Review: Dual Surrender (Duality #2) by Kate Hawthorne

Hawthorne mentioned on social media that this was a difficult book to write, and part of me worried that this book would not mesh, thematically, with the previous installment of this trilogy. It features an established couple, and their lifestyle as white-collar professionals does not necessarily “fit” with that of hitmen and almost-mobsters. However, I already adored Kevin and Ronan from meeting them in a previous short story, so I went into this book with an open mind.

Rather than the traditional “meet cute” of a typical romance novel arc, Kevin and Ronan are an established couple approaching a year together. Hawthorne does play with reader expectations by revisiting their initial meeting in the guise of a fun anniversary date. However, it’s already obvious to those of us familiar with the couple that something is not quite right. The timeline of this book significantly overlaps with that of Dual Destruction, creating plenty of opportunity to show how Sage and Foster’s “interference” in Ronan and Kevin’s stable lives is only part of the conflict in this story.

The kink levels in this book are not for the faint of heart, but it’s not there just to up the spiciness of this romance. The point of this book is that because people are not stagnant, neither are relationships. Even as Ronan and Kevin remain committed to each other as a couple, the added stress of whatever Foster has dragged into their lives upends the fragile balance neither man had necessarily been ready to address yet. On the one hand, Foster’s unintentional manipulations allow them to re-evaluate the dynamic between them. But just as they are adjusting to a new normal, Foster once again throws a wrench into the works. And because Foster is Ronan’s best friend, the conflict there needs to be addressed as well, leading to one of the sexiest scenes in the book (and poor Kevin isn’t even there!).

So, while this might not be a traditional romance novel, it works as a solid installment in this trilogy full of fascinating characters and unconventional relationships. This story solidifies Ronan and Kevin as one of my favorite couples created by this author (and they have some steep competition). I already look forward to re-reading this book before the final book is released.

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

Review: “Sanguine” by Sierra Simone

Simone packs a wallop into two short chapters in this excellent paranormal romance story. It appears pretty self-explanatory on the surface: vampire and priest meet, and sexy shenanigans ensue. However, Simone puts her own twist on how vampires work, the priest is not quite a priest, and the shenanigans are surprisingly humorous and sweet (along with being incredibly sexy).

Bastien and Aaron are well developed in the short time they have on the page, but I already feel like I know so much about them. At the same time, I’d be more than willing to meet them again for a much longer work. I hope this is a world Simone is preparing to explore further in the future, and I’d happily be invested if she does.

Fans of this author should not miss this short, delicious treat, and new readers interested in exploring her work will get a fantastic taste of her writing style and ability.

(Also, I almost choked to death on dinner when I got to a certain line in this story. You’ll know it when you get there. Read safely, friends.)

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

Build Report: Sanctum Sanctorum Showdown

As a belated reward for publishing Steel Justice, I treated myself to a reward over Labor Day weekend by finally building Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. I adore the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but since I prefer building ships and buildings versus dioramas meant for younger LEGO fans, there’s not much in that theme for me. Thus, I snapped up this set when it was released. It’s definitely an “easier” build than the sets in my Creator Expert neighborhood and is not at the same scale, but I did enjoy the little details included in Doctor Strange’s New York City lair, Peter Parker’s apartment, and the necessary NYC pizza shop.

Sanctum Sanctorum Showdown (76108) — 1,004 pieces

This set is very much intended as a “play” set for younger builders, based on some build details (such as removable walls as casualties of battle) rather than strictly a display set. However, I’m more than happy to add it to my collection.

Review: White House Men Series by Nora Phoenix

This post includes reviews of the currently available books in the White House Men series:

  • Press (#1)
  • Friends (#2)
  • Click (#3)
  • Serve (#4)
  • Care (#5)
  • Puzzle (#6)

Press (Book 1)

This was the first Nora Phoenix title I picked up a few months ago, and at the time, I read the first 10 percent and lost interest. Since then, I’ve read other books by this author and completely fallen in love with her writing and storytelling, so I knew I had to give this series another shot. I easily resumed the book from where I’d left off and devoured the rest in a single evening and following morning.

Often, romance stories fall into the “friends-to-lovers” or “enemies-to-lovers” camps. This book deviates from those tropes in that Levar and Henley are professional colleagues of an adversarial nature. Too bad they’d make great friends, and even worse, that sparks fly when unintentional flirting occurs. To their credit, both make their best attempt to maintain boundaries in the relationship that develops and often communicate with each other as the mature adults they are. Unfortunately, the rest of the world can’t let the connection between them slide. I loved that it was a complete surprise to the characters but not to me as a reader that breaking off their non-relationship is utterly painful for both men.

That’s as far as I’m going to go into spoiler territory on the relationship side. Suffice to say: The resolution is unexpected, perfect, and utterly satisfying. All of this also winds through an ongoing external conflict with just enough political and real-world intrigue to make me anxious to read the next book in the series.

Do you like queer romance? Do you like The West Wing? Then this book is definitely for you. And now that I already know who good Phoenix is, I know I won’t be disappointed by what comes next.

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

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Review: Sparrow (Rebel Sky Ranch #2) by Kelly Fox

  • Read my review of Rebel Sky Ranch #1, Goodnight.

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

When I finished this book, I had that lovely mix of utter satisfaction and book hangover (from not being ready to leave the world the author has created). In the middle of reading this book, I sent a message to the author’s PA saying, “One of these days, I will read a Kelly Fox book without laughing so hard that I scare a cat. Sparrow is not that book.” At the beginning of this book, which I started as I was making coffee the morning I received it, I was already in tears from the emotion and poignancy of the prologue.

The amazing thing about Fox’s writing is that absolutely none of these emotional reactions are mutually exclusive within a single book. As always, she brings the humor, the emotion, the romance, and the sheer delight while reading the latest novel in her Rebel Sky Ranch series. Plenty of delightful cameos are on hand from previous books in her shared world, though this story/series continues to work well as a stand-alone installment. (Even Anders gets to go a little Anders in the background, relevant to the plot. As a treat.)

Enemies-to-lovers is one of my kryptonite tropes, and I was not disappointed by the trajectory of the unfolding romance between Sparrow and Luke. This may be a cowboy romance, but Sparrow is a very different type of cowboy. Fox emphasizes Sparrow’s non-U.S. roots as an immigrant gaucho while never using them to unnecessarily “exoticize” his character. In the same way, Luke embodies the typical elements of successful “Rodeo King” while also portraying his depths as a closeted queer man with a painful emotional history. As another lovely twist, the enemies facet of this story is relatively one-sided. Fox gives Sparrow and Luke ample reason to feel the way they do about each other without sacrificing solid characterization when those feelings start to adjust their dynamic. The book’s narrative conflict is far from over, both externally and internally, for both heroes once the romance portion of the story kicks in; however, Fox keeps the strong emotions ramped up as Luke and Sparrow recognize that certain kinks align.

Once again, “found family” is the amazing foundation upon which this book is built. Heroes should never exist in a vacuum, and Fox continues to expand upon her amazing world with characters I love to revisit and can’t wait to see more of. Not only am I already counting down until the next Rebel Sky Ranch book is released, but I already know that re-reads of both Sparrow and Goodnight are in my future.

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

Review: Auctioned Series by Cara Dee

This post includes reviews of all the books in the Auctioned series:

  • Auctioned (#1)
  • Stranded (#2)
  • Deserted (#3)
  • The Job (#3.5)
  • Played (#4)
  • Finished (#5)

Auctioned (Book 1)

Even though I’ve loved everything I’ve read by this author, I put off reading this book because I knew it would be difficult. Now that I’ve finished it, that is an understatement. That sentiment is compounded by how happy I was when I realized Gray was a familiar friend from Power Play and that this sweet kid was about to go through hell.

It’s important to note here that this isn’t a dark romance, but it is a dark book. Gray does, in fact, go through hell, but he escapes worse actions that are visited by those around him. However, even in the instances when he avoids physical pain, Darius doesn’t make it easy for Gray to accept that freedom is around the corner. In the long run, Gray does his best to step up when he needs to, and his soul remains intact. This is less of a redeeming feature and more of a bug when it means Darius must adjust his already complicated plans to accommodate the desires of the boy worming his way into Darius’ heart.

Again, not a dark romance but still a very unconventional relationship arc. The immediate conflict is addressed, but the ride is far from over. Gray and Darius end the book on the narrowest of “happily for now” margins, and I can’t wait to dive into the next part of their tale. Even when I know it probably won’t be an easy read, it will be utterly worth it.

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

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Review: Love Me Whole by Nicky James

I always go into romance novels in which one of the characters has a significant mental health issue with a grain of salt. Since I personally know someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), I went into this book with a whole bucketful. I am not an expert by any means, but as a reader, I felt that James handled Oryn and his alters with compassion and intention, especially since we only view him from Vaughn’s external perspective. I appreciated Vaughn’s interest in Oryn based on the circumstances in which they meet, thrown together as partners in a class project because of their differences with their younger classmates. Vaughn notes his physical attraction to Oryn but quickly recognizes that the other man needs a genuine friend more than anything else.

Slowly, Vaughn is exposed to Oryn’s daily life and meets the others who live within him. These presentations spark a significant amount of conflict, but Vaughn is not the type to be dissuaded just because it would be “easier” not to have Oryn in his life. And if that means partying with a kid who is too young for him, and constantly getting cock-blocked by an aggressively protective jock, so be it. However, Vaughn truly steps up when he finally understands how Oryn’s health issues literally put his life in danger. True love does not “fix” Oryn, but it’s Vaughn’s quiet strength that finally gives Oryn the space to consider alternatives to the holding pattern his life had consisted of.

This book is a love story but far from a typical one, and it’s a unique sort of slow burn. I enjoyed reading how Vaughn melds his life with Oryn’s and does his best to support not just Oryn but “everyone” his partner consists of. I recommend this book to those looking for romances on the more difficult end of the spectrum, even though I wouldn’t necessarily consider this book “high angst.”

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

Review: Only Colorado Series by J. D. Chambers

This post includes reviews of the books in the Only Colorado series:

  • Only With You (#1)
  • Only See You (#2)
  • Only Need You (#3)
  • Only Keep You (#4)
  • Only Love You (#5)
  • Only For Us (#6)

Only With You (Book 1)

This book won’t be for all readers due to the kinks of one of the main characters. On the one hand, this novel could have been totally fine without that kink if it focused instead on a typical romance between Zach and Craig (with Zach’s family issues being the only “big bad” of the story). But after letting the story percolate for a bit before writing this review, I find that I prefer that the book also included conflict relating to how the sexual aspect of Zach and Craig’s relationship evolved. (This is one of those moments where I remind both myself and everyone else that all kinks are valid, even if we don’t share them.)

That’s a lot to unpack, and I don’t want to give away any spoilers. I had difficulty in the first few chapters with the alternating points of view, but once I got into the flow of the story, it was easy to tell Zach and Craig apart. Neither man has followed the typical life trajectory, which made them unique in their own right, a fascinating pair together, and led to some interesting story conflict. Craig is just emo enough to be adorable rather than annoying, and Zach’s issues with his family are enough to make him a sympathetic character rather than an irritating doormat. The ups and downs in the relationship arc feel more “natural” than in most romance novels, which allowed the author to introduce more secondary characters that I look forward to seeing get their own happily ever afters later in the series.

Overall, this is a solid first installment to a series that I intend to keep reading. I hope that Craig and Zach make appearances in future books because they wormed their way into my heart.

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

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Review: Aster Valley Series by Lucy Lennox

This post includes reviews of the currently available books in the Aster Valley series:

  • Winter Waites (#0.5)
  • Right as Raine (#1)
  • Sweet as Honey (#2)
  • Hot as Heller (#3)

Winter Waites (Book 0.5)

This novella serves as an excellent introduction to Lennox’s latest series and her writing as a whole. There is a certain element of insta-love due to the story’s length, but once the two men meet properly, their chemistry is natural. Honestly, my only quibble is whether Winter finishes Genry’s hand rehab since that subject is rather abruptly dropped in favor of their whirlwind romance.

Gentry certainly takes care of Winter in the only way he knows how from a distance, which is both romantic and a bit overwhelming. The story has less of a dark moment and more of a “can this actually work between us?” revelation that was sweet to see come about. The epilogue introduces us to new faces that I look forward to learning more about as this series progresses, and I hope Winter and Gentry continue to be frequent side characters.

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

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Review: Hell’s Bedroom Series by Tanya Chris

Kitchen Sink Dom (Book 1)

Knowing some of the backstory of how this book developed made it even more entertaining: Chris asked for kink suggestions in a social media group and did her best to incorporate as many as possible. What might have been a disjointed connection of sex scenes held together by a plot is instead a fascinating evolution of a relationship that is also integral to the developing story.

The kinky books that interest me lately are the ones that step outside the “expected” framework of how a kinky relationship should be. Even if this book did not include the engrossing missing person subplot, I’d have loved a simple developing romance between Harrison and Cash as they figure out what works best for them. Because Cash is not a traditional Dom in any sense of the word, and Harrison proves that masochism and submission do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. At the beginning of the book, Harrison even denies his masochistic tendencies, and watching Cash draw those kinks out of him is a ton of fun.

Except this book gets even better because it does include a fascinating missing person mystery! Harrison is a PI hired to investigate the case of a missing teen, which may involve a private club. Cash is his ticket in, but Harrison ends up collecting plenty of other kinky allies along the way. Harrison’s introduction to the scene is anything but smooth, and he makes plenty of missteps. Luckily, his allies are more than willing to stand up for themselves and emphasize the significance of community in their lifestyle.

This book is the first in a trilogy. It does not end on a cliffhanger, but it does leave room for plenty of plot to continue while focusing on some of the secondary characters we meet here. I look forward to more happily ever afters in this world, and I hope Harrison and Cash continue to be present in the rest of the stories.

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

Chicken Soup Dom (Book 2)

This book is best read after the first in the trilogy, rather than as a stand-alone, to get the most from the established characters, their relationships, and the ongoing external plot. I looked forward to continuing the adventure after the fun first book and was not disappointed on that front. Our kinky vigilante group is determined to take down this human trafficking ring, despite the multiple obstacles in their way, and Cade Brixby is especially determined to still help now that he’s gotten closer to one rescued victim, Arlo.

The featured relationship in this book is significantly less overtly kinky than the previous, which both fits the characters and is more appropriate to what Arlo has already survived. This story hits home how the American justice system doesn’t do much for victims because Arlo (and Kimi) desperately needed to be in therapy after their experiences. Not for the kinky stuff, which is once again enforced in this story as not a problem, but to help Arlo heal from the mental issues he did develop, such as his disordered eating. Instead, he and Brixby muddle along until they kind of fall into a relationship, then a romance. It was sweet and real but made me as twitchy as Brixby at times (though for different reasons).

However, neither Arlo nor Brixby are stagnant characters, and I loved the development they do experience both separately and together. I also thoroughly enjoyed the progression of the external plot, which included a shocking, unexpected reveal. I look forward to the trilogy’s conclusion, especially because I’m intrigued by Sage as a character, Tripp annoys me as a character, and I can’t wait to see what Chris does with them together.

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

Upsy-Daisy Dom (Book 3)

One of my favorite things about reading book series that focus on different characters set in the same over-arching storyline is allowing the author to lull me into falling in love with characters I might not have cared too much about previously. Tripp might kick off the entire human trafficking mystery in the first book of this trilogy, but other than his obvious care for Arlo, I never found much to enjoy about his otherwise selfish and slightly annoying personality. Along those same lines, Sebastian is blatantly crafted to be the antithesis to the types of Dom that Cash and Brixby represent. He’s the stereotypical sadist who thrives on control, but he’s the money behind this operation, while Tripp is the “inciting incident,” so the group kind of feels like it has to keep them around.

I’ll admit that I cackled to myself when Tripp finally goads Sebastian into playing with him, especially once I figured out how Sebastian intended to mess with Tripp’s mind. However, the scene does not play out the way I expected, and how Sebastian acts toward Tripp afterward had me sliding toward a fondness for the character. Every time they played together later (even against Sebastian’s better judgment), I realized how perfect these two characters are for each other and falling for them as they fell for each other.

Based on previous books by Chris, I already knew she could craft a tense courtroom drama. Just as I thought the dramatic finale of the external plotline would happen earlier in the book than I thought, Chris threw all of my previous expectations out the window and delivered an epic finale that I couldn’t put down.

With this novel, Chris wraps up the trilogy in a satisfying manner while also presenting another wonderful (if nontraditional) romance. I highly recommend this series to readers looking for a series of unexpected D/s relationships with just the right amount of spiciness to highlight a fantastic overarching plot.

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