Welcome to May! We have some great reviews for you this month, including a contemporary romance, a mystery/romance series, and a horror series. We hope you find something you'll like here.
Title/Author: Kill Game by Cordelia Kingsbridge
Series/Standalone: Seven of Spades book 1 of 5
Genre/Sub-Genre: MM Romance/Mystery
Book Format: eBook
Length: 304 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: gay
HEA/HFN: Not yet!
Abuse/Rape: Nothing on page, but it is discussed as past misdeeds by various minor characters.
Ratio of Sex/Plot: Heavy on the plot
Well Written/Editor Needed: Well written!
Would I Re-Read?: YES
Personal Thoughts: OMG, I loved this! I can tell the author did her research into police procedure and she managed to seamlessly use it without making it dull and boring. The main characters are rich and nuanced, with such detail that also doesn't bog down the story. Dominic is a bounty hunter and bartender with a gambling addiction, something you don’t see often in romance. Levi is a detective who’s been with his boyfriend for three years and is still getting over an incident at work earlier in the year. Even the minor characters, family members, and Rebel (the dog), are really great to read about. Also, I just love the dog's name. The romance here is a slow burn and handled realistically. I like how Levi’s first relationship was handled, even as it was falling apart. The mystery is complicated and extremely well done. It kept me guessing all the way through, and then it turns out my prediction wasn't correct. The mystery will continue into the next book — likely for the whole series, as I understand it. This is an interesting way to write a mystery, as most wrap up in one book. I'm now chomping at the bit to see what happens next! There were several moments when I thought "Oh no, the author went to that trope that's always written badly." Then two sentences later I would think "Oh! No, she really knows what she's doing and nothing is tropey here. It's all good!" If you like MM Romance/Mysteries by Josh Lanyon, then you’ll like this one.
Post Script: I have now read the second book in the series, Trick Roller, and it continues to be a page-turning read. I appreciate the reality that, while one major case may or may not have been solved, depending on who you ask, life goes on and other cases have come to the foreground. Everything is happening in a realistic time frame and the romance is still a sweet part of the story, but with a few more sex scenes this time around.
Summary: After her best friend Clay commits suicide, Danielle Cain visits Freedom, Iowa in search of answers and finds an abandoned town turned into a safe haven for squatters and anarcho-punk’s paradise. There she discovers that magic is both real and terrifying. The inhabitants of Freedom have summoned a three-horned, blood-red deer named Uliksi, an endless spirit and vengeful guardian who protects Freedom from predators -- human and animal alike – by ripping out their hearts. But something is wrong. Uliksi has turned on his summoners.
Series/Standalone: Danielle Cane #1 & #2
Book Format: Paper
Length: Book one is 128 pages & book two is 160 pages — 288 pages total
LGBTQ+ Orientation: Queer ensemble
Violence: Yes — gun violence, character death, people getting their hearts ripped out by a demon deer. None of it felt extraneous, though – the deaths all serve the plot and are necessary, and I wasn’t squicked out by any of it.
Well written/Editor Needed: Yes
Would I Recommend?: Definitely
Personal thoughts: Oh, this was a fantastic pair of novellas. One of the best things about them is that everyone is queer. Everyone. And it’s so racially diverse too, which is another huge plus! The main character is a queer girl who gets into a slow-burn relationship with a genuinely kind girl named Brynn. Vulture is a black, gay, trans man who is one of my favorite characters after Danielle. He is delightfully witty, endearing, and obsessed with Instagram. A prominent member of the cast, Thursday, is brown. Even minor and background characters are queer or POC. One of the casual references that stood out to me was the mention of a passing polyamorous family (“three punks, two kids, two dogs”) that is used to expound on how Freedom lets homeless people like them grow their own food, generate their own power, and make their own rules. You also find out in the second novella that Thursday and his female partner Doomsday are poly too! A genderqueer character with “they/them” pronouns is also mentioned in Barrow as part of Danielle’s and another character’s shared past, which was lovely to see as well. Great emphasis is placed on correct pronouns. Asking for someone’s pronouns is normalized, even for presumably cis characters.
The first novella, The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, deals with the town of Freedom itself as its inhabitants try to decide what to do when Uliksi, the demon deer, or “endless spirit,” they summoned, kills one of his summoners. For a novella, I thought the tension and pacing was quite good. I wished it was longer when it was over, but the ending was satisfying, even if it took me a second read to process. I feel like it easily could have been bundled into one book with The Barrow Will Send What It May, as a Part 1 and Part 2 situation. I don’t want to give away the plot of Barrow, since I fear that it might hint at the resolution to Lamb’s central mystery — why is Uliksi turning on his summoners, will they be able to dismiss him, what drove Clay to kill himself. But it involves an occult library, necromancy, magic feds, and a Scooby-Doo style crew on a road trip.
Ultimately, I loved the aesthetics of these books! It’s really refreshing to read a horror/fantasy series like this with explicitly and unapologetically punk-rock, anarchist, queer characters. I can’t wait to see what Margaret Killjoy does next!
Title/Author: Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole
Summary: Likotsi, the dapper assistant of Prince Thabiso of Thesolo (see A Princess in Theory) is finally taking some well-deserved “me” time in NYC, the city where her boss met his bride and Likotsi got unceremoniously dumped by a woman she hoped would be The One. When she runs into her ex on a stalled train, she’s less than thrilled, but the thought of finally getting closure (and maybe an explanation) gets her to follow Fabiola on a whirlwind tour of her favorite spots in the city. Unfortunately, spending more time with Fabiola isn’t helping Likotsi get over her. In fact, she might be falling even more in love.
Series/Standalone: book 2.5 in the Reluctant Royals series, and it will not make much sense if you haven’t read A Princess in Theory already
Genre/Sub-Genre: contemporary romance
Book Format: eBook
Length: 106 pages
LGBTQ+ Orientation: lesbian & bisexual
Ratio of Sex/Plot: It’s a short book, but there’s a surprising amount of story packed into it! There are also several sex scenes, but I wouldn’t say they dominated the narrative.
Well Written/Editor Needed: well written
Would I Recommend?: If you enjoy romance novels, especially contemporaries about people experiencing real-life problems with satisfyingly fluffy resolutions, I strongly recommend the whole Reluctant Royals series! I don’t think Once Ghosted would work as a standalone, but the first two books are fast reads.
Personal Thoughts: This is a charming novella that I really, really wish had been fleshed out into a full novel. All of my complaints about it boil down to the fact that it’s so short! I liked the characters, but I didn’t feel like I got the chance to really love them or become deeply invested in their getting back together. We know that Likotsi and Fabiola had a relationship before, but we’re learning the details in flashback at the same time that we’re getting their second chance romance. That didn’t work for me as well as a linear narrative.
At the same time, I’m super grateful that Likotsi and Fabiola got a novella of their own. Even five years ago, they would have been a minor side-plot in a het romance novel and I would have been genuinely thankful to get any textual confirmation of a lesbian couple in a mainstream romance series! I did love a lot of aspects of Once Ghosted, Twice Shy: experiencing the vivid details of NYC through Likotsi’s eyes (especially the food!), all the descriptions of Fab and Kotsi’s clothes, and the genuinely good-hearted and kind protagonists. This isn’t a romance where the characters have to change to deserve each other; the obstacles are external. If those obstacles are dealt with in a slightly unrealistic way … well, this is a romance series about modern-day royalty.
As a final note, check that gorgeous cover! Did you know the models are a real-life couple, opens a new window? Cuteness for days!