A MelanieM Review: The Henchmen of Zenda (Classics Queered) by K.J. Charles

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Swordfights, lust, betrayal, murder: just another day for a henchman.

Jasper Detchard is a disgraced British officer, now selling his blade to the highest bidder. Currently that’s Michael Elphberg, half-brother to the King of Ruritania. Michael wants the throne for himself, and Jasper is one of the scoundrels he hires to help him take it. But when Michael makes his move, things don’t go entirely to plan—and the penalty for treason is death.

Rupert of Hentzau is Michael’s newest addition to his sinister band of henchmen. Charming, lethal, and intolerably handsome, Rupert is out for his own ends—which seem to include getting Jasper into bed. But Jasper needs to work out what Rupert’s really up to amid a maelstrom of plots, swordfights, scheming, impersonation, desire, betrayal, and murder.

Nobody can be trusted. Everyone has a secret. And love is the worst mistake you can make.

A retelling of the swashbuckling classic The Prisoner of Zenda from a very different point of view.

I’m of two minds in writing this review and they battled it out when it came to the rating.  In the end, style won over lack of enjoyment.  Did I enjoy this story? No.  Did I think that K.J. Charles captured the feel, tone, and style of the original novel,The Prisoner of Zenda (1894), by Anthony Hope?  Absolutely and gave it the decided Charles twist on characters and storyline. That’s is the 4 star rating here.

But there’s really nothing that Charles can do to cover up the fact that at times both Zendas fall prey to just too many complications for its own good.  Two many layers of plotting, too much ‘downtime’ in activity’ before something actually happens, and for those looking for romance, just don’t.  There isn’t any.  Sex yes, action yes towards the end, but love and romance no.  It’s not that sort of story.

I admire how true K.J. Charles remains to the original novel while putting a “queer” twist to such a classic.  It comes off rather well as an adventure tale but, even knowing the story, I had a hard time connecting with it, stopping over and over before finally committing to read it  to the end.  And those expecting a romantic couple at the end here…well you shouldn’t. More like old friends still adventuring together.

So again.  Didn’t enjoy the story but throughly appreciated the manner in which the author wrote the tale.  Thought the writing was beautifully done within the framework given.  You decide if this is something you would enjoy.

Cover art is perfect for the story.  Love how vibrant and eyecatching it is.

Sales Link:   Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition
Published May 15th 2018 by KJC Books
Edition LanguageEnglish

An Ali Review: Spectred Isle (Green Men #1) by K.J. Charles

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 Rating: 4 out 5 stars
 Archaeologist Saul Lazenby has been all but unemployable since his disgrace during the War. Now he scrapes a living working for a rich eccentric who believes in magic. Saul knows it’s a lot of nonsense…except that he begins to find himself in increasingly strange and frightening situations. And at every turn he runs into the sardonic, mysterious Randolph Glyde.

Randolph is the last of an ancient line of arcanists, commanding deep secrets and extraordinary powers as he struggles to fulfil his family duties in a war-torn world. He knows there’s something odd going on with the haunted-looking man who keeps turning up in all the wrong places. The only question for Randolph is whether Saul is victim or villain.

Saul hasn’t trusted anyone in a long time. But as the supernatural threat grows, along with the desire between them, he’ll need to believe in evasive, enraging, devastatingly attractive Randolph. Because he may be the only man who can save Saul’s life—or his soul.
This was a spooky tale that drew me in from beginning.  This is set in the same world as the Simon Feximal stories and takes place a bit down the road time wise. Randolph is good friends with Simon and Robert’s adopted son Sam who is now grown up.  The time period is the 1920’s and the author does a very good job with the world building and setting up the imagery of what’s going on in this society.  The end of the first world war has recently happened and the country is going through numerous changes.  In addition there has been a supernatural war that occurred alongside the world war.  All of the characters have suffered loss in one way or the other as a result.
I enjoyed both Saul and Randolph as main characters.  I found their banter very entertaining.  They exasperate each other during their first few meetings but soon they can not fight the attraction they feel towards each other.  This author always does a good job with the hurt/comfort trope and this story was another example.  Saul has a lot of emotional pain and really no one he can turn to in his life.  This relationship with Randall not only gives him love, but it gives him a group of people who accept him and offer him friendship.  It was a touching thing to watch unfold.
There’s a lot going on in this and there are multiple legends and paranormal creatures that are introduced.  Some of the things I had heard of before and others I had not.  I’m not sure if that is because the author made them up or if it is because I am from the US and may not know the UK legends.  Either way they were entertaining and I can not wait to see what happens with this new band of friends and their quest to keep the city safe from paranormal activity.
Cover by Lexiconic Design:  I really like the cover and I think it perfectly fits the time period of the story and sets the atmosphere of what’s to come in the story.

Sales Links

Book Details:

ebook, 271 pages
Expected publication: August 3rd 2017 by KJC Books
ISBN139780995799073
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesGreen Men #1

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Release Day Review: Spectred Isle (Green Men #1) by K.J. Charles

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

After the war (WWI) archeologist Saul Lazenby returned home in disgrace when his affair with another man led to charges of treason when some of the innocent remarks he made to his lover were pieced together to cause a disaster for Saul’s fellow soldiers.  After serving his time, he’s lucky anyone is willing to hire him.  His parents have disowned him and he’s found a job with a nice, but clueless and bumbling major who is convinced he can find the location where the body of Geoffrey de Mandeville has been buried. 

Legend says that deMandeville lived as an outlaw, was excommunicated, and was buried alive by the Knights Templar, and his ghost now watches over London and Camlet Moat, where his house was located, in the heart of the city. There is a well in Camelet Moat to which all kinds of legends are attached, including of course, buried treasure, or possibly deMandeville himself. 

All of the arcane activity that has recently increased in the area seems to point to a tear in the veil with deMandeville somehow involved.  The Green Men, principally Randolph Glyde are the only arcanists still remaining who have any chance at all of defeating those from beyond. Glyde is the last of twenty-three generations of arcanists, the most powerful of the families, and may be the only hope of saving mankind.

When both Saul and Randolph keep showing up at the same time in the same place, it’s pretty obvious that one of them is involved in some way with the bizarre, unexplainable things that have been happening recently—things like a tree suddenly combusting before their eyes.  But it’s not until they end up trapped on a spiritual plane together, and Randolph needs to use his arcane abilities to get them out of the trap, that the two realize there’s more than magic between them. 

I can’t begin to do justice to this highly complex and imaginative otherworldly mystery created by the inimitable KJ Charles in early 20th century England.  Her stories are such a fine mix of reality and imagination, they always astound me, and most definitely, always entertain me.  This is the beginning of a new series and it packs a powerful punch! 

Saul is the kind of guy you want to take home and wrap up in arms of love.  Emotionally damaged by circumstances beyond his control, living in poverty, and barely able to earn enough to keep food on the table, his once highly promising career in archeology is lost. He’s now reduced to being front man for a bumbling major on a quest to prove his crazy ideas are based in reality. 

Randolph is from an old, proud family, rich in the heritage of arcane abilities, and responsibility was literally driven into him from childhood.  He takes everything seriously, including his promise to keep Saul safe.  When his cousin Theresa comes back from the dead to impart her knowledge to Saul in Camlet Moat, and Saul agrees to become the Walker of the Moat, the future of the two men is sealed in fate.  That Saul readily accepts everything about Randolph and his abilities, and that they are developing strong feelings of love for one another is a bonus.

If you enjoy tales of the spirit realm, witchcraft, or other inexplicable mysterious happenings, you will likely enjoy this tale. Add in a romance between two men who can’t believe their good fortune to find a possible life partner during a time in history when it seemed virtually impossible, and you’ve got a great story to look forward to.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cover by Lexiconic Design features a lone man in 1920’s attire, smoking a cigar while leaning against a temple or church wall. It’s probably Randolph and fits the story, but the subdued tones aren’t very attention-getting.

Sales Links

Book Details:

ebook, 271 pages
Expected publication: August 3rd 2017 by KJC Books
ISBN139780995799073
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesGreen Men #1

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Review: Rag and Bone (Rag and Bone #1) by K.J. Charles

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Rag and BoneIt’s amazing what people throw away…

Crispin Tredarloe never meant to become a warlock. Freed from his treacherous master, he’s learning how to use his magical powers the right way. But it’s brutally hard work. Not everyone believes he’s a reformed character, and the strain is putting unbearable pressure on his secret relationship with waste-man Ned Hall.

Ned’s sick of magic. Sick of the trouble it brings, sick of its dangerous grip on Crispin and the miserable look it puts in his eyes, and sick of being afraid that a gentleman magician won’t want a street paper-seller forever—or even for much longer.

But something is stirring among London’s forgotten discards. An ancient evil is waking up and seeking its freedom. And when wild magic hits the rag-and-bottle shop where Ned lives, a panicking Crispin falls back onto bad habits. The embattled lovers must find a way to work together—or London could go up in flames.

Set in the world of A Charm of Magpies, this is the story of Crispin Tredarloe and Ned Hall, who according to the author’s note, were featured in her short story “A Queer Trade” within the Charmed and Dangerous: Ten Tales of Gay Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy anthology. Though I didn’t read this short prequel, I was easily able to follow this story as a standalone.

Crispin is a graphomancer, a practitioner of blood writing, a rare talent. Graphomancers use writing and drawing to practice their magic and can draw an injury or death for those they wish to harm. But Crispin doesn’t have good control over his skill, and after having been used by the infamous warlock Mr. Marleigh to assist him in his evil mission, he’s more than happy to take the advice of the justiciars and study with Dr. Sweet, a visiting professor who is well-versed in graphomancy. Crispin needs to learn how to use his talent without relying on the pen Marleigh directed him to create, a pen which uses his own blood to write. And he’s trying to do all this under the watchful eye of the justiciars, many of whom believe he’s a warlock and unable to learn a non-threatening way to use his gift.

Ned is a waste man, collecting paper from all over town to sell for a penny a pound. His quarters—a small corner of his part of a store he shares with a rag-and-bottle shop—are filled to the brim with paper and the accompanying paper dust. But he has a little corner in which his bed is squeezed, and it’s there that he and Crispin find their moments of happiness in the deep of night. And on one of those nights, they discover a burning heap in the middle of the rag-and-bottle shop next door, and the heap turns out to be Mr. Voake, the owner. The other mystery surrounding the burning corpse is the presence of a jug from which the song Scarborough Fair seems to be originating. The only one who can hear it is Ned, a man who is not born to the world of magic. But it appears he has a rare talent for hearing things related to magic that others cannot.

Ned sets off alone to discover if any other rag-and-bottle shops have reported a death and is dismayed to find that there were indeed more. In fact, Ned’s discoveries lead him to the conclusion that evil magic caused the deaths. When Ned disappears, he’s able to connect with Crispin through Crispin’s magic and, together, the two have to fight off a very ancient and very malevolent spirit that has managed to come to life. The story is very exciting, complex, and intriguing from that point on, not only due to the frightening discovery they make, but also due to the consequences the men face when a justiciary investigation, led by Stephen Day, uncovers the magical power unleashed by Crispin as he and Ned fought for their lives.

Though I enjoy this author’s work, it took me awhile to get into this story. I believe it’s due to the fact that I didn’t enjoy this couple, as a couple, as much as others in the Magpies world. Tristan was very unassuming, with low self-esteem and a high quotient for misunderstanding the comments others made about him. Ned was smart, but very defensive about being a person of color in the world of magic, including the dreaded justiciars. Possibly due to the circumstances and time period of the story, neither man was overly demonstrative with the other, and I just didn’t feel the loving bond of a strong connection as I did with Stephen and Crane, or with Jonah and Ben (Jackdaw).

If you are a fan of KJ Charles’s work, by all means pick this up. The history and feel of the era, the complexity of the mystery and magic, and the chance for a quick revisit with Stephen Day and Mrs. Gold, all make this one well worthwhile. Though I personally didn’t connect with the MCs, I still enjoyed the story, and I’m looking forward to more tales from this world.

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Cover Art by Angela Waters clearly depicts both MCs in period attire. Though it’s in color, it gives the impression of having been done in daguerreotype, thereby making the photo appear authentic.

Sales Links eBooks:  Samhain Publishing | ARe | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 146 pages
Published March 1st 2016 by Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
Original Title:Rag and Bone
ISBN139781619234734
Edition LanguageEnglish

A BJ Review: Charmed and Dangerous: Ten Tales of Gay Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy – authors Jordan Castillo Price, Rhys Ford, Ginn Hale, KJ Charles, Nicole Kimberling, Jordan L. Hawk, Astrid Amara, Andrea Speed, Lou Harper, Charlie Cochet

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Charmed and DangerousTake a cauldron full of magic, add a pinch of humor, a dash of snark and a huge dollop of m/m goodness, and what do you get? Charmed and Dangerous: Ten Tales of Gay Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy. This all-new collection is packed with arcane action and intrigue, and every story will whisk you away to a fantastical world where the hero finds his prince and the paranormal investigator always gets his man.

Overall Rating:  4.25 stars out of 5

Tales of magic in some of its many forms with, according to the intro, a theme of sympathetic monsters. Well, hell, doesn’t that play right into my love for a good anti-hero! Plus when I saw the lineup of authors on this one, my mouth just about fell open. What a line up! I’m so on board to read this one. Please note that a few of the stories hook into a series and doubtless you will enjoy them those few more if you’re familiar with the series. One of them was a series I’d read, but the other, unfortunately, I was not at all familiar with as it’s a new to me author. Therefore, I discussed that one but did not rate it as I didn’t feel I had the background to do it justice.

The stories are listed in the order in which they appear in the anthology rather than by rating.

Dim Sum Asylum by Rhys Ford – 3.5 stars
Half-fae Detective Roku MacCormick works Arcane Crimes in San Francisco’s Chinatown. He’s cleared for duty after shooting his last partner and back on the job with a new case and a new partner. Trent Leonard, isn’t at all what he’d expected.

I own some books by this author that I’ve not gotten around to reading, but after this I definitely will soon. Because she can tear up the page.

Rich with description and detail, and since I’ve actually lived in San Francisco for a while, that was pretty cool for me. It starts with a rip-roaring chase scene through the streets of Chinatown complete with dragons and mermen, but despite the action I found the story hard to sink into. I felt lost, like I’d been thrown into the middle of an action movie with nothing to hold on to or maybe like jumping into part two of a series when I’d missed the beginning–it was jarring and confusing. Chapter two did clear up a lot of things and bring me more smoothly into the world and story, but the overall fast pace continued and it was hard for me to connect with the characters until closer to the end. That said, the imagery, imagination and details are amazing and vibrant. And the sex was smoking. If you like a kick ass story that goes from zero to sixty in five seconds flat with a flaming hot sex chaser, this story is for you!

Swift and the Black Dog by Ginn Hale – 3.75 stars 
The wizard Jack Swift became a national hero when he killed a tyrant and won the revolution. They even made movies about him! But now it seems like someone in the new government wants him dead.

Well-written, superb imagery. So wizards aren’t well accepted; they’re mostly considered trouble. And gay men are scorned as well. That, and living with his past, makes life hard for Jack despite his hero status.

First few chapters, the author did three things. One: The beginning of this story was slow to pull me in—until suddenly it grabbed me by the throat. Two: I didn’t like Jack much—and then it was made vividly clear that neither did he. Three: In one paragraph, one sentence really, I suddenly hated Peter with a fiery passion that put me completely in Jack’s corner yelling, “Kill the bastard, Jack. Kill him NOW!” Except that would be real hard considering… ah, well… no spoilers.

There’s a romance here, but it’s neither sexy nor sweet. Mostly this story is an eloquent, twisted tale of betrayal and revenge.

A Queer Trade by KJ Charles – 4 stars
Apprentice magician Crispin Tredarloe returns to London to find his master dead and some of the papers he’d written spells upon sold. Some of those spells might mean death so he sets out to get them back. Waste paper seller Ned Hall can’t resist Crispin, but can the two find the papers and prevent a disaster?

Well-written with a beginning that pulled me into it quickly. I enjoyed that it was written from both character’s POV as it gave me a connection to them both. Two likable main characters, but Ned especially for sticking by Crispin as he did. There was chemistry and some lovely hot, sexy bits between them. Nice plot that picked up speed as it went along with a satisfying resolution.

However, I should mention that this story did have parts that rather grossed me out. So warning, possible high ICK factor here, depending on what pushes your ick buttons, of course. *shudder*

Magically Delicious by Nicole Kimberling – 4 stars
Attacks against NIAD agents aren’t Keith Curry’s department–until his transmogrified goblin boyfriend, Gunther, is the target. Keith begins working the case even though that means pissing off powerful mages, crossing leprechaun picket lines, and braving dinner with goblin parents.

This one was so much fun. Mages, goblins, leprechauns, and pixies, oh my! The beginning just sucked me in immediately. Such interesting characters that I wanted to know all about them. Love the mage pistol and well, heck, this was just a super imaginative story. I figured out where the pixie dust had come from long before it came out, but it was still a fun ride getting to the bottom of exactly why and how. Gunther’s goblin family were great fun. The pixies and leprechauns (esp. Carrot Beard) were hilarious. But most of all, I adored Gunther the transmogrified goblin and would love to read more about him and Keith’s relationship, how they came to be together and definitely more in depth sexy bits please.

Everyone’s Afraid of Clowns by Jordan Castillo Price – 3.75 stars
Psychic medium Victor Bayne can spot a ghost any day of the year, but Halloween holds some special surprises. Victor and Jacob are on their way to a Halloween party, when Victor remembers something from his past. His psych-groupie boyfriend Jacob coaxes him to the location of the old spirit sighting, but they can’t ghost hunt without enduring a cheesy “haunted house” that’s even more disturbing than they realize.

Within the bowls of an old theatre, the guys encounter far more than just a ghost clown needing to cross over. As always between these two, any excuse for a sexy encounter is taken and the heat level between them is as hot as ever.

Well-written with ghost exhibitionism, glitter and goo, painted pumpkins and lots of spooky imagery. I’ve always found clowns and fun houses to be extremely creepy, but I do love this series. Victor and Jake are so darn hot together—wherever they are.

The Thirteenth Hex by Jordan L. Hawk – 5 stars
Dominic Kopecky is a Metropolitan Witch Police fanboy who failed the magic aptitude tests when he was young. He’d dreamed of working at MWP with witches and their familiars who take the form of birds, toads, and cats. But his lack of magic led him to become the next best thing—a hexman who does the grunt work of using ink, paper and gemstones to create spells that witches later activate with their magic. But hexes were an exact science and a badly done one could turn very deadly when activated.

When the beautiful unbonded crow familiar, Rook, seeks Dominic’s help investigating murder by hex Dominic isn’t sure why. He’s not a witch, the case has already been closed, and someone seems willing to kill to keep it that way.

I loved this one right from the start. Well-written, well-paced, intriguing characters, and a very unusual world set up. I thought it was funny that the familiar was a crow and Dominic’s last name was KoPECKy. Made me laugh. As did some of lines like ‘keep your beak out of it’ and a bunch of others. A lovely sweet romance, some nice heat, and a fun story. Overall, it just hit all the right notes for me.

The Soldati Prince by Charlie Cochet – 5 stars
Riley Murrough is a barista cleaning up after a day’s work when he’s suddenly being chased by demons, and rescued by tigers, one of which transforms into a huge man covered in tribal tattoos. If that wasn’t bad enough, he’s told that he bears the mark of a shapeshifter and whisked off to a magical realm.

Well-written story told from both Riley’s and Khalon’s POV, this story started off a bit confusing for me but very soon that changed and it sucked me in. At first witty, snarky fun with some really interesting side characters, but then things begin to shift. Within a chapter, there was a sweet romance that made me swoon and events that had me in tears and I completely loved Khalon and Riley. I really want to read more about this world and especially about the side characters Toka and Rayner as well. Loved those guys, too. The way Khalon and Rayner (best friends) bickered rocked. And the ending line was perfect Riley!

This was my first read by this author and will definitely not be my last, I really enjoyed her writing style.

One Hex Too Many by Lou Harper – 4.25 stars
Veteran detective Mike Mulligan is an expert on violent occult crimes at the Extramundane Crimes Division. Most of his fellow officers consider him cursed because of how many partners he’s lost and refuse to partner with him. Detective Hugh Fox is a rookie, eager to partner up and prove himself. However, Mulligan is accustomed to flying solo and not used to trusting a partner with his life. Not helped when one of the first things out of Fox’s mouth is to point out to Mulligan that he’s not gay.

Communicating via the bathroom mirror. Rogue hacker wizards=wackers (love that). A flamboyant blond desk clerk who can change sex at will uses glamour and charm spells on everyone in the force regularly as exposure training. All that in the first few pages let know right away that this was going to be a fun ride.

The duo is assigned to track a killer using dark magic—an offense at the top of the list of Prohibited Practices. Despite having gotten off to a rough start, I liked how Mulligan treated Fox from the get go. He seemed such a natural at training for a guy who hadn’t wanted a partner. Considerate of not making him look bad by correcting in front of others even when he was a trainee for instance. Early on a semi-drunken kiss motivated by a big red bed after the two of them had sung some off-note Karaoke made things a bit awkward—and yeah, that’s the kind of fun that ensues. The pace of their relationship development is fairly slow, which I liked, but I wanted to see/feel more heat. I enjoyed this new to me author’s writing style, quick paced, witty and fun, but with close attention to details of world building as well as the mystery elements. I would love a story about Leslie.

Josh of the Damned vs. the Bathroom of Doom by Andrea Speed 
It’s a boring night at the Quik-Mart for Josh and his friend Doug. Until a vampire with a grudge—and the most adorable backup ever—crashes the store. Can Josh survive the Bathroom of Doom?

A new to me author and I’m not familiar with this series, so right off that put me at a bit of a disadvantage going into this. Overall well-written story, but I was rather lost some of the time and for that reason, I am not going to assign this story an individual star rating. Honestly this story squicked me out, including how Josh described and thought about things—I’m pretty sure this had to do with my total lack of background reference on him to go on, but I have to be honest and say that Josh and Doug didn’t appeal to me. The Medusa bracelet was cool. I think fans of this series will enjoy this well-written quirky story. It just wasn’t for me.

The Trouble With Hexes by Astrid Amara – 5 stars
P.I. Tim Keller has a problem. And the only person who can solve it is his ex-boyfriend, Vincent, whose job as a hexbreaker was the reason they broke up. It’s hard admitting he was wrong, especially when coughing up organs. But there’s a missing person to find, a hexmaker to hunt down, and a romance to repair before Tim breathes his last.

Wow, this one grabbed me by the throat. With a death grip. Tim broke up with Vincent, a tattoo artist, six months ago because he didn’t believe in the mumbo jumbo he’d started working with in his spare time and couldn’t stomach the danger it put him in. Conversely, Vincent made more effort to hide what he was doing than to explain and show it to Tim right up until the blow up at the end.

A few months later, Tim began to sicken and when doctors found no cure he had to face the truth he’d sensed all along… he’d been hexed. He shows up on Vincent’s doorstep a mere shadow of the man he’d been, suddenly having no choice but to believe in what he’d scoffed at. But even if Vincent wants to help him, it turns out that breaking a withering hex is no easy matter.

The writing in this last and lengthiest story is excellent as is the pacing. The characters are well-drawn and sucked me right into their life and world. Plenty of heat, some “aww” moments, and some parts that made me teary. And even a sweet little dog. What more could I want? My favorite of this anthology—for me, an excellent example of saving the best for last.

Cover is both hot and intriguing, it also most definitely says paranormal to me and made me want to check this book out upon first sight.

Sales Links:  JCP Books |  Amazon | Buy It Here


Book Details:

Expected publication: August 25th 2015 by JCP Books LLC
original title Charmed and Dangerous: Ten Tales of Gay Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy
ISBN139781935540809
edition language English