November Wrap-Up & December Goals

I swung into November, literally, by attending an amazing sword technique workshop hosted by the Highlander himself, Adrian Paul, on Halloween. If the Sword Experience comes to your area, I can’t recommend it enough. I learned a lot, and what I was already familiar with was a lovely refresher. I look forward to incorporating those elements in my writing.

November itself was a bit stranger. I started National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) strong, but the American election tripped me up more than I expected. I spent a week scrambling to catch up, but then the positive good stress of using NaNo as motivation turned into the negative stress of feeling like I was irrevocably behind, so that became a wash. (My failure to “win” has absolutely nothing to do with the new World of Warcraft expansion that dropped last week. Don’t be silly.)

Only one month left in the crazy year that has been 2020! I remain optimistic for 2021, even as I will continue to stay home as much as possible and wear a face mask whenever in public. If this means I have more time for reading and gaming, I can’t really complain.

(Also, please wish a happy birthday to my mother today! She’s the self-proclaimed president of my fan club, and I couldn’t ask for a better supporter of my writing over the years.)

I’m pretty sure Adrian Paul is actually immortal since he still looks the same as when I had my teenage crush.

November Wrap-Up

  • I did not “win” NaNoWriMo by writing 50k words in 30 days. Instead, I wrote 22k words during the past 30 days, putting me at a total of 40k words written of Steel Empires #7: Steel Legacy in total. (I also leveled my main in WoW back to max level in 4 days, but shhhhhh.)

December Goals

  1. Add at least 10k words to Steel Legacy, bringing the total word count to 50k.
  2. All the other projects in my life are house-related that I’m working on with the Spouse, so I won’t bore you with the details.

In Case You Missed It

Book Reviews

  • The Hero and the Hidden Royal (Royal Powers #2) by Renae Kaye (4 stars)
  • Blood of the Sun (Path of Ra #3) by Dan Rabarts & Lee Murray (5 stars)
  • Marquis of Secret Doors (Royal Powers #3) by Lynn Lorenz (4 stars)
  • Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall (5 stars)
  • Conventionally Yours (True Colors #1) by Annabeth Albert (4 stars)
  • Enemies Like You by Annika Martin & Joanna Chambers (5 stars)
  • Three Player Co-op Series by Allyson Lindt
    • Looking For It (Three Player Co-op #1) (4 stars)
    • Waiting For It (Three Player Co-op #2) (4 stars)
    • Asking For It (Three Player Co-op #3) (4 stars)
  • Bad Habits (Wages of Sin #1) by Onley James & Neve Wilder (5 stars)
  • The Game Series by Cara Dee
    • Top Priority (The Game #1) (5 stars)
    • Their Boy (The Game #2) (5 stars)
    • Breathless (The Game #3) (5 stars)
  • Abstract Love by Sara Dobie Bauer (5 stars)
  • He’s Come Undone (collection)
    • “Appassionata” by Emma Barry (4 stars)
    • “Unraveled” by Olivia Dade (5 stars)
    • “Caught Looking” by Adriana Herrera (4.5 stars)
    • “Yes, And…” by Ruby Lang (4 stars)
    • “Tommy Cabot Was Here” by Cat Sebastian (5 stars)
  • Heart of the Steal by Avon Gale & Roan Parrish (5 stars)

Don’t you buy bedspreads that match your pets’ eyes?

Review: Heart of the Steal by Avon Gale & Roan Parrish

This story is not quite an “enemies to lovers” story because the characters would never have been on opposing sides had Vaughn exercised a modicum of common sense. However, Vaughn does what Vaughn does best (bend the rest of the world to his whims) and ends up with a perturbed FBI agent rather than an intrigued FBI agent. Will’s irritation with Vaughn is tempered by his attraction (mostly due to their rather sexy meet-cute at a party), leading him into a fun and sweet relationship with the billionaire rather than an arrest.

This book also isn’t a White Collar sort of story, where Vaughn ends up assisting his partner in investigating art crimes. They have a perfectly normal relationship, or as normal as a relationship can get when half of it comes in the form of a billionaire. I appreciated that this book’s premise did not hinge on Vaughn’s financial status, even though “billionaire romance” is an actual trope. His privilege and worldview eventually cause the “dark moment” of the story, but once again, it occurs in a completely unexpected way based on the premise of the story.

Will and Vaughn are a delightful couple who shouldn’t work but absolutely do. This stand-alone romance is worth checking out for fans of multiple tropes, but especially for those looking for twists on expected plot points, fun sibling dynamics, a spoiled billionaire’s response to a mediocre hotel chain, and a relationship that includes open communication between two mature adults.

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

Review: He’s Come Undone

“Appassionata” by Emma Barry

As a person who also experiences anxiety (though of a different type than depicted here), Kristy’s journey spoke to me on multiple levels. I appreciated how she related to her life’s various elements, from her artistry to her agent to her old “friend” Brennan. I enjoyed even more how Brennan did not sugar-coat his interactions with Kristy, but neither did he ever try to “fix” her. The way these characters come together is as sexy and dramatic as any symphony. While I think they threw the “l-word” around too early (I’ll blame the alcohol), I absolutely buy that Kristy and Brennan will somehow find their happily ever after together. (4 stars)

“Unraveled” by Olivia Dade

“Unravel” is precisely what Simon does throughout this story. The subtle alterations in his characterization and narrative voice show us more than could ever be portrayed by statements of fact. Dade’s depictions of both characters are masterful, dropping them both into a normal situation and then heightening it with the unique inclusion of, of all things, murder dioramas. The interweaving conflicts/mysteries of the diorama, the missing teacher, and Simon’s growing fascination with Poppy are a fun and exciting read. I think I was half in love with both Simon and Poppy by the end of this short tale, which makes for an even more satisfying happily ever after. (5 stars)

“Caught Looking” by Adriana Herrera

“Idiots in love” is my favorite romance trope lately. What I especially appreciated about this story is how Hatuey takes so long to get his act together—and how Yariel promptly takes up the mantle of being dumb once these two memorable characters finally collide. Frankly, Yariel is kind of a mess for most of this book, “undone” in the best way possible. I usually want to smack characters upside the head when they resist communicating, but in this instance, Yariel has a good reason for running hard in the opposite direction at first. Part of me wishes that we’d seen more onscreen resolution of that particular conflict, but at the same time, it’s also a refreshing change to read about characters who honestly want what’s best for their loved ones, regardless of any previous issues. Overall, the best part of this story is how absolutely in love these two men are—once they both stop being idiots. (4.5 stars)

“Yes, And…” by Ruby Lang

I find it fascinating that the three women romantic leads featured in this anthology have similar passions for the arts. In this case, Joan is an actress hosting the improv class Darren attends accidentally. As someone who did improv for years, part of me wishes that Darren had stuck with the course. However, I love the idea of two characters who can’t seem to stay away from each other, even when there’s not much on the surface to draw them together besides physical attraction. Their arc follows a real-world path that should be considered the norm rather than the passionate extremes sometimes featured in romance novels. Darren finds ways to support Joan while never taking away her agency, and Joan inspires Darren to make changes in his life that never drastically alter the character on the page. Authors and actual humans in search of romance should take note of this lovely example of a healthy relationship. (4 stars)

“Tommy Cabot Was Here” by Cat Sebastian

I have one of the ebook readers that allows you to highlight passages, and I often have to resist the urge to highlight every other line of Sebastian’s writing. Her use of language is just that good, from description to characterization to narrative. Every character, including the secondaries, often come alive on the page. Even better, the conflicts and situations she places her characters in always come with that delicious gut-punch of emotion that makes reading her work an absolute delight. I purchased this anthology on the weight of her inclusion, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the other four novellas, this story alone was worth the price admission. This story could have fallen into many stereotypes, but Sebastian tweaks her characters to always defy expectations. It doesn’t hurt that Tommy and Everett fall into my most recent favorite romance trope of “idiots in love.” Overall, their journey back to each other after a lifetime of yearning is a satisfying read, perfect for the upcoming holidays for anyone looking for an excellent anthology with a solid ending. (5 stars)

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

Review: Abstract Love by Sara Dobie Bauer

Disclaimer: I am friends with the author; however, I purchased this ebook at full price.

I’m generally not a fan of the “enemies to lovers” or “gay for you” tropes in romance novels, so this book did not initially appeal to my taste. Except Bauer has repeatedly proven what an excellent author she is, so I finally checked it out. And promptly devoured it in a single evening. Bauer embraces the tropes mentioned above so that both main characters are quite obvious about what’s going on in the rocky road toward a relationship. It’s just meta enough to be delightful rather than awkward or obnoxious.

Donovan and Sam’s external subplots of a fresh divorce and awkward homecoming to homophobic parents, respectively, are familiar tales. However, Bauer’s fresh and personality-infused narrative voice elevates what could be more fictional tropes to heart-wrenching realism. I appreciate romance arcs in which I care about each hero as an individual rather than just as a couple, especially when that character development ends up bringing them closer as a couple in a way that does nothing to diminish that these are two independent characters who could also stand on their own. (But they’re so much better together.)

I laughed out loud multiple times while reading this book. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a solid romance story featuring characters who don’t appear to be a great match, lots of sexiness, and ridiculous outfits. Sam and Donovan are characters I might even want to be friends with in real life. I would even overlook Sam’s preference for IPAs, even though it’s a really gross beer.

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

Review: The Game Series by Cara Dee

Top Priority (Book 1)

When I read the description, I immediately loved this book’s concept—talk about the endless possibility of conflict. Since it was short and I had some time to kill before an appointment, I figured it’d made a fun afternoon read. Instead, I fell head over heels in love with both Lucas and Colt and adored the ridiculousness and inherent drama of the situation they find themselves in.

I’m an Air Force spouse who has experienced her share of deployments, so I have to give Dee massive kudos for both the realism and respect she treats Colt’s deployment and Lucas’ response to it. (Full disclosure: My spouse is not a pilot, but I’m admittedly biased when I say that A-10s are way sexier than F-16s.)

Most love stories follow a similar path: the meet-cute, the relationship arc, and then the hot sex. This book rearranges those elements while still retaining the heart of what a romance story should be. It was completely worth the binge-read, and I can’t wait to dive into the next book in this sexy series.

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

Their Boy (Book 2)

This book is the natural progression of the previous story in this series, even though it takes place years later. It’s fun to revisit Colt and Lucas as a settled couple enjoying their happily ever after together. However, they knew going into their relationship that something would always between missing if kept to the two of them.

Enter Kit, who is the primary focus of this book as well as the narrator. His relatively tragic backstory and unique current living situation make for an excellent setup on multiple levels for him to become involved with Colt and Lucas. The primary appeal to me for this book involved Kit’s character development both within the context of kink and on his own, outside of the sphere of his partners. I appreciated that Colt and Lucas also help Kit expand his horizons and grow as a person even as their specific relationship with him has a very different mental trajectory.

This book features a significant age gap between the romantic leads (early 20s, late 30s, and early 40s) and a different aspect of the BDSM community than I had very much knowledge of. Dee does an excellent job of presenting the Daddy/Little dynamic in a positive way that shows the benefits of such a relationship for those interested in it, even if it’s not something that might appeal to your average romance reader. Dee’s work and care put into her writing and storytelling elevate the text beyond just a framework to hold hot sex scenes. I’m glad I continued this series, and I look forward to the next book based on a few teases featured in this particular book.

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

Breathless (Book 3)

I enjoyed Dee’s writing in the previous book so much that I started reading this one at 11:30 at night. I’d probably have read it all in one sitting if the spouse hadn’t woken up at 2 AM and prodded me into getting some sleep (I promptly made coffee and finished it right away the next morning). However, this book is certainly not for everybody, based on the levels of kink explored and the relationship between Reese and River.

Shay is a fantastically fleshed-out character, and there’s still so much I want to know about him. His interactions with other characters (whether romantic or otherwise) show that Dee created him with so much care, and it’s easy to connect with such a hero. In that same vein, there’s so much about Reese and River that Dee does not share with the reader, which makes them equally captivating. As a trio, this results in delightful reading. This book is one of the rare romance arcs that never gave me the urge to smack any of the leads upside the head, nor did I ever bemoan anyone’s lack of communication skills. Even Shay’s initial issues at the start of the story are well-developed rather than an excuse to insert conflict in the narrative.

Once I finished this book on a Sunday morning, I couldn’t get it out of my head. Excellent books frequently give me “book hangovers,” where I’d rather still be with the characters rather than back in the real world. On Sunday evening, I turned to the start of the book and re-read it, enjoying every bit of it a second time through. I often look forward to re-reading books, but I’ve never before read a book twice in a row like that. There are no more installments in this series for me to devour (yet), so that will have to be the praise I leave this book with.

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

Review: Bad Habits (Wages of Sin #1) by Onley James & Neve Wilder

This book is another recent binge-read that I enjoyed every moment of. Everything about it should have been ridiculous, but all the characters wormed their way under my skin until I had to see what happens next. The plot is delightfully twisty, requiring both an assassin and hacker’s skills to solve, and even when things get dark, it’s clear that everything will turn out okay as long as Jonah and Caspian continue to work together.

That being said, the road between Jonah and Caspian is rocky and full of loaded history. The flashbacks that give us a glimpse into that history are useful and poignant without ever dragging down the current plot. Each character leans into a bit of the stereotype of their professions, but never to the point of being caricatures.

The relationship between the two men is never typical, but their interactions are always laden with potential, and the sexy bits are hot while never feeling gratuitous. I can’t wait to read the next book in this series, and I’ve already picked out books I’d like to read by each of the authors, and I can never find higher praise than that.

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

Review: Three Player Co-op Series by Allyson Lindt

Looking For It (Book 1)

I’m a firm believer that romance novels are for everyone, not just (straight) women. That said, sometimes it’s obvious who the intended audience of a book is supposed to be, which is the case for this title. It is blatant wish-fulfillment, utterly indulgent, and honestly: There’s nothing wrong with that either. Just know going in that this book is 99% focused on the female point-of-view character and her, ah, satisfaction.

Sadie is a lovely character, however. For a novel on the shorter end, Lindt packs in a ton of conflict related to Sadie’s love life and professional life, with bonus scenes dedicated to her circle of strong friendships with nicely-developed secondary characters.

The two men in this menage romance are already dating, and it’s clear from the beginning that there will be no angst over Sadie picking one over the other. Instead, the interpersonal conflict relates more to Sadie accepting the possibility of a polyamorous relationship, which is a nice change of pace. I might have preferred a few scenes from either Jax or Grayson’s point of view as well because some private discussion on their end would have made this menage feel more balanced rather than entirely focused on Sadie.

I do look forward to checking in on these characters as I read further in the series.

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

Waiting For It (Book 2)

This book does a much better job than the previous of fleshing out all three primary characters, and not just because we met Anne and Chase in the first book. Even Luke springs to life through Anne’s point of view, and this character development made me better appreciate the multiple relationship arcs for it.

In this case, what also helps is that the two men story are not already in a committed relationship with each other (though they do have a history). Half the fun of menage books is watching FOUR relationships develop (between each of the three characters and the group as a whole). Unfortunately, because of how Chase and Luke are both so focused on Anne, this book strikes me as more of a polyamory story that happens to include everyone at once rather than a true “menage” story. While I appreciate that this book’s drama doesn’t focus on Anne having to “choose” between either man, I feel like I’m missing out on how Chase and Luke grow closer together, which is only hinted at in the text.

Lindt continues to do an excellent job with the non-relationship conflicts included in the story. Even the tech jargon is accessible without being unnecessarily dumbed down, and I enjoyed solving the mystery along with Anne and Luke. Ultimately, this story includes multiple happy endings to be satisfied by.

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

Asking For It (Book 3)

Once again, the third book in this series features a lovely and solid romantic arc between the main character, Lyn, and two love interests. Though the first time they come together involves all three characters, most of the book is dedicated to Lyn exploring potential relationships with Kingston and Owen individually. But because of developments within Kingston and Owen’s friendship off-page, I was frustrated that I only felt like I was only reading half (two-thirds?) of the complete story.

In any other book, the story might have only involved Lyn and one of the guys. At worst, it might have involved Lyn and both men, except with the angst about choosing one over the other. This book is supposed to be wish-fulfillment, and I understand the narrative limitations of showing only the events possible from the first-person perspective. But I do want that last piece of the puzzle to solidify the happily ever after.

Ironically, none of this book’s “external” conflict would have occurred without the two men’s presence in Lyn’s life. A few moments stuck out as a bit contrived, but overall, this was still a satisfying story for readers only concerned with Lyn and who aren’t necessarily interested in seeing story elements that don’t involve her.

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

I currently have no plans to finish reading this series. However, I am not averse to checking out other books by this author in the future.

Review: Enemies Like You by Annika Martin & Joanna Chambers

I have so many books on my to-be-read pile at this point that when I’m tempted to buy another, I’ve started glancing at the top few reviews. And because I’m contrary, reviewers with complaints tend to make me even more interested in this book, which was definitely the case here. The first few chapters clarify that the more significant reviewer complaints are only valid if you completely ignore the subtext. And I have no complaints because I adored this book.

I love competent characters, and Will and Kit are frighteningly capable at what they do. Even better, their abilities heighten the excellent sexual tension between the two men. This book features some steamy sexy bits that are all the more intriguing for how original the situations are. A certain amount of angst is expected considering the opposing sides of the problem the two men find themselves on, which makes the part where they have to work together all the better. This is one of those stories where the “external” conflict is inextricably wound up in the developing relationship, and possibly even a story I would have enjoyed without the love story element.

As much as I would probably enjoy a sequel to this book, it doesn’t need one. The ending is more than satisfying, featuring a bit that I predicted and some delightful twists that I did not. This is not a traditional enemies-to-lovers arc any more than Kit or Will is a traditional character. Anyone who loves nontraditional stories of all sorts, with bonus sex characters in a book that’s hard to put down, will thoroughly enjoy this story.

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

Review: Conventionally Yours (True Colors #1) by Annabeth Albert

2020 has been a bit of a year, and one of the things I miss most is going to conventions to spend time with fellow readers and writers and gamers. Even though my gaming is mostly on the computer, the social aspect mixed with the competition is familiar enough to me that this book sucked me in and didn’t let go. The card game Albert develops for this book is simple enough to not turn off those unfamiliar with collectible trading card-based games while also being sufficiently in-depth to bring real drama to the gaming scenes.

The trick is how well Albert mixes the gaming itself with the mental and emotional states of the point of view characters, whether Cam or Alden. Their gaming styles are even aspects of their characterization that heighten the relationships between the men. While not exactly “enemies” at the start, their gaming styles clash enough to show how they obviously would never work, despite any fleeting moments of attraction that might prove otherwise.

But in the same way that a road trip can make or break an established relationship, the cross-country road trip to a gaming convention is precisely what’s needed for Alden and Cam to develop a bond outside of the gaming table. Secrets are inevitably revealed, and I couldn’t help but cheer whenever the characters grew closer. This is one of those books where some of the plot points are entirely predictable (only one bed in the hotel room! They have to face off against each other at the gaming tournament!). However, by this point, I cared enough about the characters and their developing relationship to enjoy the journey immensely.

The ultimate ending is not entirely as predictable as you might think, and it’s all the more satisfying for it. My biggest quibble is that a significant amount of the “comedic” aspect of this romantic comedy appeared to come from the unique way in which Alden sees the world and his different reactions to things. Cam is never anything but supportive, and there is absolutely no subplot of anyone trying to “fix” a neurodiverse character, but some moments just happened to fall flat for me. Other readers may have vastly different experiences, and I still highly recommend this book to anyone looking for gamers living their best lives (with a bonus happily ever after).

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

Review: Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Snarkiness, terrible jokes, and a dose of anxiety are how I fit myself into this crazy world, so it should come as no surprise that I fell in love with the character of Luc at once. Even better, so much of Oliver’s personality is shown through the text, even in a story from Luc’s point of view, that it was easy to fall in love with him, as well. Overall, this enemies to fake boyfriends to maybe something more is at turns hilarious and heartwarming and downright sexy.

As a romantic-comedy, Hall delicately balances the humorous elements of Luc’s personality with the angst that has become part and parcel of his life regarding his relationship with his father and his “relationship” with Luc. Other authors might have left me in tears (seriously, I cry at everything) at the dark moments in this book, but Hall pushes through by evoking heavy emotion simultaneously with vaguely ill-timed humor. This book isn’t a light and fluffy read, but it’s the perfect romance story for those of us who have never had the patience for the traditional romantic story arc (and are too jaded besides).

Every secondary character in this book, including Luc’s coworkers, his friends, his family, and Oliver’s family, verge on caricature (from the perspective of this American reader). However, the way Hall consistently leans into the characterization makes it work, especially in a book written in the first-person view—it is Luc’s world, and we’re just visiting. Some of the specifically British humor might put off some readers, but I still found the overall themes to be entirely accessible (and hilarious).

I look forward to checking out more of Hall’s work in the future. Even if the rest of his books are not as intentionally humorous, I’m incredibly impressed with his writing and characterization skills.

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