A MelanieM Review: Lucky Town: A Badlands Novella (Badlands #1.5) by Morgan Brice

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Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

 

Psychic medium Simon Kincaide and his boyfriend, Myrtle Beach homicide detective Vic D’Amato, find that the only thing more frightening than murder might be navigating their first holiday season as a couple.

A trip back to Pittsburgh to spend Thanksgiving with Vic’s large, exuberant family means dodging old frenemies and a bitter ex-boyfriend. A cold case comes back to haunt Vic when a murdered woman’s ghost begs Simon for justice. Then a new murder back in Myrtle Beach looks suspiciously familiar, and the dead man’s ghost isn’t playing nice. When Simon gets a vision of the next victim before the crime occurs, he realizes that all the murders are supernaturally linked. Catching the murderer will take his psychic sleuthing skills along with Vic’s street smarts to avert a tragedy. Can they do right by ghosts past, present and yet-to-come without ending up in the crosshairs of a killer for Christmas?

I very much enjoyed Lucky Town by Morgan Brice after some introductory confusion over the characters, their past history and current situation.  It wasn’t until midway through the story that I went searching at Goodreads and found that Lucky Town is  a sequel to Badlands, something I wasn’t aware of when I started this novel.  I need to go  back now and pick up all the past history I missed that’s hinted at here from that  original story.  Yes, that means I don’t consider Lucky Town a stand alone.

A somewhat confusing introduction to this already established couple opens the story.  We find Simon and  Vic have moved together into Simon’s bungalow in Myrtle Beach, they are still adjusting to that fact, and making it their “home” together.  The author feeds us details of a past case where Simon was hospitalized due to a gunshot wound, a case that was both magical in nature and not only brought these two together but was the primary factor behind Vic moving to North Carolina with Simon.  So much missed past history there.  And its referenced (the case and the aftermath) repeatedly throughout this story.

Luckily, you’re told that Simon sees dead people, ghosts to be exact.  And they tell him things.

Vic knows and believes him.  Which is all good because the paranormal and supernatural is about to land on their doorstep once again.  As in multiple bodies worth.

Now I actually thought the case, the mystery surrounding it, the secondary cast brought in because of it, and the resolution the best part of this story.  I wanted  far more of this, root magic, everything then I actually did of Vic, Pittsburgh, and his family.  They just weren’t as interesting as Simon and the supernatural goings on in Myrtle Beach.

Plus this story is only 116 pages so that’s a lot to cram into a shorter novella.

Still I thought Morgan Brice did a terrific job with the supernatural mystery and cast of characters there.  Loved that element.  In some ways the sex here in parts overwhelmed the story and  relationship development as the book was so short.  I think that could have been balanced a little better.  However, I’m so intrigued by everything that I have read here that I’m not only going to seek out that first novel but read any further stories coming  out for release in this series as well.

If romance, a bit of the scary  paranormal and supernatural is your thing, this might be the series for you.  But definitely read the first story, Badlands, before reading Lucky Town, to get the foundation I needed and clearly missed.

Cover by Natania Barron.  That’s a good representation of the characters, but sort of a typical cover these days.

Sales LInk:   http://a.co/d/8FuMNP7

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 116 pages
Published October 29th 2018 by Darkwind Press
ASINB07K1PW522
Edition Language English
Series Badlands #1.5

Badlands

Lucky Town: A Badlands Novella

Restless Nights

A MelanieM Review: Velvet by Xavier Axelson

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

When an irresistible discovery unravels the forbidden secrets of a man’s heart, the very fabric of his existence is threatened.

Virago is the royal tailor of a corrupt prince. Left to care for his blind brother, Virago devotes himself to his trade until an unexpected delivery changes his life, and a wandering minstrel knocks on his door. What he discovers will test the bonds of brotherhood and unravel the forbidden secrets of his heart.

Loosely based on the 14th Century Laws of Sumptuary, Velvet takes readers to a land where cruelty is disguised as allegiance, loyalty is masked by obligation, and the laws of sumptuary govern the people. But nothing is more dangerous than Velvet.

Velvet by Xavier Axelson has all the elements I’ve come to expect from an Xavier Axelson story.  The language is lyrical, hints of the mystical float through the narrative, and the overhaul effect is just plain haunting as a whole.

From the start, the tone is set as Virago is on board a ship.   Virago stands next to a heavily pregnant woman who’s unborn child is a seer interested in Virago.  From there, Virago recounts the journey that has led to this voyage and his strange circumstances.

From happy child with a famous, loving tailor father in a kingdom ruled by a benevolent king to a man living under the rule of a unhinged cruel despot, Virago and his brother undergo so many changes here.  Primarily Virago because he is the character who has had blinders on about so much for most of his life.  About his sexuality, about the prince and his true characters, and about those the prince has “considered his true friends and brothers”.  Things his blind brother has been aware of for far too long.

All changes  when a new fabric comes into Virago’s hands…something called velvet.  Soon an obsession and more is born just as a musician, Seton, arrives for the King’s coronation.  A sexuality awakens, forbidden by law and punishable by death.  So too does a sickness arrive in the city.

Axelson weaves a tale of revenge, cruelty, discovery, passion, and love in Velvet.  You’re never sure if this is an historical novel or if dragons will soon appear because there is an air of heavy mysticism about it that bespeaks of darkness and otherness.

As with most of Axelson’s romances, Virago and Seton find love rather quickly but here it feels natural or rather that fact is subdued under all the  other  elements here.  Perhaps it’s that all the threads are equal, the velvet vest, Virago’s feelings, the whore’s revenge, the peacocks, the court, and more.  It all builds to an uneasy crescendo.

Never was I so happy for that beginning.

Velvet will haunt you.  It leaves you with questions that will never be answered, and scenes that linger on in your mind.  That’s why I read this author.  And you should too.  I absolutely recommend Velvet as a lovely starting place.

Cover art: Winterheart Ink Designs.  Haunting, beautiful cover that is perfect for the story.

Sales Links:  JMS Books LLC | Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 161 pages
Published March 24th 2018 by JMS Books LLC (first published October 25th 2012)
Original TitleVelvet
ASINB079ZXG57T

A MelanieM Review: Wallaçonia by David Pratt

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

High school senior Jim Wallace faces the approaching Christmas holidays with a mixture of hope and dread. To escape the pressure, he imagines the woods and marshes around his home to be an independent country, Wallaçonia, where he is accepted and recognized as the “upright and sterling” young man people expect him to be. And he may make it yet: this could be the week he and his girlfriend Liz finally have sex, putting to rest any lingering doubts Jim has about what kind of guy he really is. But then Pat Baxter, a neighbor, asks him to help out in his bookstore during the holiday rush, and Jim starts making new connections – and rediscovering an old one. Will Jim leave the sanctuary of his imaginary Wallaçonia for the real world? And which real world will it be, the one with Liz or the one that beckons from the bookstore?

Wallaçonia by David Pratt is a beautifully written story of one man’s journey to self awareness about his sexuality and adulthood.  As you can imagine,  it’s not an easy journey.  Its fraught with the perils of expectations, the hurdles of high school cliques, hormones and feelings of inadequacies and so much more.

Sometimes I’m amazed anyone makes it out of the high school environment intact, even more a LGBTQIA youth questioning their sexuality.  The stresses and pressures from everyone, from parents to peer groups to society is intense.  It’s through David Pratt’s  character of Jim Wallace that we watch Jim and others around him try to navigate through rough waters to get safely onto the path that will lead out of town to college. Not all will make it.

Jim’s path is strewn with rocks and holes, some of which he digs himself.  Why?  Sigh.  Because he’s young, confused, scared, questioning…check all those boxes and create some more.  Nor are his actions ones that you will like, understand perhaps, but not like.  Fear and confusion can make you do some downright mean things, which Jim himself will later acknowledge.  Every character here, from Jim to Liz, to Pat and  more are layered, real people.  They are recognizable.  And that makes all their actions, relationships and interactions feel not only authentic but able to let us so deeply into their lives that we can hurt for them in their stumbling youth, wishing we could in some ways help make their paths easier even knowing, that’s not possible.

The narrative flows smoothly, I was swept so easily into Jim’s story, caught up in his life and that of those around him, not coming out until the book was done.  It made me think of all the young people it represents, past, present and probably future.  In some things, high school never changes.

Wallaçonia by David Pratt is a complex and gorgeous coming out and coming of age story.  It will stay with you long after you’ve put the book or Kindle down.  It’s one I highly recommend.

Cover art is touching and matches the character and story.

Sales Links:

Beautiful Dreamer Press

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 227 pages
Published March 25th 2017 by Beautiful Dreamer Press
ASINB01N7JFT93

A MelanieM Review: Danced Close (Portland Heat #6) by Annabeth Albert

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

 

danced-closePortland, Oregon, is one of the hottest cities in America. Just ask all the hard-working men sweating it up behind the counters of the restaurants, boutiques, and cafés all over town …

Newly clean and sober, Todd’s taken a shine to his job at Portland’s most talked about bakery. It’s not just the delicious desserts they sell, but the tasty treats who keep walking through the door. That certainly includes Kendall Rose, a wedding planner with eyes the color of brown sugar and skin to match. Todd doesn’t try to hide his attraction to Kendall’s elegant confidence and unique style, even as he worries about exposing the secrets of his past.

For Kendall, the attention is just part of the anything-goes Portland he’s grown to love. But he’s still looking for that special someone who will embrace all of him—including his gender fluidity. So he takes a chance and asks Todd to be his partner in a dance class leading to a fundraiser. When the music starts and he takes Todd in his arms, Kendall is shocked at how good it feels. Turns out taking the lead for once isn’t a mistake. In fact, it might be time to take the next step and follow his heart …

Ever read a book that made you want to do a little singing and a swaying?  For me that’s Danced Close by Annabeth Albert, the sixth book in her warmhearted, and lovely series Portland Heat.  I’m a fan, both of this author and series (let’s get that out of the way) so I look forward to seeing what Albert will bring to enliven up an already quirky, surprising series.  We start off back at the Bakery owned by Vic (couple Vic and Robin) from Baked Fresh (Portland Heat, #2).  Vic’s employee is Todd, who had rough times in his past where he turned to drugs.  Now clean, he’s learning about baking and staying sober.  Its a constrained life until the stylish and outgoing genderfluid Kendall Rose enters the bakery and his life.

Now one of the things I have always loved about Annabeth Albert’s writing and characters is that she loves to defy peoples expectations.  You might look at that blurb above and carry some expectation about each character with you into the story.  Fine, great.  Than enjoy Albert turning those expectations right on their proverbial heads as she reveals lovely unexpected layers and backgrounds to Todd and Kendall.  Its a dance not only on the ballroom floor but of relationship dynamics that sometimes make you sigh, sometimes smile, and don’t be surprised if even you can imagine the dancing and here yourself singing in your head.

With all  that, there’s still a goodly amount of heartache, discarding of old wounds and healing to be done before these two can move forward together.  Still sighing here.

I throughly enjoyed the journey to happiness for both Kendall and Todd.  I loved their give and take with each  other.  And of course, Portland always keeping it strange.  What on earth is Annabeth Albert going to do next?

Cover art absolutely works.

Sales Links

 

Add to Goodreads Buy on Amazon     itunes-button

Book Details:

Kindle Edition
Expected publication: March 14th 2017 by Lyrical Shine
ASINB01HA426NM
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesPortland Heat #6

A MelanieM Review: A Place to Call Their Own by Dean Pace-Frech

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Rating:  4 stars out of 5

A Place To Call Their OwnFrank Greerson and Gregory Young have been discharged from the Army and are headed to their childhood homes. They both defied their parents in 1861 when they joined the Army. After battling southern rebels and preserving the Union of the United States of America, the two men set out to battle the Kansas Prairie and build a life together. Once they find their claim, they encounter common obstacles to life on the Kansas Prairie in 1866: Native Americans, tornadoes, wild animals, and weather.

When a prairie fire destroys their crops and takes their neighbor’s lives, Frank and Gregory are instructed to find their young son’s aunt. Faced with leaving a destroyed claim, the railroad coming through their land, and dwindling funds, Frank and Gregory must decide whether to leave the place they have worked hard to make their own or fulfill their friends’ dying wishes.

When I first started into A Place to Call Their Own the pacing and style of the story was at once both so different from all the other stories I’ve read  (or am reading) and yet so  oddly familiar as well.  It was in the matter of fact tone of the narration, the “plain speaking” manner of its characters, and the precisely lived hours of their days that Dean Pace-Frech lays out for us that niggled at my brain, telling me I recognized, not the story or characters, no…but the old style, slower approach of storytelling and the affection for the past in the author’s heart.

Then it hit me…the author already laid it out for us…right at the beginning…something I had glossed over too quickly.

“Six miles beyond them, two bachelors were living in one house. They had taken two farms, and built the house on the line between them…they cooked and ate together in the middle of the house.” —Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie

Dean Pace-Frech may have used that quote from my beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder as inspiration but maybe he loved the matter of fact every day descriptions too.  For some of A Place to Call Their Own conjures up visions of the Little House on the Prairie sage, M/M style, in a wonderful way, making history alive again through the lives of two men who love one another.

As we enter the story, Frank Greerson and Gregory Young are already a couple, albeit a hidden one, and have decided on a course of action, taking their savings and  heading out to the 1861 Kansas territory and making a land grab for the free land where they figure they can be themselves,  a “safe” couple.

Their back story will come along later.  Its their journey, their relatives, their wagons, cows, building the cabin, interaction with the local Osage Indians, that will have a lovely (and well researched ) feel. The author includes the expansion of the railroad and the Homestead act and the villainy associated with claim jumping. Such a life always included its perils, and angst.  And both young men still have much growing up to do, even having served in the Civil War and survived.

This story is low on sex and high on love and survival, in a place where they find that having used their energy to make an extra bed in their first prairie house just might ensure that their reputations stay intact enough for their neighbors to lend them a hand when necessary.

I sank into this story much that same as I did the Little House in the Prairie books and when I came to the end, I was saddened to see that there was not another waiting for me so I could know how the journey continues for Frank and Gregory and others.  That was really my only issue here, that the story  ends too abruptly.

I hope that Dean Pace-Frech  will consider taking it further, letting us know what the next leg in their journey was and how it turned out.  A new M/M Western Historical Saga is just the thing I’ve been looking for.  I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Consider  A Place to Call Their Own by Dean Pace-Frech a story I absolutely recommend if you love historical stories and a look into the past.  Or even are, as I am, totally fond of Little House on the Prairie.  Pick this up, and prepare to fall in love all  over again.

 

Cover art by Written Ink Designs.  I like the cover but its too generic and I could swear I’ve seen it used before.

Sales Links:  JMS Books LLC  |  Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 156 pages
Published May 31st 2015 by JMS Books LLC (first published July 1st 2012)
ASINB00X64JP0S
Edition LanguageEnglish

A Very Special Charity Spotlight: A Intimate Look at Winter Oranges by Marie Sexton (guest post and giveaway)

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Winter Oranges cover

Winter Oranges by Marie Sexton
Published by Riptide Publishing
Cover Artist:  L.C. Chase

This title is part of the Love for the Holidays: A Charity Bundle Benefiting
the GLBT National Help Center collection. 
You can purchase it and learn more about the charity bundle here.

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is so happy to have  Marie Sexton here today to talk about the inspiration behind her Christmas novel, Winter Oranges.  Marie is sharing some of her photos from her Pinterest board and thoughts behind her characters.  Winter Oranges is one of Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Highly Recommended Novels.

Hello, everybody! This is Marie Sexton, and I’m thrilled to be here at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words today talking about my Christmas novel, Winter Oranges. I thought I’d share some photos that helped inspire the novel.

First things first: I started with the house. I originally planned to set the book in rural West Virginia, so I started out researching older homes. Later, I decided to move the story to Idaho, and I ended up making the house a “revival” built in the 1980s, which meant there was no “servant’s room” on the ground floor. I rearranged the entire dining room/kitchen setup, and added a Winter Oranges House Planspantry/mudroom. The other problem was, I kept picturing the garage on the left side of the property (the left when facing the house, that is). I tried over and over to flip that image in my mind, but it didn’t work. And why would the garage be on the family room side of the property rather than the mudroom side? It didn’t make sense. So I flipped the entire bottom floor. But for the most part, this is Jason’s house. (I’m sure he paid more than $1548 for it, though!)

The next step was the snow globe. Yes, I could have just made it up, but I wanted a photo. It needed to look old-fashioned and have a cottage. So I settled on this one:Winter Oranges_Snow Globe

Now, for the characters.

Winter Oranges_Tom HughesIn my brain, Ben looks like Tom Hughes, minus the bad boy attitude.

Ben’s clothes were based largely on this picture:Winter Oranges_civil war men

And Jason… well, I wasn’t entirely sure what Jason looked like. I was pretty sure he was blond, and I knew he was in his late 20s. That was good enough, until I got to a line where somebody says to him, “You look familiar.” Jason hates his semi-celebrity status, so rather than telling her who he really is, he says, “Some people say I look like [some other celebrity].” The problem was, who did he look like? I spent a stupid amount of time googling actors, but I finally decided on William Moseley.Winter Oranges_William Mosely

That’s it for my primary sources of inspiration, but for more pictures, check out my  Winter Oranges Pinterest Board. Have an image you’d like to add? Leave your Pinterest user name in the comments, and I’ll send you an invitation to add to the board.

And be sure to check out Winter Oranges! 20% of the proceeds go to the GLBT National Help Center.

About the Book

Jason Walker is a child star turned teen heartthrob turned reluctant B-movie regular who’s sick of his failing career. So he gives up Hollywood for northern Idaho, far away from the press, the drama of LA, and the best friend he’s secretly been in love with for years.

There’s only one problem with his new life: a strange young man only he can see is haunting his guesthouse. Except Benjamin Ward isn’t a ghost. He’s a man caught out of time, trapped since the Civil War in a magical prison where he can only watch the lives of those around him. He’s also sweet, funny, and cute as hell, with an affinity for cheesy ’80s TV shows. And he’s thrilled to finally have someone to talk to.

But Jason quickly discovers that spending all his time with a man nobody else can see or hear isn’t without its problems—especially when the tabloids find him again and make him front-page news. The local sheriff thinks he’s on drugs, and his best friend thinks he’s crazy. But Jason knows he hasn’t lost his mind. Too bad he can’t say the same thing about his heart.

Winter Oranges is one of Riptide’s 2015 charity titles.

Twenty percent of the proceeds from this title will be donated to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) National Help Center.

Founded in 1996, the GLBT National Help Center is a non-profit organization that provides vital peer-support, community connections and resource information to people with questions regarding sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Utilizing a diverse group of GLBT volunteers, they operate two national hotlines, the GLBT National Hotline and the GLBT National Youth Talkline, as well as private, volunteer one-to-one online chat, that help both youth and adults with coming-out issues, safer-sex information, school bullying, family concerns, relationship problems and a lot more.

To learn more about this charity or to donate directly, please visit their website:  “http://www.glbthotline.org/

HYPERLINK “http://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/winter-orangeshttp://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/winter-oranges

About the Author

Marie Sexton lives in Colorado. She’s a fan of just about anything that involves muscular young men piling on top of each other. In particular, she loves the Denver Broncos and enjoys going to the games with her husband. Her imaginary friends often tag along.

Marie has one daughter, two cats, and one dog, all of whom seem bent on destroying what remains of her sanity. She loves them anyway.

Connect with Marie:

WinterOranges_TourBanner

Giveaway

To celebrate the release of Winter Oranges, Marie Sexton is giving away two titles from her backlist and a $50 Amazon gift card! Your first comment at each stop on this tour enters you in the drawing. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on December 5, 2015. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. Entries. Follow the tour for more opportunities to enter the giveaway! Don’t forget to leave your email or method of contact so Riptide can reach you if you win!  Must be 18 years of age or older to enter.  Happy Reading and Good luck!

A MelanieM Review: The Terms of Release (The Release Series #1) by B.A. Tortuga

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The Terms of Release coverThey say a man can always come home. So after doing hard time, Sage Redding heads to his family’s northeast Texas ranch to help his ailing daddy with the cutting horses.

Adam (Win) Winchester is a county deputy and the cousin of one of the men killed in the incident that sent Sage to prison for almost a decade. While Win’s uncles, Jim and Teddy, are determined to make Sage and the entire Redding family pay for their loss, Win just figures Sage has paid his dues and maybe needs a friend. Maybe he needs more than a friend. In fact, Win’s counting on it.

No one’s denying Sage is an ex-con who went to prison for manslaughter. Regardless of the love he has for his father, he’s returned knowing things will likely go badly for him. Maybe a man can always come home, but he may not be able to stay.

The Terms of Release is the first in a new series by BA Tortuga.  Its set in one of her favored locations, northeast Texas, where the regional twang of the Texas accent and cowboy colloquialisms is as prevalent as the searing summer heat.  These are used as the basis for a romance between two more basic characters found in BA Tortuga’s stories, a cowboy and a ex-soldier, each here with a twist.

Sage Redding, a pocket cowboy, coming off of hard time in a penitentiary for manslaughter, but the story behind his conviction points to something or someone else.  Adam (Win) Winchester, former soldier, now a county deputy, who uncles and family were instrumental in Sage’s conviction and length of time behind bars.  Sage has returned home because of his father’s ill health to help his parents run their ranch to the consternation and hate of the townfolk and local police department, except for Win that is.

Immediately the author sets the whirlwind of small town prejudice, poor economics and personal gain into play with Sage’s homecoming.  Its not just one issue plaguing Sage’s return but a multitude.  He’s a con, he’s a murderer, “they don’t need his kind here” sort of thing.  It should be cliche but that’s exactly the sort of mindset found in small communities and BA Tortuga gets it exactly right.  Never mind that his parents have been a fountain of support for many within town limits, that is easy to forget until Sage’s wonderful mother brings it up.  I adored his parents.  They are just two more reasons that I find this author’s stories so easy to sink into, her characters come across as perfectly earthy and human.  Snarly, wounded, stolid, and supportive.  Amazing how quickly I can take them into my heart.

Adam (Win) Winchester is another terrific character with roots in this community.  He’s wondering why he came back at all and finding that Sage maybe the best reason to stay.  I loved Adam but the real story is Sage.

Sage is tiny and he did hard time in a state penitentiary. That has left him with permanent scars, ones mentioned and ones left to the imagination…all horrific and life changing.  How BA Tortuga handles this aspect of her character and story deserves special mention and admiration.   Ever think about how someone who has been convicted of manslaughter handles prison time?  Especially if you think they might deserve it?  What if they were actually innocent as some are being found these days, after the fact,  in the Texas system?  How do they handle what happened to them inside? How do they handle being outside once more?  Tortuga has Sage go through all these things, from checking in with his parole officer, to missing out on simple cultural things we take for granted to things I will leave up to the story.  And we get some of the confusion we might feel present in Win who doesn’t always understand Sage’s state of mind.  That’s equally important for the story and for the reader.  Tortuga gives us two points of view and the time needed to develop them both to the degree that we understand and commit to both men and their relationship.

Sage maybe be a tiny pocket cowboy but by the end of the story  he had captured my heart, along with Win’s.  Theirs was a romance to root for and a journey to love that will captivate you. The Terms of Release doesn’t always flow evenly but it moves with heart, and courage and grit.   A wonderful story and I can’t wait to see where BA Tortuga takes this series next.

Cover art by Leah Kaye Suttle.  If the intent is to draw you in by the hot torso and hot landscape then done.  But if the job is to let you into some idea of the storyline? Fail.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | All Romance (ARe) |  Amazon | Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 240 pages, also in paperback and audiobook from Dreamspinner
Published March 24th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press (first published March 23rd 2014)
original title The Terms of Release
ISBN 1627986146 (ISBN13: 9781627986144)
The Release Series:
The Terms of Release

 

A MelanieM Review: Coming Back (The Belladonna Arms #3) by John Inman

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Coming Back coverBarney Teegarden knows what it’s like to be alone. He knows what it’s like to have a romantic heart, yet no love in his life to unleash the romance on. With the help of a friend, he acquires a lease in a seedy apartment building perched high on a hill in downtown San Diego. The Belladonna Arms is not only filled with the quirkiest cast of characters imaginable, it is also famous for sprinkling love dust on even the loneliest of the lovelorn.

At the Arms, Barney finds friendship, acceptance, and an adopted family that lightens his lonely life. Hell, he even finds a cat. But still true love eludes him.

When his drag queen landlord, Arthur, takes it into his head to rescue a homeless former tenant, he enlists Barney’s help. It is Barney who shows this lost soul how to trust again—and in return Barney discovers love for the first time in his life.

It’s funny how even the hardest battles can be fought and won with laughter, hugs, friends, plus a little faith in the goodness of others. All it takes to begin the healing is the simple act of coming back.

Two books ago I fell in love with a dilapidated apartment building on top a hill in San Diego, filled full of gay misfits looking for love.  The Belladonna Arms, old neon sign sputtering to life each night, apparently is home to love pollen, the stuff just “rains down the walls” as one resident after another finds their soulmate in John Inman’s wonderful heartwarming Belladonna Arms stories.  With one tragic exception.

In Coming Back, John Inman, heals that terrible wound and gets the Belladonna Arms love pollen working overtime again with a new arrival in Barney Teegarden, a friend and coworker of Pete (husband of Sylvia’s).   Barney is looking for a new place to live and for someone to love and love him back.  The  latter being important.  Most of the people Barney has loved haven’t returned the emotion and he’s  ready for that to change.  Pete swears that the Belladonna Arms can work magic but after seeing the rundown place Barney’s just not sure.  Barney has just arrived at the multi-couple yard sale in front of the Belladonna Arms so he can meet Arthur, the owner and manager.

 The next thing I knew, I was face-to-face with the gigantic drag queen in the platinum Veronica Lake wig. At the moment, he had four feather boas draped around his tree-trunk-sized neck, each gaudier than the next. He was waving them around, trying to attract a buyer, until Pete shoved me into his face, and said, “Arthur, I want you to meet Barney. Barney needs a place to live.”

Arthur slipped ham-sized hands into my armpits and lifted me a foot off the ground to stare directly into my eyes. I hung there like a Christmas ornament, wishing the fuck he would put me down. “You’re a cutie,” he said in a booming baritone that rolled through lips saturated with peach-tinted lip gloss. “And you’re a friend of Pete’s?”

“Yes, sir. I mean, ma’am. I mean, sir.” His lips spread wide in a grin. He gave me a little shake, as if he were trying to dislodge some fruit from my branches, then gently set me on the ground.

“Done,” he said.

“What’s done?” I asked.

“Your apartment. It’s ready for you to move into whenever you’re ready. There’s a vacancy right next to Pete and Sylvia.”

I blinked. “No shit?”

“No shit.”

“I’m a tenant?”

“You’re a tenant.”

And just like that Barney has become a member of a wonderfully quixotic and dear group of people who make up the family that is the Belladonna Arms.  It helps that Pete and Sylvia are next door neighbors and good friends  already.

 

“Thank you, Arthur!” Pete cried. “Barney will be your best tenant ever.”

Arthur pinched Pete’s cheek and ruffled his hair. “I’m sure he will.” Then he turned to me. “Got a lover?”

“Uh… no.” Arthur pulled me into his massive, hairy, Opium-scented arms and squeezed me so hard I thought I felt an organ burst. “Well, don’t worry, honey. The building will take care of that.” “The building,” I grunted, trying to draw a breath. He eyed me with his one visible eyebrow cocked high. “That’s right. The building. Ever hear of love pollen?”

 “Uh, nope.”

He blessed me with a secretive smile. “You will. It simply rains down from the walls in this place. And when that pollen touches you, you’re lost.”

I gazed over the feather boas draped across Arthur’s shoulders, tried not to sneeze because one of them was tickling my nose, and stared up at the homely old edifice standing in front of me. “Love pollen,” I whispered beneath my breath, wondering what the hell the guy was talking about. I gave myself a shake to dislodge any droplets of insanity that might have drifted down upon me like the ever-present glitter, and thought, Oookay, not my circus, not my monkeys. But since the Belladonna Arms was apparently my circus now, and since I would soon be one of the many monkeys inhabiting the joint, I found myself grinning in spite of myself. Because I suddenly knew—I just knew—this particular circus was going to fit me like a glove. Love pollen or no love pollen, for one of the first times in my life, I felt as if I’d come home. I blushed one last time when Pete planted a kiss on one of my cheeks and Arthur planted a kiss on my other. Both men loomed over and around me, patting and cooing, making me feel safe and loved and welcome. Embarrassed by the sudden surge of emotion welling up inside me, I plucked one of the boas from around Arthur’s neck, and draped it over my own. “How much?” I asked in a ragged voice. Arthur gave the boa a theatrical flourish, fluffing it beneath my chin and flipping it rakishly over my shoulder so the end trailed down over my ass. When he was satisfied I was properly adorned, he gave me another peck on the cheek. “For you, honey? Nothing. It’s a housewarming gift. Welcome home.”

The way John Inman writes that scene, I feel as though I had been swept up in Arthur’s embrace as well.  And into the Belladonna Arms Barney  goes.  But you have to be a special sort of person to look past the dated exterior, the patches and painted over windows to see the magic, and Barney is  that sort of person, knobby furred knees and all.   Barney has an open mind and heart that’s a perfect match for the quirkiness and  eccentrics that reside in the Belladonna Arms and for the events that occur there.  And Arthur has a plan in mind and needs Barney’s help to make it work.

If John Inman is able to bring laughter to love, he doesn’t forget the pain that sometimes  arrives as well.  In Coming Back, Barney and Arthur try to deal with the horrific aftermath of a love affair gone lethally wrong in the previous book.  In some of the most moving moments in the story, Arthur and Barney go  to reclaim a human being and bring them back home.  I cried buckets.    I loved this whole aspect  of the story.  It was beautifully written, sensitive and real.  It brought the Belladonna Arms stories into another level of authenticity and grittiness it did quite have before.

Of course, then it then switched course and we flow into some of the funniest passages John Inman has ever written, starting with:

“THUS BEGAN, according to Arthur, an orgy of butchery not seen since Vlad the Impaler started hosting block parties at his fixer-upper castle with the dungeon to die for back in Romania in the fifteenth century.”

No, no, we’re talking cutting hair! Really, people. And the author brings back that apartment jumping cat, only even that cat seems to be wanting some stability and a home.  How I love this series..

Coming  Back is a book to warm your heart, make you cry more than once and make you feel so good that  you go to sleep smiling, thinking about the story and  the characters and love pollen.  This is a feel good novel and one I absolutely recommend as I do all the Belladonna Arms stories. I know there are more stories on the way, I can’t wait to see who the next newcomer is to get their dose of love pollen!

Cover art by Aaron Anderson is a little too dark and sepia toned for me.  I get what he was going for, still too one color for a place as full of vibrant characters as the Belladonna Arms.

Sales Links: Dreamspinner Press |  All Romance (ARe) | Amazon | Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 200 pages. also in paperback
Published August 17th 2015 by Dreamspinner Press LLC
ISBN13 9781634762328
edition language English
The Belladonna Arms Series:

 

 

A MelanieM Review: Overly Dramatic (Treading the Boards) by Rebecca Cohen

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Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

Overly Dramatic coverAndy Marshall moves to London looking for a fresh start after breaking up with his long-term boyfriend. To stave off boredom from his day job as an accountant and to meet new people, Andy joins a local amateur dramatics society called the Sarky Players based in Greenwich, South London. Despite his best efforts to avoid it, Andy is cast as one of the leads in a truly dreadful play called Whoops, Vicar, There Goes My Trousers, written by a local playwright.

The play might be bad, but the Sarky Players are a friendly bunch. Andy quickly makes new friends and finds himself attracted to Phil Cormack, a local artist helping with the props. But life doesn’t run to a script, so Andy and Phil will have to work hard to improvise their own happy ending.

I’m used to Rebecca Cohen having a few characters who trod the “boards” in her stories but those actors did so in William Shakespeare’s days.  Now Rebecca Cohen has given us a gentle romp herself with Overly Dramatic, a light-hearted romance set in contemporary Greenwich,  London, England, where a local amateur acting group is putting on a resoundingly bad play.

The name of that  play? “Whoops, Vicar, There Goes My Trousers!”  Full of double,triple, and quadruple entendres and a vicar mounting paper mache’ goat on wheels,  its a disaster along the lines of “Springtime for Hitler”.   The dramatic society producing the play is the Sarky Players, a local dramatic group Andy Marshall has just joined looking for companionship and perhaps something more.  Andy was lured in thinking the play was Cold Comfort Farm but once he started to read for it, Andy was caught up in the people, the action and the feelings of being part of a group again.

I loved how the author brought the Sarky Players to life in their snarky, believable characters.  I thought these were people we had in our offices or sat next to us in the cubicles or ran into at class reunions.  Even Andy and Phil are far from the normal “gorgeous” characters that may stride across your typical m/m romance novel.  A little paunch is visible (and Andy’s ok with that), the brown hair is lovely and nice but maybe not so glossy.  In short, lovely, men (no I won’t call them average – dislike that) who might fall along the “normal” range than movie star.  Both Andy and Phil are coming off bad romances but not completely disastrous ones.  And that just might be a problem right there for some readers.  There is no hurt/comfort.  No drama.  Just two very human men slowly finding their way into a relationship with each other.  Amidst a very bad play.

Some readers will find this boring.  I found it very sweet and lovely.  What did I wish more of?  Something more from the ending.  That felt a little abrupt.  It needed to play out a little more than it did for my total satisfaction. Other than that…this play and these men were just my thing!

Rebecca Cohen’s secondary characters are well crafted as her main ones.  I loved Ussie, Andy’s elderly game-playiing neighbor, along with Ryan, Derek and Naomi.  Ryan needs his own HEA and as this is just the start of the Treading the Boards series, I’m hopeful that is to come.

If you are looking for drama (outside of bad plays and paper mache’ goats of course) and angst, this is not the story for you. But if sweetness, lovely men in search of love and romance is your thing, then Overly Dramatic is a story you will enjoy.  I know I did and I look forward to the others in this series.

Cover art by Paul Richmond was as cute and adorable as the story and cast.  How can you resist a man in that Marilyn Monroe pose?

Sales Links:   Dreamspinner Press | All Romance (ARe) | Amazon | Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 131 pages
Expected publication: August 19th 2015 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN13 9781634764551
edition language English