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review 2018-09-17 01:59
Book Review: Truth & Betrayal by K.C. Wells
Truth & Betrayal - K.C. Wells
This was a tearjerker, for sure, but also a book that tackled some big issues.

Jacob is a young man living in a small town in Eastern Tennessee (close to Knoxville) and working for his daddy's construction company. His older brother Caleb left for Atlanta a few years ago and only returns home sporadically, having forged a life for himself in the big city. Jacob knows he's gay, but has no desire to come out to his parents, because he's sure of their negative reaction. He's been taking a few steps to distance himself from their church, but he knows that coming out in such a small town isn't going to go over well. His group of friends are more like acquaintances at this point, since he no longer has anything much in common with them, and the secret he's keeping isn't conducive to a close friendship anyway. Small-town bigots don't make for good friends. 

Then Jacob and his parents get word that Caleb has died in a car accident, while riding in a car with another man who was also injured. And Jacob's whole world crashes down around him.

The author does a fine job describing his grief and his anger at losing Caleb, while slowly coming to the realization that he lost his big brother long before his death. 

Liam is the friend who was driving the car at the time of the accident. Injured himself in the crash, he nonetheless shows up at Caleb's funeral, fully realizing that he's probably not welcome, but needing a bit of closure for himself. The reader is at this point likely aware that Caleb and Liam were more than friends, even if Jake and his parents are not. The scene at the grave - gah, that felt as if plucked from real life, and my thoughts were drawn to Shane Bitney Crone (if you don't know who that is, google his name), and how he must have felt visiting Tom's grave all alone after the fact because he wasn't welcome at the funeral either. 

Going to his late brother's apartment to clean out his belongings brings Jake face to face with the secret Caleb has been keeping. And slowly Jake comes to terms with what he finds out. 

This could have been icky, obviously - one MC feeling attraction to his late boyfriend's little brother, who also happens to be gay, would usually make me feel really squicked out, but the author did a fine job laying out how the relationship between Liam and Caleb wasn't one of true and lasting love, so Liam slowly falling for Jake and vice versa didn't feel weird to me. The fact that it's a super slow burn also helped with this. At first, Liam takes the place of a friend, giving Jake a glimpse into Caleb's life, meeting his friends, visiting his favorite places, and such. He becomes a confidante of sorts as Jake gets more comfortable with who he is, and who he's attracted to. It didn't feel as if falling in love with Jake was what Liam had planned for - it simply happened.

Both Jake and Liam are really likable characters, and the author drew them with complexity and flaws. Their actions and reactions made sense within the overall plot, and the dialogue felt authentic for the most part. What grated after a while was Jake's accent - he often sounded a bit too much like a country bumpkin for my taste, but that's on me, I'm sure. Jake has quite a few hurdles to clear, before he can ride off into the sunset, his mama's machinations being the least of his worries. Jake finds his backbone - and that was a wondrous sight to behold when he told off the bigot preacher. Liam's family is made from a different cloth - fully supportive, warm and welcoming, and embracing Jake for who he is. 

KC Wells always delivers with the emotions in her writing, and this book is no different than what I'm used to from this author. There are heart-wrenching moments of grief and pain that made me cry, but there are also moments full of love and light, and those made me cry also. There is passion between two young men who finally found what they've been looking for, there is courage and strength in the face of adversity, and there are surprise reactions you didn't expect. 

I couldn't stop reading until the very end, and this is no surprise to me at all, really - It's a KC Wells book, after all.

Recommended.


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

 

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review 2018-08-07 19:33
Stars Uncharted
Stars Uncharted - S. K. Dunstall

[I received a copy of this book through Penguin’s “First To Read” program, in exchange for an honest review.]

I have a soft spot for sci-fi stories with rag-tag crews and old spaceships; unsurprisingly, this is the kind of story that will get my attention.

The story revolves around two main female characters: Nika, a body modder on the run from her abusive-slash-mafioso boyfriend, and Josune, undercover engineer on board a ship known as “The Road” (these aren’t spoilers: you learn about it in the very first chapters). As they both have to face their own brand of trouble, their paths converge towards The Road, always underlined by the shadow of a man named Goberling, who almost a century ago came back from an expedition with precious metals… but never revealed where he had found them.

This is space opera through and through, with a dash of transhumanism. It’s a world where humanity obviously colonised many worlds, and where people regularly reinvent themselves through body modding—which offers pleznty of possibilities, too, considering how many characters in the book aren’t who they claim to be. It’s also a world of commercial ships, of big corporations that no one dares to cross, and of exploration and legends: The Road’s full name is “The Road to the Goberlings”, and another ship, the Hassim, is renowned through the whole galaxy as an exploration ship whose crew has dedicated itself to finding Goberling’s lost world.

In general, I quite liked the characters, and the relationships developing between them. They’re all their own kind of badass, even the ones, like Nika, who’re not crew that learnt to fight on a ship. There’s a slight dash of hinted romance, but never enough to interfere with the story. The budding friendship between Nika and Josune never veers towards that annoying trope of “female friendships always tinged with interest for A Man”. The Road’s crew sticks together, bound with a loyalty that keeps growing with each trip. And the regular quibbles between Nika and Snow (another modder), was overall fun enough, also because you can feel the nascent respect underneath.

Other things I liked less, though. First, the pacing was sometimes weird, carried in places by short sentences and paragraphs that felt too abrupt; the characters are constantly on the run, and at times it felt that not much happened, that everything was mainly their running away, with bits of story in between.

Another problematic aspect was Nika’s obsession with modding. I enjoyed the more technical side of it (I wish we had such machines, hah!), but she too often went about imagining how she’d reinvent the people around her, from their hair to judging them too fat, which was definitely obnoxious (and motivated much more by aesthetic judgements than by health reasons). For a character who prides herself on being a trend-setter, her trends were somewhat quite… conservative, a.k.a. everybody has to be slim and trim. Somehow, I’m not convinced that if our future does hold such body modding in store, everyone will want the same.

Finally, I wasn’t fully on board (look what I did there) with some of the plot twists, because they were too easy to guess, and I could see them coming a parsec away, to the point that I couldn’t understand how the characters didn’t see it sooner. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe it was made too obvious, too soon? I don’t know. And we don’t get to learn that much about Snow, which is a shame, because I suspect he also has his closet full.

Conclusion: 3 to 3.5 stars. In the end, some parts I had trouble with, others kept me hooked, so while it wasn’t the best book I read this year, it was nonetheless very entertaining, and set in a world that I wouldn’t mind revisiting, because a single book can’t possibly reveal all there is to know about it.

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review 2018-08-02 02:30
ARC Review: No Regrets by Alex Jane
No Regrets - Alex Jane

This is a really short book, but it definitely packs a punch. 

Ryan is an ex-soldier, working in a diner in a small town, keeping to himself. He stays mostly in the kitchen, and when he's not working, he's in his camper behind the diner, keeping the nightmares at bay with alcohol.

Lucas is barely twenty, quiet and shy, a regular at the diner who's caught Ryan's eye - mostly because Ryan recognizes something in the young man, primarily in the haunted eyes and the bruises on his skin.

Both men are damaged, though not beyond repair. Their relationship builds slowly, so slowly, and trust doesn't come easy, but it comes. 

The story is dark, by design, and rather angsty. The author cleverly peels back Ryan's layers one at a time, and it's not immediately clear why Ryan reacts so strongly to Lucas' plight.

The diner's owner knows of Ryan's back story, and she realizes that Lucas is in some danger, but both she and Ryan also know that they cannot step in unless Lucas asks for help. Which is why boss lady encourages Ryan to befriend Lucas to build a level of trust. She has another motive which is clear to both Ryan and this reader.

Initially, this book reads as a regular hurt/comfort kind of story, but then it takes a really dark turn with an unexpected twist. I was a bit surprised at Lucas' reaction, but I also understood that he might react that way. Yeah, I know this is vague. Deal with it by reading the book. 

I didn't like the ending. Well, let me rephrase that - I liked that Ryan and Lucas got their HEA. What I didn't like is that Ryan thinks this thing (which I'm not going to spoil here), and it sounded as if that was his reason for proposing, and if that's the case, WTF?

I enjoyed this overall, even if the ending left me scratching my head a bit and definitely sort of ruined their HEA for me. YMMV.


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

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review 2018-07-28 03:33
ARC Review: Denim by K.C. Wells
Denim - K.C. Wells

Harry is thirty-five and thinks he's no longer desirable. A bit pudgy around the middle, he has no illusion that anyone might still be interested in him. He likes his job alright, and convinces himself he's content with his life after moving back to his hometown to look after his mother before she passed away. Still living in her house, still unable to pack away her things, Harry is letting life and love pass him by.

Tony, a construction worker of similar age, sees the somewhat staid Harry and immediately perks up. Or, well, one of his appendages does. But Harry is oblivious, and Tony has to pull out all the stops to convince the other man that he's truly interested.

The author weaves a fabulous tale of two ordinary men living ordinary lives and falling extraordinarily in love. 

As the story unfolds, we learn more about the two men - Harry who has let himself go after his mother's death, who likely has low-grade depression, who has basically given up on finding anyone to love him, and who cannot believe that the hunky construction worker is actually whistling at him, and Tony, a hard worker, a good bloke, a kind man, who didn't get that memo and who thinks that Harry is the most delicious bear he's ever come across. 

Obviously, someone with low self-esteem such as Harry would be reluctant to start a relationship with a hunky bloke, and their relationship starts off very slowly. And while Tony pulls out all the stops to woo the other man into bed and into his life, Harry looks at himself and decides that eating is overrated and that he should lose a bunch of weight so he's worthy of Tony. Obviously, that doesn't go over too well, and there's a bit of drama but they actually talk about things, like mature men should, and it's not a huge stumbling block. 

KC Wells has crafted two realistic characters, and I loved how their romance unfolded. I loved how steadfast Tony was in his beliefs, how freely and courageously he put himself out there to win Harry's heart, and how Harry starts to blossom under Tony's capable hands.

There are sexy times, of course, but all of them repeatedly drove home the point that these men are falling in love, and each bedroom scene was high on their emotional connection. And with each passing day, Tony pulls Harry a bit more out of his shell, away from his safety net, into the light. 

Sweet and romantic, with little conflict and honest communication, this was a gorgeous story. I enjoyed every minute reading it, and I think you will too.

Oh, the denim from the title - Tony loves to wear jeans. To work, to dinner, to having a pint, to going dancing, Tony wears denim. And by the book's end, Harry loves to peel Tony out of his denims. 

Fabulous.


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

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review 2018-07-15 01:54
ARC Review: Falling Awake II: Revenant by Kristoffer Gair
Falling Awake II: Revenant - Kristoffer Gair

I sat on this review for a few days, hoping I would have the words.

I don't have the words. Sorry, Kristoffer.

But I promised a review, so I'll do my best to somewhat coherently tell you about this book. First off, this is not a romance. This is a thriller/mystery/paranormal/horror kind of book, and a prequel of sorts to the first book, Falling Awake. If you've read that first one, this second book will give you the background information that you wanted but didn't need for the first book. 

When Andrew O'Connell was ten years old, he went to the fair with his friend Thomas, also ten. The night after they went, Thomas was abducted from his house in the middle of night, his parents slain in their bed. Thomas was found dead a few days later in an abandoned house. And for fourteen years, Andrew has felt unimaginably guilty, because he believes that what happened to Thomas was his fault. He has nightmares nearly every night, and he will not stop until he can figure out what really happened to Thomas, and find the men who so brutally killed his friend. 

Andrew now works for OSHA, tasked with travelling to areas where an accident has occurred to find out what really happened, to smoke out the truth, always one step behind the elusive person responsible. At the same time, Andrew tries to gather more information on the incident that took his childhood friend, and he's not afraid to use whatever means he has to just to get the answers he needs. Andrew is not always a good man, he's not always a nice guy - he uses people even though he feels guilty doing so - because what matters is that he finds the perpetrators of that heinous crime and stops them before they can kill again. 

The book is set in the early 1970s, when Andrew is 24, which means the original crime took place in 1958. The author did a fine job on the research to ensure the references to historical facts are accurate. There was but one inaccuracy, which I'm not going to tell you about - let's see if you can spot it yourself. 

The writing is vivid, drawing you in from the get-go. Andrew's nightmares are visualized, and I was more often than not on the edge of my seat while reading this book. The author doesn't spare us the horrors perpetrated upon Thomas, though they are doled out in smaller doses so as to not overwhelm the reader. It's difficult on occasion to read about the violence that little boy endured, and there were tears in my eyes plenty of times as well. 

Evil is real, and it will corrupt and claim a person's soul. But there is goodness too, there is light, and we have to believe that the light will prevail if only you have heart. The book is aptly named "Revenant" - one that returns. 

There is no happy ending - there really couldn't be. And the ending was unexpected and also not - there actually was no other imaginable way of ending the book. 

It is a prequel, of sorts. Keep that in mind when you read this. And read this, you should. Because it's different and it's fantastic, and it will haunt you and make you think. 

I'm told the author is currently working on the third book, which I would assume will pick up where the first book ended. 

I can hardly wait to read it.



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

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