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Men Under the Mistletoe http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/359194.Josh_Lanyon”>Josh Lanyon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Baby it’s Cold Outside<br/>A man receives the gift of pleasure at the hands of two expert lovers. Boyhood sweethearts get a second chance at romance. Two very proper gentlemen indulge their forbidden desires. And a Christmas tree farmer has an epiphany. It may be cold outside but these four holiday novellas will warm you up.Anthology includes:My True Love Gave to Me by Ava March, Winter Knights by Harper Fox, Lone Star by Josh Lanyon, The Christmas Proposition by K.A. Mitchell.

What a lovely smorgasbord of tales awaits you here in this Christmas anthology. Different eras, different circumstances, and enough confused lovers, mysteries and HEAs to satisfy the joy of the Holidays. I originally ordered just Lone Star by Josh Lanyon. But then I broke down and ordered the anthology as well. And that was the right way to go. Because I would have missed out on the stories by K.A. Mitchell, Harper Fox and Ava March if I hadn’t.

Of the 4 authors, Ava March was the one I was least familiar with. No longer. I loved her story and will seek out more by her. K. A. Mitchell is author of one of my favorite books, Collision Course. And she doesn’t disappoint here with her story that takes place on a Christmas tree farm. Loved this. And Josh Lanyon’s story of a ballet dancer returning home after a long absence is everything you expect from a Lanyon story. Memorable characters, memorable setting and multi-layered story
http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/2515670-melaniem54msn-com”>View all my reviews</a>

A Review of Someone Special by T. C. Blue

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars
T. C. Blue is a relatively new author for me and, with this book, has become a must-read author. I am such a sucker for holiday stories and here is one I will reread each Christmas season.

Here is the blurb from Torquere Press:

“Gracen loves Christmas. It’s his favorite time of the year. So much so that he works as a mall photographer for the season, taking pictures of children with Santa. There’s something about seeing all those happy families that he finds satisfying, which may be slightly odd since he’s so very alone, himself.

Working three jobs is never fun, but when Jesse takes a part time position as a greeter elf at Santa’s Workshop in the mall, he meets Gracen and realizes that maybe job number three isn’t that bad, after all. The handsome photographer appeals to him, even with all Jesse’s family issues.

Two lonely men, one Santa’s Workshop, elf costumes, curl-toed shoes and a camera. They aren’t exactly a recipe for finding that someone special… except maybe they are.”

Gracen is a wonderful character, one of many in this story. He is a successful artist who, once a year, dons another persona so he can be a store Santa workshop photographer. For a entire month, he indulges in the outfit and the happiness of the families and children he photographs. Enter Jesse, who becomes Santa’s elf as one of his 3 jobs. Overworked and complicated, everything about him calls to Gracen. There is a mystery at the center of Jesse and his sister, Jazz that makes Jesse want to keep all at a distance. But this is a story of hope and persistance and the joy of the Christmas spirit. Not sappy, no miracles just a journey of 2 people towards a relationship and a family. I loved this and so will you. I give this 4.5 stars.

So put on your elf shoes, grab a copy and settle in for a lovely read.

http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/2515670-melaniem54msn-com”>View all my reviews

Holiday Cooking and Fun Recipes

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The holidays always mean to me that wonderful food is shared with family and friends.  Bringing people together to remember the past season while creating new memories of the current Holidays, I love the planning and preparing each recipe we will serve.

Should it be something tried and true that everyone asks for? Or should we be bold and whip up something new? Perhaps with chilies?  And chocolate? Hmmm, I do love chocolate!

So in keeping with my holiday planning, I will be posting Holiday recipes for all to enjoy. Let me know what you think?  And Happy Holiday Eating!

White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake Bars

12 Oreos – crushed
2 T melted butter
3 Squares Bakers White Chocolate, divided
2-8 oz cream cheese – softened
1/2 C sugar
1 t vanilla
2 eggs
1/4 C red raspberry preserves

Heat oven to 350. Mix cookie crumbs and butter, press into bottom of 8″ square pan. Melt 2 chocolate squares as directed on package.

Beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with mixer until blended. Add metled chocolate, mix well. Add eggs one at a time, mixing on low speed after each just until blended. Pour over crust

Bake 25-28 min or until center is almost set. Cool 5 minutes; spread with preserves. Melt remaining chocolate square, drizzle over cheesecake. Cool. Refrigerate for 4 hours. Cut into 18 bars

Review of Something Different by S. A. Reid

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Far superior to the movie, Pretty Woman, it references, Something Different plots the journey of Michael Maguire as he navigates his way out of the constrictive, boring life he has made for himself for years, searching for something to make him feel alive again. Temptation and perhaps his salvation pops up in the form of rent boy James Campbell, who needs saving himself.

I loved this book. It is the first I have read by S. A. Reid but won’t be the last. The author makes you feel how suffocated Michael is by his life, unhappy and repressed in all avenues, work and family. But the characters are certainly not cardboard but fully fleshed out and breathing. Michael’s wife, Frannie, cold, self involved and materialistic could have been a one-dimentional villain but instead you understand, as does Michael, the reasons behind her actions and her words. And by the end of the book, she is likable.

James Campbell is another character who could have become cliched in other hands. But from the beginning, I loved James. He’s snarky, vulnerable, prickly, kind and aware of karma. Each character reveals layers upon layers as the story unfolds. As Michael and James start to score small and then larger victories for each other and themselves, you just want to cheer along with them until you are on your feet at the end of the book, shouting “Bravo, Bravo”. And its for Michael, James and S. A. Reid for delivering such a total delight of a book into your hands.
S. A. Reid’s Blurb for Something Different:

Tired of his life’s endless grind, family man Michael Maguire allows himself one night of deviation. Desperate for something different, he seeks a prostitute in notorious Brixton Park. But Michael, searching for a girl out of PRETTY WOMAN, instead finds blue-eyed, beautiful James Campbell. Tempted and stirred in ways he never imagined, Michael embarks on a sexual adventure with a rent boy from London’s infamous Bethnal Green. And what begins as a purely sexual exchange gradually transforms into something else, as James finds himself in desperate circumstances and Michael is moved to help. Drawn increasingly to James, Michael finds himself facing up to the iniquities in his daily life. And finally he must deal with a horror that threatens to explode Michael’s safe, conventional existence

http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/2515670-melaniem54msn-com”>View all my reviews</a>

Review of What Can Be by Mary Calmes

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http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13030951-what-can-be&#8221;
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What Can Be by Mary Calmes:From Dreamspinner Press:

“Thirteen years ago, Eli went on a summer trip with his mother and never came back. Now, existing in a new life as Jacob Somerville, he’s again running from fear and memories, only to end up where he started. As Jacob struggles to reconnect with his father and brothers, he realizes that his lover, Craig Zhao, was the only thing filling his empty heart and standing between him and ghosts of the past. It will take the power of love—from his family, from Craig, and from himself—for Jacob to see that his life truly is filled with the promise of what can be.”

I really liked What Can Be. It didn’t immediately strike me as a “Christmas story” until the very end (there isn’t a lot of Christmas trappings here). But it is a story of love, forgiveness, reconnecting and family. And isn’t that what the holiday is all about? This is a true Mary Calmes story in every way. There is angst, gorgeous men and a hard won ending. Mary’s description of Jacob’s fear and the memories he is running from are vivid and made my heart pound, she is that good. And Jacob’s lover, Craig Zhao, is the man of everyone’s dreams. I loved the characters of Jacob’s brothers, Chase and Lucas. Both are fully rounded characters that you would like to get to know in their own right.

And that is probably why this did not get 5 stars.This is a big tale, with loads of back story here waiting to be told. Jacob’s visit to see his Dad and brothers seemed at times to be rushed. Yes, yes, I know…it was a weekend after all. There is an amazing scene here when his memories hit him. This was so beautifully done that to see its effects upon his brothers and father would have been so rewarding. I would have loved to have seen the author spend more time here exploring the family dynamics. Jacob’s father was a successful businessman, sometimes at the expense of family even though he loves his boys. The brothers missed Jacob and their mother. How did the huge hole in their lives (trying not to reveal too much here) influence their growth as people. You get hints that leave you wishing for more. There is so much potential here for a wider exploration of what the loss of a brother (and mother) all those years really does to a family. This also goes for the addition of a stepmother not really liked by the brothers (I am with them here) who wants to protect her husband, turf, status quo.

So yes, I just wish Mary Calmes had made this a longer book. And I didn’t even get to those characters back in Chicago we only got a small glimpse of . Mary’s ability to create characters you want to know better, even marginal ones, is just one of the reasons she is a must read for me. And that includes this latest book of hers. Happy Holidays!

The Winter Courtship of Fur-Bearing Critters by Amy Lane (a review)

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Five stars not only for the story but for the picture and knitting instructions at the end. I laughed until I thought I would pass out. Thanks, Amy!

Now I should say in the beginning that I knit and manhandle yarn at every opportunity, so this story really sang to me. I loved the characters of Rance Crawford and Ben McCutcheon. Rance especially pulled me in. Older, isolated by sexual identity and choice in the small town of Granby, Colorado, his life is in for a upheaval when he gets a new neighbor in Ben McCutcheon. Ben also happens to be gay but handles his “gayness” in a manner totally different from Rance. His effect upon Rance from the very beginning starts to transform Rance in ways small and large.

Another main character here is knitting, yarn and the process of turning wool into something magical. I have briefly dabbled in spinning and can’t wait for Maryland’s Sheep and Wool Festival every year to indulge in my passion for all things woolen. But here I got a inside look at the Wool Mill from color cards to carders. I wanted immediately to jump into a car or plane and get to Lance’s shop for a tour. You don’t have to knit to enjoy this aspect of the book as the characters you meet there are worth the journey. But if you do knit and love yarn, then prepare yourself for this added bonus. I loved it! It made me go upstairs and pull out a project I hadn’t worked on in a while and get cranking.

So after all the gushing (really, me gushing?), where do I stand?
5 stars characterization
5 stars storyline
5 stars baby bunny butts
5 stars picture and knitting instructions (and a 5 star giggle fest)

No real angst, lots of laughter. But Amy, I really want to know what happens to Jeremy and Aiden? Any clues?

From Dreamspinner Press December 2011

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A Present In Swaddling Clothes by Andrew Grey – a review

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http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13030902-a-present-in-swaddling-clothes&#8221;
My rating: “http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/242233450″>4 of 5 stars
Dreamspinners Blurb:”Josh held baby Vivien when she took her first breath in the world, and he has loved every breath she’s taken since. Now Vivien needs a home—a “for real” forever home, and Josh would love to be the one who takes her in. But Josh’s partner, Sammy, isn’t a fan of children of any size or stamp. Will Josh have to choose between being a lover or a parent, or will Josh’s niece work her baby magic on Sammy, giving them all the best Christmas present of all?”

I found this to be a touching story. The main characters, Josh and Sammy, are a long established couple whose lives have become routine. And while they love each other, the physical aspect of their lives together has been missing recently. They are definitely a couple who needs a little disruption in their lives and that would be baby Vivien. It is the manner in which Vivien comes into their lives that really clarifies the nature of their relationship, and the meaning of friends and family. I would love to revisit them in the future for another glimpse into their lives and loved ones. A lovely read any time of the year.

http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/2515670-melaniem54msn-com”>View all my reviews</a>

Tis Better To Give Than Receive from Jess Faraday

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T’is better to give than to receive…
Posted on December 1, 2011 by speakitsname
CLICK ON THE SNOWFLAKE TO OPEN THE DOOR!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM JESS FARADAY!
The holidays are a time for giving–not just giving presents, but also giving of ourselves.
This is why for my Advent entry, I’ve decided to talk about a few charities that I think do excellent work. Just to make it interesting, there will be a drawing–but you have to read to the end to learn the details.
(1) Women for Women International
Women for Women International provides women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency. The organization provides financial aid, job training, rights awareness and leadership education.
The women who complete the 1-year program go on to start businesses, support their families, send their children to school, and become community leaders.
You can donate or sponsor an individual woman for the course of her one-year program. “When you educate woman, you educate a nation.” (Ghanaian saying).
(2) The Search Dog Foundation
The Search Dog Foundation rescues shelter dogs, trains them to become FEMA-certified search-and-rescue dogs, and pairs them with firefighters to form disaster response teams. Search Dog Foundation dogs have sniffed out survivors at 9/11, Katrina, tsunami-ravaged Japan, and other disaster sites.
Many of the characteristics that land dogs in shelters and make them hard to adopt–hyperactivity, loud barking, toy-crazy, etc–are the flip side of the characteristics that make an excellent search dog–high energy, outgoing, intelligent, and extreme focus. SDF saves dogs’ lives, so that these dogs can go on to save human lives following disasters.
Once a dog is taken from the shelter, it has a permanent home, whether it completes training or not. Dogs retire at age 10. After this, they either go home to live with their handler, or retire to another loving home. Once rescued, SDF dogs will never have to be rescued again.
(3) The Vitamin Angel Alliance
Vitamin Angels reduces child mortality worldwide by connecting essential nutrients with infants and children around the world–including the rural U.S. Their work is concentrated into two efforts: Operation 20/20 and Thrive to Five. Operation 20/20 provides Vitamin A and anti-parasitic treatments, and has reduced child mortality by 24% in the areas where it has been introduced. Thrive to Five focuses on multivitamins and improving childrens’ overall nutritional levels.
The Founder’s Story is fascinating, and a good look at how the business community can organize to do some good.
So now you’ve heard the pitch. What’s in it for you?
On Jan. 31, 2012, I will hold a random drawing for the following Awesome Swag:
(1) 3 autographed paperback copies of my book, The Affair of the Porcelain Dog (3 winners will get one copy each).
(2) A super-duper APD promo pack, including an APD refrigerator magnet, sticker, and Official Bookmark.
(3) A Porcelain Dog shot glass. Believe me, these are cool.
All you have to do is this:
(1) Donate to one of these fine organizations. Any amount will do.
(2) Reblog this.
(3) Send an email to jessfaraday at hotmail dot com with your name, donation amount (I trust you) your snailmail address, and the address of your reblog post. Also, please say which prize you’re most interested in. I can’t guarantee you’ll get first choice, but if you’re chosen, you will get something =)
On Jan. 31, I will choose five winners at random and send out the goods.
Happy Holidays. Now, go out there and do some good!
Jess

Jess Faraday is the author of one novel, three book translations, a handful of short stories, and numerous nonfiction articles.
She is a graduate of the University of Arizona (B.A.) and UCLA (M.A.). Since then, she has earned her daily bread in a number of questionable ways, including translation, lexicography, copyediting, teaching high school Russian, and hawking shoes to the overprivileged offspring of Los Angeles-area B-listers.
She enjoys martial arts, the outdoors, strong coffee and a robust Pinot Noir. She also receives a trickle of income from Faraday Bags, her line of data shielding handbags and clothing. She is also a reviewer at Speak Its Name.

Hello world!

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Welcome all to Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words, in other words, my ramblings on food, books, and the universe in no order whatsoever.

Recently TJ Klune was blogging on whether size mattered when it came to books.  My thoughts?

 Well, length depends, in my mind, upon the author and editor. I love long in the right hands (snicker). It means that I have more time in the special world the author has created with characters I have come to love. Frustrate me, irritate me, made me swoon with joy and dive into despair with the characters and I’m yours no matter the length.

But bore me, make me flip back and forth to figure out timelines, povs, flashbacks, then I’m gone no matter the length but usually this happens in longer books where the author starts wandering, lost in their own story unable to find the path back. And with a good or great editor, that can be avoided.

Books recently read that fit into the long category?  Bear, Otter and The Kid by TJ Klune and Over The Mountain of the Moonby Reiko Morgan.

Author Sarah Black’s books often, to my dismay, fit into the shorter category.  She is such a fine author that I quickly sink into the story only to emerge when I reach the end.  Then it’s “What? What? It’s over? Nooooooo….”  Her most recent, Marathon Cowboys is available at Dreamspinner Press and is a must read in my opinion.  I loved it and rated it 4.5 stars.  Check out her blog on Navajo characters and their stories.  Illuminating and wonderful.  Everything I eventually hope to bring to this blog.  She sets the bar high.

So that’s my start.  Still figuring out the darn formatting thing.  Look what I did to poor Kirby in the picture.  I promise it will get better.

Melanie