books

Nicole Kimberling

Books

Grilled Cheese and Goblins (2018)

The Bellingham Mystery Series Volume 1 (2015), The Bellingham Mystery Series Volume 2 (2015)

Anthologies: Charmed and Dangerous: Ten Tales of Gay Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy (2015), Footsteps in the Dark (2019)



The Bellingham Mystery Series Volume 1 (2015)

The Bellingham Mystery Series Volume 1This is a collection of three novellas: Primal Red, Evergreen, and Black Cat Red.

Primal Red

Peter Fontaine is an investigative journalist for The Bellinghamster, or just The Hamster, the free local paper in Belligham, WA.

In addition to writing articles, Peter was in charge of circulation, which meant that every Thursday morning he drove bundles of the free weekly to various locations in the city and in greater Whatcom County. A glorified paperboy position, true, but at least it was in his field.

He wants to break a big story–to make it as a journalist–and stumbling upon a local murder might just be his ticket to an award. Unfortunately, the guy found with the body is Peter’s crush, Nick Olson.

He couldn’t tell them about the Pierogy Tea Café. Not yet. He didn’t have enough material to write his piece. So he said, “I was trying to get up the courage to ask Nick Olson out on a date.”

The two police officers glanced at each other then Officer Clarkson said, “I think you might want to re-evaluate your plans.”

The first story is, unsurprisingly, the weakest of the three. That does NOT make it a bad story, but it definitely feels like an early story.

It’s cute. It’s fun.

“You mentioned the shellfish farm down the road in your sleep last night,” Nick said.

“Did I?”

“You did. You mumbled that we should bike down there and get a couple dozen kumamotos since we were so close.”

“And why didn’t we?”

“Because it was midnight,” Nick said. “Also because you were, much like the shellfish farmers, asleep.”

And it was an interesting mystery.

Evergreen

The second story finds Peter and Nick on a New Year’s Eve camp-out / snowman building contest.

Peter and Nick are definitely a couple, but Peter wants more from his career, and is considering interviewing for a paper in Texas, which would mean leaving Nick.

Speaking of that, one of their snowmen’s tree-branch arms had fallen off. He rose and started pushing it back in, careful not to wreck the image of super gay happiness that they had created. Above all, he didn’t want the straight people to see him weep.

The murder here was an interesting one–it’s a bit of a locked room mystery, and one of Peter’s suspects is Nick’s cousin.

I did feel like there was one continuity issue, but it was a major one. If the murdered man had already spoken to Janelle, how did he not share everything he meant to? It seems to me that if he could not have spoken to her, for the reason for the murder to have remained.

But it was still an interesting story.

Black Cat Red

This was the strongest story of the lot, because the characters are all well-settled into their personalities, and the mystery was interesting.

Evangeline (Peter’s best friend and ex-roomate)’s cousin has been working for the paper as a delivery guy, but when he takes off to get away from some trouble, it causes a bit of trouble for Peter.

“I saw him about a week ago. He is really taking the wrong drugs. I don’t know which ones they are, but they are definitely not right for him.”

The secondary arc, however, was very interesting, since we finally discover a little but about Nick’s ex–the one who died and left Nick the house/studio. Nick still remains a bit of an enigma, but it fits with the story, since Peter is a little bit self-absorbed, and the entire story is from his POV.

And the mystery was–for a Halloween story involving possible satanists–not exceedingly heavy.

“Has it occurred to you that it might actually be more dangerous to go poking around the property of an animal mutilator than a cracked-out Satanist?”

“Why? You’re not a cat.”

Also, there’s a kitten.

I also decided to give her an interim name so that I’d have something to yell apart from No.

I very much enjoyed the stories and immediately started the next book.

Publisher: One Block Empire
Rating: 7/10

The Bellingham Mystery Series Volume 2 (2015)

The Bellingham Mystery Series Volume 2When I read The Bellingham Mystery Series Volume 1 One Man’s Treasure
Birds of a Feather
Pentimento Blues

I noted that the first story was the weakest, and each successive story got better and better. This volume takes off where the first ended, both story-wise and quality wise. The author is fully comfortable with the characters now, and each story just takes off and is delightful.

“I’m serious, though. Why do you think you love me?”

“Why does anybody love anybody? Nick shrugged. “Why are you asking? Are you filling out some kind of quiz again?”

“No.” Peter closed the yoursoulmate.com window. “I’m just curious.”

As with the previous volume, this book is three stories, each a mystery that Peter Fontaine is involved in and pulls his partner Nick Olson into each mess.

One Man’s Treasure is set in 2011, and finds Nick and Peter at the local Farmer’s market assisting Peter’s best friend, Evangeline, at her booth. When a local artist dies almost at Peter’s feet, he is of course drawn into what happened. And when Officer Patton offers a reciprocal information sharing agreement, Peter is all in.

In addition to solving a murder, Peter and Nick decide (almost on a whim) to get civilly registered.

The papers, he realized, were necessary. He wanted to stay with Nick, and Nick wanted to stay with him. They were most important to each other, most qualified to make decisions about one another. These papers were the evidence with which he could force others to accept that. The papers weren’t romantic, but they were pragmatic.

That was the source of his fleeting sadness—that he should need them at all to fight disapproving strangers who would separate them, given the opportunity.

It fascinates me how this story exists so squarely in a very specific time–the years when gay marriage was illegal, but domestic partnerships were becoming available across the country.

But aside from that, we see just how well Peter and Nick work as a couple.

Peter rolled his eyes. “I won’t get into trouble.”

“That’s what you always think. Then you end up in the dark in the middle of nowhere facing down some lunatic,” Nick said, shaking his head. “You have no common sense.”

“I do so have common sense. It’s just that sometimes it gets wrestled to the ground by my sense of curiosity.”

Nick’s sensibility and Pater’s ability to be honest with himself.

And, despite Nick being taciturn, they do teach each other and can have fun.

What is it about cats that they can’t get enough dirty old paint water?”

“Maybe it tastes good,” Peter offered. “Puts the yum in cadmium.”

Birds of a Feather is set about a year later, and is set around Nick and Peter’s wedding.

Peter meeting Nick’s parents is utterly delightful. I kept reading bits and pieces of this story to Michael.

“Anyway, I’ll get Nick. Help yourself to whatever is in the fridge.” As he walked to the studio, he felt a brief irrational fear that there was something terrible in the fridge.

There’s also a very sweet scene between Peter and Evangeline, before Peter’s bachelor party (which is occurring at the same time, but a different location, from Nick’s party). She gives him something she made for him that she hates and is embarrassed by:

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” he said. Then at her expression added, “We look through the eyes of love.”

The mystery here starts with a shooting and the discovery of a bald eagle corpse and I shan’t tell anything else, since it would give everything away.

I also want to note that Nick’s father is delightful.

“We found out about Nick from the Internet,” Erik said. “I sleuthed it.”

“You confirmed it,” Ingrid corrected him. Then to Claudia, “Of course we already knew. No one stays a bachelor for that long.”

“Some serial killers do,” Erik countered.

And we get the wedding. <3

Pentimento Blues is the final story, and is set three years after the wedding.

A gentleman who attended the wedding comes in to town and asks Peter if he can see one of the last remaining deKamp pieces in the house.

Nick reacts badly, to say the least.

This was probably my favorite mystery in the book, since all the pieces fit together, and it was also logical that Peter knew nothing about what was happening.

There’s an adorably sweet scene where Peter has to write a piece of a local brewery, and ends up getting extremely drunk.

He wordlessly allowed himself to be poured into the passenger seat of the car and closed his eyes. He should keep his mouth shut, he thought, to avoid saying anything stupid.

Aloud he murmured, “I still need to get my bike from work. I can ride it home.”

To which Nick responded, “Okay, I’ll get your bike, and you can ride back home, but first you have to take a nap.”

Peter’s eyelids drooped. A nap did sound good…

That is so lovely.

There were again bits in this story that made me giggle and laugh out loud.

It was a lovely story, and a lovely conclusion to the book (and probably the series).

I very much enjoyed this book, and highly recommend the entire series.

Publisher: One Block Empire
Rating: 8.5/10


Grilled Cheese and Goblins (2018)

Grilled Cheese and GoblinsKeith Curry is a food inspector for NATO’s Irregulars Affairs Division (NIAD). He may carry a mage gun, but most of the time his tools are thermometers and glasses that allow him to see the supernatural.

This book is six interlinked stories.

“Cherries Worth Getting”
“Cookie Jamboree”
“The Little Golden Book of Goblin Stories”
“Magically Delicious”
“The Most Important Meal of the Day”
“Bring Out Your Best”

We learn how Keith became a supernatural food inspector (it’s a pretty stomach churning story), why he is a vegetarian (see previous), and we see if he’s met the love of his life.

“Cherries Worth Getting” is the first story, and tells how Keith and Gunther get together–as well as how they break the case of missing humans and rumors of a cannibalism ring. We learn precisely how Keith discovered NIAD, why he joined, and the kind of work he does. We also learn why food inspectors are important (on the off chance you didn’t already know this).

“Cookie Jamboree” is short story where we meet Gunther’s god-father and learn about changes coming to their lives.

“The Little Golden Book of Goblin Stories” is another shorter story, and I love the idea of a little golden book for goblins.

“Magically Delicious” is a story I’d read previously, and the reason I was interested in this collection. Someone is hexing NIAD agents, and when it happens to Gunther, Keith goes beyond his remit to find who is responsible.

But we also get glimpses of their shared life, which are pretty adorable.

Snow goblins—that is goblins who had not undergone transmogrification—looked like creatures of nightmare. They seemed to be made entirely of spiky, white bone. Blood red pits smoldered where their eyes should have been and they had more teeth than a barracuda, even when just born. Keith had now gazed upon many small, toothy creatures being held by proud parents or grandparents.

He mentally crossed his fingers, hoping for a pink or blue hat that would help him figure out the gender, at least.

I adore that.

“The Most Important Meal of the Day” is another short story where Keith and Gunther have to stop an apocalypse.

“Bring Out Your Best” concludes the anthology. It’s goblin mating rituals, combined with political species-ism as well as other issues. Although Keith’s actions are pretty over the top, it’s quite fun, and I absolutely love the magical (AI? technological?) planes.

It’s a cute and fun anthology, and I’ve already loaned it to someone.

Publisher: Blind Eye Books
Rating: 8/10


Anthologies


Charmed and Dangerous: Ten Tales of Gay Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy (2015) edited by Jordan Castillo Price

“Dim Sum Asylum” (2015) by Rhys Ford
“Swift and the Black Dog” (2015) by Ginn Hale
“A Queer Trade” (2015) by KJ Charles
“Magically Delicious” (2015) by Nicole Kimberling
“Everyone’s Afraid of Clowns” (2015) by Jordan Castillo Price
“The Thirteenth Hex” (2015) by Jordan L Hawk
“The Soldati Prince” (2015) by Charlie Cochet
“One Hex Too Many” (2015) by Lou Harper
“Josh of the Damned vs. The Bathroom of Doom” (2015) by Andrea Speed
“The Trouble With Hexes” (2015) by Astrid Amara

This is, like all anthologies, a variety of stories, some of which I enjoyed, one of which I utterly despised, and some of which were MEH. In other words, a good selection and variety.

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“Magically Delicious” (2015) by Nicole Kimberling

This is another parallel Earth story, where it’s our modern world but with magic and fae creatures.

The main character, Keith, is in a relationship with Gunther, a transmorgified snow-goblin who also works as a special agent, but they are NOT work partners.

Snow goblins—that is goblins who had not undergone transmogrification—looked like creatures of nightmare. They seemed to be made entirely of spiky, white bone. Blood red pits smoldered where their eyes should have been and they had more teeth than a barracuda, even when just born. Keith had now gazed upon many small, toothy creatures being held by proud parents or grandparents. 

He mentally crossed his fingers, hoping for a pink or blue hat that would help him figure out the gender, at least.

Because Gunther is a transmorgified snow-goblin, he’s unnaturally attractive, and so Keith sometimes feels insecure about their relationship, but it doesn’t actually cause Big Misunderstandings, which I very much appreciated.

Also, Gunther’s parents are adorable.

On the day that Gunther had moved in with Keith, she had taken Keith aside and pressed a small spiral notebook into his hand. Written on the pages were her precious, famous and well-guarded recipes for goblin favorites such as Cracked Hot-Pepper Marrow Bones, Sheep Skull Surprise (the surprise turned out to be extra eyeballs sewn into the sheep’s mouth), and Goblin-style Pig Trotters, which were traditionally served raw in a bowl of vinegar, and garnished with whole bulbs of garlic cut crosswise and seared on the edge of a heated scimitar. On the first page of the notebook she’d made a special note that Gunther, like all goblins, was sensitive to salt and could only abide the smallest amount on special occasions. Then she’d drawn a little, anatomically-correct heart.

That’s so cute.

I also like that Kieth doesn’t have magical powers–he is a food inspector, which is extremely unglamourous, but he knows that his job is important, and he enjoys it–but when Gunther is attacked, that doesn’t mean he won’t do everything he can to find out who hurt his boyfriend.

I’d definitely read another story about these two.

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Publisher: JCP Books LLC
Rating: 8.5/10

Footsteps in the Dark (2019) L.B. Gregg, Nicole Kimberling, Josh Lanyon, Dal MacLean, Z.A. Maxfield, Meg Perry, C.S. Poe and S.C. Wynne

Entrée to Murder by Nicole Kimberling
Twelve Seconds by Meg Perry
Reality Bites by S.C. Wynne
Blind Man’s Buff by L.B. Gregg
A Country for Old Men by Dal Maclean
Pepper the Crime Lab by Z.A. Maxfield
Lights. Camera. Murder. by C.S. Poe
Stranger in the House by Josh Lanyon

This is an anthology of mysteries with M/M romance. Most, but not all, of the stories have boinking.

Entrée to Murder by Nicole Kimberling

After a steady diet of big city trouble, Chef Drew Allison moved to the island town of Orca’s Slough to get a taste of life in the slow lane. But hometown hospitality goes stale when he finds a dead body in the basement of his own Eelgrass Café.

I really like Drew. He wants to make his restaurant work, and wants to get his partner out of trouble, but since part of the trouble is their bartender, he’s kinda of stuck. He also a genuinely good person who wants to take care of his employees, especially Lionel, his young assistant.

I vaguely recollected that Lionel’s grandmother had refused to teach him to cook because “his wife would take care of that for him,” while his busy single mother possessed neither the time nor the inclination.

I also love this story for the variety of characters, including two older women who are also main characters, and a delight.

All but one looked up as I entered.

“This is Andrew,” Evelyn announced, waving her hand back as though I were some stray dog that had followed her home. “He’s the chef at the murder restaurant.”

To my surprise, only one of the old ladies seemed scandalized, and she appeared to be mainly irritated at Evelyn.

“I’m sure he doesn’t want to be introduced like that.”

The mystery is good, but what makes the story are the interactions between the characters, like Drew seeing Lionel getting dropped off at work.

(S)he told him off in Korean. I stood gawking, impressed by the volume she managed to produce from her tiny body. She put to shame a couple of chefs I’d trained under.

When she noticed me watching, she changed her tone to chirpy English. “Okay, I love you, bye, bye!”

I really enjoyed this story.

Twelve Seconds by Meg Perry

A mysterious phone call, a missing executive, and an exploding rocket throw space reporter Justin Harris and Air Force Special Agent Greg Marcotte into an investigation that will change their lives…if it doesn’t kill them first.

This story alternates POV between Justin and Greg.

As a space reporter for the Hughes-Simmons news syndicate, parent of the Orlando Tribune and other major newspapers around the US, Justin Harris was expected to respond to space news regardless of the hour. If an air leak developed in the International Space Station, if a rocket failed on a launch pad in French Guiana or Kazakhstan, if Elon Musk tweeted anything, Justin needed to hear about it.

This is the story that I read bits out loud to Michael. And it wasn’t even the dialog, but a bit with an alligator and an unexpected dead body.

Greg clapped Fleshman on the shoulder. “This sort of decision, Airman, is why God invented colonels. And here comes mine now.”

Ward Vernon strode up to them, scowling. “Where the hell is Santos?”

Greg said, “Throwing up, sir.” He pointed to the gator.

Vernon’s jaw dropped. “Jeeezus Hallelujah Christ!”

Airman Fleshman was biting his lip to keep from laughing.

Mindy arrived a few minutes later and surveyed the situation, shaking her head. “Damn.”

Vernon said, “Indeed. What kind of gun do we need to kill this gator, Agent Leonard?”

“Our service weapons would work, sir. But it’s illegal to kill a gator without a permit.”

Vernon scowled. “We’re the United States Air Force, dammit. We’ll shoot whatever we like.

I think what I liked about those bits were that they felt precisely like what would happen in that situation.

I also loved that Justin was a tremendous, adorable geek.

This was another great story.

Reality Bites by S.C. Wynne

Detective Cabot Decker is called to the set of hot-shot TV producer Jax Thornburn’s reality-TV show after a contestant is mauled to death by a tiger. Is someone trying to ax Jax’s career—or Jax himself?

This was a Hollywood story, so the setting was a little less appealing to me, but the main character was a police detective, so that was a definite plus.

I kinda wanna make Michael read this story, since a major plot point is an electronic lock, and he knows lots and lots about this. But from what I’ve listened to over the years, they got things correct.

The characters were fine. Not my favorites of this series, but that was mostly comparing it to other stories.

“I’m still not sure about this.”

“I’ll make sure you have fun.”

“I don’t want to have fun.”

“Then I’ll make sure you have a horrible evening.”

“I can do that all by myself.”

“I’ll pick you up at eight.”

The mystery was the strong point of this story, and I very much liked it.

Blind Man’s Buff by L.B. Gregg

A game of Capture the Flag turns deadly inside an abandoned shopping mall when Tommy and Jonah stumble into a homicidal maniac’s hunting grounds.

This was a very interesting story. If it was a movie, I totally wouldn’t watch it, because things chasing and attacking in the dark are so very much not my thing, but the premise and the characters were lovely. Tommy and Jonah are high school teachers, and also tremendous geeks, who like physical RPGs, like the game of capture the flag they are playing in an old mall.

What makes Tommy so likable and adorable is that he is still a dork, even if he’s also the tank of the group and has spent years honing his body and doing things like parkour. (Did I mention the pakour? As a life-long klutz, I adore parkour.)

I’d spent most of the last decade working to become more like Thor because the weak, geek, queer motif hadn’t paid off for me, personally.

But he’s also a grown-up.

Here’s the adult learning curve in life— or mine, anyway. Adulting is about facing hard tasks, difficult decisions, and unpleasant realities. Stepping up to the plate even when you don’t want to, because you have to. But sometimes adult life requires you to stand down, listen to others, and find the grace to compromise respectfully.

There were a couple of issues with the mystery here, but mostly I really liked it.

A Country for Old Men by Dal Maclean

Inspector Calum Macleod has returned to the Western Isles of Scotland to bury a part of himself he can’t accept. But the island has old secrets of its own. When a murderer strikes, Calum finds his past can’t be so easily escaped.

This was possibly my least favorite story in the anthology, but that’s mostly because I don’t like second-chances romances where they main characters are antagonistic towards each other at the start.

But it still had plenty of positives.

“You know what’s disappointing?” Adam asked. “I do Muay Thai— Thai kickboxing— every week. It’s supposed to be good against knives. But… it turns out you don’t necessarily understand someone’s going to attack you until the knife’s already at your throat.”

Another good mystery.

Pepper the Crime Lab by Z.A. Maxfield

When Lonnie Boudreaux’s neighbor is murdered, he must foster the man’s dog, befriend a mysterious former cop, and stop the killer—or else!

I especially liked the main characters in this story. Lonnie is a workaholic whose health has forced him to reevaluate his life.

The mystery was also very well done, and I would actually love spending more time with these characters.

Lights. Camera. Murder. by C.S. Poe

When a hotshot television producer hires him to recover a stolen script, NY PI Rory Byrne must go undercover on the set of the ground-breaking historical drama The Bowery–a job complicated by Rory’s unexpected attraction to handsome, talented, and out-and-proud actor Marion Roosevelt.

Another TV-set mystery, this one set in New York. The main character is a private investigatory who is set to the set of a TV show to figure out which of 100 possible people are a thief.

One of the things I liked best about this story was the premise of the TV series: an historical series with a M/M romance. It allowed almost the entire cast to be LGBTQ.

I also very much like the mystery, although the romance between the two characters didn’t do much for me.

Stranger in the House by Josh Lanyon

Miles Tuesday’s memories of Montreal are happy ones, but now that he has inherited the house at 9 Braeside, everything feels different. Was Madame Martel’s fatal fall really an accident?

This is another story where I liked the mystery, but felt like the romance was lacking.

In the old days, confirmed bachelor was code for gay, but Miles was pretty sure in Oliver’s case it meant middle-aged-heterosexual-used-to-having-his-own-way.

Miles is a really really nice guy.

“I’m an enterprise architect for BEC Financial.” “Enterprise architect. Is that something to do with IT?” “It’s everything to do with IT,” Oliver said cheerfully. It sounded really dull, but Oliver seemed happy about it.

Since the boinking part of these stories are my least favorite bits, that lack didn’t bother me that much, it just made the boinking more annoying that normal.

What impressed me most about this book was that these were novellas and and short novels, and all were excellent. That rarely happens in an anthology, but here even if one part of the story felt weak to me, the strengths of the other parts lifted it up.

Fabulous.

Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing, Inc.
Rating: 9/10