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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Lydia Reviews: Stalking Buffalo Bill by J. Leigh Bailey

TITLE:  Stalking Buffalo Bill

Author: J. Leigh Bailey

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages: 220

Characters: Donnie Granger, William Bryce

POV:  1st POV

Sub-Genre:  Shape-shifter, Series, Dreamspun Beyond

Kisses: 4

Blurb:

A smitten coyote isn’t the only one stalking Buffalo Bill.

A buffalo walks into a cafe. Sounds like the start of a bad joke, but for coyote shifter Donnie Granger, it’s the beginning of an obsession. Donnie is a little hyperactive and a lot distractible, except when it comes to William. He finally works up the nerve to approach William but is interrupted by a couple of violent humans.

While William—don’t call me Bill—is currently a professor, he once worked undercover against an international weapons-trafficking ring. Before he can settle into obscurity, he must find out who leaked his location and eliminate the thugs. He tries keeping his distance to protect Donnie, but the wily coyote won’t stay away.

It’ll take both Donnie’s skills as a stalker—er, hunter—and William’s super-spy expertise to neutralize the threat so they can discover if an excitable coyote and a placid-until-pissed buffalo have a future together.

Review:

Stalking Buffalo Bill is a new shape-shifter story by author J. Leigh Bailey.  This story is written in the first person, so we get to see everything from Donnie’s point of view.  Donnie is one of those characters that most readers are sure to like from the beginning.  He is brash, cocky and a know it all coyote shapeshifter.  His past relationships have been rocky and now he has his eyes set on a local professor.  His fascination with the professor has him crossing into the stalking category, something Donnie is not apologizing for.  The older man makes him nervous and the day he finally gets up the nerve to talk to the man, bounty hunters show up looking for William.  Of course, this means Donnie has no choice but to stick his nose into things.  I loved the way William reacts when Donnie shows up in his animal form.  I could not help laughing a time or two.

What Donnie does not know is that William has been watching him just as much.  When the two find themselves together again after Donnie warned him of the hunters, the passion that erupts between them is intense and the author really heats up the pages.  I loved the way Donnie reacts afterward when William tells him what kind of shifter he is.  I laughed as much as Donnie.  Everything is not all roses and sunshine for these though, remember someone is looking for William.

It turns out William is not exactly who he said he was and his past is starting to catch up with him.  William’s past is not what I was expecting, and I really enjoyed the direction it takes the story.  William’s protectiveness towards Donnie really comes through at this time as the younger man cannot help himself and goes out of his way to help William.

The various twists and turns Stalking Buffalo Bill has been very entertaining and will keep you turning the pages of this story.  This is one story I am planning on re-reading again soon.

Reviewed By:   Lydia

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Kimberly Reviews: Thirty-one days and Legos by SA Stovall

Title: Thirty-One Days and Legos

Author: S.A. Stovall

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages: 57

Characters: Carter, Owen

POV: 1st

Sub-Genre: Contemporary Holiday

Kisses: 3.5 

Blurb:

Park rangers Carter and Owen Williams have decided to expand their family and adopt two brothers—boys they rescued a year before when they tried to escape the foster system and flee to Canada. After completing their parenting classes, Carter, a reserved man who enjoys the simple life, swears he’ll be the best father possible. His patience is tested, however, when one brother adopts a cat out of the snowy Voyageurs National Park and the other brother refuses to talk about what’s bothering him.

Owen wants to make sure their first Christmas together is a special one, and he decides all of December should be a celebration. He has an activity planned for each of the thirty-one days, but none of them seem to go off without a hitch. The cat has fleas, the boys need to attend a court hearing, and Carter is more than a little overwhelmed.

But Carter is 100 percent determined to make his new family work. He just has no idea how….

Review:

S.A. Stovall has returned to the world of park rangers Carter and Owen Williams with a Ranger Station Haven Christmas novella. This one takes place a year after the first and focuses on Owen and Carter’s adoption process of bringing Luke and Edmund into their home. Readers of the former novella will remember the two boys, but if you’re like me and haven’t had the opportunity, Thirty-One Days and Legos gives enough context so you’re not lost.

The two married rangers are finishing up parenting classes at the local community college and embarking on a foster home situation with the boys over the holiday season. It seems to go smoother for Owen than it does Carter, but since it’s told from the latter’s point-of-view, this is very much Carter’s story. He’s been tense and irritable for the past few weeks because he’s nervous at the prospect of adopting, but once the boys are there it’s still a tense situation for the man. He has to learn how to deal with the boys and unexpected surprises when it comes to building the family he always wanted.

I was very interested to see Luke’s story emerging as the plot progressed. While his brother Edmund was pretty much as you see him, it was clear that the elder Luke was carrying around a wealth of emotional baggage. There was the black cloud of the boys’ father potentially coming back into the picture, since he hadn’t given up legal rights, the issues of Luke’s documented behavioral and educational issues, the boys’ need to please their foster family so that they wouldn’t get kicked out…lots of things to unpack over the course of the novella so that we could reach a happy conclusion.

In terms of the parents, Owen was the easy fit. He likes kids, gets along with them, and is definitely into the holiday spirit with his month-long planned activities. Carter’s the one that seems the odd-one-out, uneasy around kids and not quite sure how to interact with Luke and Edmund, but he did try hard because he wanted this family thing to work out. And he could bond with Luke on a level that Owen could not, which packed a good emotional punch. I’m hoping that the author returns to this universe again because there are definitely more stories to tell about Owen, Carter, Luke, and Edmund. For myself, I’m curious enough to want to go back and read the first story in the series while I wait. 

Reviewed By: Kimberly

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Kimberly Reviews: Snow Balls by Tara Lain

Title: Snow Balls

Author: Tara Lain

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages: 121

Characters: JJ, Ryan

POV: 3rd

Sub-Genre: Contemporary

Kisses: 3 

Blurb:

JJ LaRousse looks like a quarterback but acts like a queen. He’s trying to be proud of who he is—until a robbery at the famous Laguna Winter Fantasy brings JJ face-to-face with tough cop Ryan Star. JJ hears Ryan likes manly men, so he drops his voice an octave, colors his pink hair, and tries to pass as a football fan.

Ryan Star may be tough, but he keeps his sexuality to himself at work. He learned in New York that being a gay cop can be deadly. His attraction to JJ threatens his secret, but he’s finding it hard to back away from a guy who’s so totally his type. Then, during a ski trip and a confrontation with JJ’s biggest nemesis, all the façades come crashing down. In the aftermath, can Ryan love JJ for who he really is? More importantly, can JJ?

Review:

Tara Lain is back with another Balls to the Wall romance, Snow Balls. If you’d like to read all the novels released thus far, the order is as follows:

  • Volley Balls
  • Fire Balls
  • Beach Balls
  • Fast Balls
  • High Balls
  • Snow Balls

This time around, we get emerging interior designer, JJ LaRousse, who is longing to get close to Detective Ryan Star after a robbery at the Laguna Winter Fantasy Art and Craft Show brings them into each others’ lives. The problem is that Ryan appears to only go for manly men, so JJ puts on a front and tries to get his man. It’s a good run while it lasts, but soon the lies become too much. Being true to yourself is the only way to live, even if it means losing the man of your dreams.

While I liked JJ and Ryan’s emerging romance, despite Ryan’s need to keep it hush-hush, I did find the push and pull to be a bit strained at times. JJ doesn’t want to be in the closet, because he’s already escaped, and Ryan isn’t quite comfortable being out at work. This should have been the end of the conversation – a sad end, but an end nonetheless. However, there’s still more in store for them.

A threat to Ryan’s safety brings JJ right back to his arms, and still they keep it quiet with JJ playing his role of ideal manly-man with interests in football and skiing. The fact that their relationship fractures not for the fact that Ryan is in the closet at work, but because of JJ’s fibs were a bit difficult for me. However, that problem is quickly swept away when there’s another threat to Ryan’s safety, a heroic save by JJ, and a happy ending for them both.

If you’re a fan of the Balls to the Wall series, by all means, pick up the latest addition. It might not have been my favorite of the books thus far, but it’s still a nice holiday romance that holds the promise of what-may-come. 

Reviewed By: Kimberly

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Lydia Reviews: High Balls by Tara Lain

TITLE:  High Balls

Author: Tara Lain

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages: 163

Characters: Theodore Walters and Snake Erasmo

POV:   3rd

Sub-Genre:  Contemporary, Series

Kisses: 4

Blurb:

Though only twenty-six, single father Theodore Walters lives with his head in the clouds and his feet firmly planted in reality. At the center of his life is Andy, his seven-year-old son, with whom he shares no DNA, though nobody—including his religious-fanatic in-laws—knows that, and Theodore will do anything to keep them from finding out. Theodore works hard to get his PhD and the tenure and salary that might follow to make a better life for Andy—but the head of his department thinks his dissertation on Jane Austen and romance novels is frivolous.

Theodore’s carefully planned life goes off the rails when he walks into a popular Laguna Beach bar and meets the bartender, “Snake” Erasmo, a pierced and tattooed biker who sends Theodore’s imagination—and libido—soaring. Snake has even more secrets than Theodore and couldn’t be a less “appropriate” match, but he might be the only guy with the skills to show Theodore that happily ever after is for real

Review:

If you’re looking for a book where not everything is as it seems, then take a look at High Balls by author Tara Lain.  This is a story that centers around two men, each trying to do what makes them happy.  Theodore is a single father trying to care for his young son while working on his dissertation.  This means a lot of juggling and very little money.  At the same time, Theodore is trying to keep his in-laws from finding out the secret he has been keeping.  I really liked Theodore and watching him with his son made me smile.  But Theodore has a lot of issues that keep him worried.  Things don’t look like they are going to work out with the college he is working at.  Not only is there the possibility that his dissertation will be denied, but he is having trouble with one of his co-workers.  That means Theodore will have to come up with a way to support him and his son.  All of this means that Theodore has little time for a private life.

When Theodore sees Snake, he sends Theodore’s body into overdrive.  The man is everything that Theodore should ignore but seems to be just what he needs.  From his head to his toes Snake is all Alpha and once he catches sight of Theodore he is determined to show the young man just what he is missing.

These two are good together yet both are keeping secrets that make forming a solid relationship difficult.  But they are not the only ones involved.  Theodore’s little boy Andy plays heavily into this story.  He is important to both men and when it looks like he will be pulled away from them, neither knows how to handle it, especially Theodore.

There are moments in this story that will have you laughing as well as close to tears.  I will admit when the secrets starting working their way to the surface, I wondered a time or two if the men would find their HEA.  The way the author wraps everything up, however, will satisfy everyone.  Fans of Ms. Lain are sure to enjoy High Balls, and for those who have yet to try one of the author’s books, this is a great one to start with.

Reviewed By: Lydia

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Lydia Reviews: Elpida by C. Kennedy

Title: Elpida

Author: C Kennedy

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages: 350

Genre: Coming of Age, Series

Kisses: 5

Blurb:

Michael and Christy attended prom, graduated high school, and Michael leads the USATF tryouts. With Oxford University on the horizon, his future looks bright, and he believes life has returned to normal after Christy’s rescue. He couldn’t be more wrong.

Christy has been free from a life of slavery for more than a year and has made remarkable progress due in no small part to the love he found with Michael. But the recent prosecution of a past abuser has shattered the life he so painstakingly built out of nothing but a mountain of horror. He now faces the daunting task of building a new life—yet again.

Twelve-year-old Thimi has been missing since Christy left Greece and, unbeknownst to everyone, has hidden out in a vacant mansion in Glyfada. Learning of Christy’s survival is the only thing that brings him out of hiding. People, open spaces, even the most common of sounds frighten him beyond reason. A mere ghost of a boy, Thimi arrives in the US with no knowledge of the outside world—the only constant in his life a purple marble.

Lost, shattered, and afraid, only hope gives them the strength and courage they need to begin anew.

Review:

Elpida is the third book in the Elpida series by author C Kennedy.  Readers should know that this is a series that MUST be read in order, so if you have not read the first two books you may want to pass by this review.  This story also touches on topics that can be considered triggers for some readers. Readers may also want to know that Elpida took second place in the 2017 Rainbow Awards Young Adult category.  Congratulations Ms. Kennedy.

This book picks up right where the second story, Tharros, ends so you are immediately pulled back into a world full of angst, fear, and love.  I fell in love with the two young MC’s, Christy and Michael, in the first book and could not wait for them to finally find a HEA without fear.  I loved that that was the final goal in this story but the way there is not an easy one.

As Michael and Christy are coping with the trial and its effects on Christy, they get word that Thimi has heard of Christy’s death, misinformation put out by the Greece news agencies.  This has put Thimi into a tailspin with almost drastic results. It is up to Christy to pull him back from the brink and arranges to bring him to the states as soon as possible.

Michael, and those around him, are leery of what having Thimi with them will do to Christy, but he can’t tell the love of his life no.  While there are some good moments the difficult ones seem to overshadow everything else. There are attacks on Michael and those he loves,  new family dynamics to come to terms with, and a massive misunderstanding to straighten out. There were times I wanted to cry and worried that Christy and Michael are never going to find their happily ever after.  Yet, through it all, the story held my attention and I had a hard time putting the book down.

I loved the way the author wraps up this series, but I also felt as if  there was still more story to be told. I hope the author plans to bring these two young men back for at least one more story some time in the future.   For those who have not yet tried this series I strongly suggest that you do. It is one you will have a hard time forgetting.

Reviewed by: Lydia

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