A MelanieM Review: Then the Stars Fall by Brandon Witt

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Rating: 5 stars out of  5

Then the Stars Fall coverIn the four years since the death of his wife,  Travis Bennett has become a shell of the man he used to be.  Travis raises his three children, manages his business, and works as a ranch hand, his only companion his dog, Dunkyn. The hole inside Travis feels as deep and recent as the day she died, a situation that often leaves him depressed and unable to shake off the moods it leaves him in.

Fond memories of the small Ozark town of El Dorado Springs and the need to leave his broken relationship behind, find Wesley Ryan moving into his grandparents’ old home and temporarily taking over the local veterinary clinic while that owner goes on a much needed sabbatical.  But while the loving memories remain, the small town atmosphere isn’t exactly conducive to his colorful clothes and admittedly “gay” nature.  Wesley is feeling pretty lonely until Travis brings in his corgi for treatment.

Travis’ reaction to Wes’ recommendation of surgery is far beyond Wes’ expectations.  Travis is adamant that Dunkyn, his dog, be treated without surgery, something Wes knows the dog needs.  Wes is sure he will be seeing the duo again.  Travis, dog and all, is exactly the type of man Wesley goes for.  But with three kids and a beloved wife in the past,  Wes is sure he is straight.  Or is he?  Wes does know he came to El Dorado to get away from his man issues and he’s not looking for a relationship,, especially one with someone as complicated and loaded down with baggage as Travis Bennett.  Fate, however, has plans for Travis and Wesley whether they want it or not…

First that gorgeous cover and then the synopsis drew me to this book but it’s the story within that has  kept me thinking and repeatedly revising my overall connection to and perception of Then The Stars Fall by Brandon Witt.

So many elements about this story had me off balance right from the start.  The plot is situated in a small (pop 3000 plus) conservative town, El Dorado Springs, in  Missouri.  There some of the citizens, including main characters, think nothing of dropping words like  “faggot” and “retard” frequently into their conversations.  These offensive terms are thrown about so carelessly that I almost put the book down before I had gotten past the opening chapters.  That the main character, Travis Bennett, and his best friend are the main offenders made it worse.  Yes, they were called on it, by Caleb,Travis’ oldest son, but did it stop?  No.  And I was appalled that the author thought I would be able to connect with a man such as Travis.  But I did….eventually.  Because Travis for all his faults (and there are so many) comes across as a complex human being, a realistic work in progress, especially at age 42.  The world of pain, loss, and conflict in his background, combined with episodes of good deeds and even better behavior will have the reader flip flopping like a fish out of water in their opinions of this tormented man.

Next up his crude, loud and over the top best friend, Jason Baker, who spews such slurs,derogatory remarks, and unfair judgements with an equally unsettling ease that again I couldn’t believe we were supposed to like him.  Quite frankly, I was afraid that was never going to occur but it did as well. Between Jason and Travis the almost constant barrage of offensive terms and slurs almost derailed this story. Luckily, the author balanced such raw characters with ones that were easier to empathize with and enjoy.  Characters such as Wesley Ryan, Travis’ sister Wendy who I adored,, the Bennett children, and even the Corgis Dunkyn and Dolan, all lined up to pull the reader along the rippling narrative and keep us afloat until most of the people of the town combine to win us over.  Quirky, obstinate, surprising and recognizably human, the folks of El Dorado Springs continue to show new facets of their personalities each time they appear in the story.  And it’s these layers that will make the reader grow fond of the town and fonder of its people.

What else threw me off?  The constantly changing point of view.  After a while it felt more like the play Our Town than a novel.  Everyone gets a chance to chime in here, even Dunkyn the dog. I have to admit at times I thought him far more admirable than some of the others characters, but then Corgis are like that.  That large number of voices took some time getting adjusted to, but when you do, then this strange format enables the reader to get a real, intimate feel for El Dorado, its history, its present, and hopefully its future.  We get a sense of community and that’s necessary for the reader to achieve because this town is so much a  part of its people that it acts as just one more main character in a story full of them.

Looking back I can’t even remember when the shift of perspective started, when the affection I felt towards the characters and story outgrew my irritations until those faded away.  It was a slow changeover for me, and yes, for Wesley as well.  This is a town that takes a lot of getting used to.  In Brandon Witt’s Authors Notes, he writes about his childhood which prompted this story.  Here it is in his words:

I KNEW I would return to the world of The Shattered Door, the town I grew up in, one day. I wasn’t sure when or how, but then Travis and Wesley showed up, asking to be with Dunkyn and Dolan—or maybe it was the other way around. Shattered told the tale of the pain, fear, guilt, bullying, etc. that I felt growing up. However, there was another part during those years in El Dorado Springs. Lightning bugs. Thunderstorms. My grandpa’s buffalo. My chickens. Friends that I loved dearly. Simone’s Drive-in (if you’re ever driving on 54 and pass through El Do, you have to stop and get a burger. They’re perfect!). Despite the pain I felt a lot of the time, there was so much good, as well. So much beauty and love. I hope I was able to capture that aspect of El Do with Then the Stars Fall.

By the end of this story, Brandon Witt had really captured it all.  The joys, the hardship and pain, the gorgeous memories and the manner in which a town grows a part of you, no matter your age or location.  It was quite the emotional journey that Then the Stars Fell  and its characters took this reader on.  It constantly challenged me to think about the people, Wes and Travis’ romance, and the town as well as my own opinions and judgements.  It held me firm to the story until I was completely won over.  It’s a journey you shouldn’t miss.  Then the Stars Fell by Brandon Witt is one of Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words must reads of the year.  If Brandon Witt isn’t on your list of authors whose stories are automatic buys, he should be and this is just one more example why he belongs there.  Grab it up today!

Cover Artist:  Anne Cain.  What an astonishing cover.  So evocative of the farm and township of the story.  One of the best of the year.

Sales Links:   Dreamspinner Press eBook & Paperback          All Romance (ARe)              amazon     Buy it Here

Book Details:

ebook, 350 pages
Published September 29th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1632162598 (ISBN13: 9781632162595)
edition languageEnglish
url http://www.brandonwitt.com/

Review: Clipped by Devon McCormack

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

 

Clipped cover

What are mortals to do when everything they thought they knew about Heaven and Hell are reversed?  God is planning their annihilation and Satan is their only hope.

Once God and Satan were lovers and the Earth was created as a gift for Satan.  But when Satan left God, his fury was apocalyptic. God intends to destroy the Earth and all humans.  It is left to Satan’s fallen angels to thwart God’s plans and save all humanity.

The demon Kinzer and his fallen angel lover, Janka, are agents of Satan, sent to spy on The Raze, a group of angels who are working with God to bring about Armageddon. When someone exposes their true allegiances, the Raze rips off Kinzer’s wings while torturing and killing his lover, Janka. Now wingless and powerless, Kinzer escapes. His mission? To track down all Satan’s allies to warn them about a traitor in their circle.  The hunt is on for the Antichrist—a powerful weapon that could prevent the apocalypse and both sides are getting nearer. It’s up to Kinzer to protect the unborn child and his mother.  And if he can avenge his lover’s death while doing so, then even better.  But first he has to stay alive….

Clipped is a story sure to instill strong emotions and reactions in all who read it.  It is a book that readers will either love or hate. Or even hate to love. Its plot contains religious content that some readers might find offensive. And  its rough, and brutal sex scenes are sure to turn off those looking for romance and/or sexual relationships that are consensual and with not a lot of bloodshed. To those readers, I say this is probably not the book for you.  But some of you are going to love it and with good reason.

What drew me to this story? That amazing cover for one.  Its dramatic and powerful.That kneeling winged man just cries out for his story to be told.  And, truth be told,  the story found within does contain both of those elements.McCormack’s plot is also unusual enough that its reversed theology is both interesting and fascinating in concept and details.  McCormack’s idea of flip flopping the roles of Heaven and Hell is intriqing.  By upending the idea of good and evil and the roles that Satan and God play, not only with each other as lovers but as the guardians of Earth, McCormack has designed a world where he can throw out all previously conceived notions of angels and demons and create his own pantheon of celestial creatures and infernal agents at play.

Within McCormack’s wonderfully twisted world, God rules over a unequal hierarchy of preternaturally exquisite beings called higherlings.  We know them as angels.  Not all angels are created equal in God’s eyes.  Some are created just to be ethereally beautiful, so much so that they are privileged,  Janka was one such being.

In McCormack’s words “… Janka was privileged, granted all that he desired from the Almighty. He’d been one of Heaven’s most desirable creatures. He was doted on, loved, adored. It left him, like so many of the Almighty’s elite, filled with a natural conceit. When Janka gave orders, Kinzer resisted. He fussed and barked. He wasn’t going to listen to a higherling, especially not one that had been afforded such luxuries…”.

These were luxuries that other less well crafted heavenly beings would never attain.  I loved this.  An entire line of what is basically heavenly himbos who were created by God to be sublimely gorgeous.  And that ‘s it. Big on beauty, and also big in their sexual appendages (think elephantine in length).  Not, however, big on the brains department.  That was saved for those lesser beings, also pretty and well endowed (inhumanly huge in every way although not prodigiously so), just not gloriously unimaginably over the top like the higher ups. That latter one is Kinzer.  Who abandons his current lover to be with this exquisite creature so high above Kinzer’s station as to be unobtainable. But obtain Kinzer does to his eternal regret. I’m not sure McCormack ever made a good argument for  this change up in lovers.  You just have to take it on faith that Janka’s beauty was too much to resist. Yes,beautiful, irresistible twits are everywhere, even in Heaven.

And with such inequality comes revolution, an ex lover  who rules in Hell and the fallen.  And now its God versus Satan and a rush is on to save the world from a spurned lover.  Yes, not from Satan, but from a revengeful and petty Almighty bent on smiting to oblivion his gift to Satan, now his ex.  So now we have two teams and the object of their mission is to find the mother of the Antichrist, who along with her unborn child, will determine the fate of Earth and all humanity. The teams consist of spies for both the Leader (Satan) and God.  On God’s side is the Raze, a group of sadist higherlings that report directly to the Almighty.  The mother of the Antichrist?  A drug addled whore who, realistically enough, thinks she is going crazy.   During one such battle to find the mother, the two groups came together.  Kinzer, a fallen, knew that someone within his team had betrayed them to the Raze.  He was brutally dewinged and his lover killed before his eyes.  All great stuff when creating a compelling story.

Its what happens within that narrative framework that didn’t exactly work for me. The major sticking point here would be the type and quantityt of brutal, painful sex that overtakes the actual storytelling.  One particular human is involved….a young boy called Kid who was kidnapped off the streets and is forced to work in a depraved brothel where anything, and I do mean anything goes.  It is here where a captured Kinzer finds himself deposited by his nemesis.  The action found within this brothel includes rape with not only multiple partners but cutlery as well.  Its crude, bloody, and its descriptions are as graphic and raw as the events taking place.  I predict that some readers are going to stop reading here.

McCormack can definitely write a scene because he will be able to pull emotions from his readers with characters that you will care about in a situation that is as intense as it is dramatic.  It is how you feel about rape, non consensual sex and torture that help form your feelings toward Clipped.  If those things fall  outside your reading comfort zone, then you most likely will want to skip this story because things only increase in intensity not lessen.

Why?  Because the Kid, who has huge emotional (and why wouldn’t he) issues as well as an abusive past history, continues on the run with Kinzer and not in a romantic way.  But there will be sex between the mortal Kid (who has a mortal’s body) and an immortal with the aforesaid ginormous sexual member.  So more forcing, more bloodshed and yes, quite a bit of angst and horror.  This is not a romance by any means.   Even the fallen on fallen sexual encounters  include brutality and blood.  Definitely not for the fainthearted.  I can see that such painful sex might be indicative of the Fallens status.  Not worthy of love and kindness, only brutality and pain.  I kind of get that.  And it does work in small doses.  But I am talking almost continual sex scenes of all combinations, and somewhere the plot gets lost for a while as the demons get their daily dosage of pain and sex in.

I also found it amazing or amusing or both that the devilish and heavenly creatures are as poor with their communication skills as the humans they deride. Because had several of the main characters actually talked to one another, this would be a much shorter novel.  That didn’t bother me, I just found it funny. What did make me flinch? Well, all the sexual degradation and humiliation not withstanding, it is the ending that peeved me the most.  It just ends on an astonishing event.  Boom, over and done.  I was flabbergasted because the fight scene was wonderful and I wanted to see how McCormack was going to resolve it, twists and all included.   But he didn’t . It ended on a cliffhanger.  It wasn’t until I went searching through various interviews that I found out that the author intends to turn this into series that I was mollified somewhat. Only somewhat.  Just my opinion but if you are going to end your story in that manner, let the reader know that this is a series or that a sequel will be coming.  Don’t let them think that a standalone story is missing an ending.

Anyhow.  Yes, there’s more to come.  And for some of you that will be a wonderful thing. There are enough elements here that I can understand that.  Others of you have already left the room by now having found out that this is not the story for you.  I get that too.  Like I said you will either love this or hate it.  I will leave it up to you.

But this amazing cover?  That will be on ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords Best Covers of 2014.  That is genuinely a heavenly (or devilishly) gorgeous cover.

Cover art by Wilde City art director.

Buy Links:       Wilde City Press            Amazon                 ARe

Book Details:
Kindle Edition, English
229 pages
Published April 9th 2014 by Wilde City Press (first published January 1st 2014)
ASINB00JQUYN6C
edition languageEnglish

Publishers Warning: This title is erotic and contains homosexual content, graphic sex, violence, and strong language. Readers uncomfortable with rough sexual situations should not purchase this book.