Review: When All the World Sleeps by Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

WhenAllTheWorldSleeps_500x750_0Daniel Whitlock is back in his hometown of Logan, South Carolina, after serving time in prison for killing a man. The man Daniel killed was another local boy, Kenny Cooper, someone who savagely beat Daniel because he was gay.   The problem is that Daniel doesn’t remember burning down Kenny’s house with Kenny in it.  Daniel is a sleepwalker and has been since he was a child but no one believed him when Daniel told everyone that he had been asleep when he burned Kenny’s house to the ground. Convicted with time served, now Daniel has returned home to a town that hates him and a family that won’t speak to him.  Isolated in a cabin in the woods, Daniel chains himself to the bed each night in hopes that he can sleep.  Sometimes it works, mostly it doesn’t.

When Daniel is found causing trouble at the local bar, its up to Logan cop Joe Belman to break up the fight and take Daniel home.  Like everyone else in town Bel has never believed Daniel’s defense of sleepwalking.  But now faced with the reality of a Daniel who doesn’t remember the fight at the bar, Bel’s attitude towards Daniel starts to change. When Kenny’s friends retaliate against Daniel, Bel agrees to watch over him, to keep Daniel safe by any means…including tying him up and handcuffs.

Watching over Daniel, dominating him to protect him, brings out a side of Bel he never knew existed.  And as he slips into a relationship with Daniel, one that deepens by the day, Bel finds himself looking at his hometown and its citizens in a new and harsh light.  It’s not only the town that won’t leave Daniel alone but his own fears and demons too.  Only with Bel does he find any measure of peace…now if only he can let himself believes he deserves it and that Bel will stick with him no matter what.

Not many books these days leave me speechless, let alone exceed any expectations I might have had from the blurb given.  But When All the World Sleeps is that treasure of a book that leapt over my perceptions and conjectures into a triumph of storytelling.

Truthfully, it’s the characters first that surprised me. I was unprepared for damaged Daniel Whitlock and his somnambulism.  And how deeply this character would affect me.  His pain and anguish over the past, and not just Kenny, is so profoundly real that I could swear I saw Daniel’s blood and tears wash over the Kindle’s screen as certain scenes unfolded.  He is steeped in guilt and confusion.  By returning to Logan, all the memories and problems that Daniel carries with him just intensifies for him and the reader on an almost hourly basis.  There is little mercy to be found in this small town with its almost biblical memory and cemented social judgements, whether it be against gays or convicts or those that happen to live outside the town’s proscribed idea of normal.  And oh the danger if someone just happens to be all of those.  That is a marked man, whether it be open taunts or concealed hatred.

Joe Belman, or Bel as he is called is another remarkable character in a sea of them.  Bel is someone we watch grow emotionally throughout the story.  He starts off as just another typical Logan citizen, holding much the same viewpoints and values as all the other close-knit family members and small town denizens.  Logan is so central to who Bel thinks he is that it would never occur to Bel to live anywhere else, so strongly does Bel identify with the town and his family and friends. But all that starts to change when Daniel reappears in Bel’s life.  There is a fundamental change that has to happen before Bel can see Daniel as someone other than a liar and killer, and that change happens slowly and with great realism.  Henry and Rock achieve something remarkable here with Bel.  His changeover in attitude and feelings towards Daniel feels so authentic in his doubt, stubborness, and finally acceptance that the authors pull the readers along with Bel’s introspection and emotional discoveries about himself and Daniel.  It’s intimate, it’s a ground swell of emotion that never stops breaking and its breathtaking in its accomplishment in making me, and all the readers so vested in these characters and their delicate relationship that any swerve off the path for them is as painful for us as it is devastating for them.  Bel is that singular voice in the night, the one that stands out in the sea of small town secrets and listening to him soon becomes as addictive as it is necessary.

Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock certainly understand the small Southern town mentality, one I am familiar with myself.  There is a delicate emotional balance that is necessary to achieve for appreciating and comprehending the complexities of life lived within its confines.   My father escaped it as early as possible, his brother never did.  The pull of a small hometown can sometimes be so strong in its depth of history (familial and otherwise), of its deep cultural and societal roots that establish themselves within a person never to  relinquish their hold, that some people never leave its jurisdiction, whether that be physical or emotional.  Henry and Rock get that and have made it come alive here within the pages of When All the World Sleeps.  The good, the bad, the indifference to the sufferings of those the town cannot abide or understand…its all there, laid out for the reader who has no idea of the charms and pitfalls that exist in such an atmosphere and makes it accessible.

When there is a bdsm content in a story, especially where it is a major element in a main character’s emotional makeup, I always wonder how its treatment will let me relate to the story and the character(s) involved.  Again, Henry and Rock take a multitude of difficult subject matters and by combining them, make us understand the demons that haunt Daniel and the methods chosen to help him deal with them.  Its another outstanding accomplishment that such methods seem utterly reasonable and necessary for both men, including Bel who is new to the whole idea of domination and submission.  Bel does his homework on the subject, researching and having open discussions, well as open as is possible with Daniel, on the toys and tools to be used to make Daniel feels safe enough to sleep. There is a natural progression from ignorance to total participation as a dominant and partner from Bel.  As there is an answering growth and recovery from Daniel at the end of the story.

With all the hatred that floats throughout this story, the self hatred, the hostility and animosity from the town, the pain and rejection that seems to be a matter of course for  several of the inhabitants here, there are also scenes of incredible tenderness and raw sexuality.  There is a moment with body markers so memorable in its tenderness and awkward eroticism that I didn’t know how to respond… then it gets to the end and I what my response should be…cheering for the bravery that is both Daniel and Bel, celebrating their almost impossible union and the milestones they have reached.  Hard not to reach for a tissue after that.

But the authors are not through with us or Bel and Daniel.  They are carefully constructing their plot, laying out the foundation and then the rest of the plot building blocks with the same attention to detail they did with the facts about sleepwalking and therapy.  Daniel is a superb artist, drawing both day and night and remembering only by seeing the results on paper when he awakes. The chills brought forth from the drawings ups the level of rising anxiety as events start to rush towards a climax.  And while the events speed towards a resolution, the plot never feels rushed or incomplete.  This is a narrative that leaves nothing to chance or is weighed down by extraneous or inconsequential elements.  The book is 405 pages long yet it never felt that way to me.

This story is so complete that I don’t feel a need for a sequel.  It ends as it should.  I think this is one of the finest books of 2014.

Cover Art by Amber Shah.  Again this will be on my Best Covers list.  The tones and the atmosphere achieved here are perfect for the story and characters within.

Sales Links:   Riptide Publishing       All Romance (ARe)        Amazon   Buy it here

Book Details:

405 pages
Published March 24th 2014 by Riptide Publishing (first published March 22nd 2014)
ISBN 1626490791 (ISBN13: 9781626490796)
edition languageEnglish
review posted back in 2014

In Our Author Spotlight: Zee Kensington and her latest release, Finally Home (contest)

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KrungThep_400x600Finally Home cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zee Kensington in the Author Spotlight!

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Zee Kensington is here today to talk about her two releases at Dreamspinner Press, Krung Thep, City of Angels, and its sequel, Finally Home.  These stories are favorites of mine, combining international cuisine, travel, and romance.  I had a chance to ask Zee about the inspiration for these stories, her favorite food and much, much more.

To go along with this wonderful interview, there is a contest to enter as well.  To enter to win an eBook copy of Finally Home, leave  a comment, include maybe a favorite city you have traveled to or a favorite food you have discovered while you traveled (or just plain love to eat).  Make sure you have an email address included where you can be contacted if chosen.  Must be  over 18 years of age or older to enter.  Contest ends 11/01/2014.

Now on to our interview…

Chatting with Author Zee Kensington on Writing, Food, and Inspiration

STRW:  Why Thailand?  What was it about the Thai culture and land that drew you to travel there and then incorporate it into this series?

Zee:  Visiting Thailand happened largely by chance, actually! My husband and I have a friend who goes to Thailand annually with his family, and he’d been inviting us to join them for years. In the summer of 2011 my husband and I were finally able to take him up on his offer, thanks to a lucky congruence of time and money.

I didn’t know much about Thailand before that trip, honestly, beyond their cuisine. I learned so much while I was there! I loved the laid-back attitude of the Thai people and the melting pot of cultures one sees in Bangkok. I was also intrigued by the incredible juxtapositions at every turn: humble Buddhist temples and gleaming mega-malls on the same street, the delicious smells of cooking food carried on these horrible diesel-traffic breezes, rickety tuk-tuks chugging alongside luxury cars.

STRW:  It is said that food is a path to a person’s outlook on life, a cultural foray into a people, and a life’s passion.  You write about the Thai food from the street vendors on with such passion, has culinary exploration been a passion for you as well as Christopher’s?

Zee:  Very much so. I see food as a gateway into culture that (most) everyone can access. You may not be able to speak the same language, or share the same religious beliefs, but you can still enjoy the same meal. I love reading culinary magazines like Saveur (which was the inspiration for International Savor, the magazine Chris writes for), not only for the recipes and photography, but for the glimpses into other cultures and customs. Its like traveling without leaving my living room.

STRW:    I loved that we got to see some of the East LA food scene as well.  How did you find balancing the food with the romance and serious exploration of the repercussions of coming out of the closet?

Zee:  It was actually quite natural for me. Sharing food is such a bonding experience, you learn a lot about a person based on what—and how—they eat. Chris and Marco’s relationship has been built one meal at a time. At first it’s because of Chris’s job as a culinary writer, but it becomes a passion they both share as Marco grows more adventurous in his culinary explorations.

Food is also important when it comes to family. It’s ritual, be it a quiet breakfast or a big, awkward “meet the parents” dinner with your new partner. It’s natural that heavy personal matters will be discussed over a plate of chicken and waffles with your sibling, or that a slice of rainbow cake can mean more than just dessert.

STRW:   I loved the balance between the two main characters families, each a challenge in their own way.  Was one family easier to write than another?  Which one?

Zee:  Marco’s was a little easier to write, mostly because his background closely mirrors my own suburban, southern Californian upbringing. However, my mother isn’t an overbearing busy-body like Marco’s! I actually have a similar relationship to my parents as Marco does with his father—friendly and open—which influenced my portrayal of their (usually) easy rapport. I also have only one sibling, a younger brother, which was an inspiration with writing Marco’s big sister, Angela. I know what it’s like to help a little brother through a rough patch, that combination of deep love and mild exasperation that only an older sibling can feel.

STRW:    We got a taste of Mexico, a growing portrait of New York City, and one of Los Angeles.  Where do you anticipate taking this story and series next?  Or will there be another story?

Zee:  I definitely think there’ll be more Traveler and the Tourist stories down the line. Though Chris is a seasoned traveler, Marco has just started to explore the world. He’s going to want to see it all. I’ve conceived of some ideas of them visiting Europe—primarily Italy, where half of Marco’s family is from—though there will also be some adventures closer to home. New York City can be like a whole other planet to a suburban SoCal kid!

STRW:    Clearly your travels played into the birth of these stories.  Where else did your inspiration come from?

Zee:  My friends and family are a huge inspiration for me. Not only for my characters, but for the experiences they’ve lived through. I’m also heavily inspired by all sorts of other stories—films, books, comics, games—and turn to them sometimes when I’m working on projects. John Burdett’s Royal Thai Detective series (particularly Bangkok 8) and Thai films such as Bangkok Love Story and Ong-Bak helped refresh my memories of Thailand and gave me perspective on things I may not have experienced firsthand.

STRW:   Where would you want to travel next?

Zee:  I’ve always wanted to visit the United Kingdom and Ireland. I have many family roots there, and I would love to see the “land of my forefathers.” I’ve also never seen a real castle before, and as a big fantasy geek, it would be amazing step inside of one! Oh, and have a real English pasty, too!

STRW:  What childhood book had the greatest impact on you as a child and as an adult writer?

Zee:  Oh my, so many to choose from! I was a voracious reader as a kid, everything from Judy Blume to the Babysitter’s Club. I have to say, though, that Jane Yolen’s The Mermaid’s Three Wisdoms stuck with me the most. Not only for the bittersweet tale or the gorgeous pencil illustrations, but for the rich way mermaid culture and biology were portrayed. No shell bras or singing crabs here!

As an adult and a writer…gosh, this is hard! I have to pick one? OK, I’m going to cheat and say The Joe Pitt Casebooks by Charlie Huston. It’s gritty, it’s scary, it’s sexy…everything I want in my vampire noir. As a reader, I love the characters and how they grow, and as a writer, I love how Huston took familiar vampire tropes and turned them on their ear. Also, how the geography and culture of New York City influence the story. His writing really showed me the importance of place in a story, how it can be its own character at times.

STRW:  What’s next for Zee Kensington?

Zee:  Isn’t that the million dollar question? I have some writing projects in the works—including a steamy BDSM ménage novel–but right now my biggest project is raising my son. He’s almost two, and more than a handful! I’m kind of playing it by ear right now, as my writing time is pretty limited.

STRW:  One final question for y0u.  A book can have the same effect on a person as comfort food.  What would be your comfort read and favorite comfort food?

Zee:  Oooh, good question! My comfort read is actually a comic book series, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. It’s not exactly cheerful, but it’s such a rich story, and speaks to the heart of me as a writer. I always discover new things, or interpret it differently since I’m in a different place in my life than the last time I read it. It’s kind of my constant.

As for comfort food, it has to be homemade cookies. Soft ones–not crunchy–with lots of chocolate chips. They can be peanut butter or oatmeal or old-fashioned Toll House, but they have to have those chocolate chips! With a glass of milk, of course.

Thanks so much for having me here today, Melanie! I had a wonderful time!

STRW:  Thanks, Zee, for the great interview. Now let’s check out the Traveler and the Tourist  books.  These definitely below on all readers TBR list!

Finally Home
By Zee Kensington
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist:  Paul Richmond

Release Date: August 29, 2014
Length: 206 pages
ISBN:
eBook: 978-1-62798-907-7, Paperback: 978-1-62798-906-0
Genre categories: contemporary, M/M, erotic, romance

 Finally Home Blurb

Finally Home coverAfter one night in Bangkok turned into ten days trekking together, novice backpacker Marco and seasoned travel writer Chris parted ways thinking they’d never see each other again. Three months later, Marco still can’t forget the greatest adventure of his life—or the gorgeous guy he shared it with. Too afraid to come out to his family, Marco is suffocating in his suburban Southern California life, until Chris announces he’s coming to LA.

Chris has spent the past four years wandering alone, rebuilding himself from the ashes of a failed journalism career. He arrives in Los Angeles eager to eat, write, and resume the sexy, casual fun he had enjoyed with Marco. But when Chris finds his friend is a terrified closet-case at home, he’s determined to help Marco confront his fears.

Priorities change when Chris’s father suffers a stroke, and Chris rushes to New York City to face a harsh homecoming with the family he abandoned. When Marco defies his parents to be at Chris’s side, Chris begins to realize there may be more to their relationship than just work and play, and that Marco may be the one to show Chris what it means to finally be home.

Purchasing Links:  Dreamspinner Press eBook  Dreamspinner Press paperback
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Also available 
Krung Thep, City of AngelsKrungThep_400x600
Prequel to Finally Home
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release
Cover artist:  Paul Richmond
Date: September 22, 2014 (original release date February 2012)
Length: 44 pages
ISBN: eBook: 978-1-63216-829-0

Genre categories: contemporary, erotic, gay, M/M, romance

Krung Thep, City of Angels Blurb

Marco finds himself in over his head when he chooses Bangkok—Krung Thep to the locals—as his first solo travel destination. Luckily, seasoned travel journalist Chris takes Marco under his wing. Over one whirlwind day, the two Americans realize they have more in common than their homeland. Chris’s role changes from tour guide to mentor as he encourages Marco to embrace his budding identity as a gay man, and their camaraderie blossoms into romance. However, their newly forged connection is threatened by Chris’s career obligations—and unwillingness to change his solitary ways.

1st Edition appeared in Two Tickets to Paradise anthology published by Dreamspinner Press, February 2012.
Available as a FREE download:  http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=5607

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Author Biography:

Zee Kensington discovered a passion for writing erotica in her freshman year of college, and has been crafting sweet and sexy stories ever since. Inspired by her years working and playing in San Francisco’s LGBT community, she is especially drawn to tales that explore the joys and challenges of queer identities.

An almost-native Californian and a card-carrying geek, she currently lives in the SF Bay Area with her husband and toddler. When she’s not writing or catching up on her sleep she enjoys watching films, playing video games, experimenting in her kitchen, and dreaming of the day her son is old enough to travel the world with her.

Author Links

Review: Blown Hard (Whispering Winds #3) (Pulp Friction 2014 #11) by Havan Fellows

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Blown HardRowen Smithe and Mick Rutger are men that come with their own special brand of complications and impressive set of problems attached to each of them.   Rowen Smithe wears his some complexities and special issues like clothing. But not all.  Rowen’s other problems, like the voice in his head, are more deeply buried and waiting to come out.

Mick Rutger’s sunny disposition and impetuous manner is hiding a past that he hoped he had buried when Mick came to Mountain Shadows.  Rowen Smithe, his neighbor and new love interest, has finally agreed to a dinner cooked by Mick and that is all he has been thinking about.  But the dinner and its aftermath have left a wake of new problems for them both.

While Mick is weighing his next move and Rowen is doing his best to hide, an old enemy arrives at the campground.  The winds of change are blowing strong.  Who will be left standing after the storm has passed?

In Rowen Smithe, Havan Fellows has created a character that continues to surprise me with each new layer of his persona that comes to the surface in the Whispering Winds series.  A cruel and dismissive voice in his head?  Check.  Self appointed guardian of the woods who will use any means at his disposal to keep all safe? Check.  An overwhelming need to hide from all but a few? Check.  Paranoid, competant, intelligent, and gorgeous.  But is he sane?  Hmmm.  Not sure.  He is the gift of a conundrum that keeps on giving.  And boy, does he do that in spades here.  Do I love this character?  Indeed I do.

Havan Fellows has then paired him up with as unlikely a fellow as could be.  I often think of Mick Rutger as a human Golden Retriever.  Affable, good hearted, loyal, and fun to have around, Mick’s impetuous nature can get him into trouble.  Handsome, quick to laugh, too quick to act, and an attention span that….squirrel…..that wanders.  He is almost impossible to dislike even when you are sighing in dismay over something that he has done or said.  And of all things to grab his attention, that would be the dark question mark of Mountain Shadows, Rowen Smithe.  It’s a fascinating, unlikely, and perilous combination that has made this series a compulsive read for me in every way.

For the last two stories, Fellows has kept these two unlikely mates in a fight and flee sort of pattern.  Mostly with Rowen fleeing. Whether it is into his cabin, into the woods or up his tree or all three combined, Mick has had to make the decision to follow when Rowen leads or pursue where Rowen has fled.  It’s been funny, sad, and totally entertaining.  But now a tentative peace has been obtained and Rowen has made the huge commitment to each food someone else has cooked and attend a dinner/date at Mick’s cabin that has been especially prepared for him.  To understand just how big a decision that is for Rowen, you have to read the preceding stories.  That’s how Blown Hard starts off and then quickly turns into something totally unexpected and sort of shocking when yet another dimension of Rowen is revealed to Mick and the reader.  And neither of us was prepared for it.

Fellow’s narrative is concise, taut, and it flows quickly from start to finish, barely pausing for us to gasp at the shocks along the way.  This is the darkest of all the stories to date and the most compelling to read.

This is a story of the perceived cracks in people’s characters that become exposed for the deep and camouflaged crevices they always were.  And it’s not just Rowen’s flaws and elements of his character that are exposed here but some of Mick’s as well.  This story is so well titled because Havan Fellows’s hard winds blow through the plot, scrapping away superficial notions and assumptions you have made about these people (and ones that they have made about each other) to leave something very fundamental and naked exposed at the end.  It will leave you in a state of disbelief and in immediate need for more.

I need more.  Much, much more.  So will you.  This (and the whole Pulp Friction 2014 author series) is a must read.  But please, dont’ start here.  Go running to the first book in the series.  Grab it and prepare yourself for a wonderful rollercoaster ride of emotions, romance and explosive secrets!  I have listed all the stories, all the authors and their interconnected series for 2014 below.  Use it as a check list, don’t miss out on any of them.

Definitely one of ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords Highly Recommended Stories, and Series of the Year!

Cover art by Laura Harner.  I love these covers and Laura Harner has done a beautiful job of branding not only the series and all the Pulp Friction 2014 Mountain Shadows interconnected series.

Buy Links:        All Romance eBooks (ARe)             Amazon     Blown Hard

Book Details:

ebook, First, 58 pages
Published June 15th 2014 by Appleton Publishing Avenue
ASINB00L02WUR8
edition languageEnglish
seriesPulp Friction 2014 #11, Whispering Winds

The Pulp Friction 2014 series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters, events and plot:

Round One:

Firestorm (Fighting Fire: 1)by Laura Harner
Cold Snap (In From the Cold: 1) by Lee Brazil
Blown Away (Whispering Winds: 1) by Havan Fellows
Higher Ground (Earthquake: 1) by TA Webb

Round Two:

Controlled Burn (Fighting Fire #2) by Laura Harner
Cold Comfort (In From the Cold #2) by Lee Brazil
Blown Kisses (Whispering Winds #2) by Havan Fellows
Moving Earth (Earthquake #2) by TA Webb

Round Three:

Backburn (Fighting Fire #3) by Laura Harner
Cold Feet (In From the Cold #3) by Lee Brazil
Blown Hard (Whispering Winds #3) by Havan Fellows
Tremors (Earthquake #3) by T.A. Webb

Round Four: 

Flare-up (Fighting Fire #4) by Laura Harner
Out In The Cold (In From the Cold #4) by Lee Brazil
Blown Chance (Whispering Winds #4) by Havan Fellows
Aftershocks (Earthquake #4) by T.A. Webb

Round Five: to be released

Radiant Burn (Fighting Fire #5) by Laura Harner
Cold Day in Hell (In From the Cold #5) by Lee Brazil
Final Blow (Whispering Winds #5) by Havan Fellows
Terra Firma (Earthquake #5) by T.A. Webb

Sixth Book Series Finale Written by all the Authors
charactersFinn Lorensso

 

 

 

 

Review: In Despair (Princes of the Blood #3) by Megan Derr

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Rating 5 stars out of 5

In Despair coverSixteen year old Prince Telmé Guldbrandsen has been groomed to become a Prince of the Blood and take over as Commander of the Legion.  Equally young Korin is heir to the Reach of the House and the Temple of the Sacred Three. Expectations run high for him as well since it has been foretold that he will be the next High Priest.  Telme’ and Korin are also engaged to each other, an unfortunate affair since neither boy can stand the other.  Between the constant fighting and endless quarreling, the Halls of Castle Guldbrandsen have been ringing with shouts of anger and  fists hitting flesh instead of calm and the silence of boys at their studies to the displeasure of the royal family and all the others around them.

Monsters and dark mages left over from the last war lurk all around the kingdoms.  Princes of the Blood, and their fellow supernatural beings are the only things that stand between them and the remainder of humankind.  But humans that will allow their children to be tested to see if they have the right percentage of Demon blood are few as are pure blooded humans.  When found, they are brought to the Castle Guldbrandsen for testing and to strengthen ties through marriage.  Just such an happening at Castle Guldbrandsen ends in a devastating and unthinkable event, leaving those still standing awash in grief and anger.  Telme’ and Korin are Castle Guldbrandsen’s last hope but can they put aside their distrust and personal hatred long enough to save the kingdom and each other in the bargain?

In Despair marks the end of the Princes of the Blood trilogy by Megan Derr and I am so sad to get to the end of this marvelous tale of love, loss, and magic.  From the beginning, Megan Derr made the fascinating and quirky decision to write this trilogy backwards.  The first book, Of Last Resort (Princes of the Blood #1) takes place towards the end of the trilogy’s timeline, and each book thereafter moves the story back towards the beginning years and the history that is only hinted at in the first book.  It’s a challenging and imaginative format and its has worked beautifully here.

In Despair starts out with the characters in deep despair, a state that will follow them into the past.  Telme’ stands at the bedside of Koren who is terribly wounded from his fight with an angel from Of Last Resort.  That momentous battle came at the end of the first story and it left Koren in a coma.  Now as the trilogy comes to an end, Derr puts us down at Castle Guldbreandsen to get at glimpse at the lives of those impacted by that battle.  While Telme’ waits at Koren’s bedside, he remembers back to when they were teenagers and at odds with each other.  And from that time on, In Despair  starts its own tale of war, black magic, loss and love.

Megan Derr is one of my favorite fantasy authors.  In the Princes of the Blood trilogy she weaves together romance, action, adventure, fantasy and magic into stories that both the YA and adult readers will love.  As with all her stories, we start off with some amazing world building.  From Castle Guldbrandsen whose rulers have a very close connection to demons as well as all the fantasy beings that make up the incredible magic protectors of the realm,  the army of mixed-blood beings known as the King’s Legion: dragoons, shadowmarch, sorcerers, titans…and of course, the Princes of the Blood.  Derr has folded so many rich details and layers into this world.  The trilogy starts after a cataclysmic war has occurred that brought forth all sorts of demons and set them loose in the world almost destroying it.    While the war ended centuries ago, the aftermath has left demons scattered throughout the kingdoms, the human population with varying degrees of demon blood in them due to intermarriage, and necromancers others still trying to reopen the door’s to hell and start the war all over again. And with each story, Derr reveals more about the past through the characters battles in the present time and their interactions with each other.

In Despair is a standout from the other two stories in the trilogy in a number of ways.  First, the characters here are the youngest of all the main characters whose tales and romance unfold in these three books.  Telme’ and Koren are but sixteen (with Koren slightly younger than Telme’).  Telme’ and Koren exhibit all the stubbornness, impetuousness, and capriciousness of youth.   Quick to anger, unable to communicate, and equally quick to assume hurt and humiliation, these two young boys yet have the weight of the kingdom on their shoulders.  Both are expected to assume two of the highest positions in Castle Guldbrandsen and neither has the maturity or knowledge needed to make that leap to power and responsibility.  Sullenness and fights are the rule for both as are misunderstandings and punishment.  Derr makes both boys come across so real, so human in their insecurities, pain, and anger.  It is easy for the reader to see both sides of the picture for each teenager because it is such a recognizable stage of human growth.  Between hormones and pushing back against parental expectations, Telme  appears not only “bratty” as the adults term him but overwhelmed by the responsibilities he doesn’t want to assume.  And the reader gets that too, particularly as becoming a Prince of the Blood means turning into a demon or half demon at a young age.  By his behavior Telme has delayed the test but time is running out.  Derr makes both boys so young in their mental and emotional development that we connect with them easily.  Then she jerks their foundations out from under them and the tale really gets underway.

As with all marvelous coming of age stories that include high adventure and fantasy, it must also include the darkness of evil and absolute loss.  As Castle Guldbrandsen falls under the destructive powers of both, Telme’ and Koren must pull together, grow up (somewhat) and assume the duties they have been avoiding.  It’s a timeless, dramatic concept and Derr’s treatment of it and her characters growth is as compelling as they come.   That’s possible because no matter what challenges these boys face or hurdles they must overcome, they remain the teenagers they are.  They still make poor judgement calls, make assumptions about each other and the events that occur that adults with more experience would disregard, and suffer from the lack of practical knowledge and maturity that age would have given them.  I love that there is no “instant adult” changeover in persona.  No, these are still kids trying to fill adult shoes and mostly succeeding  to mixed reviews from the grownups around them.  How can you not empathize with a sixteen year old who has just kind of “saved the day” only to come back to adults who don’t like the way he did it?  As an adult, you can see both sides but the teenager in you will be just as dumbfounded and angry as Telme’ is. That’s one of the real beauties of this story and this trilogy,  Megan Derr tells it in such a way that we believe so deeply in these characters and their lives that we can see all sides to every argument and still come down on the side of youth and fragility no matter our own age.

At the end, Megan Derr brings the story back around to the time of the first story, Of Last Resort, with Telme’ still waiting to see if Koren lives.  Her circle is complete, and her trilogy is almost over.  All the characters from all three stories appear and their stories resolved in scenes and mentions of events happening inside the castle.  Did I love the way In Despair ended?  Absolutely.  Do I recommend In Despair and the entire Princes of the Blood trilogy?  Without question.

Of Last Resort, With Pride and In Despair will all be at the top of ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords Best of 2014 lists this year.  Check them all out but read them in the order that Derr wrote them.  It will make for some magical reading and leave you sighing for more at the end.  Just like me.

Cover art by Aisha Akeju who is quickly becoming a new favorite artist of mine.

Buy Links:           Less Than Three Press              ARe                 Amazon               In Despair

 

Book Details:

ebook
Published July 9th 2014 by Less Than Three Press
original titleIn Despair
ISBN139781620043233
edition languageEnglish
seriesPrinces of the Blood #3

Princes of the Blood Series include (written in reverse sequence)

Of Last Resort (Princes of the Blood #1)
With Pride (Princes of the Blood #2)
In Despair (Princes of the Blood #3)

Review: Lying with Scorpions (Memory of Scorpions #2) by Aleksandr Voinov

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

If you lie with scorpions, you’d better have a taste for poison.

Lying with Scorpions coverNow that Adrastes, ex leader of the Scorpions and Kendras’s lover, has assumed the throne of Dalman along with his sister Queen, Kendras is finding himself increasingly out of his depths. He feels uncertain not only his own leadership of the Scorpions but of Adrastes the King. Kendras was brought up to fight, his enemy clear.  Now he is smothered in political games of treachery, poison and succession.  Even his past is shaken when old memories are stirred up of his childhood and parents.

Adrastes has a new role for the Scorpions, one which means leaving their centuries old rules and traditions behind to become a fighting army for the king.  Once Kendras would have followed Adrastes blindly but now he starts to have questions.  And with the arrival of the formidable Commander Graukar, General of the West, Kendras becomes even more unsettled.  Graukar is the opposite of everything that Adrastes seems to becoming.  Graukar is forthright, a formidable fighter, a person  unlike any Kendras has known before.  Now the future seems uncertain. What is the truth and what is false?  Can Kendras, the Officer and lover, still trust the man he risked everything to find and save?  Or is there more going on around Kendras that even he can imagine.

What a brutal and brilliant saga this is turning out to be.  In the first story of the series,Scorpion (Memory of Scorpions, #1), we are introduced to Kendras, member of the Scorpions, an elite fighting force that has been decimated by the constant warfare between the rival cities.  Kendras’ world has been a very straightforward place up until recently.  He had a mission, to find and rescue his Officer, the leader of the Scorpions who also happens to be his lover.  No person or obstacles kept Kendras from accomplishing his task.   His life is the Scorpions, a group of men who have become a family steeped in the traditions of this mercenary unit.  But by the end of that story, Adrastes, the Officer Kendras rescued turns out to be someone unexpected, a King. And upon assuming the throne, the title and responsibilities of the leadership of the Scorpions passes to Kendras.  Suddenly his life is overwhelmingly complicated and his loyalties stretched to include not just his close-knit band of fighters but a king and his political agenda.

One of the elements I appreciated with this story is the manner in which Voinov deepens his characterizations to compete with the equally evolving complexity of his plot.  With each new political intrigue or added plot layer the author unfolds a revelation about a character to ensure that all the elements remain in balance. Central to the story is the growth that Kendras must experience in order to cope with his ever changing (and precarious) position in almost every aspect of his life.   The author paints a very clear portrait of a man out of his depths, a “rank in file” soldier promoted to Officer, a position he reluctantly assumes.  His lover went from Officer of a small fighting corp to ruler of two city kingdoms and possibly more. Kendras used to be certain where he belonged and his role in the Scorpions, now everything around him feels like smoke and mirrors, leaving Kendras desperate to adjust.  The story is again told from Kendras’ point of view, and that provides the reader with a front seat to his confusion and increasing doubts about Adrastes, his role in the King’s life and indeed, the very future of the Scorpions themselves.

Voinov has a gift of creating characters that exude a  great vitality, a certain brutal realism that is perfect for the world they inhabit. This ability to believe in Kendras, Adrastes, Widow, and all the others makes it relatively easy to slide into their lives and the conflicts that arise around them.  Kendras is the core of the story and its through his eyes that we watch his world undergo fundamental changes that start to force him to question the very tenets of his life.   The introduction of new important characters is one aspect of the change in direction for both storyline and character growth.   It is also one of the most disconcerting elements of Voinov’s series.  Much like Game of Thrones, this is a savagely violent and ruthless world where conflict and death is the norm and lives are short lived.  It contains merciless killers, barbarous priests, and sadistic, conniving rulers.  Deceit and treachery are not only commonplace but almost necessary for survival.  Need I say that to get too fond of anyone in the series is probably a mistake?  Because everyone in this series seems expendable, perhaps even Kendras himself.

The author starts expanding his universe with this story.  New lands and seas are added, and the Jaishani themselves make a remarkable and stunning entrance into the story and Kendras’ life.  Richer in texture and more deeply layered, Lying with Scorpions is full of surprises and twists.  Like shards of glass, small bits of information are laid out for Kendras and the reader to ponder, wondering where they will fall and who they will cut the deepest.  Foreshadowing of the future or a deception designed to obscure instead of instruct?  A mask, a mosaic and even a legend, all have the ability to bring forth both shivers of dread as well as anticipation.  Just more of Voinov’s master storytelling at work.

Prepare to undergo as many changes as Kendras in your feelings towards all the characters here.  Some you thought trustworthy prove otherwise, and some show sides of themselves that will surprise you with their resourcefulness as well as their loyalties.  I loved the character of Lord/Lady Amrash as well as that of Runner.  Not surprisingly, I fear for their future in the next story, A Taste of Poison (Memory of Scorpions #3) coming soon.

I quickly became addicted to this series with Scorpion, and this story only saw that addiction deepen.  I am fascinated by the author’s ability to get under the reader’s skin with his  believable characters, imaginative plot and ever widening world building.  If you are a lover of warriors, of ancient kingdoms, of lust and loyalty and so much more, then this intense magnificent saga is for you.  Lying with Scorpions ends with a bit of a cliffhanger so I am desperately waiting for the next story to arrive.  I don’t expect any quick or neat resolutions nor do I want them.  It’s not Voinov’s style nor would it work for this character and series.  I will be content to let the anticipation build.

If you are new to the series, start with the first book, Scorpions (Memory of Scorpions #1).  There are two versions.  Make sure you  have the recently revised and redited one to start with.  The cover is the quickest indication you have the correct one.  Then more on to Lying with Scorpions.  It will take your breath away.  One of ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords Best of 2014.

Cover by Reese Dante.  At first I thought the subject of the cover was Kendras and the lack of blue eyes confused me. But the author informs me that the person on the cover is Adrastes,  who is half-caste,  being the son from a sacred marriage between the Jaishani Besh and Ashangul who is white.  He was chosen for the cover because the story is mostly about his rise to power.  He has brown eyes per the description in the first story in the series.

Books in the series in the order they should be read to fully understand the characters and complex plot are:

Scorpion (Memory of Scorpions #1)
Lying with Scorpions (Memory of Scorpions #2)
A Taste of Poison (Memory of Scorpions #3) coming soon

Book Details:

ebook, 317 pages
Published January 20th 2014 by Riptide Publishing (first published January 18th 2014)
ISBN139781626491106
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/lying-with-scorpions
series: Memory of Scorpions

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

Review: Parting Shot (A Matter of Time #7) by Mary Calmes

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Parting Shot coverDet. Duncan Stiel, closeted homicide detective, had a childhood so bad that he never talks about it.  All the events in his past has lead to Duncan growing up as an adult who keeps his personal life and his emotions hidden, including his sexual orientation. Duncan’s reserve and determination to remain closeted has already cost him the only real relationship he has had to date (see Acrobat).  So when Duncan meets and hooks up with Aaron Sutter, billionaire and equally closeted gay man, Duncan thinks that finally he has met a man on the same page emotionally as he is.  No longer will he have to worry that Aaron will want  him to meet family or friends, or even come out of the closet where Duncan is most comfortable, all the things that caused his last relationship to break up.  Duncan is a man consumed by his job, including the need to occasionally go undercover.  The last thing Duncan ever expected was to  find love with Aaron Sutter.

Aaron Sutter has finally realized that Jory will never be his and that it is time to move on.  Duncan Stiel is as far from the type of guys that Aaron normally finds attractive,  Instead of a slender blond twink, the detective is tall, muscular, and an alpha in every way.  And in no time at all, Aaron is smitten, lusting after the detective in a manner so unlike himself that Aaron is astounded at his own behavior. When Duncan is hurt, Aaron has an epiphany that shakes him to the core, making Aaron question the decisions he made in the past.

But Aaron is also involved in a mean, and desperate fight with his father over control of Sutter Enterprises. Staying in the closet and away from Duncan might be the only way he can stay in control.  Duncan too is involved in a criminal case so dangerous that it threatens not only his fragile new relationship with Aaron but their lives as well.  As the obstacles mount up against them,  the men must fight not only against outside influences but their own inner demons as well if they are to find their way to love and a future together.

I love Mary Calmes.  She is a wonderful storyteller who has created a pantheon of characters both memorable and addicting that they have cried out to be included in one book after another.  Parting Shot is not only an addition to A Matter of Time series but incorporates characters from other favorite novels of mine as well, including Mine and Acrobat.   The inclusion of these characters is important in a number of ways in describing why Mary Calmes is so good as what she does.  Both men, Nate and Terrence Moss (also known as Conrad Harris) make only a brief appearance here, but just the mention of their names brings up a well of memories and emotions created by their stories (Acrobat and Mine respectively).  They make an impact despite the brevity of their scenes in Parting Shot because of Mary Calmes’ incredible gift of creating characters we commit to memory and bury deep within our hearts.   Just look at Duncan Stiel and Aaron Sutter.

Both men started out as satellite characters in other stories.  Aaron Sutter was once the boyfriend of Jory Keyes before Sam Kage arrives into the picture.  Aaron continues to flow through their story, a man determined to regain Jory’s affections and then finally as a true friend to be counted on. Hard to make an arrogant billionaire with a predilection for sharing his lovers with other men likable but Calmes made him a complex and ultimately appealing character.  No matter his actions, there was just something about Aaron as created by Calmes that spoke to the reader and garnered their affections.  Aaron just demanded that he have his own story and now he has gotten it, to my absolute delight.

Duncan Stiel was a little harder sell.  He was a complete jerk when he appeared in Acrobat, although handsome, and competent, a complete alpha male.  Parting Shot helps explain Duncan’s behavior by presenting us with his past.  Once we see his traumatic childhood revealed, then those personality traits that made him so unappealing becomes understandable.  Duncan Stiel of Parting Shot is someone the reader connects with on every level.  I just love him.

These two men have arrived independently at the same stage in their lives where they want a real relationship.  Both have Jory and Sam as an example of what they are missing in their lives and what they can attain if only they take a chance and change.  The men meet and fall instantly in lust.  That’s extremely realistic knowing what we do about these men.  But what follows is also just as authentic given their personality traits and their pasts.  They just mesh with each other in almost every way.  I have seen this happen in real life.  When the timing is right, things (and people) just fall into place.  Not the case of “instant love” that appears so often in other stories but a connection based in reality and the personalities of the men involved.  I believed totally in their relationship and feelings towards each other.  It just felt right.

Aaron and Duncan are also an extremely sexy couple.  They are equals in and out of the bed.  I loved that about them as well.  Their sex scenes together are hot, sensual, realistic, and sometimes quite funny.  Aaron is really out of his element here and Mary Calmes incorporates that aspect into their relationship in some wonderfully funny scenes and dialog.  They cracked me up, just amazing.

Duncan is involved in a case with some very dangerous criminals, pulling him undercover yet again several times in the book (including a undercover gig that brings in Marshall Sam Kage). This storyline flows along side one in which Aaron is dealing with his father who is determined to overthrow his son as the head of Sutter Enterprises so the father can resume his control over the company.  The corporate fight Aaron is engaged in is just as critical as the criminal investigation Duncan is engaged in.  Each power struggle and criminal case has ramifications for both men.  It will cause them to examine their closeted lives and determine the paths their lives will take in the future.  Powerful stuff indeed.   And Mary Calmes makes it just as exciting and suspenseful as it sounds.

This is a completely absorbing novel.  Once you pick it up, be prepared to remain situated until you have finished the book.  It pulls you into the lives of Duncan and Aaron and all those around them.  If you are new to the series, it helps to read the preceding books to fully understand the nature of these men and the relationships they had in the past.  Grab up Mine and Acrobat while you are at it.  Have a very merry Mary Calmes sort of weekend!  I highly recommend them all, including Parting Shot.

Cover art by Reese Dante.  I love Dante’s cover but it really doesn’t pertain to this story.  It could be the cover for any number of books and that’s too bad because this story had so many elements that could have been used to make it relevant to the story within.  Consider this cover a misstep.

Here are the books  of A Matter of Time in the order they were written and should be read:

A Matter of Time (#1)

A Matter of Time (#2)

A Matter of Time (#3)

A Matter of Time (#4)

Bulletproof (A Matter of Time #5)

Just Jory (A Matter of Time #5.5)

But For You (A Matter of Time #6)

Parting Shot (A Matter of Time, #7)

A Matter of Time, Vol. 1 (A Matter of Time, #1-2) reworked and reedited

A Matter of Time, Vol. 2 (A Matter of Time, #3-4)reworked and reedited

Book Details:

ebook, 264 pages
Published July 19th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1623808758 (ISBN13: 9781623808754)
series A Matter of Time