Amateur Sleuthing When MURDER TAKES THE HIGH ROAD–A TBT Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a Throwback Thursday review for a contemporary M/M mystery from Josh Lanyon. MURDER TAKES THE HIGH ROAD is a standalone murder mystery with romantic elements featuring a librarian on a tour of Scotland who finds himself discovering more than adventure.

About the book:
A librarian finds himself in a plot right out of one of his favorite mystery novels…

Librarian Carter Matheson is determined to enjoy himself on a Scottish bus tour for fans of mystery author Dame Vanessa Rayburn. Sure, his ex, Trevor, will also be on the trip with his new boyfriend, leaving Carter to share a room with a stranger, but he can’t pass up a chance to meet his favorite author.

Carter’s roommate turns out to be John Knight, a figure as mysterious as any character from Vanessa’s books. His strange affect and nighttime wanderings make Carter suspicious. When a fellow traveler’s death sparks rumors of foul play, Carter is left wondering if there’s anyone on the tour he can trust.

Drawn into the intrigue, Carter searches for answers, trying to fend off his growing attraction toward John. As unexplained tragedies continue, the whole tour must face the fact that there may be a murderer in their midst—but who?

My Review:
Carter Matheson is a librarian on a mission to enjoy his first trip abroad–visiting sites in Scotland incorporated into the mystery-thrillers of his favorite author Vanessa Rayburn–even if he has to spend it with his ex, Trevor, and his ex’s new boyfriend. Carter considers this the trip of his lifetime, and the way the intrigue unfolds it might just be his last.

Carter is one of few uncoupled people on the tour, and due to the Trevor fiasco he’s sharing his room with an unknown man, John Knight, who is pithy and mysterious in his own right. Carter is nearly killed by a shove into traffic, and later his room is trashed, presumably by someone with a vendetta. Thing is, the mischief maker must be someone on the tour, because who else would be perfectly positioned to strike? It’s a busload of middle-aged mystery buffs, so everyone had a theory, and they aren’t all that quiet about sharing them. Plus, Trevor’s really laying it on trying to work a jealousy angle–or maybe win Carter back. Carter’s confused, and not just about his relationships. He’s got an eye on John, whose behavior isn’t bordering odd–it’s downright fishy at times. But, Carter’s also a bit attracted to the man, and he’s not sure if John’s staging all the trouble, or the target of it.

I loved the way Carter thinks, and analyzes the situations. He’s not super intrepid, but he does strive for logic, which is a departure from some of his tour mates. He’s quick to see through Trevor’s shenanigans and note the idiosyncrasies of the people he meets in his travel party. He and John become allies of a sort, and they do connect in that bump and grind way without a whole lot of preamble. This is more of a mystery than a romance, and there’s just enough of a flavor for these guys to add a further complication. I liked how there was more than one set of nefarious activities happening and that put Carter and John at cross purposes, at least for a little while. The descriptions of the Scottish countryside, travels and manor homes are just intriguing enough to tempt a would-be traveler. The end is super fast paced, with Carter figuring out the big murder mystery and John being in the right place at the right time to make the ending happy. For strangers on a European tour, the resolution provides a glimmer that these guys have more than a vacation fling. Fun, engaging, fast-paced and with lots of blind ends and hair pin curves, I really liked this one.

Interested? You can find MURDER TAKES THE HIGH ROAD on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Josh Lanyon is the author of over sixty titles of classic Male/Male fiction featuring twisty mystery, kickass adventure and unapologetic man-on-man romance.

Her work has been translated into eleven languages. The FBI thriller Fair Game was the first male/male title to be published by Harlequin Mondadori, the largest romance publisher in Italy. Stranger on the Shore (Harper Collins Italia) was the first M/M title to be published in print. In 2016 Fatal Shadows placed #5 in Japan’s annual Boy Love novel list (the first and only title by a foreign author to place). The Adrien English Series was awarded All Time Favorite Male Male Couple in the 2nd Annual contest held by the 20,000+ Goodreads M/M Group. Josh is an Eppie Award winner, a four-time Lambda Literary Award finalist (twice for Gay Mystery), an Edgar nominee and the first ever recipient of the Goodreads Favorite M/M Author Lifetime Achievement award.

Josh is married and lives in Southern California. Catch up with Josh’s new on her website, Facebook or twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Reconstructing a Love START TO FINISH–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m excited to share a review and giveaway for a newly released M/M mystery romance from Pamela A. Williams. START TO FINISH is the first book in the Ian Start mysteries and I really liked how it developed.

Scroll down for an excerpt and to enter the $10 GC giveaway.
About the book:
Ian Start is an art professor and poet, living and teaching in Providence, Rhode Island. After suffering an infection in his leg that left him disfigured and traumatized, he’s been struggling to regain his emotional balance and find his voice again in his poetry.

It doesn’t help when one of his students is murdered, and he’s implicated. The chemistry is still there between Ian and Jake, who is his ex and the investigator, but being a suspect presents a barrier to their reunion.

Furthermore, Ian’s injury left a massive scar, both physically and emotionally. He is not convinced anyone else should have to live with his disfigurement and his nightmares.

How about a little taste?

As I hobbled to the door, I could see, through the leaded glass, a stout Black man in a dated tweed blazer. He was staring intently at my approach, which made me wish that I was dressed in more than a robe and flannel pajama bottoms. Opening the door, I saw that there was a second man, a few steps down, looking out toward the street. “Professor Ian Start?” said the man in front of me.

“Yes?” I said, tearing my gaze away from the familiar pale ginger head.

“I’m Detective Henry Ransom from the Providence Police Department. May we have a few minutes of your time?” At that point, the tawny head turned, and it was, as I knew it would be, Jake. Right on cue, Ransom said, “This is Detective Jake Quinn.” Our eyes met and held. In the moment, I was delighted to see him. But in my moment of pleasure, I could see wariness and warning in his eyes, a slight shake of his head that clearly said don’t acknowledge. I immediately assumed there were some gay identity issues at play and kept my trap shut. Everyone knew I was gay, but I was well aware of guilt by association.

“Yes, of course, come in. We were just having coffee. Can I get you a cup?” Ever the perfect host, eh? With no small amount of trepidation, I led them to the kitchen where Rita was sitting at my little table. It looks out over a small terracotta-tiled patio with a wildflower garden beyond, looking bleak and dead in the frigid morning with black stems and flower heads that hadn’t been tended to before the winter frosts.

“Yeah, coffee would be good,” said Detective Ransom. I raised my eyebrows at Jake, who merely nodded. I knew he took it black but inquired of both anyway. Rita introduced herself, and they all shook hands. I didn’t get a handshake. I began to feel very nervous. My knuckles started to prickle.

Rita rents my street-level apartment. Short and trim, with crazy hair from an indeterminate ethnic background, she’s my closest friend even if she is a social worker. I had an overload of social workers during the time I was in the hospital, all telling me how fucked up I was going to be when I got out. After that, I swore off them permanently, but Rita was the exception. Despite our connection, Rita was a little bit of an enigma; quiet as a whisper, I never heard music or a loud voice from her apartment, so it was hard to tell if she was home or not, and I never knew if she had company because she apparently didn’t keep regular hours. But every Sunday morning without fail she’d be at my back door with croissants and hot chocolate and dressed in tight stretchy sportswear, perfectly comfortable with me in pajama bottoms and my faded silk robe. And that’s how a Sunday morning found us, the second of January, a sunny, cold winter day, when we heard the knock at the front door.

“I’m going to head back downstairs, Ian. If you need anything, just call.” And then she was gone. Cops can do that: clear a room instantly.

I poured two cups from the carafe and retrieved a carton of milk from the refrigerator for Ransom, letting him pour. “What’s going on?” I asked.

Ransom spoke. Jake didn’t say a word. “You are acquainted with a Thomas Wilson.” Statement, not a question.

“He was a student of mine, yes.” The answer to the nonquestion.

“Was?” Ransom asked, a hint of a challenge in the tone.

“Yes,” I said warily. “He’s taken his last drawing class. I teach drawing.”

“When was the last time you saw him?” Again Ransom. Christ. This was bad. I was going to hear that Thomas was missing. Missing or hurt, or…no, not going there. My stomach roiled a little.

“What’s going on?” I asked again. And in nearly a whisper. “What kind of detectives are you? Missing persons?” Yeah, like there are missing persons detectives. I was hoping for the best out of the only other option.

“Homicide,” said Ransom. I sat down hard on the nearest chair. Ransom then asked again, “When was the last time you saw Thomas Wilson?”

No, I do not want to hear what’s coming. “The last day of class. Um, the twelfth, I guess. He helped me load portfolios into my car. Are you telling me Thomas is dead?” Jake nodded but said nothing. “Are you sure? Sure it was Thomas? What happened? When?” They were wrong, had the wrong kid, were talking to the wrong instructor. I stared uncomprehendingly at Ransom. I couldn’t meet Jake’s eyes at all. I felt helpless. My knuckles began to itch, and I distractedly scratched at them.

My Review:
Ian Start is an artist and writer working as an adjunct professor at RISD–Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, RI. He’s independently wealthy, no thanks to a huge lawsuit payout he got after an injury at a chain restaurant turned into a flesh-eating disease he barely survived. Prior to the infection he had an on-again off-again relationship with a sexy paralegal in NYC, but that guy disappeared during Ian’s recovery, which was prolonged and agonizing. He has deep tissue loss and scars in his thigh making his former passion of running impossible. Ian has also lost contact with his mother since the injury–she had a hard time handling the aesthetics of it.

One of Ian’s students, a young gay man call Thomas, has been murdered, and Ian has been clumsily implicated as a person of interest. It seems that Thomas, whom Ian knew well as a student, was turning tricks to pay his expenses at school since his family had disowned him in his teens. The news is shocking to Ian, who would have gladly helped out Thomas if he had known. Ian is also unsettled that one of the lead investigators of the murder is Det. Jake Quinn, a man Ian dated heavily in one of his off-times from his NYC beau. The broke up badly, and Ian still has feelings for Jake, but he’s too mired in his own self-disgust over the state of his leg–and how he hobbles on a cane now instead of being the virile man of his pre-infection days.

Ian is determined to do right by Thomas, even in death and pays to bury him, collects his personal drawings before they are trashed by the landlord’s cleaning crew and generally makes it clear to Jake that he won’t rest until Thomas’ murderer is found. Ian is initially a suspect, but the original leads turned out to be planted, and Ian’s sure that the case is growing cold. All his poking is aggravating the situation, however, and Ian finds himself not only threatened, but attacked in his own home. Jake is steadfast in his feelings that Ian should stay out of it–but he’s also warming to reopening their closed love story , if Ian’s up for it. There’s a good deal of soul searching in this slow burn mystery-romance. Ian is an interesting character, and he sees patterns and symmetry where others may not. He’s afraid to hope that Jake might become a partner to him, because he feels so unlovable, and that vulnerability is really poignant. It doesn’t help that Jake has some complications, an old lover who wants to rekindle things might beat Ian to the finish line there. Ian does solve the mystery, but it’s not a triumphant experience with as much tragedy that occurs in the climax.

I loved how Ian rediscovers himself in the course of the few months of this story’s timeline. He’s been depressed for so long, and he has to battle his inner doubts over and over to make things right for Thomas, and between himself and Jake. There is a happy ending, on the romance front. The mystery, as I mentioned, gets solved with a maximum of carnage, and that was more dramatic than I had truly anticipated. The book is quiet, with such lyrical prose I was one hundred percent in the head and experiences of Ian from the beginning. I really liked the story and wonder how Ian will continue to solve mysteries now that he and Jake are coupled up.

Interested? You can find START TO FINISH on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter link for your chance to win a $10 NineStar Press GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Pamela A. Williams is a Clinical Social Worker living and working on the Southcoast of Massachusetts. She is the daughter John E. Williams, winner of the 1973 National Book Award for Augustus. She has always had writing in her blood but has only lately found the serenity and confidence to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, if you will).

Ms. Williams comes from a widely varied background. She’s worked in manufacturing, retail, graphic arts and the mental health field. She tries to bring these experiences to her writing to create well rounded, believable characters. And she remains forever honored and grateful to her clients who have shared their personal stories and broadened her view of humanity. She is awed by their resilience and trust.

She lives with two cats, of course.

Catch up with Pamela on her website, Facebook, and twitter.

Dark Side of THE BRIGHT LANDS–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary LGBTQ story for new-to-me author John Fram. THE BRIGHT LANDS pulls an out gay man back to his conservative east Texas hometown in search of his teen brother, the star quarterback of the high schoo who’s recently gone missing.

About the book:
The town of Bentley holds two things dear: its football, and its secrets. But when star quarterback Dylan Whitley goes missing, an unremitting fear grips this remote corner of Texas.

Joel Whitley was shamed out of conservative Bentley ten years ago, and while he’s finally made a life for himself as a gay man in New York, his younger brother’s disappearance soon brings him back to a place he thought he’d escaped for good. Meanwhile, Sheriff’s Deputy Starsha Clark stayed in Bentley; Joel’s return brings back painful memories—not to mention questions—about her own missing brother. And in the high school hallways, Dylan’s friends begin to suspect that their classmates know far more than they’re telling the police. Together, these unlikely allies will stir up secrets their town has long tried to ignore, drawing the attention of dangerous men who will stop at nothing to see that their crimes stay buried.

But no one is quite prepared to face the darkness that’s begun to haunt their nightmares, whispering about a place long thought to be nothing but an urban legend: an empty night, a flicker of light on the horizon—The Bright Lands.

My Review:
Okay, when I picked up this story, it DIDN’T sound like anything paranormal or supernatural was going to happen from the blurb. That is NOT the case, y’all.

Joel Whitley escaped Bentley, Texas right after high school and he’s hardly looked back–not for his mama or his younger half-brother, Dylan. They chat on the phone and stuff, but Joel hates that place, where he was pretty much attacked for being gay, and ohoto evidence of his “depravity” was circulated widely. But, a weird phone call from Dylan rouses Joel from his free-wheeling, occasionally substance-fueled life in Manhattan. And, it gets Joel on a plane to figure out what might be wrong.

In that space, Joel senses the darkness of the town and is frustrated by the lack of assistance when it turns out that Dylan is missing in action, a “fishing trip” to the coast being a ruse for way more dangerous activities. The team seems to have a pact set to confound and confuse any investigations, but the behavior of some of Dylan’s teammates is nothing short of bizarre–if not possessed. Joel’s old friend Starsha, who happens to be a Sheriff’s Deputy is interested in getting to the bottom of this mystery, and her professional duty is rivaled by personal interest–her own brother disappeared in much the same way as Dylan years before.

I will be honest and say this book was not my cuppa. There were a LOT of points-of-view and their points of intersection did not always overlap. That, and the supernatural element was slow to develop, so I couldn’t tell if the heebie-jeebies Joel was sensing were just his own misapprehension, or something “other”. I do not want to spoil wants happening in the story, but I will say that I felt the actual situation in the story seemed to vilify homosexual behavior. That giving in to those “base” urges led to feeding the malevolence that has been growing in influence and power for decades. I get that this is a thriller, but the resolution ended up being violent and unsatisfying for me–again because there was so much negativity that was tied into what was seen by the characters as deviant behavior. Dylan’s story does not end well, and Joel takes it badly–which I did understand. He was sad for his brother and felt guilty for not helping out more. And the whole thing ended sadly and negatively for my understanding.

For people who like horror, thrillers and supernatural reads, this might be the right story for you. Just, do not expect a happy ending.

Interested? You can find THE BRIGHT LANDS on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:
John Fram is a lapsed Texan and debut author of the supernatural thriller THE BRIGHT LANDS, due out in July 2020 from Hanover Square Press. Josh Malerman, author of Bird Box, describes it as “absolutely enthralling,” Christopher Golden calls it “compelling as hell,” and Edmund White (the one and only) calls it “Gothic, Faulkernian…and very, very sexy.” He’s just grateful a childhood spent playing video games and sweating in tall grass resulted in something worthwhile.

An accidental Manhattanite, he spends his free time practicing yoga, sweating on stationary bikes and gasping in movie theaters. He writes, meditates and reads every day, in that order. Follow his Instagram to see screenshots from old movies and excited posts about whatever book he’s currently loving. Follow my Twitter because apparently we still need one of those. And go to my website, where you can sign up for a monthly newsletter about old movies and exciting books, some of which he’s written.

Catch up to John on his website, Instagram, and Twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Necessary Upheaval for THE ASSISTANT–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M contemporary romance from John Tristan. THE ASSISTANT features a down-on-his-luck veteran of Hawaiian descent making life simultaneously more comfortable and more difficult for his new boss, a wealthy trans-man with fibromyalgia.

Scroll down for an excerpt, and to enter the giveaway for a $10 GC.
About the book:
Burned out ex-soldier Nick Kurosawa has drifted from job to job since he lost his family in a car crash. Lately, he’s been working on and off as a bouncer, barely managing to cover his bills; an opportunity for steady, well-paying work is just what he needs to get his life back in order.

Jacob Umber, a secretive philanthropist, gives him that opportunity. Umber has fibromyalgia and needs a personal assistant to help him with the tasks of daily living—someone strong, adaptable, and, most of all, willing to let Umber take the lead.

It seems a perfect opportunity for Nick. More than anything, he craves guidance and a purpose, and Umber gives him that in spades. When Nick starts craving more, it seems an impossible complication, but even the reserved Umber can’t deny Nick’s talent—and need—for following his orders. But Umber’s shadowy past holds secrets that could undo their fragile new relationship and any hope Nick has of a normal life.

How about a little taste?

It was a clear autumn night, with the moon low and yellow above the city. Between its fullness and the lights, only a few stars could be made out, pinpoints in the raw black silk of the night. Nick stood with his fists balled above the man breathing hard in the gutter. A trickle of spilled beer ran into his hair, foaming like shampoo. He smelled sour, of sweat and fear.

“Jesus, man!” The man’s companion—a skinny young guy with a circular Band-Aid over one eye, like a discount pirate—crouched beside him. “Somebody call an ambulance! Call the cops!”

“By all means,” Nick said. He forced himself to take a step back, unclench his fists. “Let’s call the cops and tell them the whole story.”

Discount Pirate slit his eye at him and helped his companion to his feet. The man was dazed but seemed unhurt. Still—he could easily have a concussion.

Nick hesitated. “Maybe we should call an ambulance—”

“Forget it,” the man said thickly and spat into the gutter. In the neon and moonlight, the blood in his mouth looked black. His eyes met Nick’s, and this was the worst part: they understood each other perfectly. He’d wanted to start a fight, and Nick had taken the bait. Another night, it would have fallen out differently.

“Let’s get out of here,” Discount Pirate said, putting a proprietary arm around his companion’s waist and dragging him off into the darkness.

Nick let out a shaky breath. The street was empty, now; if he was lucky, this wouldn’t get back to Merritt, who owned the Hellhole. He hadn’t hired Nick to start fights but to stop them as gently as possible—de-escalation, not macho bullshit. The Hellhole was the only gay bar in Westerley, which meant it drew both the occasional snickering asshole and its share of ex-boyfriend drama. Merrick wouldn’t thank him for bad publicity.

“Jesus, Nick.”

Fuck. This was the last thing he needed. He turned toward the familiar voice. “Hey, Alex.”

Alexander Finn—his friend, once-upon-a-time fuck-buddy, and self-appointed social worker—had come up out of the Hellhole at just the wrong time. Sweat was still beaded on his pale forehead, cooling rapidly in the night air. “What happened?”

“Didn’t know you were down here tonight,” Nick said, affecting a breezy tone. “Must have been here before my shift started.”

Alex rolled his eyes. “I know you’re not jealous, so you’re trying to deflect. What happened?” He took out his cigarette case—silver, engraved—and popped one into his bow-lipped mouth, then offered one to Nick.

He reached for it, then hesitated. “Haven’t smoked in months.”

Alex gave him a skeptical look. “Come on.”

“Vaping doesn’t count.”

He laughed softly. “I’ll give you that one.” He snapped the case closed and tucked it away. “Talk.”

“I don’t know.” Nick ran his hands through his hair. “The guy just. Got under my skin. It’s like he knew how to push my buttons.”

“You’re not supposed to have buttons while you’re on the door.”

“Fuck you. Give me a cigarette.”

He did; they smoked together in the neon-lit dark.

“This job…” Alex chewed on his thoughts for a moment. “It’s not good for you. This isn’t the first time you’ve let someone…push your buttons.”

Alex was right—he’d never let himself take it this far before, but there were more than a few times over the last few weeks when a sneer or a snicker or a muttered insult had gotten under his skin and launched him right in someone’s face, teeth bared, eyes glittering. His fuse frayed shorter every week he was out here. He took a long, slow draw from the cigarette and laughed bitterly. “Well. I still need the rent paid.”

“How long until your shift is over?”

Nick grinned sideways at Alex. “Why, you want to take me home?”

He sighed and shook his head, but it had raised a smile. “Just think you could do with a good night’s sleep. After that…” Alex hesitated a moment. “Can you take the next few days off?”

“I’m not back on shift until Monday evening.”

Alex nodded and took a card out of his pocket—his business card, Nick recognized—and then fished out a pen. “Turn around,” he said.

Nick did. Alex leaned on him, using his back as a desk to write on. He could feel the scratch of the pen through his shirt.

When Alex was done, he handed him the card. Nick frowned at it. There was an address on it, a place in the financial district, and a name: Jacob Umber. “What’s this?”

“Someone—someone I know is looking to hire. I thought…well, you already have a job, and I had someone else lined up, but—”

“You always have someone lined up for something, don’t you?” There was a slight edge of bitterness to Nick’s words. Alex networked—he always had a side hustle lined up for someone, for the washouts and burnouts, the ex-cops and ex-military, the bikers and drifters he seemed to draw into his orbit. His type: like Nick. “Is this meant to be charity? Because you can pass it on to one of your other tricks. I don’t need it.”

“Call it what you will. And you’re not a trick, Nicholas.” Alex leaned in to kiss him on the cheek, chastely. “You’re my friend.”

Nick swallowed a sudden lump in his throat and stuffed the card in the back pocket of his jeans. “Yeah, all right, fine. There’s no number on the card—am I meant to just show up?”

“I wrote hours on there,” Alex said. “Nine to three. Weekdays.”

“Right.”

“Nick…” He seemed to be struggling with his words. “This isn’t a guaranteed job. I can get you a way in, but you’ll have to impress.”

“Come on, Alex.” Nick flashed a smile. “Don’t you think I can pull out the stops when I need to?”

He laughed and shook his head. “I know you can. Good luck, Nick.”

“Thanks. No, really…thank you.”

He nodded and left him on the empty street. Nick took his vape out of his pocket and sucked down a nicotine cloud; he noticed his hands were shaking. There was a subtle ache in his knuckles, where they’d collided with the man’s cheekbone. He felt a tiredness deeper than exhaustion, something like lead in his bones, and on top of that, a thin hot skin of queasy arousal. He didn’t know if he wanted to sleep for a year or get fucked up against the wall of the nearest alley. Well, he told himself, right now it’s going to be neither. He smoked until his hands stopped shaking and then waited for the sky to lighten—for his shift to be over—so he could go home.

My Review:
Nick Kurosawa is a former army man, trying to maintain his cool despite his inner trauma. He still suffers the loss of his family, even though it’s been several years. He is working as a bouncer at a gay bar, and is bored to tears–and also struggling to make sure he doesn’t get too physical with the troublemakers he encounters.

Nick’s friend and some-time sexual partner Alex recommends making contact with Mr. Jacob Umber, a wealthy curiosity shop owner who needs a personal assistant. Mr. Umber is older, but not elderly. Fastidious and formal, it’s the fibromyalgia that’s slowing this feisty transman down. Nick, who hasn’t had any real spark with a sexual partner in a while, is slowly finding an inordinate attraction to Mr. Umber’s commanding nature and uncanny sense of knowing. It’s clear early on that Mr. Umber has secrets buried in his past, and astute Nick isn’t even surprised when an FBI agent comes a-knocking.

The mystery of Mr. Umber is tantalizing, and his commanding presence moves easily from the workspace to the bedroom–once these lonely men find their way through some difficult but frank discussions. Nick is reticent to ask for his needs to be met, and Jacob needs to pry these stipulations from Nick before he will engage. Their affair might be short-lived, however, if the FBI won’t back down.

This story is quiet, yet enthralling. It had the hallmarks of a good suspense thriller, without all the gore. I really enjoyed how things unfolded, with Nick being the faithful attendant and Jacob his one true connection to fading humanity, for a bit. There is some conflict, naturally, but it is the kind that really pushes the MC–Nick–to grow in new and exciting ways. It was good to see Nick’s life change for the better when he learns to live without the hangups of depression by seeking proper treatment for perhaps the first time in his life. Though he’s unsettled by the situation with Jacob, he’s one hundred percent invested in sticking by his man. The end has a nice little twist, and it’s a definite HEA situation, but again in a quiet way. There are some sexytimes in the story but they are mild and mostly more about the domination that Nick craves than hot and heavy moments.

Interested? You can find THE ASSISTANT on Goodreads, NineStar Press, and Amazon.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $10 NineStar Press GC.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
John Tristan is a multinational gay nerd, currently living in Manchester, UK. When he’s not writing, he works in the voluntary sector; when he’s not doing either, he’s probably playing video games or tabletop RPGs. After his mother banned books at the table during mealtimes, he read the backs of sauce bottles. His stories are sometimes romantic, sometimes erotic, often speculative, and always queer.

You can catch up with John on his website and twitter.

Friends Band Together THE RIDDLES OF MULBERRY ISLAND–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today, I’m sharing a review for a new YA historical mystery with LGBTQ romantic elements from new-to-me author Huston Piner. THE RIDDLES OF MULBERRY ISLAND features a teen with two good friends who help him figure out the eerie lights and strange sights on abandoned Mulberry Island.

Scroll down for your chance to win a $10 GC, catch the excerpt and pick up a copy for yourself.
About the book:
While out fishing one bright summer day, fifteen-year-old Tommy Oakley is startled to spy what appears to be a giant fish surfacing in the inlet near Mulberry Island. Confused and a little fearful, he returns to Bayside, the tiny village where he lives, and recruits Wendy to help him solve the mystery.

A few nights later, Tommy goes camping with his best friend John, and they’re alarmed to see ghostly lights floating above the water and movement inside the island’s abandoned mansion.

Everyone in Bayside knows the island is uninhabited, but they also think it’s haunted, so Tommy and John are more than ready to stay away. But the strong-willed Wendy convinces the reluctant boys to investigate the source of the lights, thereby setting in motion a harrowing adventure that has them dodging bullets and running for their lives, all the while struggling to sort out their conflicted feelings for one another.

One thing is certain—if they survive the summer at all, things will never be the same between them again.

How about a little taste?

The Great Bird and the Big Fish
Summer 1952

Tommy Oakley dashed through the woods, stumbling over roots and ducking low-hanging branches. He knew they might get in trouble snooping around Mulberry Island, but he hadn’t bargained on this. Now all he could do was hope he was going in the right direction and that John and Wendy would be ready to sail as soon as he got there.

He swerved around thorny bushes and jumped over spiny brambles, gulping air, desperate to get away from his pursuer. It wasn’t easy. For every branch he ducked or squeezed past, two or more scratched him and tore at his sweat-drenched clothes. And all the while, his pursuer’s cursing and stumbling grew louder behind him. Somehow, the man was getting closer.

He’s still gaining on me? Doesn’t he ever get tired?

A glimpse of marsh confirmed Tommy was going in the right direction and would soon get to the safety of the boat. The thorny bushes were giving way to more open ground, and he was finding it easier to run in a straight line. But that also meant the man chasing him would find it easier too.

Up ahead, he spotted the area where they had hidden the dinghy. Just a little more and he’d get away. Panting, he tried to find the strength for a final burst of speed.

Bang!

The shot seemed to echo all around him.

Tommy gasped and froze in his tracks, listening, as fear of capture gave way to a more deadly alarm.

From somewhere came the loud click of a rifle being cocked.

As if fired from a gun himself, Tommy took off running in a complete panic.

The second bang was so loud it was deafening.

Then the whole world fell silent.

Tommy fell to the ground.

A branch gashed into his forehead, and he collapsed onto a bed of fallen leaves.

Blood oozed from his wounds.

He saw a fading image of the great bird.

And then darkness took him.

*

One month earlier

Tommy was sitting in his boat on a beautiful sunny afternoon, the handle of his pole loosely resting in his hand, his mind wandering. It was the first time his father had ever allowed him to go out fishing by himself.

As various thoughts crept across his mind, he happened to glance up, and there it was, soaring on the edge of the heavens.

The great bird stretched its wings and floated in wide swirling spirals. As Tommy watched it, a light breeze floated over him. The briny air filled his lungs, and he sighed, pushing sandy brown locks out of his eyes.

It had been a perfect day.

Well, almost perfect. He’d wanted it to be special, one to remember—and normally, he would have invited his friends John Webster and Wendy Harris to come along. The trouble was, lately, John and Wendy always seemed to be getting on each other’s nerves. And if Tommy only invited one of them, it would hurt the other one’s feelings. So, he’d snuck out by himself and spent the whole day fishing and thinking while the hours drifted by like the water all around him.

He glanced at his watch. It was four thirty.

“Keep an eye on the time,” his father had said.

“You be sure to get home early for supper,” his mother had added.

They always treated him like a child.

He looked up again at the great bird.

Probably on the prowl for a rat or fish or something.

He imagined having wings and sailing through the air. He’d soar and dive across the sky like he did underwater when he was swimming. He’d float up high like the great bird. He’d be free.

He smiled at the thought. Then, as he lowered his gaze, something caught his eye. It emerged in the inlet between Mulberry Island and the peninsula.

Tommy blinked and leaned forward, squinting into the distance. It looked like some kind of fish, but it was huge—it had to be for him to see it from all the way out in the middle of the bay.

For a moment, it sat there, and then, in the same unexpected way it had surfaced, the giant fish made a slow descent, vanishing below the surface.

Wow. That was incredible! But what was it—a whale? It would be very odd if it was. They never came this far inside the sound. And this fish had a large dorsal fin that looked more like some kind of weird top hat than a fin. He’d never heard of a whale that looked like that.

It was so strange, and all the more so because of where it was. But then again, everything strange seemed to be connected to Mulberry Island somehow.

“They’ll never believe it.” They never do anyway.

Tommy’s parents never took him seriously. His teacher said he had a “vivid imagination.” But as far as his family—and most of the people in Bayside, the tiny village where they lived—were concerned, he was either absentminded or just plain dumb.

It’s not fair. Mom and Pop treat me like a child.

It was like this boat. It had been a thirteenth birthday present, but he’d never even been allowed to use it on his own before today.

“Come on, Pop,” he’d pleaded over a year ago. “It’s embarrassing. I’m almost fourteen. It’s been nearly a year since you gave me the thing. I mean, why even call it mine?” Here he was begging for permission to do something his friends had been allowed to do for at least a year, if not longer.

“What a joke,” he had muttered under his breath.

“Yeah, Pop,” his brother Jacob had said. “Give the kid a break. He’ll be okay.”

Tommy would have been grateful for the moral support, but then Jacob had tousled his hair and added, “Won’t you, little guy?”

It was something Tommy positively despised. At twenty years old, Jacob wasn’t a bad guy, and he often sided with Tommy. But he had the uncanny knack of treating him like a silly but lovable little puppy, which irritated him to no end.

But it didn’t matter anyway. In the Oakley house, a “no” was a “no.” His fourteenth birthday came and went, the school year started, and winter passed into spring. Finally, it was the beginning of his last summer before high school and tenth grade. He had just turned fifteen.

They were all listening to the radio, and the news had just finished with a report about President Eisenhower’s remarks on the war in Korea. Tommy took the opportunity to ask his father one more time, only to be told no yet again, and he had despaired of ever being treated like anything more than a child.

Then, last night, his father had surprised him and said if he wanted, he could go out in his boat without adult supervision in the morning. At first, Tommy had thought he was joking, but his father assured him he was serious.

Of course, there had been a few “ifs” to go along with this bestowal of generosity: He could go if the weather was promising, if he made sure to return before suppertime, and if his mother didn’t need him for chores. That last “if” was almost a deal breaker. Tommy’s mother was famous for making up excuses to keep him under her wing—something the other boys at school often teased him about.

But somehow, he’d managed to get away. And despite not having John and Wendy with him, it had been the best day of his life.

And then he’d seen that big fish.

My Review:
It’s the summer of 1952 and Tommy Oakley is 15, preparing to enter the 10th grade at a big-ish high school. He’s best friends with John Webster who is also 15. They live in Bayside, what sounded like a coastal Virginia (my guess, because it’s never stated) community which has few residents and fewer opportunities. Most of Bayside’s residents are fishermen, and life had been prosperous back when the Mulberry’s ran the fishery, but they closed it down long ago and only their Great House remains. Wendy Harris is also a resident of Bayside, though she’s a year older and already in the high school. Wendy likes Tommy and John likes Tommy and Tommy’s tired of their bickering.

Tommy got a boat for his 13th birthday, but his parents didn’t trust him to captain it until this summer, when he turned 15. He’s out in the boat alone, fishing and sailing, when he sees what appears to be a giant fish in the inlet between abandoned Mulberry Island and the peninsula on which Bayside sits. He knows John and Wendy won’t believe him, but he confesses his vision to them. Wendy wants to explore, to see if there is anything to it. She’s clearly smitten with Tommy, and he’s a bit shy of her advances.

Tommy and John plan a sail and a camp-out to go shrimping, and they see lights in the Great House–and they know it wasn’t the caretaker, old Mr. Hess, because he shows up later. Who’s in the mansion? And, does this have anything to do with the giant fish? John doesn’t want to investigate, because he’s afraid it will lead to trouble and get Tommy hurt. And, there is no one in the world that John cares for more than Tommy. (I’m going to pause here and mention that John is regularly beaten and emotionally abused by his father, and his mother doesn’t speak up about it because she’d likely be beaten in his stead.)

This is a mystery and adventure with just a little bit of romance. Tommy and Wendy and John make a quarrelsome triad in friendship, but there seems to be a connection between Tommy and John that John is beginning to explore. With the elements of danger, and the riskiness of the situations, John is the bold one, taking deeper risks to ensure Tommy’s safety–because he feels like Tommy is the only person in his life who truly cares for him.

I can honestly say this is an engaging, and thoughtful YA LGBTQ read. The bad guys are not immediately apparent and the stakes get ever higher as the action plays out. We have mercenaries, and insane men planning insane plots, and a hurricane blowing in. Tommy and company don’t know who to trust, but Wendy is ever-forceful in asserting what their trio should do–and how to do it. This causes conflict with John, who wants to back out completely, but he won’t leave Tommy to fend for himself. In the end, there are some unlikely heroes and some really spectacular fireworks–which thankfully take out the bad guys’ big plans. I liked the pacing, and the storytelling, and was especially grateful to see how the fathers of Bayside finally do what’s right and ensure John has a loving home and the care he deserves.

The blurb didn’t prepare me for either the slightly historical setting, or the descriptions of physical abuse and overt emotional/verbal abuse John suffers. His connection to Tommy is what eventually saves him. Tommy’s father won’t stand for Mr. Webster’s abuse of his John–or Tommy–when slurs get flung. Beyond this, the adventure and mystery are engaging, as are the glimpses of physical love between Tommy and John.

Interested? You can find THE RIDDLES OF MULBERRY ISLAND on Goodreads, NineStar Press Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on the Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $10 GC to NineStar Press. Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Huston Piner always wanted to be a writer but realized from an early age that learning to read would have to take precedence. A voracious reader, he loves nothing more than a well-told story, a glass of red, and music playing in the background. His writings focus on ordinary gay teenagers and young adults struggling with their orientation in the face of cultural prejudice and the evolving influence of LGBTQA+ rights on society. He and his partner live in a house ruled by three domineering cats in the mid-Atlantic region.

Catch up with Huston on his website Facebook and twitter.

Nearly Ruined by the SECRET AT SKULL HOUSE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M cozy mystery from Josh Lanyon. SECRET AT SKULL HOUSE is the second book in the Secrets and Scrabble series, and I couldn’t wait to read it! Like MURDER AT PIRATE’S COVE, Ellery Page, bumbling bookseller and outsider in a small town is caught is another tough situation when his former lover goes missing and Ellerys’s the prime suspect. I’ve also enjoyed MAINLY BY MOONLIGHT and I BURIED A WITCH if you’re interested in magical realism M/M odd-couple romance from this author.

About the book:
Ellery Page is back–and in hot water again!

Unlike everyone else in Pirate’s Cove, Ellery Page, aspiring screenwriter, reigning Scrabble champion, and occasionally clueless owner of the village’s only mystery bookstore, is anything but thrilled when famed horror author Brandon Abbott announces he’s purchased legendary Skull House and plans to live there permanently.

Ellery and Brandon have history. Their relationship ended badly and the last thing Ellery wants is a chance to patch things up–especially when his relationship with Police Chief Jack Carson is just getting interesting. But then, maybe Brandon isn’t all that interested in getting back together either, because he seems a lot more interested in asking questions about the bloodstained past of his new home than discussing a possible future with Ellery. What is Brandon really up to?

Ellery will have to unscramble that particular puzzle post haste. Because after his former flame disappears following their loud and public argument, Ellery seems to be Police Chief Carson’s first–and only–suspect.

My Review:
Screenwriter Ellery Page is finally settling into Pirate’s Cove, and maybe making headway with Police Chief Jack Carson. The scare of the murder that happened in his own bookshop, Crow’s Nest, is perhaps behind him. Maybe. But, now he has a new nemesis in town: his old college lover and renown horror writer, Brandon Abbott. Brandon has purchased the Skull House, a famed pirate domicile with a history of violence and murder. Twenty years ago, a local man was murdered there, and the prime suspect disappeared.

The townsfolk of Pirate’s Cove have been super tight-lipped over that unsolved crime, and Brandon’s appearance has everyone on edge. Brandon’s horror fiction usually pulls true crime and mixes it with the supernatural. Still, those old wounds run deep, and it’s not long before Brandon goes missing. And, Ellery is the number one suspect…again. They had planned to meet that night, and Ellery even drove out to Skull House to investigate–though Chief Carson made a stop there, too, at Ellery’s request.

Ellery’s character keeps getting smeared through the local paper, and bigger news agencies are taking note. Ellery is sure that Brandon was sniffing after that unsolved murder, and when the spotlight falls on Ellery he isn’t happy for the scrutiny. This mystery is filled with characters–from the ‘dear gramps mayor’ trying to silence the investigation, to the Ellery’s bookshop employee–who publicly vows Brandon will sincerely regret buying Skull House. I thoroughly enjoyed Ellery’s sheer mortification when the Skalliwags theater troupe puts on a staging of one of his “serious” plays–and it garners rave reviews as a comedy! Oh, Ellery is the guy who never wins, no matter how hard he tries. Determined to clear his name, Ellery usually ends up in worse trouble. Still, his self-deprecation and hubris is touching. Expect Ellery and Chief Carson to explore options and make waves in this sleepy town. I like how things are progressing regarding Ellery deepening his acquaintance with Chief Carson, even if we do not have any definitive growth in the romance area. Fingers crossed they find love, because Ellery really deserves it after all the crap he’s endured.

I flew through this story, much like the first book in this series, and I recommend it to fans of cozy mysteries, especially those starring LGBTQ characters.

Interested? You can find SECRET AT SKULL HOUSE on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Josh Lanyon is the author of over sixty titles of classic Male/Male fiction featuring twisty mystery, kickass adventure and unapologetic man-on-man romance.

Her work has been translated into eleven languages. The FBI thriller Fair Game was the first male/male title to be published by Harlequin Mondadori, the largest romance publisher in Italy. Stranger on the Shore (Harper Collins Italia) was the first M/M title to be published in print. In 2016 Fatal Shadows placed #5 in Japan’s annual Boy Love novel list (the first and only title by a foreign author to place). The Adrien English Series was awarded All Time Favorite Male Male Couple in the 2nd Annual contest held by the 20,000+ Goodreads M/M Group. Josh is an Eppie Award winner, a four-time Lambda Literary Award finalist (twice for Gay Mystery), an Edgar nominee and the first ever recipient of the Goodreads Favorite M/M Author Lifetime Achievement award.

Josh is married and lives in Southern California. Catch up with Josh’s new on her website, Facebook or twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Reputations at Risk A ROYAL KISS AND TELL–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a brand new royal historical romance from Julia London. A ROYAL KISS & TELL is the second book in the A Royal Wedding series and I was excited to read on in the series. Catch my review for THE PRINCESS PLAN to get a sense for that engaging story. A ROYAL KISS & TELL surely puts its characters into tough situations. Prince Leopold’s reputation is ruined trying to save sexual slaves from England’s finest lords–and Caroline’s both the instigator and the fixer for Leo’s cause.

About the book:
Every prince has his secrets. And she’s determined to unravel his…
Every dashing young man in London’s ton is vying for Lady Caroline Hawke’s hand—except one. Handsome, delectable roué Prince Leopold of Alucia can’t quite remember who Caroline is, and the insult is not to be tolerated. So, Caroline does what any clever, resourceful lady of means would do to make sure a prince remembers her: sees that amusingly risqué morsels about Leo’s reputation are printed in a ladies’ gossip gazette…all the while secretly setting her cap for the rakish royal.

Someone has been painting Leo as a blackguard, but who? Socially, it could ruin him. More important, it jeopardizes his investigation into a contemptible scheme that reaches the highest levels of government in London. Now, Leo needs Lady Caroline’s help to regain access to society. But this charming prince is about to discover that enlisting the deceptively sweet and sexy Lady Caroline might just cost him his heart, his soul and both their reputations…

My Review:
This is the second book in a historical romance series, and can be enjoyed as a standalone.

Lady Caroline Hawke is in Alucia enjoying the celebrations of her dearest friend Eliza Tricklebank marrying her love, Crown Prince Sebastian of Alucia. Caroline is a celebrated English lady, invited to the poshest of salons and all the right balls. She lives with her brother and guardian, Beckett, who is a duke. Caroline takes great offense to the notion that Prince Seb’s younger brother Prince Leopold does not remember making their acquaintance–and she makes an official nuisance of herself in the courts of Alucia acting far too familiar and breaking all the rules of protocol. Leo, if he did find her attractive, is thoroughly turned off by her boorish breaks in decorum.

Leo, himself, is a man of little accomplishment. He’s spent years in England attending Cambridge and drinking his days away. As the “spare,” his father doesn’t bother educating in matters of state, he’s led an indulgent life. There are some intigues of the Alucian court–especially with concerns over its bordering nation Wesloria and the possibility for conflict–but Leo has had very little interest in any of this–and even less had been shared with him regarding the politics of the situation. Still, he’s inexplicably approached by an Alucian insurgent who tells him that Weslorian girls are being sold into sexual slavery in London to gain favors for those who seek to stage a coup de etat against Leo’s father, King Karl and unite Alucia and Wesloria under Karl’s younger half-brother’s rule. King Karl, seeking to unite factions in his favor, has just announced that Leo is betrothed to the daughter of a wealthy Weslorian industrialist–who has been implicated by his informant to be a cog in the sexual slave network. Leo has the summer to return to London, find five missing Weslorian slave girls, and potential stop his marriage to a girl who makes no secret of preferring the captain of her guard.

Leo and Caroline return to London, and their paths continue to intersect, not the least because Leo and Beckett have become fast friends. Leo steps in when Caroline is deeply ill, assisting Beckett get a doctor and bringing tokens to cheer brother and sister. Part of his attentiveness stems from the fact that the contact his informant gave is a maid in Beckett’s London home. And, when Caroline thinks she sees Leo messing about with their maid, well, she does let the rumor out to her friend, Hollis, Eliza’s sister and the editor of Honeycutt’s Gazette for Fashionable Ladies–a gossip rag that starts spreading Leo’s less-than-genteel exploits in the homes of esteemed Lords–who have themselves a Weslorian slave Leo hopes to return home.

Everyone in London thinks Prince Leo a depraved and degenerate man, helped along by all the gossip of Caroline’s friends, and his social status dries on the vine. Invitations are rescinded and he has no way of finding the remaining girls. Caroline is desolate because her heart had definitely turned toward the prince since his help with her sickness. She regrets her gossiping, and can’t understand why Leo would cavort with maids and prostitutes when he has plenty of access to quality women. When agents of the Crown turn up on Caroline’s door, she finally demands that Leo–who has indeed become a friend in these times–tell her the truth of his shenanigans. And, that turns the tide–getting Caroline in board with the rescue effort. The romance, which had been simmering begins a slow boil. It’s a long time before Caroline and Prince Leo admit their love, and even longer before they do more than kiss.

The story really revolves around the intrigue of English, Alucian and Weslorian courts. The romance is slow to develop and adversarial from the outset. Both Leo and Caroline have a lot of soul-searching to complete to turn them from vapid caricatures of the upper echelons into richer, complex characters. They do this work, first Leo and then Caroline, and the compassionate and passionate people they become are people I enjoyed reading about. If you enjoy historical romances, and royalty romances, this might be a book for your list.

Interested? You can find A ROYAL KISS & TELL on Goodreads, Harlequin Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books and Kobo. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

And don’t forget to check out THE PRINCESS PLAN on Goodreads, Harlequin Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books and Kobo.

About the Author:
Julia London is the New York Times and USA Today best selling author of more than two dozen romantic fiction novels. She is the author of the popular historical romance series, the Cabot Sisters, including The Trouble with Honor, The Devil Takes a Bride, and The Scoundrel and the Debutante. She is also the author of several contemporary romances, including Homecoming Ranch, Return to Homecoming Ranch, and The Perfect Homecoming.

Julia is the recipient of the RT Bookclub Award for Best Historical Romance and a six-time finalist for the prestigious RITA award for excellence in romantic fiction.

Catch up with Julia on her website, twitter and Facebook.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Positively Scandalous THE PRINCESS PLAN–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a royal historical romance from Julia London. THE PRINCESS PLAN is the first book in the A Royal Wedding series and was a fun and entertaining romp.

About the book:
Princes have pomp and glory—not crushes on commoners.
Nothing gets the tongues of London’s high society wagging like a good scandal. And when the personal secretary of the visiting Prince Sebastian of Alucia is found murdered, it’s all anyone can talk about, including Eliza Tricklebank. Her unapologetic gossip gazette has benefited from an anonymous tip about the crime, prompting Sebastian to take an interest in playing detective—and an even greater interest in Eliza.

With a trade deal on the line and mounting pressure to secure a noble bride, there’s nothing more salacious than a prince dallying with a commoner. Sebastian finds Eliza’s contrary manner as frustrating as it is seductive, but they’ll have to work together if they’re going to catch the culprit. And when things heat up behind closed doors, it’s the prince who’ll have to decide what comes first—his country or his heart.

My Review:
At age 28, Eliza Tricklebank is the eldest and spinster daughter of an honorable justice of the Queen’s Bench in Her Majesty’s Service in the year of our Lord 1845. Her father is a doting man, and rather dependent on Eliza to read his missives to him as he’s nearly blind. Eliza’s younger sister Hollis is widowed, and publishes her late husband’s broadsheet rechristened from a political magazine into Honeycutt’s Gazette of Fashion and Domesticity for Ladies, which is an upscale gossip rag. Connections to some higher society folk brings plenty of tidbits for the paper, but none so much as Eliza manages to stumble into.

While at a masquerade ball in honor of Crown Prince Sebastian of Alucia, Eliza encounters his highness in a service corridor. She is well on her way to drunk on rum punch–her first time ever tasting it–and offers the parched man beside her a taste of her drink. He thinks she’s offering up more than that–and she’s slightly offended, but not so much. He’s just a tall, foreign masked man in the moment and it’s not until later that she’s stepped on by Sebastian making his getaway that she realizes who’d attempted to seduce her in that hall.

Her scandalous accounting to Hollis is nothing compared to the big news the next morning: the personal secretary of the prince was MURDERED that night! Sebastian is frustrated that the English law enforcement can’t help him find the killer, and he thinks (with good reason) he’s a huge target for assassins from a neighboring country working in London. Sebastian, who is in London to establish trade treaties and find an advantageous English wife, remembers the odd and brash woman who introduced her own self at the ball the night of the murder. Clues in Honeycutt’s Gazette point him to Judge Tricklebank to whom he immediately goes in search of answers. There he finds Eliza, who will not stand for his rude and upsetting behavior–which he’s only more incensed about. Sebastian is not a man who hears “no” very often, and his ire at being upbraided on his manners soon tempers into an inexplicable attraction for Eliza. Her quick wit, fearlessness, and hidden beauty are enough to tempt him, but when she goes beyond all reason and expectation to help Sebastian discover the killer, and the traitors in his midst, he’s in a full-out swoon.

Only, Sebastian, for all his power, can’t marry any woman he fancies; he must marry a titled lady, something Eliza lacks. That said, he’s not a lazy man, and his ability to see a plan to its end might just catch the woman of his dreams–a princess fit to lead beside him.

This is a fun romp with some dangerous twists and scandalous curves. Eliza isn’t a fair maiden, and she’s not looking for a rescue. Sebastian is a man in need of help, and he’s not going to get it by throwing his weight around. London is not his domain, and for all his power he’s utterly helpless in his pursuit of justice. The recurrent theme of not underestimating the fairer sex really drives this home as Eliza continually challenges Sebastian and rises above his expectations. She’s a fun character, with a low filter and a BS meter set a zero. I loved the banter and the flirtations, which build from the first meeting. The vignettes from the Gazette serve as interludes of humor and plot motion, filling in gaps in a quick and snappy way–continually poking fun at the sexist and classist notions of the era. Though set in 1850s London, the sensibility is clearly American Individualist as Eliza flouts conventions of society time and again, in ways that would be 100% boorish in another character. She’s educated and intelligent and unwilling to give up her independence, which is a hindrance to the period romance.

This isn’t a chaste story, but it’s not super steamy. Expect a slow burn and a ton of sass. Eliza may not want to be a married woman, but she doesn’t mind making use of Sebastian’s athletic body and sexual frustration. In their quest for truth, Eliza eventually accepts that she’s falling hard for Sebastian, and she’ll be sad to see him marry a pretty, vapid heiress with the right social connections.

Good thing that’s not how it ends! I really enjoyed it, and look forward to the sequel coming out later this month.

Interested? You can find THE PRINCESS PLAN on Goodreads, Harlequin Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Julia London is the New York Times and USA Today best selling author of more than two dozen romantic fiction novels. She is the author of the popular historical romance series, the Cabot Sisters, including The Trouble with Honor, The Devil Takes a Bride, and The Scoundrel and the Debutante. She is also the author of several contemporary romances, including Homecoming Ranch, Return to Homecoming Ranch, and The Perfect Homecoming.

Julia is the recipient of the RT Bookclub Award for Best Historical Romance and a six-time finalist for the prestigious RITA award for excellence in romantic fiction.

Catch up with Julia on her website, twitter and Facebook.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Terrifying Visions: THIRD EYE–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m so excited to share a review and giveaway for a M/M realistic surpernatural thriller with a dash of romance from mega-writer Rick R. Reed. THIRD EYE features a single dad whose unexpected head injury brings unwanted insight into grisy crimes in his Pennsylvania small-town. I have read and reviewed a bunch of Rick R. Reed titles for Joyfully Jay, so I jumped at the chance to share a review here.

Scroll down to catch my review and enter the $10 Amazon GC giveaway below!
About the book:
Who knew that a summer thunderstorm and a lost little boy would conspire to change single dad Cayce D’Amico’s life in an instant? With Luke missing, Cayce ventures into the woods near their house to find his son, only to have lightning strike a tree near him, sending a branch down on his head. When he awakens the next day in the hospital, he discovers he has been blessed or cursed—he isn’t sure which—with psychic ability. Along with unfathomable glimpses into the lives of those around him, he’s getting visions of a missing teenage girl.

When a second girl disappears soon after the first, Cayce realizes his visions are leading him to their grisly fates. Cayce wants to help, but no one believes him. The police are suspicious. The press wants to exploit him. And the girls’ parents have mixed feelings about the young man with the “third eye.”

Cayce turns to local reporter Dave Newton and, while searching for clues to the string of disappearances and possible murders, a spark ignites between them. Little do they know that nearby, another couple—dark and murderous—are plotting more crimes and wondering how to silence the man who knows too much about them.

How about a little taste?

She was only thirteen. It wasn’t fair she now lay, bound, waiting for death. Before, there had been struggling: clawing and fighting, scratching their faces, pulling at their hair, batting at whatever part she could reach. Her breath had come in choking spasms, adrenaline pumping, burning, anteing up the hysteria so much she thought her air would be blocked. Then had come the dread that made her lose most of her fight, when her terror-addled brain had begun to accept her fate was to die here, in this tiny, hot room, with the only witness to her demise the sparkling eyes of her killers and the maddening, crooked whirl of a ceiling fan long past its prime and wobbling, doing nothing more than blowing the overheated, moist air around the room. The dread had risen up, a nausea twisting her gut and making her afraid she would vomit. And then had come the numbness, a dull tingling throughout her body that precluded movement, stripping her of coherent thought.

They stood above her. Faces she had trusted, faces she had seen before, around her neighborhood. The man she and her friends had had a crush on. He used to drive by her little house on Ohio Street in his old red Mustang, looking the picture of youth, confidence, masculinity. His hair was dark, cut bristle-brush short, and his face always clean-shaven. Thin lips bordered rows of perfect white teeth, and when he had smiled at her, only hours ago, she had lit up. A tingling had started in her toes and had worked its way up until the color rose to her cheeks. At her young age, the interest of a man in his twenties was inconceivable, although it had been something she had hoped for since the first day she had seen him, back at the onset of summer, when the sun had turned white-hot, burning up the grass and making illusory waves rise from the hot, cracked sidewalks.

He had pulled to the curb and sat there, car idling. She sat in the front yard, sorting through Barbie clothes: ball gowns and swimming suits, miniskirts and stretch pants. He didn’t say anything, not right away. She had looked at him once, then looked away, certain his interest could never be in her. Suddenly she felt ridiculous with her metal trunk, her Barbie dolls, and all the outfits she had once been so proud to collect. Swiftly, she returned the clothes to their case and slammed it shut.

She leaned back, resting on her palms, and lifted her face to the sun. Its heat beat down relentlessly, making the skin on her face feel tight.

She felt his eyes on her still. She opened her own eyes a crack and regarded him peripherally. He really was looking at her! The adorable little smile that caused a dimple to rise in his right cheek deepened in the sun’s play of shadow and light. She leaned back more, left hand reaching out to surreptitiously move the Barbie trunk farther away. In this posture, here on the withered and brown grass, she felt that her breasts, little more than two tiny bumps an unkind boy at school had once referred to as her anthills, looked larger. She could be eighteen, couldn’t she? With the right makeup and her hair pulled up….

But now her long blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail, clipped with a pink plastic barrette. She wore a pair of cutoff shorts and an oversized South Park T-shirt belonging to her older brother. He would have killed her had he known she was wearing it. But he was away at the Y’s summer camp and would never know the difference.

The idling of the car was like an animal purring.

And then the sun disappeared, and she sat in darkness. Beneath her closed lids, she sensed someone standing over her.

Why hadn’t she heard the slam of the car door? Her eyelids fluttered, but she did not open them. It would be just like her mother to come outside now and stand above her, hands on hips, and ask her what she thought she was doing.

“Lucy?”

Finally, she opened her eyes and blinked at the brightness of the August day. He was smiling. So unlike the other guys in Fawcettville, he was dressed in pressed black slacks and a collarless white shirt, buttoned to his neck.

“How did you know my name?”

“Oh, I make it my business to know the names of all the pretty young ladies around here.”

Lucy felt the heat rise to her face once more. She grinned and could not think of a single word to say.

“Playing Barbie?”

She shoved the case farther away, until it was completely out of her grasp. The case lay in the white heat, glinting, looking, she hoped, as if it had nothing to do with her.

“What? Oh…no, no. These are my little sister’s. She always makes such a mess of things, and I was just organizing for her.”

“What a good sister.”

“Yeah, well…”

The two said nothing for a while, and Lucy began to grow uncomfortable under his gaze. She shifted her long, tanned legs in front of her, crossing them at the ankle.

“I was driving by and saw you sitting there, and I had to tell you”—he hunkered down beside her—“what a lovely sight you are. It made me stop just to have a better look.”

She laughed and thought she sounded way too much like the thirteen-year-old she was. “Thank you,” she whispered, wondering where her voice had gone.

“No, thank you, for being here, for making the heat of this day a little more pleasant.”

Oh, stop! she wanted to cry out but whispered again, “Thank you.”

He leaned closer, enough for her to feel his breath near her ear. In spite of the day’s heat, his nearness caused gooseflesh to rise on her arms, her spine to tingle.

“Listen.” He glanced around the empty street with eyes like none she had ever seen: green, ringed with thick black lashes. And in his gaze was a conspiracy that included only the two of them. “My car has air-conditioning. I know this is out of the blue and all, but I wondered if you’d like to go for a ride with me.”

Lucy glanced back at her house. She wished suddenly she lived in a bigger house, in a better neighborhood. Here on this modest residential street close to the river, her small white clapboard house was surrounded by other houses very much like it, some of them covered in rusting aluminum siding. She pictured her mother inside, on a vinyl-covered kitchen chair, watching All My Children on a thirteen-inch portable TV on the Formica-topped kitchen table. Her mother, she knew, would never approve of what was transpiring here, right in her front yard.

He stood suddenly. “Okay, okay. I get the message.”

“Wait.” She sat up straighter. A pickup rumbled by and left in its wake a smell of exhaust and a rush of hot air.

He turned. “What? Need to get your mom’s permission?”

“Of course not!” Her voice came out higher than she would have liked, the whiny protest of a child. She stood. “I’d like to come with you. But I can’t stay out too long.” She was about to say “My mom will be worried” but realized how immature that would sound. “I’ve got some people I have to meet in a little while.”

He smiled. And the smile erased any nervousness she had about going with him. After all, she had seen him around the neighborhood dozens of times. He wasn’t exactly a stranger, not really.

“That’s fine, Lucy. I’ll have you back within an hour. I promise. I certainly wouldn’t want to get off on the wrong foot with you.” He winked, and she followed him to the waiting car.

My Review:
Cayce D’Amico is a mid-20s out gay man in a Fawcettville, Pennsylvania raising his son Luke. It’s a tiny town deteriorating in the wake of most of the industry drying up. In this community there aren’t any real dangers except kids falling into the swift moving Ohio River and drowning. One afternoon, while Cayce is making dinner, Luke wanders out of the yard. In fear of a coming storm, Cayce combs the neighborhood looking for the boy. And, in the woods near the edge of the street, Cayce is hit in the head by a branch when a sudden bolt of lightning strikes.

About the same time, two young and beautiful people are convincing 13 y/o Lucy to step off her front lawn into their Mustang in the same neighborhood. Lucy doesn’t make it home.

Waking in the hospital, Cayce is mystified by the insights he gets off the people in direct contact with him. And, when he is handed a newspaper that features his own accident also describes mission Lucy. The dread builds within as Cayce reads the story and “sees” poor Lucy in her last moments with her killers. He’s terrified and horrified when the visions don’t quit. Especially when a second Fawcettville girl goes missing.

This is a realistic thriller with the paranormal angle of Cayce’s newly-developed third sight. He clings to local reporter Dave Newton. Dave is an older man who’s faced his own demons and mostly has his head on right. The story point of view flips between many characters as we learn the grisly details even through the eyes of one of the killers. Cayce’s attempts to get rid of his visions lead his to confide in local law enforcement, Dave Newton and the victim’s families. For all his earnestness, he’s not taken seriously and he decides to keep his mouth shut. Until Lucy’s desperate mother pleads for a break in their case.

Cayce’s assistance shines a spotlight on his abilities and puts this the killers on his trail.

It’s an interesting and timely thriller, with good pacing and fully fleshed-out characters. We see the dark and seedy interior of Fawcettville families on the edge. We see the not-so-silent prejudice of Cayce’s own mother–who doesn’t think he’s a good father to Luke. Cayce, for his part, is a devoted dad and a lonely man. He doesn’t have a lot of folks in his corner, but he’s going to turn over Heaven and Earth when Luke becomes a target. Luckily, Dave Newton is right there by his side. I was turning the pages as fast as I could, so I would finish this story before bedtime. I HAD to finish this before bed because I couldn’t bear to try and sleep while the dark horror of the prose was rattling around in my brain. There was a tiny niggle for me regarding the timeline, where I thought there was some disconnect. Other than that, I was riveted. There is a dash of romance–attraction that’s fueled by the intense moments of shared terror. Dave accepts Cayce’s new gift as it is, and tries to be a helper to him in his hours of need.

There are real gruesome bits, and it’s not all about the murders and dead bodies. Cayce does save the day for some folks, and the epilogue makes it clear that there is a happily ever after for Cayce and Dave. As a person who doesn’t deal well with horror/thriller well, I am glad to say I slept well after the read.

Interested? You can find THIRD EYE on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and Kobo.

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Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Real Men. True Love.

Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at http://www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

Catch up with Rick on his website, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

The Intrigue Commences I BURIED A WITCH–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M paranormal romance from Josh Lanyon. I BURIED A WITCH is the second book in her Bedknobs and Broomsticks series, and follows the travails of Cosmo Saville, a non-practicing witch who needs his magic to save himself from certain death…but doing so risks his new marriage to a magic-hating human. For the meet-cute love story, you’ll want to read MAINLY BY MOONLIGHT, first.

About the book:
Something old, something new, something borrowed…something blacker than the darkest night.

Cosmo Saville adores his new husband, but his little white lies—and some very black magic—are about to bring his fairytale romance to an end. Someone is killing San Francisco’s spellcasters—and the only person Cosmo can turn to—the man who so recently swore to love and cherish him—isn’t taking his phone calls.

The only magic Police Commissioner John Joseph Galbraith believes in is true love. Discovering he’s married to a witch—a witch with something alarmingly like magical powers—is nearly as bad as discovering the man he loved tricked and deceived him. John shoulders the pain of betrayal and packs his bags. But when he learns Cosmo is in the crosshairs of a mysterious and murderous plot, he knows he must do everything in in his mortal power to protect him.

Till Death do them Part. With their relationship on the rocks, Cosmo and Commissioner Galbraith join forces to uncover the shadowy figure behind the deadly conspiracy…

Can the star-crossed couple bring down a killer before the dark threat extinguishes true love’s flame?

I Buried a Witch is the second book in the smart and sexy Bedknobs and Broomsticks romantic gay mystery trilogy. If you like endearing characters, spell-binding conflict, and spooky, good fun, then you’ll love Josh Lanyon’s tale of a blue knight and his slightly wicked witch.

My Review:
Even though he hasn’t practiced his magic in a couple of years Cosmo Saville is a powerful witch. Duc of Westlands and second behind his mother in the succession line to the Abracadantes craft tradition, Cosmo’s just not that into all the traditions. It’s easier for him to blend into the non-magic world if he doesn’t use his magic for everyday tasks, and he’s mostly successful with the exception of portal traveling–that’s just plain practical magic, so he can avoid traffic and what-not. Cosmo owns an antique shop in San Francisco and he recently discovered a grisly murder of a competitor in his field. Cosmo was under suspicion, but his relationship with the San Francisco police commissioner–John Galbraith who is now his newlywed husband–halted the inquisition. Plus, the mad wife of the deceased tried to kill Cosmo at his wedding. So, she got locked up.

And Cosmo’s rather sure she’s innocent…of murdering her husband, in any case.

Trying to get John and his colleagues to see his points, however, are driving a wedge between Cosmo and John. And, John’s already cooling off when he learns that Cosmo is a bona fide witch. Did he ensorcel John? Because John’s very much against witchcraft in all it’s forms. His half-sister Jinx “pretends” to be into the craft, and John indulges her “fancy” but the more Cosmo digs into that relationship, it seems that a witch acquaintance of Jinx’s might have information about the uncanny disappearances of several witches in the Bay area.

Unwilling to let go of his suspicions, Cosmo digs deeper into his own magical heritage. He’s been warned against marrying a mortal, so he should know better than to expect one to stick around when the magic hits the fire, but Cosmo really loves John and is deeply heartbroken when John takes some steps back. Is Cosmo’s investigation bringing the killer closer sealing his own fate, or setting fire to the only good relationship he’s ever had?

I loved the story telling here, and how John’s police instincts help him understand Cosmo’s craft abilities. The intertwining of the families, and friends, that is only just beginning for this new couple is fraught with extra complications of historical witch hunters and a murderer who is clearly still at work. I really liked the way Cosmo sticks to his guns regarding who he truly is, and how John takes the necessary time to reconcile himself to the situation. There are a few scenes of martial bliss to balance the strife that awaits. In the end, I’m pretty sure John will fall even harder for Cosmo, because who couldn’t, really.

The big conflict is coming, now that we know who’s on the hunt for witches. And Cosmo’s family has been shattered just enough to create extra havoc. With John and Jinx in the mix, plus some of Cosmo’s dearest witch friends gone missing the tension is high. I’m really looking forward to the final installment.

Interested? You can find MAINLY BY MOONLIGHT on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple Books. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Josh Lanyon is the author of over sixty titles of classic Male/Male fiction featuring twisty mystery, kickass adventure and unapologetic man-on-man romance.

Her work has been translated into eleven languages. The FBI thriller Fair Game was the first male/male title to be published by Harlequin Mondadori, the largest romance publisher in Italy. Stranger on the Shore (Harper Collins Italia) was the first M/M title to be published in print. In 2016 Fatal Shadows placed #5 in Japan’s annual Boy Love novel list (the first and only title by a foreign author to place). The Adrien English Series was awarded All Time Favorite Male Male Couple in the 2nd Annual contest held by the 20,000+ Goodreads M/M Group. Josh is an Eppie Award winner, a four-time Lambda Literary Award finalist (twice for Gay Mystery), an Edgar nominee and the first ever recipient of the Goodreads Favorite M/M Author Lifetime Achievement award.

Josh is married and lives in Southern California. Catch up with Josh’s new on her website, Facebook or twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!