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REVIEW:  Secrets and Ink by Lou Harper

REVIEW: Secrets and Ink by Lou Harper

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When Karma writes you a ticket, pay up or else…

If life was like the movies, Jem Mitchell’s wouldn’t be such a mess. In LA’s glittering world of dreams, he works an unglamorous job at a gourmet grocery store. His past is so deep and dark, the details are lost even to him. All he knows is he was once cursed by a meter maid, and ever since, his love life has sucked.

When Detective Nick Davies becomes a regular at the store, Jem dares to hope he’s un-hexed at last. He should have known that sex with a remarkably normal guy, devoid of weird fetishes and fatal personality flaws, was too good to be true.

During a post-encounter cuddle, Nick recognizes the tattoo on Jem’s back—and remembers him as a young hustler he arrested nine years past.

As Jem’s memories come crashing back, he flees from Nick, but fate contrives to keep pushing them back together. And when Jem’s old partner in crime is found murdered, the stakes are raised for life, for love, and a dangerous drama with no guarantee of a Hollywood ending.

Warning: Stars a mild-mannered store clerk with a shady past, a hunky cop whose passion in the bedroom is as big as his passion for justice, and celebrity sightings you won’t see on TMZ.

Dear Lou Harper,
On the surface, I could not think of anything obviously wrong with this story. The narrator Jem is likeable and funny. He has his own quirks and neurosis and the reasons are all based on what happened to him in the past. He thinks he is cursed – truly when I was reading the blurb I was sure that the magic would be involved in the story. However, it is very clear (to any person on Earth but Jem) that he has just been having lots and lots of bad luck in the last several years of his life.

“You should have patience with Jem,” she said, leaning close to Nick. “He thinks he’s been cursed.” “Yeah, I’ve heard,” Nick replied. I shook my head at her disapprovingly. “I don’t think that. I know it. Ms. Jones said, word for word: Sir, may all your hubris fall around your ears like a ton of bricks. Three days later, a literal ton of bricks fell on me. Well, okay, technically, it was poured concrete, but that’s a tiny detail. I’ve had nothing but bad luck since.” Like my sister, Nick was a doubter. “Don’t be ridiculous. Life’s not a fairy tale.” “Don’t I know it? But the curse is real. I saw a psychic, and she categorically declared I was under a curse. Don’t give me that look,” I added, because Nick was rolling his eyes now. “Madame Layla is for real. She is also a witch, so she knows her stuff.”

When Jem and Nick met, I felt the connection between them and I wanted to see and feel more of that. I was not sure whether I liked that they had already met in the past, when Nick arrested Jem during his hustling activities, but I was ready to go along with it – especially since the reasons for Jem being a teenage prostitute were on one hand different from what many m/m stories usually go with and on the other hand so simple and believable to me.
I also really enjoyed the mystery part of the story – the first part of the mystery that is, although it started very strong, it then fizzled out really quickly, because the identity of the villain was telegraphed pretty obviously. I mean, I do not mind if mystery is just a vehicle for romance OR if the romance takes a very secondary fiddle to the mystery, but to me neither the romance nor mystery in this book received an in depth treatment. The mystery was simplistic, because there was no candidate to divert my suspicions from the one character who felt like a REALLY bad and sleazy guy from the very beginning. I get that there was an attempt to do so with somebody else, but I just did not buy that at all.
The romance was cute. But I wanted to know more about both guys as people. As I said before, I thought Jem’s neurosis was established well by what happened to him in the past, but at the same time I thought the medical part of his situation was given a superficial treatment. I get that it is hard to strike a balance in romance, but I did not feel like the balance was achieved. Nick was nice and dependable and a stickler for the rules, but I did not feel like I got to know him well if at all. I felt that characterization-wise the story was just scratching the surface, especially with Nick, and it was frustrating for me to feel dissatisfied with the characters when I finished reading.
I liked it but did not love it.
Grade C.

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REVIEW:  Love a Little Sideways by Shannon Stacey

REVIEW: Love a Little Sideways by Shannon Stacey

Dear Ms. Stacey:

You are one of my go to authors in contemporary romance. I feel safe in one of your books. I’m not going to find assholes or cheating or anyone getting their heads cut off. The most unexpected thing I can expect in a Kowalski book is how badly an ATV will be mangled. In fact, maybe that should be the new rating I give to Stacey books. This one was a five ATVs but the other one was only worth three ATVs.

Love a Little Sideways (Kowalski Family #7) by Shannon StaceyLiz is the only sister of the big Kowalski family and she’s spent most of her adult life supporting an artist in New Mexico and she rarely saw her family. When she decides that the long term relationship is going nowhere, Liz heads home to Maine. There she starts a waitressing job and begins to consider what she really wants to do in her life.

One thing she’d like to do is Drew Miller, the Police Chief and best friend of her older brother. They had a one night stand (or one late afternoon stand) during the wedding reception of one of Liz’s brothers but they’ve kept it a secret because of Drew’s relationship with Mitch, the eldest Kowalski.

When Liz is back in Maine, their attraction to each other is hard to resist but there are two major impediments to any relationship. Drew is concerned about telling Mitch that he, Drew, is having sex with Mitch’s sister but the more pressing concern is the major difference between Drew and Liz’s outlook for the future.

Drew spent years married to a woman who never wanted to have children but never admitted it to Drew. This wasn’t something he knew and ultimately that led to a divorce. He is actively looking for a wife and one who wants to have kids. While Liz wants kids and a family possibly that is in the far future. Right now she wants to look at classes at a community college and even get a degree. She doesn’t want to wait tables for the rest of her life and is feeling a bit self conscious of how she compares professionally with her brothers.

Drew and Liz presented an impossible conflict. He wants to get married and have children and she does not. The entire Kowalski clan is brought back together for a camping trip where Drew and Liz’s first conflict – Mitch – comes to a head but their other conflict isn’t so easily resolved. Liz is still living in a rented house and with inflatable chairs and sofa. Her worldly belongings could fit into the back of a car. Nothing about her lifestyle indicates that she is ready to settle down.

Both characters are extremely likeable and I enjoyed revisiting all the other Kowalskis but I did wonder if the vast cast of characters would be confusing to readers. And while I felt that there was great chemistry between Liz and Drew, the impossible conflict had to end in either Drew giving up his dream of the future or Liz sacrificing for Drew. That wasn’t how the story was brought to a close but I had a bit of a hard time believing that the two were going to have a happy ever after. Instead I felt that neither character had really moved far enough in the other’s direction for a completely satisfactory conclusion. B- or 4 ATVs.

Best regards,

Jane

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