A MelanieM Review: Haka Ever After (The Sin Bin #7) by Dahlia Donovan

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

You are cordially invited to the Sin Bin wedding of the year—kilts required, undergarments optional.

Taine Afoa has faced opponents on the rugby pitch without an ounce of fear. He hopes to find the same courage when asking the love of his life to marry him. First, though, he has to ask Freddie’s fathers for their blessing.

If Taine survives, popping the question should be a breeze.

Freddie Whittle knows Taine has something up his sleeve. A yes forms on his lips before the question is even asked. But can they survive the madness of friends and family, all wanting to help plan their wedding?

As their May-December romance tumbles into happily ever after, one surprise after the other brings them more joy than they ever imagined possible.

The short story Haka Ever After is the seventh (and last) book in Dahlia Donovan’s international bestselling gay romance series, The Sin Bin. Each one features hot rugby players and the men who steal their hearts.

Haka Ever After (The Sin Bin #7) by Dahlia Donovan is, as a certain someone would say, practically perfect in every way.  It’s one flaw?  It’s just too short.  I love this series and it’s flawed, amazing, and totally endearing couples.  The synopsis indicates that this is to be the last in the series although from the author’s site list she had planned for just one more so I’m not sure what’s to become of Zeb & Silius.

Still, if no further stories appear, I will be thrilled that Donovan ended it here with Haka Ever After.  It’s certainly a most suitable way for the series to go out, on the wedding of Taine and Freddie with the involvement of all the rugby brotherhood and their partners and  amazing circle of family and friends.  Everyone we have gotten to know and love over the course of six stories, their troubles and their journey forward to love and HEA, they are here, enthusing this tale with warmth and laughter.  And joy.

Our connection to them all has remained strong and snaps smartly back into place as each couple makes their appearance here helping Taine and Freddie get married.  Such an special celebration warrants special heartwarming events…I won’t spoil them but get your tissues handy.   Maybe even a box.

This story was just too short.  Those wedding presents to each other needed several chapters more per present.  I needed to know more about those travels in depth.  It was special, and moving, and I could see it all so clearly.  Yes, I may start sniffling again.

From kilts to an amazing send off, it’s so hard to let these men go.  I may have to start re-reading this series all over again.  If you are new to the series, treat yourself and head immediately to The Wanderer and begin your journey with The Sin Bin series there.  I highly recommend them all, including this amazing farewell story.

Cover art: Claire Smith.  This is probably my favorite cover of the entire series.  Beautifully done while still continuing to brand the series in style and color.

Sales Links:  Hot Tree Publishing  | Amazon

Book Details:Kindle Edition
Published July 28th 2018 by Hot Tree Publishing
ASINB07DL6LB7X
Edition LanguageEnglish
Series The Sin Bin #7

The Sin Bin Series:

1. The Wanderer – BC & Graham

2. The Caretaker – Tens & Freddie

3. The Botanist (short story) – Aled & Wyatt

4. The Royal Marine – Hamish & Akash

5 The Unexpected Santa (short story) – Gray & Scottie

6. The Lion Tamer – Gray & Scottie

7. The Haka Ever After (short story) – Tens & Freddie

8. TBD – Zeb & Silus

 

A MelanieM Review: The Lion Tamer (The Sin Bin #6) by Dahlia Donovan

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

One dominant Marine.

One troubled rugby player.

The Sin Bin will never be the same.

Gray Baird’s to-do list for the year includes starting a restaurant, claiming his submissive, and keeping his nosy friends out of his business. He has his work seriously cut out for him.

Scottie Monk prides himself on bullying his way through problems—and sometimes even people. His life is spiralling out of his control, but he refuses to break. The last thing he expects is to find peace in the confines of submission.

One man will try to tame a lion.

One man will try to heal.

And both men will have to join forces to deal with a toxic family and invasive paparazzi.

Each new story in The Sin Bin series made me sure I’d found the favorite  story and couple out of all of them…and I had. Until the next one.  This pattern held true with The Lion Tamer.  Dahlia Donovan has taken a sad and sometimes unlikable character that’s been appearing in every  previous story and slowly turned him into someone I not only connected deeply with but rooted for his happiness with everything I had.  That would be Scottie Monk,  a ex rugby alcoholic with anger issues up the wazoo.  Nasty to friends, unreliable, he’s on a downward spiral that anyone familiar with his  family would recognize.  And up until the previous story, The Unexpected Santa (The Sin Bin, #5), I wasn’t sure where Dahlia Donovan was going to take or leave him.

Gray Baird, an ex Marine and transplant to the UK is both the key to Scottie’s change in path and a whole new wonderful character.  Gray wants a sea change in his life and makes it.  New career as a chef, new home, and slowly, ever so slowly, a whole new set of people that become his family, including the autistic twins that he befriended in The Unexpected Santa.  The person he also wants to include in this new life is Scottie, but Scottie has to want to change his life, go to rehab, make his own drastic changes ..not for Gray but for himself.

This book has a gritty, realistic side (as does the entire series).  Donovan doesn’t spare the ugliness that is Scottie at his worst.  We  see the effects alcoholism has not only on the person deep in his addiction but on all of those around him.  The strains on the few friendships he has left, the growing exclusions from functions because of his behavior, and always the anger.  When submission and dominance start to help Gray and Scottie, both as a initial doorway to their relationship and as a revelation for Scottie, for whom love has always been an unknown factor in life, we get it.

You can’t separate out sections of this story as all threads flow naturally together into one vivid indelible tapestry.  The bdsm elements which are unbelievably hot and sexy, the raw and painful road to recovery for Scottie to sobriety,  the endearing and moving continued incorporation of twins Alice and Alex into Gray’s home and life.  Finally, their love and relationship along with all their friends and loved ones.  I can’t believe how much I love this story.

It’s so great to see all the other couples popping up to support this couple in whatever fashion is needed.  All the books and characters are so tightly intertwined that I may just start the series over reading them one right after the other.

The Lion Tamer (The Sin Bin #6) by Dahlia Donovan is one remarkable, warmhearted contemporary romance.  It’s moving, and oh so memorable.  I absolutely recommend it and the entire Sin Bin series.

Cover art:  Claire Smith.  I love the cover but it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the series.

Sales Links:  Hot  Tree Publishing | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook
Published February 20th 2018 by Hot Tree Publishing
ISBN139781925655520
Edition LanguageEnglish
Series The Sin Bin #6

The Sin Bin Series:

1. The Wanderer – BC & Graham

2. The Caretaker – Tens & Freddie

3. The Botanist (short story) – Aled & Wyatt

4. The Royal Marine – Hamish & Akash

5 The Unexpected Santa (short story) – Gray & Scottie

6. The Lion Tamer – Gray & Scottie

7. The Haka Ever After (short story) – Tens & Freddie

8. TBD – Zeb & Silus

A MelanieM Review: The Unexpected Santa (The Sin Bin #5) by Dahlia Donovan

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Ratings: 4.5 stars out of 5

When a rugby bad boy butts heads with a retired Marine, which alpha male becomes top dog?

Scottie Monk came out of the womb angry at the world. He’s selfish and bitter. “Bah humbug!” rolls off his tongue far easier than “Happy Christmas.”

Gray Baird has dedicated his life to public service as a Marine Corps officer and later as a police chief. The decorated hero finds it impossible to ignore autistic twins in desperate need of holiday spirit. He’ll be the grumpiest Santa in the world if it puts a smile their faces. And he’ll drag a reluctant Scottie along for the ride.

This December, Gray and Scottie collide while unexpectedly playing Santa.

The Unexpected Santa (The Sin Bin #5) by Dahlia Donovan is more like a prelude to the next story, a setup really,  to the much anticipated full blown clash that’s coming between Scottie Monk and Gray Baird in The Lion Tamer.

However, taken within that context?  It’s a wonderful anticipatory delight of a short story.  For all of the previous four novels, Scottie Monk’s atrocious behavior within the close group of ex rugby players has gone from extremely annoying to using hate language, stalking,  and throwing punches.  He’s constantly drunk and when sober, his behavior is sometimes even worse.  One by one his former teammates and friends are excluding him from their circle and events.  His  reaction is anger and self pity.

I’ve wondered what Dahlia Donovan was going to do with Scottie.  An unflattering character in the first book, he’s progressed to a horror of self indulgence and denial, certainly not someone a reader could connect with.  When we last saw him, he was being thrown out of a wedding by Gray Baird (laughing…yes love that  name).  The Unexpected Santa picks up directly after that incident.

The autistic twins in the story come from The Royal Marine (The Sin Bin #4, one of my favorites in the series.  They worked then for Akash Robinson, a baker. It’s he who is marrying his former marine, Hamish Ross, friend of Gray Baird.  Yes, the two groups are now deeply intertwined and no story within this series is a standalone.   Like a rich tapestry, the narrative threads run heavy through each tale and couple, twisting and twirling about, tugging the groups closer until they are forming a mesh of relationship dynamics that can’t really be separated out from one another.

Gray is a fascinating character, he has his hidden needs and has been wondering if he will fit in within this group and new location.  Once he sees Scottie Monk, Scottie’s pain, and his actions that seem a cry for stability as well as a cry for someone to take control of his life, well,  Gray responds to Scottie with his corresponding need to do just that. Yes, there will be hot kink involved…most likely in their story The Lion Tamer.  Again, this is just the beginning.

Here we start to see  just how badly messed up Scottie is and what has brought him to this state.  But it’s clear that for Scottie and Gray this is but the tantalizing first dance.  There are so many lovely scenes between Gray and the twins here, (they now work for Aled the Botanist).  The author contrasting the delicacy of paper cranes with the fragility of the twins.  In many ways it is a Christmas story.

The Unexpected Santa is a terrific Christmas prelude for all fans and readers of Dahlia Donovan’s The Sin Bin series.  It’s that delicious taste of what’s to come, combined with the sweetness and joy of the holiday season when the twins come into the picture.

I highly recommend this entire series.  I have listed them all at the bottom of the review.  Read them in the order they were written, enjoy the characters and the men they love.

Cover art by Claire Smith again works beautifully.  Love the coloration and the single snowflake that stands for the book.

Sales Links: Hot Tree Publishing | Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition
Published November 11th 2017 by Hot Tree Publishing
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesThe Sin Bin #5

The Sin Bin Series:

1. The Wanderer – BC & Graham

2. The Caretaker – Tens & Freddie

3. The Botanist (short story) – Aled & Wyatt

4. The Royal Marine – Hamish & Akash

5 The Unexpected Santa (short story) – Gray & Scottie

6. The Lion Tamer – Gray & Scottie

7. The Haka Ever After (short story) – Tens & Freddie

8. TBD – Zeb & Silus

A MelanieM Review: The Botanist (The Sin Bin #3) by Dahlia Donovan

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

When mistaken identity leads a young botanist into trouble, Navy SEALs come to the rescue.

Aled Demers prefers plants over people. He survives an attack in Anguilla alive but emotionally and physically scarred. Back home in Cardiff, he struggles with PTSD and his unraveling life.

Wyatt “Earp” Hardy lives for his SEAL brothers. Retiring from military service brings new challenges for him to face. The last thing he expects is for his next mission to involve falling for the much younger botanist.

If the botanist has the strength to heal, can Wyatt find the courage to love?

If someone wanted a quick introduction to the writing style of Dahlia Donovan and a reason why they should definitely read her stories, then look no further than her novelette The Botanist (The Sin Bin #3).  At 84 pages, it has the emotional heft you would expect of a much larger novel, layered characters and relationships so fully developed that their range and dynamics flow off the page and into your heart.

It starts off with a rescue where Wyatt meet Aled, a victim of mistaken identity.  The result of that leaves Aled a mass of scars, inward and outward, unable to function.  Donovan is able to paint a clear picture of a  man crumbling under the effects of PTSD, it’s painful and you hurt for this gentle young botanist.  So does Wyatt.

This is a gentle story that starts from an act of extreme violence.  Of one man working to free another from the walls of fear and the horrors of his torture that now bind him.  Along the way they fall in love.  It’s the trust, the easing into each others lives, and finally the bravery to go forward…this time in tandem.

This is more a romance, there’s very little actual sex. That makes sense when you consider that most of the story Aled is so damaged that he is not feeding himself.  To have them jump into sex would destroy any authenticity the author is building up between her characters and her readers.  No, the beauty lies in the  conciseness of the narrative and the future unfolding for them both.

You don’t need to read the other stories in The Sin Bin but I absolutely recommend that you do.  The series is about a group of men that  support each other and their partners.  Their lives are intertwined and they make appearances in each others tales.  To read them in order is  to have a great understanding of each man, their “larger family” and back history.  Plus each story is such a wonder in itself, why miss them?

My only reason in not giving this 5 stars is a snippy one, I wanted more.  You will too.

Cover art by Claire Smith is lovely.  I love the Ginko leaf overlay and the faded background that binds all the series together.  Great job.

Sales Links:  Hot Tree Publishing | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 84 pages
Published August 26th 2017 by Hot Tree Publishing
ISBN139781925655063
Edition LanguageEnglish
Series The Sin Bin #3

The Sin Bin Series:

1. The Wanderer – BC & Graham

2. The Caretaker – Tens & Freddie

3. The Botanist (short story) – Aled & Wyatt

4. The Royal Marine – Hamish & Akash

5 The Unexpected Santa (short story) – Gray & Scottie

6. The Lion Tamer – Gray & Scottie

7. The Haka Ever After (short story) – Tens & Freddie

8. TBD – Zeb & Silus

A MelanieM Review: The Caretaker (The Sin Bin #2) by Dahlia Donovan

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Who cares for the caretaker when his burden grows too heavy to bear?

Freddie Whittle devotes his life to his cancer patients, cheese, and his overprotective fathers. His big move to Cardiff is tainted by bigot neighbors and a dismal social life. He wants something more but doesn’t know what until he runs headlong into a Scottish-Maori mountain of a man.

Taine Afoa retires from international rugby feeling restless. He left his career behind and relocates for a change of pace. The last thing he expects is to become infatuated with someone who seems far too young and innocent for him. No matter how hard he tries, it’s impossible to get Freddie out of his mind.

Can Freddie handle the intensity of Taine’s naughty sexual desires?

And when the strong alpha male tangles with the playful nurse, will this May-December romance end before it even begins?

The Caretaker is book two in Dahlia Donovan’s international bestselling gay romance series, The Sin Bin. Each one features hot rugby players and the men who steal their hearts.

The Caretaker is the second story in Dahlia Donovan’s Sin Bin series revolving around a group of retired rugby players and the men they love.  While the name the sin bin refers to the penalty box in the game, here it evolves into a bar named appropriately The Sin Bin, owned and managed by the group.  Freddie Whittle is a character we first met in The Wanderer.  He played an important part in the cancer treatment and recovery of Graham Hodson, one of the main characters there.  Freddie stood out, even as a secondary character and you just hoped that meant he was coming back to get his own romance.  Now here it is.

His romantic match is Taine Afoa, a part Scottish, part Maori retired rugby player who is one of the aforementioned group.  He’s older than Freddie, an element other characters need to work through.  Taine’s has an unusual history of being abandoned as a baby, raised by a local priest, and has a hamster as a beloved pet.  So many layers to this kind man.  A lot of kinks as well as we find out as the story proceeds.

He’s the perfect match for Freddie, a man burdened down by two overprotective fathers (think smothered), a job that comes with heavy grief of losing clients you get close to, and neighbors who seem to be constantly attacking him because he’s gay.  He needs a huge rugby player in his life and gets one.  This is a wonderful romance to watch happen, no instant love.  Just a recognition that they work together as a couple and want to see what happens in the future.  It’s a HFN ending with a story with a HEA coming up further down the series.

I love that sort of realism that Dahlia Donovan deals with here. We see Freddie’s job and it’s effect on him up close. The maturity and strength it takes to handle that job.  Things aren’t perfect, unfortunate or bad things happen to people and they learn to deal.  This is a grownup look at life and romance.  It’s refreshing, realistic, and wonderful.

The sex scenes are wonderful kinky (erotic spanking) and very hot!  It matches the chemistry between Taine and Freddie perfectly.  I thought I had my favorite couple of the series down but Taine and Freddie kept growing on me until I have to admit they are right at the top too.  I can’t wait for their HEA book to arrive, that would be The Haka Ever After.  See the entire list below.

I love this series and all the characters that Dahlia Donovan has created for it.  They are so human, some broken, some brave, all intelligent, quirky, and multidimensional.  Throw romance into the mixture and this series has an unbeatable combination.  It’s one I highly recommend, including The Caretaker.

Cover art by Claire Smith is perfect, and contains an important element of the story.  Great job.

Sales Links:  Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 244 pages
Published July 8th 2017 by Hot Tree Publsihing
ISBN13 9781925448924
The Sin Bin Series:

1. The Wanderer – BC & Graham

2. The Caretaker – Tens & Freddie

3. The Botanist (short story) – Aled & Wyatt

4. The Royal Marine – Hamish & Akash

5 The Unexpected Santa (short story) – Gray & Scottie

6. The Lion Tamer – Gray & Scottie

7. The Haka Ever After (short story) – Tens & Freddie

8. TBD – Zeb & Silus

9 The Blacksmith (novella) – Ivan, Rolly, & Wes

A MelanieM Review:The Wanderer (The Sin Bin #1) by Dahlia Donovan

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

When life kicks a wanderer in the bollocks, all he can do is fight for his life.

Bad boy BC Brooks screwed up his lifelong dream of being captain of the English national rugby team. Lost and confused, he hides from his failures until an unexpected inheritance forces him to make a change.

Graham Hodson lives for travel, adventure, and one-night stands. Wanderlust rules his life. He never expects a brief encounter with a stranger to haunt his dreams and follow him across the world.

One diagnosis shakes both men to their core.

One journey through the depths of recovery brings two perpetual bachelors into the unknown territory of love.

Through one book (The Royal Marine), I found a new author, a new series, and even a new publishing house.  I consider myself three times lucky indeed for that rarely happens, although yes it was because I stumbled into all three when I was offered the  fourth book in the series to read.  So back I went to start the series from the beginning with The Wanderer.

Turns out I had to figure out what a Sin Bin was to get the gist of the series.  For us Americans, it’s the penalty box.  For rugby or soccer (yes, yes, I know I can you all abroad shouting ‘it’s football’ lol), that area of the the field where players are sent to wait out the allotted penalty time after having being called foul.  The Sin Bin series is about a group of close rugby players, teammates, whose careers are over and now need to figure out the rest of their lives without the game they loved so much.  It then makes sense for them to feel as though they are permanently living in a Sin Bin, lost until they are able to move on.

That’s exactly what BC Brooks is trying to do when he runs into Graham Hodson at Graham’s twin brother’s wedding. A closet quickie, an indelible impression plus an explosive chemistry changes both of their lives forever.

The Wanderer (The Sin Bin #1) by Dahlia Donovan is told from both points of view, necessary as Graham, the wanderer of the title, is often in other parts of the world. For some stories separating the two main characters doesn’t work well for the romance.  Here it does.  Dahlia Donovan is able to make us believe in that absolute weirdest of creatures, that indefinable chemistry that won’t allow you to forget someone.  Here neither man is able to let the other go in their minds or even in lust.  They have an absolute need to reconnect that the readers get.  And no, it’s not instalove.

BC and Graham also have pasts that have precluded them from even wanting relationships…a term that they have fled from along with the actual thing.  These characterizations are so well done that the fumbling towards anything resembling a relationship is so awkward and needlessly full of self made pitfalls that you find yourself sighing and  shaking your head in fond frustration.

Then one of the men receives a diagnosis and again everything changes.  I won’t go into who or what but the story throws enough clues that you have an idea what’s coming.  That doesn’t make what follows any  easier to take.  I wept along with both men,  watched the relationship deepen as the circumstances altered them forever.  And held out hope for their future with them too.

For those readers, this is also a book that shows what happens to a relationship when dealing with a serious illness.  It’s dealt with an authenticity, grit, and sensitivity that makes this story work so well because it shows what can happen when you least expect it.  BC and Graham feel so real, especially after this section of the story.  I’m so happy to know that I will continue to see them in the books that follow.

What a way to start a series!  I noticed the characters in book 4 referenced to here.  So now it’s on to The Caretaker (The Sin Bin, #2) and Freddie Whittle’s story, a man who had a huge part to play here.  I can’t wait.

From just the two books that I’ve read, I can’ tell this is a series not to be missed.  I highly recommend the two that I’ve read.  But unlike me, start here and work your way through the series.

Cover art is ok.  I don’t know what it is about those figures that make me think of teenagers instead of grown men. It just throws me off.

Sales Links:  Hot Tree Publishing | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 191 pages
Published April 29th 2017 by Hot Tree Publishing (first published April 8th 2017)
ISBN139781925448771
Series The Sin Bin #1 setting Cornwall (United Kingdom)

A MelanieM Review: The Royal Marine (The Sin Bin #4) by Dahlia Donovan

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Who keeps the Royal Marine’s heart safe when he’s running headlong into danger?

Akash Robinson fuses his Indian and British heritage into his baked creations. His life is all things sugar and spice, especially when a blind date leads him to the older military man of his dreams. Family, friends, and an unwanted admirer all threaten both his sanity and his budding romance.

Hamish Ross carries the names of his lost soldiers on his back. He takes his work seriously with no time for love. All it takes is one impulsive kiss to lead him into uncharted romantic waters.

When a sarcastic baker mixes with a stoic alpha marine, who will come out on top when the flour settles?

The Royal Marine is book four in Dahlia Donovan’s international bestselling gay romance series, The Sin Bin. Each one features hot rugby players and the men who steal their hearts.

So once again, I’ve found myself starting a series at book four!  What a surprise! Not!  I give up, it really seems to be just a path I’m meant to take so I’m embracing it because again I’m going to have to go back to the beginning and pick up all the preceding stories.  Why?  Because of the heartwarming success of The Royal Marine (The Sin Bin #4) by Dahlia Donovan.

Dahlia Donovan must be a part of or know intimately a warm Indian /mixed Indian family. How she writes Akash or Aki, as he’s called and his family is just plain wonderful and authentic.  From the family dynamics to the linguistic rhythm of the dialog that sings out to the reader (often leaving them smiling or outright laughing in commiseration), it’s all a part of letting one gently feel the culture, the love, and the family without anything really shouting out at you.  It’s just a lovely part of this story and the main character and it brings Aki and his family so alive that you connect with him (and them) immediately.  Plus I really wanted to taste his baking!

Hamish, aka The Hamster, Ross  is The Royal Marine.  He’s the man Aki is set up on a blind date with, one of two actually, but he’s the one that Aki has something in common with and likes immediately.  The connection is mutual.  The Royal Marine would be one of the slow burn sort of stories excerpt for Hamish’s job which takes him away for long, dangerous stretches at a time and an interesting sort of WiFi  dating/getting to know you courtship ensues.  He too  is surrounded by his own version of  family, that of his “crew”, the marines that retired with him and they now work together.  The characters here are believable, memorable, and people you want more of in this story and perhaps the next.

The story is told from two perspectives which is necessary given that they are apart and they get to have a long distance “romance”  that we “peek” into.  Then around them, there is further drama which heightens the suspense for the couple on several levels.  Yes, there’s plenty of suspense,  anxiety, and danger to go along with the romance.  It’s really a  wonderful story.  And I loved that ending!

So now it’s onto  books 1 through 3.  I’ll let you know what I find.  You can easily read this one without the others and I think you should.  It’s  lovely and I  absolutely recommend it.

Cover art by Claire Smith is sort of bland, would have preferred the bakery or another element from the story.

Sales Links:  Hot Tree PublishingAmazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 192 pages
Published October 14th 2017 by Hot Tree Publishing
ASIN B0753CSBF9
Edition Language English