I’m a huge fan of Kim Fielding‘s fantastic paranormal series, Bureau. I have been following this since Corruption, Tenrael and Grimes’s story. This series has become better and better with each installment.
This is a review of Chained and Convicted, volume 2 of the series. Both novellas featured creatures shackled and chained, one through captivity and the other through culpability.
Bureau: Chained – Kim Fielding
An agent for the Bureau of Trans-Species Affairs? That’s the best job in the world. And it’s enough for Terry Brandt, who doesn’t need personal relationships complicating his life. His newest assignment puts him undercover, investigating a Hollywood agent who may have some evil tricks up his sleeve.
Edge is not the man he appears to be. Although he’s a member of the Hollywood agent’s security staff, his true situation is darker and deeper than that. Ordered to seduce the new prospect, Edge finds himself caught in conflicting loyalties.
Haunted by their pasts and tied up in secrets, neither Terry nor Edge can afford to allow passion to interfere with duty. And with danger dogging them, it’s impossible to envision a future together.
Chained is a shifter story that made me want to hug my dogs.
Terry Brandt is a music-loving Bureau agent assigned to investigate Hollywood’s most powerful agent, Whitaker, rumored to be offering fame and fortune in exchange for something sinister. He goes undercover as a wannabe actor. He was asked to move in to the agent’s mansion as part of the test to see if he has what it takes. There he meets Edge, the man assigned to guard him.
Edge and his two brothers are dog shifters bought by Whitaker, their boss, when they were pups. They served as security in the mansion. They used to be four but their other brother was put down when he refused to behave.
My heart went out to Edge. He and his brothers were treated like dogs. They live in a kennel modified to accommodate their human form. But he’s the one their boss treated the worst. Not only is he beaten at the slightest mistakes, he is forced to seduce the potential actors as part of their owner’s tactics to sink his hooks deeper into them. He was ordered to do just that to Terry.
All the dog shifter brothers were obedient but Edge is different. His boss loved pointing out that he is weak. Compared to his brothers, Edge wanted more but knew he couldn’t. He’s too well-trained for that. He’s loyal to his owner even if Terry is making him feel unexpected things. The most heartbreaking scene was when Terry urged him to run away after all the abuse. He refused. “I’m a good dog!” (╥﹏╥)
The story is set in 1989. There are mentions of HIV. I enjoyed all the musical name-dropping of Terry’s favorite 80s bands. He introduced Edge to the joys of music and I adored Terry for that. He faced monsters but still loves his job. He also kept his sunny, talkative disposition. He’s a good foil to Edge’s strong, silent type.
I loved how Terry treated Edge kindly right from the start. Edge immediately noticed he was different from the other wannabes. Terry didn’t treat him and his brothers in dog or human form as part of the furniture. He acknowledged their presence and talked to them even if he still didn’t know what they actually were.
The book succeeded in portraying the seediness of the unseen side of Hollywood. We get dual POVs. What I like about the writing is that even if I know what’s going on from Edge’s perspective, I could still feel a sense of the unknown as experienced through Terry’s POV where he knew something is wrong but couldn’t quite put his finger on it. This was what made the twists effective.
Terry’s investigation came to a head when he was offered the job in exchange for the most valuable thing he owns. The climax was a suspenseful chaos of fangs, blood and bullets. I gave a little cheer when the brothers finally took action. There’s a lovely ending and epilogue where Townsend, the Bureau chief explained the magical mechanics of things to the guys. I’m happy that Terry was able to keep doing what he loved. Now he can do that with Edge.
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away
Bureau: Convicted – Kim Fielding
Vietnam veteran Kurt Powell’s addiction almost cost him everything, but a job as federal agent with the Bureau of Trans-Species Affairs helped him find sobriety and purpose. Now he tracks down dangerous paranormal creatures as well as humans who abuse their magical powers in illegal ways.
Sent from Belfast to the United States as a boy, Desmond Hughes later fell into a disastrous relationship that led to horrific murders. He’s spent seventeen years in a bleak prison with few comforts and no hope of release.
A new mission throws Kurt and Des together in a desperate attempt to prevent disaster. Sometimes what’s long been lost can still be found, but the road to redemption is never easy—and a mutual attraction may not ease the way.
Convicted is a moving journey towards redemption, forgiveness and freedom.
Desmond Hughes has been incarcerated in the Bureau prison for 17 years. He, along with his lover, Larry Crane, was responsible for the deaths of many people. Crane masterminded the crime, using magical boxes as source of power to wreck destruction. Crane is dead and these deadly boxes are now missing.
Kurt Powell is the agent assigned to find the boxes. He interviews Des who gives him all the places he and Crane stayed. Later on, he takes Des with him to find the boxes with the condition that Des returns to prison after they do. Their quest took them all over the American heartland moving towards Florida, stopping at the places Des had named.
The book is set in the 1993. The sense of time was not as strongly delivered as the other stories. There are nods to the time period, mentions of HIV and racism especially towards Kurt who had a mixed parentage.
Unlike the other Bureau novellas, Convicted has human + human pairing. I liked this just a tad less than Chained but not because it’s not as well written. This is due more to my disinterest towards stories involving road trips and looking for lost things. So I did feel the drag just a bit but the story picked up when they found one of the boxes.
There is less focus on the paranormal here. It’s very character-driven. Both men are burdened with guilt. They have the deaths of multiple people in their hands. One as a soldier, the other as an accomplice to a psychopath.
Des won me over with his spirit. He’s so lonely he talks to himself but I didn’t sense defeat. It’s more like he’s accepted his fate and tried to make do with what he is given. I also didn’t expect him to be the talkative type. The first parts of the book showed him alone. Then he had his first conversation with Kurt and his bright personality really shone through. As Kurt puts it, he has the voice of a born story teller. He’s a big guy with a gentle and kind soul that Crane took advantage of, using and abusing him as part of his schemes. I think Des truly believed Crane meant to change the world for the better with those boxes.
Kurt had his own share of troubles. He’s a Vietnam veteran who dealt with alcohol addiction. In his low moments, he was recruited by Townsend who believed in his potential. Kurt has a son and is friends with his ex-wife. I really liked that Kurt looked beyond the orange uniform and saw Des for what he truly is. He also made him understand that there is always a choice. And that he could forgive himself and move on.
Towards the end, the paranormal elements come into play in a show of magic and double crossing. Kurt suffers the same equally suspenseful fate as Terry. Townsend once again makes an appearance with his words of wisdom and second chances. Then Des showing up on Kurt’s doorstep all earnest and yearning is beyond endearing. Let’s give the man a hug!
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Bureau has always been a series with a lot of heart. Very much present in the stories are the small unexpected kindnesses that go a long way and reach deep places in the hearts of the tormented. Most of the time, the characters don’t even realize the impact of what they’re doing. Like Kurt offhandedly mentioning he would ask for more books for Des who had to make do with a measly 5-book ration. These touches of humanity are what makes this series.
I enjoyed the references to and cameos of well-loved couples from the other stories. West Coast Bureau chief Townsend is always present in all of them and he’s the biggest mystery of all. According to Edge, he smells human and something else. He often pops up in unexpected places to move things along. And I swear, his secret hobby is matchmaking because he really knows how to pair up these guys.
I highly recommend Chained and Convicted as well as the Bureau series as a whole. This is a series that will make you FEEL for ugly, tormented monsters. And no one does ugly, tormented monsters like Kim Fielding.
Posts on Kim Fieldings works here.
If you like my content, please consider using my Amazon affiliate links below to get your copy of Bureau. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying Amazon purchases at no additional cost to you.
Freckles – Amy Lane
Carter Embree has always hoped to be rescued from his productive, tragically boring, and (slightly) ethically compromised life. But when an urchin at a grocery store shoves a bundle of fluff into his hands, Carter goes from rescuee to rescuer—and he needs a little help.
Sandy Corrigan, the vet tech who helps ease Carter into the world of dog ownership, first assumes that Carter is a crazy-pants client who just needs to relax. But as Sandy gets a glimpse into the funny, kind, sexy man under Carter’s mild-mannered exterior, he sees that with a little care and feeding, Carter might be Super-Pet Owner—and decent boyfriend material to boot.
But Carter needs to see himself as a hero first. As he says good-bye to his pristine house and hello to carpet treatments and dog walkers, he finds that there really is more to himself than a researching drudge without a backbone. A Carter Embree can rate a Sandy Corrigan. He can be supportive, he can be a hero, he can be a man who stands up for his principles!
He can be the owner of a small dog.
Freckles was a tiny fluff of a pup when she was thrust into the hands of Carter Embree who fell in love at first sight and became her human. Carter was a nervous wreck of a dog owner. She was his first dog and he immediately sought the aid of professionals like Sandy Corrigan.
Thus begins this adorkable tale written by a dog lover for dog lovers. Freckles is undoubtedly the star of the show and everybody loved her, poop bombs and all. The humans were not so far behind.
Carter is an introverted, average-looking in a good way lawyer whose do-gooding, right-the-wrong ways were too good for his asshat boss. His superpowers were drawing airtight contracts and fighting for oppressed pet owners. It’s just, he hasn’t fully grown into them yet. He was unlucky in love but he lucked out on Freckles. She rescued him from the soul-sucking corporate life and gave him something to look forward to at the end of the day.
Sandy was a vet tech who went back to college in his late 20s to earn his degree as a veterinarian. When he first met Carter, he thought he was well-dressed. And crazy. But he could tell right away that the man loved the little puppy and decided to help him through the process of dog ownership. Along the way, he discovered the brilliant, passionate person hiding behind the unassuming lawyer. Wisely, he grabbed on and didn’t let go.
The blurb delivered everything it promised. The story is about how these two humans came together because of a tiny dog. It had a nice warm, laid-back feel with humor-laced writing that makes reading a breeze. It is a short book, around 170 pages, and I liked how everything was paced just right. A major part of the story happened in the span of a few days, most of it involving Carter’s struggles and triumphs as a dog owner while struggling with his job and his boss from hell.
The romance was insta-attraction but its development didn’t feel rushed to me. The two men started with friendship. They discovered they liked hanging out with each other. I loved how Sandy smoothly turned a simple dog walk into a real date. Which turned into study dates, movies dates and cuddling. It was an easy, comfortable companionship that blossomed into something more deep and permanent.
What I’m really trying to say in a such a roundabout way is that, they were so cute together!
Freckles was beyond cute!
The entire thing was fluff and cute!!!
But in no way shallow or superficial because Amy Lane was able to give the story substance. There were some interesting points that I would love to see on more books. I totally loved the idea of a lawyer with a pure heart or one dedicated to animal advocacy.
While not exactly exactly the blow-me-away away variety, Freckles the story won me over same way Freckles the dog won everyone else, including Carter’s very intelligent, very organized, no-nonsense mother. Even if this is a holiday read, it’s a good book to pick up anytime your soul needs a dose of cute.
Amy Lane books here
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Hexworld: Hexhunter – Jordan L. Hawk
Detective Bill Quigley fell in love with the familiar Isaac the night they met. But after more than two years, it’s time to admit to himself that Isaac doesn’t return his feelings.
Isaac knows he’s too broken by his experiences for anyone to fall in love with. Especially someone like Bill, who deserves a partner unplagued by Isaac’s nightmares and doubts.
When children go missing from an orphanage, Bill and Isaac must work together to find them. And as years of yearning threaten to ignite into passion, they must decide once and for all whether to take a chance on love.
Hexworld is a brilliant Jordan L. Hawk creation set in alternate New York run by hexes and magic is channeled through a combination of witches and familiars. Any witch and familiar may bond but the strongest magic comes from the bonding of a fated familiar and witch pair. There are three books and some novellas released so far, each couple bringing their own unique dynamics. I loved all the stories!
Hexhunter stood out for having a witch and familiar pair not fated to each other. In this world, familiars have the raw end of the deal, forced to bond with a witch or not even considered human. In book one, Hexbreaker, we learned Isaac was treated horribly by his fated witch and he was forced to quit the Metropolitan Witch Police. He was later forced bonded with another, kept imprisoned in his mastiff form and drained of magic. He was rescued by Tom and Cicero with the help of Bill Quigley, who quickly fell in love with Isaac.
Isaac and Bill slow-burned their way through several books and every Hexworld fan has been waiting for their moment. After several books, the plot has gotten a bit predictable but I don’t really mind. I’ve been rooting for these two.
The familiar has PTSD and the book dealt with Isaac’s journey to recovery. Because of past abuses, he is slow to trust and thinks he is tainted because his magic is drawn to bad men. He constantly puts himself down and considers himself unworthy. Bless Bill and his big heart! He was exactly what Isaac needs. With infinite patience and a lot of TLCs, he showed Isaac his true worth. Theirs was the softest romance of them all. Those years finally paid off!
Isaac ran his hand lightly over Bill’s chest. “Worth the wait?”
“Aye.” Bill kissed Isaac’s hair. “ Worth everything.”
The abuse of familiars and the desire to control them has been the main conflict in the series. This book once again tackled this threat. The big bad villain who remained unseen and only spoken in secret, masterminded a plot of manipulating familiar forms with hexes. Children from the orphanage were kidnapped and thought to be subjected to this inhumane treatment. As with other JLH books (e.g. Whyborne & Griffin), long lost relatives were not to be trusted and some parental units are just not worth it.
The world-building is top-notched as usual and skillfully interwoven with actual historical events and mythological stories, that of the 1900s archaeological excavations in Knossos and the story of the Minotaur. I love how this part was put into good use in the climax. Bill blindly running around in the dark, creepy noises, monsters lurking, all classic edge of your seat fun.
A big hoorah for all the appearances of the rest of the gang, Tom and Cicero, Owen and Mal (my favorite couple), Nick and Jamie, and Dominic and Rook. Of course, Cicero and his big mouth stole the show in every scene he is in. He got Isaac in trouble once again, this time causing friction between Isaac and Sionn, an owl familiar and Isaac’s officemate, who was also interested in Bill. Sionn’s a good guy so I hope he gets his own book and *fingers crossed* it’s him and Valentine, the journalist.
All too often, Hexworld magic is blind and connects a familiar and witch seemingly at random. Unlike the other books where it plays a pivotal role in the pairing, Hexhunter is about healing and making a choice. Because sometimes, it’s better to choose a good witch than the right witch.
Magic ain’t everything .
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
River Queens: Saucy Boat, stout mates, spotted dog, America – Alexander Watson
Two men and a spotted dog restore a vintage Chris-Craft motor yacht and launch across the American Heartland from Texas to Ohio. The restoration, the people they met along the way, and life in an America which few know exists are the story of River Queens: Saucy boat, stout mates, spotted dog, America.
I live in an island and there’s a river at the back of my house but I have zero knowledge of boating. So I was slightly worried that River Queens might be heavy on boating jargon. Author Alexander Watson reached out via email and sent me a printed copy. When I finally got it in the mail, I browsed the first few pages just to get a feel of the book and before I even realized, I have already read through half of it! This is one of the most engaging and easiest books to read.
Alexander and his partner, Dale Harris, both of whom were landlubbers, bought the Betty Jane on what seemed like a foolish whim to save a beautiful antique designer boat. Such impulses I could totally understand because I have been known to buy a Walter Van Beirendonck jacket from a thrift store despite not having the right body type nor the weather for it. The driving force being, I must have/save this beauty!
We quickly learn that owning a boat is one of the most impractical things you can do. As the saying goes “A boat is a hole in the water you throw money into“. There were never-ending repairs and even during their trip, one thing or another kept breaking down. This kind of high pressure scenarios can make or break relationships. Alexander and Dale worked well as a team with a little bit of drama now and then. Many of these scenes were presented with self-deprecating humor that I find appealing and relatable.
Their adventures took them across several states and along the way, they absorbed the river culture and all the unusual people they met. There were keen observations and vivid descriptions of the river people that were insightful and illuminating particularly to an outsider like me. Some were laid out in in a way that referenced local Midwestern habits, icons and mannerisms and a few of these confused me somewhat, like the significance of the white gloves and its connection to the First Ladies, because I am not completely familiar with this part of the US. However I could gloss over these and it did not hinder my enjoyment of the book. Also, a little googling helped. Same with the boating terms. They were used often once the two men started on the renovations. I didn’t pay them too much mind and I could go on reading just fine. Later, I discovered there was a glossary helpfully provided at the back.
Sadly, homophobia still existed in some of the places they visited but there were much more genuine interest on Betty Jane and Doris Faye, and many acts of kindness and spontaneous connections remembered fondly throughout the journey. The river has its own dedicated community and its own rules and I appreciate the mutual respect and affection the river rats have for each other. Everybody loved Betty Jane and Doris Faye!
I love Doris Faye!
River Queens is a boating adventure that can be enjoyed by seasoned sailors and landlubbers alike. It is a well-written portrait of the American Heartland told with openness, sensitivity and good humor. Highly recommended!
Thank you to the author, Alexander Watson, for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits