Review: Life, Over Easy: Fragments Book 1 by K.A. Mitchell

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Rating:  4.25 stars

Life Over Easy coverJohn Andrews life was all planned out, had been since he was young and entered the pool for the first time.  His life revolved around his diving.  He was tutored at home and on the road,  his social circle extended out only as far as his  teammates and diving competitors, even the most normal rites of growing up passed him by, no dances, no television watching or movie going, nothing but diving and diving competition.  Even after winning two Gold Olympic medals, that didn’t change.  John was on target to repeat or perhaps exceed  his goals at the next Olympics until a accident during training changed his life forever.  Now he copes with brain damage, blurry sight, vertigo, and life with a cane as a college freshman, on his own for the first time in his life.  But the place inside of him that used to be filled by diving is empty and John doesn’t know how to fill

One accident six months ago changed Mason’s life forever.  One deer in the middle of the road, one car crash later and everything he loved and thought he would have forever was gone.  Now its Jim Beam and sex that Mason uses to fill the emptiness inside of him, crawling into bed drunk with any number of nameless guys to the consternation and disgust of his roommates and friends.  He needs to concentrate on his school work and project but it seems impossible.

Two men, damaged by life’s accidents.  When John turns up at the wrong house for a party, they meet and while their first encounter isn’t promising, John and Mason are drawn together even as they hide secrets from each other.  John can see auras around peoples heads and he sees two over Mason’s.  And Mason?  He is seeing and hearing his dead lover.   Can both men over come multiple obstacles, including one not of this earth, to find the love both need and deserve?  Life is never easy, but this is ridiculous.

I love K. A. Mitchell.  She is a “go to” author for me and this book demonstrates why I grab up every book she writes.  The characters are unusual to say the least.  John Andrews stands out because he is different on so many levels.  First of all, he is that driven individual who has been pursuing a specific goal since childhood and succeeding at it.  Young athletes are in a category all their own.  They deprive themselves of a normal childhood, delaying or denying all together many hallmarks of growing up in order to pursue their dream, whether it be  that of an Olympic high diver or other sport.  They create a tunnel of efforts, so focused and driven that they seem almost innocent and guileless outside of their sport.  Take that goal, that lifestyle away and you have a person adrift in their own life, no  longer tethered by long term goals.  We see that happen to so many athletes once the Games are over.

K.A. Mitchell takes it one further.  John has had an accident that makes him unable to compete.  From a finely toned athlete, he now copes with a brain damaged during a 2 story fall.  He has vertigo, blurred vision, and  has a condition called Synesthesia, a neurological condition where “one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.”  Colors can be associated with sounds or words, or music is combined with sounds or specific sights, etc.   Mitchell’s vivid descriptions gives us a intimate look at how it must feel when even a short walk turns into an overwhelming cavalcade of colors and sights.  John has to deal with the loss of his life’s goal, his new disability, life as a college student, and all the while he feels empty inside because that one feeling of being “airborne”, floating in space as he dives is forever gone.  Mitchell makes us feel that loss as acutely as John does.  And then she brings it crashing up against an equally deep cavern of loss and pain that is Mason’s.

Most of us have not lived John’s life but I would bet that we all know someone like Mason or lived through a similar trauma.  Mason is easily the most identifiable and recognizable of the two men.  We can connect with Mason who is drowning in the loss of the man he thought he would marry and spend the rest of his life with.  Booze and sex are the fillers of choice for Mason, and we get that.  His friends (wonderful characters in their own right) feel helpless to stop the downward spiral, some have given up all together as Mason lashes out at them in his pain.  This is all very authentic in the emotions radiating off the characters and the pages of this story.

But then Mitchell takes it an additional step further, journeying into the paranormal.  John’s condition lets him see people auras, he knows what they are feeling by looking at the pulsating colors above their heads.  And Mason’s dead lover hovers over all the proceedings, alternately angry and amused by being “stuck” to Mason.  I have to admit I wish that this element has been left out of the story.  It was terrific with just the obstacles they were already facing but then you add ghosts and “auras” and we start tipping over the edge.  It is too much for this story to handle, there is just too much to do justice to all the elements involved.  Then at the very end, one final piece is added.  Mitchell throws in BDSM at the last minute into a relationship that had not previously explored this type of sexuality.  It just seems very awkward and out of place.  I could see where she was going with it, and that made sense but it really needed to be introduced much earlier in the book and in their relationship. But as it was I just thought it was a tad strange for them to take it to that level at that time.

So those were my quibbles with this story.  Too many ingredients to give this a 5 star rating.  It was almost there too.  Do I recommend this book? Absolutely, these are wonderful characters and their stories are compelling.  I wish Mitchell would bring out another book in this series because I like where it is going.  Life is never easy, this book reminds of us of that fact.  But there are solutions and answers for everyone, and Life, Over Easy reminds us of that too.  Pick it up and let me know what you think.

Cover by Natalie Winters, interesting but not as interesting as the story within.

Mitchell, K.A.. Life, Over Easy: Fragments, Book 1 . Samhain Publishing, Ltd..

Review: Blood Red Butterfly by Josh Lanyon

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Rating: 3.75 stars

Blood Red Butterfly coverHomicide Detective Ryo Miller is furious when his murder case against criminal Mickey Torres is derailed by an alibi he just knows has to be fake,  especially when the person vouching for Torres is none other than manga artist Kai Tashiro.  Ryo is familiar with Kai, having mentally nicknamed him the “Ice Princess” after having been rebuffed by the artist every time Ryo approached him in their local gay bar.  He just cannot believe that Kai would ever go for a thug like Torres and that something else must be going on.

After consulting with his partner who thinks they should abandon the case, Ryo decides that he must bust Torres’ alibi by any means possible, and if he has to take down Kai to do it, so be it.  But there are more depths and secrets to Kai Tashiro than Ryo is aware of and soon Torres’ obsession with Kai becomes his own putting his job and everyones life in danger.

As far as I know this is  Josh Lanyon’s first effort since his return from sabatical and his intention was to write a story that included elements of yaoi as well as contemporary fiction.  It certainly looks that way from the cover and from many of the elements Mr. Lanyon folded into his story.   As the author of Come Unto These Yellow Sands and the Adrien English mysteries, Josh Lanyon is a “must read” for me.  His stories are fascinating constructions full of marvelous characterizations and intriguing plots.  His fondness for police detectives or special agents can be found in more than one novel, including one of my favorites, Fair Game.  So it was not surprising to find that one of his main characters here is a somewhat surly, overworked, Homicide Detective named Ryo Miller.

The Japanese or Yaoi influence is highlighted by his use of characters of mixed Japanese ancestry and he has certainly done his research with regard to the types of classes Japanese american families send their children to in an attempt to keep their culture alive in their kids.  From ikebana classes to attending Nihonjin gakko schools for Japanese immersion studies, from the specific names  given to each american generation of youth (Ryo’s third generation is Sansei, Kai’s fifth generation is Gosei), we are enveloped in a cloud of elements to help us understand what it is to be a person of Japanese-American heritage.  This is all very beautifully done and adds a very authentic color to the narrative.

I also liked the way the author used a manga story written by Kai called Blood Red Butterfly to mimic the actions between Ryo and Kai with Torres being the incendiary element whose actions can’t be predicted.  These are all terrific facets of Blood Red Butterfly that I enjoyed immensely. But ultimately, it was the characterizations themselves that left me unsatisfied throughout the story, and I am not sure if that is due to the yaoi influence or not.   The characters of  Ryo and Kai just did not have the depth and dimension I have come to expect from Josh Lanyon.  I never bought into Ryo’s obsession with Kai, perhaps it was the story length that did not allow it to fill it to its complete development.  Torres’ fascination with Kai? Yes, I got that but not Ryo’s to the extent that he would detonate his life,including a job he loved, over him.  That case was never made.  As to Kai himself?  I liked him and what we knew of his backstory but again there was too much missing to really ever connect with him fully either.

So for me this story works on several levels but not enough to connect me with the characters and make me care about their fate. I can’t determine whether this is due to the influence of manga yaoi or not.  Hybrids can be tricky things and everything must work in harmony to pull it off and this story falls short of that goal in my opinion.  But I am enthused to find Josh Lanyon writing again and hope his time off has recharged his creativity and his enjoyment of his craft.  I can’t wait for the next story to come.  If you love Josh Lanyon and want to see what he has been working on and enjoy yaoi, then this story will be of interest to you.  But if you are new to Josh Lanyon and his stories,  then I would start elsewhere to make a start with his stories.

Cover by KB Smith

Cover Art by Faith L.

Cover photo by Reinekke and licensed through Shutterstock

Josh Lanyon’s website

Review: Lessons in Trust (Cambridge Fellows Mysteries #7) by Charlie Cochrane

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Rating: 4.5 stars

Lessons In Trust coverIt is 1908 and Cambridge Dons Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith are attending the  Franco English Exhibition in the White City when their vacation is interrupted by two events, one a murder case and the other a personal mystery whose impact is devastating to the couple and their family and friends.  A young man they had spied earlier at an exhibition in the White City turns up dead.  When the local constabulary rebuffs all their efforts to become involved, to Orlando’s and Jonty’s consternation, they proceed to investigate on their own. Then a letter arrives informing Orlando that his beloved grandmother has died, and her death releases Jonty from the promise he made to her and he tells Orlando the truth about his grandmother, his father and his lineage.

When Orlando finds out that everything he thought he knew about his family and himself was false, including the fact that their name is Coppersmith, he is devastated and falls into a deep depression.  His uncertainty about his family background and his own identity is made untenable in Orlando’s mind when placed next to his lover’s noble and long established family. So distraught in fact that without informing either Jonty or the Stewarts, Orlando leaves their home to launch his own investigation into his past on his own.

Now Jonty is frantic to find his lover and still mired in confusion over the mistaken identities of the dead man from the White City. Unable to locate Orlando, Jonty continues to unearth clue after clue on the original murder, further infuriating the police over his involvement in a case he and Orlando were warned off.  Orlando, meanwhile, is struggling without Jonty and his depression is making him his own worst enemy.  It will take both men, reunited once more to solve both mysteries, one that threatens the very heart of their relationship if exposed and the other Orlando’s sanity if not solved.

With Lessons In Trust, once more Charlie Cochrane plunges the reader into a story that resolves around personal identities and trust and does so from two different perspectives.  When Jonty and Orlando see a young man snoozing near an exhibition hall, they have no idea that he is in fact not only dead but has been murdered.  The local police, an Inspector Redknapp, not only don’t want their help in investigating this crime but actually makes comments that let Jonty and Orlando know that the Inspector thinks very little of their investigative powers.  So they take matters into their own hands for the first time and proceed to find out that no one in the case is as they are presumed to be. Once identity after another is found false, mudding the trail to the murderer.  Charlie Cochrane is setting the stage for an even larger case of mistaken identity here, that of Orlando himself.

In the last book, Lessons in Seduction, we learned that Orlando’s grandmother had his father out of wedlock and was disowned by her family, a fact she kept from her son and grandson.  Mrs. Coppersmith only told Jonty when she knew she was dying, making him promise to hold off informing Orlando until her death.  Orlando’s family history is one of angst, suicide and depression, making him grow up socially isolated, withdrawn and prone to depression himself.  One truth he held onto and that was his name.  And with one revelation, that is gone as well, his identity in question along with his lineage.  The author asks that we remember how important family names were at the time by contrasting Orlando’s family with that of Jonty Stewart’s, a comparison not lost on Orlando or the reader.  And we know before it happens, just how badly Orlando will receive this information.

There are so many powerful elements at play here.  Not only are Jonty and Orlando facing questions about his identity but the murder case they are still pursuing keeps turning up false identities as well, highlighting how tenuous a hold a name can have on your own identity without you even realizing it.  And Orlando’s family history of depression rears its head again as Orlando spirals downward, unable to stop his depressive state from taking over his mind and his heart.  There is a blackness to Orlando’s family, his father having slit his throat in front of his son at a young age and much about his actions are finally explained here.  Orlando’s depression makes him doubt everything around him, including his trust in Jonty and the Stewarts to understand and continue loving him.  Powerful stuff indeed. Complication after complication follows our couple, even as they try to unearth the motive and murderer of the man they found at the beginning.

When Orlando flees the Stewart London home in desperation and panic, he leaves behind a confused and fearful Jonty. Jonty’s own issues of trust and pain start to resurface with the loss of Orlando and everything both men have come to hold dear and worked hard to establish is in danger of being destroyed by their actions and fears.  The author brings us into the turmoil of Orlando inner thoughts as pain and anger has him lashing out against his family and even himself in punishing detail.  But she also ensures that we feel Jonty’s fear and anquish over the safety of his lover as acutely as our own. And throughout all these events, there is a darker thread that runs subtlety through the narrative, that of continental unrest and spies from abroad appearing on English soil, a precursor of the war looming over the horizon.

As I stated in my previous blog on the Franco-British Exhibition, Charlie Cochrane’s stories are also a thing of personal delight because of the new information she imparts and the manner in which it is done.  I found The Flip-Flap ride to be as irresistible as Mr. Stewart does.  And I dearly wanted a ride in Jonty’s new Lagonda car, goggles firmly in place, face caked with dirt and full of adventure.  I truly understood Orlando’s jealousy and wanted to give it a crank myself.

But the real beauty here is the foundation of this series, the creation of Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith. Cochrane has slowly introduced Jonty and Orlando to each other and the reader and made us all fall madly in love over the course of seven books.  We now know these characters intimately as we do our closest friends.  And it is because of this connection that the author is able to build such suspense within the reader for Orlando’s safety and their love. The author does provide some lightness to offset the darkness occurring within Orlando by bringing in Jonty’s sister, Lavinia and her husband, Ralph.  They have a major problem with their marriage and a resourceful Jonty has just the answer.  This is a sweet, funny and endearing section of Lessons In Trust that still manages to address the issue at hand, that of trust within a relationship.

We are almost done, the end of the series close at hand.  The next book was the last until the author added one more.  So the next up to be reviewed is All Lessons Learned, the penultimate book in the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries and by far the most powerful in the group.  War is upon our boys and the impact as devastating as we can imagine.  Keep those boxes of tissues nearby, they will be needed.  See you back here soon.

One last look at The Flip Flap ride:
Here are the series in the order they were written and should be read to understand character development and the series events. Links to my reviews are included:

Lessons in Love (Cambridge Fellows, #1)

Lessons in Desire (Cambridge Fellows, #2)

Lessons in Discovery (Cambridge Fellows, #3)

Lessons in Power (Cambridge Fellows, #4)

My True Love Sent To Me

Lessons in Temptation (Cambridge Fellows, #5)

Lessons in Seduction (Cambridge Fellows, #6)

Lessons in Trust (Cambridge Fellows, #7)

Once We Won Matches (Cambridge Fellows, #7.5)

All Lessons Learned (Cambridge Fellows, #8)

Lessons for Survivors (Cambridge Fellows, #9) released by Cheyenne Publishing, buy link here

Visit Charlie Cochrane’s website for free stories and more information about further works from this author.

The Week Ahead in Reviews

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Well, I hate to throw this out there but this coming week is full of things I don’t like to talk about, mostly doctors appointments.  I would much rather dwell on things like the arrival of Spring, plants I want to establish in the gardens, the latest antics of my terrors three, and what knitting projects are in the pipeline. But sometimes I just have to face up to the fact my health takes priority, even over the Caps and the Nats. So if things don’t exactly arrive as scheduled, this is the reason.  Just saying.

I want to finish out Charlie Cochrane’s Cambridge Fellows series over this week and the next, so grab onto that box of tissues and be prepared. I also have the latest Josh Lanyon book he self published after his year off.  This week I am also posting books from favorite authors like B.A. Tortuga and K. A. Mitchell that were reviewed for Joyfully Jay’s Jock Week.  I know you will enjoy them as well. So here is the schedule as planned.

Monday, Feb. 25:              Lessons In Trust by Charlie Cochrane

Tuesday, Feb 26:                Blood Red Butterfly by Josh Lanyon

Wed, Feb. 27:                     Life, Over Easy by K. A. Mitchell

Thursday, Feb. 28:           Adding To The Collection by B. A Tortuga

Friday, Feb. 29:                 All Lessons Learned by Charlie Cochrane

Saturday, Feb. 30:             Scattered Thoughts On Authors, Conventions and Hurt Feelings

 

In the meantime I have become familiar with the music of Kaija Saariaho,  In “Lonh”, a work for soprano and electronics, Saariaho combined a medieval love poem with bells and bird song to arrive a composition both memorable and eerie.  What do you think?

Review: The Last Grand Master (Champion of the Gods #1) by Andrew Q. Gordon

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Rating: 4 stars

The Last Grandmaster coverGrand Master Farrell, the Prince of Haven, is visited by an avatar of his God, Honorus, the first of the Gods. The giant white eagle  tells Farrell that a messenger in dire need of his help approaches the Kingdom .  The true entity behind this messenger’s request?  None other than Honorus’ sister god, Lenore. who is sending her messenger directly to Farrell.  Her messenger is the unicorn Nerti and it is the legendary beings, the Muchari who are engaged in a losing fight against the evil wizard Meglar and Farrell is their only hope.  But the gods also tell Farrell that his true mate is among those under siege and he must hurry or all will be lost.

Traveling on the back of the unicorn, Farrell enters the battle and meets the mighty  immortal Muchari warrior Misceral, the one the Gods have said is his mate.  Misceral too has been informed that Farrell is his one true love, something his father, the lord of the Muchari finds distasteful.  But their foretold bond must take a backseat to the battle at hand.  For the evil wizard Meglar is determined to capture all the Muchari and turn them into invinsible soldiers of evil that will help him conquer the world.

There is only one wizard left in the world powerful enough to fight back against the evil Meglar, and that is Farrell, the Last Grand Master.  But Farrell is hiding a powerful secret from all of those around him, one that will either bring him help him succeed in defeating Meglar once and for all or bring about the ruin of everyone and everything he loves.

It is the action, the wild magic wielding military combat/battles sections of this book that really garnered the 4 star rating. From the opening page, Andrew Q. Gordon propels the reader along with Farrell into battle and brings it to life with vivid descriptions and a concisely worded narrative that kept me on the edge of my seat, thrilling at each new magical encounter.    The author moves us quickly through each hard fought engagement, delighting us with inventive uses of magic by our young resolute wizard, making us gasp with each near escape from death and destruction, and marvel at the sights and sounds Farrell is encountering during his ferocious battle of the magic wands.  There are humongous raptors, unicorns of both sexes who are bonded to our heroes, aged crones and more magical explosions than in a Die Hard movie.  How I loved this part of The Last Grand Master, cue “Wild Thing”.

During this opening segment of the novel I also found I liked the manner in which we meet and watch Farrell handle a variety of situations, all stressful and fraught with danger.  But, and here is the first quibble, the reader is left wondering about half the time about Farrell’s world and what has happened to it for it to get in such a state.  I am not a fan of those books where you must slog through glossary pages of world building minutiae before the story even starts, preferring the author to frame it out during the narrative.  But here some of the most basic of exposition seems to be missing and it hurts the reader’s connection to the story.  I had to read Dreamspinner Press’ blurb to figure out about the “war that shook the earth,”  and the Six gods of Nendor, otherwise I would have been clueless as to some of the most basic facts of this story.

My second quibble would be the characterizations.  I loved the Farrell we first meet,  The confident, brave young wizard sure of his powers and his ability to see his mission through to the end.  But that persona wavers like the image in a fun house mirror throughout the story.  Sometimes he is so unsure of himself he flees down hallways, or misjudge conversations and while that may make another character more vulnerable and real, here the manner in which these character fluctuations happen to Farrell just serve to bemuse the reader and make us wonder what happened to the young man we fell in love with at the beginning of the story.  Each time he turns a corridor in the castle, it seems that we see yet another Farrell and such uneven character building just drags the story and the rating down with it.  Even his soulmate, the legendary immortal Misceral just comes across as the sweet boy down the hall.  Honestly, there is not much about him to make us believe in either their bond or his mythic attributes. In fact most of the characters we meet, while not exactly one dimensional, have a certain blandness about them that just doesn’t measure up to the sensational descriptions of battles, and cities under siege, and magical enchantments gone awry.  That is where this author and this novel excels.

Gordon’s ability to make us believe in this world, even populated with less than notable characters, elevates this fantasy story up from the mundane and into the marvelous.  Even his small touches such as the endless pockets on Farrell’s clothing where Farrell can retrieve his sword or anything else for that matter.  I want those.  Redesigning your quarters with a flick of a wand instead of months of renovations?  Yep, want that too.  I loved the spells and artifacts used for conjuring, the large white  eagles and peregrine falcons.  When this story goes to battle, then it really soars along with the unicorns with all the energy and magical flare one could hope for (and then sags when the participants are at rest).  So even with all the unevenness I see within, this book still rates 4 stars because when it gets going, it is great and for now that is enough for me.

Cover art by Paul Richmond.  It really suits the book, great job.

Rushed Dental Work, a Delay In Today’s Review and the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908

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So, yeah, here I am about to head off for some rushed dentistry, a root canal that had to be done asap and I am not happy or feeling great at this moment.  But I won’t rush the review of Lessons in Trust by Charlie Cochrane, so there will be a slight delay in posting.   I will say that I loved this book and it sent me into paroxysms of  delight when researching the 1908 Franco British Exhibition which Orlando and Jonty attend.

See, this is one of my anticipated joys of Charlie Cochrane’s writing, she always includes  some wonderful tidbit of information or history I didn’t know about, educating me just enough to make me want to know more.  I mean really, how could you resist a 1908 ride with the name The Flip-Flap?

Here is a postcard view of the White City, the location (on 120 acres) of the Franco-British Exhibition in west London.  It was called The White City because all the exhibition buildings were  painted white. There were “villages” of various nationalities people could visit, like an Irish Village, a Senegalese Village,  Think of it like the Las Vegas strip of its day with the Luxor Pyramid, Eiffel Tower , well, you get the drift.    Here is a central view:

Franco-British_Exhibition

Then there is the marvel called The Flip-Flap ride.  Orlando, Jonty, and Mr. Stewart could get enough of this ride,  Think of the most popular rides at Busch Gardens or Six Flags, and they would not come close to the popularity and awe that was The Flip Flap .  It’s outline dominated the skyline.  Here is a post card of the ride, wouldn’t you just love for a chance to climb on?

Postcard of the Flip-Flap ride

And finally,  the age of the automobile has arrived and Jonty is full of enthusiasm for this new form of transportation.  Jonty has bought a Lagonda and loves it dearly, an affection Orlando doesn’t share.  So of course I wanted to know more about what the car looked like that drove Jonty to such heights of prose and poetry.  Off to research some more.  And I found out that the  Lagonda cars were invented by an American named Wilbur Gunn.  Wilber had two passions in life, singing and engineering and it was as an opera singer that he came to Britain.  But once there he started crafting things from fast boats to motorcycles.  In 1904 he progressed from 3 wheeled vehicles to motor cars of which  74 original models were made.  Of course, Jonty would have one of them.  The name Lagonda?  That is Shawnee for Bucks County in Ohio where Wilbur Gunn was from.  It is also the name of his father’s company, the Lagonda Corporation which made tube  cleaning machinery.  I was unable to find any photos of the model Jonty would have had but here is a  photo of a 1928 Lagonda.  So sporty and elegant I would dearly love to have one as well:

Lagonda 1928 lag 3 litre

So I hope this will give you a taste of what is to come in my review of  Lessons in Trust. Keep these images in mind when I am relating parts of the story.  It is a marvelous book so I hope you won’t mind the wait.  See you here a little later on, sore jaw not withstanding.

Review: A Volatile Range (Range #6) by Andrew Grey

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Rating: 4.75 stars

A Volatile Range coverMarine Vet Gordon Fisher in trouble and he knows it. He has been trying to deal with the effects of PTSD and survivor’s guilt on his own since he mustered out of the service and it hasn’t been working.  He is living out of his car, lacking money to eat.  So when a group of eco terrorists offered him a fee to release some animals being abused on a nearby ranch, he agreed without asking questions.  Unfortunately, those animals were the great cats being cared for by Veterinarian Wally Schumacher on the ranch he shares with his partner Dr. Dakota Holden. And the first animal he tries to release grabs him instead, to his shock and dismay when bleeding he is then captured by the ranch hands.

Mario Laria is still hurting over the breakup of his three year relationship with a former ranch hand when he  finds the man who tried to break into the cages and release Wally’s cats.   Something about the troubled vet  calls out to him and when he and Dakota find out that Gordon only took the job out of desperation, well, it only seems right that he offers Gordon a spare room in his cabin, if only to keep him away from Wally.  But what to do when he can’t keep Gordon out of his thoughts when while pining for his ex-lover to return.

And it’s not just Mario that is confused, Gordon thinks he might be falling in love but he still has nightmares about his last mission, the eco terrorists are still recruiting people to infiltrate the ranch and then some people of the military are in town asking questions about a missing vet.  Can things get any worse? Or will Gordon finally be able to find the help he needs to heal and accept the love that is being offered?

A Volatile Range is the sixth book in a series that continues to gain strength with each new story.  We had meet Mario Laria in many of the past books, once as a former lover of Travis and then as a partner of a ranch hand named David.  Here Mario becomes the main character and finally gets his chance at the love he has always wanted and seen in the many established relationships around him.  Mario is a lovely character, someone who is starting to worry that the type of man and relationship he covets will never be his and the way Grey has him hanging on to all the little accoutrements from his last failed relationship certainly rings true.  But the real gem here is Gordon Fisher, the anguished, homeless vet so desperate for money that he agrees to a job he knows might be fishy.  Once again, Andrew Grey has done his homework and given us a beautifully realized character, a vet of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who returns home to poor treatment and inadequate support for their many emotional and physical needs stemming from their traumatic service.  This is such a painfully current subject and Andrew Grey has acquitted himself well when it comes to helping the reader understand some of the trauma and pain this one veteran is going through.

Again, there is no unrealistic case of instant love although the attraction is certainly there.  But the challenges both men face to any relationship are many and readily acknowledged by each of them which kept this book grounded and gritty in it’s depiction of two confused and wary men trying to find a way to each other.  I just loved this.

All our other favorite couples appear as well because the ranch has been suffering since the death of Jefferson Holden, Dakota’s father and the heart of the ranch.  I am not sure how much longer Andrew Grey intends to go with this series, but if he can keep it as topical and strong as this book, than I see no end in sight.

The only quibbles I had with the story were with a talk with a fellow vet making as much a difference to him as it did.  Most vets undergo lengthy rehabilitation and therapy and I would have liked to see Gordon get the same treatment.  And then there is that little matter of the eco terrorists… but in the end, this is a remarkable story.  It is beautifully written full of well conceptualized characters that grab at your heartstrings and don’t let go. Really this is a wonderful story and one I heartily recommend as I do the entire series.

Here are the stories in the order they were written.  They don’t need to be read that way but it helps with 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)

A Volatile Range, (Range #6)

Cover Art by L.C. Chase. Just a beautiful cover, a little different in color and tone from the rest but in keeping with the story. Lovely.

Review: The Family: Liam by K. V. Taylor

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

The Family Liam coverLiam Corchoran is not in a good place.  He is depressed and lonely, and older than most of the kids attending college for the first time.  A farm boy used to chores, family and friends, he is unprepared for the lifestyle around him and it doesn’t help that his college roommate is mostly absent, appearing occasionally in their shared room, only to disappear again shortly thereafter.  Liam falls easily into a circle of sex, alcohol, classes, drugs and depression, wondering why he feels so empty inside.

Gianni Fiorenza is Liam’s roommate.  He is also a century old vampire and a predator of the highest order.  The latest victim in his sights?  That would be Liam Corchoran, his roommate.  Something about that human intrigues Gianni which also pisses him off, so of course Liam has to pay. Soon, however, the game starts to turn into something more resembling friendship as Liam opens up to Gianni about literature, family and those things important to him.  But Gianni is a monster and he doesn’t do friendship, so even as things start to deepen even further, Gianni changes things permanently for Liam in a way that will reverberate through time.

These are not your sparkly, PG 13 vampires.  With Liam, the first book in The Family series by K. V. Taylor, we return to the vampires of true monster status, but with an updated twist.  I always have such high expectations of Taylor when it comes to her characterizations and here she exceeds them. And she has also done the same with her settings. This is not a universe of Rainbow Bright and Unicorns, but a much darker, malevolent place in which humans walk at their peril. I love how even a visit to a night club can turn from a simple night out into one of pain and horror in the hands of this talented author.

The characters of Liam and Gianni are wonderful dark creations, capable of quoting obscure literary passages, listening to everything from Verdi to rock, while expressing and feeling a range of emotions that sometimes has little to do with being human.  Gianni especially has that authentic feel of someone so removed from the human condition, elevated to true monster status that it is hard to connect with him as a character to begin with.  Instead, all feelings that Gianni will engender in the reader comes slowly, as he reveals more of himself to Liam over time, and the person he is  comes out in force, not just the predator but the man he once was.  Liam too is recognizably real and human.  Full of aspirations, binging on sex and alcohol to fill in those empty spaces within himself, we can understand him and the bleak place he is in. A place that Gianni manipulates beautifully for his own pleasure and hidden agenda. If this is a love story, it is not the one you are probably expecting.  It is a love story  certainly, but it’s participants are monsters and it follows that it’s their definition of love, not a human one.  That might be harder for some to accept.

Instead of humans being regarded as “love” interests or wonderful creatures, they are once more relegated to the status of food, so we understand immediately there must be something unusual about Liam to garner such interest from Gianni, the suave, arrogant vampire on the prowl.  But, like an onion, this story has so many layers, and they have to be peeled back before each new revelation can surface, bringing many tears to accompany a certain sweetness buried here as well.  There are some amazing side characters too that still stick with you, like Aldo and Madison and James, Liam’s brother.   But it is the haunting nature of human versus vampire and the question of what it is to really live and love that is addressed here, and it is done so in a manny you won’t soon forget.

Liam is only the beginning.  The rest of the series is listed in the order the author intends to write and release them.  I can’t wait to see what comes next in this remarkable series.   K.V. Taylor has created a website just for this series.  You can find it here. Follow my links and pick this right up from Belfire Press and Smashwords.   If you order by Feb. 21 (tomorrow) use this code for 20 percent off at Amazon and Smashwords (use code KC42D for 20% off through Feb 21). Kobo, Apple, Sony, B&N, and Diesel will be available in a few weeks.

The Family Series:

1. Liam (sort of romancey) released Valentine’s Day 2013
2. James (sort of action/adventurey)
3. Madison (sort of self-discovery)
4. Aldo (decidedly dark fantasy/horror)
5. Gianni

The Family: Liam by K. V. Taylor

Published by Bellfire Press, 260 pages

Cover Art & Design © 2013 Courtney Bernard http://www.cbernieillo.com/

Family Crest Art © 2013 Tricia Lewis

As with all her novels, here is the soundtrack to go along with the story:

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – “American X”
Rolling Stones – “Bitch”
Oasis – “Hello”
Arctic Monkeys – “Dance Little Liar”
Muse – “Hysteria”
Stereophonics – “I’m Alright (You Gotta Go There to Come Back”)
Pulp – “Common People”
Avett Brothers – “Ill With Want”
The Radio Dept. – “Keen on Boys”
The Verve – “Lucky Man”
Franz Ferdinand – “I’m Your Villain”
The Perishers – “Nothing Like You and I”
Flogging Molly – “Selfish Man”
James Taylor – “Sweet Baby James”
Kaiser Chiefs – “What Did I Ever Give You?”

And of course…

Ludwig van Beethoven – Sonata No 8 in C minor op 13 ‘Pathetique’
Franz Liszt – Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, Lento a capricccio

Review: Tell Me It’s Real by T.J. Klune

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

Tell Me Its Real coverIt’s Paul Auster’s 30th birthday and he’s spending it pretty much like he does every night, waiting for his best friend, Helena Handbasket the drag queen to go on stage and perform.  Sure he could be down in the crowd of gorgeous gay boys but he knows that he is just not their type or anyone’s type.  Paul looks at the mirror and sees a slightly pudgy, totally gay, shy, boring guy.  Certainly not the type to turn heads or break hearts.  He lives in Tuscon where he has a house, his best friend Sandy aka Helena Handbasket, a two legged dog named Wheels, and  his two devoted and slightly insane parents.  His grandmother loves him, her homophobic parrot, Johnny Depp doesn’t.  That’s pretty much it and then it all changed in one night just as it did for his parents.

His name is Vince Taylor and he is everything every good gay boy dreams will someday come and drag him off to Happily Ever Afterland.  He’s tall, gorgeous, sex on two legs and everyone is trying to date him, have sex with him or just stand next to him.  And for some reason Vince wants to go out with Paul.  Paul just doesn’t get it, and keeps saying no in every way possible even though his heart, best friend and certain appendages tell him he’s crazy.  Then Paul puts Vince in the hospital after his car and Vince’s bike have their own run in of sorts and he must take Vince home to watch over him after he is released from the hospital.  Just getting to know Vince better brings them closer and hope starts to spring up inside Paul that maybe, just this once, love just like his parents and others have can be theirs, that just once it’s all real.

Ok first let’s start with a Public Service Announcement:

If you suffer from chronic COPD, Asthma, or any other pulmonary thingy that makes you pass out when you heave with laughter, make sure you have your inhalers and a close friend handy before you start the first chapter . And then keep them beside you and for every chapter after that until the book is finished.  Better yet, have a BFF read it aloud for you.  That way when you pass out, help in available to revive you so you can continue on. Or they can explain the circumstances to the EMTs. I am just saying.

End Public Service Announcement.

Now to the review.  From “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” or perhaps “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” , these opening sentences will forever stay in your hearts and memories, evoking the books that made them famous.  Add to that list (ok maybe way down on the list) the following sentence:

“JUST so you know, I don’t have a gargantuan penis.”

And immediately you know you are in the presence of a unique, and definitely off kilter mind.  That mind happens to belong to Paul Auster, the outrageous, unforgettable, and wholly vulnerable character created by T.J. Klune for Tell Me It’s Real.  I will tell you right now I don’t ever remember laughing so much or so hard ever when reading a book and I have read a ton of books.  Paul Auster is just such an amazing character but he needs to come with warnings.

Warning One. Paul’s inner voice, and ok , his outer voice too. It is a constant stream of thoughts strung together in an order that nature might not approve of.  One subject is started on and then Paul’s inner voice  hijacks that subject, twists it, turns it, making balloon animals out of it and somehow you end up somewhere totally unexpected and ahem, lively.  This will take some getting use to.  Please gather your patience, or whatever you need to and stay with it until his unique narrative winds its way into your heart.  It will get there.  It took me a couple of chapters even while laughing away to really get into his mind and heart but once there, I was hooked and stayed hooked.

Paul Auster is an endearing man.  I love him.  I want everyone else to love him too.  T.J. Klune has done a marvelous job with this book because he gifts us not only with Paul Auster but with his entire family, his best friend Sandy, aka the fabulous and fierce Helena Handbasket, his dog Wheels (and can I say that dog almost wheeled away with his parts of the story), his parents, grandmother, well everybody.  And then there is Vince Taylor.  I won’t go into Vince’s characteristics, I think that would almost spoil the joy of meeting him in the story.  From his own offbeat look at life to his generous heart, Vince will stay with you on the same deep level that connects you to Paul.  Each person you will meet within these pages has such a distinctive and down right idiosyncratic voice that you never lose track of any individual or their part in this story.  You can’t, they are all unforgettable and human.  What a magnificent job the author has done in creating this cast of characters.

Warning Two, an endearing storyline you won’t want to end except when you want to throttle Paul. Is there a plot amongst all these denizens of Tuscon’s quirky underbelly?  Sure boy meets boy, boy doesn’t believe he is good enough but the other boy does, boys get together eventually and live happily ever after.  T. J. Klune takes this simple storyline we have read before and elevates it with humor, compassion, and love, all the while making us giddy because we are oxygen deprived from the laugher or sometimes its tears.  This story is full of heart as it addresses the challenges that come from meeting all life can throw at you and still be standing looking forward to the future, and if you are lucky someone is standing there with you.

Warning Three.  You will start  spending time texting things like    sex face >_< or blow job face *o* or making up your own.  Maybe blowjob face for varying sizes,  you know *o*, *O*.     Really, it’s exasperating because you can’t stop. O_o

Warning Four.  See Public Service Announcement.  No, seriously, I thought I was going to need oxygen. Early on there’s this part where Paul starts to choke on a piece of lettuce…..nope I will let you read that one for your self.  In fact, hardly any of this book can be safely quoted in a family friendly media or Amazon, well I am sure you are getting the picture.

Are there real Paul Austers out there?  I believe so and T.J. Klune has so beautifully given them a voice here.  For every gym queen there are those happily in love with their Prius, their carbs and their lower key lifestyle.  But then T. J. Klune thinks it’s ok to be a gym bunny too because when it comes down to it, it is still the inside of a person, their true nature that counts.  Tell Me It’s Real should speak to everyone who reads it because it speaks to our vulnerabilities, to our ability to connect with others, including that one person who just might be the love of your life if only you give them the chance.

Pick up this book, give Paul Auster a chance to work his titled, off center magic on you.  You won’t be sorry.  And just in case, get the phone, friend and oxygen handy.  You will need them.  More please, Mr. Klune.

Cover art by Reese Dante is absolute perfection.  I love it, love the story, they are just irresistible in every way.

Review: Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs #1) by L.A. Witt

Standard

Rating: 4.25 stars

Where Nerves End coverJason Davis lives in Tucker Springs, Colorado and has most of his life.  But right now Jason would love to be anywhere but in the situation he is in.  Jason’s romantic partner just up and left town with a rich sugar daddy, leaving Jason with a heavily mortgaged house and not much else.  Then Jason’s business partner dies, leaving his with a business in financial disarray, losing money faster than if he had just thrown it away.  With little left to pawn to keep himself, his house, and his business afloat,  Jason also suffers chronic pain from an accident he had.  How could things get any worse? When his best friend tells him about an acupuncturist who could help with his shoulder pains, Jason takes a chance and goes to see him with unexpected benefits far past getting rid of the pain in his shoulder.

Michael Whitman is a divorced dad and acupuncturist.  His new client turns out to be the best thing that has happened in quite a while.  Michael is in debt for school and overhead on his business so when Jason suggests that Michael and his son move into his guest rooms at a rent below what he is paying now, he accepts loving the fact that his son will have a yard to play in when he visits and he won’t be as stretched financially as he is now.

But it quickly appears there is a problem neither man anticipated.  Jason can’t stop thinking about Michael, gorgeous, half naked roommate Michael, who is apparently straight.  And Michael is acting strangely when Jason comes in from his dates.  Can it be that Michael isn’t as straight as everyone is telling him or even as straight as Michael himself says he is?

Where Nerves End is the first in the Tucker Springs series being written by several different authors and it is a  terrific introduction to the quirky town and its equally quirky denizens.  I liked the character of Jason especially.  LA Witt gives us a well rounded portrait of a man who might collapse at any second due to the immense stress and pressure he is operating under.  Every aspect of his life is in chaos, his romantic partner gone, leaving him in debt with a house and unpaid bills, his business, a gay nightclub, is equally in financial jeopardy, and his health is failing due to a prior accident that injured his shoulder.  Then his friend suggests acupuncture and Jason’s skepticism is one that was familiar to me as well before I had my first session.

L.A. Witt has done her homework with regard to acupuncture and how the treatment is handled along with giving the reader some of the knowledge that comes with it.  I enjoyed that aspect of this story along with the acupuncturist himself. Michael Whitman is a complicated man, one who has been deeply closeted for most of his life.  This is definitely not a gay for you story but one with a main character coming to grips with his sexuality later in life.  The author does a wonderful job letting us understand where Michael’s fears are coming from but still I felt more of Michael’s past history would have filled in the gaps that made his closet so deep for so long.

I think the only thing that kept me from giving this story a high rating was Michael’s reaction to the thought of a relationship with Jason and his seeming obviousness to the pain he is causing him.  Michael is at first overly sensitive to the flareups of pain in Jason’s shoulder but clueless as to what his actions are doing to the man romantically?  That was a bit of a harder sell. Plus most of the book deals with Jason, Jason’s situation and his chronic pain.  I would like to have seen an equal amount devoted to Michael, his past, and his son. But again, that is the only quibble I have here.  It does help that I loved Jason and Michael (and his son) so I glossed that over a bit.  There was one character, however, that pulled in my interest immediately and that was Seth, the tattoo artist who is best friends with both Michael and Jason.  It was his reaction to the pair that intrigued me and was never fully explained to my satisfaction.  I definitely wanted more Seth, and I hope a future Tucker Springs book will tell his story.  I have reviewed the other Tucker Springs books and there is another due out soon.  I can’t wait for Tucker Springs has become an addiction for me and with all the wonderful authors contributing to this series like Marie Sexton, and Heidi Cullinan,to go along with L.A. Witt, you won’t want to miss a page either.

Here is the Tucker Springs series as it is being written.  There is a website devoted to this series, so check out Tucker Springs. I have linked my reviews for books 2 and 3 below.
Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs, #1)
by L.A. Witt (Goodreads Author)

Second Hand (Tucker Springs, #2)
by Marie Sexton (Goodreads Author)

Dirty Laundry (Tucker Springs, #3)
by Heidi Cullinan (Goodreads Author)

Covet Thy Neighbor (Tucker Springs, #4) coming in March 25th, to be released by Riptide Publishing
by L.A. Witt (Goodreads Author)

Never a Hero (Tucker Springs, #5) coming May 13, 2013, to be released by Riptide Publishing
by Marie Sexton (Goodreads Author)