Review: It’s Complicated Series by Brill Harper

All Together (Book 1)

When I snagged this book, I figured I was taking a risk because the combination of college students and romance usually means plenty of angst and immaturity. But when I started reading, I was immediately sucked into the story through the sheer force of personality of the three characters, even before the plot included a hint of a love story. Penelope’s narrative voice was delightful, and Shane and Fletch charmed me with their combination of sweetness and unbridled lust.

Minor spoilers forthcoming: I need to include them in my review because they impact how much I appreciated this book. Not only do we also get to visit Shane and Fletch’s points of view, they are essential because their relationships with Penelope are not the sole focus of the story. This book also includes a lovely “friends to lovers” arc between the boys that even had me cheering for a happily ever after.

Ultimately, this book was sweet and fluffy in all the right ways, even during the steamy sexy bits. Despite their ages, I was never put off by their antics, even during the book’s “dark moment.” This story is a happily ever after worth chasing and enjoying.

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

All At Once (Book 2)

Since I adored the first book in this series (the first I’d read by this author), I immediately snapped up the next. Unfortunately, this book fell short of the high bar set by the first book by so many measures.

The two men read as such clichéd cowboys that I often had trouble telling them apart, even during their point of view sections. The arc of the romance almost worked until it all felt a bit contrived. To make a bad situation worse, the sexy bits were completely unrealistic on multiple levels. I do know that there is an element to suspending disbelief even in contemporary romance, but there are limits.

The individual character arc of the heroine, Bliss, was pretty much the only redeeming feature to this book. Her name might be hokey, but her journey as a person and the final confrontation with her mother were the only parts of the story I genuinely enjoyed.

I might take a chance on other books by this author, but this is one worth skipping for other readers. Unless you REALLY like cowboys.

Rating: 2 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Review: Comes in Threes Series by Elia Winters

Read my review of book 1, Three-Way Split.

Just Past Two (Book 2)

Even though I enjoyed the story, relationship, and writing in the previous book in this shared-world series, I didn’t rush right into book two. Based on the premise, I figured the “dark moment” would be fraught with a married couple experiencing jealousy and recriminations from opening up their marriage, and that wasn’t my jam.

I’m happy to say that the “dark moment” in this book had nothing to do with those themes. In fact, I enjoyed this book even more than my first foray into Winters’ writing. There is absolutely nothing sexier than a couple in love communicating their desires to each other, and this story has that in spades. In a book filled with plenty of sexy bits, my favorites were the ones that heightened the connection between the married couple (regardless of whether anyone else was involved).

This book is not a typical menage story by any stretch, and I hope readers find the relationship development in a couple who are already married and very much in love as satisfying as I did!

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

Three For All (Book 3)

This book dripped with potential clichés. Luckily, Winters did her best to handle all of them with a uniqueness that made for an entertaining read filled with characters I’d be pleased to call friends.

The first cliché is the most obvious: a married couple wants to spice things up by adding a third partner. Here, Winters uses characters introduced previously in the series by making the potential third a literal expert in polyamory (note that reading the previous books is not necessary to enjoy this one). The author also presents the married couple as an intelligent pair. That this includes a certain amount of emotional intelligence also prevents the resulting relationship arc from being too fraught with unnecessary angst.

I enjoyed this trifecta of love stories. The first two are Geoff and Patrick falling for Lori, but the evolving relationship between Geoff and Patrick is an essential third that makes this story so successful. The unexpected yet sweet ending makes this a solid non-traditional romance worth checking out for anyone who enjoys a good love story.

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

Review: The Threefold Tie by Aster Glenn Gray

This short novel is perfect for anyone looking for a historical romance with lovely character development and interaction. I thoroughly enjoyed each of these characters, individually and together. The point-of-view switches and overlapping timelines show the perspective of each lead and their developing arcs to excellent effect.

This book is a quick read that doesn’t seem to have much substance at first glance. In retrospect, however, the story is exactly as long as it needs to be, with a flowing nonlinear narrative that works so well at allowing the reader to experience each perspective. Jack, Everett, and Sophie are characters ahead of their time, and their happily ever after is incredibly satisfying.

A lovely summer read for enjoying in the sun with a handful of fresh strawberries.

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

Review: Behind These Doors (Radical Proposals #1) by Jude Lucens

Though it focuses on a single relationship between two characters, this book made me fall in love with multiple characters across multiple relationships, all of whom had their own detailed lives and agency. Lucens balances an intricate drama of love, friendship, polyamory, and heartbreak in one of the best historical romances I’ve read to date. I especially liked the balance of lovers from multiple social strata, from the working man to the untitled third son to the earl, all of whom had original backgrounds. Bonus points are given, of course, to the subplot of women’s suffrage, and the main characters’ reactions (or disregard) to the topic.

About halfway through this book, I was thrilled that this was the first in a series. I didn’t even care whether the series featured was more of these characters or an entirely new set. I knew that I adored Lucens’ work and wanted more of it. For the first time, I both felt immersed in a historical world and simultaneously wanting to know more about it, to the point of researching places and items referenced so that I could appreciate the scope of the work.

And at the end of this book, I was devastated to learn that they had no other full-length works for me to enjoy. I hope more is forthcoming because this author has instantly become a must-read for me.

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

Review: Arranging Paradise Series by L. Rowyn

A Rational Arrangement (Book 1)

There’s a diamond in this book, but it’s smothered by the occasional downside to self-publishing. On the surface, the author did everything right. Great cover, no blatant typos, solid plot, well-developed characters, unique world building elements. Unfortunately, this is where I plug the need for an impartial substantive or developmental editor IN ADDITION to beta readers. Because this book’s biggest problem is that it’s about a third too long, and not every reader is going to be happy to wade into a 600+ page epic just for the good stuff.

That being said, I’m a crazy fast reader, and I loved the good stuff. The book description makes this sound like a standard real-world historical romance with polyamory. I glanced at some Amazon review headlines and saw something about cats, my favorite animal. I was delightfully surprised when I started reading and found out that the cats were, in fact, a race of giant sentient beings in a speculative fiction setting. Combine that with characters who include representation of bisexuality and autism, and I was more than hooked.

Again, this book isn’t going to be for everybody because of the length (much of which is “I did all this world building! Let me show you it!”) and the surprise fantasy element that is not well advertised by the description. But if neither of those things deters you, this is a happily ever after worth taking a chance on.

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

Further Arrangements (Book 2)

This trio of novellas functions as an excellent companion piece to the full-length novel that precedes it. That being said, none of them can be read as stand-alone stories. Even the prequel story, “My Angel,” assumes significant familiarity with the world-building already in place, especially regarding the fantastical elements such as Blessings and greatcats.

My favorite story in this collection is “A Regular Hero” because of how well it highlights Rowyn’s crafting of the greatcat culture. Ansther and Callie’s happily ever after was a satisfying read, and the tale itself also shows the greatcats as sentient beings with goals and lives entirely separate from the humans in this world.

I also appreciated “Inconceivable” for the heavy topics it tackles, such as fertility and childhood trauma. No spoilers, but the ending is sheer perfection. Overall, this collection is a worthwhile read for those who thoroughly loved A Rational Arrangement.

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

July Wrap-Up & August Goals

Steel Victory 2.0 Now Available!

Buy links and other info

The revised edition of the first Steel Empires novel includes:

  • Author’s preferred text for Steel Victory.
  • Foreword by award-winning author and editor Lee Murray.
  • “The Reluctant Master”: A previously unpublished story featuring Victory and Mikelos in the early days of Limani.
  • “Limani: A Brief History”: An excerpt from a longer work by Lady Zhinu Zhuanxu-Wallace.

I spent the first half of this month gearing up for the re-release of Steel Victory. I thought it went wonderfully, and thank you to everyone who attended the online launch event!

Unfortunately, I spent the back half of the month battling illness. Luckily not COVID-19, but still a summer flu that knocked me out for about a week. I’ve spent the downtime wisely by catching up on all the Arrow-verse shows on Netflix, making my way toward the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” cross-over event (Legends of Tomorrow will always be my wacky favorite).

Along with lots and lots of reading. Once my scheduled book reviews meant I had blog posts out to November, I decided to put reviews of complete series into single blog posts and condense into a more manageable schedule. At seven-twelfths of 2020 complete, I’ve already read nearly 150 books.

Not much else going on in our never-ending lockdown, unless you count playing World of Warcraft and hanging out with the cats! Now that I’m feeling better, I’m looking forward to continuing work on the detailed Steel Empires Book 7 outline. Thanks for hanging out with me during this crazy summer, and I hope you’re avoiding illness of all sorts!

July Wrap-Up

  • Lots of cool blog posts went up in celebration of Steel Victory 2.0! Find the full list farther down.
  • I started working on the Steel Legacy outline until the flu knocked me out. Things are percolating, and the notes app on my phone has lots of ideas.
  • I’m currently caught up on book reviews, but reading about 3 books at the same time right now.
  • My spouse keeps TARDIS-napping my amazing new car, but I still love driving it whenever there is someplace to actually go. (Mostly the grocery store.)

August Goals

  1. Complete the detailed Steel Legacy outline.
  2. Stay healthy during the rest of this wacky summer.

In Case You Missed It

Book Reviews

  • A Lesson in Thorns (Thornchapel #1) by Sierra Simone (5 stars)
  • American Queen (New Camelot #1) by Sierra Simone (4 stars)
  • Feast of Sparks (Thornchapel #2) by Sierra Simone (5 stars)
  • American Prince (New Camelot #2) by Sierra Simone (5 stars)
  • Harvest of Sighs (Thornchapel #3) by Sierra Simone (5 stars)
  • American King (New Camelot #3) by Sierra Simone (5 stars)
  • Not Quite Hunter (Not Quite #3) by Kaye Draper (4 stars)
  • Cards of Love: The Moon (New Camelot #4) by Sierra Simone (5 stars)
  • Hexworld Stories by Jordan L. Hawk
    • “A Christmas Hex” (Hexworld #2.5) (5 stars)
    • “Wild Wild Hex” (Hexworld #3.5) (5 stars)
  • “American Squire” (New Camelot #5) by Sierra Simone (5 stars)
  • Thalanian Dynasty Series by Katee Robert
    • Theirs For the Night (Thalanian Dynasty #1) (4 stars)
    • Forever Theirs (Thalanian Dynasty #2) (3.5 stars)
    • Theirs Ever After (Thalanian Dynasty #3) (3 stars)
    • Their Second Chance (Thalanian Dynasty #3.5) (4 stars)
  • Spirits Trilogy by Jordan L. Hawk
    • Restless Spirits (Spirits #1) (5 stars)
    • Dangerous Spirits (Spirits #2) (5 stars)
    • Guardian Spirits (Spirits #3) (5 stars)

Around the Internet

Review: Spirits Trilogy by Jordan L. Hawk

Restless Spirits (Book 1)

I’m diving into another series by Hawk, and I couldn’t be happier. He’s proven time and time again to be a storyteller I know I will enjoy, so I was excited to start fresh with a new batch of characters in another historical paranormal romance setting.

I enjoyed the early interactions and flirtations between Henry and Vincent, but the paranormal aspect of this story took center-stage for me. Technology and spiritualism collide in this haunted house mystery, but the book doesn’t fall into the steampunk genre. Henry’s tech is rooted in real science, and I had a great time following Hawk’s ideas about how physics might interact with actual spirits. As the haunting grew stronger and more dangerous, I also loved how neither aspect of dealing with the spirit came out on top. To say more would verge into spoiler territory, but the resolution was incredibly satisfying, especially since it corresponded with personal growth for the main heroes, as well.

As usual, Hawk also includes diversity in his fiction in important ways without ever making the story ABOUT diversity. In this case, ideas of racial and gender identity provide a solid set of underlying conflicts and themes to what would otherwise be a standard haunting story with some sexy bits thrown in. Hawk never takes the “easy” road in his paranormal romances, and it makes his writing all the stronger for it.

The next book in this series is already purchased. Obviously.

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

Dangerous Spirits (Book 2)

Hawk returns with his delightful mix of science and spiritualism in this queer paranormal romance series. Secrets and twists abound in the middle book of the Spirits trilogy. But there’s no sagging middle here, and just enough angst to keep me intrigued by the relationship between Henry and Vincent rather than irritated by them. Well, I was a bit irritated by Henry reticence to come clean about a particular issue. Still, the way he is continually backed into a corner so that it’s never quite the right time is a quandary that persists into the modern day.

Even though Henry and Vincent are the POV characters, I continue to enjoy Jo and Lizzie as their partners-in-crime. I find myself desperately wanting to read more about these women and their friendship without the boys around to be distractingly adorable.

I’m not a horror reader because I’m a complete wuss, but Hawk always takes me right to the edge with a delicious mix of eeriness and suspense. Even the ghost story within this book takes a unique turn, as multiple characters (including the ghost) end up not being quite what you expect. Overall, this was a satisfying tale that wraps up its individual plot while bringing the romantic pairing closer together.

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

Guardian Spirits (Book 3)

The conclusion to this fascinating trilogy once again revolves around a haunted house. This time, both Henry and Vincent’s pasts have converged, and the race is on to find the secrets hidden by Vincent’s old mentor before they can fall into dangerous hands.

This book takes the “spiritualism steampunk” elements of this series to an entirely new level in this book, and I was fascinated by everything our heroes encountered. As always, Jordan shows off his world building chops in the best ways, especially when it comes to mixing paranormal romance with just the right amount of horror to keep things interesting. The climactic final encounters took multiple surprising twists.

The conclusion of this trilogy is not to be missed by those who have started on this adventure. One day, I hope to revisit these characters. Perhaps when a grown-up Jo visits a particular New England town later in life?

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

Review: Thalanian Dynasty Series by Katee Robert

Theirs For the Night (Book 1)

This short novella is intended to introduce the reader to the characters of the Thalanian Dynasty, a freebie so that readers are hooked enough to buy the full-length follow-up novel. (Full disclosure: It worked on me.) The events within are sexy and steamy, and I enjoyed Meg as a realistic character with life conflicts that are all too familiar in our current world.

The male characters, on the other hand… I enjoyed them individually and together, and we’re shown enough of their relationship to make their interactions with Meg believable. However, a few missing details let me down. For example, Theo and Galen read as 100% American to me, and at no point is their perfect American English ever explained (as far as we can tell from Meg’s point of view, neither man even has an accent).

So, be warned that this is a one-off with no real closure. However, it is perfectly enjoyable as a stand-alone.

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

Forever Theirs (Book 2)

Based on the free short story offered as a teaser to this world, I was hooked enough to buy the next book to see where it all went. Once again, the three main heroes were pretty solid. Theo and Galen are true to the core characters they represent, and their history is hinted at just enough to make their mutual attraction to Meg understandable. Even more understandable is Meg herself, who is recognizable as a modern grad student struggling financially but portrays some lovely characterization twists that make her more than a walking cliché.

Amid some truly excellent steamy bits, it’s easy to go along for the ride. However, we’re never really shown why Meg fits so perfectly with Theo and Galen. The chemistry between them works, but beyond that, the reader is mostly just told how great the relationship is and why it should continue. I’m going to need a bit more than that.

Unfortunately, the book is not made up of merely three people exploring a relationship. Theo is the Crown Prince of a fictional European country, albeit a small one, and Galen is supporting his attempts to end his exile and reclaim his throne. Beyond that, however, the world-building starts to fall apart. Theo and Galen are indistinguishable from rich American men.

Overall, the plot supports the romantic arc(s). But I wish as much time and effort had been spent on the plot as the sexual escapades.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Theirs Ever After (Book 3)

The political drama and intrigue of this continuation to the Thalanian Dynasty series work – if it took place in a tiny, isolated medieval kingdom rather than the present day. I had so many questions about the world-building of this country. I honestly finished the book just to see whether any would get resolved rather than any interest in the actual plot of the story.

Where was the international intrigue of a royal triad? Why was there no conversation about one of them being an American? Why does the default language of a tiny (southern?) (eastern?) European country appear to be English, since there’s never any mention of a language barrier on Meg’s part? And those are only the top of the list.

Perhaps I’m too tough on this book since my “home” genre is speculative fiction, where these issues of the greater world need to be addressed as much as the primary plot. After all, I had no complaints about the drama within the triad. Balancing any relationship takes work and hits bumps, which increases exponentially when you add a third person and a king to the mix.

If you really, really love Meg, Theo, and Galen, this book is worth finishing up the trilogy. But if you know you’re picky about things outside the relationship aspect of the storytelling in your romantic thrillers, it might be better to give this book a pass.

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

Their Second Chance (Book #3.5)

I appreciated the characters of Noemi and Isaac, so I took a chance on their story despite my complaints about the previous books in this series.

The story itself, before the epilogue, is a solid 5 stars. Each character is well-developed within the space constraints of a short novella, their encounter is sexy and dramatic, and the resolution at the end is both unexpected and utterly charming.

But that epilogue, though. Tonally and thematically, it doesn’t match the rest of the piece. I’m not sure why it was included, and I’m honestly bummed that it knocked my otherwise great enjoyment of this story down a star.

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

Review: “American Squire” (New Camelot #5) by Sierra Simone

This short story ties together the worlds of New Camelot and Thornchapel by following a former White House assistant on a mysterious errand to England. The actual interactions portrayed between Ryan and Sidney are both sexy and sweet, as appropriate, and I’d happily read more about their burgeoning relationship.

What elevates this story from sexy one-off to delightfully intriguing is how it sets off events in the Thornchapel universe. I squealed with delight as I read, but then again, I’m a sucker for subtle, shared-world references in books.

“American Squire” is a perfect read AFTER both series for the full effect, but I hope it also introduces New Camelot fans to the amazingness that is Thornchapel.

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

Review: Hexworld Stories by Jordan L. Hawk

“A Christmas Hex” (Book 2.5)

This is one of those stories that could have worked any time of year — but the fact that it occurred around Christmas made it all the sweeter.

After reading the full-length novels in this series, it was easy to forget that witches and familiars in New York City did anything else except work for the Metropolitan Witch Police! Law enforcement still plays a part in this tale, but in the form of a private detective agency. Gus was a bit too perfect sometimes, but we were viewing him through Roland’s eyes, so it’s easy to forgive him.

The thing that Roland dislikes about himself ends up being the key to solving this case, and I cheered for him at the end. I’d happily read their further adventures. And as usual, Hawk excels at including diversity in his fiction in unexpected yet perfect ways.

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

“Wild Wild Hex” (Book 3.5)

Though New York City has so far been the setting of the Hexworld series, witches and familiars exist all over the world in this historical fantasy/paranormal romance setting. Here, we visit the American Southwest and a different law enforcement agency. I can’t take the name “Hexas Rangers” seriously, but that didn’t stop me from adoring the characters and conflict in this Hexworld installment.

I’ve raved about Hawk’s effortless inclusion of diversity in his previous works, so take it as given that he also does an excellent job here. Short novellas don’t seem the best place to develop a fully-fledged romance, but the connection between Enoch and Rafael feels neither rushed nor contrived.

The plot outside the romance is also solid and delightfully twisty. I’d love to check in on these characters later. Perhaps when they chase a fugitive to New York City and must team up with the Metropolitan Witch Police…?

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