A MelanieM Review: Sweet William by Dianne Hartsock


Rating: 2.75 stars out of 5

Sweet WilliamWilliam Wilkerson leads the life of the privileged rich. Head of his father’s shipping business, he indulges to his heart’s content in the pleasures of the flesh with Boston’s finest young men.

That is, until he reunites with Fredrick: his former tutor and the one man who captured his heart.

But William’s father has declared Fredrick off limits. And Fredrick, himself, believes he’s beneath the attention of the Wilkerson heir.

After having lost his current pupil to graduation, and with no prospects of a replacement, Frederick is homeless, hungry, and easy pickings for the men on the docks.

When Frederick is shanghaied into service on William’s own merchant ship, will William discover his plight in time to rescue him?

Sweet William is an short historical romance by Dianne Hartsock that is simply a sweet, quick lovers reunited story set in Boston in 1894, but sometimes manages to lose the tone and feel of the times its set in.

The blurb above pretty much sets out the entire story which Hartsock fills in for 48 pages, including lots of sexy encounters, some sexual assaults, and a romance that while sweet, never felt as thought it had much depth.

The story is like a pretty bauble as they would say back then, lovely if you don’t have too high expectations.  William, the heir, has been pretty much a man slut, behaving recklessly with men in an age where that could lead to jail if not a hanging (that’s not quite addressed here).  Frederick the teacher (only a few years older than William) is cast off, finds another job, loses that and somehow remains naive, longing for his first love, a bit of a “lost bunny” of a character with no apparent self preservation instincts.

The characterizations and back history just didn’t have enough time in the story to come together.  Or perhaps it was how they were presented in the story, but whatever it was, they lost a certain amount of chemistry and connection because it felt disconnected in the shortness of the tale here.

Yes, the villain was perhaps the final downfall.  He was evil incarnate in the “old fashioned” way.  His actions towards Frederick were vile, yes.  But there was just something about Frederick’s predicament that didn’t seem believable enough, that what followed lost their reality as well.  He  came away feeling more like Snidely Whiplash then a viable human predator.

And none of the above addresses the times the story was set in, which I only got a small feeling for.  In short,  maybe my expectations for an historical romance are set high, higher than this story reached.  Others might just overlook my issues, and enjoy the romance for the lovers reunited PWP short novelette it is.  I’ll leave the decision up to you.

Cover Art by: Adrian Rafail.  I love this cover. Its charming, the tone is perhaps as is the character.

Sales Links:  Wayward Ink Press |Amazon US |Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon DE | ARe

Book Details:

ebook, 48 pages
Published April 22nd 2016 by Wayward Ink Publishing
Edition LanguageEnglish
settingBoston, Massachusetts (United States)

A MelanieM Review: Forgive and Forget (Dreamspun Desires) by Charlie Cochet


Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Forgive and ForgetHe’s hot. He’s dangerous. And he can’t remember anything.

As the owner of Apple’n Pies, Joe Applin leads a quiet, uneventful life, content to spend his days serving customers who come from all over to eat his delicious homemade pies. Along with his motley crew—Bea, Elsie, and Donnie—Joe couldn’t be happier in his little kingdom of baked goods and java.

Experience has taught Joe that love is overrated—and at times dangerous. He has no intention of repeating past mistakes. But then he meets a mysterious, handsome man with amnesia, and Joe can’t deny something sweet is in the works. He isn’t one to take risks, not with his heart and certainly not with his life, but the more time he spends with the man he knows as Tom, the closer he is to losing both.

Charlie Cochet’s Forgive and Forget picks up and runs with the ‘mystery man who can remember who he is’ trope and turns it into a wonderful quick moving romance in another of Dreamspinner Press’ Dreamspun Desires series.

Starting with the character of Joe Applin and the welcoming crew at Joe’s pie cafe, Apple’n Pies, Cochet creates a memorable cast and location guaranteed to pull the reader in and keep them throughly absorbed in Joe’s little corner of the world and his developing romance.  I thought Joe Applin had such a nice balance of quirks and professionalism, that it made his cafe real, his pies sound mouth watering delicious and his character believable and someone I could connect with.  You laughed with Joe and you hurt with Joe, that’s how much I liked this character.

I felt that way about Bea, and Elsie and Donnie too.

Then along comes “Tom”, aka our mystery man.  Tom is the one that seems too good to be true.  Handsome, good at everything, his eyes all but sparkles and yes, he’s gay and attracted to Joe.  Had Charlie Cochet been writing another story in another series, maybe I might have had a little eye roll here.  But again, the author is writing a story in a series that’s bringing back a style of romance that is perhaps not only a tad naive in outlook but originally launched when plots were, if not not as complex, then maybe more streamlined in approach.  So Tom is welcomed with a wary if swift embrace by all, including this reader, and the romance is on.

Yes, I loved that approach to romance too.  Its warmhearted, sexy, and occasionally funny.  You want these men to be together, no matter the odds, a clear sign the author has succeeded in her writing and in the love building between Joe and “Tom”.   There’s the mystery and a bit of suspense.  The ending brings things full  circle which is, again, in keeping with the format of the series and writing this story is going for. I won’t spoil it for you. Needless to say I loved this story and absolutely recommend  it to all.

Forgive and Forget is a quick, heartwarming, absorbing story.  I picked it up and forgot about everything else until I put it down.  I wouldn’t even mind if Charlie Cochet gave us a trip back to their world and let us in to see how they are doing, a Forgive and Forget  II.

Until then, go grab this up and get started on an enjoyable  trip to a New York pie cafe owned by a man named Joe and his  mystery man searching for love and something more.

Cover art by Paul Richmond continues the terrific job that is a hallmark of this series.

Sales Links : Dreamspinner Press | AReAmazon

Book Details:

ebook, 194 pages
Published April 1st 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
Original TitleForgive and Forget
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesDreamspun Desires

A MelanieM Review: Night and Day by Rowan Speedwell


Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Night and DayNate Pederowski is about as far down as he can go when he’s tipped to a job as a singer in a speakeasy. Dishonorably discharged for being queer, broke and homeless during the Great Depression, Nate is embittered and lonely. The club’s handsome owner, Rick Bellevue, and his sister Corinna are wowed by Nate’s voice and offer him the job.

But the Starlight Lounge is much more than an ordinary supper club, and Rick and his sister much more than just the owners. It’s not ’til Nate gets caught up in a gangster’s plot that he discovers just what secrets they’re hiding. Nate’s life is going to change in ways he can scarcely imagine, let alone believe.

In Night and Day, Rowan Speedwell serves up a delicious tale full of elements guaranteed to intrigue and connect readers to this strange corner of a city gripped by the Great Depression.  Its absolutely necessary to set the mood by getting the setting right and the author does, from the clothes to the music of the era, its all here.

I loved the descriptions, so evocative you could smell the smokey air heavy from cigarettes, making the lighting even more dim and the setting more…something elusive, perhaps magical.  Like the club owners Rick and Corinna themselves with strange auras that surround them like a glow that can’t be extinguished.  There’s danger here as well, Prohibition…the usual marks that have a layer of extraordinary hostility about them.  If I sound vague its because I don’t wish to give  anything away.

But Speedwell manages to build up the tension along with the relationship between Nate and Rick, while giving us a wonderful picture of the times and songs of the past.  I loved that so much I had my iTunes out to listen to the songs Nate was singing, what a soundtrack they made.

Don’t take my word for it, pick it up and read it for yourself.  Its a 52 page wonderful way to pass the time.  One I definitely recommend.

Cover art by Brooke Albrecht is so beautiful.  It captures the mood and times perfectly right down to the font.  One of my favorites.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | ARe | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 2nd Edition, 52 pages
Published March 9th 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
Edition LanguageEnglish

First Edition published by Dreamspinner Press, 2010, in the Myths and Magic: Legends of Love anthology.

A MelanieM Review: Dirty Heart (Cole McGinnis #6) by Rhys Ford


Rating: 5 stars out of 5   ★★★★★

Dirty HeartFinal book in the Dirty Series arc.

Former LAPD detective Cole McGinnis’s life nearly ended the day his police partner and best friend Ben Pirelli emptied his service weapon into Cole and his then-lover, Rick. Since Ben turned his gun on himself, Cole thought he’d never find out why Ben tried to destroy him.

Years later, Cole has stitched himself back together. Now a private investigator and in love with Jae-Min Kim, a Korean-American photographer he met on a previous case, Cole’s life is back on track—until he discovers Jeff Rollins, a disgraced cop and his first partner, has resurfaced and appears to be working on the wrong side of the law.

As much as Cole’s fought to put the past behind him, he’s soon tangled up in a web of lies, violence, and death. Jeff Rollins is not only trying to kill Cole’s loved ones, he is also scraping open old wounds and long-forgotten memories of the two men Cole loved and lost. Cole is sure Rollins knows why Ben ruined all their lives, but he isn’t looking for answers. Now Cole is caught in a cat-and-mouse game with a cold-blooded killer with the key to not only his past but his future.

What a magnificent story!  Even with all the intricacies, cultural layering and mysteries that have flowed through all the stories of the Cole McGinnis series, really none can prepare you for this book.  Its just that powerful and emotionally wrenching.

The big mystery and heartache at the center of this series has been why  Cole McGinnis’s  cop partner on the force and close friend/brother shot Cole and killed his lover.  It was an act of betrayal that Cole never quite recovered from, even with his strong and passionate love for Jae-Min Kim.  Like that saying that all roads eventually lead home, Rhys Ford has been leading Cole and the readers back to the beginning where Cole will find out the answers to the violent action that shattered his life.  This is that book.

Little by little, more things from Cole’s past find him again.  Some are indescribably wonderful and moving, some heartbreaking, and raw.  You never know from page to page which element Rhys Ford is going to serve up, what you can be certain is that it will piece your heart, make you weep with either joy or pain with the believable anguish that Cole is going through, along with his family and loved ones.  There are some devastating events here, sometimes one after another.  After a while I thought I had become inured.

I was so wrong.

Its because Rhys Ford writes so beautifully that her characters resonate so with the reader, as does the pain and emotional turmoil they are going through.  Here emotions, thoughts, even rage that Cole had imagined he had buried rise up, overwhelming him, and the reader in the process.  At parts, the story is so moving, I had to stop reading, because I couldn’t see the Kindle any more through the tears.  I don’t think anything  can prepare you for parts of this book.

The  relationships here are deepened, even more realistic than ever as certain elements are revealed about peoples lives, the comedy that is a hallmark of this author ‘s writing and this series is ever present, a necessary levity when the angst threatens to swamp us and the lives involved.  Clowns and llamas are a perfect pairing and I can only imagine how Rhys Ford saw that.

Rhys Ford is not one to give up the mystery easily.  Its been years in the making so its a heart-racing, white knuckle, fast paced scary race at towards the end. What a shocker!  I did not see that coming, even after all those books, so well done, Rhys Ford.  That was  really a great twist. Then you went on and delivered further. How worthwhile an ending.  Its superb.  Ford really pulls it all together.  First a shocker, then a summation, and then a epilogue that will leaving you giddy with joy.

Dirty Heart (Cole McGinnis #6) by Rhys Ford is one spectacular book. Never has her characters been more nuanced, more moving and real.  The story includes stunning narrative explosions, a conclusion to a convoluted mystery spun over 6 stories and characters that will never leave me.  This jumps to into Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Word’s Top Ten Rec list.  Its February so for you readers still new to the series, you have plenty of time to read through the series before the book comes out in March.  Pay no attention to anyone trying to spoil this book for you.  No no NO!  Its too good a tale for that.  Make sure you pick it up fresh!  But pick it up you must!  Highly Recommended as is the series.

Cover artist Reese Notley does a wonderful job with the cover and branding the series.

Sales Links coming in March

Book Details:

Expected publication: March 2016 by Dreamspinner Press LLC
Original TitleDIrty Heart
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesCole McGinnis #6

Cole McGinnis Series:

A MelanieM Review: Northern Lights by Asta Idonea


Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Sleigh Ride Advent StoryA dream romantic vacation to Iceland to see the Northern Lights turns into a nightmare when James’s workaholic boyfriend, Richard, again insists on putting his work first. After a call from Richard’s office, an argument ends with the couple splitting up for good. Not only has Richard left James, he’s left him abandoned to explore the park alone, where James quickly gets lost. But just when things seem darkest, the Solstice works its magic, and James finds the guiding light he needs. Or it finds him.

Northern Lights by Asta Idonea was a lovely way for me to dive into this collection.  Asta Idonea brought so many delightful elements to this holiday short story.  A heartbroken man left by his long term partner in Iceland when an argument turns into a breakup that should have happened long before now.  Now James has to face an uncertain future on every front, no home, no stability, no partner and even the likelihood of not enough income to support himself.   All while he’s in a place he always wanted to see and photograph.

The author makes us feel James’s fear and while not exactly pain, the knowledge that he knew this was coming and the hurt that carries with it.  And as James tries to pick himself up and travel around to places in and around Reykjavik, we get to hike along with him, delighting in the discoveries he finds as he goes and the despair he feels when reality intrudes.  The author’s descriptions are wonderful and inviting and it gets even better as disaster strikes James and his path changes for the better.

Northern Lights is full of the old traditions and old gods, the beauty of the Northern Lights and a path to a new future that can open up when you least expect it.  At 29 pages, I would have loved more of the setting and couple, but what I got set the mood perfectly for the first day of December and the holiday season.  And yes it made me want to grab a plane to Reykjavik, not for the first time either. I recommend this story and I need to explore this author’s writing more as well.  Happy Reading!

Cover Artist:  Paul Richmond did the wonderful generic cover used for the majority of the stories, great job as always.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press |

Book Details:

ebook, 29 pages
Expected publication: December 1st 2015 by Dreamspinner Press
edition languageEnglish
series:Sleigh Ride – 2015 Advent Calendar

A MelanieM Review: The Articles of Release (The Release Series #2) by B.A. Tortuga


Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The Articles of Release coverJust released from the military, wounded warrior Eric Tremaine is trying to put his life back together like the doctors reassembled his shattered leg. He’s a man with no home, since his Louisiana family rejected him, so Eric winds up in Texas with his old Army buddy, Adam Winchester, and his lover, Sage.

When Eric decides to stop sitting on his ass feeling sorry for himself, he is introduced to trainer Troy Daniels, who lost both his legs in a teenage accident. Troy knows what it’s like to feel as if your body is your enemy. While Eric and Troy have a bumpy start, they soon find enough common ground to make a friendship, if not more. But taking it to the next level means finding out what they have to offer each other, and the world, before they can trust that the love they find together won’t cause more pain than pleasure.

Each of the books in BA Tortuga’s new Release series deals with a character grappling with a torturous reentry into society.  The first novel, The Terms of Release, has Sage Redding dealing with being a ex-con returning to the small town that condemned him to close to 10 years of hard time in a state penitentiary at the age of 18.  And for a crime that may not have been his fault.  In that story, Tortuga bluntly describes the discrimination ex-cons face upon release, the terms of said release and the accompanying difficulties of losing so much of your life away from the “main culture” that you can feel alone and adrift once you are back trying to find your way inside a community once more.  That same thread is picked up again in The Articles of Release, book two in The Release series.

Making the argument (and proving it) that there are more ways of separating a person from society and community, here its injured vet Eric Tremaine who is coming out of the army, trying to adjust to a new status and situation he never wanted or thought would happen.  A explosion and severe body trauma ended Eric’s military career, leaving him full of rage, pain, and no direction to his life.  A Cajun (a familiar and well loved region for Tortuga) bereft of family, their choice, Eric turns to the only person he can think of, Win Winchester (The Terms of Release), an old Army buddy.

When BA Tortuga is clicking on all cylinders with her writing, as she is here with this series, she not only creates these unbelievably realistic tough, wounded men, but makes us pull for them in their recovery by ushering us intimately into their thoughts and feelings.  Doesn’t matter whether its their out of control “just throw shit” anger or feeling so helpless that they need to break down and sob, either way we are there with them 100 percent of the way because BA Tortuga has made them flesh and blood and vulnerable.

When Eric seeks the help and support of Win, he also gets Sage’s as well.  Sage is still undergoing therapy for the operations needed in the aftermath of the events in The Terms of Release.  Sage proves not only a sounding board for Eric but a curiosity of a man and relationship mentor.  Sage is also his introduction to trainer Troy Daniels.  Troy is a double amputee with a need to prove himself and everything sexy Eric finds in a man.

That’s four dynamic characters, although towards the end Win spends most of the time traveling so its down to Sage, Eric and Troy. No this is not a m/m/m.  Its strictly friendship between the two couples which I appreciated. All three have been through horrific ordeals and hard times, and primarily in the case of Eric and Troy,  still working their way through their physical and emotional issues.  Again BA Tortuga handles their problems and the manner in which their pain and avoidance issues manifests itself authentically, sometimes with humor, sometimes with frustration and rage.  Whatever the situation, my attachment to these men and their relationships is so deep that my attention never wavered. These four characters form such a strong foundation for this story that I could really have kept reading for another 100 to 200 hundred pages at least.

I love The Articles of Release.  I got Sage and Win from the first story and a wonderful new couple in Eric and Troy.  This story has so many layers  to it.  The wounded veteran adjusting to his new civilian life and physical restrictions, the double amputee growing up and dealing with his need to prove himself in risky situations, that being a amputee doesn’t end your sex life, along with Sage and Win’s new life, so many defining moments for each character and for the story itself.

I highly recommend this story and the series to date.  I  certainly hope BA Tortuga intends to continue it.   She’s really onto something here and I hope to see what the next book in the series might bring.

Cover art by Bree Archer.  I like the cover, yes its another torso, but at least it has the appropriate military garb and background.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | All Romance (ARe) | Amazon (coming soon) | Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 220 pages
Expected publication: September 4th 2015 by Dreamspinner Press
edition languageEnglish
seriesThe Release Series #2

The Release Series Books:

A MelanieM Review: Blue on Black by Carole Cummings


Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Blue on Black coverKimolijah Adani—Class 2 gridTech, beloved brother, most promising student the Academy’s ever had the privilege of calling their own, genius mechanical gridstream engineer, brilliantly pioneering inventor… and dead man. But that’s what happens when a whiz kid messes with dynamic crystals and, apparently, comes to the attention of Baron Petra Stanslo. Killed for his revolutionary designs, Kimolijah Adani had been set to change the world with his impossible train that runs on nothing more than gridstream locked in a crystal. Technically it shouldn’t even be possible, but there is no doubt it works.

Bas is convinced the notoriously covetous and corrupt Stanslo had something to do with Kimolijah Adani’s tragic and suspicious end. A Directorate Tracker, Bas has finally managed to catch the scent of Kimolijah Adani’s killer, and it leads right into Stanslo’s little desert barony. For almost three years, Bas has tried to find a way into Stanslo’s Bridge, and when he finally makes it, shock is too small a word for what—or, rather, whom—he finds there.

I am often at a loss as to how to categorize a Carole Cummings novel.  Sometimes its fantasy, or alternate universe, or steampunk or a bit of all of those.  But no matter how  you want to classify them,  the fact remains that Carole Cummings is one of the most inventive, imaginative storyteller out there.  Cummings’ Wolf’s -Own series, stories I love, is a perfect example with its blending of cultural mythology, action/adventure, mystery and romance.  So I was very excited to see a new book, Blue on Black, was being released by DSP Publications.  Did the new story meet my high expectation for a Carole  Cummings novel?  A resounding yes in every way.

Our main narrator, Bas, provides our view into his bleak, tech driven world.  Its a place where a catastrophic event or series of events has changed both the political and  natural landscape…for the worse. Bas’ society runs by and is dependant on its psionic gridTechs, of varying strengths and abilities.  These techs, few by nature, are in so much demand that they are often captured, or kidnapped to be sold at a sort of Underground Tech Black Market.   Bas is a Directorate Tracker and its his job (along with his fellow trackers) to find the missing Techs, shutdown whatever operation or group had them, and return  them to the Directorate.  Its a tough, often perilous job that often means working undercover. Only now Bas is being sent undercover to do not only his job as a tracker but to cover for a dead Directorate agent as well.  Why?  Because someone has to get into the town of Stanslo’s Bridge, no matter the cost.  An evil is spreading out from there and at its heart is the Baron Stanslo.

I love a book that just sweeps me along, pulling me into worlds and situations so fantastical that I felt like whooping with glee.   That’s Blue on Black, where we go from the territory and city of the Directorate to the wild, wild west of the badlands or lost lands that surrounds the town that is the domain of an insane tyrant.  There is only one way in and out.  To take any other route means death,  given the strange creatures that exist out there and the extreme uninhabitable landscape.  The  tales shifts from high  tech to wild west steampunk, and gets richer in description and sheer inventiveness.

What else pulled me in ? An element that had me sold from the beginning. Remember the old movie “Laura”?  It’s one where a detective is investigating the murder of a young woman and falls in love with her portrait and the person she was from the pieces gathered from  his interviews.  From its haunting theme song to its film noir atmosphere, it remains a favorite and that element happens here.  Bas is fixated on Kimolijah Adani—Class 2 gridTech whose death has hit everyone hard whether they knew him or not.  Kimo was a genius on the brink of a major discovery   concerning the  Techgrid when he died.  And Bas can’t get him out of his head.  From Kimo’s writings to his photographs, the deceased psyTech is contantly in Bas’  thoughts.

His journey to hell and discover starts at the broken down train station, the one with a corpse of a scryTech nailed to the door.  Bas takes one barely running steam run train and then must switch to another (all in the company of some of the tyrant’s gang).  Here is Bas in the second train:

It’s different than any train Bas has ever been on before. Instead of the heavy ka-chunk ka-chunk of wheels on tracks, there’s more of a wheezy hum, smoother somehow, and it just has a lighter feel to it. Instead of the thick haze of stoke smoke and steam, there’s a hot reek of burnt gridstream and a charge to the air. It’s sort of exhilarating, because Bas has no doubt whatsoever he’s riding on a train that’s being powered solely by gridTech, and he’s pretty sure he’s one of a very few to even see something like this, let alone get a demonstration. It takes a little bit, but it does eventually occur to him that that’s likely the reason for the switch and the way station. Harrowgate is isolated, yeah, and even more so now that there’s no more relay office, but people do live there, and rumors do find a way of traveling long distances. If Stanslo doesn’t want anyone outside of his little desert barony to know he’s got what looks to Bas like a train that runs on independent gridstream, then he’d do best not to let them see it at all.

I was right, Bas thinks again and blinks when his jaw clamps too tight and his eyes narrow down to angry slits. Kimolijah Adani was killed for his designs. And now I’m riding into hell’s teeth on one of them.

And what Bas finds when he finally enters Stanslo’s Bridge is shocking, bleak and terrifying.  What’s worse?  Bas has to fit in as one of Stanslo’s enforcers.  This story is full of heartbreak, pain, death, magnificent inventions and hope.  I moved from one emotion to the next, swept along by Cumming’s vision and  amazing characters.  I felt so connected to them all because each person felt alive and believable, no matter the circumstances.

DSP Publications releases stories where romance is not the main element in the plot.  There is some here but for those looking for unadulterated passion and romance?  That is not Blue on Black.  What I found here was so satisfying and complete that I never felt the lack of any element.  But others might.   This is not a hearts and flowers story by any means.

I won’t go further, too many spoilers would pop up but the beauty of Cumming’s language sinks you  deeper into this story and characters, the words can transport even while making you believe in the ugly, mean, stripped down place that is Stanislo’s Bridge.   At times, I found myself holding my breath, tense, waiting for the next awful thing to happen, the suspense darn near killing me.  At  other times, I just marveled at the people trying to hold onto their lives, no matter how miserable the Baron had made them, that sense of hope floats over the story like a hawk in flight.  And that ending,, a perfectHFN, sings with a fierce joy and  lyricism  that makes me read it over and over again.

This is a book to relish, one to hunker down with and read in one session.  I highly recommend Blue On Black by Carole Cummings,  In fact, I recommend all of Cummings stories.  Pick this one up and get started today.

Cover art by Anne Cain.  I like the cover.  But it doesn’t contain any of the  darkness that fills the story.

Sales Links:  DSP Publications |   Amazon | Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 380 pages
Published June 16th 2015 by DSP Publications
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dsppublications.com/ *

[Note: DSP Publications is a non romance imprint of Dreamspinner PRess.  DSP Publications books and stories are not meant to have a romantic element, although some do.  Those looking for total romance should turn to Dreamspinner Press].

A MelanieM Review: Life, Some Assembly Required (The Rebuilding Year #2) by Kaje Harper


Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Finding love in the ashes was easy. Building a life together? Don’t make Fate laugh.

Life, Some Assembly required covrAfter spending the first part of his life chasing pretty girls, love has finally come to Ryan in the form of John, a tall, lanky, red-headed landscape architect with wide shoulders and a five-o’clock shadow.

For the first time in his life, love feels easy. Hell, he even ran into a burning building for John and his son, and he’d do it again if he had to. But telling his father and brothers “I’m gay. I’ve met a man”? That’s a bumpy ride he’s not looking forward to.

For John, loving Ryan is as natural as breathing. Now if only the rest of his life would fall into place. Dealing with his teen son is complicated enough, but with his ex-wife causing trouble and his daughter wanting to move in, John’s house—and his relationship with Ryan—threaten to split at the seams.

Would one month without a new surprise knocking him upside the heart be asking too much? If the sound of Fate’s laughter is any indication, the answer must be yes…

Kaje Harper’s The Rebuilding Year was one of my favorite books of 2012.  It was the story of two seemingly “straight” men at an unsettled point in their lives, a time where they are discarding their past and trying to rebuild a future for themselves, and in John’s case, hopefully for his children as well.  That novel told the story of ex-firefighter Ryan Ward, disabled on the job and now going back to school for a medical degree.  He’s still dealing with the loss of his beloved profession, having nightmares over the fire that damaged his leg, and dealing with an unsettled vision of his future.  On the college campus, Ryan meets John Barrett, a man as familiar with loss as Ryan is.  John lost his marriage and kids when his wife cheated on him.  And when the divorce was final, he watched his wife move the kids to California in search of a new life with a new man.    Two men whose lives were shattered by events out of their control.  Two men who thought they were straight but whose strong attraction to each other has them rethinking their lives and future.

Now comes the sequel, Life, Some Assembly Required (The Rebuilding Year #2) and, with this story, I found myself falling back in love with John and Ryan, and their relationship.  Never quite the fan of  the “gay for you” trope, Harper made a serious argument for John and Ryan’s feelings in the first book.  While John had married and Ryan was considered a “hounddog” with women, both men had had attractions to men in the past, while not quite acting on them.  So the story became more one of old desires rekindled and recognized then a purely straight man falling for another. We watched them work through many emotional issues as well as acceptance by John’s children.  And that first story ended with Ryan telling his father that he was finally serious about someone for the first time in his life, and its with a man.  A wonderful ending that packed a huge emotional punch.

Life, Some Assembly Required picks up directly after the events in The Rebuilding Year.  I won’t go into detail because that is simply a book to be savored and a must read for this novel.  One (of many) of the things I appreciate so about Kaje Harper’s writing is her ability to make her stories feel so real.  Her characters and their lives aren’t enveloped in some softly glowing light where everything works out smoothly and with relative ease.  That’s better left for the fairytale romances.  No, Harper’s characters and their lives reflect the grittiness and intimacy of people living every day realistically and authentically.   It involves boredom, obstacles little and big, schedules that get too busy and the hiccups and burps that relationships go through.  Its the work the couple needs to do in order to have the partnership they want.  And that includes two men who love each other deeply such as John and Ryan do.

This book is full of life’s pebbles and boulders that get scattered in the way of their happiness and much of the joy in this story is watching them deal with those problems together (and figuring out that they need to come at these issues as a couple).  That doesn’t always make for easy reading, just throughly rewarding and satisfactory one, at least in my opinion.   Why?  Because life isn’t lived in a bubble. For John and Ryan, the relationship they are building together includes John’s children (who I adored and who went through some surprising emotional turmoil of their own), an ex wife’s determined to have their own way albeit one that is understandable from her point of view, and Ryan’s family with expectations of their own for Ryan which doesn’t include another man.

Throughout the story, its one of constant adjustments…in plans of every sort from dinner to vacations. It’s the ever deepening joy of a daily life together along with the typical hurt feelings, and occasional miscommunication that involves. On an intimate level, we watch the men deal with all the  repercussions of their love for each other and their decision to move in together. And how that effects their professional lives, families and the community around them.  I love how Harper lets us see into their decision making process and relationship dynamics through their conversations, actions and lovemaking.  Harper allows her characters the strength and depth that lets them act responsibility and respectfully towards themselves and those around them.  Yes, this is a book about grownups in a thoughtful adult relationship.  How I appreciated that tone and type of character as well.

Sometimes the issues are raw with emotion and the painful aftermath of the disappointments that can occur when hopes and family collide.   Yes, there were times I was so frustrated with the events that happen, both with John’s ex wife (again not a villain but a woman doing  what she thinks is necessary to survive) and again with Ryan’s family.  But their reactions and actions towards John and Ryan are pretty realistic and believable in their own way.  I appreciated that too.  And it makes the ending that much sweeter for all the hardship both men endured to get there.

I hope this isn’t the end of the story for John and Ryan.  I want to see them married now that Ryan has finished his degree.  I want to know what happens next to their mixed families and their future together.  If you are listening, Kaje, pretty please, can we have another?  Until I have an answer, I will try and  be content with Life, Some Assembly Required. It’s a perfect sequel to The Rebuilding Year, and a new favorite of mine.  I highly recommend them both.  Please read them in the order they were written, its the best way to understand John and Ryan’s journey to love and a relationship that feels so wonderful and real.

Cover art by Angela Waters.  I like this cover, although I have to say I prefer the cover models in the first cover, they better fit my own idea of John and Ryan.  But its warm, and real, just like the story within.

Sales Links: Samhain Publishing  – All Romance (ARe)Amazon Buy It Here

Book Details:

Expected publication: June 9th 2015 by Samhain Publishing
original title Life, Some Assembly Required
edition languageEnglish
series The Rebuilding Year #2

Books in the Series to Date:

  • The Rebuilding Year (The Rebuilding Year #1)
  • Life, Some Assembly Required (The Rebuilding Year, #2)


A MelanieM Review: Ever the Same by B.A. Tortuga


Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

EvertheSameLGAudie Barrack is in it up to his elbows with a sick calf when his son’s school calls. Seems Grainger has gotten into yet another fight. When he walks into the principal’s office, he’s shocked to find his son has been fighting with a little girl named Randi.  And that’s not the only shock.  The little girl his boy has been fighting with has a blind dad, a widower when his husband recently passed away.

Dixon has lost his sight, his career, and his husband. Thank God for his brothers, Momma and Daddy, and his little girl, or he would simply give up. The last thing he needs is for Randi to start trouble at school, especially trouble that puts him in contact with another dad who might expect him to be a functional human being.

Dixon is struggling to live as a blind man, Audie is terrified someone might see he has a closet to come out of, and everyone from the school to both men’s families is worried for the men and their children. Unless they get themselves together and commit to change, neither of them stands a chance.

It’s no secret to those of you who have read my reviews that I am a huge fan of B.A. Tortuga.  She has one of the finest ears for regional dialects and culture in the genre as well as the ability to write memorable characters. And that gift is apparent here in Ever The Same. In fact this book has so many elements that are hooks for me, that it has taken a while, and another reading to think about what I was going to write.

Why?  Because some of the parts of this story that I find alluring are ones that other readers might not connect with, something not unusual in a B.A. Tortuga story.  Let’s start with the characters, who, yes, can be defined by their conversational style and wording.  Audie is rooted in the soil of his family’s ranch and the horses he loves almost as much as he loves his son.  He is a plain speaker, full of the regional euphemisms and colloquial speak of the area.  This is Audie, in a capsule of speech:

He gave Momma a call as he pulled his shirt on. “Momma, I got to run up to the school. Can you get Sister to keep an eye on the calf?”

“Is he sick? Grainger, I mean, not the calf.”

“Nope. It’s no big deal. I’ll be back in a jiff.” He hoped.

“Okay, Son. Your daddy’s due in off the road next weekend. He wants to take that boy of yours to a picture show. Tell him if he ain’t good, PopPop won’t take him.

Audie is a man filled with family and its obligations.  A person with a huge heart, open mind, and realistic view of himself and his situation. I fell in love with him immediately.

The father of the little girl his son has been fighting with at school, is so very different from Audie…at least on the surface.  Dixon is a musician blinded in the same car accident that killed his husband and he’s lost in his grief while trying to maintain a life for his adoring daughter.  And she is not coping well either with the changes in her life and the loss of one of her dads.   It’s country meet city in the most  unusual way.  Dixon and his daughter have moved from the city into the small town where his mother and step dad raise llamas.  It’s round peg trying to fit into a square hole for both of them.  This is a small scene from the principal’s office where the initial meeting about their kids hasn’t gone very well.

“I’ll talk to her. If it happens again, I’ll… shit, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll make it up as I go along.” The guy stood, and his mom handed him a cane. A white cane.

Oh Jesus fucking Christ. Seriously? Seriously, Grainger picked the kid with a blind dad and a dead….


Her other dad was dead. Jesus. This guy was blind, had lost his man, and his kid was a shit? That sucked hugely. “I can try to get Grainger to help. I promise.” He had no idea why that popped out, except this guy’s life had to suck, and because it had been a long time since Audie had met anyone who would openly admit to being queer like he was.

“Take us home, Mom. Please.” Now that he could see the White guy, he kind of wanted to wince. Lean, tattooed—this guy wasn’t made to be here, and obviously he wasn’t a local. Hell, his parents weren’t that local; Audie didn’t know them.

“Of course, Son.” She stood and offered Audie a frosty smile. “Thank you for being so, er, understanding.” She put a hand on her son’s arm, and he turned her way, the cane tapping as they left the room.

Audie glared at Shannon Shields as soon as they were out of earshot. “You couldn’t’ve had Miz Laws warn me?”

“I assumed you knew, Audie. Everybody knows.”

The conflicts have been established, as well as some of their backgrounds and family circumstances and we are still early in the book.  What a great job Tortuga has done to bring the readers into the various situations, letting us empathize with each “faction” and the small children involved.  The need for understanding that is born out of this meeting will set the stage for the relationship and attraction to follow.

As with most of Tortuga’s plots and stories, no character exists as a isolated individual.  Audie (25) is surrounded by his family, which includes along with his son, Grainger, a sister, Gracie, her kids, his “Momma”, and long haul trucker father.  All on the family farm.  Gracie’s husband is in the Army and is on tour abroad.  This family has its own tensions, expectations, and stress along with the love.  Dixon’s family is equally large and imposing, even more so.  For Dixon (33) has brothers Damon 20, Dalton 18, Dan 31, along with his daughter Randi.  Most are close with each other, and Dixon and Randi are now living with his upscale mother and step father on their llama farmette.  I loved that while the two families have a foundation in agriculture they still couldn’t be farther apart in approach and style.  Yet both sides are believable, layered and authentic.  You can like them even if you aren’t fond of their actions.

The story winds through multiple stages of Audie and Dixon’s relationship and that of their kids, a major factor here just as it should be.  For readers not fond of children or gay families in their stories, this element will put you off.  Those of you, like me, with kids and who love to see them in stories, you will love following their growth and increasing closeness to each man.  In this case, these two men and their children really do complete each other.  It’s heartwarming and real.  And yes, I loved it.  Because the author makes every part of Audie and Dixon’s journey intimate and heartfelt.  We are there along side them as Dixon starts to deal with his blindness and Audie becomes sure enough of himself to be openly gay in town.  There are some very tough spots and situations to deal with but that’s pretty real and reasonable as well.

Tortuga includes a epilogue that stops the story just where it should.  It’s funny, heartbreakingly alive, and leaves the reader satisfied as to how it all came out.  How much do I love this story?  Enough that when I want to smile and leave myself in a happy state, this will be one of the books I pick up.  I highly recommend it  and hope you will love it as much as I do.

 Cover Artist:   Christy Caughie did a beautiful job with the cover.  I loved the colors and the composition.  It easily draws the reader in.  Great job.

Sales Links:       Dreamspinner Press   All Romance (ARe)       Amazon       Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 256 pages, also available in paperback
Published February 27th 2015 by Dreamspinner Press
edition language English

A MelanieM Review: Holding Out for a Fairy Tale (Least Likely Partnership #2) by A.J. Thomas


Rating: 4.75 rounded up to 5 stars out of 5

Holding Out for a Fairy Tale coverSan Diego homicide detective Ray Delgado never gets a chance to forget where he comes from, a wide spread criminal dynasty whose members are often linked to Ray by blood.  So far Ray has put a number of cousins and uncles behind bars, making him persona non grata with his family, immediate and otherwise.  Only two family members have remained close, his aunt and his cousin, Sophia, who Ray helped raise.  When Ray’s crime lord cousin,  Alejandro makes a violent late-night visit, Ray is in for a number of unpleasant surprises.  Alejandro wants Ray to find his sister, Sophia, who disappeared from the UC San Diego campus, something Ray was unaware of. And Alejandro wants it done before the FBI digs too deep into his business.  Why?  Because millions of the Cartel’s money is missing and it looks as though Sophia, a computer whiz, is involved.

Special Agent Elliot Belkamp spent his entire life jumping from one place to another, including his last assignment which took him to Montana and an white hot encounter with the deeply closeted but oh so sexy Det. Ray Delgado.  Now his new assignment assisting a FBI task force offers him a chance to settle down.  It San Diego, California home to a certain homicide detective.

When Elliot catches a missing person’s case as his first assignment, the last person he thought to find poking around the victim’s dorm room is Ray, his one time hook that ended badly…at least for Elliot. After discovering Sophia’s disappearance is linked to a massive computer-based theft that has two powerful crime families ready to declare war, Elliot focuses on his investigation and tries to ignore Ray. As the search for Sophia turns dangerous, Elliot and Ray discover that tackling organized crime might be easier than resisting the intense attraction both still feel for each other.

Back in 2013, A.J. Thomas debuted her first novel, A Casual Weekend Thing (Least Likely Partnership #1) which went on to winner a Rainbow Award for that year.   This novel was also the first in a remarkable series, Least Likely Partnership.  Thomas’ story was brutal, raw, and realistic.  It involved child abuse and the effects it had on its victims as they aged.  It involved pedophiles within families, suicide, murder, mystery and much, much more.  And once I started I couldn’t put it down no matter how wrenching the story got, and it was plenty traumatic on many levels.  And introduced as secondary characters in that story were San Diego Homicide Detective Ray Delgado, a closeted officer obsessively crushing on his partner Detective Christopher Hayes, a main character and deeply damaged man.  And who did Ray hook up with during the case that Christopher was involved with up in Montana?  That would be FBI special agent Elliot Belkamp.  They spent one hot and heavy week in a hotel in Montana after the case was over.  Then Ray’s mouth and closeted status ended their relationship before it could get out of the motel.  But somehow, the pull between these two was so intense that the reader just knew or perhaps hoped, that they would get another chance.  And they finally do here in Holding Out for a Fairy Tale (Least Likely Partnership #2).

Was it worth the wait?  You betcha!  Once again, A.J. Thomas hooks you in immediately as Ray jumps vividly to life from page one.  Ray, Ray, Ray! Ray, Ray.  The energy, that spark of magic, determination and power, that Thomas builds into Ray Delgado is impossible to resist.  He’s part jerk and part obsessed super cop. And even when he’s berating his fellow officers for not following some procedure or safety protocol (and he’s brutal with his verbal dressing downs), they also know he is right, they won’t repeat that mistake, and that he’s  really doing it for their benefit.  Of course, he’s still a jerk about it.  But you just can’t dislike this guy.  He’s charismatic, he’s caring, and he has to try extra hard because he’s a cop from a hispanic crime family that he has a love/hate relationship with.  And everyone knows it.  Ray Delgado is one beautifully fleshed out characters, so real that you forget he’s been fabricated for a story.

Quietly intense, and Ray’s equal in power and authenticity is Special Agent Elliot Belkamp.  Elliot is out, unlike Ray, and ready to settle down in every aspect of his life.  He wants a home after multiple transfers, he wants a life partner, and well, he wants a life and relationship just like his parents have.  Elliot is the one holding out for a fairy tale and won’t settle for anything or anyone less. And he’s chosen San Diego as the place to get started on the next phase of his life.  Or rather the FBI has with its creation of its new crime syndicate task force based there.  Elliot is a far more subtle creature than Ray but just as fascinating.  Because as much as they differ, Thomas has also made them alike in some fundamental ways.  They believe in family, and the determination to be the best law enforcement officers they can be, no matter the personal costs. They are highly intelligent and thorough.  And its that respect they have for each other and their jobs, along with the intense physical attraction they feel that keeps them returning back to each other.   A.J. Thomas makes their interplay and attraction real and compelling and she does so through intelligent, sometimes snappy dialog and believable law enforcement procedures where each plays off the other during the course of this convoluted case and investigation.

Elliot and Ray are among the least damaged of the two couples but they still carry plenty of baggage, especially Ray.  And that includes the cultural and familial reason Ray has remained in the closet.  With just a telling look from a doorman, Ray gets put in his “Hispanic” macho regulated place, and the fear and rationale behind Ray’s closeted status becomes clear.   And when Ray finally decides to come exploding out of the closet, it gives the reader even more reason to cheer and celebrate.  While Elliot is looking for his fairy tale and determined to get it, Ray is looking for a family to replace the one he lost when he chose being a police officer  over the family business.  That he finds a deep love surprises him because he never realized how much he wanted it.

Along with these outstanding characters, Thomas has created a cast of just as excellent supporting players.  This includes Ray’s captain, Elliot’s boss (a sterling example of a strong woman), Ray’s fellow detectives, and so many more.  Each a crystalline portrait of humanity as its best and worst.  And yes, there is plenty of the “bad” to be found here, starting with Ray’s cousin Alejandro, a crime boss who could be Ray’s twin and was once as close as a brother to Ray.  It’s one compelling character after another, and the situations and events that follow are as complicated and authentic as any in real life.

There will be horror and heartbreak, laughter and tears, revelation and exhilarating surprises for the readers here.   I didn’t  put this book down until 2 something in the morning.  I couldn’t help myself.  I had to know how it all ended.  And it ended the way it had to, both heartbreaking and deeply satisfying.

I have to admit I have favorites.  I love Ray and Elliot better than Christopher Hayes and Doug Heavy Runner.  But that said, its a close race so I’m happy when I can get them all together. And that’s coming in the next book in the series, The Intersection of Purgatory and Paradise (Least Likely Partnership, #3).  And yes, I have already read and am now ready for more.  At least I hope there is more.  I’m off to find out.  Meanwhile if you are new to this series, start with the first story and work your way through.  I know others will say its a stand alone novel, but its so much richer with the back history that the first story represents.  I highly recommend this story and the author.  She is on my auto buy list and this story is an excellent example why she should be on yours too!

Cover art by Brooke Albrecht.  Not a fan of this or any of the covers in this series.  I get the darkness, that works.  But that model is far too young for Ray, surely there are older hispanic models out there to choose from.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press      All Romance (ARe)   Amazon      Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 250 pages
Published May 9th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press (first published May 8th 2014)
ISBN 1627987061 (ISBN13: 9781627987066)
edition languageEnglish
url http://ajthomasromance.blogspot.com/
series Least Likely Partnership #2

The Books in the Least Likely Partnership series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the timeline, events and relationships: