The Tombs of Atuan (Earthsea Cycle #2) (Audiobook)

The Tombs of Atuan - Ursula K. Le Guin, Rob Inglis

This was a great improvement over The Wizard of Earthsea. Since it wasn't trying to set up the entire universe and the rules in it, there was much less info dumping and less meandering. Le Guin narrowed in on the titular plot, following along with a young priestess name Arha (which sounded like Aha in the audio, lol) and the ancient underground vaults she's in charge of. The use of language here is lush and vivid, even more impressive that so much of it takes place in complete darkness. 


This follows up on some things set up in the first book, though I won't go into details, and adds a new dimension to it as we get to see another part of this world. The legend of the Priestess of Atuan is neat and the tombs sufficiently creepy. I thought the climax was a little too pat, though.


Rob Inglis continues to be a great voice in fantasy narration, and I found that listening to him at 1.4x was just right. Of course, every time I listen to one of these, I want to relisten to The Lord of the Rings. :D

Team Phison

Team Phison - Chace Verity

This was cute. Two gamers meet while playing a game online and it gradually grows into something more. Not a whole lot of angst, just a short fluff story. There is a  20+ year age gap, which I didn't really notice unless it was pointed out since Phil's POV sounded much younger than his 55 years. I did like that neither guy had a model body, and it was just long enough that I stayed invested. 

Through Adversity

Through Adversity - Satyr Designs, Rearing Horse Editing, Amelia Faulkner

I'm really curious how Amelia Faulkner would write this story today, because this doesn't resemble at all the complexity of plot and characterization that I've come to expect from her in the Inherited series. 


It starts off well enough: two WWI pilots, one British, one German, find themselves downed in a field, not sure where they are. Neither one is really sure about the wisdom of this war, and so when they find themselves dependent on each other, they agree to get along until they figure what side of the Front they're on and then one will declare the other a prisoner of war. 


Valentine and Siegfried are amiable guys and they befriend each other quickly, and then just as quickly move on to being lovers and in love. While they were together, I could buy into it since they were kind of adorkable. Once they separated, though, I had trouble caring about their angst and pining and found myself losing interest as the story went on. Despite this being WWI and despite them being on opposite sides, there's no actual conflict and everything's just too easy for them.


There are also quite a few typos and wrong words being used, and fresh after reading Box 1663, I couldn't help but be disappointed at how rarely any vernacular of the time is used.


This was a decent read but nothing special. If you're looking for something light and short with good historical detail, this might fit the bill.

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) (Audiobook)

The Fifth Season - N.K. Jemisin, Robin Miles

There is so much here to love. The worldbuilding is top notch, so much so that I could see this world easily while listening, and the mythology around the stone eaters, orogenes and stills was deftly handled and never felt info dumpy. Jemisin borrows from the history of slavery to create this world, and it highlights many things that are often overlooked or unacknowledged, such as how slaves were bred together or experimented on. There's also the Fulcrum, an institution run by the Guardians, who are truly horrifying. They believe they're making the orogenes better by training them to control their power (to cause earthquakes, among other things), and they're as ruthless about it as they are happy to do their jobs. *shudders* 


The narration by Robin Miles is also top notch. She reads with clarity and only uses emotion when needed; she doesn't overact the parts and she was easily to follow along with.


There's also diversity up the wazoo. Virtually everyone in this world, by its nature, are mixed race. It's incredibly rare to find anyone who isn't. There's also LGBT characters, who at times face their own issues when it comes to the Fulcrum and what they believe people should and should not be doing with their breeding potential. *glares* 


Most of all, we get three storylines each with a female POV, Demaya, Syenite and Essum, which is pretty darn rare in fantasy. None of them are hysterical females or damsels in distress, and they each have their own agency - or as much of it as they can have given their statuses - either as slaves or in hiding while passing as stills.

I figured out pretty early on that none of these storylines were running parallel to each other, and suspected about halfway through they were all the same character, which in fact they are. But because of the way its written, the two past storylines don't read like flashbacks at all.

(show spoiler)


Where this fell short for me was the writing style. The first time I tried one of Jemisin's books, I didn't even finish it (though that was mostly because I saw the romantic pairing that was coming and just couldn't be bothered with it). This was definitely an improvement. The characters were engaging and their stories were interesting and intricate and highlighted the different ways that the system is set up to keep orogenes in check and under control, while also setting up that something else was yet lurking beneath the surface - and that could be literal as well as figurative.


But something kept me from getting wholly invested in the story, and that was the way Essum's storyline was written. I was constantly taken out of her plot by the use of the second-person narrative. I've only encountered those in CYAO stories, which this certainly was not, and I felt as if I was being preached at to a certain degree or being told how I should be feeling or reacting to things that were happening to her, which just wasn't necessary at all. I don't need to *be* the character to empathize with her and this would've worked much better for me if it had been told in third-person like the other two. I'm hoping the second-person narrative will be dropped in the next book, since there really is no reason for it at this point in the story that I can tell - but then I didn't see any reason for it to begin with either.

Box 1663

Box 1663

Written by Alex Sorrel



Set in the final years of the Manhattan Project, this story follows Nick, a young Army photographer recruited to work on Project Y in the remote Box 1663 at Los Alamos, NM. On the way, he meets Ian, a British scientist who is also joining the project. Secrecy is a way of life, as is low water pressure, rations and bad food. Sorel paints a vivid picture of what life was like for the men and women who lived cheek to jowl in this remote desert location while racing to create a weapon that would end the war - and bring in a new age.


Nick is a very likable guy for the most part. He's approachable, loves talking and connecting to people and enjoys photography, even if his job on Project Y doesn't give him much opportunity to use his artistic side. He befriends his assistant, Alice, who is a delightful character, and tries his darnedest to get closer to the elusive Ian.


I didn't quite get why Nick was so interested in Ian so quickly, since Ian was so distant and barely spoke to him. But as Ian came a little more out of his shell as the book went on, it was clear they just clicked and when Ian allowed himself to relax, they had a good friendship. Nick was a little pushy in his pursuit for Ian for my tastes, considering how reserved Ian was. That kind of attitude can very easily trigger my irritation and outright dislike, but Nick never neared that line, and after we learned more about Ian's past, Nick gets much better about that.


One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was that Ms. Sorel didn't try to modernize her characters. They're products of their times, with the attitudes prevalent then. Her use of language - using the jargon of the times - and prose gave the story an authentic flavor that many historicals lack. These characters - both real life ones and fictional ones - are working on an horrific project - a "necessary evil" - and she both humanizes them while also showing the terrible consequences of what these people unleashed on the world. 


There's also a quasi-mystery involving people who attack Nick and try to get his photos of the classified materials he's documenting, and this was the weakest part of the story for me. While one thing did manage to surprise me, it was pretty clear who the participants in the espionage were. And for being a war-tested Army lieutenant, Nick's not very good at assessing threats and reacting to dangerous situations throughout the majority of the book. It's not entirely unrealistic, but he should've been more cautious after the second attack. I guess he's just not genre savvy. ;)


This was a great debut novel by Ms. Sorel and I hope it won't be her last. Despite being self-published, it's much better edited than many professionally published books I've seen in M/M (looking at you, DSP), with a bare minimum of typos and grammar issues. The writing in very readable and sucks you right in, and Sorel manages to avoid some of the more common tropes in the genre when it comes to the romance. 

Point of Hopes (Astreiant #1)

Point of Hopes  - Melissa Scott, Lisa A. Barnett

This is a barely-fantasy, kinda-mystery, lackadaisical "adventure" story loosely based on 17th- or 18th-century France in a city vaguely reminiscent of Paris. 


Children are going missing. 85 of them! Which no one figures out until the 85th gets nabbed. And then we follow along for three weeks as Rathe talks and talks and talks to various characters we never see again, while no further children go missing, and the very obvious cause of the disappearances that Rathe even suspects very early on gets ignored for the majority of the book.


Meanwhile, Eslingen, newly arrived to the city, spends time finding lodging and employ, losing lodging and employ, and finding new lodging and employ while forging a friendship with Rathe. There was some interesting stuff with Eslingen when he first comes to town, since there was a lot about how him being a Leaguer - those who were on the losing side of a civil war twenty years ago - makes him suspect, but this situation kind of fizzles out halfway through and never really comes up again. 


If you're expecting romance, look elsewhere. I wouldn't have even thought this was LGBT+, much less supposed to be M/M, if others hadn't shelved it as thus. Not that I mind a slow burn, and I love it when the MCs actually get to be friends first before falling for each other, but Eslingen was shown as nothing but straight, and Rathe only has one passing moment of regret about said straightness. Slow burn is a plus, no burn is not and this was no burn. 


That said, I did like Rathe and Eslingen, and most of the side characters, but I just couldn't sit through them having the same conversations over and over. Normally, I'll complain about authors who tell vs show. This author needs to do less showing and more telling. I admit, I skimmed quite a bit since the pacing was so slow I would've lost interest otherwise. And it was frustrating that so much time is spent on the characters sitting around and talking but not nearly enough on actual world-building. For instance, this world has two suns! Cool! What are their names? How does that effect the seasons? How many moons? What does that mean for their astrology, since we're expected to believe this is a legit science in this world? What are their constellations? There's a lot of mumbo-jumbo about this star in that something or other, but it doesn't mean anything to me because none of it's explained. (Of course, "Capricorn on the cusp of Aquarius" means nothing to me either, because astrology is bupkis, but if this is going to be a legit part of this world, take the time to actually sell it.) All the different guilds have their own gods. Awesome! Who are they? What do they do? How are they worshipped? Who cares, apparently, when we can have yet another scene of a one-off character acting worried about the missing kids and Rathe explaining they don't know anything.



There's potential here, but I'm not sure if I'm going to try the next one or not. 

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (Audiobook)

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, with eBook - Howard Pyle, David Case

This was a very interesting and fun read. My first exposure to Robin Hood was the Disney classic, but it's the Kevin Costner film Prince of Thieves I remember best. And who can forget Men in Tights or the extremely annoying version of Robin and his Merry Men in Shrek? The only Robin related books I've ever read, however, are The Wode books, starting with Greenwode, by J. Tullos Hennig which I cannot recommend highly enough, and they're the main reason I wanted to hunt down a pre-Hollywood version of the myth to see what would be different.


Turns out: a lot! Robin's not a noble's son as he's usually portrayed now, but a yeoman (or commoner), he never joined the Crusades, Maid Marian is barely mentioned, and he was clearly in love with Little John. :D The myth had already changed and grown since its earliest tellings by the time Pyle wrote this collection of adventure stories, but he kept to a lot of the basics of the myth as known at the time. Little John gets a lot of page time and some of his own adventures, and Robin's constantly outwitting his enemies. The biggest surprise though was 

Robin getting flat out murdered by an evil nun. What?!!

(show spoiler)

That is not how the legend's told ever anymore, LOL. I was not expecting that ending!


The audio's quality could have been better. The narrator, David Case, did a great job, nothing against him at all. But Tantor clearly bought this recording from another company, no doubt recorded originally for tape, and if they did anything to clean it up, I couldn't tell. I was able to ignore the background of white noise and the slightly echo-y sound of the narration (I grew up with vinyl and tapes, after all), but others might have issues with it.

Hoarfrost (Whyborne & Griffin #6)

Hoarfrost - Jordan L. Hawk

Reread 6/28/19:


Just reread my original review, the spoiler rant in particular = LOL, I was so annoyed and most of those things don't bother me anymore. *shrugs* The logic about some things still doesn't make sense, but eh. I can live with it. And I'm especially pleased that

Griffin being given magical sight didn't alter him much at all. He just has an extra handy skill for helping Whyborne. And I think it's clear now that the vortex under Widdershins gives Whyborne his power, I'm not sure why I didn't pick up on that the first time through.

(show spoiler)


Continuing on with an observation made in earlier books during this reread regarding Griffin's past partners:

So now we're in Griffin's POV and he's suddenly been with women for pleasure as well as for work, and he finds them attractive and pleasing. Not to the extent that he does men though. He can sleep with them, but he much prefers men. Which is still not what he told Whyborne earlier. He made it sound like sleeping with women was a chore, but here he says he enjoys it. So either Hawk decided to change this halfway through, or Griffin was not being entirely forthcoming with Whyborne earlier, and neither of those explanations exactly sits well with me.

(show spoiler)


I found this more tense than the first time I read it, because I knew a lot of the big things that were coming but couldn't quite remember how we got there and who got out alive. And of course, now I'm trying to remember if some of these people show up again in later books in any significant way.

Scarrow in particular. That name jumped out at me immediately and I was waiting for it to be revealed he was actually in cahoots with Turner. I completely forgot about the Cabal.

(show spoiler)

I'm so glad I decided to do this reread.


Original review 7/21/15:


I want to get my complaints out of the way first, so here goes: MASSIVE SPOILERS (includes issues from this book and the previous book Bloodline):

One of the things I loved about Whyborne when we first met him was that he was this ordinary guy learning to come into his own power, both in his day to day interactions and in his sorcery. It was really awesome to see him gain confidence and learn to assert himself against his bullies, and find this power within himself that he had all along. And then it's only because he has ketoi blood, which pretty much puts all his powers on this other, outside influence that he can do nothing about. Which makes no sense because the ketoi don't  have magic. Somehow, being a ketoi hybrid and coming from quasi-sorcerers makes him a super powerful sorcerer??? It's possible we still don't have all the information on this yet, but from what we've been given so far, there doesn't seem to be any other explanation, and it's especially annoying when combined with what happens here.


Because now Griffin, darling, courageous, strong Griffin, who was perfectly ordinary - and hence extraordinary - has been made magical by yet more non-magical creatures. How does that work again? How can something that doesn't have magic make someone magical? It makes no sense. So far, he can only see magic (and I did love how all those sections were described; they were super cool!), not perform it, and he can telepathically communicate with the umbrae somehow, but I'm cringing already at how this may be used to superpower him in later books. At least he got to choose it, and he was able to put aside his fear of the umbrae because of it, so there's that.


Also, the use of "husband" was just too contemporary and distracting for me throughout the book. 

(show spoiler)


Ok, now that I got that off my chest, this was another fun adventure. It's summer now when I'm reading this, hot and muggy, but even so I could feel how cold and wet it was in the Alaskan wilderness while Whyborne, Griffin, Christine and Iskander were digging through the permafrost. The setting comes alive, and there's just enough detail sprinkled at just the right places and in just the right amount to not overwhelm you. Some authors would make this feel like a thesis on their research, but Hawk tells you just enough to paint the picture and let your mind take over from there. And if Hoarfrost wasn't enough to get your imagination going, the trek to the glacier is a marvel. There is so much imagery in those chapters that the whole thing comes alive.


Unlike the previous full-length novels in this series, this one is told from both Griffin's and Whyborne's POV. It did take some getting used to, since I'm so accustomed to reading these in Whyborne's voice, but Hawk has a distinct voice for each of the MCs. Once I got a few chapters in, it didn't bother me at all, and I really enjoyed getting to see the action from Griffin's POV this time. It's especially important here because this is, by and large, Griffin's story. He's found one of his brothers, Jack, who's mining for gold in Alaska. When Jack uncovers a strange discovery beneath the permafrost, one that can spell certain doom to humanity, Whyborne and Griffin head off to help stop the terror before anyone - Jack included - can be any the wiser. Jack's mining partner, Turner, isn't so sure they're on the up and up. (Jack and Turner? Com'n. You're just trying to get me to watch Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl again, aren't you? Not that I need an excuse for that. ;) )


Throw in a reverend/mountaineer, a bunch of redshirts, and some sled dogs, it's a recipe for a rollicking good time. 


I did enjoy seeing Whyborne begin to realize the limits of his studies with sorcery. He has a lot of natural power, but he's never studied the arcane like other sorcerers have, and that puts him at a disadvantage. As we saw in the previous book, that could have spelled disaster, and the same goes true for here. Mastering a handful of spells does not a wizard make, Percy. Now, get thee to Hogwarts.


Given Griffin's history with family trouble, I had been hoping just as much as him that his reunion with his brother would go as hoped. Griffin deserves a family! But of course, he already has one in Whyborne, Christine and now Iskander. Still, after things ended so horribly with his adopted family, I wanted him and his brother to have a happy ending here. Their reunion isn't perfect, and they're both so desperate for a connection that they overlook key things about each other. There's also Griffin's fear of the shadow monster that has plagued him throughout the series, and I was not expecting that to take on the tone it did or tie into the family theme, but I really liked how Hawk handled that and weaved it all together. 


I do wish Iskander had been given more to do. I want to learn more about him, aside from him being in love with Christine, though he did get to contribute to the mission in helpful ways. Getting to see Christine's vulnerable side, not that she'd admit to having one, gave some nice depth to her character as well.  I did at times feel like the narrative forgot they were there, between all the stuff going on with Whyborne, Griffin and Jack. 


There was a spot near the end where the altering POVs got a little repetitive, but it only happened in those two or three chapters. I also felt some of the chapters were shorter than they needed to be to accommodate the shifting POVs, but that is a very minor issue. I also didn't notice as many typos in this book as in previous ones.


And now I have to wait for the next book. Boo. :(

Once Upon a Time in the Weird West

Once Upon a Time in the Weird West - Langley Hyde, Jana Denardo;Chelle Dugan;Zee Kensington;Susan Laine;Jamie Lowe;Dar Mavison;Anna Martin;Sean Michael;JL Merrow, Lex Chase, Tali Spencer, Tricia Kristufek, Venona Keyes, Andrew Q. Gordon, C.S. Poe, Jamie Fessenden, Shira Anthony, Kim Fielding, Astrid Am

OMG, I thought that would never end. This is an interesting collection. There's certainly a lot of imagination on display, and as with all anthologies, some were better than others. There's a good mix of steampunk, fantasy, and sci-fi. Most fell into the good to meh range for me, but the first and last were the strongest.


Reaper's Ride by Astrid Amara - 4 stars.
Basically a gay Ghost Rider minus the unfortunate skelemorphisis. Good fun. :D


Wild, Wild Heart by Shira Anthony - 3.5 stars.
This was well-written and I liked Al and Cyrus alright, but the world-building was a bit lacking. Since we're dropped right into the middle of things here, there wasn't time to really get the full impact of the MCs' connection before things got going.


Dr. Ezekiel Crumb's Heavenly Soul by Lex Chase - 2 stars.
Wow. From shot in the knee, to stitched up, to rough and wild sex in less than five minutes. That's a new record! Oh, and a former alien king something or other.


Corpse Powder by Jana Denardo - 3 stars.
A Navajo man running from a skinwalker meets a Jewish doctor after the airship Tsela was on is raided by pirates. There were a lot of good ideas here, but they didn't really have time to blossom, and the romance was very insta.


The Sheriff of Para Siempre by Jamie Fessenden - 2 stars.
So...I liked the beginning of this a lot. It was really sweet and cute, if sad 'cuz homophobia was alive and well in the Wild West, hence why Billy and Joe were always on the move. I liked Joe's voice a lot, and it was clear these two were smitten with each other, and the no-dames-in-this-town Para Siempre is pretty casual about them so long as they keep it under lock and key. But then, zombies?? Or zombie. I think? This is something I know a lot of my friends hate in romance, so spoiler.

Billy is killed and because he promised his soul to Joe, he ends up a walking corpse who can only move about, can't talk or anything else. So Joe ends up stuck in this podunk town for the rest of his life. He can't move on or find someone else because he's gotta watch over Billy. Then Joe eventually dies of old age, a friend comes along and finds him and burns them both. The end.

(show spoiler)


The Tale of August Hayling by Kim Fielding - 3 stars.
It's Kim Fielding, so it's well-written. But talk about insta-love. But I guess if you're into

dragon shifters

(show spoiler)

and there's no chance of ever finding another one, your choices are pretty limited.


Time Zone by Andrew Q Gordon - 3 stars.
I thought all these were supposed to take place during the Wild West days, but this one's contemporary. Pretty interesting and it's a story more like something Marvel would do.


Get Lucky Ginn Hale - 3 stars.
Hale throws everything and the kitchen sink into this story. Mages. Theurgists. Dinosaurs. Epic flood. Gangsters. Pinkertons. Seriously, everything is in here, and yet it doesn't feel overstuffed. Unfortunately, there's no ending! A lot of stuff is set up, and then it's left hanging. I did see the note that this is story takes place in the world of another story, and I have no idea what that story is about, if it continues with these two or picks up where this leaves off, or if it deals with an entirely different cast. And it doesn't really matter. This is still an incomplete story. Well-written, greatly imagined, likable characters, so three stars.


From Ancient Grudge to New Mutiny by Langley Hyde - 2 stars.
A gay fantasy version of Romeo and Juliet, where

they both live at the end.

(show spoiler)

This could've been interesting, but it was undeveloped and the ending was rushed.


POMH by Veronica Keyes - 2 stars.
This is more of a detailed outline, and doesn't make much sense. This is like a gay steampunk version of Pinocchio. Kinda weird and random.


Oh, Give Me a Home by Nicole Kimberling - 3 stars.
This one is very short, so the author wisely keeps this to just a few scenes, and she does those scenes very well. She sets up this world in a minimum of words and without spending time on unnecessary details. However, since this is so short, there's not much time to set up the relationship between the MCs. Also, it wasn't set in the wild west but on a completely new planet.


Gunner the Deadly by C.S. Poe - 2 stars.
I didn't know what to expect from this author, and I tried to go into this with an open mind. This had an interesting set up, and the action was decently written, but the "romance" was way too insta and unprofessional professional to boot. Throw in an abrupt ending and there wasn't much to recommend this one.


After the Wind by Tali Spencer - 4 stars.
This is a strong end to this anthology. Micah is a fire elemental, in hiding from the government, bounty hunters and poachers who hunt his kind down. When a couple of poachers come through selling the services of a water elemental, Micah decides to do what he can to help the man - but exposing himself would be risking his friends and neighbors as well. The author also doesn't ignore the trauma of Rain's abuse at the hands of the poachers. There's no insta here, as there shouldn't be. I actually wished this one had been a little longer.

Play Hard (Glasgow Lads #4.5)

Play Hard - Avery Cockburn

This was very sweet and very porny. Way too porny. I had a hunch going in due to the blurb, which is why I borrowed this one instead of bought it, and I'm glad I did. There were just too many sex scenes for such a short book and most of them I couldn't be bothered to read. But if you're looking for a pornmance, this should definitely scratch that itch.


What I did like was seeing how Robert and Liam are still navigating their way through their new relationship. They've been together romantically for a little over a year, but they've been best friends for sixteen years, and sometimes those old BFF patterns can tame down the flames of romance. I liked how Robert came to a new appreciation of Liam, and how Liam was able to eventually open up to Robert about his fears of the future.


I also really liked the scene where Evan and Liam talked. Liam still hasn't warmed back up to Evan, so it was nice to see Evan helping him sort out his thoughts and feelings. Now that I like Evan, I want all the Warriors to like him again too. :D

The Last Sun (The Tarot Sequence #1) (Audiobook)


The Last Sun

Written by K.D. Edwards

Narrated by Josh Hurley


This is a new author and new-to-me narrator, and they both make a hell of an impression. While this didn't quite have the emotional depth I usually require for 5-star reads, it was so much fun and generally well-written that I can't give it less than five stars. And it was emotional when it needed to be, even though all the MCs were a bunch of dude-bros (but not douchey dude-bros, have no fear).


So you've got Rune St. John, the last of the Sun Court, which fell twenty years earlier when Rune was fifteen. Rune somehow survived - but he didn't get out undamaged. He wears sarcasm like a shield and has emotional and mental barriers so think that no powered sigil can get through them (though one guy starts to manage it.) There's also Brand, his companion and bodyguard and his best friend. Brand doesn't have magic but that doesn't slow him down one bit.


The beginning is a bit strange and doesn't appear to have much to do with the rest of the story, at least not on the surface. It does set up a lot about this world though. When Rune's recruited by Lord Tower to look for his missing godson Addam, things really start to take off. Along the way we meet a very fun and interesting band of side characters: Max, who Rune unwittingly agrees to look after; Quinn and Kiernan, both seers; and finally Addam, who proves to have hidden depths.



Brand and Rune's relationship is the most important one here. Their friendship is unshakeable, despite some challenges along the way. I liked that their conflicts weren't contrived or borne from ridiculous miscommunications or misunderstandings. Rune's a bit impulsive and that sometimes gets them into interesting situations, but they're both competent at what they do. It's just that their opponents are also competent, which really ups the ante and makes the action more interesting.


I hesitate to call this a romance, though there is that potential there. It's just not the focus, and what is here is a slow burn, so don't expect a lot of sexy times. 


In addition to all that, Edwards gives us a fully realized alternate reality, where New Atlantis exists within the normal world, where magic is real and humans are tourists. There's a lot to learn about this world and it's done in digestible doses. No info dumps here. There's also plenty set up for the next book - or however many books this series ends up being. There's so much than can be done with this world, and it's done in a fresh and fun way. I'm very eager to see what the next book brings to the table when it comes out later this year.


I listened to the audio at 1.20x speed. Hurley really got into the spirit of the book. He could have done better with the voices - Brand and Rune sounded too much alike - and he might have gotten a little too enthusiastic at times, but overall it really worked for the tone of the story. I hope he comes back for the next one.


The Bar Watcher (A Dick Hardesty Mystery #3)

The Bar Watcher - Dorien Grey

This was another solid mystery, as Dick gets pulled into trying to solve what appears to be a solitary murder of a massive douchebag. As more douchebags turn up dead, Dick starts to see a pattern emerge - and it's not one he particularly has an issue with. 


The case was interesting and kept my attention, even if the perp was pretty obvious. But like Dick, I didn't want that particular person to be the perp, so I was willing to overlook the clues. There were a couple of potential perps actually, and a conspiracy uncovered to murk things up. Dick even manages to make a couple of allies on the Riverside PD, which surprised him and me both. 


It's been awhile since I read the first two books - and those were far apart too - so I forgot these were set in the 1980s until Dick meets a sweet young man with "pneumonia." The saddest thing ever was hearing the young man talk about what he'll do if he "beats this thing." Dick starts off skeptical about the so-called gay plague, but he ends it pretty certain that something needs to be done about it quick. Of course, we all know the history of that. :( I'm hoping he'll keep these concerns in mind and gets in the habit of using protection, or that he gets over his "slut phase" (as he calls it) quickly. I lost track of a couple of the guys Dick was juggling in this one; he had a quite few of them. 

Magic's Promise (Valdemar #7; Last Herald-Mage #2)

Magic's Promise - Mercedes Lackey

I don't know what just happened, and I'm almost afraid to examine it too closely in case I find things to nitpick (and I certainly could nitpick) and end up lowering my rating.


This hasn't been a very good year for me, rating wise, and I was pretty close to giving up on Lackey altogether. I was really tempted to just finish up this trilogy and move on. And for all I know, it goes downhill from here (I know how the next book ends) and this book is a complete fluke. After the dregs of the Vows & Honor series, I wouldn't be surprised if that ends up being the case, but this one gives me hope that there could be other gems in the Valdemar series.


This series has certainly had it's ups and downs, and Lackey has quite a few storytelling quirks that irk me more often than not - like her tendency to emphasize words she feels are important but really puts the emphasis on words that end up being completely unimportant and not at all the words I'd emphasize myself. It breaks the natural flow of the sentence structure and I really wish she's stop trying to help out the readers with the constant italics. Also, she can't write a romance worth a damn. Thankfully, she doesn't really attempt that here, and the little hint of a possible (completely nonsensical) one was mostly ignored and then quickly resolved, taking up maybe a half page out of the whole book total. 


She has gotten much better at writing action and she's filling in more of the rules of this world with each novel and trilogy that gives new insights into things that didn't quite make sense before. 


Now I could certainly complain about the "gays don't get happy endings" trope and the "gays must suffer" trope that are definitely in full force here, and I wouldn't blame readers who get annoyed by them, because I certainly do too. But for Vanyel's personal journey, knowing where this character comes from and what he's been through, and knowing already some of the history of this story and how it impacts later generations, what Vanyel goes through here to understand his place in the world and to come to a sort of peace with his hurts and losses makes sense. Also, keeping in mind this was written in 1990, Lackey needed to humanize Van as a character, which means he is going to be used to call attention to many of the stereotypes so prevalent (even to this day) about gay men.


I was thrown a bit at first that this jumps ahead in the timeline by about 10 years or so, and some of the cast of supporting characters were new. I was having to catch up at the beginning, but then Vanyel was off for "vacation" back at the homestead with his loving family and things got so good. A former rival turns into a surprising ally, his father ends up being kind of reasonable, there's trouble over the Border and new friends to make. I really liked Medren and Tashir, and it was a treat to actually get to see Vanyel engage in a job rather than just hear about it afterwards. Savil continues to be great, and even Van's brother Mekeal has his shining moments. 


Everything was just working in this one. Lackey was firing on all cylinders and she proved that when she stays focused and doesn't get wrapped up in unnecessary high school melodrama or half-formed subplots she can actually weave a fantastic story.

The Forgotten Hours (Audiobook)

The Forgotten Hours - Katrin Schumann

Hm... I seem to have liked this more than most reviewers, but I have reservations about this one too.


Katy's an empathetic character, and I felt for her as she's trying to piece together what happened one fateful summer several years earlier when her father was accused - and later convicted - of raping her best friend. She's always believed her father was innocent and taken his side, and now that he's getting out of prison, she finds herself more in the dark than she previously realized.


It's hard to talk about this one in any detail without spoiling things, unfortunately. So non-spoilers first:


It was odd that the present day storyline was told in past tense, while the past day storyline was told in present tense. For once though, the third-person present didn't bother me, I'm guessing because the whole story was told from Katy's POV and didn't head hop, so even though it was third-person it still felt like first-person.


The narration by Bailey Carr was decent. I had to speed it up to 1.35x before I could keep my attention on it. She strained with the male characters' voices, but the important voice was Katy and she did that well. 


Now spoilers:


I was mostly concerned with the statutory rape storyline going on in the past that it would end up being a long con or not really examine the longterm effects of that. Thankfully (as much as anyone can be thankful about such things) it wasn't a long con and it was exactly what Lulu always claimed, but you have to wait until the very end of the book to find out. There's a lot of speculation about Lulu's testimony being questionable for various reasons, but the main one is because of a psychological study about victims of past sexual abuse confusing things with what happened in the past, putting those events in the present. It's all very valid to look at the effects of trauma and how that can warp reality, but at one point, you realize that poor Lulu has been raped/assaulted at least four times by four different men before she reached 15, and twice in one night. Was that really necessary?


Also, while Katy's voice was interesting and her search to discover the truth was interesting in that we can see how the repercussions of this event ripple out and effect everyone, we don't really get to see Lulu on page until the very end. We don't actually see how it effected her, the victim. She's largely supplementary to the storyline even though she's the one driving the whole thing forward. It's like the author wanted to address these issues but didn't want to do it too closely.


Then there's the ending, which again went further than I thought it needed to do narratively. Katy's just found out some horrible truths about her father, including the big one, and while I don't care one iota that idiot drove himself off a cliff (thankfully not taking anyone with him), but what purpose did it serve to have him run over his own daughter first? That wasn't necessary for me to view him as scum, and it wasn't necessary for Katy to realize he's scum, and it wasn't necessary for him to drive himself off a cliff. So why do it? Just to hammer it home?

(show spoiler)


So that's my main issue with this. If the author had dialed it back in a few instances and instead focused in more where needed, this could have been much better, but instead she decided to ante up when it really wasn't needed. 

Back Where He Started

Back Where He Started - Jay Quinn

3.5 stars


This story flowed much better than The Beloved Son, but it was still on the wordy side. I did skip over a paragraph here and there when it got repetitive or too detailed to wade through, and some of the dialogue still felt unnatural. But it was overall a better reading experience.


Chris is a middle-aged man forced to start his life over after his partner of 22-years walks out the door for another life and another family. The three children they raised together, now grown and the youngest about to graduate college, are all firmly on Chris's side. Chris decides to relocate to the beach and tries to figure out who he is on his own.


Once again, Quinn delves into the complexities of family and how the various relationships within a single family can shape each person in it. This isn't so much plot-driven as it is a character study of Chris and the various shifts his family have to make in order to adjust to their new reality. Chris would almost too good to be true, except a few scenes of pettiness with his ex saves him from saintliness. Chris spends a great deal of the book trying to figure out who he is other than a "mom" and "wife" to his children and ex, and figuring out how to let go past hurts in order to move forward with new relationships. I wasn't sure about Steve at first, but he kinda grew on me, and the "kids" had a family dynamic that felt very familiar to me but also unique to them.


The typos were dramatically reduced, though there were still some formatting issues - for instance, the section breaks weren't visible in the Android app or on my Paperwhite, but they were there on the Mac app - and there was still one case of mixed names. There were a few continuity issues, and Chris's penchant for calling everyone "baby" started getting on my nerves pretty early on, as did other terminology used in the book.

Of Sunlight and Stardust (DNF @ 30-something %)

Of Sunlight and Stardust - Riley Hart, Christina Lee

A grieving husband. A convicted felon who for some odd reason got out of prison without having to do parole, leaving him free to wander about the country. A hidden notebook written by a tortured closet case in the 1940s. Oh, the violin of it all. The drama! The heart-felt pain!


Good grief, y'all. I tried, I really did, but I got bored. Maybe I'm just cold-hearted, but this was not working for me at all.


Bad enough that it was GFY and didn't once attempt to deviate from the tropes of that worn-out genre. I powered on, hoping it would be one of the few rare good GFYs, because they do exist. But nope. This man, who volunteered time helping at a shelter for homeless LGBTQ+ teens but never once bothered to question his total straightness until that one uber special guy showed up out of nowhere, is suddenly attacked by the gay flu. Seriously, every time he started getting gay feelings, his reactions read similar to getting the flu. Dude even thought he was coming down sick a few times, and even at one point had to lie down to take a nap that ending up lasting all day. For real. That happened. But have no fear, my man! You're just turned on by a man! With tattoos! What else are you gonna do when he walks around shirtless all the time, all sweaty and tempting? Ooh-la-la-la.


The characters were nice and all, but the "secret notebook hidden in the floorboards to be conveniently discovered decades later by the very people who need to read it most" has been done better before. Namely, in The Tin Box, which this book made me want to reread rather than continue to drudge through the tediousness of this story. There was no real plot to speak of, and the long-lost lovers having the same initials as our current day duo was desperately schmaltzy, although I was probably meant to see it as kismet or serendipitous or some other heart-tugging nonsense.


Yep, I'm cold as ice. Willing to sacrifice their love for a DNF. Yes, I am!


But tons of others loved this book, so don't take my word for it. Try it for yourself and see if it strikes the right chords for you.

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