I haven’t been doing much lately – no writing, no promoting, no real living. Things have been marking time and I’m not quite ready to march back out yet. However, I do want to start the ball rolling, to dip my toe back into the river, so to speak. I was thinking what I could do to jump start myself without asking too much of myself, and I thought of a way that could help others at the same time. At least I hope it will.

I’ve been reviewing for Sinfully and I’ve got quite a stock of reviews under my belt. I thought it might be a good thing to share a few of my favourites.

The Supers by Sean Michaels

Pre Order for 15 October

Blurb

Hunting ghosts and finding more than they bargained for.

Blaine Franks is a member of the paranormal research group the Supernatural Explorers. When the group loses their techie to a cross-country move, newly graduated Flynn Huntington gets the job. Flynn fits in with the guys right off the bat, but when it comes to him and Blaine, it’s more than just getting along.

Things heat up between Blaine and Flynn as they explore their first haunted building, an abandoned hospital, together. Their relationship isn’t all that progresses, though, and soon it seems that an odd bite on Blaine’s neck has become much more.

Hitchhiking ghosts, a tragic love story forgotten by time, and the mystery of room 204 round out a romance where the things that go bump in the night are real.

Review

Five gay ghost hunters, a van full of ghost hunting equipment and a spooky hospital full of ghosts waiting to be validated. Add in a love affair or two and it makes for a damn good story.

When Flynn joins The Supernatural Explorers as their new tech support guy, he expects to find a few ghosts, maybe validating his own experiences along the way. What he doesn’t expect is to fall for the sexy-as-hell front man, Blaine.

Blaine was up to his eyeballs working the family farm, renovating the barn and trying to make the big-time with the ghost hunters. The last thing he expected was to be knocked off his feet by the new guy.

Neither of them expected what happened when they started investigating Eugene Thurston Memorial Hospital where two particular tragedies pull them in and damn near result in a brand-new tragedy all their own.

Purists who like “sticking to the rules” might find this book frustrating. There is a lot of head-hopping going on, and some of the writing is quite naïve. However, I liked it. There was a sense of chaos that was perfect for the story and the characters. Personally, I didn’t find myself pulled out of the story at any point and I wasn’t confused about who was talking when. Each character had his own unique voice and the author took enough time introducing us and getting to know each other for those voices to become distinct and recognizable. When things get hectic, we know the characters well enough to keep things straight.

The five boys are quite an eclectic crowd in many different ways, but seem to mesh well. They’re certainly a close-knit crew and quickly adopt Flynn as one of their own, even when he starts a relationship with Blaine. The only jealousy is with Blaine who is initially a little put out that he is no longer the only psychic and feels, unjustly, that Flynn is usurping him and pushing him out. Fortunately, this does not last long.

There’s not a lot of sex, but what there is, is well written and natural. The boys actually laugh, talk and have a good time, rather than the intense, almost spiritual experience that some sex scenes tend to portray – everyone silent and concentrating. These were just two boys having fun – and later clinging together to try to inject some normality into the craziness they were caught up in.

I’m not entirely sure what genre to place this story in. Romance seems too…sweet. There definitely is a romance, and paranormal romance is an option. However, the story is much stronger than pure romance. Whilst the relationship, including the sex is an important part, the story has a life of its own and would make sense even if not only the sex but the entire relationship was taken out. That’s not to suggest in any way that it should be or that the story reads as if it would be better without it. The story is built around the relationship but has a life of its own and isn’t reliant on it. There were times when the story dipped its toe into mystery, or began to slide swiftly toward horror.

I found myself hovering at the edge of my seat more than once and I wondered if the crew would still number five by the time we got to the end [Spoiler alert: I’m glad that not only Finn and Blaine, but Christian and David got their happy endings – probably]

All in all the book was a sweet read. It’s not the best written novel I’ve ever read but it certainly has a very gripping story and a cast of characters that bring it to life. As the boys joked, they would have felt very much at home in the Mystery Machine with Scooby  and his gang.

The ending of the book left the scene set for a series, and I for one certainly hope we get to see more of the boys and their own personal brand of craziness.

 

Carry The Ocean / Shelter the Sea by Heidi Cullinan.

I can honestly say these are two of the best books I have ever read. They are life changing. My son, who is autistic absolutely adores them as do his friends – some of whom have A.S.D. and some of whom don’t. Emmett is quite simply one of the best characters I have read, and is definitely the best autistic character I’ve read.

I am sad that I seem to have lost my review of Carry The Ocean but I am presenting you with my review of the sequel and my absolute assurances that the first book is a genuine 5* (more if I could have) young adult with absolutey unique characters and a story that will haunt you – in the best possible way.

Normal is just a setting on the dryer.

High school graduate Jeremey Samson is looking forward to burying his head under the covers and sleeping until it’s time to leave for college. Then a tornado named Emmet Washington enters his life. The young man with a double major in math and computer science is handsome, forward, wicked smart, interested in dating Jeremey—and he has autism.

But Jeremey doesn’t judge him for that. He’s too busy judging himself, as are his parents, who don’t believe in things like clinical depression. When Jeremey’s untreated illness reaches a critical breaking point, Emmet is the white knight who rescues him and brings him along as a roommate to The Roosevelt, a quirky new assisted living facility.

As Jeremey and Emmet find their feet at The Roosevelt, they begin to believe they can be loved for the men they are beyond their disabilities. But before they can trust enough to fall head over heels, they must trust their own convictions that friendship is a healing force and love can overcome any obstacle.

.

Some heroes wear capes. Some prefer sensory sacks.

Emmet Washington has never let the world define him, even though he, his boyfriend, Jeremey, and his friends aren’t considered “real” adults because of their disabilities. When the State of Iowa restructures its mental health system and puts the independent living facility where they live in jeopardy, Emmet refuses to be forced into substandard, privatized corporate care. With the help of Jeremey and their friends, he starts a local grassroots organization and fights every step of the way.

In addition to navigating his boyfriend’s increased depression and anxiety, Emmet has to make his autistic tics acceptable to politicians and donors, and he wonders if they’re raising awareness or putting their disabilities on display. When their campaign attracts the attention of the opposition’s powerful corporate lobbyist, Emmet relies on his skill with calculations and predictions and trusts he can save the day—for himself, his friends, and everyone with disabilities.

He only hopes there isn’t a variable in his formula he’s failed to foresee.

Review

I was worried about reading this book. I loved the first one so much I was afraid the sequel wouldn’t live up. Thank heaven I was wrong.
I’ve evangelised about “Carry the Ocean” and have made no secret that I’m a big fan. In fact, I would go as far as saying it was one of the best books I have ever read. This one, if anything, is better.
Although I think both books are perfect as they are, and although I appreciate it’s totally in keeping and right for the story, I am disappointed there is sex in them. Not that I dislike it per se but because it precludes them from being accepted by schools, and I think every school should have both books in their libraries. I also believe they should be taught within the curriculum. They are simply that good, and more than that, the messages they carry are important.
Jeremy and Emmett are back, with some friends, fighting for the rights of disabled people in Iowa and all over the world. Both books have an important message. The first concerned Jeremy and Emmett; this one, everyone.
Two other characters have emerged from the cast of the first book: David and Darren. The four of them form the Roosevelt Blues Brothers, spearheading a push for social change after the Roosevelt, their assisted living accommodation is threatened by government cuts. From lobbying to proposals, to travelling to Hollywood for a television appearance, the boys face challenges that sometimes seem insurmountable, but when the Roosevelt Blues Brothers set out to do something they might not get what they want but they certainly make an impact.
I have never read a book that presents such a positive and living depiction of people with disabilities. Emmett considers difficulties to be superpowers, things that disabled, and specifically autistic people, can do that people “on the mean” can’t. Having an autistic son I can attest that this is true.
Emmett is amazing, and if there is any character I would like to have to created, he is it. I love Emmett and root for him absolutely in everything he does. He may be an unlikely hero, but he is a hero nonetheless. Even if all we hear about was what he did for Jeremey, let alone the disabled community as a whole, he would be a hero. Everyone should know about Emmett and people like him. Everyone should listen to his message
[People are] able-bodied. I am not. We are not. But because people in our lives have cared enough about us to help us, we’ve been able to do incredible things. What we are saying is why not care enough about more people […] so they can do more incredible things?”
Don’t get the wrong impression though. This book does not preach and it is not at all serious. Yes, there are some very moving parts and, as a whole it is informative and inspiring, but there is a lot of humour too. I will leave you with one of my very favourite parts and send you off to read the rest. This is not a book you should read, but a book you must read.

What did depression want?
Technically what depression was or what it sought inside the brain wasn’t known, but it was thought to be about neural circuitry. So it was similar to my brain octopuses. But it was a sad octopus.
What did a sad octopus want?

I don’t know why but the last line made me crack up. I hope you will laugh too… and cry, and get angry and be happy and, most of all have a little more understanding of what really lies behind the uncomfortable face of mental health.

 

The Offbeat Crimes Series by Angel Martinez

Review

The stories are set in Philadelphia and really bring the city to life. They are, I suppose, crime stories, but they’re definitely not just crime stories.

The 77th Precinct is in every way a Special Branch. They have on staff a werewolf, a vampire who can only eat washed blood, a snake-man, a pyro who can only produce fire when there is no humidity, a ghost who makes terrible coffee, a pink and blue raven with a filthy mouth and penchant for art, and the Lieutenant is a High Priestess, to an Elder God, who must sacrifice regularly to prevent catastrophic manifestation. In Book II they added an animated leather jacket and a furry…Tim. In later books other intersting…beings as well as “talented” individuals.

The books balance the mundane, the unbelievable and the absurd, weaving them into stories that could very easily have been either messy and confusing, or cliche. However, in this case, the weave is masterful and the books amuse, captivate, and as a writer, impress me. The use of language is rich and poetic

Four inches of snow had fallen the night before, coating the browns and greens of the park in a uniform layer of white, softening the aggressive lines of statue plinths, hiding the imperfections that the spring thaw would reveal in shameless stripper fashion.

…and often very funny

Perched on top of the lieutenant’s doorframe, a bright-blue and neon-pink bundle of feathers flapped its wings and let out a raucous croaking laugh. Edgar, the department’s foulmouthed raven, finally decided to weigh in. “Water sports!” he called out. “Not safe for work! Fucking amateurs!”

In each of the books one pair has prominence but all the characters dip in and out of each other’s books. As in all good series, there is an overarching story that is slowly drawn out, strand by strand, deepening as the stories progress through each book, adding layer upon layer. There are spin offs, offshoots and diversionary tactics and sometimes it’s difficult to keep an eye on the pea under the cup but there is definitely a sense of things coming to a head which drags me from book to book with a rare impatience.

The sex is good, and relevant in the development of the characters and their relationship. I normally skip past the sex but there are funny and sometimes important little snippets imparted during the intimate scenes that make it worth reading every word. I particularly loved the scene in Book I where Kash and Kyle are making love while watching Lord of the Rings. The scene-by-scene progress of the lovemaking matched seamlessly the progression of scenes in the film.

Some people might consider that, at times, the book gets just a little too strange,  and the matter-of-fact treatment of the ludicrous next to the mundane might put some people off. If you like everything neat and making logical sense you might struggle sometimes.

This is seriously the only “bad” thing I can find to say about this series. I not only loved, but was impressed by all five books so far. I’m very glad I got to read and review them and I will be looking out for any more in this series or by this author generally.

The Haven Investigation Series by Lissa Kasey

Review of First Two books

I read the first book of the Haven Investigations series, Model Citizen, a little while ago and loved it. I don’t know if the idea of a genderfluid, androgynous model pairing up with a scarred veteran is wholly unique, but I haven’t come across it anywhere else. I loved the premise and I absolutely adored the book.

Ollie is no wilting flower, and whilst he does have a penchant for getting into trouble and needing rescuing, he’s definitely no damsel in distress. I love his sassy, independent attitude which covers a lot of broken bits. I also loved Kade, former marine invalided out after a serious injury, who was best friends with Ollie’s deceased brother, Nathan. Through Nathan, Kade watched Ollie grow and blossom, and fell in love with him a long time ago, through Nathan’s letters and photographs. He hasn’t approached because Nathan didn’t feel he was good enough for Ollie, but when Nathan finally gave the green light, just before he died, Kade is ready to sweep Ollie off his high-heels.

I came into this book with a lot of expectations, and overall, I wasn’t disappointed. However, there were some flaws, which I will expand on later, once I’ve told you why you should definitely read this book, and this series. Most are minor and some would probably only be noticed by a grammar purist (with no clue as to punctuation) like me – the incorrect use of awhile is one of my bugbears.

The core stories are fairly generic. First is the rock star being stalked and needing a bodyguard who investigates and solves the mystery, and second the new boyfriend dealing with the ex being back on the scene bearing dark secrets from the past. However, the way these core stories are dealt with and interwoven – with themselves and other side stories – are anything but generic. I found the book, and the series so far, fresh and exciting in the way they re-seed old ground. Many characters skate close to stereotypes but all have definite twists toward the extraordinary.

There are elements of BDSM that weren’t there in the first book, but they’re very subtle and, for the most part, in the background. There’s a nice comparison between fairly hardcore BDSM done badly (and very much in the background) and elements brought thoughtfully and creatively in to spice up a fairly vanilla relationship.

This leads nicely on to the sex scenes. I’m not one for reading sex very much and I often skim over it. However, I have to say that the sex in this book was integral to story, bringing out subtleties that make the overall experience richer, and I skimmed very little, if at all. There are only so many ways you can describe sex which is why I value all the little details around the act itself that gives it texture and flavour.

The book is not perfect, none are, because it’s impossible to please all the people all the time and reading is so subjective there will always be something someone doesn’t like. For me the flaws are relatively small and did not detract from the pleasure of reading the story. They do, however, need to be mentioned.

The first book ended on a slight cliff-hanger, and this one on a bigger one. I don’t have problems with that per se, especially as it’s a series but – and this is not going to be an issue for those who read this as a standalone – I was slightly peeved that as far as the first cliff-hanger is concerned we’re a whole book on and still dangling in exactly the same position. In fact, the situation was barely mentioned. I would have liked just a little more discussion about that particular issue as it felt odd and wrong that it had just been completely dropped, especially as it made such an impact on everyone involved.

Another thing that irked me slightly was that the author seemed intent on bringing in as many different LGBT+ characters as she could – trans, bi, asexual, aromantic, genderqueer, genderfluid, gay – and it got to a point when it seemed forced.

This book is in no way froth. It is an easy read, but it deals sensitively with some weighty issues, such as mental health problems, suicide, eating disorders, trauma and PTSD. Some things I initially thought might be flaws later made perfect sense. For example, I thought initially that there was a little too much focus on Ollie being so beautiful. It was mentioned all the time and I didn’t think it was needed – until I came to realise what was going on inside. Then, it made perfect sense. There was one very touching scene

He didn’t see what I saw. I knew that. Both his therapist and his nutritionist reminded me of that often. Always when I complimented his beauty, I was to talk about things in a more abstract or general view than anything solid. A focussed comment like loving the way his ass was so round and firm could send him into a compulsion over the body part. Even small bits like his lashes or lips would have him searching out the nearest mirror, looking for flaws that were all in his head.

There were some places in the plot where I thought things were blown out of proportion and others where they were a little too underplayed. That being said, this is the case with most books because they are generally matters of personal taste.

On the whole, I couldn’t find much to complain about in a book that was fresh and complex but not to the point of confusion. I was able to keep the cast and plot clear in my mind from the start and there were enough surprises to keep me on the edge of my seat. Others might see the ending coming, but to me it was a big shock and very well done.

I heartily recommend this book, and this series to anyone who likes quirky characters, a lot of emotional depth and an intriguing story with only a smattering of extremely well written sex.

 

The Hexworld Series by Jordan L Hawke (I LOVED the Whyborne and Griffin series also)

Review of Book 1

The first book I read of this writer was Hainted, and to say I loved it would be an understatement. I mean, hot goth, what more need I say? I then read the first of the SPECTRE series and it was no less well written, but didn’t really grab me the way Hainted had. I didn’t even start to read the Whyborne and Griffin series because I don’t like historical novels. I especially don’t like Victorian novels. So why the hex did I snatch this one out of the list?

Well, it all started with a fangirl moment at the UK Meet when I met Ms Hawk, and desperate for an autograph, I snatched up her free short story (what can I say, I should be living in a garret). The short turned out to be The Thirteenth Hex and introduced me to the world of the Hexmen (I didn’t get the joke until a couple of hours ago).

Having read that, I couldn’t not read this. There is another book, Hexbreaker, in between. Although previous events are referred to briefly, it in no way detracts from or interrupts the story so there is no need to read Hexbreaker first. That being said, I will definitely be starting on that one as soon as I can.

This isn’t the first story I’ve read about witches and their familiars, it isn’t the first where there is a separate, paranormal police force, and it isn’t the first set in an alternate history. However, it is the first that’s done all that with such flair.

To get the technicalities out of the way, the editing is almost perfect (although there was one point where Mal took off his robe twice), the story arcs are graceful and seamless, and the pacing flawless. Dammit, can’t I find anything worse than a twice-donned robe to complain about? Not really.

From the very first moments the book drops you in the middle of a mystery. Murder, mayhem and misunderstandings abound when a poor, thief familiar stumbles on a murder, then is almost immediately presented with his witch who happens to be not only a police officer but a ridiculously rich and about-to-be-married one.

The world-building is exemplary with the world of the witches, familiars and everyday hexes woven seamless into our known history. The author skilfully draws us in with fascinating characters, intriguing situations and imagery that evokes all the senses it a wonderful blend of enchantment that’s all her own.

There are so many things I loved about this book, it’s difficult to know where to start. The magic starts on the first page. We’re immediately introduced to Mal, the foxy thief who we learn so much about, so quickly without being directly told very much at all. Within the first few pages we’re nicely set up with a clear picture of place, action and characters, with hardly any direct explanation of anything. This was masterful storytelling.

The two main characters are very different in class, background, education and just about everything else. This is very clear and very consistent throughout, from the way they talk, the language they use – I adored Mal’s curse of fur and feathers – to their understanding of the world and their place in it. There was no time when I said “He shouldn’t have said/done/known that”.

The story has more twists than a Welsh mountain road and each one drags the reader further into the story and into the mystery.

There is some interesting social commentary and anecdotal retellings of real(ish) events. Appalling snobbery from the “Four Hundred” richest families, is delicately and deliciously unfurled alongside inverted snobbery from the other side of the fence. Neither “world” is happy with its member becoming involved with the other side. Mal isn’t good enough for them, while Owen is too good for us. I loved the description of Mal’s world of shady apartments and dodgy hat makers as much as Owen’s lavish homes and balls.

The story builds in a gradual but steady crescendo with plenty to keep the reader interested at every turn, to an explosive conclusion that left me more than satisfied. No anti-climax in this book. All the climaxes were riveting.

There was a fair smattering of sex and I won’t say too much about that or I’ll have Owen blushing until his cheeks burst into flames. Enough to say it was as riveting as the rest of the story. I recommend you look up Dr Young’s Rectal Dilators which I am sure brought much… relief to our Victorian ancestors, as well as inspiration to later generations.

My favourite scene in the entire book is the fiddling in the park. I won’t go into any more detail. You’ll have to read the book to find out why it’s so special. In fact, read the book to find out why it’s all so special.

If you heartily dislike anything paranormal or historical you might decide not to read this book. Your loss. It’s the perfect blend of mystery, magic and mayhem, with settings that are so close you can almost touch, see and smell them, characters you feel you might know and situations that made so much sense you can sometimes realize what’s happening just a fraction before everyone else does and feel just a little superior because of it. Thank you for that Ms Hawk, I needed it.

 

I hope you enjoyed these little snippets as much as I have enjoyed going back, readiing over my reviews and thinking about all these wonderful books. Of course, they’re not the only wonderful books I’ve read and reviewed but this post can’t really afford to be any longer 😀

For more reviews, recommendations, and wonderful books check out Sinfully Here