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review 2017-06-12 09:00
ARC Review: Back To You by Chris Scully
Back to You - Chris Scully

There's a melancholy undertone to this book, and it permeates everything that happens within. Set in a small town along the Canadian Highway of Tears, a stretch of road where women and young girl mysteriously disappeared over a period of about 40 years, there's a certain kind of dread that sits in the pit of your stomach from the get-go.

 

Alex/Alexander/Sandy Buchanan, a journalist, returns to the town where he grew up after leaving with his mother 20 years earlier upon his parents divorce. He returns, reluctantly, because his estranged father's drinking has finally caught up with him and the old man is expected to die soon. Alex has no expectations of a happy reunion as he still resents his father, but hopes to get a story out of his visit.

 

The story is told entirely from Alex's first-person POV, which naturally lets the reader see only what Alex chooses to see. We don't get a whole lot of insight to Ben or what makes him tick, except of what we're allowed to see through Alex somewhat self-absorbed eyes. There's a moment when Ben lays it all out, and Alex finally... well, you read this for yourself.

 

Alex's older sister Janet lives close by, having returned to be closer to their father some years ago, and their relationship is equally strained, with Janet blaming Alex for never even trying to have a relationship with his father after the divorce, and Alex resenting Janet for continuing to ask him to. Their relationship is complex, and it was clear from the start that Janet was troubled.

 

The only thing that Alex looks forward to as he drives up to the small town is seeing his childhood friend Ben/Benji Morning, who's now an artist. Back when they were in their early teens, Alex had strong feelings for Benji that confused and scared him, and when Alex and his mom moved away, he quickly forgot all about Benji. In the years since, he's never been able to recapture the feelings from their one innocent kiss, not in the one-night-stands, the failed relationships, or even his relatively short marriage.

 

Additionally, shortly before Alex's mother left with him and his sister, Benji's older sister Misty mysteriously vanished one day. Alex's father was the last one to talk to her, and Alex and Benji observed her car driving down the highway the day she disappeared. She's never been found, and her and Benji's mother has never stopped looking, obsessed with finding out what happened to her daughter. In all those years, she's never had any emotional energy left for Ben, and he basically had to raise himself after his sister's disappearance. Now living in a small studio above the garage, Benji has worked hard to find a bit of peace while still keeping an eye on his mother, a peace that is threatened by Alex showing up on his doorstep. He's teaching free art classes to special needs kids and others, and has carved out a quiet albeit lonely existence for himself. He longs to move on, but realizes that his mother will continue to stagnate in her quest for finding his sister.

 

Just about the time Alex arrives in town, Misty's car is found in a nearby lake on the outskirts of town, and the investigation is given a second wind.

 

The mystery about what happened to Misty is deeply intertwined with Alex's relationship with his father and sister, and basically drives the story. The romance and rekindled feelings between Alex and Ben take second place, really, and theirs is not an easy road.

The book is full of poignant moments, but it's more suspenseful mystery than romance. Alex learns that what he believes to be the truth might not be after all, and that the dying man in the hospital bed has perhaps similar trouble in expressing his feelings, and that Alex is his father's son after all.

 

The truth about Misty's disappearance does eventually come out, though it wasn't a huge surprise to me. There were hints along the way, in what people said, hints that Alex either didn't understand or was too busy avoiding. Truth is a double-edged sword, as Alex surely finds out.

 

This isn't an easy read, and with the focus not on the second-chance romance but the mystery and suspense, it's not a book that would appeal to readers who look for fluffy M/M romances. They'd miss out, of course, as this book showcases this author's exquisite ability to set the stage and draw images with her words, transporting the reader into the story and giving him or her a unique experience. The writing is exceptional in creating the perfect atmosphere and evoking just the right emotions while reading. As with Until September, the author also doesn't shy away from making statements about the social issues behind the Highway of Tears. 

 

I was fascinated from the start, and couldn't stop reading. A true page-turner, this book delivered on everything it promised and more.

 

 
** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher via Netgalley. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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review 2017-05-22 01:37
ARC Review: Michael, Reinvented by Diana Copland
Michael, Reinvented (Delta Restorations Book 2) - Diana Copland

4.5 stars for this 2nd installment in the Delta Restorations series!

 

First off, this shouldn't be read as a standalone. That's not to say that you couldn't - you just shouldn't. I think that to understand the progression of Michael and Gil's relationship, you should have read "David, Renewed", because the underlying UST between the two men develops in book 1, and is carried to its explosive conclusion in this book.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Michael is still David's assistant, and since David is still happily in love with Jackson (now living in the same house), and since Jackson and his band of merry men have formed a renovation company, with David slated as the interior designer, Michael still sees Gil on a fairly regular basis. Their relationship consists of a lot of teasing (on Gil's side) and a lot of "the lady doth protest too much" on Michael's side.

See, Michael is scared to admit to himself and anyone else that he's attracted to Gil, and that Gil possibly has the power to get past the brick walls Michael has erected around his heart due to past hurt. Therefore, Michael thinks that as long as he keeps Gil at bay and does not allow the man close, he'll be safe. So he snarks a lot. A lot. A whole lot. I giggled quite a bit at Michael's prickly responses to Gil's pursuit, knowing that it was inevitable, and just sat back to enjoy the ride to bliss.

Except the unknown entity from the first book who seems to be hellbent on hurting Michael's friends and business partners is still lurking in the bushes, and there's still the threat of David's abusive ex coming back to wreak more havoc, and when Michael is house-sitting for David and Jackson and finds a vandal outside of the house, his first call is not to the police but Gil.

Wonder why.

There's a lot more to Gil than Michael realized, and slowly but surely, as Michael discovers more about who Gil really is, his opinion of the man is changing, and Michael sees that maybe, just maybe, it's safe to be honest with himself and acknowledge with his head that what his heart has known for a while.

And just when Michael seems ready to take that step, tragedy strikes.

Nothing like a wake-up call to get your act together, is there?

I adored Gil - he was such a good, kind, and super patient guy, someone with a somewhat gruff exterior but a heart of gold. And Michael, prickly, hurt, and scared Michael, just grows on you - I realized in the first book that he must have had some real heartache in his life to become so standoffish and hide himself from what is definitely a good thing.

I can't say enough good things about the writing - super smooth and engaging, without any lulls or abrupt time jumps, with excellent pacing. While the book is told entirely from Michael's POV, and while Michael is a bit of an unreliable narrator, we get plenty of between the lines information about Gil. Michael may not always understand what makes Gil tick, but it's always very clear what Gil's priorities are, and how much he loves Michael, even if Michael refuses to see it.

Obviously, the men from Delta Restorations all make multiple appearances here, so we get to revisit with Vern, an older man with a rough exterior, (pretend-)grouchy most of the time, and Manny, who comes a bit more out of his shell in this book, but who still carries the scars from a previous relationship inside and out. I do hope that Manny's book will be next, because he sure as hell deserves someone who loves him fully and completely. Hopefully, that person will be Vern. I loved the easy banter between the group of men, and it was clear that they all respect each other and have formed a strong, supportive friendship.

This was a wonderful continuation of this series, and I can hardly wait to read the next book. Extra kudos for including the Velveteen Rabbit in this story - brilliant idea and execution, and thanks so much for making me cry.

One niggle - a neurologist isn't the same as a neurosurgeon, and these terms cannot be used interchangeably. I'm not sure if this was a research fail or an editing fail, but hopefully this was fixed in the final version.

Highly recommended that you pick up this book and its predecessor.


** I received a free advanced copy of this book from its publisher. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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review 2017-04-04 02:13
ARC Review: Conflict Management by Rachel White
Conflict Management - Rachel White

This was my first foray into this author's writing, and it was a complete success. I even added a new shelf for this (doing-the-bossman) because it clearly needed that.

This book is at its core about two socially awkward men, one the PA to the other, both struggling with their own personal issues and trying to do the best they can.

Morgan works as a PA for Lawrence King at the recycled paper company. At first, Morgan really dislikes Mr. King due to his awkward attempts at flirting which Morgan deems creepy (and which are inappropriate, for sure). It's always tricky, I suppose, to tell your boss that you're not receptive to his advances, because that could cost you your job, but it's also sexual harassment.

So initially, things aren't going so well between Morgan and Law(rence), until Morgan tells him what's what, and Law, to his credit, backs off, red-faced, realizing that his attempts at flirting aren't welcome.

But then Law's brother ends up in the hospital, and Morgan sees another side of his boss, and his opinion of the man slowly begins to change. Already impressed by the man's sincere apology for his unwitting creepiness, Morgan finds that he's starting to like the guy more and more, and doesn't quite know what to do with those feelings.

As does their relationship. This is by design sloooooooooow burn, and it needed to be. Law is dealing with his brother's illness, his ex-boyfriend's assholishness, a big merger at the company he works for, and his plate is pretty full. Morgan too has some struggles. His attempt at dating Harvey, a young man he meets at a beach cleanup activity, goes awry when Harvey makes a stupid racial comment, and Morgan, being mixed race, has no time for such a fool.

As Law and Morgan continue to accidentally be in the same place after working hours, the UST between them sizzles, but neither makes a move. Because reasons.

Like I said, sloooooow burn. I loved it. I loved the explosion and the fireworks when they finally got it on. I giggled at the awkward morning after. And how both Law and Morgan struggled to keep their hands off each other, even if they had agreed this would be a one-time thing.

Over the course of the book, Morgan goes from a somewhat insecure young man to developing a strong backbone, unwilling to compromise on his principles, even if it hurts him to do so.

Law too grows throughout the story, even if he required a push from his brother to finally stand up for what's right, and for what he wants.

The intrigue here deals primarily with the company they both work for, and includes embezzlement and fraud, which really drives the plot in the last third of this book.

I really appreciated the inclusion of a strong female character in this book, in Morgan's friend Anita with whom he shares an apartment and who's his sounding board. Their relationship was almost that of a brother and sister, and I really enjoyed the scenes where they were both on page together and bicker like siblings.

I even liked Law's brother Christian, who provided the push Law needed to do what he wanted to do. I intensely disliked Simon, the ex-boyfriend, who's just a narcissistic asshole and who didn't really add anything to the plot at all other than possibly give a little bit of background information to explain parts of Law's personality.

This being billed as a romance, there's a strong and hopeful HFN that really made me believe these two will make it long-term. I'd like to get a glimpse at their future and how they work through the obstacles still in their way at book's end.

This was a great read overall, and I enjoyed myself immensely, reading it in one day because I just didn't want to put it down. Well done!


** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher via Netgalley. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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review 2016-11-15 05:00
ARC Review: Seven-Card Stud by Ava Drake
Seven-Card Stud (Dreamspun Desires Book 22) - Ava Drake

Intrigue, suspense, and a romance during a high stakes poker tournament - that's good stuff.

 

In this 2nd installment of the Wild Cards series, Ava Drake takes us to the coast of Gibraltar, where a super sekrit and super illegal high stakes Poker tournament is about to begin. Players are invitation-only, and nobody knows who's organizing it.

Which is why someone secured an invitation for Collin Callahan, a British spy. He's supposed to go against some of the best poker players in the world, all of whom have their own strategy on how to win.

 

On his first day at the exclusive resort where the tournament is taking place, Collin observes a swimmer out in the Mediterranean Sea, about to get run over, on purpose, by a jet ski. Fearful when the swimmer doesn't surface, Collin dives into the frigid sea to attempt a rescue, only to need rescuing himself, by said swimmer, who turns out to be a famous surfer named Oliver Elliott. Oliver is also at the resort for the same tournament.

 

They're supposed to be rivals, but it doesn't take much time until they heat up the sheets.

 

This was fast-paced, highly engaging, and a fun read. I breezed through this book in no time at all. The plot was a bit far-fetched, including the climax, and the epilogue, but I expected that going in.

 

The attraction between Collin and Oliver is immediate, and while there's a bunch of sex in this book, it doesn't take away from the plot. There was hacking into the hotel's servers, poker players being killed off, everyone being suspicious of everyone else - there's lots going on. I had a blast reading this book. Yeah, I suspended all disbelief, sure, but in return, the author took me on a wild ride.

 

But there was more than just that - both MCs also needed to work through some lingering issues, what with Oliver's daddy problems, and Collin's... well, you read this for yourself.

 

My only niggle was the ending. I would have liked to see the conglomerate die a fiery death and free them both. It wasn't the great romantic HEA that I wanted for them.

This was a great addition to the Dreamspun Desires series, nonetheless.

 


** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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text 2016-09-04 11:23
Reading progress update: I've read 13%.
The Complete Sherlock Holmes (The Heirloom Collection) - Bill & Martin Greenberg (eds.), Ian Fleming, Leslie Charteris, John D. MacDonald, W. Somerset Maugham, Peter O'Donnell, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Erle Stanley Gardner, John Jakes, Edward D. Hoch, Cornell Woolrich, William E. Barrett, Bruce Cassiday, Mic

Oh, joy. Casual racism. When I'm not in a shippy mood I'm shaking my head at what ACD thought would make a good story.

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