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Feb
22

Listen Up! #Audiobook Review: Murder’s a Witch by Danielle Garrett

Listen Up! #Audiobook Review: Murder’s a Witch by Danielle Garrett Welcome to our feature that focuses on audiobooks. It’s time to… Audiobook review: Murder’s a Witch Author: Danielle Garrett Narrator: Amanda Ronconi Audio Speed: 1.5x Series: Beechwood Harbor Magic Mysteries #1 Genre: Paranormal Mystery Source: Tantor Audio Holly, a powerful witch, has been tossed from the Haven, a secret system of living for paranormals. She’s been placed in a communal home for displaced paras, living in the small town of Beechwood Harbor. Working at a coffee shop to make ends meet, Holly is shocked when she shows up for work only to find her grumpy boss Peg murdered in the back alley. When her best friend is named as the primary suspect, Holly uses her witchy ways to get to the bottom of this mystery. Murder’s a Witch is a fun, entertaining story. This is the first time I’ve selected an audiobook primarily because of the narrator, and I’m glad I did. I enjoyed the small-town, cozy paranormal mystery with a slight blossom of romance. Even though at first, I found the house infighting annoying, and the characters a bit over-the-top, I grew to like the residents of Beechwood Harbor. Holly is a bit of a mess, and she has secrets, of which we learned very little. Hopefully those answers will come in time, but the immediate mystery of who killed Peg was engrossing. I liked listening as Holly worked to put all of the pieces together. I loved the light-hearted nature of the story, watching friendships develop, seeing Adam’s genuine interest in Holly, etc. Some of the storylines were a bit cheesy – like the vampiress beauty queen, but mostly it is a good mix of fun. As I mentioned, I picked up this story because, while it looked interesting, the narrator is one of my favorites: Amanda Ronconi. She does a wonderful job with the story, creating and maintaining unique and fitting voices for each character. Ms. Ronconi succeeds with the quirky, first-person female lead, and Holly is no exception. I’ve become familiar with most of her voices, yet never did I confuse Murder’s a Witch with another story. In the end, I enjoyed my first visit to Beechwood Harbor. I like that there is still a lot of unknown around Holly, like why she was kicked out of the Haven system, and with town newcomer, Nick… I feel like there is more to him than meets the eye. I will definitely pick up future titles of the Beechwood Harbor Magic...
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Feb
20

Review: The Instigator by Stephanie Julian

Review: The Instigator by Stephanie Julian The Instigator Author: Stephanie Julian Reviewer: Jen Rating: B+ What I’m Talking About: Derek “The Instigator” Flaherty loves playing hockey and enjoys his current team, the Redtails. His dream is to play in the NHL, so he works hard and is well respected. And his teammates all love him, even though they don’t necessarily see the real guy behind the laughs and good times. But that’s okay, Derek prefers to keep things casual, never allowing relationships to mess with his head or run his life. As the baby of her family, Sophie is the good girl who does what’s asked of her. She keeps her dreams of traveling abroad to herself, rather than seeing any kind of disappointment or hurt in her family’s eyes. Working to finish her degree and putting in all sorts of hours at her dad’s bar, Sophie doesn’t have time for guys or a social life. However, when she meets Derek, she feels something stir inside of her and thinks maybe a little fun isn’t bad. Although this is the fourth book in the Redtails Hockey series, The Instigator is a standalone romance that can be enjoyed without previous knowledge of the series. Derek and Sophie hit it off right from the start, and I love their chemistry. They are almost always in sync – whether in the bedroom or not. They are the kind of couple who clicks and can have lengthy conversations like two old friends. They also have other “lengthy” activities, and their romantic encounters are pretty smokin’. The story moves fairly smoothly, filled with genuine emotions and conflict. I appreciate that their issues are common and real, and that they move past them together. Both Sophie and Derek each has some growing to do, and they start by admitting to themselves how they really feel. There are a few of hiccups along the way, including a couple of minor inconsistencies that took me out of the story. I also felt like some issues were brought up but not fleshed out enough – like why everyone kind of dumps on Derek being not good boyfriend material and Derek’s ex-girl friend, which is hinted as being a bad breakup. I kept expecting more details to fill in why maybe Derek is the way he is. All in all, I enjoyed The Instigator, and really love Derek and Sophie as a couple. They are genuine and adorable. They are scared, but move forward. They...
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Feb
14

Review: Devil in Tartan by Julia London

Review: Devil in Tartan by Julia London Devil in Tartan Author: Julia London Reviewer: Jen Rating: B+ What I’m Talking About: Aulay Mackenzie has only ever felt himself when at sea. In an effort to save his family’s shipping business, Aulay decides to make his first commissioned trip, taking on cargo for another, despite his family’s concerns over the risk. Barely away from port, Aulay comes across a distressed ship and offers assistance to its beautiful passenger, Ms. Lottie Livingstone. Lottie’s clan is at the end of its rope, hoping to sell their illegal whiskey overseas, when their ship is attacked, leaving her father severely injured. Lottie’s plan to commandeer Aulay’s vessel goes smoothly, despite her attraction to its captain. However, once things start unraveling, Lottie isn’t sure she should continue with her plans. Devil in Tartan is an enjoyable highland adventure. Taking place mostly at sea, Lottie and Aulay are forced to spend time together in confided quarters, allowing their mutual attraction to boil over and develop into a friendship. However, it’s not sunshine and roses. Aulay stands to lose everything due to Lottie’s scheme, and Lottie bears the weight of saving her entire clan from losing their homes and land. Aulay’s constant struggle between his duty, family, and his feelings for Lottie create incredible emotional turmoil and conflict. Aulay and Lottie are both lonely souls, doing what they can for their families. But whereas Lottie sacrifices herself to keep her family together, Aulay runs away from his, not feeling worthy under his father’s roof. Yet the pair, drawn by a powerful attraction, have the time to see the real individuals beneath the layers of protective outer shell that each has built to keep themselves emotionally distant. They grow close and fall in love, even though Aulay’s hurt overshadows the love for a while. Luckily Lottie doesn’t grow bitter, and remains open and caring, allow their reunion to proceed and love to grow, even after the damage she does. Overall, I enjoyed Devil in Tartan. The romance and story progress and a slow and steady pace, allowing time for both self-discovery and a deeper mutual bond. My Rating:  B+ Liked It A Lot About the Book: Lottie Livingstone bears the weight of an island on her shoulders. Under threat of losing their home, she and her clan take to the seas to sell a shipload of illegal whiskey. When an attack leaves them vulnerable, she transforms from a maiden daughter to a clever warrior. For...
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Feb
12

Review: Fire on the Ice by Tamsen Parker

Review: Fire on the Ice by Tamsen Parker Fire on the Ice Author: Tamsen Parker Reviewer: Jen Rating: B What I’m Talking About: Blaze and Maisy shared three days of debauchery at the SIGs four years ago, so good that neither could forget. But it was just for fun, so they never sought each other, until they both arrive in Denver for another round of Snow and Ice Games. Picking up right where they left off, the pair shares a greedy lust, spending almost all their private time together. But each knows it’s only for the duration of the games, and real feelings aren’t an issue… right? Fire on the Ice is the fourth tale to come from the Snow and Ice Games series. This time around, the story features Maisy, the shy, mostly closeted figure skater and Blaze, the loud and proud, polymorous short track speed skater. Blaze and Maisy are polar opposites, yet so much the same. They both work hard for the sport they love; never in the top but always close. They both are sexually insatiable and enjoy being with one another. But whereas Blaze basks in the public eye and loves attention, Maisy shies away, hoping to stay off the radar. I liked the pairing of Blaze and Maisy. Both have to learn to be better versions of themselves to make the relationship work. They both grow and give, and I enjoyed watching how their union developed over the short, but intense time they spent together. They both make missteps, but instead of these mistakes ending things, they help to bring the couple closer together. I also appreciate the author’s focus on the importance of strong and open communication being the key to a solid relationship. The only real negative for me was the shear volume of graphic sex. I didn’t ever think I’d write those words, but honestly, after a while, I just skimmed the scenes because I wanted more of the story outside the bedroom. However, the scenes are not gratuitous because the couple’s sexual nature is important to the story. The sex scenes are used to show the common bond and ultimate trust each woman has with/for the other. They are used to show how the pair grows increasingly closer and intimate. But for me, it got to be too much and overshadowed the rest of the story. Overall, Fire on the Ice is a solid story and sexy romance. I love how strongly Blaze and Maisy support one...
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Feb
8

Listen Up! #Audiobook Review: Down by Contact by Santino Hassell

Listen Up! #Audiobook Review: Down by Contact by Santino Hassell Welcome to my weekly feature that focuses on audiobooks. It’s time to… Audiobook Review: Down by Contact Author:  Santino Hassell Narrators: Alexander Cendese + Eric London Audio Speed: 1.25x Series: Barons #2 Genre: Contemporary Sports Romance, LBGTQ, m/m romance Source: Tantor Audio Simeon and Adrián have been rivals for four years, ever since Simeon was traded from the Predators to the Barons. When the pair match up in a preseason game, the summer after Simeon came out of the closet, Adrián can’t stop himself from making jokes at the expense of Simeon’s sexual preferences. This leads to an all-out brawl, leaving both suspended for six games and forced into joint community service. Can the pair back away from their rivalry long enough to become friends? or more? I have to admit, I struggled a quiet a bit when I first started Down by Contact. I was disappointed the story once again relied on an NFL suspension to make it work (which is what happened in the first book of the series). Additionally, both main characters come off juvenile and immature mostly because of their speech. The characters weren’t clicking for me, and I didn’t feel any sexual tension or connections between the pair like I did in the first book. But mostly, the narration didn’t work for me. I did not care for Mr. London’s voice for Adrián, nor his interpretation of Simeon, and at times couldn’t tell the difference between who was speaking. After taking a short break away from the story and then coming back to it, I found things turning around. As the story progresses, the characters develop and their interactions become more meaningful. I liked the play between Adrián and Simeon when they’re just being themselves. And although everything starts off as a dare and a game, real emotions surface, and I liked that the pair is accepting of what is happening. What shines in the story is Adrián’s self-reflection and analysis of his actions and ideals. And not just about being queer. But on being a better person. About thinking before speaking. About caring for others. His constant contemplation is thought-provoking. I enjoyed seeing him change most off all, and I’m not just taking about his sexuality. I mean how he becomes aware of his place in the world around him. As I mentioned above, I struggled with the narration. The narrators are the same as the prior book. Alexander Cendese, who was Gavin, is perfect for Simeon....
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Feb
5

Review: On the Edge of Scandal by Tamsen Parker

Review: On the Edge of Scandal by Tamsen Parker On the Edge of Scandal Author: Tamsen Parker Reviewer: Jen Rating: B/B- What I’m Talking About: Bronwyn is on the U.S. woman’s hockey team at the Snow and Ice Games (SIGs). She’s earned her spot as one of the best college players. Her boyfriend since age of 14, Brody, didn’t make the men’s squad, but he’s there to support his girl… Or is he? The guy’s a jerk, always making things about himself, and Bronwyn wishes he wasn’t in Denver. Being asked to coach the U.S. woman’s team is an honor for Ash, who loves the finesse of the women’s game. Everything is going well, except he HATES Bronwyn’s boyfriend, who makes a nuisance of himself. Ash would like to tell him to take a hike, but he doesn’t want to upset his star player, who, by the way, Ash feels deserves so much better than Brody. On the Edge of Scandal is the third love story of the SIG games from Ms. Parker. Once again she finds a great pairing that is just a bit on the outside of the norm. It’s also the third story with a significant age difference between the two main characters. While I don’t necessarily mind it, I am getting a bit tired of reading that particular theme. I blazed through the story, which captured me right from the start. Because Bronwyn has a boyfriend, and since Ash is her coach, the romance takes some time to develop, which is a good thing. Each genuinely cares for and about the other, with Bronwyn’s attraction falling into place after she breaks up with her boyfriend. Their story is compelling, which made for quick reading. So here’s the thing… Ash is her coach, and even though their relationship is completely consensual, there is still a huge power dynamic in play, no matter what Ash and Bronwyn think. I struggled with their relationship, just as Ash experiences the same concerns and doubts, driving home the taboo nature of their attraction. Then there are times that Bronwyn shows some immaturity, which really strikes home the age difference and the whole coach-student/athlete concern, amping up the ick factor for me. And honestly, timing is probably part of the issue, because I read On the Edge of Scandal as the Larry Nassar trial was going on, and it really poisoned me to the impacts of a person in power abusing his athletes. In the end, I enjoyed On the...
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Jan
30

Review: Scratch Track by Eli Lang

Review: Scratch Track by Eli Lang Scratch Track Author: Eli Lang Reviewer: B. Rating: B+ What I’m Talking About: Though it wasn’t a path he’d actively chosen, Quinn has been taking care of others for most of his life. First by looking after his mother and younger brother, then as a roadie/semi-parental unit for the members of Escaping Indigo, he’s always tried to be the dependable one, the son/brother/friend that had everyone’s back. Even after experiencing an earth-shattering loss, he couldn’t allow himself to rely on someone else for a change—even if it cost him the only man he’d dared to want for himself. But, an unexpected reunion convinces Quinn that he can’t pretend forever, and that he’s loved far more than he ever realized. In Scratch Track, the third in the Escaping Indigo series by Eli Lang, we finally get to know more about Quinn, who, in a sense, started everything off by bringing Micah into the band’s company. Though he was a significant presence in the first story, and an absent sort of anchor in the second, I was very much interested in learning more about him. To say that Quinn is “complicated” is an understatement. As Escaping Indigo’s roadie and manager, Quinn’s role has always the one of the caretaker. It’s such an ingrained part of his personality that he has no sense of purpose without it, even when his younger brother died unexpectedly of an overdose. But, that loss causes him question his ability to care for everyone, which, in turn, makes him feel like an outsider to the “family” he’s nurtured within the band. While grief is absolutely a serious matter, most of Scratch Track circles around Quinn’s doubts with little progress sometimes, although I was glad to see him take steps to try and work through his own. The remainder of Scratch Track involves the interrupted relationship Quinn has with Nicky, the drummer for another band (delightfully named Rest in Peach) who are sharing the recording studio with Escaping Indigo. Despite the somewhat implausible idea that Nicky has successfully kept his two-year-old son a secret from Quinn when the two bands are all friends and former tour-mates, I liked Nicky very much. Within the parameters of their reconnection, however, his passion, honesty, patience, and even justifiable hesitancy about starting over with Quinn made him one of the most relatable characters in the story. As was the case with both previous stories in the Escaping Indigo series, Scratch Track leaves...
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Jan
24

Review: Stud by Kelly Siskind

Review: Stud by Kelly Siskind Stud Author: Kelly Siskind Reviewer: Jen Rating: B What I’m Talking About: Ainsley made a wish on her birthday to change her life for the better and to stop helping powerful, adulterous men cheat on their lovely wives. However, she needs the money she earns from her personal shopping business to help her parents with their bills since her dad lost his job. So in order to balance the “ick” factor, she decides to start volunteering at Habitat for Humanity. Owen moved back to San Fransisco from D.C. to get back to his roots. He’s volunteering his time and starting his own woodworking business, leaving the hustle and bustle of D.C. behind. In the middle of an ugly divorce, his ex accuses him of cheating on her and has turned all of their friends against him. He’s had no interest in women for over a year, until he meets Ainsley. Stud is the second heart-warming romance in Ms. Siskind’s One Wild Wish series, which features three best friends trying to make their birthday wishes for a better life come true. The book takes place after the first title, Legs, but is a standalone story. Ainsley and Owen both have been out of the dating scene for a while, and their combination of awkward starts and eagerness make for some funny and cute moments. The best is that Ainsley assumes Owen is gay (for good reasons), so she decides to make the most of her crush by treating him as her “gay BFF,” which includes frank sexual discussions. But when the pair finally gives into their mutual attraction, the heat level goes through the roof! While I love, love, love Ainsley and Owen, unfortunately, Stud uses two “tropes/situations” that I just don’t like. First, I hate stories that use “false accusations” as a means for causing conflicts. I found myself frustrated with Owen’s ex accusing him of cheating, and the helplessness he feels over the situation. Second, Owen continually keeps the truth of his situation from Ainsley, which causes a number of issues. It made me mad because she tells him point blank her trust issues, yet he still thinks hiding the truth is better. Unfortunately for this book, this is one trope I detest. It’s not bad writing or a bad story, it’s just I don’t really care for the trope. In fact, Ms. Siskind does a very good job working around and out of the corners Owen works...
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Jan
23

Review: About That Kiss by Jill Shalvis

Review: About That Kiss by Jill Shalvis About That Kiss Author: Jill Shalvis Reviewer: Jen Rating: B What I’m Talking About: Kylie and Joe have been flirtatious friends, but when the pair share a passionate kiss, neither can forget the sparks it ignited. But Kylie won’t go after “the wrong guy,” and Joe doesn’t “do relationships.” So they dance around one another, that is until Kylie needs Joe’s help to find a stolen toy her late grandfather made for her. As the pair chase down lead after lead, they find it difficult to contain their passion. It’s hard for me to find much fault with any of Ms. Shalvis’s titles, and for the most part the Heartbreaker Bay series has been a huge joy to read. This definitely holds true for the fifth novel, About That Kiss. While I found the first half of the book a bit slow and lacking the emotional grab I was looking for, the second half of the book came with all the usual features I adore about this series. As Kylie and Joe work on the case, they grow closer and share more passionate kisses, as well as personal secrets… Which creates an intimacy that the unsuspecting pair is trying to avoid. In fact, seeing several of their friends pair up and find love over the past few years makes both Kylie and Joe cautious. Which is why I think I struggled a bit with the first half. They were actively working to avoid emotional attachments, leaving the romance flat. I liked Joe and Kylie together, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by their passion. However, I was interested in the mystery and trying to discover what was happening. Once the pair gives into their desires fully, the emotion ratchets up and it gets real. This is the stuff I look for in Ms. Shalvis’s stories: the give and pull of the heart. As Joe and Kylie each try to figure out what they feel and, of course, overthink everything, each discovers that they are more when together. And in the end, I appreciate that they own up to their feelings and fight for what they want. About That Kiss is another delightful romance in the Heartbreaker Bay series. Filled with affable characters whom I’d love to hang out with, the stories bring me joy. My Rating:  B, Liked It About the Book: When sexy Joe Malone never calls after their explosive kiss, Kylie shoves him out of her mind. Until she...
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Jan
16

Review: Seduction on the Slopes by Tamsen Parker

Review: Seduction on the Slopes by Tamsen Parker Seduction on the Slopes Author: Tamsen Parker Reviewer: Jen Rating: B+ What I’m Talking About: Miles is veteran skier on the U.S. downhill team. In the sport longer than some of his competitors have been alive, it’s his last year participating in the prestigious Snow and Ice Games (SIGs), and he plans on taking home two more gold medals. However, after that, Miles isn’t really sure where his life will lead. Crash is the up-and-coming newest downhill sensation, and after Miles mentions to the U.S. coach the potential he sees in Crash, coach gets Crash on the SIG team and assigns Miles with mentoring duties. Crash loves to ski, but doesn’t love the endless press events and media time required at the SIGs. When his childhood idol, and long-time crush, Miles takes the time to help Crash, he will do whatever Miles says. Seduction on the Slopes is the standalone sophomore title from Ms. Parker’s Snow and Ice Game series. This time around, romance blossoms between two men on the U.S. downhill team, and wow! is it hot. I like that both Miles and Crash are secure and confirmed gay men – albeit not entirely out of the closet. There is no confusion over preference, allowing for other conflicts to cause hesitation. The primary being that the pair are teammates and competitors. Yet, when Miles discovers why Crash struggles with the media, he genuinely wants to help him, even if that means helping him off in a sexual way. As the pair spend time together, the mentor/mentee line blurs and a true bond of friendship develops. Their similarities and ability to relate so easily go a long way in closing any age gap that may make things awkward. And while Crash may be younger, he can be wiser at times. The two are competitors first, but because they are both truly good people, they can coexist as friends and lovers. The romance moves quickly and the story comes with an HEA. I love how they come together and love the simplicity of the title. Sexy athletes falling in love? Sign me up for more! My Rating:  B+ Liked It A Lot About the Book: Welcome to the Snow and Ice Games where competition is not the only thing that is heating up! The second book in bestselling Tamsen Parker’s romance series continues with two competitive teammates. Miles Palmer has dominated the downhill slalom in every Snow and Ice Games...
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