I abandoned the first book in this series at about 70%. The three-way arranged marriage via secret society concept intrigued me. Unfortunately, the book used it more as an excuse for three characters to launch immediately into sexual escapades without any personal connection. By the time the external plot showed up, I didn’t care about any of the characters and called it a wash. However, the series premise still intrigued me, so I decided to give the next book a chance.
For multiple reasons, including a prior friendship between two of the characters, the relationship worked much better for me in this story. Even the characters themselves were much more developed and appealing as individuals I could root for. I should note, however, that the evolving friendship between the two men, Gunner and Price, was more engrossing as a relationship arc than the clichéd insta-love both men have for Deni.
And I suppose the Trinity Masters must be on to something because these three’s combined lives set off a chain reaction of events for the external plot that was both believable and interesting, playing to and relying on the strengths of each character. Overall, a decent blending of story and ridiculous threesome premise, and I’m willing to give the next book a shot based on the short epilogue in this one.
Finally, a book in this series that lived up to the premise of a romantic thriller combined with unique ménage relationships, rather than the authors using one of those to drag the other along and hoping for the best.
Unlike the first two books, which jumped into the ménage marriage and sexy bits without a chance to get to know any of the characters (and then remembered that there should be a bit more of a plot later in the book), this one immediately starts with a plot that threatens the Trinity Masters secret society. As a bonus, we meet the characters on a more individual level. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, as a result, I liked Tasha, Marco, and Damon a lot more than their predecessors.
The boys still verged on a bit of “insta-love” with Tasha, but it developed while all three were thrown into dangerous and intimate (for multiple definitions of the word) scenarios than tend to bind people together regardless. Overall, this was definitely Tasha’s story, and she more than deserved her happy ending.
I’m now much more optimistic about this series and looking forward to finally connecting with the head of the secret society in the next book.
Today, we’re celebrating the upcoming September 7 release of Unfettered Journey, a debut novel by Gary Bengier. Check out the book below and read on for a short interview with the author.
ABOUT THE BOOK
“I want to know the truth. I want to know how and why.”
Joe Denkensmith, Level 42, vidsnap: Year 2161
Set in a richly envisioned future world, Unfettered Journey is the story of an AI scientist who seeks to create robot consciousness and discovers the resilience of the human spirit. He travels to a small college to progress his quest, but instead finds love, a secret plot by unjust forces, and the answers to his fundamental questions — the nature of the conscious mind and free will.
This book is a profound, many-layered journey. It is a love story and an adventure. It traces struggle and resilience in an imperfect world. It is a deep philosophical exploration, resetting the conversation at the intersection of science and religion, challenging you to begin your own journey to a purposeful life.
What was your primary inspiration for this book? The original “what if” moment?
Remember “42” from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? That is the answer to the question about the so-called Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything (posed by aliens who created a supercomputer, that churned for 10 million years). Yes, it is a cornball joke. But I’ve been fascinated by the big questions, and trying to find those answers inspired me to write Unfettered Journey—to share that journey with others. That is why after a full career focused on daily living, I went back to earn a master’s in philosophy. (Spoiler alert—that may be why my main character, Joe, is a “Level 42.”) We want to answer those big questions, to find meaning and purpose in our lives.
This month slipped away from me pretty fast, like the rest of this summer has, since time has basically ceased to have all meaning. I’m still working from home full-time, I’m still doing a lot of reading, and I’ve done some solid work on book 7 that I’m pleased with.
All travel plans through the rest of 2020 are officially canceled (as they should be). Especially if you are the United States, please keep wearing masks and socially distancing and staying as safe and healthy as possible. Even though 2021 feels far away, I’d love to reconnect with fans and other friends in the SF/F community at in-person conventions again.
Not going to lie: A lot of my time this past month has been spent being COMPLETELY OBSESSED with a movie on Netflix called The Old Guard. Fans of my books should definitely check it out: immortality! swords! women being awesome! canon queer characters! I haven’t fallen down the rabbit hole of loving something this much since Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Some fanfic may have been written. No, I will not share the link. (Don’t worry, the spouse yells “Book seven!” at me on a regular basis in some sort of attempt to keep my priorities in order.) Anyway, check it out and come geek out with me about it on social media.
The detailed book 7 outline is about 85% complete. (Don’t look at me like that; I have two days left in the month from the time when I am prepping this post.)
I’m trying to stay healthy. Mostly I am itchy. It’s a long story.
Send my detailed book 7 outline to some friends for review — I want to make sure that I do justice to the end of my series.
Write at least 5k to 10k words of the beginning of the book.
Probably watch The Old Guard a couple more times. (This is such a strange year that I feel like this is not an unreasonable goal to add.)
Events pick up steam in the latest installment to this serial epic, which I appreciated. Action, adventure, and sexiness galore, which is what we’ve come to love and expect from Draper’s entertaining stories. For this series, especially, we get answers to questions about Freya’s shared history with Derek White, along with explanations about current events in the broader world beyond White’s claimed city.
Before I, unfortunately, mention the things I didn’t like about this book, I have to give major compliments to the way Draper handled Black and his incubus power. Throughout this book, Freya uses her innate healing ability to target Black’s fears and help him release them, resulting in some lovely sexy bits (because incubus) that have a plot-related purpose beyond just being sexy. For a crazy urban fantasy epic, Draper has her romance genre beats down as well.
Alas, I wish I could give this book five stars, but some action and adventure and even the resulting sexy bits wouldn’t have happened if Freya hadn’t fallen into the “too dumb to live” trap of book heroes. Her reason for leaving the safety of the city boiled down to being selfish and spoiled and not wanting to be “left out” of the action. While I do recognize a person reaching the end of their limits, I didn’t buy that Freya’s reaction would be an impulsive decision that she was in no way prepared for, putting everyone around her in additional danger. It may have moved events along in the story but at the cost of some confusing characterization that I had trouble believing.
And that other half-star? I’m excited to learn more about the gods and demons implied the series title, but the first one we meet on the villain side is named Apophis. And he presents on earth as a white man with blond hair. I was disappointed by this default racial portrayal that could have been a much better world-building decision, based on what I’ve already read of Draper’s excellent creative skills.
Still looking forward to continuing with this series because I do love the characters. Still bummed that this installment moved the story forward at the expense of what Draper had already established about her wonderful heroine.
The easiest way to include a lot of erotica in a fantasy novel is to toss in some lust magic. But Hadley doesn’t keep things quite so simple, by layering in other elements of magic to her excellent world-building. The erotica always makes sense, based on the rules of the world and the relationship development between characters.
Jaeda is a strong woman, but not necessarily because of how she uses sex. She uses her knowledge of how her world works to both protect herself and make sure that she always has the edge. I love that she also relies on her instincts, especially where the Jackal is concerned. This book could easily have been different and much darker. The villain still manages to be appropriately terrifying, regardless.
Instead, the darkness is balanced by the joy the characters find in each other despite their sometimes-perilous situations. Jaeda’s transformation into an even stronger character at the end left me anxious to read more about her journey. Luckily, I’ve already got the next book in this trilogy.
It’s always easy for the middle book in a trilogy to sag a bit, for nothing truly major to happen regarding plot or character development. In speculative fiction, however, I find the best middle trilogy books are those in which the author takes all the “rules” they established in the first book and shatters them.
Hadley remains true to the soul of the magic system created for this world but uses the presence of a female mage to inject some trouble into the status quo. As stated in the first book, all it takes is one mage to reject how the world works, and I look forward to the eventual showdown between the mages who gain their powers from “positive” emotions (joy, courage, lust) rather than the “negative” (pain, sorrow, fear). Plenty of action and drama happen in this book, and it’s all leading toward an even more dramatic showdown in the conclusion.
Hadley’s sex-positivity in this erotic epic fantasy applies to the real lives of her readers. Closer to home, Jade and her compatriots aren’t just happily making love to create magic. Drama and conflict within the greater relationship still exist, with two significant highlights. The first is adventures in accepting one’s sexuality, relevant to any modern audience. The second is overcoming past trauma and learning to experience healthy relationships, also appropriate.
I have already queued the final book in this trilogy on the Kindle, and I can’t wait to dive in, even as I am reluctant to say goodbye to these fantastic characters and world.
The finale to this epic fantasy/romance trilogy satisfied me on multiple levels. The story resolved threads between characters, including secondary characters, and addressed external plot points hinted at since the beginning of the series. No riding off into the sunset to live happily ever after before their work was done for these characters.
Overall, my favorite message from these books was the idea that there are multiple ways to fight battles. Direct combat, deceit, and even sex are worthy elements to fighting for what’s right, and none of them are inherently “better” than the other depending on how and why they are used. Intertwined with this message, which most of the characters had to learn, was a healthy dose of sex positivity and appropriate (though often understated) feminism.
Two major climaxes (pun not intended) occur in this book. The first is more epic, considering the scope of people involved, but the second is much more personal. Hadley almost sets up her characters to be so powerful that I didn’t have to worry about them, but a moment wrapped in multiple layers of surprise in the finale still managed to scare me for a beat.
Come for the stunning fantasy world, deliciously sexy characters, and frequent on-page sexual romps. Stay for the incredible story and characters who wormed their way into my heart. I have no idea whether the author has any other books planned for this world, but I’d read them instantly, to check in with my favorite lovers and follow the story of the next generation.
If you love heist stories, you should read this book. If you love the television show Leverage, you should read this book. If you adore found family stories, you should read this book. If precocious children in fiction don’t annoy you too much, you should read this book.
Honestly, you should all probably read this book to be on the safe side.
Everything in this story is just pitched a little to the left of reality to be believable. It was a ton of fun to suspend my disbelief and roll with the action. It felt a bit like reading fan fiction in that Remi was just a bit too perfect, all the adults are queer, and these are genuinely villains with hearts of gold. Most importantly, the evident love and affection the author had for this story rolled off the page, which made me enjoy it all the more.
The first section of the book deals with Ari and his adoption of Remi, which ends up bringing him closer to the thief and hacker he’s worked with in the past. These connections make it easier for the full team-up later when Carter approaches Ari for help with a heist. The relationship that develops between the two men (with only a little manipulation on Remi’s part) is both sweet and hesitant, as befits two men in their respective professions. I appreciated that more than if they had immediately thrown off all boundaries to live happily ever after.
In short, I’m glad I took a chance on this book, and I’ve already purchased the sequel. Can’t give higher praise than that.
Sherwood is back with another action-packed contemporary romance that is sure to please fans of Leverage, those who enjoy the found-family trope, and “villains” who are more concerned with doing good than the expected.
Ivan is as surprised as anyone else with the strength of his reaction to Aiden’s situation. He could have played into Aiden’s vulnerabilities and achieve a score to impress any thief, but Aiden’s precariousness instead helps him accomplish the book’s title concept. In true heist nature, the relationship exists before the emotions exist to back it up. However, once the emotions fall into place (pushed by Ivan and Aiden’s shared poor luck in their family histories), this arc between the characters is as enjoyable to watch play out as the external plot. In fact, the story seems to focus more on the relationship arc than the search for the original score that brings them together, resulting in a book that is less tense than the first in the series and more overall fun.
Ivan’s found family of hacker, assassin, mercenary, and precocious adopted niece immediately step into to assist with changing circumstances. Checking in with Ari and Carter a year into their relationship was lovely. Kyou’s hacking assistance is 100 percent off-screen, but he’s as physically present as any other character through the main action of the book. (I can’t wait for his love story, which we get more hints of in this book, but which is unfortunately not yet released at the time of writing this review.)
I don’t know anything about theft or guns or hacking, but I do know a bit about how a person applies to a medical residency. And it resembles nothing of what Aiden deals with in this book, a minor lack of research that frequently drew me out of the story. Certainly not enough to keep me from anxiously awaiting the conclusion to this trilogy, but more a comment that you never know what will distract a reader from an otherwise fantastic and streamlined adventure.
As a gamer girl myself, I’ll always have a soft spot for those characters in romance novels. But it’s so hard to find stories that portray gamers of either gender realistically, much less those who work in the industry. Winters, on the other hand, described the world so well that reading the first half of the book, set at a gaming convention, often felt close to home – and not in a comfortable way. The awkwardness of men in gaming (and SF/F culture, where I mostly hang out) is so real, and Winters created multiple characters across that spectrum I could easily imagine meeting in real life.
The story arc is simple and goes about the way you’d expect, but the realism of the two romantic leads prompted me to keep reading. I identify all too well with Isabel’s need to balance expressing femininity in a still male-dominated profession and with Caleb’s stress about pursuing his art. Caleb also gets so many bonus points for NOT being the typical hero in this story. A male character who actively recognizes and rejects the signs and impulses of toxic masculinity was a joy to read.
Despite how many sexy bits there are in the romance books I read, I don’t often call them out. I’d love to make an exception here because Winters does a fantastic job of literally making consent sexy. This inclusion is especially important in an interaction between characters who have just met, and I applaud this writing decision.
The appeal of this series to me, especially after the first installment, was the mixture of romance with characters who are gamers. So, I was a tad disappointed that this book instead focused on the gaming company’s HR specialist and a baker. On the surface, there’s not much gaming. But Iris’s character is developed naturally, showing that she’s just as creative and quirky as her coworkers at PI, but that it’s also okay to have an organized side. Someone has to manage payroll, after all.
Despite this initial disappointment, the characters of Iris and Owen swept me up in their relationship at once. I’ve read a decent amount of BDSM fiction over the past few years, but this book flipped the script on me in multiple ways. The most obvious is that the heroine is the dominant rather than the submissive. However, the aspect of this story that I especially enjoyed was watching the characters learn about what they enjoy and develop their kinky bond.
This character growth also followed Iris and Owen into making positive changes in their “real” lives. The gaming aspect slips back in for Iris, and I cheered for her subplot arc even while I ached for her anxiety regarding Owen. Luckily, this is still a romance book, so we get our happily ever after. Whether you’re into gaming or not, this is a lovely romance book that I thoroughly enjoyed.
My favorite thing about this trilogy has more to do with the individual characters created by Winters than the relationships she puts them in. The relationships are meaningful and are often the impetus, but I enjoyed the character growth that everyone goes through separate from the love stories. Winters creates a strong sense that the character growth will remain beyond the end of the story, even if the relationship doesn’t work out.
In this particular story, the relationship obviously does work out. No spoilers here, but the teased final ending set up at the beginning of the story does happen. It’s cliché enough to be entertaining but still realistic enough to be incredibly swoon-worthy. The spouse asked why I was grinning like an idiot on the couch as I finished this one.
Matthew’s growth here from coasting along through life to figuring out he wants more of a challenge was cool, but special props must be given to the delicate balance Winters creates for Silas. He is a neuro-atypical character, but that is not what causes his personal problems, nor is it something Matthew ever tries to “fix” or is frustrated with. Instead, Winters writes a delicate balance of mental health and past trauma, the healing of which is presented in a positive light by all relevant parties. (Also, there’s a cat. You can never go wrong with a cat.)
The epilogue is written to feature a sneak peek into how the other two couples from this series are doing, leaving me with a satisfying sense of this entire trilogy. Tailored for gamers, but written for anyone who enjoys a good love story.
Some romance is full of angst and pain and hardship before a happily ever after. And some romance is full of all of those things in the lightest and fluffiest way possible, making every page a joy to read. Sebastian nails the latter with this conclusion to her Seducing the Sedgwicks series. (I would argue, however, that it’s the Sedgwicks who seem to do most of the seducing in these three books.)
I adore the trope of two characters moving from lifelong friendship to realizing that adding romantic love strengthens their bond rather than weakening it. Will and Martin have the usual historical romance barriers in their way: their shared gender/biological sex and their differences in social status being the primary. Sebastian ups the ante here by including chronic illness and post-traumatic stress disorder to the mix.
Instead, those conflicts almost drive the pair closer. After all, those issues had already proven time and again how much each man meant to each other. And neither should ever be a reason that a person cannot find their own happily ever after.
On the surface, Sebastian’s amusing descriptions of this book on social media (Two idiots discovering feelings! Only one bed!) are entirely accurate. However, she moves beyond the surface-level issues of these tropes to craft a unique and solid love story. I already look forward to re-reading this book in the future when I need a dose of those fuzzy feelings for myself once again.
The time period of this book was a bit earlier than the historical romance I’ve been reading, but I’m so pleased I took a chance on it anyway. Westmead and Poppy stole my heart, separately and then together. The arc of their relationship surprised me at every turn, but I enjoyed every bit of it even while their angst practically poured off the page. I tend not to have the patience for angst, so I’m extra impressed by an author who makes it both valid and worthwhile. Our heroes both have pasts to contend with, and histories always affect the future.
I’m not a plant person whatsoever, but I thoroughly enjoyed the level of detail Peckham included in her overall world building to make Poppy’s livelihood and passions real to the reader. Information was always appropriate to the scene and never felt included simply because the author didn’t want a moment of research to go to waste.
This story was also unique (to me) in that it flipped the trope of gender roles in relationship to fictional representations of BDSM. Even better, the author wrote her characters so that neither was portrayed as “less than” due to their alignment. Submission and masochism are examples of strength, not weakness, and Peckham did a fantastic job of embodying this in Westmead’s character.
As usual, my highest praise is purchasing the next book in the series. I can’t wait to start reading.
Falling into this world, and in love with these characters, was so easy. I devoured this book in a single evening and didn’t want to leave when I finished. The drama between and surrounding Constance and Julian was always extreme enough on one side to be entertaining and believable enough on the other to be poignant.
Peckham builds Constance’s character in layers, revealing her depths through revelations about her past through the course of the book. I already had a soft spot for this character after the first book in this series. I grew to love her once invited into her head. Peckham uses an excellent narrative voice to enhance the scenes from Constance’s point of view.
Julian’s history, and the trials thereof, is also revealed through carefully placed hints that make every interaction between him and Constance almost dangerous. I often find myself annoyed by conflict in romance novels that stems from miscommunication. In this story, I honestly felt for both characters and completely understood their unwillingness to open up to each other. Love also involves communication and trust, and none of those three are comfortable without the others. The final reveal of Julian’s role at Charlotte Street was shocking and utterly delightful, especially after what we had seen of his public persona and his private interactions with Charlotte.
This series has many important things to say about social issues without ever being heavy-handed or overtly political. I’ll admit to already being sympathetic to the side Peckham presents, but I hope other readers might be swayed at least a bit by this phenomenal book.
For a series that centers around the members of a secret club on Charlotte Street, it amuses me that we learn almost nothing about this club until the third book. And then the main characters of this book promptly leave town for a road trip of epically disastrous proportions.
Obviously, now they have to fall in love. That’s how road trips in books work. With Henry and Alice, however, Peckham flips the script in so many delightful ways. Henry is the conservative, religious prude yearning for sexual freedoms he thinks are beyond his grasp. Alice is a liberal, worldly woman who does not hesitate to speak her mind. Even breaking the mold to have Alice more sexually experienced than Henry makes for a fascinating, almost unique read.
Their love story is not easy, and the roles each of their families play do their best to tear them apart. I prepared to dislike Henry immediately based on his character in the previous books in this series, but Peckham rehabilitates him in an immensely satisfying way.
I’m sad to have reached the end of what is currently available in this series. As usual, the best review I can give is to express my desire for the next book – and I anxiously await the next installment in this fantastic series.
The “angels are bad, demons are good” trope is not unfamiliar in paranormal romance, but this series puts a different spin on things by including a unique magic system, multiple dimensions, and a new way to look at how angels and demons affected religion on Earth. The heroine’s power as a Muse is also a creative use of how powerful individuality can be against a stagnant society.
Though the series is advertised as a reverse harem, this first book focuses on a single relationship between Sia and Nick. I love how Sia bucks the trend of being horrified when she learns Nick’s true identity, and the arc of their love story is both adorable and sexy. I also appreciate how the author seeds the reverse harem construct within the worldbuilding so that it has a structural basis beyond “multiple guys think this girl is hot” hand-waviness that other paranormal romances seem to employ.
I couldn’t put this book down, but I did regularly find moments where I wanted events to speed up a bit. The author could have done with a bit more editorial assistance to condense unnecessarily long, angst-laden conversations. Events occasionally seemed repetitive, both in regards to relationships and when the main character is being told about how magic works rather than experiencing it for herself. On the plus side, however, I had plenty of room to fall in love with this world and these characters. I’ve already started the next book in the series, and there’s no higher praise than that.
For Love of Evil (Book 2) The Sins of Desire (Book 3) The Lure of the Devil (Book 4)
This review collects spoiler-free thoughts about the second, third, and fourth books in the Demons’ Muse series.
I devoured the next available three books in the Demons’ Muse series in less than a week, after thoroughly enjoying the first story, The Kiss of Death. Hadley has created the sort of urban fantasy I love, with heroic characters, intriguing multiverse conflicts, and unique takes on familiar tropes.
She also puts the “epic” in this epic series with the length of the installments. The page count is great, but only about 90 percent of the time: When Sia and her legion are learning more about her abilities, political scheming throughout five worlds, and during epic rescues and battles. The other 10 percent of the time, Sia still has so much angst about the multiple relationships in her life. Hadley already did all the work of presenting the reverse harem element of this world as a realistic way in which her non-human characters understand relationships. It takes forever for Sia to get with the program (but when she does, it’s worth it).
I adore Hadley’s twisty take on religion and the role that “angels” and “demons” have played throughout Earth’s history. This series presents a fascinating take on the differences between good and evil, then brings it to the next love with the differences between creation and destruction. As a bonus, some extra surprises had me reaching for the next book without my usual pause in between for individual reviews.
I look forward to the conclusion of this series, and I’ve already picked out some other works by this prolific author to enjoy meanwhile. Urban fantasy and reverse harem fans shouldn’t miss out on this binge-worthy series.
For Love of Evil (Demons’ Muse #2): 4 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.
The Sins of Desire (Demons’ Muse #3): 4 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.
The Lure of the Devil (Demons’ Muse #4): 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.
The Wrath of Angels (Book 5)
In terms of scope, action, and sheer sexiness, the final book to the Demons’ Muse series is a riveting capstone to an overall exciting adventure. Sia and the rest of the First Legion wormed their way into my heart. The length of these books, and the use of different points of view chapters, meant that each man and his relationships within the First Legion (even those that did not revolve around Sia) was as fleshed out and engrossing as those of the heroine.
I wasn’t able to put this book down while reading, but that doesn’t mean I was unaware of a few faults. In Hadley’s efforts to make Sia, and her legion mates by extension, uber-powerful enough to withstand anything the angels could throw at them, the conflict lost a bit of tension. When things looked at their worst for a particular character, I knew that he’d get home safe and be good to go shortly after. It was also difficult for me to take a tease of pure doom seriously during the grand finale.
But it’s not a bad thing that this series was so obviously set up for everyone to have a happily ever after. It’s still a romance, after all, and I was happy that the entire First Legion found their groove in this final installment. (Yes, I was also tired of Sia’s constant freak-outs in previous books; there are none here, and it’s a lovely change of pace to see her embrace her confidence and power, in bed and out.)
I highly recommend this series as an excellent first taste for anyone interested in experiencing the “reverse harem” trope. Hadley layers that romance element into a fantastic epic with solid world-building, intriguing characters, and terrifying villains, with happy endings to satisfy any romance or fantasy reader.