Review: SALT MAGIC SKIN MAGIC

I came across SALT MAGIC SKIN MAGIC by Lee Welch on my Twitter feed. I will freely admit I’m not a voracious reader of Victorian-era m/m romance novels, but this one had an added paranormal fantasy element and my curiosity was piqued. I wasn’t disappointed.

Overall, I loved the eerie atmosphere of the estate and the house (all those dusty corridors and rooms) and John’s magic especially. While I started reading for Soren, I most definitely stuck around for John Blake. I particularly enjoyed his relationship with his tools and environment. His working-class magical background worked well against the backdrop of the Yorkshire estate and the noble-born family.

I did have a soft spot for redhaired Soren, Lord Thornby, who is tormented by his father keeping him prisoner and seeking to marry him off. I enjoyed their antagonistic relationship and the lengths to which each man was willing to go. I liked the whispers of redemption that may or may not have come to fruition (I won’t spoil it). The eventual twist isn’t a total surprise, clues abound, and yet reads completely surprising. I liked Soren’s arc. His character didn’t feel settled initially, but that worked for me, given what he was going through. I liked how he came into his own throughout the novel.

The romance worked for me as well. Soren and John took their time (as did the plot). They stumbled and failed and eventually learned to trust each other. Their relationship grew naturally and evolved at a good pace. Their ending was satisfying.

I was surprised to learn this is Welch’s debut novel. I had no idea when I read it. The writing is flawless. The pacing worked. Setting and characters were multidimensional. Overall, I can fully recommend this novel to anyone interested in a Victorian-era m/m paranormal romance. And I will most certainly read more by this author.

Review: A CROWN of IRON & SILVER (Soulbound Book 3)

I stumbled upon Hailey Turner’s Soulbound series purely by chance. It was book 3 that caught my attention first, but I took the time to read from the beginning and I’m glad I did, especially since I can’t say no a redhaired mage.

I love a good flawed character and Patrick is certainly that. All too often authors use “flaws” to excuse uncharacteristic behavior, but Patrick stayed true to himself and never lost sight of what was important. He remained Patrick, so to speak, throughout all three books in the series thus far, all while growing in his relationship with Jono and friendships with the rest of the cast. I particularly enjoyed that his magic wasn’t “magical,” it followed rules and had limits.

I thoroughly enjoyed Turner’s worldbuilding. Her setting felt well lived in. Patrick’s world isn’t just Patrick and Jono, but rather the gang, their friends and foe are clearly part of a larger urban fantasy universe.

Overall, I felt this title had some rougher edges and less polish in the first half than the first two books in the series. I don’t know if there was a rush to get book 3 to market. I’m certain casual readers won’t notice, and it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the series. I’m looking forward to more from Hailey Turner.

Review: ALL SOULS NEAR & NIGH (Soulbound Book 2)

I stumbled upon Hailey Turner’s Soulbound series purely by chance. I wasn’t in the market for an urban fantasy/paranormal read, but I’m not one to say no to a redhaired mage and am I glad I didn’t. I devoured the first book in the series and jumped on the follow-up fully expecting more mischief and mayhem. I wasn’t disappointed.

I love a good flawed character and Patrick is certainly that. All too often authors use “flaws” to excuse uncharacteristic behavior, but Patrick stayed true to himself and never lost sight of what was important. His attraction to Jono is undiminished, which is good, because he’s stuck with the werewolf for the long run. I like how they navigate their life together. They’re adult men with lives of their own, jobs and responsibilities, and making that work. Their actions from the first book had repercussions. There are no easy answers.

I thoroughly enjoyed Turner’s world building. I love how her setting feels well lived in: it’s not just a stage on which Patrick and Jono act. Their actions don’t happen in isolation. It’s clear they live in a larger urban fantasy universe populated with people and creatures in all corners of the world.

Review: A FERRY of BONES & GOLD (Soulbound Book 1)

I stumbled upon Hailey Turner’s Soulbound series purely by chance. I wasn’t in the market for an urban fantasy/paranormal read, but I’m not one to say no to a redhaired mage and am I glad I didn’t.

I love a good flawed character and Patrick is certainly that. All too often authors use “flaws” to excuse uncharacteristic behavior, but Patrick stayed true to himself and never lost sight of what was important. I enjoyed how Jono became important, too. I wouldn’t characterize their romance as a slow-burn, the attraction was there right from the start, but I like how they took their time: here were two adult men who had lives and jobs and responsibilities and no easy answers. Their actions have repercussions.

I thoroughly enjoyed Turner’s world building. Her setting felt well lived in rather than just a backdrop upon which stuff happened. She gave out information and backstory as needed, creating a tantalizing glimpse into a larger urban fantasy universe that just happened to center on Patrick and his new friends, but clearly encompassed the rest of the world as well.

Review: COLD PRESSED

It was the cover of Allison Temple’s COLD PRESSED that caught my attention. Bearded, long-haired hipsters are my thing right now.

COLD PRESSED is book 2 in the new-to-me Seacroft Stories series and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Oliver, the former lawyer, and Nick, the former firefighter, have a lot going on individually: one has a new career, one has old family troubles, both are recovering from past failed relationships. Since neither is quite ready for a new love, they settle for a no-strings-attached arrangement. Naturally that’s not going to work.

What I enjoyed most about this novel was the maturity Oliver and Nick exhibited. They were adults acting like adults. When a misunderstanding threatens their budding relationship, I was worrying it would be one of those “if only they talked about it” situations, but they did talk about it and moved forward. Major props to the author for having the men behave like that. Their lives were complicated enough, they didn’t need artificial conflict.

Speaking of complications, if Oliver hadn’t been so hung up on his ex, he might have figured out the direction of his new business sooner (and seen Avery coming). I liked where he ended up instead, a much better fit for him.

Hayden needed a swift kick in the proverbial butt, but as mother of teenagers, I know that’s easier said than done.

Overall, the writing was easy and casual. The burn and pace comfortably slow, nothing here was rushed. Recommended read if you’re looking for realism and not every question being answered by the end.

Review: BLACK SKY MORNING

“Two men. One dangerous planet. To survive they need to trust each other.”

I was in after that logline and Hanna Dare’s BLACK SKY MORNING (Mind + Machine #3) did not disappoint. Hardcore science fiction fans may find this novel underwhelming—it is a romance first and foremost—but I enjoyed the lighter science fiction backdrop and Xin’s reactions to all things planetary, in particular. Good, steady pacing and solid character development drive the story toward a fitting happy ending.

Government agent Jonathan Gray has a lot on his mind, not least of all intrepid bounty hunter Xin.

I had a good time with Xin. Even out of his element, he was never out of character. Cocky and self-assured, but never annoying, he followed up and followed through on all his teasing. His “arrogance” was fully earned. He was capable and knew his limits.

Jonathan’s limits were less self-discovered, I think, and far more set for him by his role as government agent, a role he’s recently started to resent. He was burned out and disillusioned, in a funk and coasting toward the death of his career.

When the two get stranded and cut off from their support, they quickly learn that a “burden shared is a burden halved.” Faced with hard choices and Xin’s unflappable optimism, Jonathan rediscovers his purpose (and a new reason to live).

Although this is the third book in the Mind + Machine series, BLACK SKY MORNING can be thoroughly enjoyed as a stand-alone. I did not feel like I had read the preceding novels to understand what was going on.  

Review: ILLUMINED SHADOWS (Treble and The Lost Boys #3)


ILLUMINED SHADOWS by G.R. Lyons was a tough read, because there was great writing and well-developed characters, but a troublesome need to suspend my disbelief. The writing is very good. Clearly this is an experienced writer who knows how to tell a story. Each character was well-defined and had a great arc. I loved Cam and the dogs and the friendship between the men.

But …

I did not enjoy the constant child-like portrayal of Colby, the secondary main character. He’s physically small, I get it, and liked to tuck his hands under his chin, I got that, too, but treating him like a child and not like the young man he is did him a major disservice. There was so much more room for growth, if only he’d been allowed to become an adult (man). I would have truly enjoyed the romance in this book if Colby had been allowed to mature, instead he was being kept in this child-like state by his portrayal as a boy.

For someone who wants to go into the business of adolescent counseling, Vic acted very out of character; I’m sure he’s aware of the ethics of counselling. This required major suspension of disbelief and could have easily been dealt with if Vic had had his idea of the halfway house/therapy business until after his success with Colby. I would love to see this changed a bit in a rewrite. It would ground this story in so much more realism and give it extra depth by NOT requiring suspension of disbelief from the reader.

Speaking of realism, the paranormal aspect was highly enjoyable and well done. The urban fantasy “alternate world” setting was almost non-existent. There were hints here and there and some magic thrown in. I have not read the previous books in this series and I wonder if I missed all the good world building and this one just relied too much on previous efforts.

Overall, I had a love-hate relationship with this book. I enjoyed the writing and growth in the characters, but did not enjoy the child-adult romance.

Review: WHERE DEATH MEETS THE DEVIL

L.J Hayward’s WHERE DEATH MEETS THE DEVIL is the first in a new-to-me series that includes two novels and three novellas.

If you know me, you know I‘m a sucker for m/m suspense/thriller/mystery written in Third Person with or without romantic elements. Add assassins, and I’m in.

Hayward’s WHERE DEATH MEETS THE DEVIL has a lot going for it. I love the fairly exotic locale, Australia, because it’s something different. Honestly, I cannot remember the last book I read that wasn’t set in the US (not that there is anything wrong with that).

Then there are Jack and Ethan who have good chemistry and begrudging interest in each other. Theirs is not an HEA, but rather an HFN, which suits the genre.  

Jack Reardon is a follower of orders. Former military. Working in intelligence now. He’s a peacekeeper at heart; out to keep his part of the world/Australia safe. He starts in a bad place, literally, because the story opens on him tied to a chair in a “torture shack.” Oh, yeah, I was so in. He exchanges one bad place for another throughout the novel; whenever he digs himself out of one hole, another opens up.

Ethan Blade is an enigmatic and very damaged man who happens to be the seventh-ranked assassin in the world (a competently earned spot). Hayward deftly makes her readers care for Ethan although there is barely any backstory, just glimpses into a past that comes with bodily scares. She’s created a very believable and fully fleshed out character who follows his own rules, to a fault, and has his very own way of looking at the world. That he has his sight on Jack is not a good thing. Just ask Jack.

I love Hayward’s treatment of Ethan, in particular. It takes skill to share a character without giving too much away.

Hayward tells their story through Jack’s POV in alternating Then/Now chapters that read less like a gimmick and more like flashbacks should (writers, take note). Her chapters blend seamlessly. Her pace is consistent and her language effortless and to the point. In fact, the novel reads very straight-forward, there is nothing that doesn’t need to be there, no fluff, no filler, just straight-forward twists and turns.

If I had to nail down a theme, I’d say trust. The breaking and earning of it. The weight and responsibility of having it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and I have no doubt I will enjoy the rest of the series (just as soon as I am done writing this review).

PS. Sheila is the best!

THE PROTECTOR reviews are in

Two of my advance reviews have arrived, and I am so thrilled:

Sexy, sizzling—and sweet! NL Gassert manages to combine the tenderness of first love with thrilling action in The Protector. The tropical setting on Guam is fresh and beautifully evoked, and the engaging characters of Mason and Soren will keep readers turning the pages, rooting for these lovers against tropical storms and terrorist agents.—Neil Plakcy, author of Mahu and Mahu Surfer

Literary chef Gassert serves up a delectable nine-course meal of murder, mayhem, money-laundering, terrorism, temptation, brutality, bisexuality, scandal, and sadistical father-son abuse.—William Maltese, author of the Stud Draqual mystery series