Guest Posts, New Releases and the Week Ahead In Reviews

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Well, after a cold, blustery and even occasionally snowy start, March is leaving us on a warmer, springlike note.  And I am so happy to see it gone and April here, bringing with it hopes of flowers, sunshine and days spent outside in the garden.  My daughter’s birthday is coming up and the family is gathering at the Farm for a celebratory luncheon of fresh salmon and asparagus, good wine and better company.  So I will be making this short.

There are many exciting new books being released this month and I hope to be reviewing them all shortly after they are released.  I also need to bring you all up to speed on the latest from Amy Lane, Andrew Grey, and others that had books released this last week that I missed due to a family emergency now happily resolved.   I love it when I have a surfeit of great books to review and I just heard about a new Amelia C. Gormley one I have to track down, love her stories.

Anyway, back to this week.  I am excited to say that one of my favorite authors, Sarah Black, has a guest post this week  in celebration of the release of her latest book, The General and The Horse Lord. I have always found Sarah Black’s characters to be unique and beautifully realized and here she gives us some insight into her character development process.  I think you will find it as fascinating as I did.  In conjunction with her post,  I will be giving away one copy of her latest book, The General and the Horse Lord, that will be released on the same day as her post. Don’t miss this.

Another recent release is T.J. Klune’s Into The River I Drown.  I am a huge fan of his contemporary novels and anticipate another compelling story from this relatively new author.  If you haven’t read his Bear, Otter and The Kid series, start now.  They are quite wonderful and reviews of all of his books can be found on this site.

I will be finishing up Eden Winter’s Diversion sequel, Collusion, this week and it’s as wonderful as the first in the series.  So many great books here and more to come.  Don’t miss a day.  Now I am off to celebrate at the Farm and fill up on great food and the closeness of family.  Have a wonderful Sunday and Happy Easter to those who celebrate that holiday.

Monday, April 1:               Collusion by EdenWinters

Tuesday, April 2:               Love You Like a Romance Novel by Megan Derr

Wed., April 3:                    Sensei by Karenna Colcroft

Thursday, April 4:            Author Spotlight: Sarah Black and Book Giveaway

Friday, April 5:                  Guest Post by Sarah Black “Making Soap with Boys and Men”

Saturday, April 6:             Into This River I Drown by T.J. Klune

Review: Diversion by Eden Winters

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Diversion coverRichmond “Lucky” Lucklighter’s luck ran out when he was caught up in a multi million dollar scheme to illegally buy, sell, and control the pharmaceutical drug market run by his criminal boyfriend.  In return for his testimony against his former boyfriend and drug dealing partner, Lucky would receive a reduced sentence and jail time.  Lucky agreed  for more than one reason and found himself in jail for ten years, a marked man because of his betrayal and testimony.  But two years into his sentence, the Southeastern Narcotics Bureau’s Department of Diversion Prevention and Control came calling with a proposition.  Come work for them teaching their agents all they need to know about his end of the business and assist on drug details or spend the remaining eight years in jail.  The decision for Lucky was an easy one.  Lucky wanted out and if that meant he had to play along with the narcs, so be it.

Now just two months shy of being completely free of his bargain and gaining his life back, Lucky must complete one last assignment and train a rookie in the bargain.  Lucky is not prepared for the rookie that shows up to start the investigation with him.  Former Marine Bo Schollenberger is tall, gorgeous, and gay.  Bo is the complete opposite of his cynical, hard-nosed partner or so Lucky thinks.  But Bo suffers from PTSD from his time on tour, and found his dream of being a pharmacist shattered when he got caught up in an prescription addiction. Bo’s out? The same one Lucky chose and he is Lucky’s replacement.  Now Lucky must contend with training a man he is increasingly coming to care for in a job he won’t admit he enjoys and secretly dreading his return to a freedom with no job in sight and no one to care for him.

When their current investigation turns into a much larger operation than anyone expected, including their bosses, Lucky and Bo go deeper undercover to catch the criminals and smash the operation.  Dangers are everywhere waiting to expose their cover, including easy access to the very drugs that pulled Bo under.  But  Richmond “Lucky” Lucklighter is on top of his game and everyone had better watch out, including his own bosses because Lucky is going to do things his way and get what he wants.  Now if only he can admit to himself who and what that is…..

I love nothing better than a cynical, smart mouthed bad boy and “Lucky” Lucklighter fits the bill.  How I loved him from the first introduction as he scopes out his latest target and steals a semi full of prescription drugs.   A bantam of a man, his past history has contributed the arrogant, smug criminal  facade he projects to all around him.  But Lucky is far more complex than he appears.  I cannot give enough credit to Eden Winters for this remarkable character.  He exudes life and a certain swashbuckling criminality but the more we get to know him, we see who he  has become underneath, no matter how much Lucky refuses to admit his change of heart to himself.  Lucky is brash, outrageous, and a compulsive over planner.  I would have been so disappointed if Winters had paired him up with the typical lawman or something equally common.  I should not have worried because Winters then gives us  Bo Schollenberger, haunted vet who still manages an outlook on life surprisingly open hearted given his back history.  His complexities tie in beautifully with Lucky’s and it is one of the greatest pleasures of this book watching the two men dance around each other, testing each person’s strengths and weaknesses to their ultimate undoing because they are so well matched.

Another measure of the terrific writing found in Diversion is that I was never sure how the ending would turn out.  Winters kept me guessing the entire time because as the story is told from Lucky’s pov, he is not sure himself how it is all going to end.  So as the investigation ramps up, so does the reader’s anticipation and anxiety over how it will all fall out, if Lucky will take his freedom and walk away and what will happen to  Bo?

Another surprising pleasure is the storyline and the subject of the large pharmaceutical companies and prescription drugs.  I had no idea how the drugs were handled past their expiration dates, the necessary warehousing, and even the shortages which are used to raise the drug prices and control the markets.  It is clear that Winters has done her homework and then some.  But it never comes across as a info dump but effortlessly folded into the story. Eden Winters picked a fascinating and topical subject and than ran with it as the main focus of  the Southeastern Narcotics Bureau’s Department of Diversion Prevention and Control investigations and agent expertise.  Unusual topic meets unusual main characters and the final mixture is captivating and addicting and hard to put down.

I was thrilled to see that Diversion has a sequel, Collusion.  That will be next on my reading list.  Look for that review to be out shortly.  In the meantime, go grab this book up and prepare to meet two of the most addictive characters (in more ways than one) in a contemporary romance.  You will love them.  To quote Justin Wilson, I guarantee!

Cover art by Trace Edward Zaber, perfect for the story within.

Review: The Mayfield Speakeasy by L.A. Witt

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Rating: 4 stars

The Mayfield SpeakeasyWalter Mayfield’s life is quite the balancing act.  The Mayfield Speakeasy, owned by himself and his brothers, is neutral ground in an area subjected to continual turf wars by various gangs.  It is only due to Walter’s reputation as an honest man and his diplomatic skills that the gangs check their grievances and guns at the door of his establishment.  The same goes for the cops, Vice cops that is.  For Prohibition is in full swing and serving liquor to the sounds of easy music is the name of the game for The Mayfield Speakeasy.  The balancing act also includes keeping his volatile brothers in check and the liquor flowing.  But that all changes when Detective Joe Riordan comes through the door.

The bodies of three women have been dumped in the river and the only connection between the three is Walter’s brother, John.  Detective Joe Riordan and his partner are there to get information and to find the murderer. And they are going to start with asking questions of Walter.  As the investigation gets underway, Joe and Walter realize that the other man is gay and act on their attraction to one another.  But the gangs soon notice that the cops are continuing to hang around and soon the delicate juggling act is threatened by the murder case as well as Joe and Walter’s ongoing relationship.

As the case hits closer to home than either man expects, it is a race to catch the murderer before everything threatens to collapse under the  investigation, from The Mayfield Speakeasy to the new burgeoning love affair of Walter and Joe’s.

The Mayfield Speakeasy is a short story of 62 pages and L.A. Witt manages to cram a lot of historical flavor and plot into such a short length.  She starts off the story in a very “film noir” manner . Here is Walter as he views his club:

The O’Reilly brothers and their goons liked to put back some bootlegged whiskey and smoke cigars–those Cuban cigars that cost way more than the cheap ones everybody else had to make do with–while that pretty dame in the red dress sang next to the piano. That was Shirley. She was new here. She’d be Walter’s sister-in-law soon, if Billy didn’t mess things up.

There are plenty of dames and gangsters and bodies floating in the river.  And into this speakeasy of Walter’s walks Detective Joe Riordan. Cue the music as Walter walks over to the table the cops are sitting at:

Music still played, and Shirley was still singing in that pretty voice of hers, but nobody was talking. Nobody except Walter. “Name’s Walter Mayfield,” he’d said. “I don’t want no trouble.”

L.A. Witt does a fabulous job of bringing the Prohibition era to life in the form of The Mayfield Speakeasy, you can almost taste the smoke and hard liquor.  But the short length brings its own issues, primarily that of lack of character development and depth of plot.  The men jump into bed even with all the dangers surrounding such actions.  And Billy and John, Walter’s two brothers, need fleshing out for their roles to gel and their animosity towards each other to feel real.  The mystery too needed a little more length so that you don’t see the identity as soon as you do in the story.

But still, within these 62 pages, the 30’s come to life once more as the liquor flows illegally, and so does a love that dares not speak its name.  While it takes time for the affection to build between Joe and Walter,  the reader will enjoy every moment from the smokey beginnings to the end.

Cover art by Trace Edward Zaber.  Great cover, looks as though it just came off one of the dime store novels of the era.

Review: Creature Feature by Poppy Dennison and Mary Calmes

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Creature Feature coverRating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Diagnosis Wolf by Poppy Dennison  

Rating: 4 stars

Andrew Hughes life sucks and its all due to his twin brother.  For as long as Andrew can remember his twin has caused problems for everyone, especially Andrew.  His brother has gambled, lied, then stolen Andrew’s identity and savings. This has left  Andrew miles deep in debt, with an unsalvagable credit rating, and scrambling to rebuild his life and move forward.  Andrew can’t afford to be choosy, so when his temp agency offers him a job with a client that has run off all other nurses, he takes it for the money he can’t afford to turn down.

His client is Caleb DiMartino and no one will let him see his chart or tell Andrew what illness his new client has.  Caleb comes with armed body guards, a mansion and an intimidating father.  But the pale unconscious patient pulls Andrew in and Andrew wants to help him despite the mystery that surrounds him.  But the truth behind Caleb’s  illness will bring Andrew’s brother back into his life and pose a threat to Andrew and Caleb that neither expects.

Diagnosis Wolf spells out  the problem in the title and wolf shifters is something that Poppy Dennison is very familiar with.  She has her own take on wolf shifters and does a great job in creating a universe for them and Andrew.  Andrew is a lovely, sympathetic character whose twin brother has made his life miserable their entire lives.  I liked that Andrew had reached a point with his twin where he no longer enabled his twin’s problems (that his brother stole his identity and savings helped push Andrew over the edge).  I loved that Andrew was a nurse and his empathic caring nature made it plausible that he would stay with Caleb, even as the situation escalated past complicated and into scary.

I had some issues with the villain of the piece because I kept wondering how it was that the rest of the pack had not figured it out. And maybe a little more exposition would have been nice with respect to Andrew’s brother, Danny and his future at the end.  But those issues aside, I loved Poppy’s wolf shifter culture, especially when it came down to the mate bite and the politics surrounding it.  So nicely done and the complexities surrounding the status of the bite made the “aha” moment more angst and adrenaline filled.  It also made the slow build to a permanent relationship between Caleb and Andrew extremely satisfying at the end.  All in all, a really lovely story.

Landslide by Mary Calmes

Rating 4.5 stars

Courier Frank Corrigan is injured again and while he is waiting for his wounds to heal, he gets a call from his sister, Lindsey.  Lindsey is in trouble as usual, but this time her impetuousness has lead her to  get bitten by a werewolf who just so happens NOT to be her fiance.  And the wedding is this week and she doesn’t know what to do and needs her big brother now.  Frank feels certain that his boss, the demon Cael Berith has the solution to his sister’s problems.  But Frank is also  certain that there will be a price to be paid for Cael’s assistance.  Cael told Frank that Frank was Cael’s mate. That was three years ago and Cael’s patience is running out.  With a love hungry demon on one side and a werewolf sister to be on the other, what will Frank do to save the situation and perhaps his love life in the bargain?

I will admit this was my favorite story of the two.  It was perfect Mary Calmes in every way from the characters involved to the plot.  First let’s take a look at the characters.  Paranormal courier Frank Corrigan is tall, a former Marine who just so happens to be a mihr.  A mihr is a mutant human who has all the typical human frailties except that he cannot be influenced by any otherworldly magic or glamour or tricks.  And in the universe Mary Calmes has created for Landslide, this makes Frank the perfect go between the paranormal beings.  It seems that wolf shifters, vampires, ghouls, demons and what have you exist openly in human society.  All must register with Homeland Security and various rules and regulations apply to their movement and existence within human societies.  Take everything currently going on with border regulations and green cards, illegal aliens and extrapolate that  times ten and you begin to get the picture that Calmes is so vividly painting for us.

Into this world, we meet Frank, a bundle of complexities.  A former Marine with excellent combat skills, he also has huge self image issues and an abusive family in the background that has made him doubt his  worth and attractiveness.  His friends are a odd group of non humans, and his sister is his one family member who loves and supports him.  Frank also has a secret that is helping to keep the one person he wants at a distance.  And that would be his current boss who also claims Frank is his mate.

Incubus demon Cael Berith is 1,000 years old and only now has he found his mate in Frank Corrigan.  But misunderstandings and Frank’s insecurities have kept them apart for three years and a demon can only take so much frustration.  Cael is such a mouthwatering character.  He has so many facets to his personality.  Scary demon, check.  Romantic suitor? Check. Patience personified? Check and check.  Mary Calmes makes us see Cael in all of his dimensions and still gives us a character to fall in love with.  And when you add him to the soft, insecure and honorable Frank Corrigan, well then, just sit back and watch the sparks fly.

Typical of a Mary Calmes story we also are given  memorable secondary characters too from the  werewolf called Charming to Sheriff Gordy Roller.  All perfectly drawn with interesting layers of their own.  As the ending neared, I found myself wanting to know more about Lindsey’s future and other peripheral characters.  And I wanted  more of what life had in store for Frank and Cael.

And that is almost always the issue with these anthologies or collections.  If the plots are well done and the characters engaging, then when I reach the end I find myself wishing for more.  But Creature Feature has plenty to offer from Poppy Dennison and Mary Calmes in terms of great stories and characters that will stay with you.  Pick up some popcorn and settle in for an afternoon double  feature.  You are going to love it.

Cover Art by Paul Richmond  just takes you back to the theatre and the Saturday matinees with the double features and creatures galore.  Just perfect.

Review: Storm Season by Nessa L. Warin

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Rating: 2. 5 stars

Storm Season coverStorm season is coming and ranch owner Jasper Borland and the rest of the townspeople of Brightam’s Ford are preparing their farms, shops and homes for the months during the wet season when they will be inside, safe from the destructive weather of the season.  With rain that can strip off a man’s skin and hail that demolishes buildings, most people even have safe rooms that they can escape to if necessary.

During one of the precursor storms that lead into the wet season, Jasper finds a young man, Tobias Thatcher, wounded and scrounging for shelter near his barn.  Tobias is amazed to see Jasper talk to him and when he touches Jasper’s lips, Tobias’ thoughts fill Jasper’s mind.  Tobias is a telepath from a race of telepaths.  He has never seen someone talk before.  Jasper takes in Tobias to give him shelter and bind his wounds.  Much later Jasper learns that Tobias’ sister has been kidnapped and he is trying to find her.  When the same people come for Tobias, Jasper agrees to help Tobias in his quest to recover his sister.  But the dark forces find them first, and both men must flee Jasper’s home to avoid capture.  With the storms coming and every move they make being watched, can Jasper and Tobias find his sister before its too late for all of them?

Well, let’s just make this short, shall we?  Nothing about this book works.  I  usually try to find some redeeming feature or positive aspect of the story to report on but really there’s nothing here to grab onto.  Starting with her world building, nothing makes any sense.  We are given very little information about the planet they are on or the civilizations scattered across the continent.  Apparently, the majority of the time (11 months or less depending upon the paragraph), the climate is mild, but  for one (or several months again, all facts here are very “fluid”), the climate turns killer and all flee inside, locking themselves away until the season is over.  Apparently the weather is worse towards the coast so many move inland (towards the river/sea?), a wild territory I think.  Goods are moved by ships which is just darn confusing because where do all those huge ships go during storm season?  Apparently, they have cars, trucks and trains but on a very “non tech” level.  Again, what?  Its as though the author can’t decide if this is Little House on the Prairie time or space colonists without a clue.  Phones, letters but the technology they would accompany those things are missing.   Just bits and pieces cobbled together that never come close to any cohesive history.

The characters are much the same although I have to admit I have not had a character that I could classify as dumb as a box of rocks before.  That would be Jasper.  Where to start?  Jasper never questions anything.   A person shows up who is a telepath, a heretofore unknown creature, who can project his thoughts and feelings onto him and what is Jasper’s response.  Nothing, just invites him in without question.  No really, Jasper doesn’t ask him any questions.  No “hey man I can hear your thoughts, that’s cool,” no freaking out, nada.  Then the man’s dog shows up who is over the top smart.  Questions? Nope.  Crazy man with green and black facial tats,  Matrix like overcoats, and jewels embedded in their hands, they have guns, things that scream bad men. Questions? Nope. So of course, he opens the door.  Jasper has one layer and its total absence of any interesting features let alone common sense makes him one dull boy.

Tobias comes close to Jasper.  Yes, he is a telepath, just not a smart one.  It’s a case of  dumb and dumber go to an alternative universe or whatever.  Tobias has one conversation over and over.  Condensed it amounts to :  “Someone is coming.  They are here.  Run.”  Repeat often.  He also sets off town riots (cue the pitchforks and torches), and  is adamant that they have to find his sister.  When he gets hurt , Tobias still says he will set out to find her (although he can’t walk), so you assume she has just been recently kidnapped, correct?  Uh, no, that event occurred over a year prior but he is just now in a panic?  And don’t get me started on characters that are given large roles than disappear forever or the fact that these people write letters, have phones, cars and such but no one knows of the group of telepaths that live over the rise and visa versa? Big things don’t add up, little things don’t add up.  Nothing makes any sense and after a while, you stop trying or caring about any of it.

And then there are the unintentional howlers you find throughout the story.  The book is just past the halfway point and it looks like the boys are going to have sex, (their attraction to one another comes out of nowhere).  Now at one point, Tobias pushed his feelings onto Jasper who wasn’t happy about it.  Now as they head to bed, this conversation occurs:

 Tobias: “It’s too hard to stop, too hard to keep it from happening, and if I lose that concentration, I don’t know that I’ll get it back. I know I won’t get it back if I have to try again and again and again”

Jasper: “huff. “I need to know that you’re not going to make me feel things.”

Wait, what? Isn’t that the perfect time to “feel things”?  *head desk*

Plus the cliched scenes are endless.  Kryee, Tobias’ dog is hunting him and here is the passage:

“What is it, girl?” Jasper asked, crouching to scratch behind the dog’s ears. He was allowed to for only a moment before she barked again and repeated her earlier antics. Carla sauntered up, her hands stuffed into her jacket. “I think she wants you to follow her.” It was a brilliant idea.

Thata girl, scifi Lassie, we get it.  Timmy’s in the well. Now disappear from the narrative.

I could continue quoting but really, what’s the point?  I could pick any passage in the story and you would be able to see the lack of originality, problems with continuity, shallow characterizations and poor dialog that abounds in Storm Season.  This is the first book I have read from Nessa L. Warin so I have no idea if this is typical of her writing or something out of the norm for her.  I sincerely hope it is the latter.  At any rate, I read this so you didn’t have to.  Give it the pass it deserves.

Cover: Two generic guys in generic winter wear.  Problems with this book are everywhere, including the cover.

Review: Covet Thy Neighbor (A Tucker Springs novel) by L.A. Witt

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Rating: 4.5 stars

Covet Thy Neighbor coverTattoo artist Seth Wheeler watches as his new neighbor, Darren Romero, moves in across the hall from his apartment.  Darren hits all Seth’s buttons, he is cute, smart, flirty, with a great sense of humor.  Plus Darren seems to like what he sees when he looks at Seth, so things are looking great.  Until Seth asks Darren what he does for a living and all Seth’s expectations of a flirtatious romance or even a hot one night stand fly out the window.

Darren Romero came to Tucker Springs to take a position as youth minister at the New Light church in town and that is a very real problem for Seth. Seth is a committed atheist and has been since his church and his family threw him out when he told them he was gay.  Now Seth avoids even the mention of church and anyone who believes in religion, even someone as hot and engaging as Darren.

Being neighbors makes it hard for Seth to avoid the minister and Darren refuses to give up on their friendship and possible relationship even as Seth fights the growing attraction between them.  Seth knows that Darren is perfect for him in every way but one.  Can Seth finally make his peace with the past and the part the church played in his abandonment or will Seth let the man he has come to love slip away because of his faith?

I have loved each and every Tucker Spring novel that has been released and Covet Thy Neighbor is a great addition to the series.  L.A. Witt presents us with two beautifully developed characters and adds the unusual element of religion to the mix.  Seth Wheeler is a character introduced in previous stories.  He has hovered around the other couples as a best friend and tattooist in Tucker Springs but we never learned his story until now.

Seth came from an ultra religious family and conservative church. So when he came out, their reactions cost him his family and faith as he was thrown out of his house and permanently disowned.  In describing his past,  Witt gives us a very real feel for the deep pain and feelings of abandonment that Seth feels even now years later.  The author shows that the loss of family is a wound that never fully heals, and for Seth meeting Darren is like tearing off a scab on his soul.  Seth wants to protect himself and for him that means distance.  Distance from Darren and distance from the religion that hurt him so deeply.

Darren is his opposite, a man of faith for whom his religion is felt at the cellular level.  It is not possible to separate the two. I love that L.A. Witt treats this issue with the seriousness it deserves.  So many GLBTQ people have felt abandoned by their churches and religion just as Seth does.  Equally true is that not all religions or even individual churches are discriminatory. Some are supportive of the gay community, and it is important to give those pastors and institutions a voice as well.  The author does so here with Darren Romero, and it works beautifully.

Darren Romero’s faith is one he has arrived at only after working through a series of obstacles and events that could have derailed that faith at any time.  I loved that Darren is such a well rounded religious character. He has his flaws and his moments of doubt.  And his past also contains a time where his openess came with a cost. Darren is up front about his sexuality, he is smart, compassionate, and “smokin’ hot”, at ease behind the pulpit as he is in the bedroom.  And the arguments and discussions he has with Seth are thought provoking and ones that could be heard in towns across America.

Another element of this story that grabbed me was the GLBTQ youth that Darren worded with and provided shelter for.  The scene with Seth and the trans girl rings true. It’s also heartbreaking because you just know how many children out there this girl represents.  This novel is just what I have come to expect from L.A. Witt and the Tucker Springs series.  A great plot,  interesting, fully realized characters and a narrative that moves the plot along at a lively pace.   I was astonished at how quickly I finished the story, to my utter dismay.  At the end, I wanted more of Seth and Darren, and the kids, and well, more of Tucker Springs.

As I stated before, I can’t get enough of this series, and each new story just cements it place as one of the best continuing series out there.  I can’t wait to see what these amazing authors will come up with next.

I love this cover.  Much like the other covers of this series, it works on all levels, from the models to the background.  Just great.

Tucker Springs Website

Here are the books in the order they were written:

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

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

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

Covet Thy Neighbor (Tucker Springs, #4) by L.A. Witt

Never a Hero (Tucker Springs, #5) by Marie Sexton

Missing Spring, Rejuvenation, and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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Sigh.  The Vernal Equinox has come and gone, the calendar proclaims its spring without refute for all who look at it but the weather will not cooperate!  One day of nice weather is quickly followed by a week of sullen skies, cold winds, and the threat of snow or sleet.  And while we have been truly lucky here in the DC metropolitan area in that all the snow and ice have gone around us, others like my daughter in Gainesville received over a foot of the white stuff.

To add insult to injury, I just received my first order of plants from a catalog nursery and each morning as I get my coffee, I see them lined up on the windowsill looking out over the gardens where they will live if this weather ever changes.  I swear I can hear them sigh along with me as we gaze over ground as hard as concrete and a bird bath filled with ice crusted water.

All the squirrels and birds wait for me to fill the feeders each day as they are emptying them as quick as I top them off.  I am sure they too are wondering if the weather will ever turn clement.   Red-tailed Hawks along with their smaller cousin, the Red-shouldered Hawks are wheeling over head in their aerial courtship displays. The black capped chickadees are inspecting the nesting boxes in the backyard so I know that soon the weather will change for the better and this cold, glum seasonal waiting room will be just a memory.  But at the moment, it just feels as though we are stuck in a pattern that refuses to let us go.

Sometimes that happens in life, whether we recognize it at the time or not.  What does it take for us to see that we are stuck in a rut? When does routine translate into a holding pattern?  I am not sure of the answer, only that  sometimes, if you are lucky, a change happens to bring about a seasonal changeover in a person’s life and you feel renewed once more.  Old hobbies are picked back up, or new interests in life are discovered. Much like the small green sprouts I see trying diligently trying to emerge from the ground in my gardens, your outlook on life changes and things take on a bright, new patina. Other aspects of your life that previously seemed dull and uninteresting are rewarded with a double take as they too reveal a different side of themselves.

I love spring and the changing seasons.  It doesn’t matter whether it is the spring slowly occurring outside my window or the one happening deep inside.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate winter too for one is necessary for the other to be truly glorious and appreciated.  The plants have needed their rest, some seeds requiring the cold in order to germinate in the spring, and a winter chill will keep some insect populations under control.  A cold winter’s night can make the moon and stars glow with a beauty found only during the winter months.  But oh, how wonderful the first warm, moisture laden air of spring!  It smells of rejuvenation, of new life, and I can’t wait to throw open my window and feel its breath on my face again.

It’s coming and soon.  I just need to be patient, along with my plants on the windowsill.  Sometimes, that is the hardest thing to do.

Here is the week ahead in reviews:

Monday, March 25:          Covet Thy Neighbor by L.A. Witt

Tuesday, March 26:          Storm Season by Nessa L. Warin

Wed., March 27:               Creature Feature by Poppy Dennison, Mary  Calmes

Thursday, March 28:       Diversion by Eden Winters

Friday, March 29:             The Mayfield Speakeasy by LA Witt

Saturday, March 30:        Collusion by Eden Winters

Review: Nights In Canaan by Kendall McKenna

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Rating: 5 stars

Nights in Canaan coverEternal redemption, eternal damnation. Two warriors, one good and one evil caught in an timeless loop, forever being reborn, fated to love and then die to keep the balance of the universe intact.  Each time, the ancient vampire pleads with his warrior of light love to let the vampire turn him so they can be together forever and each time the warrior hesitates longer before making the killing blow.  Is this the reincarnation where the warrior for good finally gives in to his hearts desire or will the pattern continue as love is sacrificed for the greater good?

Kendall McKenna continues to astonish me with her powerful stories.  Her writing is precise, compelling, and memorable.  Nights in Canaan is just another terrific example of her ability as an author to bring her vision to life, no matter the genre.

I will say that this story is not for everyone.  If you are someone that needs a HEA or a HFN, Nights in Canaan will not meet either requirement.  But if a haunting story of eternal love is one that you seek, than this is a story for you.

Nights in Canaan opens in the City of Gina, Egyptian ruled Land of Canaan, 3rd Year of Pharaoh Akhenaton (1350 bce).  Both the ancient vampire and his other half, the winged warrior have risen to do battle with each other again.  The warrior for good is fated to kill his lover, the vampire but not before they are given a short time in which to love each other, indulging in blood drinking and sex.  Then memory and duty take over and events repeat themselves.  As time moves forward we watch this happen until we reach the year 2004, City of Fallujah, Iraq. We meet Marine Sgt. Jayden Lindberg on patrol with other members of his unit.  It’s nighttime and Jayden watches in disbelief as one of his men is attacked by a vampire and drained before his eyes.  Somehow he knows that his weaponry is worthless against this enemy, and Jayden does nothing as his man dies.  McKenna’s Marine characters are wonders of realism, and Jayden’s confusion and inner turmoil is shattering.  He cannot understand his behavior in face of his soldier’s death and the easy manner in which he lied about his role.  McKenna captures the dangers inherent of a patrol in Iraq and then ups the terror as the men face not just insurgents but a vampire intent on building his own army.

As the events move towards the inevitable conclusion, memories starts to resurface, and we watch as the viewpoint changes slowly from that of a human to that of an immortal.  Just masterful, using a change in word choice here and there to denote someone removing themselves from a intimate connection that used to be the norm to an elevated dispassionate stance.

At one point in the story, the warrior’s memory awakes and he wonders of his ancient vampire lover:

” Did he experience excruciating pain when his fangs first lengthened and his body began to crave human blood?”

And I wonder as well, wishing for the vampire’s pov as much as the warrior’s.  Both characters are weary of their continued battle, full of pain at the inevitability of their roles and yet their love is as potent as ever.  The story ends as it should, the only way it can.   At 65 pages, it is short in length but will stay long in your memory.

Cover Art by Deana Jamroz is nice but not nearly as good as the story within.

Review: Family Man by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton

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Rating: 4 stars

Family Man coverVince Fierro is forty.  He comes from a large Italian family who love him and can’t understand why he hasn’t found the right girl yet.  After all, Vince has three failed marriages behind him to prove that he is trying. But inside Vince knows the real reason none of his marriages have worked is because he is gay, a fact he has a hard time acknowledging even to himself.  When his sister suggests that Vince find out by visiting a gay club in Chicago’s Boystown , he agrees and runs immediately into someone he knows, an encounter that will change both of their lives forever.

Trey Giles is leading a life that would cause anyone else to have a nervous breakdown.  Trey is working two jobs in order to finish school, take care of his grandmother, who he lives with and dealing with a mother who refuses to deal with her serious substance abuse problems.  Dating is the last thing on his mind until he runs into Vince at the bar.  Vince is clearly uncomfortable, from the crowd to the music and when Trey suggests a more quiet jazz bar so they can talk,  the night turns into something neither man expected.  They talk for hours, Trey agreeing to help  Vince become adjusted to the idea of his homosexuality but in truth Vince and Trey find a connection with each other so deep and instantaneous that it leaves them unsure of what step to take next.  Vince’s biggest fear is that he will lose his family if he comes out of his closet, but if he doesn’t acknowledge his homosexuality to himself and his family, Vince just might lose the best thing that has ever happened to him, Trey Giles.  What will this self proclaimed family man do?

Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton are two of my “must read” authors.  They never fail to produce a story that will warm your heart and leave you thinking about love in all its combinations.   In Family Man, the authors give us an older Italian American who has been so afraid of his own sexuality that he has married three times in the past, each with the same predictable result, divorce.  His huge Italian family is pressuring him to date and enter into yet another relationship with a woman and Vince finally realizes that something has to change.  At first Vince comes across as almost a stereotype and I had a problem connecting with the character.  Vince stubbornly refuses to see that being gay does not lessen him as a man and until he can rid himself of that notion he won’t be able to accept his “gayness”.  It takes some time to really see Vince as the complex character he really is and most of that is due to his inner dialogs with himself that almost makes the reader lose patience with him.

The story really takes off when Vince and Trey connect with each other.  The story switches pov back and forth between Trey and Vince and it works as we become involved emotionally in their burgeoning relationship.  Trey’s situation is especially disheartening and stressful.  Overworked, he is trying to provide for his grandmother and deal with his mother who is an alcoholic and drug addict.  Cullinan and Sexton realistically portray what it means to live with someone who refuses to deal with their addictions.  It is heartrending in its futility and the damage it inflicts on those closest to the addict and the addict themselves is authentic at every level.

Vince’s issues are also examined and given an equally respectful treatment.  His fears of losing his large, Italian Catholic family if he comes out as gay are pretty realistic, especially at his age.  Vince has spent close to forty years denying his true self and that is a tragedy.  It takes time for Vince to visit all the ramifications of his decision and then move forward with his relationship with Trey.  I actually found the second half of the book just flies by as events speed up in both Vince and Trey’s lives.  It was my favorite part of the book.

Family Man is a wonderfully sweet story of romance and love found when least expecting it.  Cullinan and Sexton make a marvelous team and I can’t wait to see what they will come up with next.  Pick this up and prepare to meet an Italian family that is hard to forget and two MCs you will grow to love.

Cover art is wonderful, I wish I knew who the artist was to give them credit for this delicious and spot on design.

Review: Natural Predators (Mahu #7) by Neil S. Plakcy

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Rating: 5 stars

Natural Predators coverHonolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka and his detective partner Ray Donne are called on one of their most complex case when an abandoned warehouse goes up in flames and in the rubble the remains of a prominent statesman are found.  When the cause of death is determined to be murder, Kimo and Ray follow an ever expanding field of clues that stretch from local gyms into the rarified society of Hawaii’s oldest and wealthiest families.

More bodies pile up as the murderer stays just ahead of them, putting their families and themselves in danger.  In addition to his case, Kimo’s personal relationship with his partner Mike is under stress as they decide whether or not to go ahead as donors for their lesbian friends and a young runaway makes Kimo and Mike think about being foster parents.

Hawaii is a place of immense beauty , where predators and prey live and die as nature dictates.  Under the shinning sun and majestic waves, treacherous events happen even as the ambience lures you in.  No one is more aware of the delicate balance than Kimo Kanapa’aka as he races to find the murderer and keep his new found family safe.

Natural Predators is the first book I have read by Neil S. Plakcy and therefore the first book I have read in this series.  I started early evening and read right through until 2am in the morning, pausing only to rub my eyes, adjust the light and continue on until I had finished.  I had heard wonderful things about this series but still nothing prepared me for the richness and depth of the story and characterizations I found within.  It was like going to a nice restaurant only to find out that the restaurant is gourmet, Jose Andres is the chef, and you are sitting at the chef’s table.

Natural Predators is a veritable luau of Hawaiian delights, a banquet of varying aromas, textures, tastes and melodies, something for everyone’s palate.  Plakcy’s characters range from low level thugs to runaway teens to high society lawyers and businessman and everything in between.  Each character has a defining “voice” consistent with their histories and culture, from traditional haoli conversations to the pidgin dialect heard among those born on Hawaii.  Here Kimo and his partner track down two suspects in the case:

“Mr. Campbell. Police. Open up.” We waited, and Ray was about to knock again when the door opened. Larry, a fat Hawaiian guy with dark dreadlocks, stuck his head out. “Hey, Leroy, it’s da kine police,” he said. “Long time no see, bruddas.”

Larry yawned and stepped outside, and big, bald Leroy followed him. “How about your cousin Pika?” Ray asked. “He in there, too?” “Nah, he wen bag two days ago.” “But he was living with you before he left?” I asked. “Sometimes he moi moi wid us, sometimes wid his buddy,” Leroy said.

To Ray’s credit, he seemed to be following the conversation, which meant he was learning our island pidgin. Pika slept at their place sometimes, but had left two days before. “Tacky?” I asked. Larry nodded. “Yeah. Bodybuilder dude. Dumb as two rocks in a box.” That could describe the Campbell brothers, too. “You know where we can find him?” I asked. “Try gym,” Leroy said. “Ho brah, he alla time workin out.”

Picked out of context, it might seem a little jarring but still you can hear the rhythm of the spoken words and in context, you barely notice it so because you have become so accustomed to hearing it throughout the novel.  By the end of the story, you will feel as though you have walked the streets of the city and sat and conversed with all types of Hawaiians,  The authenticity of elements and locations Plakcy has brought to the story make it that real.

We travel with Kimo and Ray as they traverse from one side of the island to the other, collecting Hawaiian history and geographical facts as we go. From the history of Hawaii’s quest for statehood or independence to the polyglot of cultures that makes up a typical Hawaiian conversation, we are slowly pulled in to the draw of the islands and the rhythm of daily life there. And not once does any of it come across as a regurgitation of a history lesson.

Again Plakcy seamlessly folds in tidbits of Hawaiian sayings and facts, as in this example:

“Just before four, we hopped in the Jeep to meet Frankie. In Honolulu, we don’t use mainland directions like east, west, north and south. Makai is toward the ocean, while mauka means inland, toward the mountains. Diamond Head is in the direction of that extinct volcano, while the opposite is called Ewa, toward a town of the same name.”

Actually I could just keep on with quote after quote, Natural Predators is that terrific, Neil S. Plakcy is that great.  His descriptions are vivid, wide ranging and carry with them the tone of a detective familiar with the full spectrum of human society, one that has lost its element to surprise him but manages to deliver an appreciation for life and its special moments no matter the situation. I am in love with all of the characters here.

Natural Predators is a novel not of one plot thread but many, and Plakcy does a remarkable job of not only paying equal attention to every one but also to keep each storyline as strong and rich in texture as all the rest.  The murder mysteries have a complex history to them, the foster child element will make you laugh and cry, sometimes together, you will hold your breath as Kimo and his partner Mike work through yet another potential obstacle to happiness with regard to surrogate fatherhood and still read in amazement as Plakcy rolls in more layers much like the tropical habitats that abound in Hawaii.  If I thought he would have heard it, I would have stood and applauded upon finishing this story.

So what happens now?  Well, hopefully you will go off to buy the book and I am going back to the beginning and start the series from Mahu (Mahu#1).  I can’t wait for the ride to begin again, such an E Ticket!

Here are the books in the order they were written:

Mahu (Mahu #1)

Mahu Surfer (Mahu #2)

Mahu Fire (Mahu #3)

Mahu Vice

Mahu Blood

Zero Break

Mahu Men: Mysterious and Erotic Stories

Natural Predators

I can’t find the name of the cover artist but they did a beautiful job, worthy of the story within.