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Helleville - Hayden ThorneTitle: Helleville
Author: Hayden Thorne
Publisher: JMS Books
Length: 76,977 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Paranormal YA Romance
Heat: 1 – Sweet/None
Sex Frequency: 1 – None
Keywords/Tags: Homophobia, Coming of Age, Self-Discovery Focus, Single Moms, Awesome Moms!, Bullying, HEA, Alternate Reality/Otherworlds, Ghosts/Spirits, Ghouls, Zombies, Vampires, First Times (Kisses Only), Magic, Mystery, Magical Realism, Nerds/Geeks
Rating: Pretty Good

BLURB

All fifteen-year-old Noah Hipwell wants is to go through high school in peace. Yet he finds himself suspended after a bully pushes him too far, and Noah’s forced to defend himself. His mother, fed up with the school’s indifference to his plight, pulls him out completely and leaves Noah uncertain of his future while they look for a good and safe school for him.

All Dorothy “Dot” Hipwell wants is to go through single motherhood in peace. Yet she and her son are harassed by weekly phone calls from her evangelical family hell-bent on guilt-tripping them both back into the fold. Then Noah’s grandparents ask strange questions about their old van after dropping cryptic references to a group called The Soul Warriors. Fed up, Dot takes Noah away for a much-needed getaway, only to find themselves suddenly transported to an alternate world, where a town called Helleville awaits them and all other condemned souls.

Along with warm-blooded, living human beings, the Hipwells rub shoulders with zombies, vampires, house ghosts, and occasional “green vomit piles” while picking up the pieces and sorting out what could very well be an eternity in a bizarre, fanciful, and humorous world of ghouls and banned books.

When residents suddenly disappear one by one with no trace and for no logical reason, however, doubts being “housed” in an alternate world for their sins are raised, and time suddenly becomes of the essence as Noah and the rest of Helleville’s condemned race to find answers to what’s quickly turning into a dangerous puzzle.

REVIEW

It’s been a while since I read a Hayden Thorne novel and now I remember exactly why I always want to read them! She has a particular quirky brain that makes her books unique in a way that always pulls me in. This wasn’t my favorite of her books, but it might be hard to top the Masks books anyway. Still, by the end of this book, I liked it and I really liked Noah.

Noah is fifteen and out of school. After a bad situation at his last public school, where some kids bullied him and he fought back, getting suspended, his super awesome single mom Dot went ape-shit on the administration for their blatant disregard of the bullying in their school and pulled Noah out. Since then, he’s been staying at home while his mother works two jobs and looks for a new, more inclusive school. Noah and his mom are pretty close, they’re their only family and they stick together. Well, Noah does have grandparents (Dot’s parents), but they really aren’t considered family — more like righteous stalkers. The calendar by the phone with bloody X’s mark the days that they call to harass them about their wicked ways (which include that Noah is gay and that Dot had him out of wedlock). It isn’t until his grandmother threatens to set The Soul Warriors on them that they get a little more worried.

When Noah and his mother decide to take a weekend road trip to a B&B to get away from all the phone calls, they find themselves transported to a strange alternate world that seems to be a ridiculous mockery of Hell — a town called Helleville filled with residents with similar experiences as them, full of banned books like Harry Potter and science textbooks that teach evolution, and weird and strange creatures like ghosts, vampires, zombies and ghouls. The strange thing is that though no one there can really figure out where they are and why they’re there (other than the fact that The Soul Warriors are behind everything), it isn’t the classic representation of hell that you’d expect. They’re well cared for with all the food they want for no money, the kids don’t have to take school (although they can sit in a class with Satan as a teacher if they want), and they’re surrounded by pristine nature with no need for jobs. The people there have formed a community of sorts with a mayor and everything, but they all have time to relax and enjoy the things that they didn’t have time for in life. Dot decides to take up crocheting.

They are, however, haunted by one serious problem. Every so often someone disappears. Soon after Noah and his mother arrive in Helleville, the fourth resident goes missing and no one can ever find them, no matter how many times they organize search parties and a night watch to try to catch anything abnormal. It isn’t until Noah makes a friend named John who loves to take pictures that they start to piece together the strange occurrences and what could be behind it all. But before Noah can get too attached to his new hobby of playing Sherlock Holmes he meets Alex, a boy his own age who seems to like him. Alex invites him to hang out with a few of the other teenagers in Helleville and finds that he’s not the only one with a crush on the nerdy teen. Matt, a cool seventeen, muscular and gorgeous, highly intelligent and the most popular kid involved in the community has a thing for Alex and he doesn’t intend for Noah, who he looks at like a bug under his shoe, to get in his way.

Before all of you m/m romance readers out there get excited, the romance in this story is kept on the back burner. Instead, this story is really Noah’s coming of age tale and his road to self-discovery. Helleville and the alternate reality they’ve been sent to acts as a catalyst to force Noah to grow. Before he was sent there, a lot of his own exploration of himself as a teenager had been stunted because of the bullying he experienced at school. He calls himself an introvert, but he’s really afraid to get back out into the world and try again, making friends and even meeting a guy he likes and taking a change. He has a lot of latent social anxiety and Helleville acts as a skewed kind of microcosm of the real world to get him to open up again. In Helleville, Noah can be someone new. He can meet and go on dates with a boy like Alex, he learns that he can have friends. And most importantly he learns that people can rely on him, that he has worth. Alex acts as part of that self-discovery, of course, and their relationship also is a somewhat significant part of the story, but it never progresses very far on page.

The pace and plot mimic Noah’s journey in a way. The POV is strictly Noah’s, so the first half of the book is quite sedate. I even read one reader’s review on Goodreads before I started reading that said that this book was boring. I wouldn’t say that, I quite enjoyed it. But there were a few times in the first half of the book that I set it down, read some other things and then picked it up later. I think that as long as you don’t go into this book expecting it to focus on Noah’s romantic life and that the story will be more about action than reflection, you’ll enjoy it. Also, if you haven’t read much of Hayden Thorne’s work by now you might not realize that most of her work is cerebral. This book is a reflection of Noah’s life, in almost an allegorical way. If you’d rather just read for fun and not want to focus on the meaning of it all, then you might find this story a bit slow … in the first half anyway, the second half was much more exciting.

So I definitely recommend this one. I really like Hayden’s work and I’ll always pick up her books when a new one is out. She always has a really great point of view coming from gay teenagers that it’s so easy to connect with. That, and sometimes this book just makes you go — What the FUCK?


neilplacky_underthewaterfallTitle: Under the Waterfall (Have Body, Will Guard #5)
Author: Neil Plakcy
Publisher: Loose Id
Length: 80,618 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Mystery Romance
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Series, Action/Adventure, Bodyguards, Existing Relationship, ex-Military, Teachers, Coming Out/Closeted, Abduction/Kidnapping, France, Corsica, Family/Kids, Multiple Romances, Expat
Rating: Pretty Good

BLURB

As soon as they’re settled in their new home on the French Riviera, bodyguards Aidan and Liam are sent to the island of Corsica to protect a mining executive and his family. Though they’re still in love, and having lots of sex, the disruption, and the discovery that the client’s son is gay and in a touchy relationship, causes both bodyguards to question their skills and their commitment to each other. Can they engineer a happy ending for Michel and his boyfriend, while protecting the family from deadly adversaries?

REVIEW

What a wonderful surprise for me to find another Aidan and Liam book out! For some reason, I thought that after book four, Olives for the Stranger that the series was finished, so getting a new book and the possibility of even more after this (it sure seems like it) makes me so happy! Liam and Aidan are a couple that I’ve kept with since I read their first book Three Wrong Turns in the Desert several years ago. Each book is heavy on action/adventure and a serious dose of hot and heavy macho action. How could I not fall in love? Besides, I’ve always been drawn to Mr. Plakcy’s work. I really enjoy his style.

The fifth installment in this series diverges from the rest right at the start. Though we know Liam and Aiden well in Tunisia where they met and have previously worked as bodyguards, they moved at the end of the fourth book to France and are now living in Nice. Both of them think that they moved to primarily make the other happy, but the truth is that having less freedom is somewhat constricting to them both, because Liam doesn’t always like being told what to do and because Aidan usually does what he can to defer to his more senior partner and lover and because he generally ends up trying to please him anyway. This results in it’s own set of complications and when Liam and Aidan take on a new case in Corsica protecting a mine owner’s family from threats by Corsican nationalists to preserve the island from drilling, they both spend much of their time there working through their own issues about their relationship. Aidan wonders if he’s doomed to play the doormat when once again Liam takes the active role in their operation and Aidan feels that he’s undervalued. Liam is forced to confront his past when they find that the son in the family they’re protecting, Michel, is in the closet and secretly in love with his father’s biggest adversary’s son. It might be a classic star-crossed lovers tale with a bent twist, but the interactions between scared, closeted and teenaged Michel and his blithely criticizing father force him to confront his own feelings about his past and his development into his only real relationship — with Aidan. Liam has never considered himself as any kind of commodity, until recently mostly avoiding his sexuality except in the basest of situations, but their friend Louis makes a comment that shows him he just might be attractive to other men. That leads him to consider his relationship with Aidan and his feelings about sleeping with other men.

Their main issue in Corsica, nonetheless, is keeping their client’s safe, not angsting about the issues in their relationship.

This book (like the last one) was both an enjoyment to read and a bit of a disappointment. The pure adventure and excitement that I’m used to from the earlier plots in this series seem to have gone away. On the other hand, I think that Plakcy, better than most writers in the m/m romance genre anyway, seem to have a real knack for writing about the issues that crop up in long lasting relationships. They’re the everyday issues — communication, self-esteem in relationship to your partner, jealousy — and they’re handled responsibly. Sure they might cause a bit of angst, but I like the format of this series because the external adventure/mystery plot takes some of the focus away. The plot doesn’t need to be built on those internal relationship issues to carry the story, so those real-to-life relationship issues seem to carry the modest weight that is natural. Of course they’re important but they aren’t life or death issues that need to much focus. I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy a classic relationship-centric contemporary romance, but Aidan and Liam feel more real to me because while I might have to occasionally suspend disbelief at their gun-toting, crime-solving antics, the relationship at the center is down to earth and totally believable.

I remain a fan of this series. I probably always will be. But, I think I might need to shift my expectation of the future books. From here on, I’m going to look forward more to the relationship than the external plot. It might bring me some enjoyment, but so far the last few just haven’t been nearly as satisfying as the first ones. I will say that I found Liam and Aidan’s physical relationship in this book somewhat disappointing. I’m not sure why the author didn’t include much sex (hardly any!). One of the draws to this series for me has been the hot and heavy sex between these two men. Maybe the author is trying to shift the overall arc in another direction? Or, perhaps, the plot in this book just didn’t fit with the two getting hot and heavy. But I sure hope that when these two come back for book six that they’ll be getting it on in all kinds of weird places like they used to!


WhenLoveTakesOverLGTitle: When Love Takes Over
Author: Jacob Z Flores
Publisher: Dreamspinner
Length: 88,936 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 5 – Off the Charts!
Sex Frequency: 4 – Very Often (including sexual situations)
Keywords/Tags: P-Town, Porn Star, Sex Industry, Nerds/Geeks, Nasty Ex, Clubbing, Public Sex, Exhibitionism, Multiple/Other Partners, Writers, Cheating Ex, Bad Breakup, Dirty Talk, Pitt Munching, at the Beach, On Vacation, Gingers!, Colorful Cast of Characters, Funny Guys, Camp it Up!, Famous
Rating: Really Liked It

**Some (small) spoilers

BLURB

Zach Kelly’s life is a shambles. His boyfriend of three years dumped him, and his writing career is going nowhere. On a whim, he heads to Provincetown, Massachusetts, to nurse his broken heart and figure out his next step. He’s expecting to find rest and relaxation on the sandy beaches of Cape Cod. Instead, Zach meets a hunky porn star during a chance encounter at a leather shop he mistakes as a place to buy a belt that is definitely not for whipping.

Van Pierce is smitten when shy and inexperienced Zach crashes through a shelf of fetish gear. Though Van’s got an insatiable appetite for men on and off the set, his porn persona, Hart Throb, hides a broken heart. He’s struggling to find the reality the porno set doesn’t offer, and Zach is fighting to find the fantasy that will set his writing on fire. The odd goofball and the suave beefcake may either find love amid Provincetown’s colorful pageantry where summer never seems to end—or more heartbreak than either can imagine.

REVIEW

No matter how much I’ve wanted to read Jacob Flores’ prior books, this is the first one that I really had the time to read. And I’m so glad that I did. More than anything, more than the fact that I found some parts of this book less to my liking than others and I didn’t think it was perfect, it intrigued me. I immediately put back all of the books I have of Jacob’s back onto my Kindle and I only hope that I have the time to read them soon.

Prepare for a LONG summary. Sorry about that, but I think it’s worth reading 😉

Zach has always done what everyone told him too. Submissive to almost an extreme in his life (though not in the bedroom), he first allowed his father to dictate his life and self-understanding and later his partner of three years, Ben. The start of When Love Takes Over sees Ben unceremoniously dumped by Ben — with no reason or explanation — simply a get out. Zach is tired of being shuffled around and taking it, doing everything he can to change himself into the man that Ben wants. So he does the most impulsive thing he’s done in his life. He takes the small bag he left with from Houston and jumps a plane to P-Town.

Zach has never been to Provincetown and the place dazzles him. There are men everywhere, half naked in the streets, holding hands and kissing. The place seems like freedom personified and there’s no better introduction to the wonders of P-Town than the owner of the condo he’s renting for the week, Gary. Gary and his partner Quinn convince Zach to take advantage of all P-Town has to offer, not to stay in his room and try to work on his novel. Zach still doesn’t understand how his life took such a strange turn, but his writing seems to have suffered in relative fashion. Perhaps a change will be good for him.

Van is also at a crossroads. He’s had a bad time in relationships and it seems like every time he gives away his heart, which always seems to easy for him to do, it gets pummeled and thrown back at him, damaged more and more every time. After his last relationship with a man named Jason who drove him into a terrible dehumanizing spiral of sex and pain, Van took it upon himself to never face that kind of damage again. That is how Hart Throb was born. Being Hart Throb on screen for thousands of horny gay men gives Van a rush and a self-esteem boost that he needs. He can do porn and still enjoy sex, even being pounded by multiple men, without the emotions that ended up crushing him before. As a power bottom that has quickly amassed a huge fan following, he has the power to call more shots and he’s the one in control, not the men on top of him.

It’s almost enough to convince him that he doesn’t need an emotional connection at all. The pain of the past and his creation of his more powerful alter-ego have slowly started to shift his two identities and Hart Throb looks to be taking over. When Van runs into a geeky, shy and pale ginger beauty named Zach in a leather store, his previous conviction falls to pieces. Something about Zach — perhaps his bumbling and sweet nature with mismatched clothes and messed up hair, or his personality which seems to be completely free of artifice in a town where looks and sex are all that matters — appeals to Van. Even though their meeting is short, he can’t get Zach out of his head and his feelings about someone that he doesn’t even know only highlight that Hart Throb can’t fully sustain him.

A makeover on the outside from an excited Gary and female friend Tara prove to Zach that he does have worth. He believe that it just might be possible to break out of his shell, leave the old, boring doormat he was behind and embrace P-Town. That’s what everyone keeps telling him to do, after all. Embrace P-Town, because it will change you. And now that he’s seeing other men, hot men checking him out and finding him very worthy of their attention, the sexually adventurous nature he always repressed starts to peek out. But no matter how much he embraces the sex in the air (with some very public and exciting naughtiness!) what he really wants is to find Van again. But will Van even recognize him? Or did P-Town get to Zach before Van could, changing him in ways that ultimately aren’t good for him?

Whew! First of all, if you made it through that — thank you! You deserve a chocolate or something 🙂 Second, you saw just how long that summary was. I’d say that even though I did a bit of a character introduction to you as well, that summary probably only covers the first 1/4 of the book. The pace in this story moves rather quickly. I like that this author makes decisive choices for his characters. They don’t dawdle, but the story moves along without pause. I appreciate that because no matter how you feel about those decisions, there’s nothing worse than an author refusing to make them and then the characters stall. Van and Zach go through quite a lot to get their HEA, and it’s hard-won, that’s for damn sure! You can see just from the summary I wrote that the angst is already building. Wherever both Van and Zach go in this story they always seem to be looking for one another but at the same time moving in opposite directions, like passing ships in the night 😉 When Van looks for the geeky guy he had a moment with in the leather store he finds just another shallow guy tricking. When Zach continues to look for Van, he finds what he thinks is a guy with a boyfriend. And no matter how annoying that was at the time, because I wanted to smack them both and tell them to actually communicate with each other, this author ultimately brings the story around so that their actions and thoughts make sense to the character.

I really liked both Van and Zach. Zach is someone who I felt like I could understand on a personal level:

He found it almost impossible to simply be who he was. He always felt the need to apologize for himself and change whatever people didn’t like about him until he’d become whatever they might need.

The thought that he devoted three years of his life trying to conform to an impossible ideal for Ben haunts him, especially considering that Ben seems to have no appreciation of that fact. P-Town is important to him. His outside makeover soon starts to make him over inside and having men look at him as if they’d be lucky to have him is something that he’s never really felt. This is why this book worked for me on this level. We have a tendency in the romance genre to equate the characters and their choices with the quality of the book. But, it’s important for a character to grow and Zach needs to embrace his slutty and hedonistic side, no matter how shallow it makes him or that he becomes a bit of an asshole for a while, and he needs to fuck things up so that he can learn to be an active participant in a relationship. By definition, the end goal in romance is the HEA. The direction is important, but honestly, the journey there is the real point. This book is a good example for characters that you might not like at certain points in the book, but which (to me, at least) should have no bearing on the rating of it.

I think the real reason that I was intrigued about this author’s writing from reading this book is the tone and mood of the story. The mood is festive and reflective of the setting, but the tone of the writing often seemed just a little bit campy. The tone seemed campy, mind you, not the plot or characters (except for Gary! and Penny :D). This gives the story a lift. Right away it draws you in. No matter the subject matter there’s always a glass half-full feeling that carries through the story. It’s a hopeful tone. I felt like that little bit of campiness was so right on to how I’ve felt before in settings with lots of gay men and a party atmosphere. Sadly, I’ve yet to visit P-Town, but the setting and tone gave off a sense of inclusion and freedom and that thread ran throughout the story, the tone affecting all of the book in subtle ways.

Originally, I gave this book a Pretty Good rating. I had some trouble with the ending, specifically the part from the ending of Zach’s novel to the upstairs of the porn set setting. That conversation between the two was the culmination of the previous chapter or two where Zach starts to think in a kind of writer affectation. Everything became a bit melodramatic and I wasn’t quite sure how to take it. Seriously? Or, as a subtle importation of his writer’s mind? With an added day or two of reflection, I found those parts less important in my memory than the whole. I don’t think this book is perfect by any means, but I cared less about those trouble spots for me and more about the overall story. And that is of two characters that I felt were explored rather well and of writing by this author that I grew increasingly fond of while reading. I can’t wait until he writes something new. Or until I can get off my ass and read something off of his backlist. Recommended.


loversentwined_9781419941658_msrTitle: Lovers Entwined
Author: Lillian Francis
Publisher: Ellora’s Cave
Length: 98,968 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Paranormal Historical Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between (2 scenes between the MCs)
Keywords/Tags: WWI, Pirates, Revolutionary War, British, Paranormal Dreams, Genealogy, Bisexual, Tragedy, Separated Lovers, HEA
Rating: Pretty Good

Reviewed by Sadonna

BLURB

Ewan is one of Boston’s leading genealogy experts. When a would-be bridegroom comes looking for confirmation that there are no skeletons in his ancestral closet, Ewan considers turning the job down. Trey is a jerk of the highest order and yet Ewan experiences an infuriating attraction that’s easy to justify. Trey’s exactly his type—a carbon copy of the man Ewan’s been looking for his entire life.

Harder to explain is the sense of recognition that leaves Ewan speechless the moment Trey steps into his office. Or the stomach-churning sensation at the thought of casting the job aside.

Trey gets more appealing by the day, leaving Ewan struggling with forbidden desire for his client. Desire not helped by strange voyeuristic dreams that have started to haunt his sleep. Dreams that appear to be an echo of the past…

REVIEW

Ewan Matthews and Trey Capell are thrown together when Ewan proposes to his girlfriend of 4 years and his prospective father-in-law, a rich political candidate running for Mayor in Boston, decides that he needs to “vet” his daughter’s boyfriend’s family before they can announce the engagement.  Ewan is the genealogist that Trey is sent to and together then uncover some very interesting coincidences that turn out to be a lot more than coincidences.

In looking into Trey’s family history, it seems his great-great uncle fought in WWI in the British forces.  Great-great Uncle Tristan Capell fought in Mesopotamia and his batman was none other than one Owen Matthews.  Coincidence?  It seems that Trey is a doppelganger for Tristan with the exception of his broken nose courtesy of a wipeout from his surfing days.  While we don’t immediately know what Owen looked like, eventually of course it turns out that he is a dead ringer for Ewan.

Trey is chafing under the control of Paige, his fiancé, and also her father and so he escapes their watchful eye by going to “help” Ewan with the research under the pretext of speeding up the process so that they can announce their engagement.  While doing this research we learn quite a bit about both men and their family histories.  Ewan has grown up without a father and has only recently connected with the grandfather than he has never met.  Trey’s father died when he was young and he spent a decade having fun – surfing and hooking up with whoever struck his fancy regardless of gender.  Ewan is not impressed at all with Trey upon first meeting him even though he is physically attracted as Trey is exactly the type of man he’s been looking for all his life.

While researching Trey’s local family history, they stumble upon another coincidence in the form of a business partnership between Christian Capell and one Matthew Eugent.  Ongoing during this research, Ewan has extremely vivid dreams of these two couple – Tristan and Owen both during and after WWI and Christian and Matthew when they meet as children up through the Revolutionary War.

Trey and Ewan continue to spend time together doing the research and also outside of that excuse when Trey tires of Paige’s family control.  Ewan meets Trey’s grandfather on such an occasion and they hit it off right away.  While Trey is attracted to Ewan he doesn’t feel like he will be doing the right thing if he doesn’t marry Paige and have a family.  He is definitely conflicted about his future for a number of reasons.

As they come closer to discovering the truth about their shared ancestors and their tragic stories, Ewan is desperate to finish the job because his emotionally draining dreams and his continued close proximity to Trey – the man he can never have – are killing him.  He can’t sleep, he’s miserable and he can’t seem to focus on anything else either.  Things come to a head between Trey and Ewan and much is revealed about the past that influences the future of all of the characters in this story.  Cryptic, eh?  There are some things the reader should uncover for themselves 🙂

Hmmmmm.  Where to start on this review without being totally spoilery?  This is an unconventional romance in that until the last three of chapters, most of the romantic action on the page does not actually involve the two main characters.  Instead, we see glimpses of the lives of the ancestors of these two men as they have intertwined across the last several centuries.  While these couples were really interesting and greatly influence the arc of the story, the pacing of the book was a problem for me.  I felt like it took a really long time to get into the core of the relationship of Trey and Ewan and I was about to give up at 30%.  I just really wanted more time with those characters rather than all of the time spent in dreams witnessing the stories of the previous Capell/Matthews couples.  That being said, I did enjoy the book and would recommend it with the caveat to be prepared for a slower start.  I would give the first half of the book a Pretty Good and the second half a Really Liked It rating.

GIVEAWAY RULES

Please leave a comment below to win an ebook copy of Lovers Entwined. The giveaway will last until Midnight CDT on Tuesday, August 6. I will choose the winner using Random.org and email the winner who will then have 48 hours from the time of the drawing to reply to my email. I will then forward the winner’s information to the author so the winner can receive their book.

Please enter the email you’d wish me to contact you at in the comment form, or if you prefer, leave it in the message.

Thank you and good luck!

GIVEAWAY CLOSED


AndSoItBeginsLGTitle: And So It Begins (Prince and Trader #1)
Author: RG Green
Publisher: Dreamspinner
Length: 80,031 words
Genre: m/m Fantasy Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy!
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Series, Sword & Sorcery, Magic, Battle/War, Royalty, Friends to Lovers, Childhood Friends, Secrets & Lies
Rating: Really Liked It

BLURB

For hundreds of years, the kingdom of Llarien has maintained a defense against the barbarians. Now, activity at the border draws attention from Kherin Rhylle, the less-favored younger son of the king. Kherin suspects a deeper purpose behind the attacks, but his father refuses to grant permission to travel to the border, despite Kherin’s obligated tenure as a Defender. Not even unprecedented deaths or the serious injury of Kherin’s brother, the crown prince, can change the king’s mind.

Then Derek Resh, kingdom trader and Kherin’s closest friend, convinces the king to allow Kherin to travel with him, and an unexpected journey to the border proves the threat real—while an unexpected intimacy with Derek makes Kherin realize that his feelings go deeper than the friendship they have shared for most of his life. But even that turns devastating, as Derek won’t pursue anything more intimate when the king’s disapproval is certain.

Grasping at straws, Kherin is caught between a danger he doesn’t understand and the desire for a deeper relationship he can’t have. And then there’s the magic that threatens to return after being banished hundreds of years ago…

REVIEW

This is the first book by this author that I read, and I was intrigued immediately from the blurb, but I’ve been sitting on it for a month or so now not tempted enough to read it yet when I have so many other pressing reviews to do. But when I saw that I’d have to make a decision to keep reviewing the series with the release of the second book (Find a Way) this week, I decided to give it a try. And I’m very pleasantly surprised by what I found. Just a tease for the other side of the summary 😉

Kherin Rhylle is the second prince of Llarien. At the start of the novel, he’s laid up by a broken leg, left to sifting through the books in the royal library while off of his feet. He is supposed to be fulfilling his current post at the border in the north, where Llarien borders the Northern lands. And he is not happy that his older brother Adrien, the Crown Prince, is currently fulfilling his duty at the border, a post that every man of Llarien takes for three months of the year at the start of their seventeenth birthday. Instead, Kherin is left to his idle games at the castle, which include his well-known promiscuous sex life (currently with the stable boy Tristan) and the enmity between his father and himself.

The only reprieve is Derek, one of his best friends and a highly valued trader by his father. Derek is a master trader, traveling Llarien and trading in secrets which he brings back to his father. He’s a master indeed at hearing what the people are saying and in plying and bartering for sensitive information. But that also means that Derek is always leaving and rarely staying in any one place for a significant length of time. Derek has brought interesting news, that a northerner was apparently found and killed and of growing instability from the sons of nobles of one of Llarien’s most valuable ports. These young men are stirring a rebellion. But it isn’t until word travels back to the castle of the injury of his brother Adrien and of the mass simultaneous attacks from large groups of northerners that Kherin really feels useless. A request from his son won’t go far to convince him that Kherin needs activity and to do something helpful for his brother and the country, but a stern warning from his trusted trader that Kherin’s behavior might spin further out of control if he’s given nothing constructive to do is just the thing that Kherin needs to get out of the capital, and to follow Derek on his next trip.

The first and maybe most important thing that you really need to know going into this series is how slow the pace is. We’re given much time to get to know the characters, which I love, but the plot moves very slowly. In fact, I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to tell you that by the end of the first book much less happened than I thought it would. Still, I was really into it, but I might have been more upset if I didn’t have the second book to immediately start reading. The style of writing in this fantasy reminds me a great deal of Ann Somerville’s writing in Kei’s Gift. That book is a total of 300k words, but it is okay because it isn’t broken up. My suspicion is that this is a choice by Dreamspinner, but I really wish that the book was kept in tact. Of course, I’m going on assumption here, but the ending of the first book seems as if it was just the first part of one book that was split into smaller pieces. And while the author did a pretty admirable job to give this first book a climax, it’s done in the romance and not the external fantasy plot. That means, of course that you pay more. Now, I hate to say this since I’m getting this book for free in trade of a review, but I would pay for these books, even if I had to pay double. I mean, I pay more for other books anyway. But it does change how you read this series. The fact that only a month separates the release dates shows me that the second book was already written. Anyway, what that means is that I’m really glad that I waited to read this first book until I had the second in hand. And I’ll tell you now that the first book is worth it now that the second is coming out. I only hope that it is either the end of the series or that the third and following books will come as quickly.

I’ll have much more to tell you about the story when I finish and review the second book this week. But I will say that I think the romance in this story is so far going superbly, with lots of natural tension and angst between Kherin and Derek and the (im)possibility of a future relationship between them because of the king. As for the fantasy plot, well… it’s coming. There is still so little known at the end of the first book that I hesitate to really get into it, other than to say that pretty much everything is an unknown and up in the air at this point. As I said before, I like that style of writing, but I also prefer the books to not be so cut up…. but, fair enough. So, if you’re a fantasy fan then I definitely recommend you get your hands on this one right away, if you haven’t yet, so that you’re ready to start the second book, Find a Way, when it is released this Monday. See you then 😉


LoveLikeWaterLGTitle: Love, Like Water
Author: Rowan Speedwell
Publisher: Dreamspinner
Length: 89,037 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Western Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Sex to Story
Keywords/Tags: Cowboys, New Mexico, Albuquerque, Homophobia, Cops (FBI), Gangs, Past Abuse/Trauma, Substance Abuse/Addiction, Guilt, Closeted, Coming Out, Animals, Suicide
Rating: Really Liked It

BLURB

Three years undercover with one of the worst gangs in the country left FBI agent Joshua Chastain shattered. Battling nightmares and addiction, he leaves the concrete jungle for New Mexico horse country, hoping to start over on his uncle’s ranch.

Foreman Eli Kelly spends his life rehabilitating abused animals, and Joshua is just another lost soul. But as Joshua slowly begins to put his life back together, Eli realizes that Joshua is a lot more than his newest project.

Joshua’s plan seems to work—maybe a fresh start was just what he needed. Then, just when he has finally found a sense of peace, crime and hatred nearly destroy all his hard work, forcing him to reevaluate what he wants out his relationship with Eli and his own life.

REVIEW

I’ve been so excited for the release of this book! It’s been a long time since I read something by this author. In fact, I don’t think I’ve read a novel by this author since I read Finding Zach, a book which remains one of my all-time favorite m/m romances. So I knew going into this book from the blurb and from loving that book that this would most likely be an intense read. In some ways it was, but less so than I think I was expecting. But, it did live up to my expectations and ended up being a good read.

Joshua Chastain is a shade of the man he once was — a strong, confident, healthy and intelligent undercover FBI agent. Those qualities were all taken away from him during his three year undercover mission infiltrating a ruthless and dangerous gang in Chicago that heavily trafficked heroin. And though he did everything he was put there to do — bring down the operation from the inside — he also did other things, made sacrifices to himself and others to get the job done. And now, after leaving the FBI and in rehab for his heroin withdrawal and addiction and the unbelievable depression from his memories of death, Joshua is so far from the man he once was that his family no longer recognizes him.

His mother and his uncle Tucker conspire to bring him out to his uncle’s ranch in New Mexico. It’s a place he frequented and loved as a kid, but it’s also the perfect place for him to start to come back to himself. In an ironic twist, the ranch’s main operation is the rehabilitation of abused horses, a program run by Tucker and the ranch’s foreman, Elian Kelly. Eli is more than a foreman to the ranch, but also Tucker’s good friend. And seeing Tuck’s young nephew is heartbreaking. He sees him as a broken man he can try to put back together just like the horses that he has a gift with helping. The fresh air, good and hearty food, and reliable and loving family are what Joshua needs to put the past behind him and learn confidence in himself again. The connection and eventual relationship between Joshua and Eli wasn’t part of the plan.

Much of this book was what I was expecting from this book and this author. This is a hurt/comfort story of epic proportions, something that was similar to Rowan Speedwell’s other novel, Finding Zach. Joshua is not much a guy who needs a little rehab, but a severely traumatized person, emotionally, physically and chemically, from his forced addiction to heroin. And Eli is the gentle giant, reliant and safe and perfect in a lot of ways. I mean, this makes for a good setup, something that has worked well for this author in the past. And I liked this couple together. I felt like a lot of time went by setting up the story and I would maybe have liked to get to know Eli and Joshua actually together in their relationship for longer than we got, but they have a crazy amount of chemistry that came through for me, and the dynamic works well for them and goes hand in hand with the setting really well.

So the problems that I had with the book didn’t really spoil my enjoyment of the book — it remained something highly enjoyable to read. Maybe it’s that Finding Zach is such a hard book to live up to for me, especially with a character like Joshua who so reminded me of Zach with all of the emotional turmoil he has to work through throughout the book. Still, this wasn’t a perfect read for me. Some of the behavior of the characters seemed a little too… contrived, like the totally happy-go-lucky family atmosphere at the ranch. On the one hand this made the book not overly filled with excess problems but it made Joshua’s problems seem overbalanced in counterpoint, which made their behavior and constant support grating (not their support for Joshua, but just in each other, day to day in the way they act). That probably makes no sense, but I don’t know how to describe it better without making it seem too nitpicky and as if it was a bigger deal than it really was. It just bugged me a bit. The real difficulty I had with the book was the ending.

SPOILERS BELOW

I was hoping that this book wouldn’t end with a resurgence of the gang and the men who would obviously love to come after Joshua if he wasn’t so hidden. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. But, I still would have probably preferred the ending to be a bit more subtle. I liked that Eli and Joshua were getting to know each other and work through their problems and I would have admired the story more if it continued in that direction without needing an outside conflict to come in from seemingly nowhere to act as a catalyst for the couple. And the way it was done made it a little worse than that, with the whole gay basher thing having been written so many times.

SPOILERS END

So while I wasn’t quite happy with the ending, I still enjoyed the book and I liked the first half in particular. It really held my interest. The fact that the main character is dealing with a shitload of issues is just something that depends on the reader to like or dislike. I mean, on the one hand it does seem a bit much because poor Joshua’s life just kept going from bad to worse over and over again. So much of whether you like this book or not will depend on how you feel about that kind of character and conflict. In general, I don’t so much like that, but as I said before I was interested in seeing how I liked this one since I did like that kind of conflict in the hands of his author previously.

The other early reviews I’ve seen for this book have so far been raving, which is good. I think I’m maybe a little pickier than many other reviewers and that’s fine. Rowan Speedwell remains a great author and I’ll continue to look forward to her books.