A MelanieM Review: The Beast Without by Christian Baines

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

The Beast Without coverReylan, a Blood Shade, the correct term for vampires,, likes being on his own.  He is wealthy, gorgeous,  sexy and particular in who he eats.  He picks out his prey from the popular gay clubs of Sidney, on Oxford Street.  Reylan is always careful not to take too much, just enough to last a few days  before he has to feed again.  So when a crazed werewolf kills his latest companion, Reylan is not happy.  He is even less so when the werewolf, young Jorgas, seems to have developed an obsession with him.  An obsession that puts Reylan and those he cares about at risk.

In order for Reylan to take care of the situation, he finds he must work with a mysterious supernatural organization  called The Arcadia Trust and its leader Patricia Bakker.  The Arcadia Trust has its own agenda and wants Reylan to deliver the werewolf to them alive.  But things change when Reylan hunts down the young werewolf in question.  In a moment of intense need and hunger a tenuous relationship is formed between vampire and werewolf, a relationship neither wants.

As more people are murdered around them, Reylan, Jorgas and The Arcadian Trust must look further than Jorgas for the cause while trying to protect the ones inside their circle.  Reylan soon realizes that the civility he has cloaked his life in is no longer enough.  Its time for his true predator nature to come out and stay out if he is to stay alive and locate the true murderer among them.

What an excellent take on vampires and werewolves.  The Beast Without is such a far cry from the Twilight movies and other more current representations of these two supernatural beings. The werewolves and vampires of The Beast Without are not the benign creatures of the night that we see in popular movies and books these days.  No, the supernaturals of this novel, The Blood Shades and the Flesh Masters (werewolves) are apex predators, vicious and superior to humans who are regarded as food.  It’s actually kind of refreshing.

The vampires, werewolves and other supernatural beings like Cloak Masters (invisible beings) are genetic by nature.  All come from families where the various genes for each type of creature runs in the family.  It can skip generations and then, right around puberty, those that carry the gene mutate into the creature whose genes they carry, whether it be vampire, werewolf, or something quite different.  Christian Baines is developing a great back history for these supernaturals, a history that is being revealed slowly throughout the book.

Along with his impressive world building, Baines takes particular pains to make his characters complex, otherworldly and sometimes cruel in their outlook.  Take Reylan.  He is not human and revels in being a Blood Shade, finding the term vampire to be distasteful and tawdry. An asexual being, at least in the beginning, he dines on men, preferring the power and vigor in their blood to the caution and other traits that occurs in female hemoglobin.   As created by Baines, Reylan is a loner, a predator and absolutely absorbing.

I can’t  say enough about the characters i found here.  Whether it is Jorgas, a confused, raged filled werewolf, Father Isaac O’Baer of Saint Barnabas Church, a Father handy with advice or a knife, or Patricia Bakker, the enigmatic leader of The Arcadia Trust, these beings are intricately layered, wildly unpredictable in nature, and totally absorbing to read about.  I can’t get enough of them or anyone else that pops up in this story.  It’s really just a roll call of strange and wonderful creatures, each more exciting, dangerous and complex  than the one before.   They may not be real, but they certainly feel that way.  Here is Reylan’s thoughts on Cloak Walkers:

It’s said, perhaps cruelly, that you can smell a Cloak Walker long before you hear him – such is the inevitable toll of invisibility on personal hygiene. It’s even been claimed that the condition brings on leprosy, and that a Cloak Walker may be tracked by the body parts he leaves behind. I find what this theory lacks in credence, it makes up for in originality.

I love that wry, amused tone.  A little mean and deceptively mild. Perfect.

The plot is just as twisted and deceptive as the characters.  Baines has really done justice to each element here.  Both the story line and supernatural beings are totally worthy of each other, working their magic on the reader from page one.  Baines’ style of writing is smooth, his descriptions vivid and sometimes almost graphically realistic.  Here is our introduction to Reylan as he heads out to hunt at night:

 I’m not human, but even so, this is a reality I can’t ignore. If I’m not careful when I feed, when I take my fill of blood, I can quickly become the wrong one-nighter.

I’ll thank you not to use the ‘v’ word.

Given my proximity to Oxford Street, the sleazy, pulsing artery of Sydney’s nightclub district where I’ve lived for the better part of thirty years, I try not to visit any club twice in the same week. It’s safer that way, particularly for a man whose lifestyle depends on discretion. Barely two nights ago, I’d graced Fantasy, a club full of pretty, if flighty young things – some gay, some straight, most happily open minded on the subject. So the following night’s destination was Blaze, a club currently serving as de facto cathedral to the Church of Saint Muscle Mary, where the buff and beautiful took time out of their forty hour a week gym schedules to model, preen and occasionally dance the night away for the slack-jawed ogling pleasure of curious onlookers.

For hunting clothes, I chose a pair of tight leather trousers, an equally tight lycra vest and a silver-studded belt. A little attractive, a little sexual, and a little ridiculous. The perfect human mix I’d developed over the years. Not the epitome of modern style, but on a healthy twenty-four-year-old man, which is what I appear to be, it did say ‘come hither and bed me,’ which was the whole point.

Then, there was the pill. I rarely use them, but if options are lacking and I get too impatient, a little chemistry in a capsule can seal the sumptuous fate of any prospective companion. You needn’t judge me. You do a lot worse to your food. Besides, it’s not as if I’ve had to use it – recently.

There he is, all deliciousness in tone and outlook.  But soon Reylan will demonstrate just exactly how good a predator he is.  How I came to love him.

I should make one thing clear.  This is not a romance.  There are m/m relationships, there is sexual need, blood lust and heat a plenty.  But if you are looking for roses and candlelight dinners, this is not the story for you.  A convoluted relationship does develop between Reylan and Jorgas, but it is just at the beginning stages and it is certainly not based on love or even affection.  A bond certainly, but of need and blood and baser emotions.  It is realistic and involving as any I have read, and I love it.

Incredibly, The Beast Without is Christian Baines first novel. I came so close to giving this  remarkable story a 5-star rating but there are just too many loose ends that remain unresolved at the end of the story to go that final inch.    Christian Baines lays out a mystery for us, several in fact but nothing more.  Just speculation and insidiously addicting clues to a larger mystery looming behind the smaller ones. Everything about The Beast Without cries out for a sequel and I can only hope that one is in the works. At any rate, I highly recommend this rich and rewarding take on vampires and werewolves, especially for those of you tired of sparkle.

Cover art and design is terrific. Cover Images: Ivan Bliznetsov (front); DSNR (back) Jacket Design: David P Reiter

Afternote:  Christian Baines has indicated that a sequel to The Beast Without is planned, very good news indeed.

Sales Links:     All Romance (ARe)          Amazon      buy it here

Book Details:

Paperback, 234 pages
Published March 27th 2013 by Glass House Books
ISBN 192212043X (ISBN13: 9781922120434)
edition language
also eBook edition

Enter the Addictive World of the Scorpions! On Tour with Aleksandr Voinov’s A Taste of Poison

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One of my favorite series from Aleksandr Voinov is the addicting and dangerous universe of the Memory of Scorpions series , an ancient mercenary band of brothers (and sister) with a history as rich as the kings they work for.  Now comes the latest installment, and hopefully not the last, A Taste of Poison (Scorpions #3) by Aleksandr Voinov.   You can follow Aleksandr Voinov on tour with all the dates here.  For now, let’s focus in on Aleksandr Voinov on his Scorpions:

 

“Good versus Good”

Hi, I’m Aleksandr Voinov, and I’m happy to talk about my newest release. Thank you for the invitation!

I recently stumbled over this quote from Leo Tolstoy:

“The best stories don’t come from “good vs. bad” but “good vs. good.”

It struck home for me, because while some writing courses tell you that you need a “villain” (in m/m, it’s the “evil ex”), and the more villainous the villain, the more tension we get. I think it’s bollocks, to use a lovely British term. Even if we have an almost cartoonish level of over-simplification, in, say, Star Wars (I love Star Wars), the much more interesting evil guy is Darth Vader. (Palpatine is more “cartoon evil”) Why? Because he used to be “good” and Luke believes passionately that Darth Vader, his father, can be redeemed. And it’s amazing, because that levels the playing field – while Luke is still in training, Darth Vader is seen as “just evil”. Once Luke comes into his power, he gets almost literally hamstrung (arm-strung?) by the revelation that Darth Vader is his father, and the decision to get him back to the good side. It’s very difficult fighting a duel against somebody you want to save/redeem, especially when that somebody seems absolutely set on destroying or breaking you.

What a conflict.

So often we do have the villain with the redeeming feature (“He only wants to bring peace to the galaxy”). But studying real-life evil, I’m usually struck by how some of the evillest men ever fully accepted they were doing “bad things”, but they usually did it not out of lust for destruction, but because they were looking for a higher good. The evil they did was seen as a “price worth paying”. In short, they were twisted idealists. Some stated that the “work” (read: atrocities) wasn’t pleasant, but they sacrificed themselves, their sanity, their peace, their souls, to do it. And that’s really disturbing. “Personal sacrifice” is actually a virtue.

I have zero doubt that Adrastes in the Memory of Scorpions series considers himself the “good guy”, and Kendras is being bothersome, dishonest, disloyal, and also in league with mutinous soldiers. Apart from the obvious jealousy with regards to Kendras and Graukar, Adrastes is driven by the need/desire to rebuild the empire, to end internal wars, to be strong against outside invaders, and to have peace and prosperity. And if he has to kill, torture and wage war for that noble end – well, he’s good at it, and there would be much worse people to do it. Less competent, less decisive, less thorough. He truly believes he’s doing the right thing. And we’ve seen him as the charismatic, self-sacrificing leader who looks after his men. Regardless of what he does later, we know he’s not “evil”. He’s very possibly not “good”, he’s just human. Like they all are. We buy more into Kendras’s version of the story because we never hear the story of the other characters, but chances are, if we did, we’d buy their version and consider Kendras “evil” or “wrong”.

And that’s really where I’m coming from. I can’t do sparkly shiny heroes versus dark and twisted evil guys, because I don’t believe that’s how it happens in real life. I can have characters cross the line (arguably, once Adrastes begins assassinating political enemies and using his father’s intimidation tactics, that’s where he crosses the line), but even in fantasy, which is full of dark gods and demons and tyrants and whatnot, I just don’t believe in that model of the world.

For me, pitting idealists with strong values against each other is far more fun, so I can root for all of them. It keeps me engaged and happy as an author, and I hope it has the same effect on readers.

 Title: A Taste of Poison (Memory of Scorpions #3) by Aleksandr VoinovATasteForPoison_200x300
Publisher:  Riptide Publishing
Cover Artist:  Reese Dante
Page Count:  260 pages

 

A Taste of Poison Blurb:

ATasteForPoison_200x300Even a king gets stung when he reaches for a scorpion.

After barely surviving an assassination attempt, King Adrastes is a changed man—one who mistrusts even his allies and friends. He readies his empire for war against an enigmatic enemy, the Elder of Vededrin, but not everyone approves. While courtiers dare only to whisper dissent, an outrider called Death foments rebellion in the mountains, aided by a prophecy that promises he’ll stop the Black King.

Kendras—former lover to Adrastes and leader of the Scorpions—is sent with his elite mercenary force to bring Death to justice. But when Kendras learns who’s hiding behind the mask, he must choose between his lover Graukar, newly-appointed general to the king—and King Adrastes himself.

With no man to call master, the Scorpions could flee the danger and intrigue. But Kendras cannot abandon the man he once loved—or the man he’s growing to love—without first uncovering the real threat to the Empire.

– See more at: http://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/a-taste-for-poison#sthash.n5Pu5nYZ.dpuf

A Taste of Poison Excerpt

(read more at A Taste of Poison Excerpt page at Riptide Publishing)

Chapter 1

“Officer, Lady Nhala wishes to see you.”

Kendras had barely sunk into the hot bathwater to wash the sweat and dirt off when Runner stepped into the room. He groaned and ducked his head underwater, scraping over his scalp with both hands, then emerged again, blowing out a breath.

“How urgent?”

“She looked like it was a pressing matter.” Runner walked over to the stool next to the bath and picked up a linen towel, unfolded it, and offered it to Kendras. Her ironic expression forbade any comment that she wasn’t a bath slave and he could dry himself. Kendras crumpled his washcloth into a ball and ran it over his chest, belly, armpits, and groin. No leisurely soak to loosen up his tired muscles, then. Duty was calling. He tossed the cloth into the water and stood.

She enveloped him in the towel, and he reached for a corner of it to dry his face and head before he stepped out of the bathtub. “Get me my boots and leathers.”

“At once, Officer.” She turned and walked off.

Kendras rubbed his skin dry and was almost finished before Runner returned. He tossed the towel over the rim of the tub and began to dress. “Let her in.”

He was just pulling on his boots when Nhala appeared in the doorway. He felt her gaze linger for a moment on his bare chest, then she straightened almost as if standing at attention. “Officer.”

“My lady.” He closed the top of his leathers and began tightening the straps and laces. “I’m at your service.”

She stepped further into the room and glanced over her shoulder back into the barracks, checking for witnesses, no doubt. “We are all called to war council. Immediately.”

Kendras bit down on a groan. After a long, hot day on the training yard, and before any food, standing for hours in his heavy plate armor while generals bickered over the best strategy to achieve a victory wasn’t a prospect he relished. He much preferred when the plan was set and the only issue left was when to act. “Who’s issued the call?”

“The king.”

“The king’s—”

More dead than alive. Maybe dead.

 

– See more at Riptide Publishing’s A Taste of Poison page.

Memory of Scorpions stories in the order they were written and should be read:

Scorpion (Memory of Scorpions, #1)
Lying with Scorpions (Memory of Scorpions, #2)
A Taste for Poison (Memory of Scorpions, #3)

Lying with Scorpions coverScorpion coverATasteForPoison_200x300

 

Review: Be My Valentine, Bobby Bryson by Geoffrey Knight

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Be My Valentine Bobby Bryson coverSeven-year-old Mikey is very proud of the handmade valentine he made in class.  But Mikey never guessed the furor that would be unleashed when he showed his card to his teacher.  Why?  Because Mikey addressed his valentine card to someone named Bobby Bryson and when asked, happily replied that yes, Bobby was a boy. This stunned the small town of Elk’s Ridge and before Mikey’s single mom knew what had happened, the town’s opinion becomes a tidal wave of disapproval.

And its not just the teachers and principal at Mikey’s school, but Mikey and his mother, Kate Madsen, must face the only family they have left when Mikey’s father died, Mikey’s grandparents, especially his critical and remote grandfather.  Mikey doesn’t understand why everyone is upset about his valentine. It is up to his mother and the subject of Mikey’s valentine to help open up th the hearts and minds around them.  Will Mikey survive this Valentine’s Day?  And who is Bobby Bryson?

If you look up the word heartwarming in the dictionary there is sure to be a link to this story.  Be My Valentine, Bobby Bryson is a short story that rose above my expectations to give me a tale that is grounded not only in heartbreaking  reality but in genuine emotions that I was stunned by my reaction to it.  I could so clearly picture Mikey and his innocent joy in the simple construction paper valentine he made in class.  If you have children, or nieces and nephews, maybe you have been the lucky recipient of one of those cards and you know the pride the child takes in making them.  Knight has captured all of that here, the essence of the joy of giving, the pride of his artwork, and above all the love for the object of his attentions.  The wide-eyed sweetness and love that shines through is so bright that what follows is all the more crushing for the hurt and pain it leaves in its wake.  And not just for Mikey but for his mother, Kate Madsen too.

Knight’s character, Kate Madsen, is a overburdened, stressed out young woman. She is still in mourning for her husband and overwhelmed in her efforts to be the sole parent and wage earner for their family. She is trying her best to keep herself and Mikey safe but is clearly never sure she is up to the task, no matter how much she loves her son.  It is a terrific layered portrait and she is immediately someone who has garnered our compassion and empathy.

I think all the characters here, the quick sketches of people and the solid creations, all will bring a sense of recollections from the readers.  We all have met people like them at some point in our lives.  They make a lasting impression with their prejudices and  snap judgements.  And the dialog between Mikey and his mother (and others) that their disapproval opens up is as important as any other message here.

The final scenes will bring more than a sniffle or two so have the hankies ready.  By My Valentine, Bobby Bryson is truly a lovely valentine to all readers.  Is it a romance?  Not really.  Not like you would think.  But it’s message is one of love in all its faces and isn’t that what Valentine’s Day is all about?

Cover art by Wilde City Press.  Normally I would love a cover like this.  Happy and colorful.  But in this case, it is highly misleading.  Surely a simple child’s valentine would have sufficed.

Book Details:

ebook, 51 pages
Published January 15th 2014 by Wilde City Press
ISBN13 9781925031744
edition language English

Review: Symphony in Blue (Blue Notes #4.5) by Shira Anthony

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Symphony in Blue-build (1) coverThe holidays are a time for friends and family to come together in celebration and thanks.  Symphony in Blue brings together all the couples in the Blue Notes series for a very special occasion.  Aiden and Sam are ready to get married but before that can happen Cary and Antonio’s baby daughter decides to make her appearance into the world earlier than anyone had anticipated. So instead of the huge reception planned, David Somers and his long time lover Alex Bishop bring everyone to their villa in Milan for a homecoming and Thanksgiving that they will never forget.

Join Sam and Aiden, Jules and Jason, David and Alex, and Cary and Antonio and friends as each couple shares something they are thankful for. Played out in four movements, this symphony is a celebration of friendship and love, orchestrated by David.

I have loved this incredible series since the release of the first story, Blue Notes.  With the Blue Notes series, Shira Anthony (and for Prelude, Venona Keyes), has created an ensemble of musicians and their lovers that has intrigued us with their personalities, enthralled us with their music and beckoned to us with their love stories.  Whether it was violinist Jules Bardon (with manager/lover Jason Greene), cellist Cary Redding (and his partner, entertainment lawyer Antonio Bianchi), operatic baritone Aiden Lind (with partner lawyer Sam Ryan), and finally conductor and Chicago Symphony Music Director David Somers and his partner, violinist Alex Bishop, Shira Anthony has used this incredible octet of musicians and their loves as the “voice” through which she has moved us with her deep love of and passion for the world of classical music as well as knowledge of the various art forms within.

A former opera singer, Shira Anthony was at one time as deeply immersed in this world as her characters are and it shows in every element, every note that threads itself through these stories.  It is there in joy and in sorrow, through all the difficult times and choices these men have had to make.  And because she has been there herself, her series has a realism and authenticity that gives these stories depth and texture.

As these couples sit around the Thanksgiving table in Milan, each reflects on their lives as they share with their friends (and readers) something specific they are thankful for.  Anthony presents us with an intimate setting and a ritual I suspect occurs in more than one household around the country.  For each man, each couple, the things they share brings the reader up to date in their careers and presents us with glimpses of their present day family life.  I have to admit that Cary and Antonio’s memory is my favorite, with Cary (and Antonio) trying to deal with their son’s Massimo’s jealousy over the new born in their midst).  It’s so real, with elements that will break your heart and then put them back together as father consoles child and reaffirms their love for him. One couple after the other, with emotions high, celebrate love and family among their dearest friends.  It feels familiar and immediate and oh so lovely.

At 73 pages, Anthony packs a lot of feeling and music into her story.  Yes, let us not forget about the music, such an integral part of the Blue Notes series.  The story itself is a composition by David Somers, the dedication written by him.  The performer list is that of all the characters in the series and the story plays out in five movements, each movement a sharing by someone at the table. This is an inventive format that works beautifully for this story and is so reflective of the entire series.

In many ways Symphony in Blue and the Blue Notes stories are a series of love letters from the author, sharing her passion and deep appreciation of the musicians and the music they live their lives by.  I highly recommend not only Symphony in Blue but the entire Blue Notes series.  If you are a fan already, then you will love catching up with all your favorite couples.  If you are new to the series, then go back to the beginning as this story contains spoilers for all the rest.  Either way, this one is not to be missed!

Listed below are all the stories in the Blue Notes series.  The author has noted that she considers it a series of interrelated, classical music themed standalone novels that can be read in any order.

Knowing (Blue Notes, #0.5) a free read at Goodreads
Blue Notes (Blue Notes, #1)
The Melody Thief (Blue Notes, #2)
Aria (Blue Notes, #3)
Prelude (Blue Notes, #4) by Shira Anthony and Venona Keyes
Encore (Blue Notes, #5)
Symphony in Blue (Blue Notes, #4.5)

Book Details:

ebook, 1st Edition, 73 pages
Published December 25th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1627983945 (ISBN13: 9781627983945)
edition language English

Scattered Thoughts Best Books of 2013

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ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords Presents:

best-books of 2013

Time for Scattered Thoughts to look back at all the wonderful books read and reviewed in 2013 and try to pick those stories that stood out the most among all the many stories I read.  As always it was a hard thing to do because there were so many this year that crowded at the top.  How to choose between Sarah Black’s The General and the Horse-Lord and her sequel, The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazeri?  Or Ariel Tachna’s Outlast the Night and her Conquer the Flames?  It was only by the mm (seems reasonable) that the latter book for each won out.parabook

Some authors did end up with two books in my lists, whether it was because they were in two different categories or because they were in different series or just because they were that good.  I also ended up with more categories this year, including  Best Humor, Best Young Adult, Best New Vampire and Best New Werewolf.  The variety in genres just begged for subcategories so I created them.  Something really new this year was the interconnected series from the Pulp Friction group. Each series and main characters were intimately connected to each other and culminated in a four author four series finale story.  It was outstanding and earned all four a place on my list.

And then there were the marvelous novels like Harper Fox’ Brothers of the Wild North Seas whose review has slid into 2014 but is one of my top novels of any year.  Anyway, here are the books I chose in alphabetical order.  Which authors/stories were on your list this year?

Best Contemporary Novels of 2013:

  • Best Stand Alone Novels:

Illumination by Rowen Speedwell
The Sky is Dead by Sue Brown

Best Action/Suspense Fiction of 2013:

Collusion by Eden Winters (Diversion series)
Corruption by Eden Winters (Diversion series)
Pulp Friction Series of 2013 (4 interconnected series)

Shock & Awe by Abigail Roux
Touch & Geaux  by Abigail Roux (Cut & Run series)
Worlds Collide by R.J. Scott

Humorous Fiction of 2013:
Books with wings in the sky

Shy by John Inman
Hobbled by John Inman
Tell Me It’s Real by TJ Klune

Young Adult/YA Subject Oriented Fiction:

Christmas Kitsch by Amy Lane
Necromancy and You by Missouri Dalton
Vampirism and You by Missouri Dalton

Best Historical Fiction:

Lessons for Suspicious Minds by Charlie Cochrane
On The Lee Shore by Elin Gregory
Trick of Time by JL Merrow

Best Horror/Fantasy:skeleton-clip-art-15-315x600

Dance Only For Me (Dance With The Devil #6) by Megan Derr
Too Many Fairy Princes by Alex Beecroft
The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men by Eric Arvin

Best Science Fiction Novel/ Series of 2013:

Aria of the Eclipse by Vivien Dean
One Breath, One Bullet by S.A. McAuley
Dominant Predator by S.A. McAuley  (sequel to the one above)
Fragile Bond by Rhi Etzweiler
Scorpion (Memory of Scorpions #1) by Aleksandr Voinov (fantasy)

Best Supernatural/Paranormal Fiction of 2013:

Close Quarter by Anna Zabo
Into This River I Drown by TJ Klune
Re-entry Burn (Superpowered Love #5) by Katey Hawthorne
Undertow by Andrea Speed (Infected series)

Best New Vampire (a tie):

The Beast Without by Christian Baines
The Family: Liam by K.V. Taylor

Best New Werewolf:

Strength of the Wolf (The Tameness of the Wolf #2) by Kendall McKenna

Happy New Year, everyone!  Happy Reading To All and May 2014 Be Great!

New Year Book

Out With The Old and In With The New and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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New DirectionAnother year is almost gone, another is almost here.  Past regrets, future hopes, memories made and memories waiting to be formed.  It is a time of celebration and reflection.  A time to mourn those we have lost and be grateful for those still with us.  One Winston left me, another found his way home.

For many 2013 was a year in turmoil, the government closed, money was tight, and so many I know had  health issues.  But there was also plenty of reasons to rejoice.  DADA and DOMA fell, and there are 16 states and Washington, DC that have same sex marriage equality laws.   And when Russia outlaws gays just before the Winter Olympics , then gay athletes come out of the closet, meeting Putin’s challenge with their own courage.

There were so many great books published this year in every genre that it was hard to narrow down the lists.  Book covers too were over the top stupendous, that was a  hard list to compile as well.  Last year ScatteredThoughts had a list of resolutions.  I think I am going to let that pass this year.  I am both replete of energy yet so full of emotion that I hate to think what might tumble out.  Best let those dragons lie.

I did attend GRL this year in Atlanta.  Oh, what a time I had.  The authors, bloggers, readers, publishers…..what a treasure trove on every level.  I loved meeting so many people I had only talked to through emails and FB.  It was wonderful and I still didn’t get to meet everyone I wanted to.  I was turned on by listening to authors  read their own stories, listen to how they got their start in writing, met  readers and fans who sparkled with energy and love for the fiction and author of their favorite books.  What an amazing time and I hope 2014 sees me flying to Chicago for GRL once again.

So I want to thank all those authors whose books made me dance with joy  and bite my nails in suspense this year, from the Pulp Friction gang to Shira Anthony and Venona Keyes. Thanks to Abigail Roux and Amy Lane who never fail to make me cry in happiness and sob  buckets of tears with their angst. Thanks to Andrea Speed who writes with humor and ferocity, to John Inman who made me laugh hysterically, and Ariel Tachna who took me to Australia and a sheep station I love.  Thanks to Mary Calmes, Charlie Cochrane and RJ Scott for their series and novels and thousands of hours lost in the worlds and characters they created.  And a welcome return to Josh Lanyon and LB Gregg, who returned with a bang and a giggle and love found once again.   Thanks to Kendall McKenna and her extraordinary Marines (wolf shifters and human alike).  Thanks to Sarah Black for her General series and the soldiers so close to her heart.  Thank you, ZAM, thank you, Tere Michaels, KA Mitchell  for her twists and turns, thanks to Astrid Amara and Nicole Kimberling and more, so many more that I need a couple more pages here.  Thanks to Rowen Speedwell, Jessica Freely, BA Tortuga, Missouri Dalton, Theo Fenraven…..see its hard to stop. Thanks to Riptide Publishing, Less Than Three Press, Wilde City Press, Dreamspinner Press, MLR Press, Loose id, Torquere Press  and all the others I am just getting to know. Your hard work is appreciated in getting those authors and their stories to us.  Thank you to the cover artists.  Wow what great covers came out of 2013. I loved those too.

I know I have left a ton off but now my brain hurts and I have to close it off.  You know how it is. You are all such gifted writers and have brought so much joy.   I can’t wait to see what you all come up with in 2014. I will be waiting in anticipation.

And a special shout out to Eric Arvin and TJ Klune.  They both gave us memorable books in 2013, but the best gift was the gift of themselves.  We shared their joy, their engagement and their sorrow and tough times with Eric’s illness.  May 2014 see them happy, content and together.  There will still be plenty of medical bills to come and donations welcome.  A link to the Eric Arvin Support Fund can be found on my website.

Monday, Dec. 30:      STRW Best Books of 2013Year of the Horse 2014

Tuesday, Dec. 31:       STRW Best Covers of 2013

Wed., Jan. 1,2014:     Reese Herberth’s In Discretion Blog Tour and Contest

Thurs, Jan.2:                STRW Summary of December 2013 Reviews

Friday, Jan. 3:              In Discretion by Reesa Herberth

Sat., Jan 4:                     Symphony in Blue by Shira Anthony

Happy New Year, Everyone! Best wishes and joy from ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords!blue new year 2014

Review: Oceans Apart (Separate Ways #2) by Laura Harner

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Oceans Apart coverTwo years after the events in London, Detective Remy Remington has returned to Phoenix, along with his friend, former cop Miguel “Miggy” Rojas.  Miggy needed to get clean after years undercover saw him hooked on drugs. Remy was needed to support his old friend and did so by leaving the Phoenix PD, and with Miggy as a partner, started their own detective agency.  When  their  biggest client sends them a diamond dealer in need of security for a huge diamond sale, the men quickly agree.  But there are several twists to this delivery starting with the fact that it is to be made on board a gay Caribbean cruise the diamond merchant is sailing on. Remy and Miggy will be going undercover as a couple on a cruise that advertises clothing optional and Miggy is straight, isn’t he?

Lord Jamie Mainwaring and his partner Special Agent Ryan Whiteside are investigating high seas piracy for Interpol. Their case leads them to a gay Caribbean cruise, a ship that just happens to be the same ocean liner where Miggy and Remy are supervising the diamond transfer.  Going undercover as a gay couple isn’t a problem for Jamie and Ryan as they are already romantically involved.  The surprise will be the couple already on board, one half of whom Jamie still  loves deeply even after two years apart.

Four men, two couples, a complicated past history, and soon the lines of investigation and romance are blurring into trouble.  Dangers are everywhere, both emotional and professional.  And someone will pay the ultimate cost before the cruise is over.

Intense, surprising, and over the top fantastic.  Those are just a few of the words I would use to describe Oceans Apart, the second story in the Separate Ways series by Laura Harner.  As mentioned, this story takes place two years after the combined investigation into slavery case in London where Jamie and Remy met.  Both men have picked up their lives.  Remy more so than Jamie who still mourns the loss of Remy and their love for each other.  Laura Harner alternates the point of view as the reader is given glimpses into each man’s  life since London and their journey to a new reality for them both.

It is clear that Remy has moved on more successfully from the events and emotions in London.  Together with a Miggy in recovery, Remy has emerged as a different man than the one we met in London.  Harner has deepened and matured her characterization of Remy in Oceans Apart.  The two years have realistically reformed Remy into a person who has accepted new responsibilities as well as the prospect of family and a new romance.   I loved this new Remy.  His new maturity and openness is not only appealing but allows his character to widen his outlook on life and his future.  Miggy Rojas has figured greatly into that transformation.  What a great new character and what a set of complications he brings to the series.  Miggy lives with Remy, he is his partner in the business they started and together they found one of the young men they rescued in the aftermath of London and adopted him thereby forming a family.  That young man, Toby, also brought another satisfactory element to this story as I had wanted to know what happened to him in London.  This story supplied that answer in a way that made me deeply happy.  Everything about the Phoenix group feels real.  It’s messy, complicated, funny, and down to earth.  I loved all of them.  And so of course, their happiness made me fear for the future.

Less content, feeling dissatisfied in his life in almost every way is Lord Jamie Mainwaring. He has rebounded in his mother’s affections and the regard of London society.  He is in a romantic relationship with his partner Ryan Whiteside and feeling successful at his profession.  And Jamie is deeply unhappy.  Jamie’s character is one that if not given depth and insight would come across as whinny and ungrateful for his position as a wealthy lord with a mother who adores him and a partner in love as well as business.  But Harner’s characterization invites understanding and compassion for Jamie in his current reality.  Jamie is that person who realizes that he let the love of  his life get away without trying to stop him.  His current romance is lacking, at least on his side and his return to his duties to his mother and society are as underwhelming as they were to begin with.  I think readers will relate to Jamie as almost everyone has been at this point in their life where everything is off and the path to change is uncertain.

Harner then takes  all four men and throws them into the deep, professionally, emotionally and of course, romantically.  The reader, of course, knows the men are on the same ship before they do which ramps up our anticipation of that moment of discovery.  And from that instant on, the author’s plot takes off running, leaping, swimming, a constant motion of frenzied action, unexpected developments and heart racing suspense and anxiety for the men we have come to care for.  Harner’s narrative provides both a complicated, ever-twisting plot while making her characters even more realistic, especially given the events that occur on and off the cruise.   The story is fast paced, smooth, and action packed. Towards the end as all the secrets start to come out the story becomes unrelenting in the turmoil it creates.  It’s white knuckled action all the way to the shocking denouement.  What an outstanding ride!

Is this a romance?  Hmmm, sort of.  It is called Separate Ways for a reason.  The romance between Remy and Jamie is going to be a long, drawn out affair, despite the white hot beginning.  They parted for a reason, one that remains valid here in this story.  Jamie’s world is England.  Remy’s is in Phoenix and there is not valid, logical way for them to be together now.  Harner understands the complications of each man’s life as well as their priorities and her series reflects that.  Life has a way of intruding no matter what we may want to happen.  The humor, the sadness, and the unexpected elements that arise to throw these men off course.  I love the authenticity of this series from the heartrending moments to those of quiet joy.

Harner has at least four books planned for this series.  Three are out now with the fourth to be released 2014.  If the first two stories are any indication, its going to be a “wild and bumpy” ride, albeit an outstanding one.  It hasn’t disappointed me so far.  I love all the characters and the twists that keep appearing.  I can’t wait for more.  Follow me to the next one Moving Mountains (Separate Way #3).

If you are new to the series, go back to the beginning Continental Divide and start there, a must to understand these men and the events that occur.  Catch up with us and settle in for an astounding ride, fraught with emotional fissures and hot sexy men.  Consider this one of Scattered Thoughts Best of 2013 series and one I highly recommend.

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

Continental Divide (Separate Ways #1) written by Laura Harner, Lisa Worrall
Oceans Apart (Separate Ways #2) written by Laura Harner
Moving Mountains (Separate Ways #3) written by Laura Harner
Untitled Fourth Book coming in April 2014

Cover art by Laura Harner.

Buy links:  Amazon, ARe

Book Details:

ebook, 200 pages
Published October 19th 2012 by Hot Corner Press
ISBN13 9781937252298
edition language English

Winners of the Pulp Friction 2013 Contest

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Congratulations to our Pulp Friction 2013 Series Contest.  The Winners are:

  1. Bluesmokey  richards851(at)sbcglobal(dot)net
  2. Helen helenj@odont.uio.no
  3. Kerry books2read69@hotmail(dot)com
  4. Bobbie Walker Bobbie022@sky.com

Please double check that I have your email addresses correct and let me know if there are any corrections.  The authors will be sending our copies of their series to the winners.  Happy reading everyone and Happy Holidays!

ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords Review of Odd Man Out, the Pulp Friction combined series finale story.

Pulp Friction 4 covers

Review: Grime Doesn’t Pay (The Brothers Grime #2) by Z.A. Maxfield

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

The Brothers Grime- EddieEddie Vasquez, one of the three owners of The Brothers Grime, has fallen for his niece’s elementary school teacher Mr.  B. Andrew  Daley.  Each time Eddie drops Lucy off at her third grade classroom, he intends to speak to Andrew about more than just Lucy’s accomplishments and classwork and each time he leaves without saying anything.  Eddie finds Andrew gorgeous but daunting because of his education and learning.  Eddie is profoundly dyslexic, leaving him unable to read without special instruments and a considerable amount of time pouring over the words.  And while Eddie has managed to be successful in life working with his disability, he continues to feel as though he is “afflicted”, unworthy of someone whose conversations are filled full of books and book references.

Andrew Daley has his own hidden problems, specifically his father.   Andrew’s father used to own a bookstore but since his mother’s death, his father has changed severely and not for the better. In fact his father’s problems have gotten so extreme that Andrew has not seen his father in months, staying in contact only through sporadic phone calls.  Andrew too has noticed his student Lucy’s gorgeous uncle and looks forward to every visit Eddie Vasquez makes to his classroom.  He loves to see how deeply Eddie loves his niece and the adoration that shows in the way he treats her. And he wonders why the obviously interested Eddie doesn’t approach him.

Then one of Eddie’s former elementary teachers shows up at school, disoriented, hair and clothes rank, smelling of human decomposition, and the two men join forces to help her and discover the events that have brought her to a school she hasn’t work at in decades.  Mrs. Henderson is the teacher responsible for Eddie’s diagnosis of his learning disability, her support and care helped him to move forward, personally and professionally.  Now when she needs help, Eddie is there, together with the rest of The Brothers Grime and Andrew, to provide the assistance she so badly needs.

Mrs. Henderson brings Eddie and Andrew together but each man is still hiding their biggest secrets from each other.  When those secrets are finally disclosed, will the fragile relationship they have been building survive, and grow stronger under the weight of truths finally revealed?

I loved the first book in this series, Grime and Punishment, published in May of 2013.  It was funny, heartrending and so unusual in that the profession of its main character, Jack Masterson, is one rarely found encountered in fiction.  Jack was a former firefighter whose disability forced him off the job into a new profession, that of crime scene cleanup.  Jack, along with childhood friends, Gabe and Eddie Vasquez, formed The Brothers Grime, a crime scene cleaning service whose motto “Because Life Is Not A Fairy Tale” adorns their vans and advertises their business.   It was a fascinating introduction to this necessary and deeply unpleasant profession as well as the intelligent, multidimensional characters who own and operate The Brothers Grime.  It was a smart, engrossing story, one I couldn’t put down and highly recommended.  But it still did not prepare me for the remarkable and absorbing tale to follow, Grime Doesn’t Pay, Eddie’s story.

In Grime Doesn’t Pay, Z.A. Maxfield tackles several tough and complex elements, all crucial to the story, the characters and the series and she handles them all with intelligence, compassion and an authenticity that educated while removing nothing from a riveting story. Maxfield’s narrative moved me to a better understanding of those burdened with these problems while highlighting the need for more education and enlightenment in the media of these issues and their effects upon our society, a powerful statement for any story.

First lets look at Eddie, a complex and admirable character who has learned to deal with his profound dyslexia while still bearing old pain from the manner in which his family, friends and schoolmates treated him growing up.  I loved Eddie and through him, Z.A. Maxfield taught me so much more about dyslexia and the instruments and  coping mechanisms used by those affected by this disease.  It is a dispassionate, layered portrait that encompasses both the adult who manages his dyslexia successfully while never forgetting the child taunted by classmates and torn down by his parents disappointment.  There is so much to this character, from his courtly manners derived from his family and background to his dancing, a fluid and artistic expression of the inner man.  Eddie is full of complexities, and the story, told from his point of view, is enriched in equal measure.

Secondly, and on par with the misinformation and misunderstandings of the complexities and range of dyslexia is the mental disorder of hoarding.  Too often this mental disorder is viewed through the superficial treatment given in the media, a foil for comics and the subject of cable tv programming.  But in the hands of this author, and seen through the eyes of Eddie, Andrew and his father, it becomes  real and grimly relevant to our understanding of mental illness today.  Each man is a different prism through which the disease can be viewed. Andrew’s anguish as the son lacking the understanding of his father’s illness, full of anger and pain, and reeling with embarassment, is the voice we so often see in the media.  His is the channel through which most of us see the disease and its effects  upon family and loved ones. Next, in Andrew’s father, we see the disease given full reign, but made very human, grounded in his pain and humiliation.  His own embarrassment and pride in full conflict with the reality of his situation and his inability to cope with his mental illness on his own. We are brought into his home, piled up with debris, overridden with roaches, and infused with a stench of old food and rat excrement that you can almost smell coming out of the pages. That picture combined with the pathetic state of his person and the dignity that he is trying to maintain will bring you to tears and still let you understand the fury of the son.  And finally, to give the reader yet one more perspective from which to view this disease, we see it from Eddie’s standpoint.  As a dyslexic who stands outside the norms of society, he is perhaps the only person (outside of a psychiatrist specializing in hoarders) who can reach Andrew’s father and understand him.  And once again, Maxfield makes us feel every bit of their pain, of Eddie, who can’t read, being the one to understand Mr. Daley, a person who has lived his life for books and now uses them as a basis for his hoarding.

Added to these exceptional aspects of this story are marvelous characterizations outside of Eddie, Andrew and Mr. Daley, including Mrs. Henderson and the problem of the aged (another beautifully rendered subject).  There is the culturally rich Vasquez family, surrounding Eddie with love and expectations.  The hilarious morally challenged employee, Skippy, and the ever closeted police officer and childhood friend of The Brothers Grime, Dave Huntley, who figures in all the stories.  So many wonderful characters to challenge the way you view people and the manner in which they live their lives.

If the serious nature of these topics give you pause, don’t let it.  There is a wonderfully moving romance that binds these issues together.  There are scenes of terrific warmth and humor to balance those of grim realism and pain.  Z. A. Maxfield moves her story along concisely and smoothly, leaving the reader so wrapped up in the people and events that you will barely be aware of the pages flipping by.  This story left me floored and throughly addicted to these characters and their future.  I think you will feel the same.  Consider Grime Doesn’t Pay not only a must read but one of Scattered Thoughts Best Contemporary Stories of 2013.

Book Details:
ebook, 241 pages
Published November 27th 2013 by Loose Id (first published November 25th 2013)
ISBN13 9781623005863
edition language English

Mid December Thoughts and The Week Ahead in Reviews

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Winter trees longs

It is mid-December and the end of 2013 is only weeks away.  So many people are still rushing around, making last minute trip preparations, fixing the holiday menus or getting gifts for those you love.  This year I find myself just so grateful to have my Dad still with us, after suffering a huge illness and operation.  My mother has stayed by his side, sleeping in chairs and wherever possible, in the hospital or rehab center.  For all their years together this has been the most they have ever been apart.  And now Dad is back home where he belongs, just in time for the holidays and his birthday.  Never have I felt so happy to be able to write those words.  Dad’s recovery and homecoming are all that I or anyone in my family  want or need for Christmas.  We have been given the best gift of all and we know it.  And are so grateful.

But there are so many others out there right now that need our thoughts, and if you are religious, our prayers for them and their loved ones.  And maybe something more, a little assistance if you are able.  LGBTQ Youth Shelters need our financial assistance, especially in the winter, when the cold drives so many inside in need of beds, food, and emotional support.

And if you love or have been touched by the books of Eric Arvin or TJ Klune or the men themselves, you may not be aware that Eric is ill and they could use our help and thoughts.  There is a fund set up to help Eric and his family offset the cost of his medical bills.  That is listed below as well as the links to the LGBTQ Youth Shelters. The holidays are a time of  love and giving, to all of those we are connected to by blood and by choice, and by need:

And now for the week ahead in reviews:

Monday, Dec. 16             Christmas Serendipity by Liam Livings

Tuesday, Dec. 17:            The Brothers Grime: Eddie by Z.A. Maxfield

Wed., Dec. 18:                  Model Love by S.J. Frost

Thurs, Dec. 19:                 Kick Start by Josh Lanyon

Friday, Dec. 20:              Christmas Guest Blog at Andrew Q. Gordon’s

Sat., Dec. 21:                    Oceans Apart by Laura Harner