A MelanieM Review: Snowman by Isabelle Rowan

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Snowman coverWe all find ways to run away. Some do it in seclusion, others in the arms of lovers.

Since the death of his long-time partner, Caleb Maguire lives a quiet life in Australia’s Victorian high country with only his dog and horses for company. Each day is the same. There are no surprises—good or bad—until a major snowstorm hits his mountain and Caleb is called out to rescue a stranded tourist. The late night snow brings with it a lost soul who forces Caleb to reassess his solitary life.

Paul Turner is a barista in the trendy Melbourne suburb of Carlton. He lives life totally in the moment, but a life of no commitments is about to change for this city boy. Three days is all it takes for Paul to fall hard for Caleb, and Paul returns to the city with a promise he’ll be back after turning his life around… but only when all the roads are clear.

I fell in love with the writing of Isabelle Rowan when I read her story, A Note in the Margin.  Rowan’s characters leapt off the page and into my heart so believable and real I found them and their lives to be. When I saw Snowman on the Dreamspinner website, I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to acquaintance myself once more with this remarkable author.  But there was also a bit of trepidation as well.  Since that first book I had read tons more stories, with a variety of approaches to the M/M fiction genre.  How would I feel about Isabelle Rowan’s writing now?

It was wonderful and I found myself falling in love all over again at her ability to bring Australia’s  harshest landscape, in all it terrifying glory, and the men who love it deeply  vividly to life.  It takes a special person to be able to connect with that environment, who loves both the stark beauty enough to accept its devastating changes that can destroy everything around you, whether its avalanches or wildfires and drought.  If these people, these men in this case, have their own scars and pain they carry, then it makes their attachment to this land all the more understandable and believable.

Caleb Maguire is just such a man.  The loss of his long term partner has thrown him into a crevasse of grief he’s not even  trying to crawl out of.  Instead, Caleb has withdrawn emotionally and physically into their cabin high in the mountains, their animals and working dog Molly.  He has so isolated himself that his only contact is when he heads into town for supplies and Sarah, the sister of his dead lover.  But that all changes one snowstorm, when he gets a call from the local policeman.  A man is lost up on the mountain and the blizzard is making it impossible for them to get to him.  The temperature is falling rapidly and the “fool” needs to be rescued immediately or they fear he will die of hypothermia.  Caleb is the only one close enough to reach him and with the resources to do so.    The march to find the lost man and his vehicle is almost impossible in the whiteout conditions, and Rowan makes us take every hard won, treacherous step of the way with Caleb and Molly.  The rescue itself is frightening as frostbite is numbing the man’s hands and the cold making him sleepy.  It’s scary, the work to free the man from his car frantic as the snow piles higher around them.  And its this scene, this rescue that pulls us into these mens lives and makes us care what happens to them.  Both men, and Molly could have been lost here.  But courage, and determination  pulls them through, staggering home through the snowdrifts.

The man Caleb rescues?  Party boy Paul Turner. Not immediately likable but somehow Rowan puts a spark in his “shallow” personality, one that makes you want his actions to change.  Which he does ever so slowly.  In fact both men change at an almost glacial rate, a pace I thought was not only realistic but necessary because of the character traits and types of change that needs to happen for this to become a love story to believe in.  I fell in love with Paul, it took time but I did, just as deeply as I fell in love with Caleb.   It takes time to make you think they belong together but when you “buy” into their relationship you will do so with your whole heart.

And that brings us to an element that will either make you crazy or leave you deeply in love with this story and its characters. It’s the pace, the flow at which things occur.  This is a long story but it is divided into four chapters, each with the title of a season of the year.   We start appropriately enough at Winter.  It’s actually winter in the country but there’s also a winter of the soul in each of the men.   One has given up, letting his heart become cold, freezing others out.  The other?  Has let life reduce him to a shallow party existence, devoid of richness of growth and life.  Then we follow the story, these men and their attempts at a relationship through Spring, Fall and it ends with Autumn.  We live through the changes in the landscape, and the myriad of changes that Paul and Caleb (and the others around them) must go through as well.  Those transformations happen at the pace and whims of nature.  It can be like watching the water drip from a melting icicle.  In the mornings, its slow, the drop falling at long intervals.  In the afternoons, with the sun shining with the promise of the approaching Spring and the icicles melt with a rhythm of a stream.  Snowman‘s narrative follows such a pattern, it ripples and eddies, pools and then picks up the pace once again, following the path that nature sets out.  I loved that about this story and pulled its slow permutations and evolutions of character around me like a soft throw, enjoying every minute I spent inside this story.

But if you like action, a sort of “wham bam thank you sir” sort of action, this will make you crazy.  If you want Caleb and Paul to change and change now, wellthat doesn’t happen here.  Life altering changes take time, so does grieving over a major loss, one that you refuse to accept.  Isabelle Rowan understands that and if and when changes happen to Paul and Caleb, its because they did in a logical and meaningful way.

If I had a quibble it was the insertion of drama with Stewart aka “Stewie”, Paul’s best friend.  I’m not sure why this element was included unless it was setting up a sequel with Stewart at its heart.  I would love that actually, but the drama that centered around Stewart took me away from the developing relationship with Caleb and Paul, already one that moves at a snail’s pace.  It really didn’t need one more impediment.   However, I did like Stewart and would love to see what happens with him down the line, with a reappearance by Caleb and Paul of course.

I love Isabelle Rowan and Snowman exemplifies just why I adore her writing and characters so.  Snowman feels real, its characters flawed and throughly human and their journey towards each other and a relationship strewn with the pebbles and boulders life puts in their path.  It’s the men, the people around them and the land they live on that comes together in one seamless portrait of life well lived and rich in love in all its aspects.  I highly recommend this story and this author.  Pick up Snowman and start your own journey with both today.

Cover art by Garrett Leigh.  Lovely cover, works perfectly for the story and draws you in.

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

Book Details:

ebook, 276 pages
Published May 4th 2015 by Dreamspinner Press LLC
ISBN139781634760287
edition languageEnglish

A MelanieM Review: Red Dirt Heart 4 (Red Dirt Heart series finale) by N.R. Walker

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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Red Dirt Heart 4 coverThe minute Travis Craig saw the name Sutton Station on a list of places to apply to Travis just knew that was the place to go for his internship.  And once there, he realized he had found home.  It wasn’t just the harshly beautiful land and environment that called to Travis, but the owner, Charlie Sutton, himself.  Loving Charlie was easy even though the man was stubborn, and riddled with crippling self-doubt. No, for Travis, loving Charlie Sutton felt as natural as breathing.  But living with Charley? Teaching him how to love in return and, more importantly, how to love himself, was not.

But Travis knew all along it’d be worth it. He knew the man with the red dirt heart was destined to be his. Just like he knew the red dirt that surrounded him was where he was supposed to be.  With Charlie and Sutton Station, Travis knew he was home.   But there’s one more trip to take….that’s taking Charlie home to Texas to meet his folks and let them know the man who has come to mean everything to their son.

Red Dirt Heart 4 by N. R. Walker is the final story in this heartwarming, remarkable saga.  It only took the first book for Charlie Sutton, Travis Craig, Ma, George and all the rest that goes for family on Sutton Station to grab hold of my heart.  And with each book my love affair with this series deepened along with Charlie and Travis’ relationship and journey towards their HEA. We were there as Charlie’ dealt with all the doubts and fears that came with the damage his father inflicted upon his son.  We were silent observers as Charlie came to grips with his past and learned to love himself as well as Travis.  Along the way their story came to feel less a piece of fiction and more like desired visits with old friends.  Now its at a end and I’m feeling kind of bereft.  But what a send off N. R. Walker gave them.

For starters, Walker switched out the point of view.  The first three books are told from Charlie Sutton’s perspective.  By living in Charlie’s head and heart, we learned how hard it was for Charlie to accept himself and step out of his father’s shadow. We listened to his internal monologue, jumbled thoughts, stubborn feelings even as we learned that Travis loved to just to watch his Charlie, that Travis couldn’t sit still and was always busy, busy loving and moving Charlie along whether Charlie wanted to or not.  I got comfortable with the fact that it’s Charlie we would always have an intimate knowledge of and that Travis would always be seen and filtered through Charlie Sutton.  But that wasn’t the plan for the last story, Red Dirt Heart 4.

Red Dirt Heart 4 is Travis Craig’s story and the change up in pov was sort of disorienting at first.  I was used to Charlie’s “voice” and now had to see Charlie and everyone else through Travis’ eyes.  That was a little startling but after a while I realized that listening to Travis, visualizing everyone and everything through his thoughts and feelings, was necessary. It completes the picture.  As Charlie and Travis are two sides of the same coin (an important and touching element in this story), we needed Travis’ perspective to make their love and relationship whole.

Sutton Station and Charlie have been through so many changes and those continue to mount up.  Even as the farm is adjusting to having a baby around (not Charlie and Travis’) but other things are happening to shake up the status quo.  Charlie decides to help out some disadvantaged kids and Travis and Charlie travel to Texas for Thanksgiving and Charlie’s first meet up with Travis’ folks.  Each event acts like a seismic event, shaking the foundation of Charlie and Travis’ relationship in unexpected and quite wonderful ways.  I’m not going into details here that’s one of the joys of this book and series…all the little paths and journeys that Charlie and Travis must take to solidify their love affair for each other, their determination to stay together and make each other home.

N. R. Walker has such a way of creating characters that feel believably, poignantly human in every way.  Each character is realistically defined, densely layered complete person from dialog to actions, to their thoughts,feelings, frailties, and all.  Then N. R. Walker gives us Sutton Station and the hot, red dirt environment of the Northern Territory and makes us fall deeply love all over again.   I got Charlie’s almost cellular connection to the land and his farm, I came to understand how Travis could come to love a land both harsh and beautiful in the extreme.  N. R. Walker’s almost lyrical descriptions of the desert, complete with its dangers and extraordinarily stunning features made me see it as though it was right in front of me.  And it made this water loving, green hugging woman want to head out immediately to experience it for myself.  I got all that and so much more and I did so because of Charlie and Travis and Ma and George and even Matilda and Nugget.

The Red Dirt Heart series is as much a love letter to Walker’s home as it is a love story about Charlie and Travis.  I fell in love with all of this red dirt heart series, the land and the people.  It has become my comfort read and a wishful travelogue all at the same time.  N. R. Walker was one of my best discoveries in 2014.  Make her and her Red Dirt Heart series one of yours in 2015!  It’s absolutely one our most highly recommended books and series.  Pick them all up today, read them in the order they were written,  and see why!  Happy Reading.

Cover artist Sara York completes the branding of the series with this lovely cover and still incorporates necessary elements in this story.

Sales Links:   All Romance (ARe)     Amazon          Buy it here

Book Details:

Release Date: January 9th 2015 by Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
seriesRed Dirt #4

Books in the Series (yep just 1 through 4)

A MelanieM Review: Red Dirt Heart (Red Dirt #1) by N.R. Walker

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Welcome to Sutton Station: One of the world’s largest working farms in the middle of Australia – where if the animals and heat don’t kill you first, your heart just might.

Red dirt Heart CoverCharlie Sutton runs one of the largest working ranches in middle Australia, Sutton Station.   It is something he was born to do and Charlie can’t picture himself anywhere else even if he feels his sexuality would make him an outcast not only among the people he works among but the other stations and store owners he does business with as well.  The recent death of his powerful, overbearing father has done nothing to still his father’s voice inside his head that threatens his self worth and instills Charlie with a fear about being gay and out. Then a new arrival at the station upends the status quo, including Charlie’s perceptions of himself and the Sutton Station family.

American agronomy student Travis Craig arrives for a work study internship at Sutton Station.  Travis feels that his background as a Texas rancher and college area of study will help him fit in while hoping his studies will be beneficial to both countries.  While Travis expects to research how the Australian farmers make a living from one of the harshest environments on earth, he doesn’t expect to find that he learns to love not only the harsh beauty and red dirt of Sutton Station but Charlie Sutton himself.

Under the intense desert sun of the red dirt of Sutton Station, can two men find love and the ability to have a future together?

Readers, meet my latest obsession and its author, the Red Dirt Heart series by N. R Walker.   All it took was the first paragraph to pull me totally into the life of Charlie Sutton and the Sutton Station set in the Northern Territory (which is about the same size as Lebanon and based on a real working farm).  This author is amazing.  Walker manages to make the people and places in Red Dirt Heart so believable, so vivid, that you will feel the dust and heat enough to feel the need to brush the red dirt off the pages (or Kindle cover) as you read.

The story is told from  Charlie Sutton’s point of view.  That perspective enables Walker to bring all the Aussie terminology, colloquialisms, culture and frame of mind to life.  It also lets us into the heart and soul of this vulnerable, and marvelously complicated young man.  There is so much to Charlie.  From the insidious voice inside his head left by his father that tells him he will never be good enough or “man” enough to run Sutton Station because he is gay to the considerate, smart, and appealing person others find him to be.  What a  great character!

Travis Craig, is his equal in every manner.  A Texas agronomy student who is openly gay, Travis starts to upend Charlie’s life and life at the Sutton Station from the moment he arrives.  Travis not only works himself into Charlie’s heart but the readers as well.  Their dialog together is serious, humorous, and telling in its many meanings and impact.

Every aspect of life at Sutton Station comes across as authentic and real as the red dirt itself.  From Ma in the kitchen to the drovers that work for Charlie, the reader is immersed into the every day experiences of life lived seasonally and the hard work it takes to exist and succeed under some of the harshest conditions known.  It’s not just the romance but all the layers found here in this story and series that makes it work and  resonate deeply with the readers, myself included.   I did say it was my newest obsession, didn’t I?

Red Dirt Heart is that amazing self published story that you want to go telling everyone about.  I couldn’t put it down and then was lucky enough to already have in my possession the sequel to dive into once the first was finished.  And then I wanted more.  I wanted to move to Australia, experience the red dirt and vastness of the Northern Territory and wander until I found a Charlie and Travis of my own.  Trust me, you are going to feel the same.  The third story in the series is almost here.  Pick up the first two and get ready to fall in love with Charlie, Travis, and the Sutton Station itself.

Cover Artist:  Sara York.  I like it.  It works for the story and series branding.

Author’s Note: Please note: This book is set in Australia, using Australian English and lingo

Sales Links:    All Romance eBooks  (ARe)         Amazon                 Red Dirt Heart 1 $1.50 at Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 162 pages
Published February 20th 2014
edition languageEnglish
seriesRed Dirt #1

Books in the series to date in the order they were written and should be read to understand the relationships, events and characters:

Red Dirt Heart 1
Red Dirt Heart 2
Red Dirt Heart 3 to be released early October 2014