Review of More Than Chemistry by Kate Sherwood

Standard

Rating: 4.25 stars

Jack Lawson is hot, successful, on his way to being a billionaire.  His problem?  He can’t forget that he grew up poor. Jack has spent his life becoming an uber successful businessman, CEO of a multinational company and acquiring all the trappings affluence brings.  Still he is not completely happy, something is missing.

Jack meets up with Noah Mercier, an old high school acquaintance, when Noah’s company makes a presentation for his firm.  Jack invites Noah out for further discussions about the ad campaign and discovers that Noah’s sister is none other than Haley Meredith, a well known movie star.  So while Jack is drawn to Noah both emotionally and physically, he thinks acquiring a movie star will finally demonstrate to all that he has arrived.  As Jack is bisexual, he believes transferring his affections from one sibling to the other should be simple and easy to accomplish. Now if he can only convince his heart….

What a wonderful story!  When you first meet Jack Lawson it is obvious he loves his success, revels in every aspect of it, and is gorgeous to boot.  And knows it. And uses it to his advantage in both his business and personal life.  In fact there seems to be no separation of the two for him.  His apparent shallowness is off-putting until Jack becomes reacquainted with Noah Mercier, and then the basis for his driven personality becomes apparent.  And Jack becomes both vulnerable and likable.

The character of Noah Mercier is immediately appealing so it is easy to see how Jack finds himself becoming drawn to him because the reader has gotten there first.  In fact, I find that Noah is more fully fleshed out than Jack himself as far as background goes.   Noah Mercier arrives with sister, family, hobbies, and vegetarian proclivities in tow.  It takes us longer to find out that Jack’s father was unable to support them and that being poor is a self image that Jack is still trying to erase with a vengeance.  I would love to have learned more about Jack’s background that has given him such a mission that he almost misses out on what is truly important in life.  Still, the main characters here are multilayered, likable, and easy to root for.

Kate Sherwood has not held back on the secondary characters either.  Both Haley Meredith and Claire, his assistant, are terrific creations on their own, Claire especially.  I wish the author had given Claire a last name as someone of her station and personality deserve.  I could picture and hear her so clearly did Claire’s voice speak to me.  Haley’s persona shown through even though we only had a glimpse or two of her.

My only other quibble here is that I would have loved to have had more of interaction between Jack and Noah.  From the scenes between them, I certainly could understand the attraction Jack felt towards Noah, but additional dialog would have cemented it for me. In all, I loved this story.

Kate Sherwood was a new author for me but after reading this short story, I will be searching out more books from her.

Cover:  I thought the cover was just fine, but to me it really didn’t speak for the story.  Plus the dark haired model with glasses did not embody Noah for me. Does not have that “nerdy” image I associate with him.

Review of Blacker Than Black by Rhi Etzweiler

Standard

Reviewed for JoyfullyJay blog where I am a guest reviewer:

Rating: 4.5 stars

Black and Jhez are twin Nightwalkers, those who sell their chi or life force to the vampires that now rule the world.  Living in the shadows and tenements of the blue-light district of York, they thrive where other Nightwalkers soon wither and fall.  Their secret?  They steal the chi of their vampire clients even as they are selling theirs, a silent, stolen exchange of energy that has kept them alive for decades.

One unfortunate choice of a john changes everything for them.  Black picks Monsieur Garthelle as the john for the night, not recognizing the master vamp of the city.  What should have been a simple selling of Black’s chi (and the taking of a sliver of Garthelle’s energy) turns explosive, with Black running back to the streets, shaken beyond belief.  When Garthelle recovers, he tracks the twins down, confronts them and forces both to work for him as spies against other vampire families.  Facing not only the loss of their liberty and possibly their lives, they quickly discover nothing is what it seems to be, especially after a high placed vampire is murdered at Garthelle’s home.  Who are their enemies?  Who can be trusted?  What is the nature of the vampires obsession with them?

What a story.  I am going to say right off the bat, that this review is very frustrating to write.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers because who doesn’t love that “huh, didn’t see that coming” moment in stories they are reading?  And trust me, there are quite a few of those here.  The author plays with several themes here, fluidity and changeability run throughout the book.  Whether it is the changing nature of human society, the vampire families and their alliances, right down to the basic natures of human/vampire natures, all is constantly in flux.  The characters and the reader both can be certain of nothing as the story deepens.

The story unfolds from Black’s POV.  From the new world order to the skanky streets the twins live and work on, Black’s confusion is our confusion.  I like that the details of how the vampires came to rule are left deliberately vague.  The author has left our imaginations to fill in the gruesome blanks.  There are black holes of knowledge every where just waiting for the characters (or reader) to stumble and fall into in this story.  Just as the characters discover one alliance that may affect the balance of power, another event happens to undo all they have learned.   And that seesawing plays out so nicely as layer upon layer comes off and more of the plot is revealed.

I think the author has done a wonderful job of characterization here, not only with Black, but with Garthelle, Jhez, and Blue, a close friend of the twins.  Each different yet completely memorable.  What we learn of the new world everyone inhabits is gleaned through gritty realistic details of littered streets and grim despair of the human condition contrasted with the glossy buildings of obsidian black of the ruling vampires.

And speaking of vampires or the Lyche as they call themselves.   This is a different take on vampirism, combining elements of the traditional European vampires with that of the succubus/incubus type energy feeders to arrive at a vampire that seems old and fresh at the same time.  Familiar enough not to throw one off but with some new elements that make you sit up and take notice.  Very well done with vivid imagery that portrays the nature of chi exchange each character undergoes during a feeding.

That is not to say that there aren’t some slow parts where the narrative bogs down.  There are too many descriptions of Garthelle’s apartment building or rooms in his mansion, too much black.  I am going to assume that  this was intentional as the author is very careful in the construction of this story.  I was finding myself wondering how many times the author would find a way to insert the word black or blacker in terms of decor, apparel, or anything as a matter of fact.  I had black fatigue in some places.  But oh the pyrotechnics at the end.  They are wonderful.  A great way to end the journey of a thousand fun house mirrors.

And yes, I am still dying to tell you some spoilers.  But my lips are sealed and I am throwing away the key.

Cover:  Cover art by Del Melchionda. Love the cover.  It is lush and absolutely perfect in tone and graphics for the story. I even feel there is a hint here as well to one of the first twists in the story.  Great job.

Review of The Groom’s Cake by Jacqueline Vick

Standard

Rating: 4.5 stars

A catastrophe has fallen among the citizens of  Crabapple Grove.  Their legendary baker, Imogene Spunkwuzzle needs a new oven and until she gets one,  she has stopped baking.  The townspeople are aghast at the thought of no pies, cakes, tarts, petit fours, spritzes, blintzes or most importantly groom’s cakes.  And no one is more devastated than Charlie Whatnot.  Close on the eve of his marriage to the lovely Penelope Rose, the very notion that he would be lacking in the Groom’s Cake department leaves him “shaking his fist at the cruel whims of Fate” and determined to cancel the wedding.

Enter Walter Fenderbottom, Charlie’s friend and fellow devotee of all Spunkwuzzle baked goods.  Together with local writer and friend, Timothy “Tip” Pinchlet, a plan is devised to raise the necessary funds for the stove, get Imogene Spunkwuzzle back elbow deep in flour, and save Charlie’s wedding to Penelope.  But as said plan was concocted over many glasses of things alcoholic in nature,  what could possibly go wrong?

The Groom’s Cake is a lovely throw back to the gentle British drawing room comedies I am so fond of.  They usually employed witty banter, a leisurely pace,  and a fondness for silly names among the gentility or upperclass.  While The Groom’s Cake may knock it’s citizens down a social notch or two, all the other wonderful characteristics remain intact. There is hale hearty fellows, stout women of unshakeable reputation, and gimlet-eyed yet comely young ladies, waggish dialog and lively contretemps.  What’s not to love?

Nary a harsh word passes the lips of these Crabapple Grove dwellers, even while under the influence of a bottle of gin.  Whether it is Walter’s ever ebullient spirit or Charlie’s good natured determination to get Imogene that stove, their banter is that of best friends going forward, arm in arm. It is a joy to eavesdrop on their conversations, watch as their fool-hearted plans go awry, and generally stumble their way to a solution.

Jacqueline Vick and The Groom’s Cake are a delight.

The book is available here at Wicked Ink Press.

I am so happy I won this book in a contest at  Keith Publications’ Blog.

Cover:  The cover by Delilah K. Stephans is simple yet in keeping with the story.