January 2014 Summary of Books Reviewed

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Winter trees longs

The new years has started with an explosion of wonderful books and new authors for me.  SE Jakes and two of her marvelous series dropped into my hands and heart so I will be passing those recommendations on to you.  SA McAuley released a new contemporary fiction novel, Treadmarks and Trademarks, the start of a new series.  Ditto Susan Laine with her Sparks & Drops.  LA Witt inspired with her gender shifter novel Static, a must read for all.  Shira Anthony’s Symphony In Blue brought her Blue Notes characters together for a series holiday story, perfect reading for all lovers of romance and music.  Horror, fantasy and comedy are all represented here as well as a great non fiction tale by Joel Derfner, Lawfully Wedded Husband:How My Gay Marriage Will Save The American Family, a must read.

So many great books, see what stories you have missed, and make a list.  And don’t forget to check out the best book covers of the month at the end.
*Key:Winter_2
S series
C contemporary
F-fantasy
SF-science fiction
PN-paranormal
SP-supernatural
H-historical
HR-horror
N-Nonfiction
YA-young adult

Rating Scale: 1 to 5, 5 stars is outstanding
5 Star Rating:

Catch A Ghost by SE Jakes C, S
Long Time Gone by SE Jakes C, S
Static by LA Witt, SF
Symphony In Blue by Shira Anthony, C, S
The Engineered Throne by Megan Derr, F
The Fall by Kate Sherwood C. S

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:

A Small Miracle Happened by Mari Donne, (4.5 stars) C, holiday
Dirty Deeds by SE Jakes (4.75 stars) C, S
Home for the Hollandaise by BA Tortuga,Julia Talbot *4.5 stars) C
Horsing Around by Torquere Authors, (4.5 stars) A, C
In Discretion by Reesa Herberth (4.5 stars), SF
Lawfully Wedded Husband by Joel Derfner (4.75 stars) N
Refined Instincts by SJ Frost, (4 stars) SP, S
Serenading Stanley by John Inman (4.5 stars), C
Sparks & Drops by Susan Laine (4.5 stars), P, S
Texas Christmas by R.J. Scott (4.75 stars), C, S
The Dreamer by M. King (4 stars), HR
The Lightning Moon by Sylvia A. Winters (4.75 stars) SP
Tread Marks & Trademarks by S.A. McAuley (4.5 stars) C, S

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:

Ashland by Lynn Lorenz (3.5 stars) SP, S
The Actor and the Thief by Edward Kendrick (3.75 stars) C, S
Tor by Lynn Lorenz (3.5 stars), SP, S

2 to 2.75 Star Rating:

Dime Novel by Dale Chase (2.75 stars) H

1 to 1.75 Star Rating:  None

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Best Book Covers of January 2014

This month includes just an overall gold star to LC Chase whose great covers include the Hell or High Water series and Dirty Deeds.

InDiscretion_500x750Mindscape_500x750Sparks & Drops cover

Tread Marks and Trademarks cover

Static coverCatch a Ghost cover

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In Discretion by Reesa Herberth, Artist Simone’
Mindscape by Tal Valante, Artist LC Chase, who is having an incredible year
Sparks & Drops by Susan Laine, Artist Brooke Albrecht
Static by LA Witt, Artist LC Chase.  A Stunner with it’s Shifting Gender Person
Tread Marks & Trademarks by S.A. McAuley, Wilde City Press, no artist credited

Reviews: Refined Instincts (Instincts #5) by S.J. Frost

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Refined Instincts coverBroken and starving, vampire outcast Troy Raines has returned to Chicago where everything went all so wrong to die the final death. The death of his best friend and former lover Isaac,and their misguided revolution against the Tribunal and the Ancients cost him everything. Now all Troy wants to do is finish the job vampire Daniel Valente started when he threw Troy off a building.

Renart Bellerose has been busy since the ending of the rebellion repairing the damage caused by his young, misguided vampires.  Renart has tried to make amends by being the Master he should have been to those he Turned and now he is seeing the results in those around him.  But they also serve to remind him of what and who Renart has lost, specifically Troy Raines.  From the  moment Renart looked upon Troy, he wanted him.  And after Turning Troy, Renart gave him everything he thought Troy wanted, power, money, but those weren’t the things Troy craved. Troy wanted Renart’s love and attention and when he didn’t get those, his anger exploded into a rebellion that cost many their lives and has the Tribunal hunting him down for treason.

When Renart finds Troy in Chicago, their reunion erupts into a moment of passion and anger, reinforcing the feelings they had always had for each other.  But danger is all around them as the Tribunal closes in on Troy and Renart finds himself a target of the Ancients wrath.  Will it be too late for Renart and Troy to find the happiness they always wanted or will the laws of the Ancients cost both of them their lives?

Refined Instincts brings back two of the most confounding characters of this series, ones that the readers will have mixed emotions about, and unites them in a relationship full of regret, guilt, and passion.  Throughout the Instincts series, Lord Renart Bellerose has been a sort of prickly, charming and untrustworthy thorn in the side of Lord Titus Antonius  and his lover, now  Eternal Partner, Andreas Nikandros (Natural Instincts – Instincts, #1) .  Even more, his attitude those young men he Turned  and the shear number of Turned  earned him the scorn of other Ancients as well, such as Lord Ryunosuke Kimura and his Eternal Partner, Sir Daniel Valente (Enduring Instincts – Instincts #2).  Renart has always hovered around the edges of the action in the preceding stories, a lively persona that picked at our curiosity each time he appeared on the pages.

Troy Raines also has had a reoccurring role in the series and not a admirable one.  As the leader of the rebellion, Troy oversaw the capture and torture of  series favorite Daniel Valente as well as the kidnapping of Andreas, lover of Lord Titus.  I am sure that there are many readers who still retain some dislike for this character based upon his actions in previous books.  All it took was for Daniel to throw Troy off the roof to start his transformation from villain to misguided, tragic reformer.   S. J. Frost started Troy on his path to redemption in Enduring Instincts when it becomes evident that the rebellion and the power is Isaac’s, not Troy’s.  Then when Troy is injured and unable to care for himself, he becomes an object of pity.  Bit by bit, Frost takes this character apart until the reader is left with nothing but compassion for the person he has become.

I found both characters intriguing and loved the manner in which Frost brings them back together.  It completes the rebellion aspect of this series and does so by fleshing out two secondary characters in a charming and wholly satisfying way.  It is definitely a favorite of mine of the series.  I thought that instead of glossing over past issues, Renart’s part as the igniting factor of the rebellion due to his poor treatment of his Turned and Troy’s blindness over Isaac are given equal treatment to help flesh out the characters and past events.  Renart’s past history does give the character a much needed foundation for his actions and behavior towards others around him.

I did feel that the arrival of  all the other couples from the series, other than Titus and Andreas, was a element that needed a little different treatment.  It was if they arrived just so the author could please all the readers who had favorites, not really because the plot absolutely required it.  And of course the trial was over very quickly after so much was made of the Tribunal hunting them down.  I would have loved to have seen this aspect of the story given more dimension and depth.

Refined Instincts is a wonderful addition to a series many have come to love.  I am not sure how many more the author has planned for Instincts, but given the vitality of this story, the series is healthy indeed.  I recommend this story to all fans of the series, those readers who love vampire stories as well as fans of S.J. Frost.  But if you are new to the series, this is not a stand alone story.  It must be read as part of the series so go back to Natural Instincts to see how it all begins.

This is how it all starts:

The silence in the dark alley broke with the shuffle and drag of uneven footsteps. Troy slowly made his way, his keen eyesight picking out trashcans, litter, dips and holes in the pavement. He may bear an eternally broken body, but his other vampiric senses were still sharp, so much stronger than when he’d been human…those three short years ago.

Troy shook his head, wishing the motion would scatter his memories. But like his shadow behind him, they were dark ghosts that forever clung to him, never parting from him. Even when he couldn’t see them, just as a shadow waits for light to show itself, so his memories waited for a moment of weakness to bring him down.

He should’ve known returning to Chicago would strengthen them…and weaken him, but he needed to come back. This was where it all began. This was where he wanted it to end.

And he did want it to end. All of it. The memories, the regrets, the guilt, the pain—physical and emotional. He no longer wanted eternity. He wanted peace.

Books in the Instincts series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and the events that transpire:

Natural Instincts (Instincts, #1)
Enduring Instincts (Instincts, #2)
Loving Instincts (Instincts, #3)
Adapting Instincts (Instincts, #4)
Refined Instincts (Instincts,#5)

Book Details:

Published October 31st 2013 by MLR Press
ISBN 1020130160
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.mlrbooks.com/ShowBook.php?book=SJF_REFI
seriesInstincts #5

Review: Long Time Gone (Hell or High Water #2) by S.E. Jakes

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

When a tornado meets a volcano, nothing is safe.

Long Time Gone coverAfter their last “off the grid” mission was finished, Tom Boudreaux was given a choice of partners,  Cope or Prophet.  Tom chose Cope thinking that he would keep Prophet safe by removing him from Tom’s bad luck.  But now three months later Tom’s decision has brought him nothing but regret.  Regret and a constant anxiety over Prophet’s whereabouts and  safety as Prophet has left EE Ltd and no one is sure of his whereabouts.

When Tom Boudreaux walked away from him and their partnership, Prophet realized two things.  One that he no longer wanted to work alone, and secondly he had just let the man he wanted walk out of his life.  After Tom left, he wrote Prophet emails, including one that asked him for a personal favor, never sure if the man would get them.  He did.  And now Prophet is heading to New Orleans to see Della, Tom’s aunt,  to make sure she stays safe as a hurricane approaches.

Fearing for his aunt’s safety as a hurricane bears down on New Orleans, Tom disobeys his employer’s orders and leaves for his old home town and an explosive reunion with Prophet, a man he hasn’t been able to forget.  The horror that is Tom’s past rises up around them along with the flooding bayou waters bringing alligators, murder, and old enemies to the surface. Tom and Prophet must fight not only to stay together but for their lives as well.

SE Jakes has done it again! Long Time Gone, the 2nd book in the Hell or High Water series, is one sexy, tumultuous, and action-packed roller-coaster of a novel.  A Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Spy Hunt for adults and it couldn’t be more satisfying.  With  Tom Boudreaux and Prophet Drews, Jakes has added to her pantheon of complicated, conflicted Alphas intensely connected by their pasts as well as professions as spies and covert ops.  These are tough, wary, secretive warriors.  So it makes sense to make these men (and us) work hard to establish any sort of realistic relationship, if one is possible.

As Catch A Ghost ended, we saw Tom accept a new partner, walking away from Prophet and their intense relationship.Three months have passed since that event and things can’t be more different for both men.  Tom is bored out of his skull, buried in a job he doesn’t want with a partner who is making him crazy.  He is missing Prophet so deeply that he is writing the man emails he isn’t sure Prophet will ever receive.  Why?  Because the man has disappeared and even those closest to him are unable to find him.  Prophet left EE, Ltd, their agency after a fight with their boss.  And now he wanders the globe on his own dangerous missions that by their varying nature send pointed messages to the security agencies around the world.  These men are coming to a crossroads and it will take a hurricane to set them back on the path together.

The world is familiar with the impact a hurricane can have on the City of New Orleans and it’s surrounding parishes.  So it definitely works to bring the reader immediately into the setting for this novel by bringing this natural disaster back to life in the same place where Katrina left so much devastation and death.  It lays an emotional, knowledgeable base for the actions that follow and the choice of New Orleans, with its fantastic mix of voodoo and beignets, of alligators and corruption, is the perfect stage for a story where “the seventh son of a seventh son”, and a man named Prophet will reunite to deal with Tom’s demons, ones that have haunted him from birth, just as a new hurricane bears down on a town familiar with disasters of every kind, natural and man made.

With the hurricane coming, and New Orleans as the setting, Jakes has all the elements she needs to create a story wide ranging in emotions, explosive in actions and incendiary in the sexual heat generated by  Tom and Prophet, really this story has it all.  Tom and Prophet were enigmas in Catch a Ghost.  Here we start to flesh out their backstories, Tom’s especially.  The angry, out of control agent seen fighting in the first novel is laid bare, his character explained through the bayou, his family and the past events that continue to stain relationship and friendships today.  The bayou and the Cajun culture flourishes here in the touches  and in the metaphors Jakes creates for her two battled scarred men fight nature and others to be together, including their own  doubts and best intentions.  As the lightning flashes and the storm rages outside the house where Tom’s aunt lives, it parallels the passion and emotional chaos occurring within Tom and Prophet as they meet up again under dire circumstances.  It’s scary hot, swirling with anger and longing yet still oddly humorous at the same time.  The water rises along with Tom’s past, bringing up bodies, old enemies seeking revenge and retribution  in a maelstrom of hate, anguish and pain.

It’s also not just Tom’s past that is dealt with, Prophet brings his own share of torment as well.  The thunder and lightning flashes mimic the sounds of guns and warfare throwing Prophet into paralyzing states of PTSD and flashbacks.  One man’s horror combines with another’s man terrifying upbringing but salvation or success is never a given.  Not with these two, the most they can ask for is time and hope.

I suppose this is the best time to bring up alligator kink.  I now have one thanks to SE Jakes and her boys.  I never saw that coming. I admit that when someone mentions alligator ‘rastling’ in the past, it conjured up images of good old boy poachers ,bootleg tanners and hokey sideshow venues in the south or any show on TLC.  No more.  Now I think of Tom and Prophet and New Orleans. It’s a wild scene as they roll passionately about Aunt Della’s kitchen floor, as well as a cabin in the swamp.  It’s sexy and funny and yes, satisfying as the boys reunite after 3 months of separation. All those wet, naked rolling bodies is further later detailed as Tom puts on a show as he wrestles and rolls an alligator into submission.  It opens a new sexual kink for Prophet, one that plays out in a white hot moment to come.

So much lovely, lusty sex here, which works on many different levels.  Sex is the number one choice of communication between Tom and Prophet.  They use it to defer those “we have to talk” situations while saying so much to each other by their touches,caresses, and telling strokes.  Because these boys have forgotten how to talk, how to open themselves up to another person, if they ever knew how to begin with. So when Jakes’ plot forces them to share parts of their past with each other, its realistically painful and monosyllabic.  It also makes us (and the person on the receiving end of said pertinent data) so appreciative of the information that we do get while making us a little frustrated at how much more there is to know and understand about the complicated men before us.

To continue the metaphor, Jakes’ narrative is a pitching deck on hurricane waters.  If the story feels a little choppy in places, its because that format works to keep every one off balance, as the waves throw one thing after another at our couple.  Sometimes it looks like they are going to drown in their past other times they crest towards the surface and safety.  I love that we are never sure what the next page and scene will bring us.  The suspense is wonderful and agonizing for us as well as Tom and Prophet.

Tom Boudreaux and Prophet Drews are the real deal, that addictive couple that snares us at the beginning of a potential relationship and never lets us go.  Each stumble forward, every tentative gain made towards a lasting relationship is met with a realistic picture of just how fragile and momentary those new stages in their relationship are.  Just one phone call, one appearance by the wrong person and all could be lost.  Such an overview paints a veneer of uncertainty and suspense over all the events and actions that occur within the story.  Tom and Prophet are together again but for long how?  Where is the next enemy coming from?  Their present or their past?  Jakes keeps us teetering on the edge of our emotions along with Tom and Prophet as they navigate the rough waters ahead.  I can’t wait to see how they will handle what this fine author has to throw at them (and us).  It is guaranteed to be chilling, unexpected and downright sexy.  I was always one for the E Ticket rides and this is that in spades.  I just hope we all survive the journey.

Long Time Gone and the Hell or High Water series are highly recommended to all.

LC Chase has again supplied us with an outstanding cover, perfect for the man and  his story inside.

Books in the Hell or High Water series in the order they should be read:

Catch a Ghost (Hell or High Water, #1) 
Long Time Gone (Hell or High Water, #2)

Associated Series: Men of Honor and Dirty Deeds:

Dirty Deeds (DirtyDeeds #1)

Book Details:

ebook, 270 pages
Published October 28th 2013 by Riptide Publishing (first published October 27th 2013)
ISBN139781626490604
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/long-time-gone
seriesHell or High Water #2

Review: The Fall (The Fall #1) by Kate Sherwood

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

The Fall coverAfter his boyfriend dumps him for a younger man, Scott Mackenzie must figure out the mess his life has become.  A part-time model, Mackenzie had allowed  his ex to completely take over his life.  Mackenzie lived in Nathan’s house and off Nathan’s income as Nathan’s disapproval of his profession saw Mackenzie’s modeling assignments dropping away until he was barely accepting job offers.  Now the reality of his dependency is hitting Mackenzie hard as he tries to determine what to do next.  He had purchased an old church to use for gay weddings on a whim and now that looks like his only avenue both as a home and new job.  But Mackenzie is a gay fish out of water in a small town in rural Ontario.  Both he and the church need a lot of fixing up and he doesn’t know where to start.

Joe Sutton is a rancher and on occasion when his twin needs help with his business, he is also a part time contractor.  When his parents died, Joe and his twin brother did whatever was necessary to keep their family together on the land that had been a Sutton ranch for generations.  In fact, Joe’s life now consisted of running the ranch and managing his large and sometimes unruly family, leaving little time for a relationship, something already made difficult by the fact that Joe is gay in a small town.

When Mackenzie contracts the Sutton twins for help restoring the church, the initial meeting between the only two out gay men around doesn’t go well.  Joe isn’t looking for a relationship and Mackenzie is put off by the monosyllabic impression Joe makes.  But a small connection is made, one that grows larger by the day.  When Mackenzie’s past arrives to threaten their burgeoning relationship, Joe and Mackenzie must decide just how much they will sacrifice to stay together.

Have you ever read a story where you immediately fell in love with the characters and plot even if you can’t exactly pinpoint why? The Fall by Kate Sherwood is that story for me.  I love these men and I loved their story.  Everything about Mackenzie and Joe spoke to me.  I felt connected to them by their idiosyncrasies and their personalities.  I loved Joe’s family and Mackenzie’s dog, Griffin.  I loved the town of Falls Creek, the church Mackenzie bought to refurbish and even the town’s Chamber of Commerce.  How’s that for a lot of love?  But that also makes for a very short review so I had to take a closer look to see if I could figure out my case of instant love for The Fall.

It turns out that I did not have to dig very deep for reasons to love this book.    Starting with Kate Sherwood’s characters,  everyone that Sherwood created for this story (with the exception of Nick) just captivated me.  I found Mackenzie immediately endearing from the moment he murmurs to himself “no one puts Baby in the corner”, referring to himself.  One reference and I was his.  Mackenzie is someone who has a ton of growing up to do.  He gradually let his ex take over his life until he was basically a kept man and Nathan his sugar daddy.  At the moment we meet him, he is needy, spoiled by city life and a rich life style. This man is totally unmoored in every aspect of his life.  This is our first introduction to Mackenzie:

“IT’S NOT like I was expecting an adorable little café. I knew that even Starbucks might be pushing it.” Mackenzie tried to loosen his grip on his cell phone before saying, “But Kristen, there’s not even a Tim Hortons! There’s a donut shop. It’s called The Donut Shop. It sells donuts. No pastries, no soup, no sandwiches. Just donuts. And coffee.” In the interest of full disclosure, he added, “And bagels. I don’t know what’s with the bagels. But there isn’t even a drive-through!”

Mackenzie has just arrived in town and already he is panicking. And he hasn’t even set foot in the church he owns to see how much work is needed just to make it safe.  But even as adrift emotionally as Mackenzie is, we know he is worth sticking around to see what happens next.  Gradually Mackenzie starts to grow up, accepting responsibility for his life and  deciding to take charge of his future.  Sherwood throws this character down an uneven path, making him stumble and fall.  But as we watch Mackenzie pick himself up, often with verve and self depreciation, our connection to this character deepens with each new page.

The character of Joe Sutton starts off as the antithesis of Scott MacKenzie.  Whereas Mackenzie has not had enough responsibility in his life, Joe has almost had too much, eschewing a social life for family and his ranch.  Joe has become so reserved in demeanor that Mackenzie’s ebullience and vivacity puts him off, leading him to make assumptions about Mackenzie from his mannerisms and conversation. The thing is Joe is only partly wrong.  There are many layers to Joe Sutton, and they are pealed back one by one as Joe and Mackenzie begin a casual sexual relationship that turns into an emotional commitment.  Gradually we see the humor, the love of family and the land.  Kate Sherwood’s portrait of Joe Sutton will win you over just as completely as Mackenzie’s.

All the characters are well done here, whether you like them or not.  They are grounded in their human frailties , their complexities feel both real and recognizable.  Of special note is Joe’s nephew with whom he has a father/son relationship.  Five year old Austin is a special needs child, although the reason for that is never mentioned.  Austin’s behavior (autism it seems to me) is well researched and authentic.  And Joe’s relationship with Austin and the manner in which he interacts with his nephew brought more depth and warmth to a story I was already in love with.  Add in the rest of the Sutton siblings and the dogs Griffin and Red, each characters in their own right, and you have a story brimming with people and pets not easily forgotten.

Sherwood’s dialog is especially noteworthy.  It almost sparkles as it exits Mackenzie’s mouth, frothy, excitable, and very vulnerable.  Joe’s dialog too is perfect for his character.  It’s slow, thoughtful, and grounded.  It all works.  The plot comes to a happy resolution but leaves enough story threads hanging to carryover into another book.  The Fall is the first in a series and I can’t wait to read the next installment.  These characters and their town has me hooked.  Consider The Fall highly recommended.

Cover art by Leah Kaye Suttle.  I liked the cover but wish it had included more elements specific to the story such as the church. As it is it feels almost too generic.

Book Details:

ebook, 214 pages
Published December 16th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press (first published December 15th 2013)
original title The Fall
ISBN 1627983902 (ISBN13: 9781627983907)
edition language English
series The Fall #1

Review: The Dreamer by M. King

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

TheDreamer_100dpi_cvr-210x330Horacio Valdez has been haunted by his dreams his entire life.  Brought up in a small town in California, his shy nature and determination not to disappoint his parents led him into a life of isolation and loneliness.  Every step he made out of his box of isolation was met by small social catastrophes, ones gotten over by other children but not by him.  By the age of 21, Horacio found himself consumed by his studies.  They were predictable and reassuring.  There was no magic, no upsetting surprises but neither contentment or joy was to be found.  Soon Horacio’s life was one of mundane routine and a few nice friends.  His days were full and his nights were dreamless.

Horacio’s childhood and adolescence were full of dreams, the only place growing up he felt alive and happy. Horacio left them behind as he got older until an accident suddenly brings them back.  Soon his dreams and the man inside them feel more real than life.  But is there something more to his dreams then Horacio realizes?

What a nifty little horror story M. King has created in The Dreamer.  In this short story King manages to capture all the loneliness and fragility of childhood along with the disappointments of adulthood in the personable young man, Horacio Valdez.  Unlike other stories, I appreciated the fact that King had Horacio surrounded by loving parents and sister.  The hollow spaces inside Horacio were created by his own nature.  Upset by the reality of the world outside his bedroom, child Horacio retreats to his bedroom, into his books and his dreams at night.  How many children find comfort in books and their bedrooms?  Quite a few I imagine, so King’s storyline has a realistic feel.

Inside Horacio’s dreams, he was happy, especially when his dream companion appeared to fulfill every emotional need and request child Horacio could make.  It’s only as those dreams turn erotic that the first inkling of something supernatural appears. As Horacio reaches the beginnings of his sexuality and realizes he prefers men, his companion starts to take a very masculine form.  Is it an answer to Horacio’s  burgeoning sexuality or it is something more? The answer to that all important question won’t come until close to the end of the story.

King’s narrative carries the reader slowly into Horacio’s thoughts and daily life.  Like Horacio we are not sure about what is happening to him once the dreams return.  That slow measure of awareness that starts to creep into Horacio’s consciousness is a delight, leaving the reader with just a touch of goose bumps along with a full measure of questions.

There is a certain amount of sexuality here, none of it explicit.  Nor is this a romance or a love story.  Those looking for either, should look elsewhere for a story.  But for lovers of the supernatural or short story fiction, The Dreamer just might be the story you are looking for.  Pick it up, for a truly delightful short journey into the supernatural and dreams.

Cover:  Artist not credited.  I found this cover to be misleading.  Nothing about it speaks to the story within,  It makes you think of love and romance.  Definitely not this story.

Book Details:

Release date: 20 November 2013
ISBN: 978-1-925031-66-9
Category: Gay Mainstream/Horror
Sub-Genre: Erotic, Fantasy/Paranormal, Short Story/Novella
Length: 11,000 words, approx. 24 pages
Formats available: e-book only

Brrrrr…..its cold Outside and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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DSCN4168Our region has seen single digit temperatures, ice, snow and flash freezing.  OK, it is January, a winter month, but still this is far too cold for this area and I think we are in shock.  I have kept the bird feeders full, as they are emptying them almost within an hour of being filled.  Same goes for the suet cakes hanging in the trees.

My yard is full of evidence of nightly visitors, deer tracks, fox tracks, raccoon and opossum. That is the opossum track to the left, notice the tail drag in the middle.  Their ears and tails are naked, getting frostbitten on nights like these. They crisscross and circle in search of food and shelter from the bruising cold winds and frigid Arctic air.   I always loved tracking in the woods after it has snowed.  So many stories are written on the glistening surface just waiting for someone to read them.

It snowed considerably the first year I worked as a Park Naturalist in Rock Creek.  And my first journey into the woods was amazing.  I remember walking  deep into the hickory oak forest and finding a small pile of Red Shouldered Hawk feathers on the ground, the snow spotted with blood.  As I looked around I noticed another grouping of feathers about 12 feet away, and then another.  And here and there the wing prints of a large bird, one who had landed with its prey, plucked for a while before taking off again with its heavy load.  Further and further I tracked until I finally found my culprit.  A great horned owl’s nest, high in a dead white oak tree, the base of which was strewn with owl pellets and fresh feathers.  I stood in awe of such a majestic and efficient predator.  A silent killer whose wings were capable of carrying a meal almost its own size, a shark of the skies where everything was considered fair game, including other owls.  I stood there for a while until throughly chilled, picked up a feather and owl pellet and headed back to the nature center, memorizing my path as I went.  I knew I would return there to check for owlets in another month or so and to see what other prey the Great Horned Owl had found.  This adventure cemented  my love for raptors and owls in particular.

This week a Snowy Owl appeared in downtown Washington, DC.  It appeared unconcerned that it stopped all traffic, vehicle and foot, as people gazed on in amazement.  How marvelous….

Snowy Owl in DC

snowy owl in dc

snowy owl in dc 2http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/wp/2014/01/24/snowy-owl-joins-capital-weather-gang-at-the-washington-post/

The cold is lingering into this coming week, a perfect time for reading a book or two or three.   Here are the books I reviewed this week.

Monday, Jan. 27:                  The Dreamer by M. King

Tuesday, Jan. 28:                  The Fall by Kate Sherwood

Wed., Jan. 29:                        Long Time Gone (Hell or High Water #2) by SE Jakes

Thurs., Jan. 30:                     Refined Instincts by SJ Frost

Friday, Jan. 31:                      January 2014 Best Covers and Book Review Summary

Sat., Feb. 1:                             Bloody Love Spats by Valentina Heart

Get Personal with SE Jakes On The Dirty Deeds Book Tour and Contest

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DirtyDeeds_TourBanner-1

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have SE Jakes here today to talk about her outstanding new release Dirty Deeds, the first in the new Dirty Deeds series.

Hey everyone!!! Thanks to Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words for having me back here for my Dirty Deeds blog tour 🙂 Dirty Deeds is the first in this spin-off series of Hell or High Water. Dirty Deeds focuses on Cillian and Mal, two characters who’ve been in both Hell or High Water books 1 & 2 (Catch a Ghost and Long Time Gone.) Dirty Deeds # 1 captures a very specific moment in time for the Cillian (the spook) and Mal (the former SEAL in exile).DirtyDeeds_150x300
STRW: 1.  What was the first story you wrote?

SEJ:  I actually wrote the proposals for Bound by Honor and Bound for Keeps at the same time, and I wasn’t sure which one should go first. I picked Bound by Honor, because I knew Law would have a story, and then I realized that Bound for Keeps needed to wait a bit. I realize now I needed to wait for Prophet to introduce himself (since he shows up in Bound for Keeps)…

STRW 2.  What was the subject matter?

SEJ:   Bound by Honor is the first in my Men of Honor series. It’s the story of Tanner, an Army Ranger (who is training for Delta Force). His dying teammate made Tanner promise to go visit his Dom a year after his death. Damon, Jesse’s Dom, doesn’t want anything to do with that, but he decides to honor Jessie’s wish.

STRW 3. I love stories where the mc are undercover.  What made you decide to pair a Navy Seal with a British Black Ops?

SEJ  :They honestly paired themselves. It surprised the hell out of me. They showed up separately in the Hell or High Water series and halfway through writing Long Time Gone, out of nowhere I realized they were going to be together.

STRW 4. Which of the two characters was hardest to write?

SEJ: Probably Cillian, at least at first, because he didn’t really reveal himself to me right away. Definitely a mysterious spook. I found out things I didn’t know about him writing Dirty Deeds, and I think readers will be pretty surprised too. He’s definitely been a polarizing force in the books.

STRW 5. How many books do you have planned for the Hell or High Water series?

SEJ: There are four books for Hell or High Water, plus one short (all Prophet & Tommy as main characters). Dirty Deeds # 1 runs along the same timeline for the Hell or High Water series (all with Mal and Cillian as main characters), but for Dirty Deeds 2 & 3, they really have their own plot apart from the Hell or High Water plot.

Thanks, SE, for stopping by.  Dirty Deeds is part of the Extreme Escapes universe.  All the connected stories from Hell or High Water can be found here.  Dirty Deeds is one of ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords Highly Recommended Books/Must Reads of 2014.

DirtyDeeds_400x600Dirty Deeds: Dirty Deeds book 1:
Two seasoned operatives finally meet their match: each other.
Cillian works for the mysterious Special Branch 20: an organization that runs black ops commissioned by the British government. His specialty is deep undercover assignments with virtually no support. He’s been alone for so long that he no longer knows anything else.

Mal’s also used to being alone. Wanted in several states and even more countries, he’s not allowed in the vicinity of any of his former Navy SEAL teammates. And his current assignment is to track Cillian in order to discover the spook’s endgame. Except he’s no longer sure which one of them is getting played.

Cillian isn’t about to let the mission that’s consumed him for the past several years crumble because an outsider is poking around where he doesn’t belong. But Mal forces his way through Cillian’s defenses—and into his heart—exposing a devastating betrayal that could destroy them both.
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This title is part of the Extreme Escapes, Ltd. universe.

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Contest Rules and Other Stuff You Need To Know:

To enter the contest, visit http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/a31df32/

Prizes:

  •  1st prize: $50.00 Amazon Gift Card
  • 2nd Prize: $25.00 Amazon Gift Card
  • 3rd prize: $10.00 Amazon Gift Card

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SE Jakes writes m/m romance. She believes in happy endings and fighting for what you want in both fiction and real life.
She lives in New York with her family, and most days, she can be found happily writing (in bed). No really…

Connect with SE:
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Goodreads author group: Ask SE Jakes

Review: Dirty Deeds (Dirty Deeds #1) by S.E. Jakes

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5 (should be 4.99 as it is so close to perfection)

DirtyDeeds_400x600British black op Cillian is deep undercover, his assignment so complicated, so twisted that not even Cillian is sure what the real purpose of his mission is.  Working for Special Branch 20 has meant doing whatever it takes to move his investigation forward.  It has also meant being totally out on his own without any support from his employers, alone for years.  Cillian has made a tenuous connection with the agent in the floor above him, Prophet Drews of EE, Ltd, for investigative purposes and a little pleasure too.  But now there is someone else on Cillian’s radar.  Someone who likes his sex rough and silent.  Cillian knows he should leave it at that.  But this new man is driving him wild and Cillian can’t seem to keep from pursuing him even though it might compromise his mission.

Former Navy Seal Mal is an operative for EE, Ltd.  Wanted in several states and countries, Mal is also considered crazy and dangerous by most of the people he works with. He is also a friend of Prophet’s.  His current assignment?  Tracking Cillian to try and find out exactly what and who the British agent is after.   But the mission has already turned personal for both Mal and Cillian through intimate encounters that should have stayed anonymous.  Soon the dangers are mounting as well as the body count.  But neither man is prepared for the  pain and betrayal yet to come when a devastating secret is exposed.

How can just 94 pages be so explosive?  The emotions and events of this story just seem to erupt like a geyser that has been building up pressure until it cannot be contained.  That’s what the men are like that SE Jakes has created for her Dirty Deeds story and series.  Mal and Cillian are titanium tough loners, made that way through their tortured pasts that include abuse and death, seasoned through brutal training as well as a variety of missions both successful and failed until it has all solidified into the dangerous, intelligent men they are today.

SE Jakes brings her characters vividly to life through descriptions and events guaranteed to have you hanging on by your fingernails.  Both Cillian and Mal have made appearances before in the Hell or High Water series, especially Cillian as he occupied the condo below Prophet Drews, an EE operative.  Now these men are the focus of their own action-packed, suspense-filled storyline,the characters who teased us unmercifully in the previous books are fleshed out with convoluted histories and traumatic events that are still only hinted at.  Mal and Cillian are playing with each other psychologically as well as electronically, each jockeying for the upper position in their investigations and surveillance of each other.  That each man’s methods include a playbook made up of mental games and sexual ones just serves to deepen a portrait of complicated men so sure of themselves and their methodology that they can risk their bodies without question.  It also includes some of the most combustible sex written. I’m talking incendiary hot, so hot and explosive that it starts to melt away the formidable walls each man has erected around their hearts and souls.

Mal and Cillian are men who have killed, perhaps tortured, schemed to reach their many goals.  And its to the author’s credit, that we care immensely for these men as we watch them teeter on the brink of a relationship with each other, against all odds and their own proclivities.  Because as hardened as these men are, deep underneath they still retain the ability to be hurt by the right person and events from their pasts.

Jakes keeps us and her characters guessing at every step in the storyline.  We are never sure who are the bad guys or when they will pop up to deliver a death blow and derail an investigation.  The phrase “pins and needles” was surely meant to be used in reference to the Dirty Deeds men and their stories.  There are so many twists here I stopped counting halfway through the story.  There are twists in their missions, surprises in their backgrounds, mind blowing revelations and one huge whopper of an ending that I never saw coming.  God, I love books like this.

Jakes keeps her narrative flowing rapidly along, like a river about to rise out of its banks at flood time.  It pulls in everything around it, sweeping it along a merciless path.  You are transfixed by the scene in front of you,unable to look away.  It’s dramatic, its mind boggling and its hold on you is magnetic.  Most of you will want to howl at the ending.  So howl away.  What a revelation! What a great way to end this story!  Only a small lack of context kept this from a perfect five but oh how close it came.  Pick it up and run to the nearest place and start reading.  Make sure you are comfortable because you will be there a while.  Consider this story,Dirty Deeds, and its connected series, Hell or High Water, highly recommended.

Cover art by LC Chase.  Once again the artist has created a cover that is perfect for the story and its characters.  Just terrific.

Book Details:

ebook, 94 pages
Published January 13th 2014 by Riptide Publishing (first published January 11th 2014)
ISBN13 9781626490932
edition language English

Review: Catch a Ghost (Hell or High Water #1) by S.E. Jakes

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Catch a Ghost coverTom Boudreaux, ex- FBI agent,  and full time Cajun trouble maker, is wondering why Phil Butler of Extreme Escapes, LTD is offering him a job.  Tom has nothing but failures in his past, including 2 ex partners and agencies that never want to see him again.  But when Phil and EE, Inc. offers him one last chance at redemption he takes it, hoping that his bad luck has come to an end. Then he meet his new partner, Prophet Drews, and realizes it is only beginning.

Prophet Drews, former Navy Seal, former CIA agent and all around genius at chaos, has just been assigned another partner yet again. Then he meets Tom, and recognizes that the Cajun represents all kinds of trouble for him.  Tom is sexy, tough, scarred, and psychic.  He is new to the type of  field work EE requires still Prophet agrees if only for a short time. Why?  Because Tom is fighting some powerful personal demons and that’s something Prophet knows everything about as he has armies of his own to fight, as well as PTSD and a medical diagnosis that can’t be changed.

When a person close to Prophet is killed in underground cage match, Tom and Prophet infiltrate the illegal world of cage fighting to find the killers and the reason behind his friend’s murder.  But the investigation is far more complicated than anyone anticipated, putting not just Prophet and Tom’s lives in danger but their partnership as well.  The most difficult obstacle for both is the fighting the combustable attraction they feel for each other.  But when the investigation pulls them in to a dangerous trap , can Tom and Prophet  fight past their inner demons and learn to trust each other enough to save themselves?

Catch a Ghost is one hell of a wild ride!  SE Jakes creates her own espionage agency, ExtremeEscapes LTD and fills it with damaged, alluring men unable to fight their own demons let alone the attraction they feel for their partners within the agency.  In Catch a Ghost, agent Prophet Drews is matched up with newly hired Tom Boudreaux, an angry, damaged Cajun with two dead partners and two law enforcement jobs behind him.  Neither man is good at relationships, thinking their damaged history and inner demons put them out of bounds for anything other than a quick sexual encounter.

Now I am going to admit I am new to SE Jakes.  I found this author through her latest release Dirty Deeds and am now working my way back through her stories and the Hell or High Water universe.  But between Catch a Ghost and Dirty Deeds, I am a fully hooked fan.  SE Jakes gets it exactly right with her gripping stories of the secretive world of spies and the spied upon, the hunted and the hunters.

Each genre has its own special pitfalls that an author must overcome to achieve a textured, multidimensional story.  In historical fiction,(in my opinion, the hardest genre to write well), its accuracy about the time period the story is set in, attention to detail from clothes to laws, dialog and atmosphere.  With  espionage and action/spy stories, it’s the ability to maintain a certain level of tension as well as creating anxiety concerning  the main character(s) well being, a complex, and intelligent plot that keeps the reader guessing about, well, everything, and a credibility that extends through the operatives and the agencies they are working for as well as the villains of the storyline.  The author has to get the guns, explosives, tech talk, vehicles, and even torture methods accurate in order for us to find the story plausible as well as spellbinding. And then with a solid framework established, the author needs to create memorable characters and a mission to build the plot around.  SE Jakes achieves all of that here.

Starting with Prophet Drews, and his partner, Tom Boudreaux, Jakes makes both men equal yet separate in personal demons that haunt them and abusive family backgrounds.  With chaos swirling around them at all times, some of it self induced, these men need to be able to understand each other intimately in order for their attraction to be something other than just the rut of the moment.

Throughout the story, the author feeds small morsels of information about each man and their past to the readers as well as the characters themselves.  Like the tiny food trails of Hansel and Gretel, these tasty tidbits lead us to a more complete portrait of each person, filling in their history in order to make their present state of mind understandable and something we can relate to.  It’s done through their scars (acquired on the job and by their family), its accomplished through Tom’s tats and piercings as well as Prophet’s reoccurring nightmares and flashbacks.  Jakes descriptions of Prophet in the throes of a hellish flashback are vivid and emotionally devastating.  We are there in as Prophet battles his past and his inability to tell whether he is in a dream hell or reality.  It’s scary and it feels real.  Tom and Prophet are incredible characters, ones that make the reader invest emotionally in their safety and sanity.

What an adrenaline high Jakes puts us and her characters through.    The plot moves along swiftly, dipping and twisting through multiple curves and unforeseen dangers.  Jakes writing is both stylish and dynamic. Each scene is gripping, full of life, whether the men are wrestling each other in a sexual frenzy or pounding a enemy while mentally lost in the past.  Catch a Ghost is a real old fashioned page turner and it ends as it should, in doubt and uncertainty. This may not please everyone but it works here.

Is this a romance?  Not really.  The men, their past, and the plot are far too complex for that designation.  There is an attraction, a sexual pull between Tom and Prophet that might turn into something more if given a chance.  But this story is about the past, theirs, and the agency that they work for.  It also starts each man along a path of self discovery. The author is setting the stage for the next in the series Long Time Gone (Hell or High Water, #2).  That said, this is still a completely realized novel.  To have ended this story in any other manner would have been a negation of all the author has created, including the main characters.  The men have a lot of issues to work through, not the least of which is trust.  Plus there are layers to every operation and a past mission whose disastrous outcome continues to reverberate through the present events and Prophet’s actions.  This story is packed full of great things.  Pick it up, enjoy the wild ride while we wait for the next book to appear.  Consider this highly recommended.

Cover art by LC Chase.  This cover is strong, dramatic and intriguing.  You just have to know more about the person and the story behind that tat.  A winner in every aspect.

Books in the Hell or High Water series in the order they were written and should be read to fully understand the characters and events:

Catch a Ghost (Hell or High Water #1)
Long Time Gone (Hell or High Water, #2)

Related series:

Dirty Deeds (Dirty Deeds #1)

Book Details:

Paperback, 300 pages
Published September 13th 2013 by Riptide Publishing (first published September 7th 2013)
original title Catch A Ghost
ISBN 1626490392 (ISBN13: 9781626490390)
edition language English

Review: Static by LA Witt

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Static coverDamon Bryce and Alex Nichols have been together for two years and while things have not always been easy, they remain deeply in love.  But Alex has a secret, one that she has been afraid to tell Damon because she is sure it will cost her his love.  Alex Nichols is a shifter, one of  a small percentage of the population able to switch genders at will.  Shifters are discriminated against, considered less than equal by the rest of the “static” population.  Being known as a shifter could cost Alex not only Damon but her job as well so Alex kept silent.  Then she is drugged and a black market implant surgically inserted to prevent her from shifting.  Now Alex has become a static, a one gender person,  but in her male form. The truth is out and the ramifications for Alex are crushing.

Damon is deeply in love with his girlfriend Alex.  Then he finds out that Alex is a shifter in the worst way possible for them both, when he confronts a man in his girlfriend’s apartment and finds out that man is Alex. Not only has Alex lied about who she is but now that Alex is male, Damon feels bereft of his fiance and best friend too.  Damon has always thought of himself as straight.   He still loves Alex, just not in the same way he used to.  Damon won’t abandon Alex to face the decisions ahead of him alone.  The surgery to remove the implants is both costly and dangerous.  And Alex’s insurance won’t cover the procedure.  Damon gives Alex the support he needs but can Damon give Alex all the support in every way possible that Alex wants?

Alex must decide to accept being forever a static male or to try for the expensive surgery and the slim chance that he will be able to shift once more. As Alex faces an uncertain future, Damon must decide if he is able to love Alex, the person inside the body Alex is in, including a male one.  So much about their future is risky and unpredictable.  Can their love surmount all obstacles including gender?  Alex and Damon are about to find out.

LA Witt’s Static is not only one of the best stories I have read this year, it is also one of the most timely.  We live in an era where gender issues, especially those of transgender people, are prominent both in the media and the judicial system.  New laws are being written daily to promote equality for transgendered people and those of gender fluid identities.  And for every new law written and steps forward, there is an equal number legislated to oppose those measures and gender equality.  In my opinion, the most important weapons in the battle for equality for LGBTQ community are knowledge, education, and awareness.  Static by LA Witt brings that knowledge and awareness home in a story that renders the reality of gender and gender based issues beautifully, factually and emotionally.

I have always admired the author’s ability to create living, breathing characters that resonate with her readers but in Damon, Alex, Jordan, Sam,and Tabby, shifters and trans characters, LA Witt has gone farther, delved deeper with her characters so as to give us such fully actualized people, depicted so psychologically and physically real that we never question not only the authenticity of a shifter gender but their universe as well.

Just the beginning of the book is so emotionally devastating as Damon confronts a stranger in his girlfriend’s apartment, already assuming the worst about the situation. The reader is thrown into the anguish of the moment along with Damon and Alex.  All the fear, anger, hurt, betrayal, confusion of both people is revealed in painstaking detail leaving the reader transfixed by their anger as well as love for one another.  Witt uses alternating points of view from Damon and Alex to  pull the reader into their thoughts and feelings as the characters change and adapt to the events around them.  This format forces us to look at the situation with the emotions and perspective of both characters.  As the implant and it’s ability to freeze Alex into one gender impacts each person, we see not only Alex reeling from the reality of a one gender existence but also Damon’s (and  ours) inability to truly understand what that means for Alex mentally, physically as well as emotionally.  Can anyone who is “static” ever truly understand the both the physiological and psychological dynamics of  the transgendered or gender fluid community?  I am not sure but the author’s narrative goes a long way towards furthering that understanding and acceptance.  Here is Jordan, a shifter friend of Damon’s trying to help him see a part of the situation that Alex is going through:

Most statics have no frame of reference.  No way to understand what its like putting on high heels when your minds wants to be male or getting a hard-on when you are itching to be female.  And don’t even get me started on the body having a period while the brain is male,” She tapped her thumb on the blotter a few times, then went on.  “It’s hard to explain, but….well, you know that feeling when you’ve been wearing a pair of dress shoes half the day, and they start getting uncomfortable? And then they get to the point where they’re so fucking miserable, you can’t think of anything except taking them off?”

I nodded.

“Now imagine that pair of shoes is your whole damned body, and now there’s an implant that won’t let you take off those shoes.  If I had to guess, that’s what this is like for Alex.”

That is an accessible and useful way to start Damon and the reader along the path to understanding part of terrible pain the implant is inflicting upon Alex.  And although Alex is focus of the implant’s destructive design, we also feel Damon’s pain and confusion as he tries to accept that his “female” fiancé is now and perhaps permanently male, something  this very straight man never thought he would have to deal with.  All the internal  arguments, all the justifications and excuses he offers himself when he thinks of jettisoning his relationship with Alex are laid out for us to examine and work through ourselves.  Is the person the body they inhabit?  Is it their body we love?  Or do we love the person inside no matter what exterior they present to us.  It is an old and yet relevant argument.  And we watch as Damon has to find his own answers to that question, something that Alex realizes as well:

“I knew full well this was a lot for him.  It was quite possibly as difficult for him to accept that I was a shifter as it was for me to accept that I was now static.”

Just one of many powerful moments in a story full of them, strung along like pearls on a necklace that only gets more exquisite and individually unique upon closer observation and inspection.

Witt also brings in different elements of society to reflect the current status and  society’s perceptions of shifters within that culture.  Alex’s implant is the result of her mother’s and her mother’s pastor’s actions.  Just like those ministries who believe that they can “de gay” a homosexual through interventions and horrific ex gay therapies (now being banned in certain states), Alex’s mother and stepfather are members of a radical fundamentalist faith who believe they are doing “God’s will”.    If these characters come across as horribly real, it’s only because we have heard them in our media espousing their beliefs with nauseating fervor. Their actions and beliefs are chilling whether they are in fiction or on our cable news.

This is a love story, where one’s perception of love undergoes as fundamental change as one does transforming from one gender to another.   The romance is slow, sweet and absolutely rewarding.

I loved this story and cannot recommend it enough.  Consider Static and its great cover one of Scattered Thoughts Best Books of 2014 in a year that has just gotten started.

Cover by LC Chase.  What an incredible cover, it’s riveting and gorgeous. Perfect in every way.  One of the best of 2014.

Book Details:

ebook, 283 pages
Published January 20th 2014 by Riptide Publishing (first published June 17th 2011)