A Stella Review: Under a Sky of Ash by Brandon Witt

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RATING  5 out of 5 stars

Under A Sky Of AshMore than a decade after leaving Colorado to attend college and escape his past, Isaiah Greene moves back and builds a life in Denver as a special education teacher. When he meets Ben Woods, the mentor of one of his students, the attraction is immediate. The revelations that they’ve both suffered traumatic childhoods form a bond between them.

Raised by an abusive grandmother, Ben is a recovering addict who has made a family with his construction worker boss, Hershel, and Hershel’s husband, Daniel—drag queen ManDonna. Adding Isaiah to his life gives Ben a glimpse of a future he’d never dreamed possible for himself.

Both Isaiah and Ben are survivors, but when guilt drives a wedge between them, the past threatens to end their relationship.

Ben and Isaiah embark on journeys of self-discovery. Though their path will be difficult at times, humor and love find a way to bring light to the darkness.

Under a Sky of Ash was my first book by Brandon Witt, although I already knew him and heard good things about him, I hadn’t had the pleasure of reading one of his stories. Yes, this novel was a huge pleasure to read. Since the first chapters, I understood the talent of the author’s style.

The story touched my heart deeply, of course the prologue broke my heart, I met Isaiah, only twelve years old, having his first kiss with the sweet RJ, both so young and enthusiastic of the life, until RJ’s dad almost killed them. And then my heart broke again each time Isaiah and RJ met later in the years. Each time Isaiah couldn’t forgive himself and forget that night. Each time I saw Aaron and that time when he finally found a family. The book was a continuos of “times” to me, some made my soul cry, others lift it.

This is not an easy read, it is pretty heavy, a punch in the gut, the characters very complex, but Under a Sky of Ash was so worth all of my tears, it packs so many feelings hard to ignore. And all of them delivered. Probably this was what I most appreciated, the author’s ability to deliver everything he wrote, making me part of the characters’ lives and their emotions. He delivered their strength and courage and I felt the comfort when  they finally found a little happiness.

If you’re looking for a light story to escape your reality, look away, but if you’re a fan of angst, this novel is a winner, you can’t miss it. I’ve discovered a new author and I’m soon going to read more of his works.

The cover art by Anne Cain is good but I would have preferred something different, it didn’t convince me.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | ARe | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 270 pages
Published March 21st 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781634770484
Edition LanguageEnglish

Review: Tread Marks & Trademarks (Team Maker Jock #1) by S.A. McAuley

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Tread Marks and Trademarks coverAlex Maddox, mad tech genius, is about to hit some major milestones in his life.  He is almost at his 30th birthday and the robot, Yudo, that he has been working on since childhood, is almost finished and ready to be launched.  But how to go about it?  His twin brother Micah and his partner JT suggest that a friend of theirs is perfect for the job and set up an introduction.  When Alex meets the Norse god of advertising, Christian Lawson, Alex is immediately smitten.  But what would someone as gorgeous and together as Christian see in a geek like Alex?

Christian Lawson is an advertising genius.  And when Alex Maddox approach him for help with his robot, Christian immediately sees two things he wants.  Christian knows he is the man to promote Yudo and he also knows that the inventor is the man for him. Christian’s past includes a failed romance and a motorcycle accident that left him with a limp and scars that go past the physical.  He has never wanted to let anyone else close to him again…until Alex.

As Alex and Christian work together to launch Yudo into the tech world, their attraction turns into love.  But their own insecurities and elements from their past must be dealt with if their budding relationship is to deepen into the forever love each has always wanted.

Tread Marks & Trademarks was the first contemporary fiction story I have read by S.A. McAuley, an author known to me only by her superb science fiction novels One Breath One Bullet and Dominant Predator.  Those stories taught me to expect a tight narrative, told with intensity and suspense, focused on characters both sublime and innately dangerous.  Needless to say they did not prepare me for this absolutely enjoyable tale of geekiness, robots, and love amongst the techies and their lovers.

McAuley introduces us to the Maddox twins, Alex especially as he in caught up in finishing the project of a lifetime, his robot Yudo. Yudo represents astounding technological breakthroughs that, if it functions as Alex hopes, will make his reputation and his fortune.  I love that while Alex Maddox incorporates some of the mad scientist/geek characteristics one would expect, McAuley goes further with her character and gives Alex, not just genius but a wildly sexy component and a twin who is his complete mental and emotional opposite, Micah.  Alex is intensely focused on his work with Yudo, understandably so as this has been the center of his life since childhood.  While his brother dated and partied, Alex studied and worked on the technology needed to make Yudo function.  Micah is “the force of nature” brother, Alex is the quiet nerd who appears more confident than he actually is.

Both brothers are characters that any reader will love, two halves that make a whole and we are drawn to both of them.  Such a magnetic pair deserves lovers that balance such extremes out.  The author understands that balance is necessary not only in relationships but in the characters in a story.  Christian Lawson, the “Norse god” of advertising is made human by his frailties otherwise it might be hard for the reader to invest their emotions in a character so perfect as to be annoying.  However, again McAuley has made Christian accessible by putting a devastating motorcycle accident in his past that almost cost him his leg. The emotional and physical scars as well as limp gives Christian a more realistic presence in story and in Alex’s life.  JT, Micah’s lawyer boyfriend and their romance is already well established in this story.  But the glimpses we are given into their relationship and courtship are so intriguing that I can’t wait for McAuley to deliver their backstory to us in another novel as she has  promised.

McAuley has divided her narrative into two parts.  The first is told from Alex’s pov, and the second half of the story is from Christian’s.  It is an interesting format and the two points of view works to give the reader not only greater insight into the characters and their pasts but how each character views the other.  I still found the switchover a little jarring  and wish that the author had stuck to one point of view throughout her story.  There are no real extremes here, just the normal highs and lows that come with two men trying to establish both a working relationship as well as a romantic one,  That is given a very realistic treatment here and I appreciated that neither came without its obstacles and elements that stress both men out as their adjust to all the changes happening in their lives.

There are so many interesting elements to this story, including its location in Detroit, Michigan.  Either the author has done her homework extremely well or is very familiar with the city or both.  McAuley combines key city landmarks with Detroit based industries such as Pewabic Ceramics to give Tread Marks & Trademarks an authentic and appealing setting.  The Maker Movement figures largely in Alex’s makeup and the Maker Summit is the venue at which he introduces Yudo to the public and the companies attending.  I was unfamiliar with the Maker movement until this story which sent me on a google hunt for background information and philosophy.  I love it when an author does that and here McAuley did it twice.  Once with the Maker Movement and again with Pewabic tiles.  I am now a huge fan of both thanks to this story and its author.

Finally, Tread Marks and Trademarks is the first in the Team Maker Jock series.  Next up is Micah and JT’s  story.  I can’t wait.  If it is as good, as entertaining, as absorbing as this story, then count me first in line to grab it up.  In the meantime, start the series at the beginning, with Alex and Christian.  They are a wonderful couple and I loved watching them meet and their romance build.  You will too.  Consider this story highly recommended.

The Cover art is credited to Wilde City Press.  I loved it.  It is just perfect for this story in every way.  Kudos to the artist whoever they are.

Book Details:

ebook, 200 pages
Published December 11th 2013 by Wilde City Press
ISBN13 9781925031690
edition language English
series Team Maker Jock