His Hearth (The Warder Series #1)

Title: His Hearth
Author: Mary Calmes
Publisher:  Dreamspinner Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: Gay Fantasy Romance
Length:  Novella (140 pages)
Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Summary Review: A fantasy and a contemporary romance rolled into one. If you like this author you will love the story. I had a few difficulties with the plot and its execution


Julian Nash should be excited: he’s just earned a huge promotion at work and is going out to celebrate. But his happiness fades when he discovers his date cheating on him an hour before. Suddenly alone when everyone knows he’s supposed to have a plus one, Julian is set for a long night until longtime acquaintance Ryan Dean bails him out of the embarrassing situation. During dinner, they discover they have more than just friendship between them: there is mutual admiration and heated attraction. But getting to know Ryan better—and finding a place in his life—will bring Julian surprises and danger he never expected or dreamed existed.


The beautiful people are back. Whenever I want to read about characters who are so beautiful they make my eyes hurt and I wonder why I wasn’t created by an author, I know where to go, and I wasn’t disappointed when I opened Mary Calmes’ latest. The characters in His Hearth are drop dead gorgeous as well as talented, articulate, intelligent, just altogether perfect, and everyone adores them. They are strikingly similar to the protagonists in a series by this author, A Matter of Time, that I reviewed. I decided to review this book because I wanted to see if Ms Calmes could give readers flawed, complex characters who had to work really hard for their HEA, as well as an engaging plot, but alas it was not to be.

The story begins with Julian, our main protagonist, walking into an office on his big day and seeing his new BFF Channing Isner giving oral sex to another man. He wasn’t really too upset about this betrayal because they had not taken their relationship to the next level i.e having sex, since Julian didn’t believe in giving it up too soon and they had only been dating for a few weeks. Julian’s only concern was how was he going to explain to his colleagues and senior management why he was at the celebratory event for his promotion without a date. Lucky for him, Ryan Dean, a former client who apparently had the hots for him (but never told him), showed up just as Channing was trying to explain the reason for his actions. Turns out 6 weeks without sex was just too much for Channing and his hormones got the better of him.

Gorgeous Ryan was a former international model and now local celebrity with his own television show who had a reputation for one night stands. He made his pitch to Julian to take Channing’s place at the celebration and Julian was only too happy to take him up on his offer, so they attended the dinner as a couple. After a great deal of persuasion on Ryan’s part Julian goes home with him. Of course they had sex. Who wouldn’t want to have hot sex with Ryan? The man was stunning and unbelievably charismatic. Barebacking was on the menu and Ryan swore he was ‘clean’ and had the papers to prove it. Even though Julian apparently didn’t walk around with his documents, Ryan took him at his word about his sero status. The next morning when they woke up after a night filled with sex, things began to get a bit weird, and it wasn’t long before Ryan confessed why he was acting strange. Julian had to decide immediately whether he was going to be Ryan’s hearth or let nature take its course, which would not be a good outcome. What followed were a few confusing events of a fantasy nature that were intended to be serious and profound but I found unintentionally hilarious. Sorry I can’t provide many details because those would be spoilers.

What I liked

Julian’s relationship with his creative partner Cash was symbiotic and the dialogue between them was pretty good

Some of the dialogue in the book was quite funny

If Julian and Ryan weren’t so gosh darned perfect I could really love them.

What I didn’t like

Julian going to bed with Ryan after a first date seemed inconsistent with his characterization, as we’re told that he usually waits for several months before entering into a sexual relationship.

The prose was choppy in parts of the book and sort of meandered without focus.

Both characters talked about being ‘clean,’ i.e. they were HIV negative. I wish that straight M/M authors would consult with gay men about the use of this word in this context because it’s insulting. There is a post in the polls on this site where a gay man was quite eloquent about how this word made him and other gay men feel when it was used in M/M romances to denote sero status.

The excuse why Ryan had not been in touch with Julian since their last project ended didn’t ring true. If Julian’s assistant had refused to put Ryan through on the telephone, there’s always IM, voice mail (he had Julian’s cell phone number), texting, or he could have showed up in the office in person. Also, there was no information about why Julian’s assistant acted the way he did.

Julian fell in love (or maybe it was in lust) with Ryan in 24 hours, just as soon as he found out that Ryan had the hots for him. Another case of insta-love. Of course they had worked together before, but that was strictly a professional relationship.

Many of the secondary characters seemed to be ‘walk-ons’ who didn’t have any role in the book other than for set decoration. This is standard technique for this author. There was even a black character, Kevin Winters, a former client of Julian’s, whose only role seemed to be to make Julian look good, because he certainly didn’t add anything to the story. Maybe his story is next!

Parts of this book struck me as really funny but I don’t think the author intended them to be amusing. For example there’s a scene with swords (I kid you not) that’s reminiscent of movies starring Japanese warriors riding into battle on their horses, swords aloft, except in this case there were no horses just the swords. 🙂

In my opinion, where the book fell apart was in the fantasy segments because the supporting characters were one dimensional. As a matter of fact I didn’t quite ‘get’ the fantasy which I thought lacked depth and reminded me of superheroes in DC comics fighting on the side of good and eliminating evil on the planet.

Although His Hearth didn’t work for me I can understand why this author has such devoted fans because all of the main characters are beautiful. If you’re looking for a fantasy, sheer escapism even in a contemporary story, she knows how to give her fans characters who are larger than life with whom everyone falls in love.

His Hearth should have been the ultimate fantasy romance – it just wasn’t mine. This book is contemporary with fantasy components, or the converse – a fantasy with contemporary elements. All the building blocks were there to make it a good read and I wish I could like it more, but I felt that the story lacked finesse.  You will have to read it for yourself and decide if the author pulled off the fantasy. Say what you like about this author’s techniques, her stories sure are entertaining.


I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball


  • Okay, Wave, I promised I’d let you know what I thought of this one. And I’ll even do it spoiler-free! *g* Here is what I wrote for goodreads:

    This work reads as though the author has absolutely no idea what she wants this story to be or where it is to go. The opening scenes with the promotion dinner were very entertaining and sucked me in. But after that, the character inconsistencies began to glare. Then, so far from left field it may as well have been from a different ball park, the introduction of the paranormal. What the hell?! Not only was that absolutely unnecessary to the story, but it actually crippled it for me. I’m not averse to paranormal stories at all (so long as there are no werethings, etc, involved), but the inclusion of such at the point of the story in which it is introduced–and the way in which it is introduced and so not cleverly continued–almost read like two disparate files had been accidentally joined and no one noticed. Very disappointing from such a promising beginning.

    Now, just for you, Wave:

    I did enjoy the contemporary part of the book–Cash, his wife and their interactions with Julian and Ryan. I guess the Kevin Winters and “Velvet Steam” perfume chicks were put there to show just how utterly brilliant Julian and Cash were–oh no, not just pretty boys, these!

    Where it started to fall apart for me was in the seduction/sex scenes. It seemed as though Ryan and Julian’s names were switched, that their personalities had done a complete 180. Not only was the dynamic opposite, but suddenly Julian just couldn’t exist without bedding Ryan? Mr-6-weeks-is-too-soon-to-sex??? And that “clean” business? We won’t even go there. Oy friggin’ vey!

    Have you ever met a clingy wife/girlfriend of a young active duty soldier? I kid you not, some times these SOs will go to the Mental Health station on post and come up with all sorts of “reasons” why their soldier shouldn’t “have to” participate in field training (ie, be away from them for more than 24 hours). It’s crazy and stupid and drives everyone up the gorram wall. And it happens every single time the soldier is going to the field. That is what Julian reminded me of after their paranormal adventure.

    I’ve only read one other of Mary Calmes’ books, Timing. I thoroughly enjoyed it, though not enough to have purchased any others. Having just read Lynn’s review of Timing, and agreeing with most of her niggles, I now understand why.

    Perhaps Ms Calmes should read Truth in the Dark to see how imperfect characters can create the most compelling stories. I’ll remember Naef in a year; not so with Julian and Ryan, pretty though they may be.

    • Somehow I thought we would agree on this one. LOL

      As I said in the review, the paranormal aspect of the story totally spoiled it for me and I LOVE paranormals. How did you like the sword play? This story was unintentionally funny and I kept giggling in all the wrong places.

      Maybe the two protags were switched at birth – the characterizations were unbelievable as in most of this author’s books. I reviewed her series A Matter of Time which just about everyone else loved and I felt as if I had wandered into Wonderland.

      As you said, Truth in the Dark is an excellent example of what an author can do with imperfect characters and I would buy Amy’s books without reading a single review.

      Thanks for posting this Budajsguy. I thought I was crazy when I saw all the other 5 star reviews of this book. 🙂 Maybe you should review for this site.

  • Of course Ryan is a former international model. Of course he’s stunning and unbelievably charismatic.

    Thanks for the review – I saw this book at Dreamspinner and considered buying it in case I’d been too harsh on Mary Calmes in the past – had I read her previous books on a bad day? What was I missing that everyone else seemed to love? Doesn’t sound like I’m missing anything. I’ll be giving this one a miss.

    • Hi Christa
      I must warn you that my review is probably the only negative one you’ll find because just about everyone else gave this book 5 or maybe 10 stars.

      Of course Ryan is a former international model. Of course he’s stunning and unbelievably charismatic

      You like that? 🙂 I was trying to be kind but I’m very tired of all the ‘beautiful people’ in this author’s books. I hope that someday she will give the fans and others three dimensional flawed characters who are complex, and who have some real issues they are facing. I think that the true test of an author is one who can write characters that you may hate but still come away loving the book.

      • It is so funny Wave, just yesterday I was contemplating why I keep coming back to Mary Calmes’ books when constant Mary Sues ( or would it be Gary Stues?) and god like beatiful people irritate the crap out of me. And yes, I bought this one and yes I read it. And the only answer I can come up with is that I think her writing is fun and addictive. But I cannot help but imagine how much better imo her stories would have been if she just wrote flawed characters which resonated as more realistic portrayal. I mean, I get that romance characters are not supposed to look ugly, I do. But how about making your character look cute, boy next door type of thing, instead of God like perfection?

        Oh god forbid how about making your guy look ordinary or not concentrating on his looks at all and just make readers fell in love with his personality? Sigh, I guess too much to ask and of course people with disabilities just do not exist in the books by her that I read of course. I have not read A matter of time series, but I think I have read everything else.

        Oh and does anybody else think that Ryan’s constantly changing colour eyes would be a little creepy?

        • Hi Sirius
          I know what you mean. Her writing is addictive. I wasn’t going to review this book after A Matter of Time 🙂 but I thought that she must have made some changes in her characterizations since she wrote those books. Not a chance! However, I must say that at times I was fascinated – sometimes in a good way and sometimes I said to myself “I can’t believe this”

          But how about making your character look cute, boy next door type of thing, instead of God like perfection?

          Oh god forbid how about making your guy look ordinary or not concentrating on his looks at all and just make readers fell in love with his personality?

          If she makes her characters like the guy next door then she would have to actually be creative and find situations for him that do not require him to be a god. LOL

          Sigh, I guess too much to ask and of course people with disabilities just do not exist in the books by her that I read of course

          I can’t remember anyone with a disability in A Matter of Time but at least in His Hearth she had a black character – he didn’t have much of a role because he was one of her “walk on” characters, but at least he was in the book. 🙂

          There is no doublt that this is a talented author, and she has legions of fans, I just wish she would write a book that resonates that I will remember fondly in a year from now.

          Re Ryan’s eyes, I thought I had said enough about the book that wasn’t complimentary so I didn’t want to heap that on as well. 🙁

          Thanks for commenting Sirius. Maybe you should post a review on ARe. 🙂

  • Hi Sherry
    I enjoyed a couple of the books in A Matter of Time. His Hearth would have been more enjoyable to me if the fantasy theme were not part of the book because I don’t believe that it was fully developed. Fantasy is the first genre I ever read so I’m quite familiar with many aspects of the characterizations and plots – this book did not meet my expectations.

    However many other reviewers have rated His Hearth higher than I have so my advice is to read reviews from those that you trust and then decide. As I said in the review, the contemporary aspects of the story (apart from the niggles mentioned) are much better than the fantasy.

  • I’m one of the fans of “Matter of Time” and Change of Heart” but the others were so-so IMO. I hesitated with this one because it just seemed to be a repeat of what she’s already produced….am gonna have to pass, I think.

    I don’t trust the rating system at ARe. I know *my* ratings are accurate based on how I felt and I usually try to put in a brief review as well…..because sometimes it seems like I’m the only one who rates something 3 or below and I want to give other readers a heads up! 🙂

    Thanks for the review; I was waiting to hear what you had to say!

  • Sims
    I understood. I just wanted to explain how I write my reviews.

    I was over at allromanceebooks and saw the 8 five star reviews but couldn’t find the actual reviews. I’ll go back and have a look later when I have the time. Obviously a lot of readers love her style and that’s a good thing when you have fans who love your work, regardless. 🙂

  • Wave,
    You don`t want to turn anyone off this book so I`ll try to be tame.:)
    This is the second book by M.Calmes I`ve read and without an at least 4,5 star rating and several good arguments it was my last.
    The first -contemporary- part of the book was overcrowded with forgettable characters,the two main characters were likeable and interesting.
    I`m not so picky about insta-love…so I lived.
    But then – the fantasy part….Ow!
    It piqued my interest with the samurai swords and I lost it almost completely a few pages later.
    This is one of the books I read til the end out of sheer horror. *LoL*
    Thank you for the review.

    • Sims
      Shame on you! You didn’t like the fantasy? 🙂
      I tried to pull my punches because I was negative about two (or maybe it was 3 of the books in the Matter of Time series) but you’re right about the fantasy part of the book – Ow!

      All of the characters in the book with no role is a typyical strategy used by this author and I’ve said enough about that before. However I’ll leave it to the readers to agree (or not) with my assessment of this book. Have another read, it might grow on you – I love Julian and Ryan. 🙂

      • You tried to pull your punches? Why?
        It`s the main-appeal of all the reviews here on your site. The honesty!
        So many other reviewers/sites write their reviews just to fulfill the expectations of readers and authors. -Look at the ratings for His Hearth at
        AllRomance. – Ridiculous!

        • Sims
          I was honest – I just didn’t want to crap all over the book because parts of it were okay. My main problem was the fantasy which didn’t work at all.

          I would never be dishonest in my reviews because that impacts on my credibility. I try to be helpful when I review a book so that the author understands why it worked or didn’t work for me. If the contemporary aspect of His Hearth was as bad as the fantasy then it would have been “game over.” I think I said throughout the review that the characterizations were unbelievable, just like those in some of her other books.

          Did it get 5 stars on AllRomance? Many books do which we rate at 3 stars or below.

          • 8 five star ratings so far.Currently the 4th place on the “highest rated list”. As I said….ridiculous!

          • Sorry Wave,
            I think you misunderstood me.
            I don`t criticize you but the other reviewers who gave the book the highest rating.
            Your review IS honest. 🙂

  • Great review, Wave. I enjoyed the author’s “A Matter of Time” series, but based on your review I think I’ll skip this one. The things you mentioned as not liking would bother me too, I think– especially the insta-love (I try to avoid insta-love stories).

    BTW, I remember the post you did on the issue of characters saying they’re ‘clean’. I was listening to a Savage Love podcast the other day, and a gay man called in asking a question about barebacking and said, “Both my partner and I are clean.” Just caught my attention because based on that post, it seemed that no one really used that term in real life, but I guess some people actually do.

    • Hi Nichem

      I hesitate to turn you off this book because I quite enjoyed a lot of it, and if the fantasy portion were better executed I would definitely have given it a higher rating. I know you enjoyed A Matter of Time and there is so much about this book that’s reminiscent of the series that you might want to give it a try. It’s quite funny and I hope that I don’t put readers off His Hearth because I tried really hard to make them understand why I couldn’t rate the book higher.

      On the insta love, some readers may say that since they worked together for 2 years on different projects it’s not the same. However, this was definitely their first romantic encounter and here was Julian – already head over heels.

      Re the poll on “When ‘clean’ has a negative connotation,” a number of gay men gave their opinion that was consistent with Stuart’s who initially emailed me about the use of this word and how it made gay men feel. It could be that this man on the show was using ‘clean’ so that listeners could relate to what he was saying, and not because he found the word acceptable. I remember after the post I received an incredible amount of emails from gay men thanking me for it.


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