Anne Reviews: The Gilded Scarab by Anna Butler

TITLE: The Gilded Scarab

Author:  Anna Butler

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages: 316

Characters: Rafe/Ned

POV: 1st

Sub-Genre: Series, Steampunk

Kisses: 5

Blurb:

When Captain Rafe Lancaster is invalided out of the Britannic Imperium’s Aero Corps after crashing his aerofighter during the Second Boer War, his eyesight is damaged permanently, and his career as a fighter pilot is over. Returning to Londinium in late November 1899, he’s lost the skies he loved, has no place in a society ruled by an elite oligarchy of powerful Houses, and is hard up, homeless, and in desperate need of a new direction in life.

Everything changes when he buys a coffeehouse near the Britannic Imperium Museum in Bloomsbury, the haunt of Aegyptologists. For the first time in years, Rafe is free to be himself. In a city powered by luminiferous aether and phlogiston, and where powerful men use House assassins to target their rivals, Rafe must navigate dangerous politics, deal with a jealous and possessive ex-lover, learn to make the best coffee in Londinium, and fend off murder and kidnap attempts before he can find happiness with the man he loves.

Review:

This story starts with a full on action scene which hooked me into the story immediately.  One of my first thoughts when reading this story was about how cool the technology is, and how I love the way the author has set up this steampunk type world.  It’s not just the technology which is well thought out and detailed, but everything about this world.  It felt as though I was reading about somewhere with a rich history rather than just something put together for this story.  I loved the way the author takes our technology and gives it a slightly different spin, like the characters using datareaders instead of ereaders.

I thought the social set up was very interesting with the different houses, the hierarchy within them, and the way in which a house pays for an individual’s education but is then owed something in return.  I enjoyed the politics within the story, and the layers it added to the world building.  As an aside, I’m also a big fan of the author’s Taking Shield series—she does a fabulous job with world building and politics in that too, although it’s a very different world from this one.

I loved the characters who inhabit this world, and in particular Rafe and Ned, although I guessed Ned’s true identity very early on.  This story is really Rafe’s as he and Ned don’t meet properly until mid way through the story, but I thought that worked well.  I liked the way Rafe and Ned’s friendship grows over time, and how they want to get to know each other, which is very sensible, especially considering their society’s stance on same sex relationships.   It fits with the time period in which this AU world is set, with its echoes of our own from the mention of Wilde, and WWI which is a few years off here.

I connected to all the characters immediately and found myself trying to work out who was who, and whether they were good guys or not, although I don’t want to comment too much about one character as that would be giving the plot away.  As an aside, I very much enjoyed the mention by a couple of customers from the colonies of New Zealand.  The supporting cast is great, and I enjoyed their interactions as Rafe sets up his coffee shop.

The action scenes as the tension and plot rack up are very edge-of-seat, and had me sitting up late reading as I needed to know what happened next.  Although this is book one in the series, I’ve already read and reviewed book two—which I loved as much as this one— and really hope the author has plans to continue writing about Rafe and Ned, and their life and adventures together.

I’d recommend The Gilded Scarab to readers who enjoy rich world building including a good dash of politics, solid storytelling, and interesting characters.

Reviewed By: Anne

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Kimberly Reviews: Stand by your Manny by Amy Lane

Title: Stand By Your Manny

Author: Amy Lane

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages: 232

Characters: Sammy, Cooper, Felicity, Tino, Channing

POV: Third

Sub-Genre: Contemporary

Kisses: 4 

Blurb:

Learning to trust and falling in love. 

Sammy Lowell has his hands full juggling his music, college, some pesky health problems, and making the uncles who raised him proud. He needs help fulfilling his after-school duties with his siblings. Nobody can be in two places at once—not even Sammy!

An injury puts Cooper Hoskins in a tough spot—if he can’t work, the foster sister he’s raising can’t eat. But years in the foster system have left Cooper short on trust, and opening up to accept help isn’t easy.

Luckily, family intervenes—Cooper needs a job so he can care for Felicity, and Sammy needs someone who can see past his illness to the wonderful things he has planned for his life. Each heals the damaged places in the other’s heart. But falling in love is a big responsibility for young men deep in family already. Can the two of them get past their fear of the immediate future to see forever with each other?

Review:

Amy Lane is back again, with a third entry in her Mannies series:

  • The Virgin Manny
  • Manny Get Your Guy
  • Stand By Your Manny

This time around, we are treated to the adventures of Cooper, finding a secondary career as a manny after he has an accident at his construction job. Admittedly, this is my first foray into the series, so I assume that we were introduced to at least his boss, Brandon, and Brandon’s boyfriend, Taylor, in a prior book, since they were the bridge between Cooper and his new adoptive family. Regardless of my prior lack of knowledge, though, I think I got a good handle on who was who and how they all interrelated.

The situation with both Cooper and Sammy was interesting and their approach to love was really well done. They are each other’s firsts, which was sweet, and there’s definitely the sense that they will be together for the long haul. Cooper’s background was rough, but he and Felicity have a home now. And Sammy’s background was fraught with medical issues, which will impede his ability to venture too far from home. Together they are set to strive for greatness and have a rich life together. And they will continue to have a strong family base, with an extended network of support that will be there for them no matter what they might need.

The family devotion of Tino and Channing to their kids, both old and new, was wonderful and I wished we could have gotten a bit more glimpses at them together. Well, more of Cooper witnessing it, since the momentary jump to the uncles’ point of view felt a bit jarring. I prefer when authors stick to one point of view, or at least alternate clearly without a temporary detour to one-off point of view revelations. Additionally, I was hoping we would have seen more of Cooper interacting with the children as well, since that was his new job. He says he adores the kids, but it was a bit more telling than showing. Instead, the focus was on Cooper and Sammy’s emerging relationship, as well as Sammy’s complex health issues. While I enjoyed it, I was hoping for more roundedness in the storyline.

Despite these drawbacks, though, I did become very interested in the universe overall, so I am hoping Amy Lane returns to these characters and additional characters again. In the meantime, I can go back and read the former books in the series. If you’re looking for a nice, sweet romance that has some real obstacles to overcome before a happily ever after, you will definitely enjoy Stand By Your Manny. 

Reviewed By: Kimberly

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Gabbi Reviews: Set Ablaze by KC Burn

Title: Set Ablaze

Author: KC Burn

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages: 200

Characters: Hayden Hurst, Jez Bouchet

POV: 3rd

Sub-Genre: Contemporary Romance,

Kisses: 4

Blurb:

California firefighter Hayden Hurst is starting to realize there’s more to life than fighting fires and drinking with his buddies. He has room in his home and his life for someone special, but no one has stood out among his hookups. And while he’s out at work, admitting he’s gay is very different from showing up at social functions with a man. He’s afraid that’ll be too much for his less-than-accepting “friends.”

Broadway dancer Jez Bouchet hasn’t been mistaken for straight since he was gay-bashed at seventeen. After getting a lucrative job offer in Hollywood, he uproots his life in New York and drives to Los Angeles. His brother, who is Hayden’s best friend, arranges for him to crash at Hayden’s place.

The attraction between Hayden and Jez is unexpected but fiery, and they succumb before they’re even sure they like each other. But Jez hates Hayden’s homophobic friends, and Hayden knows Jez is too flamboyant for him to fly under the radar. Then there’s the complication of Jez’s brother.

Despite those hurdles, they fling themselves into a relationship. But Jez has secrets: a tiny spoiled dog and a determined stalker. If he doesn’t come clean, he might torch their burgeoning relationship before it has a chance to bloom.

Review:

Set Ablaze by KC Burn is an opposite attracts story about two interesting characters whom I liked very much.

Hayden’s life is a pretty good one. He is a respected firefighter, a good friend, a nice guy and lives a comfortable life. Even though Hayden is tentatively out to his firefighter friends, and he seems like he has it all together, he really doesn’t. Some of his firemen friends are clearly prejudiced against homosexuals and though they know Hayden is gay, it doesn’t stop them from saying inappropriate, often hurtful things and Hayden either tries to shrug it off or ignore it altogether. Hayden isn’t truly proud and open about his sexuality and does not discuss his love life with others. But, when his best friend’s gay brother moves in with him, Hayden is forced to look at his life and his decisions about brushing aside obvious hurtful prejudices from people he supposedly respects.

Jet is a flamboyant, lovable and out and proud man who is working on his dream to be an actor. He is fun and honestly doesn’t take a lot of crap from people and I loved this about him. Even though he has been down on his luck and has moved temporarily in with his brother’s best friend, Hayden, Jet is ready to save some money, move out and live his life as he wants, too.

I liked these two men together. The moment Hayden sees Jet sleeping on his porch, Hayden knows his life will never be the same. As Hayden and Jet become friendlier, Hayden is forced to look into his own actions-or nonactions when it comes to ugly remarks made by coworkers. I liked how this made Hayden take a long look at himself and decide what kind of man he wants to be.

KC Burn writes romances with likable, down-to-Earth heroes who you can’t help but fall in love with. Between their well-written story and the heated chemistry, they share together, Set Ablaze is a satisfying story filled with many feel-good moments and an ending that will leave you with a smile on your face.

Recommended!

Reviewed By: Gabbi

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Lydia Reviews: Stand By Your Manny by Amy Lane

Title: Stand By Your Manny

Author: Amy Lane

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages: 232

Genre: Contemporary, Series

Kisses: 4

Blurb: 

Learning to trust and falling in love.

Sammy Lowell has his hands full juggling his music, college, some pesky health problems, and making the uncles who raised him proud. He needs help fulfilling his after-school duties with his siblings. Nobody can be in two places at once—not even Sammy!

An injury puts Cooper Hoskins in a tough spot—if he can’t work, the foster sister he’s raising can’t eat. But years in the foster system have left Cooper short on trust and opening up to accept help isn’t easy.

Luckily, family intervenes—Cooper needs a job so he can care for Felicity, and Sammy needs someone who can see past his illness to the wonderful things he has planned for his life. Each heals the damaged places in the other’s heart. But falling in love is a big responsibility for young men deep in family already. Can the two of them get past their fear of the immediate future to see forever with each other?

Review: 

Stand by Your Manny is book three in Ms. Lane’s The Mannies series.  Because of who one of the main characters is, and the connection to the secondary ones, this is a series that needs to be read in order.  Fans of this series are really going to love this book.  Sammy, the little boy we met and loved in book one, is now a young man and ready to strike out on his own.  Only things are not going to be as easy as he hoped.

Life for Sammy has changed since we last saw him.  As a teenager, Sammy began to have health issues that still control his life today. Not only does this make Sammy insecure in some ways, it has also made his family, especially his fathers overprotective.  When Sammy has the possibility of teaching at an inner-city school as well as playing his music in a bar during the evenings, his parents make a compromise.

Sammy can teach, but no playing at the bar. They will also have to find a manny to take care of the younger children since Sammy won’t be able to do it.

Cooper grew up in the foster system and when he aged out he knew life would be hard, he just did not understand how hard.  When the foster sister from his last home showed up on his doorstep Cooper did the only thing he could do, he kept her.  The young man does everything he can to keep the authorities from showing up on his doorstep.  When Cooper gets hurt on the job he learns to ask for help from his friends.   Getting a job as a manny will pay more and allow him to take better care of his sister, it also brings him into contact with Sammy.

Fans will love the slow-burning relationship that grows between the two boys.  Both young men are worried about being hurt, should they misread things, and so are unsure how to act on what they are feeling.  Watching them find their way was fun and it is easy to see just how much they care for each other.  I also loved the way Sammy’s fathers react to the budding relationship between these two young men.  I had to laugh at the condom story but felt so bad for Sammy at the same time.

Many previous characters play second fiddle in Stand by Your Manny.  The strong feeling of family that was present in the first book can be found in this one as well.  This is just one of the many reasons why I love these books.

The Mannies series is one that readers will enjoy.  Ms. Lane brings each story alive for the readers in a way that will keep them turning the pages.  I am looking forward to the next story and can’t wait to see what the author has planned.

Reviewed by: Lydia

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Gabbi Reviews: Bad Boyfriend by KA Mitchell

Title: Bad in Baltimore, Book 2: Bad Boyfriend

Author: K.A. Mitchell

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages: 272

Characters: Eli Wright, Quinn Maloney

POV: 1st

Sub-Genre: Contemporary Romance, Series

Kisses: 5

Blurb:

A Bad in Baltimore Story

Bad in Baltimore: Book Two

Causing trouble has never been more fun.

Eli Wright doesn’t follow anyone’s rules. When he was seventeen, his parents threw him out of the house for being gay. He’s been making his own way for the past five years and he’s not about to change himself for anyone’s expectations. For now, romance can wait. There are plenty of hot guys to keep him entertained until he finds someone special.

Quinn Maloney kept the peace and his closeted boyfriend’s secrets for ten years. One morning he got a hell of a wake-up along with his coffee. Not only did the boyfriend cheat on him, but he’s marrying the girl he knocked up. Inviting Quinn to the baby’s baptism is the last straw. Quinn’s had enough of gritting his teeth to play nice. His former boyfriend is in for a rude awakening, because Quinn’s not going to sit quietly on the sidelines. In fact, he has the perfect scheme, and he just needs to convince the much younger, eyeliner-wearing guy who winks at him in a bar to help him out.

Eli’s deception is a little too good, and soon he has everyone believing they’re madly in love. In fact, he’s almost got Quinn believing it himself….

Second Edition

First Edition published by Samhain Publishers Inc., December 2011.

Review:

Bad Boyfriend by KA Mitchell is the second book in the Bad in Baltimore series and it’s the first book I’ve read by this author.  I had no issue with reading this book without reading the first book in the series, Bad Company, so this book can easily be read as a stand-alone in the series. I will say, that after I read Bad Boyfriend, I will definitely read Bad Company, as well as, the rest of the books in the series, too.

What struck me most about this story was how well-written the characters in this book were. I truly enjoyed watching Quinn and Eli’s story develop as the story continued. To me, it felt as if Ms. Mitchell loved her heroes because they lived and breathed off of the written page. I quickly found myself becoming enraptured by these two men’s lives and the story they had to tell.

What I really liked about this story was the way both men truly go through some personal growth as their story progresses. Also, because this is a May/December romance there are some differences between the two men that had to be worked out as they got to know one another. It was fun to see Eli get Quinn to loosen up, take chances and enjoy life more. I also thought it was good to see Quinn show Eli how great it could be in a relationship with someone who truly cares about you. It was good to see these two men develop a strong bond, learn to trust, fall in love and have fun with each other.

Bad Boyfriend is a book that will definitely be on my keeper shelf. I loved these two men and can’t wait to see that the author has in store for us next!

Highly Recommended!

Reviewed By: Gabbi

Lydia Reviews: Hell and Back by Dirk Greyson

Title: Hell and Back

Author: Dirk Greyson

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages: 200

Genre: Mystery

Kisses:4

Blurb:

Seventeen years ago, Forge Reynolds fell in love… and had his heart broken. When Staff Sergeant Gage Livingston was brought into Forge’s Army field hospital, temporarily paralyzed, Forge sat with him, read his letters, answered his mail, and formed a connection he thought would last. But Gage was sent home, Forge transferred to a new post, and his letters to Gage went unanswered.

Now in the middle of a bitter divorce, Forge is sick and tired of his husband’s manipulation. He’s almost ready to make any sacrifice to get closure—then he finds Granger murdered execution-style in their home. Forge had no idea about Granger’s illicit activities, but the killers don’t believe that. They think Forge has something they want, and they’re coming after him.

When Forge’s lawyer arranges for professional protection, the last face Forge expects to see is Gage’s. Can he even contemplate a second chance for them after almost two decades, or will hoping only lead to more heartache? Before they can explore the possibilities, they must figure out what information Granger had—that others are willing to kill for—or that possible heartache could become a certainty.

Review:

Fans of Dirk Greyson are going to love Hell and Back, a recent release put out by Dreamspinner Press.  It is a great mystery that will leave you turning the pages to find out what is going on.  It is also a very well done second chance at love story that is done in a way that makes the characters come across believably.

When the story starts out, Forge is sitting in his lawyer’s office going over issues surrounding his upcoming divorce.  It is clear from the beginning that Forge’s divorce is not going to be an easy one, but things go from bad to worse when Forge returns home and finds his soon to be ex dead.  When it becomes clear that Granger’s death is the result of more than just the average home invasion, Forge’s lawyer arranges for protection. It is at this time that Gage enters the picture and readers can tell there is history between the two men.

Forge and Gage met years ago when both were still in the military.  While serving with his unit Gage is severely injured and flown to a military hospital in Germany.  Forge is one of the many medical personnel that took care of Gage at the time and the two men formed a bond that they

thought nothing could end.  Both men believe it is the other that changed their mind about getting together once they got home and so their lives took different roads than what they had planned.  Because of this there is some hurt feelings on both sides when the come together again.

I love the way the author was able to pull me into the world he created and made me care about the two main characters.  Forge and Gage are strong men able to take care of themselves and those around them, yet at the same time there is a vulnerable side to both of them.  I like that the author did not have these two fall right into bed as if nothing happen since the last time they saw each other. Instead the men work to overcome their past while trying to figure out who killed Granger and is coming after Forge.

The mystery aspect of this story has a lot of little twists and turns and while some of them may be predictable, they still kept the story entertaining.  There are a couple of moments that surprised me, especially the reason for Granger’s death.

I thought the author did an excellent job wrapping up both the mystery part of Hell and Back, and the romantic side.  There is closure for Forge with regards to Granger’s murder and a new beginning for him and Gage.  This is one story that will be on my re-read list and for those who have not yet tried something by this author then Hell and Back is a great place to start.

Reviewed by: Lydia

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Lydia Reviews: Bonfires by Amy Lane

Title: Bonfires

Author: Amy Lane

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Genre: Contemporary, Series

Pages: 280

Kisses: 5

Blurb:

Ten years ago Sheriff’s Deputy Aaron George lost his wife and moved to Colton, hoping growing up in a small town would be better for his children. He’s gotten to know his community, including Mr. Larkin, the bouncy, funny science teacher. But when Larx is dragged unwillingly into administration, he stops coaching the track team and starts running alone. Aaron—who thought life began and ended with his kids—is distracted by a glistening chest and a principal running on a dangerous road. Larx has been living for his kids too—and for his students at Colton High. He’s not ready to be charmed by Aaron, but when they start running together, he comes to appreciate the deputy’s steadiness, humor, and complete understanding of Larx’s priorities. Children first, job second, his own interests a sad last. It only takes one kiss for two men approaching fifty to start acting like teenagers in love, even amid all the responsibilities they shoulder. Then an act of violence puts their burgeoning relationship on hold. The adult responsibilities they’ve embraced are now instrumental in keeping their town from exploding. When things come to a head, they realize their newly forged family might be what keeps the world from spinning out of control.

Review:

Bonfires is the first book of author Amy Lane’s series by the same name. This is a story of second chances and blended families. I am a big fan of Ms. Lane’s and while I wanted to read this book I had forgotten that the main characters were more mature than usual. As I read that became a non issue and soon the author had me drawn into the world she created for Larx and Aaron.

Both these men have so much in common that it is only a matter of time before they got together. Larx is the high school principal. He is a single father to two girls. He is also gay, something that only a couple of people in the small town that he lives in knows. Aaron is also a single father, but the Deputy has three children who struggled after the death of their mother. Like Larx, Aaron kept his sexual identity a secret from those he loved. When their lives changed both men took their families to the small town of Colton. Now after several years alone, and both close to facing an empty nest, the two men find their way to each other.

I loved these two men. Larx and Aaron pulled me into their story from the beginning. The way they connect, the chemistry between them, the way they love their families, all made me want them to find the HEA that they deserved. I think one of the things that really drew me in was how realistic the story was. The author does a wonderful job showing what it’s like to be a single parent, especially when the children are teenagers. Then there is the fact that neither man has been in a relationship for some time and are nervous about what looks to be an all-consuming affair. Ms. Lane did a great job helping the men on their journey and I loved the way she handles their first time in bed.

Bonfires is not just a story of love though. There is unease brewing at the high school and Larx is worried about how it will play out. When Aaron finds a body floating in the lake, and then one of Larx’s students is attacked the men can’t help wondering if there is a connection.

I did not see this playing out the way it did. I think more than one reader will be surprised by the little twists and turns this part of the story takes. Bonfires has become one of my re-reads and I cannot wait to read the next book in the series.

Reviewed By: Lydia

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