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review 2017-11-10 00:33
ARC Review: Birthday Presents by Dianne Hartsock
Birthday Presents - Dianne Hartsock

This is NOT a romance. This is a horror story. I knew this going in, and I was still pretty horrified while reading. 

Birthday Presents is dark. It contains rape, torture, and death. The villain is seriously disturbed. There are explicit scenes that are difficult to read. This book is not for the faint-hearted. 

The plot is fairly straight-forward, and we know from the get-go who the villain is. Spending time in Crimson's mind made me want to bleach my brain to get the disturbing images gone - he's vile and insane. He's a hunter, he is a murderer, and he has no conscience. He lives for the hunt, for the kill, for the depravity of his actions.

There's an attempt at making the reader sympathize with the villain, though that didn't work with me - I am firmly in the camp of not believing that a rough and abusive upbringing excuses the actions of our villain. 

I appreciated that the author gave the victims strength and allowed them to be more than just simpering damsels in distress. They fight for their survival, they do what they must to live. 

There's a bit of a mystery as to who's helping the villain, though I wasn't completely shocked to find out who the mystery person was - there were sufficient hints along the way. Still, that was a well-done plot point that kept me at the edge of my seat.

I hope that Tracey and Kyle get the psychological help they both need after living through these horrors, but I felt confident that they will both get through this. As for the little bit of romance we get toward the end, between Gene and his co-worker - that development came a little out of left field for me, and I didn't quite buy the long-time pining that's insinuated here. 

The writing was inconsistent in some instances, and I had to reread a few passages to understand what the author was trying to tell me. I also thought that the characterizations were uneven, and in some moments, the characters' actions didn't make sense to me. YMMV.

 

 

** 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 2017-09-25 00:56
ARC Review: Pins And Needles by A.J. Thomas
Pins and Needles - A.J. Thomas

This is only my 2nd book by this author. The title is apt - I was on pins and needles for most of the time while reading this excellent story of suspense, intrigue, and romance among the ruins. 

Okay, so that latter part is a bit hyperbole - there are no actual ruins, per se. What is in ruins however is a promising career, a father/son relationship, and an invention that could revolutionize a part of the oil industry.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

This is a complex story, and it would behoove the reader to read slowly and carefully, much in line with the slow progression of the story. As it is so often the case, all is not what it seems, and it takes some time to untangle the many threads that make up this particular plot.

The book begins by introducing us to Nate Delany, a young lawyer working for his father's well-known company, who is basically the do-boy for another lawyer, and whose briefs, as eloquent and well-researched as they are, are not getting credited to him, but the "supervising" attorney. Nate is frustrated, especially as his father doesn't seem to realize that the brilliant briefs "written by" the supervising attorney are actually his son's work and believes that Nate is just a slacker, unable to run the company himself. At the end of his rope, Nate quits. 

On his way out, his assistant gives him the name and number of a man who had an appointment with the supervising attorney, but who was apparently deemed too rough, with too many tattoos, to warrant the jerk's time. 

Nate makes a call. Nate makes a visit to the hospital where he meets Sean Wilkinson, whose former foster father Hawk was the man rejected by Nate's father's lawyer. As Nate hears what happened to Sean, he can't help but be intrigued by the young man who after a terrible accident lost not only his leg, but also his livelihood and his career as a petroleum engineer.

Hounded by his employer's lawyers to agree to a ridiculous settlement after the accident, Sean needs someone in his corner to help him navigate these new rough waters. And Nate is just the guy to do that.

Both MCs have their own personal struggles and rather different personality-wise. 

Sean, with his difficult early life and rough upbringing, isn't quick to trust anyone and plays his cards rather close to his chest. He's not only a brilliant engineer, but also a fantastic tattoo artist, who learned the craft in his foster father's shop. Hawk is perhaps the closest thing to a real father Sean has, and their relationship is very close and supportive. He doesn't have any close friends; in fact even the people with whom he spent months at sea don't really know him at all, including his boss, with whom Sean has had an affair since he interned with the company at 19. 

Nate, on the other hand, had a rather normal, if affluent, childhood and appears to most people as someone who had everything handed to him - with his last name being so well-known and the assumptions which come with that. His personal struggles aren't as obvious, but they're just as real. Nate has to prove himself repeatedly at his father's company, more so really than any other newly minted attorney would have to, because he's his father's son. In addition, his parents have more or less forsaken him because their older son is a bigot and doesn't want his children or his wife anywhere near Nate. Since, you know, homosexuality clearly rubs off and we must think of the children. For years, Nate hasn't been able to spend holidayrs or any quality time with his family; it's as if he's been erased. No photographs of Nate are displayed at their house - it's as if he doesn't even exist. His name isn't ever mentioned around the older son, and his brother's kids have zero relationship with him. 

Taking on Sean as his first client after quitting his father's firm seems like a great idea at the time, even if it's just fighting for Sean to get the biggest possible settlement for the accident that cost him one of his legs, but there's a lot more to their case than just that. See, Sean invented something that's been used on the ship, and the case now also involves intellectual property rights. 

And someone may be out to kill Sean to silence him.

The romance that develops between Nate and Sean is by design a super slow burn. Not only is Sean seriously injured and still recovering from the accident, but he's also Nate's client, and there are a bunch of ethical issues to consider before the two of them can be together. As an added detriment, when Nate tries to find another law firm to represent Sean and remove the ethics issue, he finds that many firms will not even consider taking him on, because of who Nate's father is. No matter how brightly the attraction burns between them, Nate must first and foremost consider that any romantic relationship they might have could adversely impact Sean's day in court. 

Underneath all the suspense and intrigue, the point this book drives home time and again is that of family. Not necessarily the one you're born into, but the one you choose, the one you make for yourself. And for that, Sean had a great example in Hawk, his mother's ex-boyfriend, who took him in, no questions asked, when Sean was kicked out at home for being gay. A man who never asked for anything but was there time and again when Sean needed him. A man who not only gave him a home but also a way of paying the bills, when he taught him the fine art of tattooing. Nate has an example too, really - that of how NOT to treat your family. While I believe his parents loved him, they never even considered how hurtful their behavior was when they excluded Nate to appease their older son's homophobia and bigotry. 

My only niggle came toward the end of the book, during the big reveal as to who was behind all the bad things that happened. It felt a little over the top, and the villain really came out of left field, to be honest. Sure, the explanation made sense, but the way it all went down was a little... too much, I guess. 

Still, this was definitely an enjoyable read, with a satisfying HFN, and I would recommend you give this book a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed.


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

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review 2017-08-21 17:00
ARC Review: Gabriel (Legacy Ranch #2) by RJ Scott
Gabriel (Legacy Series Book 2) - RJ Scott

Gabriel, book 2 in the Legacy Ranch series by this author, was a difficult book to read, primarily because of the abuse Gabriel suffers and has suffered. If you saw my status updates while I was reading this book, you know that I wished a painful and horrific death upon Stefan, the pimp who picked up Gabriel after the trial and who exploited Gabriel's low self-esteem, his weakness and pain, to make him hurt even more.

I'm not sorry for wanting that slimeball dead. 

Gabriel is trapped. While he has escaped the abuse he suffered at the ranch, he's still not free of it. He honestly believes that all he's good for is sex, a lie fed to him repeatedly, constantly, by his pimp, and on those few occasions that Gabriel dares reach for just a little more, like Kyle's letters inviting him to Legacy Ranch, Stefan knows how to keep him down. With fists and dub-con sex, telling him that he's good for nothing else, reinforcing what Gabriel already believes himself to be.

Cameron Stafford, hotel owner, nearly blind from a degenerative disease, just wants his awful, cruel family off his back. His last boyfriend was a no-good thief who stole from him, and Cam has no delusions of finding someone permanent, and he relies heavily on Six, his bodyguard/friend, who's been with him for many years. 

Gabe's latest client has booked a room in Cam's hotel, which is how Cam finds out about Gabe and then decides to hire him as a fake boyfriend. 

It's not as cute as that may sound. Cam's family is ridiculously nasty to him, over the top nasty, to be honest, and Cam's father is trying to take running the hotel away from him, because clearly, someone who's blind cannot possibly run a hotel. Right. Sit down, you jerk.

And Gabe - OMG, he broke my heart. There are a few outs that present themselves to Gabe, ways out of the hell he lives in, but he's too broken, too afraid, to trust and take them, instead returning time and again to his abusive pimp. I cried and cried, and wanted Stefan dead. I don't usually react with such violence to a fictional character, so my reaction to Stefan should tell you how abhorrent his character truly is. There is nothing redeeming about him, and when he meets his demise, I cheered. 

I would have liked to see a bit more development of Cam's and Gabe's romantic relationship - unfortunately, we are mostly told that they develop feelings for each other. Cam tries hard to show Gabe that there is another way, that he doesn't have to stay with Stefan, and I liked that he didn't give up. Sure, he had help from Six, even if it was reluctantly given, but I could see that Six only wanted what was best for Cam, and didn't at first believe that Gabe fit the bill. 

Both characters have experienced pain and hurt, though Gabe's abuse was obviously much more horrific. I felt for both of them, cried at the damage inflicted on them by others, and I wanted them to have their happy ending.

Which, of course, they get. This is a romance, after all. I would have liked that to have been expanded on a bit more, and I felt that the ending wrapped up a bit too quickly. Most of the book also takes place away from Legacy Ranch, and we get only a few scenes there. 

Overall, this book had a very different feel than the first one in this spin-off series. It's a lot heavier, I believe, and on more than one occasion, I wanted to reach into the pages and alternately strangle Stefan, and grab Gabriel and Cameron and shield them both from the people who wanted to hurt them. 

Not an easy book to read, but, I would say, worth your time.


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

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review 2017-06-03 01:39
ARC Review: Symbols by Mario Kai Lipinski
Symbols - Mario Kai Lipinski

Gosh, I wanted to love this book. I mean, read the blurb - the bullied kid who's spent his days hiding from everyone slowly falls for the gentle giant at the high school they both attend, until an act of violence threatens to tear them both apart... yeah, I signed up immediately for the ARC.

And for the first half or so, this book held me in its grip, as the story between Matt, the bullied kid, and Shane, the gentle giant, unfolds, as Matt begins to trust Shane, as they fall in love and forge a path together.

Yes, sure, there were some issues with the dialogue, which I attributed to the author not being a native speaker and not living in the US so research into how teens talk these days would have been tricky. And yes, sure, the principal pontificates to Shane when he first starts about there being a zero-tolerance policy at the school, and yet she has no idea that Matt has been bullied for years, hiding in corners, shaking and utterly miserable, terrified, in tears, something that even the cafeteria cashier has noticed, yet the principal has no clue - how's that possible? And why wouldn't the cafeteria cashier talk to an adult at the school? Many of the bullying incidents happen in hallways or inside the cafeteria, and yet nobody addresses it.

Still, it was engaging, and was invested.

However, right about the time, Matt is beaten up and ends up in a coma in the hospital, this book took a massive nose-dive. The asshole detective that arrests Shane for allegedly causing Matt's injuries (he didn't), the subplot with Shane engaging Matt's long-time nemesis to find the real perpetrator, the court date, the dramatic last minute rescue by Shane's former friend, the drama with Matt's mother's reaction to Shane's size, the nasty old woman on the bus, and, and, and - it was just all too much and too over the top and too unrealistic in how much was piled on Matt and Shane's shoulders.

Look, I got that the author tried to make the point that one shouldn't judge a book by its cover, i.e. a teenager by his size and tattoos, but good grief, that point wasn't just made so much as hammered home time and again. And Shane, whom I adored, just took the judgments time and again, making all kinds of excuses for people's reactions to him. I hated that he did that. I hated that people would judge him just based on his looks and not his actions. For Matt's mother to think that Shane had hurt Matt, for anyone to think that Shane would hurt a fucking fly just because he's super tall, just pissed me off.

And yeah, I knew who the villain was going to be, but the reasoning behind the violent attack was pathetic. The perpetrator's characterization up to that point didn't indicate anything like what was given as a reason - I didn't buy it at all, and thought that it was just too convenient.

I loved both Matt and Shane, and I loved how gentle Shane was with Matt, and how Matt came out of his shell over time, and became the stronger one of the two. Their relationship was well done, and the author did a fantastic job bringing across the emotional bond between the two young men. What I didn't like so much were the multiple incidents of miscommunication and false assumptions that both of them make, but I chalked that off to them being young.

I think it can be very difficult for a non-native speaker to successfully write authentic dialogue as language continually evolves, especially in this day and age, and that the manner in which teens talk cannot be gleaned from, say, books, TV shows, or movies.

The premise was fantastic - the execution not so much. Still, three stars is nothing to scoff at. I did enjoy reading this book for the most part, and I did love Matt and Shane.


** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher. 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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