Review: Barretti Security Series by Sloane Kennedy

Loving Vin (Book 1)

At this point, I’m thoroughly invested in all the interconnected series Kennedy has created. The first book in the Berretti Security Series leans heavily on events in the Escort series, and it also fits in the Protectors and Finding worlds. I’m glad I looked into the recommended reading order because this book, especially, works much better with the full context of the Escort trilogy already experienced.

We meet both Vin and Mia at the end of Escort Book 3, Logan’s Need, and based on Vin’s reaction to Mia, I had a feeling their romance would be up soon in the reading list. Neither has much in common on the outside, but they are damaged in their own ways, and their jagged edges end up fitting together nicely. This romance arc’s physical side is satisfying on all fronts, but I couldn’t help but think that something important was missing. For all that Vin comes to care for Mia and her menagerie of other lost souls, I found that their love story seemed to evolve without them doing much actual communicating. With words. Like mature adults.

This is a short novel, so maybe I missed it behind the scenes. I’m glad that Vin and Mia find comfort and a home in each other after both experience such difficult pasts. I especially enjoyed Mia’s personal character development and how her need for independence clashed with Vin’s need to care for the woman he can’t help but be drawn to.

There are still some Berretti brothers in need of their happily ever afters, so I look forward to continuing yet another excellent Kennedy series.

Rating: 3 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.


Redeeming Rafe (Book 2)

My biggest complaint about this book is that Rafe doesn’t need to be redeemed. The symmetry in the title is nice, but Rafe is instead a broken soul lashing out. Luckily for Rafe, Cade is the one sent by Rafe’s brothers to investigate their hacking problem. Unluckily for Cade, he experiences an instantaneous connection with the youngest Barretti brother, putting him between a rock and a hard place when it comes to protecting everyone he has come to think of as family. Cade is the real hero of this story—an innocent bystander who does nothing except fall in love and then does everything to protect that burgeoning relationship, no matter how difficult it is.

This is yet another book in Kennedy’s extended universe of novels that is perfect for reading in the context of the other books. It’s a pretty big commitment, but I highly recommend it because every book has been worth it for the expanded scope of the story, even the ones that I don’t give five stars. We’ve already experienced Vin and Dom’s heartache over their missing brother. Kennedy wrenches us even further when we find out here just how bad things got for Rafe after his separation from his brothers as a child. These revelations put all the characters through the wringer, with the added complication of a target on Rafe’s head. This dilemma puts Rafe back into his brothers’ reach when Cade refuses to give up on the youngest Barretti

As usual, Kennedy does not shy away from showing readers the darker side of humanity regarding her characters’ backstories. Elements of this book are not an easy read, but the eventual happily ever after, which certainly doesn’t come easy, makes it all the more worth it. Rafe is my favorite of the Barretti brothers, now that I’ve met all four, but I have the feeling that Ren might give me a run for my money as I dive into the next book in this series.

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


Saving Ren (Book 3)

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Declan and Jagger’s love for Ren does not “cure” his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Kennedy does an excellent job with this book’s setup in that it is clear how Declan and Jagger’s non-romantic support is there until Ren is comfortable with seeking treatment for himself. Does the evolving relationship between the three men encourage Ren in this regard? Yes, but there is no “magical healing cock(s)” trope here, and I appreciate the author’s sensitivity in writing about this mental health issue.

Another element about this book I adored is how equal the three individual relationships between each of the three men are, even for Ren. Declan has hidden a torch for Ren for years, but it is the spark of Jagger coming into their lives that truly ignites the wildfire between all three of them. Even though the initial sparks between Declan and Jagger are of animosity, they are both completely united when it comes to prioritizing Ren’s health and safety. This prioritization ends up leaving Ren in the dark about specific Barretti family issues, causing the novel’s poignant dark moment. However, even when the relationship was at its most fragile, the love between the partners was evident and touching. After all, Ren is not the only one in this book to struggle with self and family issues. Jagger and Declan also travel complete character arcs that had me enjoying all three characters as individuals as well as a romantic triad.

I had a suspicion that this would be my favorite book of the series, which is definitely the case so far. Now, I suspect that this is far from the last we’ll see of Ren, Jagger, or Declan in the larger shared world of Kennedy’s excellent collection of romance series. I can’t wait to keep reading to find out.

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


Freeing Zane (Book 4)

Now that all four Barretti brothers (plus one former in-law) have found their happily ever after, I wasn’t sure how this book would fit into this series’s overall scheme. We’ve met both Zane and Connor before, as friends and former lovers of previous heroes. Still, neither man is directly connected to the Barretti family or even the security company owned by two of the brothers.

However, none of that matters. Almost all of the former heroes in this series make essential appearances in this book. What does link these books is that Connor and Zane both consider themselves damaged, a recurring theme. However, Kennedy once again blew me away with her ability to craft a romance between two “broken” characters who do not fix each other but instead allow each other the support and space to be their own heroes and save themselves. Along the way, readers enjoy a healthy dose of feels, sexy bits, and an excellent external plot that both supports and intertwines with the overall romance story.

Like too many contemporary veterans, Connor has left military service with problems that include limb loss, traumatic brain injury, and the accompanying post-traumatic stress disorder. He’s also searching for internal fulfillment in a sexual relationship, even one that doesn’t include traditional relationship elements. Enter Zane, who might be the perfect man to satisfy (pun intended) Connor’s needs, except he carries plenty of baggage of his own. That baggage was manageable until Connor snuck through every one of Zane’s mental barriers.

The external conflict creates multiple dark moments in this story without ever verging into melodrama, then makes a solid ending to the complete series. This book is a stunning conclusion to the overall Barretti Security Series, but I’m so excited to continue to the other books in Kennedy’s larger shared world.

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

Review: Pretty Things by Devon McCormack

I genuinely wish I could have given this book five stars. Unfortunately, two issues held me up. First, this book was way too long for what it was. I put it down too often because the action dragged in the first act while Ty and Liam circled their obvious interest in each other, which leads to the second thing. The angst over the difference in the character’s ages was overblown. I understand that McCormack wanted to tie this book into a previous series, but the added complication of Liam being friends with Ty’s father had no real relevance to the plot, and Ty is an adult in his mid-twenties. That particular drama felt contrived rather than necessary.

Drama that was necessary, however, and which could have upheld the tension without the “father’s friend” dilemma, was Liam’s former role in a secretive alphabet soup agency. Once that aspect of the book started, I was all in. Liam’s old crew comprised of interesting and entertaining characters, and even their particular job in regards to spycraft felt both believable and intriguing. Liam has no choice but to read Ty in after the men are forced into hiding by old enemies. Ty steps up to the challenge to help keep Liam and the rest of the team safe. This includes playing a part in an off-the-books operation that was as amusing as it was tense. Along the way, I enjoyed Liam and Ty growing closer together.

This book’s dark moment came out of nowhere, completely messed with my emotions, and then had the audacity to make complete sense after the fact. Despite my above complaints, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommended it to readers looking for romantic suspense stories that do an excellent job with both the romantic and suspenseful story arcs.

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

Review: Play Dirty (Wages of Sin #2) by Onley James & Neve Wilder


I had so much fun with the first book in this series that I immediately pounced on the second installment the day it was available. Jonah and Caspian from the previous book make appearances as appropriate, but the focus here is very much on Madigan and Azrael. This isn’t an enemies-to-lovers story because these two men elevate hate-sex to an art form while they are definitely still in the enemy stage. However, the “lovers” bit, with all accompanying relevant emotions, comes as a delightful surprise to two men who are used to living on their own terms. Isn’t half the fun of these books watching two characters realize how stupid for each other they are? Overall, this book is an entertaining ride throughout the heroes’ attempts to dismantle a global human trafficking ring. While occasionally attempting to stab each other. (Except in their case, even the stabbiness is very much flirting.)

Make no mistake, Madigan and Azrael are not nice guys. They kill people for a living. It’s clear from the beginning of the book that not only are they good at their jobs, but they also enjoy them. Heed the trigger warnings because the sexy bits are occasionally slightly terrifying (while still being terribly sexy). Az is an incredible tease, Madi is too stubborn for words. Together, they…create crime, honestly. Lots of crime.

This book contains all the fun action and heist-like activity a reader might expect from a book starring two assassins who know how to get things done. Even the non-sexy games they play with each other are delicious and intriguing. Start this book for the sexy, delightful characters—stay for the most awkward and hilarious couples therapy session you’ll ever read.

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

February Wrap-Up & March Goals

February is already a short month, and being productive made it feel even shorter. Or maybe that was the old-fashioned cold that laid me up for a week of it. Major changes lately include settling into my new multi-computer setup for officially working from home full-time, setting up the new mattress and bed frame that give the cats even more space to take up, and figuring out how to read my Kindle while on the elliptical. These things mean more productivity, better sleep, and even more reading than before (and I guess being healthy).

On the reading front: Despite condensing blog posts into reviews of full series rather than individual books, I’m still reading enough that I’m scheduled out pretty far (as of right now, through the first third of May). Therefore, I’ve started limiting what I’ll be reviewing here on the blog. Everything will always get at least a short paragraph on Goodreads, so friend me there if you don’t want to miss out on anything!

On the outside of my house front, the spouse received his Covid-19 vaccine through the military, which makes me feel a million times better about him working full-time at his base. Other than that, there is really nothing much going on outside my house, so it’s a good thing I’m an indoor cat.

If you’ve ever wondered about my writing/editing/gaming environment, check out the new setup! My brand-new desk, featuring my work laptop, my personal tablet, and gaming PC (not shown underneath). For moral support of my major task, always in sight (see lower right of picture), I’ve got a TARDIS, my labrys, and a picture of the squad.

Look, I cleaned up my office for you so you can see the rest of it, too! That chair is where I spend a lot of time reading, covered by the TARDIS blanket and usually two or three cats. The blue cabinet holds my convention kit of promo material and extra book stock, and the bookshelf holds my craft books, gaming books, and the physical to-be-read pile. (Alex-cat shown for scale.)

And since I know you’re dying for me to answer this question: As of current count, the office holds 16 TARDISes.


February Wrap-Up

  • This is really the first time I’ve tried to edit a previous project while also adding words to the current project. It turns out that my brain doesn’t work that way. Between this revelation and the above-mentioned cold, I put Steel Legacy on hold with no regrets.
  • I did, however, finish the necessary line edits to Steel Justice and submit it to my editor for layout! I know the cover art is in progress, and I’m so happy that this project is coming together for release in summer 2021.
  • One of the highlights of the month was definitely attending virtual panels for Farpoint 2021! You can read my con report here. Did I manage to mention The Old Guard in every panel? You’ll have to join me for my next virtual convention to find out.

March Goals

  1. Add 10k to 15k words to the first draft of Steel Legacy!
  2. Write the back cover description and acknowledgements text for Steel Justice and get them to my editor.
  3. I have theme songs for my books and characters on my website, but I’ve been considering putting together actual play lists. So, I’ll leave this random thought here and see whether it actually coalesces into a completed goal next month.

In Case You Missed It

On the Website

Book Reviews

  • Door of Bruises (Thornchapel #4) by Sierra Simone (5 stars)
  • Wrecked: Guardians Series by Kelly Fox
    • Hard Target (#1) (5 stars)
    • Full Contact (#2) (5 stars)
  • Four Mercenaries Series by K.A. Merikan
    • Their Bounty (#1) (4.5 stars)
    • Their Obsession (#2) (4 stars)
    • Set Aflame (#2.5) (4 stars)
    • Their Property (#3) (4 stars)
  • Kink Chronicles Series by Luna David & Morningstar Ashley
    • Open Mind (#1) (4 stars)
    • Open Encounters (#2) (4 stars)
    • Open Play (#3) (4 stars)
  • Return To You Series by Rebecca Raine
    • Finding Grey (#1) (5 stars)
    • Becoming Us (#2) (5 stars)
  • Havenwood Series by Riley Hart
    • Giving Chase (#1) (5 stars)
    • Murphy’s Law (#2) (4 stars)
    • Hard Knox (#3) (4 stars)
    • Griff’s Place (#4) (5 stars)
  • Twist of Fate Series by Lucy Lennox & Sloane Kennedy
    • Lost and Found (#1) (4.5 stars)
    • Safe and Sound (#2) (4.5 stars)
    • Body and Soul (#3) (5 stars)
    • Above and Beyond (#4) (5 stars)
  • We Have Till Dawn by Cara Dee (5 stars)
  • On the Market Series by E.M. Lindsey
    • Love Him Free (#1) (4.5 stars)
    • Love Him Breathless (#2) (4.5 stars)
    • Love Him Wild (#3) (5 stars)
    • Love Him Steady (#4) (5 stars)
    • Love Him Desperate (#5) (5 stars)

Hogging my comfy reading spot.

Review: On the Market Series by E.M. Lindsey

Love Him Free (Book 1)

A Jewish baker and a deaf adult film star walk into a bar. It sounds like the beginning of a joke, except here the joke is that they never go to a bar, but the characters are very much real. Simon is a small-town guy battling massive amounts of anxiety who can no longer keep his grandmother’s bakery afloat. Rocco’s own life threatens to go up in flames, and he develops a surprising friendship with a fan who reaches out to him via social media and only seems to care for him rather than his crafted onscreen persona. The fan is Simon, of course, whose heart is too big for him, but little does he know that Rocco is about escape Los Angeles and sweep into his life instead.

Simon has been slightly obsessed with Rocco since college, in possibly the sweetest (and sexiest) way imaginable. The sparks between them fly immediately, and Rocco offers Simon a path out of his financial burdens by capitalizing on how Simon reacts physically to Rocco. It’s a slightly unexpected twist to how I expected this book’s plot to go, but it’s incredibly imaginative and provides some delicious sexy bits.

Intriguing secondary characters populate the small town of Cherry Creek and flesh out this book’s cast of characters. Though it’s evident that they either pop in following their own love stories or are included to set up future romances of their own, I enjoyed Simon’s growing realization that he no longer has to go through life without friendship, even though his anxiety has cut him off from the rest of the world for so long. I immediately sought out some of the other books promised by this premise and was delighted to find that some are by different authors. Cherry Creek is a true melting pot of love stories, and I look forward to spending time there.

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


Love Him Breathless (Book 2)

The first book in this series introduced readers to an entire small town’s worth of fascinating people, so I was excited to dive into the next love story. A fire chief with extensive burn scars is pretty distinctive, and I was pleased that Fitz’s story was up first. He’s the quintessential small-town guy who’s the hub of his community. He wants to see his community thrive, but not at the expense of ruining it by expanding too much, too fast. Needless to say, he’s not going to get along with the marketing guru hired to boost tourism.

Antoine is kind of a train wreck, but none of it is his fault. It seems like the town of Cherry Creek really is out to murder him. (Was one of my favorite parts of this novel the goat conspiracy? Absolutely.) Sparks fly, and not all of the sexy kind, between Fitz and Antoine as they continue to meet under less than auspicious circumstances. This book is an enemies-to-lovers story, though less on the enemies and more on the “annoy each other greatly” end of the spectrum. As an external reader enjoying both points of view, I cheered every time they clashed, and the sparks became hotter and hotter.

However, as much as I enjoyed Antoine and Fitz’s shenanigans, I love how expansive and fleshed out the rest of the cast of characters is. Even Antoine, the newcomer to town, makes connections while we also learn much more about his backstory and current family relationship issues than I would have expected. Similarly, we get a great glimpse into Fitz’s relationships with his sister and his long-time friends, Parker and Ronan.

The finale is entirely swoon-worthy, the perfect ending to a fun book, and I can’t wait to jump into this series’ next installment.

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


Love Him Wild (Book 3)

Ronan and Parker have been a married couple in Cherry Creek since the start of this series, but I was thrilled that this novel opens with their own origin story. Their road to happily ever after was neither simple nor easy, but I can’t imagine two characters less perfect for each other. Neither of their medical issues (limb loss and multiple sclerosis) defines their lives, and I was equally thrilled to see such representation (something this series has been pretty amazing at across the board, actually).

Enter Jonas to up-end their lives, and potentially all of Cherry Creek. Since Parker and Ronan had a somewhat nontraditional courtship, watching these two older men stumble through the dating and long-distance relationship process was entertaining and heartwarming. Even though it is clear that Jonas is joining an already stable relationship, he enhances the love on all sides rather than unbalances anything. It’s pretty amazing that he isn’t a more damaged character, but even his younger age didn’t cause any roadblocks to the mutual attraction between him and Parker and Ronan.

The external conflict focuses pretty specifically on Jonas’ life. This worked for me because of how effed up his family and occupational situation was. Though the resolution felt a bit like a cop-out, anything more dramatic would have made the overall story more complicated and taken the focus away from the romance angle.

Multiple moments in this book tug at the angsty heartstrings, but in all the best ways. This is easily my favorite book of the series so far, and it has set a high bar for the remaining two. I look forward to reading them anyway, and then moving on to other books by this talented author.

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


Love Him Steady (Book 4)

This book brings together two secondary characters we have met previously in the series as protagonists in their own right. Both men more than deserve their own happily ever after, and it was lovely to see them find it in each other. I appreciated that another character points out how Lorenzo and Wilder find their love in literally the same building as Lorenzo’s brother Rocco and Simon do in this series’ first book. However, there is no sense of repetition in this book, but instead, a complete love story in its own right. As usual, Lindsey shines with their use of complicated, well-developed characters, including the story’s secondary characters.

Wilder’s history, even back to his childhood, is not necessarily an easy read. He only begins to heal once he establishes himself in Cherry Creek, and it was lovely to see him get closure through the course of this story. Even better, he does so separately from Lorenzo because a couple should be stronger together rather than merely two halves of a whole.

Lorenzo’s character arc can be defined as “poor little rich kid,” but Lindsey makes his angst relatable in how difficult it can be to connect to the people in your life regardless of your financial standing. This isn’t an enemies-to-lovers story, but it speaks to Wilder’s character that he puts Lorenzo on his own path to healing even when Wilder deals with his own issues.

As a secondary plot, the burgeoning friendship between Lorenzo and Raphael was also fun to read. It’s a great example of a platonic friendship between two men who are not afraid to express affection, and I can’t wait to read about Raphael’s own happily ever after in the final book of the series.

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


Love Him Desperate (Book 5)

This book was the lovely and satisfying conclusion to the On the Market series…but I’m still mad that it’s come to an end. I was familiar with both of these protagonists and their extended family/support systems from previous books. It can be read as a stand-alone, but why would you want to when all of the books in this series are so good? I’ve had a blast falling in love with Cherry Creek and its unique complement of love stories. (Luckily, it appears that this series is a spin-off of one by a different author, so that’s where I’m headed next.) Lindsey doesn’t end with a bang so much as with a sweet whimper, and I adored Raphael and Dmitry’s slowest of burns romance story.

Once again, Lindsey creates unique, three-dimensional characters from under-represented populations in romance novels. Dmitry is asexual, and Raphael experiences physical limitations due to his cerebral palsy and epilepsy. None of these things prevent these men from deserving their own love stories, even if it takes them too long to end up with their perfect partner. Plenty of angst abounds, especially as readers suffer through Raphael dating the wrong man until these idiots get their acts together. Luckily, “idiots in love” is one of my favorite romance tropes.

The heat level is appropriate to the context and the characters, but that doesn’t stop this book from being as sexy as the others in this series. I’m currently reading another series by the same author, and she has quickly become one of my favorite romance writers. I highly recommend this series to readers looking for that small-town feel but with thoroughly realistic, modern characters.

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

Con Report: Farpoint 2021

Let’s face it — for the weird sorts of introvert like me, who can put that on hold for a certain amount of time to people it up for two or three days at a convention and then hide at home for a week afterward, a virtual event will never be the same. As much as I enjoy participating in panels, conventions are also about the random hallway chats, evening room parties, and overall bonding with writer and reader friends I only see once or twice a year.

That being said, I’m thrilled that some of my annual events have been virtual during this crazy time we live in, and I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend as part of Farpoint 2021.

Saturday

The spouse had his monthly military commitment last weekend, so I had the house to myself for two days. I slept in on Saturday, but woke in plenty of time to participate in a panel that discussed the Disney+ show The Mandalorian. In our discussion ahead of time, the panelists agreed that we would discuss the character of Cara Dune, but that the situation involving her actress was a topic for a different panel. Once our audience joined the call, we had a great time discussing the various methods of storytelling employed in the show and how it relates to other Star Wars properties, such as the animated Clone Wars series. We loved how much female representation it contains, and appreciated that the story focused on a brand-new character (even though we’re all looking forward to the upcoming Boba Fett series). Other topics included the future of Baby Yoda, the fate of the Razorcrest, and THAT cameo in the season 2 finale.

I spent the rest of the day tackling some long-neglected organization of my clothes closet, even though I would have much preferred to be spending money in the dealers room and geeking out with people in person.

Sunday

I had grand plans to work on line edits for the book I have coming out this summer in between my two panels — I ended up reading instead. However, the panels themselves both went very well!

Heather E. Hutsell and I discussed all the cool television shows and movies we’ve “discovered” while on lockdown. Our tastes both diverged and combined in various places, and I’ve been sold on checking out Upload and giving Schitt’s Creek a chance. I limited my raving about The Old Guard to the bare minimum, I promise.

Later, I joined Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Mary Fan in a conversation on how fandom can make you a better writer. This included the benefits to using fanfic as both writing practice and a place to find community, and how the communities of various fandoms themselves can provide some of the social requirements necessary to make a well-rounded writer (and human).

This week, I’m back to those pesky line edits for Steel Justice. Here’s to Farpoint 2022 back at the glorious Hunt Valley Inn!

Review: We Have Till Dawn by Cara Dee

This author wrote my favorite book of 2020, so I did not hesitate to dive into her latest release. The premise of this book hinges on sex work, so this book will not appeal to readers who take issue with that particular profession. Nicky has been retired from that life for a few years, making him perfect for a specific client’s needs. Gideon has caved under his family’s expectations but wants the opportunity to explore his sexuality and needs before he marries. Despite the obvious assumption, this book is not 24-7 sexiness. Instead, it’s a lovely tale of two people, who don’t seem compatible on the outside, growing closer together outside of the purely physical.

Because this book is a romance, it was easy to see the expected outcome from a mile away. However, the journey Dee leads readers on to get to that point is nothing like what I anticipated. In addition, most books with a kink-themed beginning involve characters who get more comfortable in that world. As Nicky helps Gideon realize what he truly needs, that almost the opposite happens here is a humorous and sweet take on the typical dynamic.

As usual, Dee also does a fantastic job creating the world at large; in this case, it includes Nicky’s extended family and the music he loves. It was so easy to fall into Nicky’s head and appreciate the care he has for his family and chosen career. While this romance has plenty of heat and feels, I also enjoyed that the cracks in Gideon’s carefully developed plan begin to show in how he cares for Nicky and slowly becomes part of his life, rather than Nicky having to hide Gideon from those closest to him.

This book works very well as a stand-alone, but I look forward to revisiting this world in the promised sequel featuring Nicky’s brother.

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

Review: Twist of Fate Series by Lucy Lennox & Sloane Kennedy

Lost and Found (Book 1)

As the series name implies, a twist of fate (and/or sheer coincidence) brings Xander and Bennett together after 15 years. The circumstances around their parting were traumatic for both, so their reunion is significantly less “meet cute” and much more “It’s a good thing Xander probably knows the best place to hide a body up in these mountains.” The sparks that fly between both men, despite the audience of Bennett’s best friend and a troupe of teenagers, are mostly negative, except when they do come together in explosive fury (pun totally intended).

I would not have put up with the length of their animosity had the authors not balanced it with frequent visits to the past to show the origins of their friendship. Even back then, the men are so different as not to make much sense, but that’s never stopped love. The slow reveal of their origin story pulled me along in the novel until I desperately wanted the grown-up versions to sit down, have an actual conversation, and clear the air. Both blamed each other for the tragedy of their parting when external forces were entirely to blame.

Unfortunately, even coming together doesn’t solve the external conflict, and I’m not even referring to how they live and work on opposite sides of the country. Their willingness to sacrifice shows the real strength of their love, just as they were willing to sacrifice for friendship’s sake in the past. As in real life, the relationship and its tangles are messy and complicated—this reality does not stand in the way of a particularly swoon-worthy gesture toward the end of the story. Nor does the gesture solve all their problems, but it shows them the future is open to plenty of possibility for their happily ever after.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed previous books by these individual authors, so I’m not surprised by how much I enjoyed a story by Lennox and Kennedy working in tandem. I look forward to continuing this series and following the secondary characters in their own love stories.

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


Safe and Sound (Book 2)

On the surface, this book is about two people who make a connection with each other, date, fall in love, and live happily ever after. However, that doesn’t make for an exciting read, so luckily, Lennox and Kennedy take the reader on a wild ride instead of the well-worn path. It’s not often that authors manage to completely surprise me, so I’m delighted when it happens. The twist in this book connecting Aiden and Ash was both shocking and poignant. One of those “oh, that makes total sense” when looking back at the clues, but I yelled aloud at the final reveal. (Any book where I manage to scare the cats is pretty good.)

This book delves into some pretty dark issues, such as domestic violence, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and death in a family. (This is a book to read the trigger warnings for if you even suspect you might not be able to read it safely.) As usual, I appreciate that the main characters falling in love isn’t a “cure” for these issues; instead, they draw strength from each other to confront them head-on and begin the healing process. The authors connect the characters’ issues to enhance the book’s dark moment, using a message that only made sense to the two men in a situation where communication is difficult, which got me right in the feels.

This isn’t a romance geared specifically toward nerdy readers, but the authors work in plenty of references and jokes that will be hilarious to those with more than a passing familiarity with Star Trek. Also, it overlaps nicely with the previous book in the series so that we are reunited with familiar characters, giving Aidan an excellent support system when he needs it.

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


Body and Soul (Book 3)

Lennox and Kennedy drop some intriguing clues about Jake’s character in the first book in this series, so I was excited to get to know him here. They do an excellent job of revealing information appropriately to advance the plot without ever making me feel like Jake is an unreliable narrator. He and Oz have a rocky start, but the chemistry between them is obvious. Jake tries to stay away from the temptation to open himself up to another person, but he finally gives in to his attraction in the midst of the most hilarious dinner party I’ve ever read.

Oz is also a fun character with his share of baggage, trying to lean into changing his career trajectory so that he’s more than just a pretty face. It would have been nice if his and Jake’s snowbound interlude lasted forever, because neither man holds back once they come together.

However, real life has to come back eventually. Rather than the external conflict relating to only one of our heroes, the dark moment ends up affecting both men. Jake’s past finally catches up with him, and he has to play the hero to keep Oz safe instead of leaving the man he loves behind forever. Luckily, he’s stayed in one place long enough to make actual friends. The grand finale is clever and action-packed, a fun contrast to the sweetness of story’s middle.

I love a happily ever after that is well-deserved by the characters, and that appears to be a trend in this excellent series. While I’m sad that the next book in this series seems to be the last, I still have plenty of books to read by these authors that I can’t wait to experience.

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


Above and Beyond (Book 4)

In this book, Lucky and Zach are both train-wrecks. Zach’s issues are more pronounced due to his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the residual effects from his traumatic brain injury, both of which were involved in him leaving military service. Suddenly finding your place in civilian life is not easy for most veterans, especially for those dealing with medical issues not well-recognized by the military, much less the general public. However, Lucky has mental hang-ups due to his own history and recent developments with his adopted family.

Together, they fight crime!

That’s a lie. Together, the two men commit their lives to alpine search and rescue, not that Zach is thrilled to find Lucky enrolled in the training program he helps teach. Keeping secrets from their direct families while also fighting an intense attraction for each other puts both men through the wringer. Zach tries to reduce said attraction by allowing a physical relationship between them, but neither man is good at pretending to do the friends-with-benefits thing. It’s all very angsty and heart-wrenching, and I wanted to talk some sense into them. Instead, Zach tries to use the eventual danger in which they find themselves due to their chosen professions to drive Lucky away. Spoiler alert: Lucky may be younger than Zach, but he’s not an idiot. The sparks between them come to a head during this book’s heart-pounding climax, and I was thrilled by the ending.

This excellent series brings together two authors I’ve recently fallen in love with. Each book is different in terms of characters and theme, but they are all satisfying romances that I thoroughly enjoyed. I look forward to continuing to work my way through the extensive back catalogs of both of these talented writers.

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

Review: Havenwood Series by Riley Hart

Giving Chase (Book 1)

Falling for the older brother’s best friend isn’t necessarily a trope I lean toward, but I’ll make an exception when the characters are far beyond high school and the best friend has just returned from over a decade away. The chemistry between Chase and Kellan is undeniable, but they face multiple obstructions to their happily ever after: the small-town atmosphere, the protectiveness of Kellan’s older brother, the suspicion of Kellan’s best friend, and—oh yeah—the angst that accumulated over that decade-long separation after a hasty hookup.

I do, however, adore the “idiots in love” trope. Kellan and Chase attempting a secretive friends with benefits arrangement that was a poor replacement for the real relationship they both craved amused me greatly. The love story intertwines dramatically with the external conflict when their secret is blown open in a pretty terrible way. An adversary in Chase’s present, connected to demons from Kellan’s past, forces an inevitable confrontation. The subplot is not a traditional murder mystery, but it does provide another excellent bit of closure for the reader that I thoroughly enjoyed.

I love stories where the romantic leads do not exist in a vacuum. Hart fills Havenwood with friends and allies for both Kellan and Chase. Some will end up starring in romances of their own, but they don’t come across as existing solely for that purpose. I also adore Kellan’s two best friends, especially his strong relationship with Josh—proof that just as straight friends of opposite genders can be friends without romance, so can two gay men.

This is a medium-angst story in which watching our heroes get their act together is more enjoyable than painful. I look forward to checking in on Kellan and Chase’s happily ever after as I dive into the rest of the books in this series.

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


Murphy’s Law (Book 2)

If anything that can go wrong will go wrong is a bit like destiny, then it is undoubtedly destiny that brings Remy and Law back together. Not only in the town of Havenwood, which was intentional on Remy’s part, but as literal next-door neighbors, which feels much more like fate. Law is determined not to fall into old patterns with his ex-lover, but it’s also clear from the very beginning that the two men are meant to be together, no matter how hard they try the “friend” thing while Remy attempts to protect his family and career.

This story is relatively one-sided in the conflict department, and I found that I didn’t mind it that much. I worried about Law being hurt again, but at least he is surrounded by a reliable support system of the friends who populate the town of Havenwood. (I also enjoyed meeting his immediate family and laughing at their ridiculousness.) However, it is Remy who must battle his significant anxiety to live his authentic life. In the grand finale, he finally puts Law first in the most unexpected way possible. It shocked me as a reader, but I completely adored it.

Hart does a bit of work to set up the next book in this series, and I can’t wait to read it. I look forward to checking in on Remy and Law’s new normal as this series progresses.

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


Hard Knox (Book 3)

On the one hand, this is not usually the type of romance novel I pick to read. I have mixed feelings about the “bisexual awakening” trope, and as a childfree person, I tend to stay away from stories in which children are a vital plot element due to lack of interest. However, I’m thoroughly invested in this series and these characters, especially based on meeting Callum’s mother in the previous book, so I have no regrets about taking the time to enjoy this one.

Knox is a little too perfect for words—a great friend, first to his circle and then extending that to Callum. A great father who would do anything for his kids. He has some typical anxieties about both his kids and his evolving relationship with Callum. Still, he doesn’t hesitate to express his emotions with either Callum or his best friend Law.

Callum is also kind of perfect, but I enjoyed his story arc more. I loved watching him make a space for himself in Havenwood, both in terms of his relationship with his mother and developing friendships with other characters we’ve met so far in this series. His concerns about falling for his “straight” friend are realistic without being overly angsty, so they were easy to wade through.

So, even though it’s not my preferred character types or plot, Hart has more than proven herself with this series. I enjoyed the coziness and love of this romance novel like wrapping myself in a warm blanket. However, I’ve now gone through THREE books of teasing about Griff and Josh’s relationship, so I’m super excited to dive into that story next.

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


Griff’s Place (Book 4)

I’ve enjoyed this cozy series like a warm blanket. A little bit of angst but a lot of love and found-family sweetness. So, I was not prepared for the final installment to metaphorically destroy me. Like, full-on crying as I tried to come to terms with Josh’s reality and why he’s put certain limitations on his heart. I refuse to elaborate because I’d prefer not to ruin the heart-wrenching twist to this book. But don’t let me chase you away from this book. It’s the perfect conclusion to this lovely series.

Now that all of their best friends have found their happily ever afters, it’s no surprise that Josh and Griff would end up being the odd man out together. And while there is a certain amount of symmetry to Kellan’s brother and best friend ending up together, I love that Hart builds up the unlikely friendship between Josh and Griff first, even as background detail in the previous books. I may have whined to my spouse that Hart does not use the “only one bed” trope as intended, but I’ll tell you a secret: her decision to up-end certain expectations makes the story even better.

As much as I love the representation of Griff claiming the demisexual label, my biggest quibble about this book is how Griff thought he could handle a friends-with-benefits relationship with Josh. His being sexually interested in the other man means he has already caught feelings for him. But I will accept that everyone needs time to learn and accept who they truly are—I did not see this development as Griff making poor choices, but instead anticipated potential heartbreak and cared for him as a character.

My favorite moment of the book was Josh and Chase bonding over their relationships toward the end. “There’s something about Caine men”—what a lovely bookend of love stories for a charming series. I look forward to reading more books by Hart in the future and already have some of her other series added to my extensive to-be-read list.

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

Farpoint 2021 Schedule

Farpoint 2020 was the last event I attended in person before the world went bonkers. Alas, like so many other conventions, it is being held online this year. I’m pleased to participate in three panels from the comfort of my own home, but you know I’ll miss seeing all of your lovely faces.

Find more information about Virtual Farpoint 2021, with my personal schedule below. Attendance is FREE and does not require advanced registration. (As of right now, I literally only know the titles of my panel discussions. This post will be updated as I receive more information, such as descriptions and the names of my fellow panelists.)

Saturday

  • 12 PM: The Way of the Mandalorian [register]
    • Disney Plus’ wildly successful hit has wrapped up its second season. What will the future hold for our heroes? What other Star Wars spinoffs are on the horizon? And how much Child (Baby Yoda) is too much?
    • With T.A. Chafin and Rigel Ailur

Sunday

  • 11 AM: Discovered During Lockdown [register]
    • What little-known gems or guilty pleasures did you watch during the pandemic? We’ll discuss our favorites.
    • With Heather E. Hutsell
  • 2 PM: How Fandom Can Make You a Better Writer [register]
    • Whether it’s books, movies, TV, or games, we’ve all experienced the guilt of indulging in fandom instead of working on our next novel or story. But what if all that reading/viewing/playing was actually helping you become a better writer? This panel will discuss how fandom, rather than being a guilt-inducing “waste of time”, can actually help writers improve.
    • With Mary Fan and Danielle Ackley-McPhail

I look forward to some great discussions, and I promise to only talk about The Old Guard a little bit during the lockdown panel. (That might be a lie.) (My request for why I should be on the panel was literally “Hello, I am here to talk about The Old Guard,” but they let me in so it’s totally not my fault.)