The Eye of the Storm – Review of Tempest

cover54381-mediumTempest (Playing the Fool #3) by Lisa Henry, and J.A. Rock

Thanks to Riptide and Netgalley for the review copy.

In the third Playing the Fool book, Henry and Mack are on the run, from the both sides of the law. They have no one to turn to but each other, and Mac’s parents, who’s farmhouse they make into their hiding place. This is reminiscent of book one where Mack fails to plan and ends up in the one place anyone who knows him would look for his ass.

But I do like that it gives Mack and Henry some time to be normal people and not on the run or threatened by stuff for a second. I also appreciate that the authors spent time with Viola, developing her character and giving her an arc, rather than making her a plot device, as can sometimes happen with children and the developmentally disabled.

The book wraps everything up nicely in the end, which you guys know that I’m not usually a fan of, especially with a series I enjoyed as much as this one. It makes me very doubtful that there will be a book four, which I very much want. By the end of book three, their White Collar thing is totally in place, and it looks like Henry and Mac are going to have a beautiful partnership, both in and out of the bedroom.

I’d really like to see more of the series with them solving crimes and actually being on the same side. The banter that gave me pause in the first book is completely on point by book two and stays that way through book three. If anybody reading this knows Lisa Henry of J.A. Rock, or the fine people at Riptide, let them know that a book four would be much appreciated. By me, but I’m sure by lots of other readers as well.

4 stars out of 5

Dressed to Spill – Review of The Merchant of Death

cover54382-mediumThe Merchant of Death (Playing the Fool #2) by Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock

Thanks to Netgalley and Riptide Publishing for the review copy.

Book two of the Playing the Fool series was an absolute charmer. Henry Page, recently an FBI witness, has decided that something is rotten in the state of his twin sister’s adult care facility, and resolves to go undercover as her in order to figure it all out. As anyone would.

Mac, who started falling for the enigmatic conman in book one is quick to follow him down the rabbit hole, as it were. Or at least he would be if somebody wasn’t so busy framing him for murder.

The banter that was hard to round up in book one is on point in book two, as is the suspense, and the mystery. I no longer feel like Mac is making huge mistakes at every turn, maybe because Henry is so damn crazy that I’m just impressed he can hang on for the ride.

Henry in a dress turns out to be a major turn on for Mack, and the reader too, if my own experience is anything to go on. There’s also the signature Lisa Henry touch that takes a story just that much farther and makes it an impactful, humanizing scene rather than mere erotica.

In addition to their relationship heating up, we also get closer to a secret only hinted at in book one. The original trauma that set Henry on his dark path to begin with. Which just happens to be critical to solving the mystery of who’s framing Mack. The mystery of the hospital is a whole other bag of worms.

4 out of 5 stars

The Man Who Loved an Island – Review of Waiting for the Flood

cover58650-mediumWaiting for the Flood by Alexis Hall

Thanks to Riptide and Netgalley for the review copy. Waiting for the Flood will be available for purchase on Feb. 23, 2015

I requested Waiting for the Flood because of Alexis Hall. I’ve reviewed other of his books, and loved his characters especially. He did not disappoint.

Edwin Tully lives alone in Oxford in the house he used to share with his boyfriend of 10 years, an artist named Marius. He leads a solitary life, having left all his old friends to Marius in the break-up, he’s spent the last two years with his elderly neighbor as his only companion.

When flooding threatens his neighborhood, Environment Agent Adam Dacre shows up literally on his doorstep, and things start to get… wet and uncomfortable.

How does a man who’s spent the last two years in self-imposed isolation finally decide to break the silence?

This is a sweet love story about the way a broken heart tends to mend itself in time, especially when we aren’t looking.

I was enamored of Edwin right off the start. The fact that he has a fairly serious stutter makes the whole things-he-didn’t-say plot element actually believable, and his quiet loneliness was extremely relatable. They say no man is an island, but it’s clear that he is trying really hard to be one anyway. With the waters rising, both literally and figuratively, he has to make a decision: sink alone, or swim for shelter. The acute pain of making what can seem to outsiders to be an extremely rational decision for a chronic isolater was very well depicted.

Adam comes across as a kind of non-character in comparison to Edwin’s rich depths, but since the narrator focuses only on Edwin, it makes sense that we wouldn’t know him as well.

Since this is a fairly short book, there’s not a lot of it to go over, but it’s adorable, and can be finished in a single afternoon. Worth the $3.99 price tag, but I wouldn’t pay more than that.

4 stars out of 5 for being adorable and having absolutely nothing wrong with it.

Pushing Buttons and Butting Heads – Review of Burnt Toast B&B

cover58649-mediumBurnt Toast B&B by Heidi Belleau and Rachel Haimowitz

Thanks to Riptide and NetGalley for the review copy.

It was nice to see both Belleau and Haimowitz again. After my 5 star review of Bliss, which Belleau co-authored with one of my faves, Lisa Henry and Haimowitz’ cereberal slave/master piece, Anchored, I was really geared up for a good performance in book 5 of the Bluewater Bay series, which I’ve enjoyed so much.

And it totally delivered.

Burnt Toast isn’t my absolute fave BB book, but I was really happy to see a major title with a trans lead, and a story that didn’t shy away from the tensions, both psychological and personal that come up when a narrow-minded thinker is challenged to be greater than they are by the people and situations in their life.

Butch ex-logger Derrick has some deep seated issues with his own masculinity, born of a seriously internalized homophobia. So when he inherits his parent’s beloved Bed and Breakfast, the idea of making nice in a stereotypical gay paradise is beyond him. As the B&B falls deeper into debt and disrepair, he decides he’s done his filial duty, and it’s time to close up shop.

Fortunately for everybody, sassy stuntman Ginsberg, who you may recognize from the first Bluewater book, Starstruck is here to save the day. Except it looks like he’ll be ruining it first.

Derrick wants Ginsberg out of his house so he can sulk in peace, but he’s too polite and repressed to tell the kid to fuck off, especially after Gins says he’s trans. Derrick may be a grumpy bastard, but the last thing he’d ever want is for anyone to think he’s transphobic.

For his part, Ginsberg can’t get a read on the moody proprietor of his cheap new digs. After breaking an arm on-set, he needs to lay low and recover without expense. He knows more than anybody how quickly a sure thing can turn into a shit sandwich.

The sexual tension is amazing right off the start, but for a man who considers himself a fierce, self confident queer, the overgrown, underdeveloped Derrick is a little bit outside of Ginsberg’s normal level of acceptability. The fact that the man seems to go from nice, funny, and charming in one second to sub-verbal cave-douche the next is both annoying and frustrating.

Derrick finds himself thinking of Ginsberg all the time, but when it comes to the guy himself, he’s all elbows and thumbs. He completely ignores the shit Derrick means to be offensive, and takes offense to the shit he considers to be regular human interaction.

Can Ginsberg overcome his history in order to give Derrick a chance? Can Derrick trash his heteronormative hypocrisy in order to win the man of his dreams?

The only part of this book that didn’t make it my fave in the series is that Derrick really reminds me of myself sometimes. My own weird butch shit made me hate Derrick like cold fuck, but my love for Ginsberg and the supporting cast made me stick around. Also, I wish there was more sex, but Bluewater Bay books don’t usually have a lot of sex scenes anyway, so it is in keeping with the series.

4.5 stars out of 5 for an awesome read

You Captured My Heart Review of Tame a Wild Human

cover58648-mediumTame a Wild Human by Kari Gregg

Thanks to RipTide and NetGalley for the review copy.

In a world where humans and werewolves exist in an uneasy truce, humans live in fear of the three days surrounding the full moon. Locked in their walled cities, there is a terrible hierarchy between claimed and the unclaimed. Everybody has somebody that they’ve lost to the wolves, and any human found wandering outside the gates on the full moon is in danger of having their lives, and status changed forever.

When Wyatt Redding wakes up drugged, blindfolded and dropped in wolf country on the full moon, he knows his old life is over. If being a free human is preferable, being a claimed human is the next best thing. The wolves fiercely protect their claimed humans, and despite their tragically short lives, they act as if they are free for the short months and years they survive. Wyatt’s own dad was once a claimed man, and watching him waste away before he eventually disappeared was enough to scare anybody.

But being an unclaimed human is unthinkable. Unclaimed humans are the bottom rung of human society. They are used and abused by every free human. Little more than empty fuck holes, they contract themselves to brothels, or, if they’re lucky, the very companies where they used to hold management positions, taking in an endless string of partners, only too happy to be sexually dominated by their former coworkers.

Wyatt knows that without that token, his life is over. With the token, he has a chance. He can go back to the city, empty the secret stashes he and every other well-prepared human keep of cash and supplies, and disappear before his wolf can call him to his inevitable death. He can start over in a new city, and no one will be any the wiser about his terrible history.

But what happens when the vicious treatment he’s been taught to expect never seems to come? The cruelty he expects from the human world isn’t mirrored in the wolf pack that finds him, and it never occurred to him there might be more to the wolves than he’d been taught. More to one wolf in particular…

That’s a rather long intro for what ends up being a 71 page short, but the world-building is surprisingly complete. From looking at her work, I have a feeling that this isn’t Gregg’s only story set in this universe, and I wouldn’t mind reading others. The concept of discipline in the wolf-pack, as well as the inherent depravity of the human world make for some interesting possibilities in my mind.

The sex itself is blazing hot, and at $2.99, it’s a steal.

One thing though… (highlight to reveal spoilers) At the end of the story there’s a bit about the main character getting to be reunited with his long lost dad that gave me pause. Either it’s going to be that kind of story, and dude is going to get fucked by his own dad, which is totally cool, everybody loves a little daddy action once in awhile, or his new boyfriend/master just thought it would be good timing to bring up the dad thing immediately after shoving a butt plug in his ass. Either way, was kind of odd placement on the dad bit.

4 out of 5 stars because I wish it was longer.. also that piece I put in the spoiler section.

The One That Got Away – Review of The Two Gentlemen of Altona

cover54383-mediumThe Two Gentlemen of Altona – (Playing the Fool #1) by Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock

Thanks to Riptide and NetGalley for the review copy.

This will be the third Lisa Henry book I’ve reviewed, and I am on the record as being a huge fan of hers. I tend to be really bad with names, so I don’t usually recognize authors I’ve already read and liked unless they’re in my top 10, and she is working her way into those ranks. You always know with Lisa Henry that a book will have that little something else makes what could be a standard story into a unique and memorable narrative.

In Playing the Fool book one, Mac McGuinness and Henry Paige are on opposite sides of a lot of things. Mac is a cop; Henry’s a con man, Mac’s on a diet; Henry loves donuts. Henry is annoying and hot, and makes everyone love him. Mac is humble and hard working and pissed off that Henry seems to run circles around him in every available context.

If you ever found yourself watching White Collar and thinking that it would be a way better show if they were boyfriends and the FBI agent had more of a daddy-bear Bruce Willis thing going on, this is the book series for you. I can tell you right now that it’s the book series for me.

Book one is a little bit rusty. Their banter isn’t as on-point as it could be, and one does start to question the decisions of a supposedly seasoned professional when he does stupid shit like clearly letting the criminal get away with wacky escape plots, or going to the one place other than his house and his office that people would associate with him and him alone, but nothing’s perfect, and the writers get so much else right that I found myself not really caring about that.

For example, this book is fun. You’d think that would be easy to find in the erotica section. Not so much these days. I don’t know if it’s winter or what, but I have been needing a good mystery/romance that makes me smile and laugh, and fall in love with the characters as they fall in love with each other. Everybody’s so busy being tortured all the time. Not that Henry isn’t having his own little crisis, and not like nobody gets hurt of arrives hurt, but this is so much more adorable and vibrant than a lot of other stuff on the market right now.

Buy book one, at $5.99 it’s not a bad price, that way you’ll know the back story when you read 2 and 3, which are better books.

3.5 stars out of 5

A Library of Interesting Beginnings – Review of Liberty & Other Stories

cover56240-mediumLiberty & Other Stories by
Alexis Hall

Thanks to Riptide and NetGalley for the review copy.

This is a collection of stories and original documents meant to accompany the novel Prosperity.

While I really enjoyed reading them, and was happy to see more of my beloved Byron Kae, I didn’t enjoy this collection nearly as much as I enjoyed the novel. I’m not a huge fan of short stories, and while I do consider storytelling via original/found documents an excellent post-modern literary convention, I miss the immersive feeling one gets from the good old fashioned unbroken 4th wall-style narration.

In my heart, I wanted every short story to be it’s own book, and they really could have been. Nothing’s keeping them from being now, I’d still read every one, even knowing the plot beforehand.

If you liked Prosperity, and you don’t mind paying nearly twice as much for a book that is not really as catchy or fulfulling as the first one, but does promise more time with all the awesome characters you met in the other book, plus a couple more you’ll like just as much and be just as fascinated with, then by all means, purchase Liberty. I’d buy it if only to encourage Alexis Hall to keep writing about these people.

I definitely, definitely want more from this universe.

4 stars out of 5

Down and Out – Review of Counterpunch

cover53372-mediumCounterpunch (Belonging Book 2) by Aleksandr Voinov

Thanks to Riptide and NetGalley for the review copy.

This is the second Voinov novel I’ve reviewed, as well as the second Belonging book, which you’ll recall was the controversial series set in an alternate universe where slavery was never abolished.

Like the first novel, Counterpunch brings up questions about the nature of love and relationships in a society where equality is illegal, but also examines a draconian criminal justice system that takes everything from a person, making redemption impossible. This book starts with a the question: what does a man have when he has nothing left to take?

When all else fails, when one can no longer emotionally manipulate one’s captors and owners in exchange for even the illusion of safety, what is there? What choice is left to someone who has no legal right to choose? Alternately, what happens to good men in a cruel system where there’s nothing but choice?

Brooklyn Marshall was a freeman, a cop and a husband until an accident on the job sent him to prison, and then into slavery. Now he’s the property of a conglomerate that buys and trains boxers, and he’s set to become the slave heavyweight champion of the world. But that doesn’t keep “the management” from hiring him out to the highest bidder to do whatever they want with him.

Little does he know that his next playing customer, Nathaniel Bishop, has other plans for his time… plans that are destined to crumble just like everything else Brooklyn ever loved.

Like Anchored, Counterpunch isn’t erotica so much as it’s a socio-political think-piece made possible by virtue of the fact that it’s ostensibly erotica. On the face of it, Anchored is a much more intellectual book. Counterpunch shies away from both the extreme violence that Anchored tackles head on, and the difficult realities of the universe in which it takes place. I don’t mean that one book is inherently better than the other, but Counterpunch is way less heavy, and therefore less difficult to read, but it didn’t get my brain going like Anchored did.

4 stars out of 5

Take to the Sky – Review of Prosperity by Alexis Hall

cover56240-mediumProsperity by Alexis Hall

Thanks to NetGalley and Riptide Publishing for the review copy.

Newly landed in lawless skyport, Prosperity, our hero Piccadilly finds himself at the wrong end of a significantly more devious basted than himself. Chaos ensues; our journey begins.

Our charming, hilarious and completely self-made (self-named, even) protagonist does dangerously skirt the adorable orphaned trope that, being an abrasive and shitty orphan, I happen to take personal offense to. I mean, we’re already facing the cold realities of life all in our own, what cruel shithead decided we should be so fucking happy about it?

But I digress.

This book is precious. Usually overly complex or dialectical language tires me out, but every sentence is basically delightful and super fun to read out loud.

The plot is also great, and the characters are each a uniquely amazing flower. The androgenous sky captain and aethermancer Byron Kae was especially captivating. I wanted more and more of them, and missed them when they weren’t being talked about.

I don’t want to give anything away. There is a heavy Lovecraftian vibe going on, but it’s hardly the most interesting factor.

And for the 4.99, this is a steal.

5 stars out of 5

Sometimes They Come Back – Review of There’s Something About Ari

cover56244-mediumThere’s Something About Ari by L.B. Gregg

Thanks to NetGalley and Riptide Publishing for the review copy.

There’s Something About Ari is the second installment in the Bluewater Bay series. This one revolves around Buck Ellis, former golden boy turned career barista and his childhood crush/best friend turned TV star Ari Valentine. Buck Ellis is having a hard enough time raising his teenage brother when his former best friend, Ari god-damned Valentine, newest hottie on local hit show Wolf’s Landing moves next door.

In high school, Buck was the high achiever, and Ari might as well have been voted ‘least likely to graduate,’ especially since he didn’t. He ran away instead. Leaving Buck to deal with his mother’s death, the responsibility of raising his brother, and the anti-climax of spending his adult life working at the same coffee shop since he was 16.

By the time Ari rolls back to town with the media hot on his heels, Buck’s hard feelings for him are more of the angry variety than the hot, but when Ari suggests they relive the glory days in a way neither of them had the balls to do in school, Buck wants to know if it’s real, or just nostalgia.

Something is short and sweet, and priced to match. At $3.99 for Kindle users, it fits for a story that can be read cover to cover in a single night.

As usual, Riptide produces a superior product.

4.5 stars out of 5