Review: In the City by the Lake by Taylor Saracen

When Viktor Mikhailov follows in his father’s footsteps and joins the relatively insignificant Russian mob, he is given an assignment none of his comrades want, yet Viktor cannot help but be secretly pleased. The city is a cesspool of organized crime, with several outfits fighting for a piece of the Prohibition pie, and Viktor’s slice is the openly gay Towertown. Tasked with providing whiskey to the queer clubs he covertly frequents, Viktor gains monetary wealth while finding himself in an unconventional relationship with his top client’s muse, an enigmatic redhead named Calvin Connolly.

Calvin—along with throngs of idealists who pack the pansy parlors—believes they stand on the precipice of a revolution, but Viktor is not convinced. A skeptic by both nature and lack of nurture, Viktor questions the conservative culture’s capacity for true change while hoping that broad acceptance is imminent. Perhaps then he could accept the parts of himself he hides.

While the repeal of Prohibition leads to financial issues for Viktor, a Depression-era disapproval of the liberal lifestyles of the 1920s initiates a slew of deeper problems. Sensationalized news stories regarding a rash of sex crimes paint homosexuals as depraved monsters and precipitate numerous laws against the queer community. The government’s intent is not only to eradicate pansy parlors—but homosexuality entirely. When an unexpected arrest forces Viktor to arrive at a decision he feels unprepared to make, he struggles with the ramifications.

IN THE CITY BY THE LAKE is a work of historical fiction focused on the emotional journey of a twenty-one-year-old closeted mobster living in Chicago during the LGBT emergence of the late 1920s to early 1930s, a period deemed the “Pansy Craze.”

Taylor Saracen certainly knows her way around the English language. She penned a novel that is poignant and captivating. In the City by the Lake is part character study, part history lesson that provide a backdrop for an unforgettable romance.

Viktor, a Russian emigrant and low level mobster, narrates this story. A complex character, full of self-hate whose father fanned those flames at a tender age subsequent to his mother’s death in childbirth. He’s broody with a dash of misanthropy and seems to find suffering his norm. Even though everyone calls him a pessimist they all seem to enjoy being around him; he, of course, thinks himself a realist. A realist moored to the notion that he’s destined to be alone forever. A realist who despite this belief becomes hopelessly besotted by Abe’s Peach upon first sight. 

Viktor has always traveled light, making due with one offs and decidedly closeted. Because Russian mafia. Ironically, he's assigned the Towerton district, the gay mecca of 20s and 30s Chicago. Abe owns The Gallery and shelters, among other things, several of his employees including a man he calls “Peach”. 

Peach a.k.a. Cal Connolly hails from Georgia, is a ginger and Viktor’s polar opposite-outgoing, gregarious and effervescent, shining like a beacon in a sky full of stars. Right from the start Viktor wants him but doesn’t want to jeopardize his lucrative relationship with Abe, thus the pining begins and it was delicious. He feels unworthy of Cal, recognizing he's a creature of darkness whereas Cal is a creature of the light. Afraid of dimming that luminescence, he endeavors to keep his distance.

A fool's errand if ever there were one.

In the City by the Lake spans from 1929-1937 starting during the “Pansy Craze” and encompasses the denouement of the halcyon days of the Roaring Twenties, prohibition, the Great Depression, The New Deal and the fountainhead of WWII. Saracen clearly did her research which in turn had me doing some cursory research of my own. I knew nothing of the Pansy Craze nor of Chicago's instrumental role in it, so references to actual events that I never knew about, some magnificent and others ghastly, prodded me to look for myself. 

left is roaring 20s; right is 30s homophobia

Imagine going from the toast of every major metropolitan city, living openly and thriving to being rounded up and put into “fruitcake factories” or worse. I didn’t do extensive research but I believe this epoch marked the emergence of conversion therapy. Parallels between then and now with the outlandish correlations made, xenophobia, homophobia and conservative backlash were hard to miss; the queers got blamed for everything from heinous crimes to the Great Depression itself. It seemed to be particularly bad in Chicago where rampant charges of indecency were handed out, many of which flaunted entrapment laws and fear mongering in the press was egregious. 

Naturally, this leads to conflict as they are forced to endure Chicago as it becomes increasingly less friendly to the “pansies”. But what amazed and delighted me was even though things are bleak with a sense of foreboding for what lies ahead, they still carve out moment after moment of joy and happiness. They have next to nothing and are systematically being persecuted but they have each other. Even if its just going to a Cubs game or going to Bughouse Square or making a feast of Campbell's soup, they reveled in it. They don’t escape totally unscathed and trigger warning for secondary character death (that gutted me) but there is a glorious, hard fought and an HEA that, honestly, I was momentarily unsure was going to happen. 

In the City by the Lake is not a sexy book; there are only oblique references to sex or fade to black scenes. However, what it lacks in sexiness it makes up for with a certain air of a bygone era romance that's all-consuming for the protagonists and swept me away right along with them.

The depth and breadth of Vik’s love for Cal was powerful and affecting due in large part to Saracen’s crafting of him. The dialogue stays true to the time period and all of the characters are compelling to varying degrees. The narrative was engaging and the world building, though I think it goes without saying at this point, was fascinating.

If you’re a fan of historical romance, In the City by the Lake shouldn't be missed. It's a remarkable achievement from new to me author Taylor Saracen; one that has put her on my radar.

A copy was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Giveaway + Release Blitz: Elias by Erin E. Keller

Celebrate today's release of Elias with author Erin E. Keller and Signal Boost Promotions! Find out more about this hurt/comfort contemporary romance published by JMS Books, read an excerpt and enter in the giveaway to win your very own copy of the book! Good luck!

Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | JMS Books

Length: 37,000 words approx.

Publisher: JMS Books


Detective Thomas Doyle has been living a lonely, compartmentalized life ever since the death of his life partner, Aiden. He vowed never to let anybody get close to him again -- the pain of losing a loved one is too much to bear. Despite his vow, Thomas is lonely, and has a number of one-night stands, sexual encounters with unnamed men he doesn’t care to remember. Then he meets Elias.

Elias Byrne knows the pain of abuse and rejection intimately. Unable to escape the clutches of his older brother, Elias dreams of someone to love, and of being loved in return. He admires Thomas, but the detective never pays him any notice. In a desperate attempt to get closer to him, Elias steals his wallet, then gives it back the next day.

Pretty soon, Thomas feels a strong attraction to the fiery, arrogant, younger man. Elias intrigues him, but he resists his growing feelings because he doesn’t want to get hurt again.

When Thomas rescues Elias from his abusive brother, can he also rescue them both from the loneliness that threatens to consume them? Can Elias conquer the detective’s hardened heart and find the love he always longed for? Or will Thomas stubbornly refuse to give himself another chance at love?


The Black Sheep’s lights were soft; people’s shadows moving inside seemed like dark souls waiting for a body to enter. In fact, people came to this specific pub for that reason. He wasn’t the first to use the privacy given by the place to find a hot body to lose himself in. Thomas entered and looked around, a worried expression of his face. His fists clenched, arms stiff at his sides. He headed to the bar and leaned an elbow on it, observing the surrounding people, the darkest corners, the private rooms, and the dance floor, a small area that only fit a few people. The music was rhythmic but not too fast. It was kind of sensual, so different from the folk music you usually heard in most Irish pubs.

Adrian, the barman, slid a glass in his direction.

“Here you go, the usual,” he said, winking.

Thomas nodded and answered with half a smile, putting the money on the counter. He turned away for a few moments before looking back at Adrian.

“Do you know Elias?” he asked.

Adrian seemed to think for a moment. “Thin, black hair, even darker eyes, sexy as hell?”

Thomas blinked. From the description, it sounded like Elias, even if Thomas didn’t personally find him sexy as hell. That is, he couldn’t deny what he’d seen under those long locks was something magnetic, that his body seemed thin but not skinny, but ...

Thomas shook his head. He was a boy. And a thief. And a stalker. And who knew what else? And he wasn’t interested in him in that way.

“I think so,” he finally replied.

Adrian smiled and gestured to a hidden corner of the tiny dance floor. There, wearing a pair of tight jeans and a white T-shirt, was Elias, dancing with a guy behind him who had one hand on his chest and the other on his belly. His eyes were closed, and he was moving his pelvis. Sexy as hell, actually. His head was reclined, leaning on the shoulder of the man behind him, and he had his hand by his side as he swayed.

Thomas picked up his drink and took a long sip. That boy owed him an explanation. Suddenly, he realized he couldn’t accuse him of anything without some kind of evidence. For a very short moment, doubt ran through his mind: had it really been Elias, or had Thomas finally lost it? Maybe when he’d been twirling under the rain like an idiot fighting his panic attack?

When he looked at the dance floor again, Elias had disappeared.

“What the fuck!” he burst out, frustrated, a second before feeling somebody touch him, a solid body pushing against his back and a voice speaking in his ear, softly enough so as not to be heard by anyone else.

“If they told me to choose who to fuck, I would choose you.”

Thomas turned suddenly and almost spilled his Guinness on himself.

There he was -- Elias.

Thomas observed him for a few moments, and his brain registered different things. This time, he could see Elias’s face, even if it was barely lit. It was a very unusual face: thin, big black eyes, a sharp nose, and a large, full mouth. Elias wasn’t as thin as he first seemed. Or, yes, he was thin, but the right definition would have been slim. The stretch T-shirt highlighted his long muscles, as well as his tight jeans, which underlined the contour of his hips, molding his legs. His hair was long at the front and really, really black. His gaze in that moment was particularly intense. The corners of his mouth were turned up in half a smirk.

Thomas suddenly looked away from his lips, the taste of which he could still feel on his mouth, and took a sip of beer.

“I saw you while I was dancing. You came looking for me,” Elias continued.

It wasn’t a question. It was an assertion.

“No. I came looking for my wallet.”

Sure, he could have beaten around the bush, but this guy somehow got on his nerves, and he wasn’t in the mood for acting kindly. He waited for a question from him, even outrage. What he wasn’t expecting was Elias taking his hand, turning it over, and putting the wallet in it.

“And what does this mean?” Thomas growled. “If this is a joke, it’s not funny.”

“Isn’t that your wallet? Didn’t you come here for it? Here it is. No joke.” Elias’s expression was unperturbed.

“You stole it.”

“Had it on loan.”

“I could report you.” Better yet, I could arrest you. But he didn’t say that out loud because he didn’t want Elias to know anything else about him.

“Does it look like I’m stopping you from doing anything you want to do?”

Author Bio

Erin is Irish in her heart and soul, and she hopes she’ll move to the Emerald Island one day. She lives with her husband and their cats in a house near a wheat field.

She has been writing for years, but admits she is a very undisciplined writer. The problem is that handling a couple of jobs makes it almost impossible to write every day. She loves letting her mind wander through the real world. She likes to write contemporary M/M romance because she loves love. And men. 

For more information, please visit

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Guest Review: Late Fees (A Pinx Video Mystery #3) by Marshall Thornton

It’s Thanksgiving, 1992 and Noah Valentine is late picking his mother up from the airport. When he arrives he discovers that she’s made a friend on the flight whose also waiting for her son. When women’s son doesn’t show up, they eventually take the woman home for breakfast with neighbor’s Marc and Louis. Soon after, they learn that the woman’s son has overdosed—or has he? Noah and his motley crew investigate over the holiday weekend; which includes a fabulous dinner, a chat with a male stripper, a tiny little burglary and some help from Detective Tall, Dark, and Delicious.

Reviewer: Annika

About a year ago now I picked up the first book in this series. For the most part I wasn't sold on it and was going to leave the rest of the series and was satisfied with just reading that one. Then the ending happened and I was hooked, needed to know more. Now? I'm totally addicted and in love with this series and keep hoping for more books.

It's almost Thanksgiving and Noah's mother, Angie, is flying in to spend the holidays in Los Angeles. Only he's late picking her up from the airport, and during that time she made a friend who's also waiting for her son. Noah offers to drive Joanne to her son's apartment on his way home. But when they arrive, there's no son in sight and they soon finds out he's died during the night in an apparent suicide.

Only Noah and his gang of friends aren't so sure, so they start investigating. Noah is more than reluctant to get involved with another murder investigation. Especially since his mother is determined to partake in it - but that makes it all the more fun for the reader.

The series has this strange combination of gritty, but also the cosy mystery feel to it. The action is (very) low key and the pacing is not this intense can't breathe and nonstop action kind of thing. On the contrary, it feels real, not only because it's life, but also because it really fits with the 90's where that stress of doing and being everywhere at once isn't as pronounced as it is today. Nothing is instant - the coffee or flow of information.

There's still no romance near this series, maybe the fantasy or wishful thinking of one, but I honestly don't mind that. This series is good as it is, and I do see something happening down the line, but there's no need to rush it. Noah isn't there yet, he's still got a lot to work through and this book sees him start that journey. And one I'm so looking forward to be part of.

Guest Review: Life Underwater By Matthew J. Metzger

Ashraf never thought he could fall in love. So when he falls hard and fast for marine biologist Jamie Singer, it’s a shock to the system—in more ways than one.

Even if he can wrap his head around what love is and how relationships work, Ashraf’s not sure this is viable. He’s hydrophobic. And Jamie’s entire world revolves around the sea. What’s the point of trying if so much of Jamie’s life is inaccessible to Ashraf?

But Ashraf has vastly underestimated the pull of loving Jamie. For the first time, he wants to face the water, rather than flee from it. He has underestimated the power of love in making people brave, stupid, or a little bit of both.

Maybe it’s time to take a leap—and sink or swim.

Reviewer: Shee Reader

Oh my gosh, how much did I love this book?? I read it twice. That’s right, twice in three days. I freaking LOVED it.

What can I tell you without spoiling the story?

Well, it is beautifully written, is sharply observant, has delightful genuine dialogue and is sweet and lovely and wonderful.

Yeah, that's pretty much it.

Ashraf is asexual and aromantic, but he has fallen in love with a clever, fun and funny person who is so exuberant they leap off the page! Jamie is a marine Biologist studying for their PhD. Ashraf is a lecturer who is older, browner and more Muslim than Jamie, but love is real despite other people’s prejudices. Ashraf wants to confront his fear of water which stems from childhood trauma, since Jamie’s life is all about the sea. There are so many wonderful things I could say about this story, for example, Ashraf going home with Jamie for Christmas to their outrageous Scottish matriarchal family who are all hilarious. But the best thing I can say is, you should read this book, maybe even twice.

Highly recommended.

I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Christmas Prince (The Christmas Angel #7) by R.J. Scott

Prince Raphael, the youngest son of the Montaunoit royal family, is the custodian of his country's history. At a Sotheby's auction, he outbids Marc on an item he doesn't even want. Just because he can.

Meeting the museum curator turns Raphael's world upside down, and when lust turns to love he knows he has to change.

Can Marc be the one to show Raphael that he doesn't have to stay the lonely prince forever, and that love is always an option?


This story is one of seven stories which can all be read and enjoyed in any order.

* * * * *

In 1750, a master woodcarver poured all his unrequited love, passion, and longing into his masterpiece—a gorgeous Christmas angel for his beloved’s tree. When the man he loved tossed the angel away without a second thought, a miracle happened. The angel was found by another who brought the woodcarver True Love.

Since then, the angel has been passed down, sold, lost and found, but its magic remains. Read the romances inspired by (and perhaps nudged along by) the Christmas Angel through the years. Whether it’s the 1880’s New York (Kim Fielding), the turn-of-the-century (Jordan L. Hawk), post World War II (L.A. Witt), Vietnam-era (N.R. Walker), the 1990’s (Anyta Sunday), 2018 Europe (RJ Scott), the Christmas Angel has a way of landing on the trees of lonely men who need it’s blessing for a very Merry Christmas and forever HEA.

Oh dear. I struggled big time with this one. Unfortunately I just couldn't get into it. I found the characters very bland and their motivations poorly explained.

Prince Raphael comes across as self entitled and has a general lack of understanding of how normal people act. This isn't even my own opinion or Marc's, he comes across as this in his own thoughts. This in itself would be fine, that level of self awareness is great and there are stories full of 'rich guys becoming nice guys’, but Raphael is actually selfless and caring and spends much of his time cuddling children and shopping at markets with the ‘normal folk’. It just didn't add up. Then there's Marc with his career goals and jumping to conclusions and I don't know….I just didn't care about any of the characters and I think that was the problem.

The Angel also didn't fit in as well as the other book in this series I'd read. She seemed more like an afterthought and not a magical love guide.

Steam factor was also lacking. I'm not just talking about lack of sex, but when you need to read there's a connection when kissing someone instead of actually feeling it, there's a bit of a problem.

I know this doesn't sound promising, but I am giving 2 hearts because it's not terrible, it just wasn't for me.

A review copy was provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

Blog Tour: A Whole Latte Sass (Geek Life #2) by Marguerite Labbe

Celebrate the release of A Whole Latte Sass (Geek Life #2) with author Marguerite Labbe and Dreamspinner Press. Find out more about this opposites attract contemporary romance and read a character interview below!

An Interview with Felipe Suero
Hello everyone. Thank you so much for stopping by and checking in. I thought I’d continue with a theme that I had with the last book and have Dakota Nye interview Felipe for his podcast Geek Wars. This should be interesting. They were an item once, but they’ve been friends for far longer. Dakota is both grateful he’s off the hook and genuinely happy that Felipe has found the love of his life.
* * *
Dakota: “On this special edition of Geek Wars I have Felipe Suero, cosplayer extraordinaire. Seriously, I’ve put some photos of his costumes up on the website, check them out. So, Felipe, I hear you got a wild hair up your ass and decided to go into business with your lifelong arch nemesis. How’s that going?”
Felipe: “Dude, I don’t want to jinx us on air. Let’s just say there’s no blood in the water yet and our new venture Creatures & Cosplay is getting off to a good start. We’re working on a couple commissions and you know we have some ideas for your mega con next year.”
Dakota with a wicked grin. “Oh, I do know. Brenden wasn’t so sure about the logistics of the costume parade, but I trust you. Okay, you ready for the questions my listeners sent in?”
Felipe throws out his hands. “Sure, why not, hit me.”
Dakota: “Okay, What do you like?’ And since that’s still too open ended, I say you can’t answer cosplaying or roleplaying games because that’s a given.”
Felipe smirks. “Sex.”
“Hey.” Dakota points his notecards at Felipe. “Keep it PG. I might have some underage listeners with tender ears.”
Felipe snorts, his gaze unrepentant. “Whatever, I’ve listened to every one of your podcasts. I know just what rating some of them should have. But fine, PG, for fuck’s sake, let’s see, I love my dog Lily and her sweet puppy Sophie. And I definitely love my Tin Man.”
Dakota rolls his eyes. “I knew this would get sappy early. Morris is bad, but you my friend are worse, with an acidic edge that keeps it interesting. Here’s another question, ‘What fears keep you awake at night?’”
“Me?” Felipe lays his hand on his chest. “I fear nothing.”
“Liar.” Dakota levels a look at him. “I’ve known you too long. This is me. True, you are a balls to the walls kind of guy like me. You take life head on and don’t look back and I think that’s cool, but I know better.”
Felipe shoots him an irritated look. “Fine, Mr. Know-it-All, what do I fear then?”
Dakota taps the edge of the cards against his chin. “You’re afraid of not being loved the way you deserve to be loved.”
Felipe eyes him a moment. “Maybe you’re not as clueless as you pretend sometimes. But I don’t have to fear that anymore. I will say, that I have had the occasional nightmare of being stuck in a bridge tollbooth for life.”
Dakota: “Perfectly understandable. ‘If you were an ice cream flavor what would you be?’”
Felipe: “Jamoca Almond Fudge on a sugar cone, extra scoops.”
Dakota: “That is a respectable choice and it suits you. You love coffee, but the rest gives it that extra flair that’s all you. Now, ‘If you had one song you could put in your life soundtrack for you and our new Gamemaster, what would it be?’”
Felipe: “If I Was Your Girlfriend, by Prince.”
Dakota bursts out laughing. “That might be the most perfect answer I’ve heard. Thank you for not bringing the sap. That suits you. Man, I’ve missed having you on my podcast. You always entertain me. We’re running out of time, so I’m going to do a few word associations about our friends. This is going to be fun I think, ready?”
Felipe: “Fuck yeah, born ready.”
Dakota: “Morris.”
Felipe: “Sucker. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself, serious answer, loyal. He’s the best friend that a guy can have.”
Dakota: “Theo.”
Felipe grimaces. “Sunshine.”
Dakota: “Yeah, gotta agree with you there. For someone who’s had it rough, he’s got a Pollyanna outlook to life. How about Trask?”
Felipe’s eyes light up. “Tin Man and don’t say it’s not one word. He’s Tin Man.”
Dakota holds up a placating hand. “Don’t get your panties in a twist. Brenden.”
Felipe: “Asshole.”
Dakota: “Hey! Look, I know you two have had your history, but he’s not that bad. He’s cut you some slack lately. I thought you two were getting along better.”
Felipe shrugs. “I don’t know why his attitude has changed. One day I’ll figure it out, but until then my answer stands. You said first word that pops into my mind. I could’ve said, Mr.-I’ve-Got-A-Stick-So-Far-Up-My-Ass-I-Can’t-Believe-He’s-Not-A-Puppet, but I kept it simple.”
Dakota: “Jesus, chill, you two I swear. I’m almost afraid to throw my name in there.”
Felipe: “Oh, that’s easy.”
Dakota shoots him a wary look. “Well?”
Felipe: “Sucker times infinity for that anal retentive—”
Dakota claps a hand over his mouth. “Okay, that’s all the time we have on our show today. Until the next time, get your geek on. Ow! You bit me!”
Felipe: “You should’ve let me finish motherfucker. It’s okay though. I’m happy. I’ve got everything I want. And one day Dakota… one day you’re going to get yours and I’m going to laugh my ass off. On that note, signing out. Peace bitches.”

It’s no secret cosplayer Felipe Suero is looking for his happily ever after—in his love life as well as his career. He’s getting his degree so he can quit his miserable job and start his own costume business. Now he just needs to land the sexiest silver fox to ever attend a con.
Trask Briscoe’s life revolves around staying clean and sober, running the Magick Den, and attending local cons. His rules haven’t left much room for romance. But he can’t deny Felipe has caught his complete attention. He’s just not sure what he can offer a man so full of joy and sass.
When Trask finally accepts Felipe’s offer for a cup of coffee, he soon finds himself on a second date and a third. Between cosplay projects and roleplaying games, they discover a deeper connection than either of them expected. And Trask realizes that sometimes rules are made to be broken.
Now Felipe just has to convince his family—and Trask—that Trask has more love to offer than he ever dreamed.

Buy Links:
Social Media:
Twitter handle: @MargueriteLabbe
Marguerite Labbe loves writing stories about the beauty of love and the strength of family, whether it’s the family you’re born into or the one you create. She married her next-door neighbor and best friend, and they have one son, one dog, and two cats who rule them all. She has finally converted her Alabama born husband into being a Red Sox fan and now only needs to convince her son. She runs Apocrypha Comics Studio with her husband and they often trek off to comic book conventions on the weekend where they celebrate all manner of geek culture.

Release Blitz + Giveaway: Valhalla by L.A. Ashton

Happy New Year!

Celebrate the release of Valhalla with author L.A. Ashton and IndiGo Marketing! Learn more today about the fantasy fiction and enter in the $10 NineStar Press credit giveaway!

Title: Valhalla
Author: L.A. Ashton
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: December 31, 2018
Heat Level: 1 - No Sex
Pairing: Male/Male
Length: 17900
Genre: Fantasy, Valkyrie, war, WWII, Norse Mythology, gay, historical fantasy

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Sakuma has served as a Valkyrie for centuries, smoothly escorting thousands of souls to the grand halls of Valhalla. While the world tears itself apart during WWII, he is summoned to retrieve the soul of a fallen Japanese soldier, Ishii Hiroshi. To Sakuma’s surprise, Ishii refuses his invitation to eternity.

The two meet again and again as the war repeatedly sends Ishii to death’s door, and what should have been a fleeting encounter becomes something much greater for the both of them.

Sakuma is determined to give Ishii the reward he so deserves, but Ishii’s stubbornness may condemn him to an eternity outside Valhalla.


L.A. Ashton © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Sakuma stared down through the floor, past his feet, through the crack in his dimension. Beyond the collisions and splits of galaxies, Earth’s thrumming pulse called to him. There lay his charges—the human souls he would collect so they might rest easy in Valhalla.

He felt the tug in his chest, the pull of someone destined for his collection, and spread his wings wide before plunging through the rift that linked their worlds. With wings tucked at his sides, stars became burning streaks of light. The universe blurred and twisted, an orb of hazy blue its only clear constant.

Earth had erupted into a time of war, and Sakuma and his fellow Valkyrie labored for the sake of human souls. They saw the hidden crevices and shadows of war no one wanted to see. The world wilted before their eyes, and the bloodstained present turned the future bleak, and dark. But they also saw triumph, and sunrise after sunrise starting the day anew. They saw the look on every soldier’s face as they realized death wasn’t the end.

It was worth it.

Sakuma punctured Earth’s atmosphere, and the smells of the lands and seas gusted against his face. His eyes softened at the reflective sparkle of the ocean; it was a beautiful sight, an unchanging thing that rose and fell under the press of the moon rather than the press of humanity.

The ground approached fast. Sakuma felt the tremble of the soul before his eyes could discern who it belonged to, but then—yes. Sakuma’s wings flared outward, body halting so immediately it dissolved the idea of impossibility.

Tanks, empty bullet shells, and discarded guns were strewn across the ground. Machines and bodies littered the battlefield as if they carried the same value. The acrid stench of gunpowder resisted the wind and hung in the air, a trail left in the wake of Axis and Allies. Sakuma looked down at his charge. The man stared up at him, eyes wide and unblinking. He was bleeding, his uniform more crimson than not, and he shook with such ferocity that Sakuma could hear it in his breaths.

Sakuma knelt down and offered his hand. The man blinked, his lashes coercing loose the tears still clinging to his eyes.

“You’ve done well,” Sakuma told him. He held his outstretched hand steady as his wings flapped at his back. “Let’s take you away from this.”

The soldier gawked at Sakuma’s wings before bringing his eyes down to the offered palm. He immediately grabbed hold, the sensation firm and warm against Sakuma’s skin. Good. He’s ready.

Sakuma curled his fingers around the man’s hand and lifted. As the soldier rose, the flesh of his hand fell away and lowered to the ground. What was left gripping Sakuma’s hand were tendrils of light in the purest, lightest blue.

Strings of energy knit together to form fingers, and arms and shoulders wound away from the confines of a body to become iridescent limbs. Sparkling light ghosted from the soldier, lifting past his body as his human form sighed its last breath. The human didn’t notice the transition. He only smiled, and that smile was lit with the radiant energy of life. Sakuma grabbed his other hand to steady him, and there was a discernible purr of peace.

Sakuma spread his wings, took a breath, and shot them into the air.

He kept his eyes up as they sailed through the Earth’s sky and broke through the seal of the atmosphere. But once they were careening through space, breaking apart time and dimensions, he liked to watch their faces.

Every man thought he knew true beauty. And then every man saw the infinite expanse of space, and they realized they’d been wrong.

Gas, dust, and rock were turned perfect and ethereal in the silence of space, backlit by millions of stars. Galaxies wound into spirals, blues warmed into reds around a sun, purple and green congealed in overheated leftovers of a supernova.

Sakuma watched the faces of the humans he brought, their newly transcendent form experiencing their first taste of eternity.

Eventually, he left them at the gates of Valhalla. There they could take the seat reserved for them—a place promised to true warriors for the rest of time.

Hands now freed, Sakuma turned to gaze into the black. Somewhere beyond that void, there was a pulse. Another life had found a heroic end. Sakuma smiled, spread his wings, and plunged back toward Earth.


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Meet the Author

L.A. Ashton is an LGBT+ author writing LGBT+ fiction. They enjoy rock music, traveling, and anything else that adds color to their daydreams. They believe in the healing properties of art and of having a cat firmly stationed on one’s lap. Their official site can be found at

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Review: Unraveled (Heathens Ink #5) by K.M. Neuhold

My mind and body are full of chaos; the only time I can truly feel free is when my hands, arms, and legs are secured. Just because I want to be bound, able to give over my pleasure entirely to another person, doesn’t mean I want to be controlled, humiliated, or made to endure pain. I’m a successful, happy, confident adult man who wants a lover to tie him up. Why is that so scandalous? And why is it so difficult to find? It doesn’t help that I’ve developed a hopeless crush on my straight roommate. Maybe a fulfilling relationship isn’t in the cards for me.

I’m completely out of control of my life. My ex is trying to take my daughter away from me... again, my dream of owning my own motorcycle repair shop seems out of reach, and somehow, I find myself a thirty-two-year-old man who can’t afford to have a place without a roommate. So, it’s no huge surprise that the idea of being given complete control over someone’s body and pleasure is a major turn-on. I never had any inkling I might be into guys, until my best friend told me he likes to be tied up. Now I’m losing sleep, imagining him bound and begging for me. I can’t figure out if it’s just the kink or if it’s possible I’m falling for him.

Win some. Lose some.

I'm bummed this didn't WOW me. It has good stuff in it that filled me with excite at the outset: kinky, big Italian guy with long hair, rope bondage, friends to lovers... did I mention rope bondage? Lookit, this book will be and has been a win for many. It's very sweet, low angst and has a nice HEA that's achieved with little conflict.

True, you'll probably need to suspend disbelief but there's nothing wrong with that! Everyone needs a light, feel good escape from reality sometimes. In this case, it comes in the form of the tried and true turning the straight guy gay trope with a twist of then making said straight guy a quasi dominant for your bondage needs.

Max nor Clay are well crafted characters and I didn't care for Max, the way his "alpha-ness" was portrayed particularly grated. Clay was more likable with his anxieties and propensity to compulsively clean when stressed. He's also adorable with Max's daughter.

Their friends to lovers romance was straightforward but lacked the depth of emotion that could've made this story richer. It felt rushed and could've done with a challenge or two that would've required them to persevere through thereby strengthening their bond instead of fast-forwarding through major life decisions. I also didn't care for how Max's bisexuality was portrayed.

However, it is very sexy and I wasn't unaffected by how smitten they are with one another. It's not particularly kinky if that's an obstacle, it needn't be; it's more kinky lite, if you will. For me the kink only scratched the psychological surface and lacked the grit that I crave.

Even though this was mostly a miss for me I do recognize how sweet it is and that fluffiness in and of itself is appealing, so I would encourage anyone interested to look at the other reviews before making a final decision.

A review copy was provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

Release Blitz + Giveaway: Scarred by Mia Kerick

Author Mia Kerick and IndiGo Marketing visit to promote the release of Scarred! Learn more today and enter in the $10 NineStar Press credit giveaway!

Title: Scarred
Author: Mia Kerick
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: December 31, 2018
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Pairing: Male/Male
Length: 68500
Genre: Contemporary, contemporary, PTSD, dissociative disorder, stalking, kidnapping, homophobia, family issues

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Even in paradise, beautiful faces can hide scarred souls.

ONE tropical island.

Placida Island’s gentle ocean breezes and rolling surf beckon to those who wish to reside in remote tropical serenity.

TWO men living in self-imposed exile.

Wearing twisted ropes of mutilated skin on his back and carrying devastating damage in his soul from severe childhood abuse, Matthew North lives alone in a rustic cabin on the shore, avoiding human contact.

Gender fluidity his perceived “crime” against family and friends, Vedie Wilson flees his childhood home so he can freely express his identity.

THREE persecutors seeking their warped view of justice.

Vedie’s past refuses to stay in the faraway city he left behind when family members, intent on forcing him to change, threaten the precious peace he’s found.

TOO MANY scars to count.

Their beautiful faces masking deeply scarred souls, Matt and Vedie live in hiding from the world and each other.

Can they unite and embrace each other’s painful pasts, leaving the scars behind, to find love?



By ten, I’m sweaty as a deckhand from bussing tables on the beach, and I’m sorely in need of a brew or six. But seeing as I’ve got no cash to burn, I’m gonna have to leave my coworkers—who’re revving up over by the tiki bar—to their night of hard partying. I grab my leopard-print backpack from the hook on the back wall of the bar and head to the men’s room to turn into the other me.

And just as I figured, Joey’s waiting on me there. “You gonna come party with us tonight, sweet Vedie?”

“No can do, Joey, much as I want to.” Safe inside a stall, I pull off my sweaty green The Only Tiki Hut on Placida Island work T-shirt. As soon as I replace it with a dark red, stretchy lace off-the-shoulder number, I can breathe easy. Next, I strip off my khaki shorts and yank on my favorite black velvet pair. Even though I’ve gotta ride my bike home, I kick my high-tops into my backpack and slide on a pair of jeweled flip-flops. After taking a quick piss, I head out of the stall and plant my ass in front of the mirror beside Joey, who’s standing there like he’s got nothing better to do than count the drips of water leaking from the faucet.

“Lookin’ good, pretty Miss Vedie…mmmhmm…”

No matter if I’m dressed like a dude or a lady, Joey always stares at me like I’m a juicy bowl of strawberry shortcake—he licks his lips, and I know he wants to take himself a nice big bite of a flavor he can’t get at home. Then he slaps his hand hard against my thigh, and creepy-slow, it climbs my leg. It’s headed for my ass cheek, or my name ain’t Vedie Wilson.

“Hands out of the cookie jar, Joey, my man.” I don’t appreciate it when any dude gropes me without asking for permission first. But the sad truth is I’m never gonna want Joey’s hands on me. While he gawks, I pull a shimmery hairband out of my bag and wrap it around my head to hold the damp dreads off my face. “Got yourself a sweet tooth, looks like, Joey. You’d be wise to get your ass home to your sweet wife, not that you asked me for no words of wisdom.”

“Not gonna even think about goin’ home ’til I had me some fun,” Joey replies, jamming his hand in his pocket—probably to keep it from curving around my ass.

When I bend to rinse the sweat off my face, he stays quiet and doesn’t goose me. Maybe this time he heard what I told him about getting his ass home to Mrs. Joey. But more likely he’s checking out my butt.

“Baybeee…uh-huh…mmmhmm…nice ass you got there in them sweet little shorts…”

I sigh real loud, “I’ve got some shit to do here, big dawg, so if that’s all you wanted.” The only way to get this guy to take a hike is to tell him point-blank that he’s gotta head on out. “Catch ya on the flip side.”

He leans in so close his scratchy beard brushes my neck, and I shiver in the bad way. He takes a deep sniff—I guess he likes the smell of sweaty dude—and then finally bails. And right about now, I sorely wish the tiki hut restaurant had one of those one-person anything goes restrooms—for a dude, a lady, or whoever you feel like at the moment—but at least now I’m finally alone in the men’s room.

I pull out my makeup bag and quickly powder my nose so it doesn’t shine in the moonlight, and I glide a deep shade of maroon over my lips. But I take the time to be an artist with my eyeliner and mascara because I figure eyes oughta say something. When I look good enough that I’d wanna do me if I got hot for ladies, I figure I’m looking good enough for public viewing. And my new perfume smells like the freedom I’ve got down here on Placida Island—coconuts and wildflowers and the ocean and honey. I spray it on heavy all over my neck and chest.

As I saunter out of the men’s room, I don’t miss that it’s funny how I went in here looking all-dude, but coming out, you could mistake me for a lady. Ha! More like a red-hot, sexy mama—smooth and silky everywhere except for the four-day beard.

I’m a guy, though, even when I’m dressed this fine. And in my opinion—not that anybody gives two shits what I think—the combo of smooth legs and a stubbly chin says, in your face, assholes! I don’t have to choose how I show myself to the world anymore.


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Meet the Author

Mia Kerick is the mother of four exceptional children—one in law school, another at a dance conservatory, a third studying at Mia’s alma mater, Boston College, and her lone son still in high school. She has published more than twenty books of LGBTQ romance when not editing National Honor Society essays, offering opinions on college and law school applications, helping to create dance bios, and reviewing English papers. Her husband of twenty-five years has been told by many that he has the patience of Job, but don’t ask Mia about this, as it is a sensitive subject.

Mia focuses her stories on the emotional growth of troubled young people and their relationships. She has a great affinity for the tortured hero in literature, and as a teen, Mia filled spiral-bound notebooks with tales of tortured heroes and stuffed them under her mattress for safekeeping. She is thankful to NineStar Press for providing her with an alternate place to stash her stories.

Her books have been featured in Kirkus Reviews magazine, and have won Rainbow Awards for Best Transgender Contemporary Romance and Best YA Lesbian Fiction, a Reader Views’ Book by Book Publicity Literary Award, the Jack Eadon Award for Best Book in Contemporary Drama, an Indie Fab Award, and a Royal Dragonfly Award for Cultural Diversity, among other awards.

Mia Kerick is a social liberal and cheers for each and every victory made in the name of human rights. Her only major regret: never having taken typing or computer class in school, destining her to a life consumed with two-fingered pecking and constant prayer to the Gods of Technology. Contact Mia at or visit at to see what is going on in Mia’s world.

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