Review of Infected: Shift by Andrea Speed

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

Shift is the fifth book in Andrea Speed’s Infected series.  This is a tightly linked series and the books should be read in order.  This review may have some spoilers for previous books in the series.

It’s a typical day for Roan McKitchan in that there was nothing typical about it.  His new client is a wall of a man who just happens to be a hockey player with a 10 year old case involving a transgendered person’s suicide that just might be murder.  Roan’s relationship with his artist/bartender boyfriend, Dylan is especially rocky these days and all his friends seems to think that Roan is so depressed that he is seeking to die.  And then there is that little matter of another possible aneurysm next time he shifts.

When his partial transformation is caught on tape and uploaded to YouTube, the crazies start coming out of the woodwork with vicious attacks on himself and those close to him.  Everything about Roan’s world is in flux, his stress increasing, and yes, his depression is getting worse even as his virus mutates yet again. What is he to do when the shifters start to look to him for leadership just as he is  struggling to handle all the major shifts in his life?  Leader or vigilante? Life or death? Roan needs to find those answers himself and soon.

Shift picks up the story of Roan where Freefall left off as everyone around Roan is still reeling from the aftermath of Roan’s brain aneurysm.  The fact that Roan survived the unsurvivable for no discernable medical reason has left Roan, Dylan and his circle of friends on edge with Dylan especially fragile. Still sustaining himself on drugs and partial shifts, Roan McKitchan tries to continue business as usual.  But his reckless behavior and depression has seen his relationship with Dylan grow increasingly problematic as the daily stress that is Roan’s life and his precarious mental state leave Dylan’s composure in shreds.  What others see as his suicidal tendencies, Roan believes to be his normal state, at least for him. To Roan, his outlook and actions are in tune with someone uncertain of his humanity and life span.  And as we get pulled deeper into latest Infected novel, the story of Roan McKitchan and the cat virus continues to shift and evolve, turning into a series as unpredictable and infectious as the virus itself.

Andrea Speed’s spectacular talent ensures that we are able to absolutely understand and empathize with Roan, one of the most unique characters I have come across.  A virus child who lives and thrives against all odds and laws of nature, Roan’s “fuck you’ attitude is at odds with his bruised romantic soul.  Roan constantly lives with the truth that he is mutating along with the virus and we feel his terror and pain as the virus mutates and shifts his view of himself from human to monster.  One of the threads that keeps him tethered to his human status are his boyfriend/husbands as Dylan continues to anchor him in the present as Paris’ ghost visits his dreams to comfort and annoy. Roan’s such a complicated character as one would expect of a man bedeviled by his abusive past and mutating physique.  One can be reading along, laughing out loud as Roan muses on the state of music, societal goings on, whatever grabs his attention and then suddenly plunges us into tears with remembrances of Paris, the victims that cross Roan’s path, and Roan’s very real fears for his future.  From his music to his t-shirts and books, Roan is a character so remarkable in dimension that  finding words to do him justice is confounding at times. I may not be able to explain satisfactorily explain the beauty that is Roan but it is clear from book one that he is one that will always stay with you.

Dylan is another unexpected character who continues to grow with the series.  As the boyfriend with the unenviable task of  following in the footsteps of Roan’s soulmate, Paris, it would be as easy to dismiss him as other characters in the book do.  A Zen Buddhist, his calm outlook is constantly under attack by his role in Roan’s life,  and by Roan himself as his infected status throws them all into daily turbulence.  Dylan has always seemed to accept his secondary place with Roan, but that starts to change here as the doubts creep in.  I found this so authentic and wonder where Andrea Speed will take this romance.  It is Roan’s nature to be a monogamist but there is more to be considered here.  The lion’s needs must be brought into the equation as well and here the relationship with Dylan seems less certain.  The lion clearly loved Paris, a tiger shifter who was Roan’s equal if not more in so many ways. And as I watched Roan and Dylan struggle to maintain and strengthen their relationship, the thought remained in the back of my mind “what does the lion think of Dylan as a mate?” Can a lion accept a lesser human?  And for me their future together got blurry. And that just points up the strength of Andrea Speed’s writing.  She has the reader constantly thinking about the events and relationships in the story, nothing is concrete, everything is constantly shifting, including our perceptions.

Shift is divided into two stories as is typical of this series. The first is Shift. It is in this section that a wonderful group of characters is introduced, the Seattle Falcons, minor league hockey team.  While Roan has always had a small group of friends, with the addition of Grey, Scott, Tank and others, a  wonderfully crazy element of support for Roan has been met.  All strong, with a love for a fight, these modern warriors have depth beneath the hockey player stereotypes that made them instant favorites of mine, especially Grey.  I hope to see them often along with Holden, Dr. Rosenberg, Dee, Fiona and the rest of the circle that revolves around Roan.  The case Grey brings Roan is heartbreaking in content and conclusion.  Bloodbath is the second story in the novel and aptly named as the blood flows through all the events in this tale of vengeance and vigilante justice.  There is a common link of attacks between the two stories that  remains unsettled at the end as does so much else here.

The virus remains a phenomenal character all it own, as it’s continuing mutations bring new challenges, questions, and pain to Roan, Dylan and everyone else around him.  Andrea Speed has sprinkled some truly tantalizing notions throughout the novel, a sentence here, a snippet there, that had the ability to bring me to an absolute standstill when I extrapolated them out in my mind.  One involves a painting Dylan had in mind when thinking of Roan and wondering if it could happen.  Where that thought took me made me breathless with anticipation for Roan and his future.

So this rollercoaster called Infected has come down from the stratosphere, depositing me earthbound once more, leaving me with more questions,more stymied and with more anticipation than ever before. What a magnificent job Andrea Speed has done with Shift.  I can’t wait to see where she takes Roan next.  I will be sure to follow.

Cover:  These Infected covers are fantastic.  Art work by Anne Cain, design by Mara McKinnon.  Dynamic in graphics and design, I just love them.  They are available also as wallpaper on Andrea Speed’s website.

The Infected series in order they should be read to fully understand the characters, their backgrounds and storylines:

Infected Prey

Infected Bloodlines

Infected Life After Death

Infected Freefall

Infected Shift

Review of Mind Magic by Poppy Dennison

Standard

Rating:      4.5 stars

When Simon Osbourne starts hearing the cries of children begging for help in his head, he tries to ignore them.  It’s against the rule he is governed by to interfere as he is an apprentice mage and the children in danger are werecubs. But as the cries continue, he feels the children weakening and decides to act.  Under the darkness of night, Simon steals onto the grounds of a house in the woods, and finds five were children being drained by a demon.  Using the magic tricks he has learned as an apprentice, Simon frees the children and drives them back to the Wolf pack compound outside of town.

Grey Townsend, alpha of the High Moon Pack, has been going crazy ever since his son, Garon and four other children were stolen from the compound.  For two days, the pack has searched but all traces of the cubs are gone, along with hearing their mind speak.  When a strange mage brings the children home, Gray owes Simon his gratitude and trust, not something the weres give to the Others.  Little is known about the Others except that the groups stay away from each others societies, segregated by rules and laws arcane in nature.  Then Simon saves Garon from a demon attack for the second time, and Gray admits they need Simon to help solve the mysteries before them.  Simon loves the family life he sees in the pack and is attracted to the handsome Alpha, Gray.  With the pack and their cubs still in danger, Simon and Gray come together to help find the demon behind the attacks and begin a possible relationship.  But Simon’s actions have repercussions within the Mage Society and he could lose the one thing he has wanted all his life if he continues on this course – the chance to be a full blown mage.

Mind Magic combines so many of my favorite elements in one book.  It has shifters, vampires,  and demons with different takes on all.  In this universe magic is divided up into a triangle.  At the top point is the Head Magic of the mages, another point is Body Magic of the shifters with the final point that of Soul Magic (demons/vampires).  As the author sets the stage in her world, all magical beings have long thought the division between them to be rigid and final. But with Garon demonstrating an aptitude for mind magic as well as body magic, Simon, Gray and the others begin to understand that all is not as they have been told or seems.

Dennison’s alternative world is a wonderfully compelling place that pulls in the reader  completely from the very beginning and doesn’t relinquish its hold even after the story is finished.  I love the notion of the magical divisions and her unique take on all things fantastical extends to shifters and vampires.  Recently I was reading a note on the shifter thread at GoodReads where someone wondered about the difference in body mass between the human and  animal forms that disappears from most shifter fiction.  Dennison addresses that question as her shifters are much larger than the natural wolves, something that doesn’t appear often in shifter fiction.  Her shifters live in a pack in adhering to wolf natural history.  Her vampires and mages get the same attention and neat twists to them, especially her vampire who takes very little blood, only enough to sustain his magic.

The author also excels with her characters, both main and secondary.  Simon Osbourne is kind, gentle, appealing in every way.  Here it is the mages that lead a lonely life, isolated from their families and others which is used to a nice contrast with pack life.  Simon yearns to be a part of a family as his backstory makes plain.  Simon has a love of herbs and plants that his grandfather passed on to him which gives Dennison a chance to go into herbology with lovely results.  I fell in love with Simon quickly just as Gray and the children did.  Definitely not a case of “instant love” as Simon must earn Gray’s trust.  Gray Townsend is a great addition to shifter Alphas out there. He is steady, older, a wonderful father and pack leader.  Slowly Dennison shows us Gray’s history as the story continues with another interesting twist on an Alpha coming of age at 30 to emerge as leader of the pack,  Gray is a family man who takes his responsibilities seriously and still has an open outlook on the world around him.  Of all the characters in the story, it is the mages who remain the most hidebound, strictly adhering to the old ways and narrow outlook on the world around them.  Then there is Goran, Aunt Maggie, and Liam and Cormac, Simon’s “grandfather”. terrific characters, as fully fleshed out as the main characters.

Mind Magic combines some of the most wonderful supernatural elements, tosses it with a good dose of herbology, great characters, and an ongoing mystery to create a story that will continue past Mind Magic. My only quibble is that the end came sooner than I had expected and left me with more questions than were answered. But that makes sense as Mind Magic is the first in a new series called Triad Trilogy.  The next books are Body Magic and Soul Magic.  Poppy Dennison promises that we will be seeing all the wonderful characters we met here again as the series continues.   Great job, great story.  And I have a new author to love.

Cover:  I love the cover by Anne Cain.  That is Gray is every respect.  How I love her artwork.

200 pages in length.  Published by Dreamspinner Press.  Find out more about the author here at her website.

 

Note;  The next edition of Vocabulary Gone Bad will be posted next week instead of today as promised.  Sorry, guys but inspiration hit and I have to add it in somehow!

Abigail Roux’s Save The Kitty Contest and Compass Rose Pendant from Cut and Run series

Standard

Abigail Roux is running a wonderful contest over at her website called Save The Kitty Contest.   As I had mentioned in my review of Armed and Dangerous, Abigail does extensive research into subjects covered in her books and the new Cut and Run book #6, Stars and Stripes, is no different.  Ms. Roux flew to Texas and visited the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary in Boyds to learn about the plight of captive big cats and their increasingly threatened status in the wild.

It made a huge impact on her as she states in her blog, Shop To Save The Kitties.  Here she is offering a contest (and what an amazing contest it is) with all eBook copies of the entire Cut and Run series, including those not yet written – at least 9 total.  Then on top of that you get Ty’s Compass Rose pendant, a  Team Zane or Team Ty t-shirt.  Unbelievable.  But you have to visit the blog above and get the instructions on how to enter.  Abigail Roux has already donated the proceeds of her research trip to the Sanctuary while she was there and she is donating 10 percent of her royalties from Stars and Stripes, the next Cut and Run book. You can also purchase Ty’s  pendant, seen to the right, by itself.  Sigh! Or get one of their Team Zane or Team Ty t-shirts.  Treat yourself, help an animal!

So let’s recap shall we? Go read all the Cut and Run books, you will love them if you don’t already.  They are listed in order at the end of my review for the outstanding Armed and Dangerous novel.  Visit Abigail Roux’s blog, read in her words the impact the Sanctuary had on her and enter the contest.  You will be helping a tremendous cause that can use every dollar that is donated.  Visit Abigail’s website now.

Here is the link for the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary in Boyds, Texas.

Review of Abstract Realism by Edward Kendricks

Standard

86 pages

Rating: 4 stars

Tonio, a renown painter of abstract realism, made the mistake of accepting an invitation for a movie date from a man he just met at a gallery opening.  The man’s jealous lover made sure Tonio never made that mistake again by savagely attacking him with a knife.  Now scarred and traumatized, Tonio rarely leaves his studio.  His only contact with the outside world consists of his sister, Jessie who is also his agent.  With a gallery opening a new show of his paintings, his sister finally talks him into attending the opening and go to the gallery party afterwards.

Jonam is also attending the gallery show.  He owns a close protection agency and had met Tonio by accident in a nearby park.  Tonio had been sketching people in the part and rejected Jonan’s efforts to talk to him. When Jonam attends the gallery show, Tonio does his best to avoid him. But Tonio’s attacker calls and threatens him just before the party. When her brother doesn’t show up for the party,  Jessie and Jonam show up at Tonio’s apartment and the find the man cowering in fear.  Jonam offers to protect Tonio and find out whose behind the threats.  Can Jonam find the attacker and free Tonio from the threats and fears?

The author packs a lot into 86 pages.  There is contemporary romance, mystery, the art world, a scarred artist, and lethal stalker.  Edward Kendricks did a great job with Tonio. Tonio is a believable character, traumatized by a brutal attack on him by unseen thugs.  The scars left behind are both physical and emotional.  I can believe that this character retreats into a shell and that his art changes direction with the brutality inflicted upon him.  That the attack was unexpected and undeserved only deepened the trauma left behind.  I did find it unrealistic that the police were not brought into this case especially given he was a well-known artist but PTS can make victims act illogically. Jonam was a tad less defined as a character.  Jonam was tall, good looking and efficient at his job. It wasn’t until the end of the story that I found out he was Swedish and that accounted for his name.  More of a backstory on Jonam early on would have helped. It was hard to get a feel for a connection between the two men when I could only get a handle on one of them.  The story seemed rushed at the end and the denouement resolved far too quickly for the buildup that preceded it.

Still Abstract Realism is a neat little short story that I enjoyed reading.  I look forward to more from Edward. Kendricks.

Cover: Cover Artist Reese Dante.  Cover is gorgeous.  Both models work for the characters inside the story.  Fonts are great.  Good job.

Review of Armed and Dangerous by Abigail Roux

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

“I’m sorry.  The walls are closing in and I need to go. Love you.” And with that note, Ty Grady was gone leaving Zane Garrett to wake up alone after finally declaring his love for his partner.  Missing Ty and his frustration levels rising by the minute, Zane prowls the hallways of the Bureau in search of anything to occupy his time.  When the Bureau Chief sends him as backup  to an agent on a specialty mission, Zane is astonished to find out that the agent he is meeting is none other than his missing partner, Ty.  Their mission?  To retrieve and escort part-time CIA operative and assassin Julian Cross (Warriors Cross) to Washington, DC to testify against his former employers whether Cross wants to or not.  In this case, its definitely not.  Cross won’t go.

Julian Cross retired after the events of Warriors Cross and has moved in with his love, Cameron Jacobs in Chicago.  And nothing, including a couple of FBI agents is going to take him away from that.  Garrett and Grady have orders that say otherwise and when the four come together, the explosions and gunfire reverberate from Chicago to Washington, DC.  Fighting not only each other but agents from other agencies as more and more people pursue them across state after state, Ty and Zane must also work on their newfound relationship as the present mission and Ty’s past threaten to come between them. Sometimes being Armed and Dangerous is just not enough to see them through the dangers ahead.

Armed and Dangerous is the 5th book in the Cut and Run series started originally by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux in 2008, and in my opinion, is the most satisfying book of the series. Armed and Dangerous is a remarkable book made even more so by the fact that Abigail Roux is now writing the series alone, as Madeleine Urban has quit writing.  To take nothing away from the terrific job Urban did together with Roux on the previous books, it is clear that Roux was right to carry on with Ty and Zane without her.   Years of coauthoring the books have given Abigail Roux decisive knowledge of both Garrett and Grady (and their unique personalities) that the writing is seamless between A&D and Divide and Conquer, the previous novel.  Only in the absence of Urban’s name on the cover does the difference between the books become apparent.

Abigail Roux is a master of location and she visits the cities where her characters reside and travel to.  Roux often posts pictures of her research travels on her website.  Such thoroughness and authenticity is appreciated and apparent in the way she captures the flavor of the neighborhoods in Baltimore as well as Chicago. As someone who lives in the DC area and visited Chicago, she has Chicago, Baltimore and the District spot on, including the Verizon Center and The Greene Turtle.  I really applaud that extra effort in an author and thinks it contributes so much to the story that a realistically described locale can become a character all its own in a novel.

In addition to location, her descriptions of the fighting, explosions and in an hilarious scene, TSA search methods, are all so incredibly written that the story moves forward at a pace that keeps time with your heart, beating rapidly with anxiety  and anticipation as the story builds to its conclusion.  But its with the characters, and what characters they are, that Abigail Roux really shines.

Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are two of the most complicated (and charismatic) protagonists in a relationship that I can remember.  Absolutely wonderful creations at the beginning, each has continued to evolve and strengthen as the series continued, the reader learning about them as they learned about each other, adjusting by small increments to the partnership the Bureau foisted upon them.  This journey continues with A&D as Ty and Zane’s relationship reaches a new stage.  The insecurities that have hounded both men  and kept them from acknowledging their love are slowly let go, the men finally on the same page at the same time.  To appreciate the struggles these men have gone through to get to this level, it is imperative that the books be  read in the order they are written. Ty and Zane have faced down their own demons, including drugs and alcohol, as well as the Bureau’s use of their abilities and still gone forward in their relationship, to each others surprise.  These men are beautifully  written, each with their own unique personality and a dialog that reflects that individuality in each phrase they utter.  It is no wonder that these men have rabid fans with Team  Zane or Team Ty t-shirts of their own.  I *cough* am a fan of both.

In each book, a layer of the past is pealed back, revealing more of one of the main characters background.  Here it is Ty’s turn and some of the revelations are truly unexpected, including the real reason he joined the military.  I really wasn’t expecting that one.  And that is just another one of the many pleasures these books, and this one in particular, deliver.   I never know what will happen next.  Roux kept me guessing right up until the end and then some.  I love that.  Also it’s the tricks of the trade that Ty, Zane, and Julian employ to frustrate, roadblock, and totally disable those trying to apprehend them that amaze me as well.  What until you get to the doorknob maneuver.  Amazing.

But all the neat bells and whistles won’t help if you don’t have a great plot filled with tremendous characters.  That Armed and Dangerous has in spades.  Ty and Zane are joined here by Julian Cross, an enigmatic Irish assassin and his lover, Cameron Jacobs, a waiter in an upscale restaurant.  Yes, you read that correctly, that would be Cameron the waiter.  Definitely not a person you would expect to find paired up with such a dangerous individual as Julian Cross.  But   Cameron is more than his unremarkable exterior and a lovely layered character in his own right.  Julian is not your typical assassin either as he comes complete with his own driver, Preston and a pair of wicked Maine Coon cats named Smith and Wesson. I have loved all of them since their introduction in Warriors Cross and was thrilled to see them brought into this story.  To fully appreciate both characters, again I will direct you to read their backstory in the book I just mentioned.  To read Armed and Dangerous without reading Warriors Cross or any of the other Cut and Run books, is only to skim the surface of the ocean, missing all the life, formations and depth that make up the whole.  If you are already a fan of these books, you know what I mean.  If you are new to the series, stop reading this and head out to get Cut and Run.  No reading from the back!  I know who you are!

Abigail Roux is an amazing author.  Armed and Dangerous is an exemplary example of her talent.  I haven’t heard if she plans to write another story in the Cut and Run series.*  I can only hope she does.  I need to know what happens next to Ty and Zane. And to Julian, Cameron and those darn cats.  That’s what happens with great characters, they live beyond their pages and reside in our hearts.  Ty and Zane do both.

*(Reviewer note: There is a 6th book coming out in August by Abigail Roux, published by Riptide Publishing. See below)

Here is the series in the order they must be read to fully appreciate the characters and the growth of their relationship:

Cut and Run,  Cut and Run series #1 by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux

Sticks and Stones, Cut and Run series #2 by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux

Fish and Chips, Cut and Run series #4 by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux

Warriors Cross ( Julian and Cameron’s story – side novel to Cut and Run series) by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux

Armed and Dangerous, Cut and Run series #5 by Abigail Roux

Stars and Stripes, Cut and Run series #6 by Abigail Roux due out in August

Cover:  I love the covers on this series.  Simple yet elegant.  And yes, handcuffs appear often in this story so this is perfect. Love it.

More about the author can be found here at her blog:

Review of Absent-Minded Astrophysicist by TN Tarrant

Standard

Rating: 4 stars

136 pages

Dr. Liam McGregor, child prodigy, astrophysicist, and all around brilliant mind is absent minded when it comes to everything outside of his lab except for his cat. He is constantly walking into doorknobs, desks and even people because his attention is so firmly tuned to space above.    Awkward around people and socially inept, Liam’s lonely and feels unattractive when he stops to think about it, which isn’t often.  Isolation has been his companion for far too long.  But a change may be coming in the very attractive form of the new head of security.

Jareth Manning is emerging from his own dark period.  His partner recently died, and his former employers tried to discredit him when they found out Jareth was gay.  Now he is starting over as the new head of security at Northwestern Institute for Interstellar Research.  It didn’t take him long to notice Dr. McGregor if only for the amount of ambulances called to the campus to attend to astrophysicist’s many accidents.  Jareth finds the astrophysicist cute, shy and very kind hearted.  When Liam is attacked by a colleague, it gives him the chance to get to know Liam better.  As both men grow closer, can Jareth get Liam to focus on what is before him…..a chance at love on earth.

This was such a cute story.  Liam McGregor was a lovely character.  I know we have seen the absent minded scientist before but Liam is a special edition to that category.  A little pudgy, with a heartbreaking background, I just fell in love with him.  TN Tarrant did a nice job with Jareth Manning as well.   Tall, gorgeous and a widower. Combine two lovely characters with two heartbreaking backstories and you get a short story with lots of heart. That’s Absent-minded Astrophysicist in a nutshell.

My only quibble here is that perhaps the author tried to fit too much into limited space.  I think she had material here for a much larger book and wish she had gone in that direction.  Her secondary characters include Dr. Forrester (head of the Institute) and his two partners.  They clearly deserve a story of their own.  Liam’s backstory left me with more questions than answers by the end of the book as did Jareth’s family who appeared out of nowhere.  As I said, I love the main characters and story.  I just think they got a little overwhelmed by too much information.

This is such a lovely little book.  Don’t let it pass you by.  I would love to see more of the characters she brought to life here.

Cover:  Same cover used for others in this series.  Cover artist is Reese Dante

Freedom Is Not Free and the week Ahead

Standard

It looks as though the sun might come out for our Memorial Weekend here in Maryland after all, humid but at least it’s sunny.  I hope everyone is enjoying their weekend.  Please don’t forget to spare up time to think about our veterans, what they have sacrificed for us and the Nation.  With so many still fighting abroad and many more fighting to survive their injuries here at home, take the time to send a prayer if you are religious, send thanks if you are not and perhaps visit a memorial.  If you are close by, start with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial here in DC and Arlington Cemetery in Virginia.  Two places where service, honor, and sacrifice spreads out before us in stark contrast to each other.  One in black, one in white.  Unforgettable and painful in every way.

Freedom Is Not Free is a website dedicated to aiding wounded service members, their families and the families of the fatally wounded. Listed here are poems from the enlisted honoring veterans and sharing what it means to them to be a part of the military.  Be prepared with tissues, as many of these poems strike straight into your heart.

My thoughts also turn to the fallen gay soldiers for whom the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was far too late.  Let us not forget their additional sacrifice as well.  I would leave you with these images for Memorial Weekend:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now for the week ahead and some outstanding new books:

 

Monday:                                Reviews of several short stories by Silver Publishing

Tuesday:                                Armed and Dangerous, Cut and Run series #5 by Abigail Roux

Wednesday:                          Infected: Shift  (Infected #4) by Andrea Speed

Thursday:                              Acrobat by Mary Calmes

Friday:                                    One Small Thing by Piper Vaughn and MJ O’Shea

Saturday:                                New Vocabulary Gone Bad – When A Bare Rises To the Occasion Due Ewe Here A Yelp?

 

I’m Not Sexy And I Know It by Vic Winter

Standard

Rating: 4.25 stars

When a new song starts up, it finds Winston standing at the edge of the dance floor, his usual spot at the night club.  But its infectious beat has Winston moving his body to the rhythm of the music, something he never does.  A sexy voice whispers in his ear, anonymous hands are placed on his hips and an unseen dancer behind him moves him onto the dance floor and into an evening of sexy music, dancing and joy.  The evening ends and Winston still doesn’t know who his dance partner was, only the for the first time in ages he felt sexy and alive.

At brunch, his friends don’t get what made that night so special when he describes it to them as there was no date, no sex, no hooking up.   Only his friend, Clark, seems to understand how it made him feel.  And why is he is going back, hoping to find that person who finds him sexy and have one more dance.

This is a wonderfully endearing short story about a man who looks at himself in the mirror and finds the picture woefully inadequate, especially when judged against the looks of those around him, including his best friend.  Vic Winter has done a great job of capturing a person’s insecurities about their looks in his character of Winston.  Who among us has not had that moment where we have felt  fat or ugly or just plain when we take a look at the people we work or live with, even though we know we are good people inside.  Winston stands for all of us and that has us rooting for a good and  decent person to see himself as others see him.  And to a HFN, with the possibility of a HEA in the future.

My only quibble in a terrific short story is that I wish the ending had felt a little less rushed at the end as the author had struck a beautiful balance up until then.  Great job, Vic Winter.  I need to read more of your stories if I’m Not SexyAnd I Know It speaks for the rest of your stories.

Cover:  Just the same Torquere Sip cover that they use for all short stories in this category.

Review of Scrap Metal by Harper Fox

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

When a bus crash kills his mother and brother, Nichol Seacliff’s dreams of completing his linguistic degree and becoming a translator ends.  Needed on the family hold on Arran Isle, Nichol returns to stone rooms full of memories and his stern grandfather, Harry.  Now he spends his days with sheep, mired in mud and watching his family’s farm fall deeper into financial ruin and neglect. Patriarch Harry Seacliff, always a man of few words, speaks harshly to his less favored grandson when he speaks to him at all. This leaves Nichol grieving and alone, far from the university, his friends, and  any gay relationships.

One night he hears the window break in an outbuilding and finds a young man hiding behind the hay, wet and blue from the cold.   The trespasser introduces himself as Cameron, Cam for short and tells Nichol he is on the run from a gang in Glasgow.  Nichol’s sympathetic nature triumphs over caution, and he finds himself bringing Cam inside the house to get warm, have something to eat and put on dry clothes.  One nights stay lengthens into more as Cam endears himself first to Nichol and then, in a remarkable turn of events, to Harry as well,   As winter turns into spring on Seacliff Farm,  Nichol watches amazed as Cam forms a bridge between Harry and himself.  He finds he is falling in love with Cam more each day and the idea of remaining on the farm becomes less painful with someone to share it with.

And then Cam’s past comes back to threaten their love and the safety of all who live on Seacliff Farm.  When Cameron’s secret is known,who will pay the price of actions long past?

What an incredible story.  From the opening sentence, the reader finds themselves immersed deep in Scottish culture, roaming over the hills of Arran, listening to the murmurs of the Gaelic language and watching for splashes of mermaids just off shore.  Harper Fox has done such a excellent job of describing the island of Arran that I felt I had traveled there by the Calmac Ferry. Her love for the people, their culture and the land that gave birth to both flows like a wild river through the story. Indeed,  her vivid portraits of the populace,and their abodes will make you feel as though you know them. The passages on life in the old farmhouse have a way of plonking me down next to the Aga in the kitchen, listening to Nichol’s grumblings on the miserly candle left burning to light the cold room, so real does Harper Fox make it.  The rhythm of the Gaelic tongue is the rhythm of life itself on those rocky shores and cliffs.  A ancient language whose written form bears little resemblance to the spoken word, Gaelic weaves itself through the heart of the story, overflowing the pages until one yearns to speak those words, to understand their meaning.  I cannot begin to do justice here to its importance and beauty.  Here is a small sampling:

After Harry had told Nichol that he lost the language. “But I haven’t. That was what I wanted to say to Harry. I remember every word you taught me, in here with the book and out on the moors and the shore where you pointed to dobhar, the otter, iasg-dearg, the salmon, the eagle iolair whose name you pronounced like the upward yearning of wings—oh-lia, oh-lia.”

And another:

“Beauty. Music. I still couldn’t look at Harry, but from the corner of my eye I saw that his grip on the chair had relaxed. I couldn’t forget the poems, not when I was taught them so young. Did you hear me, old man? It’s the nearest I can come to saying sorry. I turned the page. The summer poem was long, a great cadenced paean to life such as only a man who’d lived through West Isles winters could sing. Softly I began the next verse. Harry stood listening for a few moments longer then quietly walked out of the kitchen, pulling the door shut behind him.”

(Harper Fox. Scrap Metal,  Samhain Publishing, Ltd.)

Time and again, Harper Fox brings us to tears and laughter through her use of the Gaelic tongue.  Wait til you get to the paragraph where Harry asks Nichol if their new farmhand is gay, in Gaelic of course.  Sheer perfection in every way.

Her characters are just as genuine and elemental as the land they are so much a part of.  Nichol is such a complicated soul, gay but not out to his Granda, kind and stubborn, wanting so much more than his brother and recognizing the irony of being back on the farm he thought he had escaped for good.  His anguish in the night over not being good enough to save the farm, not being good enough yet again for his Granda who he loved spoke so eloquently to his loss, and strength of character that it brought me to tears.  And if Nichol is a wondrous creation, than Harry Seacliff is even more remarkable.  As primal as the rocks of the cairn, and as deep as the lochs, Harry seems both as ancient as the land he loves and yet touched here and there with life in the present as with his use of the quads. Harry has a true Gaelic soul that sings beneath an exterior hardened by life on the island and life’s losses.  I can still see Harry and his sheep dogs leaning against the dry stacked stonewall, contemplating the land of his ancestors.  I felt like I knew him while I did not dare approach him. And Cameron, the city boy interloper, who unexpectedly finds home and a family, is so heartbreaking at points in this story that you just want to hold him as close as Nichol does.  Character after character, living, breathing people come to the fore, giving this story unbelievable depth and grace.

I have read and loved other books by Harper Fox and I was still unprepared for Scrap Metal.  Her gifts and skill as an author amazes me with it’s ability to transport the reader into another world, enchant them with the people and their stories, and leave us a little heartbroken by our exit.  I love Scrap Metal.  The story and people will stay with them for a long time to come.

Chan eil aon chànan gu leòr. Tapadh leibh, Harper Fox.  Tha mo bhàta-foluaimein loma-làn easgannan.  The translation? Clearly one language is never enough. Thank you, Harper Fox.  My hovercraft is full of eels.  OK, I just couldn’t resist the last one.  I could see the islanders having their bit of fun with a tourist and had to throw that in.  No quibbles here, just a bounty of love for the story and author.  Please pick this book up, you won’t be sorry.

Cover: Art by Angela Waters.  I liked this cover, with the dark background on top and landscape on the bottom.  Did I wish for a little more of the craggy landscape? Yes, but it still has a great feel to it.

Available through Samhain Publishing, Ltd., Amazon, and ARe.

Find out more about the author and her books at www.harperfox.net.

My other  recommendations include Driftwood and The Salisbury Key.

Review of Hope by William Neale

Standard

Rating 5 stars

Spencer Hawkins feels like a failure.  His best friend and closeted lover has unexpectedly left him and he’s finished his degree with no job prospects, no money in the bank, and unwilling to ask his family for any support as they are stretched as thin as they come.  A surprise phone call presents Spencer with the prospect of a new job and  future in a new city, Cleveland, Ohio.

Hunter Harrison is struggling in the face of increasing stress and constant heartache.  His partner has abandoned him and their adopted son, Ethan.  Ethan has a heart defect and needs a heart transplant if he is to live.  Faced with losing his son and his mounting medical bills, Hunter desperately needs the one thing missing from his life lately – hope.

Both men come together at a time in their lives when they need each other the most.  Spencer needs a man he can trust with his heart, someone he can build a future with.  Hunter needs someone who will love not only him but a very special boy as well.  For each man, the other represents love and hope for a future together if only they will reach out for it.

Hope is the final book in the Home series by William Neale, published after his unexpected death in March.  I am not sure that any review or reviewer will be able to separate the sadness felt by the passing of this wonderful author from the emotions engendered by his last work. I read in one of his interviews that William Neale said he wrote what he loved and didn’t feel that his characters were autobiographical.  While I can imagine he meant that, I can also see William Neales’ generous nature and loving heart reflected back from the characters here and in previous books.  If the eyes are the windows into the soul, surely one can discern the kindness and inherent goodness of the author through the characters he created and that the readers so cared so much about.

Spencer Hawkins and Hunter Harrison are just part of a family of main characters at the center of Hope. Spencer and Hunter are both men of character and proponents of old fashioned values.  They value the interior life above exterior perfections and raise love and family above all other concerns. Both are beautifully written and realistically constructed characters that are easy to fall in love with. So is 11 year old Ethan living with severe aortic stenosis, a disease I was not familiar with until now. Ethan leaps into your heart with each hard won breath as you root for him to pull through.  It is clear that William Neale did a great job researching this condition and the medical technology needed to deal with it.  Information about the Berlin Heart and heart transplants are seamlessly threaded through the story, gently educating the reader on the difficulties children with this disorder face on a daily basis.There is also Lucas Reed and Rogan James from Home #1, a book that remained one of the author’s favorites, as well as their son Rogie, his friend Ryan, and new characters of ambivalent morality, Thom Kilbane and Ashton Hale. Thom Kilbane is a complicated man, driven by his need for success and hiding his traumatic child abuse behind a hedonistic lifestyle. Ashton Hale is an unlikable bully until his background of parental neglect and isolation is revealed. One fully fleshed out character after another  comes forward in this story. This inner circle is surrounded by secondary characters just as authentic and beautifully realized as the main ones.  Chief Boleyn of Winton Academy security, Coach Perleman, Winton’s football coach, and even Stephen, Lucas and Rogan’s neighbor, all add depth and dimension to a story concerned with the nature of families, personal redemption, and hope.

William Neale lived with his partner of over a decade and their dogs in Cleveland, Ohio where the Home stories are located.  Cleveland is easily the 12th man (in football terminology) or main character in this story.  His love for his home town flows throughout the story, whether he is talking about the lakeside effect on the snowfall or the view from the high rises along the lake front.  I was laughing as Spencer, a southern transplant, tried to adjust to the cold, drive in the snow, and deal with the vagaries of snow blowers in winter.  I am sure Mr. Neale was laughing as he wrote it as well. In the space of a series, Cleveland goes from cold, unknown location to a beloved destination called home.  I am sure the city is missing one of its biggest champions as well.

From laughter to tears and back again, the reader remains deeply engaged in the relationships and families at the center of Hope. Once started, I couldn’t put the book down until I had finished it. Hours later I still continued to think about the author and his last story. What did I take away from Hope?  What did I feel was the essence of the book? The idea that goodness and kindness of spirit will win out, that personal redemption is a road to be taken instead of unattainable goal, and that love and hope is all around us if only we can recognize it.  I had come to love Spencer, Hunter, Ethan, Lucas, Rogen, and all the rest so very much that the knowledge of Hope being the last book was hard to face as is the loss of William Neale’s voice to the readers and m/m community that he cared so much about.  I was often in tears as I read this book and you will be too.

Make sure you read the editor’s note from Kris Jacen and above all the message from Marty, William Neale’s partner at the beginning of the novel.  Have tissues handy.  You will need them.  To read these letters to Mr. Neale’s fans and readers is to further understand the man behind the stories and how large the void his passing has left. The characters of Hope have so many dimensions to them, so much life in them that they will remain as unforgettable as the author behind them.   William Neale will continue to live on in the books and characters he has left behind and in the memories and hearts of all who knew and loved him. That is a wonderful legacy.  Mr. Neale, you are deeply missed.

Cover: Design and artwork by Winterheart Designs. A beautiful cover that does justice to the author and the story  within.