Review – An Unseen Attraction by K.J. Charles

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

Publication date: February 21, 2017
Genre: M/M romance/Historical/Mystery
Length: 209 pages
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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
Our rating: 4.5 stars

Publication date: January 9, 2017
Genre: M/M romance/Historical
Length: 131 pages
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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
Our rating: 5 stars

Publication date: October 11, 2016
Genre: M/M Romance, Paranormal
Length: 204 pages
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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 – Blow Down by J.L. Merrow

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

Publication date: July 12, 2016
Genre: M/M romance/Mystery/Paranormal
Length: 249 pages
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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 (link to Amazon) 🙂

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 – Knit Tight by Annabeth Albert

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

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

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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
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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.

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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
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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.

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Review – The Persistence of Memory by Jordan Castillo Price

PersistenceOfMemoryTitle: The Persistence of Memory
Series: Mnevermind #1
Author: Jordan Castillo Price
Publisher: JCP Books
Our rating: 4 stars

Publication date: May 2, 2012
Genre: M/M romance/Science fiction
Length: 194 pp
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Review Summary: Intriguing first book in a trilogy focusing on induced dream/memories with some very engaging characters. Plan to read the whole series because you won’t want to stop at the end of this one.

Plot Summary/Blurb

Daniel Schroeder is a mnemographer, helping clients to have positive experiences or mnems in a kind of dreamworld, and he used to be very good at what he does, until an accident left his Dad with memory loss and Daniel with a severe blow to his confidence. His memory palace has gone downhill and he’s barely making ends meet. Then a very cool guy dressed in black starts showing up in the memes that he’s supervising, heralded by black crows. Daniel is intrigued, but is he losing his grip on reality?

The Persistence of Memory Review

On the borderline between paranormal and science fiction, this book is set in a world where people can define and build their own dream-like experiences. Even though they (mostly) don’t remember them afterward, they are left with a feel-good factor that persists. Mnemographer Daniel’s issue is that he’s lost his nerve for developing new mnems because of the accident that left his father with memory loss. Because of this, his business is suffering. He’s also not had a date in a long time.

If you know Jordan Castillo Price’s writing you’ll be expecting a male/male romance here but this first volume in the trilogy only begins to set that up. The two main characters are both engaging and Elijah is refreshingly different from most heroes of any kind of romance. I wanted to see more of Elijah and I was thrilled that book 2 is written from his point of view.

Secondary characters like Larry, Daniel’s co-worker in his second job (yes, the business is doing that badly!) and Big Dan, Daniel’s father, are well developed. Larry’s a funny guy and a great addition to the story. I was more uncomfortable with the sections featuring Big Dan because Daniel insists on telling him the bad news he’s forgotten, day after day, even though he’s only going to forget it again. Big Dan doesn’t have Alzheimer’s but the principle is surely the same – it’s cruel to upset people over and over so pointlessly, and I was sorry to see Daniel doing it.

The idea of mnems is not particularly original, being strongly reminiscent of Philip K. Dick’s We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, the book on which the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Total Recall was based. But this is a very different treatment of it – there’s none of the scary adventure story here. We’re clearly heading for a cute romance between Daniel and his Man in Black, who’s found a way to enter other peoples’ mnems.

The ending is a little abrupt and there’s no real resolution but it’s the first book in a trilogy and fans will be pleased to know the second in the series, Forget Me Not – Mnevermind #2 is already available. I read them back to back and can’t wait for the final book in the trilogy.

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