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Book Review: Innocence and Carnality by J. Alan Veerkamp

Innocence and Carnality       

Author: J. Alan Veerkamp

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

American release date: April 23, 2019

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/LGBT Romance/350 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Nathan is a bird in a gilded cage. A member of the Deilian aristocracy, his life is proscribed by a series of rigid rules. But something goes horribly wrong when his “inclination” is discovered—that is, his homosexuality. Suddenly he has become the black sheep of his family, and his future looks bleak indeed, as the people of Deilia do not tolerate such behavior. Nathan’s father has him fitted with a chastity belt to keep his virtue intact until such time as he can find him someone who is willing to wed him, sacrificing his very dignity in the process.

Nathan’s father eventually comes up with a husband for his wayward son… enter Lord Rother Marsh Delaga III. He shows up one day and is unlike anyone Nathan has ever met. He is quite open about being gay, and is very obviously interested in Nathan. The wedding takes place right away—this is a man who doesn’t let the grass grow under his feet when he wants something—and he whisks his handsome and innocent young husband off to the strange and seductive land of Marisol.

Delaga House is not what Nathan expected. In fact there’s no way around it, it is a bordello. With some very interesting occupants.  Such as Alexandra, the very competent manager, and Blythe, the rather large bodyguard with a mind of his own and a mouth to match, and Vivian, who has a sharp tongue and an inflated sense of her own importance. Luckily, Nathan has brought his valet Harston with him, with whom he is close, someone to anchor him in this strange land.

Thanks to his strict upbringing, Nathan has trouble adjusting to the sensuality of his new life, but it feels oh so good. And just when he thinks maybe life as a married man in Marisol will be good, he the blinders torn from his eyes. Has he traded one kind of cage for another? Where can he turn and who can he trust? If he doesn’t lost his innocence and learn how to deceive, he will never survive the experience.

Innocence and Carnality is my first book by J. Alan Veerkamp, but it won’t be my last. I’ve been looking forward to reading this ever since I saw snippets of it in our writer’s group. It was well worth the wait. It’s sci fi with a definite steampunk vibe that I love. I especially loved Nathan, and enjoyed reading about his journey, and the things he had to do to survive as he became less and less innocent through necessity. The author has a wonderful writing style that flows easily, and he creates very memorable characters. The sex scenes are very hot and steamy and very explicit.

If there is a lesson one can take away from this book, perhaps it’s that there are no absolutes with good and bad, and what may seem to be good may not be, and what is looked down on as bad might be just a matter of understanding. I think this book would make an awesome movie.

In all good books, a character should grow in some way, not simply exist. Veerkamp has accomplished that with young Nathan, who not only experiences new things, but learns from them and develops as a person. You can’t help but cheer for him and hope he rises above the bad in his life in the end in order to emerge triumphant. I highly recommend this book if you enjoy men having hot steamy sex but are also a romantic heart, and liked it with a touch of sci fi.

Well done, J. Alan, well done indeed!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: Bleach, Vol 7 by Tite Kubo

Bleach, Vol 6     

Author: Tite Kubo

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: April 5, 2005

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Manga/Supernatural/200 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

As Ichigo battles Hollows which Quincy Uryu Ishida has lured with his bait, Orihime and Chad awaken to find themselves safe, having been removed from the battle by a mysterious stranger in a striped hat. Chad demands to know what has happened, and what it has to do with Ichigo. Ishida is finding that his plan is going awry. He can’t kill the Hollows with just one shot anymore, alarmingly, and as his strength wanes, the number of Hollows only increases—not quite what he’d had in mind when he began the contest with Ichigo.

Rukia is dismayed to find that her strength is not what it should be. Suddenly beset by what she at first thinks is Ichigo, she realizes it is Kon clinging to her like a leech, she spots Ishida and learns that this sudden infestation of Hollows is his fault and wants to know what he was trying to prove. Meanwhile, Kiskue is revealing the truth about their powers to Orihime and Chad, and how they were activated. Seeing their skepticism, he invites them to come along with him and see for themselves.

Ichigo has finally caught up with Kon and is furious that he didn’t do what he sent him to do, which was to retrieve Rukia’s thingamajig. Ishida is still intent on having Ichigo as his opponent, but Ichigo notices the ominous cracks in the sky. As they watch, Rukia explains to him about the Quincies and why they had to be destroyed.

Despite everything, Ichigo wants to work with Ishida, not against him. Ishida explains why he hates Soul Reapers so much, and Ichigo explains about the death of his mother, and his own war against Hollows. Can these two work together to defeat the Hollow horde? And what the heck is a Menos Grande?

Should they be frightened?

There is a lot going on in this volume of Bleach. Since I’m watching the anime (although I’ve way ahead of where I’m reading), I find it interesting to note things in the manga I would have liked to see in the anime. Such as the scene with Kiskue and Orihime and Chad, where he explains about their powers. Watching Ishida and Ichigo learn to work together is great, as they both have issues to work through, mostly Ishida. Ichigo, for the most part, is pretty laid back, and takes things in stride. Ishida, on the other hand, is rather high-strung and nervous.

The fight against the Menos Grande is pretty awesome, not to mention we get to see more of Kiskue Uruhara and Tessai, although there is much we don’t yet know. I loved seeing Rukia and Ishida assimilate with their schoolmates, and the first appearance of Mr. Yoruichi is priceless.

Another great volume of Bleach, looking forward to more of the same!

 

Book Review: A Prince on Paper (Reluctant Royals #3) by Alyssa Cole

A Prince on Paper (Reluctant Royals #3)       

Author: Alyssa Cole

Publisher: Avon

American release date: April 30, 2019

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Contemporary Romance/381 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Nya Jerami is the daughter of the disgraced and now imprisoned former minister of Thesolo. Escaping to the glitz and glamor of NYC, Nya is dismayed to find the city is too big to suit her, and she feels out of place there. Her career isn’t taking off the way she’d hoped, and her love life leaves something to be desired too, only to be found in the virtual dating games she plays. Returning to Thesolo for the royal wedding of Ledi and Thabiso can either be a curse or a blessing, as she is unsure of the reception she will receive from the people, some of whom think she is as guilty as her father. However, in all her speculations as to what might happen, she never figured Prince Johan into her calculations.

Johan von Braustein is literally the red-headed step-prince of Liechtienbourgh and has long held the title of the Playboy Prince. But that works for him, as it draws attention to himself and away from his half-brother Lukas, the actual heir to the throne, who is only seventeen and not ready for the scrutiny of the press. Johan hides behind his infamous persona and admits no one. But then he finds himself up close and personal with Nya in the most unexpected way, and all bets are off.

These two are in for a bumpy ride.

As if this isn’t enough pressure, a referendum is about to be held in Liechtienbourgh, which may bring about the end of the monarchy. What will happen to Prince Jo-jo/Johan then? The paparazzi are threatening to tear down his carefully built persona, while even from prison, Nya’s father attempts to manipulate her.

On the flight to Thesolo, Nya and Johan, aka Jo-Jo, find themselves becoming friends. Neither one knows the other has been watching for a long time. Secrets are being guarded, information withheld, and emotions kept in check. Due to unexpected circumstances, they present the world with a fake engagement. But how long will they be able to maintain the charade?

Much as I loved the first two books in the Reluctant Royals series, this one took my heart immediately, especially Prince Johan. By the time I was finished reading, I knew this was my favorite, without a doubt. Watching these two people watch each other, wanting, longing, and unable to speak due to perceived problems, broke my heart. Both are wounded, although in different ways, and both are afraid to love. Love, in their experience, can be manipulative or it can lead to great loss and pain. But there is more to it than that, as they come to learn, and they will have to take a leap of faith at some point in order to make their dreams come true.

Johan’s brother Lukas is both engaging and bratty, typical teenager, although he does have reason to act out, what with the upcoming referendum. He’s been raised all his life to become a king, but what if there is no monarchy? Not to mention, he has other issues he’s afraid to discuss which make him lash out at those he loves best.

Nya’s support group, aka Ledi and Portia, are not as evident in this book, but they are there for her as much as possible, and it’s good to see them again, as well as glimpses of Thabiso and Tav.

This book resonated the most deeply with me, and I could see myself in Nya, playing her dating sims, although mine tend to be of the male variety, such as Dream Daddy. It’s easier to give your heart to a virtual lover than an actual one, but sometimes you just have to take a chance. This is a don’t miss addition to the series, but you really need to read them all, as well as the two novellas that are part of the series also, or you’ll be shortchanging yourself.

I would so love to see these books made into a series or movie!

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The General’s Bride by M.F. Sullivan

The General’s Bride     

Author: M.F. Sullivan

Publisher: Painted Blind Publishing

American release date: August 14, 2019

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Sci Fi/LGBTQ/293 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

After the debacle in Jerusalem, Dominia finds herself in a place between worlds, walking with Lazarus and Valentinian to Cairo. As if that isn’t strange enough, every night, she finds and enters her father’s study and converses with the Hierophant as if that were the most natural thing in the world to do. However, there is an unnatural element at work here, a chimera that is coming to resemble Dominia’s late wife Cassandra more and more, to Dominia’s dismay. Is she upset because this creature is an insult to Cassandra’s memory, or is that she fears she won’t be able to resist the temptation of well-remembered flesh should she come to resemble Cassandra more strongly than she can bear?

Every morning, a knock comes on the Hierophant’s study door as Valentinian comes to retrieve Dominia. He returns her to the journey she is on with him and Lazarus. Sometimes she just looks at him, unable to believe he and Basil are one and the same. Dominia’s conversations with her father are both confusing and enlightening. Although she doesn’t entirely trust him, she doesn’t entirely distrust him either. And he’s oddly more forthcoming on many subjects than her enigmatic traveling companions. Sometimes she thinks Lazarus couldn’t give her a straight answer if his life depended on it. Her father warns her that her desire to resurrect Cassandra is not practical and that she is being lied to, and sometimes she just doesn’t know which way to turn – except  away from the creature which seems to resemble her late wife more and more.

Dominia isn’t sure who to believe or who to trust—everyone has their own agenda, including her. She wants to get to Cairo to retrieve Cassandra’s diamond from Miki Soto. Lazarus and Valentinian claim they want to save mankind by sending the martyrs to the far away planet of Acetia. But how can it be right to condemn an entire people for the actions of a few? Did the Hierophant come from there? There is evil on both sides, but which is the true evil?

Dominia’s journey to Cairo will be a long one, and certainly not straightforward as she finds herself in strange places, among strange people and begins to doubt everyone and everything she knows. If they are her friends, why aren’t they with her, to save her? Why does it sometimes seem as though her Father has her best interests at heart? It seems as though Dominia can only rely on herself, but will she be enough to see her through what is to come?

The General’s Bride is every bit as riveting as The Hierophant’s Daughter as Dominia continues her journey to Cairo to retrieve the remains of her wife, held in a diamond which was stolen by Miki Soto. This is indeed a mindblowing story of people and worlds and forces beyond the ken of most of us, forces that defy and shape the very laws of physics and reality. Dominia has choices to make, most of them not easy ones, and she learns that her own wishes aren’t necessarily in her own best interest and aren’t necessarily the right path to take. People aren’t necessarily what she thought they were, and there is indeed a blurred line betwixt good and evil. Even the Hierophant straddles that line, and it’s impossible to hate him as unequivocally as she thought she did for sometimes he says the most remarkable things.

Although I love Dominia, my favorite character is still the Hierophant, so I rejoiced every time he appeared. M.F. Sullivan’s writing voice is superb. She blows your mind with descriptions of metaphysical worlds and ideas, asking questions which make you truly think about what you know or think you know. Her characters are so well-drawn that you feel as if you’ve known them forever as she sucks you into the trajectory of their lives. I wish this journey could go on forever, but I know there’s only one more book, and I’m fearful that it will contain the death of the Hierophant. Nonetheless, I look forward to it and I’ll hope for the best until something else happens.

This book is every bit as good as the first one. I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Soul Eater, Volume 3 by Atsushi Ohkubo

Soul Eater, Vol 3     

Author: Atsushi Ohkubo

Publisher: Yen Press

American release date: March 3, 2015

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/manga/paranormal/192 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Soul is hospitalized, following the fight with Ragnarok, unaware that some of the creature’s black blood has mixed in with his. What they are all unaware of is that the witch Medusa has become a doctor at the hospital! That can’t be good! A depressed Maka blames herself for Soul being hurt, but as she leaves his hospital room, she finds her father waiting for her. She goes up to the roof with him to watch the sunset.

Black Star balks at the remedial lesson he’s been assigned by Sid—he’s charged with cleaning and straightening up the library. Not sure where to begin, he runs across the library’s collection of manga, to his delight. When he expresses his joy a little too loudly, he draws the ire of Death the Kid, who is also there. Not accidentally, as Black Star assumes, but very much on purpose. Death tells him he’s looking for a book about a legendary blade, call the “holy sword” known as Excalibur. Dr. Stein weighs in and tells them even he could not draw Excalibur. So naturally Black Star and Death the Kid want to twith hiry their hand at it! Although, perhaps this isn’t quite the adventure they were looking for.

Tsubaki accepts an assignment to deal with the Uncanny Sword Masamune, even though Shinigami-sama warns her it will be a hard fight. But she feels compelled to do it, mostly because Masamune is her older brother! She and Black Star head to the village she came from. Black Star is his usual loud self. But when a villager notices his tattoo and recognizes it for what it is, Black Star’s story begins to come out. When they find Masamune, Black Star battles him, using Tsubaki. But the fight is ultimately Tsubaki’s, and she’ll do what she must, even if that includes getting into her brother’s head.  Black Star sets up a vigil beside Tsubaki’s body and vows to wait for her as long as it takes.

In the hospital, Soul confides to Medusa about his strange dream, which has a disturbingly Twin peaks vibe and ends in the same disturbing way—with him coming out of Maka’s stomach! Medusa tells him not to worry about it. On his release, Maka throws a party for him at their apartment, and Blair gives Make and Death the Kid quite a shock. Suddenly, Maka is startled at the realization that there is a presence in Death City that should not be there.

I especially enjoyed seeing more of Tsubaki in this volume of Soul Eater. She doesn’t usually get as much attention as Black Star, probably because he’s a hog for the spotlight and she is much quieter. Her interaction with her brother is touching. I also liked watching Black Star and Death the Kid in their quest to draw Excalibur from the stone. The cover, featuring Death the Kid and the Thompson sisters, is great. As usual, I love the artwork. I liked seeing a more tender, Dad side of Maka’s father. Too bad I don’t think it’ll last. He always manages to do something wrong sooner or later.

Another great volume, looking forward to more of the same!

Book Review: Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy (Reluctant Royals 2.5)     

Author: Alyssa Cole

Publisher: Avon Impulse

American release date: February 19, 2019

Format/Genre/Length: eBook/Contemporary Romance/LGBT/384 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Being the personal assistant to a prince has its ups and downs, even for the very efficient Likotski Adele. One of the downsides is that her personal life, what little she has, tends to suffer. At one time, she didn’t mind so much, but ever since she met Fabiola C on an Internet dating site, life has not been the same. From the moment she’d seen Fab’s picture, Likotski had been intrigued, and meeting her did nothing to change her opinion. Everything was great… until it wasn’t. Until Fab coldly and unexpectedly broke up with her, citing Likotski’s leaving as the reason.

Now Likotski is back in New York with the prince and his princess, and she can’t stop thinking of Fab.

The past is past, and Likotski is determined to let go, aided by the new shoes given her by her father for Christmas. His note said: New shoes point toward the future…. But how can she think of the future when her heart lies in the past? Now Likotski is taking some time for herself, visiting a list of places she’s made up for herself. While on the subway, she receives an unexpected text from a source she does not recognize. Is Fate so cruel that she should run into the one woman she is trying to forget in a city the size of New York? Or is it that Fate is not done with them yet and has something else to say?

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy is a Reluctant Royals novella, and it packs a sweet punch in its short length. In the first book, A Princess in Theory, we see Likotski secretly and happily but love, but something goes horribly wrong, although she never reveals what that is. In this novella, we find out exactly what that something was, and who it involved. A chance meeting on the subway brings Likotski and Fab back together, but can they get past the things that kept them apart before? Communication is key to any good relationship, but neither one is very forthcoming. Something has to change if they have a change of making it together.

This was a very sweet story, very romantic. I hope we see more of this couple in future books, but this novella was just perfect, and I enjoyed it greatly. I recommend it to anyone who is reading the series.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: A Duke by Default (Reluctant Royals #2) by Alyssa Cole

A Duke by Default (Reluctant Royals #2)   

Author: Alyssa Cole

Publisher: Avon

American release date: July 31, 2018

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Contemporary Romance/384 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Portia Hobbs is the black sheep of her family, the one who can do nothing right. Always compared to her perfect twin sister, Reggie, Portia has always felt that people think it should have been her, rather than Reggie, who fell ill and ended up wheelchair-bound. Having money is not the answer to everything, which Portia proves abundantly. She stops and starts projects on a whim, changes lovers constantly, and drinks to excess. Even her friend Ledi finds her hard to deal with sometimes. So now Portia is off on another of her harebrained journeys to find herself, this time as an apprentice to a sword maker in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Arriving in Edinburgh, Portia is dismayed to find her new employer nowhere in evidence, so is forced to hire a vehicle to take her to Bodotria Armory. There she comes upon an alarming scene—a young woman being menaced by an older man. Portia rushes into the fray without hesitation, making the assailant, onl to discover that she has just attacked her new boss! Great first impression!  Apparently the two were just engaging in a little swordplay, which is not surprising considering where they are! Besides being greatly embarrassed, Portia can’t help but notice how sexy her new boss is. But she’s decided before she even arrived in Scotland that she is a new Portia, and this Portia does not drink, and she most certainly does not fool around with handsome Scotsmen!

Tavish McKenzie is a little taken aback by the unexpected assault, but even more when he gets an actual glimpse of Portia, once his eyes stop burning. No denying she is very stunning. He was never in favor of the apprentice program to begin with, that being his brother Jamie’s idea, but he reluctantly goes along with it. Doesn’t mean he’s going to make things easy for Portia, and he’s resistant to all of her ideas to help the armory. Change does not come easily to Tav. He knows little of the Internet, and hates to be in any video. Besides, he has other problems, including making the armory pay, as well as teaching the weans, and keeping the neighborhood from being scooped up by land-hungry corporations who have no idea about the people who live there and make their livelihood there.

At first, Tav keeps Portia at a distance, telling her to busy herself with things other than sword making. Not one to be easily daunted, she does so, at the same time continuing to contribute to her sister’s popular blog, GirlsWithGlasses.  Although dismayed at not being able to do what she came to do, she refuses to give up, even as she fights her growing attraction to Tav who, as she discovers, has a gentle heart beneath his exterior gruff. While doing some research, Portia uncovers some information that will be a real game changer for Tav. Apparently, his biological father was a duke, unknown to him, and the title has gone to someone else, in lieu of a direct descendant. If he takes back the title, and all that comes with it, not only is problems but a lot of those of the neighborhood can be taken care of. But is he cut out to be a duke? And what about the mutual attraction between Tav and Portia? How long can they go before having to act on it?

Much as I loved A Princess in Theory, I have to agree with my daughter that the second book is even better! Watching Tav and Portia dance around each other while growing hopelessly more and more in love is priceless! They each have personal baggage, and a reluctance to become involved with someone else. But sometimes, what is meant to be will be. I wasn’t exactly fond of Portia in the first book, but she not only redeemed herself in this one, I grew to love her. She has carried so much around with her for such a long time. Her sister is supportive, but she tends to keep Reggie at arm’s length, and their parents… well, they don’t treat Portia very well, and that’s actually an understatement. Tav and Portia are certainly a match for one another, and each gives as good as they get. There’s a novella that comes after this book, and I have that, and there is also a third book, which concerns Johan, who is A Prince on Paper.  Looking forward to it very much.

If you like romances and great couples and happily ever after, A Duke by Default is perfect for you!