Book Review: Catch and Release (MM Merman Romance) by Isabel Murray

Quick Summary: The world’s worst fisherman stumbles onto the best catch ever when reeling in a mysterious man from the sea. Two fish out of water fall in love and try to find a place for themselves when one lives on land and the other at sea.

My Thoughts: Catch and Release is a beautiful, hilarious love story about basically falling for someone from outer space… or underwater. The writing is fantastic, though there’s only so much material to work with in this premise, and it goes on a bit too long.

Imaginary Rating System: 3.5 cryptids out of 5, except that seems unfair to the poor .5 creature

Our main characters

Joe used to be a hedge fund manager, had a near death experience, and changed his life. Now he’s a terrible fisher in a small seaside town. He’s minding his own business when he finds a strange man washed ashore.

Or is he a man? The guy’s caught in a net, and the situation escalates quickly when Joe tries to help.

The strange blue-haired person with gills doesn’t speak the language, is naked and well-endowed, and is instantly drawn to Joe. And weary/hostile to his buddy Jerry. And Joe is drawn right back, though he doesn’t know what to make of this encounter.

Joe doesn’t even really know what Dave is. They refer to him as a cryptid, a creature whose existence is rumored but not proven like Nessie, Big Foot, sirens, and mermaids. (However, we do learn what Dave is eventually.)

The Love Story

On the plus side, they’re attracted to each other from the jump. But they can’t communicate verbally. And humans aren’t well suited to prolonged periods in seawater. They come from different worlds and there aren’t cultural divides so much as species divides. Can they really make it work just based on the chemistry between them?

And yes, the name they give this buff, chiseled sea god… is Dave. It’s awesome.

Sidekicks and Shenanigans

Dave can’t really speak so Joe and his sidekick Jerry carry the brunt of the conversation, sharing their thoughts about Dave’s origins and what his behavior means throughout the novel. Jerry is great. He’s an older veteran fisherman who is absolutely no threat yet becomes the unwitting rival/enemy/pet of Dave throughout. He’s a lot of fun.

And many parts of the novel are light-hearted because making it work with an alien lover who doesn’t understand human customs has a learning curve. Dave woos Joe with fresh, sometimes frightening, fish, Joe worries Dave is a sea vampire for a bit, and there are some wild misunderstandings about mating rituals. It’s all very entertaining and hilarious.  

If the hilarity isn’t in play, then the writing is so descriptive and beautiful instead. It’s a joy to read and a lot of rich detail and lovely writing. However, the problem when communication is limited and their environments aren’t compatible? The title says it all. There’s only two options: catch or release. So they get together and must separate, catch and release, catch and release, rinse and repeat. It just didn’t need to be as long as it was for me.

More about Dave:

Without giving much away, Dave isn’t human or animal. He’s pretty much treated as something else entirely. That’s just something to keep in mind as some might be uncomfortable with this concept. The romance is a bit different than with shifters or vampires because those are partly human or were human once. Dave has some human-like features, but he’s largely alien.

Quote From The Novel:

Catch and Release by Isabel Murray

Joe McKenzie’s high-flying London life imploded six years ago, and it happened dramatically enough that paramedics were involved. That’s all in the past. Now, Joe couldn’t be happier living a solitary life as a fisherman on England’s wild northern coast.

Okay, he could be happier.

It’s not like he’s depressed or anything but, you know. The weather’s not great. Life’s a bit samey. He’s only thirty-eight. The idea of another forty years is a bit exhausting, to be honest. He passes the time pretending to be a fisherman but the truth is, he sucks at it.

Then Joe makes the catch of a lifetime when he stumbles across the mysterious Dave washed up on the beach—an enormous man with gills and uncanny power over the sea. Once Dave stops trying to kidnap Joe and/or kill Joe’s fishing buddy, Jerry, turns out he’s kind of…intriguing?

And not half as smooth as he seems to think he is.

There’s a lot Joe doesn’t know about Dave. He doesn’t know why Dave keeps disappearing or why he can’t seem to stay away. He doesn’t know what Dave wants from him. He doesn’t even know what, exactly, Dave is. And Joe can’t ask, because they don’t speak the same language.

Joe does know one thing, though. He is in love.

Which, great. How’s that going to end well?

Catch and Release is a gay paranormal romantic comedy featuring a truly terrible fisherman with an octopus phobia, a merman (maybe? Confirmation pending) with no sense of personal boundaries at all, constant communication fails, a whole lot of sea life not in the sea but in Joe’s house, yes, it’s dead, some epic yearning from both sides, and bewilderingly enough, maybe a way to make it work?

Book Review: Dead Over Heels by Arden Steele

I’m a little early for New Year’s resolutions, and I also don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I guess I’m trying to be more flexible by reading Dead Over Heels. I usually hate straying from series reading order, though since the books in the Blackhaven Manor series are connected yet about different characters I made an exception. This was the perfect time to read too since it takes place over the winter holidays.

Quick Summary: A troubled loner finds a fresh start in a magical town. Meeting his fated mate helps, but running into an unexpected ghost does not. Oh yeah, he sees dead people.

My thoughts: What a great winter/holiday novel about fated mates who suddenly find themselves living together during the Christmas season. The book is full of sweet romance, domestic ups and downs, and just a touch of heat.

Fictional Rating System: 4.5 tiny cat sweaters out of 5

Keywords and tags: Paranormal romance, holidays, age gap, werewolf, medium, ghosts, fated mates, cranky cats, crankier spirits, fluffy, finding home, acceptance

Characters and Story (and Curtains?)

Fritz, called this for many technical malfunctions in real life, is a sweet, clumsy guy who is used to annoying people and occasionally hurting himself with his klutzy mishaps. Adding in medium abilities only makes matters worse. Even though supernatural beings are known, he thinks he’s just a regular guy who happens to see ghosts and never stays in one place too long because people will ask questions or he’ll overstay his welcome.

Until he arrives at Blackhaven manor. He’s looking for a job, and they instead send him to the sheriff’s office. Said sheriff rightly assumes this is a set up because the manor literally hires everybody, they even have a job which is basically Official Opener and Closer of Curtains. This isn’t at all related to the plot, but it’s a detail I remember when writing this, and I still find it amusing.

Vander is the sheriff, who indeed hires Fritz. It would be kind of rude to not give his fated mate a job. But before they can get to know each other better, Fritz accidentally touches some evidence and gets saddled with a ghost. A nasty one. Vander doesn’t know what’s happening, but realizes he needs to tread carefully to make his mate comfortable and get him to open up. So what follows is Vander low-key wooing his mate while Fritz tries to handle his uninvited ghostly house-guest.

Sweeter Than Sugar Cookies

While most shifters are apparently not huge fans of sweets, this book is filled with sugary goodness as the pair live together and fall in love. All while dealing with enthusiastic family members, a touch of demonic possession (or close enough), and hilariously feisty animals.

Honorable character mentions go to the hellbeast/nice kitty they babysit and the formidable goose who battles a werewolf and wins.

Honestly this wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. It’s an enjoyable book I didn’t really fall in love with, but I still recommend because of excellent writing and such fun, silly scenes that are sure to be memorable. I think there are lots of people who would love this novel when looking for seasonal reads, romantic comedies, and sweet love stories with relatively low angst.

Book Quote

Dead Over Heels by Arden Steele

It’s been twelve years since the Awakening. Otherlings are out of the paranormal closet. The whole world knows that creatures like vampires, werewolves, and witches exist. So, seeing dead people barely even rates on the freaky scale. Right?

Wrong.

Fritz Tolliver figures he must have done something terrible in a previous life to be afflicted with such a curse. In fact, every bad thing that has ever happened to him can be traced back to his unwanted ability. So, when a stupidly hot werewolf who’s way out of his league claims to be his mate, he should be thrilled. And he probably would have been if he hadn’t gone and gotten himself haunted by a nasty spirit on the same day.

When a human male strolls into the station asking for a job—and promptly spills an entire Americano on him—Sheriff Vander Hale has a feeling it’s going to be a bad day. Then, the door opens, the wind shifts, and suddenly, his whole world changes. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for his mate, no battle he wouldn’t wage, even if his enemy is technically already dead. Unfortunately, there’s just one problem with his plan.

He’d go to hell and back for Fritz, but how is he supposed to fight something he can’t see?

Series Info: Blackhaven Manor

Purrfect Harmony

Night and Fae

Dragon It Out

Pixie Little Liar

Dead Over Heels

Silent Knight

High School Geography

In Instalove, a love spell is only the beginning of Avery Ward’s problems when strange things start happening at his school and he can’t get the guy he isn’t dating out of his head… or his heart.

This is a quote from the novel where Avery looks at a pretty boy, Chris Reyes, and thinks about their respective places in the world of high school.

If this square-shaped room had its edges sanded away and became a world onto itself, which it pretty much was even without more circular dimensions, then the table Chris sat at was probably North America. Flashy, the biggest and best, and pretty great all things considered. Just not exactly as great as many of the inhabitants believed. All the popular, attractive athletes sat there.

If this school were a world, my table would be, I don’t know, somewhere in Europe probably, but not the whole continent. Or if it were a continent, probably Australia. It seemed like a neat enough place, maybe even somewhere to visit, but not the center of attention.

In the beginning

You know the beginning of a novel when the protagonist is doing great? Everything is pretty close to perfect before an unexpected event happens and then it all starts going wrong. Well, in this scene from the LGBTQ young adult novel Instalove, Avery is doing great. He’s thinking back to the time he met his boyfriend, and everything totally isn’t going to go wrong. (Yes, it is.)

P.S. this is a modern fantasy novel with magic and spellcasting, but there’s no magic in this scene. Or is there? Hmmm…

The football players practiced on the field while groups from the track team ran laps on the track around them. We tended to run in groups even though this exercise was such a solitary endeavor. It made no sense, but I didn’t care enough to be the only one running by myself.

There was a sudden jolt from the force of a hit, but I was fine, so I picked up the ball and tossed it a short distance to the athlete heading towards me with a sheepish expression.

It took me a moment to think of his name: Chris Reyes. A light sheen of sweat dusted his arms, visible in his cut-off tee, making his bronze skin glow faintly.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I think I’ll live.”

“Danny the QB thought my job looked easy,” explained the affable, good looking athlete. He twirled the ball around casually in the air while he talked. “I bet him 20 bucks he couldn’t kick a field goal.” He smiled. “I won 20 bucks.”

“Do I get a cut of the profit?” I asked.

“I don’t know about that,” he said, grin turning less charming and more teasing.

“I was just out here minding my own business,” I explained innocently. “When I was attacked with a football.”

“Hmmm.” He fought a grin. “Sounds terrible.”

I regarded him seriously. “There may be permanent damage.”

“That bad, huh?” Chris played along. “How can I make it up to you?”

I made a show of thinking about it while a voice in the back of my head helpfully pointed out that he came out last year and was openly gay.

“My injuries are pretty grim, but I suppose they’re nothing 10 bucks can’t fix.”

“Oh, you want half my winnings? Is that fair?” He considered me, tilting his head and trying to place me. Wow, the full force of his attention? It’s worth being hit by a football.

“Unfair would be leaving me out here alone, injured, and poor.” I used my drama skills to don a pitiful expression.

“Okay, okay.” He held his hands up in surrender, sending me a grin that made my stomach do somersaults. “I’ll make sure you’re properly compensated.”

We were having fun, joking around, but that sounded downright suggestive.

“Are you flirting with me?” I asked.

He smiled slowly, taking in that I was someone who was alright with another guy flirting with him. “I wasn’t necessarily.” His eyes trailed up and down my body quickly. His smile widened. “But I am now.”

I suddenly found myself very okay with that.

A romcom might call this a meet cute. My father called it ordinary magic. I called it a Tuesday afternoon. There was nothing special about it yet, even if our actions closely resembled flirting.

He didn’t give me any of his winnings, but he did pay for dinner.

That was how it started.

Instalove is a coming of age novel where Avery Ward thinks the magic his family has doesn’t involve him. Until a spell calls everything in his life into question, even the desires of his heart. Grab your copy of the novel here!

Flowers and love spells

They say time heals all wounds. Do not ask me who ‘they’ are, but this is probably true. The trouble, however, is what happens when the wound is fresh. Waiting for the cut to heal isn’t easy. Especially if the injury is a broken heart and you’re a 17-year-old and these feelings are new, wonderful, and terrible.

We’ve all been there, right? To add insult to injury, the memories from the love spell haven’t faded yet. Okay, maybe that’s the part where things get less normal.

But this is what happens in my latest paranormal romance Instalove.

In Avery Ward’s case, he’s a regular guy who happens to come from a long line of witches and warlocks who bring real magic into the world. He’s just learned magic might be the reason he’s totally crazy about soccer player and smartie Chris Reyes.

But knowing a spell is happening and being free from its effects are two different things. And he hasn’t really begun the healing process yet. This scene is Avery sitting in his family garden, trying to process the new revelations in his life while his mother checks on him.

~

Mom found me outside and sat with me on the bench next to the aster.

“The gardenias are coming in nicely,” she noted.

As a licensed therapist, she’s usually all about healthy communication and sharing feelings. I had zero desire to share, so I watched her for the trick but found none.

“Really, that’s all?” I asked.

“You don’t want to talk. You don’t want me to talk at you.” She shrugged. “What else is there to say?”

Huh. I relaxed as we enjoyed the relative quiet together.

This was my happy place. Okay, time to feel happy. Anytime now. Go. I looked around. The garden was a lovely place, but it depended on one’s current prerogative.

The nearby larkspur meant lightness, yet it also meant fickleness or haughtiness. And talk about fickle, there were carnations in the next row over, and they had about 93 meanings attached to them depending on the color.

The daffodils over Mom’s shoulder needed company. Several meant happiness and joy while a solitary flower meant misfortune. That was probably a metaphor.

“Sure you don’t want to talk?” she asked quietly.

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

As she rose to leave, Mom placed a hand on my shoulder. “The spell will be undone, and you’ll laugh about this someday.”

“But not today.” There was a fountain just to the right of center in the garden. When we were quiet, I thought I could hear it.

“Not today,” she agreed quietly.

The iris grew next to me on my right. I was afraid to look at it. Irises symbolize hope.

— the rest is available here.

Irresistible

Love can make you do crazy things. As the character Avery finds out in the paranormal romance Instalove. The 17-year-old usually prefers blending in at school and not being different. His home life is crazy and full of witches and warlocks who can cast spells and shoot fire from their palms, so he likes keeping things simple at school.

Avery starts the novel in the closet and doesn’t plan on coming out until college. But despite trying to be an ‘average’ high schooler, he can’t resist Chris Reyes. Which is how he ends up with a secret boyfriend and maybe a few secrets of his own.

In this excerpt, Avery is thinking about his relationship since a milestone is approaching.

It’s possible Chris wasn’t thrilled about the ‘secret’ part of our secret relationship. He’d been understanding until he found out my family knew I was gay and I had trouble explaining why I didn’t want anyone else to know.

With our four-month anniversary approaching, spending it fighting sounded terrible. I wanted to spend it… well, I didn’t care how we spent it as long as we were happy and together. The other details weren’t important.

Maybe being a guy with a secret boyfriend and being hopelessly crazy about him wasn’t very average and regular. Oh well. As much as I wanted to be normal and blend in, I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to get to know Chris.

–check out the rest here.

Boy likes boy

One of the main characters in my new paranormal romance Instalove is Chris Reyes. He’s a smart athlete who gets pulled into the magical world without warning when a spell goes wrong. And I’ve decided I don’t need to tell you anything else about him because Avery, the other main character, likes thinking about Chris and can introduce him instead.

So I don’t think you need to know anything else to understand this excerpt from the modern fantasy novel because it is literally just Avery swooning over Chris.

~

Physically, the tall athlete had caramel skin and extremely lickable abs, which I knew from experience. He served as a kicker for the football team, but soccer was his game. His legs were phenomenal. His lithe legs and muscular thighs were all the proof anyone needed that God or Magic or whatever was real.

He was certainly fun to look at, but my favorite thing about him was how he made any room he was in brighter. It’s like he was made of light and lit from the inside with a warmth and glow that drew people in and made them feel comfortable.

— Check out the book here.

Meet Avery Ward

The newest book from me is called Instalove, a magical YA LGBTQ novel. This book is about Avery Ward, a regular 17-year-old who thinks he’s falling in love for the first time. But when your family has magic and your younger sister is a stubborn little witch, nothing is as simple as it seems.

This is from the beginning of the book where Avery talks about his family and his connection to magic.

~

When given the choice, most people would rather learn about my sister than me. Stella Ward is the Witch, the girl wonder who can move objects with her mind and turn the laws of the natural world inside out.

Avery Ward is the junior who runs track, the guy who gets supporting roles in the school plays with a good audition. Enough about him, let’s hear more about this sister. Yeah, yeah. I get it.

I’m normal. My sister isn’t.

Witchcraft seems so cool and interesting to people who grew up without it. When someone close to you has powers and you don’t, it’s mostly extremely annoying. But siblings can be that way.

However, there are always reminders that she’s not an ordinary little sister. It’s not fun to pull eye of newt or wing of bat out of the refrigerator when needing ketchup. Instead of listening to me on the phone or snooping in my text messages, she can cast a spell to read my mind.

Aside from the lesson to always know what you’re grabbing before putting it on food, Stella’s magic barely impacted my life. It intersected with me like a cold or a mild fever. There are a few days of congestion and mild discomfort and then the inconvenience goes away without any lasting damage.

At least that’s what I wanted to believe. It worked for a while. Her magic didn’t make a big impression on my life.

Until it did.

Instalove is available now!

Small confession time. This novel is about a guy who is crazy about another guy, but I’ve been using a tool called Bookbrush lately to make graphics like the above. And there’s lots of pre-made options involving ladies, so since Stella and her magic play a big role in making everything happen, I look at this as one of my few chances to actually use the templates with females.

Nightmare children

Avery and his little sister don’t get along in Instalove. This might be part of a normal sibling dynamic, though love spells and the hellhound she gave him as a gift are less normal.

During breakfast, the family discuss the rules for Stella’s birthday dinner. This is a different version of this scene than the one in the novel.

~

“It’s a good time to go over the rules for dinner tonight,” Dad interjected. Ah, how to behave in front of polite company. It used to be a long series of items, written on parchment paper and permanently affixed to the fridge.  That didn’t quite yield results though, so now there were two easily digestible points.

“Don’t be nightmare children unless our cousins are doing it first,” Stella said. Those were their words, ‘nightmare children.’ And they called us dramatic when we got going. So unfair. To me at least. Stella was definitely the nightmare.

My family all looked to me.

“It’s Stella’s birthday,” I said the next rule. They kept looking at me. “Don’t be awful to Stella,” I finished reluctantly.

“Don’t be awful to Stella,” Dad repeated.

“I said that.” Why even have me say it if he was going to say the same thing?

“It bears repeating,” he said firmly.

 Why did it even matter what I did? The remaining pastries we hadn’t eaten had abandoned their spot on the obnoxious floating platter and were doing a little dance for my sister’s amusement. Everything literally catered to her; I didn’t have to do the same. Our cutlery didn’t normally levitate, but Stella liked these little extra touches on her special day.

 ‘Extra touches’ were how my parents referred to them. I called them pointless and unnecessary. We get it, Stella had magic. Stella liked magic. There was nothing wrong with magic, but there was a whole world out there and magic was just a small part of it. Magic wasn’t everything.

That was a lesson I’d learned firsthand.

Anyway, these rules were useless. “Stella didn’t abide by the rules on my birthday,” I muttered. My parents exchanged ‘here we go’ looks.

“It was a gift!” Stella hollered.

“That tried to eat me,” I pointed out.

Stella rolled her eyes, like she was annoyed I brought that up again, but a birthday present from her had tried to devour me. I had the right to bring that up for, like, the rest of time. “How was I supposed to know it would be so mean?” she asked rhetorically.

I answered anyway. “It was called a hellhound.” She was the supposed magical savant; she should have known. The kid had no common sense.

She rolled her eyes. “I just thought it would be red.” Also, she often put too much stock in her abilities. Sometimes she didn’t read the instructions fully; she thought she was a little magic expert that knew everything. It would be hilarious when things went wrong if I wasn’t usually dragged into the side effects with her.

And my Dad found Stella’s magical appetite so charming. He encouraged her to explore the magical world. Yet he wouldn’t buy me alcohol when I wanted to explore the regular world… Okay, I didn’t fault him for that one, but I had to try.

Stella and Mom left for school while Dad floated the serving tray down to the table. He grabbed my attention before I could make my escape to school. “Hey, really, go easy on Stella tonight.” He put a hand on my shoulder as he sat down in the chair next to me and looked me in the eye, his I mean it look.

“We already went through thy hallowed, revered rules,” I told him with only a little sarcasm. It was too early for more.

His sass game was strong, undeterred by the early hour. “If they’re so hallowed and revered, how come they never get followed?”

“Maybe tonight will be the first time?” I offered. Magic existed, so miracles could happen too.

 “You’re the older brother,” Dad reminded me, turning serious again. Like I didn’t know that. Though maybe sticking my tongue out at her wasn’t the height of maturity. “Treat her with respect and she’ll do the same to you.”

“You have no proof of that.”

“I’m an eternal optimist,” he quipped.

–the book is available here.

Who is Avery Ward?

Who is Avery Ward, you might ask as you read the title of this post. Because that’s what the post says.

Well, thanks for asking!

If you wanna get literal about it, he’s the main character of the gay paranormal romance Instalove. He’s also the 17-year-old protagonist who thinks the magic in his family doesn’t affect him, until he finds out that the thing he holds most dear may be the result of a spell.

From an author standpoint, I enjoy writing prose in his special angst-y yet practical perspective. I don’t make characters exactly like me but sometimes I give them something of mine. Avery has my taste in music. And he’s sort of a pessimist who’s trying to be more optimistic, which we also share.

Otherwise, I’ll let Avery tell you about himself in his own words. All you need to know for the following excerpt is that Stella is Avery’s little sister.

~

When given the choice, most people would rather learn about my sister than me. Stella Ward is the Witch, the girl wonder who can move objects with her mind and turn the laws of the natural world inside out.

Avery Ward is the junior who runs track, the guy who gets supporting roles in the school plays with a good audition. Enough about him, let’s hear more about this sister. Yeah, yeah. I get it.

I’m normal. My sister isn’t.

Witchcraft seems so cool and interesting to people who grew up without it. When someone close to you has powers and you don’t, it’s mostly extremely annoying. But siblings can be that way.

–Check it out here. You can buy the book or read it on KU.