Review: Parting Shot (A Matter of Time #7) by Mary Calmes

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Parting Shot coverDet. Duncan Stiel, closeted homicide detective, had a childhood so bad that he never talks about it.  All the events in his past has lead to Duncan growing up as an adult who keeps his personal life and his emotions hidden, including his sexual orientation. Duncan’s reserve and determination to remain closeted has already cost him the only real relationship he has had to date (see Acrobat).  So when Duncan meets and hooks up with Aaron Sutter, billionaire and equally closeted gay man, Duncan thinks that finally he has met a man on the same page emotionally as he is.  No longer will he have to worry that Aaron will want  him to meet family or friends, or even come out of the closet where Duncan is most comfortable, all the things that caused his last relationship to break up.  Duncan is a man consumed by his job, including the need to occasionally go undercover.  The last thing Duncan ever expected was to  find love with Aaron Sutter.

Aaron Sutter has finally realized that Jory will never be his and that it is time to move on.  Duncan Stiel is as far from the type of guys that Aaron normally finds attractive,  Instead of a slender blond twink, the detective is tall, muscular, and an alpha in every way.  And in no time at all, Aaron is smitten, lusting after the detective in a manner so unlike himself that Aaron is astounded at his own behavior. When Duncan is hurt, Aaron has an epiphany that shakes him to the core, making Aaron question the decisions he made in the past.

But Aaron is also involved in a mean, and desperate fight with his father over control of Sutter Enterprises. Staying in the closet and away from Duncan might be the only way he can stay in control.  Duncan too is involved in a criminal case so dangerous that it threatens not only his fragile new relationship with Aaron but their lives as well.  As the obstacles mount up against them,  the men must fight not only against outside influences but their own inner demons as well if they are to find their way to love and a future together.

I love Mary Calmes.  She is a wonderful storyteller who has created a pantheon of characters both memorable and addicting that they have cried out to be included in one book after another.  Parting Shot is not only an addition to A Matter of Time series but incorporates characters from other favorite novels of mine as well, including Mine and Acrobat.   The inclusion of these characters is important in a number of ways in describing why Mary Calmes is so good as what she does.  Both men, Nate and Terrence Moss (also known as Conrad Harris) make only a brief appearance here, but just the mention of their names brings up a well of memories and emotions created by their stories (Acrobat and Mine respectively).  They make an impact despite the brevity of their scenes in Parting Shot because of Mary Calmes’ incredible gift of creating characters we commit to memory and bury deep within our hearts.   Just look at Duncan Stiel and Aaron Sutter.

Both men started out as satellite characters in other stories.  Aaron Sutter was once the boyfriend of Jory Keyes before Sam Kage arrives into the picture.  Aaron continues to flow through their story, a man determined to regain Jory’s affections and then finally as a true friend to be counted on. Hard to make an arrogant billionaire with a predilection for sharing his lovers with other men likable but Calmes made him a complex and ultimately appealing character.  No matter his actions, there was just something about Aaron as created by Calmes that spoke to the reader and garnered their affections.  Aaron just demanded that he have his own story and now he has gotten it, to my absolute delight.

Duncan Stiel was a little harder sell.  He was a complete jerk when he appeared in Acrobat, although handsome, and competent, a complete alpha male.  Parting Shot helps explain Duncan’s behavior by presenting us with his past.  Once we see his traumatic childhood revealed, then those personality traits that made him so unappealing becomes understandable.  Duncan Stiel of Parting Shot is someone the reader connects with on every level.  I just love him.

These two men have arrived independently at the same stage in their lives where they want a real relationship.  Both have Jory and Sam as an example of what they are missing in their lives and what they can attain if only they take a chance and change.  The men meet and fall instantly in lust.  That’s extremely realistic knowing what we do about these men.  But what follows is also just as authentic given their personality traits and their pasts.  They just mesh with each other in almost every way.  I have seen this happen in real life.  When the timing is right, things (and people) just fall into place.  Not the case of “instant love” that appears so often in other stories but a connection based in reality and the personalities of the men involved.  I believed totally in their relationship and feelings towards each other.  It just felt right.

Aaron and Duncan are also an extremely sexy couple.  They are equals in and out of the bed.  I loved that about them as well.  Their sex scenes together are hot, sensual, realistic, and sometimes quite funny.  Aaron is really out of his element here and Mary Calmes incorporates that aspect into their relationship in some wonderfully funny scenes and dialog.  They cracked me up, just amazing.

Duncan is involved in a case with some very dangerous criminals, pulling him undercover yet again several times in the book (including a undercover gig that brings in Marshall Sam Kage). This storyline flows along side one in which Aaron is dealing with his father who is determined to overthrow his son as the head of Sutter Enterprises so the father can resume his control over the company.  The corporate fight Aaron is engaged in is just as critical as the criminal investigation Duncan is engaged in.  Each power struggle and criminal case has ramifications for both men.  It will cause them to examine their closeted lives and determine the paths their lives will take in the future.  Powerful stuff indeed.   And Mary Calmes makes it just as exciting and suspenseful as it sounds.

This is a completely absorbing novel.  Once you pick it up, be prepared to remain situated until you have finished the book.  It pulls you into the lives of Duncan and Aaron and all those around them.  If you are new to the series, it helps to read the preceding books to fully understand the nature of these men and the relationships they had in the past.  Grab up Mine and Acrobat while you are at it.  Have a very merry Mary Calmes sort of weekend!  I highly recommend them all, including Parting Shot.

Cover art by Reese Dante.  I love Dante’s cover but it really doesn’t pertain to this story.  It could be the cover for any number of books and that’s too bad because this story had so many elements that could have been used to make it relevant to the story within.  Consider this cover a misstep.

Here are the books  of A Matter of Time in the order they were written and should be read:

A Matter of Time (#1)

A Matter of Time (#2)

A Matter of Time (#3)

A Matter of Time (#4)

Bulletproof (A Matter of Time #5)

Just Jory (A Matter of Time #5.5)

But For You (A Matter of Time #6)

Parting Shot (A Matter of Time, #7)

A Matter of Time, Vol. 1 (A Matter of Time, #1-2) reworked and reedited

A Matter of Time, Vol. 2 (A Matter of Time, #3-4)reworked and reedited

Book Details:

ebook, 264 pages
Published July 19th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1623808758 (ISBN13: 9781623808754)
series A Matter of Time

Review: His Heart To Reap by Erin Lane

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Rating: 3 stars

His Heart To Reap coverAiden M. Scott, 26 years old, 3 years dead and stuck in limbo.  What is a bored departed supposed to do with limitless time on his hands?  Why become a reaper of course.  And for three years, that is the job Aiden has done, he is a reaper, more of a social worker really, for the newly departed. Aiden and the other reapers meet the newly dead as they arrive in Limbo, and then help them to ascend by assisting them in discovering what is holding them back in limbo.  Some of the dead move on immediately and for others, it can take years of “celestial therapy” before they move on and Aiden is so tired of it all.  He can’t figure out why he has never ascended and he is getting a little depressed.

Then Brandon shows up in Limbo,  Aiden’s best friend and secret crush.  Aiden  asks Miles, the head reaper, to be Brandon’s caseworker.  He  wants to be the one to help Brandon move on. More accurately Aiden wants time to spend with Brandon before he moves on, and taking a personal interest in your “client” is frowned upon in the reaper business.  So Aiden tries to hide his attraction to Brandon, even from Brandon himself. But when Brandon confesses he is gay to Aiden, Aiden realizes that he has a confession of his own to make before its too late.  Between Limbo and Heaven, is there room for love?

After reading this story, all I could think was that perhaps InstaLove In Limbo would have been a more accurate title.  It’s not that this is a poorly written story because it isn’t.  It’s just that there is nothing particularly memorable about it either.  Every person has there on take on what happens after death.  There are funny takes as well as epic ones.  This one runs more along the lines of Dilbert in Limbo.  I will let Brandon tell you about it as he questions Aiden on the afterlife:

“So you work until the day you die. Then you work some more? Doesn’t sound too peaceful to me.”

“No, but sitting back and waiting for something to happen isn’t fun either. We use work, even without pay, to escape the mundane. It helps, but only a little.”

“What do we do now?”

Well, at that point I wanted to put the book down.  You mean there are cubicles in limbo?  Sounds more like a level of hell to me.  If this had been a comedic take on the afterlife, then this would have been an amusing twist but it’s all very serious. Also the world building should continue to give a complete feel to the afterlife you have constructed.  The afterlife is dull, its colors dampened, Fine.  But there are stores that remain open so the reapers can get coffee, etc.  Who runs those if everyone either moves on or is a reaper?  Don’t know.  What about the reaper organization?  Not real sure about that either, which is surprising considering how big a role that plays in the story.

The same issues that I have with the author’s world building continues into her characterization.  Not much difference between Aiden and Brandon.  Could very well be the same person.  Closeted, bland, then instalove.  The only character I was interested in was Mrs. Emily Davidson, a long term resident of limbo in need of assistance in ascending.  She was more complex than either of the two main characters and therefore, far more interesting.  Once of the things that kept her from moving on was her anger at her husband for not waiting for her to arrive so they could go on together, understandable and human.  But at the end, the author seems to have forgotten that part of Emily’s story and brings in a totally new reason for her to ascend (one not even suggested at), and it just doesn’t make any sense.

Nor does the ending.  I won’t go into it but it seems almost a refutation of the story’s premise, almost as though the author couldn’t figure out which way she wanted to go with the plot’s focal point.   In the end I did waver between a 2.75 stars and a 3.  It was Mrs. Davidson that gave this story a 3 star rating but I don’t think that is enough to recommend it to a reader.  If a friends to lovers in limbo story is your thing, then you might want to pick this one up, otherwise I would give it a miss.  There are many wonderful books out there to read.  I would find those instead.

Cover Artist: Kalen O’Donnell delivers a nondescript cover that has nothing to do with the story within.

Book Details:

ebook, 108 pages
Published April 2nd 2013 by Loose Id LLC
ISBN13
9781623003074
edition language
English
url http://www.loose-id.com/his-heart-to-reap.html

Guest Post by Sarah Black “Soap Making for Boys and Men”

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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to welcome Sarah Black to our blog today.  Ms. Black’s book The General and the Horse-Lord is being released today at Dreamspinner Press. I can pick out a Sarah Black story or character because of her distinctive characters and style of writing, both of which have turned her into a “must read” author.

To mark the release of The General and the Horse-Lord, Scattered Thoughts and Sarah Black is giving away one copy of her novel to one lucky person chosen from those who comment on her guest post today.  Winner will be chosen at the end of the day.

Here Ms. Black gives us some insight into how she creates her characters or maybe that is how her characters demand to be written.

Soap Making for Boys and Men

I walked up the stairs to my son’s new bedroom and looked at the empty soda bottles on the floor, right next to the new trash basket with its pristine white bag. “I would not want General Mitchel to see this room, son.”

He said, “Who’s General Mitchel?”

“Um, he’s the main character in my new book.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Pick up that trash. Pronto.”

My son is used to living with fictional characters, but I admit the men in my new book have moved into the house with us and appear ready to stay. I like these guys a lot. The two main characters, General John Mitchel and Gabriel Sanchez, are my age. They feel like my peers in many ways—we were both in the military together, and went to war together. They were in Kuwait in 1990, and so was I. They served during Haiti and Somali and Bosnia and Grenada- names that are immediately understood by veterans of our age.

I was challenged to write the character of John Mitchel by something I read in a book on writing—not sure now which book—but I read that it is very difficult to write a character who is smarter and more accomplished than the author. Naturally I determined to do that very thing. Then I read a passage written by Hallie Burnett, whose book Fiction Writer’s Handbook I have always found to be an excellent guide. Though she makes a strong distinction between genre and literary fiction, I’ve always found her advice very high caliber. And it’s my goal to try to do more than I know how to do. Anyway, she said something about how difficult it was to write truthfully about love.

So I decided to write a character who was smarter and more accomplished than I, and to tell the truth about the way he fell in love and the way he behaved when his love was threatened. Like all characters who have a strong POV, this character sees some things about himself very clearly, and in other ways he does not know himself at all. Very much like me. I tried something, writing his character, that may backfire on me. I noticed the way people can be extremely accomplished in some areas of their life, and utter fools in others.

When I joined the Navy Nurse Corps in 1981, I worked with many women who had made the choice of career over family- a real hard line, then, because they kicked you out if you got pregnant. That rule had only changed a few years before I joined. So I could see these women, very passionate about their work, very smart and tough, but sort of clueless about men and women. They didn’t know how to have relationships because they had never had the opportunity. Relationships take practice!

General Mitchel gave it all up for the work he did for the country. And he is clueless about love, and relationships, sort of numb to the whole thing, which is the way people protect themselves when they have been forced into an untenable situation. So I hope I have written him to show this dichotomy. I really like him. He reminds me so much of those tough girls, the Navy Nurses who had been in Vietnam on the hospital ships, and who gave it all up so they could have the life they chose to have. They trained me to be a military nurse. Anywhere, anytime, anything. We didn’t just say that. We did it.

So this is why General Mitchel is refusing to discuss soap with me. He doesn’t see himself as a person who wastes time on nonessentials like handmade soap, not when you can buy a three pack of Dial soap at the PX for a dollar seventy nine. Eventually he and I are going to get to the bottom of this and I will have his soap. But for now, I have been working on the soaps for the other men in the story.

Gabriel Sanchez- oh, we are so in love with Gabriel, have been for twenty-five years, since he was a hot shot young helo pilot. He has rich warm depths, great passions, great sorrows, great courage. We are ready to swoon over this man. He’s down to earth, so I tried some woodsy scents, cedar and pine and fir, and he’s mysterious and warm, too, with hidden depths in his dark eyes, and massive passion, so I tried some sage and lemon verbena and cinnamon, scents with heat, and he’s sweet and funny and he has a weird little quirk about eighties dance music, so he needs something light, as well. I lined up the little glass jars and got out my Q-tips.

This is how you make scent combinations for homemade perfume and soap. You put a drop of essential oil on a Q-tip and put it in a sealed glass jar. Then you smell it, you wait a couple of hours and smell it again, and then you smell it the next day. All different! Then you try some combos, and drop two Q-tips with different scents into the jars together. You weed out the ones you don’t like. Then you mix three Q-tips. Gabriel’s scent is cedar and sage and orange. I’ve been walking around the house with a little glass jar held up to my nose. I bet the neighbors think I’m smoking a hookah. Swoon! It’s him. We are so in love. John agrees. He was not enthusiastic, until he smelled Gabriel’s scent. Then he asked me to make him some soap. It crossed his mind what the bathroom would smell like, when Gabriel was in the shower, using his new soap.

Kim is a delight, a beautiful boy who laughs before he wakes up in the morning. John has loved him since he was a baby, when Kim crawled madly to him across the crowded floor of a Korean orphanage. He’s talented, passionate, throws himself headlong into Quixotic adventures, and never looks before he leaps, because his darling Uncle John and his Uncle Gabriel will always be there to catch him. He’s young, too, as clear and bright as a waterfall. Kim wanted to help make his soap, and has been playing around with colors- he’s swirled two colors of soap together, lemon and blackberry, and his soap is as beautiful as he is. It smells good enough to spread with butter on warm toast.

Billy and his father, Cody Dial, are next on the soapmaking block. Billy Dial doesn’t know it yet, but he is the sort of genius artist who changes the world. Sometimes that sort of talent can tear holes in you. I don’t know yet what’s going to happen with Billy. He is going to play a critical role in the new story, and may even get to be the hero.

His father, the ex-bullriding champ Cody Dial, fears for his talented and delicate son. He doesn’t know what to do to keep him safe, and if he could cut off his right hand to protect Billy, he would gladly do it. Cody Dial runs a ranch up in Wyoming, and he needs a strong soap, soap that actually gets your hands clean without taking the skin off. I’m thinking of making him some soap with cornmeal, which I think will be more gentle than pumice. He admits he likes the smell of the flowery perfume his wife wears on their anniversary, they have date night once a year, but he doesn’t think that smell would work for a cowboy. He does think that sage isn’t a bad smell. Or horses. The leather tack is okay.

Billy is just a bit frail, and I’m worried about him. His soap is going to smell faintly like lilies of the valley, and is going to be very white and gentle.

Abdullah, oh, what a sweet boy. He just plays a tiny part in this story, crucial but tiny. His book is coming, but what sort of soap? The dusty smells of ancient Persia, orange blossoms? Some slight scent of tragedy, and great beauty. Rosewood? Abdullah plays the cello. What does cello music smell like? Bach’s cello suites? Classic, formal, delicate. White roses and orange blossoms and sandalwood.

Still nothing for our main character. He’s standing over my shoulder, saying, “Don’t you have some medical records to finish? For the job that actually pays you?”

“Yes, General, I do.”

“Perhaps the prudent thing to do would be to proceed as if this writing is a hobby. You do, after all, have a family to support. According to one of your publishers, you sold 6 books in the last 3 months. From all vendors.”

“Sir, that is true. But I have not explained to you how important this is to me. How hard I am willing to work. How much I believe in the power of my fiction.”

“Very well, Ms. Black. Then I might suggest you spend some time learning marketing skills.”

Ouch. He doesn’t pull his punches, this guy. So I will have to play with my synesthesia later. Here’s a bit from The General and the Horse-Lord about Kim:

Kim had been the darling of his tiny Catholic orphanage in Seoul. There was no question, from the moment he had crawled delightedly into John’s sister’s arms, which baby they were going to take home. John’s sister and her husband stayed with him on base while they worked through the lengthy system for foreign adoptions. The Koreans required a six month wait between the initial application, done in person, and the final award of adoption. When they had gone back to the States for their six month wait, John had walked the two miles from his quarters to the orphanage nearly every evening to check on Kim. Kim would see him from across the tiny playroom and would climb over the furniture and any playmates in his way to get to his big uncle. The boy would reach his leg, then tug on the cuff of his pants. Two tugs, and John would reach down and pick him up. It was their secret signal. Kim still did it, though John couldn’t believe he remembered that far back. When he was in trouble, when he’d been so outrageous he’d scared himself, he would curl up next to John and give his sleeve a couple of tugs. And John knew it meant that his baby needed to be picked up, lifted high above the scary world.

And here is Gabriel:

Gabriel followed him home from the restaurant, parked his pickup truck behind John’s in the driveway. Inside, John pulled out the Kona Gold coffee beans from the cabinet and put a handful in the grinder, listened while Gabriel settled into the couch. He stretched his arms out along the top of the couch, laid his head back and sighed. His eyes were closed, his face relaxed. Not many people got to see Gabriel like this.

When the coffee was finished brewing, John carried a couple of mugs into the living room and handed one to Gabriel. He set his cup down on the coffee table and settled down next to him on the couch.

“So what’s been happening with you? You’ve been in practice about six months. Is the law what you were hoping it would be?”

Gabriel had his nose in the cup, smelling the rich coffee. “Yeah, it’s good. Fine. Not…”

Not like the Army. He didn’t need to say it. John felt it too. “You miss it still?”

Gabriel nodded.

“Yeah, me too. But it’s a young man’s game.”

Gabriel had finished law school the year before, deciding on a mid-life career in public service. John also suspected he was doing it to make Martha happy. She’d been a good Army wife, following him across the world, managing the family while he was deployed. John thought she would like being a lawyer’s wife.

“I don’t like the young lawyers right out of school much. I sound like an old man to myself, looking at them and thinking what a bunch of selfish, spoiled little pricks they are. Money, money, money. You could take the whole crowd of them right off a cliff following the sweet green scent of money. I don’t know, John. I look at them and think, who the fuck is left? Where are the leaders? Is there an ounce of fortitude in any of them? They get hysterical when they can’t remember the pocket where they stowed their phones.”

John picked up his cup and drank the coffee down. “Now you know why I had a shit-fit and pretended to flunk my entire freshman class. Not that I think it did any good. I just wanted to see if any single one of them would stand up and admit they hadn’t a clue because they’d bought their papers.”

“Did they?”

John shook his head.

“I like the practice, though. It’s like the law firm of last resort. For the clueless and the desperate. And the broke. I don’t think I’ll ever have a pot to piss in. But I’m always happy to stick a thorn in the fat asses of the establishment.” Gabriel reached out and took his empty cup. “You want a refill?”

“No. I think I’m going to grab a quick shower. Finish what’s in the pot if you want.”

John stepped into the shower off his bedroom, gave himself a brisk scrub-down. He toweled off and wrapped the towel around his waist. Gabriel was waiting for him, sitting on the side of the bed. He’d undressed down to his boxers, clothes neatly folded over the back of a chair. He reached out, pulled John closer by the towel around his waist. He leaned forward, moved his warm mouth across John’s shoulder, up his neck. “I love the smell of Dial soap on your skin.” He pulled the towel away and gathered John into his arms. “My old friend. I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed you.”

“Hello, Gabriel.” John reached up, traced his fingers along Gabriel’s strong jawline, across a mouth that had always curved into a smile at his touch. Gabriel moved his hand down into the curly brown hair that covered John’s belly and chest, still mostly brown, with just a few notes of silver. Gabriel said the silver looked good, matched the color of his eyes.

GeneralandtheHorse-Lord[The]Dreamspinner Press Book Description:

General John Mitchel and his favorite pilot, Gabriel Sanchez, served together as comrades and brothers-in-arms for more than twenty-five years. They followed the warrior’s path: honor first, and service, and the safety of the tribe. Their own needs for love and companionship were secondary to the mission. Retirement from the army, however, proves challenging in ways neither expected.

When old warriors retire, their armor starts falling away, and the noise of the world crowds in. That changing world sets up longings in both men for the life they might have had. After years of loving on the down-low, the idea of living together in the light seems like pure sweet oxygen to men who have been underwater a little too long. But what will it cost them to turn their dreams into truth?

March Came Roaring In Like a Lion and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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Remember last March in Maryland?  The sun was shining over plants newly emerged from the ground,  our temperatures hovered in the high 70’s after experiencing absolutely no winter at all.  Birds were nesting, the butterflies were flying, and thoughts of picnics and outdoor barbecue dinners molded our grocery lists.  Even now I can bask in the memories….

Now switch to present day and the snow flurries I saw swirling around in clear defiance that it was March.  It was cold and dark clouds made sure the sun never made an appearance.  I stopped to look at the pansies with their smiling faces at Good Earth and thought “not in a million years am I hanging around outside to plant you so bugger off”,  channeling some Brits I know.  Those of you in the middle of huge snowstorms or still in recovery from the same are probably wanting to smack me over such piddling weather.  Me too.  I do realize it could be so much worse but this dang climate change has upped our expectations for March beyond all reasonability, hence the whining.

On the other hand, it does give me time to spend with plant catalogs, and go to a whine oops wine and cooking demonstration like I did  yesterday.  Had the weather been gorgeous, I would have been outside and missed a Mahi Mahi cooked in a buirre blanc sauce to die for, a lovely Coq au vin and a porc du rose, just a lovely 3 hours spent with nice people, great wines and food and a very funny Chef Read.  So highs and lows, cold and hot, one friend moves away and I get the chance to meet others. Life, the weather and changing climate keeps springing changes upon us whether (ha!) we are ready or not, usually mostly not.   Hmmmm,..rambling here again.

So where were we? Ah yes, the week ahead.  Hopefully that will see the Caps win, the Nats all heathly and happy in Florida, honestly don’t care what’s going on with the “Skins, and new recipes to try out.  I will be finishing up the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries series this week and it will be sad to say goodbye to Jonty and Orlando.  Look for a post full of Q & A with Charlie Cochrane to post the day following.  She was wonderful in answering all the questions that kept popping into my brain as I finished All Lessons Learned.  We have a mixed bag of new and familiar authors here, something for everyone I believe.  So here is the way it is scheduled so far:

Monday, March 4:                     Spot Me by Andrew Grey

Tuesday, March 5:                     Wake Me Up Inside by Cardeno C

Wed., March 6:                           Velocity by Amelia C. Gormley

Thursday, March 7:                    Lessons for Survivors by Charlie Cochrane

Friday, March 8:                         A Cambridge Fellows Q & A with Charlie Cochrane

Saturday, March 9:                     His Best Man by Treva Harte

So there it is, a really good week ahead.  Now if just those blasted snow clouds would go away I might just think about planting some pansies….