Kaje Harper on the State of Minnesota and her new release Fair Isn’t Life (author guest blog)

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Fair Isn’t Life by Kaje Harper
Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Brooke Albrecht

Sales Links: 

Dreamspinner Press | Amazon  |  Amazon UK  | Barnes & Noble  | Kobo  | iBooks 

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to hose Kaje Harper today on tour for her new release Fair Isn’t Life, a Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Highly Recommended story.  Welcome, Kaje.

 

So you think you know Minnesota… by Kaje Harper

When I decided to submit a Minnesota story for Dreamspinner Press’s series on The States of Love, I didn’t know what I wanted to include. The series includes one romance from each of the fifty US states, intended to give readers a flavor of the region, something unique to where it’s set. There’d been some excellent ones – check out Sarah Black’s War Paint (Georgia) for a recent favorite.

I decided I wasn’t going to start my story in the ice and chill of a Minnesota winter. That’s what a lot of people think about when they hear “Minnesota” and there’s no denying we have stellar winters. Or awful ones, depending on your point of view. We’ve had three feet of snow on Halloween, and frigid lows every winter hit -20 °F at some point. The record low temp in 1996 was -60 °F in the little town of Tower, MN. 

Temperance River is a State Park on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota

I love the beauty of Minnesota winters, other than having to shovel that snow. But part of the goal here was to show people things they didn’t already know about the state, or to present things they did know in new ways. So I decided I’d start in the warmth— or lately, more often hot-th— of a Minnesota summer. And with that decided, it was only natural to start at the Minnesota State Fair.

We have one of the largest fairs in the country. In fact, in 2018 Minnesota came in second only to Texas for the number of visitors to the Fair, with 2 million people passing through our gates. Set in the heart of the Twin Cities, on a permanent fairgrounds, it’s an interesting mix of the urban and the rural.

Old traditions like crowning a Dairy Princess— Princess Kay of the Milky Way— and then having an artist sculpt a large bust of her out of butter, linger from the 1960s, 1950s, and earlier. The cattle judging and baked goods and biggest pumpkin contest hark back to the days when Minnesota was a largely rural state, heavy in corn and dairy, hogs and beans, turkeys and sugar beets. 

These days, the Fair also has displays of multicultural foods and music, educational booths, plastic souvenirs of all kinds, and huge concerts in the bandstand. The University of Minnesota’s Miracle of Birth center shows the facts of barnyard babies to a million people who’ve never touched a cow. The hulking agricultural tractors and balers that lined Machinery Hill have mostly given way to lawn tractors and snow blowers, with the occasional reaper still standing over them.

The Fair seemed like the ideal place to showcase the dichotomy between old Minnesota and new. Like many other states, we have a progressive urban population and a more conservative outstate one. My two main characters also came to represent some aspects of that, even though they both grew up in the same town an hour out of the Cities.

Luke is a dairy farmer through and through, still in love with a way of life that’s becoming hard to maintain. Mason is flamboyant and loves make-up and folk-metal concerts. And yet they cross those lines— Mason still loving his home town, Luke as a gay man not always comfortable in the church and rural-traditions world where he grew up.

Minnesota has a mixed legacy on LGBTQ rights, too. We were the first state to vote “NO” rather than yes on a one-man-one-woman constitutional amendment, but the vote was very close. We legalized equal marriage before the historic SCOTUS decision, but there are many fundamentalists who were deeply unhappy about that. I have a friend who runs a Gay-Straight Alliance in an outstate school, and those kids have had to fight for their rights. The school board changed rules on them, specifically to make things harder. They get backlash on every Spirit Day and Day of Silence effort.

While Fair Isn’t Life isn’t specifically about homophobia, it definitely affects the story. One of the things I like to write about is the varied shades of homophobia—  the fact that there is a lot of space between the cruel name-calling bully or Bible-waving hater, and complete support. A substantial portion of Minnesotans live in that in-between, not rainbow rights advocates, but not haters. They are part of the landscape.

At Pride last year, I had a guy tell me that things are changing slowly for him. When he married his husband (unofficially) fifteen years ago, his dad didn’t come to the wedding and wouldn’t let his spouse into the house, although he kept in touch. Years of partial estrangement led to softening, and they were asked to visit, but to not kiss under his dad’s roof. Now his dad is fine with them together at home, but very uncomfortable with PDAs if they are out to a meal together.

Partial acceptance is better than none, and it gives hope for change. But it can really hurt. In this story, Luke’s dad did his best, for the way he was raised, but that didn’t keep Luke’s heart from aching. We have a wonderful, gay-friendly Twin Cities, but we still have a distance to go.

(3) Minnesota also has a fun side. I didn’t put in some of the great MN stuff I considered. For example, in the Walker Art Center’s Sculpture Garden, the iconic “Spoon Bridge With Cherry” sculpture (yes, a giant cherry) is now joined by a huge blue cock (not that kind, folks. A giant blue rooster.)

 

Sadly, I couldn’t find a good spot in my story for a giant cock and cherry…

Hopefully, people will enjoy what I did get into my story, both about the state I’ve come to  call home, and about two young men with challenges who find happiness in each other.

-Kaje Harper

Nov 2018

 

Fair Isn’t Life – blurb:

Luke Lafontaine survived the past year by not thinking about the father he lost, the dairy farm he couldn’t save from bankruptcy, or his way of life that vanished with the rap of an auctioneer’s hammer. Cleaning up city folks’ trash at the Minnesota State Fair is just another dead-end job. But at the Fair, surrounded by a celebration of farm life, ambitions he’d given up on and buried deep start to revive. And seeing Mason Bell in the parade—gorgeous, gay, out-of-his-league Mason—stirs other buried dreams.

Mason left his hometown for college in Minneapolis without looking back. Student life is fun, classes are great, gay guys are easy to find, but it’s all a bit superficial. He’s at the State Fair parade route with his band when he realizes a scruffy maintenance worker is Luke, his secret high school crush. Luke should be safely home working on his dad’s farm, not picking up litter. Mason wishes he hadn’t fallen out of touch. He’s an optimist, though, and it’s never too late for second chances. Now he just has to convince Luke.

 

 About Author Kaje Harper 

I get asked about my name a lot. It’s not something exotic, though. “Kaje” is pronounced just like “cage” – it’s an old nickname. I’ve been writing far longer than I care to admit (*whispers – forty years*), mostly for my own entertainment, usually M/M romance (with added mystery, fantasy, historical, SciFi…) I also have Young Adult short stories (some released under the pen name Kira Harp.)

It was my husband who finally convinced me that after all the years of writing just for fun, I really should submit something, somewhere. My first professionally published book, Life Lessons, came out from MLR Press in May 2011. I now have a good-sized backlist in ebooks and print, both free and professionally published, including Amazon bestseller The Rebuilding Year and Rainbow Award Best Mystery-Thriller Tracefinder: Contact. A complete list with links can be found on my website “Books” page at https://kajeharper.wordpress.com/books/.

I’m always pleased to have readers find me online at:

Website: https://kajeharper.wordpress.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KajeHarper

Goodreads Author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4769304.Kaje_Harper

Photo credits

#1 – depositphotos – https://depositphotos.com/  – standard license

#2 – depositphotos – https://depositphotos.com/  – standard license

#3 and #4 – personal photos, Kaje Harper, 11/01/2018 (content is artwork – not for commercial use.)

A MelanieM Release Day Review: Fair Isn’t Life by Kaje Harper

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

 

Luke Lafontaine survived the past year by not thinking about the father he lost, the dairy farm he couldn’t save from bankruptcy, or his way of life that vanished with the rap of an auctioneer’s hammer. Cleaning up city folks’ trash at the Minnesota State Fair is just another dead-end job. But at the Fair, surrounded by a celebration of farm life, ambitions he’d given up on and buried deep start to revive. And seeing Mason Bell in the parade—gorgeous, gay, out-of-his-league Mason—stirs other buried dreams.

Mason left his hometown for college in Minneapolis without looking back. Student life is fun, classes are great, gay guys are easy to find, but it’s all a bit superficial. He’s at the State Fair parade route with his band when he realizes a scruffy maintenance worker is Luke, his secret high school crush. Luke should be safely home working on his dad’s farm, not picking up litter. Mason wishes he hadn’t fallen out of touch. He’s an optimist, though, and it’s never too late for second chances. Now he just has to convince Luke.

I wasn’t entirely prepared for portions of this story. And I should have been by the description and the author’s talent for conveying pain and loss.  Still…

I live in a county that used to be almost entirely agricultural, horse farms, sweeping forests, orchards and fields of corn and grain.  Now mostly mini mansions or townhomes/condos as far as you can see depending on where you live in the county.  That you had a choice of a farm on your license plate was highly ironic given how fast the farms were being sold and plowed under.  But what we weren’t seeing was the emotional cost on the other end.  Kaje Harper puts a face to that loss. And it’s devastating.

That Kaje Harper now delivers in heart wrenching detail.  If for no other reason to buy this book, it’s for the portrait of what the loss of a legacy, a family, a person’s foundation does to one young man.  It will hit you in the gut.  And we don’t even go through the worst of it with him.  That’s already been done.  By the time we meet Luke Lafontaine, he’s survived the loss of his dad to cancer, the sale of his family house and farm, including livestock he himself  raised, to auction, and been homeless.  No, now he’s through that, but just barely.

But all through this story, how that has all impacted Luke, in small ways and large, will return.  And it will be shattering.  It will also be a reminder that it’s happening to kids and families all over the nation with  little media coverage.  It will make you weep for Luke, for all those he represents, and for the farmers that  no one seems to be speaking for anymore.  Remember Farm Aid anyone?  Kaje Harper gets this so incredibly, harshly right.  We feel the pain, as we should, of the struggle to  stay afloat in this economy.  And how fragile the bar is on keeping the farm or losing it.

Anyhow.  Combine Luke with a young man named Mason, eyeliner, clarinet, college going Mason (I love Mason) and you have such a wonderful endearing romance and relationship.  The dynamics between them was sweet and supportive. It went both ways  as Mason was used to guys being embarrassed by his love of lip gloss and liner. It felt so real, painfully so as they worked their way towards a future together.

I will remember this book for quite a while.  I’ll remember the trials and the joys that Luke went through, his “Anne” (no spoilers, but ‘sniffles”), and the fact that a Christmas story for me sometimes has a title called Fair Isn’t Life by Kaje Harper.  Really, I just loved this book.  I think you will too.  I highly recommend it.

Cover Artist: Brooke Albrecht.  I really like this cover, right down to the dairy cows.  Great job.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 148 pages
Expected publication: November 16th 2018 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 139781640808942
Edition Language English

A MelanieM Release Day Review: Love and Lint Rollers by Kaje Harper

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Even with six beloved cats at home, Thom Fletcher can’t help opening his heart to a little injured stray he finds at Pride. Luckily, the generosity of the veterinarian who helps him means he doesn’t have to open his wallet. Thom’s budget is stretched pretty thin, between his struggling start-up and medical expenses for his Crohn’s disease, so the free cat care helps a lot. Thom may have fallen for the little feline, but he’s also intrigued by the attractive vet in the bi-pride bracelet.

Dean Edwards went to Pride with his colors on his wrist, hoping to find community after his divorce. Instead, he’s pulled into a cat rescue by an appealing man. Dean likes Thom’s kindness to strays, his blue-gray eyes, his intelligence, and his perspective from decades as an out gay man. Maybe with Thom, Dean will finally feel able to explore his long-neglected attraction to men.

They’re not a perfect match. From Dean’s cat-hating dog to Thom’s chronic health issues and preferences in bed, going from a casual date to something more will be a challenge for both of them.

I don’t know when I last read a story with so many elements that stood out as remarkable and yet still folded nicely into a heartwarming romance in the end as the ones in Love and Lint Rollers by Kaje Harper.   First the characters are older which I really appreciated, one in his early fifties, with all that means emotionally, mentally, and baggage wise.  Thom Fletcher has the added complications of Crohn’s Disease, something that has drastically affected his health and his love life (no anal sex to be explicit). Harper addresses life with Crohn’s through Thom and we see all stages of the disease and its effects on his life and relationships.  For some readers it might not be enough information. For others too much.  We definitely learn a lot about life lived with this illness and its tight restrictions.  And how not to give up as well.

The character of Thom is someone I just loved and understood, even if I wanted to given him a shake or two.  If you have ever known anyone who has or had had serious illnesses, then you know how their focus can or sometimes must narrow down to dealing with their own health issues, especially if they have been doing so over a length of time.  And doing it on their own.  Letting someone else in is hard and Harper shows that realistically.  Especially with a diseases such as Crohn’s.  Portraying Thom’s shame, fear, and belief that no one will ever stay with him because it’s too hard will ring true with all readers who will emphasize with this man.

Dean Edwards too is dealing with past issues, coming out at his age, overcoming the emotional restrictions his deceased parents placed on him that still effect him.  I really liked Dean and believed in his internal battles and choices he was making.  As well as his love of his animals and Thom. Oh, and Dean is a vet with years of medical experience behind him which helps when one has many animals and other issues.

Ah, the animals!  Cats Gin, Snap, Buster, Louie, Onyx, Salem, and Cinder.  Plus elderly but still fierce dog Tig.  All with their huge roles to play in Thom’s life, this couple’s relationship, and in the story. And of course, the reader’s heart’s they wind and twine their way into.

There is a lesbian couple with a bestie half with tendencies to want to control Thom’s life.  That was a character i found irritating, probably realistic as there are always people like that in RL who believe that they know better than another person what path that person’s life should take. That they do it out of love doesn’t make it any less controlling. That you as a reader want Thom to have this person back off?  Well, it means that Harper has done her job and written this bestie so believably we have become put off by their behavior.  Well done.

For me, I might have wished for a little less of the Crohn’s, and  a little more of Thom and Dean together at the end with the menagerie for Love and Lint Rollers by Kaje Harper to fulfill all the promise I had hoped for. But honestly?  It came so close I’m not complaining.  I loved it.  And think you will to.  Especially if you love cats as well.  I highly recommend this!

Cover Art is adorable.  At first I thought the models were too young.  Still wavering on that.  But Thom is remarked to look more like in his 40’s than the early 50’s he is and I loved the cats.  More cats.  Where is Louie?

Sales Links:  Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 220 pages
Expected publication: October 9th 2018 by Kaje Harper
ISBN139780463646465
Edition Language English

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Review:Don’t Plan to Stay by Kaje Harper

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Adam Lindberg’s best friend, Donnie Kagan, was sent to prison when he was eighteen after police ruled he was at fault in a collision that killed an old man when the vehicles met in an intersection.  Donnie had been drinking and though his blood alcohol was only .04, since he was underage and the other driver was killed, it was considered a major crime.  Adam was seriously hurt and couldn’t testify on his behalf, nor could Adam’s older brother, Nate, who was in the front seat but knocked unconscious.  Now, six years later, Donnie heads home to Tallbridge to check on Adam and his family—a family that had treated him as one of them until the accident.  He doesn’t plan to stay, but he can’t resist seeing Adam to finally say goodbye.

Adam is shocked when he sees Donnie since Donnie never responded to any of Adam’s letters and Adam didn’t even realize Donnie was finally out of prison.  Not wanting to talk about his time in prison is one thing, but not wanting to open up and talk about anything at all is another.  But Adam finally convinces the reticent man to help out at the family’s Christmas store and Donnie reluctantly agrees. Things have changed while he’s been gone, and Adam’s mom passed away in the last year, leaving he and his father and brother bereft and finding it difficult to cope with the holiday season.  The dog that adopts Donnie when he’s out wandering his old neighborhood is the key to helping Adam’s father finally come out of his depression, and Adam’s consistently positive and forgiving attitude toward Donnie goes a long way toward helping Donnie finally open up. 

Eventually, old scars are healed, new paths are forged, and Donnie accepts that he’s not going to be heading to warmer climates. Instead, he’s going to follow his heart and stay with Adam after the Christmas break. The two seem to have been destined to be together from the time they were children, so it’s very possible they’ll be together for a lot longer now. 

I enjoyed this story, but I’m sad to say I didn’t like it as much as I’d hoped.  I think that’s because Donnie is a tough character to get to know and like, though that’s understandable since he spent so much time in prison, and he doesn’t give away a lot of personal information or open up until late in the story. Much of what we learn about who he is comes from flashbacks and from his actions in the present—everything from rescuing an abused dog to working for his former boyfriend’s family business for little to no pay, and then helping out a friend who saved him from a beating while in prison.

It’s one of those books that kept me coming back, but not one that I avidly looked forward to each time I was forced by RL to stop for a while.  One of my favorite parts of the story is a subplot about converting a prison tattoo from carved initials to an open cage with a caterpillar emerging. Without giving further detail on that, I will say that I loved the comparison and enjoyed meeting the young man who emerged from the stoic ex-con who first showed up in town and became the open, happy young man who finally expressed his love for Adam and found comfort in its return. 

I most certainly recommend this as a story of healing and hope.

~~ Cover art by Karrie Jax Cover Design using a photo from Dan Skinner Photography features two young men, one draped across the other’s chest, holding hands as they sleep.   It’s a very sweet representation of the MCs. 

Sales Link:  Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 110 pages
Published December 8th 2017 by Kaje Harper
ISBN139781370006045
Edition LanguageEnglish setting North Dakota (United States)

A Melanie Release Day Review: Building Forever (The Rebuilding Year #2.5) by Kaje Harper

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Four years ago, Ryan and John decided they’d wait to get married until it came with full legal equality. Now, thanks to the Supreme Court, that historic moment has finally arrived. But two hundred miles separate Ryan’s hectic residency from John’s busy campus job. With a son in college, a daughter choosing her future, and a rambunctious Irish Setter needing attention, planning a wedding isn’t simple.

Of course, even the most perfect ceremony can’t solve all their problems. What does it take to build forever?

If you like me, fell in love with Ryan and John from The Rebuilding Years, then this is the story you’ve been waiting for.  Be prepared to laugh until your stomach hurts, cry more than a little, hold your breath through some white knuckle maneuvers and delays until we get to the culmination of their love story….their long awaited marriage.

It all happens in the heartwarming, joyous Building Forever (The Rebuilding Year #2.5) by Kaje Harper.  Much like John and Ryan, their inability to get legally married has left their readers frustrated as well as themselves.   So here we see the SCOTUS ruling having it’s effect all over again with the result that Ryan and John now finally get to get married.

Oh, if it was only that easy!

They are now living apart, divided by Ryan’s residency and John’s job.  Mark is in college and Rory is making her own plans, only their Irish Setter is still at home causing problems.  Getting everything into place for a wedding turns into an almost insurmountable feat, with obstacles piling up by the minute.  But (with Harper’s deft comedic touch and easily flowing plot) the narrative’s lively pace makes you howl and cry as the men scramble forward with love towards the one goal they’ve wanted…rings and HEA.

Harper brings in many of the secondary characters for the wedding, Tory and Mark their children, even the Irish Setter and of course the college as a setting.  All the elements are right, the dialog is perfect, and I just loved the ceremony.  Really, I couldn’t have asked for more.  For this couple or for us as readers.  It’s simply everything I wanted and didn’t know to ask for.

No, this is not a stand alone story.  Read all the others, starting with The Rebuilding Years and end here with Building Forever.  Better yet, read all three at once!  I highly recommend them all.

Cover by Karrie Jax.  I love the cover. It works for both men and setting.

Sales Links:

Book Details:

ebook, 80 pages
Expected publication: October 15th 2017
Edition LanguageEnglish
Series The Rebuilding Year #2.5

 

A Paul B New Release Review: Unsafe Exposure (Hidden Wolves #4) by Kaje Harper

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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

unsafe-exposure-by-kaje-harperWildlife artist Dylan Shore is accompanying his sister Frankie as she being Northwestern University.  He decides to go to the zoo to see if he can find anything interesting to draw.  Sitting at the wolf exhibit, a group of young men come up to him and ask why he did not pay respect when he came into pack territory.  Thinking his only way to prevent from being killed by this gang, he runs.  While he can outrun most everybody, these four not only keep pace but are actually gaining ground.  Only when a car pulls up along him does Dylan find an actual escape route.  He jumps in the car and they put the gang behind them.

Alex is a statistician doing medical research in Chicago.  As fourteenth in the Seattle pack, he is the lowest ranking werewolf there.  When he sees a strange werewolf running from members of the Chicago North pack, he decides to give the man a break, hoping the others don’t recognize him or his car.  After all, as a low ranking visiting wolf, you don’t want to piss off your hosts.  As he gets to know Dylan, there are two things that surprise him.  First, Dylan is a gay werewolf.  Second, Dylan has no clue that he is a werewolf.  It is no wonder that Dylan does not understand pack protocol.  With members of the Chicago North pack after both of them, Alex must now educate what it means to be a shifter.  But when both are captured and taken to a military research facility, Alex’s mission changes.  Now he must keep both of them, along with a young shifter boy, alive in order to escape.  When the escape occurs, it will have far reaching consequences for the werewolves not only across the country, but the world.

I have enjoyed Kaje Harper’s Hidden Wolves series from the start.  This is the fourth book (not counting two  interlude titles) to the series and as such should be read in order in order to understand the over-arching story lines. The series is a bit darker than most shifter series.  The emphasis is on pack politics and hierarchy, along with doing what wolves need to do to advance.  In fact, Aaron calls his mate “eleventh” during official pack business.   They are human wolves.

As for this book,  I like that the first part of the book focused mostly on the new characters that are introduced here.  There are mentions of the leader of the Alpha Council and the alpha of the Chicago North pack but do not play a major role until later.  In fact, the main characters of the previous books do not appear until two thirds of the way through the book.  Simon and Paul’s two kittens (both of whom think that they are wolf pups) make a cameo as well.  I await the next book in this series.

I like the cover by Winterheart Designs.  It has our two young men causally dresses as if going out in the Chicagoland area.  Below them is the skyline for Chicago.  Above them are wolf eyes watching out over the scene.  This fits the model of the other covers in the series.

Sales Links

MLR Press LLC

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Book Details

Ebook, 393 pages

Edition Language:  English

Published:  September 9, 2016 by MLR Press

ISBN:  978-1-944770-32-7

Series:  Hidden Wolves – add to your Goodreads shelf here:

A Lila Review: Tracefinder: Changes (Tracefinder #2) by Kaje Harper

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Tracefinder- changesBrian Kerr is now free of his dangerous boss and his domineering brother. He’s eager to start using his psychic Finding talent to help people, if he can figure out how to do that safely. His dyslexia, and his tendency to act simpleminded under stress, make building his new life a daunting challenge. And while his not-quite-boyfriend, Nick, is willing to support him, in bed and out of it, Brian doesn’t want to lean on Nick. If their relationship is going anywhere, he has to be a full partner and handle his own problems.

Nick Rugo’s walking a tightrope instead of settling into the ordinary cop’s life he’d hoped for. He’s hiding too many things from too many people. He has told professional and unprofessional lies that will come back to haunt him. Now, with Brian determined to start Finding again, he’s not sure he can protect the man he cares for. If all that wasn’t enough to make him start punching walls, he also has a suspicion that Brian’s brother Damon and sister Lori may be out there, lurking, ready to complicate their lives.

Tracefinder: Changes is all about discoveries and relationships. The story starts months after the end of book #1. Brian and Nick have an established routine and are comfortable living in the same house as some sort of roommates. From there, we dive directly into action.

The events in the first Finding set the frame for the rest of the story. We see, not only how much Nick’s invested in Brian’s care, but how far Brian has evolved away from Bry. They still have a complicated relationship at this point, but with every day they spent together, they discovered something new about themselves and the other.

Brian’s dyslexia is front and center in this installment. The reader gets to experience it from Brian’s point of view, but also from other characters’ perspectives. We see how it affects him and what he’s doing to work through it. At the same time, we see Nick’s struggle with his job and his judgment. And how much, taking care of Brian and falling for him changes the way he sees and feels about his job as a cop. Nick’s also caught in police politics and chains of command.

As one of the changes, we get to see more of the effects the Findings have on Brian. This time, he’s the one relaying the information instead of Bry. We get a better understanding of his struggles and the effort he has to put to become more independent. Is almost as if the Bry veil covering starts to move away, letting the reader see the real Brian– the one only Nick saw in the first book.

The cases they worked on were simple but relevant to the story. The author brought back characters we met in the first book and added some other great ones.  The settings were pertinent and easy to visualized; as well as the weather. Other than Brian’s Finding abilities everything in this story is part of a contemporary setting very well meshed with the paranormal element.

A lot is happening in this story, and that’s one of the reasons I didn’t give it a perfect five. The beginning is a bit repetitive. I got lost following the action thread during a crucial scene, and the resolution seemed too fast and too perfect. But overall, that was not enough to make a significant impact on my rating. I enjoyed this volume better than the first, and can’t wait for the next one.

Sidney Lowell of Creative Minds helped the author find the perfect picture of Brian. He looks exactly as described in the story, and even his gaze seems up to par. Also, the setup follows the previous book in the series.

Sale Links: Smashwords | Amazon | ARe

Book Details:

ebook, 469 pages
Published: August 4, 2016, Self-Published
ISBN: 9781370526369
Edition Language: English

Series: Tracefinder
Book #1: Tracefinder: Contact
Book #2: Tracefinder: Changes

A BJ Review: Tracefinder: Contact (Tracefinder #1) by Kaje Harper

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Rating:  4.75 stars out of 5

TracefinderWhat could an undercover cop and a drug lord’s pet psychic have in common?

Brian Kerr has spent years hiding behind a facade of mental slowness. His brother and sister got all three of them off the streets and into a cushy life, under the protection of a dangerous criminal. But to keep that safety, Brian has to use his Finding talent to track down the boss’s enemies. Although he pretends not to know what he’s really doing, each Find takes its toll, and he’s trapped in a life he hates, losing touch with his true self.

Nick Rugo’s job is to protect and serve the people of Minneapolis as an undercover cop. He isn’t closeted, but he isn’t out at work, and there’s a wild, angry side to him that he’s managed to keep hidden until now. When he’s assigned to bring Brian’s boss to justice, he intends to use anything and anyone it takes to do that.

Nick initially sees Brian as a pawn to be played in his case, but he keeps getting glimpses of a different man behind the slow, simpleminded mask. As the two men get to know each other, it becomes clear they share secrets, some of which might get them both killed.

A very usual contemporary with a paranormal twist and flawed characters of an entirely different type than I’m used to reading. This one set itself apart from most that I’ve read and stuck in my head (in a good way). Each and every character is interesting, multi-layered, and well-drawn, the pacing moved well, and there were even well-handled animal characters which is always a plus for me. This story unfolds slowly but it didn’t take long to discover that for those like me who love broken boys, this series promises to be a find indeed.

Not high on the heat meter and even the romance element is on the milder side, but that seems fitting given the characters in this story. Nick Rugo and Brian Kerr are worlds apart in many ways, but they share difficult childhoods that have left them trying hold themselves together by whatever means they can. Nick often deals by lashing out in physical violence such as bar fights, while Brian deals by hiding within himself behind the persona of a simpleton called Bry. But is Bry real or did Brian create him as a cover? Even Brian himself seems confused on that point.

The author rather leaves us guessing as to what exactly is wrong with Brian aside from severe dyslexia. How much of who he is (or pretends to be?) is the result of a defense mechanism he began in childhood? How slow/special needs is he really? That’s not immediately clear. Hell, it’s not even totally clear by the end. And I actually loved that. It kept me thinking and guessing and trying to piece things out.

In the end, I decided that regardless of how slow Brian might be, one thing is for sure, he’s far from stupid. His intelligence shines though to me in many ways. Devising an intricate ruse/cover (or even playing into it) and keeping it up over the long haul wouldn’t have been easy. I loved how sometimes Brian’s true intelligence would slip out in the things he said, and how adept he was at covering them up with quick thinking and acting. Also Brian certainly seemed to have a handle on good/bad and right/wrong–he continuously makes insightful and succinct judgments about those around him and his insights into the motivations of others showed a high degree of intuitiveness.

I applaud the author for tackling this rather different type of romance. At first I had a hard time seeing how these two could forge a relationship that would believably complement each other without being woefully uneven, without one being more of a caregiver. By the end of the book, the author had me believably seeing how these two men complemented each other, how each had needs that the other met, and that they were if not equal, at least moving towards it. I felt the sexy bits were skillfully handled and fitting for this couple.

Brian’s siblings, Lori and Damon, are also nuanced characters with complicated motivations that make them far from black/white, bad/good. I’m glad this will be a series because I there are so many questions still in my mind, so many things I’d love to explore and learn about all of them.

When I read a story, connecting to the characters is probably one of the most important things for me. I definitely got that here. I liked Nick, found Brian fascinating, and adored badass Damon. I hope there’ll be more of him in the book two.

The cover is eye-catching and hot. Love everything about it, the layout, the model, the black and white with just a flash of color, it’s perfect.

Sales Links:   Goodreads |  All Romance (ARe) | Amazon | Buy It Here
Book Details: 518 pages
Published January 9th, 2016 by Kaje Harper

Paul’s 2016 New Year’s Paranormal Portfolio

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Pauls Paranormal Portfolio Header

Paul’s New Year’s Paranormal Portfolio

A couple of weeks ago, Melanie told us that the full moon and Christmas coincided this year.  She also shared her favorite werewolf series and commented that I might want to share some of mine.  So I am devoting this edition of PPP to my favorite werewolf shifter series.  I will be focusing on series where the primary focus is on werewolf shifters, though other paranormal beings might be featured.

I would like to start off by echoing Melanie’s suggestions.  I found the With and Without You by JL Langley series enjoyable.  Whenever I have a few minutes to spare, I pull up a book in either the Mates or Tameness of the Wolf series by Kendall McKenna and reread them to pass the time.  Both offer unique takes on the werewolf genre.

The Southwestern Shifter series by Bailey Bradford starts off with a veterinarian helping out an injured wolf on the road.  What follows is a battle to assert the rightful claim of leadership of werewolves.  The main group of characters travels to Europe and South America to help restore order to those parts of the world.  In this series, the process of being turned into a werewolf is painful but sometimes necessary in order to stay alive.

One of my favorite authors is Kaje Harper.  Her Hidden Wolves series is one of the reasons why.  Again, it starts with an injured dog being rescued by a vet.  But Paul soon learns that this is not a dog but a wolf and a shifter in fact.  In this world, being a gay wolf is taboo and telling anybody about shifters is punishable by death.  But these wolves have not met someone as spunky and outspoken as Paul.  Soon, this pack becomes a refuge for unwanted gay werewolves.

What is better than a series about werewolves?  How about werewolves who are assassins?  Yes, I am talking about Sandrine Gasq-Dion’s popular Assassin-Shifter series.  What started out as a contract hit on a successful business owner turns into a fight against rogue werewolves that want to convert all werewolves to their rabid ways.  My favorites in the story actually do not do any fighting yet.  I am talking about the young Kane and Matty, the future leaders of werewolves when they grow older,

One last series I would like to mention for now is Charlie Richard’s Wolves of Stone Ridge series.  This series started with one of the Stone Ridge werewolves sold to a local zoo by a group of hunters and expanded into a worldwide conspiracy of evil scientists who have been doing experiments on shifters for almost 200 years.  And yes, another vet is in the first book.  (Do I see a pattern?)  This series spun off three other series all set in the same universe, which feature non-wolf shifters, vampires, and gargoyles.

This is by no means a complete list of my favorites.  I will include more in a future edition of the Portfolio.  I hope everybody has a healthy and prosperous New Year.

You can find all the books at the series pages below:

A BJ Review: Chasing Death Metal Dreams by Kaje Harper

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Rating:  5 stars out of 5      ★★★★★

Chasing Death Metal Dreams coverThis story was written as a part of the M/M Romance Group’s “Love is an Open Road” event. Group members were asked to write a story prompt inspired by a photo of their choice. Authors of the group selected a photo and prompt that spoke to them and wrote a short story.

Dear Author,
I was sent to the US at the age of 10 by my father who could not accept me. You see I was misgendered at birth and I started fighting against my body at a young age. My father sent me to live with my cousin’s family along with enough money to pay my way for a few years. Little does he know he helped to fund the many surgeries and hormones to fulfill my dream of having my outside gender match the gender my brain has always known myself to be.

What do you think Author? Not many know of his secret. He is a gay man. Is he in a gang? Is he in a band? How will he find love? How will he be accepted?

Photo Description: A young bare-chested man stands staring boldly outward from below his raised arms, hands pressed together in his black hair, elbows winged out, colorful dagger tattoos on his forearms. Another tattoo near his neck forms swirl of dark curves with “Boy” over his left collarbone. His biceps are strong, his stomach and pecs flat, his nipples small, above a thin treasure trail leading downward. Below each nipple is the unmistakable, long-healed scar of top surgery.

Carlos Medina has spent years of sweat, pain, effort, and money becoming the man he is. He writes original songs, plays lead guitar, and wears his death metal front-man persona like armor. With an excellent drummer and a talented bassist, his band, KnifeSwitch, has what it takes to succeed, if they can just catch a break. But it’s been a long road already, and there’s still a mountain left to climb. Carlos isn’t looking for anything more in his personal life than an occasional hook-up with a hot guy, preferably outside the less-than-gay-friendly metal scene.

Nate Goldstein has no intention of dating a musician. His twin brother fronts a band, and he knows band guys are all busy, broke, and obsessed with their music. But Carlos catches his artist’s eye. Nate is wary – he has a history of picking the wrong guys. Still, he might be willing to break some personal rules to find out what’s behind Carlos’s dark gaze and imaginative lyrics.

Getting together the first time is easy and fun. The second time is more complicated. And when music, ambition, and personalities clash, the guys will have to decide if they have a future worth fighting for.

This is my favorite of the stories I’ve read from this year’s writing event so far. Let me tell you why. First off, main character Carlos. While there certainly isn’t a plethora of books with a trans man as a lead character, there are a decent amount both inside and outside of the m/m genre, and I’ve read a quite a few. Not many are this well done, and in only a few have I discovered a main character that truly engaged me. Carlos definitely did. He could be stand-offish, prickly, quick to anger and didn’t do relationships. He was very careful to keep his sexuality under wraps since it wasn’t widely accepted within the death metal circle. But Carlos was also so damned strong, and his determination to pursue his dreams, both musical and being his real inner self, spoke to me deeply. Then he met Nate.

Which brings us to the second reason this was a favorite. Nate is an artist with a wonderfully close, supportive and accepting family. Artist characters are a thing for me, so is long hair, which meant Nate was an instant hit with me. But like Carlos, Nate was a thoroughly nuanced character who despite being caring, sensitive, considerate, accepting and supportive, did also have his own issues of trust and insecurity to overcome.

When the sparks fly between these two, it’s far from insta-love. These two men each have baggage and obstacles to overcome. Their story swept me along very easily and naturally. I loved watching Carlos open up to Nate not just physically but also letting him in emotionally, which wasn’t something he’d done before. Watching the two very different men learn to trust each other was a thoroughly enjoyable journey.

The author handled the sexual scenes, even the sensitive ones, very well with just the right amount of details and explanations. The heat level was quite steamy. While I do understand why the sex scenes were mainly from Nate’s point of view, I still longed for one from Carlos’ and I think mainly this has to do with the fact that the other really well-done trans man main character book I’d read was from only the other MC’s point of view. Since this one was a dual-POV, my favorite, I’d held out that hope. I don’t consider that this took away from the story all that much, however, since each scene between the two moved their relationship along perfectly.

I’m not a metal music fan at all. In fact, I normally avoid books that deal with rock stars completely. But this wasn’t about stars, far from it, and I didn’t need to be into death metal to become invested in and enjoy these guys story. The author painted a clear picture of the struggle it takes to make it as they chased their dreams. Loved the sprinkled in song lyrics and the album cover and tattoo drawing descriptions. In fact, all the many facets of the story’s elements were thoroughly researched and expertly handled, making this story read wonderfully smooth and true for me. The pace wasn’t fast, but leisurely like a Sunday drive where in the journey itself is as important as the destination. Something to be savored mile-by-mile, word-by-word.

This story was written within a short timeframe and the limited guidelines of fitting into a given prompt, yet you could never tell that if you picked this up. Not from the stunning cover, and certainly not from the beautiful, well-rounded, well-written journey towards acceptance and love that this story takes us on. If you haven’t read this one yet, pick it up today. It definitely belies the saying “you get what you pay for”. This story rocks, or considering the death metal maybe I should say it growls.

The cover by BookCoverMasterClass.com is stunning and very well suited to the story. Definitely grabbed my attention.

Free story at  Goodreads MM Romance Group.com

Book Details:

ebook, 265 pages
Published August 2nd 2015 by MMRomanceGroup.com (first published August 1st 2015)
edition languageEnglish
charactersCarlos Medina, Nate Goldstein