In Your Write Mind 2021 Schedule!

For the second summer in a row, I am sadly missing my pilgrimage to Seton Hill University, where I got my MA in Writing Popular Fiction, to connect with old friends and new for the In Your Write Mind workshop. This year, luckily, I will get a taste of the fun by participating in the virtual event the organizers have put together instead. It won’t be the same as hanging out on campus, dressing up for the annual costume ball, and staying up way too late with fellow writers, but this does give anyone interested a chance to get a taste of this amazing event from the comfort of their home.

Register for IYWM here and join in on the fun! This event is hosted by AllAccessCon and will run from Thursday, July 8, to Sunday, July 11. You can sign up for the full conference or individual days. Here’s where you can find me:

ANYTIME

I was part of two previously recorded panels that you can’t watch at your convenience. Don’t hesitate to reach out via social media if you want to chat further about anything we discussed!

  • World Building
    • With Cathy Oswald (moderator), Kristopher Campa, and Anna LaVoie
  • About Editing
    • With Anna LaVoie (moderator), Deanna Sjolander, and Virginia Nelson

SATURDAY

  • Creating Stories by Changing the Past: Alternate History (12 PM Eastern)
    • Join author and editor J.L. Gribble for an interactive presentation on alternate history story-telling. This workshop is geared toward both readers and writers in all genres who are either curious about the genre or looking for inspiration on how to develop their own stories and worlds.
  • Writing the Military (1 PM Eastern)
    • Military members and their families often appear as characters in stories, with the military playing at least a small role in the plot or back story. But how often are these portrayals realistic? How often are they downright offensive? In this panel, we’ll discuss and take questions about what military life is really like, how the military actually works, and offer tips on how to identify story conflicts that are organic to the military lifestyle.
    • With K.L. Grady (moderator), Alex Savage, and Bill Huff

I will also be available on Saturday evening for the virtual book signing to chat about my books, writing in general, or anything else your heart desires. Hope to see you there!

Review: Prince Charming by Sean Ashcroft

July is the perfect time to read about Christmas, right? This romantic comedy escapism fits the bill, and it turns out that I’m a sucker for nobility in disguise, especially in the contemporary setting. Add in a dash of the “fake boyfriend” trope, and it’s like Ashcroft wrote this novel just for me.

Andy is the typical American, without the annoying stereotypes, in much the same way Kit is also the typical upper-crust Brit, but the stereotypes were already all taken by his mother and so-called “old friends.” Kit has found the home he didn’t know he was seeking in New York City, especially with Andy at his side, but he’s called back to England for the holidays and convinces Andy to join him. He totally intends to tell Any that his father is a marquess before they get there, except that never quite works out, and the reveal is hilarious but a bit painful.

“Hilarious but a bit painful” is honestly the best way to describe the rest of this book. The developing relationship between Andy and Kit and pretty much everything about Kit’s father are the best parts of this book. Still, events are tempered by every reminder that Kit’s life is worlds away from Andy’s. Right when it seems that everything is sorted, another secret is dumped in Kit’s lap, and he’s forced to choose between Andy and his future.

Ashcroft delivers the perfect ending by allowing his characters to choose a third, unexpected option. Another Christmas epilogue ties off the conclusion with the perfect bow, and I highly recommend this book as a lovely stand-alone holiday romance.

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

June Wrap-Up & July Goals

We are officially less than a month away from the release of Steel Justice (Steel Empires #6)! If you missed the cover reveal, no worries — you can check out the gorgeousness below, with a bonus teaser. The book is also available for preorder from the bigger usual suspects. However, if you order directly from my publisher, your copy will be signed by me!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Direct from publisher

Other than that excitement, I had an overall quiet June with the usual suspects: reading, writing, and cat snuggles. July will be filled with prep for the Steel Justice release, and I’m excited to have multiple travel adventures already schedule for late summer and into fall.

Teaser text: Toria Connor assumed the Mercenary Guild’s official guidelines frowned upon the client protecting the bodygaurd. But when the body was a genuine weredragon, over ten feet long from snout to tail, with talons the length of daggers, the official guidelines could sod off.

June Wrap-Up

  • I did add more words to Steel Legacy (Steel Empires #7)!
  • I also had fun developing some more promotional stuff for Steel Justice, such as the teaser image above. There will be more of those to come in July, so make sure you’re following me on social media to check them out.

July Goals

  1. Continue working on Steel Legacy!
  2. Produce marketing and promo stuff for Steel Justice, such as guest blog posts and more teaser images.
  3. I am a panelist and presenter for the virtual In Your Write Mind convention (July 8-11), where I’ll be speaking about world-building, editing, and military life. This is also an opportunity to check out my popular alternate history presentation from the comfort of your own home!
  4. I’m also excited to be a guest on Russ’s Rockin’ Rollercoaster podcast on July 14, where I get to nerd out about The Expanse! Register here to join us live for the event.

In Case You Missed It

On the Website

Book Reviews

  • Dual Destruction (Duality #1) by Kate Hawthorne (5 stars)
  • High Lonesome by Tanya Chris (5 stars)
  • We Have Till Monday by Cara Dee (5 stars)
  • Lonely Hearts Series by Kate Hawthorne
    • His Kind of Love (#1) (4 stars)
    • The Colors Between Us (#2) (4.5 stars)
    • Love Comes After (#3) (4.5 stars)
    • Until You Say Otherwise (#4) (4.5 stars)
  • The Boy Series by J.A. Rock & Lisa Henry
    • The Good Boy (#1) (5 stars)
    • The Boy Who Belonged (#2) (5 stars)
  • The Quiet House (Black & Blue #2) by Lily Morton (5 stars)
  • The Other Side of Here by E. M. Lindsey (5 stars)
  • Time Served Series by Onley James
    • Endangered Species (#1) (4.5 stars)
    • Dangerous Breed (#2) (5 stars)
    • Domesticated Beast (#3) (5 stars)
  • Ever After Series by Tanya Chris
    • Aftercare (#1) (5 stars)
    • Aftershock (#2) (5 stars)
    • Aftermath (#3) (4 stars)
  • Misfits by Garrett Leigh (5 stars)
  • Blind Tiger (The Pride #1) by Jordan L. Hawk (5 stars)
  • Goodnight (Rebel Sky Ranch #1) by Kelly Fox (5 stars)
  • Mixed Messages Series by Lily Morton
    • Rule-Breaker (#1) (4.5 stars)
    • Deal-Maker (#2) (4 stars)
    • Risk-Taker (#3) (5 stars)
  • Unhinged (Necessary Evils #1) by Only James

I spend a lot of time reading in my cozy office chair. The boys like to make it even cozier.

Review: Unhinged (Necessary Evils #1) by Onley James

Disclaimer: I received an advanced electronic copy of this book from the author.

A strong fictional tradition exists of rich men “collecting” people to serve their particular purposes. James twists this trope to showcase her specific talents as a writer by creating a family of adopted psycho/sociopaths trained by their father to serve a purpose in society—a necessary evil. Oh, and it’s also super gay, super sexy, and in turn tragic and hysterical.

One of my biggest pet peeves about romance fiction is the “insta-love” trope. After thinking about this book for a bit after binge-reading it in a single amazing sitting, I’ve come to the conclusion that I enjoy reading about characters with emotional attachment issues because they are particularly intentional about who they decide “their person” is going to be. I don’t presume to understand all of Adam’s motivations in choosing Noah in this book. However, I adore how Noah’s trauma-induced jagged edges line up perfectly with what Adam is able and wants to offer him in a relationship. Though Adam’s brothers are slightly less enthused with this development in the carefully curated impression they give the rest of the world, Noah is a man on a mission (this is the tragic bit). He has no problem with dragging the Mulvaney clan along for the ride. (In the end, they don’t complain all that much, which is where a lot of the humor comes in.)

Due to the subject matter of both who Adam is as a character and Noah’s personal history, this will not be a book that appeals to all readers. James treats these topics with the respect they deserve and provides enough information to flesh out the characters without emphasizing anything unnecessarily. The romance arc is strongly intertwined with the external conflict so that both support each other rather than it ever feeling like one could be left out and still function as a complete book. Along the way, James does wonderful work in creating interest in the other Mulvaney siblings and setting up how the future may look for this series.

Readers who especially enjoyed James’ book Captivating (Elite Protection Services #2) and the Wages of Sin series should not miss this first installment to this exciting new world.

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

Review: Mixed Messages Series by Lily Morton

Rule Breaker (Book 1)

As much as I enjoy reading romances that involve power dynamics, I have trouble crossing certain lines. An employer/employee relationship is one of them because the power balance there is not imbalanced through the desires of the participants but instead due to outside forces. However, this established history between Dylan and Gabe does not stop the utterly scorching heat between them. Their connection drew me in despite, rather than because of, their working relationship. The story’s appeal is a credit to Morton’s writing, especially in her ability to craft unique primary and secondary characters.

The requirements of being a personal assistant can already create a false sense of intimacy between people. Add a healthy dose of sexual attraction, and it’s no wonder that Dylan wants to step up and care for Gabe when it seems like no one else will. It’s also no wonder that Gabe’s personal history means that he craves Dylan’s apparent affection even as he does his best to push it away. Throw in an annoying boyfriend, and we’re off on a roller coaster of a developing relationship that comes to a head when Dylan invites Gabe home for the holidays.

The events that follow involve the perfect amount of angst and a shift in their relationship that has me supporting a happily ever after between the characters. This book is a romantic comedy, so I laughed even between the tears. I may have been hesitant regarding the premise of this book, but Morton more than delivers a wonderful ending that I was delighted to accept. I look forward to checking in on these characters throughout the rest of this trilogy, especially since future books involve side characters I also grew fond of here.

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


Deal Maker (Book 2)

For books that claim to fall into the romantic comedy genre, Morton never fails to deliver all the angsty feels along with the romance and comedy. This story follows one of the previous book’s heroes’ best friend, a character we’ve already met and think we know. It turns out we’ve barely scratched the surface of Jude Bailey. He doesn’t live quite the expected lifestyle of a successful model, except for the revolving door of one-night stands. Turns out this is to protect his heart, not because he doesn’t have one.

It’s evident from their initial encounters that Asa is a perfect match for Jude, except for the fact that Asa has more than a few reasons to hate models. But Jude needs a place to stay, and Asa needs a personal assistant. Hilarity ensues as Jude plays up the vapid model stereotype, and let’s say that he’s fortunate that he and Asa mesh so well, even before either of them realize. But the priority here is Asa’s young son Billy, who captures Jude’s heart even before he realizes he might be interested in Asa.

Let’s talk about Billy. He’s the typical precocious child character who causes adorable drama and whose very existence furthers elements of the plot. He acts appropriately childlike, but I occasionally had trouble believing his childishness was realistic. Maybe I’m just too picky, which is why I tend to stay away from single-parent romances unless they are part of a series by an author I’ve already committed to reading. Anyway, Billy is fine. He doesn’t make the story painful to read, and that’s all I care about in the end with a child character.

But back to our heroes. I adored the love story that emerged alongside the various details about Jude and Asa’s pasts and current realities. The dark moment occurred precisely as expected, but the fallout didn’t go quite as I anticipated (both better because of how short it lasted and worse because of a somewhat contrived encounter with someone from Jude’s past). However, bonus points to Gabe for lawyering a troubled relationship and the adorable epilogue. I look forward to finishing this trilogy.

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


Risk Taker (Book 3)

This book concludes the Mixed Messages trilogy by pairing up the last man standing, Gabe’s best friend Henry. In the previous books, Henry gave me a bit of a happily single vibe, even as he supported his friends in finding their true loves. Here, however, we learn that Henry is treading water as he pines for his best friend Ivo. Just as he determines that he can’t carry that particular torch anymore, Ivo crashes back into his life, and the whole cycle starts over again.

This time, Henry’s friends are also determined to derail this particular train (okay, how many metaphors can I include a single book review?) and send him on a string of terrible (but hilarious) dates to show that Ivo is the one he’s meant to be with. Except Ivo and Henry kind of already know that? But don’t want to admit it? Because they’re terrified of ruining the friendship they already have, not because boys are dumb and don’t know how to communicate (okay, only a bit of that last part). When they finally get their acts together, both know that it’s only a matter of time before Ivo leaves London again for his work. I held my breath (metaphorically, or course) along with Henry and Ivo as they waited for the happy bubble they’ve created to pop.

Things continue to look up for this new evolution of their relationship, especially after it survives interference from Ivo’s mother, until Ivo ends up on a plane leaving London once again. Morton put my heart through the wringer on the way toward this happily ever after, but the journey is absolutely worth it.

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

Review: Goodnight (Rebel Sky Ranch #1) by Kelly Fox

Disclaimer: I received an advanced electronic copy of this book from the author.

One of the things I love most about Kelly Fox’s book series is how each focuses on a different romance subgenre but still exists in the same shared world. I was sucked into the drama of a gym that supports disabled vets (Wrecked) and loved the excitement of a group of vigilantes on the side of good (Wrecked: Guardians), but…cowboys? Not really my thing. Except Fox has proven time and again that her writing is not to be missed, so I eagerly dove into this book. I think this novel works as a stand-alone to those coming to this series as a new reader, but those who have read the Wrecked: Guardians series (especially Full Contact) will be delighted to find that Sam is one of the main characters here.

Sam’s hustling days are over, and he’s found himself adopted into the open-minded (in more ways than one) Bash family who support his cam work as a way to fund his higher education goals. Sam keeps his online work solo but finds plenty of inspiration next door, especially in the form of rancher Trip Goodnight. Sam and Trip have an epic official meet-cute when Trip rescues Sam from a possible rattlesnake bite. However, where Sam expects the typical alpha-male response to his obvious gayness, he instead ends up developing a genuine friendship with kind-hearted Trip (and with delightful secondary character Desi, Trip’s uncle). Sam is content with these friendships, happy to have this social outlet—especially since he’s hiding from a dangerous past.

Trip’s life changes dramatically after he meets Sam, also happy to have his new neighbor’s friendship. Life has been hard for the past year, so coming out of the other side of the more difficult stages of mourning his mother is obviously why his libido is picking up, right?

But don’t worry, this isn’t a cringy “gay for you” romance. Fox uses the friendship between Sam and Trip to explore under-represented labels on the sexuality spectrum. By the time our two heroes finally recognize what readers are more than ready for at this point (with so much swooning along the way), their happily ever after is more than deserved. Fox weaves this developing relationship into multiple external plots that affect Sam and Trip with just as much emotional impact as the romance arc. The level of drama might not be quite to the class as what the Guardians get up to, but Fox once again provides her readers with an epic love story with layers of conflict that only add to the world she has already created. (And I’m certainly never going to be mad at a few Anders cameos along the way.)

PS: Fox gets bonus points for all the fun Star Trek references and for being the first romance writer I’ve read so far to give a character a Tesla vehicle and not treat it as a standard combustion engine vehicle.

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

Review: Blind Tiger (The Pride #1) by Jordan L. Hawk

Hawk granted my wish and returned to his clever and imaginative Hexworld series—except moving the action to a new time and place. Prohibition Chicago is rife with story fodder, especially where magic is involved, and this book is no different. Hawk takes the traditional, in which a small-town guy escapes to the big city and finds himself in over his head (with bonus romance), and elevates it to the unique. Sam immediately stole my heart much how he steals Alistair’s (even if Alistair has no desire to admit it).

The cheetah is my favorite large cat, so I was already predisposed to love Alistair Gatti. I also enjoyed the full spectrum that encompasses the rest of his adopted family. Hawk continues to have a gift for providing worldbuilding details (in this case, also sharing how the world has evolved since his first collection in this setting) without info-dumping or coming across as ham-handed. Even though this book does not directly involve the police, a mystery still directs the plot in the case of a shocking murder and subsequent missing hex that multiple powerful parties are anxious to get their hands (paws) on.

Based on how familiars have been historically subjugated in Hawk’s world, it’s easy to see how they might thrive in the more “lawless” environment of a gang-controlled city (even if certain rights have been bestowed since the previous books). Except war takes as much as society gives, and Alistair has not recovered from the emotional wounds of his experience in and directly after the Great War. His tentative relationship with Sam does not “fix” this damage, and the romance itself does not follow the pattern previously established in this world’s books. I look forward to following the further adventures of Sam and Alistair in this new yet familiar setting as Hawk once again turns reader expectations on their head in the very best way.

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

Review: Misfits by Garrett Leigh

I’ve seen this book recommended in multiple places as an example of excellent MMM romance, which is the original reason that I picked it up. However, more exists to the story and characters, even if the premise (two men in a long-term open relationship fall for a third) is precisely what it says on the tin. Tom and Cass aren’t looking for a third, but the way they’ve structured their lives means a significant amount of time apart from each other (hence the open relationship). Tom stumbles across Jake and develops an infatuation with the man, bringing him into his bed and business; however, Cass also creates a genuine friendship with Jake and brings him into their life together.

Another thing this book does well is how the external plot intertwines with the romantic arc. Cass has shadows in his past that still darken his present, and Jake struggles to maintain an independent life in the face of his mental illness. On the surface, Tom is the most sorted of the three. Still, his workaholic tendencies cause just as much damage to his relationship with Cass as Cass’s stereotypical chef persona (which also involves being a workaholic).

The three men come together in a somewhat circuitous fashion, but each time they crept closer caused me to cheer. Jake’s inclusion doesn’t “fix” the relationship between Tom and Cass, but it does force the two men to address their problems and work toward a better future.

This book is the first I’ve read featuring a character with Tourette’s Syndrome (TS), and as the author notes in her preface, Jake is not meant to represent an entire group of people. Based on what little (and I mean very little) I know of TS, Leigh portrays Jake’s tics in a way that enhances his characterization rather than making them the character alone. I also liked how Cass and Tom both approached and reacted to Jake differently from each other.

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

Review: Ever After Series by Tanya Chris

Aftercare (Book 1)

I can’t remember the last time I was so engrossed by a legal thriller. As a bonus, Chris also sucked me into the burgeoning romance between Garrett and Aayan. Usually, in these kinkier romances, it’s the Dom introducing a potential sub to the lifestyle. Here, it’s the other way around. Garrett might be on the tail of mourning his late husband, but he is secure in his desires and needs. Aayan is the one who has always low-key feared what drives him, and coming out as gay was only the first step of that particular journey. I cheered for his eventual comfort in his identity as much as for the resolution of the legal drama.

I loved the romance and external plot of this excellent book pretty much equally, as Garrett works to prove that Aayan’s brother is innocent of the murder he is accused of. The brother has multiple marks against him, in the eyes of a prosecutor out to make a name for herself, and being Muslim and gay are only the tip of the iceberg when his murdered boyfriend also exhibits evidence of wounds as a result of a consensual BDSM relationship.

One of my favorite things about this book is how well it shows that strength and submission are not mutually exclusive, no matter how often I’ve seen that presented in other romances. Garrett may be wounded by his past, but he’s not about to let Aayan be anything less than he deserves. The end of this book teases a happily ever after between them, but I can’t wait to check in on them throughout the rest of this trilogy.

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


Aftershock (Book 2)

My enjoyment of the first book in this trilogy expanded with the engrossing story of the second. It incorporates many of the same elements, such as an engaging relationship and legal drama, without being a carbon copy. Syed and Dashiell’s evolving connection follows a different trajectory as Syed deals with mourning his murdered lover, and Dashiell considers dipping his toes into kink. Except he fears that he can’t meet Syed’s needs, while at the same time, Syed struggles with the realization that his needs might now be different after the trauma of the murder trial he was just involved with. This book is one of those cases where if I had only had events from Dashiell’s perspective, I’d have wanted him to run far away from the near train wreck that is Syed; however, since we do get Syed’s side of the story, I instead cheered every time they grew closer together.

After the previous book, Dashiell has hung his shingle as a defense lawyer working with Garrett. A man and his brother are accused of a hate crime, and the belligerent father seems to think that hiring a gay lawyer will get his younger son some sort of pity points. Garrett passes the task on to Dashiell. The legal elements of this book encompass a lot of the groundwork that occurs before a trial even begins, except Dashiell soon realizes that there’s more to his client’s involvement than the single case for which he is hired. Then, it turns out the kid’s history might strike even closer to home than Dashiell—and Syed—could have ever imagined.

The author who introduced me to this trilogy calls the first book her favorite, but I found myself enjoying this story just as much. It appealed to different reader reactions in me than the first book, but Syed thoroughly swept me away as much as he did Dashiell.

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


Aftermath (Book 3)

This book breaks the trilogy pattern in that it does not follow along with a related court case. However, legal issues are certainly involved, which is a good reminder that the story doesn’t stop when the judge bangs their gavel or that a judge ever has to get involved in the first place. Casey serves his time for his role in violent hate crimes, and now he’s back in the “real world.” Pretty much the only reason he works as a sympathetic character is how Chris set up his involvement in the initial crimes, and it’s obvious that he’s not at risk of becoming a repeat offender. However, the initial way he sets out to make amends is both cringe-worthy and low-key terrifying.

Luckily, Brooks is a stronger man than even he thinks he is. He might not want the credit, but introducing Casey to an LGBTQ youth center to complete his community service hours goes a long way toward molding Casey into a more secure, self-confident adult. The rest of the job is managed by Brooks’ willingness to introduce Casey to proper BDSM. What starts as an attempt for both Brooks and Casey to conquer the demons of their past evolves into an actual relationship, much to the surprise of both men.

Except Brooks isn’t perfect either, and they both make mistakes in interacting with each other. The romance element of this book is a slow burn, but eventually, everything works out in the end (otherwise, it wouldn’t be a romance at all). As satisfying as the arc was, it lacked the “oomph” of the previous books in the trilogy when combined with various external plots. This trilogy is worth reading, and I look forward to reading more by this author, but I wanted a little bit more from this series conclusion.

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

STEEL JUSTICE Cover Reveal & Preorder Links

Coming July 28

Set in an alternate near future, Steel Justice is the sixth book in the Steel Empires series and the first time that part of the story is told from the perspective of warrior-mage Kane Nalamas. The world of Steel Empires is one where elves, vampires and shapeshifters co-exist openly with humans and where magic is just another natural force in the world like physics. This installment features magical tattoos, code breaking and robot dogs!

PREORDER LINKS

NOTE: All preorders from the publisher will arrive signed by the author (me!)

Warrior-mage partners Toria Connor and Kane Nalamas have reached the pinnacle of their mercenary career, known far and wide and offered their pick of jobs. Mixing business with friendship, they accept a long-term contract across the ocean in Londinium, even though it means a six-month separation from their loved ones in Limani. Lady Zhinu Wallace has no actual need for bodyguards, with her ability to change form into a dragon, but she wants the status and support of her long-time friends as she makes her official debut into British noble society.

What should be a simple job, escorting the client to teas, business meetings, and galas, grows complicated when Zhinu is accused of murder. Her arrest thrusts Kane and Toria into the mystery of a dead scientist, a pickpocket with intriguing tattoos, and a magically encoded notebook.

Toria and Kane split up to untangle all the threads that lead to a lab filled with impossible technology. But to save lives, the partners must work closer together than ever before — merging not only their magic, but their very souls.