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Mar
13

Review: Insight by Santino Hassell

Review: Insight by Santino Hassell Insight Author: Santino Hassell Reviewer: B. Rating: A What I’m Talking About: If being raised in the intolerant, judgmental suburbs of Houston, Texas hadn’t been difficult enough, Nathaniel Black also had to bear the stigma of his family’s name. Though most of them are “gifted” with varying psychic abilities, they are better known for the resulting mental instability, addiction, and suicide that seem to accompany those talents. Nate would rather just avoid them all as much as possible. But, when the death of his identical twin brother, Theo, is labeled a suicide, Nate will do anything to discover the truth, even if it means embracing the very thing he hates most. Having read many of this author’s other titles, I’ve been very excited about Insight for quite some time. Not surprisingly, to say that I enjoyed reading it would be an understatement. While I’ve liked many books in the romance and paranormal genres, I simply can’t resist a good suspense or mystery story, and Insight kept me on edge from beginning to end. In fact, there was so much going on in this story, that this review has to be fairly limited in an effort not to ruin it. One of my favorite things about Insight is that, although there are many layers in the plot, I didn’t feel overwhelmed by a profusion of obvious distractions, which can sometimes be problematic with stories that combine elements of multiple genres. Despite the very “busy” nature of this story, however, every scene appeared to be deliberate, if not economical, in its implementation, while consistently providing enough rich detail and imagery that immersing myself in the narrative was effortless. While Insight should certainly be categorized as “Suspense” or possibly a “Thriller,” there’s no denying the significance of its romantic elements, as well. I found both Nate and Trent to be equally likable, and thought the complimentary nature of their developing relationship fit the story very nicely. Nate’s journey is one of self-acceptance as much as it is about discovering the truth, and watching him learn that he truly can be loved was a highlight of the novel for me. Overall, I think Insight is a finely-crafted exploration of a world where truths and monsters dwell beneath the skin. Nate is an intriguing protagonist, and he and Trent each won me over with little effort from the very first chapter. The many twists and turns proved to be consistently riveting, the tension building...
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Feb
28

Review: Darkness by Kate Sherwood

Review: Darkness by Kate Sherwood Darkness Author: Kate Sherwood Reviewer: B. Rating: A- What I’m Talking About: Several months into his “vacation” working as under-sheriff for his high school friend and lover, Kayla, Jericho Crewe has re-adapted to things far better than he’s willing to admit. Unlike his job as an officer among the anonymous multitudes of LA, however, Mosely, Montana lays every consequence of his actions bare and unavoidable. Much like his feelings for his other former lover, and ongoing complication, Wade Granger. The first in this series, Long Shadows, was a compelling introduction to Jericho’s story, and hooked me from the start. The second, Embers, drew me in, but I still felt like more of an outsider, possibly because of Jericho’s own fight with his own convictions. Darkness, however, was an entirely different experience for me as a reader. Jericho isn’t surrendering so much as he’s accepting the truths about himself that he couldn’t outrun. Jericho is correct when he refers to Kayla and Wade as the angel and the devil (respectively) on his shoulders. But, after three books worth of Jericho waging his own internal battle, I was delighted to see him realize they were sort of telling him the same thing: sometimes, the law can’t dictate what’s right and wrong. Sometimes, that distinction can only be found in the intentions of the actors—in the heart. While I’ve consistently found Wade to be an extremely compelling character, I was especially happy with the dynamic between he and Jericho in Darkness. For the first time, Jericho seems to understand that he has the power to truly hurt Wade with his assumptions and distrust of Wade’s intentions. Wade’s protectiveness and boundaries when it comes to his own sense of right and wrong echo Jericho’s realization that sometimes the law just isn’t good enough. The epiphany that finally allows Jericho to see what Wade really means to him, and the intimate and reflective moments that followed were some of my favorite parts of the series so far. All in all, Darkness is an excellent addition to an already strong series. My appreciation of Jericho increased substantially over the course of the novel, and my affection for Wade did much the same. These characters have definitely grown on me as I’ve gotten to know them better, and I highly recommend reading this series from the beginning. With only one story left, I can’t help but be both excited and worried to see what happens next,...
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Feb
21

Review: Daily Grind by Anna Zabo

Review: Daily Grind by Anna Zabo Daily Grind Author: Anna Zabo Reviewer: B. Rating: A- What I’m Talking About: Running an independent, neighborhood coffee shop has been slowly breaking Brian Keppler for years. After a key employee is hired away by the consulting firm upstairs, he’s been taking on more and more of the work himself, spending less time on the other important parts of his life—and exorcising his frustrations on his remaining employees and anyone who tries to love him. Being bisexual and closeted isn’t helping things, either. “Miserable” sums Brian up pretty tidily these days, and having his world turned upside down by the arrival of the sexy CEO of a successful robotics company wasn’t at all on his to-do list. So, why does the idea of losing him seem like too high a price to pay? Robert Ancroft fought long and hard to make his company a success. And nearly lost himself in the process. Fortunately, he was able to find a balance that didn’t drain him to the marrow day in and day out. Watching the man who has started to mean so much to him sink into the same, endless exhaustion is heartbreaking, but Robert is trying his best to help Brian see what life could be like for them if he were willing to devote even a small part of himself to the relationship they could have. Still, everyone has their limits, and this fight may be one he just can’t win. Written in the third-person from both Brian and Rob’s perspectives, Daily Grind was a highly enjoyable read that I think definitely has a place on my “keeper” list. Both main characters are complex and I appreciated that they were able to get a chance to pursue an authentic kind of happiness after the age of thirty-five. Although the trials Robert and Brian face are the primary force driving the narrative, there are many wonderful scenes written against the backdrop of Pittsburgh (and the surrounding area) that have me itching to visit there myself. Some of my favorites are seen through the lens of Robert’s camera, and I thought it was especially sweet that their connection deepened most profoundly during these moments. Their relationship is an intensely sexual one, but the added depth provided by the other parts of the story, particularly Robert’s own complicated history and his introduction to Brian’s family, made Daily Grind all the more enjoyable for me. While Daily Grind works well as a...
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Feb
13

Review: Hard Wired by Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell

Review: Hard Wired by Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell Hard Wired Author: Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell Reviewer: B. Rating: A+ What I’m Talking About: How often are words our greatest enemy? The ones we ought to say, but don’t. The ones we shouldn’t say that come screaming out of us, unfiltered and angry, when silence would be better. And, the ones that might make all the difference in the world, if only we could be brave enough to speak. Jesse Garvy and Ian Larsen, the two main characters in Hard Wired, by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell, seem to run the gamut. As has been the case with the previous titles in the Cyberlove series, I absolutely loved this story. Jesse and Ian have been fixtures from the very beginning as Kai Bannon’s chat mods, “Garvy” and “Cherry,” and seeing them get their own book is a gift. As a fan, I appreciated the overlap between the varying perspectives, which served as a reminder that every “secondary character” in real life is living their own narrative in parallel to my own. While it is another exploration of internet-generated connections, Hard Wired still manages to be unique in both tone and substance. Despite being friends for years, Ian and Jesse are strangers in many ways until they are placed in a position to relearn one another, their relationship bisected when “real life” doesn’t go according to plan. My heart hurt for both of them as things began to unravel, but I enjoyed their journey back to each other very, very much. Another thing I liked about Hard Wired was that the writing, in general, has gotten even better—although there was nothing lacking in the previous stories. Filled with vivid descriptions of colors, scents, tastes, and sensations, this story came to life for me in a way that a lot of others haven’t. There were also more than a few passages that I found to be particularly on point, many involving Ian’s difficulties with personal interactions. The addition of just the right amount of humor and snark makes Hard Wired a new favorite. In the end, I think the entire Cyberlove series is both timely and relevant, and Hard Wired is an especially welcome part of the world these two authors have created. Seeing some of the characters from previous stories was a lot of fun, Kai and Garrett, most notably, and it was good to know that certain other members of Kai’s chat crew are still very much...
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Feb
6

Interview + Review: Embers by Kate Sherwood

Interview + Review: Embers by Kate Sherwood Embers Author: Kate Sherwood Reviewer: B. Rating: B+ What I’m Talking About: Now that he’s temporarily relocated back home to Mosely, Montana, Jericho Crewe has a lot to sort out. Between working for his old friend and former lover at the sheriff’s office, dealing with the family he didn’t know he had, and recovering from a recent gunshot wound, he’s been busy. His inability to keep his mind off his other former lover, Wade Granger, isn’t helping matters, either—especially when buildings start exploding and bodies begin turning up. While I liked this story very much, I did have a little more difficulty connecting with Jericho. Having been a patrol cop in LA for five years, and a marine for eight years before that, Jericho’s clearly no fool. That he had the determination to reinvent himself after escaping from Mosely also speaks to a strong will and notable resourcefulness. But, he always seems to be a step or two behind here, and his ongoing confusion wasn’t as understandable to me now that he’s been back home for a while. Regardless, it was extremely interesting to watch him try to balance between his own past and present, and Jericho is likable enough that I was pulling for him all the way through. Wade, on the other hand, is still my favorite character, and his role as a “mastermind” is the best part of this series to me so far. Now that Jericho is back home, Wade seems to be shifting gears on the fly and the suspense that’s constantly generated by his actions kept me glued to every scene. It looks as if Wade had shaped his life around a missing puzzle piece, only to discover that that same piece had somehow changed its shape during its absence. Now, things are different in his world, too, and I couldn’t help but appreciate both Wade’s aptitude, as well as his frustrations. Another thing I thoroughly enjoyed about Embers is that the author has taken the traditional notion of the “prodigal returned” and turned it into something else entirely. Jericho didn’t just leave home. He changed. But, not as much as he thinks he did, which is pretty entertaining. Not really an outsider, he’s able to maintain a level of credibility with the “locals” that he’s very willing to use to help him solve the crimes being committed—even though he seems surprised that he still has any. One of the older deputies puts...
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Jan
16

Review: Afraid to Fly by L.A. Witt

Review: Afraid to Fly by L.A. Witt Afraid To Fly Author: L.A. Witt Reviewer: B. Rating: B- What I’m Talking About: I’ve read quite a few titles by this author, many created under various pen names, and have always enjoyed her writing very much. The first story in the Anchor Point series, Just Drive, also received a lot of good reviews, even though I missed it when it was released. So, I was a little disappointed when Afraid to Fly gave me a fair bit of difficulty. One particularly significant stumbling block for me came from the use of dueling first person POVs throughout the narrative. Although each chapter is titled to reflect whose perspective is being presented, the story still became confusing, especially during longer strings of dialogue. Travis and Clint have such similar experiences that things frequently got muddled when they were together. This wasn’t a constant issue, but it happened often enough that I had to reread several scenes in order to clarify who was saying what. In addition to the above, I had a difficult time accepting Clint’s decision to tell Travis about the incident that led to his downfall and the destruction of his marriage. So much was made about the repercussions attached to it, clearance levels, and nondisclosure agreements that kept him silent for so long that Clint’s sudden about face seemed “off” somehow. Although, I was still glad he was able to get that secret out in the open. There were other issues that affected my submersion in the story, including Travis’ repeatedly stated cynicism about the future of their relationship. Additionally, Clint “comes out” to his office associates during the very first scene, but is worried on other occasions about what his ex-wife would say if his bisexuality was discovered. Lastly, while penetrative sex certainly isn’t necessary, I found it odd that Travis was determined to push his physical limitations in several other ways (taking the stairs instead of the elevator, the bi-annual health screening, etc.), but not when it came to his intimate moments with Clint. Far from being entirely negative, however, there was also a lot to appreciate about Afraid to Fly. For a start, both main characters are in their 40’s, which is both rare and interesting in my reading experience. The same similarities that presented themselves as pitfalls in one context made the connection between Travis and Clint seem even more valid in another. Many of the issues that our military have to live...
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Jan
6

Review + Blog Tour: Long Shadows by Kate Sherwood

Review + Blog Tour: Long Shadows by Kate Sherwood Long Shadows Author: Kate Sherwood Reviewer: B. Rating: A- What I’m Talking About: Jericho Crewe spent more than a decade trying to shed his past and the legacy of the father who drove him away. Though he lost a lot in the attempt, his new life in LA has made leaving his best friend and lover behind worth it. Mostly. But, a single phone call is enough to bring him running back, and, despite his efforts to reinvent himself, he quickly learns that home won’t let go so easily. I found Long Shadows interesting in many ways, not the least of which is its main character, Jericho Crewe. He’s at once resilient, uncertain, loyal, stubborn, independent, compassionate, and so on. He’s also dealing with a sizable case of denial when it comes to being back in Mosely, Montana, and Wade Granger, in particular—which I thought were some of his best moments. While he didn’t leave as vivid an impression on me as Wade did, I think Jericho has a lot of potential to develop over the course of the series, and am looking forward to seeing how he handles his new situation. My undeniably favorite thing about Long Shadows is the re-acquaintance of the two main characters. Rather than bogging the narrative down with regret, most of the scenes involving Jericho and Wade are touched with awareness, companionship, and a nostalgic fondness that reaffirms their story isn’t nearly as finished as Jericho would like to think it is. I’ve read a good many tales where the temptation that exists between reunited characters is laid out plainly, but this is one of the few that actually made me believe it. While it’s a somewhat familiar situation in different genres, the author doesn’t use the “desperate times call for legal infractions” sort of economy that’s present in Mosely, Montana as the cause of every bad thing that happens in the story. But, neither is it a blanket excuse for it. Rather, most of the characters walk a wobbly line between convenience and necessity when it comes to the law, and I found that ambiguity perfectly acceptable in Wade and Kayla’s cases, in particular. Another great thing about Long Shadows is that there’s so much more to it than any of the relationships that are involved. It is a suspenseful narrative that involves different government agencies, as well as local law enforcement, secrets and cover-ups, covert alliances, and a solid application of...
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Dec
21

Review + Blog Tour: No Small Parts by Ally Blue

Review + Blog Tour: No Small Parts by Ally Blue No Small Parts Author: Ally Blue Reviewer: B. Rating: A- What I’m Talking About: Born and raised in LA, Rafael Cortez isn’t exactly at home in the rugged isolation of Bluewater Bay. Still, he’s more than willing to put in the necessary time as a PA if it helps him become a director in his own right. Meeting someone he can see himself becoming serious about certainly hadn’t been part of the plan, but there’s just something about the brooding, defensive Nat that Rafael can’t resist. Bluewater Bay local Nat Horn never expected his tiny part on Wolf’s Landing to turn into anything more than a way to pay the bills after his father’s logging accident. When he’s offered a larger role by one of the directors, he jumps at the chance to make both their lives easier. Developing a few friendships of his own in the process, particularly with the irresistible personal assistant of his former crush, is a risk he can’t help taking—even though he’s sure he’ll lose him in the end. I was both surprised and pleased to note that this is the sixteenth book in the Bluewater Bay series, since it really doesn’t feel like there have been so many. As has been the case with most of the others I’ve read, No Small Parts seemed both familiar and unique, and reminded me why I continue to be drawn to these stories. Nat and Rafael do follow a somewhat recognizable pattern, given the polarity of their personalities and backgrounds, but Ms. Blue composes their tale around a distinctive framework that allows it stand just fine all on its own. As far as the main characters go, I thought that Nat and Rafael were an intriguing couple, and I enjoyed Raphael’s patience while Nat consistently strove to find steadier ground beneath his feet. Their respective backgrounds are different enough to make the pairing seem farfetched on the surface, yet their personalities somehow made them a perfect fit for one another. I also felt the “outsider vs. the locals” aspect of some of these stories worked especially well in their case, as the roles are reversed depending on whether a scene is taking place within the “Hollywood”-ness of the show, or the Bluewater Bay that exists outside of it. Overall, I feel that No Small Parts is a sweet, thoughtful addition to the Bluewater Bay series. As it focuses once again on the television show that is...
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Nov
29

Review: Daring Fate by Megan Erickson

Review: Daring Fate by Megan Erickson Daring Fate Author: Megan Erickson Reviewer: Jen Twimom Rating: B What I’m Talking About: Reese and younger brother Jude have escaped their werewolf pack and its sadistic alpha, Xan. However, their sister remains behind, and with the threat that Xan will mate her in a month, the pressure is on Reese to save her. The problem: Dare, the alpha of the Silver Tip Were pack. When his Pack Guard found and rescued two werewolves from the Noweres, the last thing Dare expected was to find his True Mate. But Dare embraces Reese as his mate and over time, the pair form a deeper bond beyond the sex of mating. As Reese learns more about the once-feared Silver Tip Alpha, he is torn between protecting his mate and adopted pack and rescuing his sister. Daring Fate is the first book in Megan Erickson’s new Silver Tip Pack series. Ms. Erickson successfully introduces readers to a twist on the shifter mythology. A century ago, there was a virus that killed all of the humans and two-thirds of the Weres… but those Weres that died became Noweres, an undead version of the warrior Were form. Werewolves and Weres live in isolated packs, remaining fairly solitary and at peace with one another, as long as they leave the one another alone. What remains after the virus are three species: werewolves, who shift between human and a wolf; Weres, who shift between human, wolf, and a huge wolf/human hybrid; and Noweres, the undead monsters. Dare and Reese are a rare True Mated couple. While Reese’s werewolf parents were True Mates and equal lovers, he wasn’t old enough to understand what the bond meant before they were killed before his eyes. Dare knows of no True Mated Weres, and neither know of a cross-species situation. This leaves both men lost, without a clue what is normal or to be expected with True Mates, and I like that both are a bit terrified of doing something wrong. I feel the story was made stronger with both Reese and Dare fully accepting and embracing the mating bond, and that the mating was done right up front, rather than a constant, reluctant pull throughout the story. They are completely sexually compatible, and as time goes on, they discover they are compatible in all important matters of the heart. The True Mate aspect, as well as the complex shifter mythology, give the story a strong sense of a traditional...
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Nov
7

Review: Take Me Home by Lorelie Brown

Review: Take Me Home by Lorelie Brown Take Me Home Author: Lorelie Brown Reviewer: B. Rating: B+ What I’m Talking About: Lorelie Brown is a new author for me, so I was excited to read her newest addition to the Belladonna Ink series. Keighley is a twenty-three-year-old accountant who isn’t exactly looking forward to Thanksgiving with the family. Though her mother is very supportive, her Christian fundamentalist aunt gives them both a lot of grief because Keighley is a lesbian. Fed up with the whole situation, the solution quickly becomes clear: bring a date to dinner. A Craigslist ad then leads her to the perfect “girlfriend” for the occasion. In contrast, Brooke is a twenty-four-year-old tattooist with no real family ties whatsoever. With her bright pink hair, tattoos, and rapid-fire snark, she quickly became my favorite character in the story. Solitary in the extreme, Brooke’s independence cloaks a heartfelt longing for acceptance that she never had growing up, and she thinks that being invited to share Keighley’s will satisfy that need just a little. She also loves dogs, which completely sealed the deal for me. While I liked this story a great deal, there were a couple of issues that niggled at me during the course of the novella. Keighley’s mother, who seems completely wonderful in many ways, consistently tolerates the antagonistic aunt, but is then fine with Keighley’s plans to stir things up during Thanksgiving dinner. It appears to be a case of “keeping the peace,” and it was a well-written scene, but I just couldn’t easily reconcile the disparity. Later on, Brooke says that Keighley’s desire for a tattoo is sudden, but Keighley begins pondering getting one before they even meet. There were a few others as well, but, overall, these discrepancies were small, and didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story. Having said that, there was a lot to like about Take Me Home. Keighley’s mind is a very busy place, which is kind of funny much of the time, particularly when she’s trying to make a good impression on Brooke. Though they’re only a year apart in age, Brooke seems more mature and complex, while still clearly searching for something to fill the absence of really belonging. There are plenty of other great moments, care of Keighley’s sister and the neighbors, and, especially, Bennet the dog, who is my other favorite character in the story. The intimate scenes between Keighley and Brooke occupy a significant portion of the novella, and I think...
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