Advance Book Review by Rafa: Taking a Gamble, by PJ Trebelhorn

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Taking a Gamble, by PJ Trebelhorn
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Release Date: May 17, 2016

Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars2-of-5

summary

Cassidy Holmes doesn’t want a “real” job. Buying storage units and selling the contents isn’t the easiest way to survive, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. She has no desire for a relationship, but when she meets Erica, everything she thought she wanted begins to change.

Erica Jacobs is a career postal worker with odd hours. Who wants to date a woman who’s asleep by eight o’clock every night? She yearns for the type of relationship her parents have, but finding the right woman isn’t easy.

Cass likes taking a gamble on storage units, but not in her love life. Erica might very well be the one, but Cass is determined to fight it. Every step of the way.

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F/F Pairing
Lesbian Characters
Contemporary
Small Town
Commitment Issues

Taking a Gamble was my first book by this author, and unfortunately, I was not impressed. Personally, I thought it had a lot drama and very little plot. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the book was angsty, but there definitely was a lot of internal struggling happening after basically one date.

It seemed like the two main characters, Cass and Erica, spent a majority of the book not communicating while simultaneously agonizing about whether they should pursue a relationship with each other. There were a lot of mixed signals and abrupt departures. It felt too much like reading YA/NA despite the main characters being thirty year olds or thereabouts.

One element of the book I did enjoy was the various side characters. While I didn’t like that every single last one of them put a lot of pressure on the MCs to get together, I thought their presence helped lend some depth and perspective to the heroines. Ultimately though, it doesn’t say much when your side characters are more likeable than your main ones. Cass especially came across as emotionally immature, and her insistence that she could hook up with pretty much any woman she chose got old really fast.

It was impossible to miss the lesbian dating clichés throughout this book. Now don’t get me wrong, instant attachment works for many romance novels, lesbian or not. But in the case of Cass and Erica, I wasn’t at all convinced of their connection or even their physical chemistry. Surely it can’t be a good thing that I found myself against the relationship at times, and later on thinking they were moving much too fast. In short, they did not work for me as a couple, and that feeling stayed with me through the end.

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PJ Trebelhorn was born and raised in the greater metropolitan area of Portland, Oregon. Her love of sports — mainly baseball and ice hockey — was fueled in part by her father’s interests. She likes to brag about the fact that her uncle managed the Milwaukee Brewers for five years, and the Chicago Cubs for one year.

PJ now resides in western New York with Cheryl, her partner of many years, and their menagerie of pets. When not writing or reading, PJ spends her time rooting for the Flyers, Phillies, and Eagles, or watching movies.

You can purchase Taking a Gamble from:
Amazon
Bold Strokes Books

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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Book Review: Love on the Jersey Shore, by Richard Natale

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Love on the Jersey Shore, by Richard Natale
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Release Date: February 1, 2016

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
3-5-of-5

Buy Links: Publisher / Amazon

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Blurb:

natale-love-jersey-shoreSexual chemistry and the search for real love can be a combustible mixture.

When the hunky young Anthony Ragucci falls for his dream man, a handsome attorney named Hunter Reese, his happily ever after fantasies are threatened by the meddling of the dashing and haughty Robert Burke. His loyal cousin Frank quickly rushes to Anthony’s defense, only to find his efforts hampered by a growing attraction to the inscrutable Robert.

Ultimately, the two cousins discover that Love on the Jersey Shore is a sink or swim proposition. Watch out for the undertow!

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Excellent… but not remotely as advertised! — Book Review: Heart of the Liliko’i, by Dena Hankins (Rating: 3/5)

hankins-hear-of-lilikoiHeart of the Liliko’i, by Dena Hankins
Publisher: Bold Stroke Books (October 19, 2015)
Page Count: 240 pages
Genre: Genderqueer Romance; Mystery, Crime/Thriller

Rating: 3 out of 5

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Summary:

Human remains tangled in lilikoi roots bring the authorities to Kerala’s construction site. Native Hawaiians say the passion fruit vine marks an ancient burial ground protected by guardian spirits, the ’aumakua. But these aren’t ancestral bones. The fractured skull points to murder.

Secrets, sabotage, and indigenous sovereignty campaigns hinder the project Kerala leads: building an eco-dream vacation home for Ravi, CEO of a solar power company. Proud to be a tough dyke in the trades, Kerala can’t believe she’s so hot for the masculine genderqueer scientist. Their sexual connection is volcanic, but Ravi’s craving for love and family aggravates burn scars from Kerala’s past. As the lovers pursue justice for Hawaii and its people, Ravi turns his gift for harnessing the sun’s strength toward cultivating his own power, and Kerala wonders if building deep, lasting love could be even more satisfying than constructing a home to last the ages.

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My Review:

This novel was LONG. I’m not talking physically, but it felt like every one of these 240 pages was five times as long as a normal page. The plot crawled by at times, and I kept waiting for the promised conflict of the summary… a promised conflict that didn’t come until more than two-thirds through the narrative.

Look: if the very first line of your summary promises a murder mystery tied to the native Hawaiian traditions, then DELIVER on that! When your main plot point doesn’t occur until the 70% point of the novel, you may want to rethink the basic premise.

dos-equis-shaking-head-exasperated

This novel was not at all what was promised. I thought I’d be reading a fast-paced mystery with “Secrets, sabotage, and indigenous sovereignty”, revolving around a murder found on a construction site. This is not what I read.

Now, the novel I read was good. It was, in fact, EXCELLENT. But it was a slow-paced character study about Kel, a lesbian construction worker, and Ravi, a genderqueer scientist. It was a love story set against a backdrop of Hawaiian politics.

If the summary had reflected the story accurately, I would have given this novel 4 or 4.5 out of 5 stars. But I was disappointed, and felt betrayed, because the story I got was not the story I was promised.

In the game of Diversity Bingo, this novel definitely wins a blackout. Lesbian main character, genderqueer love interest who is also a POC and a trans man, native Hawaiians vs. white ‘haole’… there’s no shortage of representation here. And Dena did a great job of integrating all of these elements, although at times I didn’t feel like the novel was a bit too political.

“I use genderqueer to say that my gender is complicated and won’t match your expectations, and that I won’t adopt a label that doesn’t work just to fit into or rebel against those expectations.” (Kindle Loc. 2094)

Do NOT read this book if you’re looking for a murder mystery/crime thriller. DO read this book if you want a lovely, evolving romance focusing on the relationship between two interesting characters.

(I find it interesting that this book is filed under just the “romance” genre on both BSB and Amazon, with no mention of a “mystery” or “crime” genre. This makes me think the summary was written to deceive readers, to make them think the novel was something that it isn’t.)

If the author and publisher changed the summary to reflect what this novel was actually about, I would recommend it much more highly. But basing your summary on the last 30% of the actual novel is a no-go for me.

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Review: Tarnished Gold, by Ann Aptaker (Rating: 4/5)

aptaker-tarnished-goldTarnished Gold, by Ann Aptaker (Cantor Gold, Book 2)
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (September 14, 2015)
Page Count: 240 pages
Genre: Lesbian (F/F) Mystery

Rating: 4 out of 5

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It’s rare that I picture a book as a movie in my mind, but the entire time I was reading “Tarnished Gold” I kept picturing a classic black and white noir film, with the dapper and cunning protagonist hunting down clues to save the day.

But this isn’t your average noir crime thriller, and Cantor Gold isn’t your average character. She’s on the wrong side of the law on two counts: she’s a smuggler, and she prefers the company of women.

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I went back and forth between liking Cantor and hating her during the first few chapters. She’s not a nice person, as even she’ll tell you, and her bravado tends to get her into more trouble than she intended.

I also struggled at the beginning with the first person present tense. I’m just not used to it, so it was distracting.

But after the plot started to pick up, I realized that Cantor was the kind of noir detective that you love to hate (flawed, rough, and selfish), and the writing improved significantly.

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Plot-wise, there’s a lot going on here, and at times I felt like it was almost too much.

Cantor is trying to solve the mystery of who killed one of her clients, and she has half a dozen people gunning for her (literally!)… not to mention a handful of gorgeous women to sleep with. There’s also a plot about Cantor trying to track down the men who grabbed her lover, Sophie, off the street two years before. Aptaker did a great job of weaving all of these threads together, but a few snags definitely caught my attention.

I do wish we’d had more of Cantor’s feelings toward Sophie peppered throughout the action, though. It’s what makes Cantor human, and it’s what makes her redeemable. I’m glad that Cantor wasn’t a weeping mess over her lost love, but I would have liked to see a bit more of their relationship hinted at.

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This was a really enjoyable novel. I love a strong female character, especially in a time period where such things were still strange. The 1950s New York setting was great, and the slang was perfect for setting the tone without being too strange. I’m looking forward to the next book in this series for sure!

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Review: Asher’s Out, by Elizabeth Wheeler (Rating: 3.5/5)

wheeler-ashers-outAsher’s Out, by Elizabeth Wheeler (The Asher Trilogy, Book 3)
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (July 20, 2015)
Page Count: 288 pages
Genre: Gay (M/M) Young Adult

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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* I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review. *

Summary: For his sixteenth birthday, Asher Price gets a date and a death threat. No one believes he’s in danger, but when Asher’s relationship with Garrett is revealed in his small Florida town, he’s certain he will be destroyed. Still haunted by guilt over his brother’s death and his mom’s breakdown, Asher can’t tell the truth. Instead, his best friend’s practical advice to deny everything wins out. When Asher’s mom announces they’re moving to Chicago, it seems like the perfect out, but how can he leave the only place that holds memories of his dead brother?

Note: I did not read the first two books in the trilogy before reading this one, and was still able to follow the plot with very little confusion. The author does a great job of explaining key plot points from the first two books in a way that’s subtle and relevant to the current plot.

My Thoughts: A very enjoyable novel about a sixteen year old boy in South Florida, who is battling with his religious upbringing and the pressure of being teased at school alongside his realization that he’s gay. The entire novel is told from Asher’s point of view, and Wheeler does a great job of writing from the perspective of a teenage boy who’s confused and scared by the changing world around him.

The title here refers to two different “outs”: Asher’s ability to get out of the homophobic high school and small town that he grew up in, thanks to his mother’s new job in Chicago; and his own struggles to come out of the closet, both to himself and to his friends and family. Most of the novel actually deals with the “ins”, though, as Asher is subjected to mocking and homophobic remarks from the other kids at school, which results in him denying his sexual orientation to everyone who will listen.

I think Asher’s relationship with Garrett was very sweet, and I love that Garrett and his family defied the stereotypes; Garrett is openly gay, with a very supportive family, and they just happen to be incredibly religious. Asher’s friends were equally interesting, especially his friend Kayla, who’s going through her own rough time.

I do think Asher was a bit whiny, and bit too woe-is-me, but I also think that’s probably typical of a teenage boy, especially one who recently lost his younger brother and feels at fault for that. But the big issue with this novel was the end. No spoilers, I promise, but it was disappointing enough that I immediately dropped the entire rating a full point.

Still, 99% of this novel is fantastic, and I expect the first two books in the trilogy are equally so. I do plan to check them out soon, and I’d recommend this novel to anyone looking for a YA book about coming out.

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Review: Making a Comeback, by Julie Blair (Rating: 4/5)

Blair-MakingComebackMaking a Comeback, by Julie Blair
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (July 2015)
Page Count: 312 pages
Genre: Lesbian (F/F) Romance

Rating: 4 out of 5

* I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review. *

Summary: Jazz pianist Liz Randall is reeling from her wife’s death and struggling to keep their band together. An invitation to play at the prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival is an opportunity she can’t turn down, and a challenge she might not be up to until she enlists the help of a mysterious neighbor who’s surprisingly knowledgeable about jazz. When Jac Winters reluctantly agrees to help, a past she wants to forget threatens to destroy the carefully ordered life she’s built with her guide dog, Max, in the quiet town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

My Thoughts: A lovely, slow-build romance that rolled over me like the waves of the ocean, or like the music that Liz and Jac play together. Making a Comeback is a novel about coming back to life after bitter loss, and about using music to reconnect to the world around you.

Liz and Jac would be the first to tell you that they’re both damaged women. Liz lost her wife of fourteen years only a few months prior, and barely manages day-to-day interactions with her family, friends, and band. She’s a well-known jazz pianist, but even music can’t pull her out of her misery. Jac is disabled, having lost her vision after a terrible accident, but her own mental and emotional state is a barren wasteland… and that’s the way she likes it. She avoids friendships or interactions with anyone other than her sister and guide dog.

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Review: Romance by the Book, by Jo Victor (Rating: 4/5)

Romance by the Book, by Jo Victor
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (June 9, 2015)
Page Count: 312 pages
Genre: Lesbian Romance (F/F)

* I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review *

Cover Artist: Gabrielle Pendergrast

Cover Artist: Gabrielle Pendergrast

Short & Sweet: Alex is a literary scholar who’s just been awarded the opportunity of a lifetime: a one-year fellowship to study her favorite poet in the UK. Her goal is to prove once and for all that the poet Artemisia was, in fact, in a sexual and romantic relationship with her patron, the Lady Melissa. But Alex has to sort out her own love life along with Artemisia’s, battling her attraction to infuriating Cam and sexy Rosamund.

My Thoughts: This novel was an elegant work of poetry from start to finish, on par with the works that the main character Alex has devoted her life to studying. The first half of the novel was a character study into Alex and Cam, as they slowly untangled the attraction between them and dealt with their first impressions (not so great), the manipulation of the gorgeous Rosamund, and their cultural differences. But it was the second half of the novel that really drew me in, as Alex sets to work on finding evidence that her favorite poet was in a romantic and sexual relationship with another woman, and as Alex herself begins to take steps towards forming a similar relationship with Cam.

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Review: The Muse, by Meghan O’Brien (Rating: 3.5/5)

The Muse, by Meghan O’Brien
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (Paperback: June 9, 2015 // eBook: June 15)
Page Count: 288 pages
Genre: Lesbian Erotic Romance (F/F)

* I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review *

Cover Artist: Sheri

Cover Artist: Sheri

Short & Sweet: Kate McMannis is a well-known author of erotic lesbian romance, but she’s hit crippling writer’s block, and the deadline of her latest novel is fast-approaching. Enter Erato, who suddenly appears on Kate’s doorstep. Erato is sensuous, intriguing, and possibly mentally ill… after all, she’s insisting that she’s Kate’s Muse, and she refuses to leave until Kate finishes her novel. Erato has a few tricks to help break the writer’s block: specifically, lots and lots of sex. And when Erato leads Kate to the shy, lovely Olive, Kate has to choose between finishing her novel and her very real attraction to Olive.

My Thoughts: This book was not quite what I was expecting, because it was listed under the genre of Romance on NetGalley, when I would say it falls under Erotica instead. Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the novel, just that I was surprised by how much sex there was.

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