Category Archives: Review

18Apr/19

Empire Of Light (Voyance #1) by Alex Harrow

Alex Harrow was recently on WROTE! To hear their interview and check out their work, you can find them on Episode 200: Wait Wait This Is A Thing!

Empire of Light has a lot of warnings, including for for graphic violence and explicit sex. The danger with trigger warnings is that the reader will then read the book and think, so where was that violence then? Or where was the sex?

For the former, the author wasn’t kidding. From the get-go, this book has crunchy action scenes, lots of blood and flailing fists from our tough-talking main character, Damian, hitman and mercenary. 

On paper, he doesn’t sound too promising, but I sort of liked him by the end. If Quentin Tarantino had made a sci-fi, it might be something quite similar to this, shot in monochrome with flashes of blood and fire. Turns out Damian has a soft and squishy side, although he does his best to hide it. I would like to take him out for a beer and tell him how to keep in touch with his emotions.

I really enjoyed this book, despite the dizzying pace. It’s well-written, though I would have appreciated a few more calm moments to get to know the characters more.  It has balls-to-the-wall fight scenes, and a man torn between saving his lover and lusting after the man (Raeyn) who has threatened to kill him if he doesn’t do what he wants. There isn’t much in the way of complicated emotion, but we get the picture. Damian is a bit of blunt instrument. In fact, most of the characters are, apart from the blind woman, who I would have liked to get to know a bit. I loved Raeyn’s sense of style, and slinky Aris who seemed to oscillate from good to bad to good again. 

I wouldn’t say the sex is hugely explicit (though it depends what kind of books you usually read I guess) but the language can be coarse (it would be odd if it wasn’t, TBH) and there is an aura of blood-drenched lust running throughout the whole book. 

Good world-building, and a fast-paced, visceral plot. My one quibble would be the last few pages, where a LOT seemed to happen, and it felt as if there were at least one climax too many (if that’s possible.) I felt a bit breathless reading it; not in a sexy way, but in a “please make this stop” way. I fear some subtleties might have been lost in translations, but all in all, a wild ride, and a huge amount of “fist-in-the-face” fun.

BLURB

Damian Nettoyer is the Empire’s go-to gun. He kills whoever they want him to kill. In exchange, he and his rag-tag gang of crooks get to live, and Damian’s psychokinetic partner and lover, Aris, isn’t issued a one-way ticket to an Empire-sanctioned lobotomy.

Then Damian’s latest mark, a suave revolutionary named Raeyn, kicks his ass and demands his help. The first item on the new agenda: take out Damian’s old boss—or Raeyn will take out Damian’s crew.

To protect his friends and save his own skin, Damian teams up with Raeyn to make his revolution work. As the revolution gains traction, Damian gets way too close to Raeyn, torn between the need to shoot him one moment and kiss him the next. But Aris slips further away from Damian, and as Aris’ control over his powers crumbles, the Watch catches on.

With the Empire, Damian had two policies: shoot first and don’t ask questions. But to save the guy he loves, he’ll set the world on fire.

18Apr/19

Credence by Delphia Baisden

Delphia Baisden was a recent guest on WROTE! To listen to her interview and find out more about her work, check out Episode 208 – A New Jewel In My Crown!

I approached this book with some wariness, and I recently read another book dealing with a rock band, mental health issues, and non-con sex, which I found unbelievably upsetting. However, there ARE trigger warnings in this book, so anyone choosing to read Credence will be warned right from the start.

So I tiptoed in, and yes, the first chapters are hard to read, but they are extremely well-written, and 100% necessary to the plot of the book. The author has trodden lightly, not shying away from the pain of sexual abuse but dealing with it in a sensitive way. I knew I would be able to read the rest of it within a few pages. Trust had been gained, and Credence was a really good read, even enjoyable, given the gruelling premise. 

The blurb sums up the plot pretty well, so I won’t rehash it, but I loved James’s best friend Phil, and the supportiveness of the other members of the band (Eden) once they realise what has happened to their friend. This is a book about fighting back from a traumatic past, about letting go and finding love, both with another person and for oneself, about healing, and the struggles of mental illness. It’s all dealt with deftly and not too reverently, and I applaud the author wholeheartedly for that.

I loved Keiran, the love interest and femme lead vocalist for a less successful band, Lost and Found, who initially resents James for walking away from the the tour they were heading, thus denying Lost and Found crucial exposure to potential new fans. But as James’ band picks up the pieces and forms a new outfit, and Keiran is given the chance to show them how good he is, love begins to blossom undercover, as James is not out and is nervous about his bandmates finding out.

James is sweet, talented and modest, a lovely guy who adores his music. All the members of Eden have their demons, but are basically decent people who just want the best for each other. What a refreshing change to the endless drug and alcohol-fuelled sex parties which usually go hand in hand with “rock star” genre.

This is a hugely satisfying read, dealing with issues so relevant in today’s #metoo climate, and a really strong debut novel by this author. I will definitely be looking out to see what else she does.

BLURB

James Morgan, lead guitarist for the rock band Eden, seems to have it all. That is, until Theo, Eden’s lead singer and James’s secret lover, violently betrays him, sending James into a deep depression and cutting their current tour and the band’s life short.

Kieran Jackson, the lead vocalist for the less successful band Lost and Found, is at his wits’ end. At thirty-three, he never dreamed he’d still be opening for bands comprised of twentysomethings. When Eden pulls out of the last few shows of their summer tour, Kieran returns home burned out and heartbroken.

Over a year later, James, Phil, and David of Eden decide to reform under a different name with Kieran as their new vocalist. James, never having forgotten his single interaction with Kieran, nor the only time he ever listened to him perform, knows Kieran’s the best choice.

James is still closeted—and skittish after his last relationship—and one fumbling, drunken kiss threatens to undo everything he’s worked so hard to rebuild, as well as the cover he’s fought to maintain.

Can James overcome his past, confront his demons, and reclaim his former fame? Or will he and the newly formed True North remain in Eden’s shadow forever? Can he finally find comfort in who he is, accept his past, and reopen his heart? Or will the memories of Theo’s betrayal and the subsequent fallout dash any hope of finding—and trusting—love again?

Trigger warning: this book contains explicit rape, as well as one failed suicide attempt by a main character.

21Mar/19

Imminent Dawn by R. R. Campbell

Imminent Dawn (Empathy Book 1) is a complex and involved debut sci-fi novel, first in a series, with a large cast of characters and several different POV’s. There’s no doubt it is well-written and evenly-paced, with great world-building and realistic dialogue.

For me, the number of POV’s were a bit of a stumbling block. I’ve read a lot of books, the the ones I’ve enjoyed most have been the ones with a single or double POV. Once it gets to more than that, with equally important characters, It has to work harder to keep my attention. 

I found this with Imminent Dawn, which at times seemed over-complicated for what it was. Essentially, one woman is used as pawn by a powerful corporation, whilst an investigative journalist and a company employee, each with their own agendas, try to outdo each other in order to achieve their ambitions.

It took a while to unpick all of this, and because of that, I found it difficult to engage with the characters. For me to want to read about a character, I need to care about them or hate them. It was a shame that I didn’t find a particular character to root for in this book, as I was too busy trying to figure out what exactly was going on.

I believe this is down to personal taste though, rather than a fault of the author. Others will find much to enjoy in the characterisations of the enigmatic and ruthless tech magnate, and will relate to Chandra and her predicament. They will enjoy unpicking the complexities of the plot, and will rejoice in subtleties that I may well have missed. In short, I think this novel has far more to it than I was able to glean from it, but I only have a finite amount of time to figure things out before I have to move on. It’s a shame, but as a book reviewer, it’s life.

Finally, this is a solid sci-fi novel, confidently written, with plenty for avid sci-fi readers to enjoy. I really hope they take it on board and run with it.  

BLURB

Four people. One study. The internet-access brain implant to bind or destroy them all.

Art-school dropout Chandra would do anything to apologize for her role in her wife’s coma—including enroll in the first round of human trials for an internet-access brain implant.

At first, the secretive research compound is paradise, the perfect place to distract Chandra from her grief. But as she soon learns, the facility is more prison than resort, with its doctors, support staff, and her fellow patients all bent on hatching plots of their own, no matter how invested they might seem in helping her communicate with her wife.

Making matters worse, a dark wave of uncertainty crashes down on the compound, forcing Chandra to become an unlikely but pivotal player in conspiracies stretching from the highest levels of the North American Union government to the lowest dredges of its shadowy hacking collectives.

To save herself and her wife, Chandra and her newfound friends from the study will have to overcome the scheming of a ruthless tech magnate, the naïveté of an advancement-hungry administrative assistant, and the relentless pursuits of an investigative journalist, all of whom are determined to outpace the others in their own quests to resurrect lost love, cover their tracks, and uncover the truth.

A twistedly delightful clockwork of intrigue and suspense, EMPATHY: Imminent Dawn is an electrifying sci-fi debut from author r. r. campbell. 

06Mar/19

The Dragon Princess by Hans M Hirschi

This is something different to the usual books I review on WROTE. Recent guest, Hans M Hirschi, has written a children’s fable, a magical tale for bedtime reading with young children.

I felt it was important to review it here, because people aren’t just just genders and sexualities, they’re also parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and people like me looking for diverse and inclusive fiction to share with our children or those of friends.

How I wish I had something like this to read to mine when they were small. This is a delightful tale, with hints of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, beautifully illustrated by Felicity Swann, and just long enough for a good bedtime story. Basically, it questions the concepts of evil, and love meaning a prince has to have a princess in order to find their Happy Ever After. And I’m pleased to see this is Book 1 of the Valerius and Evander story, which means there is more to come for these two engaging characters.

The writing isn’t patronising and not too simple, striking just the right balance. And there is no heavy-handed preaching either. It’s just a lovely story which is pitched just right for the audience it was intended for, no doubt prompting discussion from curious youngsters, but also normalising the whole concept of same sex relationships, which is just as it should be.

BLURB

Love is love
and dragons are evil
or are they really?

The Dragon Princess is a story about love
and how it holds the power to transform
even the coldest of hearts.

A classic bedtime story for children of all ages
written by bestselling author Hans M Hirschi
and beautifully illustrated by Felicity Swan.

 

10Feb/19

Contact (A New World, Book One) by M. D. Neu

There were a lot of expectations I had heaped on this book, mainly because my favourite sci-fi of all time (even trumping Close Encounters) is Contact, with Jodie Foster. And I KNOW that is really unfair, but once lodged, it couldn’t be shifted, so I turned my gimlet gaze on this book thinking “this has better be good.”

Well, reader, I was not disappointed. It was a bold move to start with the alien POV, but it turns out they aren’t all that different from us, with similar thoughts and emotions, and cute pets to cuddle when they are feeling down. But don’t let that put you off. Their rituals, expectations, way of talking and manners are very alien, as are their names and clothing. The author has taken a lot of trouble to build their world from the tiniest details (drinking tuma, and the name for the pet as a youngster) to the major issues. There IS a glossary at the back, and usually I wish the author had drawn attention to it earlier, but actually, I didn’t need it. The writing makes it clear enough, without long drawn-out explanations, but the Glossary is a good reference.

Then we have the humans, Todd and his husband Jerry, and their uber-camp friend, Dan. I found Dan a bit irritating at first but I really warmed to him when disaster strikes. Todd has a heads-up that alien craft are approaching the planet but he can’t tell anyone. Even his husband, Jerry, doesn’t believe him. The author captures how they deal with having to keep quiet, as well as their everyday existence as a gay couple, brilliantly.

So with the characters established, the author sets about telling the story from the human and the alien point of view. Humans are dealing with their own problems: rising bigotry and world unrest, environmental issues, overpopulation. And the Nentraee, who are homeless due to the destruction of their world and running out of resources, need somewhere to settle their remaining population. Naturally, the humans have something to say about that when the Nentraee make tentative contact with

To the Nentraee, humans are an odd race who don’t appreciate the beauty of the world they live in. And to the humans, the Nentraee are patronising, preachy and want to wipe them all out. There is mutual distrust as both sides slowly learn about each other, but after a terrible event, Todd is the one who ends up being the link between the two races, a role he feels unprepared for.

This was a very human story as well as an alien one. Todd and Jerry have to deal with homophobia on a daily basis. It even gets in the way of negotiations with the Nentraee, something the aliens find incomprehensible. The aliens also have complex and close family units and social delicacies. I hope we find out more about how they became such an itinerant race and what happened to their original planet.

There are also self-serving politicians, an indictment of American society at the moment and a study of how we would look to extraterrestrial visitors. It isn’t any surprise they view us with some suspicion.

So a great start to the New World Series, with solid character development, appealing characters on both the human and Nentraee sides, and the potential for things to get really messy in the future. I’m looking forward to the next one!

BLURB

A little blue world, the third planet from the sun. It’s home to 7 billion people with all manner of faiths, beliefs and customs, divided by bigotry and misunderstanding, who will soon be told they are not alone in the universe. Anyone watching from the outside would pass by this fractured and tumultuous world, unless they had no other choice. Todd Landon is one of these people, living and working in a section of the world called the United States of America. His life is similar to those around him: home, family, work, friends and a husband. 

On the cusp of the greatest announcement humankind has ever witnessed, Todd’s personal world is thrown into turmoil when his estranged brother shows up on his front porch with news of ships heading for Earth’s orbit. The ships are holding the Nentraee, a humanoid race who have come to Earth in need of help after fleeing the destruction of their homeworld. How will one man bridge the gap for both the Humans and Nentraee, amongst mistrust, terrorist attacks and personal loss? Will this be the start of a new age of man or will bigotry and miscommunication bring this small world to its knees and final end? 

28Jan/19

Power Surge by Sara Codair

Sara Codair was one of our lovely guests recently on WROTE. To find out more about them and find links to their work, check out Episode 194: Yeah That Happens!

Power Surge is Part 1 of the Evanstar Chronicles. Erin has a lot on their plate. Having recently come off meds for ADHD, they they think the visions they are experiencing are due to mental health problems. From being stalked by a sinister demon, to seeing fairies and pixies flitting in front of them, it isn’t surprising they think they are slowly going insane. Added to that, they are dealing with unfamiliar feelings for Jose, a childhood friend who has now become more than just a good friend, and at night they are haunted by nightmares. Also, there is the issue of being non-binary in a college full of jocks and prom queens, most of whom dismiss Erin as an ugly nobody, and family issues as well, as their previously close-knit family seems to be falling apart.

So it’s a lot to take in. Understandably, there’s a lot of description as at first, as we need to see inside Erin’s head to understand what they are going through. The balance of dialogue and prose is a little uneven, giving the story a slightly confusing start and this did mean my attention strayed a little, trying to grasp all these different conundrums and elements of Erin’s character. Having said that, the writing was incredibly good, and I really felt Erin’s dilemma as a young person trying to deal with the real world as well as what they assume is incipient madness.

The scene where they find out they are not alone, and Jose is right there with them, also seeing visions, is the best in the book in my opinion. I really felt their relief and joy. Until then, they had been keeping Jose at arm’s length, not wanting to inflict their problems onto him. They had been dealing with the bitchy girls in their social group, and feelings of isolation, so that scene was a wonderful moment.

There were also some gorgeous warm scenes with Erin’s family, and some really terrifying ones when the demons reveal themselves. Power Surge is a melting pot of young people’s issues, dealing with mental health, bullying, gender identity, family crises, superheroes who cannot fly and saving the world from imminent disaster.

Okay, so I didn’t connect with the book as much as I wanted to, mainly due to trying to process all these aspects whilst my brain was fried from dealing with Christmas, but that isn’t the author’s fault. This is a solid story of good v. evil, told by a narrator with vary real issues in a strange, creepy and sometimes beautiful world.

Finally, two things. First, the way they deal with mental health, not demonising it, but acknowledging it can really ruin a persons’ life, is brilliant and unafraid to say “look, this is just how it is sometimes, and it sucks.”

And second, the pronouns weren’t even an issue. Erin is non-binary, and the them/their pronouns sounded as natural as she/her or he/him do in 99.9 percent of fiction, This is an #ownvoices author who deserves recognition from readers of all genders.

BLURB

Erin has just realized that for the entirety of their life, their family has lied to them. Their Sight has been masked for years, so Erin thought the Pixies and Mermaids were hallucinations. Not only are the supernatural creatures they see daily real, but their grandmother is an Elf, meaning Erin isn’t fully human. On top of that, the dreams Erin thought were nightmares are actually prophecies.

While dealing with the anger they have over all of the lies, they are getting used to their new boyfriend, their boyfriend’s bullying ex, and the fact that they come from a family of Demon Hunters. As Erin struggles through everything weighing on them, they uncover a Demon plot to take over the world.

Erin just wants some time to work through it all on their own terms, but that’s going to have to wait until after they help save the world.


24Jan/19

I Am The Storm by Tash McAdam

Tash McAdam was with us very recently on WROTE. To find out more about them and their work, check out Episode 197: Cassius Is Screaming!

This book is a rewrite of a previous book, SLAM, but as there is 60% new material, it really is a fresh start. I Am The Storm is Part 1 of the The Psionics series.

Part 1, I Am The Storm, is a tense game of cat and mouse as Sam, a Psionic who can control technology with his mind, has to go on the run to avoid being captured by the Institute, who want to harness his skill. He is also being chased by a resistance soldier, Serena, who needs him to help overthrow the Institute’s monopoly over the city.

When they finally meet and realise they are on the same side, we begin to see the human side of the characters, and that was when I really began to connect with them. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it beforehand. The book is extremely well-written, and the author knows how to play the tension and choreograph incredibly plausible and fast-paced action scenes.

But it isn’t all about the action. There are also some searing scenes of heartbreaking intimacy too, but I can’t say more than that without adding spoilers. The scenes at the Wall were incredible. I was sitting in a coffee shop reading this and honestly, every sound was drowned because I was so involved in the book. That’s an awesome talent, and those scenes alone were enough for me to decide this is definitely a YA author worth watching. It bodes well for the next book in the series. The ending is satisfying, with enough of a cliff-hanger to lead the story on but not so much that you want to scream for more straight away.

Only a few quibbles, the main one being I wasn’t fully engaged in the beginning and I’m still not sure why. I think it was because of the amount of tell rather than show, which can get in the way when a character is running for their life. Another was the slightly odd way the characters used the word “Google” in the way we would usually say “God.” Ie., Thank Google for that. I get that Google is the new God in this rain-drenched, Dystopian world (isn’t it already?) but it just took me out of the scene for a nano-second each time. I think that’s a personal preference though, and shouldn’t reflect badly on the quality of the writing.

Finally, the world-building is great, convincing and bleak, and the plot doesn’t flinch from difficult issues (death, mainly) and crucially, doesn’t try to be “down with the kids.” This is an intelligent novel, and a really strong start to a fast-paced YA sci-fi series.

BLURB

Keep your head down. Don’t look anyone in the eye. Never even think about technology if one of those ghostly, grey cars is sliding silently down the road. They’ll see the thoughts inside you, if you let them. 

Sam’s a technopath, able to control electronic signals and manipulate technology with his mind. And so, ever since childhood, his life has been a carefully constructed web of lies, meant to keep his Talent hidden, his powers a secret. But the Institute wants those unusual powers, and will do anything to get a hold of him and turn him into one of their mindless slaves. 

Sam slips up once. Just once, but that’s enough. Now the Institute is after him in full force. Soldiers, telekinetics and mind readers, all gunning just for him. 

Newly qualified rebel soldier, Serena, doesn’t even know she’s chasing a person, all she knows is that she has to find whatever the Institute is after before they do. But, tracking an unknown entity through an unfamiliar city, with inaccurate intelligence, unexpected storms, and the Watch on the prowl, will she even survive? Will she get to Sam before the Institute does? His special skills could provide the resistance with an incredible advantage, but not if they can’t get out of the city, and over the huge wall that stands between them and freedom. 

I AM THE STORM is the action-packed rewrite of SLAM, with 60% new material and a brand new ending. Don’t miss Book One in what is now a four part series, due in 2018. 

21Jan/19

Aesop Lake by Sarah Leigh Ward

Sarah Leigh Ward is one of our lovely featured writers. You can find her episode and discover more about her work in Episode 193: Finding Your Tribe!

I had a shaky start with this book, but in the end I loved it. This book is needed in every library in every state, in every county, in every country. End of. The use of Aesop’s fables in the chapter heads and the beginning let the reader know right from the start this is a morality story, and one that accepts that morality isn’t a case of black and white, but various shades in between.

Teens and adults will like the way the story gets to the point without going through laborious details of trials and somber navel-gazing. The story was compact, concise and said a huge amount in not a huge amount of words. (200 pages.)

Aesop Lake isn’t an easy read at first, as the hate crime committed against a gay couple minding their own business is horrific, and the ugly beliefs, exacerbated by holier-than-thou attitudes, are searingly unpleasant.

BUT

The story is told from two points of view. First, Leda. She is the girlfriend of domineering bully David, who instigated the attack, and at first she stands up for him, lying to cover up what he has done. Then we find out David has threatened Leda to keep her quiet, by saying he would expose her mother as a drug-dealer.

Jonathan is one half of the gay couple who were attacked. His boyfriend, Ricky, is unconscious in hospital, too traumatised to respond to anyone. Jonathan harbours festering resentment at his small town’s attitude towards the crime, but feels as if he has no one to turn to for help.

I was prepared to hate Leda at first. She couldn’t seem to see how terrible the situation was and to get away from it, she takes a summer job away from her home town. As the story unfolds it becomes clear she is in an abusive relationship with David, and she wants to tell the truth even if it means her mother going to prison. Away from the constrictive confines of her town, she is able to see a bigger picture.

Yes, there was a big chunk of coincidence when Jonathan turns up at the lake as the son of a friend of the people Leda is working for, but their relationship, from distrust, suspicion and dismay to growing friendship is wonderful to read. The author isn’t afraid to make Leda weak and scared, but she also gives her a backbone which she finds away from her revolting boyfriend, making her see how badly he had treated her, and how badly she has behaved as a result.

And Jonathan realises he does have friends and support in unlikely places. It really is a novel about coming of age, of small town “values” and school politics. There’s such a lot in a relatively quick yet powerful read. Some may find it slightly preachy in places, but if they do, maybe they should question why. For me, the book had a lovely feel-good ending from such unpromising beginnings, and a message we should all be aware and take notice of.

BLURB

Seventeen-year-old Leda Keogh is present when her boyfriend, David, commits a hate crime against a gay couple at the town reservoir on a warm May night. When David threatens to narc on her mother’s drug dealing if Leda confesses to what she’s seen, Leda tries to escape the consequences, by taking a summer job out of town.

Jonathan Eales is one of the victims. When he and his boyfriend, Ricky, are caught skinny dipping by two high school thugs, Jonathan manages to swim out of reach, but watches in horror as Ricky is severely beaten.

Jonathan wants to fight back, but fears the small rural community, where he is an outsider, will protect their own.Two voices weave a coming-of-age story that confronts diversity and bullying in rural America.

03Jan/19

Finding Aurora by Rebecca Langham

I love re-imagined fairytales, so when I was given the opportunity to read this, it was with great anticipation. It’s a shame when expectations aren’t met, but I wasn’t disappointed. The author knows how to command a shorter story and make it count. The very issues I struggled with in her longer novel, Beneath The Surface, (mainly the dizzying amount of detail) have been tempered slightly, resulting in a far more balanced, assured read. Every word counts, and the result is like a cardinal finch, a flash of red, dazzling and gorgeous, then it’s gone. At approximately 25,000 words it isn’t a chunky read, but one with depth and character.

It’s hard to review this without giving anything away, but the real love affair is hiding in plain sight as Prince Amir ventures on his quest to rescue the slumbering Aurora. There’s a tense battle scene, some hideous monsters, loss and grief, as well as a gorgeous denouement as love conquers all (that isn’t a spoiler – we all know the story of Sleeping Beauty, after all.) In one word: delicious.

BLURB

Aurora Rose slumbers in the city of Oldpass, a cursed kingdom once allied with Grimvein. The victim of a malicious spell, she is powerless to control her own fate. At least, that’s how the story goes.

Now, as Grimvein faces attack, Prince Amir has been tasked with the life-threatening rescue of Aurora, his parents hopeful he will marry the princess and secure safety for their kingdom. Talia, the strongest spellcaster in the known lands, protects and guides the prince in his quest to save a woman that threatens to change their lives forever. 

In finding Aurora, the pair will realise the truth about themselves and each other, coming to understand just what – and who – they really want in life. 

03Jan/19

The Swap by Annabella Michaels

This is enjoyable fluff, in places so sweet it made my teeth hurt. It’s like playing Chubby Bunnies with giant marshmallows. You get the idea. At first it seemed to be a straightforward romance, with a het couple mutually agreeing to split and support each other whilst finding fulfilment with other romantic partners. That would have been a great story in itself, with the inevitable pitfalls, misunderstandings, jealousies, etc., but the story didn’t quite go where I was expecting.

Sam is bisexual, but had married a childhood friend after getting her pregnant. Now they’ve realised their love is, and has always been, platonic, so they decide to split. Their college-age daughter takes it rather well, considering she then has to process the fact that her father’s new romance is male, after a lifetime of assuming her parents were locked in loving heterosexual matrimony. Again, the story didn’t go where I was expecting.

So the couple go to a “swap party” which wasn’t really one, as everyone seemed to have their eye on someone else before they put their keys in the bowl. Sam spots Oliver, sassy supermodel, highly successful. They eye-fuck each other whilst Sam is actually having sex with another woman, and get together after that. And they say romance is dead.

Sam and Oliver’s relationship develops quickly. I have nothing against insta-love whatsoever, but I sensed this was a book trying to be a bit more than a frivolous romance, and for me it didn’t quite fit. Still, the sexy scenes were well-written and pretty hot, so it was easy to not ask too many questions of the plot.

Again, this would have been enough, with all the complications that arise from having a super-successful, much younger lover and Sam working through his newfound bi status. At times I felt like saying to them, “I get it, you adore each other. Enough already,” but I want to stress the author did a great job of emphasising that Sam had not just gone “gay for you” or “straight to gay” but was indeed bisexual, and I could feel how important it was to make that distinction.

Where I felt the story was weakest, was in the conflict. A serial killer plot had been shoehorned in about half-way through the book and it just wasn’t necessary. There was a disconnect between that and the rest of the plot, with too much tell at the end and not enough show. It struck a tone-deaf note in what was otherwise a solid erotic romance, albeit one with rather too much navel-gazing on behalf of the protagonists.

Otherwise, The Swap was an easy read, somewhat lumpy in places, with lots of sex (yeah, some of it seemed unnecessary but it was finely done so …) and two likeable main characters. Oliver seemed just a little too good to be true, but I was in the mood to read about nice people, so right now I’ll count that as a win.

BLURB

When their daughter goes off to college, Samuel and his wife Gayle begin to take stock of their lives. Realizing they’re best friends and not in love with one another, the two agree to an amicable split. Nervous about jumping back into the dating world, they accept a friend’s invitation to attend a swap party. 

Tossing their keys into a bowl and leaving it up to fate to decide who they’re paired with is too tempting to resist. But when Samuel is faced with an audacious young man who strikes up a conversation, the attraction to men he’s kept buried for so long comes rushing back. 

At twenty-two years old, Oliver Hughes is one of the most sought after male models in the world. Sassy and bold, with a penchant for wearing high heels and a touch of makeup, Oliver’s life is what he always dreamed it could be. Except for one thing… 

Yearning to fall in love and settle down, Oliver’s grown bored of meaningless hookups with shallow, fame seeking guys. While attending a swap party, his last-ditch effort to find someone who doesn’t know who he is when they meet, Oliver finds himself drawn to a handsome, older man. One who’s endearingly unaware of his own appeal. 

As their relationship grows, something sinister and dark threatens what they’ve managed to build. What will it take for Oliver and Samuel to survive, and is their happily ever after doomed from the start?