Review: Secrets in Edgewood Series by Kate Hawthorne

This post includes reviews of the books in the Secrets in Edgewood series:

  • A Taste of Sin (#1)
  • The Cost of Desire (#2)
  • A Love Made Whole (#3)

A Taste of Sin (Book 1)

I admit that I first tried to read this book a few months ago and only made it about a quarter of the way through. As much as I love Hawthorne’s writing, I had no patience for two men agonizing over the limitations of religion. This reaction is entirely due to the personal bias I bring to this topic rather than anything I found “wrong” with the book.

However, I do adore Hawthorne’s writing, so I knew it was only a matter of time before I gave this story another shot. I picked up where I left off before, and I only needed another chapter or so before the turning point of the angst between Reed and Nic drew me in completely. The dynamic that developed between these two men fascinated me. While I might have enjoyed a little bit more on-page discussion about it, Hawthorne does an excellent job of centering the focus on the relationship rather than any trappings of kink that end up developing naturally.

It would have been so easy for Hawthorne to also center the external plot on the aforementioned religious drama. Instead, she takes the story deeper by relating it to the characters’ shared history and highlighting the steps they take to break free of the constraints placed on them by the outside world. (That’s all very nonspecific, but I’d prefer to err on the side of avoiding spoilers.) As usual, Hawthorne balances heat and feels in a delicious package that I’m so pleased I returned to and gave a second chance.

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

The Cost of Desire (Book 2)

This book starts with an office hook-up of a relatively “forbidden” nature – young adult with dad’s business partner – and evolves into an incredibly sweet nontraditional romance. Of course, sweet is relative when most of the book is packed with angst and kink, but that’s what you sign up for with a Hawthorne book. In this case, Danny and Jordan are probably the most surprised of anyone by the depth of their connection. The usual minor drama is expected when the relationship is long-distance and involves a significant age-gap element. Still, I appreciated Danny’s commitment to Jordan and the work Jordan does to both be worthy of that commitment and never take advantage of it.

The relationship depicted here does involve a significant power dynamic element, but even though Danny calls Jordan “Daddy,” this is not a Daddy kink story. However, that title sets up the drama of the climactic reveal, which Hawthorne handles in a way that is true to the story and completely surprising for the reader in terms of how Danny’s parents react to their son’s relationship.

The adorable “subplot” of the relationship that develops between Danny’s best friend and roommate perfectly breaks the heaviness of the inherent angst of a long-distance relationship. Though I often have no patience for college-age characters, Jordan and his self-awareness are a terrific foil that made reading this book less frustrating than it might have otherwise been. It’s easy to see echoes of this book in Reckless, a later book by Hawthorne, and so this book is definitely worth the read to appreciate how the author continues to develop as an amazing writer.

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

A Love Made Whole (Book 3)

One of the reasons I enjoy reading poly romances is that you get exponentially more relationships per story for the same low price! Hawthorne thoroughly capitalizes on that theme here, giving us the two very different dynamics that Emory has with Graham and Calvin, the drama of Graham and Calvin’s estrangement, and how all three of them work as a complete unit. I especially loved that fate has a hand in bringing these three characters together rather than the more typical “two plus one” of menage romances.

Even better, Emory does nothing to “fix” the relationship between Graham and Calvin. Instead, the husbands grow as characters due to their connections with Emory, and caring for their new lover in a time of need allows them to connect in a way that was never possible before.

Hawthorne does take the time to acknowledge many of the typical angst-inducing elements that can result from a poly dynamic while also doing what she does best as a writer: subverting tropes to create brand new relationships you can’t help but cheer for as a reader. As a result, the end of these characters’ journey is a complete surprise, but also one that you look back on and can’t imagine any other way.

While this trilogy is not my favorite set of works by Hawthorne, I have no regrets that I finally read these books. This author has more than solidified her spot as a “buy and read immediately” name for me, and I’ve never been disappointed.

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

Review: Naughty in Pendleton Series by Brigham Vaughn

Read my review of the first book in the Naughty in Pendleton series: Date in a Pinch

This post includes reviews of the other currently available books:

  • Embracing His Shame (#2)
  • Made to Order (#3)
  • Flipping the Switch (#4)

Embracing His Shame (Book 2)

I’m the last person to kink-shame, and I’m certainly aware that not everyone shares the same kinks. That being said, I hesitated to read this book because not only do I not have much interest in Forrest’s kinks (especially the humiliation aspect), but I also experience pretty hardcore second-hand embarrassment. As in, I genuinely wasn’t sure whether I’d make it through this book depending on what direction Vaughn took the spicy elements.

However, not only did I finish this book, but I devoured it in a single afternoon and enjoyed pretty much every bit of it. Vaughn does an excellent job of focusing on the characters experiencing a connection in their scenes rather than playing up the kinks for shock value or dramatic effect. Even before Forrest and Jarod even consider that there might be something more, Vaughn also highlights how Jarod specifically focuses on how best to meet Forrest’s needs in a safe way for both of them. Of course, they run into trouble along the way, but it’s nowhere near as awkward to read as it is for the characters to experience.

Ultimately, the kink is merely how the characters initially connect. Everything beyond that is a solid romance arc that only made me want to occasionally roll my eyes at the main characters. Both men experience significant character development—internally and externally—outside of the romance plot that was also thoroughly enjoyable to experience. Though this book is a stand-alone, I encourage readers to check out Three Shots, which is also set in Pendleton, for another angle on Jarod’s family issues (and a lovely romance story of its own).

Once again, Vaughn teases us in the epilogue with the couple we’ll meet in the next book in this series. Between Vaughn’s excellent storytelling and dynamic characters, I can’t wait to read it in a few weeks.

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

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Review: What We May Be by Layla Reyne

I love a good poly romance, and I love a good mystery, so when this one came highly recommended by fellow readers, I knew I had to give it a shot. Reyne immediately upended my expectations of this story by weaving a second-chance element into the dynamic between her three extraordinary heroes rather than throwing them together for the first time and watching the sparks fly. This setup immediately heightened my emotional investment in the unfolding romance, especially since events kick off with a tragedy.

That reunion could have been the end of things for our heroes until another death drags Sean, the missing piece of the puzzle, back to town barely weeks after saying goodbye for the last time. Sparks definitely fly between him and Charlie and Trevor, the lovers he left behind a decade ago, but they are a tantalizing mixture of push and pull as the three characters race to uncover the identity of a serial killer. Sean and Charlie have a duty to the case as law enforcement officers, but even literature professor Trevor is pulled into the mystery when it seems like he might play an integral role in how the victims are being chosen.

Along the way, other secrets are revealed as we learn why Sean originally left the first time. Reyne crafts a special sort of romance when it’s already clear that the three lovers belong together. Watching them inevitably grow closer over the events of this novel makes for an incredibly fun read, especially when combined with excellent secondary characters that give the entire cast a found family feel. The mystery itself is delightfully twisty with a compelling solution that is both satisfying and shocking.

Overall, I think Reyne’s use of the “second chance” trope here is a stroke of brilliance because it allowed her to skip much of the usual angst found in poly romances (especially involving mixed genders). Reyne teases that a particular secondary character might be getting his own story next, and I’ll definitely be back for more of this author’s excellent writing and storytelling.

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

Review: Vino & Veritas Series (multiple authors)

This post includes reviews of books in the Vino & Veritas series:

  • Featherbed (#1) by Annabeth Albert
  • Heartscape (#2) by Garrett Leigh
  • Headstrong (#3) by Eden Finley
  • Aftermath (#5) by L. A. Witt
  • Turnabout (#9) by Laurel Greer
  • Daybreak (#12) by Kate Hawthorne
  • Heartsong (#13) by A. E. Wasp
  • Stronghold (#14) by Ana Ashley
  • Limelight (#15) by E. Davies
  • Unforgettable (#16) by Marley Valentine
  • Undone (#18) by Leslie McAdam

Featherbed (Book 1) by Annabeth Albert

If Vino and Veritas was a real bookstore/wine bar in my town, I’d probably never leave. Alas, it exists in this fictional version of Burlington, Vermont, which is good, because that means this indy bookstore will be successful forever and never close. Harrison has given up the lifestyle of a New York City lawyer to help his mother live her dream retirement, even if that means embarking on a new adventure in an unfamiliar town and way more encounters with chickens than he ever planned on. He also doesn’t plan on the sparks to fly between him and local farmer Finn.

For different reasons, both men are sure they aren’t relationship material. Luckily for readers, they agree to a low-key arrangement, which also happens to include sweet dates and interactions with each other’s lovely family members. Seriously, the massive denial both men manage is almost as fascinating as all the random tidbits about chickens, other feathered fowl, and general farm life Albert sneaks into this book without ever being an info-dump or coming across as preachy about the benefits of farm-to-table living.

I geared myself up for a massive dark moment in which either Harrison’s or Finn’s life is at stake. However, this book is relatively low-angst, and though the dark moment certainly exists, Albert balances it nicely with the sweetness of the romance and with a deft touch. It’s more appropriate than any of the scenarios I feared and gives me hope that these men will be in it for the long haul. I look forward to getting glimpses of them throughout this series, especially since it centers on Harrison’s bookshop.

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

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Review: The Cowboy and the Dom Series by Jodi Payne & B.A. Torgtuga

This post includes reviews of the books in The Cowboy and the Dom series:

  • First Rodeo (#1)
  • Razor’s Edge (#2)
  • No Ghosts (#3)
  • The Soldier and the Angel (#3.5)

First Rodeo (Book 1)

I’ve become a lot more intentional about which books I write full-length reviews for rather than just a few sentences on Goodreads. This series started as the latter when I first read it a few weeks ago. However, these characters have been living rent-free in my brain ever since, so I decided they were worth revisiting. And if I was going to spend time with old friends (rather than my enormous to-be-read pile), the books were also worth the time of a full review.

My original thoughts after the first read:

The slow burn romance here between a dead man’s brother and former lover is an intriguing ride — throw in a healthy dash of BDSM, especially when one character knows very little about it, and I was hooked. There is a touch of mystery here because no one knows who murdered James; however, the focus is solidly on the connection that grows between Sam and Thomas. Another aspect of this story I thoroughly enjoyed is Sam’s “fish out of water” existence in New York City, as he finds his place as both a retired rodeo cowboy and Thomas’s submissive. I immediately dove into the next book in this series as soon as I finished this one, which is always the highest compliment I can pay.

July 2021

Obviously, anything I expand upon here comes with the knowledge of the full storyline. That being said, this book loses none of its appeal on the second pass. Experiencing the way Sam and Thomas come together becomes a richer experience overall, as does examining certain interactions with the gift of knowing the truth about the characters. (Also, finding the first time Sam calls Thomas “mister” is a sweet treat.)

Overall, Payne and Tortuga walk a fine line with this romance that is nontraditional on multiple levels. Thomas is not trying to replace his dead lover. Sam travels to New York City with one goal and replaces it with a new outlook on life. Finally, the power exchange element is delivered with intention between the characters rather than to spice up already heated encounters, proving that the authors understand the inherent value of making the lifestyle a true part of the characters rather than merely a facet of their existence.

It took a lot of work to break to write this review once finishing the book for a second time, instead of hurling headlong into the next. But if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a pocket cowboy and a delicious Dom to take up the rest of my afternoon.

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

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Review: Gentlemen of the Emerald City Series by L. A. Witt

This post includes reviews of the books in the Gentlemen of the Emerald City series:

  • Luca (#1)
  • Cole (#2)
  • Bryce (#3)
  • Marco (#4)
  • Andre (#5)
  • Hunter (#6)

Luca (Book 1)

I hadn’t read anything by Witt in a while, so I decided to rectify that with her newest contemporary romance series. The sex work element of this particular world doesn’t turn me off, but I did go in knowing that Witt is one of the few authors for whom I will happily read a sports romance! From the first chapter, Witt already upended my expectations of this story. Ethan does not hire Luca because he is closeted by his sports career; he is one of multiple openly queer players on his professional hockey team. Instead, Ethan is trapped by his career in a different fashion, in that companionship (especially romantic) makes both him and his potential partner a target for gossip fodder. At the recommendation of a teammate, he checks out a high-end local escort service.

Sparks fly from the first time Ethan and Luca meet, but it’s not an immediate match made in heaven. Ethan is a romantic at heart, and even if hiring an escort seems like a perfect solution on paper, their first date doesn’t exactly end with a bang (pun totally intended). Luca might have this gig for the money, but not in the way that you think (school and medical debt being his biggest factors). However, Ethan takes another chance, mostly because of how intrigued he’s been with Luca from the start, and the sparks ignite. Then, this book isn’t a slow burn romance so much as my favorite trope of “idiots standing around in a fire together.”

My biggest complaint is that the repeated internal ruminations about their employer/employee status from both men got a bit old by the first half of the book. One of the major external conflicts is also super obvious. That being said, the way both of these conflicts play out on the page is handled with enough of a twist that I still more than enjoyed this story. I look forward to continuing this series.

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

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Review: Cold Hard Ground (Carpe Noctem #1) by Ariel Millar

I am a huge fan of this author in her persona as a contemporary MM romance writer (E.M. Lindsey), so I immediately pounced on this book when it came out. Then I did that weird thing where I put off reading it, only to devour it in a single evening once I started. I’m not new to paranormal romance, but I am relatively new to “omegaverse” fiction, which explains a bit of my hesitancy. However, I should not have doubted Millar’s skill as a writer to hook me, which she does by using biology and genetics to build the world of her Wolf shifters rather than hand-wavy magic as an excuse for sexy shenanigans.

This book does feature some sexy shenanigans that fall into two more tropes common to this type of story: fated mates and “f— or die.” Again, the way Millar develops this world and hooked me with Kor and Misha meant that I accepted these aspects of the story without a hiccup. Science may have put these characters into the positions they find themselves, but if fate makes it worthwhile…. Well, romance stories are a form of escapism for a reason.

I’m glad that I read Millar’s short prequel to this series, “Nothing to Lose,” because it provides a decent amount of context for the current situation that Kor and his fellow Wolves find themselves in after a war. This means Millar doesn’t have to do quite so much exposition work in this book so that the story moves quickly and dynamically. I look forward to continuing this series to see how the overall plot develops, and I’m excited that I know via the author’s social media that Kor and Misha will return as the heroes in a final book because I’m not ready to be finished with their surprise bond and developing relationship.

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

Review: Alphabet of Desire Series by Colette Davison

This post includes reviews of the books in the Alphabet of Desire series:

  • A is for Aftercare (#1)
  • B is for Beg (#2)
  • C is for Comfort (#3)

A is for Aftercare (Book 1)

This book was a relatively low-angst read, but that doesn’t mean Davison skimps on any of the tension necessary to crafting a great love story. Age-gap relationships are an easy trope in romance, but I’m always a bit skeptical about the unequal power dynamics when it comes to a relationship stemming from a boss-employee relationship. In this case, kink actually makes the emerging love story more accessible to me as a reader rather than less. Despite their attraction, I don’t think Hamish or Archie would have acted on it had they not encountered each other at a party. And once they do, the physical nature of things only happen because Archie makes the first move, proving once again that submissives are really the ones with all the power (and in a moment that made me cackle with glee, scaring more than one cat).

Writers writing writers always borders on wish-fulfillment on all sides, especially when the reader enjoying the books is also a writer, in my case. Hamish is obviously living that successful bestseller life, but I appreciate that he runs into trouble regarding inspiration and writing what he loves. I think Davison had more than enough room to expound upon this conflict, along with the reactions of Archie’s family to their developing relationship, without introducing too much angst into the story. Still, the final result is overall a solid, enjoyable story. (And honestly, aren’t steamy scenes more fun to read anyway?)

It is fairly obvious from the first book that each installment of this trilogy will have overlapping timelines and that we’ve already met Archie’s brothers Blake and Corey along with each of their future happily ever afters. Rather than diminishing my excitement for the next two books, I’m already more than invested in all of these characters and how their own stories will play out.

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

B is for Beg (Book 2)

It is a bit of a mental stretch to imagine a world where four kinky best friends find love with a set of queer triplets, but romance is escapism at its finest, so I’m having fun rolling with the concept. In a note at the end of this novel, Davison mentions that she wrote all three of the books in this trilogy concurrently, in chronological order. I can’t imagine attempting to write three overlapping timelines any other way, and the obvious work and care Davison has put into this project show now that I’m two stories deep into this delightful romance arc. We already knew that Blake would find love with Gabe and Calvin, but it’s so much fun to get the full story from their end. (A special treat was finding out that Gabe and Calvin had a certain hand in ensuring Archie and Hamish got their true chance at love in A is for Aftercare!)

They might be triplets, but Blake is a very different character from Archie. After a life being constantly compared to his brothers, Blake also has plenty of emotional baggage that he’s doing his best to support. I think he would have had a perfectly wonderful romance with either Gabe or Calvin, but together, these men are his perfect match. Their original priority might have been Blake, but being with him also gave the two long-time friends a chance to reevaluate what they mean to each other. My only serious complaint about this book is that I wish that emotional arc had been expounded upon a bit. Still, Davison promised low-angst, so I’m not quite disappointed to escape a lot of unnecessary navel-gazing.

As in the first book, the reaction of Blake’s parents to his new life (personally and professionally) is the heaviest conflict. However, since Blake also faces emotional hurdles with his brothers, I never felt that the interactions were repetitive (even reading these books so close together on their release dates).

Like here, we already know that the third brother, Corey, has also found love. I can’t wait to see that final story unfold to complete this delightful trilogy.

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

C is for Comfort (Book 3)

It’s been pretty clear from the end of book one that Corey and Spence will end up together in this story. We even already know how far they go the very first time they meet! However, it’s the mark of a good storyteller that the reader is just as invested in the journey as the destination, and Davison succeeds in that here. Corey is again significantly different from his triplets, even being queer and submissive, and he lives a vastly different life than them as a single father even though they all share a house.

On the other hand, Spence just wants to get laid. Luckily, Corey can’t offer much of a relationship considering all of the other commitments in his life. So, what I particularly love about this book is how these men accidentally fall into a relationship and catch undeniable feels. Rather than stress about it, they decide to see where it goes.

This story is relatively angst-free on the surface. It doesn’t make sense for Corey’s parents to be the same sort of stumbling block for this relationship as they were for Archie and Blake. Instead, the conflict here is much more internal, as Corey struggles to find some much-needed balance in his life, and Spence realizes that there might be room in his lifestyle for a relationship and even, possibly, a family.

Due to the overlapping storylines, the happily ever after here is also a happily ever after for the trilogy as a whole. I thoroughly enjoyed this sweet, kinky trilogy in which every book was distinct as much as the author kept the important elements of family and love consistent.

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

Review: Making a Mark (Triskelion #2) by Jodi Payne & B.A. Tortuga

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

The first book in this planned trilogy introduced me to an amazing author pairing and lived rent-free in my brain for the entire summer. I put off re-reading it until right before the sequel came out and enjoyed it just as much the second time. The moment I got my hands on this book, I devoured it in a single day and already can’t wait to read it again. Honestly, I’m not sure how much better my review can be than that.

Except I’m totally willing to shout about these amazing characters and their nontraditional relationships, so don’t worry, you get to keep reading.

Breaking the Rules ends on a pretty solid happily ever after because it’s obvious that Troy and Saul have found their person and are in it for the long haul. Except characters don’t exist in a vacuum, and Troy is still connected to his long-time found family who gave him a true home in Boulder. Though the book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, per se, it leaves readers with a moment of excitement and delight that’s like teetering on the edge of that cliff.

The freefall of how everything comes together picks up immediately in Making a Mark, which drops us directly into Carter and Geoff handling the aftereffects. Now, we also get the perspective of this long-standing couple who thought they knew the limits of their friendship with Troy until Saul came in like a whirlwind and interrupted the status quo. Thus, this book is not a traditional romance arc between two characters; instead, it’s an evolution of the deep connections between two couples (as both two pairs and four individuals) who don’t necessarily believe that limits exist to love. It’s an intricate and sexy dance between four unique men balancing power dynamics and their own needs and histories. Payne and Tortuga introduce the potential for angst but then manage it deftly thanks to their excellent use of character and focus on communication, a necessary component for any relationship but especially ones that include elements of power exchange.

I already know that I’ll be re-reading this book soon to truly absorb all the character development and fascinating interactions between these four incredible men. Payne and Tortuga have set the bar high for pretty much all found-family and poly dynamics I read in the future. This story does not end on the same level of tease as the previous one, but I’m thrilled that the journey is far from over (even if I’ll have to wait even longer for the final book).

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

Review: Beautifully Unexpected by Lily Morton

Morton excels at packing humor and emotion into a vibrant, immersive story that you can’t help but read straight through to the end. I knew that, as usual, her storytelling would leave me with the sort of book hangover that is difficult to shake. Mags and Laurie wormed their way into my heart much as they did for each other, and I wasn’t quite ready to be finished with them after the last page. (Luckily, Morton features a lovely epilogue for these characters on her website, allowing me a delightful final taste of their lives.)

I enjoy age-gap romances because it’s one of the easiest ways to bring two vastly different characters together. But though Laurie and Mags are of a similar age, which gives them delightful shared tastes to bond over, the characters are still vastly different. This novel isn’t an “opposites attract” story so much as it is the tale of two people who discover far too late that love has crept up on them while they were busy being generally bemused by their burgeoning friendship. Laurie might be the one to pursue spending time with Mags (for his own undisclosed reasons), but Mags allows himself to be drawn into Laurie’s orbit and finds the human connection he’d previously limited to more constrained friendships and hookups. Morton weaves enough hints about the dark moment into the narrative to have it not be a complete surprise, but the final conflict takes an unexpected turn that makes the resolution that much more fulfilling.

The snark in this book is real but never feels forced or inauthentic. Morton creates two incredible characters more through the way they view each other than how they view themselves, and I probably laughed as much as they made each other do the same. Fans of Morton’s work should not miss yet another of her wonderful love stories, and no romance fan should pass up this fabulous stand-alone novel that is well worth the time.

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