Crossing Lines

WARNING: this post relates specifically to the [redacted] subgenre of romance and the alleged exposure of [redacted name] as a catfish who purported a cancer ridden, heroin addicted bisexual single father of two non existent children  for the purpose of economic gain.

People in this “community” will understand the post and although we are happy to provide names in private we’d rather not do so in public for fear of repercussions.


We will be using the word “author” in inverted commas to signify that this is not all authors in this [redacted subgenre]. Likewise we are using inverted commas when using the word “community” (nest of vipers comes to mind as a better descriptor but we’ll keep it simple)  to distinguish this particular corner from the larger [redacted] community.

There are many fantastic and honest people in [redacted subgenre] this post is not about them and if anything we do hope they’d feel supported and validated by this post.


Although we have access to the public material online and we know their handles we do not know who the people in the “whisper” network are and if we did we wouldn’t tell. We do feel their questions are valid and although it would be heartbreaking to learn that this “author” went to such lengths to manipulate cash out of their readership we equally would like to see unequivocal proof that this is not the case.


In the last few days the campaign to expose [big name in the subgenre] as a catfish has intensified with some starting questioning said “author”, others weighing in in his favour and a few asking questions on where are the lines when it comes to “author” branding and fraudulent behaviour and between what “authors” owe readers and vice versa.

We would like to address  both the catfishing and somewhat more importantly – we would like to explore more this idea of line crossing and “author”/readers relationships.

We shouldn’t, cause it is a well known fact, have to point out that [redacted subgenre] of romance is a very tiny pond with many fish in it all clamoring for attention. Competition is fierce and the audience captive and very actively involved. The subgenre is also prone to regular and periodic dramatic shake ups and toxic behaviours which leave, and have left, many reeling and exhausted and utterly disillusioned by it.

Authors in this subgenre rely heavily on their online presence to promote and sell their wares and on the one hand cultivate a cultish clique of readers while on the other constantly complaining about how readers are their job and how they wish readers would keep their distance.

Some “authors” share intimate, emotional details of their lives thus triggering an intimate,emotional response in their readership while resenting said readership when they ask questions. In this paradox an “author” crosses the line into personal boundaries but blames the attentive reader for it when questions arise.

We have been collecting “authors” posts in this specific “community” on what they tell us they owe readers and what us readers conversely owe them. We have listed them in this handy table for your perusal and comparison

What “authors” owe readers What readers owe “authors”
A book Buying the book in eform
Buying the book in print
Buying the book in audio
Buy books in series as they come out and not at the end because how dare you put your own budget ahead of their cash flow
Review the book ( POSITIVELY of course, because don’t we know how hard it is to write?) on Goodreads

(It is a dangerous thing in [redc] not to like a book and say so. The self appointed guardians vilify, gaslight and target the more critical reviewers relentlessly

Review the book ( POSITIVELY of course, because don’t we know how hard it is to write?) on Amazon globally)

(It is a dangerous thing in [redc] not to like a book and say so. The self appointed guardians vilify, gaslight and target the more critical reviewers relentlessly

Fill their tipping/coffee jars
Join their Patreon for exclusive content and the absolute pleasure of buying their friendship
Always preach to the choir and never ever disagree with them on anything
Crowd fund anthologies
Like their facebook pages and join their closed groups and swear on the heads of our kids never to reveal what’s said in them
Subscribe to their newsletters
Follow them – and engage, but not too much – on Twitter and Tumblr and Snapchat (?) & blogs

Seems fair right?

As a corollary to the above let us be clear that readers do not expect freebies nor do they expect “authors” to pine in a turret for the sake of their “art”.

In addition all authors are entitled to their privacy, to use a pseudonym and a brand all of which allows them to make a living at being writers without compromising their IRL identities.

How is this a problem, says you? Well it isn’t really, as long as we are all in agreement that a certain level of honesty underlies all of the above.  As readers do we need to know what an “author” looks like? Not really, if we love the books we  will keep buying and reading whether that “author” is sharing their facial features on line or not.

Do we as readers have a right to know the gender of said “author” or their orientation? Nope and who cares really: throughout the history of literature there are many who had to resort to male pseudonym to gain traction and publish their work. Or they may not want to associate their private lives with their writerly ones: zero issues with this too.

They are entitled to build an online “brand”: sure, personally, we prefer those authors whose quality of work represent their brand but we get the need to grab for attention in a saturated market full to the gills.

So, we hear you all say, what is your problem????

Well, actually, the problem is, for example, the appalling dishonesty which goes hand in hand with presenting yourself as a cancer ridden bisexual single father of two who is battling addiction when you are allegedly not a man, not queer, not ill and not a recovering addict.

We have a problem, for example, when a lady author recently called out for catfishing claimed she IDs as a gay man. One would call these bare faced lies and we cannot be convinced that, as a literary agent recently defended, these are branding, the very fabric of an online persona.

And before you launch into the “we all exaggerate online, we are younger, taller, thinner etc. we all use avatars” argument, the difference is when a pseudonym, a persona claims and states fake information for financial gain: that is not branding, that is, in fact, fraud.

We have an even bigger problem when your fraudulent “brand” involves extreme gaslighting, bullying and the dragging of people who do not blindly follow the party line and emotionally manipulates others to do the dragging on your behalf.

Most and foremost we have a problem with those “authors” you spent years talking to, who’s back you always had and who all of sudden drop you in favour of “branding” . We do realise how childish and mildly idiotic that sounds, dear readers, but we personally did forego the “trust no one on the internet” and in we went trusting and trustworthy and BELIEVED what we were sold.

We regret it,  have regretted it for years now. On one hand we wish we had never reached out and on the other can’t because we ended up with some amazing people in our lives but, man, if we could retain the people without having to have anything to do with this particular “brand” we’d gladly go back in time and do so.

So, line crossing then: sure catfishing is an obnoxious thing to do but allow us for a second to go through all the lines that were already crossed and obliterated when it comes to this “brand”, their stans and their enablers.

How appalling behaviour from this “brand” and their cohorts left many of us dealing with being gaslighted and dragged and generally ostracised.

As “authors” and readers the power dynamic is always going to shift heavily towards the “author”: they are at the centre of waves and waves of interest, their word is weighty.

Last year, when one of us stood up for a friend this “brand” called “a fuckin bitch”, no less, for disagreeing with their elitist Patreon, she was shredded, called a dick, a bitch, an animal, a communist (not insulting- because true), ridiculed and effectively expelled from the “community”. Funny thing? She had already lost all or almost all connections with [Redacted subgenre] ,had no idea this slandering was going on behind her back, found out  via a fledgling stan who instead of screenshooting a thread accidentally replied to her (tut, tut, maybe vet your bullies?).

But found out she did and it fuckin hurt to see somebody whose back she had always had being the very instigator of this behaviour. She called it out and the supposed friendship ended, with all that entails.

But let’s get back to lines: in that occasion not only was she was vilified by the “brand” and its stans, BUT more importantly by other “authors” in this “brand”’s circle. Other individuals in a position of power supported this appalling behaviour and encouraged it. They used hateful, spiteful language to perpetuate a normalising of violence which would never stand face to face. Their keyboards became battering tools to take down the few voices outside the choir.

In the same vein: it seems perfectly acceptable behaviour for an “author” in a supposedly private conversation to directly insult a reader or fellow author and then allow those in their private circle to access this information. However a reader even suggesting that an “author” is less than they purpote? Name calling, vilification, dragging, gaslighting and ostracism is that reader’s lot. And perversely the “inner circle of readers” are emotionally manipulated, compelled if you will, to take on the bullying on behalf of the “author” in an attempt to retain the “author” confidence and favour. Divide and conquer for the Social Media generation!

More recently the same clique of “authors” and stans took objection to International bloggers complaining of the lack of access to ARCs for review outside of the US. Again one of these “authors” barged into a conversation amongst international bloggers and readers to insult, shot down and condescend. When she was called out the collective response from her clique was to add further insults, condescension and censorship to the issue while suggesting this was a personal attack against specific “authors” and publishers thus robbing agency from a valid concern in the international blogging community and shifting the emotional charge back onto the “author”.

So we are asking isn’t that one too many lines already crossed? Isn’t calling people animals, bitches, dicks, losers, waste of space, doxers, trolls and a plethora of other charming names not crossing a line? Aren’t gaslighting and forced exclusion- expulsion even – crossing a line already?  Doesn’t the inequality of the power dynamic here makes a million alarm bells go off in your heads?

Don’t you just laugh hysterically every time one of these “authors” and their cults get on the soap box to lecture on never ever blaming the victims while claiming they want to fight, maim, eliminate their readership when it points out issues and concerns? Don’t they realise that their behaviour is exactly the behaviour of every abuser ever? Or do they operate in such a tight circle jerk that it is impossible to see the trees for the forest?

When we talk about crossing lines let us be conscious that in this particular corner of the [redacted] “community” lines were not only already crossed, readers have had to deal with the fall out of such crossing at largely personal cost for a very long time. This “author”, his followers and his cohorts have been promoting a culture of harassment, verbal violence, isolation, derision and condemnation for some time now. The extent of the emotional manipulation has been constant and so very efficient that the few reader speaking out of the party line have found themselves very alone indeed with many peers refusing to take a stand or ever questioning in fear of repercussion and/or loss of perceived status in their “community”.

Regrettably the fence sitters, the “I see both sides” brigade do as much damage as the actual bullies and abusers: in a power dynamic which weighs heavily in favour of the “authors” and their commercial outfits, silence can be constructed as tacit complicity and furthers the isolation of the bullied who, suddenly, are not only ostracised by the “community” at large but also find that their supposed “friends” have forsaken them.

And here is the crux of the matter: if at any given time all readers who had doubts and concerns had spoken up in an environment free of fear of dire repercussions would things have been different now? Better? Less fraught with verbal violence and a need to deny/prove evidence at all costs?

Is this behaviour cultural? As many of these “authors” are from the United States is the expectation that this lynching mob mentality and profit before ethics is the cultural default of all readers as well?  
Since they have started asking questions on the veracity of [redacted name] various claims the “doxers”, whom we’d rather refer to as exposers and/or investigators, have produced concrete plausible proof that this person is a fraud and has used fabricated facts to garner followers and economic gain. They have asked time and again for clarifications on facts that do not match; facts, one might add, which were shared freely and widely by said “author” throughout the years and across multiple social media platforms.

The absurdity of this situation is astonishing:  [redacted name] claims his right to privacy by blaming readers for having accepted facts about himself shared by himself.

In the process these readers have suffered and continue to suffer a level of unprecedented abuse from the [redacted] “community” and this has to stop. If defamation is on the table then let’s see  proper counter arguments and less “i hope they all die, they are crazy, I am worried about their mental health, they are losers, they are subhuman, I wanna fight them etc.” from people in positions of power whose sole intent seems to be squashing valid questions and keep a firm handle on the revenue stream [redacted name] provides to their commercial outfits.

As for ourselves we have taken a very determined step back from this “community” and from these “authors” for quite some time now and we have long exercised the only power we have over these sorts: we have stopped buying. But we know what it feels like to be bullied and gaslighted and isolated and it is not in our style to remain silent in the face of appalling behaviour.

Francesca, Karen, Miki

PS: we have thought long and hard about this post: in various measures we have all suffered the outcomes of this behaviour, we talk about it often amongst ourselves and have been worried about repercussions. But this post is two years in the making and so here it is.

We encourage and welcome civil and positive engagement but have zero tolerance of trolls and do retain the right to block comments which we deem offensive.

Venery books 1+2

An Exaltation of Larks

larks cover

September 11, 1973: Eleven-year-old Alejandro Penda watches from his apartment window as Santiago, Chile falls to a military coup, destroying his family and his childhood. Arriving alone in America, he’s taken in by the Larks: a prominent family in the town of Guelisten. Though burdened by unresolved grief for his disappeared parents, he becomes fiercely loyal to the Larks, eventually marrying one of their daughters, Valerie.

September 11, 2001: Javier Landes watches from his apartment window as New York City falls to terrorism. As one of Manhattan’s top-paid male escorts, this professional lover has never lacked for company and is loyal only to himself. But in the wake of 9/11, Jav is named guardian for an orphaned nephew in Guelisten and must open his carefully-guarded heart to pain he’s long suppressed.

Alex, Valerie and Jav meet first in their twenties, with a sudden attraction each finds strange and compelling. When they meet again in their forties, they discover not only is their bond still strong, but their life experiences are strangely similar. All have been shaped by separate 9/11’s, and their unfinished business from the past will change everything they know about love, loyalty and friendship.

“Life has rules. You cannot come in the middle of the night and take what we agreed isn’t yours.”

Across three decades and two continents, Suanne Laqueur’s fifth novel explores the unpredictability of sexual attraction, how family ties are forged, torn and mended, and how love’s downfall can turn to exaltation.

A Charm of Finches

finches cover

“I swear. Give me one more chance and I will make the most of it.”

Ex-hustler Javier Landes is asking for his third chance at love. The third time proves to be the charm when he meets a Manhattan art therapist named Steffen Finch. What starts as casual and curious deepens into a passionate, soulful relationship—everything Jav has ever wanted, and everything he fears losing.

Stef’s business card reads Curator & Sailor. His creativity and insightful nature have made him into a talented therapist, the one to call for tough cases. His professional success can’t conceal a deep need to connect with someone, but Javier Landes is the last person Stef expected.

Geronimo “Geno” Caan is Stef’s most challenging case. To cope with his ordeal, he’s allowed an alter-ego called Mos to make decisions, and now lives a double life within a web of lies. Under Stef’s navigation, Geno uses art to express what Mos forbids to be spoken aloud. But as Geno’s attachment to Stef gradually extends to Jav, the boundaries between professional and personal begin to blur.

Over the course of a year, Jav, Stef and Geno form an unexpected and unconventional triangle, revealing how men make love in times of war and how love is a great wisdom made up of small understandings. The long-awaited second book of the Veneryseries, A Charm of Finches is an epic tale of survival and secrets guaranteed to make you think and feel and remember.
Karen: It seems fitting to kick off 2018 with the last two books I read in 2017, and a big thank you to Fra, if she hadn’t persuaded me that I’d misread the tags for these books I don’t think I would have read them. ( I though they featured m/m/f which I don’t particularly like). Larks, the first book, captured so well the essence of an established relationship, and how adults react when faced with events they never thought they would have to deal with. And Finches was on one hand a more traditional love story, then also a terrible and uplifting tale of how a young man dealt with some terrifying issues.

Fra: I think you are right Karen, 2017 was a very good reading year and these two books seriously closed it off with a bang. They made it right to the top of my favourite reads and I loved them so much I also ordered the paperbacks!

Excessive enthusiasm aside: it must be said, whomever labelled the books as m/m/f romance really did this series a great disservice.

The inaccurate label implied a completely different story than what we read and, as we said several times while reading, I almost did not even bother with Larks never mind jumping straight into Finches. Instead I fell head over heel in love with the story, the writing, the characters!

Karen: I read these books back to back, and while they are linked, in that some of the characters feature in both books, you could read either of them alone, but I feel that you would be missing out. I think that when some authors write romantic or love scenes they can infantise their characters. Often this can be done to provide tension, and of course the great misunderstanding/ miscommunication leads to the great declaration. But not here, Larks in particular takes some highly emotive issues, and has the characters talk about them. Often highly emotionally but always intelligently and with the kind of humanity and understanding that one always hopes will happen, if the situation happened to you.
Fra: This series is epic in scope, sweeping  over a 20 years arc framed and punctuated by some of the most tragic of world wide events. The writing is rich and sensual – like chocolate, a treat for a rainy, cold day.

The plot intertwines the lives of the protagonists in the most realistic manner and while it is sustained by some outstanding writing it never skirts on the difficulties of the characters lives and choices. I am not sure I could have waited between one book and the other.

Fra: One of the things I loved the most about the series is the amazing portrait of women, especially Val. She is one of the most beautiful fictional women I have read in a long time: she is creative, emotionally intelligent and understands love – with her siblings, with Alex,  her daughter and Jav – in all its facets. She is strong and vulnerable at the same time, loyal and brave. I was in awe.

Her relationship with Alex, her marriage, is beautifully portrayed and I especially  loved and appreciated how these two work at making it work, how they understand the difference between “wanting” and “having” and end up with strongest relationships all around because of it.

If Val was the driving force of Larks and Alex its loving center, Jav – IMO – is the beating heart that bridges both books.

Jav is a splendidly written character especially in showing the reader an emotionally stunted man who has a whole lot of growing up to do when it comes to being loved and love in return. In the most loose and distant way he reminded me of Hsin Vega, another male character with a lot of circumstances that stunt his emotional growth.

In Larks the narrative establishes the possibilities of love in all of its facets in Jav’s mind, and in Finches it delivers a loving relationship together with full acceptance of himself and his sexuality. And it was a thing of beauty.

Karen: Val is a wonderful character, in her 20’s her involvement with Jav set the tone perfectly for the woman she was becoming, honest and with her own morality, something that doesn’t disappear when she’s faced with situations that could easily turn into book melodrama.

Fra: The writing is gorgeous and the author delivers a perfect story, series even, which tackles character development, love, loss in the most realistic manner.

With Val and Alex strongly ensconced in an even stronger relationship, Finches focuses Jav and Stef’s growth as individuals and as a couple and  crosses it with Geno’s hineous ordeal echoed by Micah’s. Each step in the characters development linked to a history of past abuse and survival. It is really beautifully done and as contemporary literary novels go Larks and Finches are some of the best I read last year, if not ever.

The series is ultimately  about love. The main characters are spread all over the sexuality spectrum but the romance is not the main focus of either book nor does it pay lip service to the almost voyeuristic interest in the characters orientation. There’s no unnecessary angst used as a narrative tool to progress the relationship – all of these characters talk, they are willing to talk and grow and accept each others strengths and flaws.

The characters in their 40s are not described as “silver foxes” in some superficial attempt to inject life in old, boring people. This novel and his brother deliver a realistic, relatable picture of people at this point of their lives. The empowering knowledge of who they are and what they like and their understanding of where their lives are at. Comparatively the teenage protagonists benefit from being portrayed faithfully as teenagers and from being able to rely on adults who are uncomplicatedly so. Both men and women are portrayed beautifully and at full capacity and potential and none as in need of the “magic dick/shag” that will sort their lives out.

Karen: I couldn’t agree more. For me the most surprising book was Larks, I found how the author dealt with complicated relationships extremely powerful and emotional without ever feeling fake or angsty. The love story in Finches was more traditional, in terms of how it unfolds, and that steadfast love worked so beautifully with the turmoil that Geno is dealing with.

I have really struggled to find books that match the emotional maturity of this series since.

All in all I we were really happy that we  did not let the mislabelling stop us from reading both Larches and Finches: it was an incredibly rewarding experience and one that we highly recommend.
A note/TW: Geno’s hideous ordeal is realistically described and informs much of the book. It was hard to read. A heartfelt sadness at the horrific treatment of this very young man pervades much of the story while also realistically describing the steps Geno takes towards recovering at least parts of himself. It does not make easy reading but it is rewarding and creates awareness of the cruelty many young people are subjected to in the world.


A note: Alex is forced to move from Chile in the aftermath of 11/9/1973, he speaks Spanish frequently; Javier is of Dominican origin but born in New York, he also speaks Spanish frequently. Although I understand them I have no reference to establish whether the Spanish they speak is genuine to the characters that they are. It felt genuine to me but we have heard feedback from Spanish native speakers that there were some grammar mistakes.



Butterflies, all a-flutter

Cobweb ghosts are so inconvenient—especially grumpy ones with bad breath. Don’t they know silence is golden?

Johnny Strong is the expert; he hasn’t spoken in two years. Not one word to anyone except the ghost. The main purpose of life is to avoid people and being noticed. Friends? He doesn’t need them; and certainly nobody wants him despite what the ghost says.

Until a new boy appears—Finn Lyons, teenage wizard. He eats frogs, concocts potions, and is always hungry. Not only does Finn stand up for Johnny; he actively seeks his company and soon becomes part of life.

First love; family and words; a heady mix to go in the potion but how will it all turn out?

Hubble bubble; Johnny Strong’s in trouble! Silence is not always golden in this sweet, zany story of purest magic.

We received an ARC from the ever so generous authors. We also both purchased our own copies.

It is the season for heartwarming short stories and novellas and the latest offering from Al Stewart and Claire Davis is up with the best of them this year.
At times tender and melancholy this short book also manages to deliver the trademark hopefulness that we have come to associate with Stewart and Davis stories.

Fra: I have read the story three times: the first I was so lost in the lyrical language that I missed a couple of plot points and had to go back and pay attention to the actual story. The third time I just re read it for the sheer pleasure of it.

Set in a foster group home the book deals with hard themes without ever losing its lyrical qualities or its hopeful undercurrent.

Karen: Fra, I did the same, the first time I read this I was just overtaken by how bloody sad it seemed, and I really wasn’t sure that I liked it. I appreciated the writing (as always) and the sentiment and I so felt for Johnny – but Finn’s story made me cry. The second time reading I appreciated the positive much more !

Fra: The main character, Johnny Strong, is isolated from the rest of the children in the home, hasn’t spoken aloud in over two years to anyone but the ghosts he places in the cobwebs outside his window. Johnny is an endearing character, his narrative voice at once so young and so haunted and we see the story evolve exclusively from his point of view.

Counter balancing Johnny’s silence and meticulously planned approach to life  the authors introduce chaotic, uncout, spontaneous Finn Lyons. And here is one thing I loved about both characters: because Johnny is quiet (literally so) and methodical I initially regarded Finn’s imagination as stronger than Johnny’s but I was wrong. My successive reads showed me two hurt young kids who use the only power available to them as a coping mechanism in a world long grown callous to their needs. Johnny’s ghost is no less imaginative than Finn’s songs and potions and heartfelt declarations of being a wizard.

In fact the more I think about it the more the two seem to carry inverted roles: Johnny is an introvert, closed off and yet he is much more streetwise than raucous Finn who is most certainly an extrovert and yet so very naive of the world he has come to inhabit.

Karen: When this was being written, the authors mentioned that it had been sparked by Children in Need, and I found that the boys started to save each other really poignant, especially as they were both facing leaving the foster system. I don’t know how true to life this is, but for me it read true.

Fra: There are various levels to this short story which make me wish this had been a full length novel.

On one level the story is about kids in the foster system: not only the tragedies and horrors that land them there but also the inevitable distance of the jaded carers more focussed on paperwork and targets than the welfare of their charges. I felt for Greg and Anna I did but ultimately I was unconvinced about their turnaround and this was one of the reason I wished the book had been longer: to witness for myself that the change did in fact happen.

On a deeper level the way the two boys learn to communicate with each other and eventually the world around them was beautifully rendered and brought a much needed element of hope to the story. The way Johnny speaks aloud for the first time seems so natural in the context of Finn’s tornado like chattering that it isn’t until he questions himself if something momentous has occurred that we as readers take a step back and look again.

Karen : I think that the book is a balance between reality and optimism, there is an feeling that as Johnny and Finn start the next stage of their lives, their friendship will be a strength to them both, even if the potential for romance never fully develops. I think more than anything else in this book I appreciated that. Given the boys backgrounds the relationship level was spot on for me.

Fra: As the boys grown into friendship and the most tenderly delicate relationship their voices become more audible; they take stands for each other, they demand and obtain the respect they deserve and need to move their lives forward. They assert themselves and each other and they are heard.

Karen: I totally agree that this could have been longer for me, I wanted to know more about what had happened to Johnny, and as Fra said earlier I wanted to see how Greg and Anna developed as well. That being said the slight fairy tale quality to the story made it both more Christmasy, and as we said before – more hopeful.  

All in all this was yet another beautiful book from these authors and one of our favourite Christmas stories: tackling issues of mental health and the well being of children in care – and of the carers themselves, to a point- the novella delivers a message of magic and hope that Stewart and Davis do so well.

Highly recommended

Buy Links:

Christmas is coming..



Few things get us in the festive mood more than a Christmas story, or three, well maybe a snowball with a glace cherry and a jumper with lights ? We can’t share those with you, so it’s the shorts..



Jo Chambers is one of our favourite authors, and these three are a treat, especially Rest and be Thankful.


Quin Flint is unimpressed when his gorgeous colleague, Rob Paget, asks for extra time off at Christmas. As far as Quin is concerned, Christmas is a giant waste of time. Quin’s on the fast track to partnership, and the season of goodwill is just getting in the way of his next big project. But when Quin’s boss, Marley, confiscates his phone and makes him take an unscheduled day off, Quin finds himself being forced to confront his regrets, past and present, and think about the sort of future he really wants…and who he wants it with.

Mr Perfect’s Christmas

Sam Warren’s new job hasn’t been going so well so the last thing he’s in the mood for is the obligatory office Christmas party, particularly since Nick Foster’s going to be there. Nick–the guy whose shoes Sam has been trying to fill–seems to take very opportunity to point out where Sam’s going wrong. But when Sam receives an unexpected Secret Santa gift at the party, he’s forced to question his assumptions about his rival. Could it be that he’s been misinterpreting Nick’s actions all along? And is it possible that his reluctant attraction to Nick is reciprocated?

Rest and Be Thankful

Things haven’t been going well for Cam McMorrow since he moved to Inverbechie. His business is failing, his cottage is falling apart and following his very public argument with café owner Rob Armstrong, he’s become a social outcast. Cam needs to get away from his troubles and when his sister buys him a ticket to the biggest Hogmanay party in Glasgow, he can’t leave Inverbechie quick enough. But when events conspire to strand him in the middle of nowhere in a snowstorm, not only is he liable to miss the party, he’ll also have to ask his nemesis, Rob, for help.

Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | KOBO | Barnes & Noble

Length: 59,000 words approx.

Cover Design: Natasha Snow

Author Bio

Joanna Chambers always wanted to write. She spent over 20 years staring at blank sheets of paper and despairing of ever writing a single word. In between staring at blank sheets of paper, she studied law, met her husband and had two children. Whilst nursing her first child, she rediscovered her love of romance and found her muse. Joanna lives in Scotland with her family and finds time to write by eschewing sleep and popular culture.






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Captured Shadows

captured shadows cover

Jim Sinnett spends his days on respectable portrait photography and his nights creating scandalous erotic pictures for men who hide their desires in locked cabinets and between the pages of books. When a new friendship leads to a secret opportunity, one more dangerous than ever before, Jim agrees to step in front of the camera but finds himself baring much more than his skin.

A twisting historical romance set in the fog of Victorian London, Captured Shadows follows the path of love, blackmail and obsession to a devastating climax.

As of writing, this book is still free/ pay what you fancy  here

Karen: I downloaded this for free, but it was so good I have since gone back and paid . I actually got this because I’ve had RR Stockholm Syndrome trilogy for ages, and for whatever reason I haven’t read it – but I really enjoyed the Trojan Project. I would say that this book is in my top 10 reads this year.

Fra: We have indeed been talking about reading Stockholm Syndrome for ages and I am so glad your love for Captured Shadows transmitted so clearly that I went and got it as well. No doubt this treasure of a book has made my top ten this year as well.

For one the writing is gorgeous:

“My wings get dusty in the street, sir, I keep them folded in a hat box at home while I am out in town”

The sentence is in the opening chapter and I was absolutely and utterly in love. Ordinary Victorian London – as is  the main narrative – is conveyed so lyrically to almost sound poetic.

The language and imagery throughout are just beautiful and captivating while the characters – and the story – remain realistic and intriguing.

Karen: One of things I really enjoyed about Captured Shadows  is that while it’s a romance, it doesn’t seem to follow the same structure as others, and  also neither of the main characters were rich/ titled. The main way that authors seem to skirt male homosexuality being illegal in historical romances is to make at least one of the characters wealthy. In Captured Shadows you have a very real sense of the danger that Jim and Archie experience. I really appreciated that Rider developed all the characters as well, so that I came to want to know more of Sally’s story, and also John Percival.

Fra: I also think that it is important to notice the lack of “titled” gentry from the main plot: both men are working class and their love story does not rely on the “classic” historical romance  trope of title and wealth to shelter and  bring the characters to the happy ending.

 I actually didn’t see Captured Shadows as “romance” at all. Perhaps it is that I have grown weary of the tropes and formulas of the current “romance” offerings but Captured Shadows struck me more as a very effective foreshortening of Victorian London with its multiple layers; stuck between the righteousness and the sordid the book delivers some fascinating questions of the nature of morality and virtue.

The prominence of photography in the book is, in my opinion, critical to this: not only it delivers quite a portrait of Victorian’s fascination with new technology – but most and foremost the upside view of the subject on the plates underscores the duplicity of society: respectable, borgeous, straight in the daylight – erotic, queer, seductive and spirited in the night.

I agree on the characters’ development Karen, I think all of them were incredibly well fleshed out and I appreciated greatly the way they represented the full working class spectrum: from Mr Everett to Sally, from the newly born bourgeoisie to the prostitutes and everything in between. I found this to be a refreshing and realistic glimpse into Victorian society.

Karen: The central love story between Jim and Archie was beautiful, the sense that they were existing in a bubble at times, that this bubble was so fragile, and that if/ when it did burst something awful would happen.

Fra: This was an incredibly romantic book, by its own definition a “memoir of love”; the age of the lovers makes the relationship “[a] new and strange …unknown place, as though we were explorers in a distant land”  their beautiful and fragile bubble “filled with what felt like entire lifetimes’ worth of plans and dreams”.

It also starts on camera, if you will. And I think this was one of the best twists in the narrative: as Jim and Archie explore their newly found attraction in front of the camera their romantic journey flips the norm and starts quite publicly with them “half naked..pasted on countless cards for other men to crave” and then takes the lovers on a journey of discovery of what it means to be together for a lifetime. The epilogue, is slightly rushed, still manages to convey a lifetime shared, of love through the decades and the rapid changes of the world around them; finally of memories of a life well spent as lovers.

Here the relationship between Jim and Archie is, like you well said Karen, at times a bubble and at other times a very clear indication of the dangers of homosexuality in a righteous society. There is no buffer offered by manors and wealth to our two main characters, their continued relationship and happy ending is suffused by their intimate understanding of their circumstances and strengthened by the fact they are prepared to weather them together.


All in all this was a delight to read: romantic, realistic and poetically rendered; a true little gem of a novel we happy recommend to all.

The Coven Returns – Witches Of London Abroad

Eagle's Shadow FIN1 (1)A year has passed since Tom Welsh and Sanders Templeton met. They’ve almost settled into their new home, a historic chateau at the foot of the Swiss Alps, and finally get to spend more time together in peace and quiet … or that was the idea.

Instead, something’s wrong. It’s not just recurring nightmares that haunt both men—other strange disturbances surround them, from their cat jumping at shadows in empty rooms, to unexplained sounds in the night.

Matters go from unsettling to scary, so they call on Lee, who helped them through a series of past life regressions. Lee has friends who might be able to assist; although bubbly and sweet Sue doesn’t fit the cliché of “witch”. What seemed a simple question of a haunted house soon dredges up even personal skeletons that Tom and Sanders thought were safely tucked away—and turns into much more than a ghost hunt.

The ever so generous authors provided an ARC for review.

Karen : Generally I am a fan of series, although sometimes they have a tendency to become repetitive, and this is always my greatest fear when starting one. I have really enjoyed those where there are common characters, but the major plot and main characters change – so there is a balance between familiarity and new.

I had thought that Witches of London was going to feature different MC’s in each book, so I was surprised to see that Sanders and Tom had a sequel, mainly because, for me, Eagle’s Shadow ended perfectly. So I was intrigued to read what the authors had in mind for them.

We thought we’d ask each other questions, as we had some long discussions when reading.


Q K : My biggest concern when starting to read this was how the authors would balance that Sanders and Tom had got resolution from an issues, moved in and were settled with a new ‘adventure’ while  not reinventing the relationship.

I felt that while overall this was achieved, the pacing of the book, especially in the first almost 50% was a little off. Did you find that ?

A F: I did find the pacing slightly off as well. Overall the novel worked but I found the beginning to be slow in getting into the poignant part of the story and that, in a way, a lot of “setting the scene” time was spent rediscovering the mechanics of the relationship between Tom and Sanders.

That said I did love the domesticity of the relationship, the way the two main characters have settled into and around each other as a couple and found some very tender moments between the two. The romantic overall feeling I got from Eagles Nest was still very much an item in Shadows as well. I love to see established couples and how they get on after the initial burst of romance brings them together.

Q F: I find with the Witches series overall that the freedom from financial strive affords the characters freedom to grow as people. In Shadows Tom’s financial situation compared to Sanders is one of the couple issues. How did you find the disparity between the two worked in the novel?

A K:  I actually thought that it added a believable splash of tension, also again that they felt that they were talking things through, but actually didn’t communicate all that well felt very real. In the contemporary part of the book I found the normalcy of the relationship issues was a real plus.

Q K : Characters from the coven,  like Lars and Rhys, make an appearance into the story for no real narrative reason, other than to emphasise the continuity of this book with  the main series, and I didn’t feel that it was actually needed ?

A F: Actually I did ask myself about Rhys and Lars presence in the novel. I felt that, as opposed to Sue and Amanda, they had no real role in the story especially Rhys who stays firmly a shadow in the background. Although him being “starstruck” at both Sanders and Tom did offer some humorous scenes.

I felt though that introducing Sue as a fully fleshed out member of the coven was well done and offered the readers a new perspective in the dynamics of the “Witches of London”.

Q F: Sanders is jealous of Sue: did you think that he had reasons for his jealousy?

A K: Yes and No (sorry) I think what this illustrated really well was how both men thought they were expressing themselves well emotionally, but in fact weren’t, but it was also clear to us as readers that Tom was totally engaged in his relationship with Sanders.

Q K : When the reason for the haunting is discovered, the stories behind it are heartbreaking and very moving, I felt that more of the book could have been spent exploring this, and less time setting the scene, especially the initial getting to know Sanders and Tom again part,  what did you think ?

A F: Oh Gods Karen! The letters! The diaries! The sketches!

This is where this novel really worked for me. The accounts of the men days in the inn was poignant and, I found, heartbreaking. The letters Sanders deciphers gave an intimate insight on the plight of POWs and the hope, the love of these men filled the pages and knowing the inevitable end filled me with tears. But it was Easton’s diary and John’s diary and Parker’s sketches that really did me in.

The love story between John and Parker was intense, romantic, desperate but fulfilling in the isolation afforded by confinement. If I am completely honest I thought this was a story within the story and found myself wishing that it had in fact taken less time to get into it instead of going through the details of Tom and Sanders life together. However I do get the parallel being drawn here and I appreciate that a level of closure is afforded to John and Parker by Tom and Sanders working through their issues.

Q F: I found myself thinking this novel was actually two novels in one. Although it all worked in the end I do think there were continuity issues with the narrative; did you find the same?

A K:  Yes, I did feel that: almost that the historical , haunting part of the book could have been a story in it’s own right, and was stronger than the contemporary part. I think that when authors consistently produce good work we as readers have high expectations, and while this didn’t engage me as much as the first two Witches of London books it was still a good read.

All in all we enjoyed this novel and found that, despite some minor issues with pacing, it delivered yet another interesting angle to the Witches of London series. The story within the story was outstanding and made us feel deeply for the protagonists.

Buy the book

Love, all around

Tom, shy office clerk by day and drawer of foxes by night wakes up one Monday knowing the most extraordinary week of his life is about to begin.

In five days time a lifelong ‘secret’ will be made gloriously public—but will it mean losing the person he loves most?dear mona lisa

Getting married…

It seems like only yesterday Tom changed nappies and sang nursery rhymes to a laughing baby. He relishes the demands of being a daddy; especially teaching his little girl to draw and paint as she grows up.

But the years tick by and times change. Long-buried secrets must come to the surface which may test even the strongest ties.

Tom and Lawrence…


He writes a list of all the things he has to do before the weekend and sticks it in the middle of his wall. The names and goals hang like threads of a spider’s web, inevitably leading to the centre, and all to the same place.

Dear Mona Lisa…

How to explain?

Each morning he notes the colours of dawn, listens to the birds and waits for the perfect moment. In one hand rests the balance of life and a terrible responsibility, in the other a wedding ring. Difficult days and the past loom, but his friends rally round and one by one the words come to life.

Everyone waits as Tom finds the strength to open up and set free the secrets of his heart in a celebration of family, friendship and love.

A quirky story of modern life, set within the breathtaking landscape of Bradford.


A heartfelt thank you to both authors for the ARC of this book.

Karen: In an age where publishers send out ARCs of the books months in advance, passages – practically chapters are quoted in the press, on blogs and on SM I find the attitude of  Davies/ Stewart refreshing. In that these books don’t seem to need the fanfare of 100s of ARCs and advanced reviews from a never changing fan pool: Al Stewart and Claire Davis’ books speak for themselves.

However, they also deserve to be praised more and sold more widely:  romance lovers should pick up any one of their books, and revel in the excellent writing and rather refreshing  honesty of their narratives.

Fra: Oh Karen, I couldn’t agree more! At the moment by the time a book is out we have already been exposed to mostly of its content, the ravings of the “fans” (frankly I am not even sure about the word anymore – with many a writer in the genre it is more like cult than fandom – but that’s an argument for a different blog post).

I was delighted to receive an advance copy of Dear Mona Lisa, ever since reading Tork I have become rather enthralled by the writing skills of this writing duo. I also apologise for the late review: work travel prevented me from reviewing this most delightful of books by its publishing date. But I am back now and ready to wax lyrical about the novel.

Karen: Mona Lisa is simply a book about love: romantic, sexual, familial and between friends . It is about the sacrifices parents make that don’t feel like sacrifices and how love can find you when you least expect it. There are no wasted pages or prose in this book at all, every word counts.

Fra: I find that there is a delicacy to Stewart and Davies’ writing that allows them to tackle heavy duty subject matter without ever becoming cliched or relying on overused tropes.

In Mona Lisa I absolutely loved the way this novella manages to explore so many facets of love without losing track of the plot or the final denouement.

I loved Tom the main character and narrator and found that his internal monologue on his relationships with lover Loz, daughter Lisa Louise and all secondary characters to be relatable and engaging.

Like you say Karen in just 80 short pages the authors explore love in all its aspects. Tom and Lou relationship is fleshed out in strokes that remind me of paintings and drawings: economical in its lack of rhetoric it also presents a rather stunning picture of the beautiful connection of this father and daughter.

I appreciated how Tom and Loz are older men and how their relationship is stable and loving and deep set: and I found Tom’s reluctance to go through his “to do” list in the run up to the wedding to be very relatable indeed. As a parent myself I do find my life and choices heavily wrapped up around my child – at times even irrationally, that is my fears and concerns are not necessarily my child’s and yet they still drive me.

Tom and Loz’s relationship was amazingly rendered: it was romantic and strong and beautiful.

The writing carried such an emotional weight without ever becoming verbose, every word counts – so much so that there’s a poetic quality to it which made the story shine and sparkle.

Friendship, old and new, also takes a key role in the novel and once again it is all so very beautifully done: on the one hand the comfort of old friendships and on the other the surprising presence of new ones.

Karen: Mona Lisa also touches, briefly, on issues such as  religious hatred of homosexuality, the desire to conform to societal norms, alienation and self doubt. In many other books these would be massive angsty dramas, and while perhaps the book lacked depth here, it was good to read a novel where these issues didn’t  make the character ‘broken’ or ‘damaged’ or where they did not become the end all to be cured with “magic sex”.

Fra: I actually thought that the depth of repercussion of the issues you mention above is conveyed by how much Tom’s self doubt is related to them but also, and I’ll say especially, in Tom’s and Lou’s relationship. It is almost as if the positive space, the love filled connection between father and daughter exists to illuminate the negative spaces left by Tom and his parents’. I think the depth of the issues is subtly rendered but carries weight in Tom’s faltering behavior in completing the most important of tasks on his list.

I also agree that in a sea of cliche’ driven angst-y romance novels, Dear Mona Lisa avoids the typical pitfall of turning into an angst fest for the titillating pleasure of the audience, and becomes, instead the foundation of Tom’s love and strength.

All in all Dear Mona Lisa is a poignant, romantic, realistic and beautifully written novel which we happily story recommend to all.


Buy it here:

In the UK and Ireland

In the U.S.…

Check the authors website here: