A Mage’s Power (The Inquisition Trilogy #1) by Casey Wolfe

Built on the bones of an ancient city, modern-day Everstrand is where master mage, Rowan, has set up his enchantment shop. When not hanging out with his werewolf best friend, Caleb, or studying, he dabbles in herbology and the controversial practice of blood magic. A prodigy who has already earned two masters, Rowan’s bound and determined to reach the distinction of grandmaster, a mage who obtains a masters in all five Schools of Magic.
Shaw works for the Inquisition, the organization charged with policing the magical races collectively known as magicae. Recently, it has come under scrutiny as magicae begin to disappear and reports of violence increase. With secrets of his own on the line, Shaw is willing to risk everything to find out just what is going on behind all the locked doors.
When Rowan and Shaw are entangled in each other’s worlds, it becomes evident that their hearts are as much at risk as their lives. They must find the truth and stop a conspiracy before it’s too late.

I love it when a book takes me by surprise 😉 In the case of A Mage’s Power, it wasn’t immediate. I honestly wasn’t sure about this one at first, but there was a lot of world building involved. Once the story got going though, it was tough to put down.

There was a lot I really liked about this story. There was a unique family/pack connection between Rowan and his best friend Caleb. Speaking of which, I loved Casey Wolfe’s approach to the pack mentality. Actually, even though her world building was extensive, everything about it really drew me into A Mage’s Power.

The relationship between Shaw and Rowan took some time to build, but that’s okay. Trust needed to be built between the two of them. Shaw had some secrets and some preconceived notions about mage’s and their use of magic. Rowan had some doubts about the sincerity of anyone who worked for the Inquisition.

As I mentioned, A Mage’s Power was hard to put down. The mystery of what was really happening to the missing magicae, the action, the budding romance and the friendship kept the pages turning. It’s probably worth mentioning that all the “romance” happened off the page. That didn’t bother me either, but it might be a deal breaker to some. Just know that the story and the obvious love between Rowan and Shaw made up for it… at least for me.

I’m really glad that this book is part of a series. Even though A Mage’s Power didn’t end in a cliff hanger, there is obviously more story to be told and a few other mysteries that weren’t totally solved. I can’t wait until The Inquisition Trilogy continues.

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Shift’s End (Smoke & Bullets #3) by A.R. Barley

With a couple failed marriages under his belt, Captain Jack Tracey knows how tough it is to balance a personal life with his job. But nothing in his long career has prepared him for the moment Diesel Evers walks into his firehouse. Sure, Jack’s contended with cocky young recruits before, but this seriously hot hotshot rookie is poised to crash and burn. With early retirement in sight, Jack can’t afford to get involved with a subordinate.
Having transferred to Jack’s house after a disastrous relationship, Diesel isn’t looking for another commitment. But that doesn’t mean he can’t have a little fun with his sexy silver fox of a new boss. Sometimes you have to bend the rules a bit…or shatter them completely.
With an unidentified saboteur endangering his squad, Jack doesn’t want to draw any more heat, but Diesel is too damn tempting to deny. Indulging their desires feels worth the risk—until trouble on the job lands Jack in the hospital, forcing them both to decide what’s worth fighting for.

I’ve liked all the books in this series so far, but I think that Shift’s End might be my favorite so far.

Jack was a man that demanded respect. He not only led his team, more often that not, he was right in the thick of things with them. He was more than a Captain, he was a true part of the team. Diesel had a past that he was trying to get away from. He takes his job just as seriously as Jack though and when they find out that someone’s sabotaging the equipment that’s meant to keep everyone safe, he doesn’t hesitate to offer to help.

This story had action, danger, loyalty and just the right amount of heat to keep the pages turning. I loved the connection between Jack and Diesel and the respect and sense of family that was evident between the crew. So yeah, there were a lot of reasons why Shift’s End is one of my favorites. I’m really hoping there’s more to come in the Smoke & Bullets series.

Cooper’s Charm (Love at the Resort #1) by Lori Foster

One summer, two sisters and a chance to start over…
Before the burglary that shattered her confidence, Phoenix Rose had a fiancé, a successful store and a busy, happy existence. After months spent adrift, she takes a job at the lakeside resort of Cooper’s Charm. Surrounded by beautiful scenery, friendly colleagues and a charismatic, widowed boss, Phoenix is slowly inching her way back into the world.
Visiting Cooper’s Charm to check up on her little sister, Ridley Rose impulsively agrees to fill in as housekeeper. Still reeling from an ego-bruising divorce, she finds satisfaction in a job well done—and in the attention of the resort’s handsome scuba instructor.
For Phoenix and Ridley, Cooper’s Charm is supposed to be merely temporary. But this detour may lead to the place they most need to be, where the future is as satisfying as it is surprising…

Two for the price of one! Well, not really, but both sisters find their HEA in Cooper’s Charm.

Phoenix and Cooper’s story was the perfect introduction to Lori Foster’s Love at the Resort series. Phoenix needs more than a change of scenery, she needs a whole new life perspective. She’s finally starting to feel a little bit more like herself, but she’s not quite there yet. Cooper’s Charm might just be the best place to totally heal. She most definitely wasn’t looking for love when she made her move to the RV resort, but her attraction to Cooper was hard to resist.

Cooper was first intrigued by Phoenix’s story, but when he got to know her, the attraction got stronger. He wasn’t looking for love either, but Phoenix was a lot more than he expected her to be.

Then there was Ridley. There was a lot more to her than what was on the surface. The feeling of accomplishment she felt after a few days of work. At first she considered Baxter a challenge, but the attraction between them took them both by surprise.

Cooper’s Charm was basically a sweet romance with a touch of danger and characters that were more like family than co-workers. There was a hint of things to come and I’m looking forward to what Lori Foster has in store for Love at the Resort.

Sink or Swim (Anchor Point #8) by L.A. Witt

When need meets fear, can two very different men find common ground?
Alhazar Bukhari spent his Navy career in the closet. Now he’s retired, divorced, and hungry for the love he’s never had a chance to experience. He tries to put his faith in Allah to bring the right man into his life, but it’s hard to be patient after all this time.
Chaplain Dylan Pedersen spends his days counseling Sailors, and his nights with men he doesn’t know. Months after finally escaping an abusive relationship, he’s terrified of anything more than a physical connection. Maybe it’s a sin, but he’s too lonely to not let men into his bed, and too scared to let them into his heart.
When Alhazar’s civilian job brings him aboard the USS Fort Stevens, and his daily prayers bring him into Dylan’s chapel, the chemistry is instantaneous. Sex and friendship quickly evolve into more, but Dylan’s too haunted by his recent past to be the man Alhazar wants. Alhazar needs love, Dylan needs time, and if they can’t find some sort of balance, they’ll sink before they ever have a chance to swim.

When L.A. Witt decides to tackle a subject, she doesn’t hold back. I love the real life situations that she has her characters face in the Anchor Point series. Given that most of those situations are unique to the military makes things even more interesting. In Sink or Swim, Alhazar and Dylan had more than one obstacle to over come if they ever wanted to make a relationship work between them.

Despite those obstacles, Alhazar and Dylan had a lot in common. They both were previously married to women and had children. Alhazar married out of necessity, Dylan in an attempt to have a “normal” life. You’ll have to read Sink or Swim to get their personal back stories. Parts of both are heart breaking.

I respected both these men a lot. It was refreshing to “meet” a Chaplain – or any religious character – be as open, welcoming and respectful of other religions as Dylan was. I loved Alhazar’s devotion to his faith and learning more about it was an added bonus. His family dynamic with his ex-wife and children was great too. The circumstances were unique, but they made it work.

Both men slipped, they weren’t perfect and as much as I loved them, there was at least once where I wanted to yell at them both. There were a lot of odds against them and that balance they needed to find didn’t come easy. Alhazar had a strong need to protect those he cared about and Dylan felt like he needed to stand up to his fears on his own.

It was great seeing other characters from previous stories. Even though it would be easy to pick any one of the books in the Anchor Point series up as a stand alone, having those simple connections between the characters adds a lot to each book. I think that’s what I might like best about series books that include different characters with each book and L.A. Witt does a great job at including those previous characters seamlessly. So… if you haven’t started the Anchor Point series up yet, you could start with Sink or Swim, but I’d start with the book that started it all… Just Drive. You can thank me later 😉

Tight Quarters (Out of Uniform #6) by Annabeth Albert

Petty Officer Bacon, a navy SEAL and ace sharpshooter, has been on the front lines of more than his fair share of dangerous ops. Yet when a minor injury relegates him to the beta team, he’s tasked with what may be his riskiest assignment yet: the silver fox journalist he’s babysitting is the hottest, most charismatic man he’s ever encountered.
Award-winning journalist Spencer Bryant may have been named one of Pride magazine’s most eligible bachelors of the year, but he’s not looking to change his relationship status. He’s a consummate professional who won’t risk his ethics or impeccable reputation by getting involved with a source. Even a sexy-as-hell military man. But while Spencer can resist his physical attraction to Bacon, he has less control over his emotions—especially when the mission goes sideways and the two men are trapped alone.
Getting out of the jungle alive turns out to be easy compared to facing the truth about their feelings for one another back in the real world. And whether or not they can build a future is a different story altogether.

I really like this series and it seems to get better with each installment.

There’s a lot of tension in Tight Quarters aside from the growing sexual tension between Bacon and Spencer. Bacon is a member of the same seal team that Dustin and Wes belonged to in Wheels Up. Their (secret) romantic involvement didn’t go over well with the team. Which is just one of the many reasons why Bacon isn’t anxious to let anyone but his closest friend in on the fact that he’s pansexual. Having being put on babysitting detail with Spencer just ups his stress level. While you don’t necessarily have to read all the books in this series to enjoy the individual books, connections like this add another layer that I really enjoy.

Things got really intense in Tight Quarters. More so than a lot of the other books in this series so far. Spencer was determined to make the most of his assignment, but the men on the team didn’t trust him. There were some pretty strong reasons why getting this story right was important to him and some times he couldn’t really see beyond that. Getting close to Bacon wasn’t smart because regardless of what the guys thought about him, he had a strong sense of ethics and certain boundaries he wouldn’t cross.

Bacon was loyal to his brothers on his team, but that didn’t mean he respected them all. There were some pretty strong personalities within the ranks and he wasn’t sure who among them would have is back if they found out about his sexuality. He was getting tired of hiding who he really was though and I really felt for him. He and Spencer were great for each other, but the timing for anything to develop between them was totally off.

I really love the real life circumstances that Annabeth Albert puts her characters in. A lot of tough issues that are unique to the military are tackled and I really like the way she handles them. Tight Quarters was definitely a great addition to the series and I really hope there’s more to come.

Art Medium: The Complete Collection (#1 -2) by E.J. Russell

Artists use all manner of materials to express their vision, to interpret the world around them, to affect the hearts and minds of their audience.
But what if the artist himself were the medium? And what if artistic inspiration weren’t the only force at work?
If painter Stefan Cobbe and art investigator Luke Morganstern don’t answer those questions fast, they stand to lose their reputations, their relationship—and their lives.

Just a FYI – I think that reading The Artist’s Touch and Tested in Fire together made a difference in how I felt about both books.

The Artist’s Touch
Painter Stefan Cobbe was homeless and debt-ridden after the death of his wealthy partner, but the worst loss of all was his artistic inspiration. After two years of nothing, he’s offered patronage by an eccentric gallery owner and starts to produce again, canvas after canvas. The only problem? He can’t remember painting any of them—not one single brushstroke.
Luke Morganstern’s reputation as an art-fraud investigator is in tatters. He can’t afford to turn down any job, even a lousy one for an anonymous client who sends him after an unidentified forger in a remote cabin in Oregon. When the alleged forger turns out to be Stefan, the man he never stopped loving, Luke’s professional ethics are stretched beyond the breaking point.
As the two men take tentative steps toward reconciliation, evidence begins to mount that they’re not alone in the woods. Someone—or something—is watching. Something with sinister plans for them both. To escape, Luke must overcome his suspicions and Stefan must trust Luke with his deepest fears. Otherwise they could forfeit their relationship, their sanity—and their lives.

Stefan lost everything when his partner died, including the very thing that defined himself. Without his artistic inspiration, he was lost. The very last person he expected to see when he was at his lowest, was the man he walked away from.

Luke doesn’t want to believe that Stefan is the forger he’s after, but the evidence against him is so strong, it’s hard to deny. The closer he gets to Stefan again though, the more he realizes that there’s something else going on. Something that’s not going to be easy to explain. Something that’s going to be even harder to escape from.

Even though I liked the story and loved the mysterious ghost connection, I have to agree with other readers who expressed a need for more… The Artist’s Touch was less than 150 pages, which was way too short to cover all the threads weaved through this story. I really would have liked to have gotten to know both Stefan and Luke a little better. *sigh*

Tested In Fire
Six months ago, Stefan Cobbe was at rock bottom: grief-stricken, guilt-ridden, debt-laden, and oh yeah—possessed by a homicidal dead painter. But after reconciling with his first love, Luke, and moving to Sarasota with him, Stefan is ghost-free and preparing for his first major show. Yes, he still has debts, and no, Luke doesn’t understand Stefan’s desire for independence. But compared to last year? No contest.
Luke Morganstern ought to be happy. After all, his art-investigation business has recovered and he’s got his boyfriend back. But Stefan stubbornly refuses to move in with him or accept Luke’s financial help, and it’s really starting to bug him. Who knew that the biggest test of their relationship wouldn’t be time or distance, but his own insecurities? After Luke’s next job—a trip to Italy to retrieve a mysterious artifact—he plans to convince Stefan that it’s time to totally commit.
But when Luke returns, he changes, and Stefan begins to suspect that the person in Luke’s skin isn’t Luke at all. He can hardly go to the police and claim his lover is the victim of a supernatural hijacking though. He needs alternative help to find Luke and get him back, because he refuses to let anyone—or anything—come between them again.

I think I might have enjoyed Tested in Fire more than The Artist’s Touch because I already knew Luke and Stefan. Their back story wasn’t quite as important. They were both in a better place than they were in the previous book, plus the unique twists in Tested in Fire kept the pages turning.

I don’t want to give a lot away, so I’m going to keep this review vague and brief. I will say that as much as I love a good ghost story, like the one in The Artist’s Touch, the unique “magic” in Tested in Fire was what made this story my favorite between the two. It also reinforced the bond between Stefan and Luke that the first book was kind of lacking.

Imperial Stout (Trouble Brewing #1) by Layla Reyne

It’s a good thing assistant US attorney Dominic Price co-owns a brewery. He could use a cold one. Nic’s star witness has just been kidnapped, his joint operation with the FBI is in jeopardy, his father’s shady past is catching up with him and the hot new special agent in San Francisco is the kind of distraction best handled with a stiff drink.
Kidnap and rescue expert Cameron Byrne has his own ideas about how to handle Nic, but his skills are currently needed elsewhere. The by-the-book FBI agent goes deep undercover as a member of an infamous heist crew in order to save Nic’s witness, break up the crew and close the case before anyone else gets hurt. Nic in particular.
Things heat up when Cam falls for Nic, and the witness falls for Cam. As the crew’s suspicions grow, Cam must decide how far he’s willing to go—and how far into his own dark past he’s willing to dive—to get everyone out alive.

If anyone has any doubts as to whether or not Trouble Brewing will live up to Agents Irish and Whiskey, fear not! I can’t wait for this series to continue. ❤

Nic and Cam’s mutual attraction started in the Agents Irish and Whiskey. They’re both dealing with their past, but they have a case to solve first and a witness to get back. There was pretty much no stop to the page turning action.

There were a lot going on in Imperial Stout and I loved seeing characters from Agents Irish and Whiskey make an appearance. The brewery added another layer and gave readers a unique chance to get to know Nic just a little better. Danger, heat, suspense, humor and well developed characters promise to make this series another great addition to Layla Reyne’s growing collection of books on my reading list. 😉

Stand & Deliver (Men of Haven #5) by Rhenna Morgan

Beckett Tate has met his match in colleague Gia Sinclair. He longs to run his hands over each and every one of her lush curves. She’s wicked smart and wicked hot. He’s given her time to get used to the idea of “them,” but her time is up and he’s ready to go all in on claiming what’s his.
Despite her love of all things girlie, Gia’s no typical Southern belle. She’s built her skills and reputation in a field normally dominated by men, and now she has a kick-ass career she loves. She certainly doesn’t need a man to take care of her—especially not one who’s pure alpha. Still, Beckett’s the one man who can satisfy the desires she’s hidden under her tough exterior, and she’s hooked.
Letting Beckett take the lead in the bedroom comes naturally to Gia—not constantly proving herself to him professionally is more of a struggle. And when someone attacks her character and career, Gia and Beckett will have to find a balance: her willingness to let go just a little, with his trust in her abilities and his deep, primal need to protect his woman.

I may have mentioned once or twice that I love this series. Each book adds another layer to this family. Readers get to know a little bit more about all the members as well as the couple that each book is centered around. It would be impossible to pick a favorite couple out of all the Men of Haven, but if I was pressed, Gia and Beckett would definitely be close to the top.

Readers already knew a little about Gia going into Stand & Deliver. She’d proven herself to the brothers, their significant others and the moms. The tension between her and Beckett was obvious, but relationships and work don’t mix. At least that’s what Gia told herself… over and over and over again. Beckett didn’t have the same qualms. He was ready to stake his claim and everyone knew it. Gia could take care of herself, but when her career and name are in danger, Beckett can’t wait. He shows Gia exactly what family means. Gia had a hard time letting go, but it turns out these two were perfect for each other. ❤

As much as I loved the action, danger, heat and the strong sense of family that is the main theme in all the books in the Men of Haven series, Beckett’s personal story took me by surprise. Every once in a while you read a book that touches you in an unexpected way and that’s exactly what happened to me while reading Stand & Deliver. Beckett suffers from SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder), which I had never even heard of until I read this book. Rhenna Morgan goes into a little bit of detail about this disorder at the end of the book, so if you read Stand & Deliver, don’t skip the back story. There’s not a lot of information about the disorder and it can manifest itself in several different ways. As soon as I finished Gia and Beckett’s story, I called my daughter… and then I emailed Rhenna Morgan. My 3-year-old grandson was recently diagnosed with epilepsy and the medication that he’s currently taking has amplified his anxiety. It’s also intensified his need for a specific type of touch. Since he was very small, when he sits with you or when you hold him, he has to touch your ear. He even pulls at his younger brother’s ears when he’s standing near them. Most of the time you can tell he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it. I know it seems like a small thing, but giving this little “quirk” a name gave it validity. It’s not just a weird little habit, it’s also a physical way for him to cope and something he can’t really control.

One of the reasons why my reading is so eclectic is that I love learning about different cultures, people, lifestyles and places. You never know when one of those stories is going to touch you personally, or give you a different way to look at people that you never considered. You might even learn something that changes your perspective totally. My favorite books are the ones that make me want to learn more even when the story’s over.

Inside Darkness

He’s come in from the field, but the darkness has followed him home.
After a decade as an aid worker, Cameron Donnelly returns home jaded, tired, and with more than just a minor case of PTSD. Plagued by recurring nightmares but refusing to admit he has a problem, Cam quickly spirals into an alcohol-infused depression, and everyone around him is at a loss for how to help.
Journalist Tyler Ang met Cam on a reporting assignment in Kenya, and their first encounters were rife with hostility and sexual tension. Back in New York, their paths continually cross, and each time, Cam’s brokenness reminds Ty more and more of his own difficult childhood. Letting Cam in goes against Ty’s instinct to live life autonomously, but the damaged aid worker manages to sneak past his guard.
Their relationship is all sharp corners and rough edges, and just as they’re figuring out how to fit together, a life-threatening accident puts it all in jeopardy. If they want a future together, both will have to set aside their egos and learn to carry each other’s burdens.

Inside Darkness was not an easy book to read. I felt for Cameron, it was impossible not to. At the same time I admired Tyler. Even though he wasn’t sure about Cam, especially after his initial encounter with him, he still felt drawn to him in a way that made him want to help.

Cam tried to hide his pain. He hid the pain behind his “darkness” which is what he calls his PTSD induced episodes. He relishes those hidden moments because he doesn’t “feel” the pain during those moments of escape. The only thing that makes him feel better, is Ty.

Regardless of how hard this book was to read, I really liked Inside Darkness. I loved the connection between Ty and Cam. I loved Cam’s friends and family.

Ty was fighting his own demons. They were no where near as brutal as Cam’s, but he was still trying to fight his way out of the “rut” his professional life had fallen into.

Cam suffered more than one set back and then… well, you’ll have to read Inside Darkness to see how things work out… It’s not cut and dry and never easy. What Ty and Cam go through is painful, but worth the journey it takes them to where they both deserve to be…

Good Boys (The Solomon Mysteries #1) by Keelan Ellis

Having risen through the ranks of the Baltimore City Police Department to the elite Homicide unit as an out gay man, Paul Solomon has always prided himself on his integrity and self-reliance. As the last vestiges of his failed eight-year-long relationship fall away, Paul finds himself adrift, forced to rely on others to help him find his footing again.
When Paul and his partner, Tim Cullen, are called to the scene of a double murder of two high school students on the city’s west side, Paul finds the lives and deaths of the two boys hitting closer to home than he’d expected. With his personal life in upheaval, he struggles with the perspective needed to untangle the web of secrets and lies that led to their demise.
While working his way through the complicated case, Paul starts getting his life back together. After a date with an enigmatic young man takes a dark turn, he reaches out to an old flame who brings some much-needed lightness to his life. But Paul finds that relationships, like murder investigations, are never as simple as he’d like.

I like a good mystery. A mystery with a touch of romance is even better. Good Boys even had the extra bonus of taking place in Baltimore and since that’s really close to where I grew up, it made the first book in the Solomon Mysteries even more interesting.

There was a lot going on in Good Boys and some of that went beyond the mystery behind the boys’ murder. Paul’s personal life gets even more complicated with a man from his past and another he can’t get out of his head. I’m not a huge fan of love triangles and I know who I want Paul to end up with, but I’ll just have to wait and see where things go… Keelan Ellis has her work cut our for her if she plans on winning me over. 😉

Good Boys was a great start to the Solomon Mysteries. It didn’t slow down much, between the mystery, romance, tough issues and danger – it was pretty easy to keep the pages turning. I can’t wait to see where this series goes from here. Since this was my first book by Keelan Ellis, I may have to check out some of her other books while I’m waiting.