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Strong Signal and Fast Connection (Cyberlove 1 & 2) by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell

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*NOTE: 3.9.18 -- Since this was published allegations have come to light that the author known as Santino Hassell, Catfished and mislead co-authors, fans and others

Strong Signal (Cyberlove #1):  Garrett Reid is serving the last 9 months of his military career deployed in Afghanistan.  He spends his precious few hours of downtime playing video games, where one day he is mercilessly destroyed by an overpowering opponent. Angry he decides to virtually track down the Orc only to discover that he is Kai Bannon,a "gaymer" with his own Twitch stream (video gameplay channel) with legions of adoring followers and subscribers. At first Garrett hate-watches the stream, trash-talking in the Chat, but before long he finds himself grudgingly admiring him and starting to feel protective of Kai (after hypocritically benefiting from tumblrs full of stalker/fan-fodder about Kai).  He can't resist sending Kai a concerned email. Kai and Garrett then start exchanging initially tense then later, funny and tentatively flirtatious emails, then gchats and more. They have a great opposites-attract dynamic that blossoms into a beautiful sense of compatibility for two people who struggle to be understood, seen and truly known.

There is so much going on in this novel and all of it good. Erickson and Hassell layer emotionally-rich and realistic portrayals of imperfectly loving families, online communities, economic pressures, sexual identity and the tensions and conflicts inherent in building authentic intimacy and friendships while interacting online.  While Kai and Garrett's sexual chemistry is hotter than fire it is not enough to overcome the serious obstacles they face in building something permanent. A lasting relationship require they both put in serious work on themselves and the way they communicate in order to make their relationship work.

I have a great deal of respect for how Hassell and Erickson dealt with Kai's mental health issues. Garrett and Kai love each other but that doesn't magically cure anxiety.  While having an understanding partner is super important, in the end therapy and medication is how those things are addressed. And it is powerful to have Kai be the one who puts in that work and effort, because he values himself and wants more for himself.

30415154Fast Connection (Cyberlove#2):

Dominic Costigan is at loose ends. Twenty-six and recently out of the military, he feels just as lost and directionless as he was at 18, living in his parents' basement and working the counter at the family bagel shop.  At the same time he feels extremely alienated from his old friends, who don't understand why he doesn't simply go back to being the hookup obsessed dude-bro  he used to be. Having only recently become aware of his bisexuality, he is completely unsure about how to approach men and signal he is looking for something more than just a one-night stand.

Luke Rawlings only wants one-night stands. After a disastrous relationship wrecked his career and endangered his family he keeps his sexual needs very separate from the rest of his life. But Dominic's charm, persistence and  vulnerability wear down Luke in bending and eventually breaking his strict compartmentalization, complicating his life in ways that he never expected to value.

I was again moved by the richness of the storytelling. Erickson and Hassell weave multiple storylines and themes into a very satisfying whole. I loved the centrality of family and how fragile but tangled those bonds can be. Both Dominic and Luke are very protective of their families, despite the very different ways those families operate. I love how Erickson and Hassell portray the tender work necessary to rebuild relationships after meltdowns.

Both these novels illustrate one of my favorite relationship lessons -- Relationships take work and while sex can spark relationships it is the commitments made to walk the hard path together that sustain them.  Time and time again Kai & Garrett and Luke and Dominic can get everything right sexually but it is the fact that they come back to each other when things get hard, when apologies need to be made and after things have gotten uncomfortable that builds toward the HEA.  Kai, Garrett, Luke and Dominic are broken, flawed people and they are worth of love in that brokenness.

I can't wait to dive into Santino Hassell and Megan Erickson's backlists and I eagerly look forward to Cyberlove #3.


May RT Review Round-Up

I'm a a semi-reviewing hiatus right now. I've been really tired recently, so instead of staying up reading books or using my time to write reviews I've mostly been sleeping.  I'll be back to reviewing soon, as I am starting to feel a little less tired. I've read some really great books last month before I crashed to sleep, so hopefully I'll have the energy to review them here in the next couple of weeks.

These are my most recent reviews for RT (June issue):

Beta Test by Annabeth Albert: 2nd in #Gaymers series. Enemies to Lovers.

A Fighting Chance by Shannon Stacey:  2nd chance at love.

Driftwood Point by Mariah Stewart  Big Misunderstanding almost derails everything.


A Gentleman's Position by K.J. Charles

Charles-k-j-a-gentlemans-position-society-of-gentlemen-3I have been eagerly anticipating this romance since we were first introduced to Lord Richard and his trusted valet David Cyprian. Richard is the linchpin around whom all the Ricardians revolve.  The Ricardians (bisexual, gay or transgender) all look out for one another, protecting each other from those who would happily send them to the gallows for their orientations, preferences and predilections but it is Richard who sets the standards,  provides the listening ear or chastising word if needed and sees that the Ricardians problems are solved.  

David Cyprian however is really the person who makes it all happen.  Officially as valet he makes sure Richard always looks flawless but unofficially he the person that pays the bribes, gathers the illicit information and makes sure Richard has absolutely everything in his life go smoothly. He is the rogue with all the connections, who fixes the problems before Richard even has any inkling of them. He is incredibly proud of how far he has risen in life, but has not risen so far that he doesn't know how to work on the street.  

The one wrinkle in David and Richard's relationship is that while Cyprian is beyond devoted to Richard & Richard trusts him like he trusts no other their mutual attraction has become impossible to ignore. While David is more than willing enter into a liaison with Richard, Richard is resolute to never importune someone in his employ (unlike his father, who used and abuse anybody under his power). Their facade of mutual indifference crumbles completely in the aftermath to a surprise death-bed summons from Richard's estranged mother. 

Once their mutual attraction is no longer something they can ignore, Richard ends up hurting David while trying not to hurt him and as a result he is deprived of David when he and the Ricardians need him most.  Richard must convince David to return and if they all survive, help him figure out how they can be together.

I loved this romance. I usually avoid boss-employee/servant-master romances for all the reasons for all the same reasons Richard wants to avoid one. KJ Charles however has a great handle on the issues of consent, agency, dignity and the nature of partnership that are such a large stumbling block in their relationship.  I loved how hard it was for Richard to unbend, and realize he was wrong. Richard has to eat a lot of humble pie, and comes truly appreciate and recognize all that he has taken for granted in David. David also grows, setting boundaries and demanding Richard truly see him and value him. He is able to demonstrate that his love is not servile even if he is Richard's servant.  

Charles exploits the intimacy of David's role as Richard's valet to explore the anguish of denial and build sexual tension but the biggest loss they feel when they are apart is for each other's companionship. I loved that despite the deep chasm between them, it is the absence of their easy relationship, the effortless conversation, that wrecks them both. 

Like all the endings in the Society of Gentlemen series, I believe in David and Richard's love and felt hopeful for them despite having a great awareness of the many risks they continually face.  Charles also provides a great pulse pounding and satisfying conclusion to the overarching series plot. I highly recommend this whole series.

I received a review copy via NetGalley from the publisher Loveswept.  A Gentleman's Position by KJ Charles will be available starting April 5th.


A Queer Trade by K. J. Charles

K.J. Charles has built a fascinating magical Victorian world through her numerous Charm of Magpies related novels.  I'm not completely caught up on the main Charm of Magpie books, but I couldn't resist jumping ahead to read this one because is features victorian era black hero.  A Queer Trade is the prequel to Rag and Bone which was released last week and I am currently in the middle of reading.

Crispin Tredarloe's master dies while he is away visiting family and returns to discover his master's heir have started emptying the house and have disposed of many magical papers. He is desperately searching for the paper waste man that hauled away his masters' spells before they can harm someone and expose him. This particularly urgent because Crispin Tredarloe isn't simply a magician's apprentice but an illegal warlock. If the blood magic is exposed and traced back to him, his life might be forfeit.

Ned Hall's trade might be unusual trading in paper, recycling people's old letters, and discarded notes into wrapping and packing, but it is honest work, and its freed him destitution after his family cast him out for being gay. His attraction to Crispin is quickly tested by Crispin's casual snobbishness and likely insanity.

I love how Charles's is aware of  and then layers various impediments and conflicts into Ned and Crispin's relationship, race and class differences on one end, and then give them a shared understanding of familial rejection.  I look forward to reading more about these two.


March RT Reviews

Knit Tight by Annabeth Albert I love knitting. I always carry a project with me and knit at every opportunity. I was equal parts wary and excited when I started reading this romance but I loved it. It got the knitting right and I found the romance very lovely and honest, especially as they struggled to make time for each other and to accept love. I will be looking for more of Annabeth Albert's work in the future.

Duty Before Desire by Elizabeth Boyce I was initially really enjoying this story. I am sucker for the rake reformed & fake relationship tropes but I ended up deeply disappointed with it.

All Chained Up by Sophie Jordan This RS-tinged romance lost all momentum in the last few chapters and ended with a deflated whimper.


Four-Novella-Day Mini-Reviews

Saturdays are usually crazy hectic at our house. We run our girls to different activities, choir, karate & other social events and then often head out ourselves in the evening.  This Saturday I had a great excuse to stay in my PJs all day as my youngest daughter was feverish but recovering from a mini-bout of flu. She wanted company but not conversation so I sat next to her and read novella after novella. I enjoyed an eclectic but solidly good mix.

41AD8Zm7tCL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I started my morning with Play With Me by Alisha Rai.  It is really book 1 in the Bedroom Games triology but the romantic arc in this first novella is satisfying & hopeful enough that it can be read as a stand-alone. Tatiana and Wyatt were each other's first lovers. They had a passionate seven year relationship that broke down dramatically for lots of reasons that carry little weight anymore.  When Tatiana's newly discovered brother makes a horrible mistake, stealing in desperation from Wyatt's casino, she rushes to intervene.  This short is heavily in the erotic side of erotic romance, but I really loved the romantic turn in the last half, when Wyatt and Tatiana surface from their lust-filled night to untangle their feelings for each other and explore if they want more from each other than a one-night reunion now that they can play as equals.

51K7Ugb1xbL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Blizzard Bliss by Kelly Maher was written and published during Storm Jonas and it was a delightful sexy little story. Two co-workers are finally able to break the ice and get together after months of secretly crushing on each other.  When Cecilia is stranded in DC, Rory offers her a place to stay.  The story is sweetly flirtatious as they go out sledding together and share kisses in the snow.  There is not a lot of tension in the book because it is clear fairly early on that they both like each other and just needed an excuse to get to know each other outside of work. I would love read more books related to this one, as there were a lot of intriguing hints to deeper backstories. 

518qU1Z85wL._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_Next, I read Tessa Dare's latest Spindle Cove story, Lord Dashwood Missed Out.  Miss Nora Browning grew up loving Dash, the wild orphaned boy-next-door, that was her brother's best-friend and her quiet comfort after his unexpected death.  When he unexpectedly and cruelly dashes all her hopes,  treating her abominably during her first season, then departs without notice on five-year cartographic mission, Nora pours all her disappointment and frustration into a pamphlet titled: Lord Ashwood Missed Out. The pamphlet becomes hugely popular with young overlooked misses and Nora refashions her life around writing and speaking for young women, finding new purpose and passions through it.  She is on her way to Spindle Cove for a speaking engagement when she unexpectedly runs into a livid Dashwood, who has just recently returned to England to find his reputation in tatters.  A series of storm-related travel mishaps strands Nora and Dash together in a frigid gamekeeper's hut, where they have to confront all their hurt feelings and searing attraction.   When Nora fails to arrive in Spindle Cove, Dare reunites several previous heroes in a comedic quest to rescue the missing visiting authoress.  The last few chapter's bordered on mad-cap ridiculousness and farce but remained grounded through the sincerity of Dash and Nora's conflicted feelings for each other.  

26067203After finishing these three novellas by mid-morning I struggled to find another book to read.  I started and abandoned several good books after a few chapters because I wasn't in the right mood before sinking into K.J. Charles' A Fashionable Indulgence. The first book in her new Regency-era series is about the son of political radicals that is plucked from his working-class life by his domineering aristocratic grand-father. His cousin recruits a friend and consummate dandy, Julius, to help Harry learn how to dress and navigate high-society. It started out very strong but I had a niggling feeling that I was missing something. I did some googling and discovered that Charles had released a short-story set before the first book. The short-story is not a prequel, but did offer just enough backstory on Richard Vane and the Ricardians that I feel more secure in returning to A Fashionable Indulgence after reading it.

The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh is a enemies-to-lovers story.  Ash is the somewhat hapless, unloved youngest son of a Duke.  He loses his whole fortune in one very ill-advised night of gambling against Francis Webster, a long-time enemy of his older brother. He is contemplating suicide or fleeing to the France when Webster summons him. Unexpectedly Webster offers him an opportunity to win back his fortune. The tension and conflict in this face-off was fantastic. I loved how slowly Ash comes around to realizing what Francis really wants from him and how long he has wanted it himself. I am very glad I went back and read this as I adore enemies to lovers.

These four novellas were really very different but they were just what I need to read yesterday. 


RT Review Round-up December

Everything at Last by Kimberly Lang 

Nice Small town romance, that was easy to enter despite being the third? book in a series.  But it was a tricky review to write. There is a surprise revelation pretty far into the novel that I couldn't spoil. I struggled with how to address it.  

Cold Fusion by Harper Fox

This was a hard book to review. I really liked parts of it, but some elements were really problematic.  Really liked the setting and premise.  I don't know if it just me, but I found the names in this book very odd.


Queer Romance Month: HEA's for All of Us to Read

We All Need Stories badgeAt RWA this summer, I had the opportunity to have lunch with a bunch of amazing interesting women (Elisabeth Lane, Carolyn Crane, Joanna Bourne, Rose Lerner and Sarah Lyons) at a small french restaurant. During lunch  Sarah Lyons extended an invitation to all us on behalf of Alexis Hall to write a post for this year's Queer Romance Month.

My first thought was YES! soon followed by oof. I read and enjoy Queer romance, wanted to celebrate it and I review it here on my blog. The oof was from trying to think about how to approach it.  I've spent a large part of my year thinking about how to support those with queer identities as a cis straight parent and friend. I've tried very hard to shut up and listen and be there for them in every way I can, whether it be in celebration and laughter or pain and tears. So my post is about how reading Queer Romance has helped see  HEA's for people I love whose stories didn't get told when I was growing up.  I am not sure when the post will be live today but I believe sometime around dinner time.  I'll add a link here once it is up.  

Happily-Ever-Afters For All Us to Read

There have been so many great posts this month about identity, discovery, and life, so please check them out.

 


Lead Me Not by Ann Gallagher

LeadMeNot_500x750Issac Morris followed his father in to ministry. He has a passion for bringing people to Christ but his father's church is particularly focused on calling "Sodomites"out of their sinful lifestyle by confronting them with their sin through loud and aggressive protests. Issac has grown increasingly frustrated with their inability to persuade people to listen to them.  When he learns that one of his nephews is struggling with homosexual desires he is convinced that they have to try something new and different. He and his sister Ruth set out to film a documentary, one that will document his choice to become gay and then become straight again in order to convince homosexuals they too can choose to leave the lifestyle.  Although his family is hesitant to see him take such a dangerous and risky path, they reluctantly agree to support his endeavor. Ruth and Issac relocate to Seattle and Issac sets out to enter the gay lifestyle.

Coming out to his parents at 14, propelled Colton Roberts into a nightmare. After his family's rejection he spent the majority of his teen years alone on the street, raped, pimped, abused and addicted.  He found acceptance and Christ's love in the persons of Pastor Mike and his wife Gail who rescued him from the streets.  Faith, therapy, rehab and the love and support of the South Street Community Church have held him together through many struggles. He juggles bartending shifts at CapitolOUT with evenings working with at-risk LGBQT youth at the his church's youth shelter.  

Issac and Colton meet when Issac is assaulted by homophobic thugs outside of CapitolOUT. Colton can't help but feel concern for Issac as he is clearly overwhelmed and inexperienced. Sympathetic upon learning that Issac has only recently come out, Colton agrees to help Issac learn to navigate the gay community in Seattle and they slowly build a friendship that eventually blossoms into something more. 

Gallagher (who also publishes for Riptide as L.A. Witt), took on quite a challenge with this book. The novel is equal parts a story of self-discovery as it is as romance novel.  Issac's journey toward realizing that he is gay and struggling to figure out how he can reconcile it with his faith and call to ministry is tortuous.  I thought Gallagher did a great job illustrating how hard and painful it is for Issac to slowly realize that he isn't choosing to be gay for the sake of the documentary but instead for the first time in his life acknowledging his identity.  He is under incredible pressure from his family, which makes him extremely conflicted and confused. The way things unfolded in the later half after some fateful/unavoidable confrontations was for the most part believable, especially the lure denial hold for Issac.

The romance was gentle grounded in growing attraction born out of friendship and affection. While they are both certainly attracted from the beginning, Colton's cautiousness leads to take things very slow letting them building trust and intimacy long before they ever even kiss.  Issac's deception and betrayal have significant consequences and although I felt Issac should have groveled even more, their HEA developed in the extensive epilogue was perfect.

I couldn't help reading Lead Me Not through the filter of the current conversations and movements in the Evangelical community toward greater acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ people.  While Issac does have many conversations and reads one book (published in the 70s!) on how reconcile his faith and his sexuality I wished Gallagher had Issac engage with more current books and scholarship than he does in Lead Me Not. Books like God and the Gay Christian specifically address some of the issues Issac most struggles with, specifically the bad fruit his anti-gay ministry is bearing (inspiring attacks,  the rejection of vulnerable children & suicides) and tackling how the Bible can and has been reinterpreted without it losing its authority.  

I really appreciated the attention Gallagher paid to the power of family relationships to affect a person's well-being. Colton struggles with accepting his parents' rejection for years. Issac works to reconnect with family members he has shunned, while wrestling with the family who fear losing him. Although the book asserts you can't choose who you love, it really meant who you fall in love with. Both Colton and Issac's family consistently stopped acting in a loving way toward those they disapprove of.  The novel does really illustrates is that while you can't choose who you are attracted to, your identity, are related to, or who you fit with most, you can choose to love them even when you disagree.

Inspirational romances are not generally something I enjoy reading. I struggle to not get stuck on some minor point of theology or get annoyed easily if I think something is being misrepresented but I think overall Lead Me Not succeed in being both a credible inspirational romance and a satisfying love story. I rolled my eyes occasionally but not enough to diminish my enjoyment of the story.

 

Disclosure: At RWA I had opportunity to meet Sarah Frantz Lyons,  Editorial Director of Riptide Publishing who is friend of my friend Elisabeth Lane. During one of our conversations Sarah mentioned being excited about Lead Me Not, because it was something that they had never done at Riptide or to her knowledge anywhere else, a M/M sweet inspirational.  I was immediately intrigued because although I am not typically an inspie reader, I am very interested in the intersection of the Faith community and the LGBT community so I knew I had to read it.  Check out the #FaithfullyLGBT hashtag on twitter if you want to know more about LGBT people who are working to live out their faith.

I received review copy of Lead Me Not from Riptide via Netgalley.


Signal Boost (Off the Grid #2) by Alyssa Cole

Signal Boost is the second novel in Alyssa Cole's post-apocalyptic series Off the Grid for Carina Press.  A mysterious event has damaged  the world's or at least North America's electrical grid and crippled communication systems.  In Radio Silence, John leads his best friend Arden out of Rochester, NY to his family's well stocked remote cabin.  There John's big brother Gabe and Arden unexpectedly fall in love.  Signal Boost is John's story and a continuation of the post-apocalyptic plot.

Pre-Flare, John or Jang-wan as he known to his family was a happy gay man, studying computer science and sharing an apartment with Arden. Post-Flare, his life has become stifling and monotonous, he lives for his pre-dawn conversations with Arden before the rest of the family wakes.  The predictable routine of his Post-Flare life is upset when he tackles an intruder trying to pilfer tomatoes from their vegetable garden.

Mykhail was an astro-physics graduate student Pre-Flare, home on extended leave to take care of ailing relative. His Post-Flare life has been incredibly traumatic. He hasn't had any of the comforts the Seong family has enjoyed. He has experienced the horrible things since the Flare and has very little to live for. The one thing that keeps him going is the hope that if he find his way back to his former college campus he can  help get the grid up and running again. Mykhail is convinced his former professor and graduate adviser was one of the few people prepared to respond to this event.  

Jang-wan & Mykhail immediately hit it off.  Mykhail is funny, interesting and they connect over long conversations about the cosmos while stargazing. Jang-wan jumps at the opportunity to be of  use. His orienteering skills can get Mykhail to Burrell where his computer skills might be again be of use. 

On the road Jang-wan & Mykhail get to know each other a lot better and face perilous situations. Jang-wan learns all about Mykahail's complicated family, and the life choices.  The heightened emotional situations they experience on the road eventually breakdown Mykhail's resistance to his attraction and admiration for Jang-wan.  The story takes a big shift at this point, moving from trek-road-trip romance to romantic suspense. Many things don't seem right at Burrell College and  Mykhail's will to pursue their relationship is very quickly tested.

I was really looking forward to this book. I enjoyed Radio Silence a great deal and the teaser chapter for Signal Boost was fantastic. But uneven pacing & world building issues tripped me up.  I liked the characters, but I liked the idea of them together more than I liked the execution of it.  Jang-Wan and Mykhail's lengthy conversations about the stars and astrophysics felt like they had been cribbed straight from Neil Degrasse Tyson's Cosmos series.  Jang-Wan & Mykhail's complex emotional and relationship issues  were abandoned in the last quarter of the novel, replaced by a larger set of issues. The action scenes and intrigues were exciting but I felt Mykhail & Jan-Wan's romantic arc suffered.  

 There was a lot of great potential in this story but it did not quite live up to my expectations.

I received a review copy of Signal Boost from Carina Press via NetGalley