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Book Roundup - February 2024 - Susan-Alia Terry

Book Roundup – February 2024

Mar 1, 2024 | Book Roundup

Rampage (Out for Justice Book 3), by Reese Knightley, 3 stars

Three strong, independent, and protective badasses are on the cusp of romance when tragedy and disaster come at them like a landslide. While they chase down a sex trafficking kingpin with a devious plan, life throws one challenge after another in their path.

The three badasses in this case are Wild, Storm and Roscoe. I couldn’t wait to read this once I found out these three were going to be in a relationship. Triads are my jam.

Wild and Storm were intriguing figures in the first two books, and while Roscoe was present, he was FBI. I was curious as to how it would all work.

I gotta say, the first half of the book got on my nerves. It started off promising: Roscoe, Wild and Storm are sent off on extended assignment. For weeks the three of them are working closely together, and the attraction between them grows.

Then we have a six-week cut!

When we return, Roscoe has a Mysterious Secret™. And let me tell you, this shit was drawn waaaaay the fuck out. It was given so much weight I thought it was some deep shit:  A black sheep brother who owed the mob! Secret addiction! Blackmail!

But it wasn’t that deep. It was such a non-issue that NOBODY cared! It took up half the book! He was all secretive—didn’t tell his best friend, and he ducked any and all questions. All this build up for something shameful and embarrassing for it to turn out to be a nothingburger. I couldn’t put the damn book down until I found out, and boy was it a let down when I finally got my answers.

Other than that, the chemistry between the three was sexy as hell. The sex, of course, hot as fire. They were all reluctant, for obvious reasons—it’s a romance, there’s got to be tension.

Overall I appreciated the way they organically came together, how natural it was. I really loved that there was no foundational duo. They were all attracted to each other together, as a triad. It wasn’t even all that weird, it just was which made their relationship all the sweeter. I’d really love to find another triad romance. Love it, love it, love it.

 

Destruction (Out for Justice Book 4), by Reese Knightley, 3 stars

The loss of a child is devastating. The kidnapping of Michah’s brother Caleb tore Alex and Micah’s home apart. Both unable to cope, they hurt each other. This is the story of them finding their way back to each other.

In many ways this was a hard book to read. It’s rife with that back and forth—the hope and hopelessness of searching for a child you hope is still alive but fear isn’t. In that respect, this is a very good book. I felt that whiplash, that constant feeling of “maybe tomorrow we’ll find him.”

But some things bugged me. For one, the naming conventions changed in this book. Throughout the previous books we knew Alex as Fear, and Micah as Lash. Their personalities were entwined with those names and so now dealing with Alex and Micah was confusing as hell. I had to stop more than once to figure out who was who.

For another, Micah (Lash) goes AWOL following a lead. That would be fine, except that he spent the last two books going AWOL. His superiors threatened suspension, but of course when he goes AWOL again, nothing happens. Phoenix is either a para-military outfit or it isn’t. Going rogue has consequences! But the thing that really got my goat is that he’s supposedly hurrying off before the lead goes cold, but the lead is lukewarm at best! Phoenix is literally right behind him. His going off alone never pays off in either him finding Caleb or in consequences for leaving the team behind. Just like in real life, characters need consequences!

A word about the series:
Once again I’ve rated 2 more books in the Out for Justice series 3 stars. I wanted to take a moment and talk about the series in general and why I’m consistently rating them this way.

The books aren’t poorly written by any means, but every book so far could use a thorough line edit, and in some cases a developmental one. Examples: Flashbacks are used when they aren’t necessary. Characters think things and then immediately act like they never had those thoughts. Crutch descriptors, and clichés are used when more thoughtful choices could make sentences more meaningful. Characters wear something in one paragraph then in the next they’re wearing something else.

The books are marketed as “fast paced” but they are not. On average the events happen over a time frame of about six months—there are constant dead ends and stalled investigations. As a result, the middle of the books churn and ruminate which dissipates any built tension.

The author also does something that I’m guilty of—scarce description. My mentor dings me on it all the time, and seeing it in these books has made me aware of how disconcerting/disappointing it is to read a book where the environment is vague and scarcely described. For instance, I’ve been told that Phoenix has a new headquarters but damned if I know if it’s a converted residential building (which was what I thought at first), an office building, or a large warehouse-type building (most likely). I don’t know the layout so when people move around in the space, I don’t know where they are in that space.

I expected to see less of these things with each successive book, but that unfortunately hasn’t been the case.

 

Forgive Me: A Mafia/Priest MM, by Ariana Nash, 5 stars

Newly ordained Father Francis Scott is broken and damned, every day is penance for his tarnished soul. Vitari Angelini, hit man for the mob, is literally damned and inexplicably drawn to the tortured priest.

Vitari is sent to watch and perhaps silence Father Scott who has, for some reason, drawn the interest of multiple mob factions. But Vitari just wants him and that may be the death of them both.

Good god.

This is a much darker work than I’ve been reading and it took me by surprise.

You know, I’ve read a bunch of het mob romance books, and the interesting thing is that Irish and Russian mob books have a lighter tone. The Italian mob books are always heavy and break my heart. I don’t know why that is. But this book is no different. Achingly devastating.

Although they were unaware of each other, both Francis and Vitari grew up in the same orphanage. Both carry deep wounds from that time. Hints of sexual abuse.

We’re not told why Francis became a priest—he wasn’t Called. It’s alluded to that he had no choice. He also feels he needs to atone for what happened in the orphanage, and for being gay. Being a priest is his way of cleansing his soul.

Vitari is the son of a mob boss, conceived through a dalliance with a prostitute. At twelve he was taken out of the orphanage and into The Family. Striving to be the ever obedient son, he eventually became The Angel of Death.

Both men hold so much self-loathing—both are trapped in lives they don’t want to be in but see no way out of. Vitari sees Francis as a “perfect” man of God, but he also sees him as a passionate but lost man. Francis sees Vitari as an evil killer, but he also sees his caring, gentle side. They are drawn to the light and dark in each other.

Once this book got going, I didn’t want to put it down. The pacing is good. There’s action and mystery, but it’s the interaction between the two men that I love so much. These two are so beautiful and broken in the same way that I want them to heal each other. The ending both broke my heart, but left room for hope. Luckily, there’s two more books. I want to see these two together, I just have no idea how that’s gonna happen. Looks like the third one won’t be out until the end of March. Gotta pace myself. Eep!

 

Stars Collide: A Novel, by Rachel Lacey, 5 stars

Eden Sands has been a pop star since she’s been a teenager. Anna Moss is an up-and-coming superstar who’s idolized Eden since she was a teenager.

Eden hasn’t been having a good year. She’s still reeling from her divorce a year ago; her last album was received with lackluster reviews; and tickets to her upcoming tour aren’t selling well. Her career is on a downward trajectory. On the other hand, Anna’s star is shining brightly. Her songs are all over the radio and she’s considering her first tour.

A Grammy performance brings them together—a boon for them both, in more ways than the obvious. Eden discovers that Anna isn’t a spoiled pop-star, but a smart woman dedicated to her career. Anna discovers that Eden is more than the woman whose posters graced her adolescent room walls.

The performance goes over well and Eden’s manager suggests that Anna should come on the tour as Eden’s opening act to help her ticket sales. The idea is a brilliant one and soon the tour sells out. Proximity fuels their budding friendship, which soon turns to love.

OK, I cried at the end. Pretty much all you need to know about this sweet, love story.

Anna is pansexual, and out. Eden is straight—at least she thinks she’s straight. She’s never had a deep passion for someone, not even her ex-husband. She’s also never had a reaction to someone like the reaction she has to Anna. Anna is attracted to powerful women. Her last relationship was with a woman who manipulated and controlled her—a pattern she’s terrified of repeating.

It takes awhile, but Eden works it out. When she accepts her new identity, she embraces it fully—no closets for her. It’s Anna that almost lets her fear of being controlled and manipulated kill what’s grown between them.

The story manages to be beautiful and sweet while also acknowledging the realities of being LGBTQIA+. Eden and Anna’s story ends happily, but not everyone’s does.

I also appreciated the dual-edge fandom portrayal. Anna loves her fans, and while Eden loves hers too, she also has a healthy fear of them. She’s been mobbed—been treated like an object and not a person with emotions or personal space. It takes a few run-ins for Anna to realize that as her popularity grows, so does concerns for her safety.

This book touched me in a way I hadn’t expected—hence the crying. These women are intelligent and strong. Fiercely protective of each other, and driven. They talk through shit that needs to be talked through. While I didn’t sign up for a “coming out” story, I was happy to accompany them on their journey.

 

On Fire: A Colton Security Novel by Rebecca Ryan, 5 stars

Profiler Nic Savano is quiet, reserved and dedicated to his team at Colton Security. Confident and assured, he’s the one people lean on. But his private life is very private, he lets few people in. Bombings at gay clubs and the murder of a past lover threaten to reveal parts of himself he prefers to keep hidden. On top of that, the intense passion he feels for Fire Chief Dave Keller is impossible to keep under wraps. Nic has always felt that love and family are for others, but maybe that’s not necessarily true.

From the first few pages this book took hold and I didn’t want to put it down. At page 206, I looked up wondering how I got through 60 percent of the book already! Fast paced and compelling—this was an excellent read.

While it is a stand alone, references to a shit-ton of backstory clued me that there is much more to the story of Colton Security. If I wasn’t currently on a queer romance kick I’d check them out. If this book is any indication, I’m sure they’re excellent reads.

The last time I read about closeted gay men was maybe the 80s? I’m not sure. There’s a different tone to these books because of it. Both Nic and Dave live in stoic silence. They throw their entire beings into their jobs as distraction from the connections they can’t make. They have too much to lose to be involved in relationships that can go sour much less random hookups.

They’ve known each other awhile, have worked together in past books, there is attraction but caution has them avoiding contact. Forced to work together again, Nic takes the opportunity to make a move. The bombings and murder of his ex has peeled back the layers of his armor, suddenly playing it safe is an unacceptable choice.

Dave is onboard, to a point. Nic looks OUT in comparison to Dave. But they both come to see that even though there’s no lack of hate for LGBTQIA+ folks, their immediate circles are not the enemy.

Ms. Ryan writes with beauty and subtlety. Both Nic and Dave wear two faces: the one for the public and the one for each other. She does a wonderful job of conveying these faces both overtly and covertly. For instance, Nic’s apartment is cold and impersonal, relating how much he’s shut down emotionally. Dave’s house is an adorable “grandma house” complete with doilies and knitted stair runners. His home is his sanctuary where only his brother (and soon Nic) is welcome.

I also appreciate how she leans on the reader to make appropriate intuitive leaps. She doesn’t overfeed, but leads us to make our own conclusions.

This book was expertly timed, and a flat out run from beginning to end. I wish it was a tad slower. I wish I had time to linger, just a little. But the characters never get a chance to so the pace not only makes sense, but is an effective strategy. At some point I’ll go back and try to take my time and savor it. It was that good.

 

Tied To You: A Dark MM Romance (The Kozlov Brothers) by Syn Blackrose, 2 stars/DNF

I started to not include this book or any book I rate 1-2 stars/quit reading, but that’s not honest is it? Poor ratings and books I Did Not Finish are facts of life, right? Right. So here we are.

Forgive Me has primed me for more darker themes. I love all the sweet love stories, but now I’m in the mood for something darker. What could be darker than some nice stalkery obsession?

Dim, Russian mobster with a penchant for killing, sets his sights on helpless Seb. At first sight, Seb is his, he just doesn’t know it.

From the premise, this book sounds like just what I’m looking for.

But first—imagine you’re sitting at a bus stop and some random person comes along, sits next to you and starts talking to you about their life. They do little editorializing. It’s mostly this happens, that happens, I felt this way, I felt that way etc. You have zero connection to this person and besides the act of talking, they’re making zero attempt to connect to you.

You’d easily become bored, right? Maybe you’d check to see if the bus is coming. Decide that maybe walking to the next bus stop isn’t such a bad idea.

This is how I felt reading this book. Suddenly I’m thinking it’s only 186 pages, that’s not long, right? But wanting the book to be over soon after I started doesn’t bode for an enjoyable reading experience.

From the opening line, the author is telling me the story. I literally felt as if I was reading a list of bullet points strung into a paragraph. This happened and then that happened, I felt this way, and then I felt that way. Don’t get me wrong. Telling is part of novel writing. But it’s not all it is.

The act of reading is two fold: the author conveys, the reader discovers. To me as a reader, that second part is extremely important. I engage with the story through discovery. I connect with the characters through discovery.

If you’re not clear what I mean here—use the quick look feature to compare the opening of the above book On Fire to that of this book. They’re both written in first person and yet On Fire conveys the feeling of dropping into a person. Showing—in this case letting the reader feel vicariously through the character—is a powerful thing. What I wanted from this book was to dive into the powerful sensations of predator and prey, but unfortunately I know that’s something this book can’t deliver.

Not finishing a book feels like a personal failure, but sometimes it’s just necessary.


As usual, if you’ve read any of these, please let me know your thoughts. If you have any suggestions, or if you’ve written a book I might be interested in, drop a comment and let me know.

Until next time!

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