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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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review 2018-07-08 23:54
ARC Review: Life Of Bliss by Erin McLellan
Life Of Bliss - Erin McLellan

I read this without realizing it was book 2 of a series, but that didn't really hurt my enjoyment of it. 

Frenemies-to-lovers is a fabulous trope, and the author made fine use of it in here. However, that's not the only trope in here, because frenemies lead to fake boyfriends to oops, we got drunk married. 

Victor and Todd hate each other, but love to hate-fuck each other when their friends/couple Rusty and Niles aren't looking, except they really don't, because Victor hides a massive crush on Todd behind his snarky sarcasm, and Todd only sort of hates Victor because of guilt and shame over almost screwing with Dusty and Niles' HEA (which apparently happened in book 1).

At the beginning of this book, Todd, Rusty, and Niles are coming back from vacation and stop over in OK City, before going home to small town Oklahoma. Victor lives in OK City, so they meet him for dinner. Todd is already counting the minutes until the end of dinner so he and Victor can sneak off for sexy times. 

While coming down from the orgasmic high, and noticing a strange shift that seemed to have happened during sex, Victor tells Todd about attending his sister's upcoming wedding solo, and hating that, and somehow Todd agrees to be Victor's fake boyfriend at the wedding.

Alcohol comes into play, and they wake up the morning after the wedding married. 

From there, the book turns into a bit of an angst-fest, with both men keeping the marriage secret while agreeing to see if they can make it work, Todd making up stories (lies) when Rusty and Niles inquire of his whereabouts, Victor wondering if this marriage will last the summer, and whether it should, Todd and Victor NOT talking about how they really feel, feelings getting hurt, Todd coming clean to his family, which is a bit... shall we say... rough, Victor feeling like giving up, and two men who love each other being almost too damn proud to confess their true feelings.

The writing is fabulous. There are one-line zinger that had me giggling, and some humorous moments, such as Victor's box of sex toys being labeled "important documents". 

What I also really appreciated is that the author went beyond what could have become simply a rom-com and actually dug deeper into both characters. Todd especially suffers from a lack of confidence in his relationship skills, considering that he blew it with Rusty, and doesn't quite know how to navigate the waters between his feelings for Victor, his desire for something permanent, and his fears of screwing up again. Victor too isn't just all snark and sass, and there are worries keeping him up at night, specifically how to make enough money to keep paying rent, and whether his job will still exist after the summer. 

So while there are giggles and snickers to be had, and while the sexy times are hawt, there is more to this story than just those. Add a sweet HEA, and you have yourself a fine romance. I had a grand time reading this book, even without knowing anything about these folks from the first book, and I think you would too. 


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

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