In his journey to finish his degree, the Spouse is currently taking a Photoshop course as an elective. One of the projects was to create an original book cover, and I demanded asked that he do one for one of my books!
I helped by selecting the images of Lauren Cohan (my fan cast choice for the character of Toria Connor), the stock photos of lightning that he incorporated, and the font choice for the title and author name. It might not be professional quality for publication, but it’s not bad for something pulled together on the due date. (Don’t tell the professor that bit.)
See the actual Steel Victory cover, along with full book info and buy links.
A psychologist willing to act as a relationship counselor for a pair of self-proclaimed psychopaths is already an intriguing character to me, so I was hooked on Dr. Tobias Eastman from his first appearance in Play Dirty. Despite his client list, he was still way too chill with the events in that book, so I was thrilled to dive into his point of view here. Tobias may have started as a secondary character with a role to fulfill in the plot, but his encounter with Madigan and Azreal awakened him to an entirely new world. Some names on his client list are irredeemable, in his professional opinion, and he might as well do something about it. For the greater good, of course. (The fact that in another world, Tobias might be on his own client list is another matter entirely.)
This decision to act rather than passively listen puts him on a collision course with Madigan’s mentor Soren, drawn out of retirement by the events set into motion earlier in the series. Though Soren originally views Tobias as a slightly intriguing obstacle, Tobias’ first attempt at vigilantism offends his professionalism. After a bloody encounter, Soren finds himself with an amateur killer to educate while also keeping said baby killer safe from the local mob.
In direct contrast to the tight grip Tobias keeps on every aspect of his life, Soren is so laid back he might as well be horizontal. The romance arc here draws on multiple genre tropes, from opposites attract to forced proximity. But ultimately, Soren and Tobias are merely another pair of kindred souls who find themselves free to finally be their whole selves in front of another person without censure or judgment. Soren mentors Tobias in all sorts of new subjects (yes, that means sex) as they tackle their lists of names to cross off while also trying to figure out who has Tobias in their crosshairs (and why).
My favorite murder husbands, Madi and Az, make an excellent appearance toward the end of the book because Wilder and James have created a delicious greater found murder family in this series. It’s important to note that Soren may risk his life to rescue Tobias, and Tobias may be a novice killer, but he’s still quite skilled in other areas. Their relationship isn’t necessarily a pairing that makes sense on the outside, but it works for them, and the authors pack enough punch via both emotions and conflict to make the ride entirely worth it. I highly recommend this entire series to readers who love morally gray characters who show their love in unique ways (even when sometimes that means at the tip of a knife).
Disclaimer: I received an advanced electronic review copy of this book from the author.
Denning saved the best for last in her trio of unique poly romances. Once again, she also presents a new arc within the context of this trope. This time, Ethan, Lucas, and Connor have never met each other before the events of this story, which means that each of them starts on equal footing as their relationships develop. None of them are looking for a boyfriend but are up for different levels of fun, so it’s fitting that love sneaks up on all three, and they end up with two boyfriends for the price of one.
One of my favorite elements of this book is that no time is spent on any angst or drama about the poly nature of their relationship, either internally or with any of the secondary characters. Denning also does an excellent job of balancing the conflict within each character’s life (especially for Lucas and Ethan) so that the seriousness is not brushed off, but the overall story doesn’t drown in angst. I actually got a kick out of how the youngest of the three, Connor, is the one whose life is the most “sorted” as Lucas deals with work issues and Ethan works his way through the aftermath of two unhealthy relationships.
I usually hate complaining that a book needs to be longer, but in this particular case, my only minor quibble is that I never had a good sense of the time progression between scenes (whether days or weeks). Denning likely wanted to keep the story focus on the triad, but I would have appreciated more context to see the three individual relationships between the men develop.
Overall, I had an excellent time with the individual stand-alone stories in this trilogy. Denning is always an author to turn to when you’re in the mood for nontraditional character dynamics and a delicious combination of heat and feels.
Hawthorne mentioned on social media that this was a difficult book to write, and part of me worried that this book would not mesh, thematically, with the previous installment of this trilogy. It features an established couple, and their lifestyle as white-collar professionals does not necessarily “fit” with that of hitmen and almost-mobsters. However, I already adored Kevin and Ronan from meeting them in a previous short story, so I went into this book with an open mind.
Rather than the traditional “meet cute” of a typical romance novel arc, Kevin and Ronan are an established couple approaching a year together. Hawthorne does play with reader expectations by revisiting their initial meeting in the guise of a fun anniversary date. However, it’s already obvious to those of us familiar with the couple that something is not quite right. The timeline of this book significantly overlaps with that of Dual Destruction, creating plenty of opportunity to show how Sage and Foster’s “interference” in Ronan and Kevin’s stable lives is only part of the conflict in this story.
The kink levels in this book are not for the faint of heart, but it’s not there just to up the spiciness of this romance. The point of this book is that because people are not stagnant, neither are relationships. Even as Ronan and Kevin remain committed to each other as a couple, the added stress of whatever Foster has dragged into their lives upends the fragile balance neither man had necessarily been ready to address yet. On the one hand, Foster’s unintentional manipulations allow them to re-evaluate the dynamic between them. But just as they are adjusting to a new normal, Foster once again throws a wrench into the works. And because Foster is Ronan’s best friend, the conflict there needs to be addressed as well, leading to one of the sexiest scenes in the book (and poor Kevin isn’t even there!).
So, while this might not be a traditional romance novel, it works as a solid installment in this trilogy full of fascinating characters and unconventional relationships. This story solidifies Ronan and Kevin as one of my favorite couples created by this author (and they have some steep competition). I already look forward to re-reading this book before the final book is released.
Simone packs a wallop into two short chapters in this excellent paranormal romance story. It appears pretty self-explanatory on the surface: vampire and priest meet, and sexy shenanigans ensue. However, Simone puts her own twist on how vampires work, the priest is not quite a priest, and the shenanigans are surprisingly humorous and sweet (along with being incredibly sexy).
Bastien and Aaron are well developed in the short time they have on the page, but I already feel like I know so much about them. At the same time, I’d be more than willing to meet them again for a much longer work. I hope this is a world Simone is preparing to explore further in the future, and I’d happily be invested if she does.
Fans of this author should not miss this short, delicious treat, and new readers interested in exploring her work will get a fantastic taste of her writing style and ability.
(Also, I almost choked to death on dinner when I got to a certain line in this story. You’ll know it when you get there. Read safely, friends.)
As a belated reward for publishing Steel Justice, I treated myself to a reward over Labor Day weekend by finally building Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. I adore the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but since I prefer building ships and buildings versus dioramas meant for younger LEGO fans, there’s not much in that theme for me. Thus, I snapped up this set when it was released. It’s definitely an “easier” build than the sets in my Creator Expert neighborhood and is not at the same scale, but I did enjoy the little details included in Doctor Strange’s New York City lair, Peter Parker’s apartment, and the necessary NYC pizza shop.
Sanctum Sanctorum Showdown (76108) — 1,004 pieces
This set is very much intended as a “play” set for younger builders, based on some build details (such as removable walls as casualties of battle) rather than strictly a display set. However, I’m more than happy to add it to my collection.
This post includes reviews of the currently available books in the White House Men series:
Press (Book 1)
This was the first Nora Phoenix title I picked up a few months ago, and at the time, I read the first 10 percent and lost interest. Since then, I’ve read other books by this author and completely fallen in love with her writing and storytelling, so I knew I had to give this series another shot. I easily resumed the book from where I’d left off and devoured the rest in a single evening and following morning.
Often, romance stories fall into the “friends-to-lovers” or “enemies-to-lovers” camps. This book deviates from those tropes in that Levar and Henley are professional colleagues of an adversarial nature. Too bad they’d make great friends, and even worse, that sparks fly when unintentional flirting occurs. To their credit, both make their best attempt to maintain boundaries in the relationship that develops and often communicate with each other as the mature adults they are. Unfortunately, the rest of the world can’t let the connection between them slide. I loved that it was a complete surprise to the characters but not to me as a reader that breaking off their non-relationship is utterly painful for both men.
That’s as far as I’m going to go into spoiler territory on the relationship side. Suffice to say: The resolution is unexpected, perfect, and utterly satisfying. All of this also winds through an ongoing external conflict with just enough political and real-world intrigue to make me anxious to read the next book in the series.
Do you like queer romance? Do you like The West Wing? Then this book is definitely for you. And now that I already know who good Phoenix is, I know I won’t be disappointed by what comes next.
Disclaimer: I received an advanced electronic review copy of this book from the author.
When I finished this book, I had that lovely mix of utter satisfaction and book hangover (from not being ready to leave the world the author has created). In the middle of reading this book, I sent a message to the author’s PA saying, “One of these days, I will read a Kelly Fox book without laughing so hard that I scare a cat. Sparrow is not that book.” At the beginning of this book, which I started as I was making coffee the morning I received it, I was already in tears from the emotion and poignancy of the prologue.
The amazing thing about Fox’s writing is that absolutely none of these emotional reactions are mutually exclusive within a single book. As always, she brings the humor, the emotion, the romance, and the sheer delight while reading the latest novel in her Rebel Sky Ranch series. Plenty of delightful cameos are on hand from previous books in her shared world, though this story/series continues to work well as a stand-alone installment. (Even Anders gets to go a little Anders in the background, relevant to the plot. As a treat.)
Enemies-to-lovers is one of my kryptonite tropes, and I was not disappointed by the trajectory of the unfolding romance between Sparrow and Luke. This may be a cowboy romance, but Sparrow is a very different type of cowboy. Fox emphasizes Sparrow’s non-U.S. roots as an immigrant gaucho while never using them to unnecessarily “exoticize” his character. In the same way, Luke embodies the typical elements of successful “Rodeo King” while also portraying his depths as a closeted queer man with a painful emotional history. As another lovely twist, the enemies facet of this story is relatively one-sided. Fox gives Sparrow and Luke ample reason to feel the way they do about each other without sacrificing solid characterization when those feelings start to adjust their dynamic. The book’s narrative conflict is far from over, both externally and internally, for both heroes once the romance portion of the story kicks in; however, Fox keeps the strong emotions ramped up as Luke and Sparrow recognize that certain kinks align.
Once again, “found family” is the amazing foundation upon which this book is built. Heroes should never exist in a vacuum, and Fox continues to expand upon her amazing world with characters I love to revisit and can’t wait to see more of. Not only am I already counting down until the next Rebel Sky Ranch book is released, but I already know that re-reads of both Sparrow and Goodnight are in my future.
This post includes reviews of all the books in the Auctioned series:
The Job (#3.5)
Auctioned (Book 1)
Even though I’ve loved everything I’ve read by this author, I put off reading this book because I knew it would be difficult. Now that I’ve finished it, that is an understatement. That sentiment is compounded by how happy I was when I realized Gray was a familiar friend from Power Play and that this sweet kid was about to go through hell.
It’s important to note here that this isn’t a dark romance, but it is a dark book. Gray does, in fact, go through hell, but he escapes worse actions that are visited by those around him. However, even in the instances when he avoids physical pain, Darius doesn’t make it easy for Gray to accept that freedom is around the corner. In the long run, Gray does his best to step up when he needs to, and his soul remains intact. This is less of a redeeming feature and more of a bug when it means Darius must adjust his already complicated plans to accommodate the desires of the boy worming his way into Darius’ heart.
Again, not a dark romance but still a very unconventional relationship arc. The immediate conflict is addressed, but the ride is far from over. Gray and Darius end the book on the narrowest of “happily for now” margins, and I can’t wait to dive into the next part of their tale. Even when I know it probably won’t be an easy read, it will be utterly worth it.
I always go into romance novels in which one of the characters has a significant mental health issue with a grain of salt. Since I personally know someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), I went into this book with a whole bucketful. I am not an expert by any means, but as a reader, I felt that James handled Oryn and his alters with compassion and intention, especially since we only view him from Vaughn’s external perspective. I appreciated Vaughn’s interest in Oryn based on the circumstances in which they meet, thrown together as partners in a class project because of their differences with their younger classmates. Vaughn notes his physical attraction to Oryn but quickly recognizes that the other man needs a genuine friend more than anything else.
Slowly, Vaughn is exposed to Oryn’s daily life and meets the others who live within him. These presentations spark a significant amount of conflict, but Vaughn is not the type to be dissuaded just because it would be “easier” not to have Oryn in his life. And if that means partying with a kid who is too young for him, and constantly getting cock-blocked by an aggressively protective jock, so be it. However, Vaughn truly steps up when he finally understands how Oryn’s health issues literally put his life in danger. True love does not “fix” Oryn, but it’s Vaughn’s quiet strength that finally gives Oryn the space to consider alternatives to the holding pattern his life had consisted of.
This book is a love story but far from a typical one, and it’s a unique sort of slow burn. I enjoyed reading how Vaughn melds his life with Oryn’s and does his best to support not just Oryn but “everyone” his partner consists of. I recommend this book to those looking for romances on the more difficult end of the spectrum, even though I wouldn’t necessarily consider this book “high angst.”