Review: Damned If You Do: The Complete Collection by J.L. Merrow

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Damned If You Do collectionWhat does a male succubus (yes, you read that right, a male succubus) do when he is set free on Earth by an accidental summoning? Why, go looking for his next delightful meal and loads of hot, sexy fun of course.  That is exactly what Rael does after being set free.  But there is another succubus in town, one that is killing the people it is feeding upon, not just enjoying them and leaving them happy.  On the trail of the succubus killer is Detective Lars Thornsson of the Paranormal Enforcement Agency. Lars is half human half Valkyrie and all around gorgeous gay male.  When Det. Thornsson and his hard as nails partner, Chelle Rochelle,  show up at the nightclub looking for the killer show up at the nightclub looking for the killer, Lars has all the club boys drooling. This fact not lost on Rael who decides the detective is just the man for him. Then Lars and Chelle  find Rael instead of the true killer and take him in to headquarters for questioning.  Almost immediately lust and mutual attraction sets in and when the killer sets her sights on Lars, there is nothing Rael will do to keep his man  safe and at his side forever.

The Damned If You Do collection includes all four of the Rael and Lars stories that chart their relationship from beginning to HEA, which is saying a lot when you consider one is a sexy male succubus and the other a half Valkyrie half human. .Listed below is each story and a mini review of each wild zany romp:

Damned If You Do: The Complete Collection is composed of the following four stories which were all initially released separately:

A Calling for Pleasure cover1.  A Calling For Pleasure: The first in the Rael and Lars series.  We see how Rael makes it into our universe, his immediatel impact on Lars and his investigation as well as the start of their relationship.  Wild, wacky, and great fun.  Rael is a charming, sexy and endearing character as his beloved Lars.  Lars is huge and hugely vulnerable, with a sarcastic hard as nails partner  Chelle Rochelle and a wise and wry Police Captain, perfect for keeping within the stated genre and having fun with it.

At 25 pages, it is the shortest story and it shows in the lack of depth in the characterizations and plot.  Its cute, funny and fast.  Really, it just sets the stage for the longer and more involved stories to come and that’s fine when it is in a collection.  You can move on and still be satisfied that you read the first in the series.  It also has my least favorite cover as Rael is described as lithe, gliding and sex on two legs.  That model is just too muscular to be Rael.

Rating: 3.75 stars

Blast From the Past Rael and Lars22. A Blast From The Past: Lars and Rael are living together much to the chagrin of his cop partner, Chelle Rochelle.  Lars continued involvement with Rael is also kept hidden from his captain and coworkers.  Both Lars and Rael are afraid that Rael will be banished back into Hell, something Lars and his squad do with regularity to supernatural offenders.  But this is Rael and trouble is his middle name.  So of course, Rael’s ex boyfriend, Lev, enters the picture, determined to get him back, no matter the cost.  At the same time, someone demonic is setting fires all over the city and its up to Lars and Chelle to find the perpetrator and send him home.

This is such a cute story.  Its short at 68 pages but is still longer than the first story. The plot is more involved, the action swift, and the resolution perfect for the story setting and characters.  Everybody here is over the top in characterization, almost into the parady column but somehow is all works together.  I especially appreciate that with each new investigation, the characters increase in complexity along with the case the book revolves around.  Merrow gives us more back history for each person as the story progresses.  And as we learn additional facts about them, the more fully realized each character becomes.  Also each story also sets the framework for the next in the series.  Great job, and great little story.

Rating: 4 stars

3. A  Wish Too Far Lars and Rael 3A Wish Too Far:  Someone is peddling little pink pills out on the streets.  Those pills, called Wishes, are exactly what the Chinese philosopher has in mind when he said “Be careful what you wish for” because the wish always comes with a painful twist.  Det. Lars Thornsson and his partner Chelle Rochelle of the Paranormal Enforcement Agency  need to find the pill pusher and fast before someone is seriously injured. Rael thinks he knows the drug dealer but why would his cross dressing childhood friend do something like this?  Lars and Chelle’s case goes off the tracks quickly when Rael gets involved but the outcome will shock everyone in the case.

This 73 page story has a little more depth and pathos to it.  The cross dressing being, Shax, is a more vulnerable character with a darker past then we have seen in the previous stories.  The author manages to bring a more fully realized character into the fold while still keeping the humor intact.  Again the story is fast paced, the action and plot threads twisting around  faster than you can shake a canister of salt at it, and the ending is one I didn’t see coming.  My  second favorite story of the group.

Rating 4.25 stars.

Damned If you Do Glutton for Punishment4. A Glutton For Punishment: Once again Rael is the center of attention and it gets him nothing but trouble.  Rael and Lars relationship remains in the closet.  Unhappy with hiding, Rael takes to cooking for his man and is soon discovered as Rael’s talent for gourmet cooking lands him a job on the popular show Devon’s Plate as a guest chef.  But when the show’s host, Devon LaGrande goes missing, all suspicions land on Rael as the cause. With Rael being the center (again) of one of Lars’ investigation, Rael has to move out of their apartment and pretend to be his coworker’s partner, much to his and Lars chagrin.  Then Rael starts to receive threatening letters and the search is on to find the person responsible before Rael disappears too.

At 136 pages, this is the longest and most complicated story of the group.  There are several plot threads being juggled here, and the author does a great job of keeping us involved and in the loop, no matter how crazy a direction the story takes, and it takes quite a few.  Rael has become more than a sexy caricature of a succubus by this time and the reader is more invested in his and Lars future.  Lars and Chelle also have more dimension to them and as the story brings all the threads together in a happy ending, the reader leaves more than satisfied that Rael and Lars have a wonderful future ahead of them.  My  favorite story of the group.

Rating: 5 stars

I think this group of stories works best as a  collection than as separate books.  Had I purchased them separately and read them that way the individual story ratings might have been lower.  But because I was able to read them one after the other, the plots and increasing character depth flowed smoothly together and made for a very satisfactory read.  This is not a collection to be taken seriously.  It is to be enjoyed as the lighthearted fun romp that it is and who doesn’t need one or four of those?

I love J.L. Merrow as an author.  She has the ability to write this lighthearted romp and then pull us into the darker stories like her wonderful Pricks and Pragmatism without so much as a blink of an eye or should that be flick of a key?  If you are a first time Merrow reader, enjoy this paranormal series for the fun it represents and then start in with her other stories, perhaps Trick of Time, another favorite of mine.  I am sure you will be adding this author to your must read list shortly thereafter.  She is definitely one of mine.

Book details:

Ebook, Paperback, 280 pages
Expected publication: June 24th 2013 by Riptide Publishing
ISBN 1626490236 (ISBN13: 9781626490239)
urlhttp://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/collections/damned-if-you-do-complete-collection
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Review of Lashings of Sauce Anthology

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3rdRating: 4.5 stars

Lashing: British slang for lots or large amounts.  In celebration of 2012 Olympics, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the 3rd Annual UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet, a lashing of authors from all over the Globe put forth an GLBTQ anthology of stories that highlight everything that makes Britain  (and mainland Europe) a great place for GLBTQ people to love and live.

Here is a list of stories and authors in the order they appear:

• Post Mortem by Jordan Castillo Price
• Dressing Down by Clare London
• Et Tu, Fishies? by JL Merrow
• Zones by Elyan Smith
• Sollicito by Charlie Cochrane
• A Few Days Away by Elin Gregory
• Vidi Velo Vici by Robbie Whyte
• Shelter From Storms by Sandra Lindsey
• Faulty Genes by Rebecca Cohen
• Lost in London by Tam Ames
• My Husband by Zahra Owens
• Waiting for a Spark by Lillian Francis
• Social Whirl by Emily Moreton
• School for Doms by Anne Brooke
• Dragon Dance by Josephine Myles
• Reclaiming Territory by Becky Black

The stories contained within this anthology really run the gamut of GLBTQ sexuality as well as genre.  Here you will find stories of wereshifters of London (no, not those, quite the contrary) to lesbians in love, love in transition, timeless love or should that be love amuck the ages and finally lost lovers reunited after a long separation.  There is humor, ok, humour (sheesh) and brooding, and angst, all the emotions love pulls out of you and more.  And oh what authors await you between the pages, it is almost sinful to have such a wealth of talent in one book.

Some of the stories don’t fall into the realm of books I normally read and review but I will say that I enjoyed them all.  Thank you for my visit into f/f fiction as well as D/s.  There are stories of transgender persons and one who cross dresses with panache. These stories manage to combine great characterizations, vivid descriptions from locations all over Britain and plots that make you guffaw and break down in tears.  Here were some of my favorites among a list of outstanding stories:

Et Tu, Fishies? by J.L. Merrow.  When Bill leaves his fish tank along with his flat in the hands of Marty for the week, Marty was prepared for many things.  Cleaning, feeding the fish, masturbating in Bill’s bed, lots of things.  Nothing, however, prepared him for Arthur, the weird upstairs neighbor.  That would be Arthur Prefect. When Marty challenges him on his name, he says it used to be Herbert Wells.  Right.  And Arthur has lost his lover.  That would be..nope not giving that one away.  Yes, indeedy, we are off on a wonderful romp involving lashings of vodka, wine , walnuts and cheesy balls.  And time travel, snappy dialog and drunken sex.  Loved it.

Sollicito by Charlie Cochrane.  She did it, she went ahead and did it. Charlie Cochrane gives us weresloths of London.  With shifters of all sorts bounding across the pages of book after book, there was nary a weresloth among them.  Until now. Told from the point of view of an unnamed bloke who sprouts fur and long curved claws at the most inopportune moment, he bemoans the fact that his shifting, unlike the numerous wolf shape shifters, has no rhyme nor reason to it.   One moment he is fine, the next he has fur and the urge to move slowly along a balustrade.  Yes, insert spew event.  The whole story is like that.  While laughing out loud, I found a new phrase to use “divvy doo dah”.  Love the sound of that.  Had to look up Martin Johnson (not a clue), read the words “brolly dangling stage” several times as obscene images flittered across my mental landscape while remaining completely in the dark about the Junction 6 of the M40. Yes,I know.  It’s a British thing!  Love this story even as it boggled my very American mind.

Vidi Velo Vici by Robbie Whyte. Whyte uses a clever format for this story of lust, if not love discovered during a daily commute through traffic.  Each day Evan sets out for the office in his car only to find himself trapped in horrific traffic. Each day finds him on the phone to his sarcastic assistant, Tia, to have her rearrange his schedule as he is going to be late into the office.  Monday, 8:38 am and Evan’s car mirror is clipped by a cyclist weaving through the clogged cars.  Evan’s rage is only abated by watching some outstanding glutes in tight spandex peddling away.  Day after day, Even and the faceless cyclist appear on the same road and at the same time.  You listen in on Evan’s inner dialog as he watches for that magnificent physique to appear in the mirror, Evan consults with his sat-nav with the voice of Vader, Evan talks to Tia whose droll comments on Evan’s current legal case involving a shih tzu,  dog custody and someone named Antonio who he keeps sleeping with had me giggling madly.  It’s funny, it’s real, and has a great ending.

Shelter From Storms by Sandra Lindsey takes us back to the French Revolution as a wounded, frail Louis appears on the doorstep of Daniel Elcott in England.  He has made his way through war torn France to Daniel’s country manor with only a small dirty calling card to hand the butler. Once the men were lovers when younger, now Daniel is married with children.  But Louis has no where else to go as he has lost it all.  The men reconnect as Louis falls ill and Daniel attends to his needs.  Their love sparks once more as Louis convalesces.  Daniel finds that with Louis’ return so does the man he once was.  Lovely, well told story that brings history to life and makes a gay relationship seem not only possible but realistic as well.

Lost In London by Tam Ames.  Here we meet Kevin Larton, from Calgary in Canada.  He’s in London to go to school but finding it difficult to navigate his way.  He is finding his courses difficult, making new friends more so and when it comes to reading maps and getting around town, he is at a complete loss.  It doesn’t matter that he is here to get his PhD in Economics or was a city planner.  Kevin just can’t read maps so he is always lost. A chance meeting with Benjamin White gives Kevin a change in direction.  Everything starts to become possible, friends, degree and perhaps even a boyfriend.  There is a hilarious drunken scene, wonderful characters and I learned what a feedlot was.  Ewww.  Great story, though.

My Husband by Zahra Owen charts one person’s marriage through the tumultuous stages of their transitioning from female to male.  There is never a missed step as Owens treats the subject with sensitivity and authenticity.  Told from Sam’s POV, we meet Sean their husband and see their courtship and marriage through Sam’s memories.  Owen gives us a glimpse of what it must feel like to be born in the wrong body and the journey one person makes to correct nature’s mistake. Poignant and lovely.

Dragon Dance by Josephine Myles is the penultimate story and one of my top two (I have no intension of telling you all the other, guess why don’t you).  I love going to Chinatown here in DC and watching the Dragon Dance during the Chinese New Year so imagine my delight over a story wrapped around two friends and their families preparing the costumes and dragon for their neighborhood’s New Year celebration. Gan and Archie are two lifelong friends whose families are equally close in their small village’s Chinese community.  As their mothers make the Dragon from crimson parachute material and fashion the pearl it will chase after, the boys discover their sexuality and the love that has always been present.  Myles pulled me in completely from the vibrant portraits of the boys as they dance the Dragon Dance. As they practice, their movements are jerky and uncoordinated with respect to each other but as they communicate their love and desire  it becomes sinuous, motions beckoning each other forward that mimic the depth their relationship has finally achieved.  I could picture it unfolding so real did it all become. Sigh.

Reclaiming Territory by Becky Black is the last story of the anthology so it is fitting that it is the story of  an old love lost and then later reclaimed.  Jim and Andy are riding a motorcycle and sidecar to Whitby, a place full of memories for both men and their relationship, good and bad.  As they wander through town, making various stops we learn their history and what is has taken for the men to get to this stage in their relationship where they are now.  The story bounds between 2012, 1987 the year they broke up, and 2009, the year they reconnected.  Jim is so very human in his fears and faults as is Andy in his anger over Jim’s betrayal and cowardice.  All it takes is a look at the date and remember what it meant to be gay during that time period.  Yes, things have changed, yes, they have gotten easier in some parts of the globe but this story is a reminder of the fears of coming out and staying together as a gay committed couple that many had during the 80’s.  It is fitting that in celebrating our present, the past is never forgotten and Black does an outstanding job of bringing that  to us in the forms of Jim and Andy riding into the future firmly hooked together by vehicle and by choice.

Go out and grab this anthology, read each story, find your own favorites, Mine might shuffle as I read it once more.  Happy Jubilee, Queen, Great Olympics, Britain and have a wonderful time at the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet.  I really wish I was there with you.  Divvy doo dah!

Cover art by Alex Beecroft.  Smashing I say! lol