Forest of Thorns and Claws by J.T. Hall

ForestRating: 4 stars
Paranormal; Shifters
Publication day:
 May 15, 2017
247 pages  
 Riptide Publishing

Donovan McGinnis, a veterinarian and conservationist at a research center in Sumatra, is fighting to save the rainforest from poachers and politicians alike. One day he discovers a tigress trapped by a snare, and while treating her injuries, she bites him. He becomes ill with strange symptoms that leave him feverish and dreaming of the jungle and blood.

Kersen and his family are part of the Harimau jadian, a clan of tiger shifters hidden away in a secret village near the rainforest. When Kersen’s sister is caught, he knows he must free her before she infects someone with their magic and reveals their secret.

But Donovan has already been turned, and only time will tell if he can control the tiger within. Kersen must help him, but will the fierce attraction between the pair bring ruin to them all? With the rainforest under threat from outside forces, they may be doomed anyway, unless Kersen and Donovan can find a way to defeat the danger from inside and out.

My View: Forest of Thorns and Claws is a different type of shifter story, more magical realism than mainstream weres. The policies, culture, and everyday life of the villagers is an integral part of the story. It goes beyond the traditional mating pull to an educated possibility of weretigers living in unexploited forests.

The book is well-crafted and reminds me of Ann Patchett’s States of Wonder. J.T. Hall takes the time to web her characters with the story.–there are one and the same. The descriptions were enticing and the shifting elements vivid.

We do get to see a bond between Donovan and Kersen, and later with the rest of the clan. But this novel brings the reader the opportunity to make their experience unique and somehow educational without losing the appeal of fictional shifter traditions.

What I liked the most: The importance of the weretigers as a cultural element.

I wanted more/less: A bit more romance.

Who should read it: Fans of more realistic shifter stories.

ARC provided by Riptide Publishing, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. 

Blank Spaces by Cass Lennox

blank-spacesRating: 4 stars
Publication day:
 November 14, 2016
330 pages  
Riptide Publishing

Absence is as crucial as presence.

The decision to stop dating has made Vaughn Hargrave’s life infinitely simpler: he has friends, an excellent wardrobe, and a job in the industry he loves. That’s all he really needs, especially since sex isn’t his forte anyway and no one else seems interested in a purely romantic connection. But when a piece is stolen from his art gallery and insurance investigator Jonah Sondern shows up, Vaughn finds himself struggling with that decision.

Jonah wants his men like his coffee: hot, intense, and daily. But Vaughn seems to be the one gay guy in Toronto who doesn’t do hookups, which is all Jonah can offer. No way can Jonah give Vaughn what he really wants, not when Jonah barely understands what love is.

When another painting goes missing, tension ramps up both on and off the clock. Vaughn and Jonah find themselves grappling not just with stolen art, but with their own differences. Because a guy who wants nothing but romance and a guy who wants nothing but sex will never work—right? Not unless they find a way to fill in the spaces between them.

My View: I have read several books with asexual characters and I think this one does the best establishing a loving relationship in which one of the partners is asexual. But the best part is how the author shows the character self-discovery and how it changes him.

Vaughn is perfect. He has all he needs at the moment and meeting Jonah just opens the door for him to fulfill a piece of his life he didn’t know was missing. Not because someone’s expectations, but because it makes sense to him.

Jonah is young and a contradiction. He loves the life he has, but is working hard to do better. His constant hook ups work for him and give him the release he needs to focus in his work. He uses sex as a coping mechanism but he’s not jaded about it.

I love Vaughn’s and Jonah’s friendship. It’s fun, interesting, and refreshing; just like the main characters. They are the book and we see them grow as we discover more about their lives.

Only the last part felt out of place for me. I understand how they work as a couple, but the easy talk about it, in public, seems out of place for such a lovely moment they were enjoying as a couple.

The mystery element is interesting, and keeps bringing the main characters together. The rest of the cast complemented the main story and set some strings for future stories.

What I liked the most: How well the asexuality topic is weaved in the story.

I wanted more/less: More time with Vaughn and Jonah as a couple, out with their friends; everyday activities like waking up together, catching up breakfast, etc.

Who should read it: Fans of a diverse cast of characters.

ARC provided by Riptide Publishing, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Touchdown by T.S. McKinney

touchdown*** This review contains mild spoilers. Please refrain if you haven’t read the story***

Contemporary; Sports
Publication day:
 September 7, 2016
217 pages  
Dark Hollows Press

Alexander Bryant has lived his entire life making everyone else happy. After meeting Lincoln, will he have the courage to finally do what makes him happy?

Alexander – I like to imagine myself a rebel – an ass-kicker that takes what he wants regardless of what others think. I make my own path and flip off the people who don’t agree. I laugh in the face of conflict. Nobody tells me what to do.

In reality, everything about me is a lie – past, present, and future. The Bryant name requires certain things and all my decisions are based on those requirements. I like football, but the family name demands I love it. I want to be an artist, but the family name demands I be a lawyer. The family demands I fall in love with a nice girl, but I’m falling for, well, the opposite of nice AND girl. I’m a coward and a liar.

Lincoln – I like to imagine myself a loner – a cold heartless bastard that takes what he wants. I lived the biggest part of my life with parents that were ashamed of me for more reasons that one could begin to count, so I trust no one.

I have a low tolerance for bullshit and hate liars.

So why did I go and fall in love with the biggest liar of them all?

My View: Touchdown was a disappointing read. I normally wait a couple of days before writing a formal review, but I don’t think it was necessary for this instance. I don’t need to think about it anymore. I had plenty of time as I read, and cringed. There’s so much wrong with this story that I decided not to rate it. I hate giving/receiving negative reviews without justification, so I’m going to point some goods along the way.

I was put-off by this story within the first thirteen percent. Please take into consideration that this book is labeled as a romance. If it was an erotica story, the dub-con meeting between the MCs around the twenty percent mark would make a little more sense. And yes, I said dub-con because there wasn’t a discussion about limits, likes, etc. No SSC, RACK, or even a word exchange between two consenting adults. And that’s without talking about the alcohol consumption, the public scene, and the insta-lust from seeing Alex’s face on a computer monitor.

I liked the idea of the guys going to explore the club. It was described in a way the reader could almost see what the guys were seeing and experiencing. They all have different reactions and the place seemed to be inclusive.

Not until the 41 percent we see an attempt to explain what BDSM is about, but saying you aren’t  going to rape your sub isn’t enough. Twenty percent later, we get to see that insta-lust turn into insta-love, softening the characters. Alexander had a great personality and I did like the mushy moments between him and Lincoln outside of their sex encounters. They had funny moments and a witty banter. But there’s no way Lincoln was only twenty-five, thirty-five? Maybe.

The author saved the last plot turn involving a spit-roast. I was holding my breath during the whole scene. Trying to understand the reason behind it and was rather pleased to see the way the author turned the events. Unfortunately, that connection was severed moments later.

The last part was just a fairytale ending that didn’t work for me. Too contrived and cliché to compensate for the rest of the story. I don’t mind the over the top antics, but they have to feel genuine. I did want to cheer for their HEA. The scene at the hospital was lovely, though.

Now into the characters. There are many stereotypical characters within this story–from the religious bigots to the cold and detached parents. The superstar quarterback, the less-than-smart beauty queen, the flirtatious bisexual characters, overprotective driver/friend, the Dom of all Doms, to mentioned some. There’s no slow progression to see the characters making decisions and changing their opinions–for example, Alex’s parents. I did like the coach’s reaction.

The BDSM acts itself were too advanced for a newbie with no preparation. Flogging, sounding, etc. require an understanding between the participants. Something more than what one can see/interpret from their partner’s eyes. Overall, the sex scenes were well put together and smexy, just out of context.

I might be ranting, but it’s been a while since I have seen a book in need of a BDSM consultant, or at least, a beta with a sensible understanding of it. I will give this author another try. Perhaps with the next story in the series and just not sure when. The potential is there, and I hope to be surprised next time.

What I liked the most: The cover’s nice.

I wanted more/less: I wanted to see an understanding of basic BDSM elements.

Who should read it: I can’t recommend this story.

ARC provided by Dark Hollows Press, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

The Talented Mr. Rivers by HelenKay Dimon

mr-riversRating: 3.5 stars
Publication day:
 September 13, 2016
214 pages  

As the son of an international crime lord, Will Rivers only inherited one thing after his father died: trouble. The Pentasus organization deals in kidnapping and murder, and Will wants no part of the power grab that’s tearing leadership apart. But the only way he’ll be able to escape is with some help from his former bodyguard, Hunter Cain, whose sculpted body and brooding looks keep Will awake at night. Somehow, Hunter has resisted the tension between them . . . until, suddenly, he gives in.

As a German intelligence officer working deep undercover, Hunter has a very good reason to keep Will in the dark about his identity and his intentions. Although the sex is hot, Hunter’s true feelings are a growing liability. Now the only way to save Will from his old life is to push him deeper into danger. But when two strong men are each determined to protect the other, the heat isn’t just combustible—it’s a firestorm.

My View: The Talented Mr. Rivers is interesting, and it works as a stand-alone. I didn’t read Mr. & Mr. Smith, but it’s not necessary unless you want to know how a pair of secondary characters got together. The only reason I see it can be a problem is if you needed more information to get the opening scene from this book into context.

I liked the ideas behind this story. I just didn’t love them. The main character’s relationship is a good mix of smexy and sweet, and we get to experience it with them. Their possessiveness is sexy without turning into Alpha nonsense. The reader can see their attraction and how they friendship is the foundation of their HEA.

One thing that bothered me was the lack of setting and character development. We know they’re in Paris, that Will is British, and Hunter German, but there’s nothing that pointed to it other than Will affinity for tea. I needed a little more to get invested in them.

What I liked the most: Will’s personality.

I wanted more/less: More of a setting and tridimensional characters.

Who should read it: Fans of mobsters and crime stories.

ARC provided by Loveswept, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

The Deeper He Hurts by Lynda Aicher

The Deeper He HurtsRating: 4.25 stars
Contemporary; BDSM
Publication day:
 September 6, 2016
224 pages  

Asher Ruggiero, a partner at Adrenaline Kick Adventures, is living a lie. As a control freak whose big Italian family thinks he’s straight, Asher likes his encounters concise, dirty, and discreet—until his company’s new rafting guide walks into work, dripping with brooding, intense sexuality. Sawyer Stevens is a mystery man with secrets and rough edges, and he makes Asher want to get to know him inside and out.

Ever since the tragic death of his parents, Sawyer has dedicated himself to the rush of adrenaline that comes from pleasure and pain. Moving from one guy to another, hiding when life gets too complicated—that’s all he can handle. So why does Asher make him long for something lasting and honest, when the gorgeous geek can’t even be true to himself? Sawyer wants to give Asher his heart, but he just doesn’t know how. After all, a life without integrity is a life without passion—and that’s the one thing Sawyer craves.

My View: The Deeper He Hurts has a good combination of BDSM elements and romance. The plot is simple, but the main characters are complex enough to carry the story. Even when it’s the second book in the series, there’s no real need to read the previous book to enjoy this installment. Only if you want to have background information about Kick and some of the secondary characters.

The beginning is a bit rush, and it took me a moment to get into the story. After Asher and Sawyer met everything started to make more sense. The pacing flows well until they get a steady relationship. Then, the jumps in time (when they were apart) we just skimmed over.

The BDSM scenes were essential for the development of the MCs’s relationship. There were simple but efficient. The psychological impact was far more important than the pain inflicted. The author did an excellent job showing the distinction between sex and play; letting the characters show the reader why they were part of the lifestyle and how they fell in love.

Overall, this book has a great couple, lots of kink, and a compelling backstory. There’s a touch of “magic dick”, but in the end, we get to see a better reason for the MCs to evolve. If you’re looking for more than a spanking scene or public play, this is your story. Also, be prepared for a very graphic representation of pain and play.

What I liked the most: The trust between Asher and Sawyer.

I wanted more/less: I wanted to see the times between their meetings.

Who should read it: Fans of contemporary BDSM.

ARC provided by Loveswept, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.