Fillion by Sean Michael

Fillion by Sean Michael
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, LGBTQ, Holiday
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Could the gift of a massage be exactly what Fillion needs to make this holiday his merriest ever?

Fillion Berry is a profitable bookshop owner, but his personal life is less successful. His Daddy left him on New Year’s last year and he’s been floundering. When his friend Chrissy discovers how bad things are getting, he enlists the help of his Daddy, Jerusalem, and together they cook up a plan to bring some holiday joy into Fillion’s life.

Spa owner Rome Aparny holds an auction every year to raise money for charity. When the highest bidder of a full-body massage gifts the item to Fillion with the note “for a lonely boy in need’, Rome thinks he knows exactly what that means and he arrives at Fillion’s store with his massage table, his oils, and the willingness to get to know Fillion better.

Could a little holiday magic turn Christian and Jerusalem’s matchmaking into a success? Find out in this Daddy Boys story.

Fillion owns a successful and prosperous bookshop, but his private life is quite the mess. After his Daddy and long-term partner left him on New Years the previous year, Fillion has struggled to recover from the loss. Fillion’s good friend, Christian, is blissfully happy with his own Daddy and relationship and when Fillion confides that he’s seriously unhappy and lonely, Christian is determined he and his Daddy should help. They purchase a private massage as a Christmas present for Fillion and quietly let the masseuse – Rome – know that he’s a boy looking for a Daddy, something that piques Rome’s interest immediately. Can this be a Christmas neither man will forget?

I found this to be a lovely and sweet short story. It’s part of a much larger series by multiple authors called “A Daddy for Christmas” but I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and I haven’t read any of the others in the series. I found it still stood by itself very well. I really felt a connection to Fillion’s character. Owning a prosperous bookshop means for the most part he’s really got his head screwed on straight and I really liked that. I also was pleased that Rome had noticed Fillion at previous gatherings, but just assumed he was in a relationship with someone. That previous connection helped the situation feel a little less like insta-love and while in a story this short they obviously moved very quickly I did find it still worked well for me.

Readers should be aware that this short story doesn’t have a complicated plot or a long, slow drop into the relationship. The two men recognize what they want from each other and while they do ease into the intimacy it’s exceedingly fast and there isn’t a whole lot of other plot revolving around them. For such a short story I can understand and even enjoy this – but I can certainly understand some readers might want a bit more complexity and plot to their stories.

Fun and sexy, this would be a good introduction to some readers on the Daddy/boy lifestyle and also a good quick taste for this particular author and their style/tone of writing.

Echo Key Haven by Katie Prescott

Echo Key Haven by Katie Prescott
Dolphin Cove: Book 1
Publisher: Scott Street & Second Publishing
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Chamomile

A heartbroken widow. A husband’s secret legacy.

Olivia and her friends must solve the mystery of what her husband didn’t tell her before he died.

Olivia Crawford had every intention of selling the old Barker place when she returned to Echo Key to see the falling-down old mansion her late husband bought. It was supposed to be where they would spend their sunset years together, fulfilling his dream of becoming an innkeeper. Instead, it’s a reminder of the nightmare that stole her beloved, leaving her alone.

Well, not alone. She has her best friend, Jen, and her dear aunt, Coretta, with whom they spent so many summers in Echo Key as children.

No one is more surprised than Olivia when Jen, whose own heart is hurting after a nasty divorce, convinces her to fix it up and run the inn together. It’s a crazy plan, and Olivia doesn’t do crazy. Her partner in life was the dreamer.

Olivia just hopes that keeping his dream alive will be the best way for her to live without him. And maybe find new happiness in the Florida haven that is Echo Key.

When tragedy strikes Olivia must make some difficult decisions. When the time comes will she be able to make the right choice?

This was an entertaining read, and I found the characters in this one to be amusing. Gus, Deke, and Coretta we’re especially fun to read about! I enjoyed the concept of a large mansion being renovated into a bed and breakfast and found the descriptions of the rooms to be humorous as the ladies walked through the house.

There was also a bit of mystery to the house itself, which was touched in in this one but seemed to be part of the larger overall plot of the series. There was also a bit of mystery on a smaller scale where the growing crime in the neighborhood was causing some conical conversations from some of the senior ladies in Echo Key. I enjoyed Coretta’s relationship with Olivia, as well as Olivia’s friendship with Jen. They made for an interesting dynamic and kept the story interesting.

Overall, the story was a bit slower and not quite as deep as I normally read but was fun as a quick weekend or vacation read. Even though it starts a bit slow, it does offer a good beginning to what is likely to be an enjoyable series.

Identity by Nora Roberts

Identity by Nora Roberts
Publisher: Paitkus
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Former Army brat Morgan Albright has finally planted roots in a friendly neighborhood near Baltimore. Her friend and roommate Nina helps her make the mortgage payments, as does Morgan’s job as a bartender. But after she and Nina host their first dinner party—attended by Luke, the flirtatious IT guy who’d been chatting her up at the bar—her carefully built world is shattered. The back door glass is broken, cash and jewelry are missing, her car is gone, and Nina lies dead on the floor.

Soon, a horrific truth emerges: It was Morgan who let the monster in. “Luke” is actually a cold-hearted con artist named Gavin who targets a particular type of woman, steals her assets and identity, and then commits his ultimate goal: murder.

What the FBI tells Morgan is beyond chilling. Nina wasn’t his type. Morgan is. Nina was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. And Morgan’s nightmare is just beginning. Soon she has no choice but to flee to her mother’s home in Vermont. While she struggles to build something new, she meets another man, Miles Jameson. He isn’t flashy or flirtatious, and his family business has deep roots in town. But Gavin is still out there hunting new victims, and he hasn’t forgotten the one who got away.

After growing up as an army brat – never having roots to put down – Morgan Albright is thrilled when she finally purchases her first home. Working two jobs and sharing the house with her best friend, Morgan is determined to finally have what she’s never experienced – a secure, permanent home. Only one night her entire world collapses and in the devastation afterwards everything is taken from her. Can Morgan rebuild her life once more?

I really enjoyed this stand alone novel, finding it everything that I love about a Nora Roberts story. I am very hit and miss with Roberts’ work – some of her books I love and others just really miss the mark for me. I was really pleased this one was wonderful to my mind. I felt a good connection to Morgan and her characters, finding her modern and relatable but also a good blend of strength and vulnerability. I also heartily sympathized with her having to start over again from scratch after her identity was stolen so brutally.

I found this very much to be a romantic suspense style of story. While the plot moved along at what I thought was a good clip it was quite different to usual action based books or more straight mystery/suspense styles of books. There was a lot of character growth and focus on Morgan’s character and her journey. There was also a really nice – and far slower pace – between the building attraction between Morgan and Miles. I found the slower pace here realistic – Morgan was deeply grieving and suffering when she arrived in Vermont and there was no way I’d find her falling in lust or letting her guard down at all believable. This slower pace also helped sell the book to me as more of a romantic suspense – rather than a straight romance or erotic book. There was plenty of mystery and suspense related to the murderer and I know Roberts is a legend at this balance and making these kinds of books sing.

I find it hard to believe many readers won’t have read anything of Roberts’ in the past – but if you’re that elusive one in a million then this would definitely be one of her better books to give a first try to. I found the pace and characters to be gripping and the plotline to be modern but not over-sold and having been told in a million other similar books. A good story and one I know I will likely reread again in the future.

Broken Hearts by Robert L J Borg

Broken Hearts by Robert L J Borg
Publisher: Luminosity Publishing LLC
Genre: Romance, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Is a cemetery the perfect setting for love to be found? Maybe. When Damian meets Elspeth at one, he’s certain she is his long-awaited soulmate. . ., but he’s been wrong before!

Damian Marshall had always believed himself to be a bit of a ladies’ man. He loved nothing more than dating women and enjoying their company, always hoping he would meet the love of his life. However, it never seemed to be. His love affairs would be short-lived, and two which seemed successful ended in divorce, where every time the broken hearts were always his own.

Just when he thinks there is no more hope in finding that perfect woman, he meets Elspeth, in the most unlikely of locations: a cemetery.

It is she who approaches him and strikes up a conversation. She coaxes out his life story, and he is willing to recount it all. By the end of it, they find themselves drawn to each other. Has Damian finally met his true soul mate or is it just wishful thinking? Only time will tell.

Relationships aren’t easy for everyone.

Some of the most interesting scenes to me were the ones that explored how society changed over the decades. For example, earlier in Damian’s life it was quite difficult for him to let people know that plans had changed if an accident or weather event prevented him from making it to the meeting point on time. This slowly became less common as cell phones made it possible for him to call others directly in an emergency instead of finding a pay phone and leaving messages at places he thought they might also try to check in at. It’s no wonder to me that cell phones and the Internet were such revolutionary tools, and I enjoyed finding all of the other examples of progress as well.

I struggled with the large cast of characters in this book. Women entered and exited Damian’s life so regularly that I often couldn’t remember who was who. While I’m pretty sure this was done to illustrate his personality and character defects, it also made the storyline hard to follow at times because of how many different people were involved and how little time they each had to make an impression on me. This was the only thing holding me back from choosing a higher rating, and I hope to read more from Mr. Borg soon.

The romance was unique and kept my interest levels high. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in the romance genre before, so let me tip my cap to the author for coming up with something fresh. While I did figure out the twist in it early on, it was still a great deal of fun to see how Damian reacted to it once he also knew what was happening.

Broken Hearts was a breath of fresh air.

A Team Of One by Brad Lee

A Team Of One by Brad Lee
Publisher: Simply Sensible Entertainment Inc
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Action/Adventure
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Former Navy SEAL “Axe” Southmark is enticed out of retirement to help the analyst and the President. But does he have what it takes to save the world?

As a Navy SEAL, Axe was trained to never give up. But after fifteen years on the front lines, it was time to let younger, faster men take the reins.

When he’s enlisted to help the President’s niece search for both a terrorist on the loose and a traitor in the government, he doesn’t hesitate.

It’s what he does: protects the vulnerable and kills bad guys.

With New York City threatened by a virtuoso bomber, there’s plenty of both to be done.

Will they be able to stop a madman before it’s too late? And is there more to the plot than meets the eye?

Find out in this wild ride of a story.

Former Navy SEAL, Axe is trying to settle into civilian life and find his niche when a former colleague reaches out with an enticing offer from left field. The President’s niece has uncovered some unusual activity in her job as a junior analyst, but unwilling to be treated differently she knows she needs more data. As Haley and Axe begin to uncover more, they realise this goes far deeper – and higher, politically – than either of them could have believed. Can they save New York and the country?

I purchased this book on a whim, having never heard of the author before and boy am I glad I did. This is a deliciously woven story with some excellent characters and a solid pace. I enjoyed the fact a little time was spent at the start showing us who Axe is and what he’s capable of. While still enjoyable the first few chapters were more of a scene-setting pace, easing the reader in and allowing them to get conformable with the author’s writing style and get to know the characters. Readers should also be aware that while this book does have a strong military theme the author has seemed to take great care to keep it primarily plot and character focused – there is plenty of gun, action and military detail here, but the characters and plot always seem to take the primary focus which I loved.

Pretty soon though I found the pace grew quicker and more action orientated. By the time we reached the middle of the story I found it exceptionally difficult to put the book down and to go about daily life. As more pieces of the puzzle came together – and as the Big Bad Plan began to take action – the pace really skyrocketed and all I wanted was to read the next chapter and then the next. Be prepared to stay up later than you expected for this one. It’s been quite some time (like a year or more) since I’ve stayed up into the very early hours on a workday just to read “a little bit more” but I truly just couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.

I really felt the author had a good blend of action and adventure along with plot and characterization. I’m always a little nervous of military-heavy sorts of books because while I enjoy some strong details in the story, I find often military-based outlooks can be a bit gun or weapon heavy. This book had a really good balance I feel, it was realistic and detailed enough to satisfy readers who want every piece of information, but the characters and plotting were also detailed – and fast paced enough – to not have me feel bogged down by this. I also felt that while the “taking over the world” sort of overall plot is not very new, this was a different enough take on that to feel fresh and the action and characters certainly kept my attention focused and I didn’t need to skip forward.

Finally, I also was seriously impressed with some of the plot twists towards the end of the book. A section revolving around the president in particular really impressed me and – for me personally at least – it was a unique, outside-the-box type of solution that I’ve never read before. Even now, days after finishing this book I’m still turning it over in my mind and thinking about the book as a whole and how some of these plot aspects unwound. I found the book as a whole exceptional.

I thoroughly enjoyed this first book and was very happy to see it is part of a series. I had ordered the next two books and the first in a different series by this author before I’d even reached the half way point of reading this. I am quite eager to see what’s in store for Axe and Haley in the next installment. A really enjoyable and fast paced read. Recommended.

The Lies Among Us by Sarah Beth Durst

The Lies Among Us by Sarah Beth Durst
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Cholla

After her mother dies, Hannah doesn’t know how to exist without her. Literally. In fact, Hannah’s not even certain that she does exist. No one seems to see or hear her, and she finds herself utterly alone. Grief-stricken and confused, her sense of self slowly slipping away, Hannah sets out to find new purpose in life—and answers about who (and what) she really is.

Hannah’s only remaining family is her older sister, Leah. Yet even Leah doesn’t seem to notice her. And while Hannah can see and hear her sister, she also sees beautiful and terrible things that don’t—or shouldn’t—exist. She learns there’s much more to this world than meets the eye and struggles to make sense of it all.

When Hannah sees Leah taking the same dangerous path that consumed their own mother—where lies supplant reality—she’s desperate to get through to her. But facing difficult truths is harder than it looks…

What happens to a lie after the liar is gone?

For two decades, Hannah’s only focus has been on her mother. But when her mother dies, Hannah’s world and everything she knows is shattered. How does she find her way without the most important person in her life?

Hannah is one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever met. While she stumbles a bit after her mother’s death, she eventually finds her direction after a chance meeting. Sylvie is everything Hannah never thought she could be, and together they alter each other’s perception of the world and the reality they live in. They are truly the biggest catalyst for character development in each other, which was really fascinating to watch.

Leah, on the other hand, doesn’t handle her mother’s death very well. There were so many unresolved issues between them that it’s extra hard for her to process the loss. She lashes out, acts erratically, and attempts to shut out everyone who cares about her while she struggles through her grief. It was heartbreaking to watch, but very real and extremely visceral.

The thing that will stick with me long after I’ve put this book up on my bookshelf is how Hannah reinvents herself after her mother dies. She finds new purpose and new adventures, all while holding onto her past. In addition, there is so much insight into how humans work in this novel. A favorite quote, “Who we are is who we’ve been. And who we’ve known.” That hit me right where it hurt. Every person we meet, even peripherally, becomes a part of us in a way.

The Lies Among Us is one of the most interesting and unique stories I’ve read in a long time. It’s hard to even review it properly. Beautifully written and strewn with intriguing characters, I couldn’t stop reading once I started. We all know that we’ll inevitably lose someone who means the world to us, but we’re never quite ready for it, even when we have advanced notice of it. This novel shows you both the horror and beauty of love, loss, and moving on in a relatable and emotional way.

Carnival Blues by Damien Boyd

Carnival Blues by Damien Boyd
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Carnival season is off to an explosive start in this thriller from the bestselling DI Nick Dixon crime series.

Detective Chief Inspector Nick Dixon arrives late for Bridgwater’s winter carnival. He’s come to see the squibbing, the traditional firework display that brings the town’s November festivities to a dramatic close. But when the squib of Avalon Carnival Club president Richard Webb is lit, it explodes, engulfing him in flames.

Dixon knows he’s just witnessed a killer making a very public statement. And he can’t help feeling it’s only the beginning.

After his suspicions are confirmed at the Burnham-on-Sea carnival forty-eight hours later, the race is on to find the killer before the next event in a nearby town.

Can Dixon stop the killings before any more lives are lost? And can he do it with police Professional Standards investigators breathing down his neck?

DCI Nick Dixon has arrived late for Bridgewater’s winter carnival, but he’s just in time to join his pregnant fiancée and close friends to watch the traditional fireworks display towards the end of the evening. But when one of the presidents of the fireworks clubs lights his flare, it explodes and engulfs him in flames. Right there on the scene, Nick and his team rush to the man’s aid, then lead up the investigation in the attempted murder. With a number more carnival nights to follow, the team are now racing the clock to try and sort out what’s happened and who might be behind it.

I found this to be an interesting and well-paced British police procedural style of story. While the main plot revolves around the carnival and a series of connected businesses in relation to that, I found that the plot was diverse enough to keep me interested well into the middle of the book. There is also a later secondary plot revolving around DCI Dixon and events that occurred a year or so ago. I feel that readers don’t have to have read any of the previous novels to understand exactly what’s going on with this secondary plot – though do admit it will be a lot more intriguing to readers who have been following along for a while – and I was very pleased with both plots. I do admit I feel this secondary plot felt a little rushed to the conclusion at the very end, though expect that was largely due to the author wanting to tie up the loose ends all in this book and not expand them over to the next one.

I was pleased that the focus remains primarily on the plot and the attempted murder and mystery aspect to the plot. While the secondary plot does add a bit of extra conflict and Nick’s pregnant fiancée – who is also a co-worker – adds quite a bit to the plot and balance of the story, I do like that for the most part this is an interesting and well-paced British police novel. Readers looking for something that is more espionage or action based might not find this fits their needs, but I did enjoy this more traditional mystery flow that the book has throughout.

I’ve been enjoying this series and feel this is an excellent addition. I will be happy to pick up the next book in this series as well and see how things progress from here – especially as Nick and Jane embark on bringing a baby into the world and all the changes – good and bad – that will likely follow.

The Convenient Roommate by E.C. Finnegan

The Convenient Roommate by E.C. Finnegan
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Romance, LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place…

After enduring a devastating betrayal, Fox finds himself in dire need of a fresh start and a new place to call home. When his loyal friend offers him a spare room in the house he shares with his charismatic brother, Fox cautiously accepts the invitation. Little does he know that this housing arrangement will ignite a flurry of unexpected emotions within him.

Caught off guard by a magnetic pull towards his friend’s older sibling, Fox battles with the fear of embarking on another vulnerable relationship. Despite his reservations, he soon realizes that there’s no escaping the undeniable chemistry that intertwines their lives.

As Fox navigates the intricacies of cohabitation, he discovers a bond beyond what he ever imagined. With shared moments of laughter, secrets exchanged, and tender gestures that hint at something more, can Fox find the courage to let go of his past heartbreak and embrace the tantalizing possibilities that lie with his conveniently attractive roommate?

It’s never too late to heal from the past.

The dialogue was realistic and entertaining. Given the difficult childhoods that both West and Fox experienced, it made total sense that their communication skills weren’t always particularly strong. This is something I’m sharing as a reader who is not generally a huge fan of plots that rely on miscommunications for conflict, but in this case, it worked perfectly for everyone involved given how much they had to hide their sexual orientations, among other things, in order to feel safe as kids. Honestly, I would have been shocked if either of them had emerged from childhood without these sorts of emotional scars. Including them enriched the storyline and made me want to keep reading.

I had trouble keeping track of many of the secondary characters. There wasn’t as much time spent describing their physical appearances, personalities, or interests as I would have preferred to see, so except for the two protagonists I struggled to form mental images of them that could have helped me remember who was who. This did improve once I was more than halfway through it, but it was still something that held me back from enjoying this as much as I would have liked to.

With that being said, I appreciated how slowly and organically the romance was allowed to unfold. The friends to lovers trope is one I already loved, and it was put to great use here. Fox and West both had excellent reasons for not rushing anything, especially given all of the other stuff going on in both of their lives that was rightfully taking up so much of their attention when they first met. In my opinion, romance novels are best to read when the characters in them already have full and satisfying lives before the slightest whiff of a new love interest is introduced. Kudos to the author for putting so much effort into this.

The Convenient Roommate had a fun premise.

Suddenly, a Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret, audiobook read by Ira Glass

Suddenly, a Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret, audiobook read by Ira Glass
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Read by an all-star cast and featuring a bonus story special to the audio edition, Suddenly, a Knock on the Door is a one-of-a-kind audiobook.

Bringing up a child, lying to the boss, placing an order in a fast-food restaurant: in Etgar Keret’s new collection, daily life is complicated, dangerous, and full of yearning. In his most playful and most mature work yet, the living and the dead, silent children and talking animals, dreams and waking life coexist in an uneasy world. Overflowing with absurdity, humor, sadness, and compassion, the tales in Suddenly, a Knock on the Door establish Etgar Keret—declared a “genius” by The New York Times—as one of the most original writers of his generation.

This is an interesting collection of short stories written by Etgar Keret about daily life. Daily life, as we all know, can be complex. Many tricky situations can occur.

Keret delves into various emotions and goes from the normal to the playful, wild, or mature. The themes vary throughout this collection, but there is an underlying knowledge of universal yearning to enhance the stories.

Each piece varies in length—some quite short, and some a bit longer. It is a unique set of tales, sure to touch many readers.

The Prince and the Troll by Rainbow Rowell

The Prince and the Troll by Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: Amazon Original Stories
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Dicentra

A charming everyman and a mysterious something-under-the-bridge cross paths in a short fairy tale by the number one New York Times bestselling author of Eleanor & Park and the Simon Snow series.

It’s fate when a man accidentally drops his phone off the bridge. It’s fortune when it’s retrieved by a friendly shape sloshing in the muck underneath. From that day forward, as they share a coffee every morning, an unlikely friendship blooms. Considering the reality for the man above, where life seems perfect, and that of the sharp-witted creature below, how forever after can a happy ending be?

The Prince and the Troll is part of Faraway, a collection of retold fairy tales that take the happily-ever-after in daring new directions. Whether read or listened to in one sitting, prepare to be charmed, moved, enlightened, and frightened all over again.

I’ve been checking out a lot of Amazon Original Stories recently, and I’ve always been a fan of fantasy and fairy tales, so it was a no-brainer to check out Rainbow Rowell’s short story addition to the Faraway Collection, The Prince and The Troll. Less than an hour in audiobook form or about 30 pages on an e-reader, Rainbow Rowell does a good job spinning the classic fairytale of the troll under the bridge. Narrator Rebecca Lowman did a good job bringing the story to life with her performance in the audiobook.

When I went into the book, I admittedly expected the prince referenced in the title to be an actual prince, but that’s not quite the case. It’s a modern day fairytale, where the “prince” is more of an average person rather than someone living in a literal castle. I did appreciate the gender-bent aspect of the story, as the troll in this is a female. The romance is clean and well-written, so that’s another plus.

One major drawback of the story (and a large part of the reason why I couldn’t give it a full five stars) was how much Starbucks was mentioned in this book. It’s 29 pages, and I’m pretty sure they went through the entire menu of drinks. I realize that the original coffee the ‘prince’ brings the troll is integral to the story, but the level detail they used in describing each drink was excessive and detracted from my enjoyment of the read. The other major drawback was the ending, as it was a bit confusing and didn’t really leave me feeling like I had closure with the characters and the story as a whole.

Overall, it was a good story, and I don’t feel like the time I spent reading it was wasted. If you enjoy modern retellings of fairy tales with a genderbent twist, this would be a good choice (especially if you have Kindle Unlimited).