Review of Weekends by Edward Kendrick

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Rating: 3.25 stars

Marcus Hampton is secure in his habits, secure in his job as an accountant, and secure in his identity as a confirmed bachelor. He has his cat, Daisy, and his routines. Each and every day rolling with the same predictability, and he likes that too.  Until he meets Demitri Costas, a young photographer who snaps a picture of him.  Demitri is immediately attracted to the older man, and not just because he is wonderfully photogenic under his lens. Dimitri asks Marcus to pose for him, and to Marcus’ surprise, he agrees.

One photo session leads to another and Demitri develops a crush on Marcus but does nothing, believing Marcus to be married and straight. Marcus is neither. When Demitri discovers Marcus is both gay and available, he pursues  the older man but Marcus gently rebukes Demitri as Marcus thinks he must represent a father figure for the young photographer.  Through holidays and weekends, the men struggle with their feelings towards each other, family  expectations, and their pasts as well as insecurities.  Marcus’ self image of himself as a confirmed old bachelor is one Dimitri must shatter if  they are to have a future together.

Weekends charts the relationship between two very different men from its beginnings to that of an established couple.  Each chapter represents a different weekend in their lives, a neat format for the story.  The first chapter is titled The Weekend Before Thanksgiving.  In it, we establish a “base line” for each man before they meet.  We see their lives, their  routines, and in Demitri’s case, his hopes of becoming a photographer.  I like that Kendrick chooses the weekends around the holidays to move the story forward, as that is a time of vulnerability and introspection for most people, especially those alone.  With Marcus, it is particularly affecting, as Daisy is his only companion and his aloneness comes into stark focus for the reader.

Kendrick delivers two very believable people in Marcus and “Mitri” as he is called.  Also authentic is the manner in which Mitri  slowly brings Marcus out of his rigid notions of himself as “old and settled”.  Mitri is fighting against his father’s expectations for him to finish college with a degree in Engineering as all he longs to do is take pictures and make a living do so.  Even with a marked lack of communication between the two, they slowly make their way into a relationship.

So. Believable characters, creative story format, happy ending.  Why the long face, girl, as they say.  Interest. For however nice Marcus and Demetri are, they are boring.  And I am not talking about a lack of angst here.  I have never felt that angst is a necessary part of a story, although it helps to balance out a story.  I have read other novels that I loved whose  plot also revolves around the same storyline.  Men meet, get to know each other, fall in love, and live happily ever after or at least for now.  The big difference is that I found those men compelling.  They endeared themselves to me in multiple ways, it could be a sense of humor, an engaging outlook on life, something that says wow, I am so happy to got to know you.  It is like that in real life.  Sometimes you click with someone, sometimes you don’t.   Some people are beige to other’s rainbow.  Unfortunately for me, there was a whole lot of beige and very little clicking going on here. There is much to admire in Weekends but in the end, the main characters make it far too easy to forget them once the story is over.

Cover: Cover art by Reese Dante.  I normally love Dante’s covers but here I am of two minds.  One, I am the only person who sees George Bush in the man in the front? I am not sure if I find that hysterical or scary. The other says “great job”, love the relevancy of the mens ages and great design. But boy, does he look like George Bush….

Review of Lashings of Sauce Anthology

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3rdRating: 4.5 stars

Lashing: British slang for lots or large amounts.  In celebration of 2012 Olympics, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the 3rd Annual UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet, a lashing of authors from all over the Globe put forth an GLBTQ anthology of stories that highlight everything that makes Britain  (and mainland Europe) a great place for GLBTQ people to love and live.

Here is a list of stories and authors in the order they appear:

• Post Mortem by Jordan Castillo Price
• Dressing Down by Clare London
• Et Tu, Fishies? by JL Merrow
• Zones by Elyan Smith
• Sollicito by Charlie Cochrane
• A Few Days Away by Elin Gregory
• Vidi Velo Vici by Robbie Whyte
• Shelter From Storms by Sandra Lindsey
• Faulty Genes by Rebecca Cohen
• Lost in London by Tam Ames
• My Husband by Zahra Owens
• Waiting for a Spark by Lillian Francis
• Social Whirl by Emily Moreton
• School for Doms by Anne Brooke
• Dragon Dance by Josephine Myles
• Reclaiming Territory by Becky Black

The stories contained within this anthology really run the gamut of GLBTQ sexuality as well as genre.  Here you will find stories of wereshifters of London (no, not those, quite the contrary) to lesbians in love, love in transition, timeless love or should that be love amuck the ages and finally lost lovers reunited after a long separation.  There is humor, ok, humour (sheesh) and brooding, and angst, all the emotions love pulls out of you and more.  And oh what authors await you between the pages, it is almost sinful to have such a wealth of talent in one book.

Some of the stories don’t fall into the realm of books I normally read and review but I will say that I enjoyed them all.  Thank you for my visit into f/f fiction as well as D/s.  There are stories of transgender persons and one who cross dresses with panache. These stories manage to combine great characterizations, vivid descriptions from locations all over Britain and plots that make you guffaw and break down in tears.  Here were some of my favorites among a list of outstanding stories:

Et Tu, Fishies? by J.L. Merrow.  When Bill leaves his fish tank along with his flat in the hands of Marty for the week, Marty was prepared for many things.  Cleaning, feeding the fish, masturbating in Bill’s bed, lots of things.  Nothing, however, prepared him for Arthur, the weird upstairs neighbor.  That would be Arthur Prefect. When Marty challenges him on his name, he says it used to be Herbert Wells.  Right.  And Arthur has lost his lover.  That would be..nope not giving that one away.  Yes, indeedy, we are off on a wonderful romp involving lashings of vodka, wine , walnuts and cheesy balls.  And time travel, snappy dialog and drunken sex.  Loved it.

Sollicito by Charlie Cochrane.  She did it, she went ahead and did it. Charlie Cochrane gives us weresloths of London.  With shifters of all sorts bounding across the pages of book after book, there was nary a weresloth among them.  Until now. Told from the point of view of an unnamed bloke who sprouts fur and long curved claws at the most inopportune moment, he bemoans the fact that his shifting, unlike the numerous wolf shape shifters, has no rhyme nor reason to it.   One moment he is fine, the next he has fur and the urge to move slowly along a balustrade.  Yes, insert spew event.  The whole story is like that.  While laughing out loud, I found a new phrase to use “divvy doo dah”.  Love the sound of that.  Had to look up Martin Johnson (not a clue), read the words “brolly dangling stage” several times as obscene images flittered across my mental landscape while remaining completely in the dark about the Junction 6 of the M40. Yes,I know.  It’s a British thing!  Love this story even as it boggled my very American mind.

Vidi Velo Vici by Robbie Whyte. Whyte uses a clever format for this story of lust, if not love discovered during a daily commute through traffic.  Each day Evan sets out for the office in his car only to find himself trapped in horrific traffic. Each day finds him on the phone to his sarcastic assistant, Tia, to have her rearrange his schedule as he is going to be late into the office.  Monday, 8:38 am and Evan’s car mirror is clipped by a cyclist weaving through the clogged cars.  Evan’s rage is only abated by watching some outstanding glutes in tight spandex peddling away.  Day after day, Even and the faceless cyclist appear on the same road and at the same time.  You listen in on Evan’s inner dialog as he watches for that magnificent physique to appear in the mirror, Evan consults with his sat-nav with the voice of Vader, Evan talks to Tia whose droll comments on Evan’s current legal case involving a shih tzu,  dog custody and someone named Antonio who he keeps sleeping with had me giggling madly.  It’s funny, it’s real, and has a great ending.

Shelter From Storms by Sandra Lindsey takes us back to the French Revolution as a wounded, frail Louis appears on the doorstep of Daniel Elcott in England.  He has made his way through war torn France to Daniel’s country manor with only a small dirty calling card to hand the butler. Once the men were lovers when younger, now Daniel is married with children.  But Louis has no where else to go as he has lost it all.  The men reconnect as Louis falls ill and Daniel attends to his needs.  Their love sparks once more as Louis convalesces.  Daniel finds that with Louis’ return so does the man he once was.  Lovely, well told story that brings history to life and makes a gay relationship seem not only possible but realistic as well.

Lost In London by Tam Ames.  Here we meet Kevin Larton, from Calgary in Canada.  He’s in London to go to school but finding it difficult to navigate his way.  He is finding his courses difficult, making new friends more so and when it comes to reading maps and getting around town, he is at a complete loss.  It doesn’t matter that he is here to get his PhD in Economics or was a city planner.  Kevin just can’t read maps so he is always lost. A chance meeting with Benjamin White gives Kevin a change in direction.  Everything starts to become possible, friends, degree and perhaps even a boyfriend.  There is a hilarious drunken scene, wonderful characters and I learned what a feedlot was.  Ewww.  Great story, though.

My Husband by Zahra Owen charts one person’s marriage through the tumultuous stages of their transitioning from female to male.  There is never a missed step as Owens treats the subject with sensitivity and authenticity.  Told from Sam’s POV, we meet Sean their husband and see their courtship and marriage through Sam’s memories.  Owen gives us a glimpse of what it must feel like to be born in the wrong body and the journey one person makes to correct nature’s mistake. Poignant and lovely.

Dragon Dance by Josephine Myles is the penultimate story and one of my top two (I have no intension of telling you all the other, guess why don’t you).  I love going to Chinatown here in DC and watching the Dragon Dance during the Chinese New Year so imagine my delight over a story wrapped around two friends and their families preparing the costumes and dragon for their neighborhood’s New Year celebration. Gan and Archie are two lifelong friends whose families are equally close in their small village’s Chinese community.  As their mothers make the Dragon from crimson parachute material and fashion the pearl it will chase after, the boys discover their sexuality and the love that has always been present.  Myles pulled me in completely from the vibrant portraits of the boys as they dance the Dragon Dance. As they practice, their movements are jerky and uncoordinated with respect to each other but as they communicate their love and desire  it becomes sinuous, motions beckoning each other forward that mimic the depth their relationship has finally achieved.  I could picture it unfolding so real did it all become. Sigh.

Reclaiming Territory by Becky Black is the last story of the anthology so it is fitting that it is the story of  an old love lost and then later reclaimed.  Jim and Andy are riding a motorcycle and sidecar to Whitby, a place full of memories for both men and their relationship, good and bad.  As they wander through town, making various stops we learn their history and what is has taken for the men to get to this stage in their relationship where they are now.  The story bounds between 2012, 1987 the year they broke up, and 2009, the year they reconnected.  Jim is so very human in his fears and faults as is Andy in his anger over Jim’s betrayal and cowardice.  All it takes is a look at the date and remember what it meant to be gay during that time period.  Yes, things have changed, yes, they have gotten easier in some parts of the globe but this story is a reminder of the fears of coming out and staying together as a gay committed couple that many had during the 80’s.  It is fitting that in celebrating our present, the past is never forgotten and Black does an outstanding job of bringing that  to us in the forms of Jim and Andy riding into the future firmly hooked together by vehicle and by choice.

Go out and grab this anthology, read each story, find your own favorites, Mine might shuffle as I read it once more.  Happy Jubilee, Queen, Great Olympics, Britain and have a wonderful time at the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet.  I really wish I was there with you.  Divvy doo dah!

Cover art by Alex Beecroft.  Smashing I say! lol

Review of Wick by Megan Derr

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Rating: 4.75 stars

Wick tells the tale of four wielders of magic or wicks.  Swordwick concerns a royal swordwick who must lie about his abilities as he accompanies his sister to an arranged marriage.  Oddwick presents us with a tatterdemalion of a wick,  a brilliant eccentric who has locked himself away with his research and books until a gorgeous Captain comes knocking.  Songwick introduces us to Lyrawick, a rare wick still carrying the physical and emotion scars of his childhood, locked in bitterness until a child in need forces him to face his past.  And finally, Flamewick, the story of a powerful flamewick with a secret agenda until he is attacked and those precious to him, kidnapped.  To save them, he will need the help of all the wicks to defeat his enemy and ensure the safety of all around him.

Once again Megan Derr conjures up a fantastical world and populates it with people and creatures of unimaginable beauty, anguished pasts, and magical traits galore and makes it all seem so very real.  In Wick, the title is never fully explained and it is up to the reader to define it for themselves. People who are wicks come into their magical abilities at various stages in their life.  The earlier their talent is discovered, the more powerful wick they will become.  I took the name to be a derivative of magic or wiccan but I could be wrong and perhaps it is explained in a Derr book I haven’t read.  As a person or child is discovered to be a wick, then that appellation is added to their name, so Prince Hollis became Holliwick, Toki becamse Tokiwick and so on.  A wick usually has just one area of magic to work with but occasionally a wick shows up with the talent for more than just one type of magic, say wind and frost.  The swordwicks are looked down upon, they are both warrior and wick.  Somewhere in the past, a royal battle raged with one side deploying an army of swordwicks.  That battle turned swordwicks from honorable warriors into mercenaries who travel hiring out their talents to those who would pay them.  For some families to have children with swordwick abilities is an embarrassment and shame upon their name.  The wicks are trained at a central Grand Academy of Rothwick from childhood on and must conjure up a familiar as to cement their magical status.  These are the basics for all four stories, each linked to each other by characters related by lineage or linked by events to each other.

Swordwick starts off the saga with the story of Hollowick and Prince Fenwick and their unicorn familiars, Pence and Diamond.  Right off, let me say the familiars, paired up with their wicks, are as much central characters as everyone else in the stories.  They have as much individuality as the wicks themselves.  Pence and Diamond happen to be unicorn familiars and definitely have little to do with innocence and purity as a more humorously perverse pair cannot be found, to my utter enjoyment.  Hollowick’s family is ashamed that he is a swordwick and forbade him to tell anyone of his abilities.  Unfortunately, he is accompanying his sister, Willa, to her arranged marriage to the King of Draius, someone she has never met. That King just so happens to have a wick as a brother.  And Prince Fenwick?  His familiar is a unicorn just like Hollowick’s.  And all their voices can be heard by Hollowick in his head.  So not only is he lying but eavesdropping as well.  The story is told from Hollowick’s POV so you feel his shame and pain over the role he has been forced into by his family.  And once the men become friends mutually attracted to one another, his deception is compounded by his fear of discovery and the anticipated reactions of all around him.

Oddly enough, Swordwick is the story with characters, while endearing, have the least complexity to them.  Both men seems straightforward in their approach to honor and are equal in social status.  I enjoyed the story and felt that it did a great job in laying down the foundation for all the rest of the stories that follow without having its own well of pain and angst to draw from.  Hollowick has a lesser status in his family, that’s true and his parents are cold emotionally.  But the angst he feels here is caused by his own lies, even if ordered to do so and Prince Fenwick’s reaction to its discovery.  In terms of painting, it is a lovely watercolor, lacking the depth and richness of the stories that follow.

Oddwick starts our journey into stories with deeper emotional layers.  Master Tokiwick, who makes a brief appearance in Swordwick, comes full center here along with his familiar, a tiny dragon called Harlequin whose quixotic nature and flashing kaleidoscope eyes put him on equal level with Tokiwick in this reader’s affections.  Tokiwick, a charmwick, has retreated to a house deep in the woods where he lives surrounded by books, occupied by research into wick abilities and the nature of familiars.  He is this world’s idea of nerd, socially inept, living in clutter with an appearance to match.  When his friend, Hollowick, needs a magical tome translated, he sends for Tokiwick and provides for an escort in the person of Captain Roswick.  This is the story of their relationship which is gentle and hesitant in its unfolding as two uncommunicative men struggle to come together.  Thank goodness for their familiars, Harle with his inquisitive need to touch everything and Waltz, the black wolf with a wicked sense of humor who is Roswick’s companion. I loved both familiars with their patience, quiet urging, and good advice that finally brings their men together. More of the history of the Academy comes to light as well as Tokiwick’s relationship with his brother, Creawick, the Flamewick of the last story.  Here we learn of a new Academy that the Princes wish to establish and the darkness of the past histories of the wicks starts to unfold.  I loved this story in every way.  It’s lighthearted but the complex overtones are coming into play as a layer of oil paint is applied across the canvas of Wick, adding textures to the whole.

Songwick  brings the darkness that has only been hinted at into the forefront of the tale of Lyrawick and Wenwick. Wenwick, introduced in Oddwick, is a Master Professor now residing and teaching at Draius’ new Academy. He was Lyrawick’s mentor at one time. Lyrawick is a rare songwick taken from his family at the age of 5 and turned over to the  Grand Academy of Lothwick to be secretly tortured and abused until he reached his full ability and came of age.  The story opens as a bitter, somewhat hollow hearted Lyrawick has decided to take a year’s sabbatical from his teaching position at the Grand Academy  where he has lived almost his entire life.  But that plan is abandoned as his only friend, Creawick, has sabotaged the Academy’s plan to take another rare songwick away from her parents.  He fears the girl will suffer the same fate as Lyrawick and others so the wicks intervene and  Lyrawick flees with the girl to Drais and the new Academy now established there.  Prior acquaintances bring old hurts out to be examined for several of the characters we have already met and our perceptions of all involved change and evolve.

With the last two stories, all lightness vanishes as the torture of innocents and the abuse of power become the driving themes behind Lyrawick and Flamewick.  Two men, thought to be villains in previous stories, are shown from a  different perspective. Flamewick is the final, most densely layered tale of the bunch and my favorite.  Creawick is a man who most dislike, a man of passion and flashing emotions as befits a flamewick with a griffon called Brightheart as his only companion. He is central figure in many of the convoluted relationships between the wicks. While hated by most, his tortured past is slowly revealed by two wicks.  One is his friend, Lyrawick from the penultimate story.  The second person is Elawick, the healer who had to attend to him in Songwick. From their standpoint, Creawick is totally different from the man we had seen up until now.  It is through an attack on Creawick and those he cares for that brings about the final confrontation between the evil from their pasts and the group of wicks that has now banded together. From plot to characterizations, everything is on point. Now we have an oil painting of a story comprised of rich colors, dramatic brush marks, balanced in composition, a feast for the eyes in every way.  Just an outstanding story full of characters I won’t soon forget just as an oil has a much longer life than the watercolor, how ever fair it may be.

We see how true heroic natures can be hidden behind walls of pain and a twist of reference turn a memory on its head.  Songwick and Flamewick are my clear favorites here.  Brooding, dark, full of angst, revenge and redemption.  But it is Swordwick and Oddwick which lured us in and kept us occupied until the other two could take over.  Here we have Dawn before Nightfall to my amazement and joy.  Yours too if you pick up this book.

Cover:  Lainey Durand designed the simple elegant cover that works so well here.

Review of Shelton’s Homecoming (Shelton #4) by Dianne Hartsock

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Rating: 4 stars

Shelton has just flown home after receiving a phone call telling him his lover, Nevil, was injured and in the hospital.  Nevil is going to be fine but the accident has made it clear that something needs to change in his life, and change now. When Shelton took the promotion and transferred to another city, he never realized the full impact of a long distance relationship would be to him and Nevil.  After 6 months, he has had enough and the accident just clarified that.  In fact, Shelton realizes he wants even more from Nevil.  He wants permanence in the form of marriage, something Nevil has been very clear about not wanting.  When an ex boyfriend of Nevil’s invites them to his marriage, all the old jumbled up feelings come out and Shelton wonders if Nevil will ever come around to a future as husband and husband.

Shelton’s Homecoming is the fourth in the Shelton series but the first I have read by Dianne Hartsock.  The books plot the romance of Shelton and Nevil whose last names are never given in this book.  By Shelton’s Homecoming, their romance is an established one that has undergone an upheaval in Shelton’s Choice (Shelton #3).  The upheaval is obviously Shelton’s promotion in his bank job which necessitated a move to another city.  Now Shelton is only home on the weekends and the constant travel and loneliness is taking its tole on both men. Dianne Hartsock does a wonderful job of giving us two men deeply in love but still making adjustments to their relationship.  Shelton is someone you can easily identify with.  He took a promotion that he knew he deserved and wanted but the reality of that choice on their relationship is something far different then he had imagined.  Shelton is tired and stressed.  And then gets the phone call to say Nevil has been injured while he is out of town and guilt is added to the pain of their separation.  There are many couples today who have a similar arrangement whether by choice or economics so all the emotions on display here ring true.  Nevil is a little more conservative in his approach to their relationship but clearly he relishes the fact that  Shelton has come home and he has missed him dearly. I don’t have enough of their history on hand but it seems that he might be older than Shelton, at least he comes across that way.  At any rate, Nevil is another complete character with complex feelings about gay marriage equating with permanence as he feels they already have that.

Much time is spent having sex, lots of hot sex, but as the men have been separated  essentially for 6 months and love each other deeply, I can buy the “jump his bones at every possible moment” action as the author keeps remembering to bring the plot in as well.  There is really one issue for the couple to deal with as Shelton decides in the beginning to return home and that is one of marriage.  They live in a state where they can register as domestic partners but marriage is not legal.  So Nevil doesn’t think having a piece of paper, one not even backed by their state’s laws, is necessary to their relationship.  He feels they are committed to one another so nothing more is needed.  Shelton, on the other hand, looks at that piece of paper as evidence of a long term commitment visible by wedding rings to all around them and he wants it badly.  Hartsock makes us understand both Shelton and Nevil’s position on the matter which makes the resolution even more satisfying.

This is a heartwarming story and a quick read. I loved watching Nevil’s change of heart and watching Shelton and Nevil take their relationship to a deeper level of commitment.  Very well done.  I might go back to the beginning to see how it all started but really don’t feel that I have to in order to understand both men and their love for each other.  I anticipate that Dianne Hartsock will continue the series and that a wedding is on the horizon.  Count me in as I plan to be there when it happens.

Cover: Cover art by Mina Carter.  I love the colors and the simplicity of the clasped hands is lovely.

Shelton stories in the order they are written:

Shelton In Love (Shelton #1)

Shelton’s Promise (Shelton #2)

Shelton’s Decision (Shelton #3)

Shelton’s Homecoming (Shelton #4)

Review of (Un)Masked by Anyta Sunday and Andrew Q. Gordon

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Rating: 4.25 stars

Jayden Walker has two goals in life, he wants to see the plays he wrote with his best friend, Gristle, performed at Wellington’s Tory Street Theater and he wants to meet his soul mate.  But for now he and Gristle, brother of his soul and best friend, are struggling to make ends meet in a moldering plumbing challenged home, aka the hovel.  On his walk home from a despondent meeting with the theater manager, he hears an accordion busker playing a tune of irresistible joy and hope.  Drawn to that sound, he sees a small figure in a hoodie dancing on the street corner and spies a thatch of blond hair and an eyebrow divided by a scar.  Something about the moment seems magical, but Jay hurries on as Gristle is expecting him home.

Jay waits tables to earn money, but things are so tight that Gristle decides to become an”escort” to get the extra money they need to put on their production.  This decision tears Jay up inside and while Gristle says it doesn’t bother him, it is clear that it does but his mind won’t be changed.  As Jay heads out to the public bathrooms, he sees the accordion musician being attacked by a man near the beach.  Oddly enough, the busker is not fighting back, just letting the man pummel him.  Jay runs up to intervene and stops the attack.  The man under the hoodie is Lethe Cross ( a name heavy with portent). Jay and Lethe are pulled together by a mutual attraction that gets stronger which each meeting.  But Lethe’s life is full of mystery.  People keep calling him by different names, his head is always covered by a hood as he never wants his face to be seen, and won’t let Jay bring Gristle to meet him. The last is a huge bone of contention between Gristle and Jay.  Before long Jay is being pulled in two opposite directions by the two people he loves the most and who need Jay more than they have ever needed him before.  Gristle is hiding things from Jay and Lethe finally tells Jay that he is the last of his family that has carried a curse for over a century.  The curse is slowly killing Lethe as all in his family have died young because of it.  There is a way to end it but it may cost Jay everything he loves, even his life.

Never have I felt so ambivalent over such a beautifully written book.  Authors Sunday and Gordon give us characters of heartbreaking beauty in the gorgeous setting of Wellington,the capital of New Zealand, where the ocean meets hills and nature is just a step away from civilized zones. Here the geological earthquakes are mirrored by the earthquakes of the heart and soul that happens to the characters in the book.  Jay is our narrator, the actions of the others seen from his point of view.  But that is not to say that Jay sees all that is happening around him with clarity. To the authors credit, the readers can see where Jay’s vision has become clouded by emotions in turmoil, we can see the storms coming even if we are helpless to stop them.  I loved Jay.  An artist dying to get his vision out to the public, he dreams of writing plays that people will see and he wants to accomplish this goal with Gristle, his “bro”, the brother of his soul, even if they are not related by blood.  Jay also has a certain pragmatism about him.  He does see that the bills get paid and hold down a job. Jay is gay and wants to find his soul mate.  Gristle, his “bro” is Jay’s best friend and roommate.  Gristle is straight and has a traumatic past that he has never recovered from.  One of the things missing from the book is Gristle and Jay’s back story.  I wanted to know how they met, under what circumstances did these two get together and become so bonded that they almost breathe in unison.  Then there is Lethe Cross, the musician who turns out to be Jay’s soulmate.  Lethe starts out as a complete mystery to Jay and the reader, although the name is a portent in every way as memory itself is a cross Lethe has to bear.  As the little oddities about Lethe start to add up in Jay’s mind, they do so with us too.  As person after person mistakes Lethe for people in their pasts, an aura of magic starts to pervade the story, and not in a good way.  More in a Grimm’s fairy tale overtone, suffused with darkness and angst.  When the truth behind the mystery is uncovered, we feel Lethe’s pain.  His life has never been his, the curse brought on by an ancestor that everyone in his family had paid for with their lives.  But for as much as I felt for Lethe, in some ways he remained a chimera for me, parts of him remaining as elusive as a wisp of smoke.

It is Gristle who is the heart of the story for me.  It is Gristle who captured my heart.  And it is Gristle who made me weep, bawling like a baby for the second half of the book. I was/am 100 percent invested in Gristle. His heart so huge, his love for Jay so all encompassing, so beautiful and pure.  Their bond is one of precious metals and the red petals of the Pohutukawa tree.  It is the two of them I loved.  From their nightly excursions that Gristle surprised Jay with to help Jay step outside his inner boundaries to their “hovel” decorated with bits of their dreams and a room full of kites to fly.  They were so magical that in many respects Lethe felt like the intruder Gristle came to regard him as. Neither Gristle nor I ever recovered from Lethe’s introduction into Jay’s life.

Something happens to Gristle halfway through the book and because of that event, I found myself so emotionally let down and distraught  that I detached myself from the story and never quite recaptured the original feeling I had when I started the book. I feel Gristle deserved a better script that the one he was given.  I know I felt that way right to the end. We all bring our personal baggage to the books we read that  let’s us take one character over  another into our hearts or takes one part of the story and highlights it above all the rest of its elements. Gristle was my focus here, my true north instead of Lethe and his mystery.  You may find yourself feeling completely different. That possibility stems directly from the wonderful writing that is (Un)Masked.

I enjoyed learning things about Wellington, New Zealand from the official Christmas tree to the aboriginal magic that resides in its hills. That setting gave the story an extra layer that enriched it from start to finish. And I have a final quibble to leave you with. For all the pain, all the loss that occurs and reverberates through the story, at least at the end the enemy should have been defeated unequivocally, vanquished forever and we were not given even that satisfaction.  It would have balanced out the darkness with the light of hope for total peace at last, at least for me. But where I found despair in the latter part of the story, others might find hope. So while I won’t ever be picking up this book to read again, the wonderful writing, the memorable characters, and the different ways people come to stories, lets me give this tale a 4.25 star rating and a recommendation for you all to pick it up.  Drop me a line after you read it.  I will be curious on what you take away from (Un)Masked.

Cover photograph by Caroline Wimmer, graphic layout by Anne Cain.  I loved this cover.  I only wish the font color and the mask were a wee bit lighter to make it easier to distinguish the names and title.

A New Addition to the Garden, the Week Ahead in Reviews and the Sazerac, an American classic cocktail

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So, here we are again.  It’s a rainy Sunday in Maryland, perfect day for reading and snoozing with the pooches.  I was out earlier in the week, gallivanting around and made a quick stop into one of our local nurseries to check out their perennial sale (50 percent off woo hoo!) and what did I behold? A zen froggy waiting for someone to take him home.  Really how could I pass him up?  Here’s are 2  pictures.   He is now perched in all his zen-like concentration behind the fish pond to Kirby’s everlasting confusion.  I watch Kirby looking at him every time he goes out and can just see the slow wheel turning in our third smartest dog’s mind.  Like “hmmmm, didn’t see that before, wonder if it is edible” “will he play with me?”.  Cracks me up everytime.  So I believe our zen froggy deserves a name.  Any suggestions?

 

Now on to the Week in Reviews.  There were just some lovely books this week. Lashings of Sauce was a standout based on just the shear number of great authors who contributed to this anthology. We run the gamut from contemporary romance to supernatural lovers this week:

Monday:                           (Un)Masked by Anyta Sunday & Andrew Q.Gordon

Tuesday:                           Shelton’s Homecoming by Dianne Hartsock

Wednesday:                    Wick by Megan Derr

Thursday:                         Lashings of Sauce-a British Anthology

Friday:                               Weekends by Edward Kendrick

Saturday:                           The Cool Part of His Pillow by Rodney Ross

Cocktail of the Week: The Sazerac

The Sazerac, created in New Orleans in the 1800’s, an American Classic Cocktail

Ingredients:

1 1/2 teaspoons (1/4 ounce) club soda
1 sugar cube (preferably rough-cut and unbleached*) or 1/2 teaspoon raw sugar, such as turbinado or Demerara
4 to 5 dashes Peychaud Bitters
5 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) VSOP Cognac
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) absinthe
1 cup ice
1 lemon
Directions:

In chilled cocktail shaker or pint glass, pour club soda over sugar cube. Using muddler or back of large spoon, gently crush sugar cube. Swirl glass until sugar dissolves, 20 to 30 seconds, then add bitters and Cognac and set aside.
Pour absinthe into chilled double old-fashioned glass or stemless wineglass. Holding glass horizontally, roll between your thumb and forefinger so absinthe completely coats the interior, then discard excess.
Add ice to cocktail and stir until well chilled, about 20 seconds. Strain cocktail into chilled glass rinsed with absinthe. Using channel knife, cut thin 4-inch strip of peel from lemon directly over glass, then place peel in glass and serve.

Review of Good Bones by Kim Fielding

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Rating: 4,25 stars

Dylan Warner was quiet, shy, a milquetoast kind of guy that no one noticed.  An architect, he normally stayed home with his plans until one impulsive night out changed his life forever.  Dylan can’t believe his luck when a hot guy in leathers, Andy, picks him up and takes him home for an evening of hot sex. One evening stretches into many with Dylan hardly coming up for a breath.  Then one night he awakes to hear growling  in the living room and opens the door to see a wolf in the middle of his carpet.  Before he knows what is happening, the wolf attacks him, biting him viciously and then bounds out the door.  Dylan has been bitten by a werewolf and his life changed in an instant.

Now Dylan lives by the phases of the moon, dreading the nights he will have to lock himself away in the steel reinforced room in his condo.  Only his brother and sister in law know what has happened to him.  In an wry turnaround, Dylan now finds himself bulked up, gorgeous, and a sexual magnet as a side effect of his new status as a werewolf.   Everyone wants him and Dylan won’t let anyone close for fear of hurting them, an irony he is well aware of.  Living in the city is choking him and his wolf so when his brother suggests buying a place in the country and telecommuting, he is all over it. Dylan purchases a former Christmas tree farm and begins renovations.

But Dylan’s new country farmhouse comes with an attractive neighbor, Chris Nock, with tons of his own baggage.  Then Andy shows up again, determined to keep Dylan a part of his pack.  Everything that Dylan worked so hard to achieve, his peace of mind, his friendship with Chris, everything is in jeopardy unless Dylan can deal with his inner wolf and  the alpha that has come to claim him.

I am a sucker for a shifter story and look forward to the details each author adds to the shifter lore and any new twists added to the werewolf genre.  Some authors go for the seamless shift from human to wolf and back.  Others get into the nitty-gritty physicalities of body transformation including vivid descriptions of bone breaking and accompanying pain.  Some authors go the whole mate route, you know “wolves mate for life” with instant mate recognition path while others go for the human romance “harum scarum” route.  In some books, the wolves shift by the moon and others shift on command.  That’s what I love about this genre, there are no hard and fast rules. I love watching each author come to a werewolf or shifter story from their own perspective and Kim Fielding is no different, giving us some new twists on a popular character in m/m fiction.

In Dylan Warner, we have a mild mannered “grey” sort of man who is transformed into a sexy “beast” after being bitten by a werewolf.  Fielding gives us a Kent Clark/Superman persona but substituting werewolf for Superman, an intriguing notion.  Then Fielding takes it one further with an ironic twist in that now a very sexy Dylan refuses to act on his new status because he fears the very thing that has made him so attractive.  Instead of becoming big man on the town, Dylan withdraws into his shell, isolating himself from others in a way he never was before his transformation.  Indeed, Dylan separates the “human” from the “wolf” inside, a duality  not as common in other shifter fiction.  Usually the human mind is aware and active inside their wolf body, not entirely so here, a problem when it comes to hunting.  Another reason Dylan barricades himself inside a fortified room. Hunt humans or hunt animals? He has seen Andy kill a person and wants to make sure he does not do the same.

Fielding’s other characters aren’t given the same amount of depth that Dylan has.  Chris Nock, the attractive neighbor next door to Dylan’s farmhouse has a troubled history that is only referred to on a couple of occasions.  As he is so much of the story here, I would have preferred to learn more about Chris’ past.  He calls himself a “whore”, mentions bouncing around the foster system and then nothing more. Chris came across as extremely judgmental in the beginning but where is the basis for that?  Especially given the events that follow?  I would have loved to have seen Chris given a better foundation for his character and his actions throughout the story.  I liked Chris, more information would have made me love him.

Andy, the werewolf who instigated all the events here engendered mixed feelings from me.  I could understand his desperation to have a pack or his need for companionship, but in a sort of throw away line, we find out Andy has become a serial killer in his attempts to recreate a Dylan to an almost absolute lack of horror from Dylan.  Why didn’t Dylan react more to that fact when he hears it? Not sure, given his reaction to an earlier kill Andy made.  In fact while I could see what Fielding was trying to achieve with the relationship dynamics between Andy and Dylan, I am not sure I ever bought it.  Dylan’s reactions to Andy fluctuate dramatically, so much so he is telling him to get lost and then having sex with him, albeit in an animalistic manner.  One such moment left an acrid taste in my mouth, considering the events that happened just prior.  I don’t want to include any spoilers but it just seems to me that the author could have gotten the same point across in another fashion.  Wolf vs human actions, how to handle the dichotomy. Got it, don’t hit me in the face with it, though.

I really enjoyed Good Bones and Kim Fielding’s take on werewolves.  I found only some minor editing errors. A “close guy” instead of closest guy but on the whole, it is very well done. This is the first book of hers I have read and it won’t be the last.  This is a wonderful addition to the werewolf genre, don’t hesitate to pick it up.  You won’t be sorry.

Cover: Christine Griffin was the cover artist and I think she did a terrific job conveying the subjects within with a darkly moody cover and great graphics.

Book available at Dreamspinner Press. All Romance Ebooks, Fictionwise and Amazon.

Review of Bedazzled by Pelaam

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Rating: 3.75 stars

Jem’s life has been hard since his father died.  His stepmother has control of the family business, his step brother and sister have all her affection, and his health, both physically and mentally, was shattered by his loss.  Only his good friend, Byron, makes it possible for Jem to get through his day of cleaning and restocking the shelves in Diamond, the bar where they both work. Then in an instant, Jem’s life changes when he rescues a stranger being attacked on his way home.

The stranger is none other than Prinz, the only son of the Space Station’s galactic billionaire businessman.  He is immediately attracted to Jem, and when the gorgeous young man disappears after rescuing him, he vows to find him.  Jem can’t get the man he saved out of his mind, and the stranger occupies his dreams nightly. Byron is mystified and more than a little protective when Herne appears in the bar asking for Jem.  Herne is Prinz’s best friend and bodyguard, sent to look for Jem and reunit him with Prinz.  He doesn’t count on his reaction to Byron or Bryon’s to him. It seems like love is all around the space station.  But there is more to all 4 men then they are telling.  Secrets mount up until the night of the Station ball when one is revealed to Jem’s devastation and he runs away.  How will this fairy tale end when the futures of not one but two couples rest in the balance.

This is a very cute retelling of the Cinderella story, ala Cinderfella times two.  It has been relocated to space with a mixture of alien shapeshifters thrown in for good measure.  It’s light  and frothy and the slight danger to our hero is never more than that.  The main issue here is that the secondary pairing is much more interesting than our Cinderfella and Prinz.  All the characterization details and depth is given over to Byron, a shapeshifting being with a slutty reputation he neither earned or deserved and Herne,  Prinz’ best friend and associate, who finds himself falling for the alien despite the rumors around the station.  Not making these two the main characters was a missed step in my opinion.  I got the feeling that even the author had to remind themselves to return to Prinz and Jem’s storyline after getting carried away with Byron’s backstory.  Alas, the names Prinz and Jem (get it, he is a priceless gem) says look at me, fairy tale here while the other duo asks for more serious respect.  And they get it.

There is, of course, the evil stepmother.  The bratty step siblings make a slight appearance as well.  Sinister doings are happening aboard the station and it is never in doubt as to the villain behind it all.  Alls well that ends well.  Again, almost too well as a third pairing makes an appearance at the end and its a Gay for All, toasts, celebrations and well, you know, a Happily Ever After in caps. Come at this with low expectations and a small amount of time to spend reading it and you will find an enjoyable fairy tale read.  But if you like our fairy tales done expertly in an adult manner, then perhaps this is not the story for you.  But I will pick up the next book by Pelaam if only because of the promise shown by Byron and Herne.

cover: Cover art by Lee Tiffin.  Great cover.  I love the colors, the graphics and the font choices.

Review of Phoenix Rising by Theo Fenraven

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Rating: 3.5 stars

It’s early morning hours when Det. Artemis Gregory gets a phone call from his partner, Rachel Wayland.  Another body has been found and that makes three in all.  The victims were young, gorgeous gay men killed on the full moon of each month. Each body looks posed and peaceful with little clues left at the scene to help them identify the killer. The latest victim has a fresh tattoo, exactly like the first body discovered.  It’s the logo of the hot rock band Phoenix Rising.

An interview with the owner of the tattoo parlor leads them to Talis Kehk, the lead singer of Phoenix Rising.  With his violet eyes and almost narcotic charm, he sets off Det. Gregory’s suspicions. The more they investigate the timing of the murders, all leads keep pointing back to Talis Kehk. Talis seems remarkably unconcerned for a man under suspicion of murder and his continued attempts to see Artemis confuse the Detective even as he becomes attracted to Talis.  Det. Gregory believes he is a good cop.  He has sacrificed his relationships and his private life to the hours required to be a Detective.  How can he  reconcile his reactions to this impossible man who may just be a serial killer with his duties as a police officer?  The time of the next full moon draws near and the moon killer will surely strike again. Can Artemis find the killer before its too late and will the killer’s identity destroy his chance for love.

Phoenix Rising is the first book I have read by Theo Fenraven and it has many wonderful qualities.  Fenraven’s myth building here is terrific.  He does an excellent job of bringing mythology to life with vivid descriptions and small attention to detail.  I can’t go into too much details here otherwise I would be giving away too many spoilers but let’s just say I could clearly see the  splendor of the author’s creation.  His humans fall a little short though after a promising start.  Det. Artemis Gregory comes across at the beginning as a typical cop.  He’s harried, sleep deprived, job obsessed and lonely.  Artemis long ago came to terms with the emotional costs of his job, it even lost Artemis his most recent relationship as his boyfriend recognized he would never be a priority that Artemis’ job was.  Rachel Wayland makes a good partner as well and they balance each other nicely.  I liked the details of the police investigation, they have an authentic ring to them and the author has clearly done his homework with regard to police work.

So what is the quibble?  That halfway through the story, Artemis Gregory discards his hard won persona and becomes totally unbelievable.  It’s very hard to talk about how his characterization failed without giving away the plot of the story but right up until a certain dramatic event, Artemis Gregory is as thorough and compulsive a cop as you will meet outside of Law and Order.  He’s watchful, sneaky, and smart.  I totally got him.  And then it all disappeared. Kaput. At one point in the novel, Gregory wonders how he is to live his life, how is he to occupy his time. A reasonable question and the first reappearance of the man who started the story.  And then the question is never answered and the Detective I loved disappeared never to return, leaving a shell of a persona behind.  What a shame.  Tossed away as well are the other fleshed out characters of his partner and coworkers.

The other quibble I have is that a tight, cohesive story starts to resemble swiss cheese about two thirds of the way through.  A building burns around their ears and no one seems to care, a huge deal is made of the killing of the young men and then a surprising tossed off comment at the end made me confused at to the purpose of it all. A Interpol agent says she will remove warnings from the files yet police around the world are now involved so that becomes a moot point. Hole after hole appears with nothing to plug them up.  It’s quite dismaying because the first  part of this book is just terrific.  If I could divide the book in two, the first half gets a 4 rating, the second half?  No more than 2.75 stars.  That’s how big a shift takes place within the story.  I would love to read a book from Theo Fenraven where the promise shown here is carried throughout the book.  I will look forward to it,  In the meantime, you will have to decide if only half a good book is worth your while.

Cover: Beautiful, dramatic cover by Anne Cain.  Perfect for the story.

Review of Alien ‘n’ Outlaw by K. C. Burn

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Rating: 4.25 stars

R’kos is the youngest child of the Emperor of Ankylos and the most different.  Unlike his brothers and sisters, he has an adventurous nature and no desire to enter into the standard triad marriage of their species. As the time for his arranged marriage draws near, R’los commandeers a family shuttle and heads out into space, eventually landing on Elora Ki.  R’kos is in search of human male companionship.  Just their smell so intrigues R’kos that he ends up in a bar, sniffing each human who comes in.  But the Ankylos sense of smell is so acute that he can smell hate, fear, corruption along with kindness, love, lust and happiness.  So far, no one smell has agreed with him.  Until Darien enters asking the barkeep for help.

Darien Lancaster is the son of a wealthy industrialist.  His father shipped him off to become a miner when he found out that Darien was gay but  he escaped, traveling the galaxy under assumed names and trading illegally to make a living. Darien hates what his father’s businesses have done to people, including inflicting an incurable disease on miners.  To counteract his father’s actions, Darien has become something of a Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and buying goods for the poor and sick.  Now he owes money to an infamous drug dealer who is hunting him down. Just when he thinks he is cornered a hooded stranger comes to his rescue.  The stranger?  R ‘kos whom Darien calls Ricky.  It takes both their efforts to get off planet where Ricky  accompanies Darien on his trade routes.  Ricky is having the time of his life and Darien is coming to depend on Ricky for friendship and then so much more.  It’s not just passion they feel for each other but love.  Then Ricky is injured and Darien must contact the people  who  seek to lock him up. Darien will risk everything to save Ricky and he must convince Ricky’s father and the Alliance that Ricky was not kidnapped, a crime which could send Darien to prison for the rest of his life.

I will admit that R’kos and I got off to a shaky start.  I mean really, a lavender Mr. Clean? With purple eyes and a nose in overdrive? And yes, there’s that misunderstood thief with a heart of gold, who just needs someone to love and believe in him.  Cliche territory seemed to surround me. And then, none of that mattered. Both R’kos ne Ricky and Darien got to me, I fell in love with both of them, found some really nice plot details  and ended up being swept away on the journey with them. *shakes head*.  Usually I go on about great characterization, or personas flatter than a frozen pancake but here I am just going to say I loved these two, not really sure why they captured my heart. I only know they did.  I cared for them despite his oddball coloring which was never completely explained or why a herbivore has a hive structure for their species.  Interesting details though they didn’t make sense to my naturalist mind.  Didn’t matter.  See what I mean?  I loved that big hairless Ricky who wanted more from life than any other Ankylos and went out to find it.  And ended up meeting Darien who is trying to make up for the pain and suffering his father inflicted on his brother and others. Darien is so alone that he captures both our understanding as well as compassion.  Loved him too.

I appreciated how Burn gave us an updated Robin Hood in space as well as a horrific reason that Darien chose to become an illegal trader.  The creation of a disease that so alters the human minors that they become gnarled twisted mindless beings called Chimera is horrific.  Black lung, asbestos, leprosy and more jumped immediately to mind.  Burn took those and then added even more symptoms to give us an interplanetary disease of nightmares. And then made it personal to Darien and the reader.  Great job.  Some science fiction stories only tweak one or two things, put it on a spaceship and expect it to be real science fiction.  No that does not make a story credible science fiction.  Give us world building, new species and make it seem realistic or possible.  And that definitely occurred here.  So believable that I am with Darien about living on Ankylos.  I felt his panic along with him.  It was just too alien, the complete lack of privacy unnerving and Darien knew he would not be able to adjust.  I found that credible too because I wouldn’t either.

To me, there is really only one substantial mistep.  KC Burns tells us of the big rift between the speciies over a mineral called Wolframite, in fact, the very lack of the mineral caused a protracted war between the Alliance (humans) and Ankylos with huge losses on both sides.  It is a major plot point in this story so imagine my astonishment upon finding out exactly what the wolframite was needed for.  I won’t tell you but to me it showed an amazing disregard to prior story elements, especially considering the  substantial impact on the characters and interspecies relations the war had and all for a throwaway bit of humor.   Why  that was not caught and pointed out to the author who hadn’t shown too many errors up until then I will never know.  Getting past that plot pothole, than my one last quibble is one of backstory.  Darien’s brother became a Chimera and Darien has been looking for him as he has travelled.  I would have liked more of that history. Perhaps KC Burns will give us a sequel and another journey for Darien and Ricky.  I would love a second visit to their universe.  But no more overly “cutsey” elements, they aren’t needed.  You have a good story, trust that to be enough.  So I do recommend this but let me know what you think.  Can you fall in love with characters just because? Either way, I hope to see these again.