Review: Second Chances (Cattle Valley #28) by Carol Lynne

Standard

Rating: 3 stars

After a shotgun blast took off his arm, former Chicago police officer Robert “Oggie” Ogden moved to Cattle Valley to start life over again as a cattle rancher.  Then another opportunity came along, that of turning a portion of his ranch into a sanctuary for homeless and troubled GLBTQ youth.  With the help of  local philanthropist Asa Montgomery, Second Chance Ranch is about to complete its second dormitory and other facilities.  But accepting Asa’s help has also meant that Oggie has had to put up with Drake Smith, the head of security for Asa’s company.  Oggie hates that people think of him as disabled and refuses most of the offers of help sent his way, including Drake’s.

Drake Smith learned early in life that his small size made him an easy target for bullies as did his home life.  And to take on the bullies he learned to defend himself, becoming a skilled fighter.  But emotionally? That was something he found tougher to guard against the hurts inflicted by others.  So he gave up, withdrew, isolating himself within his  apartment and into his job.  Against his better judgement, Drake finds himself drawn to the taciturn Oggie and reaches out to him only to find himself and his overtures of assistance harshly rebuffed.

Only an emergency rescue of a young boy in Washington, DC brings these two men back together.  As they search for the missing boy, the sexual heat flares between them, burning down their barriers along the way.  Neither man is prepared for the feelings emerging from their encounter and pull back from each other.  When they land  back in Cattle Valley with the rescued young man, only time will tell if they will give each other the second chance at love.

Carol Lynne’s Cattle Valley series has really turned into a hit or miss reading adventure.  The last book I reviewed, Alone In A Crowd, was a return to the reason I loved this series and grabbed up each book as they were published.  Carol Lynne brought back her original characters in a long established relationship and gave us an intimate look into their changing dynamics with only scarce mentions of new characters to come. So I eagerly picked this book up, only to find that the author has returned to the form that made me eventually give up on Cattle Valley.  Here in Second Chances, the author has so many balls in the air that they are dropping figuratively all over the landscape and we are left with a grab bag of nonsensical characters and behaviors culled from the back of a psychiatry handbook.

Really, from the descriptions and back histories of the main characters here, Oggie and Drake, it looks like the author used the Mr. Potato Head method of character construction,  jamming in various characteristics into her people regardless of whether they fit or not.  I don’t know how else to explain it.  This is Drake Smith.  He is small statured (no problem), so preoccupied by threats to his safety (real or imagined) that he lives in a tiny apartment in Asa’s business complex with multiple locks on his door.He take a gun with him to answer any knocks on it.  Drake bases all his life’s decisions on “what would make his (dead) mother smile” but only eats Campbell soup because that’s all he and his mother ate.  Drake is a cutter. He self mutilates and then runs around on cutup feet like it is no problem. And after one episode, the cutting is never mentioned again.  It just disappears. Drake is ok with casual sex but won’t open his door without a gun? Huh.  And it just keep snow piling from there.  I get that Lynne wants us to find him a pained filled little man needing our sympathy but all she accomplishes is to make him out as a whacko with the Bate’s Motel in his background. Trust me it gets worse if you think that is harsh.  We will come back to him later.

Oggie is a little better.  I can see a cop having trouble leaving his life behind and having problems adjusting to his disability.  I get that, I do.  Oggie is more believable as someone who is afraid that pity lies behind offers of help.  He’s not too bad except when Drake gives him a compliment and his response is “F*&k, Drake, you turning me into some kind of damn woman or what?” Really? That’s what you come up with after muttering an endearment? I don’t know about you but I found that offensive to both men and women.

Then there is the matter of a little scene between the two men in the airplane on their way to DC.  Drake carries with him a small photograph album of pictures of him and his mother. He gives them to Oggie to help him better understand where Drake is coming from. Sweet, right?  The first picture shows a 5 year old Drake and a women with bandaged feet.  As he ages, his mother loses more and more limbs over time (to Diabetes),  First her feet, then her arms…year by year there is less and less of her. Another year, another limb.  And by then I am in tears.  Of laughter.  Not because of the very real possibility of amputation as the disease progresses.  No, I am in hysterics over the thought of what an SNL sketch this would make.  Definitely not the reaction I think Carol Lynne going for. But that just shows you how over the top this story got in making a grab for our emotions.

And finally there is Cullen “Little Man”, the boy they were sent to rescue.  Her characterization of this young man is the ultimate black mark against this book.  Cullen was a young prostitute on the streets of DC until Father Joseph (hopefully Episcopalian) talks him into the shelter he runs for GLBTQ youth.  But something happens and Cullen returns to the streets where he is abducted by his pimp and made to pay for trying to leave his stable.  It is inferred that this kid was gang raped i.e.,  tortured and “retrained” by multiple men. And when Oggie and Drake find Cullen, he is tied to a bed  barely breathing, bloody, beaten, raped and a W is carved into his forehead.  I don’t think it is a stretch for anyone to imagine the emotional and  psychological trauma this would inflict on this young man, to say nothing of the physical mess his body is in.  But is this handled responsibly after loading up this poor guy with one horrific event after another? No,  Cullen bounds back to normal almost immediately.  Nothing is said about the huge W on his forehead.  It’s as though nothing bad had really happened to him.  So how do you go there as an author and not address the very real problems brought up?  I don’t know and Carol Lynne has certainly not given us any answers.

There are smaller editing errors (Drake “unlocks” his apartment upon leaving) as well as an unrealistic case of “instant love”, all in 89 pages.   But there are so many larger issues here, that is the least of the book’s problems.

And finally there is the prospect of a romance on the horizon that even if Cullen turns out to be of legal age, leaves me kind of nauseous. So where do I go from here?  One terrific book is followed by one that is just this side of awful.  I will probably keep reading them.  At this point it is too late to stop and, like a carrot before the horse, there is always the promise of a return again to the form that made Cattle Valley I place I loved to visit.

Cover by Posh Gosh is perfection as usual.

Review of Alone In A Crowd (Cattle Valley #27) by Carol Lynne

Standard

Rating: 4 stars

Sheriff Ryan Blackfeather has worked hard to overcome his torturous past to get where he is today, successful in his job as Sheriff, in a town where he has friends and is respected, and most importantly, content and happy, in love with his two partners, Nate and Rio.  But a phone call from Oklahoma revitalizes old memories, bad ones that upset his hard won equilibrium and makes him pull away from those he loves.  Ryan’s mother has died and the landlord wants the trailer moved off his lot or the rent paid for.  Without telling either Rio or Nate why he is going, Ryan leaves on a trip back home, to face his past and confront the abusive father who raised him.

When Nate and Rio realize that Ryan has been withholding the truth about his travels from them, they are hurt and worry about the man they love.  How can they help with when Ryan doesn’t realize he needs their help to begin with.  As the emotional turmoil of Ryan’s past starts to tear at his relationship with his partners, Ryan understands that only by returning to Oklahoma and confronting his demons can he save all he has now, including the men he loves.

Carol Lynne’s Cattle Valley series were some of my first books when I started reading m/m fiction.  As I have said back in our Series week, I love starting a novel and then discovering that I have a slew of books yet to read in the series.  So there is a huge reservoir of affection that wells up in me when Cattle Valley is mentioned. I think there was six books in the series when I started and now it is up to book #27, each running anywhere from 98 to around 130 pages.

Cattle Valley series began in 2007 with All Play and No Work (Cattle Valley #1).  In this book, Lynne introduces us to Cattle Valley, Wyoming, a gay haven established by a man mourning the death of his gay son.  The millionaire wanted to build a place where everyone was gay, and safe, and could build a meaningful, rewarding life among others just like themselves.  So he deeded his land to the town and the GLBTQ community came.  Lynne starts off her Cattle Valley series as Ryan Blackfeather arrives from Texas to take the job as Cattle Valley’s first Sheriff. Ryan is a part of a triad, his other partners being Rio Adega and Nate Gills.  When their small Texas town’s disapproval of their relationship becomes overwhelming, Ryan convinces his men to make the move with him to Cattle Valley.  That move and the trio’s adjustment to Wyoming starts the river of books that are the Cattle Valley series.

In each book, Carol Lynne concentrates on one or two pairs of men and their relationships.  It is also a staple of Lynne’s that the characters for the books that follow are introduced in the current one.  And then as the town fills up with people and businesses, during the course of book the characters we have already met continue to pop up again and again in every story.  So Ryan as Sheriff, Nate (who eventually becomes the Mayor) and Rio who runs the local gym are focal characters for the series.  These men and their relationship were also my first introduction to m/m/m!  Lynne has taken their relationship and reexamined its dynamics throughout the series and she does so again in Alone In A Crowd (Cattle Valley #27).

In previous stories we learn Nate and Rio’s history. Here we concentrate on Ryan Blackfeather who has always come across as the rock of their relationship.  Ryan has always seemed so controlled and steady while not detracting from the deadly abilities he gained in the military. So it’s interesting that it’s Ryan who starts to fall apart when confronted with his past, a real switch of rolls within the triad.  Lynne’s descriptions of the reservation and the living conditions Ryan faced growing up in a derelict trailer are both heartbreaking and realistic. Any one familiar with the plight of Native Americans on reservations today will recognize the authenticity Lynne brings to the scenes in and around Tahlequah, Oklahoma, capitol city of the Cherokee Nation.  Whether it is Ryan confronting his father in the nursing home or both men facing their pasts in a dusty cave on the reservation, the descriptions brings the men to life and we feel the anger and pain of their conjoined past rise up around all of us.

In addition to Ryan’s story, another character from the past comes back to Cattle Valley.  Smokey Sharp from Rough Ride (Cattle Valley #4) reappears in town, sober and hoping to make amends to the people he wronged in the past.  That would be Erza James, Palmer “Wyn” Wynfield (a favorite of mine), and Elliot Simmons, owner of the grocery store. Smokey is suffering from rheumatoid arthritis which limits the work he can do.  Ryan finds Smokey work on Robert “Oggie” Ogden’s Second Chance Ranch as a ranch manager.  Carol Lynne uses Smokey and Oggie to set the stage for the next book in the series.  Oggie’s ranch will become home for GLBTQ youths homeless and/or in trouble.  She is already lining up the characters: Drake Smith, Chief of Security of Montgomery Enterprises who wants to help financially, and maybe even Joseph, Nate’s ex boyfriend who runs a GLBTQ youth center in NYC.  And then there is Dean Grooper, former school custodian, using alcohol to drown his pain over the loss of his long time partner.  We meet him here too.

And this brings me to my main quibble with Carol Lynne’s stories lately.  Too many characters crowded together into books too small in size to adequately give each character sufficient attention. In the first 6 or even 8 books, the town is still small and Carol Lynne concentrates all her wonderful powers of characterization into a small group of people. With a small focus group, it is easy to become invested in them and their stories.  And quite frankly, easy to remember who is with whom. I love those people and can remember each and every detail from their backgrounds.  Then the town got bigger (as towns will), more people came and Lynne left behind the one couple/one book format for multiple pairings in a novella sized book.  After a while I felt I needed a town chart and name tags for everyone who showed up in a scene plus all the newcomers making their debuts to get them in place for the next in the series.  There were so many people crying out for attention that my brain hurt and characters were forgotten.

Another quibble for me is the pairings. Lynne took Cattle Valley from strictly m/m or m/m/m into other pairings such as m/f/m which doesn’t interest me. Multiple relationship combinations make sense in that Cattle Valley is set up as a town of tolerance so any pairing outside of m/f  would be acceptable in town, I am just not interested in reading them specifically. And yes, you can skip those books like I did but as each book moves the series forward, we miss out on events that will be mentioned down the line. It also seemed to bring in an element of “MarySue” into her writing that had been absent up until then.

Carol Lynne packs a lot of emotion into a story and her characters.  She also packs a lot of sex. She has dealt with sex when one partner is paralyzed, sex with multiple partners, interracial sex, fem gays, Bdsm, D/s, you name it and Lynne has probably addressed it in a story .  Her sex scenes are vivid, hot and never unintentionally funny.  In Alone In A Crowd, she had the boys do things with an ear of corn (ok that was funny but intentionally so) I had not read before and still left me able to have corn on the cob at my next meal!  I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that as I love corn.  She also mentions a douche attachment for the boys shower, something I think should be brought up more as it is a realistic part of anal sex.  Carol Lynne did a great job here while still giving us realistic elements.

I had stopped reading Cattle Valley around Neil’s Guardian (Cattle Valley #17), overwhelmed by too many characters and too little plot in too few pages.  With Alone In A Crowd (Cattle Valley #27), Carol Lynne returns to the form that made me a fan to begin with and does it with the characters that started it all. I hope this continues with the next in the series, #28 whatever that may be.  And in the meantime, I might just have to go back and pick up the ones I missed.  I still love Cattle Valley and its vision of a town of tolerance and equality.  Alone In A Crowd brought that all back.  If you are new to the series,start from the beginning.  See Cattle Valley as it gets off the ground, meet  all the inhabitants as they find their way to town, watch as the romances form and carry over, story after story.  You will have 27 to go and counting.  For those who got lost along the way like me, pick it back up again and remember why you loved it.  And for those who never left,  here is a gem of a story to treasure as Cattle Valley continues to grow.

The Cattle Valley Book Series covers by Posh Gosh are my favorites in a series cover.  They brand the series while still conveying the subject of each book.  Great job.

Here are the stories in the order they should be read to understand the series and the characters.

Cattle Valley: All Play & No Work,Cattle Valley: Cattle Valley Mistletoe Cattle Valley: Sweet Topping Cattle Valley: Rough Ride Cattle Valley: Physical Therapy Cattle Valley: Out of the Shadow Cattle Valley: Bad Boy Cowboy Cattle Valley: The Sound of White Cattle Valley: Gone Surfin’ Cattle Valley: The Last Bouquet Cattle Valley: Eye of the Beholder Cattle Valley: Cattle Valley Days Cattle Valley: Bent-Not Broken Cattle Valley: Arm Candy,Cattle Valley: Recipe for Love Cattle Valley: Firehouse Heat Cattle Valley: Neil’s Guardian Angel Cattle Valley: Scarred Cattle Valley: Making the Grade Cattle Valley: To Service and Protect Cattle Valley: The O’Brien Way Cattle Valley: Ghost from the Past Cattle Valley: Hawk’s Landing Cattle Valley: Shooting Star Cattle Valley: Confessions Cattle Valley: Shadow Soldier

Sunday After The Storm, September Thoughts and The Week Ahead in Reviews

Standard

Well, that wasn’t a fun night for anyone around here in Maryland, or even straight up the coast and into NYC.  High winds, tornados, hail, and rain,  lots and lots of rain.  Our neighborhood was without power for about 8 hours, but at least we did not have tornados to  deal with, as others in Maryland, Virginia and NYC did.  Other than some branches falling, we came out of it rather well.  I wish I could say the same for others.  Nature is all stirred up and doing something about it.  Perhaps we should listen a little harder to what she is trying to tell us.  Just a thought.  Now on to more pleasant things….

September always seems to me to be the reset  month.  Summer has ended but Autumn has yet to make it’s appearance.  September is the breather between the two.  September gives us time to gather our thoughts, to recollect on Summer doings and to think ahead and plan for Fall.  For a gardener, it can be such a busy time.  Hydrangeas need fertilizing and mulching in, so do the roses, some of which are still blooming.  Trees get to be trimmed, old vegetables dug up and composted while still remembering to refill the hummingbird feeders for the last of the migrants on their way south. Some flowers will be left standing, their seed-heads offering food to Goldfinches and the like.  The windows will open and Kirby will be the first there to rest his head on the windowsill, contemplating the birds, and squirrels, and the hawks circling in the sky above.  The geese honk overhead, hurrying their way to the Marshlands as a few leaves turn yellow and drop.  I love this time of year.  I have time to smell the last  rose, put mums in the planters, and admire the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds skimming through the gardens, visiting the feeders before their long journey ahead. Less humidity means more time spent outside, reading, observing, and enjoying the cooler breezes.  I hope you all are doing the same.

Here is the week ahead in Reviews:

Monday:                      Play It Again, Charlie by R. Cooper

Tuesday:                       Alone in the Crowd (Cattle Valley #27) by Carol Lynne

Wednesday:                Love in La Terreza by Ethan Day

Thursday:                    Unconventional At Best Anthology

Friday:                          Love, Hypothetically by Anne Tenino

Saturday:                      Life As A Fairy Thrall (Fairy Compacts #2) by Katey Hawthorne

Favorite Series Covers and Cover Artists!

Standard

Book covers have always fascinated me.  Some repel me, others draw me in immediately.  Think “ooh, shiny, pretty…” lol.  Others intrigue me by their content or graphic design, while others leave me “meh” or confused. When I think of series covers that are successful, all they have some of the same elements incorporated into their design.  The first being I can tell the books belong together at a glance, they have a cohesive design element consistent in every cover.  The fonts stay the same.  Each cover contains the same overall design with small changes that  don’t affect the overall picture they present to the reader.

So we are looking for consistency, cohesiveness, clarity and recognition.  Designs that convey a sense of connectedness between the books. Look over my choices and see if you agree with me. Many of my favorites series also have some of my favorite series covers. Yes, I have let quite a lot out but I need something for the next cover post, don’t I? Lets get started.

1. Cut & Run series by Abigail Roux and Madeleine Urban, now being written by Abigail Roux,cover design by Mara McKinnon:Simple and elegant.  The central object, which is prominent in each storyline, is changed out with each book.  I can tell a Cut &Run book in a heartbeat.

2. Lost Gods series by Megan Derr, design by London Burden. Each cover is a map of the kingdom the story is set in.  The color is important as it is a prime element for each kingdom and its culture.  Blue for the kingdom of Kundou, a land to whom the sea is all important.  It’s people have hair in all shades of blue and green, the color of water.  The orange/red cover of Burning Bright is self explanatory and so on. Subtle, expressive, simple on the surface yet contains hidden meanings just like the books.

3. Sanctuary Series by RJ Scott, artist/cover design by Reese Dante.  Each cover depicts the two men who will be the novel’s romantic couple, usually one is a Sanctuary op.  The design stays the same with the men being switched out.  The models are  consistent with the descriptions of the men inside.  Reese Dante  does the fantastic design.

4. Dance With The Devil series by Megan Derr, design by London Burden.  Effective use of a simple graphic design where the object floating in the center of a black cover is switched out for each new book. Again the main element is important  to the storyline. Effective, elegant, and easy to recognize that the books belong together without having to resort to the publishers note.

4. Cambridge Fellows series by Charlie Cochrane, cover design by Scott Carpenter: All the covers have a lovely vintage feel to them, sepia toned with elements such as furniture, buildings and mens clothing from 1900’s included on the design. Unfortunately, the last cover from Samheim had a more modern looking model which threw off the design. The newest title in the series has a completely different look as it was published at the different company. Can you pick it out?

3.  Superpowered Love by Katey Hawthorne, artist P.L. Nunn:  Just wonderful art by PL Nunn, the covers really set the stage for the stories within.  I just love these.  Again while the content changes, the style is the same and makes the books easy to identify.

4. Infected series by Andrea Speed, art by Anne Cain, cover design by Mara McKinnon: These covers blow me away.  Intense, dramatic, with that hint of menace.  Outstanding.  They are offered to download at Andrea Speed’s website.  I grabbed them, you will want to as well. Andrea Speed’s website http://www.andreaspeed.com.

5. Cattle Valley Series by Carol Lynne, art by Anne Cain.  It doesn’t matter if it is Book 2, Book 12 or Book 23, you can tell it is a Cattle Valley book immediately due to the great design and artwork by the wonderful Anne Cain.  This series is branded, folks! Total E Bound does more of a series branding than any other publisher or so it seems to me.

6. Sci-Regency Series by JL Langley, cover by Anne Cain.  Sigh!  I love Anne Cain and her artwork.  Especially her cover for My Fair Captain.  That one is so drool worthy that I have to bring out the towels. Yeah, I know TMI!  But just look at that chest!  And the same goes for the other two books in the series, the last of which, My Regelence Rake, is to be released in October 2012.

7.  Leopard’s Spots series by Bailey Bradford, artwork by Posh Gosh. What a lush, rich group of covers,  They are like a feast for the eyes, I just don’t know where to look next.  The design pulls your eye around the cover, so nothing is missed.  Just superb.

So that’s my short  list. What is yours? Yes, I see the same artists over and over on covers I like.  Anne Cain, PL Nunn, Reese Dante, Posh Gosh and London Burden.  Lately I have also noticed Alessia Brio too.  I know I have missed so many great artists, help me fill in the blanks.  And don’t forget to leave a comment and be entered in the contest.