism necessary for the best love stories. But be careful, because you will absolutely crave cake once you reach the happily ever after.

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


Summer Kisses (Kiss Me #2)

jlgribble.com | Book Review: Summer Kisses (Kiss Me #2) by Charlie Novak

This book can be read as a stand-alone story, but I loved how it overlapped with the previous book in the series. It was fairly obvious from Strawberry Kisses that Josh and Aaron would end up in an enemies-to-lovers sort of romance, but I never expected the depth of their shared history. Novak teases us with a surprise current encounter before dropping us in the past and teasing out the origins of the dynamic between these characters. However, this isn’t a story where the characters meet nearly a decade later and attempt a second chance. Aaron and Josh have worked together for years, and it was only a matter of time before they either ended up back together or murdered each other. (Since this is a romance, we know which way it will go, but the ride is still so much fun.)

Part of what I love about the enemies-to-lovers trope is that characters have seen each other at their worst but still manage to love each other anyway. The chemistry that these two heroes exude, both sexual and emotional, never fades across every relationship dynamic they experience in this story. And even as they grow and change, Novak maintains the elements that I adore about them and kept me completely invested in their relationship arc.

The content warning on the cover mentions drug use and alcoholism. I think it’s important to note in a review for concerned readers that these elements exist in the story, but the story is not specifically about the recovery process (though facets of it and how it is a continual process are mentioned). The two “dark moments” in the book are very much rooted in the issues of the relationship between Josh and Aaron. I cheered for both men at the end as they found their happily ever after together, and I can’t wait to read the next book in this series for continued glimpses of these amazing characters.

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


Spiced Kisses (Kiss Me #3)

jlgribble.com | Book Review: Spiced Kisses (Kiss Me #3) by Charlie Novak

Disclaimer: I received an electronic ARC of this novel from the author.

People who have found love frequently want the same for their closest friends, and while Patrick (of Strawberry Kisses) is too polite, Aaron (of Summer Kisses) has absolutely zero chill where his best friend is concerned. Luckily, Aaron’s heart is in the right place concerning Ben’s workaholic tendencies, and Ben has already done half the work of befriending Ianto outside of their insular restaurant world. This book would have been significantly different had Aaron started from scratch by orchestrating a brand-new connection. Instead, this book is a lovely friends-to-lovers, slow-burn romance with a dash of forced proximity. All the elements that make for a perfect holiday love story.

Seriously, this book contains a lot of tropes, but Novak balances them with a deft storytelling ability so that they never feel contrived or forced. Instead, the friendship between Ianto and Ben flows naturally into something so much more, even if both men undergo a certain amount of angst about potentially ruining their solid friendship. I could have done with slightly less internal monologuing, but overall, these moments are significantly outweighed by all the fun scenes filled with new and familiar secondary characters who fill out the rest of the cast. Everyone has our heroes’ best interests at heart, especially during the dark moment – which is less of an overt conflict and more a stumbling block that shows Ben how much better his life could be if he doesn’t fall back on bad habits.

The events of this book could have taken place during any time of year. However, the Christmas season excellently highlights the differences between Ben and Ianto that ultimately make them perfect for each other. Since we don’t have enough representation in seasonal films, I offer this novel as a delightful alternative. I’m sad to see the end of this series, but this installment is definitely the icing on the cake – or perhaps the star atop the tree.

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

November Wrap-Up & December Goals

screenshot of the front page of jlgribble.com

As 2022 barrels down on us, I can say two things with certainty: 1) I still dislike cold weather; and 2) If the Kindle Unlimited price ever goes up, it’s probably my fault.

But good news! In 3 weeks, I’ll be headed to warmer waters (literally) for a much-needed true vacation. And the best part of all the reading I did this year was finding so many new amazing authors whose work has been a true bright spot in my life. 2021 was yet another difficult year for many, myself included, and I have no idea what 2022 will bring, but I’m going to look forward to it.

Before we move on to the other stuff, the front page of my website got a sexy makeover. Check it out if you haven’t visited in a while!


November Wrap-Up

  • Did I win NaNoWriMo this year? No. Do I feel bad about it? Also, no. Just under 20k words did get added to Steel Legacy, and I made some important decisions about both the direction the book is going and how to better serve my mental health in the process.
  • Even when writing didn’t happen, I did keep up on my blogging. Book reviews are officially scheduled out into January.

December Goals

  1. The usual writing shenanigans.
  2. Thoroughly enjoy being on a giant boat for the holidays. I’m already working on a special “to be read” list specifically for the 8-day cruise.

In Case You Missed It

On the Website

Around the Internet

Book Reviews

  • Forbidden: King (The Four #4) by Sloane Kennedy (5*)
  • Dual Defiance (Duality #3) by Kate Hawthorne (5*)
  • Bobiverse Series by Dennis E. Taylor
    • We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (#1) (4*)
    • For We Are Many (#2) (4*)
    • All These Worlds (#3) (4.5*)
  • Soulmates Series by Liv Rancourt
    • Soulmates (#1) (4*)
    • Tested (#2) (4*)
  • Destination Daddies Series (multiple authors)
    • Reel Love by Kate Hawthorne (5*)
    • All Tied Up by Reese Morrison (5*)
    • Living in Zin by G.R. Lyons (4*)
    • Sink or Swim by Chloe Gray (4*)
    • Jam Packed by R.J. Moray (4.5*)
    • Greeking Out by Colette Davison (4*)
    • Tourist Attraction by Luna David & Honey London (4*)
    • All the Queen’s Men by Chara Croft & Harlow Hayes (4*)
    • S’more to Love by Lila Wilde & Andi James (5*)
    • All Dolled Up by Chara Croft (4.5*)
    • A Little Bit Naughty by Reese Morrison (5*)
  • Cryptic (Puzzles #1) by Jodi Payne & B.A. Tortuga (4*)
  • Enemies Series by Cara Dee
    • A New Enemy (#1) (5*)
    • I’m Not Your Enemy (#2) (5*)
  • Last First Kiss by E.M. Denning (4.5*)
  • Candy (Wrecked novella) by Kelly Fox (5*)
  • Pretty Obsessed (Pretty Broken #1) by J.R. Gray (5*)
  • Without a Doubt (Love Starts Here #1) by E.M. Lindsey (5*)
  • Playing the Palace by Paul Rudnick (4*)
  • The Masked Boys by Julia McBryant (5*)
  • Weave the Dark, Weave the Light by Anna Zabo (5*)

three Siamese cats snuggled in front of  a gas fireplace
How to tell whether you have spoiled cats.

Book Review: Weave the Dark, Weave the Light by Anna Zabo

jlgribble.com | Book Review: Weave the Dark, Weave the Light by Anna Zabo

Disclaimer: I am friends with this author; however, I purchased this ebook for full price.

A novella is a tricky length for a story, especially one that includes fantasy worldbuilding. However, Zabo does an amazing job with this sweet yet steamy romance between two unexpected characters. Jonathan is both something like a dream come true and at once completely impossible for Ari to decipher, but they know they need him in their life – in all sorts of ways. On the fantasy side of this paranormal romance, the slow reveals are the sort that are unexpected yet perfect in retrospect. On the romance side, the connection between Ari and Jonathan flips plenty of expectations set by the cover description.

This is usually where I share my wish for a full-length novel set in the same universe, but I’ve already read Zabo’s Close Quarter. Instead, this is where I’ll wish for more of Zabo’s writing in general because their storytelling (whether paranormal or contemporary) never fails to captivate me with unique characters and fascinating nontraditional romance arcs. They weave spells with their words that never disappoint.

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

Book Review: The Masked Boys by Julia McBryant

jlgribble.com | Book Review: The Masked Boys by Julia McBryant

I began this book expecting nothing more than some ridiculous kinky fun between bored rich boys at a boarding school. I was half right. The motivation behind the Plan is a bit silly, and the boys are certainly bored and rich, but the boarding school is not what I expected. These are (adult) teenagers who have been shuffled away from the spotlight due to problems in their past so that they don’t shame their families. However, little is done to address the emotional trauma at the heart of these “problems,” so these guys turn to each other instead.

It’s easy to imagine the relationships that might have played out under different circumstances—contemporary romance arcs between any of the pairings that would not have stood out much in the genre. But for all the risks they take with the Plan, these guys muddle through a bit of toxic masculinity to get one thing right. An attempt at a traditional relationship would collapse under the weight of the insular environment they share. Even Brenton and Reid, best friends their entire lives, likely would not have survived that pressure. By including Cash and Scott, each of them can now explore the various needs, emotional and physical, they can provide each other in a healthier manner.

These are still college-aged guys, so the road toward that awareness is not exactly easy. But the steamy bits of the journey are as enjoyable as the emotional revelations they experience. I would thoroughly enjoy a sequel, set after these four escape the bounds of the Highlands Bridge Academy, to see how their bonds weather exposure in the “real world.” This novel is not a typical story of polyamory but instead a captivating look at how connections can develop between people under extraordinary circumstances.

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

LEGO Build Report: Escape from The Ten Rings & Battle at the Ancient Village

Last month, I was honored to officiate the wedding of my best friend to her beautiful new wife. The officiant is not typically part of the full bridal party, but they considered me on par with the Best Man. They know their friends well, and my bridal party gift from the new couple included two LEGO sets I never would have purchased on my own. Both are from the film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, one of the 2021 Marvel Cinematic Universe films.

I prefer ships and buildings to play set dioramas, but I adore the stunning dragon in the Battle at the Ancient Village set, and the car in the Escape from The Ten Rings set was a fun little build. I also really like the dynamic depiction of the ring weapon on one of the Shang-Chi minifigures. And I got an adorable tiny Morris with each set!

Escape from The Ten Rings (76176) — 321 pieces & Battle at the Ancient Village (76177) — 400 pieces

LEGO boxes for Escape from The Ten Rings (76176) and Battle at the Ancient Village (76177)
Completed LEGO set of Escape from The Ten Rings (76176)
Completed LEGO set of Battle at the Ancient Village (76177) with a Siamese cat sitting in the background

In other related news, the official reorganization of the LEGO guest room has gotten some time and financial investment. This means room for more sets to build, finally, so I can’t wait to tackle some of my already purchased sets once the first draft of the next book is complete!

Book Review: Playing the Palace by Paul Rudnick

jlgribble.com | Book Review: Playing the Palace by Paul Rudnick

I find it hilarious that “gay English prince” is a legitimate subgenre of queer romance. Still, I worried that I’d find it repetitive after previously enjoying Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston and The Spare by Miranda Dubner. Overall, this book is much more of a romantic comedy like the former, but it also stands apart from those two by one notable detail: Prince Edgar is already out to the world.

Therefore, Edgar has always been a queer icon to Jewish NYC event planner Carter Ogden, and their shared birthday ties them together even more. That doesn’t mean they are destined to meet, but in true New York City fashion, they end up with a private encounter at the United Nations. A bit of Carter’s personality buries the intensity of the shared attraction they experience, but throughout the story, the major reveal is how much these two men have in common at their core despite their vastly different lives.

As the sole point of view character, Carter has a dynamic narrative voice that caused me to laugh out loud multiple times. He has attitude and personality in spades, and rather than subduing him to match the “reality” of the plot arc, Rudnick instead heightens a bit of the external ridiculousness factor. The outrageousness did kill a bit of the escapism factor for me, especially when I found myself rolling my eyes even while giggling.

I recommend this novel to those who are interested in the gay royalty trope, but I think I’d recommend the two books mentioned previously over this one. However, I’ll happily read more of Rudnick’s work, and I have no regrets over the time I invested in this still thoroughly enjoyable novel.

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

Book Review: Without a Doubt (Love Starts Here #1) by E.M. Lindsey

jlgribble.com | Book Review: Without a Doubt (Love Starts Here #1) by E.M. Lindsey

This series is described as “light-hearted” in the cover description, and I suppose this book is when compared to other works by Lindsey. Carter is a cinnamon roll, and Rhys has the hard edges for them to mesh perfectly. However, both men carry a certain amount of emotional damage that doesn’t make a relationship easy, even discounting the minor detail that Carter works for Rhys.

The reader can deduce the “mistaken identity” plot aspect early in the book, which I felt made for a stronger story. Through a perfect storm of character elements and plot maneuvering, Lindsey drags out the actual reveal for most of the book in a way that never seems contrived. If anything, the skewed perspective that Carter has for Rhys makes the developing romance between them even more poignant.

As usual, romance heroes cannot exist in a vacuum. I thoroughly enjoyed the secondary characters that Lindsey populates this world with, especially since it meant that both Carter and Rhys had external support through the drama and angst. (Is light-hearted angst a thing? I suppose so. The pain in this book ached in the best way.)

I did that thing again where I put off reading a book because I wasn’t sure if it would interest me, even though I love the author. Then, of course, I devoured this book in a single day. Lindsey has an amazing knack for character, story, and the development of both. I can’t wait to dive into the next book and revisit this lovely world.

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

Book Review: Pretty Obsessed (Pretty Broken #1) by J.R. Gray

jlgribble.com | Book Review: Pretty Obsessed (Pretty Broken #1) by J.R. Gray

Rock star romances can be a mixed bag for me, but Gray had me at “cinnamon roll writer” and Emory and River’s incredibly unique meet-cute. As their interactions progressed, Gray also provided me with one of my favorite tropes ever (idiots in love) as Emory and River both try to hide their (sometimes low-, sometimes high-key) obsession with each other. Note here that the obsession definitely falls on the romantic end of the spectrum rather than the creepy. River might initially indulge in some stalker-ish tendencies, but it always comes across in a way that implies he would be respectful of Emory’s limits. Alas, Emory has fairly few, and soon, the obsession between them ratchets the heat up to 11.

Sure, a huge chunk of the conflict in the romance arc would have been eliminated if these two men had employed some mature communication skills. But Gray sets up their characterization and histories in such a way that I bought how Emory and River try to protect their hearts and emotions. I also found myself thoroughly invested in the drama with the rest of the band, which became an engrossing secondary conflict with a few surprising twists. I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series because Gray has set up an intriguing backstory between Iris and Caspian.

Overall, this is a solid romance that leans into the tropes of its subgenre in ways that enhance the story rather than making it seem stale. It’s safe to say that I’m pretty obsessed with these characters myself, and I hope to catch glimpses of them throughout the rest of the series.

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

Book Review: Candy (Wrecked novella) by Kelly Fox

jlgribble.com | Book Review: Candy (Wrecked novella) by Kelly Fox

Disclaimer: I received an electronic ARC of this novella from the author.

‘Tis the season for holiday treats, and Fox provides an amazing present to her readers in the form of a return to our favorite gym for combat vets. Caleb is not a combat vet in the traditional sense, but he has just finished fighting a war of his own, and he’s come to Wrecked to seek refuge with his formerly estranged brother. There, he catches the eye of another member of the extended Wrecked family. Caleb and Jordan working together sparks feelings between the men that are unexpected but entirely welcome, and the resulting love story is the perfect holiday blend of spice and sweetness.

Faith is an important through-line of this story, but Fox makes the elements of this theme accessible to all readers, regardless of their religious persuasion (or lack thereof). I say this as someone who falls into the latter category, and I still ended this delightful novella with a huge smile and a lovely dose of warm fuzzies.

Fans of Fox’s amazing interconnected book series should definitely not miss out on this holiday story, no matter what time of year it is.

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