The Gangster (Magic & Steam #2)

The Gangster (Magic & Steam #2) 
Author: C.S. Poe 
Publisher: Emporium Press 
Release Date: January 12, 2021 
Genre(s): Alternate Universe, Magic, Steampunk
Page Count: 242
Rating: 5 stars out of 5 

Wow.  I loved this book. Steampunk / alternate universe?  Yup. Another case involving magic and destruction and death, plus elemental ammunition and aether bullets?  Of course. 

The plot is top-notch, with a mysterious super villain and the introduction of mechanical men equipped with Gatling guns for hands, and bodies reinforced with pressure tubes, iron and bronze.  The action is densely constructed and unbearably suspenseful. But ... the pulse of the story is the continuance of this undefinable attraction between Special Agent Gillian Hamilton and Gunner the Deadly.

After their adventures in Shallow Grave, Arizona, Gunner has promised to ring in the New Year of 1882 with Gillian in New York. And despite everything going on around them, Gillian and Gunner connect on a deeper level:

"I enjoying making eye contact with a man across a tavern. Getting that swell in your gut, like the ground has fallen out from under you."
I tried to swallow, but my throat was parched - dry like animal bones bleaching in the desert sun. "Like you've been pinned to the wall."
Gunner took one step closer to me. "And you realize you share a tendency."
"Now you've got to put it into words."
Another step. "When it's right, you don't need words."

Gunner sees something in Gillian no one else has - that his power is much greater than he lets on, and that his past is more painful and devastating. "Whatever you've lived through - survived - Gillian Hamilton, I am sorry. [...] But you said you remembered everything I told you in Arizona? Remember this : we aren't so different." Gillian struggles to accept Gunner's love and acceptance while battling shadows of horrific memories and the ending of the book is definitely a "Wait. What???" cliffhanger that will make you count the days until the next book in the Magic & Steam series is available.  5 stars!

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

His Brother's Viscount

His Brother's Viscount 
Author: Stephanie Lake 
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books 
Release Date: January 12, 2021 
Genre(s): Historical Romance 
Page Count: 240 
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5 

This M/M regency begins with a very sexually charged fortnight between Wentworth and Hector, the youngest brother of William, Wentworth's boyhood friend and first lover. Hector is a sweet-natured young man, totally enamored with Wentworth, while Wentworth realizes: 

When they were first together, he liked the fact that Hector looked like William. Loved the fact that Hector smelled like William. Adored the fact that Hector tasted like William.

The first third of this book is full of very steamy interactions between the two men and while there is little in the way of character development, Wentworth and Hector have sexual compatability in spades. However, I was not aware until this point in the book that "His Brother's Viscount" is part of a larger series (there is nothing that indicates this in the description or cover) and what follows is fairly incomprehensible because numerous past events are never fully explained.

From what I've gathered, there may have been a kidnapping and rescue, some adventures at sea, lost and found loves, huge family conflicts .... but I'm not entirely sure and most of these events are lightly mentioned in passing. 

But beyond this, the plot has a very confusing chronology as it goes back and forth between time periods, between numerous points of view (it seems we get POV from just about every character) as well as dialogue where it isn't always apparent whom is speaking, and on top of this Wentworth is apparently suffering from memory loss due to traumatic events in the past. 

However, events that occur completely within the confines of this book are still not crystal clear, such as the nature of the relationship between Hector and Jonathan, who is very quickly designated our villain without more than a line or two of character development.  At times I found myself reading and re-reading passages to try to make sense of what had just happened. 

Finally, some language and phrases don't fit into the time period, as well as attitudes unlikely to be the  mindset of someone living in the Regency period. For example, William readily shares that his wife Mary is aware of his past relationship with Wentworth and it doesn't bother her at all.  There is talk of "committed relationships" and fostering of children that seems unlikely for the time period.

Overall, this book just did not work for me for many reasons outlined above. I cannot recommend it and give 2.5 stars to "His Brother's Viscount."  

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

Wonderstruck (Magic in Manhattan #3)

Wonderstruck (Magic in Manhattan #3) 
Author: Allie Therin 
Publisher: Carina Press 
Release Date: February 9, 2021 
Genre(s): Paranormal Romance 
Page Count: 255 
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 

"Wonderstruck" is the third and final book in Allie Therin's Magic in Manhattan series, set in an alternate universe /1920's New York where magic exists, and paranormals with various powers are working to save the world from powerful supernatural relics in the hands of dangerous magical malcontents.

Arthur McKenzie, Rory, Zhang, Jade and former adversaries Gwen  and Ellis have banded together to acquire and neutralize the last relic. This adventure takes them to Paris where the relic will be offered for sale at a secret paranormal ehxibit at the Paris World's Fair. 

Much of the plot involves their efforts to get to Paris and find the seller of the relic. Rory and Arthur are happy together, yet Rory's almost pathological need to not rely on Arthur is a bit wearing.  As Arthur says 

... you'll choose the suffering you think you've earned over the help you don't think you deserve, and Teddy, I don't know how to handle this heartbreak.

But even as Rory finally agrees to allow Arthur to help fight his battles, petty jealousy from both parties continues.  And Arthur holds an essential secret close to the vest, unwilling to tell Rory (at this point, I'm yelling at my Kindle, use your words, for gawd's sake talk to one another!). The book continues to be fairly non-explicit, but thankfully by the end of the series, their relationship feels settled and very secure. 

As in the prior books, the middle of the story slows a bit and relies more than once on the sudden introduction of a mysterious character, but the author pulls it all together and gives us a very suspenseful thriller of an ending that is very satisfying.

Therin excels in creating an interesting alternate universe and peopling it with well-developed main characters, as well as concluding each book with a well-written exciting conclusion.  I remain exasperated at the slowness of the plot at times and the continuing petty conflicts in Ace and Rory's relationship, but overall Magic in Manhattan is an engaging series.  3.5 stars for "Wonderstruck" and a solid 4 stars for the entire series.

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

Give Way

Give Way 
Author: Valentine Wheeler 
Publisher: NineStar Press 
Release Date: January 4, 2021 
Genre(s): Contemporary Romance 
Page Count: 112 
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 

This is the author's second book, set in the fictional community of Swanley, Massachusetts, which is a culturally diverse small town with a strong LGBTQ community.  Her first book, "No Parking" has the same setting and is a mature adult romance between two female characters.

Kevin McNamara, 60-year-old silver fox,  meets substitute 45-year-old mail carrier, Awais, and very quickly realizes that he is bisexual and the two men share a steamy night of passion.  But afterwards, the doubt starts and Kevin convinces himself  he cannot see Awais again.  But never fear, we do eventually get a fairly low-angst HEA. 

While I apreciate that the MCs are mature, they each spent a lot of time parsing those numbers, as in (and I'm paraphrasing here) "I'm 20 years older than him (umm, no)" or "He's my son's age" (again, no). Awais mentions being "almost 50" a few times, again not quite true. It seems as if every interaction between town characters also references a time frame - lots of "boy, thirty years ago, we did this or that" or "I knew them for 20 years" etc.  Maybe it was just me, but it seems a bit excessive.

Part of the charm of this story is getting a sense of the community and its residents, and while the author deftly weaves together the fabric of Swanley, be prepared for a lot of characters, and a lot of very brief character backgrounds. This novella weighs in at 112 pages. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of page time left for Kevin and Amais' budding relationship and while the author does a stellar job on the sex scenes, I wanted more time to get to know the characters, and for their relationship to deepen and grow a bit within the confines of this book. 

In the context of the whole series (I'm assuming the author will further develop the back stories of all those interesting characters), I'm sure we'll get more glimpses of Kevin and Amais' life together, but for now, "Give Way" is an interesting story that feels a bit too hurried and a bit too heavy on details.  

3.5 stars and I will look forward to reading another book in this series. 

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

Teddy Spenser Isn't Looking for Love

Teddy Spenser Isn't Looking for Love 
Author: Kim Fielding 
Publisher: Carina Adores 
Release Date: December 29, 2020 
Genre(s): Contemporary Romance, Enemies to Lovers 
Page Count: 250 
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5 

As a lifelong rabid avid reader, I know pretty quickly when a book is going to do it for me.  It's mostly that indefinable quality of "can't-put-it-downness" (good or bad) or at the very least the book stays on my mind and it's an inevitable conclusion that I Will Finish This Book, as God is My Witness. 

Others are ... more difficult. If I set a book down, and don't pick it up again with a day or so, and it doesn't call to me to finish it, it's work to finish it rather than a pleasure and a joy.

"Teddy Spencer Isn't Looking for Love" was work.  The plot was marginally interesting to me, but the company and the product (Smart Vase?) seemed rather pointless, as well as the convoluted reasoning behind the potential investor wanting to see if these two men had the right "chemistry" to work together.   Although I generally like the "enemies to lovers" trope, the plot works too hard to bring the two MCs together ... and it doesn't really seem that they really hated each other. 

In my opinion, two of Kim Fielding's finest books are "The Tin Box" - which still haunts me - and "Rattlesnake."  This book just did not grab my interest and it felt very disjointed.  2.5 stars, but as always, your results may vary.  

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