Review: Bold Brew Series (multiple authors)

This post contains reviews of the currently available books in the Bold Brew series:

  • Cup of Joe (#1) by Annabeth Albert
  • Puppuccino (#2) by Allison Temple
  • Perfect Matcha (#3) by Erin McLellan
  • Vanilla Steamer (#4) by Crystal Lacy
  • Order Up (#5) by Wendy Qualls
  • Silky Smooth (#6) by A. M. Arthur
  • Fair Trade (#7) by Cate Ashwood
  • Extra Whip (#8) by L. A. Witt
  • Cinnamon Roll (#9) by Anna Zabo
  • Double Shot (#10) by Gwen Martin

Cup of Joe (Book 1) by Annabeth Albert

I think this book does an excellent job as the introduction to this shared-world series that centers around a queer-friendly (and kink-friendly) coffee shop. In this particular story, sparks fly between a brand-new barista and a local electrician. Barista Levi found himself in a bit of a tough spot after graduation when the life he envisioned in this new town fell through. He finds comfort in Joe, and together, they explore the various possibilities of how a relationship between them might work. First, it’s just for the summer, but it quickly becomes clear that the relationship means much more than a seasonal escape.

Though this book is billed as an age-gap romance, I think that has more to do with the different place each character is in his life (just out of college vs. established career and homeowner) rather than specific ages. Joe has experience with the kink lifestyle but feels that he no longer fits the image expected of him. Levi is great for his partner’s body positivity and doesn’t hesitate to share what he’s looking for and helping Joe settle into that dynamic. Overall, this is a sweet and sexy romance with a dark moment that stretches the main characters to be better, both individually and together.

I’ve read previous books by some of the authors scheduled to be part of this series and checked out this first book primarily for them. However, I don’t regret jumping in at the beginning based on how lovely I found this story. It’s too bad I’m such a fast reader that even two weeks until the next installment feels much too long!

(And does this series get bonus points for all the coffee pun titles? Absolutely. In fact, I think I’ll make myself another cup right now.)

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

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Con Report: In Your Write Mind 2021

I’ll admit it — I’m not cut out for the virtual convention life. I had a conversation with a friend earlier this week and brought up how late I was in writing this con report, and she pointed out that my experience with this year’s In Your Write Mind 2021 was even more skewed than the other virtual conventions I’ve participated in. So, this will be a short post, but I wanted to make sure that I still gave the run-down.

Part of the problem is that I pre-recorded two of my panels over a week before the event so that participants could watch them at their leisure during the workshop itself. One was on editing, and the other on world-building. I’ve participated in panels about both topics before, so while I enjoyed them, I don’t think that I contributed anything mind-blowing to the discussion that I want to highlight here.

Unfortunately, I accidentally scheduled so many “real life” events during the weekend of the workshop itself that I wasn’t able to participate in as much of the online activity as I would have wanted. I absolutely don’t regret seeing my first film in theaters in over a year (opening night of Black Widow with the spouse) or participating in my neighborhood yard sale and connecting with the people I live near. However, waking up that early on Saturday, then having my two IYWM live events that afternoon, meant that I wasn’t able to stay up late enough that night to participate in the virtual book-signing the way I would have preferred.

That being said, my two afternoon sessions were fantastic. I gave my ever-popular “Alternate History: Creating Stories by Changing the Past” interactive presentation to a small group. It was a bit weird being the one person on video while everyone else contributed via chat because I worried I was the only one laughing, but I was assured by some participants that they all had a good time. For this session, we created a nexus point alternate history in which President Kennedy was NOT assassinated, which led to better outcomes in the American civil rights movement and a more advanced space program. In the true alternate history category, we played with how religion would be different if reincarnation existed and got a little blasphemous about New Jesus and New Buddha hanging out in a communed together.

It was so nice of the new Loki show to provide excellent supporting media for my presentation!

Afterward, I contributed to a panel about the reality of military life with other military spouses and Active Duty service members in various branches. We shared both humorous stories and frustrating events, along with the biggest problems we see in representations of military personnel (and their families) in the media.

Visiting Seton Hill University, where I attended graduate school, and participating in this annual workshop (which stemmed from a desire for alums to still hang out every summer) is an important part of my life. I’m definitely crossing my fingers that I’ll be able to return in person next summer and catch up on so many hugs from people I haven’t seen in far too long.

Review: A Time to Rise by Tal Bauer

I’m not sure what I expected of this book, but it was about a million times better than I anticipated. The characters, story, and situation were more exciting than I could have imagined, and it all packed an amazing emotional punch at the end. It’s one of those harder to categorize books: not quite a romance, not quite horror, not quite urban or dark fantasy. However, it includes all of those things in good measure, featuring dynamic characters that I thoroughly enjoyed.

I don’t know whether being Catholic would enhance appreciation for the story and setting, but this very non-Catholic didn’t have any trouble slipping into the world Bauer created. I have no idea how close the author stayed to how the Swiss Guard works, but I appreciated this glimpse into the possible workings of Vatican City in a paranormal-infused world. Alain was the perfect broody hero, Lotario was his delightful foil, and it’s clear from their first interaction that Cristoph will drop a giant wrench in the works.

My favorite part of this book, despite how much it ended up making me cry, was how Bauer teases out the truth about Alain’s past and how it connects to a supposed villain in the story. (Did I cry on the elliptical again? Yup.) This isn’t a story of light versus darkness so much as shadows versus shadows, and I’d be thrilled to read a follow-up story. Though the main plot is tied up, plenty of other conflict remains to be addressed, and I’m definitely interested in a peek into certain characters’ futures together.

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

Review: No Surrender (No Regrets #1) by Nora Phoenix

This book is the first spinoff to the No Shame series by the same author. I’m pretty sure it can be read as a stand-alone, but I both highly recommend it and think that readers who enjoy this book will likely also enjoy going back to read those books as well. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Caught up now? Excellent. Now you know why I was both incredibly interested in reading a story that features Wander and had little to no interest in reading a story that features Burke. However, Phoenix doesn’t redeem Burke without making the character work for it. She sets him up as a more sympathetic character who does make an effort to identify his issues and resolve them. How Burke approached BDSM and evolved in how he both engaged with it and found benefit from it fascinated me. In the end, I doubt Burke will ever be a favorite of mine, but I will always applaud an author who still manages to draw me in despite my initial reservations.

But two heroes make up a proper romance, and Wander has been full of fascinating possibilities from my first encounter with him. In this book, though, he comes off as kind of…perfect? Wander is pretty much exactly what Burke needs in all regards, does his job without much drama (even if the external plot was interesting and dramatic in and of itself), and is overall the picture-perfect sexy Dom shown on the tin. I think my interest in him as a character will actually deepen throughout the rest of this series, as Wander fulfills the desire he expresses after experiencing the found-family in the No Shame series. And if I have some ideas of what’s coming next, I’ll call it half prediction of where Phoenix might go from here and half hopeful wish-fulfillment of the type of romance relationship tropes I enjoy most (and which Phoenix has proven adept at writing).

I look forward to continuing this series and might even consider going back to revisit the No Shame books in the meantime. (Just don’t tell the rest of my lengthy to-be-read list.)

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

Review: Us Series by A. M. Arthur

This post reviews each of the available books in the Us series:

  • Here For Us (#1)
  • Sound of Us (#2)
  • Uniquely Us (#3)
  • Heart of Us (#4)

Here For Us (Book 1)

This novel is a slow-burn romance between three very different men, and I don’t just refer to their disparate ages. It also includes their socioeconomic statuses, their personal histories, their mental health issues, and finally, how settled they are in their current situations and relationships. Cris and Jake show instant chemistry during a hookup, while Cris and Charles have developed a friendship tinged with romantic longing over nearly a decade.

Despite all three men being queer and the sex-positive aspects of their individual professions, they are still burdened by a certain amount of social traditionalism regarding how relationships are expected to be between two people. This causes all sorts of drama in which Cris is determined not to make either man feel like the second choice, but he is burdened by a secret he’s kept from Charles.

Jake, however, is the person who ultimately brings them all together in an unexpected turn of events. I appreciate that the support that Cris and Charles provide for him does not “fix” Jake, and in turn, there’s not an immediate “happily ever after” for these characters. This book ends on a solid “happily for now” without a cliffhanger, but I’m anxious to continue the story and follow these characters on their intertwined journey.

As a bonus, I already know that two secondary characters will be the heroes of their own story later in this series, and I can’t wait to see certain overlapped events from their perspectives.

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

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Review: Lust & Longing by E.M. Denning

It takes strong characterization to create two characters in a single scene and have me believe they’re meant to be together forever—and then split them up for 20 years. It takes even stronger characterization for me to stick with the point-of-view character over those 20 years when he’s kind of a jerk for many of them. Perhaps it’s because I’m married to someone in the military, but Noah’s strong negative reaction to Ian enlisting came very close to turning me off from the book. However, I’m so happy that I stuck with it.

The reunion between Ian and Noah is just as simultaneously sweet and awkward as I could have hoped. Remembered love is very different from the real thing, and people change. I appreciate that the spark between the two men is still there but that they don’t immediately jump into a (new) relationship with each other. Luckily, Noah has friends who are more than happy to play matchmaker for the one that got away.

In the time they’ve been apart, Noah has also discovered certain things about himself that Ian completely upends. It works out in the end but certainly makes Noah reconsider his needs and desires. Unfortunately, it also contributes to a certain lack of communication that creates the book’s dark moment. This is another case of Noah being a bit of a jerk, but I’m still pleased that everything works out.

I’d almost love to see certain scenes in this book from Ian’s point of view. Denning also sets up so much potential with side characters and a new hotspot in town—I certainly wouldn’t be upset to revisit Silver Springs sometime in the future.

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

Review: Truth by His Hand by Casey Cameron

A friend recently complained to me that she has a hard time finding kinky fiction that dives into the point of view of the submissive character rather than the dominant partner. I didn’t set out to find a book that proves her wrong, but I’m so pleased that I stumbled across this delicious stand-alone title. River grew on me immediately, as a character looking to expand his horizons but still clinging to a few misconceptions. I had a lot of fun getting to know him as he stumbles along on a few mediocre dates, both within and outside the scene, and meeting some spectacular secondary characters.

River obviously ends up giving Ellison a chance to prove that a physically smaller person can effectively dominate a larger person, even without the trappings of bondage. This book explores a lot of the more mental/emotional aspects of BDSM, and it’s just as sexy as anything more traditional. If anything, I enjoyed how the characters find options that work for their relationship and dynamic.

Of course, not all is smooth sailing. Both River and Ellison make missteps in their burgeoning relationship due to poor communication and assumptions that stem from their different experiences. This is about the only time I wish that Cameron also provided scenes from Ellison’s point of view because I wanted more of his thought processes about his developing feelings for River.

Otherwise, this was a sweet and sexy book that I thoroughly enjoyed. It doesn’t look like Cameron has any other titles set in this world, but I certainly would not be averse to visiting again!

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

Review: The Four Series by Sloane Kennedy

This review includes the books currently available in The Four series:

  • Forgotten: Luca (#1)
  • Foreseen: Lex (#2)
  • Forgiven: Con (#3)

Forgotten: Luca (Book 1)

This book can be read as a stand-alone story, but it works best in the context of two previous novels by Kennedy: Atonement (Protectors #6) and Unbroken (Protectors #12). Thematically, this story fits very well within that series, but I like that Kennedy split these characters off into a new, dedicated collection of novels. Luca is a lot like the leader of the Protectors, which is probably why they don’t mix very well, as seen in this book. However, their protectiveness comes from the same place, and ultimately, both have claimed a stake in making sure Remy lives a happy, successful life after his tragic childhood.

Unfortunately, Luca encountered Remy during that childhood, and it left scars on both men. Neither ever expected to meet again, but now that they have, long-buried emotions keep drawing them together despite the continual pain their interactions also cause. The love that grows between them is subtle and doesn’t come from a traditional place as most romance novels, but it is unmistakably there.

In proper Kennedy fashion, the love that grows between them does not “heal” or “fix” either character. On the physical side, this book is also a slower burn than the stories in the Protectors series, but it is entirely appropriate for the characters and their interactions. Like Luca, I would have been thrilled with any version of happily ever after between him and Remy, as long as it meant they were together.

I look forward to reading the stories of the men who Luca and Vaughn consider brothers, especially considering the volatile (but loving) dynamic that exists within this found family. Lex has been a bit of a mystery from the very beginning, so I’m pleased that his story is up next.

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

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Review: Inevitable by Briar Prescott

For touching on so many stressful subjects, this was a remarkably low-angst book. I was immediately intrigued by Drew and Bas’ dynamic, even before the first time they appear on page together. The sparks between Drew and Ezra were also blatant, and I knew I had to find out how these three characters finally came together, first as friends and then potentially as more.

—Skip the next paragraph to avoid a major character detail that could be construed as a spoiler—

I try to avoid spoilers in my reviews as much as possible, but I can’t let the opportunity to applaud diversity slip through my fingers. Bas is an asexual but not aromantic character, and he and Drew have danced around each other for literally decades. Both have sought sexual and romantic connections elsewhere but hesitated to attempt anything closer to home for fear of losing their precious friendship. Bas being ace is not how this menage romance “works;” however, it potentially contributes to why the dynamic between the three characters evolves the way it does. Regardless, it is lovely to see an ace character treated as an equal to a relationship rather than an element the other characters have to “make up” for.

Okay, spoilers over. I originally expected significantly more angst regarding Ezra becoming part of Drew and Bas’ lives due to unequal financial situations. Instead, I loved how the stability of a home allowed Ezra to thrive as a character and be better able to support the rough patches that cropped up between Bas and Drew as they navigated a shift in their relationship. The dark moment is only tragic in that I pitied secondary characters for their loss more than the main characters. The epilogue of the promised happily ever after was incredibly satisfying, and I’d love to peek on these characters again someday. I’m pleased that I took a chance on this new-to-me author based on seeing this book promoted in social media groups.

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

Review: Licking Thicket Series by Lucy Lennox & May Archer

This post contains reviews of the currently available books in the Licking Thicket series:

  • Flakes (#0.5)
  • Fakers (#1)
  • Liars (#2)
  • Fools (#3)

Flakes (Book 0.5)

This novella blends onscreen sparks and sexiness with a narrative that provides the necessary context for the current relationship (or lack thereof) status of the two main characters. Ryder and Colin have walked the knife’s edge of unfulfilled attraction for years, and both men had ample reason to resist. It’s not like things have changed now, but that those reasons suddenly seem less important in the face of a surprise snowstorm and forced proximity. This peek into one night between the two men is also an excellent look at the overall dynamics of the town they live in, even without the epilogue that throws multiple future characters at the reader.

Pet peeve: White skin is, unfortunately, still the assumed default in fiction, and the authors make multiple references to Colin’s skin tone without also doing the same for Ryder. This is far from a complaint about forced diversity, and I do applaud how Lennox and Archer never resort to forced exoticism in their description (no food references here!). However, the imbalance jarred me out of the story every time and is an unconscious bias I wish authors would be more aware of.

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

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