Review: Bar None Anthology by Sean Michael, BA Tortuga, Julia Talbot, and Kiernan Kelly

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Bar None coverDo you like your bartenders hot, sexy, and maybe even artificial?  Torquere Press presents an anthology where all the stories revolve around the bars, drinks and the men who serve them.  Authors BA Tortuga, Julia Talbot, Sean Michael and Kiernan Kelly deliver four sexy and ultimately loving romps through the bars and bartenders of our dreams.

Here in the order they are found in the anthology are the stories of Bar None:

Bartender Rescue by BA Tortuga
Kind of a D.R.A.G. by Kiernan Kelly
The Blue Moon Bar By Julia Talbot
Flair, a Hammer Story By Sean Michael

I really looked forward to reading this anthology and it came through as anticipated.  I have a mini-review posted after each title.

1.  “Bartender Rescue”by BA Tortuga – 4.75 stars out of 5

Shane and Galen from the Stormy Weather series return in this short story of burnout and escape.  As the story starts long term lovers Shane and Galen have almost switched place as far as occupations go.  Now it is Shane who is the Owner and CEO of a number of successful bars, heading out each morning in a 3-piece suit, micro managing his bars and neglecting his lover, Galen.  The stress is mounting and Shane is turning to pharmaceuticals to stay awake and energized, none of which makes Galen happy.  Shane knows things aren’t working but doesn’t know how to step off and out of the business treadmill.

When the answer pops up in the form of an old would be boyfriend of Shane’s, Galen is more than ready to take advantage of the situation.  Now if only he can get  Shane to agree.

I love this couple having been with them through all sorts of angst and misadventures, including hurricanes and miscommunications.  Now we get to see a different dynamic with this couple, with beach bum Shane being the uber responsible business owner and Galen ending up the laid back part of their relationship.  Tortuga writes this couple so realistically you can practically watch them walk off the page.  They are settled in their relationship, with bone deep knowledge of each other and their needs telegraphing with each bit of dialog and loving touch.  And it is painful to watch when each person realizes that the relationship and each other is being neglected.  Wonderful writing, great characters and a realistic situation make this story of the best.

I loved every part of this story and the only thing that kept it from a 5 star rating is a lack of backstory for those readers new to Shane and Galen.  Even without going into enormous detail,, even a little past history would have been enlightening for those new to this couple.

2. “Kind of a D.R.A.G.” by Kiernan Kelly. Rating 4 stars out of 5

Kiernan Kelly takes bartenders intergalactic with this story of a bar with a captive audience as it is located on a prisoner planet somewhere in space.  Inhabited by prisoners, a few free humans and tons of androids who handle  almost every job possible, Kelly’s story contains a lot of humor, a few nice twists, and a far reaching ( yep, went there) ending.

Max, bartender and really only of human in residence at Club Grinder, a dive and strip club on Sirius 7.  It is in fact the only bar on Sirius 7, “a penitentiary rock located among a fistful of tiny, uninhabited planetoids at the ass end of the galaxy”.  Other than The Boss who is the  owner of the club, Max is the only human around, the rest of the employees, strippers, Drag Queens Betty Boob and Ivana Hump, every one is an android. In a funny, Lucille Ball twist, Kelly starts off her story with the two Drag Queens breaking an android stripper in the most awkward and humorous way possible. Soon the Drag Queens are using The Bosses D.R.A.G machine to create a new one.  Of course, everything starts to go wrong immediately and the plot takes flight.

I enjoyed this story and found parts of it hilarious. While the plot was predictable, the characters and the charm and endearing personalities make this story outshine its plot structure.  Funny, charming, just a lovely way to spend some time.  I could really see this group coming back for an encore.

3. “The Blue Moon Bar” By Julia Talbot.  Rating 3.5 stars out of 5

Werewolf Hugh Dailin is crazy about his bear shifter bartender Seamus Deane but his wolf pack and family disapprove of homosexuality, wanting him to find a female mate and have a bunch of pups.  But Hugh is sure that his mate is the burly guy with all that great hair and muscles that just happens to work for him.  The tension is getting to them both, with each snarling at the others in frustration and rage.  Something has to give and it does when a lion comes into the bar and demands the return of his cub, a cub that’s gone missing. Then one of their own goes missing too and both must scramble to find the person responsible before more vanish.

I liked this story, especially since shifters, any type of shifter from sloth to owl, are favorites of mine.  But this story needed a little bit more of plot, characterization, background, and exposition. We never really find out who, what and why is behind the mystery. And everything is resolved almost in seconds.  It just feels lacking which is a shame as the bones of this story are wonderful.  Still, I enjoyed Hugh and Seamus and wished I had more of their relationship.

4. “Flair, a Hammer Story”  By Sean Michael. 5 stars out of 5

Author and consultant to bars on drinks, specialty recipes and Flair, Nathan Edwards is wary when he approaches the location of his next client, a man named Xavier who owns an establishment called The Hammer. The exterior is nondescript but what Nathan finds inside is anything but ordinary.

Nathan is intelligent, handsome and OCD which makes for an intriguing combination to Master Jarrod, a Dom who just walked into The Hammer for lunch and a place to check emails.   Nathan is there to train the club’s bartenders in Flair and to give them new recipes to try out for their clientele.  He has no idea as to the type of place The Hammer is or the people who are members.

Artist Jarrod stopped by the Hammer on impulse for lunch and to check on his emails from clients.  But he stays to watch Nathan train the staff, pulled in by the young man’s magnetism, looks, and intelligence.  An invitation to lunch goes well until the Dom in Jerrod comes out to play to Nathan’s consternation.  When Jarrod pursues the relationship, can Nathan accept Jarrod’s lifestyle or will Jarrod’s feelings for Nathan force Jerrod to leave the lifestyle behind?

This is my favorite story of the collection.  It’s just masterful (yes, went there as well)!  Sean Michael gives us two completely authentic, layered characters and then creates a believable and charming slow buildup to a wonderful romance that all readers will love and root for.

Nathan is an especially unusual character.  He has OCD but uses it to his  advantage in his business.  He makes no apologies, sure of himself and easy in his skin.  And while he is startled as to the true nature of the club he is consulting for, it doesn’t bother him even though he is uneducated about the lifestyle.  Then he meets Jarrod, strong, handsome and artistic and Nathan is charmed.  But a stray comment and too strong attitude naturally finds Nathan pulling away.

I really liked that Michael introduced us to a character unfamiliar with bdsm and D/s relationships.  By doing so, the author can educate Nathan and the reader at the same time about the lifestyle and the most common misconceptions.  And Sean Michael does so in a manner that doesn’t feel forced or academic.

This is also the beginning of a relationship so we aren’t sure exactly what compromises each man is going to make for the other. Our only certainty being that these men do belong together.  Books containing elements of bdsm are a minority in the type of books I normally review but Flair, a Hammer story is so well done, from the marvelous characters to the realistic and intelligent relationship between Nathan and Jerrod that it makes me want to read the rest of the stories in the Hammer series to see if they match the promise and the happiness I felt after reading this tale of love found amongst the cocktail glasses, shakers and bottles of a bar and its bartender.   Great job and a wonderful way in which to end this collection.

If you are unfamiliar with any of these authors, Bar None is a great way to familiarize yourself with their style of writing and the characters they like to play with.  I enjoyed them all and think you will too.  Consider this definitely recommended.

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 223 pages
Published September 24th 2013 by Torquere Press
ISBN 1610405811 (ISBN13: 9781610405812)
edition language English

Review of With or Without Series by JL Langley

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ating: 5 stars for the series

My first introduction to JL’s shifters came when I picked up the Hearts From The Ashes anthology and read With Love, the first in Langley’s shifter series.  It featured a young clutzy Omega wolf named Laine Campbell who was perpetually in hot water over things he said or creating chaos with the things he did.  Everything about Laine was adorable, from his hair to his manner of speech and I fell in love immediately.  So did Dev, the Alpha wolf moving to Ashton with his betas and business partners.  He was hooked on Laine and I was hooked on Dev.  I could not believe it when the story was over. I wanted more shifters, specifically I wanted JL’s shifters and I wanted them now. This is a reoccurring theme with JL Langley’s books so be prepared.

Then came Without Reservations in 2007 and my addiction was official.  Without Reservations is the story of Chayton Winston, a veterinarian living in New Mexico.  He is also a shifter and all his life he has been dreaming of a fair haired mate, much to his Native American  parents chagrin.  His entire life Chay has considered himself heterosexual until an injured wolf is brought into his office.  The wolf is a gorgeous male shifter and his mate.  He is also Caucasian something he is sure his mother will never accept.

Keaton Reynolds wakes up in a veterinarian ‘s office to find himself injured and being treated by his mate.  He should be overjoyed except he just got out of a relationship from a shifter who had a girlfriend on the side but also said he was Keaton’ mate.  Keaton is not one to repeat his mistakes and a hetero shifter is not someone he wants to take a chance on, no matter what his body and even his heart may think.  But Chay won’t give up on Keaton and finally Keaton agrees to get to know Chay better.  And slowly they start to build a relationship together.  But there is Chay’s mother’s disapproval to overcome and a power struggle in Keaton’s Georgia pack that threatens them both.  How will they overcome the odds to find the happiness they both deserve?

I reread this book all the time.  Chayton Winston and Keaton Reynolds are such wonderful creations that I return to their story time and again.  Chayton is one of the nicest people you will meet in the author’s novels.  He is both elementally patient and rock solid in his beliefs so that when presented with a man as a mate, he accepts it.  If it switches his sexuality over to gay, ok as long as he gets his mate, something no wolf shifter would ever turn down.  And you believe this paradigm shift absolutely as being in character for Chayton because he is so real from the moment we meet him.  Keaton also engages our hearts and affections with his prickly nature  and forceful personality packed into a slight build.  A small white wolf, he has the personality and power of an Alpha without needing to lead. Keaton would rather teach and help educate so the fact that his mate would be a healer, a veterinarian makes complete sense.  JL Langley surrounds these two with people as authentic and believable as they are and gives us a mystery to boot.  Just an outstanding novel.

With Caution came next.  It remains my favorite of the series and again one I read over and over again.  With the characters of Remington Lassiter and Jake Romero, JL brings a level of complexity and depth to her characterizations that I had not seen before.  And added to our main characters, she introduces us to the rest of the men who will become their pack.  Each man is a unique unforgettable creation as they sit astride their motorcycles and roar into our hearts.  Remy is a shifter we meet in Without Reservations and he makes a rather disastrous first impression upon us in that story.  But here we discover the dark background that surrounds him in shocking detail as well as the reasons for his actions.

There are parts of this novel so bleak and despairing your hearts will bleed for Remy and his brother Sterling  even as our hero bleeds out from the abuse.  Remy’s sexuality and his acceptance of a male mate is a huge part of this story and his past as well.  I cannot give Langley enough credit for the sensitive way she deals with child abuse and recovery as an adult.  There is also a murder mystery to be solved, and the exploration of a naturally submissive nature.  There is some mild bdsm that works beautifully within the plot of the story and the glimpses of new couples, mates, for future stories.  One couple in particular has had the fans clamoring for their story since this book was published.  This story has depth, multi-layered characters and a multitude of themes running through it, not the least of which is how Reservaton law can also isolate the members it is supposed to protect, control issues and child abuse.  Heavy themes indeed but this book is also packed with love and redemption.  With Caution is an incredible read you won’t want to put down.

Next comes a series of free stories that can be found on the Fiction With Friction website until JL Langley’s site is back up and running.  These are in order:

A Lot To Be Thankful For (With or Without Series 3.1) Sterling Lassister and Rhys Waya (the fans just wouldn’t shut up for their story)

A Sterling New Year (With or Without Series 3.2)  with Sterling Lassister and Rhys Waya (love, love these two and so will you, get on the bus)

With Abandon (With or Without #4) brings back Aubrey Reynolds and the rest of the Georgia pack that we met in Without Reservation.  Aubrey is Keaton’s brother and our introduction to him in Without Reservation was not exactly a positive one.  Matt Mahihkan, one of Gadget’s sons from With Caution is back and going to college in Georgia. Matt was a quirky young man who we got to know only superficially but JL Langley brings him together with  Aubrey Reynolds and that combination sparks all sorts of problems not the leasts of which is that Aubrey is not out to his family or the pack. And Matt is not only out and proud but turns out he is Aubrey’s mate. It took me a while to like Aubrey, perhaps some of that was left over emotions from Without Reservation.  But his reluctance to accept Matt officially as his mate made him hard to like.  He has to grow on you, something none of the other characters has had to do.  Matt, of course, is absolutely adorable and we entrust our affections with him from the get go.  And with Matt, comes some of the members of the New Mexico pack we have come to love as well.

Next come three free short stories in succession. I am convinced JL Langley thought the fans would be showing up on her doorstep if she didn’t at least throw them all several bones. I will admit to being one of them:

Christmas Dinner at Reynolds Hall (With or Without, #4.1)

Attack of the Killer Dust Bunnies (With or Without, #4.2) 

Christmas Cookies and Garland (With or Without, #4.3)

So what and who are coming next?  That would be Sterling and Rhys.  This is the story everyone has been yelling for, myself included. I believe JL Langley said it will be done in a few month from now but isn’t sure when it will be published. That will depend upon Samhain Publishing’s schedule.  Be still my heart.

Without Fear (With or Without series #5) – coming from Samhain Publishing.

So that’s JL Langley’s shifters in a nutshell.  I am not sure I did them justice.  Shifters of all species hit my buttons. Native American shifters hit them twice.  I don’t care if they are wolves, big cats or even weresloths of London (thank you, Charlie Cochrane for that memorable story).  But thinking back to the beginning, it all started with JL Langley’s wolves who come to life on the pages of the With and Without series, grabbed both my attention and my heart and have never let them go.  I have these books in paperback (prior to my Kindle) and I have them now in eBooks as well.  From their killer covers to their outstanding characters and plots, I return to them often.  To reacquaint myself with old friends and find comfort in their presence.

Some find JL Langley through her cowboys and others through her sci-Regency series.  I found her through her shifters.  If you are new to JL Langley as an author, try them all.  Start from the beginning of each series and work your way down.  You will find yourself with a new  addiction just as I did.  Write me. Let me know what you think. I will be waiting.

Review of Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino

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Rating: 4.5 stars

Brad just had an epiphany, several actuality.  Too bad it happens when his teammate bends over to expose his hairy ass in the communal shower. It’s not just his obvious physical reaction to the moment but all the moments leading up to this one that tells Brad that yes, he really is gay no matter how hard he has denied it. Now what is he going to do about it?

All his life Brad Feller has done what people expected of him.  Huge physique? Athletics all through school into university, while a little voice in his head whispers he would be happier in home economics and cooking classes.  Join a frat full of jocks because of a family legacy and expectations? Yeah, and because he needs to the money for school.  Date girl after girl even after he starts to realize he is using them as a front? The answer is yes to his growing shame. And then there is Sebastian, his TA in the History classes he took for graduation.  Sebastian is gorgeous, cool, hot and oh so out.  Sebastian is also the star performer in all of Brad’s dreams and hopes. Brad wants to come out but doesn’t know how.  His whole world is about to change.

Sebastian is aware of the hot jock watching him in class.  A straight guy , the Frat Boy, right? But a meeting over a paper and Brad himself tells Sebastian a different story.  Brad wants him and Sebastian is only too happy to oblige, take a teacher roll as it were.  But the sex between them is more than hot, it is mind blowing, and perhaps  something more than Sebastian wants to admit.  Can Frat Boy and Toppy admit to the changing relationship between them and grasp the love within their reach?

This book more than met my expectations.  I had expected a cute, somewhat fluffy enjoyable book about coming out and opposites attracting.  This was so much more.  Let’s start with characterization, which for me is always the driving force behind terrific books.  Brad Feller is such a surprising character.  Yes, his exterior is that of a intimidating jock but his interior? Inside he is an almost excruciatingly vulnerable young man trying to understand his sexuality along with his need to be safe and loved.  That his inner voice is also honest and humorous is a huge plus as well. Brad is well aware of the dichotomies he represents, the brooding jock exterior versus the uncertain, insecure, shy young man he really is. Years of hiding his real self has also isolated him as he keeps even his so called friends at arms length.  Tenino has done such an excellent job in creating Brad that from the first inner mumblings of Brad’s thoughts on his life and sexuality, I was hooked.  Not only hooked but in love.  How could you not fall in love with a compassionate, funny, gay chef in jocks clothing who first gets in touch with his inner sub by interacting with his   hair brush in a way not sanctioned by its manufacturer.  Trust me, I was choking in laughter over that one and you will too.

And then there is Sebastian.  In other hands, I am sure he could come across as a complete jerk, a player with a revolving door in his bedroom.  But again Anne Tenino gives us a complicated, totally real person who is more than a match for our Brad.  Sebastian appreciates Brad and truly sees the real person Brad is while totally appreciating the gorgeous body toned through constant workouts and athletics.  Sebastian too must work through his own issues before he can accept the fact that what he is feeling is love for Brad and not just an appreciation of their great sex life.  Sebastian is deserving  of Brad’s love, it just takes him some time to realize it.

There is wonderful humor throughout the entire story.  This includes one of the most memorably funny coming out scenes I have read recently.  I laughed until I cried, trust me it’s hilarious.  This story has it all.  Pitch perfect dialog, outstanding characters, very hot sex scenes (waving fan) and a heart warming tale of coming out and coming to terms with who you really are. I wanted more, much more of Brad and Sebastian, that was my only complaint.  So will you. You really don’t want to miss this story.  It’s that great.  Trust me.

Cover:  What a great cover.  Cover artist is LC Chase and I think they did a wonderful job. Loved it.