Review: Redemption of the Beast (Outside the City #3) by Amylea Lyn

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Rating: 4 stars

Redemption of the Beast coverIt’s been 15 years since the City Dome fell and Owen Sanders returned home with his small twin brothers, Micah and Lucah to the Katrian village where he lives with his mate, Maltok, co leader of the Katria.  And while Lucah recovered from their shared ordeal, Micah’s health still suffers from the effects of the gassing he took as a child.  But one thing has stayed constant, other than his love for his brothers, and that would be his love of Sashan, the Katrian warrior who found them escaping from the City and carried him back to the village.  For all 15 years, Micah has loved Sashan but the shy, hermit like warrior stays away from Micah and the village, visiting infrequently.  From Sashan’s actions, Micah concludes that it is his physical weakness and small size that repulses Sashan, and he despairs of ever having his love returned.

Sashon is a gentle and troubled  warrior who is still trying to recover emotionally from the events of the past.  Emotionally and physically abused by his twin brother, Rashon, he was still devastated when the identity of the betrayer was revealed.  Further solidifying his guilt and pain was the fact that Sashon delivered the blow that killed his brother.  His emotions in turmoil and his guilt overwhelming him, Sashon feels unworthy of the one person he loves and who he knows to be his mate, Micah.

Then Micah is kidnapped and Sashan must put away all his fears and guilt to rescue his mate, discover who is behind the kidnapping, and how the City and its Planners are involved.  The race is on and Micah’s frail health puts his life in jeopardy.  Will Sashon find the redemption he seeks when he finds his mate?

Redemption of the Beast is the third book in this addicting and sometimes frustrating series, Outside The City,  by Amylea Lyn.  First let’s go over the highlights and wonders that make me return book after book.

Amylea Lyn has created a remarkable universe for her series.  We are on a planet of various geology and climes, but humans (as such) have retreated to a Domed City that was created by the Founders, their creation race, and now never venture outside because of the rules of their society and their fears of the creatures and plants that live there.  A race of felines called the Katria (various species from tigers to lions etc) live in villages outside the Dome and are at odds with the rulers of the City.  Book one, The Nature of the Beast, gives us a general outline for The City, its culture and homogeneous human inhabitants.  They all have light blue eyes, white blonde hair, same physical structure and anything outside of that norm, including honey blonde hair is looked down upon. Along with the marvelous Katrian culture, Lyn brought an amazing element of plant symbiosis in Raine, another important character.  This merger of human and plants is so enthralling and potent that I still cannot stop thinking about all the possibilities that can occur in future plots.

Book two, The Beast’s Promise, saw the fall of the Dome that protected the City and isolated its citizens. It was brings back a secondary character of Owen Sanders, his mate Maltok and Owen’s quest to find and save his twin brothers. It is also our first glimpse of Sashan.  We are given further information as to the Founders and their purpose on the planet, just fascinating as the author starts adding additional layers to her universe and the series story lines.  By the end of this book, we are clamoring to know more about the twins and she gives it to us in book three. However, there is no mention of the  plant symbiosis that drove the first book, sigh.

Redemption of the Beast continues to enlarge our knowledge of the planet’s inhabitants as it now adds a race of wolf shifters called Wolfrik to the mix and an explanation as to their (and the Katrians) existence. Sashan, a character that captured our hearts along with the twins now gets his story and that of his mate.  The addition of the Wolfrik shows that the Founders had a larger role for all the species involved, we just don’t know what it is yet.  There are more betrayals, twists and turns along with the angst and sorrow I have come to expect from this series.  But Lyn always balances the pain with the joy of a mate bond concluded and the suspense of a new bond yet to be revealed.  Amylea Lyn always sets the stage for the next in the series by the end of the current book. So we know that Lucah’s book is the next to come.

Combine the author’s terrific plot ideas with her ability to bring her scenes to life with vivid and powerful descriptions, and you have a series that compels you to read them like an addictive treat you can’t stop eating.  But there are also frustrations here as well that make me grind my teeth even as I devour each page of the story.  Most of it would be assuaged if Silver Publishing would do a better job at editing their stories.  Mistakes such as “on” when it should be “of”, and other errors similar in nature are noted but what really makes me crazy is things like the sentence below:

“I would know where I was going if you hadn’t broken my (blank), you little piss ant!” (spoiler word removed)

Now, yes you can call someone a piss ant although with that usage it should be pissed ant.  I suspect (and hope) that the editors knew the word was pissant  for an insignificant or contemptible person or thing.  Or use piss-ant, that’s ok too.  Both come from pismire, a 14th Old English term for ant. Yes, spell check wants to divide it, not so the dictionary. Still a human editor relying on knowledge and not a machine should know whether you want it to mean an angry arthropod or someone of no consequence. By the way, the word piss came from the smell emanating from an ant hill, good Jeopardy question.  Now you know.

And another is that when talking about a treaty between the Wolfrik tribe and the Katria, it is proposed between two negotiators to send the wolf shifter healers to the Katria and Katrian hunters to the Wolfrik to help them hunt.  Huh, because wolves are such bad hunters?  Either we are missing some necessary information, or this doesn’t make sense give the wolf shifter backstory the author supplies us with.

Anyhow let’s return to my qualms about editing errors and mistakes because I know there are some of you thinking that this is nick picking and you might be right.  But when something, whether it is suspect language or punctuation, stops you mid sentence, interrupting the story for you, then it becomes important,  It has provided a distraction away from the author’s narrative, impeded the proceedings, and the momentum is lost for however long it takes to get it back, not good when it happens during an “aha” moment.  Frustrating or as I call it, the “argh” moment.

But even with those issues, I can’t stop reading this series.  Lyn’s lively, layered characters will stay with you, their backstories will haunt you, and the predicaments they find themselves in amuse and terrify you.  Amylea Lyn leaves me wanting more and wanting to know more about the universe she has created and the beings that populate it.  This is a terrific series and with the right editor, it could be a 5 star series that the ideas deserve.  Either way, if you are new to the series, start at the beginning book and work your way through.  It is the only way to make sense of the characters and the situations they are involved in.

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

Nature of the Beast (Outside the City #1)

The Beast’s Promise (Outside the City #2)

Redemption of the Beast (Outside the City #3)

Cover design by Reese Dante.  I love the design with the exception of the blond haired model, something about him seems off and ruins it for me.  Otherwise it is ok, love the tiger and the mountains as well as the model at the upper left corner.

Review of An Unconventional Union (Unconventional #2) by Scotty Cade

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Rating: 3.25 stars

Unconventional Union coverAfter discovering love in An Unconventional Courtship, Kincaid International Corporation’s CEO, Webber Kincaid, and his executive assistant, Tristan Moreau, return home to find that Webber is the subject of an SEC and Department of Justice investigation over Illegal business transactions by his company’s CFO. A CFO who threatens to out the couple unless they cover for his activities.  Faced with the ruination of their reputations and that of the company his father built, Webber Kincaid prepares to fight back and help the SEC and Justice Department with their investigations.

But while their business world is chaotic, their personal relationship has never been better now that they have finally admitted they love each other. In face, Webber has proposed and Tristan accepted and a Martha’s Vineyard wedding is now under preparation.  As the wedding date gets closer, Tristan knows he has to let go of his past and tell Webber about his family and the secrets he has kept hidden and both men decide to out themselves to Webber’s board of directors and the world.  With so many obstacles in front of them, Webber and Tristan must stand together, love intact, to make it through their wedding and their HEA.

I normally love Scotty Cade’s books and found his Mystery of Ruby Lode to be exceptional. So even without reading the first book in this series, I was looking forward to An Unconventional Union.  Unfortunately what I found was a book that could almost be divided into two totally different sections each in a different genre.  First lets discuss the elements I did like about the story.  This is a sweet love story between two men that took two years to develop due to a working relationship and  their closeted status.  While I did not read the first book, their courtship and accompanying issues are related to the reader in as Tristan remembers how they got together as the beginning of this book so the author gives us the backstory right from the beginning.

We enter the story shortly after Webber has proposed to Tristan and been accepted.  The company’s financial problems are already established as well.  Cade takes care to show how the men are dealing with all the changes around them as realistically as possible, including the impact on their new relationship and future wedding.  I think this section or element of the book is really nicely done.  The men are easy to relate to and they express their love easily and in a manner that makes their passion for each other authentic.  There is a multitude of “I love you’s” and similar expressions of love but considering their newfound status and approaching nuptials, I find that totally in keeping with the situation.

And at the end of the book, a traumatic event really brings the best out of Scotty Cade as a writer.  It is heartwrenching, warm, and concisely told, really outstanding and the best part of this story.  I only wish I could say the same about the majority of the book because when you get down to it,  perhaps less than half of An Unconventional Union relates to the plot.  The other half?  That is where my issues with this book come in.

For me, the majority of this story is a verbose, overly descriptive travel article on Martha’s Vineyard and The Inn and Restaurant at Lambert’s Cove.  Every part of this is related in a dry lecture guaranteed to make your eyes glaze over and kill any forward motion in the plot.  Here are Webber and Tristan on the plane researching the island:

“This site says the first explorer to leave any real account of the island was Bartholomew Gosnold. He landed on the cape first, which he named Cape Cod from the abundance of codfish. Then he sailed southward and landed on a small island about six miles southeast of Gay Head. He named this small island Martha’s Vineyard. The next day he landed on the larger island, and after exploring it and finding luxuriant grape vines, many beautiful ponds and springs, he transferred the name and called it Martha’s Vineyard, in honor of his mother, whose name was Martha.”

More than you probably needed to know, but not too bad.  The worse is yet to come, because soon they arrive at The Inn at Lambert’s Cover (which is standing in for the real thing called Lambert’s Cove Inn & Restaurant).  From the moment they set foot on the grounds, the reader is given a detailed inventory of each room, including foyers, every knickknack in the library, every…well I will let the book speak for itself:

“From the moment he stepped inside, Tristan saw that the inn was just as the photos and description had portrayed. The foyer and surrounding rooms were decorated in what could only be considered English Country style. It was warm and inviting. To the left was a large parlor done in red, furnished with deep mahogany leather couches and warm red and gold plaid wingback chairs positioned in front of a large fireplace. To the right was a more formal room decorated in royal blue and greens with yet another massive fireplace. Tristan immediately pictured himself and Webber sprawled across that couch with a good book and a scotch in front of a roaring fire. He imagined the wind howling and a foot of snow on the ground and not having a care in the world while being safe and secure with the man he loved. He was snapped out of his daydream as another gentleman joined them.”

And we are just getting started, now onto the bedroom.

“Tristan stepped into the room first and was amazed at what he saw. It was what he would consider a quintessential New England-style room. The ceiling was a little lower than usual, and the room was painted in a warm coppery color with a muted tan and cream-colored striped fabric accented with a cream-colored damask. There was a four-poster bed with a canopy attached to a large ceiling medallion over the center of the bed gently cascading to each bedpost and draping to the floor, puddling at the base. There was a skirted table with two houndstooth plaid oversized wingback chairs and a large antique dresser opposite the bed. At the far end of the room was a bathroom with a deep soaking tub, and directly across was a walk-in closet.”

Now imagine the same attention to detail when describing each foyer, concierge desk and hallway and you should start to see the problem here. But wait, there’s more….

Here is Tristan looking out the bedroom window, they haven’t even made it into the gardens yet:

“Tristan scanned the area outside of their window. Tall trees and hedges surrounded the expansive lawn offering total privacy and seclusion. To the left was a large square lion’s head fountain spitting water into a pool from four different directions. To the right was a white octagon-shaped gazebo with a cedar shake roof housing white wicker furniture with overstuffed cushions, obviously for relaxing and watching the day go by. “It really is beautiful.”

Now to be fair there are some lovely scenes with the couple making love or kissing interspersed between the decorator’s manual but still that is broken up by more of the same:

“They walked in silence along a red brick path, hands still linked together tightly. Tristan turned his head from side to side as he took in the surroundings while he tried to calm his nerves. They passed an herb garden tucked away into a corner of the main house on the right, while on the left they approached a black lion’s head fountain spitting water into a pool nestled into a glorious wall of lilacs at least eight feet tall. Next, they crossed the front of the inn, walked through a white arbor, passed a koi pond, and sauntered across the lawn, finally stopping when they stepped into the gazebo. Webber released his hand and gestured for him to take a seat on the white wicker loveseat. Tristan sat and watched as Webber poured them each another glass of wine and took a seat next to him. ”  *head desk*

They can’t even go to dinner without the entire meal being displayed out before you, showing us what a gourmet restaurant should be serving.

“As they walked toward the main house and restaurant, the sounds of Edith Piaf filled the air, reminding Tristan of a brief trip he’d taken to France. Once inside, Sam and Cavan put them at a lovely secluded table in the corner overlooking the pool area. Webber ordered a vintage bottle of Bourgogne Rouge VV “Maison Dieu” Domaine de Bellene, and their night officially began. They started with oysters on the half shell, then as an appetizer Webber ordered grilled white peaches with imported prosciutto, shaved red cabbage, and micro greens, and Tristan ordered steamed mussels in caramelized ginger, green onions, and coconut milk. For entrees, Webber had the seared sea scallops and Tristan horseradish-dusted veal. Sam and Cavan took turns seamlessly stopping by to make sure everything was to their liking, but never lingered long enough to intrude on their privacy. They finished the meals off by sharing a Belgian chocolate molten lava cake and a bottle of Ruffino Moscato d’Asti Italian dessert wine.”

We don’t get descriptions of how the meal tasted, the aroma that wafted off the grilled peaches, nothing to make our mouth water.  We simply get a list of foods served, like a sample menu you would show people prior to checking in.  For me this was a complete fail in terms of writing.  All of these intermable passages describing the Inn’s decor, gardens and restaurant only serves to kill any momentum in the plot that the author had achieved to that point in the story.  Webber and Tristan starts to discuss important issues in their relationship and boom, we are back to rows of shrubbery and black wrought iron lions.

We do get a slight break from the Architectural Digest treatment when they return to the city, but when they wed, its back to the Inn and more descriptions of the wedding ceremony and gardens at the Inn that would do a wedding planner proud.  Seriously, a wedding planner could use this as a template for an upcoming wedding it is that complete.  There is a small drama at the wedding and then back to the city where finally the heart of this story arrives never to leave.   It is the final pages of An Unconventional Union that raised this story up to 3.25 stars.

So while I will continue to read Scotty Cade, I will give this series a pass.  I love descriptions of places and things when they make sense, are concise, and written with passion.  And although I know Mr. Cade must love Martha’s Vineyard as he lives there, none of that comes across in the dense narrative given to us here.

Here are the books in the order they were written for this series so far:

An Unconventional Courtship (Unconventional #1)

An Unconventional Union (Unconventional #2)

Reese Dante’s cover is gorgeous, I love the models and the landscape, perfect for the story within.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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sláinte! Happy St. Patrick’s Day.  To start your St. Patrick’s Day, here is some great music from Brogan’s Bar in Ennis, Ireland to get you fired up!

Half Irish, half Scottish, I love this day and today the weather has gone along with the program and seems particularly Irish. Overcast, damp, but not too cold, perfect for marching in parades all over the nation.

I have travelled to Ireland several times and found the leaving of it always comes with a crease in my heart, as though even my cells know that we are saying farewell to home.  My first time visiting with my high school daughter was both a delightful and revelatory, her feet seeming to find paths that she should not know where there.   My nights were filled of dreams of seals and shores and music carried along the winds over gorse covered hills, studded with stone.  And on the penultimate day, Heather and I were hiking in a verdant forest, far away from any others or so we thought.  And then we heard it, or heard them more accurately.  First the sounds of a waterfall, the roar getting louder the closer we got.  But what really made that day magical was the sounds of piping coming from high overhead.  We craned our necks to see where it came from and finally we found him, standing on a rock ledge, eyes closed, bagpipes swelling as he lost himself in the music he was playing.  We listened for a while and then quietly left, rejuevenated and enriched by a magical experience shared before she left for college.  One of my finest memories.

So day I hope for the best for all of you, of laughter shared, of love found and family held close. And as this website is, mostly, devoted to books I will leave you with a quote from an Irish author:

“As a writer, I write to see. If I knew how it would end, I wouldn’t write. It’s a process of discovery.”
– Author John McGahern

Here is the week ahead in book reviews:

Monday, March 18:                An Unconventional Union by Scotty Cade

Tuesday, March 19:                 Never A Hero by Marie Sexton

Wed., March 20:                     Redemption of the Beast by Amylea Lyn

Thursday, March 21:              Family Man by Heidi Cullinan

Friday, March 22:                   Nights in Canaan by Kendall McKenna

Sat., March 23:                        Natural Predators by Neil Placky

So, that’s the week.  Have a safe and wonderful St. Patrick’s Day.  Forego the green beer, that’s gross anyway and have a Irish Manhattan, so much better!

Review: Metal Heart by Meredith Shayne

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Rating: 4.25 stars

Metal Heart coverIt is 1990 and a local band called King Phoenix is looking for a lead guitarist to round out the band.  When 20 year old Scott King shows up to audition, his music and song writing abilities mesh perfectly with the songs and sounds King Phoenix embodies and they welcome him into the group.  Scott also bonds closely with their lead singer, Ash Walker.  As the rock band evolves from anonymity to fame, Scott and Ash form first a close friendship which turns into a intense, sexual and romantic relationship that lasts for four years. But unlike his other band members, Scott starts to experience stage fright the bigger the venues they play.  His coping mechanisms coupled with some bad friends, start Scott on a downward spiral that Ash and the band are first unaware of, then unable to stop.  Pressure mounts until the stresses and rumors of Ash leaving the band, cause Scott to implode, ODing on drugs and alcohol.  While Scott lies in a coma in the hospital, the band leaves to go on tour without him.  There will be no further communication between the band and Scott until 16 years later.

2011, Berry, Australia.  Scott King has worked hard since coming out of rehab to become a successful music producer with his own studio.  He’s healthy having been clean for 16 years.  Scott likes his quiet life, he lives with his twin sister and his niece, he has friends and ex lovers, and is mostly content.  His past is safely secured in a box tucked away in a closet in his bedroom, a box that never gets opened lest the past bring out all the old demons he has fought for so long.

Then he gets a phone call from the past, his old band manager, who wants Scott to play at a benefit gig for King Phoenix’s old sound man who is dying of cancer.  The benefit is to raise money for his wife and child and Scott is needed to reunite the band.  Prodded by his sister and fond memories of their sound man, Scott agrees against his better judgement. But seeing Ash, who wants to take up where they left off,  starts to shatter Scott’s self control as does the stage fright that starts to come back.  Can Scott handle the stress of seeing the only man he has ever loved under the same conditions that once broke him? Or will this reunion cost Scott everything he has worked so hard to build, including his sobriety.

I love a good rocker book and Metal Heart is terrific.  It is my first introduction to Meredith Shayne and I will eagerly check out the rest of her library. Metal Heart has so much to recommend it, including a gritty look at the effect of drugs and alcohol on someone vulnerable enough to let them take over his life.  Actually, I think this element of the novel is perhaps the best part of the story, elevating it even over the lovers reunited.

Shayne starts off by giving us the character of Scott King, a naive 20 year old gay musician.  A friend and later band manager drags him to audition for a scruffy local band called King Phoenix.  Scott is someone who loses himself in his music, from the compositions he writes to the lead guitar he plays.  Shayne gives him a vulnerability that shows the reader how open emotionally Scott can be to all things, including love in the form of Ash Walker.  I love this character and we watch him grow and struggle over a 16 year period.  For Scott, the best part of his life is the early  years with Ash, before the band caught on and became famous.  Young, impressionable, artistic and happy, those are his defining years.  But the stresses of playing to large crowds, as well as hiding their romance and sexuality from all around them, places such a strain on Scott that the cracks start to appear and fissure, and we feel helpless as we watch it happen.  The author then goes on to demonstrates how readily available drugs and alcohol allowed musicians and others to cope with the demands of touring and the pressures of fame.  The scenes where associates introduce Scott to drugs rings true as does the resulting addiction that others are helpless to derail.

This leads us into discussions of therapy and rehabilitation as well as the fact that once you are an addict, you are always an addict. Shayne is careful to give us an authentic portrayal of someone in the throes of an addiction to someone living the life of a recovered addict.  The temptations to succumb to the pressure to use again are always present and Scott is that addict personified.   Really, this is just a remarkable characterization.

The character of Ash Walker is one that, while he didn’t quite work his magic on me, will be a favorite of most readers.  A little older, Ash is less vulnerable and more savvy than Scott, even at the beginning.  And while we never doubt the love he holds for Scott, he comes across as the most secure and  ambitious of the two.  He wants fame, and is at ease with the pressures that come with it, unlike Scott.  And while there is more to his story than is revealed at the beginning, I still found myself disconnected from this character, especially after he continues to pressure Scott to resume playing while acknowledging that Scott is showing the symptoms of cracking under the stress.  I did find it realistic that the band members would be so self involved not to understand what was happening to Scott in the 90’s but for them to consider his actions that of a “jerk” when he is clearly trying to protect himself and his self control in 2011, well I found that to be less feasible, more objectionable than anything else.

This also applies to the “aha” moment of the story which I won’t divulge here.  But one thing that is repeatedly brought up is the fact that Scott “disappeared” and that in 16 years Scott never tried to contact the band members.  They all knew he was in rehab and a little research would have shown that those in rehabilitation are not to have contact with those that helped enable them.  Plus Scott King became a successful music producer, and they couldn’t find him until 16 years later? Again, that just doesn’t seem all that realistic.  But those qualms aside, this author delivers a vibrant, enthusiastic portrait of young rockers, love and the price of fame to life in Metal Heart, and then leaves us with the promise that sometimes love is enough, even after 16 years apart.  For me, this is still a HFN, instead of HEA and there seems to be plenty of room for another book to see where they take the relationship next as not all obstacles have been cleared away.  Either way, this story will please fans of rock n roll stories and bad boys with music to burn as well as those of romantic lovers reunited at long last.  All fans will be left satisfied at the end of Metal Heart.  Pick it up and happy reading!

Cover art by Anne Cain.  Love, love this cover.  From the graphics to the color choices and fonts, just perfect.

Review: Open Cover Before Striking by Willa Okati

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Open Cover Before StrikingRating: 4.5 stars

Davis Carmichael has one focus in life, his job as a writer for Tatterdemalion’s Voice, and he let’s nothing else distract him from that.  This includes sexual encounters, then he meets Cristián in an airport while both are waiting for flights out.   Their one night stand is not only white hot but revelatory and neither man can let go of their memories of the encounter.  And neither man expects to see each other again, afterall they don’t even have each other’s full name.

But fate has something else in store for them.  Because the subject of Davis Carmichael’s next column is a matchmaker who Davis intends to expose as a fraud and that matchmaker is none other than Cristián Baranov.  Cristián Baranov is a believer in the adage that there is only one true love for each person and he believes he has a real gift in his ability to see those who are soul mates.  When Davis travels to the home and office of the matchmaker, he is astonished to find his one night stand is the person he has been sent to interview and the surprise is not at all one sided.  Cristián too is surprised to see Davis but also delighted.  It is a case of big city snarky pessimism versus warm country romance and the winner will be anyone’s guess.  But both will be losers in love if Cristián can’t make the biggest match of his life, that of his own.

I will say immediately that while I loved this book, I can see where it is going to be one that people either love or hate depending upon their taste.  And they are going to feel that way from the beginning to the very end.  It will be due to one character and maybe also because of a slight paranormal element that glides throughout this contemporary romance with all the subtly of a light fragrance you can’t put a name too.  It will either  tickle your fancy or make you retch and not too much in between.

First to the characters Willa Okati has created for her story.  I actually loved them both.  The first we meet is the one that will decide this story for the reader.  You might love him or detest him as a total jerk.  I loved him.  Davis is that hot tempered, small bodied prickly hedge hog of a man.  He has a vocabulary both quick witted and foul mouthed and uses words as a weapon more often than not.  Davis pokes and strikes out at people to keep them at a distance and he does not make it easy to like him.  But I did, from the first opening snark.  Because for all his spines, and they are plentiful, there is something about him as Okati has written him that cries out “Don’t discount me, I am going to surprise you”.  And he does.  He has layers, the top of which are distrustful, sarcastic and defensive.  But keep going and the real Davis appears and he is startling!

The one character that will keep the wavering reader going is Cristián Baranov.  A creature of the country and a true romantic at heart, he really does have the power to see personal matches, all but his own in an ironic turn he is not blind to.  He is compassionate and very much aware of human foibles, saying to the couples he brings together that while he can unite them, the rest is up to them.  And as we all know “humans screw up”, and if things don’t work out, then it is only ourselves we can blame.  Not that this makes his pain any less when the couples he brings together don’t make it.  The author makes us believe so totally in his abilities that by the end of the book, you will wish that Cristián Baranov was real and that you could meet with him soon to find the one  you were meant to be with.

The other element that the reader must take on faith is that the events in the story happen very quickly, this is no drawn out love affair, although there is a troubled long term couple also involved.  It all comes down to faith.  Faith in Christian’s abilities and faith that we have a perfect match for each of us out there.  If you can take those concepts to heart, then this story will beguile you and the ending will make you cheer.  And while I may not believe that there is only one for each of us, I loved these characters and their story.  For me it was a darn near perfect Okati, just what I expect from her.  So give this book a chance because really these characters and their story is worth it.

Cover art by April Martinez.  I think you all know by now how I feel about red or yellow cover colors.  I really dislike them and that is once again my only problem with this cover.  I get why the artist did it but still while the models are perfection, ditto the lit match, couldn’t another background work just as well? Sigh.

Two Worthy Subjects, Gays in Professional Sports and Racially Insensitive Names: Mike Wise, Sports Columnist for The Washington Post

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My book review of Metal Heart is delayed so I leave you with Mike Wise of The Washington Post.  Several of his last two columns are worth reading for more than just sports.  One deals with the racially insensitive name of the local football team known here as the ‘Skins and the other about out gays in professional sports.  The topics are overdue for discussion and both subjects still have a long way to go before general acceptance is wide spread. Both are worth reading.  Here they are, take a look for yourself:

Redskins Name Goes Before the Federal Trade Board….

 

Review: Silver/Steel (Arcada #2) by Belinda McBride

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Rating: 4 stars

Silver:Steel coverDream Hunter Dylan Ryve has one last mission to fulfill, one last hunt to finalize so his geas is honored and he will be free of the one who has entraped him.  The problem is that the one he hunts is inside the town of Arcada and the town won’t let him inside.  Frustrated Dylan waits outside of town in a bar hoping for a way in when a young shifter looking for trouble enters the bar and promptly finds it.  Travis Feris is young, impulsive, and insecure and he hides his pain behind outrageous behavior and stupid acts of hostility.  These actions often find him deep in trouble and this night is no different.  But the men he chose to offend have a far more ruthless, horrific plan for Travis and only the actions of fae named Dylan saves unconscious Travis.

When the town lets Dylan bring Travis home to heal, the assassin has his way clear to find his target and complete his bounty.  But things are never that easy in Arcada.  First of all there is Travis.  Dylan sees the true nature of the shifter and Travis’ innocence and inner beauty calls to him as nothing has in a thousand years.  And worse, Travis seems to return his interest,and  affection.  Plus Arcada is talking to him, making him question his path and his future. The town makes Dylan remember what it feels like to have a home and people around him to care for him.  But always there is Travis, luring him in, making him question everything. During one night as Dylan walks Travis’ dreams to help the shifter find his path, he inadvertently shares much of his own history with Travis too.  And in his vulnerability, Dylan opens himself up to love and the possibility that he will fail in his mission, forfeiting his freedom and possibly his life.

But the evil that owns Dylan is waiting impatiently for Dylan to complete the last mission and when it stalls, he takes things into his own hands, putting Arcada and its inhabitants in peril.  Will Dylan betray Travis and all of Arcada to finish his bounty or will he make the ultimate sacrifice to save those he loves?

This is a very different book from Blacque/Bleu which started the series I have fallen in love with.  And it is that difference that most readers will have a problem with when approaching Silver/Steel.  I too found I had some basic issues with this story and even, now find myself wavering in my feelings over some of its elements and scenes.  But let’s start with some of the basics first.

I love the whole idea of Arcada, the sentient town that gives the series its name.  In Silver/Steel, the town makes an actual physical appearance, in that it gives itself a temporary shape and we learn a little more about it, but never enough to satisfy the questions that the story brings up.  I love  everything about this town.  Its protective nature, the fact that it nurtures a diverse group of citizenry from gremlins to a pack of wolf shifters and everything in between.  Such a great idea and I look forward to how the author develops this concept further.  This is one of the best elements of the series.

Then we come to McBride’s characters.  I fell in love with Lukas Blacque and Oliver Bleu immediately and never lost my connection to them throughout the novel.  That did not happen here.  Travis Feris initially comes across as a sullen, somewhat infantile brat.  He is constantly picking fights, he’s impulsive to the point of obnoxiousness and although everyone tells us how talented he is, we are given almost no examples of his artistry.  He is just not that likable at the start.  Then McBride pairs him up with a main character his equal in spirit and inability to connect with the reader.  Dylan Reyvn is an ancient fae who gave up his freedom to save others but that is not the person we meet,  Instead we are given a single minded killer on  a mission.  The complexities of this character reveal themselves more slowly and with each revelation, I found my liking for Dylan growing as well.  For me  that never really happened with Travis.  Travis remained a five note character.  Loves Mom, loves Pack, loves Arcada, loves Dylan and some bdsm.  Where as for Dylan, he has a past to equal his many layered persona and I appreciated that.   True, the Travis at the end of the book is far more palatable than the first one we meet, but I never felt that the growth he achieved was realistic within the context of the story.  Dylan on the other hand is on the cusp of a major transformation and I wished that we would have seen more than just hints of what the future has in store for him and Arcada.

Finally, there are two more elements that have me divided about the story.  One is a major scene towards the end of the book where our main characters and the evil fae come together in a traumatic scene that for me was just on this side of nauseating.   It was very well done in terms of the emotions it will bring forth from the characters and the readers. However, that said, it was just not my thing and only my need to get to the end took me through it.  For others, it won’t be a problem at all.  But I found it a little too graphic in nature for my comfort zone.  There are elements of bdsm and dominant/submission here between Dylan and Travis that do fit in with their personalities.  I didn’t mind that so much, but others might.  No, my largest quibble I save for the plot at the end.  We have a major battle going on, we see and hear some of the aftereffects.  This section is very well done.  But where is the conclusion to this part of the story?  I don’t want to give anything away by going into details but what  happened to the instigators here?  I went back and forth, electronically flipping pages and found nothing to satisfy my biggest question. That frustration alone almost knocked this story down into a 3 rating.  But maybe it really is there and I just could excavate it out.  If you know otherwise, write me and tell me where it happens.  Perhaps McBride is saving this for the next novel in the series.  If so, then she could have done better than just vanishing an important thread to the woods and leave it dangling there.

So, yes, this book has some remarkable components and  characters that will grow on you if you take the time to get to know them. Lukas Blacque and Oliver Bleu are back as well.  It is not a stand alone book by any means, you need to have read the first in the series to have a basis for this one.  Not a problem as that is a 5 star rating story.  There are some editing issues here, some vanishing plot threads as well but the town of Arcada is mesmerizing and will keep you coming back for more.  So will the promising stories of the various inhabitants you meet here.  I want to know what happens to them too.  Belinda McBrides offers you so many tantalizing glimpses of future Arcada stories that she has me truly hooked.  You will be too.  So pick this one up, just lower your expectations a little as you find yourself in Arcada once more for another terrific paranormal tale.

Cover is the least favorite thing about this book.  From the models to the poor photoshop work, just awful.

Books in the Arcada series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and the plots:

Blacque/Bleu (Arcada #1)

Review: Venetian Masks by Kim Fielding

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Rating: 4.75 stars

Venetian Masks coverJeff Dawkins is 30 years old.  His partner just left him for an older, richer man and now he has to sell his house because he can no longer afford the mortgage.  And on top of it all, he has been left with a prepaid, non refundable month long Grand Tour vacation package they planned to take together and that Jeff never wanted to do in the first place.  So when his  mother, the real estate agent. explained that the least painful way to show and sell his house was if he was away, Jeff grudgingly agreed to go on the vacation as planned and leave everything in her hands.

Jeff has never travelled outside of Sacramento, unless you count one trip to Canada as a kid with his parents.  But prepared as always, he has his Kindle, laptop, travel guide and plans well in hand, hoping to make the best of a bad situation.  Then he arrives in Venice and all his carefully laid out schedule flies out the window when he meets ex pat Cleve Prieto.  Cleve is handsome, tattooed and familiar with the language and city.  So when Cleve offers to be his tour guide, for a price of course, Cleve is both suspicious and intrigued enough to say yes.  But nothing about Cleve is what he says it is, his story about his background is constantly changing and he appears to have no visible means of support. Still even with all the lies and misleadings, something about Cleve just pulls at Jeff’s heart, drawing him in just as the City of Venice does, making him fall in love twice over.

Then Cleve’s dark past arrives in Venice looking for him and Jeff must decide whether to hold onto his precious control and safe life or throw all caution away to pursue a love he never expected to find across a continent where nothing is familiar or safe, starting with the languages. Venetians like to hide behind masks and Jeff must discover what is under Cleve’s before it is too late for both of them.

What an amazing, lush journey Kim Fielding sets the reader on in Venetian Masks.  Everything is here, a sumptuous banquet of travelogue, mystery, self discovery and of course, love.  It doesn’t hurt that Fielding sets her story in the city of love, Venice, Italy, a place it appears she is familiar with and loves with a fervor equal to that of a Venetian themself.  The city is described in vivid, knowledgeable, and affectionate terms, from the well known Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square)  to the less familiar island of “Isola di San Michele” where the main cemetery of Venice is located.  We tour the canals via gondola or by the water bus known as vaporetto, and always we feel as thought we are sitting next to Jeff and Cleve instead of reading a tourist pamphlet on local sightseeing trips.  I have been to Venice and still Kim Fielding made me see it again through Jeff’s eyes as it works its magic once more on those who visit her.  I thought this section of the book perfection.  Because it takes time for Jeff to fall in love with the city, so caught up in his breakup and preparedness that it takes a while before he starts to let go and enjoy himself.   And I loved it as we are there every step of the way.  Every day as Jeff starts out from his timeshare, the desk clerk, Mita, asks him if he has fallen in love with her city yet, and with each new day we listen in as the answer evolves.  This is how it starts

Jeff shakes his head. “Well, she’s pretty cute, but I’m not sure if she’s my type.” Mita laughed. “You will see. My city is special and she will claim your heart.”

And you just know it will.  You will too.

Into this amazing city, Kim Fielding creates two totally human and endearing characters, Jeff Dawkins and Cleve Prieto for her story of love and self discovery.  We meet Jeff at a crossroads in his life, a life that has not been easy by any standards.  He has lost his partner of 6 years, he is losing the house he loves because with his partner’s income gone, he can’t afford the mortgage and this trip is pulling him out of his comfort zone of his hometown of Sacramento, California.  He is also 30, a crossroads age as well.  He likes his life safe and he likes being prepared for any contingency and now Jeff feels like that is gone.  Furthermore he is forced to go on a trip he never wanted because it is prepaid and his mother needs him gone to sell his house.    Here is a man adrift in every aspect of his life while still trying to assert some measure of control.  How can you not love him?  Jeff is human, complex, and recognizable in his flaws.

Then he meets Cleve Prieto, his opposite in life.  Like Jeff, the reader isn’t sure what to make of Cleve at the beginning.  His personality is all shadow and smoke.  But soon flashes of uncertainly and pain show through his smooth, casual demeanor, and we are trapped along with Jeff. We are unable to look away from this charismatic man, who might be a liar and thief who still manages to be the love of your life.   Fielding did an outstanding job when she created the dichotomy that is Cleve Prieto.  We understand immediately why Jeff cannot let him go, no matter what his actions say about him.  Cleve is the one person who can make Jeff leave his carefully built zone of safety to reach for something more, and we get that immediately.

I think the plot here is thrilling and actually realistic and when the angst and adrenaline kicks in, it does so with a punch right to the gut as Jeff races across Europe with only a vague destination to go along with the goal in mind.  Just sensational.  And yet here is where my only quibble also makes an appearance.  As Jeff arrives in Zagreb, he is on a mission and knows  his time is running out, yet Fielding cannot let go of her inner travel agent.  Too much time is spent on describing the gray edifices of Zagreb, bland communist buildings everywhere, local food and cafes, even the facial expressions of the denizens as they go about their everyday business.  Jeff is too consumed to have noticed all that, intent on his goal and for the reader it just interrupts the flow of the story unnecessarily where the descriptions of Venice enhanced it.  Had the descriptive portions of this section of the book been parred down, then this would have the 5 star rating this story deserves.

Kim Fielding is an author I only recently discovered and she went immediately into the “must read” column because her books are so well written and enjoyable.  Venetian Masks is a wonder of a book and I cannot recommend it enough.  The same  goes for its creator.  Make note of both and go get this book.  You’ll be thanking me even while spending more money to grab up everything else she has written.  But start here and prepare to fall in love with Jeff and Cleve and of course, Venice, the City of Love.

Cover Art by Shobana Appavu.  This cover is as gorgeous and sumptuous as the story within.  One of the best covers of the month and probably of the year.

Review: Blacque/Bleu (Arcada #1) by Belinda McBride

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Blacque and Bleu coverRating: 5 stars

Lukas Blacque is a werewolf in a unique position.  A son of the alpha wolf, he prefers life lived on the fringes of the pack, removed from pack politics.  He has a college degree but prefers his car shop, bringing old vehicles back to life as well as performing normal maintenance.  Another surprising element is that he is lonely for a shifter with a pack, but he has a secret.  Lukas Blacque is gay and deeply in the closet and so for that his lifestyle works as long as no one looks too closely.  There is one person who has caught his interest but the  danger factor is too high for him to act on it, and that would be his neighboring vampire in the shop next to his.  But he refuses to act until one night when his father decides to change everything and Lukas’ life is upturned.

Oliver Bleu is a vampire plagued by nightmares from his time on the front in WWI, nightmares which keep him from sleeping and replenishing his strength.  Now he finds himself slowly fading away, even his hunts don’t quench his hunger.  But then there is his neighbor next door to Oliver’s shop.  Oliver knows he is more than attracted to the shifter, Lukas’ blood might be able to bring him back to strength.  The walls between their businesses are thin and he hears the family arguments going on next door when Lukas’ father arrives for a meeting with his son.  When Oliver goes to check on Lukas, their encounter turns into a passionate weekend neither can forget nor wants too as lust turns into love.

But Lukas has made a commitment to his father and his pack, and is determined to honor it even if it breaks his heart and Oliver’s as well.  Lucky for both shifter and vampire, they live in a very special town who  looks after her citizens,  And when evil from Oliver’s past follows him to Arcada, things are set in motion that will have lasting impact on all around, including Lukas and Oliver.

I just loved this book.  It is the first book by Belinda McBride and it puts her on my must have list immediately.  From the start she gives her characters a marvelous world in which to inhabit, the town of Arcada.  The town is sentient and although we don’t know how that happened, her affection for the diverse citizenry reveals itself in a myriad of ways.  Perhaps she makes it impossible for them to leave or her protection manifests itself in prodding others to act in ways that benefits others.  No matter, Arcada is a benign and loving presence and this leaves us just dying to know more about the town and its diverse community of  humans, vampires, shifters, fae and so many others that we are given brief glimpses of.

But the heart of the story is McBride’s characters, Lukas Blacque and Oliver Bleu, a terrific play on words that fits in beautifully in their interactions with each other.  Lukas Blacque is a complex giant of a man, gentle of spirit, lonely and sad because as much as he wants to be a part of his pack due to his wolf nature, the fact that he is gay keeps him separated and aloof.  He is such a lovely creation that we connect to him immediately and we can empathize with him at this point  in his life.  Then we meet Oliver Bleu, in many ways the anthesis of the vampires we have meet in other novels.  Far from the powerful, immortal beings we have come to expect, Oliver Bleu is a victim, struggling to survive.  In a horrific element of the story, we learn that Oliver died from mustard gas in the trenches at the front.  If you were not familiar with the horrors of WWI before, by the time you learn how Oliver was affected, the true evil that man can create in the name of war will be brought home in gritty, pus filled painful authenticity.  Sometimes the horror of the paranormal universe has nothing on the real one we already live in.

Circling around these main characters are others of equal strength and complexity.  From Dane Blacque, the Alpha wolf to Lukas’ sister and Oliver’s great grand daughter (yes, you read that right), McBridge gives us one compelling persona after another to capture our interest and move her narrative forward.  Even her villains have a startling depth to them that enables you to feel some compassion for them even as you hate their actions, past, present and fear what they are going to do in the future.

This is the first in the Arcada series and really after one memorable walk through town with Lukas and Oliver, you can see she has the basis for many books to come in the fascinating town dwellers and their identities as revealed in bits and pieces.  My only quibble is that I felt it ended too soon.  That’s what happens when all the right elements come together in a story that will stay with you after you are finished reading it.  Blacque/Blue is just that story.  Now I am on to the next with great anticipation.  I will let you know what I find.  But pick this one up and start reading.  You are going to love it!

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

Blacque/Bleu (Arcada #1)

Silver/Steel (Arcada #2)

Cover art is just gorgeous and perfect for the story within.

Snowquestration, A Time Change and the Week Ahead in Book Reviews

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For those of you outside of the  DC Metropolitan Area, you may not have known but on Wednesday last week this area was expecting a snow storm of “historic” proportions.  Forecasters got out their shovels and measuring sticks as the TV channels were full of giddy meteorologists pantomiming digging out driveways and anchors were busy imploring people to be prepared and stay home. Hour by hour the weather alerts increased the amount of snowfall we would see, Pepco our dysfunctional power company sent out text messages and robo called homes letting everyone know that they were on top of things, getting in crews from as far away as Alabama to keep the power on and lines clear of snow (for once).  Schools in countries around the area from MD, DC and VA quickly cancelled classes the day before and the Federal Government closed all offices with all local governments following suit just as quickly.  Grocery stores ran out of milk and other essentials, so did the liquor and wine stores. Streets emptied, stores shut down and our normally hyped up busy region turned into a ghost town.  And we waited for the storm to start.

And we waited for the storm to start some more.  Curtains were pulled back, and necks craned up as all eyes searched the sky for the first flakes to fall.  And soon they did.

Big, fat, ginormous flakes fell.

And then they stopped falling.  And it started to rain.  And rain.  And more rain.

Why did it rain?  Because it had been f*&king warm all week long.  A kindergartener could have told you that when it is that warm, it is not going to snow.  And it didn’t, at least not here.  It snowed in Pennsylvania, and in the mountains of VA, and the Midwest, and New England and  out west, everywhere but here.  Where it rained.  OK we needed the rain, so that was great.  But really, our entire region shut down because of rain.  Is is any wonder that people outside the Beltway  (the huge highway that encircles DC) think our area has lost our collective mind?  That common sense and sound judgement are but vague concepts that make only fleeting appearances in the thoughts of those who inhabit Congress, run the World Bank, plot the course of the country on levels both small and  large?

What name did we call this “historic” snowstorm?  Why Snowquestration of course.  That alone made perfect sense.  A name that conjures up thoughts of dysfunction, of something that doesn’t work on the most basic level, something thought up in Congress that unfortunately affects everyone but Congress.  Really, is that not  perfection in labeling?  I think so.  It was the only thing that rang true for this storm and our area.  Pundits will be using this for years in their columns.  Ah, Washington, DC you have done it again.  So proud to be from this area. But on the other hand it really is good for a laugh and we all need those.   We closed the Federal government and schools because of rain. Have you stopped laughing yet?

The time changed.  We sprang forward an hour.  I hate this.  Leave the time alone.  Enuf’ said.

So spring is back (not that it ever really left), our DC Metro Book group is meeting today and I must be off.  So without further ado, here is the week in reviews:

Monday, March 11:                 Blacque/Bleu by Belinda McBride

Tuesday, March 12:                 Venetian Masks by Kim Fielding

Wed., March 13:                       Silver/Steel by Belinda McBride

Thursday, March 14:              Metal Heart by Meredith Shayne

Friday, March 15:                    Open Cover Before Striking by Willa Okati

Sat., March 16:                         Unconventional Union by Scotty Cade