A Bird in the Oven

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Kata Cuic’s writing. When she released this Thanksgiving-timed story last year, I snapped it up and enjoyed it tremendously. The only problem is that it’s too short and I heartily agree with another reviewer who stated that a follow-up Christmas story is necessary.

I am not an expert of neurodiversity, but I’ve always been impressed with Kata Cuic’s ability to include characters who represent a wide range of human experience, and do it in a way that feels real and engaging. The range of experience and growth that Liv and Ollie have in the space of a novella is astonishing. I couldn’t love them more.

Mad Sea

Edenbooks.org has started a new program where they promote a specific author each month, including offering specials on their books. April’s author is K. Webster and since a quick look at my ereader showed that I hadn’t read anything of hers, I decided to take advantage. The description of the short story, Mad Sea, was definitely kooky enough to catch my eye; a motorcycle gang and mermaids? You kind of have to read that, right?

It turns out to be a very short, quirky read, but almost a little too jam packed. There is a happily ever after, but I was left with a ton of questions. I understand that it was written for a short story collection, but the concept begs for a full-length novel and I could easily see it expanded to a series.

I feel like it would have benefited from the attention of a good editor as well. It isn’t riddled with errors, but the tone of the writing veers from straight forward to lushly poetic in a way that is a bit distracting in such a short format. And there are some odd word choices in places, where I got stuck wondering “what did they intend this to convey?” instead of reading the story.

I liked it, in a shaking my head at the audacity sort of way. I think I need to read at least one of Webster’s full length novels before I decide whether or not to add her to my regular reading list. But if you have an hour to kill and you want something outside the usual, even for paranormal, give it a whirl.

Bombshells

I love Sarina Bowen’s books. It’s true, I really do. Sarina is the kind of writer, at least for me, where I get sucked into the story. I don’t even start a new book from her unless I know that I have time to finish it in one (or maybe two) pass. In retrospect, I can look back at what I’ve read and recognize the themes and tropes, because of course they are there, but as I’m reading all I’m doing is laughing and groaning and wondering how she’s going to get the characters to their HEA.

I grew up Edmonton during the heyday of Gretzy and the Oilers, but I didn’t grow up in a sportsing family, so I wasn’t a hockey aficianado. I really appreciate how much love for the game that Sarina shows in the Brooklyn Bruisers series – I always end up Googling at least one hockey term per book. But it never comes across as preachy or boring, it’s just part of a bunch of people who love what they do.

Bombshells (Brooklyn Bruisers #8) introduces Rebecca’s passion project – the eponymous professional women’s hockey team. The women are working to build a team dynamic and the men are adjusting to sharing their space. Sarina uses the opportunity to highlight some of the insane differences between professional sports for men and women, and anyone who doesn’t feel outraged lives in a headspace that I don’t understand. Anton (Baby Bayer) and Sylvie are both struggling with change and with some aspects of growing up and they do it together. The drama that cements our couple’s relationship is one of those “it could have been terrible” moments, so this book feels a bit less dramatic than some, but the realism is a breath of fresh air.

I’m so happy that this far into her writing career, she continues to offer us well-written stories, full of balanced characters, humour, and love.

Temporary

I greatly enjoy Sarina Bowen’s books, so I was happy to stumble over an older one that I hadn’t read yet. In some ways, this is the familiar love story between the girl from straightened circumstances and the rich man. As always, it’s the details that make or break the story and Sarina and Sarah don’t disappoint.

Callan may be the “poor little rich boy”, but he has had his fair share of trauma and it informs his character in a realistic and believable way. Grace’s circumstances probably feel more familiar for most readers; the way that constant struggle and hardship wear you down and cause you to limit your vision. It was engrossing to watch them encounter each other and be drawn in despite themselves.

But no review of this book would be complete without mentioning Uncle Jack, who we never meet but who greatly informs the entire story. His death is what brings them together, his influence on Callan’s upbringing, his apartment that they spend so much time in, his fabulous dog, and the obvious effect he had on the world around him bring a level of richness to the book that is fabulous.

Although the book ends with an HEA, it definitely sets up the plotline for more books moving forward. I, for one, would love to see what happens with Callan’s sister and to find out more about their mother’s history. It’s been four years since it was published, but I hope we get more.

Review 53: Southern Lights

Jay Hogan was recommended through another author’s Facebook page and was a bit disappointed to discover that their books were only available through Amazon. However, the author contacted me and I was able to buy ebook copies directly. That was amazing and I very much appreciated it. I’d buy all my books that way, if it was an option!

I had the first three books in the series, Powder & Pavlova, Tamarillo Tart, and Flat Whites & Chocolate Fish, so binged through them fairly quickly. The first quick note, if you missed it earlier, is that these are M/M, so if that isn’t your cup of tea then move along. These books are all set in Australia, and I greatly enjoyed all the slang and bits of local lore that help to set the scene. I do wish that there was maybe a bit more poetic description of the setting, as it tends to lean to the factual side of things.

I think that the stories themselves did a good job of portraying the balance that LGBTQ+ folks have to walk between the accepting side of society and the less tolerant members. The sex scenes are what I’d describe as middle of the pack – some nice spice, but nothing too kinky and not an ongoing parade of steamy activities. All three couples are well-developed and interesting and undergo some character development throughout their story.

I found these books to be light, enjoyable, and entertaining.

Review 52: Hot and Badgered

This title caught my eye ages ago, because it made me laugh, but I admit that I didn’t pick up it until it was an option for one of those Kobo giveaways as part of my account. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’ll be looking to get more of the series.

I laughed outrageously through the whole thing, as this author seems to have that knack for setting up insane situations without tripping my “suspension of disbelief” limit. I also really enjoyed this particular take on shifter lives. So many of them, especially wolf ones, embrace the strict “alpha wolf” hierarchy myth that isn’t even true in wolves, let alone in creature who have to balance wolf and human characteristics. In this world, it seems like there are humans who shift into pretty much every animal, plus the crossbreedings that create fun, new individuals.

This book is the first in the series and it spends quite a bit of time world-building. Which isn’t bad, but at some points, it almost feels like the arc of the main characters’ relationship is more of a subplot than the main focus of the story. It leans quite heavily on the idea that shifters know their “ideal” mate on sight, but I’d have been happy to see a little more character development.

It was a highly entertaining read, and I look forward to getting more.

Review 51: Fighting the Fire

I was lucky enough to be given an ARC of the latest installment in Laura Kaye’s Warrior Fight Club series. The WFC is a group of retired military personnel, who get together to practice their martial arts skills and support each other as they deal with the emotional aftermath of their service and learn to thrive in the civilian world again.

Fighting the Fire is the story of Daniela and Sean, who are secondary characters earlier in the series. Like all the of the primary characters in this series, they are both suffering from PTSD and not handling it well. I love Laura Kaye’s books, but my biggest disappointment in this series has been how she handled the HEAs and their mental health. They’ve been a bit too “just meet your match and everything will be magically better” for my taste. I do recognize that these are fiction, not handbooks or counselling sessions, and nobody wants their fiction to include detailed descriptions of the daily fight for mental balance, but… I’d be thrilled if the epilogues included our heroes making time to talk to a professional. I don’t need to see a session, just a casual mention that they are doing it.

Leaving that aside though, these books live up to my expectations for Laura’s work. Sean and Daniela are robust, complex characters who learn how much they have in common after a traffic accident leaves Sean in need of Daniela’s nursing support. Close proximity forces them beyond their adversarial relationship and shows them how good they are together both in and out of bed. As I expect from Laura, the sex scenes are hot – given that the mechanics of sex are pretty straightforward, I especially appreciate how her couples all vary in terms of their desires and skills. Those of you who prefer “fade to black” may want to skip the steamy scenes here, as there is some mild domination and kink.

Those of you who follow Laura on social media will know that this book was delayed several times due to health, computer mishap, pandemic, and who knows what else. It began to feel like we’d never get it! But having flipped to the first page and then read straight through in one session, I feel like it was worth the wait.

Review 49: Six Pack Ranch

I will admit straight up that I read this series because it’s set in my home province of Alberta (Canada) and I was able to borrow it from the library. These are firmly three star reads – good, basic stories with reasonable writing, solid characters, and decent plots. But there isn’t much that sets them apart from the very massive world of available romance books.

They could benefit from more specific descriptions of the environment, which is lovely in the Rocky Mountain area, but rarely gets more than a mention as being beautiful. The different characters come from quite a range of backgrounds and histories, but they didn’t suck me in. I will say that reading all about life on the ranch was quite detailed and interesting and does a lot to establish that it’s hard work and uncertainty. If you want a sweet, easy read with a moderate amount of heat and a tiny bit of kink, these are a good choice.

Review 48: Love in Due Time

There is a growing trend of authors opening up their worlds for other authors to play in. I have to admit that it makes me nervous, because you can only hope that someone else will be able to respect and add to a universe you love without mucking it up. I console myself with the thought that if I don’t like a particular book, I don’t have to consider it canon.

It was in this mindset that I somewhat delayed starting to read LB Dunbar’s Love in Due Time, the first book in the Green Valley Library series. I also have several LB Dunbar books in my TBR that I haven’t got to yet, so I had no idea what I thought of her as author. But I adore Penny Reid’s work, so I told myself that she wouldn’t let something horrible through and I started in.

I’m glad I did! This is a second chance romance, which can be hit or miss for me. I did find Naomi’s response to her first meeting with Nathan to be pretty exaggerated. But for me to wish that characters had and used access to counselling is not rare. I often think it about people in real life too. Once I came to terms with that, I enjoyed the rest of the book. There are lots of entertaining moments, chances to see some growth on the part of Naomi and Nathan, and lots of time in the library, which any reader should love.

Review 47: Knitting in the City

I was able to hunt down the full series of Penny Reid’s Knitting in the City and I tore through them. I’ve yet to be disappointed by any of her books. Obviously, some of the couples appealed to me more than others, but overall, they are robust characters with strengths, weaknesses, foibles, and traumas. Watching them work through their issues to reach their happily ever afters is enthralling.

I love how Ms. Reid includes characters who are “outside the norm” – and does it with a deft touch and attention to detail. Some of her characters are neurodivergent, some are in the genius or prodigy pool, but she never presents them as the cardboard cutout stereotype or uses them purely as a plot point. I also like that for the most part, the characters don’t do stupid or out of character things just to create drama for the plot. Which isn’t to say that they don’t do stupid things or things triggered by their personal histories, because that’s what human do.

These books aren’t perfect, but they are highly enjoyable.