Review: A Shared Range (Range #1) by Andrew Grey

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

A Shared RangeDakota Holden is home on school break and his medical studies when he finds out that his father has multiple sclerosis and has been hiding his diagnosis from his son.  Dakota puts his dream of a medical degree on hold to return home and run the Holden ranch and watch as his father’s condition degenerates.  Dakota has never spoken of his homosexuality to anyone at home, including his father, and the only time he feels he can be himself is on the one week vacations he allows himself every year.

This year, the ocean cruise holiday romance he struck up with another passenger turned into a friendship, and when Phillip Reardon asks to visit Dakota at the ranch, Phillip brings along another friend, Wally Schumacher, a veterinarian, with him.  Almost at once, Wally’s presence starts to upset the balance at the ranch.  Both Phillip and Wally are out and gay, a situation that makes Dakota reexamine his closeted status. And Wally is loudly vehement against the ranchers and ranch hands shooting the wolves that have come into the territory and threatens the herds.  Dakota finds Wally both brave and hot, an attractive that Wally returns 100 percent.

But Wally and Phillip’s vacation is a short one and  Dakota must weigh not only coming out to his father and ranch hands but finding out if Wally would want to stay and make his isolated western lifestyle his own.  Can Wally’s passion for wildlife and his honesty about his sexuality coexist with the conservative lifestyle and small town point of view that Dakota lives with daily?  Or will the call of the big city be too much for their love to overcome?

What fun I have had working my way back to the beginning of the Ranch series where it all started. Was it worth the journey?  Absolutely, I just loved the story of Dakota and Wally, the foundation couple that is the impetus that brings all the future couples together and sets several  people on the road to understanding their true natures and self worth.  When I first met Dakota in book 5, An Isolated Range, he had achieved his dream of becoming a doctor but here we see him as a young man who, in his devotion to his father, shelves his dream to return home and run the family ranch.  And we get to see the true measure of his character as he shoulders all the responsibilities because of love, love for his father and love of the ranch and the land.  Andrew Grey does such a wonderful job of making Dakota and his life real that it is easy to understand the decisions he makes and agree with them.  From the vivid descriptions of the majestic territory the ranch is situated on to the small town that is the  hub of ranch society, Grey paints it all with such loving, understanding language that you feel as though you have visited there as well.

Wally Schumacher is another character that quickly eases his way into your heart.  Small in stature, large in heart and bravery, he is a firecracker to be dealt with on his own terms,  It is through Wally’s eyes that we get to see the other side of the natural beauty and wildlife that is the western United States.  While the ranchers see the wolves in terms of livestock lost and financial stability, Wally sees the fierce beauty of Nature and the natural course of predator/prey being played out as it should.  Andrew Grey remains an impartial observer, relating both sides to the reader in such a way to let us understand the combustable mixture that occurs when these two widely divergent viewpoints come together while never belittling or downplaying the issues for both sides.   One way that is so successful is that Grey’s characters are living, breathing beings. They are equally capable of  adjusting their viewpoints to a wider perspective or persons living life narrowly within the confines of a rigid viewpoint.  No matter where they may fall on the spectrum, they always come across as viable human beings.

We see Jefferson Holden as the disease quickly takes over, we meet Phillip as he begins to examine his own lifestyle, and so many others as the ranch and our main couple starts to work the magic that  will continue through all the books to come.  And I got to see how the big cats came to live under Wally’s care.  How I laughed about that one and commiserated with Dakota.  For me Andrew Grey has created a couple, a ranch, and a series that is just about irresistible, and this book is the beginning of that journey.  Don’t miss out on any of it.  It doesn’t matter the path you take to get here, forward, backward or zigzagging in between, just make sure your road leads to the ranch where Dakota and Wally make their lives matter  and everyone is welcome, including you.  You won’t be sorry, I promise  you.

Here are the book in the series in the order they were written, linked to my reviews:

A Shared Range (Range #1)

A Troubled Range (Range #2)

An Unsettled Range (Range #3)

A Foreign Range (Range #4)

An Isolated Range (Range #5)

A Volatile Range (Range #6) coming out February 4, 2013 by Dreamspinner Press

Cover art by Reese Dante, lovely job as usual.

To help support the organizations working to rescue these wonderful  exotic animals, please visit the following websites, these are but a few that could use your help:

International Exotic Feline Sanctuary (bigcat.org)

Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge, Tyler, TX

In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Education Center Wylie, Texas 

Never Cry Wolf Rescue

Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary

Wolf Mountain Sanctuary

And of course, our wonderful World Wildlife Fund

Review: Overdrive by Ariel Tachna

Standard

Rating: 4.25 stars

Overdrive cover by Ariel TachnaAfter his last disastrous race, Daniel Leroux knows things have to change for him to achieve his dream of winning the World Rally Championship. For starters, he has to fire his co driver and then look for just the right partner to help him and his team get back in the race.  One person’s name comes up as the best fit for the team – Frank Dufour, a young Canadian.  Frank Dufour was making a name for himself on the Canadian Junior World Rally racing, but then after two years, he disappears from the circuit and no one seems to know why.

After some investigation, it turns out that  Dufour was let go by his racing team because he was gay, not a problem for Daniel as he is bisexual and his sexuality has never bothered his team’s owner or his crew.  Then Frank shows up in France to interview and their attraction to each other is immediate and obvious.  So much so that Jean Paul, the owner, informs Daniel and Frank separately that ” sex and business don’t mix” so no sex between partners.

This rule becomes harder to abide by the longer they work together. They start to discover that the more in sync they are with each other, the better they function as a team and the hotter the attraction between them.  When the competition heats up between them and a rival team and someone starts sabotages the race cars, the stress placed on their relationship strains the partnership and their resolve.  What will break first?

Ariel Tachna consistently demonstrates her ability to get inside the heads of different people and their professions in story after story. Overdrive is another of those wonderful stories she does so well.  This time the profession is world rally racing and the teams that drive the circuit.  After reading this story, I wonder when exactly Ariel last raced over the Sahara because all the details are there, making this story authentic from every angle.  We look into the engines, we get a sneak peak at team strategy,  and alternately feel the cold and heat of the various racing venues. It has the feel of insider information and  our view of these racers is an intimate one.  I may not have known much about world rally race teams before but at least now I feel I won’t embarrass myself in a conversation where they are concerned.  And not once did it feel like an information  dump.

Overdrive is populated with wonderful characters as well.  Daniel Leroux and his sister, Isabelle the team mechanic, are French.  They both work for Team Citroen so we get a wonderful base location of Clermont-Ferrand and the surrounding locale for the story.  The french language as well as Quebecois is scattered throughout the story to a marvelous effect and helps to situate the reader into the French countryside and the Leroux’s lives.  Frank is from Quebec, and I love that we get an explanation between the different dialects there as well  as proper French.  It is the lovely touch of realism that brings that extra layer to a story for the reader to appreciate.   Ariel Tachna has lived in France and her familiarity with the French people and countryside shows.

Is this a case of instant love? No, and I appreciate that as well.  We are given a slow climb into the relationship as each man must weigh their career versus the damage a broken relationship can do to a partnership.  There are some hot sexual scenes and some angst to go along with our tagging along  for a season of world rally racing and the formation of a team hard to beat.  My only quibble is that I wished for more of the real racing towards the end, more of the various locations and circuit conditions.  When we get to peer over their shoulders as they navigate tight turns on gravel at over 100 mph is breath taking and I wanted more, much more to satisfy an itch I never knew I had.  So while I recommend this story to you, I am off to look up more world rally race teams.  Really, like I needed another addiction…..

Cover Art by Justin James    (dare.empire@gmail.com). New artist for me and he has given us a very hot, on topic cover.  Very nice.

Cover Design by Mara McKennen

Review: Pack Business (Pine Hollow Wolves #2) by Caitlin Ricci

Standard

Rating: 3.75 stars

Pack BusinessShifter Liam, human Travis and his daughter Hannah are still trying to settle into the new living arrangement as one happy family.  Liam adores Hannah and is quickly falling in love with Travis, the man he rescued from living on the streets, along with his daughter.  Travis too finds himself falling for the shifter with the icy blue eyes who protects them both so lovingly and is paying for him to attend university.  But trouble is brewing from within Liam’s back and Hannah, the 2 year old human is the focus of all the discord.

Hannah can see all the shifters in their true form and calls them all “puppies” because that is what she sees when she looks at them.  And that can be a problem when you are trying to hide from the human society you live in.  Plus there is that all bogeyman tale of human Hunters that could see the shifters in their human form and know they were wolves.  The pack is not ready to find out whether it is truth or fairy tale, they just want the little girl dealt with.  Can their new family succeed and thrive when all around them want the family broken apart and the child to disappear?

Pack Business is a continuation of the Pine Hollow Wolves series started with Almost Paradise. The story begins 6 months after the end of Almost Paradise.  Liam, Travis, and Hannah are living together in Liam’s house with his two Mastiffs, Lucy and Ethel.  They are really starting to feel as though they are a family, and adorable Hannah is the child that Liam never thought he would have as a gay man and shifter.  Travis has started back at school, and everyone is happy, mostly.

Ricci’s wonderful characters that drew me in to  start with are all back and flourishing.  I fell in love with Liam, Travis and Hannah immediately and became invested in their future so I was very excited to see where the story is going.  Liam’s pack is an interesting one where the Alpha is almost two wolves, powerful twin brother and sister who also happen to be African American, a rarity within the shifter universe.  Samson and Evangeline are two strong characters that you want more of, including their backstory, especially Evangeline.  I love Evangeline.  She is strong, charismatic and independent and her brother, the Alpha, loves her and depends on her judgement and strength.  Less is known about her brother but I believe that is intentional.  At least I hope so because i can see glimpses of Samson that just cry out for his own story.

Pack Business also starts to address the fact that Hannah can “see” the true wolf form of every shifter she meets when they are in their human shape.  How do you explain to other people when a 2 year old continues to call you “puppy”?  Staying hidden is to be achieved at all costs and to some that cost is Hannah’s life.  Additionally, Ricci introduces a shifter legend or their own version of a Grimm fairy tale in which long ago there was a group of humans called Hunters who possessed the ability to identify a shifter on sight. These Hunters used their ability to kill every shifter they found.  But as the author tells it, not even the shifters are sure if this is fact or fiction.  With each new element, Ricci ups the anxiety and uncertainty about Liam and Travis’s ability to keep Hannah safe and happy.

I really love this series but recognize that there are several aspects that will not set well with other readers.  One is the fact that if you have not read the first book in the series, not much of this story will make sense,  In fact , Pack Business has more the feel of a really long chapter than a separate book on its own.  To be a satisfying read that deserves a four star rating, this book should be folded in right after Almost Paradise, and read together.  Then it makes sense and becomes an even more compelling read.

Another is that the wolf shifters here are of the I Dream of Jeannie school of shifters.  Blink, they are human, blink and they are wolves sort of thing.  I will admit to a certain niggling little sarcastic voice in the back of my head that goes “Really? And their clothes reassemble too?” I like this story enough to kind of overlook this but I will admit to preferring the more sensible bone jarring, skin stretching, more realistic form of shifting.  It just is more agreeable to the naturalist in me.

I find the Pine Hollow Wolves series to be so captivating, so full of promising glimpses into future stories, that I am willing to shove my quibbles with the books into the background.  I want to see what happens with Hannah and her gift/curse.  Are Hunters in fact, real? And is Hannah is a Hunter, what will happen when a Hunter is raised by a wolf pack?  This element just cries out for a YA book, don’t you think?  With Hannah as the heroine?  And there is Liam ready to leave the pack and his financial security for Travis and Hannah.  And Evangeline, with her divided loyalties?  I can go on and hope that Caitlin Ricci does so as well, while answering all the questions that keep popping into my mind.

This is a short book, only 110 pages and it cries out for a much longer length.  But I will take a sequel no matter how long or short it may be.  I am now fully invested in these characters and their future.  I need to know what happens to them and that is wonderful story telling.

Lee Tiffin is the cover artist and this cover is just as adorable as the family pictured.  It works both as a cover for this book and to brand the series.

Books in the Pine Hollow Wolves series in the order they were written and should be read, one immediately after the other:

Almost Paradise (Pine Hollow Wolves #1)

Pack Business (Pine Hollow Wolves #2)

A Troubled Range (Range series #2) by Andrew Grey

Standard

Rating: 4.5 stars

A Troubled RangeHaven Jessup has never understood the hatred between his father, Kent Jessup and Jefferson Holden who owns the ranch next to theirs.  The feud between the two men has been there all his life, but his father’s hatred for the Holdens has never been his.  One day as Haven is out checking his fences, a huge storm comes up and Dakota Holden is there to save his life and take him home to the  Holden ranch to dry off.  Once there, Haven meets Dakota’s partner Wally and Phillip Reardon, a friend of Dakota’s in for a visit.  Haven is afraid to admit even to himself that he likes men, he knows what his father’s reaction would be but inside the Holden ranch, Haven sees men in love with each other and not afraid to show it and for the first time, Haven starts to question the manner in which he lives his life.

Phillip Reardon has come to see his friends after being fired from his job in the city.  Phillip has never wanted to settle down romantically before but as he watches Dakota and Wally interact, he realizes that he wants that type of relationship for himself but where to find the man to spend the rest of his life with?  Phillip recognizes the inner turmoil he sees inside the shy, young rancher and works to help Haven accept himself.  As both men move forward into a new and hidden relationship, trouble arrives on the Holden ranch in terms of cut fences, rustled cattle, as somewhere someone with a secret agenda is threatening the Holden ranch and the safety of all who live on it.  How can a new relationship withstand the strain and stress of all the recent events and the knowledge that one day soon Phillip is going to leave to return to the city and Haven will be on his own once more?

The Range series continues to be a favorite series of mine by Andrew Grey, author of a number of wonderful series on a variety of subjects.  A Troubled Range continues the story started in A Shared Range, that of the men of the Holden ranch from father Jefferson Holden and his son, Dakota to the men who arrive there and find their little heaven on earth.  A Troubled Range brings the neighboring Jessup ranch into the story, as part of that family has been engaged with a feud with  Jefferson Holden for most of their lives.  Neither man will reveal the cause of the hatred they bear for each other to their sons but it impacts all around them.

The two families could not be more different, especially when it comes to the treatment of their  sons.  Jefferson Holden loves his son and accepts his son’s homosexuality with ease, welcoming his son’s partner into the family without hesitation.  Haven, on the other hand, cannot remember if his father has ever held him or told him that he loves him.  In fact, Haven has been treated more like a farm worker by his father than a son all of his life.  Andrew Grey is terrific at exposing a family’s discord and its effects upon the innocents caught in its path.  Kent Jessup is a hard man who has retreated from the physical work needed to be done while still managing to punish and hound his son about his disappointments in Haven on every aspect of his being.  We feel for Haven immediately as he continues to do his best for the ranch he loves,and  deal with his abusive father.  Then you add onto that emotional load the fact that Haven is gay and conflicted about his sexuality, and your heart goes out to the boy who doesn’t break but find the courage to reach out for more in life.

Phillip Reardon is the exact opposite of Haven.  He is a self assured city boy who has never settled down with one man nor had the  desire to do so. Then the loss of his job shakes up his complacency and makes him take a hard look at the lonely future ahead of him if he doesn’t change his ways.  Phillip likes Haven and is attracted to the young man with all the problems.  At first, Phillip just wants to help Haven as a friend as Haven works to accept his sexuality and then attraction deepens into something more.  But Phillip has to sort out his own internal baggage before he can make room for another in his heart.  Grey makes sure that all his characters reflect on their true natures and we get to watch as they sort themselves out.  It’s realistic, it’s emotional and it brings us so much closer to these wonderful characters and makes us understand who they really are.  Andrew Grey knows how to  deepen our connections to his characters and their stories and does so with a maestro’s touch.

A Troubled Range brings us storms on the prairie, heartbreaking moments of both pain and joy and ending with the deep satisifaction of two men finding true love at the end of the road.  As the characters are drawn from life, we see betrayal and loss that cuts to the core amidst the dynamics of two opposing western families.  What an amazing series that can bring together so many intense conflations, of battlefields both internal and physical and still manage to make them all fresh in each book of the series. Don’t pass any of these books by.

Cover art by Catt Ford, who continues to do a wonderful job with branding the series.

Here are the series in the order they were written and should be read:

A Shared Range (Range, #1)

A Troubled Range (Range, #2)

An Unsettled Range (Range, #3)

A Foreign Range (Range, #4)

An Isolated Range (Range, #5)

A Volatile Range (Range, #6) comes out next week, February 5th, 2013

Snow on the Ground and the Week Ahead in Book Reviews

Standard

What Do You Mean It’s Going To Snow?

We had our first taste of winter here in the region recently and parts still bear a light coat of white to prove it.  Schools let out  early, as did many local governments.  The federal government had a liberal leave policy in effect and the stores were crowded with people buying out all the bread, bacon and booze.  Yes, its true, we here in the Washington Metro area go completely bonkers when we think it’s going to snow.  How much snow fell? Perhaps one inch.  Sigh.  But continuing our seesaw season, we are expected to hit  65 degrees F by Wednesday and it doesn’t help that the seeds and nursery catalogs have just started arriving by mail.  Some people are tempted by jewels and clothing, not me.  For me it’s yarn stores and nurseries full of plants and flowers of every shape, size, and color.  Yesterday alone saw me dog-earing page after page of new plants for the season as I scribbled their names along with possible locations in the yard.  Was I a contented camper?  Why yes I was!

And this afternoon sees me off to Busboys and Poets to meet up with the Metro Area M/M Romance group for wild and wonderful conversations and discussions over everything book oriented.  We are a great group of readers, bloggers, authors, and publishers and boy, do we have a lot to say!  I can’t wait.

One more thing…one of my favorite blogs is The Blood Red Pencil where they blog “sharp and pointed observations about writing”.  I adore them.  This week the topic is “Mystery, Magic, and the Aha! of the Reveal”.  It is just a terrific article and shouldn’t be missed.  Here is the link, don’t pass it by. Trust me, these people understand that writing is not for the fainthearted.

So here is the week ahead in book reviews.  I am all over the place.  There is contemporary romance courtesy of Andrew Grey, RJ Scott and Ariel Tachna, three of my favorite authors.  The latest book in Caitlin Ricci’s shifter series and LA Witt’s science fiction/shifter novel that is the first in The Tameness of the Wolf series.  New series, continuing series and great authors, so just be prepare to add to your reading list by the end of the week. What?  It’s February already? *head desk*

Monday, 1/28:                      A Troubled Range by Andrew Grey

Tuesday, 1/29                       Pack Business by Caitlin Ricci

Wed., 1/30:                           Overdrive by Ariel Tachna

Thursday, 1/31:                    A Shared Range by Andrew Grey

Friday, 2/1:                            The Fireman and the Cop by RJ Scott

Saturday, 2/2:                       Eye of the Beholder by Edward Kendrick

Review: An Isolated Range (Range #5) by Andrew Grey

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

An Isoslated RangeMarty Green, college student, was doing the thing he loved best, playing basketball for his first intercollegiate game for his Brackett College team when the unthinkable happened.  While on the court, Marty suffers a stroke and ends up in the hospital for months recuperating and learning to walk again.  Due to the extent of the damage done to his brain, the recovery is taking longer than he had hoped and his parents want him to come home to continue his rehabilitation.  But Marty knows from experience just how smothering and overprotective his well meaning parents can be, so when his doctor suggests an alternative, to go to a ranch  owned by a friend of his where Marty can work on daily chores, help care for an invalid father as well as his rehabilitation, Marty jumps at it.

Veterinary assistant Quinn Summers is there when Marty arrives at the ranch  owned by Dakota and helps him get settled into his room. Everything about the young man in the wheelchair attracts Quinn, including his determination to be independent.  Marty will help care for Jefferson,  Dakota’s father as well as help feed the horses at the ranch.  Marty has alway loved horses as much as basketball and quickly settles into life at ranch.  The biggest adjustment to life at the ranch is seeing openly gay men living and loving each other as other heterosexual couples do.  Marty has known he was gay since his teen years but never came out due to his conservative Republican Senator father.  Now he has the chance to finally be who he really is and Quinn is ready to help him. But there are plenty of obtacles on the path to romance for Marty and Quinn.  Quinn’s father dislikes the fact that his son is gay and works to undermine Quinn in every way possible.  And there is Senator Green who is using an antigay platform to help him get re-elected to the Senate.  It will take courage and heart for Marty and Quinn to overcome their families and reach for love.

Andrew Grey’s Range series just gets stronger with each new book and An Isolated Range is perhaps the most amazing addition yet.  Marty Green is an extraordinary character, inspired by a real life basketball player from Gettysburg College who experienced the same devastating stroke that happens to Marty.  Grey’s description of the stroke as it happens from Marty’s POV is as shattering as it is realistic.  And that authenticity continues from the moment Marty wakes up in the hospital, moves into rehab, and then when he realizes that to get better he must move beyond his family into a more independent living arrangement or have his recovery be stifled by overprotective parents.  The author is able to convey to reader the crushing disappointment that Marty feels when he is unable to walk, his stress and dismay over the lack of progress and his inability to be his own man.  Andrew Grey does a incredible job of bringing Marty Green to life in every facet of this young man’s journey.

Quinn Summers is an equally remarkable character.  He has succeeded in his personal life, with help from Wally, Dakota, and Jefferson, to become an exceptional young man who dreams of becoming a veterinarian.  One of Quinn’s biggest obstacles in his life is his father, a self destructive man who continually tries to pull Quinn down with him.  This element of An Isolated Range is as fully developed and layered as the rest of the story.  And you root for Quinn to continue to extricate himself from his father even as the man reaches out to pull Quinn back in.

We also have to watch as Jefferson Holden fades, his illness claiming him as Jefferson is a character we have come to love over the series of books.  This is such an affecting element of this story and Grey plays off the relationship all the men on the ranch have with Jefferson (he has been a father figure to most of them) against the antagonistic relationships Marty and Quinn have with their respective dads.  Marty’s relationship with his Senator father is fraught with complexities as neither of Marty’s parents realize he is gay.  Just as Marty is getting comfortable with his sexuality, Marty’s father starts to ramp up antigay sentiments to help him get re-elected to the Senate, a plausible action that we see mirrored in the media every day.

Really, An Isolated Range is just one outstanding book from every angle possible.  I cannot recommend it enough. However, I would start at the beginning of the series.  Read them in the order they were written, starting with A Shared Range (Range #1) which introduces you to Dakota and Wally, and continue on from there.  Don’t miss a one.

Here are the books in the order they were written and should be read in order to understand the characters and their relationships:

A Shared Range (Range, #1)

A Troubled Range (Range, #2)

An Unsettled Range (Range, #3)

A Foreign Range (Range, #4)

An Isolated Range (Range, #5)

Review: A Dragon and His Knight by M. Raiya

Standard

Rating: 3 stars

A Dragon and His Knight coverDragon Justin and his Knight, Wells, have been together for over 1,000 years, never apart for a moment. A decision to reenter the  human world once more sees them settled in a college town in New Hampshire.  Wells enrolls them both as students in the local university to pass the time and gather knowledge, a seemingly innocent pastime that becomes fraught with danger. What will happen when their bond of a millennia is destroyed?

A Dragon and His Knight is a short story in the same universe as Notice and A Sky Full of Wings.  The author doesn’t say specifically where it fits in but I would put it at the end after A Sky Full of Wings otherwise very little in this story will make sense to the reader.  I am very fond of the dragon lore and dragons/knight relationships that Raiya has created for this series. A Dragon and His Knight adds some additional facts of dragon lore and part of the backstory of the ancient black dragon and knight that appear at the end of A Sky Full of Wings that was missing from that book. But in some circumstances it also muddies the very history that has been laid down before, including adding a somewhat abusive relationship between a secondary dragon/knight couple that was just confusing.

What the author does so well is to portray the loving master/servant relationship that does exist between Justin and Wells, one that has endured over 1,000 years.  These two characters make the story.  When they appeared out of nowhere in A Sky Full of Wings, I wanted to know more about these remarkable characters who had such a large impact on that story.  I still feel that way.  This story was so short that it truly was only a sip that whetted my appetite instead of a drink that satisfied my thirst.  I still want more of Justin and Wells backstory as well as those other dragons and knights from their era.  A Dragon and His Knight is truly just a glimpse into a very small section of an ongoing story.  I hope that the author has a much longer book planned that will help fill in the many gaps left by A Dragon and His Knight.  Until we get more exposition, I think I would skip this addition, and if you love dragons, read Notice and A Sky Full of Wings instead.

Books in the Notice series or universe are:

Notice, Notice #1

Nice: The Dragon and the Mistletoe, Notice #2

A Sky Full of Wings, Notice #3

Origin (in the Shifting Steam Anthology)

A Dragon and His Knight, 29 pages published previously in the Mine Anthology

Too Stupid To Live by Anne Tenino

Standard

Rating: 4.5 stars

Too Stupid To Live coverSam has his head buried in his latest romance novel and his feet planted on the grass when he is knocked to the ground. Then Sam’s heart notices the ripped body of the man assisting him to his feet and it decides it has met his One True Love.  Turns out Sam had been walking across the rugby playing field and got beaned by the ball.  And no matter that Sam’s head says that his One True Love couldn’t look like some Highlander god or that someone who looked as gorgeous as the man lifting him to his feet would ever want a skinny, nerdy, beanpole like him, Sam’s heart says Sam has met his future husband.

Ian Cully hopes that he has left the worst of his life behind him to start a new life in a new town.  His life as a firefighter ended with a traumatic accident.  Now he has a new job, a new apartment and only his cousin, Jurgan and his partner, Nik, as his connections to his family and his past. Another part of his past Ian is hoping to forget? The part where Ian pretended to be straight. Now he is free to explore his sexuality but where to start? Ian thinks he knows his type, until he goes to the rescue of a guy who got hit by the ball during his rugby game.  One look into the eyes of Sam and all Ian’s suppositions about himself are gone.  In their place is a lanky, blond haired gay with his head in romance novels and a heart too vulnerable for its own good.

But Ian still has some major issues to work through and he is not sure a commitment is something he is capable of.  Everyone is telling Sam that Ian is Mr. Wrong but Sam just can’t convince his heart that is true.  Sam soon starts to wonder if he is not like the character in the books he reads, the one who is too stupid too live, who never sees the trouble coming and gets out of the way.  Is Ian Mr. Wrong or does Sam’s heart know Mr. Right when it sees him?

I didn’t realize until I was several chapters into the book that many of the main characters originated in another book,Anne Tenino’s Whitetail Rock.  I remembered reading it quite a while ago and then Nik, Jurgan and the rest snapped back into place.  But you don’t have to have read that book to enjoy this maddening, happy, exasperating romp through the lives of Sam and Ian.  Sam is a wonder of a character.  Tall, scrawny, head buried in his bodice rippers and riddled with self esteem issues, Sam is a character you want to hug even as you are giving him a little shake.  Sam is endearing, and clearly deserving of True Love but he doesn’t see himself as worthwhile.  That will break your heart as more of Sam is revealed over the storyline. I love my nerds in m/m fiction but Sam is something special.  He is not your normal small, cute blond but lanky, thin haired, and has a big nose and giggles.  I adored him.

Ian Cully comes off at the start as a smug horn dog who could have easily descended into an unlikable character but Ian too has layers that save him from being a stock creation.  He is seeing a therapist, recognizes his issues and wants to change.  It took me a little longer to connect with him but when I did, I feel in love with him just as Sam did.

Anne Tenino’s dialog is a wonder.  It’s funny, charming, topical, and perfect for each character she has created.  There are times I just sat back and laughed out loud at the things that came out of Sam and Nik’s mouths, especially if they were getting their drunk on.  And there are some heartbreaking moments that will have you in tears.  One such scene involves a character that I believe Tenino is setting up for her next novel.  At least I hope so. We absolutely need to know what happens to him.  And that fact alone, that we need to know what happens next in the lives of these people cements my feelings about Too Stupid To Live.  This book is a wonderful romantic ride to Ones True Love, and that is something Sam and Ian both deserved and got with each other.

Too Stupid To Live is listed as Romancelandia #1.  I can’t wait for the others.

Cover artist is LC Chase.  Love this cover.  The model is adorable, the perfect representation of Sam.

Dirty Laundry (Tucker Springs #3) by Heidi Cullinan

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

Dirty LaundryEntomology grad student Adam Ellery is trying to get his clothes washed at the laundromat when drunken frat boys start to harass him.  Just as things start to escalate out of control, Adam is saved by a muscled mountain of a man who dispatches the frats after making them apologize to Adam.  His rescuer’s name is Denver Rogers, a bouncer at the local gay bar.  Every thing about Denver pushes Adam’s buttons and, unbelievably to Adam at least, his thanks turns into a sexual encounter the likes of which Adam has never experienced before.

Denver Rogers knows his physique ensures his bed is never empty and the bar is the perfect place to find players for his  games but something about Adam is  so different from his usual bedmates.  Denver can’t get Adam out of his mind, and starts to pursue the Entomology student with a passion for bugs and rough sex. But Denver comes with a background of abuse, self esteem issues, and no formal education.  Denver wonders what the brilliant Adam will think about a man who doesn’t even have a GED?

Adam is OCD, with a side of clinical anxiety  and just getting through the day takes all his strength and determination.  His only long term romance ended because of his mental illness as well as the fact that they did not mesh sexually.  But his encounter with Denver has fulfilled him and left him satiated and his mind quite for once. Denver is everything Adam could want but how will Denver feel when Adam tells him he has obsessive compulsive disorder? Will Denver be able to deal with Adam’s illness? Adam and Denver each have their share of dirty laundry in their closet. Will they be able to come clean so they can see a bright future together?

Cullinan had me at Sphingidae.  An author who gives me a main character who is an entomologist specializing in hawk moths, be still my heart, watch as this Park Naturalist swoons.  But that one thing shouldn’t surprise me as Cullinan continues to bring us characters so human, so realistically flawed and interesting in their emotional makeup that it is a wonder that I haven’t seen someone like Adam in her stories before now.

Tucker Springs is a town full of amazing people and Cullinan has just contributed two more town citizens so remarkable that I still stay up at night thinking about them.  Both are, as I said, beautifully realized human beings, with their flaws and emotional issues.  But Adam and Denver also have the ability to disarm the reader with their vulnerability and surprising decency.  First let’s talk about Adam whose OCD and clinical anxiety is something thousands face in their lives today.  Cullinan has made this mental illness accessible and understandable through the character of Adam.  As he fights his way through his demons at every step in his day, from the lab to just getting out of the house, we really start to comprehend just how overwhelming it must be to just try and stay a functioning human being, let alone one successfully getting through college.  Adam has heart, and bravery, and a need for kinky sex  in which he can give up control. Adam kept surprising me all through the story, love him.

Then Cullinan delivers Denver Rogers to Adam via the laundromat.  Denver Rogers has his own demons in his head (none I will list for you here) and a need for rough sex and to be the one in control.  Everything about Denver will surprise you as it does Adam.  He could have easily degenerated into a stock character, but that never comes close to happening here in Cullinan’s capable hands. Denver is a decent, multilayered human trying to work through his past and starts to think that he might just have a future with his “bug boy”.  I adored this man.

We must also talk about the characters sexuality because it is such a huge component of the story and their relationship.  This is not your vanilla sex but rough, consensual hot sex.  It is bdsm and D/s and both are absolutely necessary for the story and this couple.  While neither is something I normally read, here it makes total sense for the characters and that helps the reader who either is not familiar with bdsm or reads bdsm to not only accept it but enjoy it.  Adam and Denver need this part of their relationship.  It is an integral part of who they are and it satisfies a deep seated need for Adam to be submissive and for Denver to be the dom.  Not only that but it calms Adam’s OCD as nothing else has.  I won’t get into the explanations but needless to say, the author does the same exemplary job of bringing the reader into Adam’s head to help us understand his thoughts and feelings on this element as well as the others.  So, even if this type of sexuality is not something you normally enjoy, Cullinan helps you understand, if not outright accept and enjoy this as a mutually healthy expression of their love and outgrowth of their relationship.

Cullinan then to proceed to slowly build an engrossing, heartwarming love story between Adam and Denver, one complete with a step backward for every two they manage to go forward with.  Adam and Denver must over come one obstacle after another, ones both small and large, including each other.  By the time, their story is finished, as a reader you are so throughly invested in this couple’s lives that you don’t want it to be over.  Not by a long shot.  My hope is that we will see them in other Tucker Springs novels just as El and Paul did here.  I would also love to see more of Louisa, a trans character equally memorable and endearing.  I highly recommend this story and all of the Tucker Springs novels.  This is a town full of people you will never tire of visiting with and listening to their stories.  And while you are off to get the book, make sure and add Heidi Cullinan to your list of must have authors.  Really, she deserves to be there.   Sphingidae, indeed!

Cover art by LC Chase is perfection and works in every way for this story and overall appeal.

Here are the Tucker Springs novels in order they were written:

Where Nerves End by LA Witt (Tucker Springs #1)

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

Dirty Laundry by Heidi Cullinan

Plus there is a website for Tucker Springs novels.  TuckerSprings.com

Review: Promises Made Under Fire by Charlie Cochrane

Standard

Rating: 4.5 stars

Promises Made Under FireIt’s France, 1915, and Europe has been fighting WWI for a year.  Lieutenant Tom Donald and his fellow officer Frank Foden help alleviate both the tedium and the terror by sharing confidences about their family and friends back home.  Frank Foden, a confident popular officer with a positive outlook on life, happily shares his letters from home with Tom, including those from his physician wife, a rarity at that time.  Letter after letter, arriving sometimes twice a week, enliven their day. Frank and Tom laugh about her “doctor’s scribble” of handwriting and her accounts from home, and soon Tom begins to feel that he knows her as well as Frank.  The one thing he doesn’t share with Frank is the knowledge that Tom prefers men to women,  a fact that would see him booted from the army and most likely imprisoned.

Then Frank is killed on the front and Tom injured.  Tom is sent home to recover and act on a last request from Frank.  Frank left several letters for Tom to deliver in person.  One to Frank’s mother, and one to a man named Palmer who Tom has never heard Frank mention.  Tom’s journey to fulfill his mission will uncover some starting facts about Frank, and his life back home, starting with the fact that everything he knew about the man was a lie.

Promises Made Under Fire is just another fine example of historic fiction from author Charlie Cochrane.  Cochrane returns us to the front.  It is WWI and England has been fighting for a year. We are given Englishmen under incredible stress and facing imminent death every moment they are in the trenches and yet touches of civilized society still order the soldier’s day, including their officer’s servant who serves them tea and acts as “nursemaid and housekeeper” to both Tom and Frank, a decidedly English detail.  And because this is Charlie Cochrane, you can count on the historic details she presents during the story as being accurate as well as interesting.  I have always admired the manner in which Cochrane folds her  historical facets into her story while bringing it all effortlessly to life in front of us.  I could hear the sounds of guns nearby and smell the powder on the air but the main focus is always on her characters.

What amazing characters are laid out before us.  Cochrane has a remarkable ear for dialog and her character’s “language” is true for each person and their social status.  Here is Bentham, their officers servant, talking about the Jerry’s(Germans):

“He’s probably plotting even when he’s kicking up Bob’s a dying.” (Bentham)

“Bob’s a dying?” (Tom)

“Dancing and frolicking, sir.”

In just those few sentences, you understand immediately that Bentham is lower class, given his colloquialisms, and that Tom is decidedly upper class, given his  lack of understanding about the same.  Loads of backstory in a few simple phrases, just perfection.

In fact, without realizing it, the reader is absorbing tons of information about the men in the story without having it spelled out for us just through the dialog alone.  The front and it’s horrors are quite real as is its impact upon our main characters.  In fact there is not one element here that isn’t brought fully to life.  This story and its characters, live, react, and painfully try to recover from the devastation the war has wrought  upon them and their world.

I love how this story slowly unfolds, giving us time to know and care about Tom and Frank, and Tom’s journey home is a revelation in more than one way.  The use of letters is a  form of narrative that always charms me and it is used to perfection here to move the story forward. But you never forget that this is a love story, and that love between men is something to be carefully hidden and protected.  Discretion is the rule these men live by and the lengths they must go to in order to protect the ones they loved.

This is an absolutely marvelous love story but the end is in keeping with the times and perfectly realistic for the men involved.  The more I thought about it the more I appreciated the manner in which Cochrane remained true to her characters, and her period.  And leaves us with the possibility of more should she ever wish to return to Tom and see how he is getting on.  Put a pot of tea on, place some biscuits on a plate and settle down with Promises Made Under Fire to return to war torn England and a love that dares not speak its name.

17,000 words

cover artist is unknown which is a shame considering how perfect this cover is for the story.  Lovely in its detail and design.