REVIEW: Reading List by Sirius
I wanted to do reading list for a while now, but was never sure how long is too long for a mini review. I do amazon mini reviews, but you can write very little there and I was always worried that such length is not going to be enough for DA. Here we go.
1. V. E. Schwab “A Darker Shade of Magic”
STEP INTO A UNIVERSE OF DARING ADVENTURE, THRILLING POWER, AND MULTIPLE LONDONS.
Kell is one of the last Travelers-magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes, connected by one magical city.
There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad king-George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered-and where Kell was raised alongside Rhys Maresh, the roguish heir to a flourishing empire. White London-a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.
Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.
I saw this book recommended during my time lurking at the File 770. I have always loved the SFF books which portray multiple realities, and the idea of multiple Londons fascinated me, so I one clicked.
The world building is so cool. Four Londons in this book are located in the same place and even named the same but that’s about all the similarities they have – not all of them are the capitals of Great Britain and in some realities Great Britain does not even exist. All of the Londons have some kind of relationship with magic – some live in harmony, some not, and some let the magic consume them. The only connections between four Londons are people like Kel, who are time-travelling magic users (Antari), and those people deliver the letters from monarchs of one London to another. Kel also does some smuggling on the side – it is forbidden to bring anything but travelling coins from London to another for very good reasons, but I could understand Kel wanting some excitement.
Of course if there is a gun on the wall, it will shoot eventually and his smuggling does get Kel in some trouble (okay, in A LOT of trouble), and of course his London is in trouble too. In grey London he acquires a companion for his future adventures – Delilah Price, unrepentant thief and sometimes killer, but who has her good qualities (some of them anyway?). I did not particularly care for her to be honest – I do not quite get why some authors think that making a strong female character means giving her qualities which would irritate me in a male character too. She wanted adventure, huh? Survival being her motivation for doing unsavory things would have been plenty for me, why did she need to show off some stupidity too? I am not sure. But I did not hate her and this is only the first book, so hopefully she will improve later on. How magic functions in these worlds seemed to be well thought out and I usually really enjoy seeing what authors come up with re: magic.The adventure was good, one of the villains has the potential to become an antihero in the next installment, and I’ve missed that ( meaning I have not read it for a while), so I’m looking forward to that.
(if he is not dead that is, but I thought all the signs point to him not being dead – like having a weak pulse when Kel kind of disposes of him)
Spoiler (SPOILER): Show
2. “Idyll threats” by Stephanie Gayle.
In the summer of 1997, Thomas Lynch arrives as the new chief of police in Idyll, Connecticut—a town where serious crimes can be counted on one hand. So no one is prepared when Cecilia North is found murdered on a golf course. By chance, Chief Lynch met her mere hours before she was killed. With that lead, the case should be a slam dunk. But there’s a problem. If Lynch tells his detectives about meeting the victim, he’ll reveal his greatest secret—he’s gay.
So Lynch works angles of the case on his own. Meanwhile, he must contend with pressure from the mayor to solve the crime before the town’s biggest tourist event begins, all while coping with the suspicions of his men, casual homophobia, and difficult memories of his former NYPD partner’s recent death.
As the case unfolds, Lynch realizes that small-town Idyll isn’t safe, especially for a man with secrets that threaten the thing he loves most—his job.
This was one of the best gay mysteries (and when I say gay mystery I mean mystery with the investigator who happens to be gay) I have read in the last couple of years. Thomas has applied for the job of police chef in the small town of Idyll after working homicide for twenty two years in New York. He is an experienced, talented detective. The death of his partner (and all kinds of issues which followed) was a major reason why he did it. Idyll is a town where they have not had a murder for the last five years, so you can imagine that when it does, this is not an everyday occurrence for his men. I thought the story was extremely well done. As a gay romance reader I am used to reading about all kinds of gay men who are in the closet as the story begins and eventually get out of it, because they acquire a love interest or something like that. But I really do miss reading about how much it can affect a person in other areas of his life. I really felt for Chief Lynch – he did make some dumb decisions because he did not want anybody to know he was gay, and the narrative calls him on it without really judging him (because till society will be more tolerant I do not think anybody can do so). And his grief for his partner was so real that a couple of times I choked up. For romance readers – this is not a romance, however there are couple of hints that if these books become a longer series he may acquire a love interest. I thought the book ended with hope, and I thought the mystery was good. I highly recommend this book.
3. “Prickly business” by Piper Vaughn and Kenzie Cade.
Some people might call Avery Babineaux a prick. He’s a hedgehog shifter from an old-money Louisiana family, with a penchant for expensive shoes and a reputation for being a judgmental snob. His attitude is why he and his fated mate are estranged. Not that Avery cares. He doesn’t want to be mated to some blue-collar werewolf anyway. Or so he keeps telling himself.
No werewolf likes to be looked down upon, least of all Dylan Green. He doesn’t need a mate, especially not some snotty hedgehog who sneers at his custom motorcycle shop and calls him a grease monkey. But when Avery gets into trouble with a shady loan shark, Dylan can’t stand by and let him be hurt—whether he wants the brat or not.
Yet once Dylan steps into Avery’s world, he realizes there’s more to Avery than his prickly exterior, and that unexpected vulnerability calls to Dylan’s protective instincts. The sassy little hedgehog needs a keeper, and despite their horrible first impressions, Dylan starts to believe he might be the wolf for the job.
I may have mentioned before that I love shifter stories, but I do not find too many shifter stories which I end up enjoying. I will be honest – I bought this one because hedgehog shifter was a breed of shifter that I never before “met” in m/m romance. If they existed, books with hedgehog shifters had passed me by. One of the reasons why I cannot find too many shifter stories which appeal is because I have long had enough of the “You are my mate, I am your mate, hear me roar” theme which runs through so many of these books. I do not mind the “mate bond”, but I want some interesting variations of it. I will admit that this story started disappointingly – a couple of years ago Avery and Dylan recognized that they have a mate bond, but after a weird conversation they had decided that they did not want each other. I began to think something along the lines – “oh great, so the story will revolve around a silly misunderstanding, but eventually they will realize that it was a misunderstanding and will live happily ever after”.
I am happy to report that I was wrong – I mean, yes, Avery and Dylan are potential fated mates, but the authors took the story in an unexpected direction. Because Avery gets himself into a bad situation and Dylan cannot help but rush to save him, the guys are thrown back together and they are given a chance to become friends before they become lovers. I was also pleased to learn that apparently in this universe shifters can marry for love even if they are not potential mates and even if they are mates they can acknowledge or ignore the bond.
I initially found Avery to be annoying – he is a son of wealthy parents, who at 23 receives ten thousand a month allowance for rent and expenses and at 25 will have access to a trust fund. But when he places bets on races and a big bad loan shark demands payment – it does not end up well. His parents have had enough and cut him off, and initially he cannot figure out how he will survive, because he has *never* worked. No, I was not very sympathetic, but he pleasantly surprised me – he found a job (the Alpha of the wolf pack on whose territory he lives helped, but it still counts in my book) and eventually he puts his heart and soul in it and finds a line of work which makes him happy. I was especially pleased that Avery’s thinking went from – “he would work till he gets access to his trust fund” to “when he gets his trust fund he will use it to help him finance the place he wants to open” and that he wanted to get training to pursue his career.
I liked that the romance between Avery and Dylan was relatively slow-burn (there was that mandatory sex scene at 50 -52% of the book, which made me roll my eyes because I thought they had farther to go before going to bed, but overall it was not bad). Yes, they both felt the pull of the bond because, you know, “fate”, but I liked how friendship and love were thrown together in the mix, not just “fate” and that’s all.
This of course ended up being the first book in a series. It does not end in cliffhanger, although a subplot in which Avery was involved ended up being unresolved. Have I mentioned how much I miss stand-alone stories lately?
4. “Him” by Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen.
They don’t play for the same team. Or do they?
Jamie Canning has never been able to figure out how he lost his closest friend. Four years ago, his tattooed, wise-cracking, rule-breaking roommate cut him off without an explanation. So what if things got a little weird on the last night of hockey camp the summer they were eighteen? It was just a little drunken foolishness. Nobody died.
Ryan Wesley’s biggest regret is coaxing his very straight friend into a bet that pushed the boundaries of their relationship. Now, with their college teams set to face off at the national championship, he’ll finally get a chance to apologize. But all it takes is one look at his longtime crush, and the ache is stronger than ever.
Jamie has waited a long time for answers, but walks away with only more questions–
can one night of sex ruin a friendship? If not, how about six more weeks of it? When Wesley turns up to coach alongside Jamie for one more hot summer at camp, Jamie has a few things to discover about his old friend…and a big one to learn about himself.
Warning: contains sexual situations, hotties on hockey skates, skinnydipping, shenanigans in an SUV and proof that coming out to your family on social media is a dicey proposition.
Sarina Bowen and now Elle Kennedy are amongst few m/f romance authors whose stories I ended up enjoying and since I loved Sarina Bowen’s m/m book as well, of course I had to buy this and I am glad I did.
This is a book about hockey (which was not surprising since it seems to be the sport both authors previously featured in their books) and about two best friends having a silly bet, but then one of them cuts communication lines for four years because he felt guilty. Now they both meet as stars of their college hockey teams and they manage to reconnect. I was surprised and pleased (really I should not have because I do not remember prolonged misunderstandings featuring heavily in their past offerings) when they reconnected and apologized to each other quite early in the story.
This is not a GFY story (and I really cannot complain much). Jamie realizes that he is bisexual and that he enjoys being with men and women, and it’s not a setup where Wes is the only guy whose looks don’t turn him off. I thought it was very well handled and would give bonus points for not making Jamie’s girlfriend a villain.
Since this is supposed to be a mini review, I will just say that I found this story to be really sweet and touching and funny. There is a little bit of angst, but in my opinion not much. Read it. Recommended.
5.“Submission guidelines” by T. Neilson.
Cole Doren is starting over. He’s moved, started working as a food writer again, and is crushing hard on his new neighbor, Daniel Mazurek, who is a genuinely nice guy and as hot as a supernova.
Too bad for Cole, Daniel’s not what he seems.
And too bad for Daniel, the cute boy-next-door’s DNA says he’s one of America’s most wanted, and it’s Daniel’s job to confirm that and bring him down. Digging through Cole’s past, Daniel finds out about Cole’s BDSM videos and while it should set off warning bells, it only leaves Daniel damn hot for Cole. Getting closer to his subject is easy, but starting a relationship built on trust is a lot harder when everything Daniel’s ever told Cole has been a lie.
I really enjoyed this novella because it was so funny. It has its shortcomings, mostly because it tries to do too many things in one narrative, but I still liked it because I liked the characters so much. It has several over the top twists and because it is over the top, the plot of the bounty hunter in one of those bounty/law enforcement agencies falling in love with the guy he was supposedly hunting did not bother me (it is not a spoiler to say that the guy in question turns out to not be a suspect, I hope). I was giggling or laughing out loud while I was reading. There is a mystery twist – it is too short to be a real mystery, but the resolution of why Cole is “not one of the America’s most wanted” was out there, but at the same time worked for me very well within the story. I was conflicted about BDSM angle – at first I thought it was unnecessary extra despite the title being a play on it, then I decided that it did advance the characterization in interesting way. In any event overall the story still worked for me.
Eep! Submission Guidelines is $5 for 100 pages!! What is up with that pricing?
I was able to reserve the first two on your list at my library!
Kaetrin, I know! But I reread it several times by now – surprisingly became one of the comfort rereads. Check your email :).
Kim , I hope you like those. The second book in V.E.Schwab’s series comes out in February.
I started reading A Darker Shade of Magic but some of the violence was on the disturbing side, so I put it down with intentions to get back to it later. I may still do that, since you gave it a B.
I really like the mini review format!
I really disliked Avery and DNF’d Prickly Business pretty early on. Maybe I should put it back on the TBR pile and give it a second chance. The thing is, there are a lot of other good books out there (despite my recent book doldrums) and I don’t like the idea of committing my time to a book I have to slog through the bad parts to get to the good stuff for. :-(
I thought that Prickly Business sounded cute, and my taste usually jives with yours, Sirius, but I remember that there was some reason I didn’t buy it when I first heard of it.
Then I looked at the price. Holy cats. It would have to be an awful lot better than cute for me to cough up that much!
@Susan: Oh thank you, maybe I will do more reading lists in the future if the exercise was successful. I recently did another exercise – my first long DNF review , we shall see :).
Oh, well “prickly business” is really not the kind of story I would try to convince you to pick it up again. Obviously there is never a guarantee but if I am swept off my feet by the book, I can be more enthusiastic. Here – Avery also irritated me a plenty initially (cry me a river boy about your hard life :).), true I thought he changed for the better, and liked it well enough, but if you could not continue, as you said – too many good books.
@hapax: See what I wrote to Susan, it was not a spectacular read for me, good enough but not spectacular. Have you read “A Darker Shade of Magic’? I think I would definitely suggest this one if you did not.
Great list, Sirius. Thanks for sharing! I like the short reviews and seeing more of what you enjoyed reading. I really liked Him also and for the same reasons (the character actually identifies as Bi! What a revelation! and no evil ex-girlfriend. yay!).
@Kaetrin, the small m/m romance presses are so expensive. Fortunately, they’re all coupon eligible on Kobo and a lot of them offer discounts if you purchase directly from their websites.
I didn’t care for Prickly Business – I felt like it was a bait and switch. It started out a fun fated mates who don’t like each other and then took a left turn into romantic suspense and i just couldn’t go there.
@Sirius: THANK YOU!!! :D :D :D <3
Forgot to comment on Him. I have such, such mixed feelings about this book – and the more I think about it, the more mixed I get. I really enjoyed it, or at least I enjoyed a lot of parts of it. My least favorite part of it was the flashbacks to them at 18 and their bet about a blow job. It started to feel a little fetishizing to me. IDK. I got my first serious same sex crush on a girl at summer camp, so I resonated with that A LOT, but
I seriously started skipping the BJ flashbacks.
Cleo I did not mind “Prickly business” taking a new plot turn, but I would have liked to see suspense story resolved in the same book.
@Janine: One day I will try to figure out why I react to violence in some books but not in others. Maybe because here I formed expectations of some darkness based on the title alone before I started reading? No idea, now I am wondering if I should have given the warning, but it honestly never entered my mind.
@Kaetrin: I hope you enjoy :-).
@Sirius: I haven’t read it yet, but I really liked VICIOUS, so it’s on my list. Maybe I’ll bump it up a bit.
@hapax: do you think I would like VICIOUS? I bought it pretty much after I read this one , read the last page and run away :). Tell me I should come back?
@Sirius: I just finished Idyll Threats which I got from the library after reading this article. I really liked it! It took a while for me to warm to the main character but by the end it was one of those books I couldn’t put down. It looks like it’s set up to be a series so I’m going to watch for more.
@Kim W: thanks so much for letting me
Know! I will be watching for more myself :).