Review: Justice (Leopard’s Spots #10) by Bailey Bradford

Rating: 2. stars out of 5

Justice Leopard Spots 10 coverAfter being rescued by his twin brother Preston and his brother’s mate, Nischal, Paul Hardy is suffering horribly from the aftermath of his capture and two years being tortured and sexually abused as a shifter’s “pet”.  Prior to his experience at the hands of a human trafficking ring, Paul had no idea that shifters even existed, now he can’t get their existence or his trauma out of his mind.  And with his brother mated to a  shifter, Paul can’t even escape from the day to day contact he dreads. Paul, Preston, Nischal and his brother Sabin are all headed to Colorado and the snow leopard family compound hoping to find sanctuary and therapy for Paul.

Snow leopard shifter Justice Chalmers and his sister Vivian are traveling to Grandma Marybeth’s place in Colorado.  Justice was working at his dream job of being a police officer in Phoenix, Arizona when the call went out from his family about a human with a connection to them needing help immediately.  That call irequired Viv with her new therapy license to travel to Colorado and she doesn’t drive.  So Justice is currently on leave to drive his sister to their family compound.  Justice knows that there is more to the story than they have been told and his experiences as a Marine and cop, tell him to be on his guard.

A chance meeting between Paul and Justice on the road to Colorado changes the lives of both men permanently as Paul turns out to be Justice’s mate.  But their future together is cloudy.  Paul is severely damaged from his years of abuse and his abusers want their pet back.  Can Justice and Paul fight their way to happiness or will Paul’s past bring them both down?

Well, here we are at book ten in the Leopard’s Spots series and I am just as conflicted about this series as I was at book one, perhaps even more so.  To reach the tenth book in a series is sort of a benchmark for an author, an occasion to bring various plot strands together and move the entire series forward with new vigor, purpose and cohesion.  And I wish I could report that sort of growth happened here with Justice but it didn’t. There are so many missed opportunities here, so much jumbled nonsense, and quite frankly irresponsible writing that it is hard to know where to start.

Just the title alone starts the book off in a misleading fashion.  The book is called Justice but it really should be called Paul as it revolves around Paul Hardy, twin brother to Preston Hardy, Nischal’s mate  in book nine.  Justice almost serves as a secondary character here and the book suffers from that element.

Then the trajectory of the book really goes askew with the character of Paul and the author’s treatment of his traumatized state.  Back history for a moment.  Paul was captured two years ago (Nischal, Leopard’s Spots #9) by human slave traders and sold to a pack of wolf shifters keeping humans as pets.  For two unrelenting years, Paul was tortured,in every way possible from being sexually abused included gang rapes, being raped by the shifters in wolf form. Paul was tortured mentally, emotionally, and physically until he was broken so throughly that he could not even look his brother in the eyes or raise his head when rescued.  The author supplies us with all these facts and much more, although thankfully no explicit scenes of torture.  No, the reader gets flashbacks, nightmares, and stories about his numerous scars to help cobble together a picture of his time with his torturers.  Bradford wants us to believe in Paul’s traumatized state and at the beginning we do.

When we first meet Paul, the character is having multiple, desperate sexual encounters while feeling nothing. He is acting without consideration of his own safety and physical well being, trying to see if he can get himself killed without actually having to do the job himself.  His actions are understandable and the compassion the reader feels for this character is well grounded in reality.  Then he meets Justice and Viv and all that flies out the door.  Why?  Because of mates and sex, the bandaid of bandaids.  Sigh.

Apparently with Justice, he wants to have sex with a shifter, lots of it (although to be fair, it is mentioned that Justice being a snow leopard shifter instead of a wolf makes some difference).  Not only that but Paul has five therapy sessions, yes only five, with Viv, who just graduated and got her license and he’s soooooo much better.  No mention is made of a new therapist having the experience to deal with someone as traumatized as Paul.  Nope, he just improves rapidly.  Not 100 percent, as he still has flashbacks and nightmares but nothing so substantial as to immobilize him.  Now balance that picture against the one that the author built up for Paul in captivity.  It just doesn’t match up.  If the author wants the reader to buy in on Paul’s past and the horrors he endured then there is a reasonable expectation on the reader’s part that his recovery would be just as slow, hard and realistic  to deal with all the things that were done to him and that he was forced to do.

But that doesn’t happen.  Instead Bradford uses the mating urge to slap a bandage over the pain and scars left by the experience.  It’s slapdash and insufficient, believe me.  Shortcuts rarely work in fiction, and this one certainly doesn’t. Instead the reader feels as shortchanged as they should by being denied the satisfaction of seeing Paul slowly work through the horrendous events and traumas of the past two years.  That just isn’t a missed step, that a whole Marianna Trench!

And this type of plot device and jumbled narrative happens over and over again.  A wolf shifter named Cliff pops up like some vengeful enforcer but does his thing “off stage” as it were.  Totally unsatisfying too.  His captors come after  Paul again and Justice acts with such unbelievable stupidity for someone whose character was portrayed as a Marine for 10 years and then a cop, that I almost thought that Bradford had shifted the story over to a parody.  Totally lacking in any authenticity, watching Justice in action was similar to watching those actors run into spooky houses on Scary Movie.

And after all this nonsense, the author ends it with a cryptic message and not much else.  Trust me when I say my head hurts from banging it against the wall in frustration over this story, series and author.  So much promise is thrown away so casually and repeatedly over a series of ten books that it boggles my mind.  And still I want to know where this series is going and how much worse is it going to get.  I expect that the answer is much, much, worse.

How to balance an author who gets the reader to commit to believing in a character’s degradation and two year ordeal only to see that author then negate that commitment by not treating it seriously? And all within a framework of ideas that remain compelling and new? I just don’t know.  As I said I am conflicted over this series and author and so I am not even going to say whether I will recommend this or not.  I will leave it up to you.  But if you continue on as I will, get yourself prepared to encounter all sorts of frustrations and puzzling events and characters.  This is a wild grab bag of story elements and I never know what will appear.  Consider yourself informed.

Book Details:

ebook, 145 pages
Expected publication: October 4th 2013 by Total-E-Bound Publishing

Cover art by Posh Gosh is gorgeous as always. Models are on target and perfectly represent the characters involved. Just beautiful.

Here are the books in the Leopard’s Spots series in the order they were written and should be read (mostly)

Levi (Leopard’s Spots, #1)
Oscar (Leopard’s Spots, #2)
Timothy (Leopard’s Spots, #3)
Isaiah (Leopard’s Spots #4)
Gilbert (Leopard’s Spots #5)
Esau (Leopard’s Spots #6)
Sullivan (Leopard’s Spots, #7)
Wesley (Leopard’s Spots, #8)
Nischal (Leopard’s Spots, #9)

Review: Dominant Predator (The Borders War #2) by S.A. McAuley

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Dominant Predator coverIt’s the year 2558 and the various governments that rose after the last world war (also known as the Borders War) had come together at their first attempt to revive the Olympic Games.  But instead of peace,  a revolution was started. With one bullet Merq Grayson both assassinated the Premier of an opposing nation and ignited the Borders War once more.  Merq was prepared to die in the aftermath of the assassination, instead, to his shock, the one man who has been both his lover and his enemy for 14 years saves him.  Armise Darcan,  the Dark Ops officer from the People’s Republic of Singapore and the only equal Merq has ever known, defects in order to save his lover and enemy from death.

Now on the same side for the first time, Merq and Armise work together at the behest of the President. Their mission? To save Merq’s parents from the forces of the Opposition and assassinate those on the Committee who have defected to the Opposition’s side. But the Revolution is taking extreme losses from the forces of the Opposition and neither man is sure who to trust even within the Revolution itself.

Merq is also seeing first hand the effects of a stratified population, the extreme poor and the extremely wealthy.  Always so focused upon his missions, Merq had never really seen what the years of fighting had done to the people outside the political bunkers and now he is horrified by the blinders he so willingly wore.  Merq is evaluating not only himself but Armise too.  Armise gave up everything for Merq but is Merq prepared for what that means emotionally as well as physically?  Can two dominant predators come together, trusting each other fully in order to survive the Revolution and the resurrection of the Borders War?

What an incredible series and group of characters S.A. McAuley is giving us.  First introduced in the brutal story, One Breathe One Bullet, Merq Greysonand Armise Darcan are two black op snipers who have been going at each other head to head for over fourteen years from two opposing  countries.  Merq Grayson is a Peacemaker from the Continental States and Armise Darcan, a Black Ops from the People’s Republic of Singapore. In a beautiful twist, McAuley also makes them lovers for most of their careers as well as enemies.  Even when slicing each other open, they harbor intense feelings for each other that they are afraid to name.  I love the manner in which the author delivers this intense, intimate battle between Merq and Armise to the reader in scenes so vivid, so animalistic that they almost explode off the page one incendiary line after another.   It’s white hot, elemental and oh so sexy.

In Dominant Predator, S. A. McAuley also starts to flesh out the back histories for Merq and Armise that had been mostly absent in the first novel. Here we learn for the first time that both men have been genetically modified, something that had been only hinted at before.  But now we learn that the modifications are not only extreme but their nature is also unknown to the men they were made on.  Neither Merq or Armise realize the full extent to which their bodies have been modified, they don’t know exactly how they are affected and what all the modifications can and will do to them.  Merq, in fact, was modified while in the womb, an outlawed procedure.  And both men don’t know how and where the modifications were made.  The knowledge raises more questions about the two men than are answered by this installment.  And that is something this author does again and again.  McAuley dishes out information like specialized ammunition, in small increments and only when it will be the most explosive to the narrative, upping the level of anticipation and anxiety at the same time.

Both the plot and the characterizations are each others equal, much like Merq and Armise.  McAuley lays a web of deceit over all that transpires here, leaving the men to navigate a labrynth of intrigue so convoluted that everyone Merq and Armise is working for and against may change sides and loyalties almost instantaneously.  We as well as Merq and Armise are never sure who is the good guy and who is bad or if there is even such a thing anymore.  It is all dissolving before their eyes, all the rationale they were given, the certainty that the answers they had were real, nothing is as it seems.  Really, McAuley has created a world of smoke and mirrors  that will confound all who walk in it, including two “genetmod” snipers who find they only have each other to trust and rely on.

But the true heart of this story (and series) is the bond between Merq and Armise.  It’s a bond so strong, so magnetic that even the men don’t understand it and never have.  Even when the sex between them was as much a weapon as it was a release, the connection between the two continued to grow in strength and depth.  And now they are both on the same side, fighting for the Revolution, because Armise won’t be denied his spot at Merq’s side any longer.  Both men must move forward into the future together if they are to have one.  And that’s powerful stuff, indeed.

S.A. McAuley has promised five books for this series and is currently working on the third.  But will it be enough?  Merq and Armise are mesmerizing, larger than life personalities. In the past both men have also felt invulnerable but that is fading away along with Merq’s certainties about the men who have commanded his loyalties and the missions they sent him on.  Reality is setting in and I can’t wait to see where it takes Merq and Armise.  What a journey it has been already and the promise of much more to come from this amazing author will be worth the wait. Here is a taste of what to expect:

“You’ll never be stronger than I am, Merq,” Armise stated, the movement of his throat causing the blade to cut in farther. I eased the steel just a fraction away from his skin. He pressed his neck into the blade—with each centimetre of movement I was forced to either move the knife with him or to deepen the mark where his blood beaded—until his lips were nearly on mine. I relented, letting the steel fall away from his neck, but I spun the handle and gripped it in my fist.

Armise dipped his head down and rubbed his freshly shaven cheek over my lips and along my jaw. The feeling of it was foreign, his scent familiar, the desire now thrumming through me unavoidable.

“But,” he whispered against my skin, “that is why I’m here. We fight together and the world has no choice but to drop to their knees and beg for mercy.” I arched into him, and inhaled the fading scent of Singaporean balms, of him. I bit at his earlobe and scratched my jaw along his. “Mercy which neither of us is likely to give.” Armise dragged his lips across my neck and down to my collarbone and nipped at the fabric of my T-shirt. “Put the knife down, Merq,” he urged. His hands tugged at the hem of my shirt. “And take this off.”

If you are not familiar with this series, start at the beginning.  That’s a must if you are to understand the universe  McAuley is building and the men that stride across it like giants.  It’s compelling, it’s addictive and a must read on every level.

Cover art by Posh Gosh. This cover is just incredible, including the tattoo that has so much meaning for Merq and Armise.  It will be in my list of Best of 2013 this year.

One Breathe One Bullet (The Borders War #1)
Dominant Predator (The Borders War #2)

Book Details:

ebook, 137 pages
Expected publication: September 20th 2013 by Total-E-Bound
ISBN13 9781781844588
edition language English
series The Border Wars

Dog Days of Summer and the Week Ahead in Reviews

Canis Major Dog StarHere it is mid – August and the Dog Days of  Summer are almost over.  I know many of you have heard the term but do you really know where it came from?  I know that some of you are looking at your four pawed companions panting away the summer heat beside you, whether on shared walks or just sitting together in the backyard. One look at how the heat is affecting them, and I am sure you think “ah, dog days indeed.” But to understand where the term Dog Days of Summer, you must look to the sky.  The night sky that is and the Dog Star, Sirius, the brightest star above (no, we are not talking about the Sun right now).

Osiris

The Egyptians called Sirius the dog star after their god Osirus, whose head in pictograms resembled that of a dog.  In Egypt, and in ancient Rome, Sirius was in conjunction with the Sun in the summer (ie. it was up in the sky at the same time as the Sun) and ancient Egyptians and Romans argued that it was responsible for the summer heat by adding its heat to the heat from the Sun. Those in ancient times called the period of time from 20 days before to 20 days after the conjunction “the dog days of summer” because it coincidentally fell at the time of year when it was very hot.

The Dog Days of Summer start around July 7th ( I have also seen July 3rd at the start date as well) and runs until August 18th, normally the time in the Northern Hemisphere when it is the hottest.  It is the time we head for the beach, the air-conditioning, anywhere but the office.  It is also a great time to catch up on your reading and make headway on your “to be read” pile. Here are some books and one great series (Wicked’s Way by Haven Fellows) that you will want to add to the list.

Monday, Augusts 12, 2013:                   Nischal by Bailey Bradford

Tuesday, August 13, 2013:                     Wicked Incarceration by Haven Fellows

Wed., August 14, 2013:                           Wicked Guidance by Haven Fellows

Thursday, August 15, 2013                   Guest Blog by Haven Fellows

Friday, August 16, 2013                          Fall For Me by Ann Lister

Saturday, August 17, 2013:                   Home Sweet Home by TA Chase

Sirius

I will leave you all with two quotes about the dog days of summer.  Both perfection in tone and ability to paint a portrait of this time of year.

“Sophia and Grandmother sat down by the shore to discuss the matter further. It was a pretty day, and the sea was running a long, windless swell. It was on days just like this–dog days–that boats went sailing off all by themselves. Large, alien objects made their way in from sea, certain things sank and others rose, milk soured, and dragonflies danced in desperation. Lizards were not afraid. When the moon came up, red spiders mated on uninhabited skerries, where the rock became an unbroken carpet of tiny, ecstatic spiders.”
― Tove Jansson, The Summer Book

“The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.”
― Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

Review: One Breath One Bullet (The Borders War #1) by S.A. McAuley

Rating: 5 stars out of  5

One Breathe One BulletThree hundred years of the Borders War has seen the world reduced to five nations.  In the year 2548, a treaty was signed ending the war, and ensuring a peace between countries, at least on the surface.  Now in the year 2558, all nationalities have gathered for the first Olympic games since the war started.  Attention from the world media and citizens are focused on two men and one competition, the Rifle competition which pits soldiers from each army against the other, this time in tournament rather than battle.   And one duel has been raised above them all, that between the Dark Ops officer from the People’s Republic of Singapore, Armise Darcan and  the Continental States Peacemaker Merq Grayson.

Both men were trained from the very youngest of age to be the most highly skilled and dedicated soldier possible, and the most accurate sniper each side produced.  On mission after mission throughout the Borders War Merq and  Armise battled each other as they pursued the goals of their own countries, neither coming out ahead of the other.  And now they face each other once more, only this time on the field of competition.  But while their relationship has always been one of violence and physical brutality, they have also hidden another aspect to their relationship, one neither truly understands but is compelled to continue.

Against the backdrop of peace and the Olympic Games, another conflict is playing out, one that will have consequences not just for Merq and Armise but for the world they live in.  Only their skills and maybe something more will keep both men alive to survive another day.

One Breath One Bullet is only 80 pages long but within its small frame it packs a much larger punch and more powerful story than I could have imagined.  S.A. McAuley has created a world where war has raged for over three hundred years, with devastating results, wiping out half the world populations, reducing the planet’s air to a toxic cloud and numerous environs to desert unfit for human habitation.  McAuley’s descriptions paint a grim and despairing picture of the cost of prolonged warfare on both the planet and it citizens.  It’s a gritty, noxious universe and the author makes it horribly real in every aspect.

This is an intense story and at its heart are the two soldiers from opposing countries and ideologies. Despite being on opposing sides, Merq Grayson and Armise Darcan have much in common.  They are close in age and physique, even closer in their mentalities and emotional makeup.  These are brutal, dangerous predators masquerading as highly skilled soldiers at the top of their professions and yet, they are also something far more. Merq and Armise are also highly complicated personalities with more layers than can be described.  They will dishearten you with their characters and then turn around and astonish you with surprises.  McAuley has created, in Merq and Armise, two characters so real and memorable, that you will be insatiable in your need for more than just these 80 pages and luckily we will get them.

The story is told from Merq’s pov and jumps time periods from mission to mission.  Through Merq’s perspective, we see the world as it has become and watch the past as the two men compete to complete a search for an object both countries desperately want to acquire.  The real measure of each man slowly seeps out like a small blood trail the reader must follow to get to the truth behind the facades erected by man and nation.  Those expecting a romantic love story will be disappointed as the relationship between these men is not for the faint hearted but authentic to the characters we are slowly coming to know.  I don’t think I can adequately describe how compelling these brutal, war hardened men become or how thrilling and suspenseful the plot turns involved.  There are some beautiful twists and turns involved that just make this story and its characters all the more amazing considering the length of the book.

McAuley has created a three page Index at the end of the book detailing time lines, characters, glossary etc.  I am not a fan of this element as readers of my reviews already know.  Happily, I can report it is not necessary to refer to the Index to understand the basics of the world the author has created or some of the war weaponry used in the conflict.  McAuley folds that necessary information into the story just as it should be, making those pages interesting but optional.

One Breath, One Bullet is the opening salvo to a new series, The Borders War and I, for one, can’t wait for more.  The men, their world, and the events to come are deserving of a grand scale series to equal their measure.  I am confident in S.A. McAuley’s ability to deliver it.  Consider this a must have, must read and look for it on the Best of lists at the end of the year.

This is how the sage begins:

I hated the heat of the desert.

The mask on my face was confining, filling with the condensation of each breath I dragged into my lungs and forced back out in shallow gasps. The goggles over my eyes should have protected me from the yellow and grey cloud of Chemsense the Dark Continental Republic Army had unleashed on our battalion, but I could feel my eyes watering, the liquid gathering in pools that threatened to make my skin too damp to maintain the protective seal.

I was on my knees and I couldn’t remember when I’d stopped walking. I wasn’t far enough away yet. The shouts of the DCR soldiers—and the sonicpops of their weapons as they picked off States soldiers—were muffled but still too close. My body tilted, and I planted my hands into the sand without thought. I collapsed into the dune when my right shoulder ground together, bone against bone, tendons ripping. I thought those DCR goons had only managed to dislocate it, but this pain was worse than that—a grinding impact of racking, vision-blackening pain that didn’t ebb even when I flopped onto my back and let my arm lie unmoving in the scorching sand.

My mantra, pounded into me through years of training, repeated in my head as I consciously stilled my body.

One breath.

Inhale.

Hesitation is my enemy.

Solitude my ally.

Death the only real victory.

Exhale.

Cover art by Posh Gosh is disappointing.  Who is that cover model supposed to be?  And that modern shirt?  So many missed opportunities to do justice for such an incredible book.

Book Details:

ebook, 88 pages (includes excerpt from another Total E-Bound book)
Published June 3rd 2013 by Total-E-Bound
ISBN 1781843317 (ISBN13: 9781781843314)
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.total-e-bound.com/product.asp?strParents=&CAT_ID=&P_ID=2133
seriesThe Borders War #1

Review: Moments by R.J. Scott

Rating: 4.25 stars

Moments coverJacob Riley, star of the time traveling TV series End Game has messed up again.  Issues with drug addiction, alcohol and sex have left Jacob Riley disenfranchised from all around him, family, friends, even business associates.  Jacob has done jail time and been in and out of rehabilitation clinics to little affect on him and further disillusionment to those desperately trying to help him.  Jacob remains deep in denial about taking responsibility for his current situation as he is arrested again.  Now his TV series is on hiatus and his career foundering because of his self destructive habits and bad attitude. No one wants to continue working with him and his father sees only one way out for his son.  That would be Mac’s , an education and support center located in the low income  area of L.A. run by Ethan Myers.

Ethan Myers opened Mac’s as a way to deal with the death of his partner and to  continue contributing to the needs of those around him, just as his partner Mac would have wanted.  But while Mac’s is successful in its mission, Ethan and the center face numerous problems from the safety inspector who wants to shut them down because of needed repairs to the gang members hanging around the area.  Ethan Myers thinks the last thing he needs to deal with is a spoiled, drug addled brat of an actor but the check Jacob’s father hands Ethan is too big and too necessary for their survival to turn down.

The first meeting is nothing but a clash of wills and preconceptions with the first round going to Ethan.  But there is four months to get through and neither man wants to admit his growing attraction to the other.  Between strong wills and need, will Jacob learn to accept that love and responsibility is the key to his future or  will his past pull him and Ethan down for good?

RJ Scott has a clear eyed view of addiction and its effects on the person in the center but all of those around them.  Moments pulls us into the ugly mindset of Jacob at the beginning of the story, making it clear to the reader what his self destructive life style is costing him and how it is hurting those next to him.  Jacob is deep in self denial, easily placing the blame for all his problems everywhere but where it belongs, on himself.  Jacob is a dislikable piece of work, and Scott has done her homework on addictions when creating a portrait of a man whose life is spiraling out of control.  It is realistic, and absolutely believable.  It will take half the story before the reader will start to connect with Jacob but we do and then we start to hope that he will find his way clear.

Scott’s other characters are equally complex and endearing, from Ethan to those secondary characters whose lives are enriched by Mac’s. Scott gives the reader a real feel for the spirit of community that exists in such a situation as well as the dangers that are inherent by locating the center near active gang influences.  The author has a number of plot threads in motion in the story, almost too many to fully explore in this length book. I could wish that the gang element had been enlarged, especially considering the importance it plays in the lives of three characters so central to  the story.  Certain gang members appear, act accordingly as gangs would and then disappear for the rest of the novel.  And another surprising element occurs late in the story with no hint that it might occur earlier in the narrative.  It would have been nice to have laid a foundation for such actions earlier because for me to have that person act as they did made no sense as far as their personality and character was concerned.  Sorry to be vague, but necessary so as not to give away any spoilers.

But those concerns aside, Moments has a terrific story to tell and RJ Scott delivers it concisely, and with great clarity about her subject.  I connected with these characters and that kept me by their sides every step of the way to the end.  Don’t hesitate to pick this one up!

Cover art by Posh Gosh is lovely but I can’t think what it has to do with the storyline.  And yes, he has his hands on his pants, get out your glasses!

Book Details:

294 pages

ebook
Published February 25th 2013 by Total-E-Bound (first published October 23rd 2010 by Silver Publishing)

Review: Breaking the Devil by Bailey Bradford

Rating: 2 stars out of 5

Breaking the Devil civerTwelve years ago, Mack Wilson made the mistake of his life, giving his love and virginity to his best friend Justin who then threw his love back at him telling Mack he was just a youthful experiment before leaving town for good.  Justin’s hateful message left Mack a broken man unable to get past that experience and Justin.  Now Justin has returned wanting to pick up where he left off, in Mack’s bed.  And despite Mack’s pain and fury, he lets him.  But the past is still haunts Mack and Justin has many obstacles to overcome before he can reclaim the man he walked away from.

Will pride and pain stand in the way of true love or  together can Mack and Justin break the devil of a past to have the love they always dreamed of.

Normally when I finish a Bailey Bradford story (either in the Southwestern Shifters or Leopard’s Spots series), I allude to the shortness of the book as one of its faults.  Here at 127 pages, I can actually declare that Breaking the Devil is far too long.  But let’s get to the positive element of Breaking the Devil.  That would be the storyline.  I love a “lovers reunited” story as well as the next person.  I can’t wait normally to see what each author brings to such a common plot line.  Bailey Bradford has the ability to create interesting universes or flesh out cliched ones, unfortunately neither of that happens here.  But at least she started out with one guaranteed to catch ones interest.  Too bad it stayed at that level, an idea.

First the plot and the title, Breaking the Devil, which refers to a stallion Mack has been given to break.  Right away things go off course as Mack states

Inside the corral stood the meanest, foulest stallion he’d ever seen—and also the most magnificent. A huge horse, too, his size matching his nasty disposition. Mack wondered half the time why he’d ever bothered buying the damn critter. The other half of the time he admitted it was because he didn’t like anything that was easy, not in most cases, at least. While he didn’t want a horse that was going to stomp him to death, he did like a challenge.

In that paragraph, Mack has bought this stallion.  Now a mere two paragraphs later, see if you can spot the error:

“Enough already,” he scolded himself. It was a certainty that Justin hadn’t wasted years—years—dwelling on what might have been. Normally Mack didn’t think on it so heavily himself, but that angry red horse just stirred up memories. He really shouldn’t have agreed to tame the damn critter.

Yep, quickly it has changed from Mack owning the horse to Mack taming the horse for someone else and that is at the beginning of the story.  Plus Mack starts to “gentle” the horse, not break him, a huge training difference (except to an author who hasn’t done the homework).  This is one of the mildest of errors located in Breaking the Devil.  Because shortly thereafter this scene, Justin reappears and for the next 100 or so pages, they do nothing but hump like bunnies, tons of by the book sex scenes that actually lack the heat of Bradford’s other stories.

The reader is told that Justin’s leaving broke Mack (his word) but instead of exposition we get tons of sex scenes.  What happened to the storyline?  Why did Justin leave and what happened to all the anger and pain Mack storied up over 12 years?  Seemingly unimportant because we have to wait until almost the end and then get just the thinest explanation possible.  I don’t know about you but I like a story with my story.

Then there are the thin characterizations. Both characters come complete with over the top emoting and dialog more suited to Telemundo’s telenovelas. The men glare and “squeal like girls” , (again Mack’s description), ready their fists and sneer, voices hit “like daggers to the heart”, and they swoon and are consumed by love. Now keep in mind, Justin is a hardened vet, with several tours of duty behind him and Mack is 30 years old rancher and you can see the issues. Mack and Justin, and particularly Mack seem more like a conglomerate of personality traits than an actual character. Even the dialog put into Mack’s mouth is as disconnected as the aspects of his personality. He will call someone an “idjit”, then “bub” , then a countrified saying like “He asked me what was wrong when he found me in the barn, sobbing like a baby denied the tit, you know.” pops out , then Mack returns briefly to sounding like a 30 year old. Mack is a seasoned rancher but can’t stand the sight of his own blood, a real problem when just the daily chores brings more cuts than you can imagine. This might seem like a funny trait to give a character but if you are well acquainted with the chores of a ranch hand, then you know it makes no sense. Justin too never comes across in any realistic way as a Marine.

A character called Craig, a soldier with Justin, returns with Justin to help run his ranch.  We are told Craig, a fellow Marine, is dangerous, a murderer for his country (Justin’s words), etc,  and the reader starts to have expectations that Craig will figure greatly into the storyline.  Instead after considerable buildup and attention to Craig’s explosive persona, the character disappears completely.  I thought this a real misstep as Craig was far more interesting than either Justin or Mack, although more thug than Marine.

The ending finished it off for me.  I have ridden  horses all my life and owned three.  At the end of the story, Justin and Mack decide that Diablo (the stallion now has a name) will remained unbroken, that they

 “…kind of like the evil bastard like this, all angry and righteous and untamed. He’s beautiful, like raw power set free on this earth, and I know it sounds silly probably, but I just would hate to see his spirit lessened from this brilliant, fiery sun to a dim glow.

*head desk*

And  all I could think was really? How was the horse to get groomed? Or the vet to give him the necessary shots or float his teeth when the horse can’t be touched?  And basically they didn’t “break the devil” after all.  So much for the title and so much for any type of research. All dumped in favor of an unrealistic ending to a mess of a book, more a collection of cliches than actual realized plot.  Give this book a pass even if you like Bailey Bradford’s stories because there isn’t one here.

Cover art by Posh Gosh is lovely but just as over the top as the storyline.

Book Details:

Breaking the Devil

ISBN # 978-1-78184-315-4

©Copyright Bailey Bradford 2013

Cover Art by Posh Gosh ©Copyright April 2013

Edited by Eleanor Boyall Total-E-Bound Publishing

Previously published by Loose id in 2009 at 66 pages. Skip that version too.

Endangered LGBTQ Youth, Books Proceeds, and the Week Ahead in Reviews

Tis the season for winding down of the school year and various holidays,  Mothers Day and Fathers Day among them.  And while there are many families out there celebrating their love for one another, there are also many children, including 40 percent of LGBT youth*, who will be spending these holidays out on the streets, abandoned by the very families who should be their mental, emotional, and physical support.

The current fiscal situation at the Federal and local government levels has been devastating to the few shelters currently operating and a hindrance in opening new badly needed shelters and group homes.  In our area, a bright light has been the opening of a new LGBT shelter, Promise Place, on the Washington, DC/Prince Georges County, MD line.  But on the flip side, the Wanda Alston House is in dire need of donations and assistance in order to continue.  And the same can be said for the Ali Forney Center in NYC, whose outreach building was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy last year.

Every day we hear more about bullied or harassed gay youth in the  media, the politicians make speeches and little seems to be done at the practical level.  We  need more legislation, more enforcement of said legislation, and just an increase in overall awareness of the fragility of LGBTQ youth in our society today.

Luckily, there are a number of M/M authors who are helping the cause with donations of royalties from their books.  I will be listing some of them here.  If you know of others, please let me know and I will add them to my list.  This week, editor Kris Jacen introduced the anthology Lost and Found by Featherlight Press.  Her announcement and the book details are listed below.  I have not read it as yet but its on my list to do so.  If you have read it, and want to post a review, contact me.  Also listed is Sue Brown’s book, The Sky Is Dead, recently reviewed here and a must read recommendation for me.  Sue Brown is also donating proceeds of that book, here is her comment:

Thank you so much for the review. Your review highlights many of the issues LGBTQ kids face. The royalties from this book are going to The Albert Kennedy Trust, a UK charity supporting homeless LGBT kids.

And Kris Jacen on the Lost and Found Anthology:

From Kris Jacen, editor to various M/M author websites:
Hi all,
Some might know, others might not, but I’ve been working with ten very talented authors on an anthology entitled, Lost and Found. The book released last night from Featherweight Press. All of the stories deal have the theme of hope for those teens that are kicked out/told they don’t matter by their families for being who they are or loving who they love. Each author (and me) is donating their royalties to charity. Below is my editor’s note from the front of the anthology. I hope you pick up a copy or help spread the word so that we can make the most of the donation to help these homeless LGBT teens.

Lost and Found http://www.featherweightpublishing.com/ShowBook.php?YA=ANTH_LOSTNFND
In the Fall of 2012, DH Starr approached me about Featherweight publishing an anthology that he was a part of. It was a special project being organized by Michele Montgomery. All the authors wanted to donate their royalties from the anthology to charity. They wanted the monies to go to a specific cause—they wanted the money to go to a charity that worked with LGBT homeless teens.
The inspiration for the anthology was a picture that they had seen with the text over the image that said “40% of homeless youth are LGBT. The #1 reason they’re on the streets in family rejection.”
Once we got to final editing stages we realized, we didn’t know WHICH charity to donate the monies to. There are so many great charities out there working with LGBT youth that we weren’t sure which to choose. We wanted to make sure that no matter how much, it would make a difference. So the search was on.
I was pleasantly surprised to come across one that had the name of the anthology almost exactly—Lost-n-Found Youth, Inc. It seemed like fate talking to me and after speaking with one of the board members, I was convinced of it. You see the board member told me that the day before we spoke, they received a call from a teen that had been on vacation with his parents and when they found a gay romance on his eReader, they left him on the side of the road. Yes, you read that correctly, abandoned him for reading a gay romance.
Our hope is that with these stories, these teens realize that there are many out there that care about them. That no matter what anyone says—THEY MATTER.

~~~
Kris Jacen
Executive Editor
ManLoveRomance Press http://www.mlrpress.com
Passion in Print Press http://www.passioninprint.com
Featherweight Press http://www.featherweightpublishing.com

So I am making a list of books whose proceeds or part of their proceeds will be donated to LGBTQ youth shelters and organizations.  I know I am missing quite a few so help me fill in the list and send me the names and publishers.  Here are the first two  three books to start the list:

Finding a Dream coverFinding a Dream by  SJ Frost

Bullied and harassed at school for his sexuality, Dillon Davis can’t see his life getting any better, but he can see it getting worse. Depressed, wounded in spirit and body, he’s nearing a point of hopelessness, until he sees a picture of his favorite stage actor, Brandon Alexander, with his partner, Shunichi Miyamoto. At learning Shunichi runs a karate dojo, a spark of hope comes to Dillon of learning to defend himself, and most of all, meeting Brandon.

Brandon Alexander is filled with compassion for Dillon the moment he meets him. He knows all too well what it’s like to be scorned for being gay. He and Shunichi want nothing more than to help him, but when Dillon never returns to the dojo, they fear what’s happened to him

Per SJ Frost: “Kris Jacen and I are donating our royalties from this story to The Trevor Project.It’s with the support of all who buy this book that we’re able to do this, and from both of us to you, thank you, so very much, for joining with us in giving to those in need.”

ebook, 79 pages

Published December 28th 2010 by MLR Press
ISBN139781608202829
edition languageEnglish
original titleFinding a Dream
settingChicago, I

 

 

Lost and Found coverLost and Found Anthology:

Lost and Found (from the Goodreads website):
by Kris Jacen (Editor), MF Kays, T.A. Webb (Goodreads Author), Tabatha Hart, Dakota Chase, Caitlin Ricci (Goodreads Author), Jeff Erno (Goodreads Author), D.C. Juris
*Some statistics say that 40% of all homeless teens are GLBT. They’re on the streets after their families have thrown them away, told them that they don’t matter, that they’re not normal. Well, guess what? Those families are wrong. This collection of stories by ten talented authors spans the spectrum (historical, paranormal, transgender, cutter, gay) to show that – it’s okay, there are people out there that care, and these teens are perfect just the way they are.

All royalties from this anthology are being donated to Lost-n-Found Youth in Atlanta, Georgia. A wonderful charity working with these teens, helping them find their new place and get on their feet.
Paperback, 421 pages
Expected publication: May 31st 2013 by Featherweight Press
ISBN139781608208661
urlhttp://www.featherweightpublishing.com/ShowBook.php?YA=ANTH_LOSTNFND

The Sky Is Dead coverThe Sky is Dead by Sue Brown:

Danny is young, gay, and homeless. He lives in the park, preferring to avoid attention, but when thugs confront a stranger, Danny rushes to his rescue. He and the would-be victim, Harry, form a cautious friendship that deepens months later, when Harry persuades Danny to visit his home. Daring to believe he has found happiness, Danny finds his world turned upside down yet a…more
ebook, 232 pages
Published April 17th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781623806088
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com

And now the week ahead in book reviews:

Monday, May 20:               Breaking The Devil by Bailey Bradford

Tuesday, May 21:                Noah by Ben Ryder

Wed., May 22:                     Still by Mary Calmes

Thursday, May 23:             Closet Capers Anthology

Friday< May 24:                  Isle of Where? by Sue Brown

Saturday, May 25:               Unforgiving Minute by Sarah Grainger

Review: Leaving Home (Home #4) by T.A. Chase

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Leaving Home coverPeter Skinner is now working full time for Les Hardin and Randy Hersch out at their ranch after the falling out with his family and grandfather over his sexuality.  With his family shunning him, Peter is happy to have found a home and new family with Les, Randy and their friends. But when he watches his friends, all couples and deeply in love, Peter feels acutely the lack of the same in his own life.  Peter wants someone to love and someone to love him back.  And when he does find it, Peter never expects the man to be a drunken mess collapsed in an alley.

Charles ‘Chaz’ O’Brien is in a world of pain and he has made it worse by his dependance upon painkillers and alcohol.  A top bullfighter for years, the profession has taken a severe toll on his body, the last injury to his back occurring only weeks ago.  Bullfighting is not only his profession, its his only love, and Chas will do anything to keep going on as a bullfighter.  While on a break between events, Chas gets lost in a haze of booze and pills and ends strung out in an alley.  Only the kindness of a passing stranger named Peter Skinner saves him from the drunk tank or worse.

When Peter takes Chaz home to recover, neither man expects to find themselves falling in love for the first time in their lives.  But the path to happy ever after is full of obstacles for this couple, the largest one being Chaz himself.  For Chaz and Peter, the choices ahead will be the hardest ones of their lives to make. Sometimes its not enough to find love, but it takes courage to keep hold and have faith.  What will Peter and Chaz do?

I started this series with the best book of the group, No Going Home (Home #1).  It remains my favorite of the series and I think explains why this book gets a 4 star rating, rather than the 3.5 it probably deserves.  I just fell in love with all of the characters and need to follow each to the end of their journey.  Leaving Home is the story of Peter Skinner, a young feed clerk in his grandfather’s store when we first meet him in No Going Home.  His grandfather’s homophobia cost his grandfather’s store Les and Randy’s substantial feed account , then it cost him his grandson when Peter bravely stood up for Les and Randy, and finally Peter came out as gay himself.  Even as a secondary character, there was so much heart to Peter that the readers starting asking for his story and now we finally have it.

Chaz O’Brien is another one of the group of characters in this series that center their lives around the rodeo circuit.  T.A. Chase has given us bullriders, cowboys who ride the broncs as well as bulls, and now bullfighters.  It is a neat  way to tie together events in a series and it works perfectly here.  Reoccurring characters from previous books pop up here already familiar with Chaz because they know him from the circuit. Realistic and works well within the framework Chase has set down.  The  injuries and lifestyle of the bullfighter (as well as bullrider)  is authentically related as well.  It is a tough life for those who choose to live it.  It has its wonderful moments and its aspects of horrifying pain and terror.  I think Chase does a terrific job of capturing that as well.

One aspect of the story here is that of addiction, not a spoiler as it is mentioned in the publisher’s blurb.  Leaving Home is not a long book but for one of its length, I think again Chase does a realistic job of portraying a man in denial about his addictions and ability to handle it on his own.  My only quibble is that we see his addiction but none of the recovery which would have made this story more well rounded and satisfactory.

As it is, my largest issue with this story is the ending.  It is far too abrupt for the reader to feel that they received the resolution they were looking for.  In fact, I feel that we are missing about a fourth or more of a book here.  We are already 87 percent through the story when a traumatic event happens.  That’s the penultimate chapter.  That leaves only one chapter in which to tie up all the aspects of the story and give the reader a HEA and trust me, that’s just not enough to do the story or the characters justice.  It reads and feels rushed, an all too familiar occurrence with this author lately and this series.  You only have to look at the series to watch the books shrink as it continues.  My favorite, the first story No Going Home clocks in at 296 wonderful pages.  Leaving Home? 157 pages.  Still, the Home series has my deep affections so I will be staying with it.  I still need to know what happens with Yancey and Juan.

If you are new to this author and the Home series, start at the beginning, then wind your way through the rest of the stories.  You might find that you only last part of the way or become committed to seeing it through.  Let me know what you think.  I will be here for the journey and will keep you all apprised.

Here are the Home series in the order they were written and should be read in order to understand the characters and events that occur:

No Going Home (Home #1) 5 stars 296 pages

Home of His Own (Home #2) 131 pages

Wishing For A Home (Home #3) 196 pages

Leaving Home (Home #4) 157 pages

Home Sweet Home (Home #5) 131 pages (Yancey and Juan) to be published May 27th, 2013

Reviewer Note: In the TA Chase horseshifter story The Longest Stride, characters from the Home series make several appearances, which to my thinking was substandard and the use of characters from a favorite contemporary series in a new, different shifter world was dumbfounding.  Why would you collide two totally different worlds like that?  A huge misstep by this author.  Give that book the absolute pass it deserves.

Book Details:

ebook, 157 pages
Published April 2013 by Total E Bound Publishing
ISBN
1781843074 (ISBN13: 9781781843079)
edition language
English
series Home
Book Cover by Posh Gosh has lovely men on it.  That torso is far too unscarred to be a bullfighter but the scenery is lovely.

Review: It Takes Practice by Willa Okati

Rating: 3 stars

It Takes Practice coverSeven years ago, as Nathan Rey was getting ready for his graduation from medical school, he asked his long term boyfriend for a promise.  Nathan wanted Fitz, over the top, charismatic love of his life, to be there in the audience as he received his diploma and Fitz promised.  But Fitz broke that promise and Nathan’s heart too by disappearing completely from Nathan’s life without a word or message to explain what happened.

Now it’s Dr. Nathan Rey and Nathan has a successful practice but not much else.  He remains haunted by the memory of the man who left him alone, unable to move forward into new relationships other than those of friendship.  When Nathan’s part-time nurse elopes, he needs a replacement immediately and turns to a temp agency for help.  When the agency sends a replacement, Nathan is ill prepared for the person standing before him in scrubs ready to go to work.  It’s Fitz, his lover from the past who now seems prepared to step back into Nathan’s life in every way, if only Nathan will let him.   Will Nathan be able to let go of their  past and accept the only man he has ever loved back into his life or will his pride make him refuse his second chance at love?

I am not really a fan of short stories and It Takes Practice is a perfect example why.  I am a huge fan of Willa Okati’s stories.  Her characters are always multidimensional, complete with flaws and idiosyncrasies. Okati takes the time to build up their back stories so that when the characters come together, the reader has a very good idea of who these men are and what brought them to this point in their lives.  It all makes sense, so much so that the reader buys completely into whatever story Willa Okati is trying to tell.  It doesn’t matter the age or the professions or history.  We get it and we understand why the men fall for each other.  And for me, none of that applies here.

At 59 pages, It Takes Practice comes across more as flash fiction or odds and ends of a much larger story than a work that should stand on its own.  We get the merest glimpse of Nathan and Fitz’s former lives of seven years ago, nothing to tell us about any chaos in their lives, either arguments or behavior that would make sense of his disappearance.  Certainly nothing that backs up his explanation when he reappears.  We definitely required more of their back history before jumping forward into the present.

Once we arrived at the present, again we only get a day or so in the lives of the characters.  We see briefly what  Nathan’s life has become and then, presto, Fitz is back.  We watch them interact for another day, they resolve their differences and then the epilogue.  And the epilogue?  It occurs the day after the reunion sex takes place.   Not much of an epilogue really in the sense of bringing closure, more of a couple of add on paragraphs.  The whole story just feels so unfinished, as though it was cobbled together from pages written for an incomplete book.  I can’t quite fathom that this came from the same author who gave us And Call Us In The Morning or Open Cover Before Striking, two books with astonishingly original characters and plots.  And again I believe the problems I found in this story can be traced back to the short length,  Had this book been longer in length, I think that all my issues with it would have disappeared.

So if you are a fan of lovers reunited or Willa Okati’s stories, then this is a quick read and you might want to pick this up.  But if you have never read Willa Okati’s work before, please don’t start here.  Start with two of the books I mentioned above or look through her impressive library of titles, I know you will find something to love as I did when I first found her.

Cover art by Posh Gosh, lovely man but the only thing that makes this relevant is the necklace around his neck.

Book Details:

ebook, 59 pages
Published March 25th 2013 by Total E-Bound
ISBN139781781842874
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.total-e-bound.com/product.asp?strParents=&CAT_ID=&P_ID=2078

Review: Wesley (Leopard Spots #8) by Bailey Bradford

Rating: 4.25  stars

Wesley Leopard SpotsWhen Wes Ward’s older brother Sully left home for college, Wes felt like he had lost the only friend he ever had.  Painfully shy as a child, Wes depended upon Sully for everything and Wes was unable to fill the void Sully left behind him.  Then Sully found his mate and forgot about his little brother completely.  In pain and full of bitterness, Wes turned to drugs and alcohol and his addiction almost cost him his leopard spirit.  When his parents catch him using, they send him to San Antonio and to Sully who lives there with his mate Bobby and Wes must confront his true feelings and see if he can heal the bitterness within.

It’s been two years since the vicious sexual assault Armando suffered in the club owned by Bobby and the wounds have not healed.  Armando now works at a Center for Homeless GLBT youth, helping others who were thrown out of their home like he was.  The center is his life as he cannot bear to even think about dating or getting close to another man since his rape.  Then Armando sees Wes when Wes starts to volunteer at the shelter.  Wes is almost a twin to Sully in their looks and his presence brings conflicting emotions to the surface in Wes.  Wes has hated Bobby and Sully for two years and seeing Wes makes all those memories Armando has tried to bury come out.  Equally shocking, he also finds himself attracted to Wes, an attraction Wes returns.

Both men have problems in their past they must face before either can go forward with their lives.  Wes is sure he has found his mate in Armando but can Armando put aside his hatred for Wes’ brother to see Wes for himself or will Wes be an way to revenge himself on Sully and Bobby.

This is one of the most tightly knit and well written books of the series.  Bradford’s focus is two badly damaged people and she treats both the characters and their issues with sensitivity and care.  Wes and Armando are also two of the best characters Bradford has written in a while, each having more depth and dimension than those in the past book, namely Sully and Bobby, who return here.  Wes is facing issues rare in shifters, that of drug and alcohol addiction.  Normally, shifters can’t get drunk or stoned due to their metabolism but Wes learned that certain combinations and amounts of drugs will see him either intoxicated or high.  With Wes, she paints a portrait of a young man whose poor self esteem and debilitating shyness make Wes unable to cope once his support in Sully is removed.

Given the treatment of Armando in the last book (Sullivan), I was unsure what would happen to him here but Bradford handled Armando and the trauma of his sexual assault with sensitivity and realism too.  Armando is stuck in the past, unable to go forward with his recovery for many reasons but one of the strongest is that he cannot be truthful with his therapist as to the exact nature of the assault as the predator was a shifter. So we find him two years later still having nightmares and suffering flashbacks.  He has purposely gained weight to appear unattractive and wears loose clothes, all authentic markers of abuse.  Normally Bradford fills her books with pages of mate induced sex which includes biting, claws and bloodletting.  Thankfully, most of that has been left out of a book dealing with two traumatized souls and she treats their slow path to a sexual relationship with thoughtfulness and tact.

In fact, I find this is the best book of the series if you can discount the lack of any continuing threads the previous books have established.  I think that had a little more of the themes of the series been included, this would have gotten a much higher rating.  It seems as though we are heading away from the Leopard element and more towards the wolf pack with the next in the series which I find a little disappointing as the Snow/Amur Leopard theme seemed to be  central to the series.  But if Wesley is any indication of the future of this series, than it is very bright indeed.  I can only hope for more like this one to come next.

Cover art by Posh Gosh who has done a fantastic job with the series with rich covers that are treats for the eyes.

Here is the Leopard Spots series in the order they were written and should be read (mostly):

Levi (Leopards Spots #1)

Oscar (Leopards Spots #2) read my review here.

Timothy (Leopards Spots #3) read my review here

Isaiah (Leopards Spots #4) read my review here

Gilbert (Leopards Spots #5) read my review here

Esau (Leopards Spots #6)

Sullivan (Leopards Spots #7)

Wesley (Leopards Spots #8)

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