Lenni Reviews: "Wounded Pride" by Remmy Duchene and B.L. Morticia

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated 18+

Brian Daystar is celebrating the opening of his youth center for at-risk kids but notices a considerable lack of support from his country music star boyfriend, Corey. When Corey finally bothers to call Brian, he's drunk and not alone. Deciding to end it, Brian takes a vacation to New York to face Corey while staying with Renford Kline; a retired attorney considering becoming a law professor. Brian is attracted to Renford but Ren's experience with men has never gone beyond college experimenting. Both are attracted but Brian's past traumas and Ren's reluctance to get feelings involved may keep them from the happily ever after they have been wishing for.

First off? Ren, 39 isn't 'old man' territory. I could see if he was pushing 55 (seeing as he's retiring) but, no.

This is one of those romances where you think there would be more time spent on building the relationship between the main pair before they hop into bed but nope. Not really a criticism on my part; just saying the writing and tone made me expect that. As is, the flaw in this standard romance cycle is I feel some of the character elements could have been explored more; like Brian's pretty dark past and Redford's previous attraction to women. It doesn't make the book bad at all. In fact, I find it sweet and the smutty bits are written well. But those deep personal issues could have used more attention. A fun romp even if I was left a bit wanting; 3.7 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "More Things in Heaven and Earth" by Paul Comeau

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated 18+

Danny Crawford's religious father decided to stop him from being gay by dumping the boy into conversion therapy. Desperate to escape the abuse in his home at the hands of his homophobic father, Danny is willing to die. While in the hospital recovering from his botched suicide attempt, his plight moves Damien; a vampire pretending to be a priest in order to feed on terminal patients. Damien decides to take the boy in but Danny's father is determined to fix the 'embarrassment' that is his son.

I had such high hopes for this given the premise but my overall impression is that of reading a textbook. The POV will switch, the prose seems to talk AT you, and the whole thing comes off as a methodical checklist of what a gay paranormal romance is supposed to contain without the heart other stories have. Damien switches back and forth between contemporary vampire and old world vampire in his language and that knocked me right out of the book. I couldn't get fully immersed.

This book feels like a missed opportunity. It could have been a really touching, beautiful story that brought up the very real horrors of conversion therapy but I feel like I got a particularly detailed wiki entry. It isn't even very smutty as the sex scenes are all fade to black. I have to give this a 2 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Cross My Heart" by Catt Ford

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated for 18+

Daniel Hunter sees Lana Renault pass him in the streets and is immediately smitten by this beautiful, elegant, and classy Parisian woman. But Lana is Roland Reynolds; who feels more comfortable living as Lana and wearing women's clothing without judgment. Having had painful and violent reactions in the past, Lana has resigned herself to a life of loneliness. Daniel's gentle and romantic pursuit of her is very tempting but Lana is terrified of how Daniel may react to the truth.

This book reminds me of those old black and white romance movies with some deliciously smutty bits thrown in. At times it does fall into the trap of being too perfect but this is a book for hopeless romantics who believe in happily ever after - which I am not. But, with Ford's writing, I almost believe it. Starting off a bit slow but touching my heart, I give this book a 3.7 out of 5. 

Lenni Reviews: "Better with Bacon" by Matthew Lang

*This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated for 18+

David, Patrick, and Li Ling have been a trio for years; with Patrick and Li Ling dating since high school. Two weeks before Valentine's Day, Li Ling dumps Patrick and ends up in David's bed. But Li Ling calls the next morning and she's pregnant. Assuming Patrick will go back to her, David takes a job assignment out of town to drown his sorrows in work and random hookups. Will these friends turned lovers come together or is all hope lost?

What's great about this book is having a collection of decent people. It is such a trope to have randomly bitchy or manipulative people in order to make the main characters look even better but here, the characters act SO rational, I almost didn't believe it at times. I think I have gotten too used to massive irrationality in my love stories...

It's also great to see a more multicultural cast. More stories need more non-white characters.

Now, I will freely admit I requested this title to review because, bacon. Bacon is amazing. So, my biggest gripe is that bacon wasn't shamelessly crammed into the plot as much as possible. But that's just because I'm silly. Other than that, my only other gripe is how some characters are too rational in some areas and not rational enough in others. David runs off without talking to Patrick AT ALL. He could have waited 10-20 minutes but then again, the rest of the book wouldn't have happened.

All in all, this was a cute read! I enjoyed it and give it a 3.5 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "The Haunting of Timber Manor" by F. E. Feeley Jr.

*This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated for 18+.

Daniel Donnelly has sadly lost his parents in a terrible accident. He gets a phone call from his estranged aunt who tells him he is now heir to a fortune and a house called Timber Manor. On the way there, Daniel has to pull over in a huge storm and Sherriff Hale Davis - a native of the town near Timber Manor - helps him out. But the manor holds a dark and powerful secret that puts Daniel's life in great peril

While Daniel and Hale make a good couple and you're rooting for them, the novel makes a great ghost story. The tone is perfect for curling up in a blanket and reading this on a stormy night.It was good to have the story switch perspectives to get everyone's thoughts on what's happening but I feel the supernatural story development had more care put to it than the romantic development. Daniel and Hale have that insta-love thing going on that will bug you if that's an aspect of romances that bug you.

And can Francine get a spin-off series!? PLEASE!!

Giving this a 3.7 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Jackass Flats" by Julia Talbot

*This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated for 18+

Tate is a 30 something cowboy who believes the best days of his life are behind him.He spends his nights getting hammered in bars and one night a young soldier named Dave helps Tate bumble back to his apartment. The two become close and form a relationship but Dave's military life poses a threat to their relationship.

Mild spoilers so skip this paragraph if you wanna avoid them but around 30% in, sudden gay married friend is sudden! I mean, geez what an asshole...

Anyway, other than the out of nowhere dickweed friend, the story felt well paced and very realistic. Dave and Tate take things slow at Tate's request and the patient way they come together is refreshing to see. Their chemistry goes beyond a 'hookup-turned- relationship,' their feelings come through the pages. Yes, of course there are some steamy scenes but just having Tate and Dave interact with each other left me with a happy feeling when the story was done and I wouldn't mind reading more in this series or by this author. 3.9 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Whiskey Business" by Avon Gale

*This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated for 18+.

In order to get his hometown some much-needed money, Ryder Waites is selling his family's whiskey recipe to a company named Bluegrass Bourbon. To seal the deal, he has to convince a hard-assed representative from the company; Adam Keller. Keller is out to prove he can get by on his own merits and not rely on his rich family's money and reputation. As the stuffy Adam audits the distillery, their attraction grows. But Adam doesn't want to get attached as this is supposed to be a quick business trip and nothing more.

At 17% I had snorted laughter out loud at the sentence "That sort of dislike-to-lovers thing only happened in Harry/Draco fanfic." I have read way more of those than I care to admit before I grew out of that to... Well, books like these.

The story generally follows that formula, though. Couple meets, instant attraction, hot smexy times, misunderstanding, reunion and resolution. What sets this story apart is the setting. The town of Gallows Grove feels like the real star here with its fun residents and pun laden business names. The writing gives this place real heart and makes it come alive around our two very likable leads. A perfectly serviceable romance with a fun setting, I give this a 4 out of 5. 

Lenni Reviews: "A Kind of Honesty" by Lane Hayes

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated for 18+

Tim Chalmers is a drummer for an up and coming band named Spiral. The stress of his new fame and recent tabloid fodder breakup with a supermodel sends him to a dive bar for what he thinks is a one night stand. Turns out the man; Carter Hamilton-Temple, is a friend of a friend and Tim runs into him at a birthday party. As one night turns into three then four, both men find themselves wanting more but the stress of Tim's fame and Carter's painful past dealings with bisexual men keep them from taking the next step.

First the good stuff. The writing starts off strong and sets a great scene. Despite it being from Tim's perspective, you can glean a lot of what Carter's feelings are just from Tim's observations; as they are detailed and well written. Tim is just the right amount of sassy and Carter has this reserved strength and power that makes him likable and fun.

The "bad" stuff. The band is TOO good. Dropping little bombs like breaking The Beatles records felt kinda silly; like Bella being the most beautiful girl in the world. Spiral could have easily been a hugely popular band without making them seem overly perfect.

As for the relationship, this is another case of the conflict persisting because the plot demands that the characters don't offer any reasonable explanation. I think Carter gave up too easily after it was made clear to him that Tim's ex-was a manipulative liar. Yes, Tim has other issues but I feel Carter jumped the gun and could have been as understanding as he was presented at the beginning.

Overall, not terrible but not great either. The writing was OK, the setup was OK, and eve the sex scenes were OK... All of it just OK. Nothing stood out to me as being particularly memorable but I did enjoy it so I give this a 3.5 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Timing" by Mary Calmes

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated 18+.

Stefan Joss has been invited to be in his best friend's wedding. Not only does his boss take this as a chance to take on a sales deal to the trip to Texas, Stefan has to deal with his friend's brother, Rand Holloway; who has made no effort to restrain his hatred of Stefan. With the chaos of the wedding and meeting with his client, Stefan learns there is more to Rand's feelings than hatred and his business deal ends up risking his life.

While meant as a romantic mystery kind of story like Mystery of Nevermore, the mystery in this book took far back seat to the romance. Not a criticism, just something I noticed. I can see either adding more of the mystery or taking it out entirely and just having the wedding be the backdrop that brings Stephan and Rand together.

Anyways, Rand as a hard-ass cowboy coming to terms with how he fucked up and will do his part to fix it and Stefan putting in effort too worked for me. I liked them both and I wanted to see them together. The smexy times are prevalent and positively indulgent so if you want a healthy dose of manluvin, this book is more than happy to dole it out along with some romantic sappiness.

When it came to the action/mystery parts, I kinda got whiplash. You're crusin along in this lovey dovey romance and WHAM! Rape! Murder! Guns!

"Well... That took an uncomfortable turn..."

"Well... That took an uncomfortable turn..."

Even so, I enjoyed this book. You can feel the love all over; even aside for our main pair. The details in describing ranch life (Rand owns a ranch) were written well enough to get a real feel for the setting and I ended this book with a cheesy grin because it was so damn sweet. 4 out of 5.
 

Lenni Reviews: "Like Heaven on Earth" by Jaime Samms

*I received this book in exchange for an honest review and is rated 18+.

Cobolt Winslow is involved in an unhealthy, long-distance relationship with Calvin Denvers. Calvin infected Cobolt with HIV, which cost Cobolt his dancing career in their ballet company as his body became too weak to put up with such strenuous activity. The only stable person Cobolt has come to rely on Malory Preston; a driver who works for Cobolt's brother, Azure. As his health takes a turn for the better, Calvin comes back into the picture and Cobolt is faced with choosing between dancing and his growing attraction to Preston.

I cannot go any further without mentioning the naming conventions in this book. Yes, they are a little odd (at least for me) because it was like reading characters from a fantasy novel but this isn't fantasy. I did get used to it as the book went on.

The relationship between Cobolt and Preston works and makes sense the way those characters are written; even if there are times where I felt Cobolt needed a swat of sense on the back of his head. If a character can frustrate you, he/she is well written.

Other than that, this book is short, sweet, sultry when it needs to be, but standard. Cobolt and Calvin's HIV status is handled with maturity and not used as a crutch or a lame gimmick to make the characters act a certain way. The dancing was immersively written and the subtle nuances of stage culture were there but not as dark as something like Black Swan. I enjoyed it and by the end I was cheering for Cobolt but - and it's likely my personal bias here - the attempts to make Calvin a sympathetic character failed miserably. It would take MUCH more than 204 pages for an abusive cheater to redeem himself in my eyes but this is certainly not the book's fault. I'm betting since this is the third in the "Dance, Love, Live" series (and yes, this novel can totally stand on it's own), I'm sure Calvin has or will get an entire book to himself to work out his issues. As for this book, a happy 3.5 out of 5.

 

Lenni Reviews: "Relative Best" by Pat Henshaw

*I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

Zeke Bandy believes life's too busy for love. He runs a historical hotel and sings two nights a week at a local saloon. Vic Longbow is in town involved in opening a branch of a brokerage firm and looking for some photos of his Native American ancestor. When they meet, Zeke and Vic discover they have a lot in common and friendship becomes more than they are prepared for.

I wanted to like this more but this was a pretty bland little story. Characters are tossed at you without enough detail so aside for out main beaus, you don't get to know anyone. As a result, the drama in the book falls flat since they're all strangers. Also, this is a pretty tame m/m romance. Other than hold each other and kiss, Zeke and Vic have a PG-13 relationship; so if that's what you're after with this book, you will be disappointed.

This is the 5th in a series of books from A Foothills Pride series and I don't know if this story is better or worse than the others but it can be read as a standalone novella. At only 80 pages it's wobbly on it's own feet, but perhaps this premise would benefit from a longer book. As it is, the whole thing meanders to the conclusion without any real impact. I give it a 2.7 out of 5 for it's competency as a written work even if it was flat.

Want more? See Lenni's blog Haunting Hypatia.

Lenni Reviews: "Twisted Dreams: Dreamlands #4) by Felicitas Ivey

After the craziness of Unquiet Dreams, Keno is now a 'guest' of the wizard Kheper in the Egyptian lands and was forced to give in to the violent nature of his ancestor in order to save Mason's life and his own. As the unknown Darkness spreads through the Dreamlands, Samojirou takes Mason, Wolf, and Tholf to rescue Keno while Keno and Kheper investigate the Darkness. But will Keno want to be rescued after taking a life?

Keno's internal struggle about having to kill is the major part of his character development in this book. His ancestor was discussed in such hushed, ominous tones, Keno never wanted to be anything like him. There isn't time to dwell or escape his pain for long as he works with Kheper; who turns out to be a pretty cool magician and a man of honor - not at all as creepy as he seemed in the previous book. 

With two teams coming at the Darkness from two different directions, we get some really detailed and rich writing. You get a sense of realness to a very unreal world. But darnit, if it doesn't end on a cliffhanger! Man, do I wanna see the Dreamlands come together to beat the Darkness. I'm sure other cultures along with the Japanese and Egyptians will come into play. More of the Vikings would be cool! It would be such an epic showdown. 4.5 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Uneasy Dreams: Dreamlands #3" by Felicitas Ivey

The siege on Nippon continues as the Trust has allied with the Egyptians and the lords of Nippon must band together to take back their lands. With the conflict intensifying, Mason tries to find a place under Tamazusa's protection and Keno struggles against the brutal nature of his ancestor as battle brings it seeping to the surface.

In this book, Keno and Samojiro are headed into "annoying couple" territory. This is a personal pet peeve of mine and I'm sure people won't agree with me; I have read many a series where the couple you've wanted to get together for the entire time keep sending the narrative to a screeching halt so they can bone as much as possible. This is not to say it ruins the book but I found myself skipping over their love scenes to get back to the war going on.

Other than that, I love how this book is not perfectly wrapped up for the next installment. As I received this series in a 4 book bundle (and reviewed one at a time so it didn't take forever to get these books reviewed for you guys), I was wondering if each book would have a self-contained antagonist or an overarching one. All these little threads of manipulation carry through all three books and their effects don't just disappear. Out of the three, this one is the most tense and ends with characters injured, separated, and floundering as to what to do next. The writing level and style carry through seamlessly and seeing all these different cultures in the Dreamlands is very cool! Very interesting overall. 4.5 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Back to the Dream: Dreamlands #2" by Felicitas Ivey

Continuing some time after the first book, Keno and Samojirou are firmly in their relationship and Keno is more comfortable living under his persona as Sakura - a female consort - in order to hide his identity; as Keno is the incarnation of Samojirou's former lover who imprisoned Samojirou in the dreamlands in the first place. In addition, different players in the Dreamlands are hatching plans with the Trust for total control of the Dreamlands; sending Mason, Wolf, and McGann there again with the mission to form an alliance. It's all a lie, of course, and the three humans are stuck in a land under siege.

I'm glad we get to learn more about the Dreamlands and how they work in this book. Ivey has a real talent for world building so the setting is compelling. Tamazusa is an awesome character and I liked hearing from her. She is the one who tells the majority of the story and takes focus off os Keno and Samojirou's relationship. It's there, complete with smutty details so grownups only for this book, but the focus really is on the impending war and how they all will deal with it. Even though the book drags a little in some places - usually because the characters themselves are stuck - and there are a lot of unanswered questions when the book is over. I'm assuming it's because these answers will be in the following book and it is more interesting (in my opinion) if not every book in a series has a nicely wrapped up ending. 

If you're expecting more of the male/male romantic elements and less fantasy, I can see why you may be disappointed here. Two other relationships are introduced, but the crux of the novel really is the deceptions, the battles, and whatever overall plans the Trust has for the Dreamlands. Otherwise, this book had me hooked and I look forward to seeing what happens next. 4 out of 5 for me.

For more reviews and writing, check out Lenni's blog.

Lenni Reviews: Song of Song by L. J. LaBarthe

Song of Song is a science fiction romance by L. J. LaBarthe. Set in the far future where humanity has expanded beyond Earth, this book stars Dex (short for Dex742A-GR23), a genetically engineered man called a Boxie, and his AI cat, Manx, fleeing their home in search of freedom. Dex has been created to serve one purpose and if he deviates from that purpose, he will be killed. Once he and his fellow Boxies have been ordered to turn in their AI companions, Dex is too attached to his friend and decides to flee. While in outer space, Chen Lau Song is a fugitive fleeing the oppressive government on a sentient and evolving ship called Fa'a. The government wants to use Fa'a as a weapon but as the genius who created her, Song decided to run with his ship to make sure she couldn't be used as a tool or a template for other warships. Dex and Song meet when Fa'a is damaged and Song commandeers the ship on which Dex is hiding. Their mutual desire for freedom is what brings them together just as the despot seeking control of Fa'a and the entire galaxy; Cory Lewis Atticus Melvile (you can tell he's bad because he's way over named...) plots and schemes - willing to go to any lengths to capture them.

The sci-fi world built in this novel is very well done even if the characters are a bit cliche. You have the eccentric genius in Song, the man who wants out of his slotted life in Dex, and the evil businessman in Cory. It really is the setting and the overarching plot that sets this book apart; making it more a sci-fi with romantic elements than the other way around. If you're looking for the emphasis to be all on the budding relationship between Song and Dex, you may be let down. But the story as a whole is very entertaining. Manx and Fa'a are adorable characters and the rest of the cast and crew are likable characters fleshed out just enough so you care about what happens to them. Except for Cory... He's a twit.

If this story could have been fleshed out some more, it would have been even more fun. The universe created here has so much potential and I hope LaBarthe has more planned for it. I mean, come on. You CANNOT have a character named Shafaquat: Sultana of Agony and Cleverness with no back story! I can see an entire book about just her, easily.

If you like your sci-fi with a sweet little M/M romance, Song of Song will live up to your expectations. While some adult situations are present, they're not overwhelming and I had a great time reading this book.

Lenni Reviews: 'Just A Sketch' by A. J. Marcus

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Leo Caldwell leads a mundane life as a tech support operator at a call center. He doesn't date much and spends most of his time with his two best friends; Julie and Felix. The three of them decide to change things up by taking an art class together and that is where Leo meets Aud Sorenson, artist and owner of the Bright Thoughts Gallery. The two have an immediate attraction and under the guise of Aud wanting to sketch Leo, they begin to date; touching off a whirlwind of drama that tests their budding relationship to the limit.

This is a cute little love story but when I say whirlwind of drama, I am not kidding. The moment these two meet you are rooting for them but Aud gets a  stalker who threatens their lives and causes so much trouble, Aud and Leo simultaneously question if it's all worth it and knuckle down to stay together. It's all very sweet but as a reader, I had to wonder if these two got hexed or something because so much goes wrong so quickly. This male/male romance does end in a happily ever after (noted because some readers prefer their romances that way) but I think I would have liked to see the sketching featured a little more. It is in the title after all and that initial reason for them to meet up got lost a bit in my opinion. But that's me being very nit-picky.

In the end, this is a cute little story that was fun to read. Aud and Leo are almost too adorable and the smutty scenes aren't over done or silly. It's just spicy enough to make the book interesting but not tawdry. If you like your overly sweet couples in a tidy 200 page romp, Just a Sketch is worth the read.

This book will be available from Dreamspinner Press on December 4th, 2015.