A MelanieM Review:Wedding Bellskis (Holidays with the Bellskis #3) by Astrid Amara


Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Seth Bellski and Lars Varga have opened their own law firm that specializes in representing the underrepresented–whistleblowers, disadvantaged employees, and those lacking power. The good news is, business is never slow.

But that also means they are busy when all Seth really wants to do is plan his pending nuptials. So when his brother-in-law approaches him with concerns about his own business, and when Lars’s brother gives them the cold treatment, Seth wishes he could just tune them all out.

But holidays are all about families, even the annoying members. If Seth and Lars are going to enjoy their joint Hanukkah/Christmas celebration this year, they’re going to have to deal with the brother that has a problem, and the brother that IS the problem. And do so before anything else comes in the way of them and their happily ever after.

Ah, Wedding Bellskis (Holidays with the Bellskis, #3) by Astrid Amara, what I can only assume is the final story in the Bellski tale is finishing off with Seth and Lars now happily established in their law practice and  after all this time,  able to get married and ready for it. It’s been a long time coming for this couple and a great way to go out in style but it has to be Bellski style!  So that involves tons of family drama from both sides of their families, business intrigue, familial angst (of course involving the Vargas), and mayhem all around.  It’s wonderful.

It’s been ten years for Seth and Lars, what a journey it’s been!  From Lars’ closeted lawyer status and Seth’s as his paralegal lover who called it off to equal partners in a successful law firm and happily out couple, it’s been a tumultuous, adventurous, funny, and heartwarming road to the present.

It all begins with a law case and reflection on marriage, the story unfolding from there.  The fact that they couldn’t get married was huge in the earlier stories.  That they legally can now shines just as large in Wedding Bellskis.  What an earth shattering difference ten years can make!  Planning the wedding takes over, with input from both families, just as you would assume it would, but with more chaos because the Bellskis are involved.

I’m not sure how only three stories, even ones spaced as far apart as these, has managed to feel so warm,vivid, and alive, but Astrid Amara has managed it.  I love these people and wish to celebrate in their lives, no matter what is happening, and Astrid Amara’s writing lets me do just that.  Her narrative pulls me intimately into each setting and the scenes unfolding there.  I feel as though I’m standing off in a corner, inches away, from the shouting or the hugs, or the laughter or tears that maybe flowing.  Or even the bullets whistling past your head.  That happens too.

All the characters I’ve come to love show the emotional and personal growth one would hope to see over ten times time.  They’ve aged and so have we but the love and romance has only deepened between Seth and Lars.  We get that too.  Now they get their wedding and oh what a marriage!  I loved it.  It was perfection for these two, and a great way for them to go out in style.  Although, Astrid Amara, if you’re listening, another holiday story with the Bellskis is always welcome!  Who knows what happens with the happily married couple?

For me this story is a must read but pair it with the other two stories.  Read all three together for a trilogy to charm your socks off! .I think this series is magical any time of the year and I highly recommend it.

Cover art by April Martinez continues with the menorah branding all three but the men now look a little young for Lars and Seth.

Sales Links:  Loose id | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 128 pages
Published December 12th 2017 by Loose Id (first published December 11th 2017)
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesHolidays with the Bellskis ;

Carol of the Bellskis (Bellskis, #1)

Miracle of the Bellskis (Bellskis, #2)

Wedding Bellskis (Holidays with the Bellskis, #3)

A MelanieM Review: Miracle of the Bellskis (Bellskis, #2) by Astrid Amara


Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Too much family…too little Egg Nog.

It’s been three years since Seth Bellski forced his boyfriend and ex-boss Lars Varga out of the closet. Since then, Seth has passed the bar and become an attorney, and Lars has started his own firm. Their sex life has gotten steamier, and everything seems perfect between them. Until the holidays arrive.

It’s bad enough that Seth’s mother and father want them over every single night of Hanukkah. And that Lars’s less-than-tolerant parents are sleeping in the room next door for the duration of Christmas, putting the kibosh on their kink. They also end up attorneys representing opposing sides in a divorce case, one which quickly proves to be much more than it seems.

Amidst Hanukkah candles, Christmas lights, burned dinners and delayed court appointments, can Lars and Seth’s relationship survive the ultimate holiday challenge: too much family?

From my review in 2011, pre Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words:

I loved this. What a wonderful surprise to see this release. I loved the first book in the series, Carol of the Bellskis from Astrid Amara that was released last year. So this was a joyful present this December. This sequel finds partners Seth Bellski and Lars Varga happily together and getting ready for the holidays, Hanukkah and Christmas. For the first time, this will include Lars’ family, who is still not comfortable with the idea of their son being gay and his meeting live-in lover. Plus Seth’s loving and loud Bellski family has decided to migrate west and join them in Seattle-permanently.

The ensuing holiday stress brings much snark, cooking and loud arguments and of course love. Astrid Amara does this so well that when I finish one book I immediately want the next one to know what happens to her characters. These are real people with flaws who argue, laugh, make love and get stressed out. I love every minute I spend with them. And that includes Ruthie and Herman Bellski, the rest of their brood. I even warmed up to the Vargas along with Seth as the book drew to a close. It is also great to have a book that includes Hanukkah rituals as much as Christmas in the story, Seth is Jewish after all.

So definitely put this on your TBR stack, right near the top. Include the first book, Carol of the Bellskis too. It’s a win win for you. And then you will be like me, hoping that the next holiday season, finds another gift from Santa and Astrid, another Hanukkah spent with Seth and Lars and all their families.

Yes, this story is all that and more.  Little did I know at the time I would have to wait until the end of 2017 to get to the end of their story (so worth it), but here in Miracle of the Bellskis, you see Lars and Seth in the middle stages of their lives and relationship.  They’ve both made adjustments and grown as individuals.  I have always admired Amara’s depth of characterizations, and her ease of letting her characters flow into another stage in their lives is so wonderful and pertinent here.

If you loved them before, prepare for that to deepen as once more the holidays of Hanukkah and Christmas advance on Seth and Lars with all the chaos and hilarity that entails.  The joy in reconnecting with these stories just makes me feels warm all over at just the thought of them.  If you aren’t familiar with them, find them now.  You get the fun of reading all three together!  It’s a series I highly recommend.

Cover art by April Martinez is perfect.  I love the menorah that pulls together all three covers as well as the characters.  That’s Lars and Seth for me.

Special note:  on sale now at Loose id.

Sales Links:  Loose id | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 1st Edition, 110 pages
Published December 13th 2011 by Loose Id
Original TitleMiracle of the Bellskis (Bellskis, #2)
Edition LanguageEnglish

Series Holidays with the Bellskis

Carol of the Bellskis 2009
Miracle of the Bellskis 2011
Wedding Bellskis 2017

A MelanieM Review: Carol of the Bellskis (Bellskis, #1) by Astrid Amara


Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Paralegal Seth Bellski is tired of being the secret lover of his boss, Lars Varga, founding partner of Finch & Varga Law. So when he asks Lars to spend Hanukkah with Seth’s family at their kosher B and B in Whistler, B.C., and Lars refuses, Seth realizes he will never get his self-conscious boss out of the closet.

So Seth prepares to spend his Hanukkah holiday alone in the B and B. Instead he finds himself running the place, as his aunt and uncle are missing, and seven demanding, peculiar, and danger-prone guests have arrived. To make matters worse, Lars shows up, begging forgiveness. Lars’s touches remind Seth of why he put up with his boss’s behavior in the first place. If only the words that came out of that beautiful mouth were as sweet as his kisses.

But how can Seth find time to fix his broken relationship when the guests are demanding kosher, gluten-free diets, losing their pet terriers, and hitting their heads on the ice? Seth and Lars find themselves put through the paces of being a married couple, all while still broken up. But then again, if they can survive this Hanukkah, maybe they’ll be singing a carol of the Bellskis.

Astrid Amara likes to release holiday stories and in 2009 started this Hanukkah trilogy.  It took her until 2017 to finish it but I’m so happy she did because it’s heartwarming, beautifully written,  full of suspense, mystery, romance, and love of all types.  And it all started here with Carol of the Bellskis.

When reading an Astrid Amara story, you can’t just pick out one strength because her stories are so amazingly well rounded and beautifully written.  That shows here.  Her characters are strong, believable, and so are their relationship dynamics, as faltering as they are in the beginning.  With Seth Bellski, you get his formidable Jewish family, their strength in their belief in their family and their religion, yes, more.  It never tips over into caricature as it could so easily, but these people come across with love and care, if at times a bit of fond exasperation with knowledge of their foibles.  Then there is Lars and his side of the family. Reserved, cold…well, I will let the story speak to the Vargas. They remain, however, authentic and real.  That becomes something of a element of slow growth (very slow) over the course of the series, ending only with Wedding Bellskis this  December.  But I’m getting way ahead of this couple now at their breaking point.

The author sets out so many tough goals here and meets them all.  There’s a romance and some very difficult relationship decisions that  have to be worked through here by Lars (especially Lars) and Seth,.  There’s an inn that can’t run itself where everyone seems to keep disappearing, so mysteries to solve,  Hanukkah to celebrate, and much, much more.  And it all meshes so well, like one of life’s tapestries.  You will leave wishing you knew these people and wanting to be a part of their lives.

This story is full of so much emotion, action, color, and wit.  It’s lively, poignant, sad, angry, lusty, romantic, funny, and a great read.  I relished my time with Seth, Lars, and all the many Bellskis, and couldn’t wait until the next Hanukkah rolled around because that’s when Astrid Amara promised to roll out the next installment.  Ah well,  it was worth the wait even if it took until 2011.

Carol of the Bellskis rang in this series, this couple!  It’s not to be missed.  The Trilogy is on the top of my recommendations, not just for the holidays, but anytime of the year.  But grab up all three now and read right through!  What a treat is in store for you, starting with this remarkable story.

Cover art by April Martinez is strong, on target, and not only brands the series by the use of the menorah on all 3 titles but that’s also my idea of both characters.  Perfection.

Sales Links:  Loose id | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 1st Edition, 100 pages
Published December 14th 2009 by Loose Id
Original TitleCarol of the Bellskis
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesHolidays with the Bellskis

A BJ Review: A Policy of Lies by Astrid Amara


Rating:  4.5 stars out of 5

A Policy of LIes coverTwenty years ago, Levi Kaszeri survived a brutal rebellion on the mining colony of Tarus 9. Now as an aspiring reporter, Levi has a mission: to expose the massacre to the public, and bring the men responsible to justice. But after a violent attack, he is rescued—then seduced—by Tiergan Seoras, a young doctor with a dangerous past and a slave tattoo. Soon Levi finds all of his investigations leading him back to Tiergan. And he begins to fear that the best lover he’s ever had may also be his worst enemy.

Let me start by saying the title is VERY apt. This author came on my radar when I read and adored Song of the Navigator earlier in the year. That book impressed me so much that I nominated it for several categories in the M/M Romance’s member awards. Then I read an anthology, Charmed and Dangerous, and wouldn’t you know my favorite story of the group among a stunning cast of authors was Astrid Amara. Of course, I had to read more.

Nice world-building (some of the details were great, like the domed biospheres), sucked me in pretty quickly and kept me hooked with its fast pace, enjoyable female character, seriously sick-ass bad guy(s), and some serious twists. Plenty of action.

The POV character, Levi, is nuanced and well-drawn. We see the whole story through his eyes, and it was amazing to watch all the details coming together for him. Levi seemed stupidly trusting and a mite unobservant in some cases given his status as a investigative reporter and all he’d survived in his past. His single-minded quest for revenge perhaps put blinders on him at times.

Despite (or maybe because of) his mystery, Tiergan fascinated me from the start and that just kept growing as I learned more about him, his strength and sensitivity, his need to help others, his delighted love of birds, and all that we learn about him in the end just about broke my heart.

The characters had chemistry and heat, and would have enjoyed more interaction between them outside of the sex. What was there, I liked a lot, but more would have built up the emotional connection a bit more for me. And the way they jumped right into sex the same night together after Levi had been mugged and beaten pretty badly enough that Tiergan had to do some surgery on him seemed a bit rushed. Despite that, I couldn’t put this down. Highly recommended.

The cover is sexy but it doesn’t do anything to tell me that the genre is sci-fi or much else about the story.

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

Book Details:  

ebook, 181 pages
Published September 9th 2008 by Loose Id (first published September 2008)
Original TitleA Policy of Lies
Edition LanguageEnglish
URL http://www.astridamara.com/pl.html

A Free Dreamer Review: Song of the Navigator by Astrid Amara (Double Review*)


Rating: 5 stars out of 5 ★★★★★

Worst Possible Birthday: Being sold into slavery by none other than your lover.

Song of the NavigatorTover Duke’s rare ability to move anything instantly across light-years of space makes him a powerful, valuable asset to the Harmony Corporation, and a rock star among the people of the colonies. His life is luxurious. Safe. Routine.

He has his pick of casual hookups passing through Dadelus-Kaku Station. His one brush with danger of any kind—the only bright spot in his otherwise boring life—is Cruz Arcadio, a dark-haired, hard-bodied engineer whose physical prowess hints he’s something much more.

When a terrorist abducts Tover, hurling him into a world of torture, exploitation and betrayal, it’s with shattering disbelief that he realizes his kidnapper is none other than Cruz. As Tover struggles to find the courage to escape his bondage, he begins to understand the only way to free his body, his mind—and his heart—is to trust the one man who showed him that everything about his once-perfect life was a lie.

Warning: This story contains descriptions of extreme violence and assault. It also contains graphic sexual depictions. It also has a lot of birds. And pirate movies from the future. And romance.

 I didn’t read the blurb all that carefully and thus went into this expecting something much lighter. Song of the Navigator is definitely not light. At times, it’s very dark and violent. The slavery here is real. Tover really does get tortured and there’s no redeeming the slavers. I was positively surprised, to be honest.

Cruz sells Tover into slavery. To me, that seemed like something you can’t possibly forgive anybody and thus a credible romance between Cruz and Tover seemed completely impossible to me. The author works with that expectation. Tover is furious with Cruz, hates him, even, and spends a lot of time thinking about how he’ll kill the man he once loved. I was right there with Tover, absolutely hating Cruz. There is no excuse for betraying anybody like this, even a casual hook-up. But Astrid Amara managed to convince me, and Tover, to slowly forgive and understand Cruz. It took time and there was a lot of hurt for a very long time, but it worked out eventually. That was incredibly well done. Somehow, I went from hating Cruz to really liking and understanding him.

Tover was instantly likeable and I found it very easy to relate to him throughout the many things he experiences. At first, he’s carefree, a bit superficial and also quite vain. He’s cocky and self-assured, which is to be expected. Improvisational navigators are revered. There’s even a bunch of people who think he’s a god. That’s the world he’s lived in since he was a little child. But then he gets kidnapped and sold into slavery. He’s tortured and treated like a tool. Suddenly his world comes crashing down and Tover changes. What follows is some really excellent character building.

The world the author created in this book was intriguing, with lots of creative ideas and enough world building to satisfy even me. The world building was cleverly woven into the plot, without any info dumping whatsoever.

The plot was addicting and full of surprising twists and turns. The end was unexpected and very satisfying. Overall I just absolutely loved Song of the Navigator. If you’re looking for some good sci-fi with real world building and don’t mind a bit (or a lot) of violence, then I’m sure you’ll love this. If you’re looking for a fluffy romance with a dash of sci-fi, however, keep looking. This is not the book for you.

Personally, I’ll definitely check out the author’s other works. Astrid Amara has some serious world building skills.

Cover: The cover by Kanaxa is great. The dark brownish red somehow really fits the tone of the story.

Sales Links:  ARe | Amazon | Buy It Here

Book details:

Kindle Edition, 224 pages
Published May 26th 2015 by Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
*Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Note: This is the 2nd Review of this Book: When F. D. said she finished reading this story and wanted to write a review, I knew that BJ had already read and written her review which we posted here.  But I was curious, how would F. D. view Astrid Amara and this story?  Too dark?  I should have known better.  Consider this a double recommendation for this amazing author and novel.