A Bj Review: Unconventional In San Diego Anthology (Authors Carol Lynne, Amber Kell, T.A. Chase, Jambrea Jo Jones, Devon Rhodes)

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Overall Rating:   3.75 stars out of 5

Unconventional In San Diego Anthology coverThis anthology features stories by Carol Lynne, Amber Kell, TA Chase, Jambrea Jo Jones, and Devon Rhodes; the stories are tied together by a common setting, a paranormal club/bar in San Diego named Unconventional.

Fate’s Bridge by Carol Lynne – 2.75 stars


Vampire Roman Gschwind discovers the soul of his lost love inside the body of another. Having promised not to turn his love, he has no choice but to allow his brother Alexi to do so in order to save his life. But now he must decide if he’s willing to share his love with another vampire in order to rekindle what he lost?

This one started well, but quickly became disjointed for me. This story has quite a lot of M/M/M sex and very little buildup of sexual tension beforehand, which made it a bit flat for me. There wasn’t a lot of character development, especially of Alexi, and that combined with lower levels of UST than I prefer kept me from forming a connection to the characters. Reincarnation is an interesting theme, so I was looking forward to that aspect. Julian and Roman’s story was touching, and the ending gave it such a bittersweet twist that it made me teary. But I think the story suffered because of length and moving too fast, especially at the beginning.

Coming in Third by Amber Kell – 3.5 stars

Niall is a fae prince who’s fifth in line for the throne, and his mother wants him wed. When Niall sneaks out of the palace to fulfill a fantasy of having two men, he winds up at Unconventional faced with a pair of lion shifters looking to spice up their love life. After a night with him, Jovan and Luka’s shifter instincts tell them the innocent fae could be their long sought mate—the one fated to be theirs. But Niall’s guards cart him back to the palace and a possible arranged marriage. Will the shifters go after him or let it be the one-night stand Niall had offered?

For those who might be bothered by it, be aware that this one has some abuse (past/off page) both from Niall’s domineering, controlling mother and the guards who string him up and whip him at his mother’s instructions. Niall is a magical fae, but the bindings his guards use strip away his magic. This is a case of an established couple bringing in a third who had been search for exactly such a situation, hence no jealousy or angst. I loved that Niall glowed when sated, and that despite being small, he was strong both physically and mentally (the former because of his magic). A cute story with some interesting world details and a satisfying ending. Some humor in this one. Also some rather weird metaphor use, some of which worked for me and others which totally didn’t.

The Unicorn Said Yes by T.A. Chase – 3 stars

Ivan Brusilov, king of the unicorns, goes to Unconventional for a drink and meets Carney Ferguson—a twenty-five year old human virgin. Turns out that innocence, and hence virgins, are irresistible to unicorns! But there are darker forces at work and neither Ivan nor Carney are safe and things are not as they seem.

This was cute at first but got to be confusing at parts. There was an awful lot of telling vs showing and some repetitiveness. I found it strange that they were both so into the Kinsey scale enough to have known their exact number ratings. I enjoyed Carney’s brother Jordan quite a bit. Many things about the way the story as a whole was told didn’t work so well for me, but the premise was quite unique and interesting and the tension and intrigue in the latter half was well done.

Blood on the Moon’ by Jambrea Jo Jones – 3.75 stars

Montague Ramey is a witch seeking exciting in his boring everyday life. Then came the night the moon turned red and his life changed. Kishar Nichelson’s is an incubus whose motorcycle ended up in a ditch on the road at midnight under the red moon and then stalled out on him. Someone’s after him, but he can’t remember what happened exactly and he’s weak from lack of sex that its hard for him to think. Can a witch and an incubus find love and solve a mystery on the night of the blood moon?

Montague is a rather sad, mousy man at the start of this story. And not really very appealing. This story, like the one before, had lots of telling vs showing at the start, but I liked how it tied in some characters from prior stories. There was a contradiction that bothered me and took me out of the story early on–him wishing out loud for something exciting to happen in one sentence and cowering from having even said it out loud in the next. Huh? BUT…

Kishar, on the other hand, was quite interesting from the start. An incubus who chooses to feed his need for sex with other paranormals rather than harm the delicate, fragile humans. And once the two are together, it starts to work for me. The head-hopping made it a bit hard to follow at parts, but I enjoyed seeing both characters grow and change once they found each other. Overall, it was a bit playful with some nice action and a sweet HEA.

A Sliver of Sunset by Devon Rhodes – 4.25 stars

Angelo is the only paranormal known to ever have leukemia, and the doctors are mystified as to the cause. To cure himself, he must repress his shifter side with a chemical inhibitor so he can go through chemotherapy as a human. Dominic hooked up with hottest guy and spent a night having the best sex ever, but wakes to find his lover gone. A week later, he meet a new oncology patient to find the same man fighting for his life and dependent upon his care.

This is by far my favorite story in this anthology. Angelo intrigued me from when I read about him in one of the earlier stories, and I hoped we’d get more about him. Glad I was right. More than any of the other stories, this one gave a sense of being set in San Diego (where I lived for some years in the past). This anchor story of the collection also did an excellent job of tying all the stories together.

I won’t give away exactly what sort of paranormal Angelo is, since that’s a fun part of the story to learn as you go. I don’t usually like to read stories in which one of the MC has cancer (or any possibly fatal disease), but this was an exception. This is well-written, well-paced and all-around enjoyable read.

The cover is appealing; picturing the cityscape and two hot guys in sunglasses, so it has a definite San Diego feel and caught my eye. However, I don’t think it gave me much of a feel for the stories within as nothing about it says paranormal.

Sales Links: Pride Publishing |  Amazon | Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 198 pages
Published July 11th 2015 by Pride Publishing
ISBN139781784306878
edition languageEnglish
other editions (1)
Unconventional in San Diego

Review of Back To Hell (Hellbourne #4) by Amber Kell

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Rating: 3 stars

Luc Hellbourne, son of Lucifer, is trying to settle down with his wolf shifter mate Bran after the problems with his dad and Bran’s old pack.  But a calm life is something Luc has never had experience with and it looks like it’s not going to happen now either.  Luc’s crazy brother Galthine has imprisoned their father Lucifer in one of Hell’s lower levels and is taking over Hell. Their uncle, the Archangel Michael wants Luc to go rescue his father.  And Luc’s vampire soul mate is starving to death. And why is everyone blaming Luc for all the problems and upsetting the balance of goodness and evil? Well perhaps Luc did upset the hellish apple cart but Luc continues to refuse to get involved until his brother goes too far and kidnaps his lover Bran.  Then all bets are off as Luc Hellbourne lives up to his name.

This is the fourth book in the Hellbourne series and if the reader is unfamiliar with the previous stories, this one will  not make any sense.  Amber Kell always manages to pack a lot of characters and plot lines in a small amount of space.Iin this case  Back to Hell is only 80 pages long so once you start reading the action starts to fly and events happen rapidly.  There are so many characters  to keep track of (Stiln a one-eyed demon? Sal a werewolf, Blinok a demonic messenger, a werewolf slut named Betsy and many more) and sometimes it is not always clear what are the relationships between the characters or even who they are.  The dialog tends towards the campy and humorous with the voices all sounding much the same. Typical of  this story is the scene where one of Luc’s demon and his vampires are chasing each other around the kitchen tossing soap bubbles, they stop, Luc asks if they are having fun.  They nod. He goes off to look at his computer and they go back to playing.

That’s pretty much how the story goes.  It’s light, fluffy and pretty simple minded.  If you are looking for complex characters and an intricate plot to book, then this is not the book for you.  If you love Amber Kell, then you are familiar with her style of writing and the lack of depth in every element, then you will like this one too.  At 80 pages, it is a quick read and the m/m/m ending should satisfy the readers of the first three stories. As for me I found this to be more of a story outline than a story itself and think I will leave it at that.

Beautiful cover by Posh Gosh.

Hurricane Sandy Relief Organizations, Donations, Plus the Week Ahead in Reviews!

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Brrrrrr, it’s gotten cold here in Maryland.  While most of Maryland got very lucky with respect to Hurricane Sandy, she brought the artic air from Canada down with her swirling air masses so we have 3 ft of snow in Western Maryland and our ski resorts are very  happy indeed to get a jump on the season. Our fall ended with the roar of winds and rain as the remaining autumn color fell with the torrential rains.  We might actually have a real winter once more. And looking at all the fallen leaves and branches, I am reminded that people not that far away desperately need our help.

My thoughts and hopes go out to all those in need in New York and New Jersey.  The devastation is unbelievable and Hurricane Sandy’s impact on human lives continues to widen along with the death tole.  There are several reputable organizations that are accepting donations to the Hurricane Sandy relief effort.  The Red Cross is one of them.  The American Humane Society is another.  I have a list below that will link you directly to the organizations accepting donations.

One close to my heart is the Ali Forney Center for housing homeless GLBTQ youth in NYC.  It was badly damaged. Here is the link.  Every dollar counts.  If you can spare $1 or $5, everything is needed, everything helps. However you can help, even if it is just re-tweeting the call for donations, all assistance is appreciated and direly needed.

Red Cross

Ali Forney Center  Housing for Homeless for GLBTW Youth

ASPCA

Humane Society of the United States

So, turning away from the subject above, here are the books I am reviewing for the upcoming week.  Don’t be surprised if I throw in some extras. Without further ado:

Monday   11/5/2012:                         How To Raise An Honest Rabbit by Amy Lane

Tuesday   11/6/2012:                         One True Thing by Piper Vaughn and MJ O’Shea

Wed.         11/7/2012:                         But For You by Mary Calmes

Thursday 11/8/2012:                         Ralston’s Way by Talia Carmichael

Friday      11/9/2012:                          Long Hard Ride by Talia Carmichael

Sat.           11/10/2012:                        Back To Hell by Amber Kell, Whispered Secrets and Hidden Eyes by Amylea Lyn

Review of Unconventional at Best Anthology

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Rating: 3.5 stars

Unconventional at Best is an anthology from six authors of stories featuring romance in and around conventions.  GayRomLit convention last  year provided the inspiration for this selection of stories by Carol Lynne, TA Chase, Amber Kell, Jambrea Jo Jones, Stephani Hecht, and Devon Rhodes. The stories run the gamut of lovers reunited, best friends to lovers, alien love, geek love, confectionary love and love among tops and it all occurs at a convention.

I found this anthology to be a fifty fifty proposition.  Out of 6 stories,only three kept me completely entertained, staying with me once I was done with the anthology.  The others remained just nice stories, forgotten as soon as I put them down.

Here are the ones that stayed with me. I think they are just wonderful stories.

‘Ninja Cupcakes’ by T.A. Chase

Ethan Gallagher is a baker of very special talents.  His cupcakes are not only delicious confections but when certain ingredients are added, downright magical.  When Ethan and his business partner agree to supply the desserts for his brother’s sci-fi convention, it presents the perfect opportunity for Ethan’s floury confections to work their particular magic on certain participants, including an astrophysicist Ethan has been corresponding with for four years. With just the right timing and the special ingredients, Ethan bakes cupcakes that insure that love is in the air or desserts.  Or perhaps we should say Ethan insures that  everyone gets their just desserts!

This is a delicious little story.  I have always found that cooking, or in this case baking, and magic were natural combinations. T.A. Chase does a terrific job of doing just that in Ninja Cupcakes.  From that great title to Chase’s wonderful characters, I just loved this story and wished to see them all again once I was done. This is fun, frothy and still is grounded in realistic characters that capture your hearts. Ethan and Callum were an especially endearing couple.  I wish I had their story, complete with how they first met, and what happening to each of them during their four year correspondence.T.A Chase, this would make a wonderful story.  Just saying.

‘Operation: Get Spencer’ by Jambrea Jo Jones:

“Even if superpowers were real, Benjamin still might not get his man.”  Good friends Benjamin and Spencer are spending the day at Comic-Con, something Spencer has always wanted to do.  Benjamin has a surprise for Spencer to go with their day at Comic-Con.  Benjamin intends to tell his friend that he is in love with him and decides the convention is the perfect time to reveal it.  The problem?  Spencer believes Benjamin is straight and with good reason as Benjamin has told everyone he is straight over and over again.  But Ben hopes that a convention where everything is possible is the perfect place to make Spencer believe in his love.

Friends to lovers and gay for you, both happen here in this story about sexuality, perceptions and fear of change.  Jones takes two completely recognizable characters and brings them together at Comic-Con for her story of friends and lovers.  Ben has been so busy denying that he is gay that everyone believes Ben is straight even if Ben no longer believes it himself.  His best friend Spencer is gay and they have always done everything together. But recently Ben has discovered that his feelings for Spencer go beyond friendship and into romantic love, but how to tell his best friend?

Jambrea Jo Jones makes us laugh and sympathize with Ben and Spencer throughout it all.  From Ben’s mishaps, missteps and outright screwing up his announcement, we are still on his side and hope he gets his man.  Spencer is authentically confused about Ben’s change of heart regarding his sexuality, we understand his point of view as well.  He doesn’t want to mess up his relationship with his best friend, his confidant, and we get that too. Somehow it all comes together in a satisfying end back where they started it all – Comic-con.

‘Fan-Tastic’ by Stephani Hecht

“Everybody knows the best lovers are geeks.” The setting this time is the annual Comic Book and Horror Convention.  Here Deke Masters, a well-known actor in a zombie TV show is ordered to appear on a panel for his show.  Also in attendance is Blake Tallision.  Blake is trying to sell his comic book Star Cats and other items that he has been working on so hard.  Blake also has a crush on Deke going back to their school days.  Even then Deke was a star and Blake the nerd hiding in the shadows of the stage.  To Blake’s amazement, Deke is a fan of Star Cats.  The convention turns out to be the perfect stage for a romance neither saw coming.

This was my favorite story of the anthology. In Deke Masters and Blake Tallision author Hecht gives us characters worth cheering for.  Blake is an especially memorable one.  In pursuit of his art, he has starved himself, living in the basement of his abusive mother’s home, almost despairing of making it.  Blake was so real I could see his skeletal frame and intense features. His vulnerability drew me in and kept me there. Deke also came across a fully realized human being, a guy who has worked to get where he is now but misses being wanted for just himself.  While Blake wants nothing more than to be noticed by Deke, when that happens, Blake is believably wary and insecure, not seeing himself as others do. Deke is perfect for him, the normal guy who just happens to be a tv star, he understands Blake’s struggle because he was once at that stage himself. Everything about this story from the dialog to the characters just cried out for a larger version, especially to delve further into the relationship between Blake and his mother who had a secret she was hiding from him.  Great job.

Review of The Wizard and the Werewolf (Mixed Mate Series#1) by Amber Kell

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Rating: 3.5 stars

Peter Moore, Alpha of his pack, doesn’t expect to start his day with a request from his sister Anna’s new Mate, Cyrus Kane.  Always shy in his presence, Cyrus seems especially nervous now.  Cyrus has a request to make of Peter and their pack.  Cyrus’ half brother Justin needs a place to stay for a few days and Cyrus suggested that he stay with him. Which wouldn’t be a problem except that Justin is a wizard, someone not always welcomed by shifters.  Justin also is a bit of a trouble magnet.  Still after granting his request, Peter is not prepared for the gorgeous man on a motorcycle roaring up his Pack’s driveway.  One look, one sniff, and Peter finds he has his Mate in Justin, something neither man is prepared for.

Justin is on the run, a small fact he has kept from his brother.  Justin has stolen a powerful talisman from Tom Frells, member of the Wizard Council and Justin’s exboyfriend. Tom has promised to track him down, retrieve the artifact and make him pay.  Could the timing be any worse on finding out that he has a Mate? Now not only must Justin keep his Cyrus and Anna safe, he has a possessive Alpha as Mate and a psychotic ex-boyfriend chasing him.  Justin must use all his wits and power if there is to be a future for them all.

The Wizard and the Werewolf is the beginning of a new series by Amber Kell and it has the makings of a good one.  This book sets up the story, the characters and the quest/conflict that will involve everyone in the books to come.  I like the cast of characters Kell has presented us with starting with Cyrus and Justin, half brothers superficially opposite and completely similiar inside where it counts, including giving shy, submissive Cyrus a core of steel.  The pack also has characters of note, from Peter Moore and his dominant sister, Anna to Gregory, his beta in the pack. Kell throws a demon and god for good measure.  But at 117 pages, there is just not enough time to satisfactorily and realistically accomplish all she has set down in the first book, which is such a shame. I find that the characters could have been more fully developed and a little less stereotypical.  Peter is a Alpha we have seen before as is the Gay for You element here. I wish she had given Peter her own twist to this character and the same goes for the bad boy  wizard, Justin.

Then there is the plot. We need a little more backstory here, why do the wizards and shifters not get along to the point of extermination? Tell us more about Gaia and her son. The narrative needed more polish and more depth than the length and Amber Kell was able to convey. All the questions brought up by the events in the book never received any answers by the end.  In fact, the book was more of a cliffhanger than anything else, a technique that, in my opinion, only belongs in a free serial story.Yes, one aspect was cleared up but so many more were left hanging. Leave hints, lay a trail or two to set up the next book in the series but finish what you start and leave the reader satisfied with the book they just finished.

Unfortunately the book came across as more of a hastily scribbled book outline that the author wanted to get off to the publisher to show what they were working on next.  I just wish Amber Kell has take the time to flesh out the story that she has created for us.  All the elements are there, including the mixed mates element which I really love.  This book gives us two mixed mates and several cross bondings, all of which adds the potential for this to be a great new series if the author brings the promise I see here to fruition.  I am looking forward to the next book, but if loose ends and cliffhangers leave you irritated and unsatisfied, perhaps you should wait until the series is further along to pick this one up.

Cover:  Nice design by artist Reese Dante but the  models look a little generic for me and nothing speaks to the storyline inside.

The Week Ahead and A Light Easy Cheesecake to Die For!

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Maryland has felt like Phoenix this week, right up until the storm that nailed parts of the area Friday night.  There are still thousands of people without power and in some cases homes due to the high winds that toppled power lines and trees.  Unreal.  With the heat index in the 100’s, it was a great time to have my nose buried in a book or 10 (easy to do with a Kindle).  The dogs totally agreed with that sentiment and kept me company, happy in the ac.  I did fix a new recipe from Bon Appetite, a light and fluffy cheesecake that will quickly become a favorite desert of yours as it did mine.  Yes, a fluffy cheesecake!  So look for the recipe after the week’s review schedule:

Monday:                                 A Self Portrait by JP Bowie

Tuesday:                                 Dance with the Devil by Megan Derr

Wednesday:                           Hawaiian Gothic by Heidi Belleau  and Violetta Vane*

Thursday:                               Lessons in Power, Cambridge Fellows #5 by Charlie Cochrane

Friday:                                     The Wizard and the Werewolf by Amber Kell

Saturday:                                 The Lonely War by Alan Chin

So you say you need a little something to go with a glass of Pinot Grigio and a good book?  Here is a recipe you must make courtesy of Bon Appetite Magazine, we ate ours right down to the last little crumb:

Cheesecake with Ginger-Lime Candied Raspberries:

Shortbread Crust Ingredients:

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup shortbread cookie crumbs made from 6 oz. shortbread cookies (such as Walkers), finely ground in a food processor
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Pinch of fine sea salt
Cheesecake Ingredients:
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin2/3 cup sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, room temperaturePinch of fine sea salt
10 ounces cream cheese, cut into 10 pieces, room temperature
1/4 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 cup heavy cream, beaten to soft peaks
Ginger-Lime Candied Raspberries
1 6-oz. container fresh raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon minced peeled ginger
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh mint leaves plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
Preparation
Shortbread Crust
Lightly coat an 8x8x2″ baking pan with nonstick spray; line with plastic wrap, leaving a generous overhang.
Mix crumbs, butter, and salt in a medium bowl until it resembles moist sand. Press evenly onto bottom of pan. Cover; chill.
Cheesecake
Place 2 Tbsp. cold water in a small saucepan; sprinkle gelatin over. Let stand until gelatin is soft, 5-10 minutes.
Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat sugar, butter, and salt in a medium bowl until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With motor running, add cream cheese 1 piece at a time, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Beat in crème fraîche, orange juice, and lime juice.
Gently heat gelatin over lowest heat, stirring constantly, just until gelatin dissolves. Scrape gelatin into cream cheese mixture; beat to blend. Fold in whipped cream just to incorporate. Pour mixture over crust; smooth top. Chill until set, about 3 hours. DO AHEAD: Cheesecake can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled, or freeze airtight for up to 2 weeks.
Ginger-Lime Candied Raspberries
Cook first 3 ingredients, 1 Tbsp. mint, lime juice, and 1 Tbsp. water in a small saucepan over low heat until raspberries are soft and juices are released, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
Using plastic wrap overhang, lift cheese-cake from pan and place on a flat surface. Cut into pieces; place on plates. Spoon candied raspberries over; drizzle with sauce and garnish with mint.