A Wintery Mix, Favorite Childhood Books, and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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We are expecting a wintery mix here in Maryland, rain, sleet, ice and snow all mixing together to create an equal mixture of beauty and angst.  Trees with limbs that glisten like diamonds to go along with downed power lines and people lost in the cold.  Joy mixed in with a little quiet reflection, softened by the grey skies of winter and clouds laden with snow.

Days like this bring back memories of winters past and winter stories I loved reading to my daughter and the children later at the nature The Winter Bear book Covercenter.  Stories like  The Winter Bear by Ruth Craft and Robert Frost’s Stopping Through The Woods On A Snowy Evening were a perfect way to convey the feelings and emotions brought on by the first snow or a cold, blustery day in winter.

The Winter Bear especially is still so close to my heart.  It’s simple story and the illustrations that hark back to the style of the original Winnie the Pooh never fail to move me.  A lost stuff bear is tangled up in a shrub looking worn , a little dirty and so very alone.  Its winter and the landscape is cold and barren.  Then a small group of children, siblings, finds the bear, gets him down and takes him home where they clean him up, Robert Frost's Stopping By Woods on a Snow Eveningdress in warmly and give that little bear a home with them.  It’s a spare, elegant and concise little story and yet it is so moving that it can still bring tears to my eyes as that last page as the children and little bear are snug  and warm in a little living room with the fire blazing and snow falling outside.  It was first published in 1976 and is hard to find.  But once found and added to your bookshelf, it will become a family treasure to bring out generation after generation no matter your religion or location.  Much like the other book that I love so well, Robert Frost’s Stopping Through the Woods on a Snowy Evening.  The illustrations are in black and white, with a splash of red in places, just glorious and perfect for this poem.  Children and adults alike love looking at them, watching the sleigh travel through town and into the woods with a surprise for the animals that live there.  And then there are those words….such memorable, wonderful words.  The last stanza is the best known..”.The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,But I have promises to keep,And miles to go before I sleep,And miles to go before I sleep.”  I have the entire short poem  at the end of the post today.  But those words and those illustrations together paint a memory portrait that draws adults and children into those woods time and again, a magic that is never lost.  Pick those books up and add them to your holiday collection.

Now I have a very special week ahead starting with a book that made my Best of 2013 within the first ten pages.  That’s when I started sobbing copious tears, a phrase perfect for the floodgate that opened upon reading Amy Lane’s latest book, Christmas Kitsch. Never have I been so moved by a character that quickly had me forgetting he wasn’t real.  Rusty, a wounded, glorious man child, whose open heart and mind is so transcendent that his story pulled me in not to release me until 3am, red eyed, snotty, and happy beyond belief that I had met him.  Amy Lane is running a contest and her author spotlight is Monday with my review of Christmas Kitsch is on Tuesday.  Thursday is a 4 book, 4 author Boys In the Band Blog Tour (and contest).  And Friday and Saturday…well if you have been reading the Pulp Friction authors and their combined series (City Knight, Triple Threat, Wicked’s Ways and Chances Are) then you are in for another treat.  The last book in all their series is a combined effort.  Odd Man Out wraps up all the stories of all the characters and is written by all 4 authors.  They have written a guest blog for Friday to talk about the last book and what’s coming in 2014 for Pulp Friction.  My review of Odd Man Out follows on Saturday.  And there is an amazing giveaway associated with this Pulp Friction Season Finale as well.  What a week ahead!!!!  Don’t miss out on a day of it!

Monday, Dec. 9:    Amy Lane’s Christmas Kitsch Blog Tour, Contest and Author Spotlight

Tuesday, Dec. 10:  Christmas Kitsch by Amy Lane

Wed., Dec. 11:          Tag Team: Fais Do Do by BA Tortuga

Thurs., Dec. 12:       Boys In The Band Blog Tour and Contest, Authors  L.A. Witt, Paula Coots, Rowan Speedwell, and Cecilia Tan

Friday, Dec. 13:       Pulp Friction Author Blog, Contest and Odd Man Out release

Sat., Dec. 14:             Odd Man Out by Lee Brazil, Havan Fellows, TE Webb, and Laura Harner, a Pulp Friction 2013 finale!

Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Review: Ranch Series by JL Langley

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Rating: 5 stars for the series

We’ve looked at JL Langley’s wolf shifters and her Sci-Regency series, so let’s finish up back where I first started my love with all things JL Langley. And that would be with her cowboys which is fitting with an author who resides in Texas and has a state of imagination to equal it.  Tomorrow I will be talking about why I love The Tin Star, the very first Langley book I read.  I have always had a soft spot in my heart for cowboys.  I think it come along with my love for horses and never left.  I spent a summer as a junior wrangler at a dude ranch called Stupid Charlie’s in Colorado at the impressionable and yes, hormonal age of 15. And if I had had a dick, I would have had a raging woody all summer long from being in the middle of a crew of young,handsome (aren’t they all at that age wearing chaps and boots) cowboys more experienced than I was at that age.  I fell in love with a bay horse named Senagita and a cowboy (all of 16) named Lane and wanted to take both of them  home with me at the end of the summer.  Needless to say, my folks said no to both. Aw shucks was I heartbroken, although I can’t begin to tell you whether it was over the loss of the horse or the boy.  All I know is that I was inconsolable for the longest period of time until I found a local stable to hang out at,  Susan a fellow hunter,  and a horse we both loved called Tiptop. But I never stopped dreaming of cowboys and would go to the rodeo whenever it came to town (oh yes they did, even in DC).

JL Langley’s Ranch series gives me plenty of cowboys to love and hang out with, from Jamie and Ethan of The Tin Star to Grayson Hunter and Shane Cortez of The Broken H while bringing back so many fond memories of life on a ranch.  As she does with all her series, she populated her Ranch books with characters flawed, human and still memorable, ones we give our hearts and affections to easily and completely.  In addition to the cowboys, we also get wonderful idiosyncratic animals too.  There is a horse named Spot who plays keep away and a female dog called Fred who steals each and every scene they are in.  Gather them all together in a small town in  Texas surrounded by family and friends who comes across as equally authentic and realistic as the main characters and you have a series that will mean as much to you as your first cowboy hat and boots.

The Tin Star (Ranch Series #1) stars Jamie Killian as the youngest son of Jacob Killian of the Quadruple J and Ethan Whitehall, owner of The Tin Star ranch.  The Quad J borders The Tin Star and the two families have been intertwined their entire lives.  John, Jamie’s older brother has been Ethan’s best friend so as long as they can remember, even going off to college together.  And hopes had run high between the two fathers that one of the Whitehall boys would marry Julia, the Killian sister and bring the ranches together.  But Ethan’s brother was killed overseas on a tour of duty and  Ethan, well, Ethan found out he was gay, something the older Killians were fine with but that Jamie never knew.  Until Jamie comes out to his father and is kicked off the ranch he thought he would never leave.  When Ethan offers Jamie sanctuary and tells Jamie that he is gay as well, then the sparks really begin to fly as Jamie has harbored a crush on Ethan from the moment he knew he liked boys instead of girls.

Ethan has always been circumspect about his sexuality, neither hiding it or rubbing it in the face of their conservative town folk.  But when Jamie comes to the ranch to live, Ethan finds not only a friend but a lover for life in the form of his best friend’s brother.  But the sparks of hate are flying in town too.  Former ranch hands are looking to get even with Ethan for being fired and homophobia presents itself as stores won’t sell grain to the newly outed Ethan.  Langley makes us feel the hatred rising off Jacob Killian and other townspeople so far gone in their homophobia that all reason and humanity becomes lost.  But  where there is the worst of human beings on display, JL Langley is quick to show that others can come forward with their tolerance, and objectivity to welcome Ethan into the town’s fold, and Jamie too no matter their sexuality.  Powerful stuff made real by Ethan and Jamie’s situation as they work towards a loving relationship and a future together.  Great story, great characters, great book.

The Broken H involves several of the people we meet in The Tin Star.  Grayson Hunter was one of the sheriff’s investigation the crimes of hate on  The Tin Star.  The Broken H is Gray’s family ranch, owned by his parents and run by Shane Cortez.  Shane Cortez had been brought onto The Broken H by Gray’s father when Shane was a young boy.  Gray never knew the entire story but accepted Shane’s presence and was soon following him around everywhere, a clear case of puppy love.  But then one summer changed everything between the two men and Gray left the ranch and went to college.  His parents knew something had happened but never pushed either boy for answers.  Now Gray has returned to town and accepted a job in the Sheriff’s office.  It also means a return to his family, The Broken H, and to face the man he ran away from all those years ago,  Lovers reuniting after time spent apart draws me like a moth to a flame and JL Langley’s treatment of this theme will push all your buttons if you love it too.  There is misunderstandings, and one person trying to protect the other, and above all a deep abiding love between the two men involved.  That’s just so wonderful.

And lurking just behind all of this is the theme of the awful price GLBTQ youth pay for coming out to those who mean the most and won’t accept them, their families.  Over and over gay youth are kicked out of homes and families due to hatred concerning their sexuality.  Some survive when others intervene, some do whatever they can to exist on the streets, and some just don’t make it.  The plight of gay youth discarded because of who they love is brought home more forcibly when characters we have come to love have the same backstory as they do and we feel what they have gone through by the power of an author’s writing.  We see Ethan, Jamie, John, Aunt Margaret and many of the other townspeople we came to care for in the previous book and we get a glimpse of a possible couple that people want to see united.  That would be John and Royal.  JL Langley has put the cut pages from the book on her website and they will make you want more, so much more of John and Royal.  She tends to do that with her peripheral characters because they are bursting with life as much as the main couples to our continued appreciation and joy.

The Christmas Tree Bargain is the third story in the series.  It was published as a stocking stuffer by Loose id.  A heartwarming short story, it brings together all the cast of characters from the two novels at Christmas time.  We get to catch up in their lives on a very special occasion.  This story is not to be missed if you love the other two as much as I do.

So there you have it, the Ranch series by JL Langley.  Her fans have been screaming for more, especially John and Royal’s story but so far to no avail.  She says she’s busy with Sterling and Rhys, Trouble and Rexley, and Bannon and Lord Demon among others.  Since I want all those stories too I wouldn’t think of interrupting her.  If they start speaking to her, I know she will listen, eventually.  I’m good with that.  I have these books and all the rest to reread until a new one comes out.  Pick out a series and start from the beginning and I know you will feel the same.