Recent Reads: Findley Black and the Ghosts of Printer’s Devil and Offbeat Crimes

So this week on Recent Reads, we venture into the realm of paranormal romance. It might be a few weeks beyond Halloween but it’s never too late for a cracking Halloween story, especially one from Amy Spector who excels at her own distinctive brand of Gothic noir. In Findley Black and the Ghosts of Printer’s Devil, there’s not only an old and supposedly haunted house that holds many secrets, but also a great cast of characters.

Owen Key, starting again at 34, has returned to the Printer’s Devil, a rambling bookshop he inherited from his estranged father, together with some quirky employees with a tendency for practical jokes which comprises his social life. When Findley Black, who runs a local ghost tour, approaches him hoping to get permission to spend the night ghost hunting at the store, Owen has hopes of a quick fling.

I relished the blend of romance, ghost story and sense of community in this wonderful story. Although very much a Halloween story, I really enjoyed that the focus was on relationships, be they estranged family, over-chatty employees, or a promising romantic connection. And the Printer’s Devil provided plenty of atmospheric spookiness! This story, along with all of Amy’s titles is in the JMS Books 60% off ebook Black Friday sale.

Angel Martinez has been on my to-read list for longer than I would like to admit, and now I’ve found her marvellous 6-book series, Offbeat Crimes, she will be on my must-read list! These paranormal detective stories take place in an alternative version of contemporary America, where paranormal beings are regularly incorporated into the police service. However, there are always those misfits whose ‘gifts’ don’t quite fit or are so specific to appear practically useless, and that is where Philadelphia’s 77th Precinct comes in handy for defective vampires, a lizard and wolfman, or those with an affinity for fruit or waterfowl, and those are the most straightforward ones!

Without giving away any spoilers for this treat of a series, these stories are charming, quirky, imaginative and downright funny. I love seamless the world-building and the mix of contemporary city life with added monsters, mayhem and paranormal goings-on. The plots are as inventive as the story titles (I mean, who could resist Feral Dust Bunnies), fast-paced and occasionally genuinely scary, especially as we become attached to members of our crew who are in peril.

In the first story, Lime Gelatin and Other Monsters, the officers of the 77th Precinct are a disparate bunch, but as the narrative continues (with a changing narrator for each story) and individuals find love and understanding, morale is boosted and our ‘useless’ oddballs become an effective team. It’s that wonderful mix of weirdness and warmth with truly likeable characters that makes Offbeat Crimes such an inventive delight.

Recent Reads: Love at the Haven, The Happiness Project and Starlight and Stone

It’s been a busy few weeks one way or another, and there’s nothing like letting your mind relax with a favourite story. So it’s not surprising that one of this week’s recent reads is a re-read! It was a pleasure to return to Love at the Haven, a contemporary heartwarming 8-part series (so far!) by Stella Shaw (another author name of writer Clare London).

The Haven is a slightly rundown hotel in London’s Earl’s Court, inherited by Rick from his eccentric Auntie Pop, and true to its name, it provides a safe shelter for the male escorts who work from the premises. The ensemble cast is extremely likeable, just a bunch of guys trying to pay their way in the big city, all with their individual hopes, dreams and problems. Each story in the series focuses on one of the group as they find love in turn. All the stories are hot and romantic with beautifully rounded characters and enough realism to make the reader care about each of the Haven crew. Although they are all lovely and it’s not fair to have favourites, I have to admit a sneaking fondness for outrageous, outspoken, interfering and totally loyal Tom with his very individual dress sense.

We’re staying in London for a beautiful new release by Suki Fleet called The Happiness Project. Again, this is initially about two young men struggling to cope and survive in a bleak, seemingly uncaring urban environment. Suki Fleet demonstrates how loneliness and isolation can transform into hope by reaching out with kindness as Bruno and Alexei, next-door neighbours in an inner city estate, start a tentative friendship. I loved how Suki introduced a touch of otherworldly magic as a catalyst in their journey to happiness. The Happiness Project is a deeply moving and heartfelt story with a truly accepting and diverse central romance.

I’m sure poor K.L. Noone is sick of appearing on this blog, but I had to share her short new Medieval fantasy ‘after the epic battle’ release Starlight and Stone.

This eloquent short story revolves around one crucial conversation between newly crowned King Harth and his loyal companion Tris, as during the long fight for Harth’s kingdom, they have never got around to admitting their feelings for each other. Kristin weaves the backstory of their unspoken love affair with exquisite use of language and descriptions that make this short read an emotionally sumptuous treat.

Recent Reads: Subway Slayings and The Santa Problem

As this week’s Recent Reads consist of a magical Christmas story set in England and a murder mystery with a New York setting, they really are a contrast! But both are equally excellent and satisfying reads.

Since I read Madison Square Murders, the first wonderful instalment of the Memento Mori series by C.S. Poe, I have been eagerly awaiting the next Larkin & Doyle story, and it was well worth it!

Like the first book, the follow-up story Subway Slayings is told from the point of view of Everett Larkin, a detective in the NYC Cold Case squad who’s unusually gifted at his work as a result of a long-ago brain injury, which also makes social interactions far more challenging.

He’s ably assisted by Detective Ira Doyle of the Forensic Artists Unit, who at least superficially, is everything Larkin is not in terms of charm and empathy. But these two men are both flawed by past trauma which makes them the perfect match both professionally and personally.

I don’t want to give away any plot spoilers, but needless to say, the murder mystery is dark, complex, engrossing and vividly told, linking with the first and third stories, and the development of both characters and their slow-burn relationship while unravelling the mystery makes this witty, absorbing, tense and emotionally engaging. Subway Slayings is an outstanding read! I’m now waiting equally impatiently for the release of the third instalment, Broadway Butchery next spring!

When Kendall, the emotionally closed and over-achieving manager of a garden centre is left without a Santa and photographer for his Christmas grotto, he’s saved by the unlikely Alfie, all blue hair, perky cuteness and piercings and his tame reindeer.

The Santa Problem by Barbara Elsborg, couldn’t be more of a contrast to gritty NYC cold cases! Set deep in the leafy (and snowy) English countryside, this is a magical and heartwarming Christmas tale, with a classic Grumpy and Sunshine (Or is that Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present?) combination.

The way Barbara gradually introduced seasonal magic into a mundane commercial setting worked beautifully, with some really touching encounters with struggling families in the Christmas grotto. The growing connection between Alfie and Kendall, as the manager gradually rethinks his work and money-oriented world view was heartwarming as was the emphasis on opening your heart and mind to enjoy the magic of Christmas with generosity and love. This was one I stayed up far too late reading and finished the story halfway through the night with a happy smile on my face.

If one delightful Christmas story from Barbara wasn’t enough, her second, This is Real is out today and already on my TBR list. It looks just as delightful as The Santa Problem!

Recent Reads: Tiny Little Scrap, Lessons in Love and Face Blind

I have three diverse MM Romances for this week’s Recent Reads since there’s nothing like a bit of contrast!

I’ll start off with an ARC read, released today, that I’ve been really looking forward to. It’s titled Tiny Little Scrap, by the lovely N E Mack, the fourth short in the MM erotic Straight Lace series that I’ve loved and written about on previous Recent Read blogs. The series is set in modern-day Sydney and tells the continuing story of Bryan, the gay-for-pay student jock who unwittingly starts on a journey of sexual discovery prompted by his online Daddy, older billionaire Dane, with flatmate Allen aiding and abetting.

In this fourth short, after much deliciously steamy, witty and clever online build-up, Bryan and Dane meet for real. Well, in fact, typically impatient and dominant Dane ambushes rabbit-in-the-headlights Bryan in his bedroom. I won’t spoil what happens next for all the Bryan and Dane fans but suffice it to say, their climactic scene is every bit as erotic, funny, conflicted and sweet as you might expect from N E Mack.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, there’s an additional encounter in a local restaurant that’s so hot I’m surprised it didn’t peel the wallpaper from the walls! This entire series is erotic, romantic and a revelation to both readers and the characters, especially Bryan, who is starting to realise not remotely the person he assumed he was at the start of the story. Happy release day to N E Mack and roll on books 5 and 6!

My second read is the first in a historical romantic mystery series that I’ve been meaning to read for ages and I’m so glad I’ve finally started. Lessons in Love, Book 1 in the Cambridge Fellows series by Charlie Cochrane reveals a delightfully gentile and whimsical world set in a fictional college at Cambridge University at the start of the 20th century. I felt like I’d stepped back in time to this cloistered, cerebral almost exclusively male world.

Jonty Stewart, an outgoing, ebullient and charming new appointment as an English fellow meets and initially clashes with Orlando Coppersmith, a doctor of Maths with a reputation for buttoned-up sour temper. These two are a delightful odd couple, both very believable within the confines of their time. Their gradual friendship and romantic closeness against the backdrop of a murderer on the loose within the college gave the story a dramatic tension that kept me reading. I enjoyed this so much that I’m already well into book 2 of this charming series.

As a nod to approaching Halloween, I really have to mention the wonderful Face Blind, a new release by the equally wonderful JL Merrow. This is the story of Corin, whose devastating brain injury after a car accident means he’s unable to recognise faces, even of close family members, and Adam, who must face his complicated past and solve a family conundrum. The setting of magical Glastonbury, the West Country town famous for its Tor, ancient ruins and modern New Age practices is the perfect backdrop for this story of acceptance, closure and renewal during the pivotal autumn festival of Samhain.

Both Corin and Adam are so likeable and sympathetic, and their sweet and tentative romance is all the more tender due to the sense of mutual care and sensitivity. I was sucked into the layers of the plot, haunting mysteries, the burgeoning love story and most of all, the magical atmosphere the author has created for this story, very much about a specific place and its resonances. Wonderful storytelling! I noticed that the book description refers to this as book 1, so I hope we have more Glastonbury Tales to look forward to!

Recent Reads: The Lonely Date, Sleeping Dogs and Life is Good and Other Lies

This week, I was lucky enough to stumble across a clutch of new and pre-release stories (2 MM and one Sapphic) from 3 wonderful British-based authors whose stories are always a 1-click option!

Any story by K. C. Carmine is always bound to be intriguing, original, steamy and emotionally honest and her new novella, The Lonely Date, more than lives up to all those expectations! This is the prequel to The Blindfold Date (book 2 in The Pursuit of Love series), where we met Ernesto, known as E, a highly successful video game programmer who is on the autistic spectrum, and handsome, charming architect Brian, who at least superficially, seems to be full of the social confidence that E lacks.

This might have been their first date, but not their first meeting, and like many other readers, I was eager to learn what happened 12 years previously when they were both at university but never quite connected, despite E’s huge crush on Brian.

In The Lonely Date, K. C. Carmine explores this crucial period of their younger lives with depth and sensitivity, making this such a satisfying read, as both young men undergo formative and challenging experiences and start to express their sexuality, leading them on separate paths which will eventually lead to their reunion in The Blindfold Date.  This heartfelt novella added that extra layer of depth to their relationship and made their future love story all the more satisfying.

If I’m in the mood for some gentle, quintessentially British romance, then I always turn to A.L. Lester. Also, I have a particular weakness for her delightful Celtic Myths series, so I had to read her new release! Sleeping Dogs is a charming contemporary Sapphic romance novella which incorporates the benevolent Black Dog legend specific to the Quantock Hills. I thoroughly enjoyed the luscious descriptions of the Somerset countryside and how the mysterious apparition punctuates Alice and Morwenna’s growing closeness. This heartwarming story is definitely one to read with a cup of tea in a cosy armchair by the fire.

My third standout read this week is Life is Good and Other Lies, a collaboration by authors Sophia Soames and Magdalena di Sotru. This book will be released on October 17th and is currently on pre-release.  

It tells the story of Thomas and Frank, who own a remote Swedish farmhouse as a holiday home and rent out a cottage to Bruno and Gabriel where they all spend a month-long summer holiday with their assorted children, including 3 bored teenagers. I loved the idyllic and beautifully depicted setting, (complete with a million mosquitoes) and the realness that pervades every page of this wonderful book.

Rather than a romance, Life is Good is about what happens to love after the intervention of time, kids, health problems and the stresses of life in general, and I warmed completely to the main characters and their posse of kids, the friendships forged and attempts at difficult relationship conversations. Their story is funny, painful, disarming, realistic and utterly engrossing, and a richly evocative and beautifully-told tale of lasting love.

Recent Reads: Tell No One and Petty Crimes

I was in a fever of anticipation towards the end of September as not just one but two of my favourite authors had new releases that I couldn’t wait to read. And both were every bit as wonderful (and more!) than I expected.

Tell No One by Barbara Elsborg is a fast-paced, exciting action and adventure story with a beautifully developed central romance. The combination of thrills spills and risks together with emotions running high made this such a page-turner!

Tag, the upbeat everyman with a dark past who accidentally falls into a nefarious plot, was completely adorable and Delaney, the shadowy secret agent, was slowly revealed to be his perfect partner, despite the necessary loner tendencies of his trade.

The clever, past-faced plot and a genuine sense of danger were complemented so well by the growing trust and closeness between these two. This was unputdownable and a really great read. Brilliant storytelling and a very well-deserved bestseller for Barbara!

I recently devoured the romantic suspense Diversion series by Eden Winters, set in the legally grey and high-stakes area of prescription drug diversion scams. I loved Lucky and Bo, her main characters, so I was delighted to learn that there was a new spin-off in the works!

We met Jerry Wilkerson in book 3 of the series as a teenager drifting into serious drug crime and with a massive crush on Cyrus, Bo’s undercover persona, and now, in Petty Crimes, he has his own story.

Moving 5 years on, Jerry is in his mid-twenties and has turned his life around. Lucky and Bo are his bosses at the Southeastern Narcotics Bureau and Jerry has now graduated to become an undercover agent. When he meets dangerously attractive Nico, who makes his crush on Cyrus/Bo fade into insignificance, he worries if he’s about to repeat old patterns and fall for the wrong guy again.

It was great to see Jerry’s character fully developed and for him to get his own romance, and to have the SNB team, including Lucky, Bo and the fabulous Rett, as stalwart supporting characters. The details of the loopholes in the prescription narcotics trade were as well-researched as ever and made for a gripping plot, with plenty of dramatic and romantic tension. I’m really hoping that Petty Crimes is only the start of a new spin-off series. And yes, Eden, that is a hint!

Recent Reads: Eleventh Hour

 I thoroughly enjoy reading non-fiction as well as fiction, especially MM Romance, of course. But if a reference book or story of any genre has a historical setting, it will automatically go on my TBR list. So when fellow author, the very talented and lovely Addison Albright recommended Eleventh Hour by Elin Gregory, it was a one-click decision!

I was immediately engrossed in this ripping yarn of late 1920s spy craft, and drawn into the meticulously detailed view of London that Elin Gregory has created. Everything is note-perfect from the street scenes, accommodation, attitudes and mindset, and written so fluently that the vast amount of necessary research felt seamless.

The rapid pairing of experienced field agent, Briers Allendale with cypher clerk Miles Siward, posing as his ‘wife’ while on surveillance of a dangerous anarchist is inspired. I really loved the pacing of this story, from the often frustrating tailing of suspects and promising leads falling foul of bureaucracy, to the sense of danger and the John Buchan-style action scenes. But what made this story so outstanding for me was the characters (Miles’ loyal manservant Pritchard is a stand out) and the growing attachment between our couple.

Despite the sense of urgent threat from the anarchist plot, the author takes time over her character development and personally, this is what makes the story so special. Briers the world-weary and experienced spy comes across as a typical man’s man, so the fact he is gay and sexually active causes him no problems due to his conventionally masculine appearance. Miles, on the other hand, is youthful, short and slight and has a knack for disguising himself as a woman, the feisty ‘Millie’, a skill which his superiors find both useful to exploit and patronisingly distasteful at the same time (it is the 1920s after all!) That complicated reaction impacts Miles and his need to prove himself and also his growing relationship with Briers.

I really enjoyed the nuances of their connection, especially Miles (as himself and as Millie) fiercely counters Briers’ easy assumptions and attempts to protect him, which leads to the start of a very special bond. I really hope that book 2 in the series will be re-released whenever that’s possible as I can’t wait to read more about Miles and Briers and their adventures in the increasingly high-stakes world of 1930s espionage. Thank you Addison for an outstanding recommendation!

Recent Reads: Big Boy Pants, Dear Diary and Terribly Tristan

I’ve been lucky enough to read not just one ARC or pre-release this week, but three! And they have all been wonderful reads.

Big Boy Pants by N E Mack is now on release (from September 15th) and is the third story in Straight Lace, an ongoing series of 6 MM erotic shorts. They centre on Bryan, a student jock ‘twunk’ who makes some extra cash as a gay-for-pay cam boy. Of course, it’s all an act, or so he thinks, despite his increasing bond with his favourite viewer, I’m Watching.

I am hooked on the sly humour with which the continuing story is told, from Hidden to Frills to Big Boy Pants. Bryan’s reaction to his unexpected journey of discovery is note-perfect as his trepidation and surprise are overcome by uncontrollable desire and he slowly realises that he might be ‘a little bit gay.’ This is another perfectly polished gem in an outstanding series. Can’t wait for the next one!

Holly Day’s delightful short story Dear Diary will be released on September 17th and is currently on a pre-release/new release 20% sale at JMS Books until September 23rd.  In this sweet and moving story, the diary format worked perfectly to show the mindset of the diarist, who suffers from anxiety and depression, further triggered by a romantic breakup. The ups and downs of his progress are charted in the tone of his entries and especially by the presence of lovely Lars. This was so heartwarming, rooted in reality but also wonderfully romantic. Such an engaging read.

The final story in this fab trio is Terribly Tristan by Lisa Henry and Sarah Honey, the third and final story in their wonderfully funny Bad Boyfriends Inc. series, set in Sydney’s student district. Terribly Tristan is now on pre-release and will be out on October 18th. The first two books in the series Awfully Ambrose and Horribly Harry are now available on KU and are highly recommended for anyone in need of a giggle!

As ‘slutty butterfly’ Tristan has fluttered around in the two previous books as roommate to Ambrose and Henry in a rickety student house, I couldn’t wait for his story! If Ambrose used his acting skills to make some cash as a professional bad boyfriend, Harry accrued deliberately appalling wardrobe choices, whereas now it’s Tristan’s turn, he simply truthfully tells the horrified parents of his ‘dates’ how much he adores sex with as many partners as possible.

His meeting with Leo made me cry with laughter and I was giggling all the way through this delightful tale as Tristan realises that after working his way through the hot male population of Sydney while not remembering anyone’s name, he might decide not only to be a proper boyfriend to Leo but a good one too.

It was lovely to be back in the shared house with Tristan and coupled-up Harry and Jack, and a treat to have a heart-melting cameo from Ambrose and Liam. This was such a heartwarming story and the perfect finale to this terrific and very funny series.

Recent Reads: Bisclavret and To Love a Traitor

As I both write and read historical stories, I’m rather self-indulgently reviewing two wonderful historicals this week, although they are a contrasting pair!

The first is Bisclavret by K.L. Noone, an exquisite Medieval fantasy tale set amongst the wild forests of Brittany which has a wonderful Celtic myth atmosphere. Bisclavret is based on the 12th-century story by Marie de France but Kristin puts her own distinctive spin on the tale. I’m sure Kristin is getting sick of being featured on this blog, but it’s entirely her fault for writing such a wide variety of wonderful stories!

This tale is written from the point of view of Lord Bisclavret, who transitions to a werewolf at full moon. He is encouraged by his husband, scholarly, absent-minded King Andreas to write his memoirs regarding his painful betrayal by his former wife Elaine, which trapped him in his wolf state.

Although Lord Bisclavret’s story is a sad one, the contrast between his difficult past memories and the joy of the present with a man who loves him dearly is a delicate counterpoint. I loved this interpretation of a medieval tale and the distinct magical world the author has created. The language and descriptions were exquisite, as always, and the central love story was warmly human and endearing, and beautifully nuanced.

We move across the English Channel and several centuries forward for To Love a Traitor by JL Merrow, who is another writer I read everything by! The main character is George Johnson, a conscientious objector in WW1 and now a lawyer’s clerk. As a cryptographer in the Admiralty in wartime, he is adjusting to post-war life while taking on his own investigation of his brother’s death at Ypres during the war.

Slowly but surely, George starts to fall for the main suspect, Matthew Connaught. This makes the low-key, slow-burn story all the more compelling as the emotional stakes increase. I found myself reading compulsively, hoping beyond hope for a happy ending for George and Matthew. The historical setting of post-WW1 England was beautifully drawn from the language and involved social context to the behaviour of the characters. To Love a Traitor is a note-perfect and utterly absorbing story.

Recent Reads: Heat Haze and Bad Boyfriends Inc.

As it is the end of the summer, this week’s Recent Reads are fun and feel-good reads, perfect for any upcoming holidays and all available on KU.

Heat Haze: Summer Sizzlers by Fiona Glass is a delightful collection of 5 contrasting short stories. I loved the variety of locations, characters and tone in each of these compact yet perfectly realised romantic tales. Whether the main character was yearning for love, firmly attached, or suddenly unsure of their relationship status, I felt like I’d travelled to Malta and Saltzberg and all the other scenic spots closer to home and got away from it all. Beautifully written and deliciously steamy, Heat Haze is a perfect summer read.

Bad Boyfriends Inc. the hilarious series set in Sydney by Lisa Henry and Sarah Honey starts with the premise of a professional ‘bad boyfriend’ to help parents see a current and disapproved squeeze of their student offspring in a better light.  I loved how the concept of Bad Boyfriends Inc. would seem like a good idea to a cash-poor student and his clientele!

This series starts with Awfully Ambrose, where Ambrose Newman, a drama student who also supports his mentally unwell mum and is making enough cash this way to get by in a haphazard manner. During a professional date and while in full bad boyfriend mode, he meets sweet and shy Liam, whose appalled first impressions are laugh-out-loud funny – until he discovers the truth and decides to hire Liam himself.  I loved how both characters were so well-developed so that I was cheering on their tentative romance. The supporting cast was warm and wonderfully quirky, just adding to the fun, with a special shout-out to Liam’s grandpa and his beloved tractor.

With Ambrose’s retirement from Bad Boyfriends Inc. his housemate and trainee pre-school teacher, Harry Townsend takes over in Horribly Harry with his own unique flair on the bad boyfriend role, complete with appalling clothes and prepared lines that result in getting drinks poured over him or being covered in pavlova!

Jack and Harry’s first dramatic meeting was beautifully done when Jack almost accidentally kills Harry with a strawberry smoothie, as was their growing attraction to one another, especially as these feelings were entirely new for Harry, who has accepted up to this point that he’s asexual. Their romance was so sensitively written and utterly adorable and the next book was perfectly set up for the third bad boyfriend and final roommate, the incorrigible Tristan. I really can’t wait for autumn and Terribly Tristan!