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The Queen's Librarian - Carole CummingsTitle: The Queen’s Librarian
Author: Carole Cummings
Publisher: Dreamspinner
Length: 68,666 words
Genre: m/m Fantasy**
Heat: 1 – Sweet/None
Sex Frequency: 1 – None (a couple, fade to black)
Keywords/Tags: Established Relationships, Magic, Alternate World Historical, Animals/Pets, Otherworlds, Royalty, Funny Guys
Rating: Really Liked It

BLURB

All Lucas Tripp wants is prosperity for the tenants of his family’s estate; good weather for the harvest; suitable matches for his sisters; a little money left over at the end of the month; and more quality time with his boyfriend, Alex Booker. That’s not so much to ask for, right?

Wrong. When his sister’s new suitor suddenly disappears, Lucas is drawn into an adventure of a lifetime—kicking and screaming all the way. Magical beings who were allegedly banished hundreds of years ago are coming through portals that were supposed to be shut against them—and that’s only part of Lucas’s problem. The rest consists of missing princes, breaking and entering, suspicious magicians, well-meaning women who are far too interested in Lucas’s sex life… the list goes on. Lucas is decidedly Not Amused, but he’ll get over it someday. Probably. After all, there’s always Alex.

REVIEW

Oh Carole… I just had so much fun reading that. You know, Carole has said several times that she thanks Fen for this book. Fen, for those of you who might not know, is her main character from the Wolf’s-own series and his head is just a mess of angst. It’s all for good reason because Fen lives in a really messed up world, but back to Carole. She has said that she needed to go somewhere happy, somewhere carefree after spending so much time (4 novels!) in his head. And I’m glad she did. This book is definitely the antithesis of those, of course with the exception of writing talent. I’m glad that I knew that about this book going in, because otherwise I might have been expecting a more serious style than her previous two series.

The book opens with one of the most hilarious chapters I’ve ever read. It is so easy to become endeared with Lucas, especially in the inner drunk ramblings of his mind at his first visit to a tavern. Trouble doesn’t really come until he’s had one too many and decides that it wouldn’t be too unseemly to have a pee outside, where he promptly becomes entangled with a bush. In a cruel twist of fate, someone seems him — pants partially open and wrestling with the arms of his coat — a man with long silver hair and speaking a lot of nonsense. It doesn’t seem too strange in his ale fuzzy brain when the man simply disappears after a whole lot of yelling words that neither understands back and forth but well, he’s still stuck in the bush.

When the man starts turning up in strange places to again shout incomprehensible words at him, Lucas starts to become alarmed. Especially when the man starts stealing his books. But it isn’t until his sister’s suitor disappears and Lucas is begged to find him that he runs into the man again, this time speaking some words Lucas understands. What he hears alarms him, especially because it appears that the man wants something from him and in the meantime intends to kidnap his cousin the prince as a trade. Lucas is so dead for losing the prince, but he knows that he has to do something to get Laurie back.

Really, the best part of this book are the characters. There is such a wonderful cast of characters that all have their own well-rounded personalities, characteristics and motives. But they have such a great banter. In reading the prior work from Carole Cummings, I always admired her writing which is at the same time intelligent and accessible, but I also never knew that she could write in such a playful way! It is really a delight to read. And just the same as it was for her, I think this is a really good book to read when you need a break from something, or from reading a more intense book. When I first talked to her about this book she referred to it as fluff, to which I immediately replied that I thought she could probably never write fluff. But I know exactly what she means now. This is a book you should read just for the pure enjoyment of getting out of your own head and into someone else’s for a while. And Lucas’ head isn’t a bad place to be 😉

There is quite a lot of banter between the characters, but mostly in the narration. Carole has written Lucas to have an imaginative mind that often banters with itself. That’s why I think this is a good book to read when you really need a break, because while the plot in this story is interesting in and of itself, sometimes the focus wavers from it to Lucas’ own thoughts, and those often take precedence over the action. Now, if you followed my advice then this is just a nice detour, but if you’re really focused on the plot and pacing then you might find yourself swept away on the tide of his thoughts. Sometimes the banter — Lucas’ runaway thoughts — seem to get in the way of the action a bit. And while I always enjoyed what he was thinking (and occasionally talking about with Alex) sometimes the timing is inopportune. Occasionally I wanted to smack him and tell him to pay attention!

Still, that is minor criticism on my part and I really, sincerely hope that Carole continues to explore this quirky side of her writing. Hopefully in the future we can get those style alternately — a book like Fen’s that rips out your heart and completely sweeps you away and then something later to cool you down and look on the sunny side of life.

**I didn’t categorize this as a romance. This is really a fantasy book to me. Sure, Lucas is madly in love with Alex and vice versa, but the story isn’t about their relationship. Their relationship is part of the story.


Burden72lgTitle: Burden
Author: Annmarie McKenna
Publisher: Samhain
Length: 30,500 words, 113 pages
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance Mystery
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Sex to Story
Keywords/Tags: Cops, Injury, Assassination Attempts, Memory Loss, Recovery, Insta-love, Kittens!, HFN
Rating: So So

Reviewed by Sadonna

BLURB

There’s more than one way to guard a body.



In the year since his car flew off a cliff, Detective Brennan McGuire has struggled to relearn the simplest tasks—like speaking without a stutter—and even more with trying to fill the gaping holes in his memory.

But when his daily visit to a local coffee shop turns into a melee of flying bullets, Brennan’s instincts take control.

So much for Keegan Monroe’s first day off after a long undercover assignment. One minute he’s relaxing over coffee, the next his cheek is kissing concrete. Question is, is the gorgeous man on top of him his savior, or the one who took a potshot at his head?

As Keegan shepherds the too-quiet, too-skinny Brennan through the investigation, attraction flares into nights of white-hot passion. But with each scorching encounter, more and more of Brennan’s memories shake loose…and it becomes clear someone doesn’t want him putting those pieces together.

With Keegan’s oath to protect and serve putting him squarely in the crosshairs of a murderer, now the question is, who is protecting whom?

REVIEW

The blurb for this story pretty much tells it all and gives away the twist to the plot.  Brennan has suffered a traumatic brain injury as the result of a car accident that he can’t remember.  He was a police officer before the injury, but now he can barely order a drink and pay for it at the local coffee shop.  While on his daily therapy exercise, he spies a shooter and lunges at the hot guy he thinks is about to get shot and in doing so, becomes a suspect.  Somehow the police take forever to figure out that something is wrong with him (duh).  Once they realize that he was an officer and that he is still recovering from the accident, they STILL think he might be involved.

Keegan begins to doubt that Brennan is involved and has him review mugshots in an attempt to identify the shooter.  Keegan is convinced that this somehow has to do with the case he has just completed.  As the investigation continues and he witnesses Brennan’s flashes of memory, he begins to suspect that something else is going on.  During the second day of the investigation we meet Brennan’s aunt – who is a hoot – maybe my second favorite character in this story 🙂

Brennan and Keegan are definitely attracted and even though he kind of feels like maybe he’s taking advantage, Keegan just can’t seem to keep his hands off.  Amazingly during sex, Brennan doesn’t even stutter and seems sure of himself and what he wants.  Brennan’s old instincts seem to be surfacing more and more as the case continues which is a good thing for both of them.  Keegan liked the Brennan he sees and wants to help him remember what happened and not just because he’s trying to figure out what’s going on with the assassination attempts.

I really wanted to like this book so much more!  The blurb was intriguing and I liked both MCs – especially Brennan.  The problem for me was the rushed, compressed time frame of this story – it’s literally two and a half days and the MCs are saying “I love you.”  Also, I knew from the blurb and the story pretty much what was going to be the outcome and who the bad guy was.  I hate when that happens!  This would have been a much better story if it had been about three times the word count and we got a fully fleshed out relationship built between the MCs.  Instead they spend one day together and they are “in love.”  Not saying it can’t happen, but it’s just not that satisfying.  I’ve read other books by this author and really liked them and there is nothing inherently wrong with this one.  I just needed more relationship development to feel like I got the whole story.


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.


deadmanrestlessspiritsTitle: Dead Man and the Restless Spirits Dead Man Vol. 1
Author: Lou Harper
Publisher: Self Published (Harper Books)
Length: 37k words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Paranormal Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Lou Harper Week!, Spinoff, Tails!, Demons, Ghosts/Spirits, Psychics, Hauntings, Magic, Witches/Mages, Piercings, Animals, Neighbors, Nerds/Geeks, Awesome Female Characters!, Awesome Moms!, Funny Guys, Mystery, Episodic
Rating: Really Liked It

BLURB

Dying sucks hairy monkey balls, even when you’re not the stiff.

Denton Mills has a secret: he can see dead people. Or rather, how they died. It’s quite a drag in a city like Chicago, teeming with the echoes of the no-longer living. Rather than whine about it, Denton has learned to live with his troublesome talent. His adaptability comes in handy when he meets his enigmatic new neighbor.

Bran Maurell catches Denton’s eye right away, but unfortunately Mr. Tall, Dark, and Mysterious is as standoffish as he is alluring. However, after an unexpected introduction from Bran’s cat brings the two men together, Denton discovers they have a mutual interest in the spirit world. Herbalist by day, Bran moonlights as a witch, performing house cleansings for a fee.

From Bran, Denton learns that his knack for interacting with the dead qualifies him as a necromancer. It makes good business sense for them to team up and rid Chicago of its pesky spirits one grateful client at a time. Amongst ghostly adventures the attraction between the men is impossible to ignore. They seem like perfect partners—unless Bran’s not-so-little secret comes between them.

Warning: men loving men, ghosts with attitudes, and a portly feline with hidden talents.

REVIEW

I was super excited to read this spinoff of Spirit Sanguine, which I really loved, because I really felt like I liked Denton a lot in that book. He’s really funny and he’s a natural to have his own book, with the fact that he can see ghosts and all, or at least, the remnants of death. And I really did enjoy it. I think that I ended up feeling quite different about it than Spirit Sanguine, no matter how much I enjoyed it and not relating to the fact that it is essentially different than that book. I’ll get to why in a bit, but most if it has to deal with the way that the story is told.

We first met Denton Mills in Spirit Sanguine, a book that was all about a different type of vampires. In a way, I feel like the viewpoint of vampires from that book (as Lou Harper has called “the Byronic portrayal of vampires—you know, dark and brooding, woe is me…”) is somewhat related to how Denton feels about them. He’s another type of paranormal entity in a city filled with them (Chicago), but where he sees them as other, he’s just like a regular guy with a gift, or a curse. They try to stay away from one another for the most part, probably as it is thought of in Spirit Sanguine because of the death that surrounds vampires. Our picture of him in that book is separate from and quite lonely, though with a quick wit and acerbically funny facade.

Dead Man… shows Denton’s world, and while they’re mostly the same the focus is different. The vampires are quite separate from his daily life (except when he thinks about Gabe and the crush he had). But he’s still quite lonely. He has a hard time relating to people, especially those who don’t know his secret. But when staying in his best friend Joy’s apartment, he finally starts to learn about his gift and the wider world of witches and necromancy — all because of the hot guy next door (who might also be a serial killer) and the man’s cat, Murry.

This book is enjoyable for itself, even if you haven’t read Spirit Sanguine. But if you have read that book, then I think you’ll enjoy this one as well because in writing style they’re similar in many ways. Denton is really funny and just in the first chapter or so and especially with his interactions with the cat, I was totally hooked. I think that is what made the book enjoyable for me, mostly Denton’s interaction with his surroundings and with Bran. They make a really great pair, but the real joy of reading the book comes from Denton’s voice. That said, I think that you really have to enjoy that for the book to be a total winner for you. Because while I enjoyed their paranormal investigative efforts together I also felt like they were quiet small mysteries that didn’t go nearly as in depth as I would have wished. And that’s fine, because I know that their story isn’t finished and Lou has plans for more for this couple. But it does mean that I ended this book feeling less of a connection between the two than in many of Lou’s other books. On the other hand, that makes me even more excited for the sequel, because I’m interested in where this couple will go. And, of course, I love Denton 🙂

So I wholeheartedly recommend this one, just for the joy of reading it. It’s a fun book, and not long, so you can enjoy it in a day or one sitting when you need a little pick-me-up, a little humor and some really good writing. Now that I’ve read almost all of her backlist, I can see that Lou has written some of the best characters in the m/m romance genre. Perhaps its that I find my reading preferences and her writing style mesh really well, but I think that Denton highlights what I really love about Lou’s characters, which is that they’re smart, funny and perceptive. And that they always have a different and unique way of looking at the world. I can’t say more than that.

Dead Man and the Restless Spirits is available today at Amazon and ARe!


UnforgivingMinute[The]LGTitle: The Unforgiving Minute
Author: Sarah Granger
Publisher: Dreamspinner
Length: 72,925 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Tennis, Sports, Athletes, Closeted/Coming Out, Awesome Female Characters!, Past Injury/Trauma, Nasty Exes (and I mean nasty!), Famous, Paparazzi!, Around the World settings, Animals, Meet the Parents, Rich/Poor, HEA, Adorable!, Light & Sweet
Rating: Really Liked It!

BLURB

Ryan Betancourt has got it made: he’s reached the top tier of the tennis world thanks to a wild-card entry to the US Open. Ryan is meeting players he has idolized for years, including his teenage crush, Josh Andrews. But he isn’t ready for the politics and manipulation that come with life at the top.

Josh Andrews is closeted, private, and difficult to get to know. He’s been playing tennis since he could walk, won his first tournament at five, and was sent to Spain at thirteen to attend a tennis academy. Before a knee injury forced him into a year off, he was ranked the number one player in the world. Now he’s back—and intent on winning.

Josh and Ryan first meet at a tournament in Brisbane. Ryan excitedly greets Josh only to be ignored. Crushed, he realizes the golden boy of tennis isn’t all he seems. Only in the team-building environment of training for the Davis Cup does Josh open up enough for them to grow closer. Their developing relationship is everything Ryan ever wanted, and he is blissfully happy. But inevitably they have to play against each other, and everything changes.

REVIEW

Awwwwwwwwwww!

So that’s how I feel now, just having finished this. In the words of Fake Joy Behar Fred Armison, So What? Who Cares? This might not be the perfectly executed book, but it wins on more than one account, most importantly rating high on the Swoon Meter!

It took a late blooming start for Ryan Betancourt to play in the big leagues, against his childhood idols and masters of tennis, but in the past year something clicked for him. His maybe late but now meteoric rise from the Futures and Challengers tournaments won him a wild card place in the US Open, and his new more confident playing gave him the points the enter the top tier of international men’s singles and entrance into the most celebrated top tournaments worldwide. Sincerely optimistic without fault, Ryan starts the season in awe of the his new contemporaries, many who used to grace his teenage walls. One, more than any other, however, has always been his idol. Perfectly poised in tennis and life, Josh Andrews is the wunderkind of tennis on his comeback after a torn ACL and several year absence from the circuit. Meeting his inordinately beautiful and talented hero in real life… well, that’s a big disappointment.

Ryan’s personal life seems to progress with his success at the game, and the more time he spends as a part of the famous and elite players, the more he realizes he deserves to be among them. In correlation, his confidence in his own performance shines. It seems that everyone has undervalued him, but that’s only because his successful rise is climbing faster than their expectations. He soon finds that he has friends and a place among the top tennis world.

Ryan is eternally optimistic, but with that comes a tenacity and perseverance. When he still can’t get his mind off of Josh Andrews, even when everyone else seems to have a conflicting observation about the man, Ryan decides to speak to him himself. Soon after, their paths continue to cross and the two become friends. But what Ryan expected to find in Josh Andrews is rather different than what he finds — a conflicted, somewhat broken man only held together by the determination to win.

The biggest part of what made this book so satisfying was in the creation of Chase MItchell, the antagonist. Granger is pretty crafty in the trajectory of Mitch’s character, though I have to tell you that while I couldn’t have said just what direction the book ultimately took, I didn’t warm up to him at all. (Pardon me while I go off on a tangent you might not understand unless you’ve read the book!) When we first meet him he comes off with just the right amount of cultured charm, which (probably intentionally) slightly rubs the reader. He seems like the kind of guy with ulterior motives, but he’s handsome, charming and doesn’t really display any kind of negative behavior — at least to Ryan. It’s was also pretty clear to me that he had some secrets by his few mentions of Josh to Ryan and the fact that Ryan is never in the same room as both of them. By the time the story is set up to reveal the real Mitch, he goes from confidante and friend to Ryan yet coming betwixt the two of them to the absolutely perfect target and one of the reasons to bring Ryan and Josh together for a final time. And when you finally hear about all of his past deeds and crimes and realize just how despicable of a man he really is, then he’s the perfect antagonist, and a perfect opportunity for Josh to get his comeback. And through Josh, Ryan as well. (Okay, tangent over.)

What originally drew me to this book was the tennis aspect. I took tennis lessons from age 5 to 14 and was pretty good, actually. I never would have gone anywhere — I just don’t have the drive for it and I’m the least competitive person. I like to read about athletes that push themselves because that was never me. This definitely gave me what I wanted, but I was drawn into the story immediately by Ryan, who is an enigmatic narrator. He’s driven yes, but without many of the faults of exceedingly talented athletes — like ego, aggression and other stereotypical Type A behavior. And of course, he’s the underdog. We naturally want to cheer him on.

All I can really say is that analysis aside, this was just a really enjoyable book to read. Part of that is the action, which cut into the drama nicely. Also, that creation of such a satisfying antagonist in Mitch. There’s quite a bit of detail about tennis and some jargon about the game that some reader’s might not quite understand. I found the detail about the whole system much more intriguing, and though I know very little about the real life tennis world to compare, the story came off as authentically set in the real world and not an idealistic one. But mostly, it read like a novel masquerading as a novella, meaning that the reading experience passed by in no time because of my enjoyment of the story and becoming immersed in the characters. There’s no deep analysis of them or a really intricate plot in the narration, but instead a light tone and satisfying finish that made me a fan of Sarah Granger. Now, I need to go back and read her other story published earlier this year — The Long Road Home.


Grime&PunishmentTitle: Grime and Punishment
Author: ZA Maxfield
Publisher: Loose Id
Length: 49,773 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Sex to Story
Keywords/Tags: Past Trauma/Injury, Suicide, Nasty Exes, Nurses, Secrets & Lies, LA, Animals, Blood & Gore, Playful Sex, Closure, Grief, Death
Rating: Really Liked It!

BLURB

The Brothers Grime is Jack Masterson’s way of helping people in crisis after disability ends his career as a firefighter. Jack’s people get to a scene long after the physical trauma ends. They don’t solve crime or rescue the victims. They help people move on. The new job is all Jack wants or needs, until he gets the call about old flame Nick Foasberg’s suicide.

Ryan Halloran’s cousin Nick has been on a downhill slide for a long time. Despite that, Ryan does everything he knows to help. Ryan only understands part of what happened between Nick and Jack in high school, but after Nick’s suicide, Ryan agrees both he and Jack need closure. They work together to clean the scene and despite the situation, heat flares between them.

Jack is keeping a painful secret and fighting his attraction to Nick’s lookalike cousin, Ryan. Ryan calls himself a magnet for lost causes and worries Jack might be the next in a long line of losers. Despite his misgivings, despite the past and the mistakes they’ve both made, Jack gives Ryan something to look forward to, and Ryan gives Jack a reason to stop looking back, in Grime And Punishment.

REVIEW

Everyone give a Hell Yeah! for a new ZAM book!

ZA Maxfield is one of those unspoken authors that just naturally seems to go onto my Classic Great M/M Romance Authors list, and I think that this book is a good illustration of why she deserves that spot. I read a lot of likable m/m romances, but it takes a little something extra to sink into the story. The more of this genre that I’ve read I’ve realized how that has less to do with how much I like a plot, and more how the author extends the story into wordplay — one of the biggest reasons that I review a book first on it’s execution and only after on the author’s choices. The best books use prose like an extra limb, manipulating the reader’s emotions not by what they say but how they say it.

Grime and Punishment certainly isn’t original, but ZA Maxfield does do something pretty important that allowed me to get closer to the characters. They’re playful, both in words and jokes, and in intimacy. And humor and playfulness is important in this story to offset the angst. I’ve made the mistake in the past of leaping from angst to unpleasant and therefore bad for the story, but whether you’re an angst fan or not, angst is really only the angst we talk about when it’s overused. In a story such as this, where the characters are working through some pretty heavy emotions and dealing with some seriously unpleasant situations, angst is a natural factor. But, it was needed and balanced nicely with little moments of humor.

Equal parts romance and individual journey, “Grime” is the story of a man who shows up to clean the scene of a suicide to find that the man who killed himself is his first love. Jack is co-owner of The Brothers Grime, a crime scene cleanup company that sees the worst of people’s messes, as well as their lives. When Jack receives a call from old friend and fuck buddy Dave about a neighbor’s suicide, Jack is thrown headfirst into bad memories that he told himself he’d dealt with. Nick was Jack’s first love, and after a betrayal of the worst kind, Jack hasn’t seen the man. The last remnants of Nick Foasberg represent closure to Jack, but actually confronting the grisly remains brings up those ugly memories. But even worse than Nick’s teenage betrayal, Jack must face his own past: the teenaged boy that lost his idealism and Jack’s subsequent lack of progression into adulthood. Worst of all is confronting Ryan, Nick’s cousin and the man who was housing Nick and trying to help him get back on his feet. Also, the man who looks almost exactly like Nick.

A walking shadow of his past love is haunting to see, as is the man’s anger — at Nick, at Jack and at himself. A nurse and a beacon for lost causes, Jack is drawn in right away to the man’s familiar beauty and his need to shoulder the burden and face the scene himself. The two butt heads from the start, arguing (of all things) over their right to clean the scene themselves. It isn’t long before Ryan’s anger spills over onto Jack and Jack learns that Ryan doesn’t know the full story of Nick’s betrayal. But those aren’t Jack’s secrets to tell, especially a dead man’s who isn’t there to answer the accusations.

The best part of this story is Jack’s own journey toward enlightenment. The romance is sweet at times and poignant at others, but mostly only because of Jack’s slow realizations just what romance means to him. Jack is happy to be a hit a run type of guy before the past shows up to haunt him, but spending time with Ryan and bonding, again of all things, over their gruesome task of cleanup shows him the security in having a partner in life instead of only sex. But Nick’s treachery is insidious and the rest of Jack’s hasn’t a piece of cake either. The loss of his other great love, being a firefighter, comes with a major work-related injury. He’s floundering in a stagnate life, refusing to accept change. Despite the brief thunderstorms between them, Ryan is fresh air and sunshine in his life and the specter of Nick that has been telling him how love only brings pain slowly starts to drift away. Though I think that a point of view from Ryan could have added some much needed perspective a few times and I didn’t really like the manner in which Jack’s secrets come to light, I felt that for the most part ZAM made all the right choices here. Though the real charm of the story, for me, came with the several points of epiphany that Jack has as he allows himself to be open to change.

This is a relatively short novel, so there’s really no excuse not to pick this one up. For some reason it seems like I read somewhere that this was part of a series called The Brothers Grime, but I have no idea if that’s true or not. I’m not sure which characters would move the story forward if it were the start of a series, but I certainly wouldn’t complain. I’d never complain about getting a new book from ZA Maxfield 🙂 And this one was definitely satisfying!