The Mask of Mirrors, Rook and Rose Book One, M. A. Carrick
Genre: Sci-fi and fantasy
Having been caught before by trilogies that I loved – and series – which never got any further I contacted the authors to see if there were plans for the next two books. Hurrah, there are. Book two, The Liar’s Knot, is out later this year in November, with book three scheduled for November 2022. Given how complex and detailed this story is that’s good going 😉 It must be a nightmare to write, having to constantly check things, unless the authors have become fully immersed in the world they’d created.
I loved this story but…I almost gave up, its so incredibly detailed it took me well into the book before I began to get a sense of this world and its characters. I think I didn’t really feel familiar with the place and characters until about the halfway mark. I’m so glad I stuck with it. The end section with the explanations of who and how people fit together, and some of the terms used was incredibly helpful, I found myself referring to that many, many times! Read it before you start, and then keep checking back, it really helps.
If you’re struggling with the beginning as I did, stick with it, it really is worth it. I already know this is going to be one of my re-reader series, where I indulge in a few days back to back reading of all the novels.
Its really hard to write a review. Its a new world, with, pretty much like here, two main classes, the rich and the not rich….but within that there are different heritages, religions, and those groups are further divided with the ruling classes having a complicated and rigid structure in place and the underclass being divided further into different groups and knots.
For the ruling classes life is about appearance, never showing your hand, never showing or admitting to feelings, and under that there are the deals, the money making, the backbiting, cheating, manoeuvering, but all done with smiles and unseen.
Then of course there’s the actual story, with Ren and Tess being in for a long con, persuading House Traementis that she’s a lost relative, with Grey Serrado of the Vigils, wanting to find out who killed his brother, and who is stealing children from the streets, Derossi Vargo, well, with Vargo who knows what he wants, he’s like spider with bits of web touching everything.
Its seems everyone is hiding something, planning something or doing something they shouldn’t. Ren gets deeper and deeper, constantly involved in deals for different people, all the while pushing her claim forward, but along the way finding there’s much more to this society than she imagined, and finding she hasn’t left her past as far behind as she thought.
I wasn’t sure about Ren at first, but her loyalty to Tess and the things she’s been through make her what she is, and I grew to really hope for her. I loved Tess, clever Tess with her nimble fingers and ways of chatting to staff and finding out what she and Ren needed to know. They work together so well.
Donaia Traementis I really felt for, trying to keep the house together, keep up appearances despite lacking finances. Leatro, her son, I loved him. He’s on the surface all light and fluff but there’s a lot more to him. Then Giuna, his sister. We didn’t really seem to get to know her well, both her mother and her brother seem to keep her incredibly sheltered and I’m not really sure why.
Grey Serrado, one of the Vigil, a kind of police force, though mainly a corrupt force, was an anomaly there. He’s there to do right, to protect people and I wondered why he joined, knowing its full of corruption.
Derossi Vargo – who couldn’t be intrigued by him. And Peabody! He’s from the streets, has a fearsome reputation and yet he can be smooth and cultured when it suits. He’s got a fount of secrets, one of them huge and I really want to know how that came about. Sedge, one of his henchmen was a great character too, we soon find out he’s got more connections than he knew.
I did find some of Ren’s/Renata’s deals went a little too easily, given that the others had been struggling to get things done, but there’s so much else going on that it didn’t really bother me, it was needed to push events forward. At times I just continued reading even when a bit lost, til I found my ground again, the story is so complex that if I tried to reason every event I’d never get through it 😉 The dreamworld events, night of hells, was one of those. Its all made sense later.
I’d got a good idea of who The Rook was and was pleased I was right – that doesn’t happen often, and tbh I just got lucky!
The practice of Pattern and Numinatra was fascinating, I’d love to know more of that.
I loved the ending, wrapping up parts neatly and yet opening up a whole deal more. Yay.
I guess its time to stop. Hopefully I’ve not given anything away, its a really fascinating read, despite my first fears. Stick with it, if you love complex fantasy this is a perfect trilogy.
Stars: Five. Fantastic, complicated story. I really enjoyed it and know its going to be a long time favourite trilogy.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and publishers
Stable Hand, The Braided Crop Ranch Book One, AE Lister
Genre: LGBTQIA, Romance
Well, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but TBH whats in the description is pretty much the whole plot. Its fun kink erotica, not deep, sensual romance.
Jensen, that interview. That made the whole book worth it, somehow I could just see this slightly naive cowboy expecting some fancy horses, “ Arabians? No? Maybe you have Lusitanos?”…or something like that while poor Adam and Connor are barely able to hold back sniggers…..
The rest is really Jensen’s journey into kink, and real “hands on” education. I’m not sure six weeks holiday is as realistic as the author makes it sound but hey, its fiction. Consent was the order of the day, all the time, not just in training, and that’s very important IMO. If both parties consent and its harming no one then that’s fine, if there’s no fully informed consent at all times then its a No Go for me. I was bothered that it was gloves and lube all the while, but a real lack of condoms for oral work, especially as Jensen can’t have been tested yet? A big hole there I think. Hopefully to be filled in later books. ( and her I am sniggering about holes and fillings. One day I’ll grow up!)
What I did like, though at times it was repeated a little too much, was the psychology of kink, that Adam was actually a qualified therapist, and oversaw all training plans. Playing, even just through kinky sex, with peoples different issues and backgrounds, can cause real harm, and needs careful thought.
I like that there wasn’t the typical stereotyping that often happens in erotic fiction, where the dominant folk always are obvious, always dominant, never have their own issues, and always have the answers. Luke was a complex personality, in that he was naturally dominant, yet also had the submissive need but that he seemed to fight. Noah was one of these folk who are happiest when able to let go and someone else make all the decisions. The others were somewhere in between these two. We’re all complex people, some like Noah, have more simple needs, while others take more work to see what they really want, what issues they have that may be causing problems.
I really like human and animal psychology, and that part of this book resonated with me, the explanations how animals are just into “now” unlike us who mull over the past constantly, and worry about tomorrow. If you don’t know animals well, and how they work you may not understand why some things are so freeing to people.
It covers a short space of time and the romance, such as it was, was more HFN rather than HEA and I felt that’s more realistic. It wasn’t heavy on romantic emotion and connection, more the physical side, where I’d like more emotion and romance. But I hate when there’s insta-love and all is well, even though they’ve only known each other a few days or weeks so given the time constraints this works better for me. Ideally I’d like more romance but for everything to cover a longer time-span, which simply isn’t possible given the immersion therapy type of set up here.
Stars: Three, it made me laugh so much at Jensen’s interview, but as I said its kind of light on the romance side even though I understand why. I thought there would be more romance though. Its a good book, hot smut and fun, some real issues but not wholly what I was expecting, that’s why its three.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and publishers
He Owns My Heart, (Owned Heart, Body, & Soul 1), Evie Drae
Genre: M/M romance |M/M romance.
I enjoy a good M/M romance sometimes, I like variety in my reading. I was offered the chance to read this, and as the story extends into a trilogy I thought that hopefully we’d get a romance with some solid dramas. I do love lots of drama in romance 😉
Landon’s a sweet guy, you can just feel how he wants to be loved, for himself, not for his fame, not for what he can do for the other person, just for someone that wants him. Maybe that stems from his background, his family made it clear a gay son was not what they wanted. His dad’s in politics, and I’m thinking maybe in book two, or even three, we might learn more about him, and the conflict he perceives Landon’s sexuality to be.
Then there’s Toby, poor kid, has been brought into prostitution to help his family, and he lives an awful life. Then when they meet its clear that both can offer something to the other. But – sadly – I didn’t really feel the attraction somehow, I felt desperation almost, and of course some hot lust, but I wanted them to get to know each other apart from all the sex.
I think that’s my issue with the story, I like sex in a romance, but there was so much here it almost became all the story, and I found myself skipping yet another sex scene to get to what would happen. There’s so many potential plots, Landon’s family, Toby’s family, Toby’s awful situation and how Landon can get him out. Steffan, Landon’s friend, a sharp guy who feels like if he’s in your corner he takes no prisoners when it comes to defence. And of course Garret and the reality show saga ( why does anyone ever think its a good idea to do one of those?).
Garret had so much potential but he didn’t really get up to much til near the end, and even that bit of drama was over quickly. Its a personal thing, but I want to wallow a bit in the sad parts, and when the drama ends so quickly I don’t get that. I did feel too, after all the PI stuff and questions about how to help Toby, that resolution of that came way to quick. If it was that simple why not do it before? It kind of makes me feel maybe Landon wasn’t as certain of what he wanted do do as he appeared.
It reads well as a stand alone with a HFN, and I’m in two minds about whether I want to read more. There’s the potential of several problems and dramatics that naturally attracts me, but I was put off by the eternal sex scenes. I wasn’t bothered by the content, by the light BDSM, just that it seemed the story couldn’t progress more that a short while without yet more sex…..
Stars: Three, well written and for many readers its perfect. Its just my quirks that make me want a bit more story, a bit less sex.
Arc via author
The Captain and the Prime Minister. Catherine Curzon , Eleanor Harkstead
Genre: Romance, LGBTQIA
I really enjoyed this. I’m not convinced by insta-love stories but in this one, although when they do take that step and go from 0-60, they have known each other a long time, and Tom has been part of the family for years so it wasn’t an issue.
I loved them both, Tom, strong ex soldier, but a softie with the twins, and Alex who’s been through so much while in the public eye, misses his late wife still, but discovers his feelings for Tom are more than just friendly. That part was handled so well, it wasn’t a “turning a straight guy” story, but one where Love was the focus, not the gender of either of them. I always think in those Straight guys stories, that there must have been some leanings, you can’t “turn” a straight guy any more than you can turn a gay person straight.
Publicity – it doesn’t get much more public than being PM, with the press focusing on every move. I’ve written before how I hate the way the media just love to dig out anything they can make sound salacious – the TV interview was so very well done. I could see those questions being asked by someone very like the presenter portrayed in the book. Its all “in the public interest” excuses when in fact unless the PM was heavily against gay rights it wasn’t anyone’s business.
Given how many folk are LBGTQIA its a wonder there aren’t more in the Gov, maybe, as in football and some other celebrity occupations, they just hide what they are. Justin Fashanu, the first openly gay UK footballer, had a really tough time, being adopted, and black also. Brave kid, sadly died too young, but it amazes me that out of over 800 premier league footballers currently not one is openly gay. I suspect the media furore people in the public eye face when they come out is what prevents them. That’s pretty damning in 2020 that some still feel they have to hide who they are 😦 It made the press scenes, the way events and texts were twisted, in this book feel very real, though sadly I think in real life the endings would have gone down differently.
I understood how Alex’ in laws felt, understandable, and was so glad that worked out. I loved the way the twins were told, and that’s how it should be, no big deal, just everyday life. Kids are accepting, its adults who have issues.
Alex and Tom both had some tough decisions to take, a big risk for them both if they got it wrong.
Its a lovely story, touches on reality, but with a happy ending, which I need, not the sadly unhappy one I think reality would bring 😦 we have a long way to go, but at least are going in the right direction.
Stars: Five, a lovely read, one I wish real life was more like.
Arc via Authors
Wounded Martyr, Courtney Maguire
Genre: Romance, LGBTQIA
I really thought I’d like this book, I love romance, love m/m romance and love the rock star trope. And yet I just feel confused about this story. I got to the end and it wasn’t with the satisfaction of a good read, but with the feeling of What did I just read? Was that really how it would end?
Its very well written, the words convey really clearly the downsides of addiction, of how staying sober seems the hard choice when everyone around you is drinking. How difficult it is to like the person you are now, when all you’ve known for years is the addict, how even though you know how awful you are when high or drunk you don’t really seem to be a better person sober. All that came over so very clearly, along with the difficulties of relationships when touring, when distance separates and opportunities come unasked for.
Yet somehow the sheer grimness of Ice’s life just got me down and coloured what I was reading. He didn’t know what he wanted, and Ricky paid the price, band mate Ash was equally ambiguous, and the band after twenty years together seemed to have no kind of camaraderie or affection left. It was just grim all the way, and for me it was too much.
I kept wondering, if they’d been together twenty years and were playing to thousands why were they sharing rooms when they didn’t want to and ought to have had the money to room alone – heck, have a suite alone. Does coke really only cost $50 a vial? Why did they still continue when the band really didn’t seem close, were they ever close, did any of them actually enjoy the life anymore?
Ash and Ice, friends since childhood, and yet apart from some moments of lust and jealousy I didn’t feel anything much between them. I guess I just needed more detail about the characters, their history, and something light to enliven the atmosphere of doom that seemed to live over the band.
The ending seemed a bit of a cop out, I didn’t really feel as if anything had changed, except for the one major point, and wasn’t convinced of long term happiness for any of them. Where was Sid gong to fit in with the Ricky/Ice/Ash grouping? And wasn’t that going to cause more issues? The root causes of the problems still hadn’t really been resolved I felt, and the way it seemed to finish held more problems in store IMO.
I find it hard to actually class this as romance, it didn’t have any of the love, intensity of emotion, the feel good factor that romance holds for me, and even when it got close to a good emotion it was coloured by jealous thoughts.
Stars: Two and a half. Writing quality is four star for making me feel whats happening, for sheer realism, but content for me was just scraping a two, and unfortunately content is the greater sway when I’m reviewing how I feel about a story.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers
Exquisitely Hidden, M. Jay Granberry
I enjoyed this read, liked catching up with the characters and seeing some of book one’s events from a different angle. There’s lots of drama for the band here at times, at others it just kind of plods along. I did find myself skipping a little then which is why its four, not five stars.
I love this kind of read where one person is out and proud and the other…well, not. That’s Seth and Adam, Seth had been out for ages and doesn’t like being kept hidden like a shameful secret, but Adam doesn’t want to be the Poster Boy for Gays.
I can understand that, somehow its typical that we see folk who are different from the average person in terms of what they are, rather than who they are. I’m an amputee, I also paint. I want to be remembered for my art, not my disability, but whenever there’s been any media publicity about art shows I’ve been involved in guess which gets the focus? 😦 yep, the missing leg, and I’m more than that, just as Adam is more too. Gay is a part of him, what he is, but not all he is.
He’s got lots of other issues too from his past, some of which Sin is aware, but even his best friend doesn’t know everything. They’ve an uphill task if ever they’re to find grounds for a relationship.
I enjoyed the will they won’t they, on and off nature of their connection. Its hard, I so understood how Seth felt, and at times I dd get irritated with Adam, but such is the course of love, and I do like the downsides in my reading to cover a decent part. None of this its all off and heart break, then two pages later its all good stuff for me!
I did get confused over how the foster carer he had could be in her eighties? A bit extreme, it would make her in sixties when she had the kids in her care, I can’t see that happening. Likewise the issues over Tori, one moment its all in the air, then next he’s off on tour and we don’t know where she is. There were quite a few typos and grammar errors too that niggled, but I’m hoping that’s because I had an ARC and they’ll have been corrected for final edition.
Stars: Four, a read I enjoyed, and I especially like Adam’s Big Gesture at the end. Seth deserved that, he’d put up with a lot from Adam.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and publisher
Lie With Me, Philippe Besson
Genre: LGBTQIA, Literary Fiction
When I started this I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, the description is pretty short on info, but its not a long read and something just drew me to it.
I thought for maybe the first 25% I’d made a mistake, I didn’t really like the way it read, mostly long monologues by the author interspersed with short snippets of dialogue between him and Thomas.
I struggle with that kind of read, for me dialogue telling the story works best, the show not tell approach, and yet as I continued I became engrossed in what was happening, worried for the boys, emotionally invested in the story. First Love is hard, and what they had and the need for secrecy made it harder.
I appreciated as I read more that actually this approach was the best way to tell the story and by the end I was in tears, its so incredibly sad.
I wasn’t – still aren’t – sure if this was really an autobiography, the book is dedicated to Thomas Andrieu, the name of Phillipe’s lover, and set in the village where he grew up. Someone on goodreads says its actually autofiction, short for autobiographical fiction, or fictional memoir. Apparently that’s very popular in french fiction.
If even a bit of it is true then what a sad tale, I’m so incredibly sorry for what the characters went through.
Whatever, its an amazing story, very moving and I’m so glad I did read it. Even if it made me cry at the end.
Its a story that could be mirrored today, but back in the 1980’s homosexuality was still very much hidden by far too many people, too scared to live their lives the way they wanted, and sometimes I’m not certain we’ve really progressed that much.
Though we like to think we are liberal minded just think of the furor when a footballer, or someone in another popular “mans” sport comes out. Think of the homophobic chants on the terraces, the people facing abuse every day. If you live in a small village or town think of how hard it is to be different, how just maybe its easier to live a lie, rather than face daily contempt and bigotry, possibly within ones own family….One day.
Anyway, I understood why there was all the secrecy but at the end all I could feel was how sad, the loss of potential happiness, the lives that could have been lived, the happiness Thomas and Phillipe could have had, and that’s kind of why it made me so choked, so sad. Just the waste of lives that never had a chance.
Stars: Five, despite my misgivings its an incredible read.
ARC via netgalley
Red, White & Royal Blue, Casey McQuiston
Genre: LGBTQIA, romance
Note: I’m reading an ARC so possibly the issues about UK/USA differences will be corrected before publication. As a UK reader things like this are very noticeable.
The first issue that bothered me came very early, UK Prince Henry’s brother’s wedding cake. We have £ not $ so the cake would be £75,000 not $75,000 ( or whatever the exchange rate equivalent is ). Then there’s Alex’ comments on the beans on toast breakfast. Well, we do eat that, but in a royal palace the fare would be far wider, they’d be pushing the traditional full English, with maybe kippers, smoked haddock etc and a Continental option. Poor Alex wouldn’t have been forced to eat something he so disliked.
Anyway, got that off my chest 😉 now to the book.
I hadn’t realised it was a YA/NA and to start with Alex especially felt even younger than his 21, and that irritated me. You can’t help liking him though, he’s got that irrepressible good nature, except when it comes to Henry…
Of course thrown together as they are, they start to see a different side to each other, and I really enjoyed how they developed a strong friendship before getting into deeper feelings. There’s quite a lot of artistic license given in how they manage to meet surreptitiously so often, in reality a Prince is incredibly closely guarded, and I expect its the same for the President’s son. Still, fiction 🙂 and it makes for a fun story.
I’d jumped in after reading the blurb, but when beginning it I really thought this wouldn’t be one for me with that shaky, YS feel start. I’ve read some YA books and enjoyed them, but YA romance isn’t really my thing. However once I got to know Alex better and see that despite my first impressions he really wasn’t a 21 going on 16 kid, that actually he was more mature I started to enjoy the story.
I don’t know whether its a UK/US thing but I’ve noticed often that characters in the 18-21 age group in US novels tend to be very immature, mentally like a UK 15 – 18 age group, whereas in UK ones at that age they act and are regarded as adults. Maybe its that they are treated that way in UK, and in US adulthood doesn’t seem to clock in till about 24 or 25?
I think what I liked best was getting to know the real characters, the people they were behind the front they show in public. I enjoyed the secondary characters too. They played a solid part in the story, backing up Alex and Henry, providing advice and working hard to keep the romance on track. I was surprised ( pleasantly) at how in depth some of the issues were treated, bringing in topically important plots, ones that affect folk in real life. I love that bit of reality in fiction, and it plays an important part in helping to effect change sometimes by raising issues folk may be unaware of.
There was the whole LBGTQIA issue, especially in a very traditional Royal family, the way it can affect voters in the US system, the issues of others making political capital out of others problems, and of course a very topical issue about sexual abuse in the workplace.
Stars: Four, a book that started badly for me but which had a lot more depth and topicality than I expected. And a great romance of course 😉
Arc via Netgalley and Publishers
Any Old Diamonds, K.J. Charles
Genre: LGBTQIA, Romance
I love KJ Charles writing style, very typically British gentle, self effacing humour, subtle and understated clues to plots, and a rich, realistic historical setting. I don’t want in-your-face novels, I want to explore characters, work out scenes, pick up insinuated clues to what’s going to happen, try to work things out myself.
I loved the connection to some past novels, though you don’t need to read those. I enjoyed seeing those characters some twenty years on.
I adored Alec, so felt for him. He wanted to do what was right by his siblings, avenge his sister’s death, but when its your father, however awful he is, its a tough thing to face. The Lillywhite Boys, are commissioned by Alec to work the sting, with Jerry, one half of the duo, working closely with Alec, as his friend so that he can be in the right place at the right time.
I loved the slow developing romance between Alec and Jerry, the wondering from Alec is this is just a pleasant interlude for Jerry or could he dare hope he means more to him.? Jerry is such an enigma its difficult to feel how he thinks, work out what he really wants from Alec, and I wasn’t certain either until I was blown away by that magical, unexpected declaration.
As always historical novels bring the dangers to M/M romances to the fore, and Oscar Wilde and his stint in prison gets a mention – as does the fact that he was prosecuted but the Wealthy Society Gentleman also involved wasn’t. That links to the main plot here, how Lord Alec’s father, the Duke of Ilvar, literally got away with murder, being both wealthy and having the position to take out any repercussions. Old Boys Network at its finest. Its fiction here, but things like that did – and to a degree still do – happen all too often 😦
I thought I’d followed the clues, worked plots and answers out, but as usual KJ has surprises, events don’t go as I’d planned and everything changes in an instant. Its cleverly done, the way I’d thought it would go would have left severe repercussions whereas of course the way it actually happens works well for everyone. Well, apart from the Duke and Duchess of course!!
Stars: Five, another cracking read,. Romance, mystery, history all in one cleverly written story.
Arc via author
Hard Truths, Alex Whitehall
Genre: LGBTQIA, Romance
I thought I’d read books by this author before – but I haven’t – so lots of new to me reads to enjoy 😉 I loved this read, heartbreaking at times and sadly, so very,very real.
I loved Isaac and his sister, Sue. They’re very close, which is good as his parents are…well, my age but I feel a million miles from them.
They’re old fashioned, with sadly outdated views. Mum is desperate for grandchildren to spoil, even though, as Isaac muses, she never wanted to spoil him or Sue. Dad is one of those I’m-head-of-family, my word is Law types, the sort where clear lines are drawn, he’s The Man, brings in the dosh, and housework, childcare etc is Not His Province, women’s work.
Despite the weird parents Sue and Isaac love them, just hate the way every family occasion leads into nagging about marriage and children.
Desperate one Thanksgiving Sue brings home a date, a fake one, just to shut mum up. He’s big, burly, tattooed and ….coloured, and she knows her parents will hate him. She’s asked him to be polite but play up the stereotype, so he is guarded about his job, hinting at freelance, letting them think the worst, and true to form they are reasonably polite but Not Happy and make it clear.
Isaac is shocked though when Logan discreetly makes a pass at him…til he finds out the truth. I loved that family meal!
Soon Logan and Isaac are together but each family meal means Logan stays away, and Isaac gets more lectures on finding The One and grandchildren. I felt so sorry for him, for too many families this is life. It shouldn’t matter who we love, so long as we’re not harming others, parents should just want their kids happy, not set conditions on happiness and love.
Of course the inevitable happens and Logan wants to be with Isaac all the time, not tucked away from his parents like a dirty secret. Its not hard to see the way things would go, although it was stronger than I expected, and once more I kept thinking “this is how life is for so many kids” Awful isn’t it? I can’t conceive of being that sort of parent, though I can see faint echoes in how my parents would have reacted.
In between Isaac and his family issues there’s the deal of Logan and his friends and Isaac and his, both close knit groups who react differently to new people, to pressures and events. I get the feeling Logan is more confident, outgoing, able to accept others where Isaac is a bit like me, diffident, cautious, careful of feelings. There are times when he isn’t sure if his friends are pushing him aside, when in fact they’re probably just busy, and I can empathise with that think the worst outlook.
When the big Fallout hit its dual pronged for Isaac and I so felt for him, and Logan of course. The way that drama played out, really let emotions flow, let Isaac’s thoughts run riot was just perfect for me. I love to wallow in the sad parts, and then feel uplifted when all ends well.
Stars:Five, a very real feeling drama with the perfect HEA.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers.