Christi Snow on Romancing St. Louis and her latest release “Believe in the Wish’ (guest blog and giveaway)

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Title:  Believe in the Wish

Author: Christi Snow

Publisher:  Self-Published

Release Date: May 11, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: ~55,000 words

Genre: New Adult, enemies to lovers, forbidden love, twins, contemporary romance, mourning death

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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Christi Snow here today talking about her latest novel, Believe in the Wish. Welcome, Christi.

✒︎

Romancing St. Louis by Christi Snow

I try to write most of my books in places that I’m familiar with, even though I may use made up town names…i.e. Snowcroft is based on a real New Mexico mountain tourist town where we lived when we were first married (many, many moons ago), but that wasn’t the name of it.

For Believe in the Wish, I chose to put the characters in St. Louis, specifically a cross between two of my favorite towns that are suburbs of St. Louis… Kirkwood and St. Charles. I love Kirkwood because it’s filled with the old, big houses like you see in Meet Me In St. Louis. It’s not hard to imagine the carriages driving down some of the roads in that modern-day quaint little town.

Although none of these huge mansions make an appearance in Believe in the Wish, the entire picturesque quality and cozy ambiance of the town does.

Before we moved to Texas when my husband retired from the military, we lived in another suburb of St. Louis…Belleville, Illinois. Our entire family fell in love with St. Louis. 

St. Louis is one of those perfect cities. It has tons of history…the Lewis and Clark expedition came through there, but the Mississippi has been a major waterway for this country the entire time people have lived here. 

When we lived there, they had pro football (Rams, who have since moved), pro hockey (St. Louis Blues), AND pro baseball teams (St. Louis Cardinals). It’s also the home of Budweiser, which means when friends and family come to town, you can go tour the plant and drink free beer. Double win. The same goes for kids theme parks like Grant’s Farm…seriously all kids parks like this should offer free ice-cold beer to parents.

St. Louis is a major city with all the amenities that go with it, but it never felt overwhelming or huge when we visited it. We regularly went into the city…for shopping, entertainment, festivals, and activities. We truly loved it there.

So when it came time for this book, St. Louis was an easy fit for location. Plus it offered lots of options for the tasks that Emma left Ethan and Hawk to do. 

My favorite scene is the two of them going up the Arch. Not only is that scene pivotal to the story…hello, first kiss…but it’s simply fun, because the Arch and the ability to travel up it is something unique to St. Louis. And I promise you, once you’ve gone on that little, weird roller coaster ride up the inside, you will never forget it. There are videos on YouTube about riding the tiny cars up to the top. It’s wild…and yes, sometimes a bit eerie and scary, but it’s an experience everyone should have.

I hope that you see a bit of the city I loved through this book, Believe in the Wish. While the romance is most definitely the focus, I thought the romance of St. Louis provided the perfect backdrop for two of my favorite men and their guardian angel.

Synopsis

I buried my twin sister six months after she found out she had cancer. Her funeral was three months ago. Today is our birthday and it started with delivery of letters from her.

It seems she didn’t trust me to move on after her death. She knows me too well. But how can I go on when my other half is just…gone? That’s not something I can recover from with a snap of my fingers. But I also can’t ignore her instructions even though I’d be perfectly content to cuddle up with my buddy, Johnnie Walker, and call it a year.

She has a list of things for me to do and there are rules attached.

There’s one major problem besides the fact it’s been three months since I left the house. I have to do all these things with her jerk of an ex, Hawk Simmons. He abandoned her shortly after she found out she was sick. If that wasn’t enough to make this a really bad idea, the fact that he makes an appearance in all my nighttime fantasies probably does.

I don’t think I can do this, but I owe it to my sister’s memory to try.

This is a stand-alone male/male contemporary romance novel.

Excerpt

Katya ended her call and promptly pushed the ‘away’ button for receiving phone calls. “I’m sorry. No more calls. They may not think so, but they can survive without me for an hour or so while we have our chat.”

Ethan’s stomach rolled over. That brought them to the question of the hour…chat about what? But he was almost afraid to ask at this point. Instead, he redirected. “Do you have your own firm, or do you work for someone else?”

She raised an eyebrow at him, but with a slight tilt of her head she must have seen something in his expression because she answered, “I own my own firm. When I graduated from law school, I went into a partnership that was later dissolved when I bought my partner out. It’s all mine now, which keeps me very busy.”

He grimaced. “And that’s further complicated by hermits like me who refuse to answer phone calls or mail deliveries. Sorry about that.”

“No.” She shook her head. “It’s time for you to stop apologizing. This is a hard time for you and that’s okay. To a certain extent, that’s the way it should be…”

She hesitated for a moment. “At least for a little while. You’re allowed to grieve. But Emma knew this would be an issue for you, so she made plans.”

“What kind of plans?”

Katya reached into her briefcase and pulled out a file. She reached inside and pulled out an envelope that she handed to him. On the front was his name, written in Emma’s handwriting. Suddenly it was hard to breathe.

“What is this?” he whispered.

“The first of your instructions. You need to open and read it.”

He didn’t want to. He didn’t know why, but he really didn’t want to. “I’d rather wait until I’m at home.” At his house, if he fell apart, he could do it without witnesses.

She shook her head kindly. “No, that won’t work. She was very specific in how she wanted this all to go. I need you to open it now.”

Ethan swallowed against the huge lump in his throat as he tried to find air to breathe. His heart pounded in his chest. Surely, everyone around them could hear that.

“It’s okay,” she said softly. “I promise.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” He glanced up at her. “It’s never going to be okay again.” His voice cracked.

She lowered her lids, and her lips compressed into a tight line as if his grief was too much for her.

His hands shook as he turned the envelope over, lifting the sealed flap. It had to be his imagination, but he could have sworn that he smelled a faint whiff of the strawberry lotion Emma always liked to wear.

For just a moment, he shut his eyes and tried to calm down his emotions going haywire. He didn’t know whether to be angry that she’d done this to him, sad that she wasn’t here to tell him whatever information this letter held, or scared at whatever Emma had cooked up for him.

Throughout her life, she’d kept him hopping. As the exuberant, outgoing twin, she’d always dragged him into trouble when all he’d wanted to do was stay home. In that regard, this whole scheme of hers was very apropos.

He took a deep breath and pulled out the single sheet of paper and unfolded it. At the very first words on the paper, his eyes filled with tears.

Happy Birthday, baby brother.

He glanced up in disbelief at Katya. “It’s May fifteenth?”

At her silent nod, he gazed down at the paper in his hands, his eyes filling with tears. It was their twenty-fifth birthday. The first birthday he’d ever celebrated without her. She’d only been twenty-four when she’d died. How unfair was that? To her. To him. To the world that missed out on everything she had to offer it.
Emma’s handwriting wavered in front of his eyes, but he continued to read, not knowing what else to do. His other option—sobbing in the middle of the restaurant—would be mortifying.

I’m sorry I’m not there to go out partying with you. Remember when we were little and you didn’t want to share your birthday with me? Now you get your wish.

He’d been a horrible person. The tears overflowed his eyes. He’d made that wish more years than he even wanted to remember. How selfish was that? How could he have wished for a life without her in any way? She’d been his light.

Katya shoved a tissue into his hand.

Right. He was in public. Time to get it together.

My bad. It was probably too soon for a joke like that.

I love you, Ethan.

I know I didn’t say that enough—you know emotional displays and I didn’t mix—but beyond anything else that happens over the next few weeks, KNOW THAT. I love you, and if I could have figured out a way to stay, I would have…for you.

But God obviously had different plans for me, so now I’ll just have to content myself with being your guardian angel for the next seventy-five years. I’ll have your back, bro. I promise.

And in the interest of having your back, that’s why Katya is here.

I know you. You’re stubborn, and right now, I imagine that you’re more than a little sad. I get that, but that doesn’t mean you stop living. My death means you have to live twice as much because you have to do it enough for both of us. I’m counting on you.

But, again, I know you, so I’ve enlisted some help from my friends just to get you going.

Make a Wish, Ethan. Believe in it. It’s time to live.

~Emma

When Ethan finished reading, he took several deep breaths. The sobs had welled in his throat, and it was all he could just to hold them inside.

“You okay?” Katya asked.

“Yeah.” His voice sounded husky, but he’d managed to say the word, so he figured that for a win.

“Then it’s time for step two.”

He looked up just as she held a flaming lighter to the candle on top of a cupcake. She pushed it in front of him. “Make a wish and blow. All you have to do is believe.”

As he sat there, looking at the flickering candle, it occurred to him at just how sad this was. His twin was dead, and he was at some bizarre birthday celebration with someone he’d never even met before. Even from the grave, Emma was working to pull him out of his shell.

So he closed his eyes and blew as he made his wish.

I wish I wasn’t so alone.

But when he opened them, nothing had changed. He was still sitting in a restaurant with a woman he didn’t know, mourning the twin sister who’d died. Not that he expected a miracle, but Emma wanted him to believe.

Believe.

How was that even possible? She’d been the one who believed in the magic of things like wishes and fairy tales. What had that gotten her? She’d died before she’d even had the chance to live. What kind of magic could he possibly believe in with that kind of reality?

Purchase

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes

Meet the Author

As an avid reader her entire life, Christi Snow always dreamed of writing books that brought to others the kind of joy she felt when she read. But…she never did anything about it besides jot down a few ideas and sparse scenes.

When she turned 41, she decided it was time to go after her dream and started writing. Within four months, she’d written over 150,000 words and hasn’t stopped since.

She’s found her calling by writing about sexy, alpha heroes and smart, tough heroines falling in love and finding their passion. She’s truly living the dream and loving every minute of it.

Her tagline is… Passion and adventure on the road to Happily Ever After. She’s loving this adventure!

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Google+ | Instagram

Tour Schedule

5/11 ~ Hearts on Fire Reviews

5/11 ~ Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

5/12 ~ MM Good Book Reviews

5/13 ~ Fangirl Moments and My Two Cents

5/14 ~ Dog-Eared Daydreams

5/15 ~ Happily Ever Chapter

5/16 ~ Two Chicks Obsessed with Books and Eye Candy

5/16 ~ MM Book Escape

5/17 ~ Book Reviews Janisf & Leisha

5/17 ~ BFD Book Blog

5/18 ~ Dirty Books Obsession

5/19 ~ Reviews for Book Lovers

5/19 ~ Love Bytes Reviews

5/20 ~ Bayou Book Junkie

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Cover Reveal for Hipster Brothel by K.A. Merikan

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Title:  Hipster Brothel

Author: K.A. Merikan

Publisher:  Acerbi&Villani ltd.

Cover Artist: Natasha Snow

Release Date:  24th of January 2017

Heat Level: 3

Pairing: M/M

Length: 50,000 words

Genre/Tags: Contemporary Romance, Erotic Romance, M/M Romance, Hipsters, sex work, friends to lovers, bisexuality, post-break up issues, coming out, first time, alternative lifestyles, lumbersexual bear, commitment

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Synopsis

— The lumberjack of his dreams is now available for rent. —

Mr. B has always been a safe guy for Jo to crush on. He’s the cutest bearded lumber-god to salivate over. Add to that his friendly, outgoing personality, and Mr. B might just be the first guy Jo would be willing to kiss. Fortunately, Mr. B has been in a relationship for years, and Jo is no home-wrecker.

But when Mr. B breaks up with his partner and all of a sudden is single, available, and talks about his plans to be sexually adventurous, Jo isn’t so sure anymore if he has the guts to come out as bisexual.

After a sour breakup, Mr. B wants to show his ex that he’s independent, exciting, and can do very well without him. His best friend Jo is there to the rescue, and they come up with a great new business venture. One thing they lack to start their own line of artisanal boozy jams – money for the investment.

After a drunken brainstorming session, Mr. B finds a way to both gather the cash and show the middle finger to his ex. He will create a one of a kind Hipster Brothel – The Lumbersexual Experience – offering wood chopping lessons, pipe smoking, and a reclaimed wood bed where the magic would happen. It’s bound to be a success… if only Mr. B can go through with it, because the mixed signals from Jo are making him wonder if his best friend is as straight as he always seemed.

WARNING: Explicit content, strong language. A shameless amount of buzzwords. May cause second-hand embarrassment.

Meet the Author

K.A. Merikan is the pen name for Kat and Agnes Merikan, a team of writers, who are mistaken for sisters with surprising regularity. Kat’s the mean sergeant and survival specialist of the duo, never hesitating to kick Agnes’s ass when she’s slacking off. Her memory works like an easy-access catalogue, which allows her to keep up with both book details and social media. Also works as the emergency GPS. Agnes is the Merikan nitpicker, usually found busy with formatting and research. Her attention tends to be scattered, and despite being over thirty, she needs to apply makeup to buy alcohol. Self-proclaimed queen of the roads.

They love the weird and wonderful, stepping out of the box, and bending stereotypes both in life and books. When you pick up a Merikan book, there’s one thing you can be sure of – it will be full of surprises.

e-mail: kamerikan@gmail.com

More information about ongoing projects, works in progress and publishing at:

K.A. Merikan’s author page: http://kamerikan.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KAMerikan

Twitter (run by Kat): https://twitter.com/KA_Merikan

Agnes Merikan’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/AgnesMerikan

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6150530.K_A_Merikan

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/KAMerikan/

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Let the Romance Heat Up with the Summer Lovin’ Anthology (giveaway and excerpts)

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Summer Lovin 1000x400

Title:  Summer Lovin’

Author: LJ Hamlin, Janelle Reston, Eric Thornton, Jessica Chase, A. M. Leibowitz, Sarah Hadley Brook

Publisher:  Torquere Press

Cover Artist: Kris Norris

Release Date:  7/20/2016

Heat Level: ranges from 1-4

Pairing: F/F and M/M

Length: 44,000

Genre: Contemporary Romance, Historical Romance, Gay Romance, Lesbian Romance, Anthology

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Summer Lovin Cover

Synopsis

Back in the 1950s, leather jackets, white t-shirts, and poodle skirts were the biggest styles, and going “parking” was all the rage. Summer flings were the thing to do, whether it be with the cute tomboy that caught your eye in school, your older brother’s friend, or the hot mechanic who fixes your car just right. In Summer Lovin’, love doesn’t only have to last the summer.

These six stories are penned by both seasoned scribes and new authors; the anthology provides readers with the perfect opportunity to explore offerings from their favorite storytellers as well as find a new favorite or two.

Containing F/F and M/M stories from authors LJ Hamlin, Janelle Reston, Eric Thornton, Jessica Chase, A. M. Leibowitz, Sarah Hadley Brook, Summer Lovin’ is sure to have something for fifties loving readers.

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Excerpt

 

“You okay, little man?”

Billy startled at the deep, husky voice near his ear and turned to see his new acquaintance leaning into the car, watching him closely. He swallowed and tried not to focus on the musky scent rolling off the dark haired stranger. Fighting the urge to lean in and breathe him in, Billy’s eyes swept over the chiseled jaw, dark stubble and, oh god, those full rosy lips, before rising back up to meet his gaze. Deep chocolate eyes peered into his green ones, searching for something. Wait… He asked something, right?

“Umm, what did you say?”

A smile spread across his face and Billy trembled. God, he was the sexiest man Billy had ever seen.

“I asked if you were okay,” he repeated slowly.

Billy’s eyebrows furrowed then, and he looked down at the keys in his hand, his mind trying to process something. His eyes widened at the memory and he turned his gaze back at the stranger. “Wait! Did you call me ‘little man’?” he asked, incensed.

The sexy man nodded.

Billy harrumphed, his irritation obvious.

“Give me your name and I’ll stop calling you that,” the greaser offered, still smiling. The dimple in his left cheek only upped his sexiness.

“William Hadley. Billy,” he whispered, his cheeks heating up. “And, I’m five eight,” he huffed. Why did he say that? Why did he care what this guy thought of him?

“Well, Billy,” he leaned in closer, letting his breath ghost across Billy’s face. “I’m Gene Milgram and it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Gene,” Billy repeated, letting the name roll around on his tongue for a minute and swallowing hard when he realized Gene was still leaning into the car. “Um, I guess I need to call someone to tow it, huh? I wonder if there’s a pay phone anywhere near.”

Gene grinned. “Nope. But I can help you.”

Billy’s eyes widened. “You can? On a motorcycle?” He glanced back uncertainly at the small bike. “Um, yeah, I don’t think that’s strong enough to—”

Gene’s laughter rumbled out into the darkness and Billy looked him as if he was crazy. Did this guy seriously think a motorcycle could tow a big car?

“Sorry, Billy,” he chuckled. “No, I didn’t mean my bike. I own an auto shop and I just closed up a little while ago. Why don’t we just head back and get the tow truck and take care of things?”

“We?” Billy squeaked, glancing at the motorcycle again, his heart hammering in his chest.

Gene waggled his eyebrows at him, laughing. “Well, yeah, I can’t just leave you here in the dark. What if another opossum decides to pull something crazy again?”

Billy felt his face heat up. He knew Gene was just being friendly, but it had been a long time since another man had made him feel so off-kilter, even though he was sure Gene was straight. He looked back over his shoulder again and wrestled with his fear of motorcycles. Something told him that he could trust this man, though.

Sighing deeply, he finally nodded. Gene pulled the car door open and waited, his hand on the door handle. Once he climbed out, he felt a little lightheaded, swaying a little before Gene’s arm snaked around his waist, holding him close to his side.

“Whoa, there. You feeling dizzy?” Gene’s mouth was so close his breath caressed Billy’s neck, sending a shiver down his spine.

Billy nodded a little, feeling foolish. “My head hit the steering wheel, but my arms cushioned the blow. I think…I think I’m just a little dazed.”

Gene nodded his understanding and helped him up the short hill to his bike, parked on the side of the road. Billy startled when he saw it up close.

“That’s a 1947 Triumph Speed Twin! Is that a custom paint job?” Enthusiasm won out over his fear as he leaned in and traced his fingers along the seat.

Gene’s eyes widened in amazement and he finally let his arm slip away from Billy’s waist. “You know about bikes?”

“Yeah, a little. When I was a kid, I dreamed of owning one, but my mom always said they were too dangerous, of course. Then when I saw James Dean riding one, I decided to learn more about them. Last year, I finally decided to try taking a spin and I…I…” His face reddened and he looked at the ground. “I fell off the bike before I even started it,” he admitted.

Gene chuckled a little, but wisely kept his thoughts to himself.

Billy smiled, “Yeah, it wasn’t funny at the time, but…” He cleared his throat. “So, um, how do we do this?”

The greaser handed him the helmet. “Only got one and no way am I letting you ride without one.” He grinned. “You seem a little accident-prone to me.”

 

From “The Great Pretender” by Sarah Hadley Brook

Purchase

Torquere Press

Summer Lovin SquareMeet the Author

LJ Hamlin – L.J.Hamlin is a twenty something (getting older every day) writer, who has been writing all her life, mainly in notebooks no one else ever saw. But then she found M/M groups online and was encouraged by friends to share her stories. After a while (with a lot of pushing) she got brave enough to try getting published, so she could share with more people, and she hopes to never stop. LJ loves cats, and pretty much all animals, is a collector of many things, often weird, but most of all books.

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/L.j.hamlin91

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LjHamlin

Blog http://ljhamlinbooks.blogspot.com/

 

Janelle Reston – Janelle Reston is a pansexual powerhouse whose F/F and queer romance has appeared in numerous anthologies. Hobbies include watching The X-Files and making sexual innuendos. She lives in a northern lake town with her partner and their black cats.

Facebook Author Page: www.facebook.com/janellereston/

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/janellereston

Tumblr: http://janellereston.tumblr.com

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/author/jreston

Goodreads link: http://www.goodreads.com/janellereston

 

Eric Thornton – Eric Thornton tends to write what comes to mind. You never know what could come from him next. He lives in the south with his spouse who supports his work.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/eric.j.roberts.5

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/ericbkroberts/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Eric_Thornton_1

 

Jessica Chase – : Jessica Chase has been writing for what seems like her entire life, and finished her first short story at the age of five.  It wasn’t very good.  Since then, she’s improved a great deal, but writing has continued to be her passion.  She loves reading and enjoys exploring the worlds of others as well as creating her own and has been involved in several writing groups.  She writes all kinds of relationships and is always looking to write more, but M/M and F/F romance is something she is particularly fond of.  She enjoys fantasy and horror, and loves putting her own spin on the genres and creating interesting characters and worlds.  Jessica studied at Oxford University and fell in love with the city and its weird quirks and traditions.  She still reads anything she can get her hands on and spends her weekends wandering around various museums and old houses, walking through the countryside looking for inspiration, or sitting in the garden and playing with her pet tortoises.  She is lucky enough to have the support of some wonderful friends.

Website: http://chasestories.webs.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jessica.chase.96387

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jchasestories

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/jessicachasewri/

Other Social Media: http://JChaseStories.blogspot.co.uk

 

A.M. Leibowitz – A.M. Leibowitz is a queer spouse, parent, feminist, and book-lover falling somewhere on the Geek-Nerd Spectrum. Ze keeps warm through the long, cold western New York winters by writing about life, relationships, hope, and happy-for-now endings. Hir published fiction includes four novels as well as a number of short works, and hir stories have been included in anthologies from Supposed Crimes, Witty Bard, and Mischief Corner Books. In between noveling and editing, ze blogs coffee-fueled, quirky commentary on faith, culture, writing, books, and hir family.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amymitchell29

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/UnchainedFaith/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/amyunchained

Pinterest: https://twitter.com/amyunchained

Web site: http://amleibowitz.com

Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8544236.A_M_Leibowitz

 

Sarah Hadley Brook – Sarah Hadley Brook lives in the Midwest and is a mother of two wonderful young men. During the day, she works in the non-profit world, but reserves evenings for her hobby-turned-passion of writing, letting the characters she conjures up in her mind take the lead and show her where the story will go. When not working or writing, she can be found reading, working on dollhouses, trying her hand at new recipes, or watching old movies and musicals. She believes in “Happily Ever After” and strives to ensure her characters find their own happiness in love and life.

Website: www.sarahhadleybrookwrites.com

Giveaway

Rafflecopter Prize: One winner will be selected to win an eBook copy of the Summer Lovin’ Anthology.

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Review: Christmas Kitsch by Amy Lane

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Christmas Kitsch coverOn the outside Rusty Baker might look like just another stereotypical football player, just one of many in his high school that looked as though they were popped out of a mold for tall, big, blond rich boys.  But on the inside Rusty is different, a difference that remains hidden until Oliver Campbell, small, dark and out Oliver Campbell, enrolls in his high school and sits next to Rusty in class. When one of the more brutish football players starts in on Oliver in class, Rusty is there to cut him off, making his protection of Oliver clear to all.  A close friendship is started, one Rusty doesn’t understand.  Because Rusty suffers from poor self esteem and thinks he is stupid. Rusty can’t understand why the cute and highly intelligent Oliver would want to be his friend.  Then the day before Rusty is to leave for Berkeley, Oliver kisses him and everything changes for them both.

The hardest thing Rusty ever had to do was leave Oliver behind going to a community college while Rusty left town for a school he knew he wasn’t ready for and couldn’t survive in.  Rusty is under a mountain of stress over everything, from grades to his sexuality and the pressure almost does him in. When Rusty returns home for Thanksgiving, it all explodes when his parents catch him kissing Oliver in the driveway and they kick him out, homeless at the holidays.

While Oliver and his dad may not have material wealth, they are rich in acceptance and love.  And with their support and Oliver’s love, Rusty just might make it through not only the holidays but the rest of his life.

In Rusty Baker Amy Lane has created one of the most luminous, heartbreaking characters I have ever read.  Ten pages into the story I started weeping over this glorious man child who has been made to feel stupid and inadequate for all his years, promptly forgetting that Rusty exists only in the pages of Christmas Kitsch and the fertile imagination of Amy Lane.  Told from Rusty’s point of view, his thoughts and feelings (as well as the manner in which Rusty voices his views that shows just how deep his lack of self esteem is) engage the reader so throughly that you forget about everything around you except for Rusty and his halting path through life.

Trust me when I say that just when you think that Rusty can’t break your heart anymore, then he says something  that seems innocuous on the surface but is so shattering in the truth that it reveals that you find yourself breaking down yet again, grabbing for that second box of tissues while realizing that you are only on page 60 or so of a 256 page story.  Rusty Baker is so incandescent in his innocence and beauty that I almost expected the pages to glow.  He is textured, and glorious and unforgettable in every way.

But Rusty can’t make it alone, either in life or in the story.  So the author has created a group of characters every bit as remarkable and amazing as Rusty himself, starting with Oliver Campbell.  Oliver really is Rusty’s polar opposite from quick intelligence to his physical exterior.  Oliver’s mixed race parentage is evident not only in his name but in his small stature, dark eyes and skin. Equally rich is the latin culture which overlays everything at home from his family’s food to their family rituals.  Oliver is highly intelligent, generous of spirit and out about his sexuality.  This is our and Rusty’s first introduction to Oliver:

Oliver showed up in early September of my senior year, slender, brown on brown on brown. Dark brown hair cut with long bangs around his narrow face, dark brown eyes with thick, thick lashes, and light brown skin. He slouched quietly in the back of Mr. Rochester’s English Literature class and eyed the rest of us with sort of a gentle amusement.

It’s that “gentle amusement” that draws Rusty in as well as Oliver’s acceptance of him no matter what  Rusty might say or the way he struggles with everything in his life.  Oliver is there to quietly shore Rusty up, giving him a look at families who love and support each other with a generosity Rusty has never had in his life.  There is a quiet glow to Oliver that is never outshown by Rusty, they complement each other perfectly. I love Oliver and Oliver’s amazing dad, Arturo, both so alive that I absolutely believed in them as a family.  And that goes for Estrella, Rusty’s housekeeper and surrogate mom, as well as Nicole, Rusty’s young sister just as starved for love and family as Rusty is.  Nicole’s fragility is slowly revealed to Rusty and the reader as she becomes more of a presence in Rusty’s life.  I know that sounds odd but when you read the story you realize just how compartmentalized Rusty’s family is and the impact of that structure upon the children.

OK, I realize I am doing it again, treating these characters as real people.   Amy Lane is a superb storyteller.  She creates worlds, situations and yes, characters that seem as real as any you might meet outside your door.  They are flawed, they bleed as well as breathe.  And when they hurt, you will hurt and bleed along with them.  And that’s because somewhere those characters crossed the line from paper personas to people we love and care for as though they are family.  I have the empty tissues boxes to prove it.

What characters seemed removed, incomplete and insubstantial?  Well, that would be Rusty’s mother and father.  And with  good reason, because they feel that way to Rusty.  His parents are cold, detached from family warmth and familial love, driven by their own ambition and control.  By the author creating characters so coldly ephemeral and disengaged from their children, it helps to establish Rusty’s viewpoint as ours and it helps to understand his upbringing as well as Nicole’s.

There is laughter to be found among the pages to go with the river of tears you will shed for this amazing boy crying out for love and understanding.  And the reader will celebrate the happiness that Rusty (and Oliver) find together after all the obstacles have been surmounted.  I found myself, exhausted, red faced and snotty, surrounded happily by empty boxes of tissues at 3am and promptly wanted to do it all over again.

If I had a minuscule quibble with this story, it would be with the title.  I would have loved it if the title would have been free of holiday references.  Why?  Because I am afraid that at any other time of the year readers unfamiliar with either Amy Lane or this story might relegate it to the Christmas story genre instead of “the must read at any time of year’ category it so deserves.  But that is a wispy sort of quibble, lacking any substance and disappearing as we speak.

I loved, loved Christmas Kitsch.  It is heartwarming as well as heartrending. It is as joyous as it is poignant! And I will read it again and again because that’s what I  do with comfort reads with characters who are real to me and dear to my heart.  I am sure you will feel the same, so grab it up and start reading.  Have that tissue box handy, you will need it.  And as a extra bonus you will be helping LGBT youth in need as well.  This is a Highly Recommended, Best of 2013 or any year.  Don’t pass it by!

Cover art by LC Chase is soft and lovely.

Special Note:

20% of all proceeds from this title are donated to the Ali Forney Center in New York, whose mission “is to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth from the harm of homelessness, and to support them in becoming safe and independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood.” To learn more about this charity or to donate directly, please visithttp://www.aliforneycenter.org

Book Details:

256 pages
Expected publication: December 9th 2013 by Riptide Publishing (first published December 7th 2013)
ISBN13 9781626490864
edition language English
Riptide Publishing’s Home for the Holiday Series

Review: Chase The Stars (Lang Downs #2) by Ariel Tachna

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Rating: 5 stars

Chris Simms and his brother just happened to be in the wrong place and at the wrong time and now Chris was getting the beating of his life  by a gang of homophobic thugs.  His brother, Seth, runs off to find help and the jackaroos who return to intervene and take him to the hospital end up changing their lives forever.  One of the men to stop his attackers happens to be Macklin Armstrong who along with his partner Caine Neiheisal, offer Chris a job  and both brothers a place to live on Lang Downs, their sheep station. Chris realizes how badly he needs this place for himself to heal and for his brother’s safety but it is so hard for Chris to trust other people, especially with his history.

Jackaroo Jesse Harris is gay and quietly so as he has seen more than his share of homophobia on other sheep stations he has worked for.  Having a station manager and a station owner  who are not only gay but partners is taking some getting used to, so is not having to hide his sexuality as Jesse has always done before.  Then injured Chris Simms arrives at the station with his brother and Jesse’s offer to help Chris adjust to station life turns into mutual attraction between the two men and then so much more.  But Chris’ emotional state is in turmoil.  He feels guilty for not pulling his own weight on the station because of his injuries and ignorance. And so is being there for his brother as Seth adjusts to a life so different in every  respect from the one they were used to.  Can he and Seth make a home on Lang Downs and be happy?  And what about Jesse?  Most jackaroos are nomadic by nature, roaming from one sheep station job to another from season to season.  Would Jesse be able to make a commitment to Chris, a family, and life lived permanently at Lang Downs?  Impermanence is all Jesse has known but when he falls in love with Chris, he realizes in a panic that returning that love means a fundamental change in his life.  Now only if he can find the courage to accept that.

Chase The Stars is the sequel to Inherit The Sky, the first Lang Downs novel and I certainly hope this is not the last visit to the men and the Lang Down sheep station I have come to love.  Once more we are pulled into the world of wide open spaces of New South Wales and quiet reserved men who make their living off the land.  Caine Neiheisel and his partner, Macklin Armstrong are featured here just as much as Chris Simms and Jesse Harris to my utter joy.  Caine and Macklin have had six months to adjust to their new love and partnership.  Lang Downs too is having  its own  adjustments to make to having an openly gay owner and manager.  As Caine and Macklin work to create a successful and accepting work place, they also are still discovering new things about themselves as they  learn to trust each other and lean completely upon the other man fpr their emotional support. Work schedules are tight on Lang Downs where they are shorthanded as not all the seasonal jackaroos will accept working with gay men and Macklin is still keeping secrets from Caine about his history to Caine’s frustration.  Nothing ever comes quickly and there is work to be  done, even on relationships, if all are to succeed.

Into this evolving mixture of men and relationships, Tachna adds the Simms brothers, Chris and Seth who are woefully in need of sanctuary, a home and support.  At Lang Downs, they find all that and more as Caine and Macklin provide a needed portrait of two gay men who love each other and successfully work together.  Chris and his brother Seth were tossed out of their home by their stepfather after their mother died  and Chris was having a hard time just getting them food and shelter on a day to day basis.  With Caine and Macklin making them feel at home, Chris can finally get past a state of stress and starts to think about a future for them both.  Chris Simms and his brother, Seth are wonderful characters and work perfectly within the established framework Ariel Tachna has created.  We have already gotten a real understanding of the flow and pace of life on a sheep station, we anticipate the seasonal duties the jackaroos have before them as much as they do, and we sympathize with Chris and Seth’s feelings as outsiders when they first arrive at Lang Downs.  But then the station’s strangeness starts to wear off as Chris and Seth find their way into the rhythm of life at Lang Downs. Seth settles down as he starts the School of the Air with the other children and finds an outlet for his mechanical nature in helping to work on the engines, the people around him making him feel like family.  But it is Chris who we empathize with the most.  He is the one beaten for his sexuality, he is the one who has shouldered all the responsibility for his brother and we breathe a sigh of relief and joy as Chris learns to trust in his situation and the men around him.  Chris’ vulnerability and sensitive nature engages our affections from the beginning and we root for him to succeed and find happiness just as Caine and Macklin have.

The character of Jesse Harris brings a wonderful contrast to Chris Simms and Macklin Armstrong.  Jesse Harris is more typical of the seasonal jackaroos who work the sheep stations, never settling at one place for long.  These men have learned to be self sufficient and hard, reserved and used to isolation.  Still Jesse’s homosexuality sets him apart from the others and the high standards that Macklin and Caine set are not only new but bring the potential for more into a future Jesse had never thought of for himself.  Watching Jesse change and adapt to new thoughts and feelings is like watching the parched ground soak up the rain after a steady shower, the cracks fill up and finally disappear as the ground repairs itself.  We thrill to watch that evolution happen within Jesse as well.

And that’s really how this book and Inherit The Sky feel to me.  They are as much about a life lived as close to nature and as in tune with the seasons as one can be.  Changes in emotions and thoughts are measured as incrementally as changes in the land around them.  The wind blows a little  colder, the rains and sleet pour down upon men and sheep equally.  And life is slow until the threat of dingos appears and then the rush to face the threats is quick and fierce as the storms themselves. There is the calm enjoyment of the beauty of the outback and the clear night skies contrasted with the life and death nature of the floods in the rainy season.  This is a novel that spreads out before you in as elemental and  earthy manner as the land itself.  We are made to see an Australian night sky ablaze with stars, and feel the cold seep into bones of the men checking the fence line and what a gift that turns out to be.  It is a treasure when an author can meld you seamlessly into their world, make you a part of  their  characters lives so completely that you hurt and laugh when they do.  Ariel Tachna did that with Inherit The Sky and does it again here with Chase The Stars.

Easing back into the world of Lang Downs was like revisiting with old friends and meeting new ones as well.  I love watching the changes in the lives of the characters I have come to love, whether the permutations inch forward or flow fast like a stream.  I hope that Ariel Tachna  brings us back here again, to see what changes time has brought and to whom Lang Downs has given sanctuary and home.  Until then, I will be picking these two books up again and again to read and remember.

Cover by Anne Cain is lovely and perfect for the book and the story within.

Review of Love in La Terraza by Ethan Day

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Rating: 3.85 stars

Cain Elliot is desperate beyond measure and about to give up all hope.  His grandmother entrusted La Terreza, her 1920’s Spanish courtyard apartment complex to him after her death.  La Terraza is special in so many ways, its beautiful  architecture, its magical  courtyard and of course, the unique group of characters that have come to live there over the years, including himself.  And now he is about to let them all down.  La Terraza needs a multitude of repairs to meet code and Cain doesn’t have the money.  He has been to bank after bank to no avail and he is close to bankruptcy.

To make matters worse, there is a real estate developer who is hounding Cain to sell, its tactics almost feeling like harassment in intensity. Feeling like an absolute failure after his last meeting at the bank, Cain heads over to Sully’s Tavern to meet up with his group of friends.  Also at the bar is Henry Abrams. Henry came to town to accept a position in the architectural firm Hamilton-Bach, so he is new, lonely and out looking around town.  He finds Cain and is immediately in lust but after their conversation and a night spent together, Henry finds that they have so much in common.  Cain and Henry really like each other, and Cain’s vulnerability brings out the need to protect him in Henry.Henry also falls in love with La Terraza, it’s magic and architectural beauty capturing his attention and admiration as much as its owner.   In a short amount of time, Cain and Henry finds themselves on the road to a real  relationship, the first for each of them in a long time.  And then Henry and Cain realize his new firm is the one working with the developer to acquire La Terraza.

Henry is horrified to find they want to tear it down, and Cain worries about Henry’s ties to a firm whose methods he thinks is disreputable. As the stress and tensions mount up, their new found relationship starts to fall apart.  Then the plumbing starts to fail at La Terraza and Cain has no money left to fix it.  Henry wants Cain to find happiness with him but at what cost? Cain must overcome doubt and his past. Henry must decide if what he wants is what Cain needs. In the middle of it all is  La Terraza’s future.

I have been a fan of Ethan Day’s since Sno Ho made its debut.  Ethan Day has such a winning way with his characterizations, snappy dialog and portrayals of love relationships from disastrous to dynamic that I eagerly await each new story from him.  Love in La Terraza is no exception.  It has all the earmarks of Day’s earlier lighthearted stories while still capturing some of the darker elements of his latter works.  Cain Elliot is absolultely a Ethan Day creation.  I could tell that immediately.  From his snarky voice, easy tolerance of quirky personas that surround him, and the “oh so happy to hop in bed with you, gorgeous” attitude that he presents Henry with the first night they meet, he is everything I love about  Ethan Day’s writing.  I adore Cain.  He is lovable, vulnerable, loyal and insecure about his abilities.  Henry is his wonderful counterpart.  Solid, ambitious, hardworking to a fault,  still he yearns for something more to his life and recognizes it in Cain.  It’s their hesitant fumble towards a relationship and mutual understanding that is the heart of this story.  Hearfelt, realistic, and full of missteps that occurs in most beginning relationships, it will speak to every person reading this story.

Also true to a Ethan Day novel are the wonderful oddballs that live in La Terraza and make up a core family group for Cain.  There’s the Scalia brothers, Vito and Tony,a pair of elderly men who play Frank Sinatra tunes, blasting them out into the courtyard, Mrs. Ruth Robinson, a grey panther married many times over and still going out on dates nightly, Eddie,  blind and a teacher at the school for the Blind and his boyfriend Matt, musicians Pixie and Thrash.  Thrash speaks as though he’s from England  but is actually from the Midwest, both are in a band, and Nic and Stu, her husband, a recently married couple playing at being hippies and close friends of Cain’s.  Each a splendid portrait of eccentric individuality. These people will absolutely engage your affections. They did mine.  I wanted to get to know all of them so much better.  In fact I wanted to move right into La Terraza and make myself at home with all of them.

La Terraza herself is that grand dame of Spanish buildings the shout out romance at  every cobblestone and ooze amore from it’s stuccoed walls.  I  wanted to be strolling through the courtyard myself, so vividly did Ethan Day describe her.  La Terraza is a character in her own right, sumptuous, a true classic beauty.  I wonder if  La Terraza exists outside of Ethan Day’s imagination, I hope so.  But either a figment  or reality, La Terraza lives on these pages.

There is so much to like here that I find it hard to bring up the quibbles I had with it. And that would be the secondary plot surrounding the group of  firms trying to take La Terraza away from Cain, no matter the legalities.  I won’t go into more details but I felt at times I was in another novel with this storyline.  It just did not seem to fit in with the romance between Cain and Henry because the way Day built up the relationship between the two men was so well done that the second section seemed almost clumsy in comparison.   I knew without a doubt before I even got halfway through the story what was going on with the building, who was doing it and who was the ultimate “bad guy” at the top of the evil chain.  In these economic times, it is easy to believe that Cain is having money flow issues to go with rehabbing an older structure without bringing in a melodrama that seeks to drown out everything with it’s exaggerated accompanying score.  Without the melodrama, this is a solid 4  star story.  Unfortunately, with the cloak and dagger stuff thrown in, it takes away from a wonderful romance and pulls it all back into a “nice story” category.

Ethan Day fans won’t want to pass this one up because it is an Ethan Day story.  For those of you new to the author, seek out his other books before you read this one.  Try Sno Ho for a wonderfully comedic bent on romance or At Piper’s Point, a more serious contemporary romance that gets it all right from beginning to end.  There are so many wonderful Ethan Day books out there.  I am just not sure this is one of them.

Cover art by Adrian Nicholas. The two men are lovely but the building standing in for La Terraza is a misstep.

Review of One Day at a Time by Dawn Douglas

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Rating: 4 stars

Homeland Agent Pete Olivera is only on loan to the Evansville Police Department.  Temporary assignments mean going in doing the job and getting out, no emotional entanglements needed or wanted.  Then Officer Joseph West shoots a young boy in self defense and Olivera’s self isolation is compromised by his need to help Pete through the trauma he knows the young officer is going through. Olivera understands the crushing guilt and pain West is feeling because he has been there himself.

Olivera shows up on West’s doorstep and hauls Joe away to Olivera’s rustic cabin in an effect to help Joe comes to terms with the shooting.  Peter’s empathy for Joe starts to turn into a deeper emotion that Joe returns,  A single redemptive weekend has given the men a chance at a relationship and peace if only they will allow themselves to grab at it.

At 65 pages, Dawn Douglas gives us an intense glimpse into the traumatic beginnings of a relationship between two men working in law enforcement.  One, Pete Olivera, is a hardened experienced agent.  Olivera rose out of the Hispanic ghettos of Los Angeles, served in Afghanistan before returning to the States and working in Homeland Security.  A solitary man by choice, he is still able to recognize the depths of Joe’s pain and want to help.  Joseph West is younger with less experience and time on the force.  He has coached baseball teams made up of troubled kids and dreamed of working in the Gang unit of the Evansville PD.  When the youth he shoots in self defense turns out to be someone he once coached, the pain and guilt is trebled and he crumbles.  Dawn Douglas makes it all feel so real.  The portraits she paints of these two men are undeniably some of the most realistic short story characterizations I have read.  Joseph West’s pain is palpable and you can feel the weary wisdom that experience has given Pete Olivera. The cabin is the perfect location for West’s intervention and the descriptions of the rustic setting add the right amount of isolation and peace necessary for it to work.  The author gives us real men, the situation is one we read about daily in the papers, and makes their shared pain that brings them together understandable and easy to empathize with.

Douglas gets all the details right, including Pete’s remote cabin where he goes for peace and quiet whenever possible.  With every moment the men and Joe’s dog, Jack, share out in the woods they allow themselves to open up to each other and the possibility of a continuing relationship. Every hesitant step forward is so beautifully portrayed and always in keeping with the established personas.  No instant love, no overly romantic prose between the men, just authentic dialog and small moments that keep adding up page after page until we reach a totally satisfactory and believable end.  I kept flipping back and going over certain sections, admiring how the author brought character and scene together in a great cohesive portrait of pain and quilt absolved, if only temporarily.

This was the first story  I have read by Douglas. I am going to immediately seek out more.  I admire and recommend One Day At A Time  and can’t wait to see what she will do next.

Cover:  LC Chase is the artist for this remarkable cover.  The naked torsos are offset by the lovely painting of the cabin at the bottom of the cover.  Everything is just right.  Great job.

Review of The Cool Part of His Pillow by Rodney Ross

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Rating:5 stars

It’s Barry Groom’s forty-fifth birthday and he’s wondering why his partner of twenty-five years isn’t answering his cell phone.  Andy should have been back home by now.  So when Barry’s cell rings, he doesn’t even look at the caller id until an unfamiliar voices asks for him and his world explodes.  Andy and their two beloved  pugs, Gertie and Noel, all dead, crushed by a falling crane downtown.  Barry doesn’t even know what they were doing there. From there on out, Barry’s world consists of pain, and loss,and grief and lack of direction.  His, no make that their friends and even his mother try to console him but he finds himself to be unconsolable, watching the tv video of the accident over and over again.

Faced with his business he can’t force himself to go to or phone calls he can’t accept, Barry heads off to his and Andy’s home in Key West hoping to find some answers and much needed space. Time spent in Key West only emphasizes his status as the one left behind as he works on chores Andy would have done at their house and runs into friends who haven’t yet heard the news.  Another change is needed, this time to New York City where Barry is hoping that old memories are overrun by the crowds, the frantic pace and noise of the City. Trying to embrace change in his life, Barry tries everything from online dating to nudercise in his efforts to recover from grief and move his life forward.  But an unexpected event brings him home to where it all started, “back to the town where he grew up for one more ironic twist that teaches him how to say good-bye with grace.”

What an amazing story and one of the hardest reviews I have had to write. For the longest time, I would come to the keyboard to write the review and come up with nothing.  Or come up with far too much.  And I find that fitting because those are the emotions this book left me with.  The first part of the story had me as inconsolable as Barry, my empathy so strongly engaged that I sobbed at his loss and raged at life’s unfairness along with him.  At other times, I felt empty, hating to move forward with the book, so indelible is the imprint that Barry, Andy, and his memories leave upon you.  Grief is a tough topic and an even tougher thing to get through.  Who of us has not lost either a person or a pet and been overwhelmed by the vacancy they left and grief stricken at the thought of not seeing or hearing them ever again?  Rodney Ross takes us back to those events in our lives through Barry Grooms and makes us relive it all over again through him.  And he does so beautifully, the stages of grief rendered so realistically that I felt I was reading an autobiography instead of a fictional account.

Ross takes one of life’s great unfairnesses “why the one I loved” and gives us Barry’s recovery from the worst horror to happen to him, the loss of his soul mate.  In doing so, Rodney Ross gives us a character so real I was convinced he bleeds when cut, gifts Barry with a voice so unforgettable, so persistent in its need to be heard that I would recognize it on the other end of the phone or isolate it in a crowd of New Yorkers. It is one of intelligence, humor, deprecation, and sadness.  Barry’s outlook is dry witted, reflective and full of loss, less so once he reaches New York.  Here is Barry in his NYC condo, responding to his online dating emails.

“During this I received my first dick pic.  I primly respond that I prefer a face pic.  I get a second dick pic with a face drawn on it.  The lips were especially upsetting.”

A perfect Barryism.  I will admit to roaring with laughter through Barry’s dating travails whether it was Hugo who Barry thought was “furry as in bear” turns out to be a Furry complete with Cousin Itt’s slippers. There’s Olaf the fire eater, Bryce the actor who thinks Madonna was the first Evita and can’t place the name Patti LuPone, and Boaz the beer bully.  And then there is Barry attempting to meet other and exercise during an hysterical session of Nudercise!  Yes, it is exactly what one thinks it is.  This includes a hard look at his body and a Nudercise participant who uses the time to masturbate instead of centering himself, directly on the mat in front of Barry. Through every humiliating episode and outrageous encounter, I felt myself nodding in sympathy and acknowledgement of the pitfalls and ego deflating scenes that dating after 40 brings with it.  Then Barry hooks up with the store Theatrilicious, a theater district shop that sells or rather stores bits of everything Broadway.  Its owner is Marjorie Lewis-Kohl, in her sixties, painfully thin with capes that vary with her moods.  Soon Barry is working there, accumulating employees that start to look like friends and his life starts to fill up.

There are so many remarkable characters in this story, none of whom ever feel anything less than real as well.  From Mr Floor 14 whose daily personal grooming habits in the elevator signal the way Barry’s day is going to turn out to Barry’s mother, Aunt Sarajane, Artie from the store, Marjorie herself and Jarod Pugh, the young limousine driver Barry starts to date. Each is so fiercely unique, so strongly authentic that I kept going back to the bio to make sure this was fiction.  And both Key West and New York City acquit themselves beautifully as main characters as well.  I love Key West and Ross gets the tone exactly right, no small wonder as he lives there.  But Rodney Ross must also spend an equal amount of time in NYC, as his love affair with the city comes across as strongly as the people inhabiting his pages.

Life is full of surprises, some bad, some not so good and some wonderful.  Ross recognizes this and brings it into Barry’s tale in full measure.  Everytime I think someone or something is solidly known, Ross upends it and gives us a different perspective on that person or that event.  We start off that way and we end there as well.  In the beginning, Barry is standing in front of a counter as the store clerk says “You change.” At the end of his story, we find ourselves with Barry standing there again, waiting patiently as “Bunwoman” taps the register again.  “You change”. And by then, Barry has and so have we by meeting him and living through his journey with him.  When I picked up this story and the tears started falling, I never thought that I would find myself missing Barry.  And now 340 pages later, I do.  I miss him terribly and wish him well in his new life.  I know I will be skipping back to The Cool Part of His Pillow for small visits, something I could never have imagined when I started.  Some might ask if this is a love story and I will say that it is but not in exactly the way you might think.  It is a love sonnet, it is an elegy, it is a love affair with new beginnings while never losing sight of the loves of the past.  Pick this book up.  Don’t let the fear of loss and the pain of grief in the beginning pass by this remarkable story of recovery and perseverance done with love and humor.  It is one of my top books of the year.  I think it will be yours too.  Bravo, Mr. Ross, bravo.

Cover:  Art by Anne Cain. Simple, elegant and haunting.

Available at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, and All Romance Ebooks.

Review of Weekends by Edward Kendrick

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Rating: 3.25 stars

Marcus Hampton is secure in his habits, secure in his job as an accountant, and secure in his identity as a confirmed bachelor. He has his cat, Daisy, and his routines. Each and every day rolling with the same predictability, and he likes that too.  Until he meets Demitri Costas, a young photographer who snaps a picture of him.  Demitri is immediately attracted to the older man, and not just because he is wonderfully photogenic under his lens. Dimitri asks Marcus to pose for him, and to Marcus’ surprise, he agrees.

One photo session leads to another and Demitri develops a crush on Marcus but does nothing, believing Marcus to be married and straight. Marcus is neither. When Demitri discovers Marcus is both gay and available, he pursues  the older man but Marcus gently rebukes Demitri as Marcus thinks he must represent a father figure for the young photographer.  Through holidays and weekends, the men struggle with their feelings towards each other, family  expectations, and their pasts as well as insecurities.  Marcus’ self image of himself as a confirmed old bachelor is one Dimitri must shatter if  they are to have a future together.

Weekends charts the relationship between two very different men from its beginnings to that of an established couple.  Each chapter represents a different weekend in their lives, a neat format for the story.  The first chapter is titled The Weekend Before Thanksgiving.  In it, we establish a “base line” for each man before they meet.  We see their lives, their  routines, and in Demitri’s case, his hopes of becoming a photographer.  I like that Kendrick chooses the weekends around the holidays to move the story forward, as that is a time of vulnerability and introspection for most people, especially those alone.  With Marcus, it is particularly affecting, as Daisy is his only companion and his aloneness comes into stark focus for the reader.

Kendrick delivers two very believable people in Marcus and “Mitri” as he is called.  Also authentic is the manner in which Mitri  slowly brings Marcus out of his rigid notions of himself as “old and settled”.  Mitri is fighting against his father’s expectations for him to finish college with a degree in Engineering as all he longs to do is take pictures and make a living do so.  Even with a marked lack of communication between the two, they slowly make their way into a relationship.

So. Believable characters, creative story format, happy ending.  Why the long face, girl, as they say.  Interest. For however nice Marcus and Demetri are, they are boring.  And I am not talking about a lack of angst here.  I have never felt that angst is a necessary part of a story, although it helps to balance out a story.  I have read other novels that I loved whose  plot also revolves around the same storyline.  Men meet, get to know each other, fall in love, and live happily ever after or at least for now.  The big difference is that I found those men compelling.  They endeared themselves to me in multiple ways, it could be a sense of humor, an engaging outlook on life, something that says wow, I am so happy to got to know you.  It is like that in real life.  Sometimes you click with someone, sometimes you don’t.   Some people are beige to other’s rainbow.  Unfortunately for me, there was a whole lot of beige and very little clicking going on here. There is much to admire in Weekends but in the end, the main characters make it far too easy to forget them once the story is over.

Cover: Cover art by Reese Dante.  I normally love Dante’s covers but here I am of two minds.  One, I am the only person who sees George Bush in the man in the front? I am not sure if I find that hysterical or scary. The other says “great job”, love the relevancy of the mens ages and great design. But boy, does he look like George Bush….

Review of Shelton’s Homecoming (Shelton #4) by Dianne Hartsock

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Rating: 4 stars

Shelton has just flown home after receiving a phone call telling him his lover, Nevil, was injured and in the hospital.  Nevil is going to be fine but the accident has made it clear that something needs to change in his life, and change now. When Shelton took the promotion and transferred to another city, he never realized the full impact of a long distance relationship would be to him and Nevil.  After 6 months, he has had enough and the accident just clarified that.  In fact, Shelton realizes he wants even more from Nevil.  He wants permanence in the form of marriage, something Nevil has been very clear about not wanting.  When an ex boyfriend of Nevil’s invites them to his marriage, all the old jumbled up feelings come out and Shelton wonders if Nevil will ever come around to a future as husband and husband.

Shelton’s Homecoming is the fourth in the Shelton series but the first I have read by Dianne Hartsock.  The books plot the romance of Shelton and Nevil whose last names are never given in this book.  By Shelton’s Homecoming, their romance is an established one that has undergone an upheaval in Shelton’s Choice (Shelton #3).  The upheaval is obviously Shelton’s promotion in his bank job which necessitated a move to another city.  Now Shelton is only home on the weekends and the constant travel and loneliness is taking its tole on both men. Dianne Hartsock does a wonderful job of giving us two men deeply in love but still making adjustments to their relationship.  Shelton is someone you can easily identify with.  He took a promotion that he knew he deserved and wanted but the reality of that choice on their relationship is something far different then he had imagined.  Shelton is tired and stressed.  And then gets the phone call to say Nevil has been injured while he is out of town and guilt is added to the pain of their separation.  There are many couples today who have a similar arrangement whether by choice or economics so all the emotions on display here ring true.  Nevil is a little more conservative in his approach to their relationship but clearly he relishes the fact that  Shelton has come home and he has missed him dearly. I don’t have enough of their history on hand but it seems that he might be older than Shelton, at least he comes across that way.  At any rate, Nevil is another complete character with complex feelings about gay marriage equating with permanence as he feels they already have that.

Much time is spent having sex, lots of hot sex, but as the men have been separated  essentially for 6 months and love each other deeply, I can buy the “jump his bones at every possible moment” action as the author keeps remembering to bring the plot in as well.  There is really one issue for the couple to deal with as Shelton decides in the beginning to return home and that is one of marriage.  They live in a state where they can register as domestic partners but marriage is not legal.  So Nevil doesn’t think having a piece of paper, one not even backed by their state’s laws, is necessary to their relationship.  He feels they are committed to one another so nothing more is needed.  Shelton, on the other hand, looks at that piece of paper as evidence of a long term commitment visible by wedding rings to all around them and he wants it badly.  Hartsock makes us understand both Shelton and Nevil’s position on the matter which makes the resolution even more satisfying.

This is a heartwarming story and a quick read. I loved watching Nevil’s change of heart and watching Shelton and Nevil take their relationship to a deeper level of commitment.  Very well done.  I might go back to the beginning to see how it all started but really don’t feel that I have to in order to understand both men and their love for each other.  I anticipate that Dianne Hartsock will continue the series and that a wedding is on the horizon.  Count me in as I plan to be there when it happens.

Cover: Cover art by Mina Carter.  I love the colors and the simplicity of the clasped hands is lovely.

Shelton stories in the order they are written:

Shelton In Love (Shelton #1)

Shelton’s Promise (Shelton #2)

Shelton’s Decision (Shelton #3)

Shelton’s Homecoming (Shelton #4)