Review of The Trust by Shira Anthony and Venona Keyes

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Rating: 5 stars

Jake Anders is hearing voices, one voice to be exact.  Jake hears the voice of Trace Michelson, his mentor, and the one man he has been attracted to for years.  The problem is that the real Trace Michelson is dead, killed six years ago when  Trace was assassinated by people and agencies unknown.  The voice Jakes hears is that of the Sim implant in his brain that carries part of Trace in it.  Trace Michelson recruited Jake when he was in college for The Trust, a CIA-backed agency whose “executives” eliminate rogue biotechnology operations.

Jake was in awe of Trace, a brilliant mind houses in a powerful, gorgeous body.  If Trace ever knew of Jake’s long time infatuation, he never let on.  Before he was killed, Trace designed the Sim chip implanted in Jake’s brain.The chip contains his memories and experiences. It’s supposed to be just data, designed to augment Jake’s knowledge. But the Sim seems so real, like talking to Trace in person so Jake wonders if Trace is still alive or if Jake really is going crazy like everyone claims.   Then the Sim tells him to trust no one. And Jake decides to learn the truth about Trace and the Sim, no matter the cost, no matter where the end of the journey will find him, dead or alive.  Jake will give his all to keep The Trust.

What a wild, crazy elaborate ride this book turned out to be.  From the first, you enter a maze of misinformation and treachery, and like Alice, you must commit to jumping down the hole in order to reach the truth and find the satisfactory ending that is hidden behind closed doors.  When we first meet Jake, he has been ambushed by a traitor.  As Jake bleeds out, he throws a knife to take out his assassin and then hearing his Sim’s voice telling him to meditate, passes out.  He awakes healed in a hospital bed, being touted as a superman for killing the traitor and healing himself. And from there we are off on a exciting romp from there that makes Mr. Toad’s wild ride look practically sedate.  Our authors handle the past/present juggling act beautifully so we are fed only tidbits of information about the past histories of the people involved.  This keeps us guessing as to who the bad guys really are as well as their motives behind the actions.  And while we are certain of the identity of the main villian early on, the identities of the people who are under their control is always in question.  Is it the best friend?  Is it the sister or the doctor?  Each reality keeps folding back on each other to keep the reader wonderfully confused right up to the end and the final denouement.

I love the character of Jake Anders right down to his long flaming red hair.  Jake is such a distinctive persona, brilliant, seemingly removed from those around him, a true scientist at heart. Jake became work obsessed when he lost the most important man in his life, Trace Michelson.  Jake has so many layers to him, he is as complicated and as elaborate as the conspiracy he must unravel. So Jake’s character must unfold to the reader through his inner voice and his memories as he runs the maze set before him and solves the puzzles his Sim/Trace have left behind.  It doesn’t help that Jake is not sure himself what is real and what is imagined.  We are as confused and uncertain as he is. That the reader is kept in the dark with Jake works to the stories advantage as we have to go down every blind alley and take every risk along with him.

Sometimes the action is fast paced, at other times the action is calculatingly slow like a chess move that will set off repercussions many moves later.  I appreciated the change up in pace as it kept me guessing as to the hidden meanings behind each scene.  There is a romantic element to The Trust but if that is all you are seeking in a novel, then perhaps this is not the story for you.  It is there as thin threads that runs the length of the story. I really enjoyed the way Anthony and Keyes handled the romantic part of this story, that of Jake’s hidden love for Trace, a man we only get to see from Jake’s perspective.  In Jake’s eyes, Trace is larger than life, his mentor, his hero, and the only man he is capable of loving.  So when Jake is not sure whether the voice he is hearing is the Sim or somehow Trace himself and Jake wonders if he is sane, the reader is right there with him, hoping upon hope that somehow it is Trace himself.  I can’t say more because that enters into spoiler territory but I loved the ending and so will you.

So even if mental mazes and action adventure may not be your thing, take a chance.  Pick this up, stay with it through all the double crosses and ever-changing realities, it is worth it.  You will love it.  Trust me!

Cover: Wonderful cover by Catt Ford.  Eye catching and speaks to the book within.  Great job.

Reviewers Note:  Shira Anthony’s Blue Notes, a contemporary romance, is a favorite of mine.  See my review of Blue Notes here.

Review of One Last Kiss Goodbye by N.J. Nielson

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Rating: 4 stars

Jacen Ives has loved Kayne Henderson since he was 11 and Kayne was 14. Kayne  was kind to him and stopped Jacen from being bullied.  Confused about his feelings, Jacen talks to his older brother, Micah, and dad about being gay and is met with acceptance and love.  But both caution him about being out at school and Micah makes him promise to never reveal his feelings to Kayne.  Jacen keeps that promise until the night of their graduation party. It seems that Kayne has known all along about Jacen’s “crush” and he sends Jacen away to college with a kiss goodbye after telling Jacen that he is straight and has a serious girlfriend.

Six years later, Jacen returns to his hometown after being savagely beaten by an ex-boyfriend he met in college.  His family gathers to support him.  And to his surprise, so does Kayne Henderson.  Kayne is now divorced and has a young daughter. Homeless,they both live with Micah and his partner, Sammy. When Jacen’s ex eludes the Melbourne  police, everyone fears he will show up to threaten Jacen again so Kayne and his daughter move in with Jacen to protect him. But Kayne is hiding a secret, one he has carried since graduation.  When the secret comes out, it will shatter friendships and leave Jacen vulnerable. Can both men accept change when it leads to a future both want with all their hearts?

One Last Kiss Goodbye was a lovely story of unrequited love fulfilled at last with an Australian touch.  Nielson has done such a great job with her characterizations that each and every one comes off as a realistic portrayal of young men conflicted about their sexuality, driven to act under stress and duress that will seem so authentic, so real to the reader that they capture our sympathy and hearts immediately.

Jacen Ives is sweet and loving portrait of a sweet, smart young man who separates himself from his family and support system because he just can’t stand to remain and watch Kayne and his girlfriend.  You have to remember these are the actions of a 15 year old who has jumped ahead in school to graduate with older kids but still has the emotional maturity of his actual age.  In fact, as the story ends, Jacen is only 21.  Nielson understands Jacen’s emotional age and stays true to that level of maturity throughout the book.  In moving away from family and friends, Jacen takes away his security and emotional backing as well. It is easy to imagine a 15 year old on his own for the first time, homesick and grieving over the loss of Kayne being vulnerable to someone who will abuse him in a relationship.  Each of Jacen’s actions are completely comprehensible, including his quickness to tear up given his bruised emotional and physical state of being.  Kayne is another character who jumps to life complete with his many frailties front and center.  With Kayne, Nielson gives us insight into a man who was a 14-year old confused about his sexuality and afraid of his emotions, so much so that he acts “straight” to all around him with grievous consequences. Here again the reader must keep in mind that Kayne is only 3 years older than Jacen, and his actions reflect that as well.  These are two sweet and compelling young men struggling with the repercussions of past actions in their present day reality as well as the feelings they still have for each other.  You will root for them with all your heart.

The things that did bother me about the story might have more to do with the difference laws in the United States and Australia.  There are certain events that take place that if they had occurred here in the States, they would have tagged as a hate crime and the participants jailed.  Also what is described as vandalism here would be classified as an attack, a destruction of property, as well as a hate crime, more serious offenses.  So I think my confusion here is due to the author being Australian with differing laws and not the fact that the events are considered less serious. I am not sure if Australia has a hate crime law in effect there.  The other quibble has to do with Kayne’s daughter’s name.  Jacen is extremely smart so how  does he not get the significance of her name?  Also the ending seemed a bit rushed.  The book is only 125 pages so the length did not seem to match the bigger story contained within.  I enjoyed my time spent with Jacen and Kayne.  I think you will too.

Cover: I loved this cover.  Art by Reese Dante and photography by D.W.S. Photography, it is sheer perfection.  The ages are spot on, the models sweet faced and sensual.