A Free Dreamer Review: Strain (Strain #1) by Amelia C. Gormley


Rating: 5 stars out of 5

In a world with little hope and no rules, the only thing they have to lose is themselves.

Rhys Cooper is a dead man. He’s spent years hiding from the virus that wiped out most of the human race, but an act of futile heroism has him counting down his remaining days. The timely arrival of superhuman soldiers offers some feeble hope–but only if Rhys can reconcile himself to doing what is necessary to take advantage of it.

Sergeant Darius Murrell has seen too much death and too little tenderness. His job is seeking out the infected to put them out of their misery, or sending the uninfected survivors to a safe haven where he and his fellow Juggernaut troops will never be welcomed. Rhys’s situation is different, though. Not only is there an improbable chance that Darius won’t have to put a bullet in Rhys’s head, but he has somehow managed to get under Darius’s skin.

The virus Rhys must infect himself with in order to survive is sexually transmitted, and optimizing his chance of exposure requires him to submit as often as possible to Darius–and the other soldiers. Though the boundaries of morality have shifted in this harsh new world, Darius and Rhys question whether their humanity is too high a price to pay for Rhys’s survival.

A warning before we begin: “Strain” is definitely not for the faint of heart. Aside from lots of explicit BDSM sex with dubious consent and big age gaps, you also find lots of explicit violence and gore and some scenes that would be considered rape under different circumstances.

At first I wasn’t sure if I would like this book. A disease that can only be cured by lots and lots of sex – that sounds a bit like an awfully cheap excuse for heaps and heaps of mindless sex, doesn’t it? Well, “Strain” was a big surprise in that regard. Sure, there’s heaps and heaps of sex. But the author did a great job at explaining everything and once you start, it all makes perfect sense. The whole thing is a clever part of world building that seemed very logical to me – not that I know all that much about medicine.

The world building was excellent and full of interesting details. It’s easy to get caught in this dark, dark future. Since the events of “Strain” aren’t too far into the future, you get a really good explanation for how we went from the world we know now to the world Amelia Gormley created. I’m a sucker for good world building and the author easily satisfied my curiosity.

Rhys’ reactions seemed very genuine to me. While he’s always been attracted to men, he’s never had the chance to explore his sexuality. He spent most of his life isolated from the rest of the world and years of homophobia from the extremely religious preacher and his power hungry son don’t exactly help him feel confident in his sexuality. So when he is forced to lose his virginity to a much older man that only has sex with him out of a sense of duty, he’s less than thrilled. But it’s his only chance at survival, so he doesn’t exactly have a choice. Rhys always remained true to himself; he didn’t just suddenly turn into a mindless sex maniac. The author painted a very convincing picture of his inner struggle and I found myself liking the boy from the start.

Darius was just as interesting. The whole thing isn’t exactly easy on him either. He tends to enjoy very kinky sex, but how could he do that to such a clueless boy? Not to mention he could easily hurt Rhys with his superior strength. He ends up feeling guilty because he just can’t keep his dominant side in check around the boy. And actually forming a real emotional connection terrifies him – if their wild plan doesn’t work out, he’ll be the one that will have to end his misery with a bullet.

The side characters were very well developed as well, with unique backstories and interesting behaviour.

Once Rhys actually started to accept his kinky side, the sex scenes got really hot. The author was very creative in that regard, coming up with lots of interesting little games.

The ending was a little predictable. My suspicions started around the middle of the book, but that didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy every single page till the end. There was plenty of other plot to keep you occupied.

“Strain” is different. It’s dark, it’s kinky, there are some real concerns about consent and it is utterly brilliant and extremely addicting. If you’re in the mood for something dark and kinky with a brilliant plot, then go for it. Just beware of potential triggers.

The cover fits the story perfectly. It’s kind of creepy and makes you curious about the world.

Book details: Kindle Edition, 2. edition, 322 pages

Published April 20th 2018 first published February 15th 2014)

Barb the Zany Old Lady Review: New Hand (Bluewater Bay #23) by L.A. Witt


Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

I avidly looked forward to grabbing this book as I’ve been a fan of the series from day one.  Since this author penned the first in the series and I knew this would be the last of Bluewater Bay, I had high hopes of an outstanding story, sort of an e-book “wrap party,” so to speak. 

Unfortunately, though it was good, neither of the two MCs worked on the Wolf’s Landing TV production, and to be honest, I never could figure out why the book was named New Hand.  It was just one of those things that drove me a bit crazy with distraction.  And now, as I’m writing this review, it dawns on me that the phrase may have something to do with the card game, Magic, that the MCs played with several of the key players from previous stories.  Or maybe it’s a play on the fact that Garrett was dealt a “new hand” after the death of his beloved husband, Sean.  In any event, it’s not a title that is descriptive of the story, IMHO. 

Garrett Blaine moved to Bluewater Bay to get a new lease on life after his husband of three years died of cancer.  Torn apart by grief, everything in Seattle reminded him of his sweet, affectionate husband, including his job, since they were coworkers.  Taking on the new role of a bartender might be the best thing for him so he can hear other people’s problems and not focus on his own. 

And in walks Jesse Connelly, the young shop assistant we met in Outside the Lines.  Jesse’s friend-with-benefits date has just stood him up and he’s pretty upset because he recently shared his HIV positive status with the young man, and now the guy won’t even kiss him.  Though he doesn’t share that with Garrett, the two do talk, and talk, and talk.  Sexy Garrett is fifteen years older than Jesse and that pleases Jesse just fine.  Immediately attracted, and yet knowing this conversation is not a hookup, Jesse fails to share his status.  That turns out to be a mistake when the two bump into each other again and hit it off again.  In fact, the sexual chemistry is flaming—this is L.A. Witt, remember!

To make a long story short, there is a big misunderstanding, as expected, but it’s mostly because Garrett goes right back to his loss of Sean when he hears Jesse’s story.  In fact, much of the story deals with Garrett’s grief and loss.  It’s very well done, sensitive, and respectful of the man who died less than a year ago.  The author takes us into Garrett’s psyche as he works through his grief and acknowledges his love for Sean before slowly beginning to share photos and experiences with Jesse.  Jesse is a wonderful partner for Garrett—totally accepting that Sean is a part of his life now and will be for quite some time.  He offers the friendship, love, and support that Garrett needs. 

Though the story is long, and there is indeed a great deal of focus on Sean’s loss, there’s also a lot of fun times—and sexy times—with Jesse, and there’s a few scenes with Levi and Carter, Hunter and Kevin, principal characters of the series, in which they all gather together to play Magic, a card game about which I am no longer clueless since the author spent quite a few pages explaining the game.

Jesse was a wonderful character with a bright, fun personality.  And because of his status, there is a lot of information about HIV in this story, especially updated info on HIV treatment and partner risk as well as about partners taking Truvada. 

In summary, there was a lot of page time devoted to grief recovery, and sometimes it got very depressingly bogged down. There was also lots of info on Sean, so much so, he was a virtual third MC.  And though I loved Jesse, he sometimes felt too good to be true in how well he adapted to being with a grief-stricken Garrett.  And—this is L.A. Witt!–there was honestly a lot of sex—in fact, almost too much.  The sex scenes didn’t hold my interest after a while and I breezed through them. 

Overall, I’m a bit disappointed in this last story of the series, and looking back, I realize that it’s primarily because I expected so much.  It was good but It just wasn’t outstanding.  Do I recommend it? Definitely, because many readers love this theme of grief-comfort, and of course, age gap romance.   And the series?  Not to be missed—written by various authors—some books were outstanding, some average, but all bound by the Bluewater Bay setting and the Wolf’s Landing TV production.  I am definitely going to miss traveling to western Washington to get my fix of all these memorable characters. 

Cover art by L.C. Chase who has done so many of the covers has once again captured the characters and done a great job here.

Sales Links:  Riptide Publishing | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 399 pages
Published by Riptide Publishing (first published December 18th 2017)
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesBluewater Bay #23

This title is part of the Bluewater Bay universe.