Tuesday, August 30, 2016

If I Were Fire by Heloise West

Title: If I Were Fire
Author: Heloise West
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Cover Artist: LC Chase
Genre: Historical
Length: 20k

In 18th century Siena, Count Salvesto Masello returns home to find the family villa and his father’s estate deeply in debt. In order to save it, he sells valuable heirlooms, but he is running out of silverware. Somewhere in the villa, his deceased father has hidden the art treasures that will pay the debt—but Salvesto can’t find them anywhere.

Amadeo Neruccio has been on the run from the vicious pimp, thief, and pawnbroker Guelfetto, whose toughs finally catch him and bring him to the cellar where Count Masello is selling off his silver. When the count learns what fate Guelfetto has in store for Amadeo, he intervenes, and trades the last of his mother’s dowry for the young man’s freedom.

Salvesto left home over ten years ago to live the life of adventure he craved and leave his broken heart behind. When he rescues Amadeo, he does not expect to find love again—or the start of his next adventure.

I love being taken away in time and being told a story that could only happen then, with characters who are very much of their time and place. This creates an issue for a lot of MM romances, because of the historical attitudes. Having to sneak around to avoid jail or execution adds tension.

Amadeo and Sylvesto are two characters who do this job for me. Their story is set in 1715 Sienna, Italy, a place I first discovered in my horse-crazy preteen years. The Palio, an insanely dangerous bareback horse race in the town center was an established tradition by the time Amadeo rides in it.
Amadeo’s in deep trouble because his race didn’t go as planned: his win wrecked the betting. He’s run afoul of a notorious criminal and is about to be sold into slavery to make up for his debts. His friends have abandoned him, and he doesn’t have much hope until Sylvesto, who has troubles of his own, manages to extricate him from his fate. This was cleverly done, and I had to chuckle about a side bet.

The author does a good job of setting the scene in the town and the surrounding countryside, and cluing us in to the politics of the time without it taking over the story. I could have wished for a little more here, because Sylvesto’s years away adventuring needed some context. It was clear enough why he personally went, although such a life changing event would brand the other guy’s name in your mind.

Amadeo and Sylvesto don’t have a lot of opportunities to develop a relationship, but the class issues and the secrecy issues do get overcome. The first kiss was accidental, but sparked so much more. None of it would have a chance to blossom, though, if Sylvesto’s dealings with the evil Guelfetto had gone differently, and for that, he needs to thank Amadeo. This also brings them from a large social gulf where Amadeo is stuck with a case of hero worship to a more even equal footing.

My quibble with this story is that several of the exciting things mentioned in it were only mentioned. We hear about Amadeo’s ride in the Palio but don't ride it with him, we don’t get to see the race alongside Sylvesto, or watch the jockey fall into disgrace. We find out about a crucial discovery after the fact. What we do get to see is nice, but only at the end do we get to experience the full excitement of the goings-on.

I did enjoy the plot and the resolution, and I want the lovers to be happy. The author has a good sense of place and history, and  I will happily read her next story. 3.5 marbles

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Thousand Word Thursday Story from Devyn Morgan

This vacationing fellow prompted Devyn Morgan to send along a little piece of his latest novella,  Lifeguard Love. Since I just bought this story, I think I might have to kick it up the TBR pile and read the rest. 

The sunscreen cap snapped, the sound popping through the air. He heard the thick lotion squeeze out of the bottle and Thad rubbing his hands together. It sounded wet and sticky and thick. Oh god. Breathe.

“I’ll start on your shoulders and work my way down. You can tell me if there are any spots you think I missed.” Thad’s hands slipped onto his shoulders and started a slow massage.

Kip breathed a long slow inhalation, trying to keep his breath normal. He crossed his forearm over his crotch in a futile attempt to hold himself under control. Thad’s hands on his shoulders were electric. Thad couldn’t see his face, so Kip closed his eyes and relaxed into his friend’s touch. Thad massaged his shoulders, using his thumbs to actually knead the muscles. “You look a little tense so I’m going to give you a quick back rub while I’m at it.”

“Okay.” Kip barely breathed.

Thad continued his ministrations, working his way down, kneading Kip’s stiff muscles. His touch was expert. He used his fingertips together, then his knuckles, and sometimes the palm of his hand.

“This feels…so good. Where did you learn to do this?”

“My roommate’s girlfriend was going to school to be a massage therapist. She used to practice on me. My condition was that she taught me what she was doing as she went. Obviously I’m no pro, but I learned some things.”

Something thudded inside Kip. He didn’t like the idea of some girl running her hands all over Thad. He had no right to feel this way, which made him feel even worse. What was wrong with him? He tried to keep his voice light. “Your roommate’s girlfriend?”

Thad laughed as he kneaded Kip’s muscles. “Yeah, funny, right?”

“Yeah. Ha, ha.” Kip forced a laugh. Did it sound as fake as it felt? “He didn’t mind his girlfriend putting her hands all over you?”

“Nah, he was too busy with sports and he knew I wouldn’t make a move on his girl.”

“Why is that?”

Thad chuckled softly and stopped moving his hands. “Have you ever known me to make a move on a girl?”

Kip thought. He hadn’t. Why didn’t he notice this before. He just figured Thad wasn’t a womanizer. “Not really, but…”

“I guess it’s just not my style, and he could tell. She said she liked practicing on me specifically because I didn’t try to make a move on her. I guess most guys think a massage is something sexual.”

Kip thought about his current state and felt guilty for feeling exactly that way about the back rub Thad was giving him. He willed himself to stop swelling and to just take it for what it was. “Yeah, ha ha! Some guys…” He swallowed hard.

LIfeguard Love by Devyn Morgan is available now on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited!

When up-and-coming social media star Kip Weiss lands a summer lifeguard job at an exclusive resort, there are strings attached. The sweet bonus privileges require a roommate, and after a year in the random dorms, Kip wants to pick who shares the tight quarters. He invites his best friend, the only kid at school who didn’t look down on him for being poor. When Thad arrives, Kip can’t stop looking at his friend’s new beefy physique. But Kip can’t be into guys, that would ruin his hard-built social media brand, wouldn’t it?

Thad Rowland needs a break. After an academically stressful year at school, his father lines up a boring internship to fill his summer. His true passion is art, not accounting. When his best friend Kip invites him to apply at the resort he jumps at the chance to get away from it all and wear his lifeguard whistle again. But can he live in such close proximity to his celebrity-gorgeous best friend, and keep his true feelings to himself?

Far away from everything else, the hunky college guys are in an oasis of suntan lotion, their own private apartment, and an entire summer stretching before them. Will their new feelings tear them apart as well as ruin their careers and family ties? Or is the summer heat just the beginning of a scorching hot future?

Lifeguard Love is a short and hot standalone gay romance with explicit scenes and a guaranteed happily ever after!

Under the Knife by Laurin Kelly

Title: Under the Knife
Author: Laurin Kelly
Purchase at Amazon
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Purchase at Less Than Three Press
Cover Artist: Kirby Crow
Genre: contemporary
Length: 95,000 words
Formats Mobi, Epub, PDF

Season three of TV's hottest cooking competition, Under the Knife, is gearing up, and Nate is equal parts excited and terrified that he's one of the twelve competitors. But the prize is a quarter of a million dollars, and that's worth a few weeks of being stressed and afraid.

It may not, however, be worth weeks of putting up with Zachary, the cold, snotty competitor who definitely thinks he's better than everyone else. The man can cook, and he's the hottest man Nate has ever seen, but every time he opens his mouth Nate hates him all over again.

He came here to be driven crazy trying to prove he's the best chef in the world, but if Nate can't learn to block Zachary out it won't be the competition that pushes him to the breaking point.

Food and sex, they’re so entwined with sensuality. Aren’t the gourmets always saying they can tell when a dish has been prepared with love?

This story is very heavy on the food aspect, which would be sort of hard to get away from given the cooking reality show setting. The cooking is almost as much of a character as Nate and Zachary, and gets probably as much page time. You’ll be looking at your cold cereal dinner with a new level of disgust after reading about their delicious preparations.

We see the story only from Nate’s eyes: how Zachary fascinates him and still pushes him away, and how the other contestants affect what’s going on. There’s several sharp personalities here, and since the stakes are high, the competition influences every interaction.  The author has the reality show dynamics to a T.  Even where Nate and others start becoming friends, there’s always the knowledge that there is no second prize.

We get to know Zachary bit by bit, almost bite by bite. He’s driven by his need to win, and every though he’s intrigued by Nate, he’s always aware of what else is at stake. He’s hard to like at first, but easy to be fascinated by. Because Nate is telling this story, he’s easier to get to know. He’s imperfect but still a good man, and he’s definitely a top chef.

I enjoyed this book, but in places I was just a bit overwhelmed by all the details and every single step of the competition, and was anxious to just get on with it. Even so, I enjoyed the style and the unrolling of the romance, and I enjoyed the ending very much. The author found a way for the competition to complicate but not break the romance.

And I would appreciate it if Zachary, Nate, or Carmen would turn up in my kitchen to make dinner. 4.5 marbles

Friday, August 26, 2016

Holy Cow! by EM Lynley

Title: Holy Cow
Author: EM Lynley
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Cover Artist: LC Chase
Genre: paranormal, shapeshifter
Length: 17,600 words
Formats Mobi, Epub, PDF

American med student Duncan Stirling is traveling around India with his two best friends, who have just married. Their last stop is the magical city of Jaisalmer, a fort in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan. He feels like a third wheel on their honeymoon, though the three friends had the trip planned for years, to celebrate finishing medical school and have a last adventure before they start their residencies back in the States.

Akash Nandi is an Indian man from a wealthy and well-known family. At least that’s how he appears. He hides the truth that his family is descended from Nandi, Lord Shiva’s bull, and they’ve guarded sacred places for millennia. Being gay and immortal is tough, especially when his family’s expectations make finding the right mate impossible. As his grandmother, the family matriarch, nears death, a struggle for power puts Akash and his new crush, the charming American Duncan, in harm’s way.

A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2016 Daily Dose package "A Walk on the Wild Side."

From Patricia:

I really loved reading this great story. The settings were exotic and richly detailed, the sex was hot, and I just had to laugh when I realized just how accurately the title of this gem described the shifters.

Cryselle says:

I have to agree 100 % with Patricia, this story really takes us to a faraway place and makes us believe we are there, EM Lynley’s always good with locations, and here she takes us to India and makes us smell the food cooking, see the city glowing golden in the dawn, and taste the desert dust.

Duncan’s completely smitten with Akash, which could break his heart right in two, because of their culture gap and because of his own obligations. His friends are happy he’s having a vacation fling, and a lot less than happy he’s moping around when things aren’t going well. Well, too bad, that’s what they get for dragging a single guy on their honeymoon. Even if it is a grand adventure.

Akash is truly caught between cultures: he has Indian standard and the expectations that go with his sacred bull status, and now there’s this sexy American guy… The resolution to Akash's difficulties seemed a bit jumbly and made me kind of mad, considering who did what: Akash had every right to expect better from certain quarters.

A bull shifter doesn’t come along every day, which made this story unique, and the sense of place is really strong, and so is the bond between Akash and Duncan. 4 marbles

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Warm Taste by Julia Leijon

Title: The Warm Taste
Author: Julia Leijon
Purchase at Amazon
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Cover Artist: Natasha Snow
Genre: Paranormal
Length: 44,500 words

Can a dark creature find a home in the light?

Robin appears to be a quiet, attractive young man, but the exterior hides his true vampire nature: ageless, unchanging, and bloodthirsty. His current obsession is Martin, the personable and generous owner of a coffee shop, The Warm Taste.

All Robin’s careful plans to remain unnoticed are ruined, however, when Martin asks him out on a date. Can Robin really have something so good and sweet as an ordinary relationship, after such a long existence of cold loneliness?

And if things fall apart, and Robin goes back to his old ways, will Martin survive it?

Reading the blurb, I thought this would be just another vampire tale. Boy, was I wrong!! Julia Leijon has taken the same old, same old garden variety vampire trope, shook it up, turned it inside out and upside down, and then added her own fresh and original twist. I really enjoyed reading it, and if you want something different, then this fantastic book is worth getting.

Monday, August 22, 2016

In The Twist by LA Stockman

Title: In The Twist (The Wild Hunt Book 1)
Author: LA Stockman
Purchase at Amazon 
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Cover Artist: Natasha Snow
Genre: Paranormal
Length: 47800 words
Formats Mobi, Epub, PDF

Twelve dead children. An ex-priest with the faith to move mountains. A hunter out of the depths of legend. Together, they must find a way to overcome their pasts and become something entirely new if they are to defeat an ancient evil.

David Shaughnessy was content in his life as a police detective in Armata, California. It lacked the visceral, sick thrill that came with exorcising demons, but it was better for him, saner. Until the night he got called out to a vicious murder in the woods, and met Dallan Jaeger. The older man and Interpol agent is much more than he seems to be, and their connection is immediate, powerful. Trust blooms quickly as they learn to work together to pursue the evil fae responsible for the murders.

They must learn to do more than trust each other if David is to fulfill his birthright and claim what was so long denied him. Only then do they have a hope of catching the killer…in the Twist.
This one isn’t for the faint of heart. The story starts off with a scene that made me queasy, and right away I knew this book would be going some dark places.

Horror readers (which is not me usually) will be right at home. LA Stockman gives us a damaged but still strong hero to take on this monster, and David finds an unlikely ally in his fight against the horror stalking the children. An Interpol agent with a larger scope than most, Dallan Jaeger is both attracted to David and willing to give him the space he needs to be ready for a relationship. Dallan’s almost too good to be true, between his skills, knowledge, his unexpected kindness, and a pack of really scary backup.

The Catholic church comes off very badly here: what’s happened to David at their hands is truly atrocious and comes with no apologies. It was pretty awful, and the sad part is that after all the recent real life scandals, it isn’t even that surprising. This is one of the very dark places the book goes, and I’m interested to see how the uneasy relationship with the church that was his everything progresses now that David’s come a long way from the scared child he was. I will read books two and beyond to find that out, no matter how dark it goes.

The series is titled The Wild Hunt, and while the band of spectral hunters does show up, only the leader has a large role here. This is book one, so a lot of things are being set up that I’m ready to follow into future books. I’m really anxious to see these guys kick ass and take names.

While I could only feel for David, and applaud for his triumphs and get queasy with his trials (it took me three days to finish reading his encounter with the Sluagh, because I’m kinda squeamish), Dallan had more issues for me. He’s very touchy-feely understanding, considering his other role. I’m not quite sure that works as characterization, but it was exactly what David needed. That and a few things that made me check who’s head we’re in, which always knocks me out of the story, were issues for me.

However, LA Stockman has created a world and characters that definitely intrigue me. This book is much darker than my usual reading preference, so extra win for pushing me out of my comfort zone and making me want more. 4.25 marbles

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Maestro by M. Crane Hana

Title: Maestro
Author: M. Crane Hana
Cover artist: Aria Tan
Buy at Amazon
Buy at All Romance eBooks 
Genre: contemporary, menage
Length: 16k

Gay and happily married, Leo has helped manage a large, influential nonprofit arts foundation over the past ten years. He has built a friendly rapport with the elderly billionaire who began it, but he has enemies within the foundation.

Leo’s birthday is on February 13, and that has always meant candles on heart-shaped cupcakes and birthday cards with “Happy Valentine’s Day” crossed out. To celebrate, Andrew, Leo’s mystery writer husband, arranges a tryst for Leo with Mel, a gifted violinist who is one of Andrew’s biggest fans.

What started as mere pleasure becomes a three-part harmony as Leo, Andrew, and Mel explore the ways their kinks and needs mesh—until Leo’s enemies attempt to use evidence of the liaison to force him out of his job.

Maestro contains adult content suitable for mature readers only.

Guest review from Patricia:

This fascinating and fantastic story has got to be one of the most passionate, sensual, saucy, and sexy threesome tales I've ever read. It's the perfect solution when you want something short, but smoking hot to read.

Cryselle says:

Lovely look at an established couple who are branching out a little. They've had their ups and downs, and have an established protocol for dalliances outside their marriage. If you're a pearl clutcher over consensual extra-curricular activities, this story won't be enjoyable. Nothing happens that both Leo and Andrew haven't decided together, and Mel can only consider himself fortunate they've decided on him.

There's also a terrific outside plot, where Leo's life and his work as a society event-organizer and fundraiser runs square into some very old-fashioned notions of social control. Leo's got quite the set of fangs when cornered, and here he has to use them. In the most socially correct way, of course.

I found the length was working to drop chunks of backstory in, which affected the pacing for me. It provided context for the men and their lives, but it made me impatient in places.

The story was definitely hot and ends with a cheer for Leo and great hopes for the three of them together. 4.25 marbles

Friday, August 19, 2016

Interview with LA Stockman, including giveaway

Author: L.A. Stockman
Title: In the Twist
Publisher:  NineStar Press
Release Date: August 22, 2016
Category: Romance
Genre: Paranormal
Sex Content: Explicit
Length: Novel
Words: 47800
Pages: 134
Cover Artist: Natasha Snow
Purchase Links:

COUPON CODE: Get 20% off preorder on NineStar Press website with coupon code “preorder”
* (Good until release day of 8/22/16)

Warning: There are also scenes of graphic violence, off-page abuse/torture of minors, off-page reference to sexual abuse of a minor.

Book Blurb

Twelve dead children. An ex-priest with the faith to move mountains. A hunter out of the depths of legend. Together, they must find a way to overcome their pasts and become something entirely new if they are to defeat an ancient evil.

David Shaughnessy was content in his life as a police detective in Armata, California. It lacked the visceral, sick thrill that came with exorcising demons, but it was better for him, saner. Until the night he got called out to a vicious murder in the woods, and met Dallan Jaeger. The older man and Interpol agent is much more than he seems to be, and their connection is immediate, powerful. Trust blooms quickly as they learn to work together to pursue the evil fae responsible for the murders.

They must learn to do more than trust each other if David is to fulfill his birthright and claim what was so long denied him. Only then do they have a hope of catching the killer…in the Twist.

Author Bio

L.A. is a professional writer finally crossing over into fiction. She has a background in the Classics and Religious Studies, and those themes will come up again and again in her work. L.A. lives in Texas, has two incredible kids, and a varying number of rescue mutts. Reach out to her on Twitter; she’d love to hear from you!

Website: lastockman.wordpress.com
Twitter: @la_stockman


In The Twist opens with a shocking scene. Did you intend this book for horror readers or paranormal readers, or both?

Most definitely both. I wanted to set the stakes high at the very beginning of the book, establishing the level of evil our protagonists are up against, and imbuing it all with that ‘it’s 4:30 in the morning, in the woods, in the misting rain, and there is something here so unspeakable as to seem unreal’ feeling. Disconnecting readers from what they expect and throwing them headfirst into the world, in other words. I think readers of both genres can appreciate that.

There’s a creature called a Sluagh: is this your invention, or is there lore about it? How does one say this properly?

There is long-established lore about fairies called Sluagh in Celtic mythology, so I borrowed them for my villains. The modern Irish pronunciation of the word is “SLEW-a,” and they were said to be perhaps the souls of the restless dead. Their name means “horde” so I played pretty fast and loose with the lore in making them notoriously solitary. I see them as creepy-crawlies of the lowest order, skulking around and typically feeding on humanity’s negative emotions and actions.

One of the characters has an Irish name: Saoirse. What’s the right way to say this? What made you decide to use this name?

You say her name “SERSH-a.” I’ve always loved the name, and I wanted to telegraph in a subtle way that David and his sister are from Ireland without having to come out and say it right up front. Show, don’t tell, right?

What do you find the biggest challenge about writing fiction as opposed to non-fiction?

I would say that plotting is by far the biggest challenge. I love characters—I love tearing them open and getting at all the good stuff inside. I love to have them interact, I love to create them. When you’re writing about something like enterprise-grade servers, you don’t exactly have plot to contend with. And I can’t exactly have them talk for the whole novel!

I can see David and Dallan having more adventures: what are your plans for them?

Oh, they most definitely will have more adventures! I’m working on the sequel to In the Twist, called Titan’s Reach, which should be out next year. I can safely say without spoiling that David doesn’t stay an Armata PD detective for long after the end of the novel. In the teaser included with the book, we already meet one of Dallan’s strange and wondrous co-workers at the Bureau for Preternatural Affairs.

David and Dallan have a lot of chemistry: did you enjoy writing this part of the story? Is this the first M/M romance you’ve written?

I love my boys. I love a love that is undeniable and inevitable and yet at the same time not guaranteed. It’s a dance between David’s legions of issues and Dallan’s incredible patience. Love at first sight doesn’t always equal a happy ending or an easy road. I very much enjoyed writing them, figuring out what David would do with these feelings that he most assuredly did not authorize. I’ve been writing M/M romance, if I’m honest, since I first started writing fiction, which was as a teenager (I am mumbledy-fortyish now). I also have a lesbian novel in my queue set in Bronze Age Greece, so it’s queer lit that moves me, not just M/M. 

Is there a particular M/M romance that inspired you to write in the genre?

Every M/M romance inspires me, because every drop of representation counts, doesn’t it? There’s something about deconstructing toxic masculinity and building something deeper and truer that really appeals to me, and hopefully to my readers! 


Hanging in the tree, the boy’s body looked unreal. A forgotten Halloween decoration, the gore so over-the-top there was something almost cartoonish about it. Yes, David Shaughnessy thought, except for the smell. He wrapped his inadequate suit coat more tightly around his tall, lanky frame and stood in what he was already thinking of as “the viewing circle”—a ring of seemingly random detritus that formed a perfect vantage point from which to view the dead child.

His long-fingered, elegant hands were jammed unceremoniously into his pockets, twitching to make the gestures of faith that he was not entitled to perform. Dear God, if You have any love for the lost, take this child in Your arms. Forgive his petty, childish infractions and grant him Your most blessed peace.

That the boy was a runaway was obvious to him: David could see past the fetid, swollen ropes of intestines arranged in elaborate patterns in the branches, the odd way the tree itself seemed to have taken hold of slender arms in a wrap of branch and twist of vine that was not natural, but couldn’t really be man-made. There were needle tracks on those delicate arms, clothing that was tattered and torn, and a sweet, thin face just barely introduced to shaving beneath the rictus of pain and fear.

“How long have you lived here again?” The woman’s voice came from behind him, to the right toward the parked line of emergency vehicles. “And yet here you are, at oh-dark-whatever-the-fuck in the rain without a proper coat and boots. Shaughnessy, you’re fucking hopeless.”

“Ellen,” he responded quietly, without rancor. The older woman was just trying to help him, take him under her wing. She had a son not much younger than David. How to tell this ruthless pragmatist of a crime scene supervisor the truth? That standing in the cold rain, feeling it chill down to bone and marrow, was the most insignificant of penances, his discomfort a tiny drop of what this child must have felt. It was not right, that he was standing here, having avoided the same fate as the boy in the tree. “I was in such a hurry, I forgot again. Oh, please be careful of this ring. I’ll need it carefully documented.”

“Right,” Ellen said, tossing him a glare as she picked through the clearing with her sensibly attired team armed with flashlights until they found places to set up the harsh spotlights.

David stepped out of the ring and blinked. The scene became palpably less clear to him as the light of his pocket flashlight was swallowed by the rain and predawn darkness. The light didn’t quite reach to the boy in the tree, and all the details that were so distinct became dim in the distance. A shiver raced down his spine, and he knew it had little to do with the cold and damp. His hand went to the small intricate silver crucifix beneath what had once been a nicely pressed and starched dress shirt.

In the absence of that clarity, he was forced to move closer to the powerful stench, but he willed himself to put it away, to bear witness without blanching. It was the least he could do for this lost boy. The very, very least. An absent request brought a ladder over, and he leaned it somewhat haphazardly against the tree before clambering up it to look more closely.

The boy was no more than thirteen, perhaps fourteen and excruciatingly small for his age. David shined his light to the boy’s face and almost fell off the ladder. Amidst the filth and rain, the small features were composed: eyes carefully closed; face washed clean; wet, dirty hair raked back and some attempt made to untangle it, probably with fingers. There were flowers woven into his hair, flowers that smelled sweet this close, pure and white in the middle of this late-winter muck of rain.

Someone had tried to help.

David was still staring, processing what this could possibly mean, when a gruff, accented voice cut through the background noise of the crime scene team and coroners. He almost fell off the ladder again, but the owner of the voice steadied it with a foot braced against the bottom rung, driving it deeper into the soft earth. “Lad, you’re gonna end up on your arse if you’re not careful.”

“Um, thank you for that…astute…” There was no point in being rude, especially since the unidentified man was correct. “Yes, thank you.” David peered down at the man but couldn’t make out much thanks to the damnable mist and the man’s very weather-appropriate hat. He summoned his few shreds of dignity and climbed down the ladder to face the newcomer. The stranger was older, perhaps in his late forties, with the sort of face that was kind and predisposed to smiling. David found himself staring into warm, gray-green eyes, rapt, and the cold seemed to seep out of his bones.

L.A. Stockman © 2016
All Rights Reserved


Check out Ninestar's events calendar for information on additional blog stops for In the Twist and other upcoming releases!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Tailor by Kassandra Lea

Title: The Tailor
Author: Kassandra Lea
Purchase at Amazon 
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Cover Artist: Natasha Snow
Genre: Contemporary
Length: 10k
Formats Mobi, epub, PDF

Bartholomew is on his way to a Christmas party when disaster strikes, and he finds himself in dire need of a new suit. Thankfully, disaster struck right outside his favorite suit shop, and the cute tailor has the perfect suit to solve his problem—and possibly the solution to a whole lot more.

This story had a lot of promise, where clotheshorse Bartholomew realizes his tailor is his perfect man. It’s one of a series of shorts all themed on suits, and who doesn’t like a sharp dresser?

Unfortunately, the story wobbles all over the place, with the beginning headed in some different direction than the middle or the end. Bartholomew is a very indistinct character, worried strictly about himself, until an outrush of thoughtfulness makes the story charge off in a different direction. Changing one’s mind is fine, it there’s some support for it, which isn’t obvious here.

Walden isn’t introduced until nearly the halfway mark, and he comes off in a very Victorian, dormouse-y way. This adds to the sense of disorientation in time, as Bartholomew also feels like a relic from the past as a Dickensian fussbudget in a rush to kowtow to his boss. Walden at least knows what he wants.

Aside from Bartholomew’s dress sense, there’s no apparent reason for Walden to feel this strongly about him, and there’s no obvious attraction from Bartholomew back. It's “oh, you could come along” not "I really want to be with you.". I get the feeling Walden gets kicked by life a lot. Getting asked out by Bartholomew is actually a life kick more than a good thing.

Basically, I’m not feeling any chemistry, and so the lack of on screen intimacy is a good thing. There’s no support for it.

The premise is cute, and there are a few flashes of charm, but this doesn’t really hold together. 2 marbles

Monday, August 15, 2016

Panopolis by Cari Z

Title: Panopolis
Author: Cari Z
Purchase at Amazon
Purchase at All Romance eBooks
Cover Artist: LC Chase
Genre: Science Fiction/Superheroes
Length: 22500 (Smoke) + 31900 (Fire) total 54,400 words
Formats Mobi, EPUB, PDF

Panopolis, the City of Heroes: a place where exciting things happen every single day. Things like mad science, reckless public endangerment, corporate espionage, and political puppetry.

You’ve got to wonder, why would anyone ever want to move here?

And once they get here, why would they ever want to stay?

Maybe for the excitement of watching real super-powered Heroes battle it out with Villains every day—preferably from a few hundred yards back. Maybe for the chance to become one of those Heroes, brave and stalwart and always doing the right thing.

Or maybe . . . just maybe . . . some people stay because they prefer to take their chances with a Villain or two.

Contains the complete texts of Where There’s Smoke (Panopolis #1) and Where There’s Fire (Panopolis #2)


Where There’s Smoke

Panopolis is a rough place to be an average Joe. I came here looking for adventure and excitement, but nobody cares about one more normal guy in a city filled with super-powered heroes. The closest I’ve come to glory is working in a bank that villains often rob.

But then I maybe accidentally-on-purpose helped a villain escape the hero who was trying to save the day. Imagine my shock when, a week later, that villain asked me out for coffee. One date turned into more, and now I’m head over heels in love with Raul.

Falling in love with the guy dubbed the Mad Bombardier isn’t without its downsides, though. I’ve had to deal with near-death encounters with other villains, awkwardly flirtatious heroes who won’t take no for an answer, and a lover I’m not sure I can trust. It’s getting to the point where I know I’ll have to make a choice: side with the heroes, or stand fast by my villain.

Either way, I think my days as a normal guy are over.

Where There’s Fire

Making a name for myself as a Villain in Panopolis is hard work. Six months ago, my boyfriend broke me out of jail. Now he’s spending most of his time defending our turf against other Villains he accidentally freed along with me. And my new psychic powers are not only impossible to control, but they’re also giving me migraines.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. My skills are improving every day, and Raul — aka the Mad Bombardier — and I have never been happier. That is, until my first solo job is interrupted by a mysterious woman who tells me that Raul has been kidnapped by a ruthless new Villain. The only way to free him is to do a job for Maggot, a man with scary ideas and an even scarier superpower.

I can’t go to the cops or a Hero for help. Odds are they wouldn’t listen to me anyway. If I fail, Raul will be killed. If I succeed, we’ll both be bound to a man who’ll stop at nothing to put Panopolis on the path to civil war.

It looks like the only way to win is to take out the competition.
These two novellas definitely belong together, being the first and second parts of Edward and Raul’s story. Each has a complete story arc, but the second is definitely better for having read the first. Usually we get things from the Hero's perspective, but the Villains often have more interesting things to say.

Edward’s our POV character, and at first he’s just a normal guy, new to town, who’s an innocent bystander sucked into the action between Villain and Hero because he’s standing where the money is, in a bank.

As the fallout from his ordeal progresses, he gets to know Raul on a personal level, and begins questioning all he’s been told about this strange city where super-powered people duke it out for truth, justice, and television ratings. Edward does a little math, which gets him questioning how and why this public mayhem is not only tolerated but encouraged. There’s a very dirty underbelly to the rivalry, and the running commentary from the mysterious SuperTruther points out some of the ideas Edward is groping toward from ground zero.

Because oh my goodness, Panopolis is one fucked up place, where the corporations run amok in people’s lives and maybe only the “bad guys” have the right idea. They certainly have enough flash to attract the train wreck of Hero attention, at which point things really go to hell.

While Edward is feeling his way toward his place in this urban jungle, he meets Freight Train, the Hero of  Where There’s a Will, reviewed here.

Freight Train’s starved for affection, and tries courting Edward, a situation bound for trouble, because Edward can’t admit to being involved with the Mad Bombardier.

Trouble from Book One catches up to Edward and Raul in Book Two, and here’s where reader squeamishness and the story don’t mesh well. There’s a graphic and horrible event, and even at one remove, it was really stomach turning. It went from a kind of comic book violence to something much, much too real. I had to put the book down and go for a walk, and only my trust in this author made me finish. The aptly named Maggot is only one of the Villains Panopolis offers.

The story isn’t over, in this town where manufactured superheroes and their equally manufactured worthy enemies fight and keep the attention from far worse doings. Maybe SuperTruther will get a story?

I can’t separate ratings for the books because they’re so entwined in my head but even with the need to drop the Kindle like a poisonous snake there for a minute, this was a good read.

The stories are available separately, but I would recommend buying the single volume so you don't have to pause reading after the first. 4.25 marbles

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Twist and Two Balls by Clare London

Title: A Twist and Two Balls (With a Kick Book 1)
Author: Clare London
Purchase at Amazon
Purchase at All Romance eBooks
Cover Artist: Lou Harper
Genre: Contemporary
Length: 27,000 words (novella)
Formats Mobi, Epub, PDF

Eduardo Mancini is going to be a star of the London stage and screen. Or that was the plan. His alter ego Eddy March hasn't got further than the chorus and a bit part in a TV series. His parents aren't supportive, his agent can’t place his particular skills, and he's finding it hard to hang onto his young dreams. Things go from bad to worse when he's late for an important audition, hasn't got enough money to pay the taxi fare, and is chased across the streets of Soho by the irate driver.

Eddy reaches what he believes is sanctuary - With A Kick, a store where ice creams are blended with alcohol and imagination, and where his friends can help him. But Nuri the taxi driver is persistent in his steady pursuit, above and beyond the money he’s owed. Despite their very different characters and background, Eddy and Nuri’s relationship goes from a complete unknown to a wary balancing act. There are still mistakes to be made, and hurdles to clear. And both of them have to admit that their life so far hasn’t gone the way they planned.

But maybe being caught by Nuri was just what Eddy’s career needed – both for his job and his heart.

With a Kick must be the best ice cream shop in the world, serving adult flavor combinations spiked with alcohol, along with flavors suitable for kids. Everyone's happy, right? This shop is the backdrop and a unifying element for the series. Eat ice cream, work out lovelife problems… Sounds good to me!

Eddie the aspiring actor manages to fall flat on his face a lot, but in the best way. Not enough money for a cab fare, missing auditions and revising his aspirations, and getting what he wants after all. Once he knows what that is, beyond Nuri the handsome cabbie of Turkish extraction. He’s quite histrionic, able to provide a comparison to every current situation from plays and TV shows. This also slops into his personality, leading one friend to be pleased when he stops acting like “a tragic Shakespearean arse or a blockbuster diva.” This reader appreciated it too, since once he got that tendency under control Eddie got a lot better at adulting.

His chance encounter with Nuri escalates from an unpaid cab fare to being incorporated into Nuri’s big, rambunctious family, who accepts him with open arms. They’re outspoken and if their charm is a little rude, their hearts are good. Eddie needs to be kicked into shape, and Adem, Sadi, Jamal, and the silent but observant grandmamma are just the ones to do it.

Nuri needs some nudges of his own, and this part I just have to believe, because the author knows the British system Nuri’s involved in and I don’t. Still, it’s good to see how Eddie helps Nuri, even if it wasn’t intentional, and very good to see how the family backs their own.

There's a lot of British flavor here, including some slang, but it's all clear from the context, and gives a nice sense of place to Clare London's always pleasing prose.

Patrick and Lee, owners of the shop, have their own simmering story. They’re secondary characters but you can tell there’s something between them aside from differing opinions on gratis dishes. It should be fun to continue the series and find out their story along with the friends they feed with sweet treats and reality checks.

This was a delightful afternoon’s read, and now I want ice cream! 4 marbles

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Thousand Word Thursday Ficlet from Sarah Madison

Some reading angel sent me a picture that turned out to be exactly what I needed to go with a much-anticipated book on my TBR list: Fool's Gold from Sarah Madison. I enjoy Sarah's work, and can't wait to jump into this one! Sarah sent a snippet to tell us what's going on. 


They landed in the water with a large splash and headed for the second element. It was smaller than most of the fences on the course, taking into consideration that the horses had to jump this fence from inside the pond, but it was also narrow, inviting the horse to duck out to either side. Kryptonite’s muscles tightened between Jake’s legs; he knew the horse was thinking how to avoid the second fence altogether. Knowing he usually ducked out to the right, Jake put pressure on the horse’s right side and pulled on the left rein. He’d thought they were on track to take the fence when Kryptonite suddenly dropped his right shoulder and swerved left.

The horse simply wasn’t under him anymore. Jake came off the chestnut’s right side with just enough time to raise an arm to protect his head before he hit the unforgiving wood logs. His elbow and shoulder took most of the impact before he bounced off the face of the fence and landed in the water.
So much for the stick-tight gene.

The pond was a foot deep at most, but it was still a shock when cold water splashed over him, soaking him to the skin. He was thrown backward on his rump, and when he put his right hand back for support, his shoulder protested.

Agitated splashing made him turn his head. Instantly, he winced and put up a hand to his neck.

“Are you all right?” Rich came lurching through the water, sending spray flying.

Jake waved him off. “I’m fine.” Aside from being pissed, frustrated, hurting like hell, and wet, that is.

“Go catch the horse.”

“I’ll catch the goddamn horse, all right.” Rich splashed back to the verge and squished up the slope. Kryptonite, having enjoyed a victory canter for dumping his rider, stopped to crop grass quietly. His reins had slid down his neck, and he was in danger of stepping on them. “I’ll catch the horse and then call Taco Bell and tell them they have a pickup.”


Available now on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited! The bestselling M/M contemporary romance about second chances and lost loves, set in the exciting world of competitive sport horses.

Fool’s Gold by Sarah Madison

Eight years ago, Jake Stanford had it all: a spot on the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team and the love of his life, Rich Evans. A tragic accident wipes out everything in the blink of an eye. Hard work and sacrifice get him another shot at Olympic Gold, but only if he puts his past behind him and agrees to work with Rich again.

Bound by secrets he cannot share, Rich was forced to give up Jake eight years ago. Now he has a second chance to help Jake realize his dreams. But the secrets that drove them apart haven’t changed, and Rich must face them or risk losing Jake forever.

Sarah Madison is a writer with a little dog, a large dog, an even bigger horse, too many cats, and a very patient boyfriend. An amateur photographer and a former competitor in the horse sport known as eventing, when she's not out hiking with the dogs or down at the stables, she's at the laptop working on her next story. When she’s in the middle of a chapter, she relies on the smoke detector to tell her dinner is ready. She writes because it’s cheaper than therapy.

Sarah Madison was a finalist in the 2013 and 2015 Rainbow Awards. The Boys of Summer won Best M/M Romance in the 2013 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards. The Sixth Sense series was voted 2nd place in the 2014 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards for Best M/M Mystery series, and 3rd place in the 2105 PGR Reviewer’s Choice Awards for Best M/M Paranormal/Urban Fantasy series.

If you want to make her day, e-mail her and tell you how much you like her stories.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Jack of Thorns by Amelia Faulkner

Title: Jack of Thorns
Author: Amelia Faulkner
Purchase or read on KU at Amazon
Cover Artist: Satyr Designs
Genre: paranormal
Length: 442 pages
Formats MOBI, Print

Florist. Psychic. Addict.
Laurence Riley coasts by on good looks and natural charm, but underneath lies a dark chasm that neither heroin nor lovers can fill. Sobriety is a pipe dream which his stalker ex-boyfriend is pushing him away from. Luckily, Laurence has powers most can only dream of. If only he could control them.

Aristocrat. Psychic. Survivor.
Quentin d'Arcy is the product of centuries of wealth, privilege, and breeding, and is on the run from all three. A chance encounter with an arresting young florist with a winning smile could make him stop. Laurence is kind, warm, and oddly intriguing but Quentin's wild telekinesis and his fear of sex make dating a dangerous game.

When opposites attract, they collide.
Desperate to fix his rotting life, Laurence prays for aid and accidentally summons a fertility god who prefers to be called Jack. Jack is willing to help out for a price, and it's one Laurence just can't pay: he must keep Jack fed with regular offerings of sex, and the florist has fallen for the one man in San Diego who doesn't want any.

If they're to survive Jack's wrath, Laurence and Quentin must master their blossoming feelings and gifts, but even then the cost of Laurence's mistake could well overwhelm them both. How exactly are mere mortals supposed to defeat a god?

Jack of Thorns is the first book in the Inheritance series and contains mature themes and events which may be distressing to some readers. It has a low heat rating and an HFN ending.

Oh my goodness I loved this book and gulped it down, all 440 pages of it.

Laurence isn’t obviously a sympathetic character at first, but he grew on me. He’s an addict, going nowhere with his life. There is a reason for his need of oblivion, he’s warring with a power he doesn’t understand and can’t control. His meeting with Jack, a fertility god he’s accidentally summoned, is both rewarding for what he learns, and alarming for what Jack wants. Laurence steps and mis-steps, and I was biting my nails for him to get more right than he gets wrong. He has the potential for greatness and disaster.

Quentin, oh, poor Quentin. We get hints and glimpses of the torment that must have been his early life. He’s a member of the British aristocracy, heir to the stiff upper lip, and yet still a commoner with a courtesy title until the old man pops off. He’s what we in the West recognize as a remittance man, although he seems more terrified of being dragged back to the family seat than being bribed to keep his distance. Strange things happen around him, and to him. He has a wild power that he’s never mastered, and until he meets Laurence, doesn’t really believe in. He needs to keep the world at a distance, even with his speech. He refers to himself in the third person, “one does this, one does that”, and it’s only later, when he can trust Laurence, that he’ll use less formal language.

So while Laurence and Quentin are discovering each other, Jack discovers the two of them, and he wants what he needs to survive as a god no one believes in. He can get his worship/energy fix one way or another, and sharing his plans with his mortal tools would only make them balky.

All of this is woven together to create a crashing climax where Laurence and Quentin have to work together and even more importantly, hold it together, to avoid a terrible future that plays on both of their worst fears. This was incredibly done, and kept me glued to the Kindle when I really should have been elsewhere.

The low heat rating is fine, because Quentin is so damaged now that to ask him for physical intimacy would be a grave betrayal. He has the potential to blossom, and I hope he does, but he has a lot of healing to do before it’s reasonable or kind to ask him for more. Also, that means more books about them, which I am all in favor of! 5 marbles

This review was written with a lot of discussion about the book with P.D. Singer, because she loved it too, and because she wouldn’t write a guest review. Said she was finishing work on another book. Honestly. Priorities.

P.D.’s note: Yes, I loved this book, and was thoroughly impressed with the way the author twined the two characters’ flaws and strengths together. Masterfully done! Personal communication with the author: the very formal, referring-to-self-in-third-person speech is standard in social circles most of us will never enter. It also really suits the character.  (That's a review, but Crys the stinker wanted another 300 words, so I made her do it. It's good for you to organize your thoughts, dear.)

Crys's note: :P I used enough of our chat, you might as well have done it yourself.

P.D.'s note: Sigh.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Stories from The Real Story Safe Sex Project from Jamie Fessenden and Matthew Aaron Browning

The Real Story Safe Sex Project, spearheaded by Brent Hartinger, is gathering up stories and blog posts promoting condom use. Many talented authors have contributed stories to this worthy project. We've had spotlights on other stories in this project (check herehere, here, and here), and some of my favorite authors have contributed new ones.

Every author has a different take on this message, and everyone has something valuable to add. Please read and forward the stories to anyone and everyone you know who needs to protect themselves, male and female alike. Thank you, authors, for making these stories free to all. Because that old ounce of prevention is really worth a pound of cure, or a ton of battle.

Bryan thinks Todd Coleman is the hottest guy in school, so when Todd confesses to him that he would like to experiment with Bryan, it's like a dream come true. Their relationship soon develops into something more for both of them, but Bryan's insistence that they stay safe irritates Todd. One night, when the only condom they have breaks, the resulting fallout causes Bryan to realize sticking to his guns may cost him the best relationship he's ever had.


Oh, to be young and subject to peer pressure. Jamie Fessenden gives us young men full of bravado and horniness. Once again the tough thing to do is the right thing to do.

Find it on Amazon.


Teenager Alexander Pratt's first trip to a gay bar leads to a night of new experiences and big decisions that impact his life in ways he can't even imagine. A prequel to the forthcoming novel "Welcome to Straightville," this story is part of the Real Story Safe Sex Project. Warning: Contains adult language and explicit sexual content.

Some exploring, some heartbreak, and some standing your ground. Plus the promise of a full story on what comes next in Alexander's life. 

Read at Amazon.

Find these and all the stories in the Safe Sex Project here. Enjoy, be happy, be safe.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Thinking about ratings

Now that Patricia is doing the occasional guest review, she has her own icons here at the Bookshelf. Her idea of a great book and mine don't have to be the same, but I'm sure if she gives a book five kitties, I'll enjoy it too.

Patricia's reviews will have her Facebook icon, and her ratings look like this:

Patricia reads a lot. She told me how many books she's read since April, and I about fell over. So the ones she wants me to post about here are probably only going to be the really good ones. She may have only three reviews here, but she probably read three books before breakfast. (Kidding. Only a little though.)

I'm much crazier than Patricia. Which is why she has kitties for her reviews and I have marbles. I haven't lost them all yet. Soon. I also don't read nearly as much, though I wish I could, so I'll be talking about books that I may have enjoyed but didn't give only top marks to.

A three marble review isn't a bad review. It's "I liked it." I may not have gotten excited about it, but there was something to like there, and I did. Fives rock my socks all the way off.  Editing is not what I'm looking at most, but a lot of errors may cost half a marble, because it detracts from the reading experience.

WOW Photobucket
Loved this Photobucket
Really liked this Photobucket
Liked this a lotPhotobucket
Liked this Photobucket
Okay, but... Photobucket
Meh Photobucket
Didn't work for me Photobucket
Really didn't work for me Photobucket

Crossposting to Goodreads is a problem, because it's whole numbers only over there. Rounding up or down is going to have to be a judgment call, and if the number isn't round over here, I'll note it there.