A VVivacious Review: Fire Up My Heart by Asta Idonea

Standard
Rating: 5 Stars out of 5                    ★★★★★
 
Fire Up my HeartFane Maddox works in a rundown gay bar and battles loneliness. His life has been the same for ages but one flickering, neon sign and two legs hanging out of a dumpster are going to change his life forever.
 
Jo-E is one in a line of top-notch service bots but with a fried wiring, but when Fane fixes the glitch and wakes Jo-E up something is different. Jo-E realizes that ever since Fane woke him he has been different, for one he now has opinions and… emotions?
 
As Samuel Yapp the robotics engineer who discarded Jo-E realizes the discovery he trashed, he can’t wait to get his hands on Jo-E again but what will Fane decide to do – give Jo-E up or fight for him?
 
This story is set in the year 2045 where service bots are common and the race to the creation of strong Artificial Intelligence to the extent that it mimics humanity is on.
 
This is a short story/novella but it packs a punch. The author has a really awesome ability of investing the reader in the fate of the characters of the story from very early on. I read this story in a single sitting and the read was most enjoyable.
 
We have Fane Maddox who is lonely and his loneliness is tangible but Fane is a really nice person, I loved his personality, his humanity. He is one of those characters you like just because they are human and all humans deserve to be loved even if they are nothing extraordinary. I actually loved the character of Fane he came across as a really simple and straightforward human being.
 
Jo-E on the other hand is inching ever closer to humanity but his every human emotion seems tied to Fane. Like every robots take over the earth movie fan out there I am a bit scared of his abilities especially towards the end but what I loved about this story was that we got a look-see into Jo-E’s wiring and how he sees the world and how he figures out what is happening to him.
 
This story is fantastic on so many levels. The best part of the story was that how invested it had me in its characters and their happiness. Also I loved how the romance between Fane and Jo-E is handled, so carefully and slowly and plausibly. The author gives generous times to both characters to work out their feelings for each other and the plot which heightens their emotions for each other works out very well and gives the story the right push at the right time.
 
This story is sweet and has you thinking a lot and I am awfully intrigued about knowing more about these two characters also about the implications of having such strong-AI on a rogue bot because seriously remember every book and movie that has robots take over the world and enslave the human race.
 
This story has it all and is a must read. This is my second book by this author and from what I have deduced so far this author is really good.
 
Cover Art by AngstyG. That cover is just beautiful and along with that blurb I don’t think anyone in their right mind can resist being intrigued by this book.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | ARe | Amazon

Book Details:
ebook, 67 pages
Published May 25th 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1634773330 (ISBN13: 9781634773331)
Edition Language English
URL

A MelanieM Review: Status Update (#gaymers 1) by Annabeth Albert

Standard

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Status UpdateAdrian Gottlieb is winning at life. He’s a successful video game designer with everything a man could ask for, including a warm comfy ride to Denver and a date for his sister’s wedding. But he finds himself in need of a total reboot when he’s left stranded at a snowy campground in Utah. Holiday plans? Epic fail.

That is until Noah Walters offers him shelter for the night and a reluctant cross-country ride. Nothing about the ultraconservative geoarchaeologist should attract Adrian, but once he discovers Noah’s hidden love for video games, the two connect on a new level. Soon, a quiet but undeniable chemistry sparks.

Something doesn’t add up, though. As the miles accumulate and time runs out, Noah must face the most difficult choice of his life. Meanwhile, Adrian must decide whether he’s ready to level up. Is their relationship status worth fighting for, or has this game ended before it’s even begun?

If Annabeth Albert hadn’t already made me a fan with her previous stories,  this is the one that would have sealed the deal.  Status Update, the first in a new #gaymer series, proves to be a sweet, sparkling romance, with filled with endearing characters that grab at your heart. That holds especially true of the main couple, both men are unusual, layered, and real.  Throw in two irrepressible dog characters like Pixel and Ulysses that are a perfect match for their owners and I was in love from the moment the story rolled out in that campground’s off leash dog area in Utah.

The Capitol Reef National Park campground in Southern Utah is a strange meeting place for these two men to collide. Adrian Gottlieb, successful video game designer is on his way to his sister’s wedding in a rented RV with a man he barely knows.  Noah Walters, a geoarcheologist, is holed up in his camper, his home away from home,  trying to finish his book that will get him tenure at his conservative bible college in Texas.   But in a wildly painful yet could be expected turn of events, Adrian, 25, and Pixel are left stranded in the campground until Noah offers not only refuge but an passage to Denver and Adrian’s sister’s wedding.

Sounds so simple, but the men and story are so complex.  Noah’s upbringing has left him firmly in the closet, His choice of profession and job has kept him there.  Noah realizes that to come out would be losing his teaching job, which he loves and any chance at tenure in a profession where jobs are scare.  That choice has also left him a virgin and celibate at the age of 35 and up until he meets Adrian, Noah has accepted the limitations of his life and its loneliness.

If for no other reason  that the character of Noah Walters, this book would garner high praise for its author.  He’s an adult, with a mature outlook on his life, taking responsibility for the choices he has  made.  He’s rueful, awkward, gruff, and intelligent.  I found him to be so remarkable and wonderful.  Add to that he put away his sexuality and committed to a path of celibacy for the sake of his profession, that extra bit of unexpected vulnerability just makes you ache for him and gives Noah that one more twist to his already different persona.

But then comes Adrian Gottlieb, a character who is on par with Noah in every respect.  He too is complex, full of his own layers and unexpected depth.  His success and commitment to the popular videogame, Space Villager, has left him little time for a social life, which also helps to explain the disaster that led their meeting. That adage that ‘appearances can be deceiving’ certainly applies to Adrian as Noah finds out almost immediately.  Both men, highly intelligent, find themselves oddly compatible, as are their dog companions. Their relationship within Noah’s small RV, their time on the road as their explore each other boundaries…sexual, personal, emotional,  takes the reader on such an a rewarding journey along with these men to Denver and the wedding that you hope it will never stop.

Then it does.

And the story gets better.  Because when their trip stops, decisions have to be made.  Its reality time.  And Annabeth Albert takes these two serious men, the slow, sometimes painful journey they have been on and completes it in the most wondrous, satisfactory way.  It makes sense,  its real, and not without a prick or two of regret.  So yes, its perfect.  Except for one little detail.

Space Villager does not exist.  How I wish it did.  There was this teaser as the end…just no… it does not exist.  But I won’t take away any stars for that disappointment.

Book Cover was a delight.  I  loved that the dogs were included.  Great job.

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

Book Details:

ebook, 195 pages
Expected publication: December 7th 2015 by Carina
original title Status Update
ISBN 1459290593 (ISBN13: 9781459290594)
series #gaymers #1

Review: Free Falling (Extreme Escapes, Ltd.) by S.E. Jakes

Standard

Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Sometimes falling in love is the most dangerous thing of all…

FreeFalling_500x750Expert thief Blue first met Mick, a mercenary and a hitter, when the millionaire they were working for sent them out to “retrieve” a priceless statue and ship it out of the country.  Blue was adamant about working solo, Mick was just as adamant that he was coming along as ordered.  The argument only ended after a bet was made and agreed upon.  A bet Blue lost.  But Mick never showed up, leaving Blue hanging  and alone in the hotel room that had been part of the bet.  Blue was angry, humiliated, and more than a little frustrated at the way the evening turned out.  Blue swore that Mick wouldn’t get a second chance.  And then a year later he sees him again.

A year later finds Blue in Bogota.  The job Blue is on should be quick and easy, its also one he has been paid for.  But things start to go wrong almost immediately.  Blue spots Mick in a meeting in a bar, catching not only Mick’s eye but that of the dangerous drug dealer Mick is working with.  It takes finesse and quick thinking by Mick to get Blue away from the criminal and a deadly situation that was getting out of control.  Recovering, Mick and Blue realize that they care for each other.  But their jobs and personalities make going forward impossible.

Then Mick disappears on a job and its up to Blue to save him.  Suddenly nothing is impossible if only he can save Mick first.

Blue and Mick first appeared on my radar during the Hell or High Water series.  SE Jakes gave us tantalizing glimpses of this duo throughout those stories as Blue popped in to visit Prophet only to be followed by Mick still chasing after him.  A few sentences of dialog, a quick scene that telegraphed the deep love and affection these men felt for each other, and then, poof, they were gone.  Blue would jump out the window with Mick close behind him.  And the reader was left wondering who were these crazy men and what was their backstory?

In Free Falling, we finally get some answers, but only some.  Blue is an unrepentant thief.  He enjoys his work and is one of the top “procurement” people in the world.  He is never going to change, a fact that has acted as a bulwark against any lasting relationships except one. But what happened to make Blue this way?  SE Jakes has created an almost heartbreaking answer to that question.  From Blue’s memories and several phone calls he gets while on the run, the reader gathers the pieces to the puzzle that is Blue.  From his dysfunctional family background to his raison d’être, all are clues which help us better understand Blue. It also makes his need for stealing understandable and almost honorable, almost.  Blue is a complicated man, surprisingly full of insecurities and yet still so confident in his abilities and intelligence.  And he meets his match in Mick.

Ah, Mick.  A massive mountain of a man.  A killer, a soldier, full of unwavering loyalties. And yet….still capable of friendship and love.  His complexities are a perfect match for the compulsions and intricacies that is Blue.  I haven’t read all of the Extreme Escapes Ltd. stories, so I don’t know if his backstory is already out there.  But again, SE Jakes gives us enough to cobble together an understanding of this man and the forces that drive him.

These men need a plot as intense, dangerous and wild as they are and they get it in Free Falling, a perfect metaphor for their lives.  Someone is manufacturing a drug that whips a person into a long lasting sexual frenzy, one that compels them to want more and more sex.  It’s the ultimate blackmail tool and perfect for creating sexual slaves.  And EE and Mick are out to stop its manufacture and distribution.

Free Falling is such great high wire fun! The action is fast-paced and explosive.  The sex scenes intense and incendiary.  And the pathos when it comes, well, it’s heartbreaking.  No idling, no slow speed to this narrative,  it’s just revved up and roaring down the road!

So buckle up, grab this story up and prepare for one wild ride.  You are going to love it.

Cover Art by Croco Designs, http://www.crocodesigns.com.  Can that cover get any hotter?  I  don’t think so.  Love it.

Book Details:

ebook, First Edition, 150 pages
Published December 5th 2012 by SEJ (http://sejakes.com)
original title Free Falling
edition language English
Books in the Extreme Escapes Ltd universe are:
  • Hell or High Water Series: Catch a Ghost, Long Time Gone, Daylight Again (coming soon), If I Ever (coming soon)
  • Dirty Deeds Series (EE, Ltd.): Dirty Deeds, Dirty Lies (coming soon), Dirty Love (coming soon)
  • Men of Honor Series: Bound by Honor, Bound by Law, Ties That Bind, Bound by Danger, Bound for Keeps (EE, Ltd.), Bound to Break

Review: Sweet and Sour by Astrid Amara

Standard

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Sweet and Sour coverMiles Piekus should be the happiest man around.  He has just finished a renovation of the family deli, Piekus Pickles, he bought from his parents and his shop is more successful than ever.  Miles has started a catering business and expanded the vegetarian selection in his Kosher deli.  He lives above the business in the apartment he grew up in and loves.  So what’s wrong?  Well, his Israeli boyfriend Itai, a software designer, was supposed to be his partner but can’t be bothered to help out.  And Miles thinks Itai is cheating on him again, after taking him back for a second chance.

As Thanksgiving and Hanukkah collide to form Miles’s worst nightmare with the deli to run and a party to cater and no help with either, a surprising arrival might be the answers to his problems.  Detective Dominic Delbene, a pickle enthusiast and all around foodie, has been staking out Piekus Pickles, on the lookout for a narcotics ring operating in the area.  He wants to use Piekus Pickles as his undercover spot and offers to help out behind the counter as his cover.  Turns out, Nic’s family used to own a deli and soon things are running smoothly, too smoothly as it turns out.  As romance starts to collide with business for both men, can Miles and Nic find the perfect recipe for love and a future together?

C.S. Lewis said “Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably.” In Sweet and Sour, that combination is not just admirable but downright delectable!  Each holiday season I look forward to a Hannukkah story from Astrid Amara, normally one that includes the remarkable Bellskis.  This year the author introduces us to Miles Piekus and Piekus Pickles and I fell in love all over again with this author and her captivating characters and stories.

Starting from the very first, we get a clear idea of who Miles Piekus is as a person and business owner.  He’s covered in splattered pickle juice, working on orders and trying to assuage an old time customer of his parents who mistakenly picked up the wrong pickle and, of course, blames Miles for the error!  It’s a perfect scene from the imagery to the dialog which is so authentic to that age group of elderly Jewish men and women that I could swear I was sitting over at Pumpernickels at the early bird special.  We understand immediately that Miles is overworked, feeling  unappreciated by long time customers, and irritated by the attitude and absence of his IT boyfriend.  Astrid Amara gives us Miles, the gay, hardworking, family and culture loving Miles, and she did so in a nutshell as they say.  That’s wonderful characterization, made all the better by the ease in which she accomplished it.

Then enters Detective Dominic Delbene to further confuse and help the situation.  Nic Delbene is another wonderful character in a whole slew of them.  For one, he is not the typical detective in that he’s unhappy being a cop.  Furthermore, Nic is a pickle enthusiast and a foodie in his own right, having come from a delicatessen owning family himself.  Those unexpected and genuine layers add such texture to a person who could have been a stock character that I connected to Nic from the moment he walked into the store just as Miles did.  Nic loved the food Miles served up and he ate with an enthusiasm that was so contagious that my mouth actually watered.  One of the reasons this connectivity works so beautifully is because we understand Miles reaction to Nic because it is ours as well.

This book is chock full of memorable people, as different in flavor as the pickles you would find in Miles’ shop. And that includes Itai, the software designing boyfriend with ideas of a relationship at the other end of the spectrum from Miles.  Most people will dislike him deeply.  I have to admit I am not terrfibly fond of him myself. But I loved the manner in which Miles dealt with him. From the beginning to the end, Miles behaved like an adult and a loving, responsible human being.  In fact most of the people here are those who would garner your respect if you met them outside these pages.  As for the other characters?  Well, while we wouldn’t want to be more than acquaintances we would surely recognize them as the living breathing real women and men that Amara has created them to be.  From their actions to their dialog, it all works and works so smoothly that the pages just speed by along with the plot.

Layered overtop of the characters and plot is the author’s love of food and the Jewish culture.  These elements add such a richness to this story  that it almost needs its own review.  Miles keeps a Kosher kitchen and works hard to deliver kosher food that is still very “upscale”, pushing the boundaries of the expectations of those people in his community and the customers his store has served, some for years.  Astrid Amara gently imparts some of the specific about keeping Kosher to the reader without going into plot deadening detail.  We learn that Miles serves vegetarian because of the kashrut law that says meat and dairy must be kept separate.  We watch as Miles prepares his first catering job for Rabbi Kevin Fine, the  four-course Sabbath dinner for fifteen reform rabbis and their spouses at the Jewish Community Center. We get a complete menu and reactions from the dinners.  It’s a rich, funny, and ultimately heartwarming scene.  And I wanted to be there.  We are also are there as Miles spends his first Hannukkah alone, lighting the candles and saying the prayers by himself in his upstairs apartment.  We know how important tradition and his religion are to Miles because Astrid Amara has made it abundantly clear through Miles’ actions and words.  It’s moving and authentic.

And then there is the food and the recipes.  Oh my, such food!  Each chapter is labeled with the title of a recipe.  Chapter One is Warmly Spiced Cranberry Chutney. Chapter Four is Kosher Dill Half-Sours, Chapter Eight is Indian Hot Lemon Pickle right up to Beet Pickled Duck Eggs.  Each recipe sent me running to my computer and Google.  The food inside this story filled my head with aromas and flavors of such mouth-watering variety that I wanted to sample a bit of each and you will too.  I have been told that all the recipes in Sweet and Sour are real to my delight.

The holidays are upon us and Sweet and Sour is the perfect accompaniment for your holidays no matter what you celebrate. It is full of laughter and family, of traditions both old and new, of friends and lovers and our hopes for the future.  And of course, food, lots and lots of food and new recipes to try out. I asked for one from the author and here is the sufganiyot recipe.   Now I am off to bake.  You will want to as well. http://www.chow.com/recipes/30225-mexican-hot-chocolateglazed-sufganiyot-hanukkah-doughnuts-with-marshmallow-filling.

Sweet and Sour by Astrid Amara is one of ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords highly recommended reads for 2013.  Don’t miss out!

This is how it all begins:

Chapter One

Warmly Spiced Cranberry Chutney

“It’s a disgrace, what you’ve done to this pickle!”

Mr. Frank Elder, a loyal customer of Piekus Pickles for over fifteen years, brandished a sad pickle aloft, as if its very appearance were something so appalling everyone in the establishment would gasp in horror.

As it was, Miles Piekus, owner of Piekus Pickles and the one being verbally accosted, wiped the spatters of pickling liquid from his face and affixed an apologetic smile upon his face.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Elder. Can I get you another one?”

“You try it!” Mr. Elder cried, shoving the offensive vegetable in Miles’s face.

Miles took the small green pickle and bit off the end. It tasted crunchy, garlicky, and tart, just like a pickle should taste.

“It’s very sour!” Mr. Elder complained, and Miles understood the problem.

“This is a full-sour pickle. You usually buy half-sours.”

Half sours were brined in salt and spices only. This pickle had been brined in vinegar and for a longer time. Miles wondered if the old guy had finally lost his sense of smell. “See how dark it is? Half- sours are a lighter green.”

Mr. Elder scratched his temple. “But I thought I got my usual…”

“Did you select pickles from that first barrel by the window?” Miles pointed to one of six large wood barrels lining the wall of the deli. “Because I moved the barrels around when I renovated, and I bet you selected full–sours instead of your regular.”

“Even if that was the case, your mother would have caught the mistake before ringing me up.”

That was likely true, and not the first time Miles had heard the complaint. He’d inherited his family’s store when his parents retired and moved to Arizona three months ago, and the transition embittered many of the older, traditional client base that found Miles’s youth and enthusiasm off-putting.

“I’m sorry,” Miles repeated, his smile firmly attached. “Let’s get you half a dozen half-sours on the house.”

“You don’t have to go that far—“

“I insist. You’re right. I should have caught the mistake and I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.” Miles gathered up a jar and used the tongs in the half-sour barrel to fish out a dozen small cukes from the brine. He sealed the lid and moved quickly to the cash register to ring up the sale. As he did so the bells over the front door jingled and two couples hurried in from the rain, talking loudly. Miles smiled at them then stole a glance back to the closed door behind him. The door opened to a narrow flight of stairs that connected to the second floor of the building, where Miles’s boyfriend currently sat, ostensibly not helping with the business. Miles sighed. He handed the jar to Mr. Elder and made a note for his Regular Clients board hidden behind the counter about the man’s tastes.

“Thank you, Miles,” Mr. Elder said in a complaining voice. “I’ll give you one more chance.”

Book Details:

ebook, 138 pages

Expected publication: November 26th 2013 by Loose Id
ISBN139781623004163
url http://www.loose-id.com/newest/coming-soon/sweet-and-sour.html

Special Note and  Recipes From the Author:

The one recipe I’ve personally made a few times before is a two parter – you need to make Pickled Beets first, and then you get to make Beet Pickled Duck eggs (thats the recipe in the book Sweet and Sour, but you can use chicken eggs instead).

Both recipes courtesy of “The Joy of Pickling” by Linda Ziedrich
Pickled Beets

– Makes 8 pints

7 lbs. beets with their rootlets and 2 inches of their tops, well scrubbed
2 4″ cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
1T whole allspice berries
1t whole cloves
1 c granulated sugar
1 c firmly packed light brown sugar
2t pickling salt
1 quart cider vinegar
2 c water

1. Put the beets into a large pot and pour enough boiling water over them to cover them. Return the water to a boil and boil the beets for 15-35 minutes, depending on their size, until they are just tender.
2. Drain the beets and cover them with cold water. When they are cool, trim them and slip off their skins. If they are large, halve or quarter them – or if you like, slice all the beets into 1/4 inch thick rounds.
3. Tie the spices in a spice bag or a scrap of cheesecloth. Put this in a nonreactive pot with both sugars, salt, vinegar, and water. Bring the contents to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat and simmer the liquid, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
4. While the liquid simmers, pack the beets into pint or quart mason jars. Pour hot liquid over the beets, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Close the jars with two-piece caps. Process the jars for 30 minutes in a boiling water bath.
5. Store the jars in a cool, dry, dark place for at least 3 weeks before eating the beets. After opening a jar, store it in the fridge. Save the liquid in the jar for the eggs below:

Eggs Pickled in Beet Juice

– Makes 1 quart

1c liquid from Basic Pickled Beets

1c white wine vinegar or distilled white vinegar
1t pickling salt
1/2 t whole black peppercorns, crushed
1/2 t whole allspice berries, crushed
1 Mediterranean bay leaf, crumbled
About 12 hard-cooked duck eggs (to fill a quart jar), peeled

1. In a nonreactive saucepan, bring to a boil the beet-pickling liquid, vinegar, salt, and spices. Remove the pan from the heat and let the liquid cool.
2. Put the eggs into a quart jar and pour the cooled liquid over them. Cap the jar and refrigerate it for 6-24 hours. The longer you leave the eggs in the liquid, the farther the red color will penetrate into the whites. To keep the yolk from coloring, slice and serve the eggs before a day has passed.

***

A good basic bread and butter pickle recipe:

Review: The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men (Valley Books) by Eric Arvin

Standard

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men coverWinifred Walterhouse lived in the mansion on the top of Black Hill.  She was aware of the secrets the river and the valley held.   She knew of the river sprites, and of the forest passions, small beings becoming fewer and fewer in number.  She had helped hold off the outdwellers, those who would steal the valley’s magic and destroy the old ways.  But now she is dying, unable to take care of herself let alone a young girl of a certain stubborn temperament.

When her parents died, little Calpurnia Covington was sent to live with her eccentric aunt in the mysterious River Valley. And by her arrival changed everything.  With her aunt, Winifred Walterhouse, dying and confined to her room, Calpurnia is free to roam throughout the estate and nearby woods.  Missing the outside world, Calpurnia is frightened by the beings and things she sees in the Valley and resolutely turns her back on the magic all around her, thus setting her path away from the light and those coming after her.

Minerva True is a mystic who lives deep in the Valley, aware of the magic and light all around her.  She is also aware of The Prophecy and the coming darkness.  Although Minerva tries to warn the river valley’s inhabitants, she is ignored and the darkness is allowed to grow and thrive.  In the future, it will be the mingled destinies of Minerva, the young hero Leith, his lover Aubrey, and the mute boy, Deverell that will tilt the fate of the valley and perhaps the world towards the light or darkness.  Who will succeed and who will fail in the ultimate of all battles?

The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men by Eric Arvin has to be one of the most memorable and complex books that I have read recently.  It is an extraordinary and sometimes confounding mixture of gothic horror, Grimm’s fairy tale, and dark fantasy.  Arvin pulls from a number of sources, from elementals and the Industrial Revolution to the Bible and uses them to help him create a lost river valley where magic still exists along side the human and the mundane.  Inside the valley, power flows through the woods and into the river. Here river dwellers and passions live but no longer flourish.  The Outsiders and Industry test the borders  and darkness has come to claim the valley and its souls for its own.

With this novel and the books to follow, Eric Arvin conceived his version of the eternal war between good and evil, the battle between the light and the darkness.  This story has a language so lyrical that it will remind you of sonnets and characters so beautifully defined and textured that their loss will haunt you for days.  Arvin’s story feels so old and timeless that the aroma of old leather bindings and yellowed pages of text will commingle in your mind along with the title, an effortless interface of ideas both old, fantastical and still somehow quite new.   An ebook of emotional heft and extraordinary value.

In keeping with the large scope of his story that is nothing less than the battle between good and evil, Arvin’s novel encompasses a rather large time span that starts from Calpurnia’s arrival in the valley as a young girl through her marriage and birth of her child and further still as that child, Leith, grows up and becomes a featured player in this timeless spiritual war. Circling around Calpurnia is a convoluted and intertwining group of relationships that will include beings of power to Leith, her son.   Arvin has created a large and incredible cast for his story and series, including Azriel, a angel and the fundamental Mother True.  These characters live and breath and love with an realness that will grab you.  Some love with a lightness of being and others, well,  others are weighed down with such a darkness of spirit that it seeps right off the page.  I mean really some of Arvin’s creations just exude such a feel of evil that they carry a stench of corruption.  And with any tale of good and evil, there are so many losses that will cut to the heart as the story and the fight progress.

Its that unrelenting parade of death as the story proceeds with its inexorable march towards that final battle between good and evil that might turn away readers looking for a warm tale of love and romance.  This is a true fantasy, horror story.  An epic tale that must, by its very nature, come with the deaths of characters the reader has come to love. I think it is those character deaths here will cause not only consternation but pain as the losses add up.  Not only because we didn’t see these deaths coming but because we had come to care for these people in the short amount of time we knew them, a required ingredient of great characters.   It is this aspect of the story that most readers will shy away from, especially those looking for a strictly m/m romance.  This is not that book.   Yes, there is a m/m romance, but there is also heterosexual love, familial love and so much more.  And for those readers to shy away from this story because of those aspects would be a shame indeed because this story also has great heart to go along with great loss.

One of the real revelations here is Arvin’s ability to reveal a true contamination of the soul, a slow defilement of character so extraordinary that you almost weep for the promise of the child that was thrown away, seduced by her own needs and a greater evil.  The author’s prose and descriptions delivering both a story of great emotional impact but also of spiritual warnings that go unheeded to the sorrow of all involved.   The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men is easily one of Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Best of 2013.  Consider this tale highly recommended and a must read for all.

Cover photography by Amy Morrison.  This book needs an extraordinary cover to measure up to the greatness of the story within and it gets it with this great cover by Amy Morrison.  Also one of the best covers of 2013.

Book Details:

ebook, 286 pages
Published April 24th 2013 by Wilde City Press
ISBN13 9781925031065
edition language English
series Valley

Guest Interview: Meet Havan Fellows!

Standard

Good morning all!  We (the pups and I) are welcoming Havan Fellows, author and creator of the extraordinary Wick Templeton and the Wicked’s Ways series, to Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words this morning.   Welcome, Havan. Here’s your cup of coffee, watch out for begging critters!. *shoos away the terrors three*.

Thank you so much for having me here today, Melanie. *looks around and sits on nice cushy couch* wow, it’s so different being here than just looking in. *pets the puppies jumping all around my ankles*

Oh thank you again…*sips coffee and smiles* now that is a good cup of brew. Hits the spot, you know? I guess I should introduce myself, my name is Havan Fellows and I get a personal high from telling tall tales. It’s a gift/curse—depending on who you talk to in my family. Because yes, my immediate family knows I write M/M fiction & romance (or depending how feisty I feel at the time erotic romance *winks*).

So what started me on the Wick Templeton bandwagon? It’s a simple story about how Wick came about – but one that is close to my heart.

Here’s how I first described Pulp Friction back in January when we went public:

PF is an exciting new venture that was born in that beautiful head of Laura Harner…one day she came to Tom Webb, Lee Brazil and me and said:

“Hey…what if we swung it this way? You know, have the edginess of some hard-as-nails men doing what they do—how they do it—and getting the things done. Sure there may not be a HEA right away (if ever)…but we’ll deliver the thrill of the quick read suspense with a splash of sexy! So come on…who wants to sha-wing it with me?”

Okay *blushes and ducks head*—that might not be what she said verbatim…but I was paraphrasing, honest! hehe

Um…yeah, silly as it sounds that little snippet describes PF practically perfectly (say that 5 times fast). Just about a year ago Laura came to us with an idea of doing shorts…in the old pulp fiction style.

We loved the idea immediately. It was something that would let us experience a different side of our writing. We brain stormed for days and nights – completely talking up the “what if” phase. Honestly I didn’t know if this would be a project that would take flight or not, but it was darn fun to dream about. 🙂

But the more we chatted the more it looked like this was gonna happen. I freaked! I wasn’t sure I was up to the challenge.

I sat there biting my fingernails wondering if I was in over my head. One of the things we all wanted to do was have “bad” good guys. Men who weren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty in order to help people.

Enter Wick Templeton…

I can’t tell you the exact moment that he smacked my ass and called me mama…he just suddenly was there. All these scenes popped into my head of things he did or would eventually do – it was crazy. I’d be working on book two and a phrase he wanted to use in book four would suddenly be running through my mind. (at that time I had no flipping idea what book four was about either *heads desk* lol)

Wick was all for breaking whatever law he had to – not necessarily in the name of justice, but because darn it, it amused. Yeah (insert tentative giggles here), some of the things he wanted me to write…um… Honestly, Wick didn’t share as much with me as I hoped he would. For every chapter I wrote I wondered what this man was up to, why he was spurred on to do what he did. An ex boyfriend calls—one he obviously didn’t mourn over losing—and he immediately jumped into action. No talk about payment, no sexual tension between them, no hostility or any of those things that might have popped up…just Wick doing what needs to be done.

Admirable right? Don’t build him a statue just yet, trust me…

Then, the guy he wouldn’t admit being attracted to called for help—but that wasn’t the pivotal point that got Wick up and moving. Some serial killer was offing people in his town…that wasn’t allowed. No matter how much Wick wanted to poke and prod at Ned (in so many ways too lol) it was the fact that innocent people were being hurt.

Oh yeah, and Wick doesn’t like keeping his nose in his own business…smh.

But how much of our noses will he allow poked into his business? Not fair is it? He holds everything so close to his chest that it’s really difficult to pry even small details away to share with the readers. Only in writing the third book did he share even more of himself with me…and holy shite was I floored!

You see, upon writing Wicked Incarceration, I was blessed with the knowledge of what the next two books afterwards would be. With each book Wick upped the game some, toed that line you might say, and plans to continue doing that – making all of us wonder what side of that line he will land on.

*stops and sips more coffee*

Sorry, you’ve just taken part in one of my ‘rambling’ modes. Those closest to me know I can go off and just start babbling without any rhyme or reason behind it…and unfortunately when I talk about Wick…well I can talk for hours about him as if he is a real person that I’m kinda in awe with.

There are just so many facets to him, and he’s only allowing me to show a little bit of them at a time. Nice to know he’s as much an ass with the author as he is with everyone in his books right? lol

My sister stated it best – you see, she’s had to hear non-stop about Wick since last September I believe. Over lunches, on the phone, in emails…heck I’ve even PM’d her on FB to plot points out. But she’s never actually read one of Wick’s books.

After reading some reviews for Wicked Solutions and Wicked Bindings she informed me that she was finally going to sit down and read the series. She stated “I don’t care if I know most of the story through you, I need to read and experience Wick for myself.”

My point is – I could sit here with you sipping this freaking fantastic coffee and babbling about Wick all night long. No seriously, I’m not just saying that I really could do it…lol

But that wouldn’t give you the true feel of Wick…he’s someone you have to experience first hand.

I want you to experience that…I want you to read Wicked’s Way and let me entertain you for a couple of hours. With that thought in mind and in honor of Melanie allowing me not only to visit but to not put a word count limit on me *blushes* if you hop over to All Romance e-books you will find the entire Wicked’s Way series on sale for 33% off the cover price!

Yep…your eyes do not deceive you…from today until Sunday midnight (Eastern time) all four of Wick’s books will be available for only $2 a piece. *winks*

Thank you Melanie for your hospitality and thank you everyone for actually reading to the bottom of this very long blog post lol…

Oh and by the way, would you like a parting hint about Wick five? Okay – the first hint about the next Wick book…

A man from Wick’s past knows Ned’s secrets and is after their future…Wicked Truths. (working title) 🙂

Thanks, Havan, for stopping by.  As you all know by now, I am crazy in love with this series and that wicked, wicked man, Wick Templeton.  Yesterday, I posted the review for the latest release, Wicked Guidance.

For those of you new to the series, go back to the beginning and work your way forward.  Really, its the only way to fly. Here are the books in the series to date in the order they were written and should be read:

Wicked Solutions (Wicked’s Way #01)
Wicked Bindings (Wicked’s Way #02)
Wicked Incarceration (Wicked’s Way #03)
Wicked Guidance (Wicked’s Way #04)

Your buy links here:

All Romance Wicked Solutions (Wicked’s Way #1)Wicked Bindings (Wicked’s Way #2)Wicked Incarceration (Wicked’s Way #3)Wicked Guidance (Wicked’s Way #4) Wicked Guidance cover

Review: The Unforgiving Minute by Sarah Grainger

Standard

Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

The Unforgiving MinuteRyan Betancourt has finally made it, all of his hard work has finally paid off and he is on the World Tour with many of the star players he grew up watching and idolizing.  One of those players is Josh Andrews, the star of the tour and current golden boy of tennis.  Ryan has had a huge crush on Josh since the first time Ryan saw Josh play a match.  So Ryan is eager to meet his idol, and is crushed when his first encounter is with a cold, aloof Josh surrounded by his retinue.  Ryan has always approached tennis the same way he has people, with an open heart, and no suspicions about ulterior motives or possible head games.

Josh Andrews can never remember a time when he has not played tennis.  He has a obsessive former tennis champ as a father who has directed his childhood and every moment as an adult to one goal, winning tennis games.  Sidelined by a knee injury, Josh is now back on track to win, no matter the costs.  A life spent on the courts means Josh is well aware of the negative aspects of the  game, from court politics to the ways the unwary can be hurt by those around them.  Josh is not eager to open himself up to anyone outside his circle, let alone an up and coming unknown.

Ryan’s manner of playing and his attitude has turned him into a crowd favorite and that same attitude has him returning back to the one player who holds him at arms length, the closeted Josh.  As Ryan slowly breaks down Josh’s defenses, a true friendship and then more develops.  But the sharks are circling on and around the courts, including one who intends to take them both down.  As the stresses build, can Ryan and Josh continue to win at tennis and finally at love?

I loved every page of The Unforgiving Minute and it was another book I didn’t stop reading until it was over.   Sarah Grainger uses the world of professional tennis to give us a heartwarming and stirring story of love on the courts.  Everything you want in a terrific romance is here.  We have two tennis players, one who has finally arrived at the top level and one who has been there for years.  Grainger also provides both men with backgrounds completely opposite to each other which helps not only to explain their outlook on the game of tennis, but their outlook on life as well.  The author’s well rounded characterizations which extends into completely different playing styles and discipline further enrich this romance by pulling the reader throughly into their worlds, involving us in the regimen necessary to continue to play at the top of the professional game.

In the author’s note, it tells us that Sarah Grainger lives in the Cotswolds and loves to ramble about with her lab.  Well, honestly, after reading this novel, I was sure she had spent all her time playing tennis because of the familiarity and love of the game that pours forth from every page. The reader learns about the strategy, the different court surfaces, and the rules and regulations the tennis players abide by.  By the end of the book and during a stirring, gut wrenching match, we are not merely spectators but feel as though we are sweating on the court along with the ballgirl.  I mean there are some wonderful blood pumping, exhaustion inducing descriptions here of the players and their matches. If you have never watched a tennis game before, you will want to after reading this book.

But it’s the characters here that will draw you into the story and keep you there.  I am not just talking about Ryan with his “baby giraffe” runs across the court after a ball, or Josh, so disciplined and yet terribly vulnerable.  True I adored them both, but there is also Elaine, doubles player, Ryan’s best friend and scary person.  I loved her and her attitude.  There are the great characters that exist in Josh’s retinue, from the masseuse to the cook.  All fully realized people who bring a authentic feel and depth to all the interpersonal relationships that matter to the main characters and the game of tennis.

Here is a little excerpt and window into the life of Ryan after a match:

AFTER beating Michael Kreissig, Ryan was on a high. He was through to the fourth round of the Australian freaking Open. He was grinning as he sat down with a bit of a thump on one of the couches in the treatment room.

Tim, the in-house sports masseur, strolled over, flexing his hands. His wonderful, miracle-working hands. The first time Tim had treated Ryan, Ryan had proposed marriage. It had only been when the words were already out of his mouth that he’d realized he should be more careful; what he thought of as harmless banter might not be taken too well, even though everyone except Elena and Tommy probably assumed he was straight. Thankfully, Tim had been unfazed. He was apparently used to proposals from the players, whether of marriage or full-time employment. He’d also turned Ryan down with unflattering swiftness.

“What can I do for you today, Mr. Betancourt?”

Ryan laid himself down on the couch on his front, resting his head on his folded arms. “You can make it all go away, Tim, then run off to Bali with me.”

“You only want me for my hands.” Ryan couldn’t see Tim’s face from where he was lying, but he sounded suitably lugubrious at the thought.

“Well, yeah. And your knowledge of physiology.”

“Irresistible as you make it sound, I don’t think my wife would agree.”

“She could come too. Hey, does she give massages?”

And for that, he was subjected to a very firm deep tissue massage. He wasn’t entirely sure if it was reward or punishment, but he couldn’t stop the groans that it drew from him as Tim worked his magic.

With even a small excerpt, you get Ryan’s sense of humor and outgoing spirit, his closeted status and easy approach to the people around him.  Adorable, immensely likable, and so easy for the reader to connect with.  How could you not love him?  But Josh will capture your heart with the same ease he wins matches.  There are so many levels to this person and Grainger reveals them slowly to us and Ryan over time, until we care for him as deeply as we do Ryan.

As I said I loved The Unforgiving Minute, and  it’s a terrific introduction to Sarah Grainger if this is your first book authored by her. It was for me and  now I am off to see what else she  has written.  This book will make you want to do the same.  A must read recommendation from me to you!

Cover art by LC Chase works perfectly for the story within, although I have to say I wish one model was grinning away, just as Ryan would.

Book details:

ebook, 236 pages
Published April 26th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 162380518X (ISBN13: 9781623805180)
edition languageEnglish
url http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com

Review of The Cool Part of His Pillow by Rodney Ross

Standard

Rating:5 stars

It’s Barry Groom’s forty-fifth birthday and he’s wondering why his partner of twenty-five years isn’t answering his cell phone.  Andy should have been back home by now.  So when Barry’s cell rings, he doesn’t even look at the caller id until an unfamiliar voices asks for him and his world explodes.  Andy and their two beloved  pugs, Gertie and Noel, all dead, crushed by a falling crane downtown.  Barry doesn’t even know what they were doing there. From there on out, Barry’s world consists of pain, and loss,and grief and lack of direction.  His, no make that their friends and even his mother try to console him but he finds himself to be unconsolable, watching the tv video of the accident over and over again.

Faced with his business he can’t force himself to go to or phone calls he can’t accept, Barry heads off to his and Andy’s home in Key West hoping to find some answers and much needed space. Time spent in Key West only emphasizes his status as the one left behind as he works on chores Andy would have done at their house and runs into friends who haven’t yet heard the news.  Another change is needed, this time to New York City where Barry is hoping that old memories are overrun by the crowds, the frantic pace and noise of the City. Trying to embrace change in his life, Barry tries everything from online dating to nudercise in his efforts to recover from grief and move his life forward.  But an unexpected event brings him home to where it all started, “back to the town where he grew up for one more ironic twist that teaches him how to say good-bye with grace.”

What an amazing story and one of the hardest reviews I have had to write. For the longest time, I would come to the keyboard to write the review and come up with nothing.  Or come up with far too much.  And I find that fitting because those are the emotions this book left me with.  The first part of the story had me as inconsolable as Barry, my empathy so strongly engaged that I sobbed at his loss and raged at life’s unfairness along with him.  At other times, I felt empty, hating to move forward with the book, so indelible is the imprint that Barry, Andy, and his memories leave upon you.  Grief is a tough topic and an even tougher thing to get through.  Who of us has not lost either a person or a pet and been overwhelmed by the vacancy they left and grief stricken at the thought of not seeing or hearing them ever again?  Rodney Ross takes us back to those events in our lives through Barry Grooms and makes us relive it all over again through him.  And he does so beautifully, the stages of grief rendered so realistically that I felt I was reading an autobiography instead of a fictional account.

Ross takes one of life’s great unfairnesses “why the one I loved” and gives us Barry’s recovery from the worst horror to happen to him, the loss of his soul mate.  In doing so, Rodney Ross gives us a character so real I was convinced he bleeds when cut, gifts Barry with a voice so unforgettable, so persistent in its need to be heard that I would recognize it on the other end of the phone or isolate it in a crowd of New Yorkers. It is one of intelligence, humor, deprecation, and sadness.  Barry’s outlook is dry witted, reflective and full of loss, less so once he reaches New York.  Here is Barry in his NYC condo, responding to his online dating emails.

“During this I received my first dick pic.  I primly respond that I prefer a face pic.  I get a second dick pic with a face drawn on it.  The lips were especially upsetting.”

A perfect Barryism.  I will admit to roaring with laughter through Barry’s dating travails whether it was Hugo who Barry thought was “furry as in bear” turns out to be a Furry complete with Cousin Itt’s slippers. There’s Olaf the fire eater, Bryce the actor who thinks Madonna was the first Evita and can’t place the name Patti LuPone, and Boaz the beer bully.  And then there is Barry attempting to meet other and exercise during an hysterical session of Nudercise!  Yes, it is exactly what one thinks it is.  This includes a hard look at his body and a Nudercise participant who uses the time to masturbate instead of centering himself, directly on the mat in front of Barry. Through every humiliating episode and outrageous encounter, I felt myself nodding in sympathy and acknowledgement of the pitfalls and ego deflating scenes that dating after 40 brings with it.  Then Barry hooks up with the store Theatrilicious, a theater district shop that sells or rather stores bits of everything Broadway.  Its owner is Marjorie Lewis-Kohl, in her sixties, painfully thin with capes that vary with her moods.  Soon Barry is working there, accumulating employees that start to look like friends and his life starts to fill up.

There are so many remarkable characters in this story, none of whom ever feel anything less than real as well.  From Mr Floor 14 whose daily personal grooming habits in the elevator signal the way Barry’s day is going to turn out to Barry’s mother, Aunt Sarajane, Artie from the store, Marjorie herself and Jarod Pugh, the young limousine driver Barry starts to date. Each is so fiercely unique, so strongly authentic that I kept going back to the bio to make sure this was fiction.  And both Key West and New York City acquit themselves beautifully as main characters as well.  I love Key West and Ross gets the tone exactly right, no small wonder as he lives there.  But Rodney Ross must also spend an equal amount of time in NYC, as his love affair with the city comes across as strongly as the people inhabiting his pages.

Life is full of surprises, some bad, some not so good and some wonderful.  Ross recognizes this and brings it into Barry’s tale in full measure.  Everytime I think someone or something is solidly known, Ross upends it and gives us a different perspective on that person or that event.  We start off that way and we end there as well.  In the beginning, Barry is standing in front of a counter as the store clerk says “You change.” At the end of his story, we find ourselves with Barry standing there again, waiting patiently as “Bunwoman” taps the register again.  “You change”. And by then, Barry has and so have we by meeting him and living through his journey with him.  When I picked up this story and the tears started falling, I never thought that I would find myself missing Barry.  And now 340 pages later, I do.  I miss him terribly and wish him well in his new life.  I know I will be skipping back to The Cool Part of His Pillow for small visits, something I could never have imagined when I started.  Some might ask if this is a love story and I will say that it is but not in exactly the way you might think.  It is a love sonnet, it is an elegy, it is a love affair with new beginnings while never losing sight of the loves of the past.  Pick this book up.  Don’t let the fear of loss and the pain of grief in the beginning pass by this remarkable story of recovery and perseverance done with love and humor.  It is one of my top books of the year.  I think it will be yours too.  Bravo, Mr. Ross, bravo.

Cover:  Art by Anne Cain. Simple, elegant and haunting.

Available at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, and All Romance Ebooks.