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Apr
27

Review: First and First by Santino Hassell

Review: First and First by Santino Hassell First and First Author: Santino Hassell Reviewer: B. Rating: A What I’m Talking About: No matter how hard he tries, Caleb Stone always manages to disappoint those around him: his parents, his former work associates, his ex-boyfriend… Spending an alcohol-soaked New Year’s Eve observing the happiness of others only highlights the fact that nothing in his life has gone the way he wanted it to. It all makes the idea of giving up on romance entirely seem like a pretty good one. Of course, waking up next to a gorgeous acquaintance might not have been what he had in mind, either, but things have certainly been worse. Going from riches to rags after his parents threw him out when he was eighteen taught Oliver Buckley a lot about being independent. Being cast aside by a man who only wanted to use him for the status he no longer possessed taught him to never give his heart away again. Now, he’s got money of his own, no attachments weighing him down, and a standing invitation to the most exclusive scene parties in NYC. Everything is perfect. At least, until a one-night stand with Caleb flips his entire world inside out. Having primarily seen the worst of Caleb in Sunset Park, the previous story in this series, I was relieved to find that spark of “something else” I saw in him given a chance to take over in First and First. Caleb’s acceptance of his need for control, for things to fit what he sees as a logical order, is so absolute that it’s strangling him, as well as infecting every other relationship he has. He isn’t tyrannical (that’s his father’s job), just very, very stuck. He’s been emotionally isolated for so long that trusting others and letting go is impossible for him. Until his drunken night with Oli, anyway (which he can only remember in sporadic flashbacks). Yet, even with Oli, he initially thinks salvation might be found in following the other’s lead, only to learn that trying to shove himself into someone else’s mold won’t do him any good, either. Oli, on the other hand, has custom-built his world just the way he likes it. Happily rough around the edges, Oli could easily be dismissed as the blithely hedonistic party boy, except he’s most assuredly more than that. He and Caleb actually have quite a lot in common, but Oli’s version of control is expressed much differently. Adept at...
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Apr
19

Review + Giveaway: Selfie by Amy Lane

Review + Giveaway: Selfie by Amy Lane Selfie Author: Amy Lane Reviewer: B. Rating: A What I’m Talking About: The Bluewater Bay series has continually proven to be among the best I’ve ever read, and Selfie, by Amy Lane, is one my favorites to date. Told from the perspective of Connor Montgomery, movie star and grieving “basket case,” it isn’t the tale of a Phoenix rising, or miraculous rebirth. It is, rather, a story about coping and healing, honesty and loss, and loving again. To begin with, Ms. Lane is an undeniable asset to this series, as was already proven with her previous additions, “Nascha” (from Lights, Camera, Cupid!) and The Deep of the Sound. I absolutely fell in love with these characters. Connor is, frankly, a heart-broken mess. He’s also enviably strong, quirky beyond reason, and kind to a fault. My heart ached for him over and over, but I couldn’t stop hoping that he would be okay with everything in me. As much as I liked Connor, though, Noah Dakers, local Philosophy grad and driver/bodyguard/PA/etc. for the studio producing “Wolf’s Landing,” stole my heart and kept it. Noah is gorgeous, inside and out. I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t completely love about him. He’s incredibly astute, patient, funny, brilliantly sarcastic, sexier than should surely be allowed, so loving it hurts—pretty much perfect in all the ways that make me want to read Selfie again and again. While Connor and Noah are the two main characters, it would be wrong to ignore Connor’s former love, Vinnie, as the third. He’s simply always there. One thing that I appreciated a great deal about Ms. Lane’s treatment of his memory is that it changes as Connor tries to find a way to live again. Initially, his perfection is suggested by the enormity of his absence in Connor’s life. But, that idyllic love starts to break down memory by memory, becoming something real—cracked and frayed in places, and giving Connor’s reawakening a weight it might not otherwise have had. Just as important, I think, is that, while Vinnie’s flaws are presented with a stripped-bare honesty, it is done without taking the easy out and completely vilifying him. One of the most beautiful things about Selfie is its treatment of the unquantifiable nature of grief. Through the characters’ various perspectives, Ms. Lane dissects the reality of loss and presents it as a living, evolving entity, unique to each individual, even though common threads may be shared...
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Apr
11

Blog Tour + Review + Giveaway: The Empty Hourglass by Cornelia Grey

Blog Tour + Review + Giveaway: The Empty Hourglass by Cornelia Grey Hello! I’m Cornelia Grey—welcome to the Empty Hourglass blog tour! At various tour stops, I’ll be sharing some secrets about my writing process, sources of inspiration and future projects! Comment on each stop to be entered in a drawing for a $15 Riptide Publishing gift card and the two previous titles in the Deal with a Devil series—Devil at the Crossroads and The Circus of the Damned—in an e-book format of your choice. Thank you for joining me on the tour! Review The Empty Hourglass Author: Cornelia Grey Reviewer: B. Rating: B What I’m Talking About: After losing his hand, as well as his beloved workshop, in a fire, Thomas Escott wants nothing more than to find a way to make things be as they were before. When a mysterious letter points him in the direction of an enigmatic inventor who’s touted as a genius in the creation of prosthetics, he thinks he’s found the answer to his prayers. But, as the truth begins to unfold, Thomas discovers that heaven has little to do with it. Jethro Hastings gave up on everything, save for an extremely costly secret invention, after personal tragedy left him heartbroken and lost. Having secluded himself away in a decaying mansion with nothing but his work—and the rapid passage of time—to keep him company, the last thing he expected was the intriguingly capable toy maker who turned up on his doorstep. But, with the minutes running out, and a devil waiting in the wings, redemption may be beyond either man’s reach. While I have enjoyed the Deal with the Devil series as a whole, I felt that this story was missing something. Although Jethro and Thomas have independently compelling backgrounds that led them to the main conflict within the narrative, I wasn’t as drawn in by them as I was by the events and characters of the second story in the series, Circus of the Damned. Having said that, I still think there is plenty about The Empty Hourglass to like. A common theme that The Empty Hourglass continues, and which works nicely in this series, is the loss of purpose in the face of other worries and vices, such as hopelessness and grief, but also vanity and an unhealthy quest for glory. One of my favorite things about this story, however, is the author’s ongoing ability to make a postponement of damnation a kind of salvation instead at the hands of a soft-hearted devil...
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Mar
23

Review + Blog Tour: Trailer Trash by Marie Sexton

Review + Blog Tour: Trailer Trash by Marie Sexton From the author: Hello, everybody! I’m Marie Sexton, and I’m here today to tell you about my New Adult novel, Trailer Trash. Trailer Trash is a sweet coming-of-age story about two high school seniors: Cody, who’s dirt poor and literally lives on the wrong side of the tracks, and Nate, the preppy new kid in town. It’s set in the fictional town of Warren, Wyoming, in the mid-1980s. It’s full of angst and 80s pop culture references, and I promise, it has a happy ending. 🙂 Trailer Trash Author: Marie Sexton Reviewer: B. Rating: A- B.’s Review: Set in the miserable wasteland that is Warren, Wyoming in 1986, Trailer Trash is the “coming-of-age”/ “coming out” story of two young men who somehow manage to find love despite the world around them trying its best to tear them apart. Aside from the inevitable death of the town itself, the entire narrative is filled with stark descriptions of joblessness and poverty, and the frustration and misplaced blame that comes from struggling against the immovable boundaries of the established financial and social order. All of which makes for compelling, but not frivolous, reading. Of the two main characters, Nate was definitely “easier” for me to read about. He’s naïve, affluent (by Warren standards, to be sure), resentful, and lonely. Far from being a bad person, though, he’s just hurt and a little shiny. It takes him a while to accept that “the rules” that applied in Austin, Texas, do not apply in his new home… and he gets just about everything wrong. Still, his desire to hang out with the self-described “pariah” of the school, rather than the popular kids he resembles in clothing labels only, made me like him very early in the story. Cody Lawrence, on the other hand, could never be accused of being shiny. Stripped of any dreams he may have had for himself early and often, he’s already been through too much, seen too much, at the age of seventeen. As the only acknowledged gay student in a small high school full of the most vicious kinds of cliques, he really can’t catch a break. This, combined with his situation at home, makes Cody a genuine outcast. Yet, he has a truly good heart, despite everything, and I adored him. One of the ways in which I think Trailer Trash excels is in the author’s ability to add vivid details to nearly everything. From the pervasive reek...
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Mar
18

Review + Giveaway: Between Ghosts by Garrett Leigh

Review + Giveaway: Between Ghosts by Garrett Leigh Between Ghosts Author: Garrett Leigh Reviewer: B. Rating: A What I’m Talking About: Losing his older brother to a war he’s never agreed with would have been bad enough for Connor Regan to live with, but for that hurt remain adrift with no understanding to anchor it is worse. Going on assignment with a SAS team that’s seen the worst the war has to offer—and to one of the most dangerous regions there is—seems like his best chance for some answers. What he finds will change him forever, and lead him to the first man Connor isn’t sure he can survive without. Sergeant Nathan Thompson isn’t a man with a lot of time on his hands. With one mission beginning almost before the previous one has ended, he can’t seem to find the hours to sleep, much less babysit a civilian reporter who’s managed to be embedded with his team. But, the “hack” gets under his skin faster than Nat ever imagined he would, and keeping Connor safe quickly becomes far more than just an obligation. Ordinarily, the speed with which Connor and Nat become attached would have concerned me. But, Between Ghosts is set in the middle of a never-ending war, and that, justifiably, made a huge difference. That a physical connection could be a balm in the midst of so much destruction, and that the heart might just as quickly follow—especially when time inherently must be counted so differently—I could easily accept. Ms. Leigh depicts the temporary nature of living through war very convincingly, making the relationship that evolves between the two men something worth cherishing, rather than dismissing. I found both Connor and Nat easy to believe in. Neither was very predictable, and accepting that their different personalities might be complimentary wasn’t a problem. At first, there seems to be little more to Nat than the gruff Sergeant whose responsibilities weigh so heavily on him. However, this proves not to be the case. Connor, in contrast, has plenty going on from the start, including his own, personal undertaking, and watching that mission disintegrate as his understanding of the situation increased made me feel as badly for him as I did for the soldiers he accompanied. Connor and Nat aren’t the only characters that stood out in Between Ghosts. It didn’t seem as if there were any negligible characters to me, each being imbued with such individuality and heartfelt connection to one another that I held my...
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Mar
9

Review + Blog Tour: The Secret of Hunter’s Bog by Ally Blue

Review + Blog Tour: The Secret of Hunter’s Bog by Ally Blue The Secret of Hunter’s Bog Author: Ally Blue Hi y’all! I’m Ally Blue. Welcome to my blog tour for my newest book, The Secret of Hunter’s Bog. Thank you for stopping by. Be sure to comment on this post, or any of the posts on the tour, for a chance to win a full set of my Mojo Mysteries series—Demon Dog, A Ghost Most Elusive, and Myth Adventures—in the winner’s choice of electronic format. Read on and enjoy! B.’s Review: After a fire destroyed their first shop, Koichi McNab never thought he’d meet anyone special when he and his twin sister opened their new store in a strip mall. Thanks to the way his last relationship ended, he certainly never expected to find someone he could really fall for again. But when he discovers that the gorgeous owner of the “glamping” store next door has some secrets of his own, Koichi gets more involved than he ever intended, and realizes that he just might be able to take another chance at love after all. Raised in affluence, yet isolated and ignored by his family, all Will Hood thought he needed was his father’s approval. When the man he fell in love with vanished without a trace two years ago, Will decided that he’d be better off on his own. But, when an Instagram photo leads him on a chase to the town of Duchene, Alabama, Will finally begins to see that living in the past won’t heal old wounds, and that the love he’s always wanted is closer than he could have imagined. With a grand total of just over 200 pages, The Secret of Hunter’s Bog is a very busy story. The introduction of more than one mystery, unsolved crimes, an element of suspense, and a healthy dose of romantic entanglement insured that there was plenty going on to keep those pages turning. There were a few places that seemed necessarily abbreviated, and which could be expanded a little more should the opportunity arise, but I think the author did a lot with the space she had. Although I’ve never been able to fully enjoy the idea of “insta-love” in fiction, I can certainly appreciate a degree of “insta-lust,” and Will and Koichi have plenty of it. Both men are rendered fairly dumbfounded at first, and there are several bouts of stunted chitchat and impure internal monologues to go with it. A sweeter, more all-encompassing kind of attraction...
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Feb
25

Review: The Unicorn by Delphine Dryden

Review: The Unicorn by Delphine Dryden The Unicorn Author: Delphine Dryden Reviewer: Jen Twimom Rating: B What I’m Talking About: Mara Tyndall is unhappy, but she tries to fill the void in her life with scenes at Club Onyx and her beautiful ex. Knowing Mara is unhappy, Mistress Amie pushes Mara into trying out a new club, where she may be able to figure out what she wants from life. Daniel and Delia are happily married, but lately, they feel something is missing in their relationship. While they are exploring their mutual desire to add kink into their sex lives, they are struggling to make it all come together. When it is suggested they try a new club in town, they decide to take a chance, and after spending one evening with Mara, they both know they want more. The Unicorn shares the story of an unconventional romance, pushing the definition of love beyond society’s norms. Daniel and Delia are in love, but recognize that they want more, and each is secure in their love to explore possibilities. With the story shared from all three character’s POVs, it allows the reader to grasp a better understanding of each person’s fears and desires. While communication break downs lead to a deeper anxiety, it is completely normal and relatable. While a reader may not be able to relate to the situation, I feel that most people will be able to relate to one of the characters. First there is Mara who is comfortable with her sexuality, but missing love. She can’t marry her dark needs for pain and submission to finding a partner whom she can also just snuggle with and love. Then there is Delia, the wife who is always in charge of the day-to-day and can’t let go when she most needs it. She has trouble seeing her husband as her Dom because her mind can’t shut down, always worrying about things like the HOA or if she put the wet clothes into the dryer. Finally there is Daniel, who is afraid of showing his true inner self and needs because he’s been conditioned it’s wrong. He lacks the self-confidence to explore those desires, therefore his inner-Dom suffers. Each character is missing something and it isn’t until the three are together that the pieces begin to click and fall into place. And once that happens, not only do they find complete sexual satisfaction, but their lives become richer and fuller. The Unicorn is an erotic...
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Feb
24

Review: Strong Signal by Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell

Review: Strong Signal by Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell Strong Signal Authors: Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell Reviewer: B. Rating: A+ What I’m Talking About: Garrett Reid has a long way to go until the end of his latest—and last—deployment. All he wants to do is to put in his hours working on the vehicles at the base and log some time on his favorite MMORPG. But, the untimely demise of his character at the hands of a ringer leads him on a quest for payback that turns into something entirely unexpected. Gamer extraordinaire Kai Bannon is mostly happy in his carefully constructed world. He’s got a highly successful Twitch stream, a steady income from several gaming companies, and a loyal following that provides him with plenty of backup whenever the creeps come out to play. But when a surly Army mechanic reaches out from halfway around the globe, Kai can’t help but want more of what the man is offering. It would be perfect if the idea of venturing beyond the walls of his apartment didn’t leave him shaking in a cold sweat. I had been itching to get my hands on this story since the moment it was teased online a couple of months ago, and I’m very happy to say it was better than I imagined it would be. Strong Signal absolutely nails the intricacies of online relationships, and wonderfully validates the potential to form genuine connections with others that would never be possible in the “real world.” As someone who has made several of my most meaningful friendships via the internet, I couldn’t agree more. In this first offering from what is sure to be an exceptionally relatable and compelling series, Ms. Erickson and Mr. Hassell tackle a lot of simple truths about the bonds that are sometimes formed on the internet, and do so in a matter-of-fact way that made perfect sense to me. The emotions themselves might be complicated, but the fact that they manifest legitimately is not. Though it certainly isn’t a flawless system, the boundless essence of the internet offers Kai and Garrett more opportunities to explore their own natures in ways that simply aren’t possible where an abundance of physical proximity extinguishes the desire or ability to do so. Fairly early in the story, Garrett says: “But things were different via email. The words just came out.” I found both Garrett and Kai to be frustrating, entertaining, and enormously likable characters. They are so different in many ways, and yet they...
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Feb
16

Review + Giveaway: How the Cookie Crumbles by Jaime Samms

Review + Giveaway: How the Cookie Crumbles by Jaime Samms How the Cookie Crumbles Author: Jaime Samms Reviewer: B. Rating: A- What I’m Talking About: Having survived an adolescence filled with loss and uncertainty, Frederick Jackson thought he’d seen his share of heartache. But, being betrayed by the man he’d grown to care for—along with getting cheated out of a well-earned win on a popular cooking show—proved him wrong. Running away to build his dream in the small town of Bluewater Bay seemed like a great idea. At least, until his past not only catches up with him, but moves in across the street. Blaire Caruthers might have been raised by a domineering, unscrupulous father, but now all he wants to do is escape the man’s control and right the wrongs of the past. Of course, winning back the man he sold out for a flashy diversion and higher ratings is at the top of his list. But, no matter how deeply he regrets the harm he’s caused, Blaire learns that trust broken isn’t easily restored, and that some battles simply aren’t his to fight, much less win. Not surprisingly, I found Frederick to be the easier of the two main characters to like. He’s a survivor, and he inspires a fierce loyalty in those who know and love him. He’s also thoughtful, compassionate, shy, determined—nearly perfect as sympathetic characters go. Far from being predictable or two-dimensional, however, Frederick is also fighting a very personal demon of his own, the nature of which the author allows to build gradually, until I felt like I could truly appreciate the scope of what Frederick is constantly battling. Blaire, on the other hand, I absolutely loathed by the second chapter. His shared history with Frederick ensured my opinion of him as the “bad guy,” an impression that took quite some time to reverse. He has no excuses, but, to his credit, Blaire doesn’t really try to make any. He wants another chance, even though he knows he doesn’t deserve it. Still, if it’s possible to earn forgiveness, then he does about as well as anyone in his situation could. Though he makes mistakes, he comes through for Frederick when he needs him most, which went a long way towards winning me back over. In the end, I couldn’t help but wish that everything would work out for Blaire as much as Frederick. The Bluewater Bay series has provided some wonderfully memorable characters, and this addition is no exception. I’m always excited when...
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Jan
6

Review: Tempted to Death by Jessica Jarman

Review: Tempted to Death by Jessica Jarman Tempted to Death Author: Jessica Jarman Reviewer: Jen Twimom Rating: B+ What I’m Talking About: Tara Wilcox and her brother, Ben, are paranormal hunters. They track down evil, violent paras, hoping to stop them. Ben’s wife Nicole has been captured by a soul eater demon, and Tara knows the only way to find her is with the help of the best hunters in the business, Oliver and Luca. The problem? Tara and Ben are paras in hiding, while Oliver and Luca believe all paras are bad. The other issue? Tara is in love with the couple and left the pair without a word months ago. Tempted to Death is a fun romp in the paranormal romance genre, without being all sunshine and roses. Shared in the shifting third person POVs of Tara, Oliver, and Luca, the reader gets good insight into all facets of the trio’s relationship. The story isn’t overly long, and I appreciate that Ms. Jarman establishes a strong backstory romance for the trio right up front. It makes their romance more believable and allows me to understand and feel their pain over the break up and relate emotionally to Tara. Another great thing about Tempted to Death is that Luca, Oliver, and Tara each love the another: it’s a true menage. I found I enjoyed the story more because it’s three in love and not just two on one. While Oliver and Luca were in love before meeting Tara and remained a couple after she left, they both love her as well, and love being all together. Tempted to Death is an enjoyable, fairly quick paranormal erotic romance. The multi-person POV, gives a balanced view of the relationship and events. The characters are all likable, and with their off-page history, the bonds are stronger and more emotional. It’s one of those stories where you pretty much go in knowing what will happen, and the journey to get there is what makes the book so entertaining. My Rating:  B+ Liked It A Lot About the Book: Months ago, Tara Wilcox ran away from Luca Castell and Oliver Gordon. She’d fallen hard for the pair of hunters and feared their growing feelings for her. But what truly terrified her was the possibility that they’d discover what she really is. That she’s the very thing they hunted.  Luca and Oliver are partners, in every sense of the word, and their lives are spent running toward danger. Falling for Tara...
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