Review of The Florist (Workplace Encounters #8) by Serena Yates

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Rating: 3 stars

Dylan White, free spirit and free lance florist designer, is on vacation when he gets a call that will change his life.  His friend, Mike Benton, has died and left him everything he had owned, including a house and florist shop in Jacksonville, Florida.  Dylan lands in Jacksonville and heads to the law offices handling Mike’s will and funeral services.  As Dylan leaves the law firm, he runs smack dab into a human wall in the form of Sean Mellick.  Sean Mellick is a junior defense lawyer with the same firm handling Mike’s affairs and is immediately struck by his attraction to the gorgeous man leaving his law firm.

Dylan finds himself similarly attracted to Sean.  Suddenly, he is finding reasons to stay in town, settle down and run a business.  As Dylan and Sean embark upon a romance, problems with the shop he inherited and a law case Sean is involved in rise up to threaten their new formed relationship.  Can Dylan throw aside his temptations to leave and fight instead for love and a home?

I had a hard time staying with this book but it took me some time to figure out why.  Serena Yates has the elements in place for a riveting story. We have a commitment phobic free spirit and a work obsessed lawyer coming together with a couple of stressful events thrown in their path to happiness.  The characters seem likable and their situations appeared realistic.  So what was the problem?  Why didn’t the story or the people engage me? The answer I keep coming back to is that I just didn’t buy what the author was trying to sell me.

Let’s start with the characterizations.  Dylan White is supposed to be this amazing larger than life bon vivant, a true free spirit. But the author never gives us one, not in her descriptions nor dialog.  We are told he is one, because he is on vacation and left the florist shop his parents own. Why?  Because he didn’t like the floral designs they were putting out.  That’s a free spirit?  The only thing that says impulsive free spirit is the statement in the beginning telling us that Dylan is one.  The same goes for Sean Mellick.  We are supposed to buy that Sean is a young man driven to become partner at his law firm, putting that goal above all else, including a personal life.  How do we know this?  A senior partner is surprised he has a date and again, the author told us so.  As far as I could tell, the senior partner could have been surprised because Sean is socially inept.  Again, there is no backstory or pertinent characteristics to support this view of Sean Mellick.    It all comes back to the fact that an author must build a character/characters that a reader will believe in.  If that person has a devil may care spirit, show me in dialog, history and actions. Don’t just leave him flat on the page.  If you want me to  believe a character is driven, convince me of that!  Don’t just tell me he is one.  I never believed in either character because there was never any followup to support that initial description and my interest in the story was gone.

If you can overlook the superficial characterizations, then the next problem lies in the criminal element Yates introduces into her story.  It just never made any sense.  The problem at Dylan’s new shop and Sean’s case are supposed to be connected but little is made of that fact.  Everything is not as it appears at the floral shop.  An interesting element is thrown at us, but this plot line is essentially wasted, as it is not well developed, and in the end not necessary to the story.  Nor is Sean’s job, which we were made to believe was a singular goal of his.  All these roadblocks or issues the author raises for the characters just slide away, another unreal or unbelievable  element in a story full of them.

So in the end I didn’t buy the characters or the storyline.  This is the only book I have read from the Workplace Encounters series so I won’t write them off based on this alone.  But I am not recommending this for anyone other than a hardcore Serena Yates fan.

cover:  Cover Artist is Reese Dante.  The cover is just ok, doesn’t speak to anything inside the book or the story.

Review of Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino

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Rating: 4.5 stars

Brad just had an epiphany, several actuality.  Too bad it happens when his teammate bends over to expose his hairy ass in the communal shower. It’s not just his obvious physical reaction to the moment but all the moments leading up to this one that tells Brad that yes, he really is gay no matter how hard he has denied it. Now what is he going to do about it?

All his life Brad Feller has done what people expected of him.  Huge physique? Athletics all through school into university, while a little voice in his head whispers he would be happier in home economics and cooking classes.  Join a frat full of jocks because of a family legacy and expectations? Yeah, and because he needs to the money for school.  Date girl after girl even after he starts to realize he is using them as a front? The answer is yes to his growing shame. And then there is Sebastian, his TA in the History classes he took for graduation.  Sebastian is gorgeous, cool, hot and oh so out.  Sebastian is also the star performer in all of Brad’s dreams and hopes. Brad wants to come out but doesn’t know how.  His whole world is about to change.

Sebastian is aware of the hot jock watching him in class.  A straight guy , the Frat Boy, right? But a meeting over a paper and Brad himself tells Sebastian a different story.  Brad wants him and Sebastian is only too happy to oblige, take a teacher roll as it were.  But the sex between them is more than hot, it is mind blowing, and perhaps  something more than Sebastian wants to admit.  Can Frat Boy and Toppy admit to the changing relationship between them and grasp the love within their reach?

This book more than met my expectations.  I had expected a cute, somewhat fluffy enjoyable book about coming out and opposites attracting.  This was so much more.  Let’s start with characterization, which for me is always the driving force behind terrific books.  Brad Feller is such a surprising character.  Yes, his exterior is that of a intimidating jock but his interior? Inside he is an almost excruciatingly vulnerable young man trying to understand his sexuality along with his need to be safe and loved.  That his inner voice is also honest and humorous is a huge plus as well. Brad is well aware of the dichotomies he represents, the brooding jock exterior versus the uncertain, insecure, shy young man he really is. Years of hiding his real self has also isolated him as he keeps even his so called friends at arms length.  Tenino has done such an excellent job in creating Brad that from the first inner mumblings of Brad’s thoughts on his life and sexuality, I was hooked.  Not only hooked but in love.  How could you not fall in love with a compassionate, funny, gay chef in jocks clothing who first gets in touch with his inner sub by interacting with his   hair brush in a way not sanctioned by its manufacturer.  Trust me, I was choking in laughter over that one and you will too.

And then there is Sebastian.  In other hands, I am sure he could come across as a complete jerk, a player with a revolving door in his bedroom.  But again Anne Tenino gives us a complicated, totally real person who is more than a match for our Brad.  Sebastian appreciates Brad and truly sees the real person Brad is while totally appreciating the gorgeous body toned through constant workouts and athletics.  Sebastian too must work through his own issues before he can accept the fact that what he is feeling is love for Brad and not just an appreciation of their great sex life.  Sebastian is deserving  of Brad’s love, it just takes him some time to realize it.

There is wonderful humor throughout the entire story.  This includes one of the most memorably funny coming out scenes I have read recently.  I laughed until I cried, trust me it’s hilarious.  This story has it all.  Pitch perfect dialog, outstanding characters, very hot sex scenes (waving fan) and a heart warming tale of coming out and coming to terms with who you really are. I wanted more, much more of Brad and Sebastian, that was my only complaint.  So will you. You really don’t want to miss this story.  It’s that great.  Trust me.

Cover:  What a great cover.  Cover artist is LC Chase and I think they did a wonderful job. Loved it.

Why A Series Can Make My Heart Sing!

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It’s no secret that I love books and always have.  From my earliest memories of listening to someone read to me then transitioning to being old enough to pick up a book myself to while away the time. When I was younger, my family moved around every couple of years or more as my father’s job was to evaluate school systems. While not a hardship, it’s not conducive to the young who find it hard to leave friends and special places behind again and again.  As I got older and the moving proved more stressful, I turned to books for companionship.  Books, never far from me from birth (a given with parents as educators), became my constant companions. They became my escape from reality, an acceptable form of “invisible friend”, my Harvey. I was lucky in that one of my uncles, a great uncle really, worked at Charles Scribner’s & Sons. Uncle Wade sent us boxes of books of all types and genres, most of which were too old for me (Frank Yerby, really?) and that created its own special allure, to be old enough to read all those  books!  A new goal and easily fed addiction formed early in life – I was seven by then.

Have I said that books fascinate me? It was always just a matter of minutes before I lost myself in an author’s special universe. Their characters jumped to life on their pages waving swords or crawling through tunnels, the places they created became worlds whose paths I wished to tread and on whose seas I wished to voyage. Don’t you remember picking up a book and starting to read, and thinking please, please, never let it end?  That was me, out in the woods or under a blanket in bed, book in hand, eyes shut tight and wishing with all my might for a magic wand and horses with wings.

With some books, just one book is sufficient to satisfy your need for the world the author created.  You read it and are happy to have visited there.  They were great hosts, told you a marvelous story and fed you a meal that left you full if not completely replenished. When it came time to take your leave,you wished those characters well and felt that while you have enjoyed the visit other destinations were calling and you must be off. My Friend Flicka was one. Treasure Island was another.  So was Old Yeller, Dahlgren and National Velvet and hoards of nameless books of my youth. But then there are those books whose characters became friends or heros, the worlds they lived in were places I yearned to go, each and every element necessary and magical to me at the time. Those stories had multiple books called a series! From the mundane to the mystical, I gobbled up series with all the ardor and fervor of a zealot.

For me a series meant never having to leave your favorite characters behind or the universe they inhabited.  After you finished one story, you could look forward to a new adventure, a new challenge or a new journey taken with the same beloved people/beings you met in the first book.  Sometimes the characters stayed the same, they lived in their old house, had the same friends and stayed the same age.  I am thinking Nancy Drew here with Beth, George and Ned.  And sometimes the characters grew up like those in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.  But whatever the shape the narrative took, I knew that I would be visiting a familiar place but with unknown consequences. Oh the anticipation, the agony, the  time I spent daydreaming about what was to come next for my heros (of all genders and species).

Whether it was L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz books or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings , book series have been my affordable addiction. Not possible to own a herd of horses in a suburban backyard? Let’s substitute dragons for horses and scarf up Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern. My parents inform me that we are southbound, going to visit the relatives again this summer. My first reaction? OK, second reaction? Hide all of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover books in my suitcase to pull out at the cousins first suggestion to Dippity Do my hair and head out to the Dairy Queen. Series after series, genre after genre, my addiction grew and my bookshelves groaned.

Has my addiction to series dwindled as I have aged? Not on your life! Don’t look at me like that!  I know you have been there along with me. Haven’t you ever reached the end of a book that has kept you mesmerized from word one and wanted to scream out ‘Noooooooo, I don’t want it to end”?  Or had the characters in the latest book you were reading seem so real that the last sentence of the epilogue left you feeling bereft? Or maybe the world that came alive in between the pages was so vivid that you could smell the alien air and feel the magic in the landscape?   It still happens to me at 2 or 3 am in the morning (just like always) when I come to the end of a gripping saga I started earlier that day and never put down.  I scramble to get back to the pages in front and then in the back to see what else the author has written. If stymied, and who wouldn’t be  at that time of the morning, I turn on the computer (ok this part is new) and check for updates at their publishers or websites, never mind the dogs glaring at me because I have disturbed their sleep.  And when my search turns up that the book is a part of a series? Well, let’s just say I give the ol’ Rebel Yell a run for its money and make my Celtic ancestors proud!

Some of my favorite series?  Hard to separate them out as I have so many in different genre’s.  Mystery authors make it easy for me.  Love you Martha Grimes and Inspector Jury, same to you, P.D. James and Inspector Adam Dalgliesh, and on right to up Sarah Paretsky and her female private eye, V I Warshawski and Stieg Larsson and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Once a mystery author creates a character, a series is sure to follow.  Authors of the supernatural and fantasy are much the same.  Look at Laurell K Hamilton and Anita Blake.  Hit List is the 20th Anita Blake novel.  Or Terry Pratchett and his Disc World series that is comprised of 33 novels.  That could be a little daunting if not for the treasure that is Disc world.

Sooooo, where was I? Oh yes, my love for book series.  Today with the advent of eReaders and ePublishing, the novel and book series has never been more popular.  Especially with my m/m fiction, I have so many favorite series that I hardly know where to start.  Perhaps I will start with a series I began my m/m journey with.  That would be Carol Lynne’s Cattle Valley series, still going strong today at book no. 27. I love  Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English series and Kate Steele’s Bond of the Maleri books. Can’t go wrong there.  I would wave Jet Mykles Heaven Sent series at you, can’t miss those! Or JL Langley’s With or Without series with her wolf shifters that are so hot and memorable. So many that I need to start a list.  And just look at the books I have reviewed lately.  Some of my must read series are among them: Cut and Run from Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux (now just written by Roux), Infected by Andrea Speed (I groan just thinking about Roan – snicker), the Lost Gods series by Megan Derr, the Cambridge Fellows books by Charlie Cochrane, Katey Hawthorne’s Superpowered Love series and so many more.  I feel like one of those people at an awards show with a never ending list.  I could go on and on and on while a guy in the wings gives me the signal to shut up.

So here I am all these years later and nothing has changed.  OK, yes some things have changed.  Sheesh! You think you would let a girl get by with some things…but my love of books and a series of books?  Never.  A great series still fills me with excitement and the expectation of wonderful surprises just on the horizon.  I look forward to each new twist and turn the author can think up and that I never saw coming.  I can’t wait for the paths unexplored and the roads not yet taken by characters I love on worlds new and known.  And  that is why a series makes my heart sing.

Small list of my favorite series in no particular order and yes I know I left a lot out.  Please send us your favorites:

M/M Series (3 or more books):

Promised Rock series by Amy Lane
Lost Gods series by Megan Derr (fantasy)
Conquest series (rockers) by S. J. Frost
Heaven Sent by Jet Mykles (rockers)
Adrien English Mystery series by Josh Lanyon contemporary
Cut and Run by Urban and Roux, now just Abigall Roux – contemporary
Infected series by Andrea Speed (science fiction)
Sanctuary series by RJ Scott action/adventure
Faith, Love, and Devotion series by Tere Michaels contemporary
St. Nachos series by Z.A. Maxfield contemporary
Cattle Valley by Carol Lynne cowboys contemporary
With or Without series (shifters) by JL Langley
Sci Regency series by JL Langley
Cambridge Fellows series by Charlie Cochrane
A Matter of Time series by Mary Calmes
Warder series by Mary Calmes
Home series by TC Chase
Superpowered Love series by Katey Hawthorne

and all the series I have written about this week, Infected, Cambridge Fellows, Lost Gods, Dance with the Devil, The Sanctuary series…..

Bellingham Mysteries series by Nicole Kimberling  – last day to make a comment and be entered into the book giveaway contest for Primal Red.