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.

Click here to see price at Amazon

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.

Click here to see price at Amazon

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 🙂

Click here to see price at Amazon

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!

Click here to see price at Amazon

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!

Click here to see price at Amazon

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!

Click here to see price at Amazon

Review – Jury of One by Charlie Cochrane

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

Publication date: March 21, 2016
Genre: Mystery (M/M)
Length: 246 pages

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

Inspector Robin Bright has moved in with teacher Adam Matthews from The Best Corpse for the Job, 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) 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</a>

Review – Rag and Bone by K.J. Charles

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

Publication date: March 1, 2016
Genre: M/M romance/Historical/Paranormal (Magic)
Length: 146 pages

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, 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
Rating: 3.5 stars

Publication date: February 29, 2016
Genre: M/M romance/Contemporary
Length: 198 pages

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, 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 instead.