Blog Tour: Illuminate the Shadows: Isobel Starling

Illuminate the Shadows
(Shatterproof Bond #1)
Isobel Starling
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Expected May 9, 2016
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The thrilling, funny sequel to 'As You Wish'. 

A Scotsman and an Englishman fall in love…

After the most amazing week of Declan Ramsay's life, at Dunloch Castle on the banks of Loch Ness, in Scotland. The charming, mysterious Samuel Aiken has turned Declan's life upside down. Declan has experienced a remarkable change. He has come to terms with the fact he is bisexual, and he has fallen head-over-heels in love with his boss’s son Sam.

However, falling for his boss’s son was never going to be an easy path to happiness, mainly because the boss in question is multi-millionaire property tycoon and former MI5 operative, Sir James Aiken. 

Sir James is repulsed by his son’s homosexuality, and so discovering that his employee Declan Ramsay- the man he installed to run his luxury property rental empire- is in a relationship with Sam, does not go down well.

The lovers cannot hide from the looming presence of Sir James Aiken for long! Soon enough James makes his move, and Declan finds out what he will have to endure to stay with Sam, and what he will have to give to feel worthy of Sam's love.

**The story continues in "Return to Zero" (Shatterproof Bond #2)** This second book will be released on 6th June 2016.

Illuminate the Shadows is the first full-length novel in Isobel Starling’s Shatterproof Bond series. The characters were introduced in a prequel novella, As You Wish, which I strongly recommend be read prior to reading this (and warning, there are spoilers for the prequel novella in this review, just so you are warned.) I had high hopes when I started this novel, but I have pushed them off to the next one in the series, because this volume really functions primarily as a second introduction, this time to the longer plot for the series instead of the characters.

At the very end of As You Wish, we learned Sam Aiken’s family secret, and it forms the basis for the series as a whole. Sam is an undercover operative, largely against his will, for an organization founded and led by his father, Sir James Aiken, a former operative with MI5, the British security service. Declan Ramsay works for Sir James in his cover business, a multi-million pound property management company. Sam discovers that his father, who is adamantly against the idea of his only son being gay, knows about the tryst that brought Sam and Declan together. For reasons that remain mysterious to Sam, Sir James allows them to be together, but only if Declan can pass the qualification “interviews” to become an agent in the organization. The bulk of Illuminate the Shadows chronicles this process, and the rest starts to lay the foundation for what could turn out to be a rather intriguing, suspenseful story line for the remainder of the series.

I have read many multiple-book suspense series in my time, and their structure has a fairly predictable formula: each individual book consists of a self-contained plot while furthering the series-long overarching narrative in the process. So that’s what I was expecting here because, like all good formulas, there is a reason for following it: it works to excite the reader during the individual volumes and keeps the reader wanting to see what happens in the next installment. Unfortunately, Illuminate the Shadows only follows the second half of this formula. There are plenty of nuggets of information laid into the story line that will obviously be important later and resolved by the time the series ends, but if we ignore those bits, what’s left is a rather dull plot for an individual book when compared to other suspense series. Perhaps this is because so much time is spent on Declan’s initiation, which by itself is rather odd, though it works very well to establish the character of Sir James as well as the father-and-son animosity between him and Sam. As a result of the lack of a self-contained suspenseful storyline, it’s hard for me to be overly enthused about this novel. Now if I put that disappointment aside, there’s certainly enough here, as an introduction to the series, to have kept me interested enough to read the second volume when it is released. A big part of me wishes that the prequel novel had been reworked to include it within this book one, because then I would have expected the full novel to function as an introductory work, and I might have been happier with the result.

The chemistry between Sam and Declan continues to work. I mentioned in my review of As You Wish that sometimes I didn’t feel it quite as intensely as the characters did. I did not have that problem in Illuminate the Shadows. The two guys go together wonderfully, their intimacy continuing the same sort of playful banter and roleplay they started in the novella. Their dynamic is the primary reason I’m looking forward to seeing how the overall series plays out, for there are many ways the author could choose to use this to build a powerful and suspenseful plot later in the series.

Unlike the novella, the point of view (POV) used for this novel is not just those of Sam and Declan. This is not a problem, especially since it looks like Sir James will be an important character for the duration of the series, and its additional POVs do nothing to detract from the feel of the story. The writing style and flow are good here, with none of the problems I mentioned with the novella. I feel I must point out that I did read an advanced copy of the novel which had yet to go through a final copy-editing pass. I really hope that the editor is on the ball, because there were a lot of mistakes in the edition I read, and it would be a shame if even a small percentage of them made it through to the release edition, because they were a huge distraction for me. (Note, my rating does NOT take this into account, as I assume the corrections will be made.)

The Shatterproof Bond series has potential to be very good. As a standalone, though, Illuminate the Shadows left me wanting and not entirely in a good way. There is no suspenseful cliffhanger, and Sam and Declan are left in a decent, happy-for-now spot, so that isn’t the problem. I just wanted something exciting to happen in the book. And that really didn’t happen. Now that we’ve had a novella and full novel to introduce the series, I really hope that problem doesn’t happen again in the second volume. I don’t know if my attention span will hold to go beyond that if it doesn’t.

The author generously provided me a complimentary copy of Illuminate the Shadows in exchange for this fair and honest review.

After reading the novella As You Wish, I was interested in reading more about Declan and Sam, the seemingly straight Scot and gay Englishman who met at their siblings' wedding. This begins right after the conclusion of the novella. Declan and Sam are reunited after several months of separation and loss. They are reconnecting and finally feeling happy, loved, and whole again. But getting involved with Sam means some changes in Declan's life. He was not fully aware of what his boss/Sam's father was involved in, but he is about to find out. Declan has to prove himself in various ways. Will he make the cut?

Declan's past is scrutinized. He is put in challenging situations. And Sam wants to protect him. They are trying to build their new life but are also having to deal with the business at hand that can include secrets, aliases, threats, surveillance, and covert ops. Declan does not always feel as prepared and as skilled as Sam who has been dealing with this all his life.

Declan is a big, burly Scot who is a bit awkward and goofy. But he is sweet, protective, funny, and has adapted well to his realization that he is bisexual and now in love with  a man. But he suffers from fears, insecurities, and self doubt at times that has only been exacerbated by his recent life changes. He has a lot to learn and assimilate to be able to move forward.

Sam has dealt with a lot in his life due to his controlling, judgmental father's expectations. He wants to live his own life, but seems to keep getting sucked back in. He is intelligent, sexy, highly adaptable, and charismatic. And he just wants to be able to share a life with Declan.

They are trying to merge their lives and continue to build their relationship but have to keep dealing with outside influences.  There were a couple things that I just found odd. There were some situations introduced to add mystery and suspense but were left unresolved for now. At times I found it amusing, sweet, and sexy. But other times I struggled to figure out where she was trying to take this story. There was not a lot that really happened in this installment. I felt like there was more development in the novella. I was already attached to Declan and Sam, so I enjoyed the banter, humor, and romance with them. But there are so many unanswered questions and the story was light on drama, so it almost felt like a placeholder book for me in between the novella and the next book, Return To Zero.

She really goes all out giving Declan a Scottish brogue so you can almost hear him talking in his accent. I love his big, bold personality, and I enjoy the dynamic relationship with Sam. I had some issues with the arc itself as far as editing, but was informed that there will be another editor pass so hopefully those will be resolved. I felt like it was a bit disjointed at times, but it might have been because of the additions to the story that are still a work in progress. But I do like the characters and the premise has the potential to add more danger and suspense once it is explored more throughly. I was just hoping for more development in this book. It paled a bit in comparison to the novella As you Wish, but I am still interested in continuing their story in Return to Zero and seeing how it all plays out for Declan and Sam.

I was gifted a review copy in exchange for an honest review. 
“Illuminate the Shadows” (Shatterproof Bond #1)

“Sam reached the Range Rover ten minutes after Declan had left the office, to see the slight silhouette of his partner sitting in the driving seat, in the dark. Sam had no idea why Declan hadn’t put the car light on. He opened the door and slid into the passenger seat. The warm, masculine scent from inside the car hit his nostrils; it was a powerfully sexy smell — expensive citrus after shave and ninety-nine percent proof Declan Ramsay.

“Why are you sitting in the dark, you okay?” Sam pulled the door closed and then a hand cupped the back of his head, and dragged him into an urgent, grinding kiss.

Sam dropped his messenger bag, his body suddenly limp. “Fuuhk” he exhaled a drawn-out, heated whisper when they paused for a breath. 

“Aye, fuck… I’ve been desperate te do that all day. You’ve been driving me demented. I thought mah balls were gonna explode. I just cannae stop thinking about you comin’ over my beard this mornin’,”

“Jesus, me too! That was so hot. I hear spunk is an excellent conditioner” Sam chuckled; leaning in to lick and nip around Declan’s chin, and neatly trimmed whiskers. “But I won’t be so wasteful next time” 

“We’re magnetized, y’know. I just cannae get enough o’ ye!” Declan’s tongue flicked out and found Sam’s open mouth. He penetrated and Sam sucked. A rush of exquisite pleasure surged through him.
Sam loved the tickle of Declan’s whiskers on his mouth, each kiss made thousands of electrical shocks zip through his body. He pulled away and clambered awkwardly over the seat to straddle Declan properly, and he was pulled into a groaning, tight, bear hug.

“Can you last until we get home?” Sam whispered to Declan’s ear, sucking and rolling the lobe between moist lips. The windows of the car were starting to steam up.

“Not if ye keep doing that… Fuuuuhk” Declan squirmed in his seat and moaned, his possessive hands clasping and kneading Sam’s ass though his trousers. In the now stifling darkness, Declan had all but forgotten about their smart business attire. There was no way he wanted to get cum on this suit, it was Alexander McQueen! He slapped Sam’s gyrating ass. “Off ye get. We’ll save this for home. We don’t need te fuck in the shadows like there’s somethin’ wrong wi’ it.”

“God, why did you have to start this? My sodding balls are killing me now. Cock-tease!” Sam complained.

“Don’t be like that” Declan chuckled, delighted to see Sam so horny and unsatisfied. It would make the sex all the hotter when they got home. 

Sam slipped across and back into his passenger seat. His cock throbbed hotly in his pants, “I think I need a drink” he said sourly

“Have ye been to the Coburg Bar at the Connaught?”

“No, actually, I haven’t. Is that your regular haunt?”

“Nah, it’s just a nice relaxed lounge bar, close. An’ they do good Guinness on tap.”

“Well, watcha waiting for? Drive on, Buttercup! If I’m not playing ‘hide the sausage’, I may as well get drunk.”
©Isobel Starling 2016

As You Wish  (Shatterproof Bond 0.5)
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Jay and Kim's reviews 

1 wedding, 2 best men, one hell of a love story!

Declan Ramsay's brother Oliver was marrying Annabelle Aiken at a fairy tale Castle on the banks of Loch Ness in Scotland. The bride and groom decided, so that he didn’t feel left out, Annabelle's gay younger brother Sam Should share the best man duties with Declan. 

Declan had never met the kid who was to be his joint best man.

Sam Aiken was abroad, working as an interpreter and finishing his studies. He wouldn’t meet Declan until a few days before the wedding, so the best men communicated and planned their speech by email for more than a year.

But on meeting Sam Aiken, Declan is surprised to realise the kid isn't a kid at all, but a tall, blond and athletic young man. Declan is sure he's straight, so he's alarmed by the ferocious attraction he feels for Sam. And as the attraction is reciprocated, the events at Dunloch Castle change everything Declan has ever believed about himself.

But is Samuel Aiken all that he appears to be?

Return to Zero (Shatterproof Bond 0.5)
Expected June 6, 2016

Isobel Starling 

Inspiration strikes at the strangest of times. 

Born in Germany, Isobel Starling spent most of her twenty-year professional career making art. She relocated to the UK and, faced with the dreaded artist’s creative block, Isobel started to write and found she loved it more than making art. 

Isobel’s first novel “Schonling” was a best seller in the GLBT-Bisexual genre on the ‘All Romance ebooks’ site. She has just completed her sixth book, and signed French translation rights for novella “As You Wish”. 

She adores the M/M genre and enjoys writing about wounded souls and the complexities of personal relationships. Despite not having found proof yet, Isobelbelieves in love at first sight and endeavours to give her men a thrilling journey and a satisfying ending!

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