Review: The Zoo Job (Leverage #2) by Keith R.A. DeCandido

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

I’ve known for a while that one of my favorite authors had written a media tie-in novel for one of my absolute favorite television shows, and now I’m kicking myself for waiting so long to read it. Fans of Leverage will thoroughly enjoy this adventure. The story expands upon what was probably possible with the show’s budget by featuring travel to distant locales and, as evident by the title, extraordinary animals. At its heart, however, it contains all the elements that made every episode of Leverage entertaining and unique.

DeCandido captures the (at times, multiple) voices of each Leverage hero perfectly, both narratively and in terms of the characters they slip into for a job. The sheer number of other callouts to familiar show elements verges on unnecessary, but by the end of the story, everything ties off perfectly. But honestly, I’ll never complain about something that involves my favorite TV almost-villain, and DeCandido is quite aware of what he’s doing based on an interaction between Nate and Hardison toward the end of the book.

Also, DeCandido solidifies character interactions often left undefined onscreen, such as the exact nature of the relationship between Nate and Sophie. I’m genuinely shocked that this passed editorial review, but it’s pretty awesome that it did.

Overall, a solid, action-packed adventure that is a light, entertaining read. I would not recommend it to fans of the show as a place to first launch into this fandom, but if you like heists, amazing characters, and solid storytelling, definitely check out the show. And then pick up this book to read afterward.

Finally, I must acknowledge DeCandido slips in the perfect number of Doctor Who references. Age of the geek, baby.

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

Review: The Old Guard #1: Opening Fire by Greg Rucka & Leandro Fernandez

By the time I could read this graphic novel, which collects the first five issues of The Old Guard, I’d already seen the movie on Netflix twice. If you followed me on social media last August, you know I was pretty obsessed. So, it’s difficult for me to talk about the graphic novel in isolation, especially when I like the film version of the story so much better.

Rucka also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation. I wonder how much of his changes are a result of wanting to improve upon the story he told and how much was “imposed” on him by the other producers. Plenty of the elements from the graphic novel that I did adore are in the film, such as Andy’s opening speech and “the van scene.” And ultimately, a lot of the graphic novel’s highlights from the epic finale are there, just remixed in a way that supports the story changes.

Separating it from the context of the film, I’m honestly not sure how much I would like this book on its own. I find the characters and concept fascinating, and I’ve always been interested in different takes on immortality and how they affect a person’s life and world view. The villain is both one-dimensional and yet terrifyingly realistic. I appreciate heroes who are both righteous and flawed. Rucka gets major bonus points for diversity that never feels forced, and Fernandez draws stunning panels of violence that are precisely as gory as they need to be.

In short, I adore this film and highly recommend that any speculative fiction fans check it out. But I find I can only recommend the graphic novel to people who are genuinely interested in the source material, can comfortably spend the money, and are already familiar with the graphic novel storytelling medium.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Review: London Lovers Series by Sierra Simone

“The Seduction of Molly O’Flaherty” (Book 0.5)

After meeting these characters in Simone’s Markham Hall series, I was intrigued enough to follow them to London for their romance saga. Like it says on the tin, this story is not necessary for the following books. However, it does an excellent job of introducing Molly and Silas to potential new readers in a perfect snapshot of their current state. It features both the emotional pain and intense sexiness I have come to expect from a Simone work.

Molly is the quintessential “strong, independent woman,” made even more difficult by her existence in a time that does not value such things. My heart breaks for her circumstances, and while I know Silas is not going to “save her,” I look forward to seeing them grow even stronger together.

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

The Persuasion of Molly O’Flaherty (Book 1)

This book picks up eight months after the first story in this series. I don’t think it’s necessary to have read that story, but it made Molly and Silas’s connection more visceral, and their heartbreak more real, for having done so.

Molly truly is in a terrible position regarding the board of her company, and my heart aches for her. The added complication, of course, is her gender and time in which this story takes place. Her falling out with Silas did not put her in this position, but the embattled emotions between them prevent an easy way out.

This is one of those stories where half the drama wouldn’t occur if only the main characters talked to each other about everything they knew and everything that was going on. But Molly is stubborn, and Silas is more manipulative than he lets on, so they continue to flay themselves with their emotions even while they could be fixing all their problems instead.

I adored the poignancy of the ending, but I don’t understand why this book was broken into two shorter novellas when it could have easily been published as a complete story.

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

The Wedding of Molly O’Flaherty (Book 2)

The conclusion to the London Lovers saga is at turns joyful and fraught and heart-wrenching. Molly and Silas more than deserve their happily ever after together, but this is still a work by Sierra Simone, which means that nothing is ever easy.

Simone resolves the subplot regarding the daughter of a potential shipping partner and the villain of this series well. Molly retained plenty of agency during the encounter, but I loved how she was able to accept help from Silas, Julian, and the Baron by the hand of the true friendship in which they offer it. I was initially less impressed with certain monetary assistance her friends try to lend behind the scenes. In retrospect, it was an appropriate gesture according to the gender and socioeconomic limitations of the time. Also, I always appreciate stories in which wealthy characters use their available wealth to handle problems.

As I mentioned previously, the dark moment in a work by Simone is going to be truly dark. I cried. When the spouse asked why “my porn” was making me cry, I responded with “Because Sierra freaking Simone!” and he was wise enough to nod and not ask further questions. As usual, Simone runs her characters through the wringer in the most painful and perfect ways possible, making the happily ever after all the more perfect for it.

Fans of this author will not regret tackling this short series, though I do stand by my initial assessment that it should have been a full-length novel rather than broken up into a short story and two novellas.

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

Review: Scientific Method Universe Series by Kris Ripper

Surrender the Past

Sometimes the theme of a book is difficult to parse; not so with this installment of the extended Scientific Method Universe collection of stories. After meeting him as a bit character in the main series, I was excited to get to know Nick better in his own romance. Because it takes place earlier in the main series, some of the tension was lost because I knew he and Bernie would end up happily ever after. But that’s not a spoiler, because this is a romance novel.

That romance story can its own long road, though, and Nick and Bernie have been on theirs for almost a decade. Even as they push the concept of self-acceptance on Eddie and Leo, the secondary non-traditional romance of this tale, it’s evident that our heroes have a bit of that to learn themselves.

This book also touches on some interesting themes of the role of race in power dynamics. I would have loved to see the characters develop and explore that further, but I do understand that Ripper may have shied away from that discussion because ze is not a Black man.

Hopefully, I’ll get to see further progression of Eddie and Leo’s romance in additional books in this series. If you loved the Scientific Method books, this is an excellent start to the continuation. Hugh and Truman make plenty of appearances, and viewing Hugh from an external perspective outside his relationships is worth the price of admission alone.

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

The New Born Year

Things always look different from the outside; a new perspective can put an exciting twist on familiar characters. This time, we see the established “families” of the Scientific Method universe via Truman’s younger sister. I’ve enjoyed her as a character from the first meeting, especially in comparison to the rest of their family, so it was not a hardship to experience the first holiday beach house outing through her eyes.

This book is best read after the full Scientific Method series, including Surrender the Past, for the full effect. Some secrets were never meant to be kept from true family, so I’m glad that Will’s place in Hugh and Truman’s relationship is outed relatively quickly and that Alison rolls with it. Its clear that she has no experience with BDSM, so certain aspects of the rest of what’s going on in the house around her are kept more on the down-low. However, Alison also accepts what she does find out about with grace, by establishing that love and respect are involved, and then not letting it significantly diminish or alter how she feels about other characters.

In short, it was lovely to meet her. I can’t wait to read her happily ever next up in this engrossing series.

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

Practice Makes Perfect

I thoroughly enjoyed this sweet romance set in the Scientific Method universe, featuring Truman’s younger sister getting her own happily ever after. Alison is the only other tolerable member of the Jennings family, so I’m glad she could escape to California and become part of her brother’s larger found family.

Breaking the rules by falling in love at a BDSM and Dating workshop was not how I expected her “meet cute” to go, but it was definitely in form for the rest of this series. Alison and Paul made an adorable couple, and I appreciated that Ripper included occasional missteps regarding Paul’s use of a wheelchair. It made the story realistic without verging on preachiness. All experiences are different, but Ripper seems to have done their research in portraying Paul.

This installment is probably the lightest on the BDSM content by far, but it’s appropriate considering the experience level and relationship status of the pairing. That doesn’t stop Alison and Paul’s sexual encounters from being any less hot, while still retaining Alison’s sense of innate sweetness that I love from her.

I’m glad I’ll get to see glimpses of their continuing relationship throughout this series.

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

Threshold of the Year

Another New Year’s vacation at the beach house, this time featuring Truman’s best friend, Jase. This series of annual holiday stories featuring points of view other than the three primary characters of the Scientific Method series is a fascinating perspective into both that trio and the other relationships of their extended family-of-choice.

Back home in Boston, there’s probably no way that Jase would get involved in the Nick and Bernie dynamic, but vacation can seem like another world outside of time.

This sexy novella might not have much in significant plot or character development for this series, but I adore these characters. Luckily, so does Jase, and a good time is had by all.

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

Ring in the True

The point-of-view character for this year’s adventure at the beach house features someone mentioned in Surrender the Past. It sounds like he’s doing rather well for himself since then, and has been renovating the beach house despite his home base being back in Boston.

The usual sexual shenanigans ensue, but the best part of this story is Hugh’s holiday spirit, reuniting Evan with his girlfriend for a few days.

Usually, I write something about wanting to see these characters again in the future, but it sounds like Evan’s life is pretty sorted, and I’m happy to let him go on his merry way. He was an interesting POV choice for this book, but I appreciate the sense of closer Ripper brings to a character only briefly mentioned, while also making him a fully-fledged person I enjoy.

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

Let Every New Year Find You

Davey was not my favorite character in this series the first time we met them, and I wasn’t thrilled to invite them back into my favorite found-family now. Honestly, if it weren’t for the kitten sub-plot, this novella would have been even more of a drag.

On the plus side, the burgeoning friendship between Davey and Eddie is something that both characters need. The relationship that blooms between them is incredibly sweet, and I hope for both of their sakes that it’s not a one-off developed in the island of “vacation time” at the beach house.

Overall, this novella is not a bad addition to the larger Scientific Method universe. I was genuinely surprised to see the return of this particular character, and I hope Ripper has a happy ending in mind for them to live up to the rest of this series.

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

Less Ordinary

What does a fun, sexy series need to be thrown right in the middle of it? A painful, heart-wrenching story of loss. Adam and Rebecca didn’t deserve this experience, and part of me wishes this hadn’t been the plot Ripper chose to focus on them for. On the other hand, Ripper develops a fantastic, profound tale of pain and recovery. Yes, I cried through most of it.

Pregnancy loss affects every person and couple differently, and as someone who is childfree, I’ve never been even close to the position Ads and Beccs find themselves in. However, I could still empathize with their pain and their journeys through it.

This book is not necessary to read in the greater scope of the Scientific Method universe, so those who might be negatively affected by the content can easily skip this one. However, if the theme of pregnancy loss is not a trigger for you, I encourage all fans of this series to read this book despite how different it is from the rest of the series. Ripper more than proves their ability to write moving storylines that have nothing to do with romance and sex.

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

Every New Beginning

This New Year’s at the beach house novella is simultaneously an ending and a new beginning, as it says on the tin. At this point, all the relationships in the extended found-family of the Scientific Method Universe are in a solid place (though far from stagnant). However, Molly is in a different place and ready to embark on a new adventure in her life.

It was lovely to revisit one of my favorite characters in this series, and I’m pleased that Ripper takes the time to remind us that she’s a three-dimensional character rather than Will’s former girlfriend. I honestly could have done without the sexy bits in this book. That particular pairing has always seemed contrived to me, though perhaps Ripper is setting up a significant change in Lucy’s life for a future story here as well.

Kris Ripper is an author added to my insta-buy list for any future installments to this universe. The story as it stands is relatively complete as of this novella, but I’d be thrilled to revisit almost all these characters in the future.

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

Review: Alpha Protocol (Dark Tyrant #3) by C.R. Langille

Disclaimer: I am friends with the author; I received a free ebook version of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

The post-apocalyptic mayhem continues as Dark Tyrant book 3 picks up almost immediately after the previous installment to the series. This time, however, we finally meet the organization prepared to take on a fight of this proportion. Agent Doyle isn’t just a crazy man in a duct-tape coat – he’s part of a multinational paramilitary organization trained to handle these sorts of situations. His protégé Thuli leads a strike team into the heart of the Salt Lake City area to assess the situation. (To be fair, Agent Doyle is still very much a crazy man in a duct-tape coat.)

Things go badly for Thuli’s team quickly, as Hell (and possibly other horror-style realms) continues to spill into Earth. The nonstop action of the previous book continues here, and Langille makes excellent use of visceral description to invoke a response in the reader without overwhelming with gratuitous gore.

Our paranormal special ops team makes an unlikely team-up with a group of semi-professional ghost hunters in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was less interested in their storyline, and especially Frank’s awkward crush on a coworker. Other evil supernatural entities are taking advantage of the crazy situation, which makes things all the more complicated for our heroes.

Thuli’s story shines during the epic climax of this story, as readers learn that the leaders of her organization might not have Earth’s best interests at heart. I appreciate the “realism” that Langille brings to his writing in the form of not every hero making it out of the fight unscathed. He also resists the urge to “info-dump” every bit of information about every intriguing character, though in some cases he could lean a bit further in the other direction. (For example, Jeremiah was probably the most fascinating character in this book, and I could have easily done with some more details on his unique situation.)

This book ends with all the demon-fighting drama I could hope for, but the story isn’t over here. I look forward to Thuli and Doyle’s showdown with the Dark Tyrant and his acolytes, especially now that I know they might be fighting a war on multiple fronts.

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

Review: Unhallowed (Rath & Rune #1) by Jordan L. Hawk

I was delighted to return to the world of Widdershins, eight years beyond the original series, and check in on my favorite fictional town. The librarians of the Ladysmith Museum were always a source of amused befuddlement for me during the original series, so I was excited that one of those librarians was a hero of this new series. That Vesper Rune shares my reaction to Sebastian Rath and his cohorts made this book all the better.

Vesper could all too easily be an angst-ridden, overwrought character. However, Hawk grounds him through his devotion to his brother and his belief in their humanity despite their origins and physical differences. Sebastian is almost the more fantastical character due to his Widdershins upbringing and unique view of library security and pest-management systems.

I don’t want to spoil major plot points, but Widdershins knows it own. Though Vesper’s original arrival was under a cloud of deceit, it is clear from the outset that he has found a home if he can manage to accept it. His relationship with Sebastian is basically icing on the cake (and Sebastian’s reaction to Vesper’s non-human heritage and certain physical attributes is just as sweet).

The librarians of the Ladysmith are a force to be reckoned with, and I look forward to learning more about them throughout this series. Fans of Widdershins should not miss out on this new adventure.

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

Review: Markham Hall Series by Sierra Simone

The Awakening of Ivy Leavold (Book 1)

Here’s the old-school Gothic erotic romance I expected when I started Simone’s Thornchapel series! An innocent young woman finds herself helpless and adrift in a new home, at the mercy of a mysterious and figure who instantly captivates her attention.

Despite Simone’s effortless narrative that elevates the interactions between Ivy and Julian to sexual with a mere glance, the premise can be complicated for a modern reader’s sensibilities. Due to the gendered power dynamics of this period, Julian’s interest in Ivy is always going to be a bit “rapey.” But Ivy is no swooning ingénue. She’s been functionally independent for years and has no illusions regarding her status in society and the ability for upward mobility.

Adding a house party filled with libertines to the mix escalates events between Ivy and Julian that might have otherwise dragged on too long for even the most patient reader. However, the specter of Julian’s two dead wives continues to cast a pall over Markham Hall. I’m eager for the next book, both to solve these mysteries and see how deep the connection between Ivy and Julian leads.

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

The Education of Ivy Leavold (Book 2)

As a writer, I’m fascinated by language use. When reading historical romance that includes power dynamic play, it’s interesting to see what terms and explanations characters share in both dialogue and internal narrative. The added layer that historical romance brings to uneven power in terms of gender and financial/economic status heightens this book from a generic love story between two headstrong individuals to amazingly sexy connection between two lovers who might be perfect for each other – if one of them didn’t already have two dead spouses.

Because Julian is still keeping secrets, and not just about his former marriages. Despite how easy it would be for Ivy to subsume herself in her relationship with him, jarring moments prevent her from surrendering wholesale. Unfortunately, Julian has made surrendering look rather pleasant.

Sierra makes the romantic connection between Ivy and Julian all too real, even with the multiple layers to this story. I was genuinely shocked by the turn at the ending (one of those moments that seems inevitable only after the fact). I’m anxious to finish this series and see where it all leads, regarding both the romance and mystery elements.

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

The Punishment of Ivy Leavold (Book 3)

The theme of this book boils down to self-acceptance. Julian knows who he is and what he wants, and even he still struggles with his desires. Ivy is still young, and though her upbringing was nontraditional, she must rebel against social conditioning regarding her feelings for Julian. The love between them is never the issue, but rather, acceptance of what they each bring out in the other. (And what they bring out is sexy as hell.)

The resolution of the murder-mystery subplot wraps up both completely as expected and with multiple shocking twists. I figured out the murderer and his motive back in book 1. However, I did not expect the reveal of his actual identity and that another secondary character would involve herself in the affair. Simone humanizes even Ivy’s biggest detractors.

My favorite scene in the book is when Ivy reaches out to Molly for advice about Julian. The two women are still not friends, but their recognized connection as atypical women for their society transcends that. I can’t wait to dive into Molly’s stories soon, and I hope to catch glimpses of Ivy and Julian’s happily ever after within them.

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

“The Reclaiming of Ivy Leavold” (Book 4)

This lovely short story follows the main Markham Hall trilogy and gives readers a peek at Julian and Ivy’s happily ever after. Having a child was never going to make these two into a “normal” couple, and Julian realizes the error of taming his wildcat. However, Julian makes it clear that Ivy also belongs to herself as much as him, leaving us an ingenious and poignant love story to go along with the inevitable sexy bits.

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

Review: Scientific Method Series by Kris Ripper

Catalysts (Book 1)

The structure of this book is unusual but makes sense once you realize that it originally consisted of two books and that the first book originally consisted of a series of even shorter interludes. This narrative style might make the story disjointed for some readers, especially those who are looking for a more traditional romance narrative between two (or three) people. Warning: That is not this book.

Nothing about these three men is traditional, which made me love them all the more. For Will and Hugh, especially, I even found that I cared about the characters and their growth more as individuals than as a couple. This element works out perfectly for the storyline, and even Truman grew on me once he entered the picture. The escapism here is how these three characters work together, not the fact that they happen to.

My biggest quibble occurred at the beginning. Will agrees to learn about submission from Hugh, and it almost immediately slips into a combination of submission and masochism as if the two are automatically related. That they are for this character is fine, but I would have preferred a bit more discussion about it, especially considering Hugh’s initial mentorship role.

Resisting the urge to binge the rest of this series, to learn more about Will, Hugh, and Truman immediately, and the others we meet in this particular story, will be very difficult. I already have the next queued up on the Kindle, and as usual, I cannot think of higher praise.

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

Unexpected Gifts (Book 2)

This at-turns sweet and sexy novella functions as both a sequel and epilogue to the first book in this series. As an epilogue, it ensures to the readers that Will always has a place with “the boyfriends” (Hugh and Truman), clarifying upon the unique happily ever after in the main book. As a sequel, however, it does an excellent job of moving the lives of every character forward, even those who are only bit players in the first book, because life isn’t a stagnant thing.

Will doesn’t deserve Mollie, but I want them to live happily ever anyway. Hugh and Truman don’t deserve Will, but I have the feeling that even two professional shrinks would have a difficult time discussing that particular aspect of their relationship (and I also want them to live happily ever after). Mollie is currently my favorite character in any book, and I want to hang out with her and talk about life (and Will and the boyfriends).

The title’s reference to “unexpected gifts” is both literal (in all the best sexy ways) and metaphorical. The gift to the reader is more stories featuring Ripper’s fascinating characters and intertwining relationships. As usual, best praise: I’ve already purchased the next book in the series.

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

Take Three Breaths (Book 3)

This poignant book takes a character in mental distress and doesn’t make them the narrative point of view. Which is good, because Hugh’s angst drips off the page even from an outside perspective. Instead, it focuses on the relationship in danger from the ennui and is a love story only in how much Truman fights for Hugh. An important distinction is that he is not trying to “fix” Hugh; he merely asks to be allowed to be an equal partner when things are rough.

(I can’t believe I just used the word “ennui” in a review with a straight face, but Hugh, of all the characters I’ve ever come across, lives up to the description.)

Of course, Hugh and Truman’s relationship does not exist in a vacuum, and this book also shows the importance of an external support network. Truman turns to others in Hugh’s life for aid, to various degrees of success.

The sexy bits in this book are rife with emotional angst but are still a meaningful way that these characters connect. Another set of outside events dashes the anticipated finale. Disappointing, on the surface, but essential in how the tables are turned on the characters. They show Hugh exactly what Truman has been trying to express, and the story and their relationship are the stronger for it.

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

Breaking Down (Book 4)

This short novel features two significant events within Will and Mollie’s relationship. The first does not cause the second, but it leads to it. It’s almost as if Ripper knew ze wanted to write about these two incidents in these characters’ lives, but couldn’t bear to spend too much time on them individually. So, Ripper shoved them into one book, ripped a few characters to shreds, and then moved on with the series.

I don’t write that like it’s necessarily a bad thing. For a series that already contains plenty of angst (looking at you, Hugh), spending two entire separate novels on the aftermath of Will learning about Mollie’s assault and then the break-up of the two characters would have made for some pretty dark and sad reading.

The underlying messages here are clear. Love alone cannot support a relationship – it has to be a true partnership with both immediate and long-term goals for the continual development of said relationship. Mollie and Will are still perfect for each other. They just weren’t in the same place in their lives. I will, of course, spend the rest of the series comparing any romantic interest of Will’s with Mollie because “reality” has no bearing on this reader’s desire for everyone to get a happily ever after.

Speaking of happily ever after, the other message is again the importance of support systems outside a romantic relationship. The boyfriends will still be there for Will (and Mollie). It’s not always pretty, but Ripper drops some crumbs that I’m anxious to follow to the next book in this excellent series.

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

Roller Coasters (Book 5)

I’m not going to lie; it was tempting to skip forward to the wedding book (no spoilers, it’s literally in the title). But I adore these characters, and even though I knew poor Will was headed for more pain, I dove into this story first.

Will’s relationship with Molly was the stuff of legend, so it’s no surprise that things fizzled with Davey. A major missing component of this book is a discussion of polyamory regarding Will’s relationship with the boyfriends. He’s been with them for years at this point; dropping the physical component of that relationship just because he’s dating someone new was never going to be as easy as Will seemed to think. Reading that as an outside perspective was difficult, and the closest I’ve come to wanting to smack any of these characters upside the head for being dumb (my general litmus test for character development issues).

However, I do appreciate that Will being with the boyfriends was not the real reason for the breakup. Nor was, it is essential to mention, Davey’s representation as gender queer. This relationship hurdle was another integral path in Will’s journey of life, and I’m glad I took the time to appreciate it.

But I’m a sucker for weddings, and Hugh and Truman are inevitable. Luckily, the boyfriends are mature and smart enough to know Will needs to come along for the ride, even if Will hasn’t accepted that fact himself.

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

The Boyfriends Tie the Knot (Book 6)

I’m a sucker for weddings, so it would have taken a lot wrong with it for me to dislike this book. Spoiler alert: I loved it. This book concludes plot threads woven through this series for multiple character arcs. But this isn’t a “happily ever after” story. It’s the beginning of the new chapter in a journey.

This story is also chock-full of the secondary series characters I’ve come to know and love. I appreciate that their relationships have evolved off-screen because the rest of the world does not exist in a vacuum. Even better: Molly is back, and maybe she and Will are finally at an appropriate point in their lives to give a relationship another shot.

The majority of the “drama” in this book is wedding-related, which might not be up every reader’s alley. Luckily, Truman’s Midwestern family is on hand to provide an excellent collection of villains. It could all be boringly cliché, but Ripper gives them each just enough personality to make them recognizable in every reader’s life.

And finally, the integral role of Will in Hugh and Truman’s relationship is acknowledged and verified, which is both as sweet and sexy as it sounds.

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

The Honeymoon (Book 7)

Exactly what it says on the tin; not sure whether anyone would expect anything different. Boundaries are pushed on the BDSM front, but there are no significant developments in relationship status.

Utterly self-indulgent, probably for both the author and readers. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with that this far in a series.

Worth reading if you’re already invested in these books and these characters. Not a great place to start if you’re a new reader considering whether to check out the series.

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

Extremes (Book 8)

A wedding (and honeymoon) doesn’t mean that the story is over. For these characters, life is just beginning. I’m glad that Ripper takes us on a journey into that future, even though it’s not easy. All relationships evolve, and all relationships take constant work to maintain. We get a glimpse of how important both are for the adorable trio of Hugh, Truman, and Will in this novella.

For a couple of therapists, Hugh and Truman are astoundingly dense sometimes. I didn’t quite want to smack anyone upside the head in this one, but I came pretty close.

The “subplot” of Will’s desire with Molly and how he decides to address it with the boyfriends left me with a slight sense of disconnect in how they related. Again, even the care and feeding of this relationship takes work, especially when things go a bit off the rails for everyone involved.

I missed Molly in this story. However, I do recognize that shuffling her off to Europe allows Ripper to mess with zir characters’ heads in a way that leaves them no easy way out.

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

Untrue (Book 9)

On the one hand, this story was a heart-wrenching ending to such a fabulous series. I think I was just as heartbroken by Truman’s actions as Hugh and Will, mainly because they seemed so meaningless in the face of his existing relationships. However, problems existed within those relationships that sorely needed to be addressed, and Truman’s actions, though difficult, were undoubtedly the wake-up call everyone required.

I adored Ian as a voice of reason when dealing with these three semi-emotionally stunted men. Without him, I might have wanted to smack them all upside the head—a lot. Fortunately, Ian’s open-mindedness and compassion led my favorite trio out of the darkness. Truman, Hugh, and Will had plenty of work to do on their own, as well, which was shown on-page to the extent necessary without devolving into Ripper making us experience too much of his characters’ self-flagellation.

The over-lapping points of view at scene shifts were perhaps used too often during this book. I don’t think each one was necessary, and therefore the genuinely impactful moments of revelation might have been lost later in the book as I skimmed forward to get to the “new” material.

In the end, though, these three amazing men finally realize that they’re stronger as three than as two plus one. I’m not sure that adding additional layers of commitment to their relationship so closely on the heels of a breach in trust was necessarily the best idea, but it was definitely romantic. I’m crossing my fingers for their ultimate happily ever after, and I’m glad that so many additional works exist in this universe so that I’ll get to check in with these guys often.

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

Review: Magic in Manhattan Series by Allie Therin

Spellbound (Book 1)

Paranormal queer romance in early twentieth-century New York City seems to be a trope I’m particularly fond of, so I didn’t hesitate to purchase this book when at least two authors I follow raved about it on Twitter. The story itself did not disappoint in any measure, from the romance to the action-filled adventure.

From the outside, Arthur and Rory don’t exactly look like a predictable match. But Therin throws enough wrenches in the works that their developing relationship charmed me. As a bonus, I adored both characters individually, and even better, the secondary characters were developed and unique in their own rights.

The paranormal shimmers just under the surface of this Prohibition-era story, mysterious enough to enhance the adventure but visible enough that Therin doesn’t need to waste time keeping things under wraps. Therin also employs a lovely mixture of elemental magic with traditionally “psychic” abilities in a way to be familiar and yet utterly brand new.

Overall, there are many things to appreciate in this book beyond the surface of “it’s a great story.” Effortless diversity, sympathetic villains, and lots of room for further adventures are just the start. I’ve already purchased the sequel, and I can never think of better praise than that.

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

Starcrossed (Book 2)

The events of this book pick up almost immediately after the first. I didn’t fall into the world as easily this time, and I’m not sure why. All the characters I enjoy are still there, though I wish I could have spent more time with Jade and Zhang instead of following Arthur around on his dull family responsibilities. However, Arthur’s secret occupation as a relic hunter is spilling into his real-world persona as “younger brother of the political elite.”

Therin shies away from truly exposing Arthur’s mundane life to that of the paranormal, leaving so many missed opportunities for conflict. Even the subplot of Arthur’s ex-lover fizzled in the most adorable way possible. I understand not wanting to put your characters through the wringer, but sometimes it’s not just the bad guys who have to suffer for the story to progress. Points should be given, though, for Therin’s use of character in shades of gray, former “villains” who might not be on the side of angels but are not the worst that our heroes need to be expecting.

Arthur and Rory’s evolving relationship hits all the expected beats for two people of different social classes who must hide their relationship. Rory’s age plays into this, and I appreciate that the men joke about it rather than it being another awkward aspect they must overcome.

My quibbles here about the story are still nothing compared to how lovely Therin’s world building is, combining Prohibition-era New York City with various forms of supernatural ability. I look forward to reading the conclusion of this trilogy when it is released.

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

Review: The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut #1) by Mary Robinette Kowal

This post-apocalyptic novel is a climate change story dressed up with a meteor strike. The meteor allows for a dramatic and epic start to the tale and accelerates the climate change issues our planet already faces. Under this premise, Kowal can force this world into jumpstarting events to tell Elma’s story.

I was reluctant to start reading this book in the summer of 2020 because, well, a country in the grips of a pandemic is already apocalyptic enough for me. However, Kowal does not linger on the immediate after-effects of the meteor strike. She does, however, make it clear that Elma and her husband’s position of privilege (regarding both skin color and occupation) are what insulate them from those issues.

Issues of race, gender, and religion are certainly at constant play throughout this story. Elma confronts her internal bias multiple times, but never to the point of forced performative “white guilt” to beat the reader over the head with a message. It’s a commentary on the reality of the time period and world Kowal is working with, and unfortunately, still a commentary on the world we live in today.

On a more personal level, so much about Elma appealed to me as a reader. Jewish – check. Diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder – check. In a loving, supportive relationship – check. Once again, the book was not “about” any of these particular things. Instead, they came together to create a fully fleshed character who experiences internal and external conflict appropriate to the story. And it’s a hell of a story.

I’ve always been a supporter of the space program (and once upon a time, I dreamed of being a lady astronaut of my own). Today, my spouse and I are regular online watchers of private launches around the world (SpaceX, RocketLab, etc.), and this knowledge made the launches in the book even more exciting to read.

I highly recommend this book to any science fiction reader who ever dreamed about touching the stars.

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