Review – An Unseen Attraction by K.J. Charles

An Unseen Attraction coverTitle: An Unseen Attraction
Author: K.J. Charles
Publisher: Loveswept from Random House
Rating: 4 stars

Publication date: February 21, 2017
Genre: M/M romance/Historical/Mystery
Length: 209 pages

Review Summary: A strong historical gay romance/mystery, with a convincing Dickensian feel.

Plot Summary/Description

Clem Talleyfer is the keeper of a lodging house in Victorian London. He doesn’t own the house but works as a kind of glorified janitor for his wealthy half-brother He runs it well, and it’s much appreciated by the lodgers including the attractive taxidermist Rowley Green, who gradually becomes a closer and closer friend.

But the house has its oddities, too, including an abusive alcoholic tenant whom Clem isn’t allowed to kick out. Then the alcoholic is murdered. Could Clem and Rowley’s lives be in danger, as well as their livelihoods and their budding relationship?

An Unseen Attraction Review

This has a lovely Dickensian London feel to it. I loved the descriptions of rainy streets, bizarre characters, and smoggy nights. The characters are well-rounded and feel real.

Clem needs everything spelled out, and it takes him forever to figure out that Rowley is interested in him. Add that to the prevailing Victorian morality and you get a slow-burning romance rather than high heat levels. I liked that, I found it realistic and I don’t mind waiting for characters to be sure of each other.

So why not 5 stars? I don’t like the cover, but I wouldn’t mark it down for that. (When you read, you do find out that his suit isn’t meant to fit well, but that doesn’t explain why his head is so small, or why he looks to me more like the “neat, precise” Rowley Green than my idea of Clem Talleyfer.)

It’s more that somehow the story didn’t stick with me. I loved Clem and liked Rowley, and I was rooting for them as a couple. But the reader is always several steps ahead of the characters in figuring out that something odd is going on, and wondering why Clem is allowing himself to be exploited to the extent he is. Plus I think stuffed animals are gross…

There’s a local gay pub from which I imagine future couples will be drawn, since this is a first in series. I’m pleased about that and I’ll be looking forward to the rest of the series.

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Review – Wanted, A Gentleman by K.J. Charles

Wanted A Gentleman coverTitle: Wanted, A Gentleman
Author: K.J. Charles
Publisher: Riptide
Rating: 4.5 stars

Publication date: January 9, 2017
Genre: M/M romance/Historical
Length: 131 pages

Review Summary: An unusual historical gay romance bringing together a shady publisher and a stalwart merchant and former slave, from the reliably brilliant pen of K.J. Charles.

Plot Summary/Description

Londoner Theo Swann is scraping a dodgy living as the publisher of a “matrimonial advertiser” or lonely hearts ad sheet. Among the ads are cryptic messages between lovers, setting up secret assignations.

Martin St. Vincent is a former slave, now a free man and a prosperous merchant. His former owner’s daughter has been putting messages in Theo’s paper, and now she’s about to elope with a golddigger. Can Martin stop her before her fortune is lost and/or her virtue is compromised?

He enlists Theo’s help on a mad dash (at the stunning speed of 14 miles per hour) to the Scottish borders where underage young people can marry without their parents’ permission, hoping to overtake the fleeing couple before it’s too late.

A standalone Regency period gay historical romance from K.J. Charles.

Wanted, A Gentleman Review

There was a lot about this story that I loved. Theo is a funny guy and an entertaining character – slippery, and a little bit rat-like. Fun to read about. Martin is interesting and I loved the way that his background was brought out, along with his conflicting feelings about having been brought up kindly, as if adopted, by an English family, while in fact being their owned slave.

I also enjoyed all the period touches, which K. J. Charles is so good at. The personal ads, the staging post inns, the livestock market in a country town, the detail of journeys, furnishings and attitudes – all these were superbly done.

If I have a criticism, I wasn’t totally convinced by the romance, I guess. It was hard to imagine these two very different men having more than a physical connection. Theo’s moral turnaround didn’t totally win me over to him. I thought he would want somebody more exciting in personality, while Martin would be better with somebody more trustworthy, who shared his values. Still, it definitely works as a Happy For Now, and it gets a strong 4.5 stars.

I love K.J. Charles’s writing, and this was no exception.

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Review – Psycop Briefs by Jordan Castillo Price

Psycop BriefsTitle: Psycop Briefs
Author: Jordan Castillo Price
Publisher: JCP Books
Rating: 5 stars

Publication date: October 11, 2016
Genre: M/M Romance, Paranormal
Length: 204 pages

Review Summary:
A must-have for fans of Victor Bayne, the gorgeous Jacob, and the PsyCop series.

Plot Summary/Description

A collection of shorts from the PsyCop series, featuring medium Victor Bayne, who works as a psychic detective on the Chicago police force, and his hot lover, detective Jacob Marks.

Psycop Briefs Review

This is a collection of short stories, tangential scenes and odd bits and pieces that fit around Jordan Castillo Price’s hugely popular PsyCop series. The first thing to say is that if you have not read any of the series before, this is not the place to start. Start with the first “real” book in the series, Among the Living, and if you like that, you’ll want to continue on. This collection is for those who have read at least some, and probably most, of the basic series.

Fans may have read some of the shorts in before, because they have been available either to buy or free on the author’s website. I’d read Inside Out (but I loved reading that again, that is a wonderful prequel to the series, where Jacob first sees Vic in an otherwise tedious meeting); Stroke of Midnight, a nice little window into their relationship; Thaw, with Vic and Jacob bonding on ice; and the Clowns one, which I didn’t totally go for, and I don’t know why. That was the only one I skipped rereading.

There was also a lot here that was new to me, and I lapped them up! Some of the “stories” are so short that they are really just a scene, a little peek into the lives of these super-hot fictional guys. I wondered if some of them had been cut from books, or maybe they were just random scenes that came into the author’s head and didn’t fit into a book. It felt super-cool to have all of this extra information on the characters’ lives.

Of the new-to-me stories, one of my favourites was Coffee O’Clock, where the relationship is just getting established. Lots of cute quotes, as Vic cannot believe Jacob is really into him, so what is going on? “I’d been pleasantly surprised the first time he spent the night. Puzzled the second. Now I was downright suspicious… He was after something. But what?” Vic cannot believe it is him that Jacob is after!

Another favorite was Witness which is set after the current last book in the series, so it’s great for people who have read the whole series and cannot wait for the next book. If you haven’t read them all, it won’t matter. There are no spoilers that I can think of.

We also get some lovely insights into their lives, when they do stuff like helping out Jacob’s one-armed Uncle Leon with his self-assembly furniture, or when Jacob buys one of Vic’s old high school yearbooks on eBay! This kind of thing is what makes it unmissable for fans.

204 pages is the length that Amazon gives. I have it on my Kindle so I don’t have any other way to compute, but it seemed longer. You certainly get a lot of different stories and scenes, and it seemed very good value to me.

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Review – A Boy Made Of Blocks by Keith Stuart

A Boy Made Of Blocks coverTitle: A Boy Made of Blocks
Author: Keith Stuart
Publisher: Little, Brown
Rating: 5 stars

Publication date: September 1, 2016
Genre: Literary Fiction
Length: 400 pages

Review Summary: A sweet story about a father who connects with his autistic son by using the Minecraft game.

Plot Summary/Description

Bringing up an autistic child isn’t easy. Alex leaves it all to his wife. So he has no real connection with his 8-year-old son Sam, and his marriage is breaking up under the strain. He moves out to sleep on his best friend’s floor, and from this new life he tries to build some kind of relationship with Sam.

It seems a hopeless task until Sam and Alex discover Minecraft. Sam’s imagination comes to life, and he allows his dad to help him. Slowly, they connect on a level Alex would never have imagined.

A Boy Made Of Blocks Review

This book was inspired by the author’s relationship with his own autistic son, and that makes it both true-to-life and sometimes painful. But it’s also often very funny. Like life, really – painful and funny!

Before they separate, Alex’s wife Jody’s life is dominated by dealing with young Sam, and Alex is working at a mind-numbing job. After the separation, Alex tries to rebuild bridges with both Jody and Sam. The distance helps him to do this, although whether it helps Jody is another question! However, it was great to see a man leaving a marriage physically but not leaving it emotionally. They do work at it.

When Sam discovers Minecraft and begins building things in that virtual world, he needs technical support that Jody has no idea how to give – but Alex does. This gives Sam a reason to value his father and Alex a way to communicate with his son.

The book contains a lot of little episodes in the struggle of living with autism, both for the autistic child and his parents. It all feels very real because we know the author has an autistic son himself. Of course, not all autistic kids are alike, and a lot of books and movies present one (often extreme) example and allow readers/viewers to believe all autistic people are like this – especially by giving the idea that autism always involves some kind of Rainman-like genius. This book doesn’t do this, which is great.

It’s a heart-warming story with a satisfying ending. Everything is neatly concluded – perhaps a little too neatly, but that’s better than leaving a ton of loose ends in my opinion.

Expect to shed tears 🙂

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Review – Blow Down by J.L. Merrow

Blow Down coverTitle: Blow Down
Series: The Plumber’s Mate, #4
Author: J.L. Merrow
Publisher: Samhain
Rating: 5 stars

Publication date: July 12, 2016
Genre: M/M romance/Mystery/Paranormal
Length: 249 pages

Review Summary: I’ve read all the series and this is my favorite (so far… hope she keeps writing them!)

Plot Summary/Description

Tom and Phil are engaged, but that doesn’t mean their lives are perfect. Too many people are trying to get in on the wedding plans and/or demanding Tom’s psychic abilities for their problems. When he’s hired to find a missing necklace, he uncovers a dead body instead – and the murderer is more than willing to kill again.

Blow Down Review

In case you’ve missed the rest of this series, Tom Paretski is an English plumber with a Polish name and a psychic talent for nosing out what’s hidden. He’s been slowly building trust and love with his old high school nemesis Phil, a former police officer, now a private investigator. Phil and Tom make a great team to read about, and they have enough communication issues to keep the reader interested. These books are funny, too! OK, so now go catch up on the series 🙂

Blow Down is book 4, and Tom and Phil are engaged, but they still each don’t know where the other one is half of the time. This allows for some minor angst about the relationship and major worries about physical safety once a murderer appears on the scene. Tom’s talent for finding things is expected to stretch way beyond its normal boundaries, and he’s become quite the local celebrity.

J.L. Merrow is a master of descriptions of English village life, and this series is no exception. I thought I caught some nods to Miss Marple as she brought in a village fete and the local clergy – right up to the bishop – in this instalment.

I cannot get enough of Tom. His gorgeous cats, his wonderful customers, the bizarre things that happen to him every day – I lap it all up! Phil is a little more aloof but that works well because he’s intriguing, a good balance for Tom’s point of view. In Blow Down, Tom’s own history is brought into question, communication with Phil is no better than it ever was, but somehow they muddle along and the love is even more convincing for the questioning that they do. They know each other well enough to make it work.

The romance is sweet rather than hot, but the sweeter tone goes perfectly with J.L. Merrow’s comic skills and the cute and quirky cozy mystery feel of these books. I hope this Blow Down review has given you an appetite for Tom and Phil’s latest series of mishaps!

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Review – The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things by J.T. LeRoy

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things coverTitle: The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things
Author: J.T. LeRoy
Publisher: Little, Brown
Rating: 5 stars

Publication date: 2002 (new edition August 4th, 2016)
Genre: GLBTQ, Short Stories
Length: 280 pages

Review Summary: A very powerful set of linked stories about a boy whose teenage mother pulls him from his foster home and goes on the run with him. Gritty and hard-hitting.

Plot Summary/Description

Jeremiah has spent his life in foster care, until his young mother comes to get him and they go on the run. Life with Sarah is not easy, involving drugs, motels and truckstops, a succession of boyfriends who are often abusive, and constant chaos and confusion. Somehow, Jeremiah has to learn to survive, and find his own identity.

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things Review

This is an immensely powerful episodic narrative. Terrible things happen to Jeremiah over and over. He’s snatched from any secure way of life again and again – usually moving from one kind of abuse to another. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t grow up with much sense of self-worth, but he does develop a strong bond with his drug-addicted mother. He also grows up gay/transgender/queer – I don’t think he ever specifies how he identifies.

I found it very painful to read, because it’s so vivid. Are there really kids living like this? I guess there are, even though this book and the author’s other novel, Sarah, became notorious when it was revealed that the author, who claimed to be a young man whose work was based on his own life, was in fact a middle-aged woman using a family member to act the part of J.T. LeRoy for interviews and such. There’s no problem in authors having pen names, and there’s a long history of women using male names because they know their work will be taken more seriously (George Eliot springs to mind), but using an actor to convince the world the stories are based on real events and the young genius actually exists is another matter.

This edition was published to coincide with a movie about the author, Laura Albert, and her questionable marketing tactics, Author: The JT LeRoy Story. I believe she said that she felt she was “channeling” J.T. and that she didn’t feel like the author of the books at all, so it all seeemed okay. I wonder if she found a way to “channel” the royalties back to him… Whatever, I find the whole story fascinating and have no problem with it.

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Review – The Trouble With Goats And Sheep by Joanna Cannon

The Trouble With Goats And Sheep book cover imageTitle: The Trouble With Goats And Sheep
Author: Joanna Cannon
Publisher: Scribner
Rating: 3 stars

Publication date: October 2015 (July 12, 2016 USA)
Genre: Mystery (?)
Length: 368 pages

Review Summary: A nostalgic novel of hidden secrets among neighbours in an English street in the 1970s.

Plot Summary/Description

Ten-year-old Grace is determined to solve the mystery of her missing neighbor, Mrs Creasy. Where has Mrs Creasy gone, and why? Is she alive or dead? Does it have to do with the middle-aged man living alone, that Grace and her friend Tilly must never go near? And what happened in the street ten years ago?

The answer will involve sorting the sheep from the goats – so Grace and Tilly go in search of God, who they’re sure will do this for them, if they could only find him. Meanwhile, they are sticking their noses into other people’s business, stirring things up – which could be dangerous.

The Trouble With Goats And Sheep Review

This is billed as “part mystery, part coming of age novel” and anyone expecting a traditional or cozy mystery may be disappointed because it’s told very much from the point of view of a child who doesn’t understand the significance of what she sees and hears. Maybe it’s assumed the reader will, but I found some aspects of the mystery confusing (even at the end) and looking at reviews online, I don’t think I’m the only one. The truth unravels slowly, more like a dissolution than a resolution.

Having said that, there’s a lot here to enjoy, especially in the descriptions of life in a small and frankly uninteresting town in the middle of England in the 1970s. American readers may need some help with some of the cultural references (younger British readers too). Or just ignore them and go with what works. It’s very evocative of a certain place and time, and it’s natural that the childish character who welcomes us in, doesn’t explain everything right away.

Although told from the perspective of a 10-year-old child, it’s not a children’s book. The attraction is in reading between the lines with grownup eyes, looking back on a hot summer of childhood, when things ignored or misunderstood slowly become clear.

The characters are different types, perhaps a little stereotypical, or maybe just typical of their time and place. I didn’t get the whole Jesus image and why people were impressed by that. I didn’t like Grace, who is often cruel – probably realistically so, little girls can be horrible, but this made it a tough read at some points. But I enjoyed reading about the street and the interactions of the neighbours, who had almost all lived in that street for ten years or more.

It reminded me of the street I lived in as a child where most of the families moved in when the houses were first built and many of them are still there, ageing parents alone now, decades later. I even remember a house fire. But I don’t think it held any secrets – or if it did, I didn’t uncover them!

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Review – High Contrast by Tess Bowery

High Contrast cover imageTitle: High Contrast
Series: Evolution Ink, #1
Author: Tess Bowery
Publisher: Samhain
Rating: 4 stars

Publication date: May 3, 2016
Genre: M/M romance/Contemporary
Length: 237 pages

Review Summary: A sweet romance set around a tattoo/piercing parlor, with a cute and funny geek matched with a gorgeous but damaged piercer.

Plot Summary/Description

Jacob Shain has a boring internship, no cash flow, and a tiny New York apartment he shares with Ethan, his cool, tattoo-artist twin brother. His love life is DOA, until his brother’s shop hires on a new body piercer, and Jacob’s humdrum life takes a turn for the hot and awesome.

Cody Turner is gorgeous, funny and kind. He’s everything Jacob wants in a boyfriend—except for the way he refuses to talk about anything in his personal life, including where he lives.

When Ethan is arrested, Jacob finds out why Cody is so secretive about his past. And while Jacob and Cody explore the depth of their feelings for one another, the police catch up with them—and so do the local mob.

Now Jacob has a tough choice to make: stay safe like a good boy, or dive headfirst into a world he barely understands… and hope Cody is there to break his fall.

High Contrast Review

There was so much to love about this book! Jacob was very sweet and I loved him from the start. I liked that he was very unsure of himself, having grown up in the shadow of a more extravert twin brother, who is now working in a tattoo parlor and the total definition of cool, while Jacob is on the sidelines. Even Andi, Jacob’s best friend, is Ethan’s girlfriend. Jacob seems to have nothing that is his alone.

Until he meets Cody, the new piercer in the tattoo parlor, who totally dazzles Jacob from day one. But if Jacob is insecure, Cody has his own issues, which have left him with a past he doesn’t want to talk about.

The action between them is hot and I loved the way that their relationship develops. Jacob is all over Cody and taking things way too fast, but Cody manages to hold things back a little without hurting Jacob or pushing him away. When his past catches up with him, they fight side by side, and I liked the way that the story ends.

The only thing I didn’t like were the mob action scenes. The whole thing with Ethan being arrested seemed unnecessary and over-the-top dramatic. It took away attention and reduced the impact of the battle at the end, which focuses much more tightly on Cody and Jacob and should have been the real climax. Something seemed unreal and comic-book-like about all of that for me, and I couldn’t believe the participation of the attorney, who was doing things no attorney would ever do for fear of losing his license.

Four enjoyable stars, and not to be missed if you like tattoo/piercing stories with a New York setting.

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Review – A Gentleman’s Position by K.J. Charles

A gentleman's position review ebook coverTitle: A Gentleman’s Position
Series: Society of Gentlemen, #3
Author: K.J. Charles
Publisher: Loveswept (a Random House imprint)
Rating: 5 stars

Publication date: April 5, 2016
Genre: M/M romance/Historical/Regency UK
Length: 246 pages

Review Summary: A Lord used to getting his own way – and his valet, who won’t allow *any* of his services to be taken for granted. A hot romance where tempers are high, and stakes too.

Plot Summary/Description

Lord Richard Vane is the go-to person when anyone in his circle has a problem – and most of those problems, he passes right on to his valet, David Cyprian. The tension between them is hot, and rife with misunderstandings. Can Richard see past class barriers to the man who wants him so badly? Can David lose the chip on his shoulder that keeps him in the subordinate zone?

When the situation becomes too painful, David leaves to save his sanity. But then a letter falls into the wrong hands, and Richard needs him more than ever. Will he be able to convince David that the need runs deeper than wanting his fixer back?

A Gentleman’s Position Review

K.J. Charles is rapidly becoming one of my auto-buy male/male romance authors. I’ve inhaled the Magpie Lord series, and now I have another one to bask in.

This is book #3 in the series but it was my first introduction to the gentlemen who make up the Society. It stands alone fine, and made me rush out and grab the others. Definitely wanting more of these guys.

What I loved about this was that they didn’t get together too easily. This relationship would have been a huge deal. Even without the class barrier, Richard has been treating David a certain way for a long time and they’re both used to that. What happens to David’s job if they get together on a more equal basis? Richard wants to fix the issue in a certain way, but he’s forgotten to consult David – because he’s used to telling David what to do. And yet that’s the problem…

All of this is handled sensitively, and step by step. Richard would do anything to get back his hot red-headed Mr. Fox – but at first his efforts only make things worse. He has to become humble, and learn to listen.

At the same time there’s blackmail, and a real threat hanging over the whole way of life of this group of friends, who could be punished with death if they’re caught. The danger mounts along with the sexual tension, and the whole thing makes for a thrilling read.

I loved the whole thing with David’s hair, and Richard having him powder it. When the reason for that comes out, it’s the sweetest thing 🙂 I only wish he could have been more red-headed on the cover.

Unlike the Magpie Lord series, these are historical without the paranormal element. Regency rakes – but with men in their sights. It’s published by an imprint of Random House – so good to see the mainstream publishers taking gay romance seriously. Bring it on!

This book is swoon material – grab it!

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Review – Knit Tight by Annabeth Albert

Knit Tight review coverKnit Tight
Series: Portland Heat, #4
Author: Annabeth Albert
Publisher: Lyrical Shine
Rating: 4 stars

Publication date: April 12, 2016
Genre: M/M romance/Contemporary
Length: 112 pages

Review Summary: A cute story of two guys falling in love over coffee and knitting.

Plot Summary/Description

Brady is a barista in Portland, juggling work with responsibility for four younger siblings after the death of his parents. He’s bisexual but that doesn’t mean he’ll drop his pants for anything that moves – and he doesn’t like the suggestion that bisexual guys are not to be trusted.

Evren is the nephew of Mira, the owner of the local knitting yarns store, who raised him after he came out as a teen and was rejected by his Turkish parents. He’s come back to help run the store because she’s sick. He’s also a popular knitting blogger, designing knits of his own.

They meet when the local knitting group holds its weekly meetings at the bar where Brady works. The chemistry is strong, but so are the obstacles – Brady’s family responsibilities and Evren’s distrust of bisexual men.

Knit Tight Review

My first book by Annabeth Albert, and I enjoyed it. The writing style is smooth, the characters are good together and the situation is believable. It’s in a series but each book covers a different couple so they stand alone fine.

The story is not that exciting – two guys getting together, without a lot of misunderstandings or hassle. There’s no villain getting in their way, and they fit together perfectly in bed, when they can finally nail down some time free of kids and sick auntie. A happy ending is theirs for the taking, they just have to decide they want it (or specifically, Evren has to relax his prejudices).

I like more conflict and angst. All of the drama was in their life circumstances and families, not in the relationship. Some people might find the sex weird but I found it hot, with enough kinks to make it down and dirty without going all the way to BDSM.

Something about Evren didn’t quite click for me, like he didn’t seem totally real, maybe because we don’t get his point of view outside of his thoughts on his blog. Those are sweet, and do show his feelings slowly emerging. But it’s at a remove, and he never completely opens up. Even near the end he wanted to shut Brady out of certain things. But it’s a cute, heartwarming contemporary story, an enjoyable read.

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