Murder at the Oasis (Mason Adler Series #3)

 Murder at the Oasis (Mason Adler Series #3)
Author: David S. Pederson
Publisher: Bold Stroke Books
Release Date: August 15, 2023
Genre(s): Crime Procedural, M/M Historical
Page Count: 231
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 

In this third book in David S. Pederson's Mason Adler series, we find private detective Mason Adler and his friend, interior designer Walter Wingate, in Palm Springs for a short vacation. While the pace of the book is a bit slow, it's refreshing to get a glimpse at a time when vacations weren't adventure travel, when you dressed for dinner even on vacation (I adore Walter and his light plum tuxedo jacket), and crimes were solved despite the lack of DNA technology and high-tech forensics. 

While staying at the Oasis Inn, Mason and Walter meet most of the guests around the swimming pool - Miss Ermengarde Campbell and Miss Myrtle Schultz, the dysfunctional Pruitt family, Cornelia Atwater (a newspaper reporter who suspects Angus Pruitt may be involved in her brother's recent death), and bit by bit, the tensions come to the surface - the coy and cloying flirtations, the constant watchfulness, the marital spats and crude unkindness, until there is a death which at first appears to be natural. 

Detective Branchford of the Palm Springs PD is assigned the case, and with Mason's clear-eyed observations and some good teamwork between the two men, the case is gradually solved. I like the densely constructed plot full of minute details and careful inquiries that all slowly lead to the resolution of the murder(s), along with a few surprises at the end. 

Detective Brian Branchford and Mason work well together in solving the murders, and there are more than a few hints their mutual interests may extend beyond detective work. As Branchford asks Mason: 

"Indeed. Hmm. You married, by the way? For the record." 
"No, no, I'm not. Never have been. You?" 
"I'm a widower. [...] Do you visit Palm Springs often?" 

As always, I love the post-war setting, Walter's observations about fashion and interior design of the era, details like Dorothy Dandridge performing in Palm Springs, the high cost of fine dining ("Two dollars and twenty-five cents plus tip for a turkey dinner? I could get that same dinner in Phoenix for a dollar sixty.") and so on. 

I hope future books in the series explore a relationship between Brian and Mason. After these three books, Mason Adler appears to be a man of strong character who longs for a life with someone, and we are getting a sense of what makes Walter tick as well as how their friendship works. They both deserve something better than having to resort to subterfuge and half-truths: 

"[...] So, you two fella traveling alone?" 
"Yes," Mason said. My lady friend, Miss Lydia Dettling, had to stay behind. She works at J.C. Penney and couldn't get the time off. And Mr. Wingate here is a confirmed bachelor." 

4.5 stars.

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

Puzzle For Two

 Puzzle for Two
Author: Josh Lanyon
Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing
Release Date: May 27, 2023
Genre(s): M/M PI Mystery
Page Count: 316
Rating: 4 stars out of 5 

Puzzle for Two gives us an improbable case ("Possibly the whole pretend-t0-be-my boyfriend to decoy my maybe suicidal wife thing?") with Zach, a young PI resolved to keep his father's PI agency afloat while fending off creditors as well as his competitor ex-Marine Flint Carey who is determined to buy him out. Never mind that Zach might be a bit too inexperienced, the case stinks to high heaven, and his client is ... unsettling, the $12,000 fee alleviates a lot of Zach's qualms, for now. 

In reading this PI murder mystery, I'm again struck by how beautifully Lanyon creates character. It's in the turn of a phrase, a succinct description, a pause. One really gets a sense of each of the characters here - untried but determined Zach, the unnerving client Alton Beacher, Zach's delightfully quirky sister Brooke with her mad researching skills, Zach's obsessive ex Ben. And Flint Carey is at first defined by Zach's (misguided) perception of him and the way that perception changes bit by bit is a delightfully slow burn. 

I really liked the interplay of all these distinct characters and how the murder / mystery works so well as a classic detective story. And here's hoping that Lanyon decides to continue this series! 4 stars.

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

Broadway Butchery (Memento Mori #3)

 Broadway Butchery (Memento Mori #3)
Author: CS Poe
Publisher: Emporium Press
Release Date: June 22, 2023
Genre(s): M/M Crime Procedural
Page Count: 311
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5 

Read book blurb here

I have to admit I struggled a bit with this book. No, no, no .... I loved "Broadway Butchery" (I'm not an idiot) but it was hard to decide if I wanted to devour it in a frenzied stay-up-all-night, sob in my pillow marathon .... or savor every page, every nuance of the flowering relationship between Larkin and Doyle, set my Kindle aside for a few moments, gently wipe away my tears of joy, and just bask in the wonderfulness of this book. So, yeah, I definitely basked. 

 Also, I went back and browsed the first two books in this series because, yeah, this series is all sorts of wonderful, but also because I had to refresh my memory about the earlier murders, as well as the slow and careful way Larkin and Doyle's relationship begins. And in Broadway Butchery, CS Poe really ramps it all up by revealing (some of) the layers of her intricately crafted underlying plot, and laser-focusing on Ira and Everett. 

As always, each character - no matter how minor - is beautifully fleshed-out. My new favorite is Dr. Baxter in the office of the chief medical examiner:
"Oh, I do love a man with a sense of justice." "You love any man!" one of the other pathologists shouted from behind Baxter. He said, without missing a beat, "It gets lonely down here."
And, of course, there are countless moments between Ira and Everett that I bookmarked, but here's just one:
It was like a bubble had formed around them just then, encapsulating them in an untouchable privacy lasting one a heart, a breath, long enough for Doyle to say in his quiet, smoky voice, "I'll do anything for you."
The words hit Larkin square in the chest and repeated over and over like an echo trapped in a cave.
I'll do anything for you.
Anything for you.
For you.
Damn. 5+ stars for "Broadway Butchery." 

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

Undressing the Duke (Lords in Love, #7)

 Undressing the Duke (Lords in Love series #7)
Author: Erica Ridley
Publisher: WebMotion
Release Date: June 16, 2023
Genre(s): M/M Historical Romance
Page Count: 118
Rating: 3 stars out of 5 

Please note this is #7 in a series of books about a (fictional) matchmaking festival in Regency England, but the book works as a stand-alone (and is the only M/M romance in the series). 

Donovan, the Duke of Southbury, having reached the age of 36 without marrying, is forced to attend this festival, despite having absolutely no interest in a wife.  Donovan has been enthralled for the past 20 years by his burly French valet, Geoffrey Vashon. The two men play chess, cards, drink, play violin duets, and talk late into the night, as the Duke tries desperately to tamp down his lust.

Donovan's only hope is to perhaps marry a widow or someone willing to enter into a marriage of convenience "in which duke and duchess did each other the blessed courtesy of leaving one another the hell alone." But never fear, Donovan and Geoffrey explore their mutual desire and get their HEA.

As a short novella (118 pages), there isn't a lot of character development, especially for Geoffrey (we don't get his POV) and while the ending is satisfying, it relies on some improbable change of hearts.  Overall, I would have liked perhaps a villain subplot or something that allowed us to get to better know and understand the MCs.  3 stars.

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

The Problem with Perfect

 The Problem with Perfect
Author: Philip William Stover
Publisher: Canelo Hera
Release Date: May 10, 2023
Genre(s): M/M Contemporary Romance, Fake Boyfriend
Page Count: 336
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 

Okay, I loved this book. Every snarky aside, every astute comment about the horrors of celebrity worship, Uncle Clams and the rests of the glamorous Giblet Triplets, Fire Island, etc. It's all very good stuff. 

From page one, the (okay, very implausible) story grabs your attention with the tale of Ethan, who quickly learned "I couldn't control the big things but I could make the details of my life shiny" and as the creative genius behind gay lifestyle show Myles of Style, strives for his next big network promotion to VP of Diversity Programming while keeping his star Chase Myles engaged and charming, not to mention stopping him from using an iron in a segment about getting rid of facial wrinkles ("So what? I wasn't going to plug it in") or claiming he is a queer role model like "Harley Milk." 

But when Chase jets off to "Dabu Bobby" ("It's in the Middle East somewhere ...") with a Greek fishing tycoon, Ethan realizes the only way he can finish all the promotional material he needs yesterday is to find a Chase Myles substitute ... one Beau Myles, Chase's twin brother who lives in a yurt in upstate New York ("His hair must have been cut with a rock, his beard makes him look like he should drive a buggy or brew his own ale in Williamsburg ...") and is desperate enough for money he is willing to be manscaped, tweezed and spray-tanned to within an inch of his life. 

What follows is a sweet, sexy, irreverent adventure (no explicit on-page sex but the perfect touch of lusting and longing) complete with a fake/fake boyfriend plot, a weekend on Fire Island (more Cherry Grove than the Meat Rack), and the realization that, as Beau says, "You don't have to be perfect, you just have to be yourself." 

Granted, it takes a while (okay, far too long) to get Ethan to fully understand how he is not living the life he wants to, but the perfectly lovely epilogue and HEA is like the icing on the cake. 

4.5 stars for a great read with plenty of heart mixed with gobs of snark (and topped with "Power Top Pop" - a ghastly "combination energy drink and personal lubricant" [...] in four fabulous flavors. Each one inspired by a different Golden Girl.") Let's just say I adore Philip William Stover's snark. 

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