Review of Tigerland (Tigers and Devils #2) by Sean Kennedy

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Rating: 4.75 stars

Declan Tyler and Simon Murray hope that the drama of the past couple of years is finally behind them, leaving them to enjoy their lives finally settled and happy.  When Declan Tyler retired from the AFL, it was terribly hard on him but he returned to the sport as a commentator and seems happy.  Simon has moved on from his job coordinating the movie festival and now  works as a producer for the Queer Sports cable show. Then Greg Heyward, Declan’s closeted ex decides to retire and come out of the closet.  In the past Greg has brought Declan and Simon nothing but pain and problems and this is no different.  Greg is determined to stay in the spotlight one way or the other and dragging Declan back into the drama with him is one way to accomplish his goals.

But Declan  wants to rise above Greg’s tactics, even when Greg starts spreading lies to the press about his relationship with Declan and the reasons they split up, hurting Simon in the process.  Simon wants Declan to stand up to Greg, not only for himself but for their relationship.  Unfortunately the silent treatment that Declan is using only goads Greg on to greater lies and more public exposure for the couple.  And that starts to upset their relationship, leading to arguments and misunderstandings that horrify their friends and families.  Will the adversity they face strengthen their relationship, deepening their commitment to each other   or will the stress and strain force them apart as it did in the past.

Tigerland is the long awaited sequel to Tigers and Devils, published in 2009, and it lives up to all my expectations.  I loved the original novel Tigers and Devils which introduced us to Declan Tyler, renown footballer and Simon Murray, who works at the Melbourne film festival.  From the moment they meet at Fran and Roger’s party (Simon’s friends), the two men clash, miscommunicate, come together, part and reunite  while conducting a romance that melts your heart.  Declan and Simon were two lively wonderful characters that grabbed onto the reader and never let go, even after over 300 pages. So having a chance to catch up with them again made my heart beat a little faster, even with the idea of more Australian Rules football, which as an American I never quite grasped.  Team loyalty to the extreme, check. Understood that completely while letting some of the totally Australian bits fly over my head. The other elements of the story that were grounded in Melbourne were delightful and made me want to fly down under immediately.

Now we pick up their story a year or so later, and the same qualities that made me love Tigers and Devils are front and center once more.  Sean Kennedy’s characters still leap off the pages, full of life and dealing with all the problems that comes with commitment to another person, and close proximity to family and friends.  All the people we grew to love from Roger and Fran (Simon’s friends) and Abe and Lisa (Declan’s friends), and all the family either could want are back again.  After everything that occurred in the first novel, Simon and Declan have settled into living with each other and their relationship has grown much stronger. Both men have changed professions and while Declan is no longer on the playing field, he is still very much a part of the game as a well known commentator, a fact that helps provoke Greg’s schemes to remain in the spotlight by pulling Declan into a media blitz with him.   Greg Heyward is a character we are also familiar with from the pain he caused Declan in the first story and his appearance here threatens all the hard won stability of Simon and Declan’s current status.

From event to event, Sean Kennedy clearly understands couple dynamics and let us see the stress and strain that Declan is putting on Simon with his refusal to publicly repudiate Greg’s claims about Simon and their relationship while still playing football.  There is never any doubt that these two men love each other and that their established partnership is one of respect, passion and a love that has grown deeper over the years. But even the strongest bonds can be tested and we watch as Simon and Declan deal realistically with the onslaught of public attention and lives returned to intense media scrutiny.  Kennedy gets is all so right that Tigerland has superseded Tigers and Devils in my affections, something I never would have predicted happening.

Simon remains one of my all time favorite contemporary characters.  I love his intelligence, his sense of humor and his unwavering loyalty both to his man and his football team.  Simon is such a multidimensional persona that he had to have a partner of equal strength to be his  match and Declan is certainly that for him.  When Declan makes the decision not to “sink to Greg’s level of behavior”, he makes it without consulting Simon, and the aftermath of that poor decision reverberates throughout the story to the point that the reader becomes very frustrated that Declan is not listening to Simon when he tells Declan that he tactic is not working for him.  But never fear, Declan more than redeems his actions in the end and  in a manner totally in keeping with his personality and his respect for his partner.  I just loved this.

There is, however, one part of Australian culture I was not familiar with and quite frankly shocked by.  According to Sean Kennedy, when a couple gets  married, it is law that the following words, well Sean Kennedy put it the best:

“But then the celebrant said those words which are like a knife in the heart to any queer person attending a marriage ceremony: Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. To the exclusion of all others.”

I can’t imagine that a ceremony binding two people together is used officially to remind the GLBTQ community that they are not equal and their bonds will never have the status of those automatically given to a heterosexual  couple.  I guess in a time when even the terms man and wife are no longer commonly used, and more countries are legalizing gay marriage, I am surprised that Australia would continue to institutionalize inequality in such a hurtful manner.  I was and still am shocked by this knowledge as I thought Australia more progressive than that.  I can only hope that as Maryland prepares to vote in the upcoming election that all the polls are correct  and Maryland will become the next state to legalize  Marriage Equality.  Next Maryland, then the USA, and perhaps more will follow the countries that came before.  Kudos for them, prayers for us, and hope for all others that exclusion will be a thing of the past.

At any rate, if you loved Tigers and Devils, pick this one up immediately.  If you are unfamiliar with the series,  start from the beginning with the first book and then go on to this one.  I am not sure if there will be another. If not I am more than content with this latest visit to a couple I have never forgotten.

Cover: Catt Ford did the wonderful cover art for Tigerland.  I loved it.

Review: Risking It All (Truth or Dare #5) by Lee Brazil

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Rating: 4 stars

Sebastian “Bastian” Grey has been asking his lover Rick Claremont for more, more time spent together, more commitment, heck, he would even settle for Rick letting him into Rick’s house but Rick has always pushed him away. But now Rick is adopting a small kitten. Can making one type of commitment mean that Rick is ready to make another?  Bastian can only hope that this might mean a new step forward in the relationship with a man he has wanted since Bastian was 16.

Rick Claremont came from an abusive childhood so trust has never come easy.  Rescued by Bastian’s older sister, he has watched Bastian grow up into a gorgeous man but one who takes risks all the time, in work and pleasure.  It doesn’t matter whether Bastian is running into burning buildings or jumping off sky jumps at mountain resorts, his life is always at jeopardy and Rick is hesitant to give his heart to someone who might not be around to make a relationship work.  Then a decision to get a kitten leads to thoughts of taking down some of the barriers that have kept the men from a deeper commitment.  Can Rick trust Bastian to stay safe and help him feel safe too?

This is the fifth book in the Truth or Dare series by Lee Brazil and the only one I have read to date.  The series seems to revolve around the Blake brothers and the people they fall in love with the exception of this one.  Risking It All is the story of Sebastian Grey, Dr. Arden Grey’s brother, and Rick Claremont, a young boy she rescued from an abusive life. Without having the foundation of the other books I was still able to enjoy Bastian and Rick’s story and get an understanding of each man’s history.  This is especially true for Rick Claremont whose past is horrific from every angle.  Father left, alcoholic mother died leaving him in the care of an abusive stepfather who was a monster.  I felt Rick had depth to his character and liked how Brazil created a character who is dealing effectively with his past abuse.  Too often we are given stories populated by characters broken by their past, it was a nice change to be given someone who has surmounted his past and we get a glimpse into how he has achieved this remarkable goal.  I found Rick believable, likable, and totally someone I become fond of immediately.

Bastian Grey was a little more problematic as his story is most likely told with his sister’s, Dr. Arden Grey, in Giving Up (Truth or Dare #4).  I would not necessarily have known he was a firefighter but I liked his “voice” and found his frustration with the status of his relationship with Rick so realistic I could almost hear his teeth grind.  You  could see how his impulsive nature could give Rick second thoughts when it came to trusting himself into Bastian’s care but his inherent “goodness” is also on display as well.  I would have liked to see more of Bastian’s story included here for those of us unfamiliar with the series.

There is an element of mystery when Rick’s stepfather is murdered and Rick finds himself  among the suspects, however temporarily.  The end of the book becomes overcrowded with characters I didn’t know or care about (perhaps from previous books) and I felt their addition obscured the relationship building between Rick and Bastian.  This is a novella in length but the characters and storyline almost cry out for a full length novel. The characters are wonderfully human displaying the full spectrum of behavior, from impulsiveness of Bastian to the wary attitude of Rick.  I would have loved much more of them and it gives me the impetus to look into how the series all started.

Cover: Victoria Miller gives us a beautifully dark cover in keeping with the dark elements of the story.  I loved the use of green in the fonts which really made the title and the author’s name stand out.

Truth or Dare Series, in the order they were written:

Keeping House, #1 – Mischa Blake and Donovan Holloway, m/m

Telling the Truth, #2 – Terry Blake and Twins Dex and Trick,  m/m/m

Giving Up, #3 – Branden Blake and Dr. Arden Grey m/f

Taking the Dare, #4 –  Dan Blake and Morgan Hawk,m/m

Risking it All, #5 – Bastian Grey and Rick Claremont  m/m

Review of Theory of Attraction by Cleon Lee

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Rating: 4.25 stars

Ethan Roberts is waiting in the outside office for his interview for TA when he spots Aaron Marcus, Sociology PhD candidate sitting nearby, obviously there for the same reason.  On first look, Aaron’s quiet, reserved behavior makes Ethan give him no more than a casual glance.  But as his waiting time extends, Ethan’s attention is drawn back to Aaron and he starts noticing things that he had missed the first time around. In fact after he makes introductions, Ethan starts to think that perhaps the answer to the endless parade of bed partners might just be a monogamous relationship with the adorable Aaron.  Now only if he can get Aaron to take his courtship seriously.

Aaron is shy and nerdy, hiding behind his glasses.  His prickly, insecure nature comes from past hurts and humiliations so the last person he would trust to have his best interests at heart would be the resident gay Don Juan himself, Ethan Roberts. He doesn’t understand why Ethan keeps giving him things, from a gorgeous and outrageously expensive bouquet of flowers to a box of chocolates the lactose intolerant Aaron can’t eat. But the more Ethan pursues him, the closer the two men become.  Little by little, Ethan helps Aaron understand that he is reliable enough for Aaron to lean on and Aaron gets Ethan to believe that a real grown up relationship is the key to happiness.

The Theory of Attraction is the first story I have read by Cleon Lee and I loved it.  I found the characters endearing and complex enough to keep my interest.  I thought also that the way Lee allowed their relationship to build in small realistic steps instead of huge leaps of “instant love” emotionally rewarding and satisfying.  I admit that nerd love is always a big hit for me and Aaron definitely fits in that category.  But Aaron is far more complicated than the typical stereotype.  I love that he mentors troubled gay youths in a realistic manner, and that past hurts have caused him to be very wary of future relationships.  Cleon Lee makes it easy to understand that Aaron’s cold demeanor is really just a preemptive strike aimed at shielding himself from more pain and disillusionment. Ethan is also more than his “golden boy” exterior.  Good looks equaled frequent casual sexual partners for Ethan. And the author has Ethan deciding that his lifestyle had gotten stale and unrewarding prior to meeting Aaron  and that was a nice change to the stories that have people changing for someone else.  Again a nicely authentic touch and a terrific job in crafting  main characters you will trust with your affections.

The author delivers a delightful romance between two endearing characters in Theory of Attraction and in the end isn’t that what makes us smile? I loved reading this.  A sweet, endearing love story that went down as easily as Hot Toddy on a cold autumn day.  Don’t hesitate to pick this one up.

Cover:  This is another Reese Dante cover that is just perfection.  It fits the characters and the setting.

Frankenstorm is Coming and the Week Ahead in Reviews Hopefully

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So, here we are on the cusp of a truly remarkable storm event, a hurricane within a nor easter, something that has never occurred before or so say the  meteorologists.  Over 85 million people will feel the impact of Hurricane Sandy as she heads towards the East Coast as a hurricane 1, taking a dramatic left turn anywhere between Washington, DC and the Jersey shore and heading inland.  From Virginia to Massachusetts, people are getting ready to hunker down and some are already evacuating.

 

Here in Maryland we are expecting  not only huge amounts of rain (could be up to over 10 inches or more), high winds of 65 to 70 mph, but  snow!  That’s right, we could be seeing large amounts of snow as well.  So will parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.  *shakes head*  So rain, wind, hail, snow, flooding most certainly.  Have the weather gods left anything out?  I don’t think so.  It just seems so unreal.  So of course, we made sure that the dog food was stocked up on, ditto the wine, water, and canned goods and snacks.  So we are good, I think. But then there is my blog.  And while I have a generator, that doesn’t mean the servers and towers won’t be coming down, so if there are no updates after a  while, just nod and say “Well, the Frankenstorm must have got her!”, and know I will be back up and running as soon as I am absolutely able to do so.

I also want to give a shout out to Jay of Joyfully Jay just back from the fabulous GayRomLit2012 in Albuquerque, NM.  She had an outstanding time and so did everyone else who attended. So many great authors, bloggers and readers to meet and party with. I so wanted to be there but the pictures she (and others) took made me some of the joy and fun that was going on. Wow, what a time and great photos to boot.  And she also brought me back a bag of swag!  Naked men playing cards, fluffer lip balm to name a few. Hooray!  Now I am determined to be there in Atlanta for next year’s conference. GayRomLit2013 in Atlanta!  woohoo!

So let’s see what I have planned for this week, shall we?

Monday:            Theory of Attraction by Cleon Lee  (I promise this will happen)

Tuesday:             Risking It All by Lee Brazil

Wednesday:       Tigerland by Sean Kennedy

Thursday:           The F Words by Anyta Sunday

Friday:                 A Mutual Understanding by Caro Soles

Saturday:             MIA Case Files #3: Craving by K.C. Burn

That’s it.  Now let’s see what happens.  Fingers crossed. Kindle charged. Sigh.

 

Review: Just A Summer Fling: a Torquere Sip by Lily Grace

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Rating: 4.5 stars

Ryan is sitting on a beach nursing his heartache and the bad luck to be forced along on his father’s business trip when he notices an Adonis on a surfboard riding the waves.  Astonishingly enough, when the Adonis becomes earthbound once more, he appears to notice Ryan as well. The surfer’s name is Chris and before he knows what hits him, Ryan is learning to surf too and has an invitation to dinner from Chris. In a panic, Ryan phones back east to  his best friend who convinces Ryan that a summer fling is just what he needs to get over being dumped.  But when things start to feel more involved, will Chris’ secret ruin the chance for a relationship before it really gets started?

Well, if short stories could be puppy cute, Just A Summer Fling would be one of the cutest puppies in the window. I loved this story and would love it if the author gaves us another view of this couple in the future.  Ryan is such a wonderful character.  He’s cute, nice, intelligent and just suffered the  worst sort of hurt you can receive from someone he thought cared about him.  It’s delivered a huge blow to his self confidence and self image which is why is he sitting on a beach in jeans and sneakers instead of board pants and flip flops.  Lucky for us and him, Chris appears to repair the damage done by Ryan’s ex.  I love it when the Adonis turns out to be as likable a person as the nerd.  In this case, he’s as smart and mulitdimensional as Ryan is.  It’s adorable puppies times two!  In fact the story ends too soon for me but we get the glimmer of the boys future together and it is full of hope.  Just a lovely story in every respect.

Review of Dead Cow Pants (Torquere Sip) by Julia Talbot

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Rating: 4 stars

Shay has returned a changed wolf to the pack he left for the big city.  Shay is now painfully thin, and way too quiet for his best friend, Darius, who remembers his friend the way he used to be.  Darius thinks a pair of leather pants will do wonders for Shay’s confidence but Shay may just be the only werewolf in history to hate the smell of leather!  Shay believes leather smells like dead cows and refuses to wear any dead cow pants. But Dar has more than missed his friend and figures helping him rediscover his self confidence might just lead to something both have  wanted all their lives. Now if he can just get him to put on those pants!

How can you not love a short story about a werewolf who eschews wearing animals products?  Julia Talbot gives us an adorable story about two best friends reuniting and the unspoken love that has been there all along.  My only quibble with this story is that Talbot delivers such wonderful characterizations and then puts them in a plot that just begs for more backstory.  What happened to Shay after he left the pack?  Why is he so thin? What was going on with Shay to make him leave the pack to begin with?  The story left me with so many questions because I became invested in these characters from the start and loved what little I knew of them.  At any rate, terrific short story full of two intriguing questions and one author’s twist on the werewolf genre.  Great job.

Review of Leather Work and Lonely Cowboys, a Roughstock Story by BA Tortuga

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Rating: 5 stars

Beau is lonely and feeling every moment of Sam’s absence.  Not that Sam has left, it’s just that he has become absorbed in the leather working he does as therapy to help his recovery from the accident.  So Beau plans a little road trip in their camper hoping that time alone will reignite the heat missing lately in their relationship and force Sam to talk use his voice again, if only in passion.

Leather Work and Lonely Cowboys is absolutely a 5 star story, even if you are unfamiliar with Beau and Sam from previous Roughtstock books.  All the of the elements that make BA Tortuga’s stories so compelling and memorable are present.  You don’t have to know Beau and Sam’s backstory to understand them.  They’re cowboys so deeply in love with each other that they can communicate without words even as Beau is missing the sound of his lover’s voice.  BA Tortuga makes us feel each small gesture, each touch exchanged between the two men that becomes magnified within the context of the moment.  Even the “pups” and Boudreaux, their Bloodhound have their part to play in helping us understand who these men are and the challenges they are facing in their relationship.

Now having said that you can read this as a stand alone, I say please don’t.  You would be shortchanging yourself. Beau and Sam are part of a group of rodeo cowboys that make up the Roughstock stories, tales so rich in emotion, so deep in characterizations and  s0 authentic in location that the stories smell of leather, sweat, and livestock.  I love all the men involved in this universe Beau and Sam, Coke and Dillon and all the others.  Beau and Sam first appear in Roughstock:  File Gumbo- Season One.  And then keep appearing from Starting the Roux, a Roughstock story as well as in Coke and Dillon’s stories.  BA Totuga writes so realistically and with such affection for these men that it translates with ease to the reader and you become entrenched in their world as the characters themselves.

Here are the Roughstock stories not in the order they were written but grouped according to pairing:

Roughstock: File Gumbo – Season One (Sam and Beau)

Roughstock: And a Smile — Season One (Coke and Dillon with Sam and Beau mentioned)

Roughstock: And a Smile — Coke’s Clown (Coke and Dillon, with Sam and Beau)

Cowboy Christmas: A Roughstock Short (Coke and Dillon)

The New Guy, a Roughstock story (Coke and Dillon)

The Retreat, a Roughstock story (Coke and Dillon)

Roughstock: Blindride — Season One

Starting the Roux, a Roughstock story (Beau and Same)

Leather Work and Lonely Cowboys, a Roughstock story (Sam and Beau)

Doce, A Roughstock Story: The Ten of Wands – Roughstock universe

Give it Time: the Seven of Wands – Roughstock universe

Shutter Speed, A Roughstock Story: the Seven of Pentacles – Roughstock universe

Amorzinhos, A Roughstock Story

Review of The Gleams from a Remoter World by Fiona Glass

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Rating: 3.75 stars

Chris Mullens is a reporter/investigator for The Paranormal Times and he is slowly coming to the realization that the years have been piling up behind him while he has stayed relatively static.  He has remained at the same job for over 10 years, with no social life or partner to speak of.  He lives with Jo Perry, his co worker at The Paranormal Times and  has been her intermittent bedmate when she wants it.  The book he meant to write has never been started and lately all the leads he has followed for paranormal activity have not panned out, either they were hoaxes or just someone’s overactive imagination.  The one thing Chris has decided he wants is to win the coveted Moondust Award for the first journalist to prove the existence of ghosts and the next case their editor hands them just might do the trick if its authentic.

Their editor tells them that in the village of Kilveenan, off the coast of Galway in Ireland, there is a church said to be haunted by the ghost of a dead priest’s son, but the twist is that the son supposedly died in the Great War, so why is he haunting his father’s church? Chris readily accepts the assignment and is eager to be off, Jo Perry, his journalistic partner for the story, seems less so.  In fact she is starting to sound as though writing about paranormal events are the last thing she wants to do.  When the unhappy couple arrive in Kilveenan, they discover it’s not the church that is haunted, but the priest’s house next door and by a spirit so filled with rage that just for Chris to enter the cottage puts his life in jeopardy.

The more Chris investigates the cottage’s history, the more evidence he uncovers that involves, murder, murky family relationships, and a son that never returned to the battlefield.  And what little relationship he had with Jo is disintegrating the longer they stay in Ireland. When Chris and Jo meet up with Paulie and Bill, a gay couple on holiday staying at the same inn, Chris’ attraction to Paulie confuses things further for Chris, just when he needs all his attention to be focused on his investigation.  The ghost in the cottage is shaking Chris to his foundations, tearing him apart in every way.  Will he survive his ghostly encounter?

Gleams from a Remoter World has so many lovely elements to it, especially at this time of year.  The first thing that attracted me to the story is the setting.  I love Ireland and when a story is situated in a coastal village, you have my attention.  But even better is when the village and it’s inhabitants are so beautifully described that you feel a part of the place itself, then mark me down as a happy camper.  I loved Glass’ vivid portrait of life lived at the edge of the ocean, cold, wet winds whipping up the cliffs, moisture clinging to every surface.  The rain hitting you so hard it pummels you.  I loved the variety of people we meet (thank goodness, none are of that Irish leprechaun variety, twinkling eyes sort of thing), more of the brusk common sense type of folk.  Had this been a travel guide I would have been booking a flight out immediately. off to see Kilveenan.

I am unfamiliar with all those ghost hunting shows or the people who track down paranormal happenings, so I don’t know anything about the equipment they use.  I can see the running around ruins and graveyards (done that myself a time or two) and again the author’s gift for describing the Irish landscapes and buildings give the reader an immediate closeup feeling to the scenes underway.  I loved the ghost story here that incorporates all the good elements of a murder mystery, familial relationships, and a love affair that was hidden.  The author did a wonderful job of building the suspense with the ghostly apparitions, the drops in temperature that herald the appearance of the angry spirits, the change in color of the surroundings when history unfolds before Chris’ eyes.  Also realistic is the boring, tedious research that had to be done into the background of the church and the Anglican priest who presided over it and its members.   Fiona Glass made this part feel so very authentic, right down to the dusty tomes and hard to read signatures on ledgers.  Again, the author brought this element to life for the readers to the point we could almost breathe the musty air of the small town offices they had to visit for their information.

And then there are the characters of the story and my main quibbles come forward.  I can pretty much narrow down my issue with this story to two words: Jo Perry.  Chris Mullen, his interaction with the paranormal, and his interest in Paulie should be the main focus of the story.  But Jo Perry keeps interfering in almost every way possible, including my enjoyment in the book.  This is a m/f story that becomes a m/m story as Chris is clearly bisexual, which is just fine.  But the problem is with the amount of time she figures in the story, which is too predominate for my taste and the fact that she is inherently unlikable.  Jo Perry is supposedly a long time friend/partner of Chris, they graduated from the university over 20 years prior but does she act like a friend?  Not in any  way you would recognize.  She is distant, dismissive, uses Chris as a sexual partner when it is on her terms but possessive when he looks elsewhere.  She is rude, bratty to all about her, treats Chris like a doormat, and it turns out she is homophobic to boot!  All of this would have been fine if first she had taken up less of the story, and secondly, the author had the other characters around her react to her behavior in a realistic manner. That did not happen unfortunately.

Then there is the character of Chris Mullen, who I happened to like quite a lot. He is a quiet, thoughtful person whose good nature and calm demeanor seem to make it easy for Jo to take advantage of him.  Chris apparently dislikes confrontation to the point of submerging his wants almost completely in deference to other peoples needs and expectations.  While some might attribute that to a “lack of backbone”, I can see the glimmerings of a different take on his behavior altogether, such as an inclination towards depression.  Two much of this book involves conflicts between these two characters of Chris and Jo instead of centering in on Chris, Paulie, Paulie’s long term partnership with Bill who is suffering from full blown AIDS, and Bill, who I was sure realized that Chris was attracted to his partner.  What a wasted story element. This awkward triad had so many interesting elements going for it.  Apparently Bill has been suffering from AIDS for three years and this was a “last vacation” for them both. I wanted to know when was he diagnosed with HIV?  How had that effected Paulie? When you have a ghost filled with rage, how interesting would that have been to contrast that with the rage/anger of Paulie? Or even Bill?  Like I said, a missed opportunity to concentrate on people I wanted to know so much more about than Jo Perry.

We are given one or two hints to explain their behaviors.  She is bitter about a divorce, he is “depressed” but neither explanation is gone into detail, and it never redeems her behavior.  This is especially true when it turns out that she is homophobic to the point of rudeness and anger, attacking Chris for his bisexuality and the other men for their gay partnership (even one that is critically ill!). Chris’ depression is mentioned once or twice, but it is clear that he has never done anything about it.  Then there is the weight around his neck (and the readers) in the form of Jo.  Towards the end of the book when she has left (of her own accord by the way), Chris’ boss mentions how much Chris has moved forward in the last several weeks.  Does no one in the UK come right out and say  “Well, thank god, that soul sucking monster has left the building?” Is that not “done” over there?  And for one final blow, literally, to the reader and Chris, on her last appearance, she smacks Chris a hard one across the face when she takes insult over something innocuous he said that she misconstrued.   But does he finally let her have it, at least verbally?  No, she has her homophobic way one last time.  Little by little this character interaction just leached away my good feelings about this  book, leaving me with a sour taste in my mouth over abusive behavior given its own reward in a manner of speaking.

So, after all that, it does have a wonderful and wonderfully realistic ending, a HFN that is in keeping with the final two characters I think.  It also left me very conflicted over the rating.  So much of this book is deserving of a 4 rating or higher from the settings to the paranormal mystery to even the character of Chris Mullen himself.  But it is dragged down by the repellant persona of Jo Perry and her over the top involvement in the plot and her overextended presence on the page.  I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to pull up a chair next to Fiona Glass, hand her a red pencil and a glass of cabernet and talk about this book! Because really this is ¾ of a wonderful book.  Oh well, in any case I will certainly be looking forward to others Fiona Glass writes but color me divided when it comes to Gleams from a Remoter World.

Cover art by LC Chase.  I like the gray color tones and the ruins in the background, perfect if you are looking for ghostly ambience for the book cover.

Review of Mine by Mary Calmes

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Rating: 4.75 stars

Trevan Bean and Landry Carter have a relationship that not many understand but that words for them completely.  From the first time Trev saw Landry two years ago at a party, they have been inseparable.  Before Trev Bean came into his life, Landry Carter was a troubled young man.  He was repudiated by his family for being gay and tumbled into a mess of low self esteem, depression and endless anonymous sexual acts.  Then one night, everything changed, Trevan Bean saw him, picked him off his knees, took him to Trev’s home and told Landry he belonged to Trev alone and no one else. From that moment on, Landry began his recovery from pathetic mess to functioning happy  human being, at least most of the time.  As long as he followed his routine, and knows that Trev is always there, he can run his jewelry store and create the gorgeous things he is becoming known for and be content knowing he is loved.

Trevan Bean, half Cuban half African American, is a complicated man.  He comes from a loving family who have depended on him since his father died.  To help out his family, he became a money runner for a gambling mob, a job he has to this day. And while Trev has never carried a gun or had to hurt someone,  Trev knows it is an illegal job, full of dangerous people and accepts the risks he has to take to make money.  Trev plans on buying a restaurant someday and he and Landry have been saving to buy their own house in the not so near future.

So far, he and Landry have been balancing all the complications in their lives and it has been working fine.  Until Landry’s youngest brother shows up out of nowhere and wants Landry to come home to see his ailing mother.  And Landry starts to unravel. Then one of Trev’s runner associates ends up in a hospital, beaten by a rival mobster and Trev’s  job is thrown into chaos by a gang war.  Not only is his safety threatened, but so is the wellbeing of everyone he loves, including Landry.  Their carefully maintained balancing act is demolished, their lives in jeopardy and it will take everything they have and more to make sure they come out of this mess with their relationship intact and their love stronger than ever.

I just loved this book and think it is one of Mary Calmes strongest stories yet.  The characters she has created are two of the most complicated and damaged people she has ever produced.  One, Trev Bean, is an interracial mobster with his own slippery morality, a strong code of loyalty and an unwavering love for Landry Carter.  He is aware that Landry has some serious emotional problems that can cause Landry anxiety, manic behavior, and even result in self destructive acts.  But Trev also knows he is the key to Landry’s stability, and whether he is an enabler or not, Trev will do what he thinks is right to keep Landry safe and happy. Trev is under no illusions about his own morality or mental issues as well.  He accepts it all as it comes with a forthright manner and calm demeanor.  Just an amazing protagonist, compelling in every way.

Landry is also as damaged and riveting a persona as Trev, the yin to Trev’s yang.  He is the flickering flame to the earthen rock that is Trev. His instability, his is a luminescence which will burn too brightly unless contained by Trev and a strict routine,  His emotional problems are never given a diagnosis but OCD is mentioned briefly.  He is just as likely to flair with anger as he is with passion and you can see as a reader how badly Landry has needed someone like Trev in his life to bring him  the balance and limitations he has always needed so badly.  For some, these two men represent an unhealthy relationship, something even Trev recognizes.  But what they have together also works for them, and they will fight to keep each other and their relationship intact.  Convoluted, messy, passionate, occasionally crazied and absolutely committed, what an amazing relationship to bring to life in this story.  And Mary Calmes does bring it vividly to life in every possible way.  These characters cry, threaten, have hot, passionate sex, and tender moments and we are there with them through every event, every step forward, and all threats to their happiness.  I loved both men from the start, and by the end of the book, hated to let either of them go.

And there are other fascinating characters within Mine that I wanted much more of, the most visible and intriguing of them is Conrad, a hit man’s hit man, an enforcer so dangerous that just his name means protection.  Conrad doesn’t have many he counts as friends but Trev is one of them. The man remains an enigma even as his very presence adds weight to the events that occur within the story.  From what I understand, this is a stand alone story so we cannot expect to see these characters again.  And that is a shame for these are such interesting, gripping people  and we have become so invested in their lives and happiness that wanting to know more about them and their future is a given by the end of the book.

I only wish we had a little more exposition at the end, a little more resolution to the dramatic events they had just gone through.  But perhaps that’s just being greedy and not wanting the story to end.  If you like unusual main characters, if you like your protagonists with a twist as well as love, pick this book up and be prepared to not put it down until you are finished.  It is that good!

Cover:  Reese Dante’s beautiful torso with the all important L tat is gorgeous.  My only complaint and to be honest I am not sure  how it could have been done, is to have made that skin color more in line with the racial makeup of Trev’s caramel or dark bronze coloring as he calls it. At any rate it is gorgeous and sexy and so very hot.

Review: Chase The Stars (Lang Downs #2) by Ariel Tachna

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

Chris Simms and his brother just happened to be in the wrong place and at the wrong time and now Chris was getting the beating of his life  by a gang of homophobic thugs.  His brother, Seth, runs off to find help and the jackaroos who return to intervene and take him to the hospital end up changing their lives forever.  One of the men to stop his attackers happens to be Macklin Armstrong who along with his partner Caine Neiheisal, offer Chris a job  and both brothers a place to live on Lang Downs, their sheep station. Chris realizes how badly he needs this place for himself to heal and for his brother’s safety but it is so hard for Chris to trust other people, especially with his history.

Jackaroo Jesse Harris is gay and quietly so as he has seen more than his share of homophobia on other sheep stations he has worked for.  Having a station manager and a station owner  who are not only gay but partners is taking some getting used to, so is not having to hide his sexuality as Jesse has always done before.  Then injured Chris Simms arrives at the station with his brother and Jesse’s offer to help Chris adjust to station life turns into mutual attraction between the two men and then so much more.  But Chris’ emotional state is in turmoil.  He feels guilty for not pulling his own weight on the station because of his injuries and ignorance. And so is being there for his brother as Seth adjusts to a life so different in every  respect from the one they were used to.  Can he and Seth make a home on Lang Downs and be happy?  And what about Jesse?  Most jackaroos are nomadic by nature, roaming from one sheep station job to another from season to season.  Would Jesse be able to make a commitment to Chris, a family, and life lived permanently at Lang Downs?  Impermanence is all Jesse has known but when he falls in love with Chris, he realizes in a panic that returning that love means a fundamental change in his life.  Now only if he can find the courage to accept that.

Chase The Stars is the sequel to Inherit The Sky, the first Lang Downs novel and I certainly hope this is not the last visit to the men and the Lang Down sheep station I have come to love.  Once more we are pulled into the world of wide open spaces of New South Wales and quiet reserved men who make their living off the land.  Caine Neiheisel and his partner, Macklin Armstrong are featured here just as much as Chris Simms and Jesse Harris to my utter joy.  Caine and Macklin have had six months to adjust to their new love and partnership.  Lang Downs too is having  its own  adjustments to make to having an openly gay owner and manager.  As Caine and Macklin work to create a successful and accepting work place, they also are still discovering new things about themselves as they  learn to trust each other and lean completely upon the other man fpr their emotional support. Work schedules are tight on Lang Downs where they are shorthanded as not all the seasonal jackaroos will accept working with gay men and Macklin is still keeping secrets from Caine about his history to Caine’s frustration.  Nothing ever comes quickly and there is work to be  done, even on relationships, if all are to succeed.

Into this evolving mixture of men and relationships, Tachna adds the Simms brothers, Chris and Seth who are woefully in need of sanctuary, a home and support.  At Lang Downs, they find all that and more as Caine and Macklin provide a needed portrait of two gay men who love each other and successfully work together.  Chris and his brother Seth were tossed out of their home by their stepfather after their mother died  and Chris was having a hard time just getting them food and shelter on a day to day basis.  With Caine and Macklin making them feel at home, Chris can finally get past a state of stress and starts to think about a future for them both.  Chris Simms and his brother, Seth are wonderful characters and work perfectly within the established framework Ariel Tachna has created.  We have already gotten a real understanding of the flow and pace of life on a sheep station, we anticipate the seasonal duties the jackaroos have before them as much as they do, and we sympathize with Chris and Seth’s feelings as outsiders when they first arrive at Lang Downs.  But then the station’s strangeness starts to wear off as Chris and Seth find their way into the rhythm of life at Lang Downs. Seth settles down as he starts the School of the Air with the other children and finds an outlet for his mechanical nature in helping to work on the engines, the people around him making him feel like family.  But it is Chris who we empathize with the most.  He is the one beaten for his sexuality, he is the one who has shouldered all the responsibility for his brother and we breathe a sigh of relief and joy as Chris learns to trust in his situation and the men around him.  Chris’ vulnerability and sensitive nature engages our affections from the beginning and we root for him to succeed and find happiness just as Caine and Macklin have.

The character of Jesse Harris brings a wonderful contrast to Chris Simms and Macklin Armstrong.  Jesse Harris is more typical of the seasonal jackaroos who work the sheep stations, never settling at one place for long.  These men have learned to be self sufficient and hard, reserved and used to isolation.  Still Jesse’s homosexuality sets him apart from the others and the high standards that Macklin and Caine set are not only new but bring the potential for more into a future Jesse had never thought of for himself.  Watching Jesse change and adapt to new thoughts and feelings is like watching the parched ground soak up the rain after a steady shower, the cracks fill up and finally disappear as the ground repairs itself.  We thrill to watch that evolution happen within Jesse as well.

And that’s really how this book and Inherit The Sky feel to me.  They are as much about a life lived as close to nature and as in tune with the seasons as one can be.  Changes in emotions and thoughts are measured as incrementally as changes in the land around them.  The wind blows a little  colder, the rains and sleet pour down upon men and sheep equally.  And life is slow until the threat of dingos appears and then the rush to face the threats is quick and fierce as the storms themselves. There is the calm enjoyment of the beauty of the outback and the clear night skies contrasted with the life and death nature of the floods in the rainy season.  This is a novel that spreads out before you in as elemental and  earthy manner as the land itself.  We are made to see an Australian night sky ablaze with stars, and feel the cold seep into bones of the men checking the fence line and what a gift that turns out to be.  It is a treasure when an author can meld you seamlessly into their world, make you a part of  their  characters lives so completely that you hurt and laugh when they do.  Ariel Tachna did that with Inherit The Sky and does it again here with Chase The Stars.

Easing back into the world of Lang Downs was like revisiting with old friends and meeting new ones as well.  I love watching the changes in the lives of the characters I have come to love, whether the permutations inch forward or flow fast like a stream.  I hope that Ariel Tachna  brings us back here again, to see what changes time has brought and to whom Lang Downs has given sanctuary and home.  Until then, I will be picking these two books up again and again to read and remember.

Cover by Anne Cain is lovely and perfect for the book and the story within.