The Kite

 The Kite
Author: N.R. Walker
Publisher:  BlueHeart Press
Release Date: June 28, 2022
Genre(s): Enemies to Lovers, Espionage / Spy thriller
Page Count: 284
Rating: 4 stars out of 5 

N.R. Walker has written some of my favorite M/M books (the Red Dirt Series, Sixty Five Hours, Learning to Feel, etc.) and as I started The Kite, I did not like it. Well, okay, I really liked the premise of two assassins working together to uncover the truth behind the hits placed on them both: 

"I need proof." 
"Proof of what?" 
"Proof that you and I have been set up. For years, every job we took, every assignment, was for the wrong team." 
Harry squinted at him. 
"Wrong team? What team? There are no teams - " 
"The bad guys, Harry. We've been helping the bad guys." 

But the first half of the book seems an endless retread of
"Asher smiled, and good fuckin lord, Harry hated him. "I want to put a gun to your head," Harry mumbled. "So fucking bad." And what did Asher do? He laughed.
Toss in a few rounds of "Shut the fuck up" and it's pretty much rinse, lather, repeat. But then, darn it, I started caring about Harry and wondering what sort of childhood Asher had endured, and then Harry started noticing things not essential to the mission, like architecture and children .... and Asher realizes that "between arguing and laughing, seeing how the man's mind worked, sharing a bed with him, and the incredible sex - he's grown feelings for Harry." 

Darn if I know how that it happened, but the last half of the book was very gripping and I desperately wanted Asher and Harry to stay alive, figure out how to get retribution, meet Asher's amazing handler, and have some sort of HFN. And the epilogue delivered in spades (and kittens). So, okay, yeah, I ended up enjoying this book. 4 stars. 

I received an ARC from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Fire Season (Unwritten Rules #2)

 Fire Season (Unwritten Rules #2)
Author: K.D. Casey
Publisher: Carina Press
Release Date: July 19, 2022
Genre(s): M/M Sports Romance
Page Count: 357
Rating: 5 stars out of 5 

K.D. Casey is a new author to me, but I am adding them to my short-list of writers that do M/M sports romance really well. Casey obviously knows baseball - 

"Baseball is a card game interrupted by occasional hitting." 

 "Hitters come to take their at-bats, either getting on base or retiring to their dugout. Outfielders wave their fingers to remind themselves of how many outs there are in the inning. It's calming, the way familiar things are." 

Everyone in baseball knows low-key quiet pitcher Charlie Braxton and that curveball: 

"Man, I guess those rumors are true." 
"Rumors?" Braxton asks.
"That you got the best curveball in the whole damn league and nothing to say about it." 
 A shrug from Braxton. "What's there to say?" 

And Michael Reid Giordano? He's got issues - issues with drinking, issues with losing his curveball, issues with holding onto his relief pitcher spot by the skin of his teeth. And when Reid and Charlie meet, and Charlie offers Reid a room in his empty house as Charlie and his wife Christine finalize their divorce, it leads to something neither man expected. 

Charlie is a nice guy - he signs autographs for the process server giving him his divorce papers and does a quick video for her grandson - ridden with anxiety, too shy to speak at length in public, worried that the public will blame Christine for their divorce. I love how Charlie figures out his bisexuality:
Whatever switch within Charlie was previously set to "Hey, am I...?" flips to a sudden pulse emanating from his spine, wrapping around his abdomen and throat and cock. A surety pointed to Reid like a compass needle next to a magnet. With it, a single interjection, a crystal-clear fuck that describes both his situation and what he wants to do right now.
Casey does a stellar job with the complexity of Reid's character and the mechanisms he and his therapist have created to get him through every day without taking a drink, as well as his Jewish heritage: "When I first got sober, I kinda liked that there are so many holidays and rules. There's always something to look forward to. I can't really explain it. It just feels right. Like it'd been waiting for me to come back to it in my own time." 

In much the same way, the relationship that develops between Reid and Charlie just feels right, and Casey gives them and we readers time to settle in a relationship that is equal parts very sexy, supportive and solid. Together they overcome problems without having it feel like some sort of cliched afterschool special. I look forward to reading more by KD Casey! 5 stars. 

I received an ARC from the Publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

The Movie-Town Murders (The Art of Murder series, #5)

 The Movie-Town Murders (The Art of Murder, #5)
Author: Josh Lanyon
Publisher: JustJoshin Publications
Release Date: May 30, 2022
Genre(s): Murder / Mystery
Page Count: 227
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 

It has been so long since I read the fourth book in this series, The Monuments Men Murders, that I went back and did a quick reread of the entire series just to get to the point where I could recall enough of the overlying plot in order to read this latest book.

Lanyon has done a pretty remarkable job of making Sam and Jason's relationship an intensely-felt relationship that leans heavily on the longing and light on the actual boots-on-the-ground aspect, yet to me it still feels intriguing and dynamic. I really like their arc and like where they are at this place in the series. 

However, the murder mystery here is not as captivating as others in the series, and while I appreciated Jason's professorial attempts, everything felt a bit too long, a bit too convoluted and by the time I got to the end, I had a moment where a character was murdered ... and I couldn't immediately recall who the victim was, and the final pages left me with a sense of wait, what? rather than anticipation for the next book in the series. 

HOWEVER, I feel that once the next book is released, I will (hopefully) get a better sense of how everything plays out based on what we learned in this book in the series, which seems more of a transitional book instead of a clear stand-alone book. 3.5 stars. 

I received an ARC from the author via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

The Doctor (Magic & Steam, #3)

 The Doctor (Magic & Steam series, Book #3)
Author: CS Poe
Publisher: Emporium Press
Release Date: May 26, 2022
Genre(s): Alternate Universe, Magic, Steampunk
Page Count: 255
Rating: 5 stars out of 5 

As I set down The Gangster, I immediately began anxiously awaiting this third book in the series.  Gillian Hamilton is Simon Fitzgerald, the Butcher of Antietam?  Wait what?? It's a slow reveal, but we eventually learn more of Gillian's background and just how far he has risen. And Gunner the Deadly?  Can I just saw how frickin' much I adore that name?
Gunner the Deadly - the country's number-one wanted outlaw. The gentlemen thief. The vigiliante. Six fee of all-black wearing, deadeye marksmanship skills, with a penchant for Crown perfume and Black Jack chewing gum. A learned man of literature, with a husky voice from years of smoking Virginia Brights, and eyes so blue that sapphires paled in comparison.  Constantine Gunner - the one men on God's green earth who'd considered me his. Who'd adored me without fear, without hesitation, without concern for the secrets that burdened my soul.
We get more about Gunner's background as well, and as the secrets are revealed and explained, Gillian and Gunner are stronger together than ever. Gunner's trust and love ("Gunner has right here, reminding me to breathe, telling me it was never to late to begin anew") makes all the difference to Gillian.

As always, CS Poe's world building is stellar in this series, and the plot she has crafted carries us through gun toting robots, magic perverted for nefarious reasons, gruesome battlefield atrocities, and the book ends in another cliffhanger of sorts, as they continue to look for answers.

Side note:  I long for the series about Neil from the Snow & Winter series, and now I am adding Loren Moore to that wish list. He has developed into an intriguing character and I want to see him happy, damn it.  

5 stars and I am again anxiously awaiting the next book in the series!

I received an ARC from the author, in exchange for an honest review.

Inherit the Lightning

 Inherit the Lightning
Author: Bud Gundy
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: May 10, 2022
Genre(s): Historical
Page Count: 260
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 

The author tells a sweeping story of Cooper Tiller and his rise to incredible wealth in turn of the century America, and frames it with two additional stories - a tragic school fire in Collinwood, Ohio in 1908 and that of his great-grandson, Darcy, in modern-day Cleveland, Ohio attempting to find a mysterious beneficiary listed in Tiller's will. 

 Coop's story is engrossing, born in 1880 into a hardscrabble life on an Ashland, Ohio farm, but after failed crops and the death of his parents, he trades the farm for some property on Lightning Mountain in Harrison County, near the town of Cadiz, in the Appalachians. And on his journey, Coop meets recently orphaned Will: 
Coop would hand over every dollar, the rest of his days, even his very soul to repeat a few moments of a buggy ride through the Appalachian foothills with Will. He'd only just met Will the night before, and they rode squished into a single small buggy with a chatty old hillbilly named Elmer. Somewhere on that bumpy road when they were little more than boys, Coop and Will fell in love. 
The story really shines as Coop and Will build their cabin near Nightmare Lake, sustained by Will's skill as a trapper, and Coop eventually finds his seam of black bituminous coal, changing his and Will's lives forever. Again, I loved all the details Gundy provides about coal mining, In fact, his explanation of how coal came to be deposited over epochs in the mountains is downright lyrical. Fun fact: did you know that miners worked naked due to the heat underground and because clothing caught on the narrow tunnels? 

Gundy also shares how gay men of the era had little protection, from small town America to the skyscrapers of huge cities, with the law looking the other way if something should happen to them. In much the same way, Coop's friends, the black Whitney family, thread this thin line as well. 

But life changes, people change, circumstances change, and the later part of the book moves in a new direction, equally as enthralling, as the author introduces us to many secondary characters who each play an important part in Coop's life. And later on, the Collingwood school fire comes more clearly into focus and provides the impetus for Coop's later years, and the circle is complete when Darcy and his newfound love Jake learn they share a bond built on the past. 

When I first started Inherit the Lightning, I felt it wasn't really in my wheelhouse - a boy on a farm in the middle of Ohio? A coal mine? But it quickly grabbed my attention, and my heart, and while the book is about 260 pages, honestly I would have read this book if it were twice as many pages. The author bites off a huge chunk of history and gives voice to a whole range of characters, historical events, and shapes it all into a really beautiful, haunting and hopeful tale. 

My only niggle is that Darcy's story just wasn't as gripping as Coop's, and the importance of the Collingwood fire doesn't really unfold until much later in the book, but the main story is wonderfully done and I highly recommend this book. 4.5 stars. 

I received an ARC from the author, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.