Body at Buccaneer's Bay (Secrets and Scrabble #5)

 Body at Buccaneer's Bay (Secrets and Scrabble #5)
Author: Josh Lanyon
Publisher: Just Joshin Publishing
Release Date: December 18, 2021
Genre(s): M/M Cozy Mystery
Page Count: 223
Rating: 4 stars out of 5 

While diving an old shipwreck, Ellery and Jack find a dead body - hardly a surprise anymore due to Ellery's proclivity for murder and mayhem on Buck Island - however, this one is in an old-fashioned diving suit and there are no outstanding missing person reports. And all this in the midst of Buck Island's annual Race Week.

And yet all this faded into the background for me personally as I was enthralled by Jack finally meeting Ellery's parents, a resolution of sorts in the feud between Nora and Kingston Peabody at the Crow's Nest bookstore, Jack meeting one of his exes, Watson's continuing doggy antics, and most importantly the comfortable domesticity between Jack and Ellery: 
"Hey, I've been thinking about what you were saying last night," Ellery leaned against the counter, watching Jack pour coffee into two mugs.
Jack threw him a quick look.
"Er, not that," Ellery said hastily, "Although, yes, that. For sure." 
Jack bit back a smile. Then his brows rose and he held up Ellery's I woke up like this Disney Princess mug.
And not to mention, the news that Christopher Holmes (from Lanyon's excellent Holmes & Moriarity series) will be coming to the Crow's Nest for a book tour.  Or as Nora and Ellery discuss (excerpts from their conversation):
"Christopher Holmes." 
"Never heard of him."
"He wants to come here? Won't any other bookstores let him sign?"
Nora didn't bother denying it was an odd choice.
"He must be crazy."
"Well, I mean, if he wants to come, okay," Ellery said reluctantly.
Nora murmured, "I'll let them know how thrilled we are."
In the midst of all this, I must admit the murder mystery plot had a lot of competition! This is such an enjoyable series that I anxiously await the next two books (slated for publication in 2022)  in the series.  Keep 'em coming!

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

Season's Change (Trade Season #1)

 Season's Change (Trade Season #1)
Author: Cait Nary
Publisher: Carina Press
Release Date: February 1, 2022
Genre(s): Contemporary Sports Romance, Hockey
Page Count: 377
Rating: 3 stars out of 5 

I'm a huge fan of hockey .... and an equally huge fan of M/M hockey stories. And I honestly wish I could say I'm a huge fan of this book, but this story just did not work for me personally.  

The book has good bones - a hockey team chock full of great characters, some pretty good hockey action, interesting family dynamics for both MCs, and a budding friendship / bromance / something more? between a veteran player and a D-man rookie who has always given hockey his all because it's his only way to rise up from his childhood.

Olly J√§rvinen is gay.  He was harrassed by his homophobic roommate with his former team, and suffers from extreme anxiety / PTSD.  Benji Bryzinski "was just a dumbass from Duncannon, Pennsylvania, but he had arrived."  He's a good bro, and shortly everyone on the team is his bro, and he takes nervous twitchy Olly under his 6' 5" wing.  

But at 377 pages, Olly's terror about being outed and Benji's dude-bro goodness grows thin after a while.  There is a lot (a lot) of internal monologues from both MCs and nothing happens between the two MCs for the first half of the book.  Finally, they begin a sexual relationship, with Olly believing that Benji is mostly straight-ish and will leave him for a woman eventually, and Benji doesn't really figure out until almost the end that he's probably bisexual. Sigh .... 

I suppose it's unusual to have a M/M hockey romance where the two MCs and their relationship is the least interesting aspect of the book.  The Washington Eagle's team is really well done, and I liked reading about how the players really care about one another; the hockey itself is well-written; the family dynamic between Olly and his brothers is touching; I really want Benji's sister Krista to wake up and realize she can do much better than her unfaithful husband; I like the way Benji works so hard to move from the trailer park to the NHL; and the author really does a good job on showing how Olly is helped during his therapy.  

Overall I would give all these aspects of the story a strong 4 stars, but the relationship angst is 2 stars, so I'm giving 3 stars to Season's Change and hoping that the second book in the series will improve on the good bones of this book.  

Oh, and as a side note, if Olly's family lives in Duluth, they aren't going to have a cabin on Lake Vermillion. For us Minnesotans, the North Shore area is God's country and most of us dream about having a cabin around Grand Marais or close to Lake Superior. 

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

Fadeout (Dave Brandstetter Mystery #1)

 Fadeout (Dave Brandstetter Mystery, #1)
Author: Joseph Hansen
Publisher: Soho Press
Release Date: January 11, 2022
Genre(s): M/M Murder Mystery, Historical
Page Count: Rating: 5 stars out of 5 

There's a singular joy in discovering a "new to you" author and then learning the book is only the first of twelve (12) books in the Dave Brandstetter Mystery series. 

Set in California in the mid 1960's, Dave is mourning the loss of his lover Rod with whom he shared 20 years. He is open about his homosexuality and honest about his grief. "He'd made up his mind to live now. Hadn't he? Live and forget - at least until he could remember without pain. And that would happen someday. Sure it would. All the books said so." 

But what the characters in Fadeout initially see is a 40's-ish tall, slim elegant man with a keen mind, and a quiet determination to get to the bottom of this case. He's Don Draper without the family issues, alcohol issues, and well .... issues. 

Dave, a death claims investigator for Medallion Insurance, is investigating the disappearance of local celebrity Fox Olson, a man who we slowly learn has closed himself off from his past, and allowed his own grief to remain quietly unexamined. And as Brandstetter unfolds the mystery layer by methodical layer, it all becomes almost overwhelming in its sadness for what may have been. 

Simply put, Joseph Hansen is a stellar writer who tells what appears on the surface to be an unsentimental murder mystery in the most heart-breaking sentimental way possible. 5 stars. 

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

The Mystery of the Spirits (Snow & Winter #5)

The Mystery of the Spirits (Snow & Winter #5) 
Author: CS Poe 
Publisher: Emporium Press
Release Date: December 30, 2021 
Genre(s): M/M Crime Procedural 
Page Count: 231 
Rating: 5 stars out of 5 

Apparently CS Poe had always intended to write a 5th book in her amazing Snow & Winter series, and now almost 2 years later, it is here .... and it is good.  

Immediately I realized that I desperately need to reread the entire series because I have forgotten too much about the earlier books, and also because seeing Sebastian and Calvin where they are right now in their relationship is so perfect that I need to go back to the beginning and watch it all unfold again.  

"Even after a year and a half, I still had these fleeting, surreal moments of holy shit, I'm married to my soul mate." [...] We complimented each other, enhanced strengths, reinforced weaknesses. Snow or Winter weren't inherently better or lesser without the other - we were simply something unique when together."

Sebastian is hired as a consultant by the NYPD and the case involves spiritualism, the Fox sisters, Robert Hare and his spiritoscope, feuding mediums, and of course all sorts of absolutely fascinating history.  In addition to the meticulous research and intricate crafting of the murder plot, Poe tosses in a few good suspects and deftly ties it all together in a denouement that is equal part terrifying and very satisfying.  I also enjoyed keeping in touch with Neil, Sebastian's ex, as well as Aubrey Grant from Poe's Southernmost Murder
I highly recommend The Mystery of the Spirits and strongly suggest that you cannot go wrong with anything penned by CS Poe! 5 stars. 

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

A Winter's Earl

 A Winter's Earl
Author: Annabelle Greene
Publisher: Carina Press
Release Date: November 9, 2021
Genre(s): M/M Historical Romance
Page Count: 298
Rating: 3 stars out of 5 

Have you ever been a fan of a long-running soap opera? Recall all those scenes where two characters talk constantly about .... "talking"? As in, "We really need to talk about our feelings" or "Why can't we just talk about Devon's terrible accident?" or "I've decided to finally tell you .... my deep, dark secret" as they stare off into the distance and furrow their brow? \Yet somehow they never actually TALK, while miscommunication, HUGE misunderstandings and MASSIVE secrets pile up like sands in the hourglass .... (Yup, that's a Days of Our Lives reference.) 

I loved Annabelle Greene's The Vicar and the Rake and adored the wonderful second chance romance, as well as the way she crafted her MCs and the secondary characters. And starting in on "A Winter's Earl" I had hoped to find the same sort of cohesive story that grabs your attention and won't let go. 

However ... reclusive poet Sherborne Clarke and moody self-exiled Earl of Portland, Richard Ashbrook are wrapped in their mutual misery of a youthful infatuation and so-very-hot affair cut short by betrayal. The betrayal is all they talk .... and NOT talk about ... for almost 300 pages. There is brow-furrowing aplenty and numerous angry scenes ending with Richard storming off, while Sherborne suffers in noble silence. We get POV from both MCs, yet I never found myself gaining a deeper understanding of either character. 

The secondary characters are also somewhat murky and unfleshed out, while the plot device to get Richard and Sherborne together is lightly explored, in my opinion. Personally, I felt this particular book was a near-miss, but I continue to admire Annabelle Greene's work and look forward to reading more from her. 3 stars.

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