Thursday, January 16, 2014

Minis: Lanyon, Merrow, Frank & Harper

And because I'm still catching up with my December reviews, here are my impressions of a few m/m romance reads -- some I picked out from the old TBR pile, and others are brand new releases.

The Haunted Heart: Winter by Josh Lanyon: B+

Lanyon's latest release surprise me! The Haunted Heart: Winter is more of a speculative fiction/horror story, a great first installment. It is the beginning of a new series of four (winter, spring, summer, fall) seasonal novels by Lanyon, and a fantastic beginning it is. The two main characters meet at an isolated haunted house where they are staying alone. Our narrator is a conflicted young man whose loss of his partner left him feeling suicidal and vulnerable to the darkness he encounters at the house. I really love that the focus of this book is on the narrator, and that the man who becomes his partner in solving the haunting is supportive, but remains a mystery. The base for a future romance is laid out by Lanyon, and should be developed slowly and fully within the rest of the series. For me, that is a positive. I'm already anxious to read the next installment.

The "I Spy" series by Josh Lanyon: Grade B

I Spy Something Bloody (B) is a solid piece about a man who has been a spy for most of his adult life. He finds the right man, but fails to contact him for two years while deep undercover, but he is taken prisoner and contacting the man he loves becomes impossible -- talk about taking someone for granted! He returns to his lover a broken man, and finds that during the years he's been away, his lover found a new man. This is a solid piece about love, understanding, and redemption. Lanyon made this work and it hit the spot for me.

The other short stories in this series, I Spy Something Wicked (B-) and I Spy Something Christmas ( C), are holiday companion pieces and further reinforce the main characters' happy ever after.

Cards on the Table by Josh Lanyon: B+

Also from my TBR, Cards on the Table is one of those Lanyon pieces set in a modern Hollywood, but with magnificent retro atmosphere ala Black Dhalia. The main characters are a journalist writing a book about an old Hollywood murder and the cop who helps him when the situation gets complicated. This couple already has a history when the story begins, which immediately establishes the romantic attraction while the personal the conflict is slowly revealed. We've seen this pairing from Lanyon before, but I love the freshness that our narrator brings to the story. The mystery itself is the type that Lanyon excels at writing, with some great red herrings, some scary action, and a great resolution at the end. Cards on the Table is a good mystery that I enjoyed from beginning to end, with a hot pair that provided a few memorable intimate moments along the way. And PS: I love the cover for this novella, it fits the content of the book perfectly.

Fall Hard by J.L. Merrow: Grade B

This story set in Iceland worked for me. Merrow combines Icelandic myth with the strength of the main character and a plot full of slow revelations. I don't usually like the amnesia plot device, but in this case it works because of the circumstances. The uncertainty of the main character Paul and the discoveries he makes about the circumstances surrounding the terrible accident that injured him, killed his live-in lover, and the introduction old friends as strangers, kept me riveted, but the intimate facts and revelations Paul finds about himself give the story depth. The romance with the man who loves him, a gorgeous Viking, with all its conflicts also worked for me. There are repetitive, informational sections that slowed down the story, but overall this is a solid read.

Try (Temptation #1) by Ella Frank: Grade D

Try was a disappointing read for me personally. It pushed some major buttons and most of my reading experience ended up on the negative side of the spectrum. These were my last impressions of the book:
In the end, there's not much in this story that separates it from many other reads with repetitive sexual scenes expected of an m/m erotic romance. These are two bisexual men who get involved in a gay sexual relationship -- with one man initially sexually harassed and ruthlessly pushed into it by the other -- that may lead to more in the future. The story ends in a cliffhanger since it seems there is an upcoming sequel in the works.
Sexual harassment on the job is a deal breaker for me, and I couldn't shake the feeling that a fine line was crossed in Try one time too many. Additionally, I had problems with the dialog and found the legal research used to develop the story, poor. Needless to say, the book did not work out for me on many levels.

Secrets and Ink by Lou Harper: Grade D

This is a romance between Jem, a man who believes he was cursed by a meter maid because of his arrogance, and that's the reason behind all the bad luck experienced during his adult life, and Nic, a cop who is attracted to Jem until he sees a tattoo that reminds him that years ago he arrested an under-aged Jem for prostitution. I don't know what to say about this romance. Jem blames his poor decisions on a curse and Nic uses a long-ago guilt trip to back off a possible relationship and instead hides behind friendship. I don't know who shows poorer judgment throughout this story, Jem or Nic. But, regardless of my like or dislike of the characters or their motivations, this story was just all over the place with neither the romance nor the obvious crime mystery working for me.


  1. That new series by Lanyon looks interesting, I'll have to check it out.

    I really liked I Spy Something Bloody - a lot! :) The next story is really good as well. I still need to read book 3 in that series.

    I read Cards on the Table when I read Lanyon's Collected Novella's book 1 and REALLY liked it. Lanyon does that old Hollywood thing very well.

    I'm looking forward to the Merrow - sounds good.

    1. Trace, the new Lanyon series has a different, fresh "feel" to it. I really liked what I read and what it means for the future installments. It's a bit darker than his usual, but the great writing, great characters and fantastic atmosphere is there. I'm anxious to read the second book.

      And you know what? I really liked Cards on the Table a lot too! I know that book will be a reread for me. I Spy Something Bloody has been in my TBR for a long time and it turned out to be a great relationship piece. I think you'll like the other two short novellas too... I preferred I Spy Something Wicked, but the Christmas piece was kind of fun! ;P

      Enjoy the Merrow book. It has its ups and downs, but it's a good piece.

  2. Cards on the Table is one of my favourite Lanyons too! I've re-read it a few times and I so rarely do re-reads. Tracy's right - he does that Hollywood thing very well.

    The JL Merrow book - I think I wasn't sold on the romance, but I really liked the Icelandic setting. I've been once and it brought the memories back!

    I've read a couple of Lou Harpers and haven't been sold on them.


    1. Oh, that three of us loved Cards on the Table! My first read by Lanyon was one of those terribly atmospheric Hollywood reads, and it just captured my imagination. I love how he takes me away to another time.

      And the Merrow book has that excellent atmosphere too! I loved Iceland as the setting and the different atmosphere that the setting evokes. I liked the twists and turns that led to the romance in that one, but as you can see it was a solid B for me, not a B+, I also had some issues with this read.

      I believe that Secrets and Ink is my first book by Lou Harper and I wasn't happy with it. I don't know if I will try another one. :(


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