Review – Jury of One by Charlie Cochrane

Jury Of One review coverJury of One
Series: Lindenshaw Mysteries, #2
Author: Charlie Cochrane
Publisher: Riptide
Our rating: 4 stars

Publication date: March 21, 2016
Genre: Mystery (M/M)
Length: 246 pages
Click to see price at Amazon

Review Summary: A sweet cozy mystery set in an English village, with a male/male romance theme to the series.

Plot Summary/Description

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOOK 1 IN THE SERIES

Detective Inspector Robin Bright has moved in with teacher Adam Matthews, but the cozy village life they’re settling into is interrupted when Robin has to investigate a violent murder in a neighboring town.

Both men are drawn into danger as Robin investigates the crime, and their relationship is threatened by baggage reappearing on the doorstep in the form of an old crush of Adam’s.

Jury of One Review

This is a cute series and I’m definitely rooting for Robin and Adam, who are both very sweet guys.

The mystery side worked well. I didn’t guess the solution too soon, and all of the possibilities were realistic. There were a lot of coincidences, but that does happen, especially in the gay community in small towns. ‘It’s a small world’ is never truer than when you’re a member of a minority in a small town.

It’s definitely a cozy mystery – Robin is the sweetest police inspector imaginable. The relationship has its ups and downs but in the most realistic way, with misunderstandings over small things. And when they’re in danger, the tension, love and fear is very real.

When I picked up my review copy on Netgalley and saw it was #2 in a series, I bought #1 (The Best Corpse for the Job – view on Amazon) and read that first. I loved it, and definitely recommend starting with that one if you haven’t got it yet.

In book 1, when the guys meet, Robin has to keep Adam at arm’s length, totally believably, because he’s investigating a murder in the school where Adam works. There’s delicious chemistry between them, and we know they’re going to get it on as soon as the investigation is over 😉 Now they’re living together, and the relationship has moved on into something more lasting. I would have liked to see the getting together part, but this is sweet romance, with no graphic scenes.

It’s a nice cozy read and recommended.

Click here to see price at Amazon

Review – Rag and Bone by K.J. Charles

Rag and Bone review cover
Title: Rag and Bone
Series: Rag and Bone #1,
in universe of A Charm of Magpies
Author: K.J. Charles
Publisher: Samhain
Our rating: 5 stars

Publication date: March 1, 2016
Genre: M/M romance/Historical/Paranormal (Magic)
Length: 146 pages
Click here to see price at Amazon
.

Review Summary: A very sweet couple crossing class and race boundaries, in Victorian London, with magic thrown in – and all presented in a stellar writing style. Totally lost my heart.

Plot Summary/Description

Crispin Tredarloe has been blindsided by the death of his warlock master and the discovery that the style of magic he was learning was not only illegal but downright murderous. He’s trying to be good and learn magic in the acceptable style, but he can’t seem to succeed without falling back on his deathly blood-and-bone pen.

Ned Hall is a waste paper dealer who’s left the docks area where his dark skin and African looks wouldn’t be so unusual, because of his family’s reaction to his preference for men. Crispin’s out of his class, but Ned doesn’t let that stop him. What’s more of a threat is the malevolent being on the loose, that’s attacking the owners of rag and bone shops like the one where Ned’s business is based.

Ned and Crispin’s lives are in danger, but can Crispin battle the evil without resorting to illegal means that will cost him his freedom and perhaps his life?

Rag and Bone Review

I adored Ned and Crispin. They’d have carried the book for me by themselves, but on top of that, you have magic, historical London and the most wonderful crisp and evocative writing style. The story is set in the world of the author’s ‘A Charm of Magpies’ series which I haven’t read, but that was no bar to enjoying it, and the series is going on my TBR list right now.

The romance feels very real. Crispin is from Cornwall, and although he’s been in London a few years, he’s not totally assimilated but remains something of an outsider with a special accent. He’s also an outsider in the magical world, because of his skill as a graphomancer or writer of magic, which is associated with evil warlockery. Ned is a man of colour, and while he fits into Victorian London more easily than Crispin in some ways, his working class upbringing sets him apart from the kind of people Crispin is training with. So although very different, they are a good match.

When Crispin meets Dr Sweet, who seems to be the only one to recognize his potential but offers further training away in Oxford, it causes conflict betweeen Ned and Crispin. But that’s only the start of their troubles.

Crispin and Ned first appeared in A Queer Trade (link to Amazon), a long short story/short novella that appeared in an anthology and has been published separately since. I don’t know if it was readers or the characters themselves who clamored loudly enough for the author to write them their own series, but it’s very welcome. Ned and Crispin are the sweetest couple and anyone who’s read the short will fall on this with glee.

If you haven’t read the short, it’s fine, because the author spends just enough time summarizing how they met at the beginning of this book, without annoying those who’ve read both. I reread the short right before starting Rag and Bone, but I wouldn’t have needed to.

Recommended for anyone who likes male/male romance with a touch of magic, especially when set in Victorian London.

Click here to see price at Amazon

Review – Lovers Leap by J.L. Merrow

Lovers Leap coverTitle: Lovers Leap
Author: J.L. Merrow
Publisher: Riptide
Our rating: 3.5 stars

Publication date: February 29, 2016
Genre: M/M romance/Contemporary
Length: 198 pages
Click to see price at Amazon

Review Summary: A cute story with one very sweet hero, but the other is so arrogant he’s hard to like. It’s funny without being laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Plot Summary/Description

Michael’s bi, and he’s visiting the Isle of Wight with a girlfriend in February. Tired of listening to her talk, he breaks up with her in the most insensitive way on Sandown pier. She pushes him into the sea and heads back to the hotel to trash his bags. He’s left to drown, freeze or charm a lovely local guy into helping him out.

It’s Rufus’s fifth birthday – yes, he’s a leap year baby, and only has a birthday every four years. So he’s 20, and is the mainstay of his dad and stepmother’s bed & breakfast guest house. When he sees Michael walking out of the sea, he’s smitten. But Michael’s only a temporary visitor, and doesn’t plan to come out to his mother back home.

Lovers Leap Review

I enjoyed the comedy, I liked the setting and I loved Rufus. His friend calls him Roo (as in the baby kangaroo in Winnie-the-Pooh) and it totally suits him. He’s a really sweet guy.

The problem is Michael. You know when your friend falls in love with some absolute tosser and thinks that because s/he loves him/her, that turns the tosser into a wonderful person and you should totally love him/her too? But you hate the bastard? That’s what happens here. We love Rufus and for some unfathomable reason, Rufus loves Michael, but that doesn’t make us love Michael. He’s arrogant and selfish, and Rufus’s affection is not enough to convince the rest of us that he’s a good guy deep down.

Michael needs to change in some major ways before he’s worthy of Rufus, and he doesn’t. He just keeps on figuring out what he needs to do to get what he wants.

J.L. Merrow often writes guys who are a little hard to like – e.g. Phil in the Plumber’s Mate series (link to Amazon), who used to bully Tom at school. But Phil is redeemed by maturity, guilt and the slowly developing relationship between the two of them, which isn’t without its up and downs. That feels a lot more realistic. In Lovers Leap we’re asked to accept insta-love on both sides, unexplained by anything except looks.

It’s hard to forgive Michael’s faults and to accept Rufus settling for him when surely Rufus could have found somebody so much nicer.

I enjoyed it all the same, because I love J.L. Merrow’s writing, but I’d recommend it for die-hard J.L. Merrow fans only. If you don’t know her work so well and want to read something set in her home territory of the Isle of Wight, I’d suggest picking up Wight Mischief (link to Amazon) instead.

Review – Tournament of Losers by Megan Derr

Tournament of Losers coverTitle: Tournament of Losers
Author: Megan Derr
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Our rating: 4 stars

Publication date: November 2015
Genre: M/M romance/Fantasy
Length: 312 pages
Click to see price on Amazon

Review Summary: A male/male fairy tale in the ‘prince and the pauper’ tradition, where our poverty-stricken hero gets to compete for marriage with a nobleman. Cute and fun.

Plot Summary/Description

Rath has three days to pay his father’s huge debt to the crime lord of the Low City, or he’ll be floating down the river without a boat. With no money, he goes back to whoring, hoping a down payment might keep the heavies off his back. But the madam of the brothel points out a way he can make the full amount – just survive to the second round of the Tournament of Losers, where commoners compete for marriage into the nobility.

Tress is a member of the nobility who’s taken a fancy to Rath. But what are the chances of Rath winning the right to be his husband, when Rath seems to be doing too well, and qualifying for the highest hand in the land?

Tournament of Losers Review

No prizes for guessing the ending, it’s totally predictable from the book description, but this is a fairy tale so fair enough. We know the bad guys won’t win and the good guys will end up together. If you like the idea of a male/male fairy tale, this is highly recommended. It’s a lot of fun to read.

Rath is gorgeous – engaging, generous, and highly talented in bed judging by the high prices people are prepared to pay for his occasional services. We don’t get to see any of this because it’s a sweet one with no sex, as usual from the pen of Megan Derr.

I’d rather have no sex than too much in a book but in this case, I think the relationship could have been strengthened in the beginning with a little more physicality, even if it was lingering longer on feelings during the kisses. Everything is from Rath’s point of view, and his attention in the first part of the book is (naturally) on the pressing issue of the debt he has to pay. Tress has to make all of the running.

The contest has a few surprises, at least for Rath, who doesn’t catch on fast to the fact that he’s being judged on other qualities than first past the finish line. Don’t judge by the cover – it’s not set in ancient Rome, and the combat is not gladiatorial (except briefly in the early stages).

I loved the second half. I found the first half a little slow, hence 4 stars rather than 5. It’s still enjoyable, and I loved the detail of life in the city and the society with its complete gender equality and ethnic equality. There’s no discussion of ‘gay’ or other questions of orientation, and I had the impression that most people were bisexual. (For example the contestants to marry a noble man are both men and women).

Both the contest and the relationship get way more interesting after the half way point, and from there I couldn’t put it down. Even if the ending is obvious, the fun of reading is in the journey, not the arrival, right? or why wouldn’t we all skip straight to the last chapter, every time?

Click here to see price on Amazon

Review – Lonely Hearts by Heidi Cullinan

Lonely Hearts coverTitle: Lonely Hearts
Series: Love Lessons #3
Author: Heidi Cullinan
Publisher: Samhain
Our rating: 5 stars

Publication date: August 2015
Genre: M/M romance/New adult
Length: 312 pages
Click to see price on Amazon

Review Summary: A hurt/comfort college-based gay romance with one character I couldn’t get enough of, and another who was his perfect ‘other half’.

Plot Summary/Description

Baz Acker’s family has thrown enough money at him to keep his painful past firmly in the past. But what will happen when his college friends move on, and he has nowhere to go? Last year he took a bullet for Elijah Prince, and he’s never regretted it. But how does Elijah feel?

Elijah’s history has forced him to withdraw way into his own mind when things get rough. However much Baz attracts him, Elijah freezes in the publicity that comes with being the acknowledged lover of the son of an ambitious politician. Will Baz be the rock he yearns for, or the iceberg that sinks him?

Lonely Hearts Review

WARNING: this review contains spoilers for the previous book in the series. See our Fever Pitch review and I recommend reading that one first.

Elijah and Baz are a classic couple. Both of these two guys are prickly like cacti, for different reasons. They are the kind of characters any self-respecting romance reader will be rooting for. So we’re engaged right from the start – in fact, from the previous book, if we’ve read it. If not, you do get a summary of the climactic life-saving event, at the start of this one.

In Fever Pitch, Elijah was Aaron’s snarky and hard-to-know roommate, and Baz was the guy that everybody loved but nobody *loved* or even knew inside out. Events at the end of that book saw the two of them connected, instinctively on Baz’s part and involuntarily on Elijah’s, because of their separate personal histories. It takes the two of them a while to get past that, but when they do, the connection goes very deep.

Elijah grew up in a fundamentalist religious family, with parents who believe that as a gay man, he’s the spawn of Satan, and it’s their duty to kill him. Literally. Baz and his high school boyfriend were beaten up on the street and left for dead. Baz survived, disabled, but his boyfriend didn’t. Survivor guilt plagues him, and he doesn’t hesitate to take the bullet that’s aimed at Elijah.

This event creates a connection between them, but also a distance, because of the debt owed. The debt is greater because Baz is wealthy, and Elijah, without parental support, is penniless. Some authors would skate over these differences and bring them together whatever, but Heidi Cullinan is skilled enough to see that it’s not that easy. Elijah has a chip on his shoulder that takes a while to overcome.

Sometimes an author has to work to convince the reader that a happy ending will last, but not in this case. Elijah and Baz have very different backgrounds, but their issues are dealt with thoroughly, not swept under the carpet, but laid to rest permanently. The guys have enough in common that we can imagine them sticking very close together always, once their differences are accepted between them. Baz is outgoing and would have a lot of friends on the surface, but there’d always be a tight inner circle around just the two of them, that nobody else would or could breach.

A very cute couple and if you like a bit of angst before the HEA, as I do, don’t miss this one.

Click here to see price on Amazon

Review – Fever Pitch by Heidi Cullinan

Fever Pitch coverTitle: Fever Pitch
Series: Love Lessons #2
Author: Heidi Cullinan
Publisher: Samhain
Our rating: 5 stars

Publication date: September 2014
Genre: M/M romance/New adult
Length: 306 pages
Click to see price on Amazon

Review Summary: A lovely college-based gay romance that had me gripped from the start and never let go.

Plot Summary/Description

Aaron Seavers is so crushed by his domineering father that he can’t even decide where to go to college. He wants to study music, but his dad wants him to follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer. He’s also afraid to admit, even to himself, that he’s gay. His mind is finally made up when he reconnects with a high school classmate, and at the last minute he applies to the same college.

Giles Mulder is stunned when the gorgeous and apparently straight Aaron arrives on campus, threatening to reawaken unhappy high school memories. With Giles making music on his violin, and Aaron in the choir, their paths are bound to cross. Their attraction grows, but will Aaron follow his heart or his dad’s wishes?

Fever Pitch made the NPR’s Best Books of 2015 list – it’s great to see a gay romance on a mainstream ‘best books’ list like this one.

Fever Pitch Review

This is the second in a series and I haven’t read the first, but it’s about a different couple. This one stands alone with no problem, and the couple from the first book appear only briefly.

Aaron and Giles make a great couple. Aaron is the more attractive but he’s also more damaged. Giles has suffered in high school for being out, but his family are ultra supportive. Aaron has maybe suffered more by never daring to be himself. I loved that aspect, seeing Aaron slowly develop and come into his own strength, aided by Giles but not dominated. They take a while to get together, which gives Aaron time to find his own inner strength.

There’s a lot about music which didn’t mean much to me but it was never too much because at the same time there’s a high-voltage attraction between the two guys which comes across in all the music passages as well as everywhere else. If you knew the songs they talk about, it would likely add something, but I didn’t care that I didn’t.

Aaron has a snarky and secretive roommate, Elijah, who takes some getting to know but is well worth it. He takes a while to win Aaron over, but he had me at hello! The end has Elijah mixed up with another character and I rushed to check if the next book would be their story. It is so I grabbed it – here’s the review of Lonely Hearts.

Click to see price on Amazon