A MelanieM Review: Men of the Manor: Erotic Encounters between Upstairs Lords and Downstairs Lads by Rob Rosen

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Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

MenOfTheManorCover2-413x600Thirteen authors with thirteen stories that take you back to the turn of the century to explore the Lords of the Manor and their varied relationships with the servants of the back halls and downstairs.  From the naughty to the salacious, from the  humorous to the romantic, all sorts of relationships are set against the backdrop of pre World War I Europe, a time where the wealthy aristocrats may only think they rule the world but the working class has far different ideas

Thirteen stories by various authors such as Dale Chase, J. L. Merrow, Rob Rosen, Brent Archer, Michael Landon and more explore the ups and downs, ins and outs of the Lords of the Manor and the downstairs help who serve them in so many ways.  Randy members of the ruling class and footman, manipulative butlers and hedonistic lords, and even a stable boy or two to bring joy and kink into an aristocrat’s life…variety is the spice of life and this anthology has it all.

Stories in this anthology in the order they appear in the anthology:

  • The Maze by Dale Chase
  • Finnias Laredo by Alex Stitt
  • Finsloe by Xavier Axelson
  • Booting by Salome Wilde
  • Seducing the Footman by Brent Archer
  • Folly’s Ditch by Felice Picano
  • Manor Games by Michael Roberts
  • Brass Rags by J.L. Merrow
  • Mutable Memories by Michael Bracken
  • Front Door, Back Door by Logan Zachary
  • Chauffeur’s Hole by Landon Dixon
  • Master Jeffy Learns a Lesson by Sasha Payne
  • Bohemian Rhapsody by Rob Rosen

Men of the Manor Anthology is described by its editor Rob Rosen as a sort of layered english drama of classes. Or in his words “Think Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, but with enough sex to make the town vicar blush.”  So how you feel about those shows and the expectations you bring to this anthology will determine what you think about the mixed bag of stories this anthology represents.

Only some of these stories can be considered romantic, one or two pornographic or  “erotic” depending upon your  classification of a “sex only” type of  short story.  There are a few revenge type tales or getting their comeuppance plots.  One of sexual exploration and epipanies as well as some hilarious installments that kept me giggling past the endings.  I loved those with humor, clearly they were my favorites.

What did I find mostly absent?  Stories that included romance, and perhaps deeper feelings that might just be love.  What can be found in abundance?  Sexual encounters of all kinds and places.  Sex scenes both casual and coarse as well as sexual liaisons that were instructive, illuminating and guffaw inducing.  One story of one type, a couple of another, and so on.  To appreciate this collection of authors and plots, a reader should bring an appreciation for a variety of sexual relationships and encounters found within this anthology’s stories or  they will find this a disappointing read.

Which were my favorites?  Brass Rags by J. L Merrow.  Merrow’s Algy, aka Lord Algernon Huffingham, had me in stitches for the entire story.  Algy, a sort of perverted Bertie Wooster (P.G. Wodehouse), is in search of his own Jeeves, one who comes equipped to deal with Algy’s very specific and kinky sexual desires.  He finds him at Blithering Coombe, the country estate of his friend Cedric’s father.  Oh the joys of Algy’s mind and musings.  Whether Algy is remembering fondly why he was banned from his father’s stables (being discovered being ridden and whipped like a pony by a stable boy will do that) or despondently telling Cedric that he prefers “horny-handed sons of toil” , Algy and his story will leaving you grinning and wishing they had their own series.  His humorous and singular voice deserves it.

On the more serious side is  Front Door, Back Door by  Logan Zachary.  A short tale of increasing anxiety and dread over the actions of a spoiled son of the landed gentry,  Zachary weaves a lovely tale of tenderness and comeuppance.  I thought the ending of Front Door, Back Door was especially well done and unexpected.  Just lovely.

Back to the unexpected and humorous, Brent Archer’s Seducing the Footman contained a wonderful unexpected twist that made me appreciate his story even more.  Manor Games by Michael Roberts has a loyal and mischeivous gentlemen’s gentleman, Tompkins, whose Master is unfortunate at cards.  What happens to level the playing field and bring a certain Kensington-Ffoulke to heal is an entertaining and hilarious game of cards never to be forgotten.  Master Jeffy Learns a Lesson by Sasha Payne is a delight if for no other reason than that title.  Good thing the well crafted characters and comical situations inside the story match up nicely with each other as well as the title.

Those were my favorites and they consisted mostly of the stories that you would consider light hearted, droll, and oh so entertaining.  I love the characters and the situation they found themselves in.  They “tickled my fancy” as none of the others did.  Plus they had staying power.  For a different reader, perhaps they might find them too light hearted and would be content with the offerings from the other authors.

Men of the Manor is only available in paperback format which can make buying a collection more problematic when such variety is involved.  That’s why I am hesitating in my recommendations.  If this was an ebook, I would absolutely recommend it.  Brass Rags by J. L. Merrow and Sasha Payne;s Master Jeffy Learns a Lesson would be worth the price alone.  But a paperback?  Not so sure.  You must decide.  If you are a fan of a majority of those authors, than go ahead and pick it up.  You will have a better understanding of what type of story awaits you inside.

Cover art by Scott Idelman/Blink.  Wish it had a more historical feel to it. Just ok.

Sales Links – Paperback and ebook: Cleis Press   All Romance $15.95   Amazon from $12.16  Men of the Manor

Book Details:

Paperback only, 232 pages
Expected publication: October 7th 2014 by Cleis Press (first published September 9th 2014)
ISBN 1627780661 (ISBN13: 9781627780667)

 

Review: Home the Hard Way by Z.A. Maxfield

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Rating:  3.75 stars out of 5

HomeTheHardWay_500x750Dare Buckley has returned home to Palladian, Washington a far different person than the one he was when he left.  Dare left Palladian, a teenaged golden boy who, along with his mother, was mourning the loss of his father who had committed suicide.  The man who returned?  That Dare Buckley is a disgraced former Seattle P.D cop.  A man who’s poor judgement and even worse actions have made him someone only a hometown police department would give a job too.  Dare Buckley knows this is his last chance for redemption and he needs to make good.  It also gives him a chance to investigate his father’s death and reconnect with someone who used to idolize him, Finn Fowler.

Finn Fowler, son of the local tramp, is someone who Dare protected when they were in school when the bullies saw Finn as an easy victim and outsider.  But that young boy who followed Dare everywhere, who thought Dare was his hero is gone.  Now there’s an adult Finn Fowler to  content with, one who wants little to do with Dare Buckley.  Or so it seems.

Palladian has always been a town of secrets, only Dare never realized that before now.  And those secrets contain the answers that Dare needs to find closure and the ability to go forward.  But what happens when someone doesn’t want those secrets to come out?  Who can Dare trust when even the man he thought he knew might be keeping the biggest secret of them all?

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Two things  right off the bat.  One, I love Z.A. Maxfield.  Her stories have an originality and life about them that I find irresistible.  So many of them are must reads and highly recommended books on my shelf.  Two.  Home the Hard Way is probably not one of those stories, at least for me.

Home the Hard Way is more of a mixed bag for me narratively speaking than her other tales of  angst, broken men, and love.  For most of this tale, I was engrossed in the complicated but resoundingly lifelike plot.  That includes the small town Sheriffs office and its police officers, the town beauty parlor and its clients as well as all the other denizens of a town that’s seen better days and knows it.  And there’s a local golden boy who left a hero and came home a failure.  Those parts all work here and work extremely well.  The resignation, humiliation, and indignation of the returned “past his glory” boy and the people left behind who idolized him…all rang true. It is just one well conceived and well drawn character portrait after another here.

Other plot threads that worked seamlessly throughout the story were the old mysteries floating up from the past to haunt and threaten those involved in their present lives.  That these secrets were kept hidden by agreement and association feels like an integral part of authentic small town life instead of part of a fictionalized culture.  I liked that too.  Even the behavior that can be institutionalized under such a society felt real.  Bullying, harassment, all can be excused given the right circumstances and people involved, and that’s the shared history in a small town that makes that an ordinary happenstance.  Everything I just mentioned worked beautifully in the story and made the narrative flow slowly along.

So what didn’t work for me?  The manner in which one main character is introduced to bdsm and a D/s relationship.  And that aspect of the story was enough, in its treatment, to almost derail this book for me.

I love it when using BDSM components or a D/s scene or lifestyle makes sense for a character or a situation.  I think that it’s important that it be explained or incorporated in a way that lets the reader into the scene and understand  why its necessity for both characters to participate.  It shouldn’t, in my opinion, make you start questioning about the “rightness” of the scene or the judgement about the author’s handling of her characters in such a scene.  Or even if  the segments that bothered me are acceptable to the leather or bdsm community in general (if you can answer this please let me know), I do know that those scenes were problematic enough to keep me awake trying to see it from all angles because it bothered me enough to jar the flow of the story.

My issues here?  That anything consensual can happen with a drunken or judgment impaired character and not be addressed in the narrative.  That’s at the core of my dissatisfaction with this story. It’s a sticking point with me although it might not be for other readers.  But here’s my thinking on the issue.

For starters, that a drunk character, on an unplanned, inebriated visit to another sober character (under strained circumstances) gets pushed /involved into a D/s BDSM scene with little dialog or discussion between the characters.  Unless the lack of consent is part of the storyline, an inebriated or alcoholic person (fictional or not) can’t be seen to give consent to an action or behavior, even an implied consent without some discussion going on.   The impaired judgement of that main character is not addressed.  It wouldn’t have mattered even if they are getting a tattoo while on a binge or other similar actions.

Secondly, then this character is ushered into an act of submission, and by a Dom/character who has complex feelings about the other person. This includes a long standing grudge (feelings of abandonment) against this character. For me, it just felt well less a scene between consenting adults and more like an action of aggression and implied revenge.  Again that would be fine if that was the intent of the scene.  But it’s not. And the character made to submit?  A virgin so to speak about D/s play and BDSM in particular.  This happens more than once.  Is this typical D/s play?  Don’t know. I have been informed by some in the lifestyle that such scenes need to be worked out in advance, rules and limitations agreed to, things of that nature.

Again, it’s not the D/s or BDSM play that I mind, but the manner in which the characters use it to sexually interact with each other and work out old issues.  This guy is a mess to begin with and it only gets worse. I wish the whole aspect of this story would have been handled a little differently. Even the slightest change would have affected how I feel about this story.  I kept trying to see my way around this element but I could never resolve it satisfactorily enough to get by it.

This element aside (which admittedly was hard for this reader), Home the Hard Way is a story that many readers will enjoy and feel deeply about. Why?  Because there are so many wonderful elements at work here.  Z.A. Maxfield’s characters and small town descriptions are just incredible.  Just the way in which the town of Palladian and the rank river that it got its name from are depicted.  The river, dank,and  sluggish, full of trash pooling at its edges, waits for a storm to flush the stagnant waste and foul waters away.  Much the way the town has an overlay of old secrets, hidden antagonisms, and barely contained jealousies and rivalries.  It’s that aroma of  neglect that reflects the stagnant  feel that small town can get as if the life is seeping slowly out of them a drip at a time.  Everyone knows everyone else or thinks they do because of a shared history that can reach decades into each family’s life.   This element of the story made Home the Hard Way for me.  I recognized those people and the town they lived in.  I knew them from their all-too-human actions, petty and otherwise,   The small town parlance and activities speak for themselves as an authentic part of small town USA.

Will the issues that bothered me here bother you?  Not sure. That’s for you to decide.  If not,then you might feel that this is just the story for you.  As I said, so much about this book is quite wonderful.  I enjoyed parts of Home the Hard Way, just not enough to read it again and that’s the benchmark for a 4 star rating for me.  Let me know how you feel about the book and this issue.  This inquiring mind wants to know.

Cover art by Amber Shah.  I loved it and vote it one of the best of the month!

Buy links:            Riptide Publishing                   All Romance eBook (ARe)                 Amazon                    <a href=” Home the Hard Way 

Book Details:

book, 350 pages
Expected publication: July 28th 2014 by Riptide Publishing
original titleHome the Hard Way
ISBN139781626491458
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://riptidepublishing.com/titles/home-the-hard-way

Review: Jasper’s Mountain by John Inman

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Rating:  3.75 stars out of 5

Jasper's MountainJasper Stone has few needs.  A writer, Jasper loves his solitude and quiet, something he gets plenty of on his ninety acre ranch, high on the side of the Juniper Mountains.  Living alone in his rustic cabin, Jasper’s only companions are the animal menagerie the kind hearted author has managed to accumulate since his arrival.  While all his dogs and cats keep Jasper from being alone, they don’t always keep him from being lonely.  Then Jasper finds a young man with a fever hiding in his chicken coop and everything changes.

When small-time thief Timmy Harwell carjacks a Cadillac, he tumbles into something much more dangerous than just stealing a car.  That outrageously outfitted Cadillac belongs to Miguel Garcia, aka El Poco, a Tijuana drug dealer, known for his ruthless manner and killer reputation.  And it’s not just the drug dealer’s favorite car that Timmy has stolen, no, its the $100,000 he finds in the trunk as well.  Soon, Timmy is on the run, trying to put as much distance between him and El Poco as possible.

But a storm forces Timmy to hide out on Jasper’s ranch until he falls ill from exposure. Jasper finds Timmy and nurses him back to health, becoming fond of the young man during his recovery.  But Timmy recognizes that Jasper is everything he is not.  Jasper is kind, and honest, valuing trust and the truth above all.  So Timmy hides who he is and what he has done behind lie after lie.  When the past and El Poco catches up to Timmy on Jasper’s mountain, Timmy realizes its not just himself he has placed in danger but Jasper too, a man he has come to love and admire.  When it all comes down to making a choice, will Timmy choose survival?  Or will he decide honesty and Jasper is the only choice his  heart desires?

I first found John Inman through a series of novels with a comedic bent to their plots and characters.  And although each contained a serious element or two in the narrative, they were generally light hearted fare that left you smiling or perhaps even guffawing long after you had finished reading them.  So I found myself surprised by the gravity of Jasper’s Mountain, a novel with a few endearing scenes to lighten a storyline of unusual seriousness by this author of humorous tales.

The characters that John Inman creates have always been people that felt authentic. Their personalities, character traits and relationship issues seeming more those of your neighbors than of created personas.  That holds true here for Jasper Stone and Timmy Hartwell.  Jasper, especially, resonated with me.  Jasper is 32 years old, and more fond of animals than he is of people.  Animals have never let him down the way people have.  And Jasper’s mistrust of people combined with  his awkwardness and dislike of society have caused him to retreat to his mountain sanctuary and the company of animals.  Further isolating this man is his chosen profession of writing, something he is only moderately successful at. Jasper sells enough manuscripts to sustain himself and his pets but not  for anything more.  Everything about Jasper feels real, if not relatable.

Timmy Hartwell also comes across as a believable young thief.  Stealing is a way of life Timmy just fell into, driven by a desire never to be poor again after a childhood spent in foster care.  A lack of discipline, no impulse control and a flexible morality made life as a thief an easy occupation.  If Timmy saw it and wanted it, well, then he stole it.  And thought about the consequences later.  Even Timmy admitted to himself that he probably wasn’t very smart about his life choices, just went with the flow of events and easy choices.  Only the choice of hiding spots causes a change in outlook, not a desire to go straight.  Another beautifully layered portrait from John Inman of a young confused human being with a life of bad choices behind him and more of the same in his future.

As with all Inman novels, the animal characters that pop up haphazardly about the story are as vivid and realistic as the people around them.  Whether it is Harry and Harriet, pigs destined never to be bacon,  Guatemala and Fiji, the cats with appetites for alligator lizards and the comforts of home, or Bobber, Jumper, and Lola, the dogs of indeterminate breeding that Jasper adopts, all the animals have larger than life personalities that support and enhance the people they are attached to.  In this instance, the menagerie that Jasper has accumulated makes Jasper’s decision to help and then house another, albeit human, stray feel authentic to the character and situation.  Jasper collects animals in need, what’s one more?  The problem arises in that Timmy is a liar and a thief, someone Jasper cannot count on, unlike the unwavering love and loyalty of his animal family.  It’s a great plot idea, but does it make a great romance?

As I stated before, Jasper’s Mountain is a departure from the typical lighthearted story I expect from this author.  And that more serious aspect runs through the entire narrative.  The biggest issue between the characters also becomes the biggest issue, in my opinion, between the readers relating to and believing in a romance between Jasper and Timmy.  Timmy consistently lies to Jasper throughout the story.  Over his background, over the events that lead him to Jasper’s ranch, over the peril he places Jasper in, and well, everything about the situation Timmy has created.   Timmy is not just in the well, he’s in the Carlsbad Cavern of bad places, so deep and perilous is the position he has created for himself and  Jasper.  And the more he lies he tells Jasper, the more distance Timmy puts between himself and the reader’s emotional involvement in his future.  I am not sure that Inman recognized the extent that the dishonesty of Timmy’s character would decrease the attachment one would feel towards Timmy. It also keeps the reader from investing in their romance.  Even towards the end, Timmy is not honest about the head games he has been playing.  We understand his desperation, the acts he commits in order to survive.    John Inman has made Timmy a thoroughly believable little thief.  I’m just not sure how much a reader will like him.  That may depend on how much empathy you are able to extend towards Timmy and his situation.

The authenticity of Inman’s scenario extends to the story’s resolution as well.  It’s not a HEA or even a HFN.  More like a gritty probability that hope and the right decision will make a future possible.  I liked that the author remained committed to a more likely ending than creating one that discounted all the events and characters that went before.  For me, it was the only way this story could end and stay plausible.  Love and hope sometimes has to be enough.  John Inman understands that as well.

If you are looking for a lighthearted romance, then this is probably not the story for you.  But Jasper’s Mountain has so much to offer.  Its well written, believable, and full of layered characters that will hold your attention from start to finish.  And no matter how I felt about Jasper and Timmy as a couple, I never stopped reading, not once.  Pick it up and decide for yourself.

Cover artist Reese Dante gave Jasper’s Mountain a beautiful, memorable cover.  One of the best of the year.

Book Details:

ebook, 204 pages
Published August 16th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press (first published August 15th 2013)
ISBN 1627980733 (ISBN13: 9781627980739)
edition language English
Author Details:

Review: Pretty Poison by Kari Gregg

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Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

Pretty Poison coverNoah was only a toddler when an accident shattered not only his body but his life and that of his family.  Noah fell through the bars of a balcony railing from their eighth floor apartment, landing on the ground below, his body crushed.  Had he been human, the fall  would have killed him.  But Noah is a wolf shifter and he survived but barely.  The pack Alpha at the time as well  as others  saw Noah as a cripple, a pup to be put down as it was of no use to the pack because Noah would never be able to contribute.  Facing Noah’s death, his family took him and fled to the country where they asked human doctors to help Noah survive the fall, something the pack doctors refused to do.

Years later, Noah and his family remain isolated not only because they broke pack law but to protect Noah whose health remains fragile.  Migraines, slight with legs unable to support his body, Noah uses crutches to get around and has medication that keeps him from shifting.  But he has a tight knit family to support him and a online business he created that he loves and is  successful at.

But the past returns when the new Alpha, Wade,  arrives to claim his mate, the mating pact formed before Noah’s birth by Noah’s parents and their Alpha.  Wade chooses Noah over his brothers to the horror of Noah’s family.  Wade is determined to correct the wrongs of the previous Alpha and choosing Noah as his mate is just the start.  Noah will protect his family at all costs and goes willingly if fearfully.  But can Wade protect Noah from pack members who still regard Noah as a poison and are determined to finished what their older Alpha ordered?

I am a hardcore fan of wolf shifter stories, ok any shifter story.  Telling me that there is a new one out is like waving a pretty bauble in front of a magpie.  I just grab it up and jump right in.  Sometimes the story is like hitting the Lotto.  It’s a true winner in every respect.  World building, characters, plot.  You name it and the story has it in spades.  Other times, well, it’s that scratch off ticket that has almost all the same boxes, except one or two…almost a winner but not quite.  It’s that last one that reminds me of Pretty Poison by Kari Gregg.  It’s almost a great story.  It has some definitely terrific elements and then there are some that are both perplexing and a complete miss as far as plot and worldbuilding.

I loved Gregg’s plot.  What a great idea to have a wolf shifter injured at an early age and be unable to heal.  Instantaneously, you have made this character not only vulnerable but fascinating.  What happens when a shifter can’t heal?  How does a pack react? Here Gregg takes her lead from wolf biology and natural history.  Some packs accept an injured wolf but their harsh lifestyle makes it inevitable that it won’t survive long.  Translate that to a shifter universe where this pack lives in a fashion similar to the Amish, apart from human society, their young not educated past a certain age as they believe only in manual labor and jobs accessible for those that use their bodies and not their minds.  How that changes once an educated, tech savvy Noah joins the pack is not only realistic but sociologically sound. This aspect of Gregg’s novel is one of the true highlights of the story for me.

Noah is another plus.  I found his character to be interesting and accessible.   His differences extend past his injuries.  His coloration is rare, that of a true redhead (think Grey Wolf versus the smaller Red Wolf of the East Coast).  Noah has continued his education and now owns a web business that he works at online.  He is highly intelligent, technologically brilliant, and highly loyal. Plus he is cute. And he has endured countless hours of surgeries and therapy to help him continue to improve and maintain his current condition, even if it means numerous human medications and incapacitating migraines.  In fact most of the characters found here at very well done.  Each one feels like a real person, complete with both positive and negative aspects of their personalities.  It’s not the characters that I have issues with, but some of their actions that come across as less than plausible, including the short time frame of the story.

This is a case of near instant bonding, although thankfully not  instant love. But it’s a close call.  Gregg does establish a case of pheromones as the cause of their attraction but it still  feels too quick for all the adjustments that happens after Noah is pulled from his house and taken to the pack compound.  Gregg’s use of herbs that both harm and heal the werewolves is again a marvelous  element as is Noah’s changing situation once he is away from the family.  All great.  Even the miscommunication that occurs between Noah and Wade seems reasonable. And the sex scenes, including the one that ties the two wolves together, knotting, is white hot.  But there are also some very odd bits that intrude into the picture that makes the story go off course for me.

One is the case of Mpreg that occurs here.  Wolves have a gestation of 60 to 63 days and Gregg adheres to that.  But for a male pregnancy story to work (to my mind at least), it must be based somehow within the realm of scientific speculation. And if all conjecture, than at least give me a plausible explanation as to how it would work, especially with dealing with a species that shifts into different forms.   Gregg’s reasoning called up more questions than it answered.  Plus I am not sure it added anything especially relevant to the story, even given Noah’s rationale.

Another is actions of some of her characters that are counter to the personas she created.  Noah’s father especially acts in ways that seem counterintuitive to the scenes earlier in the story.  He loves his children, especially Noah, deeply and without regard to his own safety.  But later on in the story, he believes outsiders who in the past have done nothing but threaten his son over the continual advice and pleadings from his own children.  As the phrase goes “it does not compute.”

Pretty Poison is that shifter story that has much to offer.  Realistically developed characters, great plot, and interesting aspects to her world building make it easy to read but it also contains elements that cause the flow of the narrative to falter when the reader stops to ponder some of the stranger sections to the story.   If all of the above sound attractive, then pick it up and add it to your reading list.  If not, then consider some of Kari Gregg’s other stories.  She has a wonderful backlist where you will surely find something to your taste.

Cover artist Lou Harper.  I loved this cover.  The elements are dramatic, the men hot and sexy, and the wolf is gorgeous.  So well done.

Buy Link: ARe

Book Details:

ebook, 147 pages
Published December 15th 2013 by Kari Gregg (first published December 14th 2013)
original titlePretty Poison
ISBN132940148931812
edition languageEnglish