Review: The Experiment by Rebecca Raine

As a professional medical editor for the day job, I thought it was hilarious that the sections of this book were labeled according to the sections of a journal article, down to the “Methods” and “Limitations.” Even better, the headings accurately reported what part of the plot the section covered. This conceit was cute while also bringing a creative element to the organization in a book.

And that was only the beginning of the things that I loved about this book. This story had the “idiots in love” content that I adore in spades, but at the same time, I understand why Patrick and Logan both embark on this “experiment” together. Patrick doesn’t want to be hurt again, and Logan doesn’t want anyone to hurt Patrick—even if he’s the one who might get hurt in the process. This isn’t a best friends-to-lovers story so much as it’s a journey two characters take together and happen to end up in the same place, despite a few bumps in the road.

As a developmental psychology student, Patrick is remarkably dense about things that he should be aware of. Luckily, he and Logan have an excellent cast of supporting characters, both friends and family, to help them along. I appreciate books where the point-of-view characters don’t exist in a vacuum and when the secondary characters aren’t over-the-top caricatures. Raine does an excellent job with her entire cast in this book.

This stand-alone novel features all the lovely feels a reader could ask for, and it was perfect escapism reading. I especially appreciated this wonderful trip to Australia on the most recent U.S. election day.

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

Review: How to Hack a Hacker (Unholy Trifecta #3) by A.J. Sherwood

The few problems I had with the previous books in this series spilled into the conclusion of this particular found-family all getting their happily ever after. Not every author wants to include doom, gloom, and angst in their writing, but some professions happen to call for it. Even those who do dark things on the side of the light should understand the heaviness of their work, and that’s something I never quite sensed from the characters of the Unholy Trifecta.

That being said, sometimes you’re not in the mood for angst, but you still want a dash of excitement with your romance. Then, the Unholy Trifecta books are definitely for you. The third installment is no less action-packed just because one of the point-of-view characters is a hacker who does his best work at a computer. Brannigan is Kyou’s perfect foil, which means I joined in the happiness shown for both characters. The way their lives have intertwined since Kyou’s infancy is a delightful twist that brought a smile to my face.

This trilogy includes all the best vibes of reading fanfic, down to the adorable child and found family feels, but Sherwood manages to replicate it with an all-original cast of characters. I had fun reading these books, despite my quibbles, and the conclusion more than lived up to the expectations set by the first two. I’d be happy to read about the further adventures of this ridiculous crew, even without the romance angles, especially as Remi grows up and comes into her own as an individual character.

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

Review: Dedicated (Rhythm of Love #1) by Neve Wilder

This book is a friends-to-lovers romance that swerves strongly into “idiots in love” territory, which means I had a blast reading it. Individually, Les and Evan are well-written, complex characters with a strong history of friendship currently on the rocks. They both approached stardom differently, so it makes sense that this book opens with them encountering speed bumps in that road with vastly different styles. Les is a mess; Even is slightly less so, but it’s still evident to the reader. I couldn’t wait until both characters sequestered themselves in a cabin after tour to work on their next album.

Public revelations regarding aspects of their past force them into a fake relationship, which is torture for both men who are in love with each other to different degrees and varying levels of awareness of such a fact. Because of how messy things are in their heads, elements of this fake relationship bleed into their private times as well. This sounds angsty AF, but Wilder skirts that delicate line of poignancy rather than the reader wanting to smack each man upside the head repeatedly.

The dark moment took a turn I had not expected, but I applaud Wilder’s ability to portray sensitive matters with delicacy and realism rather than caricature. This is a romance, so obviously the happily ever after is coming—but speed bumps also fill that road. However, the author makes it up to the reader with a stunning conclusion that had me grinning from ear to ear.

Porter & Graves sounds like the sort of band I wished really existed so that I could be one of their fans, too.

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

Review: Royally Screwed by Lynn Van Dorn

This novel is one of those books that would probably have better reviews if the back-cover description was a bit more comprehensive. Some aspects of this book that verge strongly into light BDSM territory are not going to be for everyone. The early chapters showing the characters as they age together place it firmly in the “slow burn” category. I had no problem with either of those elements, and I adored this novel. Yuri is a brat, and Angelo is kind of a dick, but they are perfect together. Add the bonus political intrigues from their respective nations and I’m hooked.

Despite what the back cover implies, I believe that this is not a “gay for you” romance. Because of how fraught the discourse around sexuality and sexual orientation can be, I don’t blame authors for attempting to keep it simple in their fiction to avoid unnecessary censure. The closest Van Dorn gets here is in her delightful chapter headings, specifically the one that refers to Angelo as “Yurisexual.” Angelo’s evolving feelings toward Yuri are much more complicated than “huh, that guy makes me have funny feelings I usually only have for women,” which were a delight to explore (and incredibly sexy, to boot).

This is a stand-alone novel with no need for a sequel, but I wouldn’t complain one bit if the author wrote a companion piece featuring one of Yuri’s brothers. Especially if it let us peek in on this fun couple again!

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

Review: Folk Lore Series by K.A. Merikan

Where the Devil Says Goodnight (Book 1)

Potential readers should heed the “dark” warning in this book’s description because more than a few scenes are not for the faint of heart. Merikan dives deep into Slavic mythology to draw monsters to the surface, both paranormal and utterly human. Adam and Emil pay the price, time and time again, as they grow closer on multiple levels. (This book is also not for the devoutly Catholic, I’m sure.)

I enjoy reading fantasy novels that draw their inspiration from sources other than what has become mainstream. This book did an excellent job of delving into the source material and bringing it to life via both the book’s plot and how it affects both the village’s characters and atmosphere. Merikan never reverts to basic expository to share information with the reader; instead, we learn along with Adam, the village’s new arrival, as he discovers the depths to which his new home is seeped in magic and the role he plays in it.

At its heart, this story is a romance and definitely ends with a happily ever after (albeit an unexpected one). However, the text itself reads a lot like a tragedy, and my heart hurt for Emil and Adam more than once as they confronted their demons (both internal and external). This is the rare book that doesn’t make me long to check in with the characters later because the ending was so satisfying as written. But I look forward to reading the sequel, set in the same village, and I wouldn’t mind a peek or two back at this initial couple.

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

Where Foxes Hunt With Wolves (Book 2)

This book is nowhere near as dark as the first story in the series. Instead, the conflicts between various characters are all very “human” (even when not all of the characters are human). It can be read as a stand-alone, with only a few hints as to events that take place previously. The werewolf element is strong in this book, however, which means this story still won’t be for all readers.

I adored Yev from page one. He’s just a guy stuck in a culture that doesn’t accept him (relevant to too many places in the world even without the werewolf bit). I needed a bit more time to warm up to Radek, but it’s hard not to find him delightful once his changeling heritage springs to the forefront.

Polish culture is not as infused in this story because it instead focuses on more “modern” paranormal elements. However, it is impossible to forget that the setting is rural Poland rather than rural America, making for a nice change from the “norm” of urban fantasy stories.

I picked up the first book in this series based on a recommendation from another author I enjoy, and I’m so glad I took a chance on both. I look forward to reading other books by this excellent writing team!

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

Review: Natural Twenty (Roll for Love #1) by Charlie Novak

This book features an incredibly sweet romance between two geeky business owners, featuring delightful secondary characters and an adorable dog. Book protagonists don’t exist in a vacuum, and sometimes it’s nice to have their friends cheering along with you for that happily ever after. In this particular story, Jay and Leo face very real-world obstacles to their developing relationship. The conflict feels much less like angst and more like poignancy.

Jay’s baggage is slightly more obvious, which is why he’s determined to start his new life as a bookshop owner. Leo’s is murkier, but I’m pleased that the author took the time to focus on how a person’s outside does not necessarily “match” how they wish to interact with others (and that’s not even an allegory for the transgender experience, but it certainly doesn’t hurt).

I flew through this book, thanks to Novak’s effortless narrative and addictive characters. As an American reader, it was also a treat to read a book set somewhere OTHER than London. However, the best part of this story was how all the characters were not afraid to show their passions, whether for books or flowers. Though the title implies a heavy emphasis on table-top role-playing games, there’s a bit of nerd culture here for everyone looking for a geeky romantic fix. I’m bummed that the sequel is not yet available, but I’m delighted to have a story to look forward to.

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

Review: Their Nerd (Two Plus One #1) by Allyson Lindt

While this book contains many of the typical elements of an MMF menage romance, it solidified my opinion that the menage stories I most enjoy are those in which each individual relationship evolves and has an arc as much as the overall trio does. In this instance, what starts as a sexy narrative to accompany a random hookup throws all three characters together when both parties to the hookup find themselves working together soon after. There’s no insta-love here: Emily develops friendships (and then more) with Justin and Antonio on individual levels, even aside from the sexy time they spend together as three. Meanwhile, Antonio’s long-time crush on his best friend Justin could verge on cliché, but as their shared history is revealed to the reader, that particular pairing develops naturally as well.

This book also features an excellent blend of how relationship conflict and external conflict can combine and enhance the story’s overall plot. I know barely anything about software engineering and development, but Lindt expresses concepts in layman’s terms that make it clear to the reader what the problems are. However, as sexy as the characters are together, it’s hard to forget the sheer unprofessionalism of everyone hooking up. I wanted them to all get their happily ever after together, but I also rolled my eyes a lot at their antics. Again, Lindt leans on real-world implications to create problems for her characters that they actually deserve, but we still get to cheer for how they find their way out of the holes they dig for themselves.

While I don’t adore everything Lindt writes, she is becoming one of my solid go-to authors for her romances. I encourage readers to give her a shot because chances are high that you’ll find something you’ll like from her extensive catalog.

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

Review: Chadwick Series by C.P. Harris

Surviving the Merge (Book 1)

I’m all for atypical romance novels, now that I find myself with enough familiarity with the genre to recognize the usual plot beats. If you’re intrigued by a story that drops you immediately into the dark moment and doesn’t quite let up until the unexpected ending, look no further. However, there’s less angst than this implies and more about a character recognizing how unhealthy his relationship is and then being determined to come out the other side with his love intact.

My heart broke pretty consistently for Justin throughout this story, even though the character had his own share of unhealthy coping mechanisms. He has enough awareness to understand how dangerous his codependency with his husband is, but what makes this book unique is his husband’s Dissociative Identity Disorder. Justin has to deal with not one but two relationships, with his husband and his husband’s alter. Except the lines blur, and it becomes increasingly unclear which is Damon and which is Blake.

At its heart, this book might appeal to readers who struggle with supporting their partners through mental illness. I have no idea how “realistic” Damon/Blake’s situation is, but I do know this story isn’t for the faint of heart on either the emotional or sexual end of the spectrum. If you’re looking for a book to break your heart and only barely start to piece it back together but still ends on a pretty positive note, this is definitely worth checking out. I look forward to reading the next book, featuring secondary characters we meet here.

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

Surviving the Break (Book 2)

The second installment of this series does not deal with a specific mental illness, but it still explores a lot of emotional pain between the two main characters. Max, especially, carries a large load. The slow reveal of his history over the book’s course is handled excellently for maximum impact. On the other hand, Ash has his own baggage to deal with, and it’s honestly amazing how sorted he is based on his backstory (and friendship with Damon).

I tend to get irritated with characters who have such intense chemistry but insist on remaining apart for whatever reason the author has devised to create conflict. In this case, I did genuinely see both sides of the issue. Rather than smacking either Max or Ash, I mostly wanted them to get hugs. Eventually, their coming together is as explosive as promised, and ultimately satisfying once all the aforementioned baggage is handled. I have faith that these characters will persevere and live happily ever after.

The sexy bits in this story were delicious and fun, except when either man opened his mouth. The dialogue read more like a terrible porn movie than an actual encounter between two human beings. That often jerked me out of the story when I would have preferred to enjoy all aspects of this love story.

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

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.