Recent Reads: The Strangest Forms, The Old Wheel and Reality Royal

I have some treats of contemporary reads for you this week from Gregory Ashe and Kristian Parker.  Gregory Ashe is an author I’ve been meaning to read for ages so when I saw he had a YA Gay Romance series reworking of the Sherlock Holmes stories, I decided this was the moment to take the plunge into The Adventures of Holloway Holmes.

I was really intrigued by the blurb for book 1, The Strangest Forms, an American-set, modern-day Holmes story, based on the premise that Sherlock was a real rather than fictional character. So, in a school for troubled rich kids in Utah, the teenage Holloway Holmes (a descendant of Sherlock) is a student, along with a member of the Watson family.

So far, so interesting. But the point of view is from Jack Moreno, also 16, and the son of the school custodian, trying to keep everything together while his dad struggles to recover from brain injury due to a serious car accident that killed Jack’s mother.

Jack grabbed my attention from the start. He’s a street-smart wheeler-dealer but also possesses a huge heart and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. He’s mixed-up, funny, charming and tough and heartbreakingly vulnerable. So when a murder happens at the school and Jack and his dad are under suspicion for the crime, he is forced to join forces with chilly oddball Holloway.

The mystery was pleasingly complex and labyrinthine in true Holmes fashion (I loved all the sly references), but it’s the main protagonists and their growing understanding that makes The Strangest Forms such a fulfilling and hugely engaging read from Gregory Ashe.

Having devoured The Strangest Forms, I had to read The Old WheeI, the second book in the Holloway Holmes series. Although Jack’s life has stabilised slightly following the events of book 1, that doesn’t mean it can’t be turned upside down by his own actions and outside events, especially when he takes on another ‘consulting detective’ case of blackmail.

The mystery in The Old Wheel was complex and multilayered, and the pace never let up, even when it became clear that it was far more sinister than Jack (or this reader) imagined. What I enjoy most about this series is the emotional component. Jack and Holloway might be smart and resourceful but they’re still teenagers. It’s their imperfections that make this story so involving and compelling and makes them both so irresistible as characters. I can’t wait for book 3 which comes out in June.

Poor Kristian Parker must be sick of me mentioning his books on my blog. It’s entirely his fault for being such an entertaining writer! He’s also very prolific and seems to manage juggling at least two different series with ease. His latest release Reality Royal is from his ongoing Queen’s Crescent series, about how the glamorous other half of society lives, set in London’s exclusive Kensington.

I really enjoy how Kristian makes the privileged inhabitants of the crescent so likeable and relatable. Alexander, the MC in Reality Royal was no exception. He may be posh, but he’s also a trier and it seemed only fair that his latest venture into being a tv reality star teams him up with gorgeous soap star and older man Zac.

Their burgeoning romance was nicely contrasted by Alexander’s appallingly manipulative family and also Zac having to face his own shocks and revelations. This mix of steamy romance and emotional turmoil in Reality Royal made both characters all the more endearing and had me cheering on their HEA.

I’ve already said to Kristian that Queen’s Crescent is like a literary version of Made in Chelsea but much more entertaining and with far more realistic characters! I hope fans of the reality tv series will forgive me for that quip!

Recent Reads: Ancient History and Perfect Day

I have two lovely contemporary second chance romances with a historical element for this week’s Recent, Reads Ancient History (South Rock High Book 1) by A.J. Truman and Perfect Day by Sally Malcolm.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the books so far in A.J. Truman’s South Rock High stories. The series is loosely linked to the Single Dad’s Club stories, with both series set in the small town of South Rock with interlinked minor characters.

But South Rock High focuses on a small group of gay teachers at the high school, getting them together with their perfect match with plenty of fun, humour and emotional depth. So we’ll kick off with book one, Ancient History.

Amos, the history teacher of the title, is in his late twenties and well into his teaching career when he encounters Hutch, the other half of his closeted high school couple 10 years previously. Amos still hasn’t fully recovered after Hutch broke his heart and is horrified to learn that Hutch is joining the school as a staff member!

The highs and lows of teaching, the small-town atmosphere and a great cast of friends and family only add to Amos and Hutch’s rekindled romance. And I have to give a special shout-out to Hutch’s wonderfully colourful and well-meaning Pop! Ancient History sets up the premise and characters for the series in enjoyable style.

Perfect Day has a slightly different historical angle as an absolutely note-perfect modern-day MM Romance retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

I loved that although Sally Malcolm faithfully included all the major points and pivotal events of the original, this was unmistakably Joshua and Finn’s story.

Their youthful love, acrimonious parting and the way that impacted Joshua’s life 8 years after their break up was so beautifully evoked, including the realisation that in taking the advice from a trusted older relative to walk away from Finn for very sound reasons, he made a huge mistake.

Joshua’s narrow existence, cut off from his wealthy family, and eventually drifting back to settle in his home turf, is turned upside down when Finn reappears. And he clearly hasn’t forgiven Joshua.

The setting is flawlessly drawn. I could see the beach, the big house and the town and its inhabitants in my mind’s eye which made Joshua and Finn’s situation all the more poignant.

Written with assurance and sensitivity, Perfect Day is a gorgeous read. You don’t have to be familiar with Persuasion to enjoy this, but if you are, it’s even more special.

Recent Reads: A Case of Madness and Ghosted

For this week’s Recent Reads, I read wonderful two stories about paranormal hallucinations or haunting with lots of humour and poignant moments.

I loved the premise of A Case of Madness (or the Curious Appearance of Holmes in the Nighttime) by Yvonne Knop, about a specialist lecturer on Sherlock Holmes living in contemporary London. I was even more intrigued when I learned that the author originally wrote the story in German before deciding to translate the story into English.

This was a charming and disarming tale as Andrew Thomas, beset by catastrophe, tries to gather his courage and make peace with his past. Along with the assistance of his absolute hoot of a best friend Mina (Watson to his Sherlock), in his despair, Andrew unwittingly summons Holmes in the form of a hallucination who advises him to open up to love. The romance between Andrew and Matt was tender and tentative and I found the A Case of Madness to be fun, quirky, compassionate and resolutely LGBTQIA+ positive. A lovely read.

Pretty much everything by Jess Whitecroft is a must-read for me and Ghosted was unputdownable. A frequently hilarious and sometimes downright spooky glimpse into the world of paranormal professionals, when experienced exorcist Jason and mainly fake medium Ange, meet at a haunted house in New Orleans and begin an opposites-attract romance.

I really enjoyed that although there was plenty of witty banter throughout, the personal tragedies of the main characters (and assorted ghosts) were taken seriously, which made me believe in and care for them. Gorgeously eclectic and sweetly romantic (in between the hauntings), Ghosted just swept me away. I really couldn’t get enough of Jason and Ange.

Recent Reads: Levity and Molly Boys

By complete coincidence, both stories this week, although with very different settings, contain an element of fantasy and the supernatural. I love Roe Horvat’s stories, and having enjoyed Skydive, book 1 in The Dragons of Ardaine series about dragon shifters, I was really looking forward to reading the sequel story, Levity, a contemporary story set in an alternative world.

 I’m one of those readers who really enjoy cross-connections from an author’s previous stories. So in Levity, I enjoyed getting to know Davidson, a dragon shifter supporting character in Skydive. But then it struck me I’d met his fated mate Leo in another series. In Unexpected, Book 2 in Roe‘s Winter Sun series, Leo was MC Richard’s badly behaved ex. This made me invest even more in his character development as we saw behind his precocious façade.

I was caught up in the seamlessly involving storytelling and wonderful world-building of Levity with Leo and Davidson’s connection at its centre. I thoroughly enjoyed the tension of the plot development, action and dragon-flying sequences but for me, the fully explored complex workings of the two main characters, especially Leo with all his contradictions and uncertainties, drove the story. As always with Roe Horvat’s stories, Levity was deeply emotional and mesmerisingly hot.

Vawn Cassidy is a new author to me and was already on my to-read list. I noticed that her latest release Molly Boys, the first book in the London Underside series was not only set in Victorian London but was being rapturously reviewed by my reader friends,  so this was my opportunity!

I found Molly Boys a gorgeously evocative reimagining of Victorian London from the point of view of men who liked men, from the point of view of MC Lord Everett Stanley. The sense of claustrophobia in maintaining this secret world was only emphasised by the gruesome murders of Everett’s friends investigated by Inspector Archibald Franklin of H Division.  

Vawn Cassidy led me through the grand streets of young aristocrat Everett’s Bloomsbury to the more modest surroundings of Inspector Archibald Frankin’s beat to the darkest reaches of Whitechapel with a sure and vivid touch.

There was an urgent and perilous mystery to solve, a burgeoning romance and a touch of the supernatural. Also, there was a fabulous cast of characters that I’m looking forward to meeting again in book 2. A fabulous start to this series!

Recent Reads: Hiding Place, In Lines of Light and Grand Union Hunt

I have a sandwich of Jackie Keswick romantic suspense stories this week, with the filling of a gorgeous short sci-fi story from Kristin Noone. Altogether a delicious combination!

I’ll begin with Jackie’s recent release, Hiding Place which takes place in the beautiful English county of Northumbria where successful musician Zac withdraws after losing his much-loved bandmates in an accident. To find somewhere private to grieve, Zac decides to buy a remote farmhouse, complete with a traditional Pele tower. But the vendor, attractive local landowner Robert Ludlow seems curiously unwilling to sell.

I found the glorious descriptions of the dramatic Northumbrian scenery to be the perfect backdrop to Zac and Robert’s love story, centred on the ancient Pele tower farmhouse that holds some dark secrets about Robert’s immediate family. Hiding Place is such an engaging tale of long-hidden mysteries coming to light together with romance hope and healing.

In Lines of Light is a beautiful and atmospheric ‘space opera’ story from K.L. Noone. She is so adept at capturing a quiet moment following offstage intense action (in this case, interstellar diplomacy) where two people can connect. Although this is a very short story, the characters of Tam and Val were beautifully drawn and I completely believed in the promise of the spark of attraction and empathy between them. And the poetic descriptions of the stars in outer space just added to the romantic atmosphere. Gorgeous!

I am a die-hard fan of Jackie Keswick’s ongoing Power of Zero series about ex-military intelligence couple Jack Horwood and Gareth Flynn and also her relatively new spin-off series Dwight and Conrad Casefiles which is available from her website. Grand Union Hunt is the second story in the spin-off series and it was a joy to have another story featuring Jack and Gareth and their family and friends.

This delightful tale was from Gareth’s point of view. While trying to help a friend of the family who is being investigated by the police for selling dodgy honey, Gareth hits an impasse. After being refused help by his colleague Aiden Conrad, he is unexpectedly forced to reconsider his career options. As Gareth is notoriously cool and unflappable (a quality that appeals to both Jack and readers), this revelation completely unsettles him.

In trying to figure out the bigger picture, Gareth is faced with a baffling investigation. He takes on the challenge with Jack’s help and support, including an impromptu sleuthing and romantic canal boat trip. Grand Union Hunt is a wonderful read with loads of fascinating facts about canals and rhododendron honey!

I just can’t get enough of Jack and Gareth and their family and I’m looking forward to the next story in this entertaining spin-off series.

Recent Reads: Misfits and The Odd Throuple

As you’ll have gathered by now, I love reading all subgenres and aspects of MM Romance. So this week’s Recent Reads is devoted to two outstanding stories that focus on a throuple, Misfits by Garrett Leigh and The Odd Throuple by Jess Whitecroft.

Misfits is my first read by the very popular writer Garrett Leigh and I’m now hooked! I really loved the vibrant contemporary London setting, which was not only beautifully described but a perfect fit for this story.

Tom and Cass, both on the cusp of their thirties, are in the restaurant business, as an owner/developer and chef respectively. Tom is from a solidly middle-class background and Cass has been in trouble with the law in his youth before he met Tom. Although not exclusive, they are a devoted couple of ten years standing who find that work gets in the way of their time together. Then in Camden Town, Tom meets Jake, 24, struggling with Tourettes and life in general and finds he wants more than a casual fling.

I really liked the way that Misfits delved deep into the characters of the three men, their backgrounds and motivations, which made me feel there was so much at stake emotionally without easy answers. I had every faith that Garrett Leigh would lead the throuple to their unconventional HEA. Also, the Urban Soul series title and restaurant concept was very cool and a really interesting backdrop to the romance.

I love Jess Whitecroft‘s stories and found her latest, The Odd Throuple engaging, witty and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Although Jess Whitecroft, like Garrett Leigh, is a British writer, The Odd Throuple takes place in Colorado, USA.

The laconic tone and pace were perfect for our three late thirties-plus characters, Jack the writer, recovering from a car accident that killed his husband, Alex, his friend of 20 years standing who despite having 2 doctorates seems not to have a brain cell when it comes to dating and David, a WASP, amputee and all-round thrill seeker who runs his own flight school.

The way these three encounter each other, both separately and together reflects their personalities and also dictates how the different relationships develop. The dialogue is sparkling and spot on and the observations from each of these three complex well-rounded individuals are both moving and often very funny indeed. I relished spending time in their world as their story gradually developed. Gorgeous! As this is the first in a trilogy, I can’t wait to read more about The Odd Throuple.

Recent Reads: Confetti Hearts and My Highland Cowboy

For this week’s Recent Reads, I have two lovely lighthearted contemporary romances with a Scottish theme from Lily Morton and Alexa Milne. 

In Lily Morton’s Vow Maker, Joe Bagshaw made a memorable and hilarious first impression as Dylan and Gabe’s wedding planner. So I was really looking forward to his story in Confetti Hearts.

Jo excels in his career of arranging other people’s weddings, despite any bizarre or bad behaviour by his clients. But at the start of the story, his own romance has stalled and he’s on the cusp of divorce after a whirlwind marriage with Lachlan.

I really liked that we had both Joe’s and Lachlan’s points of view to unravel the comedy of errors that stemmed from a hot connection and brief relationship that capsized under too many misunderstandings and not enough communication. But Lachlan is determined not to lose his man and makes a last-ditch attempt to win back Joe.

That’s where the Scottish connection comes in. The estranged husbands are snowed in together at one of Joe’s wedding receptions taking place at a remote Highland hotel, together with the mother of the bride from hell and the worst Abba tribute band imaginable!

Confetti Hearts was such a fun and sweet read from Lily, with lots of laughs and hilarious situations on the path to a HEA for Joe and Lachlan.

As the title suggests, My Highland Cowboy by Alexa Milne shares a Scottish setting with Confetti Hearts and there’s even a wedding theme! In My Highland Cowboy, Drew Sinclair, a successful London-based fashion designer returns briefly to his native Scotland to design his sister’s wedding dress and those of her bridesmaids.

During his trip, he stays with Duncan McLeish, the bridegroom’s best friend, a courtly old-fashioned ranch owner who is very much in the closet and challenged by Drew’s unashamed flirtiness.

I loved the gorgeously described Highland scenery as this charming opposites attract romance progressed. The character development and lively secondary characters of friends and family really engaged me in this heartwarming read from Alexa, liberally sprinkled with gentle humour.

Recent Reads: Glitterland and Prisoner 374215

I have been lucky enough to enjoy two intensely absorbing Recent Reads this week. The first is entirely due to the lovely and very talented Sophia Soames who recommended Glitterland by Alexis Hall. Of course, Alexis is a very well-known and hugely popular writer in the MM Romance genre, but what intrigued me about Glitterland, now celebrating its 10th publiversary, is that it’s his first published story.

This hooked me from the very first paragraph and I was hauled vividly into twenty-something Ash’s self-doubting, self-hating, privileged upper-middle-class, Oxbridge point of view. His viscerally related cycle of severe depression and self-recrimination that’s dominated his life since leaving university is interrupted by his encounter with lovely sweet-natured Darian, the ultimate Essex man, in a clash of cultures and mutual desire. From their first meeting, I loved the contrast between these two in terms of personality, language and expression as well as their teasing banter, so much part of their connection.

The rickety route towards a relationship between the sunshiney glitter pirate and the depressive overthinking writer is exquisitely told. In turn, it’s hilarious, lyrical and heart-rending, not only with the most gorgeous language (the erotic scenes are breathtakingly beautiful) but a sense of sea-change.

I was on tenterhooks for Ash to slowly relinquish mourning the loss of his glittering promise before serious mental illness struck and grasp that he did deserve happiness with Darian. I could go on and on about many aspects of Glitterland, but it’s enough to say that I loved Ash and Darian’s story so much, I had to read it twice in a row.

So, my second read this week Prisoner 374215 by Angel Martinez may only be 50 pages long but it packs an emotional punch. This stunning short read with a sci-fi setting brilliantly evokes the dull despair and claustrophobia of a political prisoner at any time or place. Even hope is acknowledged to be false and fleeting for the nameless inmate.

I was completely sucked into the prisoner’s wholly involving point of view. The tension is built to near unbearable levels in the best possible way as I willed any faint optimism to win through. A real emotional roller coaster in so few words and brilliantly executed by Angel.

Recent Reads: The Weight of it All and The Faction

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed two very different but equally engrossing worlds by N. R. Walker and Addison Albright for this week’s Recent Reads.

I love N. R. Walker’s stories and The Weight of it All has been on my radar for ages. Recently, a welcome nudge from a book recommendation thread on social media made me add this to my TBR list.

The story is set in contemporary Sydney and from the point of view of the wonderful Henry, in his mid-thirties, newly single after a long relationship, and bravely making some lifestyle changes about his food and exercise habits (one he indulges in and the other he avoids!)

Enter Reed, Henry’s hunky new personal trainer, who immediately sees past Henry’s insecurity about his outward appearance to the hilarious, quick-witted, lovely inner man, who has absolutely no filter. Henry’s courageous reaction to life-changing events simply hooked me, as I laughed and cried along with him and cheered on his achievements. Both Henry and Reed were so likeable and relatable and I really appreciated the message of self-worth and non-judgement that made Henry’s journey so enjoyable and admirable. I found this story as charming, funny and totally disarming as the main character who so deserves his HEA with lovely Reed.

After enjoying The Weight of it All, I couldn’t resist checking out the short seasonal story A Very Henry Christmas, with Henry and Reed, now all settled together and loved up and looking forward to their first Christmas as an engaged couple. Or they would be if Henry wasn’t determined to cook up an impossibly over-the-top storm with carefully planned accessories!

Henry is a joy, and I love how calm and devoted Reed is to him (and great to get his POV as well.) It was a pleasure to revisit the world that N. R. Walker created in The Weight of it All, along with the wonderful supporting characters and life moving on for everyone in happy and unexpected ways. Delightful! And while I was reading the equally gorgeous To the Moon and Back by the same author, it was lovely to have a brief cameo from Henry and Reed, some years on and still a perfect match.

In contrast to sunny Sydney, in the two-part series, The Faction by Addison Albright, we enter a fascinating alternative universe of vampires in modern America. In the first story, The Recruit, we are drawn into the world of Albert Manli, a two-thousand-year-old vampire, as he approaches a new recruit, Phillip Brewer, who has a terminal illness.

What makes this situation unusual for Albert is the emotional response he has for Phillip which is soon returned as a blood-mate. I relished the premise for this story and thought the world-building was amazing! I found the intricately plotted back story for the vampire organisation fascinating and very original. I really enjoyed how that unfolded and we were drip-fed information as Phillip, having adopted a new identity with the name of Neil, comes to terms with his new life.

Albert and Neil’s story continues in The Choice, where the couple faces a deadly dilemma when elements from Neil’s recent human past catch up with him. I won’t give away any spoilers! But this is a thoroughly enjoyable continuation of an intriguing and well-plotted tale by a favourite author.

Recent Reads: Till Death Do Us Part and Suspiciously Sweet

I’ve recently stocked up on European author Dieter Moitzi’s stories as the ones I’ve dipped into already have been so much fun! In my attempt to work through them properly, I started with Till Death Do Us Part.

I found the premise and execution of the story to be so engaging in a deliberate combination of sight-seeing, murder mystery and gentle romance. The action takes place on a contemporary cruise down the river Nile with playful Agatha Christie references to her Belgian detective in her famous novel Death on the Nile. There was a lovely ironic echo in this tale, with an inquisitive Frenchwoman called Agathe making unofficial enquiries into a baffling murder, together with her reluctant nephew Raphael, both sharing the surname Poireaut.

The clever and gleeful plotting made the whodunnit compelling and I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of the awe-inspiring tourist destinations of ancient Egypt. Also, the attraction between Raphael and Italian fellow traveller Stefano was a sweet slow burn, necessarily interrupted by misapprehensions and the rising body count. I can’t wait to read the next story on my TBR list from Dieter!  

Suspiciously Sweet by Samantha SoRelle, my second Recent Read this week, is another gorgeously warm and funny contemporary romance with two MCs that belies initial first impressions. The premise was perfectly laid out for misunderstandings between our potential couple, Owen and Trevor, the former a hard-working baker attempting to run his failing business and the latter, a journalist by day with a hidden, hated and infamous food critic alter ego.

I loved Owen from the start, his grumpy, tattooed and physically imposing presence hiding a centre as soft as his delicious confectionary. His tough background and amazing modesty about his talent made me cheer for him all the more.

Having fallen for Owen’s baked goods and then the baker, snarky, smart Trevor is desperately trying to hide the fact that he is responsible for the glowing review that has made the bakery so popular, in case that capsizes their developing friendship. So their mutual attraction is impeded in its progress by both men hiding secrets from each other, which I found entertaining and added depth to their love story.

And the wonderful descriptions of all that gorgeous patisserie were the icing on the cake!