Shadows Left Behind: An Historical Mysteries Box Set

Shadows Left Behind: An Historical Mysteries Box Set 
Author: Josh Lanyon 
Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing 
Release Date: April 2, 2021 
Genre(s): M/M Historical, Mystery, Romance 
Page Count: 524 
Rating: 4 stars out of 5

"Shadows Left Behind" is a set of five historical mysteries ranging from WWI to post-WWII. 1916 to 1948. I've always enjoyed Lanyon's historicals because the characters feel true to the era and she does an excellent job of giving us the time period without too many extraneous details. 

Overall, I would give this collection 4 stars, with some stories a bit higher and others lower: 

Out of the Blue (1916) - Set in WWI, with planes dogfighting above the trenches and the staggering loss of life, two pilots meet because of a murder and its cover-up. I had a niggle about the way Lanyon develops the relationship between Bat and Cowboy and how its beginning is somewhat creepy and nonconsensual (due to blackmail) but she captures the feeling of grabbing life and love, while know that any day could be their last. 3.5 stars. 

The Dark Farewell (1922) - Set in Illinois during the Prohibition, reporter David Flynn meets Julian Devereaux, a traveling spiritualist / medium and it doesn't take a crystal ball to see that Julian is very attracted to David, and vice versa. Throw in a series of murders in the area, a traveling salesman, a death in the boarding house, labor unrest, hot nights and cool jazz, and this compelling story definitely held my interest .... until the final chapter where the story is way too quickly resolved. 4 stars. 

This Rough Magic (1935) - A great setting and two intriguing main characters (PI Neil Patrick Rafferty, and the upper crust Brett Sheridan) but where it falls apart, IMHO, is all the characters - there's Brett's sister and her tragically dead fiance, her relationship with a shady character, the stepmother with a mysterious past, Brett's delusional family and his shoplifting / piano playing sister, the wacky father and his love of Etruscan art, the siblings named Sebastian and Viola (and their dearly departed brother .... Hamlet) .... sigh. 3 stars. 

Slay Ride (1943): This story was a bit uneven, with a far-too long car chase and hostage / robbery / murder situation, which is quickly wrapped up with a single newspaper article and a short epilogue. But the relationship between Police Chief Rob Garrett and young reporter Jamie Johnson is very well-done. 3.5 stars. 

Murder Between the Pages (1948): This is my favorite story in the collection, an entertaining "locked room" mystery, set in 1948 or so, with two crime writers who hate each other with a passion, and in the process of solving a crime find themselves begrudgingly falling in love. Lanyon gives us two men who survived the war - one in the OSS and the other as a pilot - but still miss the excitement, and having a purpose. 4.5 stars. 

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

The Midnight Man

The Midnight Man 
Author: Kevin Klehr 
Publisher: NineStar Press 
Release Date: August 30, 2021 
Genre(s): M/M Fantasy / Paranormal 
Page Count: 189 
Rating: 3 stars out of 5 

The blurb for "The Midnight Man" grabbed my interest.  Stanley, on the cusp of his 50th birthday, has been in a relationship for seven years with his partner Francesco, and it is in its death throes.  

Stanley has dreams - very vivid dreams about a young man - Asher - and each time they meet in dreams, Stanley is five years younger. He has the chance to disappear into a dream world with his perfect dream lover ... yet as he becomes younger and younger, he relives his happy memories with Francesco, looks objectively at times in his life that changed its course, and ponders why he is terrified of police officers and why he never continued a potentially successful career as a flautist.

I like many things the author has to say about age and second chances ...
[...] if you don't play it right, age can be your nemesis. That thinking all your major achievements are a thing of the past can be your undoing. That what you know and what you've done have value, especially to those who haven't experienced what you have to share.  [...] There's power in age, my son. It's not a death sentence. It's a blessing.

,,, but what didn't work for me is the rather deplorable actions both Francesco and Stanley take - with each other and with their friends and acquaintances. Simply put, Francesco is a philandering jerk and Stanley is thoughtless and cruel more than once or twice.  

Also, I found the author's writing style somewhat convoluted and the whole Midnight Man dream world too lightly fleshed out, and the resolution to why Stanley is afraid of cops was sort of shoe-horned into the story after teasing it for the entire book.

Personally, I liked the premise of this story but found the main characters very unlikeable and it was hard to root for a HEA for them.  But again, this is my own personal opinion and your take on this story may be entirely different!  3 stars. 

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

The Lights on Knockbridge Lane (Garnet Run #3)

The Lights on Knockbridge Lane (Garnet Run #3) 
Author: Roan Parish 
Publisher: Carina Press / Harlequin 
Release Date: September 28, 2021 
Genre(s): M/M Romance 
Page Count: 224 
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 

Although this is the third book in the Garnet Run series, it can easily be read as a stand-alone as the connection between the books is the setting of Garnet Run, Wyoming. 

Adam and his inquisitive daughter Gus (August) are new in town, and soon meet the "weird" neighbor on their block, Wes.  He's the guy who never goes outside in the day, has paper covering his windows, and has raccoons, lizards, a snake and a tarantula named Bettie and is working on a biogas generator.   And yes, you guessed it, Adam is terrified of spiders and snakes.

Gus is cute and inquisitive as all get-out, Adams has issues about the way his marriage to Mason ended and before too long Wes is going to Gus' show-and-tell at school and they all work toward decorating their house with as many Christmas lights as possible.

While the romance between Wes and Adam works well, the initial sex scene occurs before we really get a good sense of each man's personality and therefore Wes' dominance comes out of nowhere.  But overall this was a sweet story about a new family and a very lovely Christmas. 3.5 stars. 

Under the Whispering Door

Under the Whispering Door 
Author: TJ Klune 
Publisher: Tor Books 
Release Date: September 21, 2021 
Genre(s): Fantasy, Death
Page Count: 384 
Rating: 5 stars out of 5 

TJ Klune's latest book is simply stunning. Weaving together Greek mythology (Charon, the ferryman who transports the dead across the River Styx), Celtic legend (the stag that represents the other world and spiritual enlightenment) as well as the Chinese red string of fate, he creates a world of death, growth, forgiveness and incredible perception.

Wallace Price is a piece of work - a hard-ass lawyer who drops dead of a heart attack in his office - on a Sunday - and is unwillingly transported by Mei, a human Reaper, to a little tea house in the forest, where he will eventually ascend through a door into the afterlife. The tea house is a place to come to terms with death, to understand that "grief is a catalyst, a transformation."

The first time you share tea, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family.

Let's just say that Wallace does not go gentle into that good night. He rails against Hugo, the ferryman and teahouse proprietor, as well as Nelson, Hugo's dead grandfather who is hanging around the teahouse as a ghost, along with Apollo, Hugo's ghost dog.  It's a merry mix of the living and the dead, with wry humor and witty asides, all geared to help Wallace resolve his feelings and eventually accept the afterlife.

At close to 400 pages, at times the story moves a bit slowly, but we need that pace in order to steep ourselves in the universe Klune crafts.  The unlikely attraction between Hugo and Wallace comes out of nowhere and while it's all kinds of lovely it felt a bit incomplete and unfleshed out. But overall, I found this story deeply moving, and especially in the world in which we are now all living, deeply comforting. 

Death has a beauty to it. We don't see it because we don't want do. And that makes sense. Why would we want to focus on something that takes us away from everything we know? How do we even begin to understand that there's more than what we see?

5+ stars for Under the Whispering Door and a Recommended Read.

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

The Mystery of the Curiosities (Snow & Winter #2)

The Mystery of the Curiosities (Snow & Winter #2) 
Author: CS Poe 
Publisher: Emporium Press
Release Date: February 14, 2020 (reissue)
Genre(s): M/M Contemporary Romance, Criminal Investigation
Page Count: 198
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 

The Mystery of the Curiosities is the second book in the Snow and Winter series. Yeah, I suppose it could be read as a standalone, but you'll definitely want to read The Mystery of Nevermore to learn how Seb and Calvin met.
“When writing my obituary, just be sure it says, ‘Sebastian was the death of him.’”
He [Calvin] turned and walked to the exit.
“Ha, ha,” I said loudly, following. “Heart disease is more believable.”
Calvin turned as he held the door open for Quinn and I. “Not once people meet you, Seb.”
It's only been a matter of weeks since Seb and Calvin officially started dating and now they are immersed in another mystery, this one involving P.T. Barnum's famous museum of curiosities that burned to the ground in 1865. Someone is tempting Seb with clues ("I know you like mysteries" and "He lost the whales but not the mermaid") and murders to solve. Of course, Calvin demands that Seb let the police do their job, but knowing Seb, yeah, that's not gonna happpen.
When I stood up, he put a firm hand on my shoulder and pushed me back into the seat. “Not you. Stay.” “I’m not a dog.” “Dogs take better direction.”
I absolutely love the dynamic between Calvin and Sebastian. Sure the sexual chemistry between the two is sizzling (with a side of dominance), but the bottom line is Sebastian makes Calvin happy. And Sebastian? He worries about Calvin and his PTSD and his stress:
"But I want to help him. I want to help him sleep through the night without dreaming about the dead children in Afghanistan he’s convinced died because he wasn’t a good enough soldier. I want him to stop crying, to stop being afraid. He’s the bravest and strongest man I know, and he thinks the exact opposite of himself.”
I am in awe of C.S. Poe's writing skills and admire the deftness with which she crafts a mystery while building this weird, touching, supportive, deeply sensual, quirky relationship between Sebastian and Calvin that somehow just plains works for them. My only niggle about the book is the pacing of the story. After a brilliant misdirect about the killer (is it someone very familiar to Seb?), the answers finally start coming around 90% into the story and the resolution felt somewhat rushed. I highly recommend this book and anxiously await the next book in the series! 4.5 stars. 

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