Book Review: A Shot in the Dark by Victoria Lee

“A Shot in the Dark” is my first exposure to Victoria Lee and all I can say is wow, does she have range, when I learned she writes contemporary romance with deeper themes as well as SFF. This incredible book is definitely one of my top favorites of the year. The prose is breathtakingly gorgeous, and I can tell this is one of those “books of the heart” that people are always talking about that has a very personal, authentic feel for the author’s own life.

The book centers around a forbidden romance between a hotshot photography professor, a trans guy named Wyatt Cole, and a young photography student spending the summer at a renowned art school in New York City. The story is filled with all kinds of tension and Wyatt’s ethical quandaries about boundaries after they spend a one night stand together on Ely Cohen’s first night back in the city and then have to work together.

The tension is so dripping with angst that it almost got to be too much for my personal preference for angst, half the time I just wanted to slap them both and say kiss each other already. But if you like high angst this will be your cup of tea.

If it was just that, this would have been a shallow, tropey book like every other romance on the market, just make it queer, but this was so far from that.

Ely and Wyatt are both addicts in recovery, one of the authentic details that really shines through as if the author has sat in NA meetings herself, clutching paper cups of coffee. Her photography semester is also a homecoming for her; she was raised in an Orthodox Jewish sect and excommunicated after her drug problems caused her family too much pain. Back in town, she struggles to maintain her sobriety and get vulnerable with her art, and finds a kindred spirit in Wyatt, who has his own struggles with family and artistic identity.

I loved how the explorations of identity are subtle in this. Ely’s pansexual but when she describes her sexuality to her new roommates, she doesn’t want to put a label on it; instead she says simply that she’s slept with both men and women, it’s about the person, not the gender. Likewise, I felt the journey she went on to reconnect with her religious identity was not stereotypical; she goes from appreciating the way that rituals bind the life of a family and a community, to realizing that she never stopped believing and needs that anchor and structure in her life even if her family might not ever completely forgive her.

All in all, wow, this book is amazing. I feel privileged to have earned an early look.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an advance review copy. I am leaving this review voluntarily.

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Book Review: All This Could Be Yours by J.V. Speyer

Overall, I enjoyed “All This Could Be Yours” by J.V. Speyer. It had a lot going for it. This is an enemies-to-lovers interracial mafia romance, lower on the spicy scale, which was refreshing. Straightlaced FBI agent Maddox Price goes undercover, posing as the boyfriend of a mob kingpin’s son, Tanner, who’s openly gay and wants to rat out his family, at Tanner’s brother’s wedding. I liked how the fake dating premise and the paranoia of Tanner’s family with the constant surveillance added tension and depth to their relationship.

This story had a lot going on. I expected Tanner’s trauma to be overwrought and the portrayals of his mobster family to be over-the-top stereotypical, but the author didn’t go the one-dimensional route, which I appreciated. I did not however buy that an FBI agent like Maddox, committed to seeking revenge against the mob his whole career, would suddenly switch to falling in love with a mobster after a week of feeling sorry for Tanner and his stories of the things that he had done. It needed better defined character motivations. Despite the instalove, I thought the characters were interesting. I just expected him to have developed feelings and maybe wrestled with that a little more than he did.

I also questioned the author’s legal research; they kept going on about how people couldn’t be convicted of crimes if they were committed under duress and I question their understanding of the law. Just a quibble as someone who works in the legal field; little details like that can throw me out of the story.

Despite my reservations, I found this an entertaining read with a plot arc that kept me interested to the end. I liked the growth of their relationship overall and the chemistry between them; if you don’t mind surface infatuation turning on a dime to instalove you may like this book even more than I did. It was a satisfying plot arc with a nice balance of action and romance. The author’s writing voice was engaging and the story was easy to follow. I’d read more books by this author.

Book Review: Love and War (Beast of Burden #1) by E.M. Lindsey

I’m not usually a fan of Omegaverse stuff. Although I find it intriguing, I also find the physiology bizarre and the mind of whoever invented this subset of werewolf lore is seriously twisted. If you don’t know, Omegaverse is a type of shifter-focused fantasy fiction that came from Supernatual fandom, because of course all twisted things come from Supernatural fandom. It involves a complicated hierarchical culture with Alphas, Omegas and Betas, psychic mating bonds and bizarre rituals, including male pregnancy – not trans men, but men with uteri. If you google an explanation of the so-called biology it is quite bizarrely complicated.

At any rate, I usually don’t like Omegaverse stuff because by and large it is fairly awfully written. The same old storylines and tropes. But I was intrigued by this series because the universe was so different; the idea of a dystopian hellscape in which werewolves and humans battled it out for dominance and experimented on each other drew me in. And it did not disappoint.

“Love and War” by E.M. Lindsey is the story of two prisoners in a human lab, the Alpha werewolf Kor and the human Misha, who help each other escape and join Kor’s wolf pack to plot revolution. This is a dark romance between the two with unsettling, deep themes that the author handled sensitively. Misha was experimented on by his father and genetically altered to be an Omega – not quite wolf, not quite human, and nobody is sure whether he’ll survive the change, or a mating bond with an Alpha wolf. But the two are inextricably drawn to each other.

The characters and the strong, engaging writing voice in this story kept me interested throughout the book. The worldbuilding in this was rich and beautifully imagined. I loved the idea of a battle-scarred general losing his sight and being forced to navigate leadership and a first-time mating bond while blind. I also liked how they handled Misha as an Omega; instead of making a docile, weak partner, Misha was complex and layered, someone who stood up to his mate and was a historian and philosopher, a soft counterpart to Kor’s recklessness.

The heat in this was quite spicy and I thought the sex scenes were well done. This series does have mpreg in it, which is normally a squick for me, and I fully expected to be weirded out by Omega sex. But the smut was well written and the pacing was spot on.

I’d read more of this series and by this author. The characters and the storytelling are what make this book unique.