A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Dead Man Stalking (Blood and Bone #1) by T.A. Moore

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

This story features Agent Luke Bennett, aka Took, a member of the BITERs unit of the Anakim (vampire) police known as VINE. The reader is thrown into the action two years after Luke was Taken and turned. He’s been in therapy and is acting as a P.I. His case throws him in the path of his old commander Madoc, who wants him back at work, and is in love with him. It seems obvious to say Took has PTSD; he can’t remember the night he was taken and his fear seems to be getting worse instead of better, until he becomes consumed by this case and takes back his agency, literally and figuratively. As a former Cardinal for the Anakim, Madoc has always been a type of enforcer. He has a strength that Took finds and matches during the book. It switches between Took’s and Madoc’s POV. These are complex, three dimensional charcters. They have their blindspots, insecurities, and make mistakes; yet, both of these men can be cold, arrogant and prickly. For as much as these characters are not pleasant people, I loved them so much. Yes, the romance relies on the longer, off-page relationship in order to work, but the love scenes are hot (and bloody) and I love their working dynamic and banter.

I liked this new take on vampires, werewolves, and hunters. There was something called a Goat, but there wasn’t much detail about this species. I believe there may be other shifters, but that’s not explored in this book. While the political landscape is painted enough for this story to be successful, I wanted more, even if I think this book wasn’t quite the right time without info dumps that I wouldn’t want. There is also a weird shadow realm that is intriguing and terrifying, but not explained at all. The sorcerers are also not explained very much, but they are not capitalized like everyone else so I guess they are not considered born as their own species. There are times where the chapter or scene starts abruptly and I felt like I missed something until I kept reading and everything was explained: while this is a valid stylistic choice, I found it jarring. Although the secondary characters are all effectively utilized and would be great to build upon in other stories, I would have liked them a bit more concrete. (I did appreciate there wasn’t a formulaic meet these characters that will be the couple in the next book type of setup.) These may be minor things, but they did keep me from giving this a 5 star rating. It was a near thing because I loved everything else about this, so let’s talk about that. This is a book I will reread and be will on my best of the year list.

For those not familiar with this author, she always describes the scenes in stark details–gross, grimy, gory–but effective. This is brutal, as with any police case involving violence. I don’t want to give spoilers, but for trigger warnings and tags you might want to keep these in mind: child abuse, brainwashing, murder, child trafficking, kidnapping, and torture. I found this urban fantasy/police investigation mashup really effective; both the world and the case are interesting and well thought out. The action scenes are really well done. The world-building here is fantastically layered in throughout the book. There is information the reader gleans from the thoughts and instincts of the characters, suppressed memories, flashbacks, dialogue, and the actions and their consequences. All of the events and discoveries lead to logical conclusions, but not always the ones that I thought they would from the beginning, yet I never felt blindsided with too many plot twists. I liked the intricacies of the story that require thought. Now that this world is built, I want so many new cases to be written, but I am also content if they are not. The last sentence of this book was perfect. Don’t cheat, you have to read the whole thing.

The cover art is by Kanaxa. I didn’t love it, although it is striking and conveys violence and blood, which are main themes of the story.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 260 pages
Expected publication: September 10th 2019 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781644053379
Edition Language English
Series Blood and Bone #1

A Chaos Moondrawn Release Day Review: Digging Deep (Digging Deep #1) by Jay Hogan

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

In an unfortunate series of events, Drake meets Caleb. This is meeting the right person in the wrong circumstances–or maybe not! It starts with an enemies to lovers vibe. Frankly, I didn’t quite feel the attraction during the hate phase, but once it gets going I was really rooting for these two. This takes place in Auckland, so there is use of New Zealand vernacular. It alternates first person POV in different chapters. I am hoping this is a typo and will be removed before publication, but it breaks the fourth wall in Cal’s thoughts, “and yeah, you heard what I heard.” It is only one sentence, but I didn’t like it.

This is an honest look at two people who meet and are attracted to each other, but will have to be mature and put the work in to maintain a relationship. This is flat out real in the way most romances are not. Sex is awkward, at times difficult, messy, and painfully vulnerable. This story explores all that. Many people say they hate it when the characters have issues because they just don’t talk to each other–here is your book where they have no choice but to communicate if they want to make this work. Medical issues are no joke and either one or the other of them could chicken out and run away without confronting the details on a daily basis, but they don’t. Neither does this book slap a label on it and call it a day, the reader gets the full nitty gritty about Drake’s illness and profession. This is all seriously intense; they barely date and then they are in it for life, and yet it still feels really believable. I am worried people won’t give this story a chance, or will give bad reviews, because of the discussions about bodily functions. This story is very good. Thankfully, there is plenty of humor also.

These families are loving, accepting, and have ribald moments of fun. These friends do not let the characters have rose tinted glasses or lie to themselves. This is what friendship looks like to me–people who will tell you harsh truths, not to hurt you, but to help you and still support your decisions, even if they think you are wrong. However there is also a great line in Caleb’s thoughts about making sure to not let your friends define who you are, “the first mistake I’d made was believing that Leanne’s version of me was maybe all there was.” I love that there is a wide and varied cast with representation of different cultures and sexualities. The epilogue takes place six months later and is heartwarming, taking them into the future together.

The cover art is by Kanaxa. I think it shows Drake and all I could think of was that expression “in the weeds,” which seems apropos.

Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Dreamspinner | Universal Link

Book Details:

ebook, 1st edition, 354 pages
Expected publication: August 6th 2019 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 139781644054192
Edition Language English
Series Digging Deep #1

A Chaos Moondrawn Release Day Review:Anhaga by Lisa Henry

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

This is written in the third person point of view of Aramin, or Min, who I wasn’t sure had anything to recommend his character except his adopted nephew Harry. This is the first clue that he has a heart in his cynical, morally flexible shell and if he lashes out in anger or bitterness, well it’s better than fear. His sass and wit are part of his charm. When Edward, the head of the Sabadine family, curses Harry to coerce Min into retrieving his grandson Kazimir from a seaside village called Anhaga, it starts a series of series of events that lead to tensions between the King of Amberwich and the Hidden Lord.

A large part of the book focuses on the morality or even fairness of what’s happening. I can’t help but think if the journey had taken longer, if the love had been fully actualized between Min and Kaz, it would have been more heart wrenching and interesting: a Sophie’s Choice, where random chance is morally preferable in the moral dilemma Min is caught in. It’s so close, but doesn’t quite get there because while there is lust, guilt, fascination, and attachment…it is not quite love yet in my opinion. Edward’s son, Robert, is also stuck between doing something reprehensible while doing his duty and being loyal to his father, or protecting his daughter. At first I wondered why Talys was even allowed/made to come on this journey and then I realized Robert probably thought it was the lesser of two evils rather than leaving her with Edward. There is a side love story with Talys and Henry. Of course, she is convenient for moving the plot along as are all the women in this story; they are strong, brave, and resourceful. Henry is sweeter than Min ever had a chance to be, and Min tries to keep him that way. Large parts of this show Robert in a bad light, but is Robert doing any less for Talys?

This book…was not what I was expecting. I was expecting high fantasy. I think it’s really a fairy tale. Sometimes I felt like it was trying to do too much and so it missed the opportunity to be great at any one thing. For instance, the scenery is described well, but not well enough for those who love fantasy world-building. There is nothing except what needs to be there at any particular moment. There is one well done love scene that shows you the possiblity of what Min and Kaz could be to each other, but the circumstances are not romantic. If looked at through the lens of a fairy tale, maybe I should just accept it is love, although to me that is what comes after the adventure. I thought this book was going to show the fae as beautiful and terrible as the lore does, only to have that change in the last chapter. Having said that, the creepy scenes are my favorite in the whole book–that feeling of catching your breathe and holding it. Once it gets going, the pacing is fast, as the plot moves from one point to the next. The book is foreshadowed well, but still manages to have a few surprises that are logical. Fairy tales get away with many things other stories do not, and this is so charming and satisfying as each layer of the story is revealed, I decided it was my expectations that were the issue, not the story. By the time of the final confrontation I was satisfied and if it was a little unbelievable, I didn’t even care because it is a fairy tale ending. The final chapter, which takes place four months later, gives the HEA everyone will want. I’m definitely going to reread it.

The cover art is by Tiferet Design. It is beautiful and striking. Now that I’ve read the book, it makes total sense and rather than just paying attention to the real buildings to give me a glimpse of setting, I should have also payed attention to the pastel, dream-like quality to give me a better hint of the story.

Sales Links: Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 220 pages
Expected publication: July 23rd 2019 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 139781644054642
Edition Language English

A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Healing Glass (Gifted Guilds #1) by Jackie Keswick

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 Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

This is an intriguing fantasy novel about the political machinations amongst the Craft Guild. Most of the story revolves around a city made of glass that is suspended over the ocean. When the Craft Guild arrived and needed shelter they took it over, but the glass in the city is failing and no one knows why, or how to fix it. Between the need for Minel’s skills as the glass master, and the strange obsession Regent Wark has for him, Minel is unwittingly made into a pawn of the corrupt councillors. When Minel is taken strangely ill, his friend Captain Falcon tries to help him. He is not the only male craftor suffering from a lung evil and he must be pairbound to save his life. Regent Wark tries to force Minel to be pairbound by any means necessary, forcing Minel to flee the city.

I had my doubts–I thought this was just going to be an excuse that forced Minel into having sex with Falcon. I’m glad that was not the case; not because I would have minded that as a plot point per se, but that the rest of the book would have gone in a completely different vein. I would have missed reading what is there. Although sex does ease the symptoms of his illness, the author worked hard to remove concerns of dubious consent for the main characters. There are bleak references to dubcon/noncon for other characters (off page). It’s a tale of greed, power, sorrow, pain, and betrayal. Thankfully, the author makes the relationship between Minel and his warrior Falcon the touchstone, giving the book love, hope, and friendship. I enjoyed seeing flashbacks of moments of their friendship, while watching them carve out a future amongst all that life had to throw at them. With the way his character is described in the beginning, I worried how Minel would be able to be the mate of a warrior. The author crafts Minel’s character in a believable way throughout the story, showing how adapting to this new culture and way of life brings out the best in him. Falcon’s adjustments are there too: how to live with someone else, how to communicate effectively with a loved one, how to let go of pride if it’s in the way, and how to work through fear of danger for someone else. Minel too has to learn to bend his priorities to include others.

There are many layers to this story, spanning three generations. Warriors, craft masters, and merchants have different gifts (talent, magic) in general, with variety among individuals. Elements of spirituality are subtly incorporated here. This isn’t world building in the traditional science fiction sense–no description of flora or fauna, minimal history, and only the politics pertinent to the story. This novel is more focused on human factors and infrastructure for the city since the city is a main character. For an exciting change, all the female characters are strong, smart, and talented. It was easy to picture the world created here, without being overwhelmed by wordy descriptions of the terrain. The social commentary about personal choice and freedoms, political corruption for personal greed, people in power who don’t have the knowledge or skill to govern, and giving them free rein without proper oversight packs a wallop. Still, there are individual moments in this that are filled with joy and quite enchantingly described. With the way the warrior talents are used as a major plot point, I would have liked to have felt a little more of their brotherhood.

I think fans of the author’s Dornost stories will like this too. I hope there are other novels set in the Warriors’ Guild and Merchant Guild, or even more stories in the Craft Guild since this author likes to play in different timelines. I’d love to see more about talent and shapings, with some of the side characters involved; and more of the history of this world, which I expect will be layered in with other novels. I enjoyed this story and all of its characters.

The cover was done by Pavelle Art. It is perfect for this novel, depicting an important scene from the book.

Sale Links: iBooksAmazon | Nook

ebook, 229 pages
Published: May 13, 2019, by Jackie Keswick
ISBN: 9781386061410
Edition Language: English

Series: Gifted Guilds
Book #1: Healing Glass

A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Rook by T. Strange

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Rook is sent to the alien prison planet B-226 for twenty three years for killing his husband. The average life span on the hostile planet is three weeks. His plan is to live as long as possible to honor his husband’s wishes, and then die and join him. Upon landing he is partnered with a prisoner named Stevie to help guard the miners, or he won’t get fed. There is a strange thrill in fightening off the local fauna and surviving, or having a specific daily purpose, that Rook didn’t count on. Their days are stressful, consisting of violent episodes bracketed by fighting boredom for concentration. Through his POV, the third character is Rook‘s dead husband Carlos. Stevie walks a fine line of teaching Rook how to survive, being wary of any attack or signs of madness setting in, using him for company and sex, but trying not to care too much in case Rook gets killed like all his previous partners.

I found this plot enticing as I personally enjoy when an author explores the psychology of a character. This is a new author to me so I really didn’t know what to expect. The main question here was always going to be, are they just together because of the circumstances? While that is actually asked, finding out the real answer takes the whole book. Bonding over shared trauma isn’t bad as a short cut, as long as it’s not the only thing there. While they are just trying to survive, they don’t actually know anything about each other’s previous lives. What they do know is: how they each react in an emergency, if they are trustworthy and to what extent, how each deals with conflict and triggers, and what factors motivate or de-motivate them. I would argue not knowing facts about someone’s life, or even their particular thoughts at any given moment, is less important than knowing if they can be counted on. I loved that there were so many issues touched on like the complications of choice, personal sovereignty, stages of grief, and PTSD. Having said that, it’s shocking that no one even makes a mention or an attempt at trying to deal with said mental health issues.

There are parts of this book that at times reminded me of movies like Predator, Reign of Fire, Pitch Black, Starship Troopers or Enemy Mine. I mention movies because I saw this story as pictures in my mind. That the author manages to sustain a feeling of suspense and terror for such a large (80-85%) portion of this book is amazing. There are breaks in the tension just when they are needed. There are breaks in the setting, just when they are needed. The focus of this book is very narrow, with the characters in their own world, creating a very intimate rather than epic feel so without the breaks, this could have been stifling. As it is, I felt like I went through everything with them.

Romance is not the point of this book. Finding someone you love and can get along with during one of the worst times of your life is another thing altogether. Sex is also not the point of this book–mostly it is fade to black, or described as a celebration of survival or stress relief as a realistic part of Rook‘s life and circumstances. While there is a HFN/HEA here, it is done in a realistic way consistent with the flavor of the novel as a whole. I am so thankful this author didn’t just slap a bow on it and negate all the work it took to get to the end of this journey. I thought this story was great and complete as it is.

The cover designed by Aisha Akeju is evocative of desolation and beauty. You can clearly tell it is science fiction. I do appreciate the use of the jungle as both reality and allegory.

Book Details:

ebook
Published February 7th 2018 by Less Than Three Press
ISBN139781684311804
Edition LanguageEnglish

A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Best Behaviour by Matthew Metzger

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Jim does everything in his power to not have to ask his sister Sarah for help, but when it’s not enough, he ends up staying at her house until he can get back on his feet. Sarah’s husband is a reverend and his flavor of religion can’t coexist with Jim being bisexual, but it’s Sarah’s (and their mother’s) lack of support that hurts Jim emotionally. At 26, Jim has made some mistakes and at the beginning of this book still seems like he is “cutting off his nose to spite his face.” The fact that Sarah helps him at all and allows him to stay at her house, even when it may cause problems with her husband is not really given a whole lot of credit here, in my opinion. It’s definitely time for Jim to grow up. At first, his affair with the piano teacher that tutors Sarah’s children doesn’t encourage hope that is going to happen–hot and sexy though it is!

This has more heart than I expected right away, but what starts out as sexy fun ends up as a relationship. What starts out as an erotic romance, ends up to be a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of family. Fran is completely Jim’s type and has family issues of his own. Jim has finally met someone who could be good for him, but this is just good timing. I like the fact that what really motivates Jim to step up and sort himself out is his niece, not his boyfriend. Don’t get me wrong because I love Fran’s character and his place in the book is vital. I just don’t like storylines where one person “saves” the other. Fran provides support that allows Jim to more easily navigate his issues, but they are his issues to navigate.

It’s good to see a representation of the spectrum in this book. Be aware this story uses British English and vernacular, but it very easy to read and follow. I loved seeing character development in a story that has very erotic scenes as a natual part of his life and who he is. I loved that it is emotionally accessible. I am glad the author shows what can happen when a person changes their actions with someone; it changes their reactions too. Breaking cycles is difficult and it’s work. I would definitely read something by this author again.

The cover art is by Erin Dameron-Hill. I’m of two minds about the cover. It’s shows the tension and has the piano to represent Fran, but instead of showing that life is messy, it looks a bit like a horror novel. However, it’s not boring and neither is this book.

Sales Links: Pride Publishing |   Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Kobo

Book Details:

ebook, 222 pages
Published February 12th 2019 by Pride Publishing
ISBN139781786517050
Edition LanguageEnglish

A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Conviction (A New World #2) by M.D. Neu

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

This is book two in a series and really should be read in order. Mi’ko has made his son Mi’cin’ one of his aides and assigns him the task of helping Todd acclimate to the home they have made for him on the main ship. Not everyone is pleased by Todd being there, either amongst the Nentraee or the humans. Once Todd realizes the enormity of the actual task he has been given, it’s too late. He is now firmly between Nentraee politics and Earth politics. There are people who will do anything to control the world as they see fit, regardless of what the rest of its citizens want. Knowing who to trust is crucial moving forward with the plan for the new settlement. Old friends and old enemies no longer seem to matter as people switch alliances based on those who support the Nentraee being on Earth, and those who don’t. Terrorists come out of the woodwork based on fear and hate.

I liked how other countries were being included in both trade and cultural events. The Nentraee, with the Speakers House, ranking members of the House of the People, and any prominent civilians spread out across the globe in order to quell jealousies and charges of favoritism towards the United States that having Todd aboard created. It’s fun to see the different ships and see Todd’s reactions. The cultural exchanges here make the book more accessible with the focus on education and integration. No longer are the Nentraee going to hold themselves apart and let their enemies control the narrative, making it easier for people to fear and hate them. Humans learn about the holidays of the different clans while the Nentraee learn about Earth holidays. Todd plans a Thanksgiving dinner with his family, Mi’ko’s family, Dan, and people from his old job at CRiNE. With Mi’cin’ asking uncomfortable questions in an effort to understand humans and their traditions, tensions run high. These are the first steps and there will be many awkward encounters as the Nentraee start to visit Earth and humans are allowed to start visiting the ships.

Another reason this book is much more emotionally accessible than the first book is the reader gets to know Todd better as he talks to his dead husband Jerry to help him get through tough situations. He is obviously still working out his grief and feeling lonely. Todd uses Dan and Brad as sounding blocks and touchstones to remember his humanity while he is under stress and living in an alien environment. He also grows close to Mi’cin. Watching Todd and Mi’cin date is sweet and oddly funny. I still feel this is a science fiction book rather than a romance because that is a small part and not the main point or focus. The many points of view help round out the plot; I like getting the insights. I also like the juxtaposition of the female dominated culture vs. our male dominated culture.

Trying to work out where Nentraee people will build their nation is problematic and gets solved in an unexpected way due to security issues and violence. I’ll look forward to how they plan their settlement and continued integration with Earth culture. There is a bit of a plot twist with the Nentraee looking backward and forward at the same time as they worry about losing themselves and their traditions as they accommodate Earth for ease of trade and relations. I am surprised not more was done with the cádo. They are like intelligent medium sized talking dogs and considered good judges of character who pick their own providers. This seems a great way for them to help find humans to trust and work with that isn’t being utilized. There is a major plot point that is a little over the top. While it gives Todd the chance to step up, again, proving the faith Mi’ko has placed in him, it also makes Todd less “everyman” and slides into action hero territory. I would also say that although the focus is Todd, the reader is given so many other points of view that I would like to see those expanded. The end leaves the reader with the sense that the danger is not over so I’ll look forward to the next book.

The cover artist is Natasha Snow. This complements the cover of book one and has that space meets terran feel.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook
Published March 25th 2019 by NineStar Press
ISBN 139781950412358
Edition Language English
Series A New World :

Contact
Conviction

A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Broken Alpha (The Alpha/Omega Verse #1) by D.C. Juris

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Korden finds out his brother Rennett has been found alive after being missing for a year. They had searched for Rennett’s trail after he went missing, but it had gone cold. Korden’s suffered the loss of access to his sibling link, which is limited by distance. His friends and crewmates Sebastian and Sorkel have helped him survive by linking with him in his mindscape. The trust and loving friendship has been a balm to the Captain. Sebastian is a Creole Human and Sorkel is Malorcian. They have been mates for 10 years. Sorkel is the ship’s doctor and Sebastian is the ship’s navigator. Korden will need them more than ever when Rennett is found with permanent physical and mental damage suffered whilst in captivity. There have been Alphas who went mad and reverted to beta or omega status before.

I have read about communication between mindscapes and visible bonds before, but I feel like this was very original in the details. Controlling the mind link with someone is complicated. Obviously eveyone’s mindscape is different. I loved the idea of memories in different boxes, marked by color as accessible or off limits. There are also different colors for the links. I enjoyed the bonding ceremony that changed Korden and Kennett’s bond from siblings to mates; they merge their mindscapes, share memories, and partially heal Renny. But, he’s not completely healed and may never be. The angst of dealing with a mentally ill loved one is difficult for Korden and their friends.

This story is very well done so that I felt the love and bond were already there and mean to be–like all of this was inevitable. Tortured physically and mentally, with permanent damage to his body and mind, no one would take Kennet as a mate. He needs a mate now that he is an omega and may have heats. His mind is already unstable and he’ll need an anchor to help moor him. As Kordan tries to keep Rennent calm, all these memories of their childhood flow through them. It’s clear Rennent has only ever been bonded with Kordan, that they likely would never have mated with anyone else. It is very clear that this is everything Renny has ever wanted, and is done with his consent. Although, it’s also clear due to his status and situation, it could have been done without his consent also. Having Renny’s POV is vital to making this whole book work. Mating links between siblings only seem to be taboo for Alphas of their status, but not unheard of in the rest of the general population on their planet.

Since Renny will need full time care, the four of them move in together on Presidian. Rennent feels overwhelmed that everyone is giving up space travel and changing their careers for him. The author makes it plain that the shared love and need for family drives them all together. With Sorkel being a healer, and having already established trust with Korden and Renny, this also seems meant to be. I should be clear that these are two mated couples who are friends and (at least in this first book) there is no sharing. All of this is well established before Renny experiences his first heat near the end of the book. I feel like this was all a natural progression. By the time it sinks into the start of a power exchange, it seems inevitable. But this hurts Kordan as it’s not in his nature and Renny is terrified his needs will be too much for Kordan. The thing that holds this whole book together is the love and communication between them. So many books use lack of communication as the obstacle. While it’s difficult to be vulnerable and share completely with someone, it’s necessary to explain why particular emotions exist–yes, even when these couples can be in each other’s minds. While this book is complete and could stop here, it does say book one and I have to admit to wanting to see them work out all of their doubts and fears and be more stable and settled. Also, there are other species and worlds to explore, not to mention politics and trade agreements. With Kordan now an Ambassador, there could be more adventures.

The cover was designed by Aisha Akeju. I would guess this is Rennett. While the stars communicate space travel and the inner turmoil as Rennett battles his shame at what has happened to him, and the birth of stars are like a new beginning…I still feel Korden should have been on the cover too. They are a unit.

Sales Links:  Less Than Three Press | Amazon

Book Details:ebook, Second Edition
Published January 9th 2019 by Less Than Three Press, LLC (first published January 16th 2016)
ISBN 139781684314126
Edition Language English
Series The Alpha/Omega Verse #