An Alisa Review: Beneath the Layers Anthology by NineStar Press

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Rating:  4 stars out of 5

 

Eight stories of men who like a little satin and lace.

 

A Linebacker in Lace by Caitlin Ricci

This ex-linebacker is impossible for his friend to resist.

 

Satin Secrets by CL Mustafic

Sometimes secrets are better when they’re shared.

 

Backwards and in High Heels by Elizabeth Coldwell

Tonight he has the chance to live out his dream.

 

Angels in Delaware by Sita Bethel

When one finds two partners, it helps to dress for the occasion.

 

All That Entails by E.M. Hamill

A gender-fluid prince with a penchant for gowns finds his unlikely match in an arranged marriage.

 

After the Dance by Sydney Blackburn

Sometimes happily ever after requires a pretty frock.

 

A Secret Shared by C.A. Blocke

One sweet secret shared—and a spicy one returned.

 

Ruffle My Feathers by Asta Idonea

Sometimes love can be found behind a feather boa.

 

This is a wonderful collection of stories; especially of you love men in lace like I do.  All of these stories are quite different with only the lace as something in common, but I think it makes it even better because you get to see such different relationships.  Some are comfortable in their own skin while some others just need love and support to know that what they want is okay.  Most of the stories are told through one character’s point of view and the author’s do a wonderful job of showing the other characters emotions and feelings.

 

In A Linebacker in Lace Brent has a chance meeting with Arliss and discovers his secret isn’t as bad as he thinks.  Arliss loves a man in lace and Brent is learning it isn’t shameful for him to wear it.  Arliss’ assertiveness is a great contrast to Brent’s shyness.  Gavin and Lex role play in Satin Secrets but Gavin has a surprise for Lex.  Lex’s reaction is so much better and hotter than Gavin could hope for.  Lex wants Gavin to feel comfortable to share his secrets and fantasies.

 

Billie wants to go farther than just wearing his panties in Backwards and in High Heels and surprises his lover, Oliver, with a date after his time away.  After the nervousness fades Billie is so grateful of the work he put in for them to dance together for the first time.  Oliver is a nice steady shoulder for Billie’s nervousness and worries.  In Angels in Delaware Beau is surprised by his reaction and willingness to get to know Angel and Delaware.  They come to his rescue when he needs it and work towards a relationship together.  The only thing is I couldn’t help but feel that Beau was the odd man out even when things seemed to go smoothly and he is included.

 

In All That Entails Darian is heartbroken knowing he will have to give up his gowns and comfort in marriage.  Henry will not change who he is for anyone and takes the first step towards compromise.  I loved seeing them open their eyes to the possibility of more between them.  Frank works hard to keep his real desires hidden in After the Dance.  His and Charles friendship is the only bright spot in this day until he finds out that Charles must marry and is already in love.  Seeing them work out their future despite expectations from those around them.

 

In A Secret Shared Tommy must share a secret after Michael shows him his extra nerdy side.  Despite his fear and unwillingness to come out Tommy shares his deepest desires with Michael and is greatly rewarded.  The two do well to work their relationship around their outside lives.  Barrett has kept his Friday night plans secret in Ruffle My Feathers until his boss is suddenly at his show one weekend.  Both determined to keep everything normal try to ignore their connection from that weekend.  Watching them discover that sometimes hiding your true self from those around you isn’t always the best choice was nice.

 

Cover art by Natasha Snow is wonderfully understated but is perfect for this book.

 

Sales Links: NineStar Press | Amazon | B&N

 

Book Details:

ebook, 165 pages

Published: April 17, 2017 by NineStar Press

ISBN: 9781945952913

Edition Language: English

Review: Pack Business (Pine Hollow Wolves #2) by Caitlin Ricci

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Rating: 3.75 stars

Pack BusinessShifter Liam, human Travis and his daughter Hannah are still trying to settle into the new living arrangement as one happy family.  Liam adores Hannah and is quickly falling in love with Travis, the man he rescued from living on the streets, along with his daughter.  Travis too finds himself falling for the shifter with the icy blue eyes who protects them both so lovingly and is paying for him to attend university.  But trouble is brewing from within Liam’s back and Hannah, the 2 year old human is the focus of all the discord.

Hannah can see all the shifters in their true form and calls them all “puppies” because that is what she sees when she looks at them.  And that can be a problem when you are trying to hide from the human society you live in.  Plus there is that all bogeyman tale of human Hunters that could see the shifters in their human form and know they were wolves.  The pack is not ready to find out whether it is truth or fairy tale, they just want the little girl dealt with.  Can their new family succeed and thrive when all around them want the family broken apart and the child to disappear?

Pack Business is a continuation of the Pine Hollow Wolves series started with Almost Paradise. The story begins 6 months after the end of Almost Paradise.  Liam, Travis, and Hannah are living together in Liam’s house with his two Mastiffs, Lucy and Ethel.  They are really starting to feel as though they are a family, and adorable Hannah is the child that Liam never thought he would have as a gay man and shifter.  Travis has started back at school, and everyone is happy, mostly.

Ricci’s wonderful characters that drew me in to  start with are all back and flourishing.  I fell in love with Liam, Travis and Hannah immediately and became invested in their future so I was very excited to see where the story is going.  Liam’s pack is an interesting one where the Alpha is almost two wolves, powerful twin brother and sister who also happen to be African American, a rarity within the shifter universe.  Samson and Evangeline are two strong characters that you want more of, including their backstory, especially Evangeline.  I love Evangeline.  She is strong, charismatic and independent and her brother, the Alpha, loves her and depends on her judgement and strength.  Less is known about her brother but I believe that is intentional.  At least I hope so because i can see glimpses of Samson that just cry out for his own story.

Pack Business also starts to address the fact that Hannah can “see” the true wolf form of every shifter she meets when they are in their human shape.  How do you explain to other people when a 2 year old continues to call you “puppy”?  Staying hidden is to be achieved at all costs and to some that cost is Hannah’s life.  Additionally, Ricci introduces a shifter legend or their own version of a Grimm fairy tale in which long ago there was a group of humans called Hunters who possessed the ability to identify a shifter on sight. These Hunters used their ability to kill every shifter they found.  But as the author tells it, not even the shifters are sure if this is fact or fiction.  With each new element, Ricci ups the anxiety and uncertainty about Liam and Travis’s ability to keep Hannah safe and happy.

I really love this series but recognize that there are several aspects that will not set well with other readers.  One is the fact that if you have not read the first book in the series, not much of this story will make sense,  In fact , Pack Business has more the feel of a really long chapter than a separate book on its own.  To be a satisfying read that deserves a four star rating, this book should be folded in right after Almost Paradise, and read together.  Then it makes sense and becomes an even more compelling read.

Another is that the wolf shifters here are of the I Dream of Jeannie school of shifters.  Blink, they are human, blink and they are wolves sort of thing.  I will admit to a certain niggling little sarcastic voice in the back of my head that goes “Really? And their clothes reassemble too?” I like this story enough to kind of overlook this but I will admit to preferring the more sensible bone jarring, skin stretching, more realistic form of shifting.  It just is more agreeable to the naturalist in me.

I find the Pine Hollow Wolves series to be so captivating, so full of promising glimpses into future stories, that I am willing to shove my quibbles with the books into the background.  I want to see what happens with Hannah and her gift/curse.  Are Hunters in fact, real? And is Hannah is a Hunter, what will happen when a Hunter is raised by a wolf pack?  This element just cries out for a YA book, don’t you think?  With Hannah as the heroine?  And there is Liam ready to leave the pack and his financial security for Travis and Hannah.  And Evangeline, with her divided loyalties?  I can go on and hope that Caitlin Ricci does so as well, while answering all the questions that keep popping into my mind.

This is a short book, only 110 pages and it cries out for a much longer length.  But I will take a sequel no matter how long or short it may be.  I am now fully invested in these characters and their future.  I need to know what happens to them and that is wonderful story telling.

Lee Tiffin is the cover artist and this cover is just as adorable as the family pictured.  It works both as a cover for this book and to brand the series.

Books in the Pine Hollow Wolves series in the order they were written and should be read, one immediately after the other:

Almost Paradise (Pine Hollow Wolves #1)

Pack Business (Pine Hollow Wolves #2)

Snow on the Ground and the Week Ahead in Book Reviews

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What Do You Mean It’s Going To Snow?

We had our first taste of winter here in the region recently and parts still bear a light coat of white to prove it.  Schools let out  early, as did many local governments.  The federal government had a liberal leave policy in effect and the stores were crowded with people buying out all the bread, bacon and booze.  Yes, its true, we here in the Washington Metro area go completely bonkers when we think it’s going to snow.  How much snow fell? Perhaps one inch.  Sigh.  But continuing our seesaw season, we are expected to hit  65 degrees F by Wednesday and it doesn’t help that the seeds and nursery catalogs have just started arriving by mail.  Some people are tempted by jewels and clothing, not me.  For me it’s yarn stores and nurseries full of plants and flowers of every shape, size, and color.  Yesterday alone saw me dog-earing page after page of new plants for the season as I scribbled their names along with possible locations in the yard.  Was I a contented camper?  Why yes I was!

And this afternoon sees me off to Busboys and Poets to meet up with the Metro Area M/M Romance group for wild and wonderful conversations and discussions over everything book oriented.  We are a great group of readers, bloggers, authors, and publishers and boy, do we have a lot to say!  I can’t wait.

One more thing…one of my favorite blogs is The Blood Red Pencil where they blog “sharp and pointed observations about writing”.  I adore them.  This week the topic is “Mystery, Magic, and the Aha! of the Reveal”.  It is just a terrific article and shouldn’t be missed.  Here is the link, don’t pass it by. Trust me, these people understand that writing is not for the fainthearted.

So here is the week ahead in book reviews.  I am all over the place.  There is contemporary romance courtesy of Andrew Grey, RJ Scott and Ariel Tachna, three of my favorite authors.  The latest book in Caitlin Ricci’s shifter series and LA Witt’s science fiction/shifter novel that is the first in The Tameness of the Wolf series.  New series, continuing series and great authors, so just be prepare to add to your reading list by the end of the week. What?  It’s February already? *head desk*

Monday, 1/28:                      A Troubled Range by Andrew Grey

Tuesday, 1/29                       Pack Business by Caitlin Ricci

Wed., 1/30:                           Overdrive by Ariel Tachna

Thursday, 1/31:                    A Shared Range by Andrew Grey

Friday, 2/1:                            The Fireman and the Cop by RJ Scott

Saturday, 2/2:                       Eye of the Beholder by Edward Kendrick

Review of Taming The Lion Tamer by Caitlin Ricci

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Rating: 4 stars

When Quinn Fitzgerald and his rescued Asiatic lion, Aseem,  show up for their job posing for an animation studio’s artists, all he wants is a chance to promote the mission of his big cat sanctuary and earn some needed funds for his cause. The last thing Quinn expects is to find romance in the form of animator Charlie Deagman.  But the quiet artist captures his attention and on impulse Quinn invites Charlie  up to the sanctuary for the weekend.

Charlie Deagman can’t believe the gorgeous zoologist is asking him to come visit for the weekend.  During the entire session, Charlie could barely keep his eyes off of the man and his lion.  Charlie loved watching the affection that was obvious between man and cat, and the gentle way  Quinn had about him, a far cry from Charlie’s ex.  And when the weekend came around, Charlie found himself on the road to Wyoming, and just perhaps on the path to love as well.

Caitlin Ricci’s Taming The Lion Tamer is just an adorable story, fun, light and very sexy.  Ricci gives us two lovely, decent men in search of love, a meet cute situation and lovely big cats to boot.  Both the characters of Quinn Fitzgerald and Charlie Deagman are so likable in their own way that our affections for them are engaged immediately.  Quinn Fitzgerald found his love for big cats on a mission to Kenya and has worked to rescue them in the US ever since.  The isolation of his sanctuary has made him a single guy for  far too long and we get that totally.  Charlie Deagman is shy, kind,  and family oriented as he lives with his sister and her kids.  His ex who runs the animation studio is a jerk and not deserving of Charlie.  So both men are available  when they meet at the studio.  Caitlin Ricci lets us watch as Quinn and Charlie fall into lust with each other during the weekend that also sees them acknowledging that they like each other as well.  Thank goodness there is no real “instant love” but two men who click with each other.  At the end, there is the possibility of love, an acknowledgement that each missed the other when the weekend was over and hope for a future together.

I also like the fact that Ricci seems to have done her homework as to what the big cats are fed, and the treats that are given as part of the new approach to animals kept in captivity. All in all, a good job with the Sanctuary descriptions involved, including the long hours required and the devotion needed to the animals rescued. Definitely not a job for those not totally committed. Just lovely.

This is such a fun, romantic and yes, sexy little story and I would love to see more of Quinn, Charlie and Aseem the Asiatic lion.  On the cover of this book is says it is part of The Men In Uniform series but quite frankly that is a stretch (and the other books in the series aren’t mentioned) unless you consider khaki shorts and shirt a uniform.  So my only real quibbles here are with the title and the cover.  It looks like there is a man in a circus outfit on the cover and the title alludes to a Lion Tamer which is the exact opposite of Quinn Fitzgerald who would be appalled by that association, given that he rescues big cats, not “tames” them.  Nor would you consider kind, gentle Charlie to fit that description either.  *shakes head*  But the story is just lovely, the men charming, and the ending just the right amount of HEA.  More please, Caitlin Ricci!

Cover:  Reese Dante.  Too dark to see the details.  My other quibbles with the cover are mentioned above.

Review of Almost Paradise (Pine Hollow Wolves #1) by Caitlin Ricci

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Rating: 4 stars

Liam Glass is on a errand for the Alpha of his pack, Sampson.  His mission?  To buy gifts for  Evangeline, Sampson’s twin sister and equally powerful wolf.  With him are his two young Neapolitan Mastiffs, Lucy and Ethel.  As he is finishing his business at the jewelry shop they frequent, a frazzled man enters with his young daughter.  The stranger is looking for work when his daughter notices the dogs with squeals of joy.  Everything about the man and his daughter speaks to Liam’s inner wolf and his need to protect them both.

Travis and his daughter, Hannah, have been left in dire financial straights after paying off the lawyers in his custody case. After winning his case, Travis was forced to sell everything he owned to pay the bills.  All his attempts to find a job have met with failure when he and Hannah walk into a shop on their way back to the hotel. When an attractive customer in the shop offers Travis hundreds of dollars to watch his dogs for the weekend, he accepts the offer without question as it means a roof over their heads and food to eat however temporary the security is for their small family.

When Sampson calls and orders Liam immediately to leave the city on pack business, Liam uses his need for someone to care for his dogs as a means to aid Travis and Hannah without offending the man’s pride.  Then he realizes that Hannah can see his true self and everything changes. Liam must protect Hannah and tell Travis the truth.  But will Travis be able to accept the fact that Liam isn’t human and cost Hannah the security she needs?

Almost Paradis is a short story full of neat twists on wolf shifters and serves as a great introduction to characters in the new Pine Hollow Wolves series.  Where to start? Liam and his pack are chock full of intriguing characters  in a pack structure that appears to be  a little different from those  I have gotten in other shifter books.  For starters their Alpha, Sampson, has a twin sister who is he equal in power, dominance, and statue. And while the author  doesn’t come right out and say it, I believe the Alpha and his sister are both black (a diversity lacking in other shifter  tales).  She is also “the tallest woman” Travis has ever seen with an outrageous love of jewelry and sense of humor.  I can’t wait to get more of her character and her brother’s if she is anything to go by.  I also fell in love with Liam as well.  Who wouldn’t love a wolf shifter with two Mastiffs pups he has named Lucy and Ethel and obviously adores? Elegant and comfortable with who he is as a wolf high in status with his pack, he still loves children and falls under Hannah’s spell immediately.  I loved their interaction as well.

Travis is heartbreaking as a father who has given up everything he owns to win custody of his daughter only to see themselves made virtually homeless, with no support system and no income to rely on.  He and Hannah are statistics all too common in today’s economic reality.  Travis is totally believable right down to the bags of washed and unwashed clothing in the hotel room.  Those who might scoff at a father getting into a car with a stranger who offers food, shelter and money have no idea how desperation effects a persons actions.  In this case, Travis got lucky, he and Hannah bring out the protective instinct in Liam as well as feed Liam’s desire to have children.  Then there is Hannah, a totally endearing tot as well as Lucy and Ethel, the Neapolitan Mastiffs with personalities to match their size.

There is no case of instant love here which I appreciate.  It is definitely a case of HFN and Travis asks for certain rights and promises before he agrees to Liam’s proposal.  I was so happy to see that this book serves as a expositional setup for the additional books to come. I will eagerly await the arrival of Pine Hollow Wolves #2 and the chance to reacquaint myself with Liam, Travis, Hannah, Evangeline and the rest.

Cover: Artist Lee Tiffin.  I love this cover.  How cute is the father/daughter duo?  This would be perfect except that the animal on the cover is a Husky and not a wolf.  How could the artist make that mistake I don’t know but it takes the whole cover down several notches.  They should have done their homework, put a wolf on the cover, and then this would have been one of my Best Cover of the Month.

The Week Ahead and another Rant on the Heat and F%^*&%g Pepco!

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It’s Sunday in Maryland and we are in the 12th day of our heat wave and power losses!  Yesterday we hit 105 degrees F and today is not supposed to be much better.  There are still plenty of folks around the area without power as the limbs from last Friday’s storm continue to fall onto power lines, including some that just went back up. We are anticipating more storms as the cold front from the north is slowly coming our way and we know from experience (and science class) that a collision between a cold front and a hot as hell front brings a humongous amount of meteorological explosions.

Yesterday I found out that the storm cost us our relatively new dishwasher (burned out) to  go along with the air conditioning circuit board and a heck of a lot of groceries that had to be thrown out.  When I called the appliance store to see if there was any reset button etc that I could try, I got the “yeah, lady, I have been fielding calls from hundreds of people just like you all day”.  Am I supposed to take comfort in the fact that everyone lost their appliances along with us?  Perhaps so.  There are thousands of us facing the same problems.

It is also our unfortunate lot to have Pepco has our energy supplier.  They rank last in the ENTIRE NATION in service and reliability.  Not surprisingly they rank first in profits as their bill came yesterday right on time, along with their expectation that we pay right on time.  But they are not held to the same accountability.  People just coming into the area say they have never experienced the power outages that are a regular occurrence here.  And Pepco just asked for a rate raise too!  Talk about cojones!  But I think this time they will be met with more fines instead of raises.  Peoples ire is up.  We are fed up, the politicians are fed up!  Maybe something will finally be done about them.  I can always hope.  In the meantime, the Moderate State is hanging up its nameplate and looking for a new moniker!  Any ideas?

So yeah, heat.  So hot in fact that I haven’t felt like cooking.  It’s too hot even to stand at the grill.  So we are making drinks, baby!  Look for a drink recipe after the week ahead.

 

I am continuing to review two more books in the Dancing With The Devil series by Megan Derr.  Just a outstanding series by a great writer and a wonderful lead into the week of July 16th which will be concentrating on book series all week.  I think you will love it.  So this is how this week will play out if the power stays on:

Monday:                                  Midnight (DWTD #3) by Megan Derr

Tuesday:                                  Ruffskin (DWTD #4) by Megan Derr

Wednesday:                            Almost Paradise by Caitlin Ricci

Thursday:                                Torquere Short Stories

Friday:                                      Stolen Dreams by Sue Brown

Saturday:                                  Author Spotlight: Nicole Kimberling

 

For your summer drinking pleasure, a Catalina Margarita!
1 1/2 oz tequila
1 oz peach schnapps
1 oz Blue Curacao liqueur
4 oz sweet and sour mix

Directions

Shake with cracked ice and strain into chilled cocktail or margarita glass.