Review of Animal Magnetism Anthology

Rating: 4.75 stars

Animal Magnetism is an anthology of 15 short stories by 15 wonderful authors of m/m lovers brought together by members of the animal kingdom.  It may be a snake called Ganymede or two kittens in need of a home and names.  It could be a collection of spiders loose in a basement or klepto octopus with a fondness for pens, all types of animals can be a catalyst for love for the right people and under the right conditions!  In these stories, the authors give you all those animals and many more on the path to romance and love.

I am such a sucker for animal stories and this anthology gave me 15 wonderful stories to curl up with and enjoy.  What delighted me the most was that along with the cute dog and kitten stories, the authors came up with tales that revolved around a falconer and his golden eagle, a pick pocket and a horse with trust issues, a groundskeepers relationship with an Indian palm squirrel named Jonno, an artist with a potty mouthed parrot, and a earthquake that allows a man to find love and start over even as it destroys everything around him.  Some stories are light-hearted romps through a grade school teacher’s  pet experiences to the terrifying race to outrun the waves of a tsunami, the range of emotions and settings are of such tremendous variety that there is something for everyone within this strong anthology. An animal lover and retired Park Naturalist, so many of these stories contain elements that resonate with me, whether is was because of animals I have worked with, situations I have been in or just plain animals that fascinate me and I know you will love them too.  This is a tremendous anthology and I know that I will return time and again to these stories to meet up with the people and animals they have introduced me to and have so totally engaged my feelings.  I highly recommend you pick this book up. Here are the stories in the order they are listed in the anthology.

Stories included are:

A Few Too Many by Heidi Champa. – A sheepdog imbibes after a competition and his drunken state introduces his owner to the new vet in town.
Having a Ball by Cari Z.-  Uncle Jimmy is petsitting his niece’s snake and accidentally overfeeds it too many mice.  Lucky for him, there is a gorgeous herpetologist living a floor above.  Great plot and wonderful characterizations had me laughing out loud.  A favorite of mine.

Along Came Spiders by Matthew Vandrew – A nurse and a  police officer get trapped in a basement full of loose spiders when they come to the aid of an unconscious man during an earthquake.  Again, we get strong characters, great plot and oodles of spiders. Terrific.

Cuddling Up by Chris T. Kat – Big cat keepers have a disagreement over zoo protocol and end up hot and heavy before its over..  The author really knows zoo protocol so the characters actions are very realistic while the sex is as hot and steamy as they come

New Tides by Avery Vanderlyle – I loved this story of a man adjusting to being single after a breakup as well as a new job in an aquarium where the catalyst to a new love happens to be a octopus called Cleopatra.  The author got everything right, from the detail about the University of Maryland’s programs to the curious intellect of the octopus and the wonderful characters trying to find love among the marine fauna.  Absolutely a delight and a story I read twice.

Care and Rehabilitation by Kim Fielding –  A man gets help in dealing with the death of a partner when his St. Bernard mix brings him a baby bird in need of a helping hand from a bird rehabber who knows something about loss.  Fielding gives us a sensitive portrayal of a man unable to move forward after the death of a partner and the event that finally helps him move on.  I loved this beautiful story that relates the rescue of a small bird to the rescue of a man in the stasis of grief.

Butterbean and the Pretty Princess Make a Home by R. Cooper – I have recently found R Cooper and now gobble up all she writes.  Here is another example as to why Cooper has become an instant favorite.  Those names alone are pure gold as are the men behind them.  Cooper takes a normal situation of roommates in love and elevates it with two unique characters dancing around the L word.  All it takes to push them over is two small kittens.  Love, love this story

Jonno by Emily Gould – Palm squirrel meets man, squirrel bites man, man meets vet.  Turns out squirrel not so bad after all. So cute.

On an Eagle’s Wings by A.J. Marcus – After I read that Marcus is also a falconer everything about this story made sense, including the authenticity running from page to page in this tale of love in the wilderness that comes to two lonely men.  Vivid descriptions of the wilderness carry the author’s love of the outdoors and his appreciation of nature and raptors with such mesmerizing clarity to the reader that I felt I was there.  Great job.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? by Skylar Jaye – Can love be found among chickens?  Why yes they can in this story that manages to bring chickens up close and personal while delivering a love story for the egges, oop ages.  Sorry, couldn’t resist

Tears for a Broken Sun by Minerva Wisting – A surprising white knuckle ride of a story inspired by Great Tohoku Earthquake.  Wisting makes us feel every second of every minute of the approaching tsunami.  We understand what the uncomprehending Akira does not, that his dog Wan is trying to pull him away from the shore up the mountain to safety.  Our anxiety mounts as he notices the absence of birds and the wild barking of his dog after the earthquake.  Not a missed step in this superlative story of love found among a natural disaster.

Stripped Bare by Lily Velden – An artist with a potty mouthed parrot has his first showing and love shows up as one of the buyers. Cute and clever.

Wild Horses by Kate Pavelle – A pickpocket named Kai steals a cellphone and its owner wants the phone returned.  When Kai does, he finds not only sanctuary but a path to love as well.  I loved this. While not a HEA, the author shows us tantalizing glimpses into a possible future for everyone involved, including the horses.  Everything about this story fascinates and intrigues the reader, from the hidden backstories of the main characters to the very nature of the special horses themselves.  I wanted so much more once the story was over.

Show and Tell by Liz Makar – First grade teacher Damian Coletti kills the class room pet yet again.  Can the new pet store owner save the class from another loss and find love at the same time?  Why of course, he can.  Funny,  with terrifyingly accurate portrayals of kids and great characters looking for love romp through the pages of this story.

The Conch Republic by G.S. Wiley – Wild conchs lead two men back to love in this story set in Key West.  I have never read a story that used live conchs as a springboard to love so this is a first.  It’s so successful that it might start a whole new take on the puppy love thing.  Conch love, who knew?  Great story, wonderful characters and a plot so easy to relate to that I felt like I was in a Key West state of mind.

Cover: Cover Art by Shobana Appavu . The cover works best when viewed up close so you can see all the different types of animals.  At a distance, it all seems very confused and busy.

September’s Over, and The Week Ahead includes an Author Spotlight and Book Contest!

The last day of September is here and once again it seems as though the month just flew by along with the Canada geese overhead.  I haven’t seen any hummingbirds for several days now and wonder if the last of the summer migrants have passed by as well.  I will leave the feeders up until next week just to be sure but the autumn wreaths are on the doors and the various maple trees have already started to turn glorious colors so the feeders I am steadily filling now are the ones that contain sunflower seeds.

My favorite month is a day away and so much is happening.  My fish are getting a deeper pond for winter and the work starts tomorrow.  Several family birthdays and celebrations are happening so I am busy with new dishes and desserts to try out.  I love new recipes and will be passing on the ones I find most successful.  October is also bringing new releases in books that I have been waiting for and closure to the Lost Gods series by Megan Derr.  I have loved my journey through the books that are the Lost Gods saga and now await the last, Chaos. Andrea Speed’s anti hero Roan get another installment too on the 5th, a date circled many times in red to make the occasion.

The first day of October starts out with a bang of a new release.  That would be My Regelence Rake by JL Langley.  JL Langley produces about one book every year.  So to celebrate the latest in her Sci Regency series, I will be giving away one copy of her book from Samhain Publishing to a lucky person who comments during the week.   It will be a great week ahead as we talk cowboys, shifters, and of course how did Regency end up in Space?  The winner of the book will be picked by Kirby on Friday!

Monday:                   Author Spotlight: J.L. Langley

Tuesday:                   Sci Regency Series Review

Wednesday:             With or Without Series Review

Thursday:                 Cowboys with JL Langley

Friday:                       My Regelence Rake  and winner of the Contest

Saturday:                   The Tin Star and why I love it.

Review of Inferno by Scarlett Blackwell

Rating: 2.5 to 4.5 stars

Moonlight Cove Detective Zack Stewart and his partner Claire Keaton get the call for a murder at a downtown gay nightclub Inferno.  When they arrive they find a young gay man strangled in the alley in back of the club.  The victim reeked of recent sex and was strangled with his own underwear.  Inside Inferno Zack and his partner find plenty of people who knew the victim, had had sex with him including the club owner, Dante Jardin, their chief suspect.

Zack Stewart is in the closet at work but Dante Jardin ticks all his buttons and then some.  From the beauty mark on his face to the unusual color of his eyes, Dante Jardin is Zack Stewart’s hottest dream and worst nightmare all rolled into one.  Zack is convinced that Dante is the murderer but isn’t sure if that is because of the evidence or because he is  fighting his own feelings towards the man.  Then another murder occurs at the club, a victim killed in the same manner  who also was connected to the first victim.  A serial killer is on the loose and all the evidence points to Dante Jardin or does it?  What happens when a detective’s increasing obsession with a murder suspect starts to cloud his judgement?  As the killer strikes again, Stewart must decide which will rule out, obsession or justice.

Inferno by Scarlett Blackwell is 95 percent of a great book.  Here is a recommendation I have never made before.  Stop reading about 10 pages before the ending.  Just put the thing down.  Make up your own ending, or don’t. As long as you don’t finish the book you will have a terrific portrait of a man self destructing over a sexual obsession, the downward spiral of his intellectual and emotional life,  and the catastrophic  consequences that occur.  From our first introduction to Zack Stewart, we get a feeling of a man already in trouble emotionally and physcially.  Zack is exhausted by the hours of his job, worn out and lonely due to his closeted state.  He is not sleeping or eating well.  Then he is called out onto a case that will have ramifications on his job, his friendship with his partner and most important his self image.  The catalyst for his upheaval is Dante Jardin, owner of the notorious gay club Inferno.

Dante Jardin has the face of an angel and the body and attitude of the devil himself.  All sexual heat and emotional ice locked together in a package that pulls all of Zack’s strings so tight they vibrate.  His attitude towards the “dead whore” offends Zack and his partner while Dante’s sexuality turns Zack on to the point of physical arousal while questioning him.  From that moment on, Zack finds himself  growing increasingly obsessed over the club owner.  He masturbates with Dante in his thoughts even in the squad car.  Zack starts returning daily to the club because he can’t stay away from the man even as he insults him, committing borderline harassment and assault while shoving Dante against the wall.  Zack tries fighting his emotions, aware that he is falling into a trap that he might not be able to get out of.  We are there every step of the way as Zack falls down the rabbit hole, we are there as Zack makes one bad judgement call after another, helpless to stop himself.  Blackwell does an outstanding job of bringing us into the mind of a man in the throes of an obsession.  We hear his thoughts as his emotions spiral out of control even as intellectually he knows it will cost him everything he has worked so work to obtain, fifteen years on the force, the respect and friendship of his partner, even his own self respect.  All gone because he cannot turn away from a man he believes to be a murderer and who now owns him completely in every way.

Another amazing thing is that I didn’t even like Zack Stewart very much.  He whines (and knows it).  He throws his co workers under the bus, expects them to cover up his screw ups to the point of losing their own jobs, he throws an investigation and still we watch all the events happen, much like watching a train wreck.   I was never emotionally invested in the character and yet I still couldn’t put the book down.  Blackwell doesn’t make Dante Jardin someone you would relate to either.  She gives us some backstory on Dante that should make him and his demeanor more understandable but he never really came together for me outside of their sex scenes, which were very hot by the way.  And still, Blackwell keeps us turning the pages, wanting to know what will happen next.  The easiest character to understand?  That would be Claire Keaton, a “by the book” cop who considers Zack a friend and who instinctually realizes he is in trouble and that Dante is the key.

It all works, from the descriptions of the poor guys getting murdered to the club scene with the anonymous sex in the back room.  All visually rich in detail, smokey with the  smell of sex and weed, the clinking of glasses and the rustle of clothing, Blackwell’s descriptions brings us into the crime scene, into the midst of the investigation and the group of people circling around the periphery.  This is a 5 star book right up until it isn’t. And that brings us to the last 15 to 10 pages.  Were these written by a doppleganger?  Did some nefarious ghostwriter with fluff on the brain sneak in and complete this novel of grime, death and sexual obsession with a goal of inserting a measure of Hello Kitty and rainbowed unicorns?  I am still shaking my head over it.  It just makes no sense at all.  It takes everything, and I do mean everything, that went before and plants a big “Nuh uh!” over top of it, canceling out everything that felt gritty and real in order to throw us a fake HEA and “everything’s alright, boo boo cakes” epilogue.  Am I frustrated and irritated beyond belief over this wasteful treatment of talented writing, even by the author herself?  You betcha I am. Two stars for the ending, 5 stars for sexual obsession made real.  You figure out the rating.  I am out of here, still shaking my head in disgust.

Cover:  Art by Reese Dante who had done a great job with the coloring and models to achieve the idea of sex, heat, all in flames.

Review of Second Hand (Tucker Springs #2) by Marie Sexton and Heidi Cullinan

Rating:    4.75 stars

Paul Hammond’s girl friend has just left him after he moved to Tucker Springs to further her art career while he put his on hold.  Now he is left living in a rental house she picked out and a front yard full of her awful oversized metal sculptures.  Paul looks around him at a house he hates but has a 3 year lease he can barely afford, a job as a receptionist for a local vet, and a engagement ring he never gave to Stacy because she moved out before he could propose.  When a flyer for a neighborhood yard contest and a $500 prize is shoved in his mailbox, Paul decides to enter and use the money to pay his bills.  But how to get the money to buy the plants for the yard? And that’s when Paul remembers meeting El Rozal at his Pawn shop when Paul was buying a necklace for Stacy.  Armed with kitchen appliances he never wanted to buy in the first place, Paul heads off to El’s shop and changes his life forever.

El Rozel’s life is stuck in one gear, that of family and work.  El deals with family matters including a mother who hoards, he does laundry with his best friend at the Laundromat on Friday’s and the rest of the time is spent at his pawn shop.  El realizes he is stuck in a pattern but doesn’t know how to change it.  Then Paul Hammond, adorable, confused, freckle-faced Paul Hammond enters his shop and his world tilts on its axis.  He knows Paul is straight because he has listened to Paul when he was buying the necklace.  But that doesn’t seem to matter, everything about Paul draws El closer.  Paul is kind, naive, generous and easily hurt.  He is also incredibly sexy even if he doesn’t know it.  El wants him in his life in any way possible.

Paul wants to come first in someone’s life, to stop being everyone’s second choice.  El knows first hand that someone else’s seconds can be the treasure another has always  wanted and Paul is that one person El has been waiting for.  Now all he has to do is persuade the man to give him the chance to change both of their lives forever.

I loved this story.  Under the definition of warmhearted in the dictionary you will find the cover of this book and deservedly so.  Take two well-known authors whose books are beloved by many, throw in Sexton and Cullinan’s talent for giving us characters who are both quirky and  unusual and we have Second Hand, a novel of two men trying to deal with life’s disappointments and finding love in unexpected  places.  I read this book twice for the good feelings and happy thoughts it left me with after putting it down.  What’s even more remarkable is that  Second Hand is an effortless read considering all the themes involved in the plot.  Tucker Springs, Colorado acts as the location for the series and it’s the perfect choice as its richness of history, Light District, and other characteristics match up brilliantly with the characters living there.

And what charming, affecting characters they are.  Paul Hammond is that one who is oblivious to the way he affects others.  He has grown up feeling less successful than his siblings, his one girlfriend has just left him for someone who has achieved more materially, and he left college without  meeting his goal of being a veterinarian. But he doesn’t see what other people do when they look at him.  Someone who is kind, cute, tenderhearted, great with animals and people alike.  Some who happens to be absolutely adorable.  Paul is so likable, so genuine that you root for him to succeed from the very first page.  El Rozel is a wonderful complementary character for Paul Hammond.  El comes from a large family who   impacts his life on a daily basis, from his sisters and their kids, to his abuela and mother with their house so stuffed full of objects that just moving down the hallway is a challenge.

El Rozel jumped from the pages of Second Hand with a clarity few characters achieve with their first impressions.  As the smoke from his cigarette rises about him, so does his view of life and its disappointments hang around him like a cloud. El watches his sister ignore his advice as she jumps from one bad relationship to the next. And he’s awful when he tries to intervene with his mother Patty’s hoarding to little effect.  El wants things to change in the lives of those he loves but feels helpless when it comes to solutions. I love how the authors give us two men stymied by life and disappointments and makes them the catalyst for change in each other’s lives.  El starts helping Paul empty his life of meaningless objects that came along with his relationship with Stacy.  Paul starts giving El the power to see changes happening in someone’s life.  Paul gives El hope that change can happen and then gives him hope that love can happen for them both.    And all of this relationship movement, all of this building of self worth is carried out realistically, with nary a wrong touch to the process or misstep in characterization.

Sexton and Cullinan also deal delicately and with sensitivity when it comes to Paul’s feelings about his sexuality.  Paul had one disastrous gay encounter in his youth that causes him to put aside his attraction towards men and concentrate on women.  That is if you can call a one woman experience a change in sexuality.  It comes across, even to Paul, as more a convenient sexuality, one more acceptable to society, than Paul having a true bisexual nature.  If Paul had truly been bisexual, Stacy ‘s attraction for him would have gone beyond representing a “normal lifestyle” as she does for him to one of being physically drawn to Stacy which he is not.  Because the one person he is truly attracted to?  That would be El in every way.  El is the person he wants to spend time with, whose Cover conversations he enjoys and is the person Paul wants to take to bed.  But it takes time for Paul to realize all this and the authors give it to him and to us.  This is not a “gay for you” story but a slow acceptance of one’s true sexuality.  Paul has to have time to look at his past history and reexamine his actions before he can accept that he wants El as much as El wants him.  The authors handle Paul emotional growth in such a beautiful, realistic manner that I wanted to start handing out gold stars right then and there.

An equally serious issue addressed here is that of hoarding.  Hoarding is a disease that affects families everywhere.  Both authors show how hoarding is a disease that hurts those affected by it on so many levels, from the day to day reality of living with gargantuan clutter to the embarrassment of not wanting to have outsiders see the living conditions at home.  Sexton and Cullinan give us the  screaming arguments of the family stressed out by their efforts to deal with the hoarder and the pain of the person in the throes of the disease.  I cannot begin to give them enough credit for the sensitive manner in which they handled this problem within the story.  Again, it was just so beautifully done.

The Tucker Springs series is interesting in itself as it is being written by different authors.  The first in the series is Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs #1) by LA Witt, which I have not read.   There is an actual website for this series  Find it here.  There will be more books in the series and I for one can’t wait.  Pick up Second Hand and become acquainted with a town and characters you will not soon forget.  I know I will be going back to visit there often.

What a wonderful cover.  Perfection in every way.

Available from Riptide Publishsing, Amazon, and All Romance eBooks.

Review of Wolf’s Own: Ghost by Carole Cummings

Rating: 4.75 stars

Fen Jacen-rei is a Ghost, an Untouchable, his power revealed at birth and his fate sealed by the Universe and the gods Raven and Wolf.  One half of twin brothers born to a Full Blooded Jin mother, his father sold him to a mage who accompanied the birth-wife the night he and his brother Joori were born.  Most twins, you see, were killed at birth or spirited away to an unspeakable end,  But that night the Stranger intervened, promising to keep them hidden, saving them for a price.  The price? That upon the boy’s coming into his powers, the Stranger would return and take him away.

Fen Jacen-rei was normal until he matured and then the Voices came to him, all the voices of the Ancestors, the spirits of the dead mages swirling through his brain, threatening to overwhelm him, to break his sanity as they have done for all the other poor Untouchables who now wander mad, babbling and cursed across their occupied land.  In the house of Asai the Mage,Fen Jacen-rei fights those same voices, trying to maintain his sanity through cutting as he trains as an assassin for the one who bought him.  A Mage who hides him until he is ready to be used as a weapon.

But the Gods have other plans for the Ghost and the Ghost assassin is recruited by his competitors. This time by Kamen Malick and his small band of outlaws and assassins who were told to grab the Ghost and bring him into the fold,  no matter the means, by another Magician with ties to the Wolf God.  It seems that Fen Jacen-rei is a Catalyst, one who changes the balance of power.  But for whose side? For Asai and the Raven?  Or Malick and the Wolf?  As mysteries and layers of magical subterfuge swirls around him, Fen Jacen-rei only knows that he must protect the ones he loves and seek vengeance upon the person who betrayed them all. He will need help in his quest but who to  trust when all seem cloaked in smoke and all the paths are mazes.

Hooked.  I am totally hooked by the story and the world building of Carole Cummings.  I have to admit I was a little uncertain when I opened the book to find a glossary list of terms, gods, and history.  When I have to get through pages of info dump before I can get to the first chapter, well let’s just say that it never works out well.  It’s my opinion that the author should be able to weave that information into the story without forcing the reader to be attached to a reference guide at all times.  Knowing that, it won’t surprise you that I blithely disregard said pages and jump right into the story and see what comes. And what normally comes my way is an overpopulated, dense narrative so consumed by its own world building that plot and characterization are quickly forgotten.  Not here.  That did not happen here to my delight and astonishment.  I could pick up the history and world building bit by bit and compile a picture of the world  Fen Jacen-rei inhabits without referring back to an encyclopedia, just as I should.

Wolf’s Own is a series of which Ghost is book 1.  Carole Cummings does her job and then some as an author in delivering to the reader a new universe in which to play in.  We have two races and their pantheon of Gods and godlings.  One race held the magic albeit a little too carelessly, the other benefited until a war broke out, the balance was broken and the Gods fell silent.  One race, the Jin have had their lands taken away, their families destroyed, the children killed and their magic drained by the Adan for unspeakable purposes.  Not all the Adan are aware of what is happening within their society, how would they feel if they knew what horrors were being perpetuated upon the fallen?  Layer by layer, Cummings builds a world rich in religious traditions and Gods, of  political plots and empires, of magic and its consequences.  And we get all this while never forgetting that there are people caught in the middle, whose lives have been torn asunder, loved ones killed or kidnapped, or driven mad by forces out of their control.  Powerful themes abound through this book like the winds of a storm, full of thunder, and lightning and drenching rain that covers everything in its path.

Carole Cummings is as careful with her characterizations as she is with the world building.  These  beings breath, cry and break before our eyes.  They accept that life is cruel and try to find ways to adapt and survive on a daily basis.  Cummings brings us beings at every level of society, from prostitutes to Mages and makes them all so very real.  I like that she also keeps us guessing as the each beings real nature, as every character seems to be wearing a mask of sorts.  No one is really who they seem to be.  Fen Jacen-rei is such a compelling character that I took him to heart immediately.  A child caught up in the war of Gods, he cries out for our sympathy and love from the first time we meet him, the night he was born and listen as his craven father sells him off.   The pain of watching him taught his craft and being manipulated by a Mage who uses Fen’s need to be loved is heartbreaking.  We are invested in this young man from the outset and are pulled along by the force of our own feelings for him and his story.  All the other characters are equally well drawn, from Malick to the sister twin assassins he rescued from blood slavery to the Mage and Asai himself.

My only quibble is that the book stops just before they all set out on a mission.  Kill me, just kill me now as I hate cliffhangers.  This story is so outstanding that I don’t even mind what is usually a problem for me.  But in other ways, my frustration excluded, the end point made perfect sense.  Joori, the brother, has power too and the Gods are circling about Jen’s family with a vengeance. That is the perfect place to start the second book in the series, Wolf’s Own #2: Weregild.  I cannot wait to start that one.  But in the meantime, I am thrilled to find a new addiction. I have a new series that has all the elements to make it one of the best of the year and a new author.  Its a great day.  So, run out and pick this one up.  If you love info dumps, read the glossary.  Yes, I know.  The author went to a lot of trouble to compile it.  But she didn’t need to.  So if you are like me, skip it and get right into a tale to remember and characters that won’t let you go.  I promise you won’t be sorry.

Gorgeous cover art by  the inestimable Anne Cain.

Just a Quick Reminder!

October is one of my most favorite months.  Autumn is in full swing by then, bringing with it all the colors associated with Fall.  Rich reds, all shades of orange and yellow, with white, and purple mixed in.  This October will bring some marvelous book releases as well from Andrea Speed’s Infected: Lesser Evils, the latest in the outstanding Infected  series to But For You by Mary Calmes.  This is Sam and Jory’s last  book.  You may remember them from A Matter of Time (4 books in all) and the sequel  Bulletproof.  If you love them as much as I do, this is for you. Another I am looking forward to would be Sean Kennedy’s Tigerland, a sequel to Tigers and Devils, a great book.  And the one to start off October for me? That would be My Regelence Rake by JL Langley.  This is her long awaited sequel to The Englor Affair and the next in her Sci Regency series that started with My Fair Captain.

So all next week, from Monday to Sunday, I am running a contest to give away a copy from Samhain Publishing of My Regelence Rake to one person who comments during the week.  I will be recapping the previous books and talking to JL about Sci Regency, a term she coined.  So much is happening around here that I can get a little scattered.  So mark this down, please.  I look forward to hearing from you all.  And what  books are you looking forward to?  New ones I don’t know about?  New authors you have fallen in love with?  Give me a shout and fill me in!  TTFN!

Review of Gilbert (Leopard’s Spots #5) by Bailey Bradford

Rating: 4 stars

Amur Leopard shifter Jihu Warren was imprisoned by the leader of his lepe, forced into Chung Hee’s rigidly controlled breeding program by the use of drugs and beatings. But even in his cell, Jihu heard of his half brother’s Bai’s freedom and escape from the lepe life that is all Jihu has known.  And that fact gave Jihu hope.  When Chul, father of Bai and Jihu, comes to the compound and confronts Chung Hee, a fight breaks out that allows Jihu to escape with the help of another half brother.   With only an address and dilapidated vehicle, Jihu takes off, intent on finding Bai and a safe place to hide.

Gilbert Trujillo is puppy sitting for his brother, Isaac and his mate, Bai while they are conducting animal rescue from the Colorado wildfires.  Home from a run to the  store, he finds a strange truck in the garage and a very frightened Jihu hiding in the house.  Gilbert realizes immediately that Jihu is his mate but Jihu’s senses are impaired, a result of the injections he received at the compound.  Not only can Jihu not smell that Gilbert is his mate, but he unable to shift, causing physical pain and leaving him unable to tell who to trust as his senses are impaired. Gilbert must win Jihu’s confidence and trust, and quickly.  Because Jihu has brought with him something that will change everyones life around them and Chung Kee is intent on capturing Jihu and returning him  and his package to the compound.  Together the men and the family will have to band together to fight against an insane man bent on continuing his rule.

Gilbert is the fifth in the Leopard’s Spots series by Bailey Bradford and it deepens the mystery concerning shifters being drugged, encarcerated, and experimented on that started with Timothy (Leopard’s Spots #3).  We met lepe lord Chung Hee in Isaac’s book, but the true measure of his rigid rule is made apparent here, very similar to North Korea’s Kim Jong il. Under the guise of furthering Amur Leopards population growth, Chung Hee has kept his people confined to a rigid lifestyle in which men and women are used as breeders only with no affection shown to each other.  Or to the babies who are quickly removed from mothers who never wanted them to begin with.  Kept in fear and ignorance, those who rebel are imprisoned and experimented on with drugs, to what end is never made clear.  But Bradford is clearly setting the stages for momentus events coming in future books.  I anticipate the answer will find us returning to the Himalayas and the Russian Far East, the Amur Leopards original territory.  I love where this series is going and continue to be frustrated by the book length, here only 138 pages.  This has all the aspects of a rich plot and I would love to see it given the space and attention it deserves.

Once again this brings me back to the amount of pages spent on sexual activity.  In Isaac’s book, it balanced out with the plot.  Here not so much. We tip the scales back to so many sexual descriptions of Jihu and Gilbert’s mating that the increasingly complicated plot and wonderful characters are almost lost among it.  Why the author continues to do this when she has so much to offer in characters and storyline baffles me.  I can only hope that as the series moves forward, she finds a balance between the two that both promotes the bonding she obviously feels is necessary to the story and the story itself.

The reason for the higher rating is that the characters are wonderful to go with a rich plot.  Jihu captures our sympathy from the start. Jihu is a young man desperate to escape from the compound he has lived in his entire life, the lepe run much like the cults that end up in the news today, its members so brainwashed that to live otherwise is almost unthinkable. The reason he is so determined to escape is one of the book’s great joys, a spoiler I won’t giveaway here.  Gilbert Trujillo is another remarkable member of his family, fully realized as a kind and gentle  person, awkward outside his family, he finds his strength in coming to Jihu’s rescue and the events that  follow.  I loved Gilbert almost as much as Isaac who is back along with Bai Allen Warren, his mate and other Trujillo family members from previous books.

Gilbert ends with much up in the air, family members are harmed and we are not assured of their status, the villains points the way to a deeper conspiracy, and Esau, the subject of the next book, is missing.  With a lesser author, I might have abandoned this series long ago, but there are so many strengths here, from plot to characterizations, that I gobble up each story as soon as they come out.  Do I get frustrated by the same quibbles over and over, yes.  But the pull to find out what happens next overpowers whatever faults I find in the writing.  So it’s on to Esau (Leopard’s Spots #6) coming out in October.  I will be first in line to get it.

Cover by Posh Gosh is gorgeous,  the models are  perfect for Jihu and Gilbert, the leopards stunning. what more could you want.

Here are the Leopard’s Spots series in the order they should be read to fully understand the plots and the characters within:

Levi (Leopard’s Spots #1)- read my review here.

Oscar (Leopard’s Spots #2) – read my review here.

Timothy (Leopard’s Spots #3) – read my review here.

Isaiah (Leopard’s Spots #4) – read my review here

Gilbert (Leopard’s Spots #5)

Esau (Leopard’s Spots #6) coming in October 2012

Review of Magic’s Muse (Hidden Places #2) by Anne Barwell

Rating: 4.5 points

Tomas Kemp and Cathal Emerys have finally returned to Tomas’ home after escaping from Naearu, Cathal’s world in an alternative universe.  And while the men hope they are finally safe from Cathal’s cousin, Lady Deryn and the laws governing his world, neither man really believes it.  The cost of their escape is high.  Christian, another of Cathal’s cousins, has lost almost everything he loved and is confined to the shape of a cat for as long as the magic of his punishment holds.  Cathal is also confined within the boundaries of the inn where they now reside, chained by magic to the oak tree that is the portal between the worlds.

Cathal’s nightmares are increasing now that he and Tomas have consummated their relationship and Tomas seems to be acquiring some magic of his own in the interim.  Naearu’s enforcers, The Falcons, are still capable of coming after them, and nightly Lady Deryn whispers threats in Cathal’s mind, promising to kill Tomas if Cathal doesn’t return to their world and marry her. Cathal and Tomas are struggling with their relationship, Cathal is still keeping secrets from Tomas and Tomas is still trying to overcome his self centered impulses and isolated ways to find a way to have an equal relationship with Cathal.  Only when the portal is closed, can both men feel safe to plan for their future.

Magic’s Muse is the second in the Hidden Places series but the first that I have read by Anne Barwell.  The first book, Cat’s Quill, centers around Tomas’s meeting Cathal and their time in Naearu.  It sets out Anne Barwell’s world and myth building that is so important to the events that occur here and introduces us to characters in the continuing storyline of  the Hidden Places.  That said, I am not sure I wish to  go back and read what must be a very bittersweet story.  If I do, it will be because Anne Barwell has such a beautiful way with the English language.  Her sentences flow with a magic all of their own, transporting us easily to places we have never been to meet people not of this world.  Her narrative is rich in its descriptions and the tumultuous emotions of all the characters involved.  From the lyrical passages of the countryside with its fields and  magical oak tree to the  dust motes in the attic of the inn that has been the focal point of time travel, it makes us feel that we are there, listening to the floor boards creak and the branches sigh with the wind.

Her characters are as rich and complex as the story she is telling.  Tomas Kemp is a author of popular books and initially a tough character to invest your affections in.  He comes across as extremely self centered, oblivious sometimes to the feelings of those closest to him. Tomas’ attention is all about his writing, he is consumed with his stories, one of which will bring him into contact with Lord Cathal Emerys of Naearu. We can recognize Tomas as one whose social skills are sadly lacking and whose focus is always somewhere else, even when someone is talking to him. Indeed while Tomas can come off as quite dour, Cathal shimmers with magic and vulnerability.  Cathal easily endears himself to the reader, for Tomas it takes a little longer.  Cathal misses his family even as he recognizes that Tomas’ world is the only place they will be safe and have a future. Cathal is filled with guilt over his role in Christian’s punishment and struggling to find a balance in his relationship with Tomas.  So much is going on in Cathal’s head and heart that sometimes he is feel estranged from the every day moments in the inn. Barwell imbues all of her characters with so much heart, soul, and intelligence that everyone breathes and bleeds across the pages.

And bleed these characters do.  Whether is it actual blood, or their emotions bleeding out of them, there is so much sadness and loss within these story that your heart hurts from reading it.  Christian is an especially tragic figure.  Condemned to being a cat, he was torn away form his wife and  newborn son.  His beloved wife continued to wait for him to return up to her last breath as what is months in one world is years in Tomas’.  And now his son is dying in a nursing home and his grandson needs him badly.  Christian’s wife’s sketches and paintings pop up throughout the story bringing with them the bittersweet memories of their all too short time together.  He too awaits the closing of the portal, the only thing that will restore his human form.  No character is left untouched by regret or sorrow.  Looming over all the events occurring is the threat that the Falcons can reappear to pull one or all of them back to Naearu for judgment and jail.  Over and over we are told their reappearance is eminent and the foreboding builds incrementally. And that brings me to my only quibble with this tale.

We are left with quite a few dangling ends of the saga, so many that I assume that another book will follow this one.  A child is still missing, two characters have just paired up and all agree that Lady Deryn will never give up on her goal of marriage to Cathal and her need to destroy Tomas. With all that hanging over our couple and their friends at the end, I would classify this as a happy for now, not the happy ever after others see it as.  Perhaps I am wrong, but I think not.  That would let Cathal and Tomas off too easily, something I would not expect of Barwell and her saga building. With descriptive passages and a richly enthralling narrative Barwell conjures up a tale of two worlds and a rising rebellion that will effect both.  This story can only be part of a much larger plan.  I look forward to seeing what comes next.

Cover by Anne Cain is one of my absolute favorites.  As rich in detail and evocative in feeling as the book itself, it is one of my best of the year.

Hidden Places series in the order they should be read:

Cat’s Quill (Hidden Places#1) 350 pages

Magic’s Muse (Hidden Places #2)  294 pages

Review of Sidecar by Amy Lane

Rating: 5 stars

It was cold even for November as Josiah and Casey Daniels motored home down Foresthill Road and  it was getting dark. So it took them a while to notice the young boy shivering by the side of the road.  They stop the motorcycle with its sidecar and Casey climbs out to investigate, already knowing what he will find.  The runaway’s lips are blue, his limbs are too thin, and he is wearing way too little clothing for that time of year.  As Josiah watches from the motorcycle, Casey takes one look at the small lost, pinched face and remembers another day 25 years earlier. Once glance back at Joe’s face tells Casey that Joe is remembering that day too.

The year is 1987 and Josiah Daniels is on his motorcycle heading home to Foresthill, the ramshackle house on 20 acres he has just purchased.  He’s just come off 3 twelve hour days at the hospital where he is a nurse and he’s bone tired.  It’s so dark that  he almost  doesn’t see the young man shivering on the side of the road.  He stops and climbs off, slowly heading over to the small figure, holding his hands out with his leather jacket extended and tells the boy to take it and put it on.  It takes some convincing but eventually Joe gets the boy wrapped up and on the back of the hog and they motor to his house.  Joe has found another stray to rescue but this one will end up changing his life forever.

When Casey first saw the huge pony tailed biker come towards him back on the road, fear was the first emotion he felt, and then despair, as he had no energy left to run.  But the biker, Joe, just takes him home and feeds him.  Joe gives Casey food, and shows him the bathroom so he can take a bath and gave him chemicals to use that would combat the lice on his body.  And Casey waits to pay the price but Joe never asks for anything in return.  Instead Joe offers Casey a home, a place to be safe, finish school,  actually be happy after having his parents throw him away for being gay.

Joe’s solitary life starts to fill up with people upon Casey’s arrival.  There’s Casey, the social workers, the dogs, and then the cats and Casey’s friends and so many more, year after year.  For Casey, happiness means Joe as his crush turns into love as he matures and ages.  For Joe, Casey means happiness for him as well.  But Joe doesn’t want to feel like he is taking advantage of his position in Casey’s life, so accepting that Casey wants him as a grown man is hard. Harder still it coming to the realization that he wants Casey just as badly as Casey wants him. Nothing in their relationship has ever come easy and moving it to the next stage will take compromises and adjustments neither has had to face before.

Amazing, just absolutely amazing.  Amy Lane has given us some memorable books in the past, and with Sidecar, she has done it again.  Sidecar is one of my favorite books of 2012 and it will be one of yours too.  Just looking at the cover gave me goosebumps at all the emotions it evoked in me.  From the sepia tones of the  drawing to its central figures connected by love and steel motoring down a forested lane heading towards the light, the tears started to well up even before I  even got to the first page.  And then the story began and oh what a timeless story is it.

Amy Lane gives us a love story that had already stretched over 25 years when we first meet Casey and Josiah Daniels stopping to rescue a runaway by the side of the road.  Then we go back to the beginning of their relationship to that same road, almost at the same spot where Joe meets Casey for the first time under the same circumstances.  I will tell you now, grab that box of tissues and don’t let them go, maybe get a second box.  You will need them.

Amy Lane is known for her powerful characterizations and equally powerful storylines.  Sidecar is full of people who will make you laugh and cry and shake with the repressed desire to knock a few heads together.  Everyone you meet within are such fully actualized human beings that it becomes easy to forget yourself in their lives and problems.  This story sucks you in and refuses to let you go, even after it is over.  Each chapter is a song title from 1987, the year Joe and Casey meet.  Lane explains that certain songs will always conjure up memories associated with them for people as I can certainly attest to.  Songs are such a great way to bring back those times and places by making the songbook tie in with the locale.  1987 meant big hair, pony tails, Dirty Dancing, U2 and The Joshua Tree album. We had Good Morning, Vietnam, George Michael’s Faith and AIDS looming on the horizon.  And then we have the lost children, those thrown out, thrown away by parents, by the church and others because they were gay.  Amy Lane brings the plight of the gay kids tossed out like so much garbage home in the character of Casey and kids like Stacia hardened beyond their years given temporary shelter by Joe because it was the decent, good thing to do.  I appreciate that Lane gives no easy answers to be doled out here as solutions.  Yes, Casey makes it, but others in the book don’t, too emotionally and physically damaged by what they have gone through to survive.

There is also plenty of humor to go with the tears, from their dogs Rufus and Hi Hi Huxtable to the goober hunting nephew of Josiah’s.  This is a beautifully balanced story, so the author will give you satisfaction to help cover over the unfairness, and something to smile at while recovering from you last sob.  I am thinking of one scene in particular where Casey has found an old stash of weed and proceeds to get high only it doesn’t turn out like he thought it would.  I won’t spoil it for you but it is a classic Amy Lane rollercoaster of emotions delivered in a succinct scene.  Like I said just amazing.

There is not a single misstep in the way Joe and Casey’s relationship grows and changes either.  From Casey’s early attempts to sneak into Joe’s bed and Joe’s kind rejection to the slow realization that Casey has come to mean so much more to Joe than he could ever imagine and the consequences of that love.  And there are consequences. For Joe starts out dating women as he is bisexual in nature. Joe wants a family badly and being with a woman in 1987 would make that so much easier than to love Casey.  Loving Casey would mean that Joe might have to give up his dream of children, a powerful loss that Lane makes us feel acutely.  Joe gives Casey and a teenage date the “condom talk” in a way both heartrending and honest that hurt as I read it.  Lane gives us firstrate entertainment even as she informs, she gives us pain and loss then gives us love and healing to counteract them.

It is also rare that we get to see our characters live and grow over a 25 year period to arrive safe, secure, and still so madly in love.  Amy Lane gives that to Josiah and Casey and then to the reader as well.   How much do I love them both. How much do I love this book.  And to remember all I need is that cover and maybe Livin on a Prayer….

Cover Art by Shobana Appavu.  What a remarkable cover, one of my favorites of the year as well.

Great Saturday, Marvelous Sunday, Fall is Here! The Week Ahead in Reviews

I had a great day yesterday.  Friends came over, a fellow blogger, and an author, both wonderful.  We had a time of it, discussing books, movies, Spartacus, you name it while drinking wine, gobbling up bread, cheese and crackers while the sun shown down!  Does it get any better than that?  I don’t think so.  Kirby loves visitors and was so excited to see them both, going from one to the other before roaming around looking for squirrels and bugs and things.  Winston and Willow are just happy to sit in the chair with me and chill.  And today?  Just beautiful, cool, sunny, the perfect football weather as they say.  Daughter and SIL off to the Redskins game and RGIII’s first home game.  I know, I know.  I swore off the Redskins but habits are hard to break!  So consider this a work in progress.

Three more bushes to go into the garden, Firelight Spirea.  The foliage changes color three times during the year.  In the spring, the leaves are a orange green changing to greenish yellow in the summer and then turning a lovely deep red in the fall, all that and beautiful pink blossoms that beacon to bees and butterflies for weeks while they are in bloom.  Sigh!  I love gardening and the discovery of new plants.  The windows are open, letting in the cool breezes to refresh the house air.  A ruby throated hummer just buzzed the window letting me know the feeders still need filling as there are still migrants making their way south and they shouldn’t be forgotten.

I am just finishing up the first in the Wolf’s Own series by Carole Cummings and loving it.  Look for the review at the end of the week.  I am starting the week off with a bang and a great book by Amy Lane.  Don’t miss out on this one.  As always so many books, so little time, but I am working on it.  Just a reminder, the first week in October is JL Langley week and I will be giving away a copy of My Regelence Rake to a lucky person who comments on the week which will include a interview with JL and recaps of all the SciFi Regency books to date.  So let’s get to it:

Monday:                               Sidecar by Amy Lane

Tuesday:                               Magic’s Muse by Anne Barwell

Wednesday:                        Gilbert by Bailey Bradford

Thursday:                            Wolf’s Own: Ghost by Carole Cummings

Friday:                                 Inferno by Scarlett Blackwell

Saturday:                             Second Hand by Heidi Cullinan and  Marie Sexton


Have a wonderful week.  Get out and enjoy this weather!  Happy Fall All!