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review 2018-09-04 02:47
ARC Review: Wight Mischief by JL Merrow
Wight Mischief - J.L. Merrow

I'm super late with this review - my apologies to the author and publisher.

The pairing in this book was a bit unusual - one a somewhat slow but super nice guy, and the other mysterious and vulnerable.

Will is visiting the Isle of Wight with his friend (I use the term loosely here, because I didn't like the guy - a self-absorbed user who didn't seem to care about Will much at all, but kept him by his side to warm the spot when nobody else was available) Baz, a wannabe journalist, helping to research a book on ghosts. Will is a nice guy - reliable, dependable, and slowly coming around to the fact that Baz isn't as good a friend as Will thought, and definitely not worthy of the shine Will's taken to him for years. He's intrigued by Marcus, whom he initially thinks a ghost (!!) when he first sees him on the beach below Marcus' mansion. 

Marcus is a recluse author, orphaned after his parents' violent deaths as a teenager, and having been raised by his creepy controlling guardian, a family friend, he doesn't venture outside of his manor much. Born with albinism, he avoids the daylight as much as possible and only goes outside at night. Marcus has built some massive walls around his heart - partially mortared by his guardian's controlling manner. 

The mystery/suspense was well done, even though it was clear to me early on who the villain was - I didn't mind; I enjoyed the journey to the final revelation (that was a bit of a shock) and dramatic climax. 

The author's writing style just works for me, and there hasn't been a JL Merrow book yet that I didn't like. Vivid descriptions of the island transported me directly to the location - I could feel the moonlight on my face, I could smell the salty ocean breeze. It may be a small island, but it sure sounds like a spot worth visiting - tons of history set amidst a rocky, rugged landscape. 

The romance is by design slow-burn but also fast - feelings develop quickly - as Marcus is torn between wanting to trust Will, wanting to experience what it would be like to be loved by a man such as Will, but also fearing his guardian and opening his heart to love. 

I adored Will. I wanted him to be happy, and I feared for his safety as the plot progresses. I don't want to give too much away here. Just know that this is a lovely story, with wonderful MCs, and totally worth your time. 


** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher in exchange for an honest review. **

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review 2018-09-04 02:08
ARC Review: Love At First Hate by JL Merrow
Love At First Hate - JL Merrow

While this is the 11th book in the loosely connected Porthkennack series, it's book 3 for the Roscarrocks; this one being about Branok (Bran) who was a real git in the first two books, and whom I'd basically written off as a jerk not worth my time.

Boy, was I wrong.

It could theoretically also be read as a standalone, though the characters from the previous two books make an appearance, and it would probably be best to read both of them before reading this one, to fully grasp the layers of Bran's misunderstood character. 

Bran was a real a-hole to his nephew Devan (from book 1) when he came to Porthkennack to search for his birth mother, though it's not clear why until this book. 

Bran showed some contempt for his little brother Jory (from book 2), and again, the reasons aren't clear until this book.

Living with a huge burden on his shoulders, his late father's voice in his ear, Bran has locked himself into the closet all his life, never feeling free to be who he really is. His twin sister Bea (Devan's mother) and he have spent most their adult life on their family estate, setting themselves apart from the general populace as what would 500 years ago be similar to feudal overlords. 

And Bran has for many, many years kept a massive secret from his sister and brother. 

Sam Ferreira is an old friend of Jory, whom he met while at university. Trusting someone he thought he could trust turned out to be detrimental for Sam's academic career, and, in some debt from gambling, he's now in dire need of a new job. When Jory comes to him about helping with an exhibit Bran is funding, about The Black Prince, Sam jumps at the chance to prove himself and says yes.

And thus Bran and Sam meet. The romance between them is slow burn by design - and when I say slow, I mean slooooooooow. There's a lot of UST and longing, but we're more than halfway in before they first kiss. To be honest, the slow burn was necessary - both men have baggage, and it takes some time for Bran and Sam to trust the other. 

The romance is quiet, almost taking a backseat to the rest of the plot, which is basically an exploration, a study of Bran's character. The man, outwardly sensible and hard and difficult to read, is in reality vulnerable, insecure, and scared. He hides his true self. He's taken on the responsibility of carrying the family legacy. He's jealous, he's demanding, and he barks at others. But he puts family above all else, he's generous, and he desperately wants to be loved. Even if he's loathe to admit that to anyone, including himself.

I'm not one who needs a lot of on-page sex, and this book doesn't have a lot of it, which suited me fine. What passion there is felt genuine. We leave Bran and Sam with a HFN, but one that I can absolutely see turn into a HEA, possibly in a future book in which we get to revisit these characters.


** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. **

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review 2018-08-17 02:41
ARC Review: Sky Full Of Mysteries by Rick R. Reed
Sky Full Of Mysteries - Rick R. Reed

This isn't a romance novel as much as it is an exploration of love and loss, and the difference between young love and mature love. It's also a bit of a character study for the MC Cole and explores how a traumatic loss can influence the rest of your life.

Cole and Rory are young and in love, having just moved into their first apartment together, in Chicago in the late 90s. They are somewhat opposites, but perfect for each other, and oh so in love. On a night when Cole has to work late, Rory decides to have dinner in a small restaurant close to the nearby college campus. A couple of beers and a burger later, Rory is on his way home, when a mass appears in the sky above him, a white light blinds him, and he finds himself leaving the ground. While this strongly hints at alien abduction, we're left to fill in many blanks, and it doesn't actually matter for the plot of this book how Rory disappears for so many years - it really only matters that he does.

Cole returns after work to an empty apartment. The author vividly describes his fear, his panic, his search for Rory, as hours turn into days into weeks into months, without a trace of Rory to be found. Cole's despair is palpable, and we see him slowly fall into a black hole of grief and pain. Most of the first half or so of the book deals with Cole searching for Rory, wondering what happened to him, and his reactions felt absolutely realistic. I watched a young, happy, carefree man become withdrawn and a shell of his former self. It is only through an almost accidental connection with Tommy, a law student and friend of the waitress who served Rory his last meal and comes forward with that information, that Cole doesn't fully drown in his grief. 

I felt that Tommy was a clutch for Cole, even as we find them dating and then together, eventually married, for 20 years. They're comfortable in their large apartment, with Tommy being a prolific author, and Cole taking care of the house, neither of them leaving their four walls much. While I believed that Cole loved Tommy and that their relationship was a happy one, it so very obviously lacked the exuberance of Cole's first love for Rory. He hides himself away from the world, something that suits Tommy just fine, but I felt as if Cole didn't really live at all after losing Rory. That he had lost his spark, that piece that made him uniquely Cole. 

Tommy is a nice guy, and he understands that Cole never got over losing Rory. He tolerates it, and he hides his hurt from Cole, loving the other man so much that he's willing to deal with being second place. I wondered if loving someone like Tommy loved Cole would explain why he was such a doormat and put up with Cole's eccentricities around Rory's memory.

At its core, the book pits young, passionate love with endless possibilities against the kind of love that grows over time, the kind that's as comfortable as a well-worn pair of jeans, the kind that has matured over the years, the kind that's familiar and deep and lasting. 

And then out of the blue Rory returns. And Cole has to make a choice. 

The ending - I am grateful that the author chose to go that route, because if Cole had made a different choice, I would have been really angry. I still have some questions, but I also understand that the author chose to be intentionally vague on some of the details, leaving some things to the reader's imagination. Truly, the ending as written here is the only one that made sense, the only one that was palatable to me. 

When I closed the book, I sat for a while wondering - what choice would I make if faced with the same decision Cole had to make? I examined my own feelings, comparing my first love to the love I share with the man I married, and how different my life might have turned out if I had made different choices at different times in my life. Which then spawned the question - how different would Cole's life have turned out if Rory hadn't left the apartment that night to eat dinner elsewhere? How would their young, exuberant love have fared through the years to come? Would they have made it? Would it have ended in tears and heartache as they grew up, matured, and potentially grew apart? Or would they have stayed together and grown old together? 

This is a masterfully crafted story, with an unusual plot, and utterly riveting. I could hardly put it down for any length of time. And any book that makes me think like this one did is surely deserving of the five stars it got. 

Recommended.


** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher in exchange for an honest review. **

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review 2018-08-15 02:03
ARC Review: Camwolf by JL Merrow
Camwolf - J.L. Merrow

This was an interesting take on the shapeshifter sub-genre, and a much darker tale than what I'm used to from this author.

Dr. Nick Sewell is a professor at Cambridge university. He's also a werewolf, bitten and turned by an ex-boyfriend, and still struggling a bit with the wolfy parts of him.

Julian, a new student from Germany, causes an immediate reaction in Nick, even more so when Nick realizes the younger man is also a wolf. Nick is all alpha-wolf, which works well since Julian is more submissive in nature. 

Nick is still angry with the ex-boyfriend - he didn't ask to be bitten and turned, and the ex disappeared on him, more or less, so Nick has had to figure out pretty much on his own how to deal with the pull of the moon and the change. And now he's all growly and jealous and finds that he has this urge to be near the new student as much as possible, even though that creeps him out and he knows he sticks out like a sore thumb. 

Julian's backstory comes out slowly, and there were moments when what I found out made me so. fucking. mad! 

The author did a fine job with her characters - both are complex and flawed, polar opposites at first glance, but in many instances more alike deep down than they realize. The book is told from Nick's POV, switching with Julian's friend Tiffany's POV, which I found unusual and somewhat unfitting, since I really didn't have much interest in Tiffany, but the more I thought about her narrative, the more I realized that she actually brought some depth to Julian's character that may not have been as clear if we'd only heard from Nick. 

The thing that bothered me the most was how the situation with Julian's father's Beta turned out - and how his father seemed unapologetic for what he put his child through. Julian's mother seemed very weak, but we only saw her through Nick's eyes, and those were a bit biased. What didn't help was that there was a distinct lack of world-building - the werewolf lore used wasn't really explained, for one, and while Nick learns a bit more about changing into a wolf, he didn't really delve any deeper than what Julian told him. 

And it raised additional questions - like, is Crack fully human? And will he get his own book?

It's a rather dark novel, much darker than I expected, but I enjoyed reading it. I am German by birth, and most of the German used in this book was accurate. A few things were, while spelled properly, not exactly how a German would express themselves (at least not one from where I grew up).


** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher in exchange for an honest review. **

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review 2018-08-11 02:24
ARC Review: Drumbeat (Notes From Boston #3) by A.M. Leibowitz
Drumbeat - A. M. Leibowitz

This is Jamie's book. If you've read the other two books in this series (Anthem and Nightsong), you may remember Jamie as one of the roommates who shared a house with Trevor and Nate before both of them got their happy ending. He currently shares the space with Mack, but they're looking for a roommate since Trevor is all moved out and Nate spends most of his time at his fiance's place. 

Both Jamie and Mack are in a band (Jamie playing drums, evocative of the title of this book, though drumbeat has another connotation, but we'll get to that in a bit), but Jamie also works in a restaurant to make ends meet. Oh, and he's still working on coping after years of living with an abusive ex-boyfriend. Who's still contacting him all the time, and harassing him, and trying to convince him to come back. Sage, the ex, is a real piece of work, and I would have liked to wring his neck. Repeatedly. 

Jamie struggles with his past, Jamie struggles with food, and Jamie struggles to not get caught up in Sage's web again. Years of abuse have taken a toll on him, and there were moments when he's still getting caught up in expecting the worst of others, expecting others to act the same way Sage did. It's probably a form of PTSD that manifests itself in what's stored in the box underneath his bed. Vague? Yep, I know - just read the book! 

The other MC in this book is Cian, a dance instructor/teacher, who works with deaf and hearing children, one of whom is his little sister, using ASL to communicate and his cane to tap out the drumbeat (the other connotation of the title). He's an outlying part of a triad (two women, one man) who live outside of town, and while they've invited Cian to join them permanently, he's not ready to take that step. He's torn between wanting to stay in town for Jamie to see where their relationship may go, but also conscious that with the dance studio closing, he may not have a choice but to move. 

The author weaves telling us about the characters into the storyline seamlessly, and as we learn more about Jamie's and Cian's situations, the two of them meet again, as their paths cross occasionally. There's also some history between them, and their initial stance toward each other is a bit antagonistic. They have a mutual friend, Brandon, who's trying to play a bit of matchmaker, but that doesn't initially work.

Jamie also knows ASL, for reasons I won't divulge here, because you should read this book and find out.

This author has a real knack for writing real people with real issues and real problems, looking for real solutions. They are complex and flawed, with a variety of sexuality. While the two main characters are male, only Jamie is gay - Cian isn't. They felt real and relatable, and their relationship developed slowly, over time, over misunderstandings, over misgivings, over realizing that they perhaps have more in common than they initially thought. 

There are trials and tribulations, and both men need to forge paths of their own that then eventually converge and thus allow them to travel the road to their happy ending together. 

This isn't your typical M/M romance, and I knew that going in. While there is on-page sex, it's not limited to happening only between the two MCs - that's another thing you should know. I don't consider those sexual encounters cheating, as Jamie and Cian aren't together for a long while, and those encounters happen primarily before they do. Still, if you don't like your MCs getting into bed with others, this book probably isn't for you. 

Jamie has some serious issues that are far beyond the lingering problems with the abusive ex, and those issues are the cause for what becomes the climax in this book, where all the doors are flung wide open and all his secrets are shared with Cian. 

There is no happily ever after in this book (and there couldn't be) but a strong HFN and a commitment to work through their issues, to be honest and open with each other, and to deserve the trust they put into each other. Considering what this author put their characters through, I couldn't really ask for more than that.


So, recap - not your typical M/M romance, sex outside of the main relationship, realistic, flawed, complex characters, and a well-rounded plot that allows both MCs to grow - yeah, I'd recommend it. 


** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher in exchange for an honest review. **

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