A Free Dreamer Review: Bane (Strain #2) by Amelia C. Gormley

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

The weapon that nearly destroyed humanity may be their only salvation. 

Rhys Cooper once thought he was a dead man. Instead, he’s proven immune to the virus that nearly wiped out humanity.

Now the Clean Zone’s scientists want to know why. Summoned for testing, Rhys is about to learn first-hand why his Juggernaut partner, Sergeant Darius Murrell, and the rest of his superhuman comrades in Delta Company don’t trust the uninfected survivors in the Clean Zone–or the remnants of the government that unleashed the epidemic in the first place.

For a decade, Zach Houtman has yearned for his lover, Nico Fernández, but fear of infection has kept them apart. Separately they keep tabs on the last vestiges of the corrupt government, particularly the head of the Clean Zone’s virus research division. Secretary Littlewood seeks to unlock the secrets of the Bane virus. But Nico knows how dangerous Littlewood will be if that ever happens.

Zach and Nico now have the perfect bait to draw Littlewood out: Rhys. But Delta Company isn’t about to let Rhys walk into hell alone. They’ll take Littlewood down together, or not at all. Even if they succeed, however, for Zach and Nico one question remains: can infected and uninfected people ever be together safely?

Bane is the second and final installment in the Strain series. As such, it really doesn’t work as a stand-alone. I would recommend you to read the prequel “Juggernaut” as well. Both couples from book 0.5 and book one are back in “Bane” and I think you really need to get to know all four of them to really enjoy this book.

It’s been years since I read “Strain” but it’s a very memorable book and I absolutely loved it. It’s very, very different. “Bane” is much more mainstream. It’s still dark, but there’s no dubious consent. The sex scenes between Rhys and Darius are fewer and not as explicit as in book one. While I’m glad that Rhys has found his peace and is starting to feel more self-confident, I just kind of missed the spark I remember from book one.

Zach made me really angry at times. I kind of understood why he didn’t want to infect himself with the Alpha strain all those years ago. The whole “it’s God’s will” pissed me off. I thought it was really cruel of him to do this to Nico.

The author definitely knows how to write sex scenes. And while it is far tamer than book one, the sex was still really hot.

Once again, the book was incredibly addicting. I just could not put it down and it really had me emotionally invested. While I did have my issues with Zach, it’s always a good sign when I get so emotional over a character’s choices.

There were so many twists and turns and intrigues and secrets, it really had my head spinning. I really did not expect some of these things. I’m actually quite satisfied with the ending. I often have issues with how books end, but this really worked. It’s not exactly a HEA but it does leave you hopeful.

Overall, “Bane” is a great read. While it’s not quite as good as the first two books, I still really enjoyed it. It’s tamer and more mainstream, but still pretty good. If you liked the first two books, I’m sure you’ll like this one too.

The cover matches the other two in the series perfectly. It’s just as dark and creepy and gorgeous.

Sales Link:  Amazon

Book details:

Kindle Edition, 2 edition, 240 pages

Published April 20th 2018 (first published September 19th 2015)

A Free Dreamer Review: Strain (Strain #1) by Amelia C. Gormley

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

In a world with little hope and no rules, the only thing they have to lose is themselves.

Rhys Cooper is a dead man. He’s spent years hiding from the virus that wiped out most of the human race, but an act of futile heroism has him counting down his remaining days. The timely arrival of superhuman soldiers offers some feeble hope–but only if Rhys can reconcile himself to doing what is necessary to take advantage of it.

Sergeant Darius Murrell has seen too much death and too little tenderness. His job is seeking out the infected to put them out of their misery, or sending the uninfected survivors to a safe haven where he and his fellow Juggernaut troops will never be welcomed. Rhys’s situation is different, though. Not only is there an improbable chance that Darius won’t have to put a bullet in Rhys’s head, but he has somehow managed to get under Darius’s skin.

The virus Rhys must infect himself with in order to survive is sexually transmitted, and optimizing his chance of exposure requires him to submit as often as possible to Darius–and the other soldiers. Though the boundaries of morality have shifted in this harsh new world, Darius and Rhys question whether their humanity is too high a price to pay for Rhys’s survival.

A warning before we begin: “Strain” is definitely not for the faint of heart. Aside from lots of explicit BDSM sex with dubious consent and big age gaps, you also find lots of explicit violence and gore and some scenes that would be considered rape under different circumstances.

At first I wasn’t sure if I would like this book. A disease that can only be cured by lots and lots of sex – that sounds a bit like an awfully cheap excuse for heaps and heaps of mindless sex, doesn’t it? Well, “Strain” was a big surprise in that regard. Sure, there’s heaps and heaps of sex. But the author did a great job at explaining everything and once you start, it all makes perfect sense. The whole thing is a clever part of world building that seemed very logical to me – not that I know all that much about medicine.

The world building was excellent and full of interesting details. It’s easy to get caught in this dark, dark future. Since the events of “Strain” aren’t too far into the future, you get a really good explanation for how we went from the world we know now to the world Amelia Gormley created. I’m a sucker for good world building and the author easily satisfied my curiosity.

Rhys’ reactions seemed very genuine to me. While he’s always been attracted to men, he’s never had the chance to explore his sexuality. He spent most of his life isolated from the rest of the world and years of homophobia from the extremely religious preacher and his power hungry son don’t exactly help him feel confident in his sexuality. So when he is forced to lose his virginity to a much older man that only has sex with him out of a sense of duty, he’s less than thrilled. But it’s his only chance at survival, so he doesn’t exactly have a choice. Rhys always remained true to himself; he didn’t just suddenly turn into a mindless sex maniac. The author painted a very convincing picture of his inner struggle and I found myself liking the boy from the start.

Darius was just as interesting. The whole thing isn’t exactly easy on him either. He tends to enjoy very kinky sex, but how could he do that to such a clueless boy? Not to mention he could easily hurt Rhys with his superior strength. He ends up feeling guilty because he just can’t keep his dominant side in check around the boy. And actually forming a real emotional connection terrifies him – if their wild plan doesn’t work out, he’ll be the one that will have to end his misery with a bullet.

The side characters were very well developed as well, with unique backstories and interesting behaviour.

Once Rhys actually started to accept his kinky side, the sex scenes got really hot. The author was very creative in that regard, coming up with lots of interesting little games.

The ending was a little predictable. My suspicions started around the middle of the book, but that didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy every single page till the end. There was plenty of other plot to keep you occupied.

“Strain” is different. It’s dark, it’s kinky, there are some real concerns about consent and it is utterly brilliant and extremely addicting. If you’re in the mood for something dark and kinky with a brilliant plot, then go for it. Just beware of potential triggers.

The cover fits the story perfectly. It’s kind of creepy and makes you curious about the world.

Book details: Kindle Edition, 2. edition, 322 pages

Published April 20th 2018 first published February 15th 2014)

A MelanieM Review: Magic Ties Together by Nina Begonia

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Rating: 2 stars out of 5

Ira has one eye, a back-alley accuracy charm, and a policy of taking what he can get.

Lajos has a sword, a stoic façade that crumbles quickly under pressure, and a mysterious past.

When a routine monster attack leads to the men being magically bound together, unable to part without being violently ill, Ira is horrified. Worse, the link means they can sense each other’s every emotion. And as time goes on, Ira starts to wonder which emotions are truly his, and which are just a result of the magic…

I just love fantasy and always search out new stories and new authors. So I had high hopes for Magic Ties Together by Nina Begonia.  It had a neat, interesting premise that linked the couple right from the start…a type of magic handcuffs.

But while this story did contain some nice elements and places where my interest was definitely piqued, for the most part, it was jammed full of just a weird mixture of not enough world building (had no idea of the sort of world these characters really existed in) and one in which we got far too many extraneous details.  Really should have been the other way around.

The characters started having sex almost immediately, because the bracelets “made them do it”.  Trust me, not sexy at all.  Then there were hodgepodgy creatures whose physical descriptions made even less sense than some of the world building (what there was).

The characters had potential but didn’t seem to reach it imo.  This story is 100 pages yet it felt as though the author was trying to jam 500 pages worth of things the author had in mind for the story that just kept flowing on, regardless of whether it fit or not into the current scenes or storyline.

The ending was probably the best thing about this story.  It was the most pulled together.  The characters felt as though they might actually care about each other but everything leading up to it is such a narrative quagmire.

Not a story I would recommend.

Cover art: Aisha Akeju.  Gorgeous cover, definitely eye catching.

Sales Link:  Less Than Three Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 103 pages
Published April 4th 2018 by Less Than Three Press (first published April 2nd 2018)
Original TitleMagic Ties Together
ISBN139781684312382
Edition LanguageEnglish

A Lila Audiobook Review: Off the Beaten Path by Cari Z. and Jack Wesley (Narrator)

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

When Ward Johannsen’s little girl Ava shifted into a werewolf, she was taken into custody by the feds and shipped off to the nearest pack, all ties between father and daughter severed. Ward burned every bridge he had discovering her location, and then almost froze to death in the Colorado mountains tracking her new pack down. And that’s just the beginning of his struggle.

Henry Dormer is an alpha werewolf and an elite black ops soldier who failed his last mission. He returns home, hoping for some time to recuperate and help settle the pack’s newest member, a little pup named Ava who can’t shift back to her human form. Instead he meets Ward, who refuses to leave his daughter without a fight. The two men are as different as night and day, but their respect for each other strikes a spark of mutual interest that quickly grows into a flame. They might find something special together—love, passion, and even a family—if they can survive trigger-happy pack guardians, violent werewolf politics, and meddling government agencies that are just as likely to get their alpha soldiers killed as bring them home safely.

Off The Beaten Path is one of the best stories I have read or listened to this year. The actual plot, characters, and settings were fresh and interesting even when it was a shifter story. The world-build goes hand-in-hand with the current time and it’s easy to imagine this semi-dystopian place where werewolves are part of everyday society.

The pacing in the story gives the reader enough information about where the story was heading without missing the opportunity to include small details like smells and the weather. Even the type of cars, electronics, and clothes played an important role without weighting the story down.

The only thing I wanted more of were details about the pack’s life after everything was set and done. How everything changed and how everyone reacted. How they dealt with the changes and the new work—if any—the alphas got assigned.

Overall, this is a perfect story for those who want something different. It has a lovely romance, the right about of smexy times, a lot of flirting, angsts, and drama without taking from the tension and the serious side of the plot. It has great balance and a hit of humor.

The narration by Jack Wesley gave the book the extra push needed to make it four dimensional. It was more than then narration, it was the whole production. From the characterizations to the distinctions when the scenes took place outside or over the phone. Even the video calls had their own distinct feel. It was worth listening to it.

The cover by Brooke Albrecht shows Ward and Henry in front of a setting that matches the story’s descriptions. It really works.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner | Audible | iTunes

Audiobook Details:

Narrator: Jack Wesley

Length:  6 hours 23 minutes

Published: January 12, 2018 (Audio Edition) by Dreamspinner Press
ASIN: B078Y8KP96
Edition Language: English

Rob Rosen on And God Belched (guest blog)

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And God Belched by Rob Rosen

MLR Press
Cover Art: Winterheart Designs

Sales Links:  MLR Press  | Amazon

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Rob Rosen here today to talk about his latest release And God Belched, out from MLR Press.  Welcome, Rob!

🌎

 

Hello Readers! If you’re looking for a laugh, for some romance with a bit of heat, for a truly unique book, then I invite you to check out my twelfth (and, dare I say, best) novel, And God Belched, published by MLR Press.

Here’s a little bit about the book:

In this riotously funny romantic adventure, Randy and his younger brother, Craig, find themselves in a different universe, on a strange planet, desperately searching for Milo, a handsome stranger in imminent danger, all while being chased by the heavily armed local authorities. And that’s just the start of this epic journey. But what else does fate have in store for our brave heroes? And can one human save two worlds, the handsome alien he’s fallen in love with, his entire family, and a self-aware watch? Read on, dear Earthlings, to find out!

Feel free to pick up a copy here:

https://www.amazon.com/God-Belched-Rob-Rosen-ebook/dp/B078GG9L4P/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

And here’s an excerpt:

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, and God said, “let there be light,” and there was light.

Um, you know, sort of.

Actually, in the beginning, God belched out a universe—a big bang of a belch, in fact. It was, so it’s told elsewhere, an odoriferous, gaseous cloud of a rumbling belch. And like all good belches, it was followed by several smaller ones, each forming their own universes, which spread out and filled that above-mentioned void.

Ours was belch number four, the very last one. God had to pound his expansive chest to get that one out. “Oomph,” He said as our existence was made manifest, as out atoms spread outward, trailing those other far greater universes, just before that famous light was flicked on.

Click.

Picture, if you will, four bubbles floating through the blackness, turning end over end as they rapidly grew and expanded, as molecules collided and elements formed: hydrogen and helium and lithium—so that many years later we could have zeppelins and balloons and long-lasting batteries, and all because God was a bit gassy one day.

Anyway, that first belch, that first universe, went to the right; we veered leftward. Those other two, well, they’re not really pertinent to this story. So, for the sake of argument, let’s just say that one went up, the other down. Ta-ta, sister worlds. Live long and, um, prosper.

A year went by, two, then fourteen billion, give or take. I, too, was made manifest: Randy—both a name, namely mine, and an apt adjective. Made, in fact, by mom and dad, belching my way into the void on a cold January morning. Yep, just like it’s said, we truly are made in His image, at least in belching ability.

In any case, on that same January morning, in a universe far, far away—sort of, though, uh, not really—another baby boy was born: Milo. Well, that’s what I called him, anyway. Or at least would, at a time when those two universes happened to decide to play bumper cars together. In any case, his real name was close to a dozen letters long, strung together with nary a vowel to be had. I tried to pronounce it once, and was instantly stricken with a sore throat.

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Back to me, Randy—the name, for the time being, not the adjective. I was born in San Francisco, the city by the bay, the city by the gays. I lived high upon a hill, one of the steepest in the city, sort of like a prince in a castle. Though our home was made of steel, not brick, not wood, not even stone. The architect was hoping to design a quake-proof house, or so the legend went. And like so many legends, such was not even close to the actual case, as it turned out. Anyway, we froze in the winter and melted when the sun poked through the endless fog. In other words, our house was wisely one of a kind.

“High upon a hill lives Prince Randy, clad in his ermine cape and golden crown, scepter raised in royal salute.” The story rolled off my mom’s tongue as she fed me Gerber’s mashed peas: my favorite.

FYI, the cape was my blankie, not ermine so much as polyester. The crown was a yellow bowl bought at Safeway. I still own said crown. Now I use it for cereal, as opposed to headwear. The scepter was my rattle. It was bequeathed to my younger brother a couple of years later. These days, I lift my cell phone in royal salute.

All the best and enjoy!

Rob Rosen

www.therobrosen.com

Author of the award-winning novels Sparkle: The Queerest Book You’ll Ever Love, Divas Las Vegas, Hot Lava, Southern Fried, Queerwolf, Vamp, Queens of the Apocalypse, Creature Comfort, Fate, Midlife Crisis, and Fierce, and editor of the anthologies Lust in Time, Men of the Manor, Best Gay Erotica 2015, and Best Gay Erotica of the Year, Volumes 1 and 2 and 3.

Read Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Review here.

 

A Free Dreamer Review: Trans Liberty Riot Brigade (Brigade #1) by L.M. Pierce

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Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

How do you fight for who you are, when the government controls what you are?

Andi knows being born an intersex “Transgressor” and then choosing to stay that way, can have lethal consequences. After all, surgical assignment is mandated by law. But she ain’t going to spend her life hiding from the Society, hooked on Flow, and wanking tourists just to make a few bucks. She’s a member of the Trans Liberty Riot Brigade, an underground faction of Transgressors resisting the government’s war on their illegal genitalia.

But it’s not enough to tag their messages on shithouse walls and sniff down the next high. The government has found their headquarters, decimated their ranks, and they’re crushing the resistance. Though Andi might be nothing but a junktard, she embarks on a desperate dash to stay alive and send a call for help before they’re all killed—or worse, surgically assigned.

Andi, together with Brigade leader Elenbar, must get beyond the communications block preventing all radio transmission, which means crossing the seaboard Wall barricading the United Free States borders. It’s designed to keep enemies out and the citizens in, but amid increasing earthquakes and deadly pursuit, Andi will discover there’s a far more dangerous secret hidden deep within the Wall itself.

I’ve recently developed an interest for Science Fiction with non-binary protagonists, so when I saw the blurb for “Trans Liberty Riot Brigade” I just had to read the book. Sadly, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

The biggest problem for me was the language. This book is written in dialect all the way through and the author apparently came up with a bunch of new slang words too. At times, it felt like there was a real language barrier for me. There were some characters I didn’t understand at all because of their extreme dialect. Even when I did understand what was being said, it was just extremely jarring.

Maybe it’s because of the language barrier, but for a large part of the book I was simply confused. There was barely any world building or back story for the most part. There was a little bit of a history lesson toward the end, but that wasn’t nearly enough to answer all my questions.

Then there was Andi. I never did warm up to her. She never seemed to actually do anything, unless she had no other choice but to act. And even then, she had to be forced by somebody else. Mostly, she was just complaining and wallowing in self-pity.

That brings me to the next issue: pronouns. Everybody makes such a big deal out of having both male and female bits, and yet all “transgressors” always used female pronouns. It just didn’t ring true to me.

I did like where the story seemed to go toward the end. But it took a long time to get there and the plot was a bit all over the place.

You should be aware that this is a piece of literary/genre fiction. As such, there was barely a hint of romance. Personally, I didn’t mind that one bit. I don’t always need romance and love in my books. The book also has some pretty graphic scenes of drug use. Our MC is a junkie. Also, there are some pretty gory scenes. The gore was a tad too much for me at times, tbh.

This is part one of a new series. While I am sort of interested how this story will continue, I definitely won’t read the rest of the series. The slang was just too thick for me and I formed no real emotional connections to any of the characters. I liked the idea behing “Trans Liberty Riot Brigade”, but I was mostly disappointed by how the book actually turned out. It just wasn’t for me.

The cover by Natasha Snow is lovely. It’s definitely an eye-catcher.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book details:

Kindle Edition, 273 pages
Published July 17th 2017 by NineStar Press
ASINB073DPB1PZ
Edition LanguageEnglish

A MelanieM Release Day Review: Shadow Fray (Shadow Fray: Round One) by Bradley Lloyd

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Family is worth fighting for—and family doesn’t always mean blood.

No one knows what calamity poisoned the earth and decimated the human population, but living close to the toxic ground means illness and death. Justin is determined to keep his twin sister and younger brother from that fate—no matter what he has to do. To earn enough to keep his family safe in a high-rise, Justin enlists in a deadly sport called Shadow Fray. He quickly finds himself in over his head, especially when he is scheduled to face the most dangerous player.

Hale—who competes as Black Jim—knows he won’t be on top forever, despite his skills. He fights for a better life for his daughter, but his time is running out as Shadow Fray becomes increasingly lethal. Something about the newest fighter intrigues him, but does he dare defy his masters to investigate? Justin and Hale will clash in the ring, while beyond it the powerful elite and the crumbling world seem determined to keep them apart. If they can find common ground, they might have a chance to fight for their futures.

Shadow Fray (Shadow Fray: Round One) by Bradley Lloyd is a terrific story.  It’s just the sort of book that gets me thinking on so many levels and that’s due primarily to the excellent world building here.  Lloyd has created a future earth where a catastrophic event, now called The Thinning, has raised the water levels globally, sinking all coastal cities and lands, shattering governments, technologies and making the ground so  toxic that anyone who lives on the surface slowly dies, succumbing to a madness and “ground sickness”.  Those left, reformed into inland cities, mainly Chicago where the government is centered.  People live in the high rises left, the higher the floor the better (and the wealthier the people).  Some technologies were saved from the “before times”, so internet, mobile phones, TV (using only the old tapes of shows and movies stored, nothing new has been produced except Shadow Fray games, more on that soon), cars, trucks and even trains are running.   Farms are run again by the large companies like Exxon and DuPont on raised buildings and guarded by drones, as it everything else.   Some people (the Shutters) never leave their condos, the idea being make your living area and building self sufficient.

Women are few and highly regarded, the toxins in the ground having effected reproduction and gender ratio.  People wanting children have produced babies via utero experiments that turn out to be unis, children with both sexes.  They have the ability to choose a sex when older but are barren.  Most choose to be women another interesting element.  Homosexuality is not only not tolerated but outlawed as they are “non breeders” in a world with few children.  This is a hard, toxic world and for many it’s getting worse.

Lloyd makes us believe in this world because so many of the elements are only stages and layers away from what the scientists have been warning will happen with climate change.  The author folds fact with his imaginative world building and its works, horrifically, on so many levels.  In this book, we don’t get the answers as to why it has happened, but Lloyd says we will in the coming stories.

Then there is the Shadow Fray, a martial arts competition that deadly and underground.  Moved from location to location, with only the fighters and handlers in the know (supposedly), there is so much danger and mystery attached here, that the suspense just builds and builds with each chapter with no let up.  That’s because the more we find out about the Shadow Fray and who runs it, the worse it gets and the more mysteries pile up around it.  Amazing.

Then finally there is the forbidden romance between Hale and Justin.  That takes time to set up and become believable.  Remember it’s forbidden here so the men have to come to grips with their homosexuality too.  Every meeting, every touch?  Could be their last.  Plus each character is so beautifully written.  One at the top of his game, teetering on the brink of being pulled down.  The other?  Being pushed to the top of the very increasingly nasty pile.  And all around them are some of the most intriguing cast of secondary  characters you will want to meet from Justin’s twin sister to his non-speaking brother, to Gris and Hale’s tank thug brother too.  I could go on and on about the people here that match the world building.

Which brings me to the ending.  Argh!!!!

In this title, notice it says Round One (not so in other titles).  Well, it sort of ends like the ringing of a bell at the end of a fight.  Round One done.  No completion, nothing brought to an ending. It sort of halts with one character riding off.  To the next story that we are waiting for. Yes, its frustrating.  But I understand from the author it’s already at the publishers so hopefully we won’t have to wait too long.

The ending notwithstanding,  Shadow Fray is an excellent gritty, compelling story.  I can’t wait to dive into the second one.  Pick up this one if you love alternate universe’s, dystopian societies, mysteries and romance.  Meet you at the second book!

 

Cover art by  Anna Sikorska is amazing.  I love the details and the model.

Sales Links

Available for Purchase at

 

 

Book Details:

ebook, 284 pages
Expected publication: May 30th 2017 by DSP Publications
ISBN139781635333602
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesShadow Fray #1

Bradley Lloyd on The Games of Shadow Fray and Shadow Fray (Shadow Fray: Round One) (author guest post, exclusive excerpt and giveaway)

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Shadow Fray (Shadow Fray #1) by Bradley Lloyd
DSP Publications
Cover Artist: Anna Sikorska

Available for Purchase at

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to host Bradley Lloyd here today, talking about his latest release Shadow Fray. Welcome, Bradley!

✒︎

Let’s Play! The Games of Shadow Fray

In reading Shadow Fray, one might think the plot was decidedly adult. Think The Hunger Games but with a healthy dose of Fight Club. While I’m a fan of both titles, the inspiration for Shadow Fray came from a place far more innocent–the games I played as a little kid.

My childhood wasn’t filled with fisticuffs or mixed martial arts lessons; instead, I took daily trips with my siblings and friends to the municipal swimming pool. We played the standard games like Marco Polo, and we took turns swimming under each other’s legs without touching, kind of like an underwater version of the limbo. The game I most remember, though, was one based entirely on imagination.

In this game, our familiar pool became infested with invisible, hungry underwater creatures. You’d be fine if you never touched the bottom, because that’s where they lived. We’d spend all day swimming around, trying not to touch the bottom. If you did touch the bottom, that’s when the little monsters would attack with their nasty bites. Too many bites, and you could die. BUT if you managed to apply the special ointment in time, you could stave off infection and death.

The special ointment was Coppertone sunscreen lotion. The year we invented that game, we never got sunburned, believe me. In fact, we probably went through at least a giant economy bottle a week.

My main goal in writing Shadow Fray was to write something fun–a steamy, action-packed romance. So when I thought about what was most fun, this pool game came to mind, probably at first subconsciously but it morphed into a very important plot point.

In Shadow Fray, the ground has been poison for many years. Unlike the pool game, you can touch the ground, but prolonged exposure results in what the characters refer to as Ground Sickness. Because of this, those with enough money live in high-rises as far from the ground as possible.

For this reason, Justin is forced to fight in the underground tournament known as Shadow Fray. He needs to keep his twin sister and younger brother living safely off the ground, and the only way to supplement their meager income is for him to win. The stakes are high, especially when he faces Hale, a brawler he has long admired. Though they fight for similar reasons, they find themselves at odds, first with each other, and then the greater forces at work in the crumbling world around them.

If you’ve read this far, chances are getting better that you might also read the book, so I’m going to reveal a spoiler-free special secret right here. You won’t find out in the first book what really caused the ground toxification. Do I know? Yes. Will you know eventually? Yes. There’s clues if you want to try to figure it out, and like a good sci-fi, it has a basis in fact. Not revealing everything right away was a tricky decision for me as a writer. Is it realistic that people, after a post-apocalyptic event, wouldn’t know the cause or the remedy? One of the plot points is the misinformation provided by the shady people remaining in power. So, I decided, yes, it could be realistic. Granted, this was all before the election and the influx of “alternative facts,” so I think this choice was the right one to make, even prescient, though it asks the reader to follow me along for a bit.

You see, I think as I got older, my mind went from imagining pool monsters to imagining more realistic monsters, and now I love a good mystery. My favorite childhood game led me to a more adult game of playing sleuth, or maybe hide-and-seek, where it’s the truth that’s hiding. Shadow Fray is all about games, and I sincerely hope you’ll come and play along with me. ~ Bradley Lloyd

Book Blurb

Family is worth fighting for—and family doesn’t always mean blood.

 

No one knows what calamity poisoned the earth and decimated the human population, but living close to the toxic ground means illness and death. Justin is determined to keep his twin sister and younger brother from that fate—no matter what he has to do. To earn enough to keep his family safe in a high-rise, Justin enlists in a deadly sport called Shadow Fray. He quickly finds himself in over his head, especially when he is scheduled to face the most dangerous player.

 

Hale—who competes as Black Jim—knows he won’t be on top forever, despite his skills. He fights for a better life for his daughter, but his time is running out as Shadow Fray becomes increasingly lethal. Something about the newest fighter intrigues him, but does he dare defy his masters to investigate? Justin and Hale will clash in the ring, while beyond it the powerful elite and the crumbling world seem determined to keep them apart. If they can find common ground, they might have a chance to fight for their futures.

Exclusive Excerpt

Since my guest blog post is about childhood games, I thought I would introduce you to one of my favorite characters, the 10-year-old Charlie, who is mute. He’s the much younger brother of our hero, Justin. Even though he doesn’t talk, Charlie is still very expressive, like in this school assignment. In the book, Justin secretly holds on to this letter as a reminder of his reason for fighting in Shadow Fray. It’s also a great introduction to the Shadow Fray world. Enjoy!

Handwriting Practice

The Person I Look Up to Most

To: Sister Tim

From: Charlie

Justin does his best even when it’s hard, even when he’s tired and maybe hurting a little bit. He always shows courage. That’s why he’s the person I look up to the most.

I think we all have secrets to keep. It’s nice to have a little bit of privacy, like from the drones, and my brother tries to give us that. But we never hide. He wants me to have a normal life, whatever that is. My brother keeps secrets, but not from me. And he helps me keep my secrets too. Sometimes we hide from the drones like Shutters, but mostly we pretend like it’s just us.

Justin always tries to do what’s best for my sister and me. He raised me when my sister was at work. He always did lots of stuff with me. He read me books until I could read on my own. I didn’t even need school for that, because he taught me. But our favorite thing to do is watch cartoons.

He tries to keep things from me, but not in a bad way. He puts his tablet down all the time, but I know he’s reading. It’s almost like he doesn’t want anyone to know he reads, not even me. I think he doesn’t want me to be too curious about things. It’s another way he tries to protect me. So we just do kid stuff. But that’s okay.

My brother is really strong. He works out and he lifts weights. He makes me come with him and read a book but I watch him too. I know he stays strong to protect me and my sister. My sister is fertile, and so he always feels like he has to protect her because she’s in danger or something. My sister can take care of herself, but he does it anyway. I like that about him.

Justin’s secret is that he’s really smart. Like, really smart. Someday, my brother is going to figure out what is wrong with the world. He will figure out why all the people got sick and died so long ago, and what happened to poison the ground. Then he’ll find out why there’s not as many girls anymore, and why people can’t have babies. Maybe he’ll even find the cure for ground sickness, but that’s probably asking too much. I mean, he can’t do everything.

Here’s a secret about him and me. He says there’s two kinds of people—people who stay alive and people who go poking their noses where they don’t belong. I don’t say it (ha ha), but I know he’s both, and I’m both too. So really, there’s three kinds of people. But don’t tell him I said that.

He wants me to go to college at Exxon or DuPont in Chicago. I like that idea. Because if my brother doesn’t find out what happened and how to fix it, I want to find out for him. He’d like to take me out of Bruise City to Chicago, but maybe someday I will do that for him instead. Anyway, I like it here, because this is my home, and this is where you are too. Thanks for being the best teacher.

He would be so mad if he knew I wrote this. But I know you keep secrets too. So please keep my secret. I know you will, because you’re the third person I most look up to, and you always tell me I can do anything.

My brother tells me that too.

From: Charlie

P.S. My sister is the second person and I also have a friend named Gristopher Mays and he’s the fourth person. He’s really nice but I haven’t known him as long as I’ve known you.

P.P.S. I think you are that special third kind of person too. Thanks for being the best teacher.

Since my guest blog post is about childhood games, I thought I would introduce you to one of my favorite characters, the 10-year-old Charlie, who is mute. He’s the much younger brother of our hero, Justin. Even though he doesn’t talk, Charlie is still very expressive, like in this school assignment. In the book, Justin secretly holds on to this letter as a reminder of his reason for fighting in Shadow Fray. It’s also a great introduction to the Shadow Fray world. Enjoy!

Giveaway

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About the Author

Bradley Lloyd is a Chicago-born author who studied Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He was raised in a conservative religious household but became aware of his sexuality at a very young age—about the same age he learned of his ancestry to Hans Christian Andersen. Inspired by this knowledge, writing became an outlet that helped him cope with inner conflicts and bullying.

Of course, he was no angel and occasionally used his storytelling powers for evil. He once convinced the neighborhood children that gnomes had been real before all being turned into lawn ornaments.

Later, these experiences lead him to work with middle-school students. Now a teacher in the inner city, he shares his love of writing with a captive audience of kids, who are thrilled with true(ish) tales of their haunted school building. 

Interestingly, his favorite UFC fighter and former world champion was a student at his school, and when Brad is not reading or writing, you might find him hosting the next UFC pay-per-view event party. His dreams of becoming an ultimate fighter are realized vicariously through his stories and video games.

Brad is happily married to a wonderful husband. Their tenth anniversary was also the day same-sex marriage became legal, and they were couple number seven at the courthouse.

You can read more of Brad’s (free) tales on his website BradleyLloyd.com, check him out on Medium, follow IMBradleyLloyd on Facebook and Twitter,

or e-mail him directly at IMBradleyLloyd@BradleyLloyd.com

A MelanieM Review: Candy Land (Hidden Gem #3) by Lissa Kasey

Standard

Rating: 5 stars out of 5       ★★★★★

candyland_final02Cameron “Candy” Michelson Jr. doesn’t have time for distractions. He’s too busy restructuring the red-light district into an adult playland for City M and running the Hidden Gem. But when his companion, Avery “Ivy” Laurent, grows closer to Jack, an investigator for the Institute of Scientific Study, Candy can’t hide his jealousy. Nor his own interest in Jack.

Ivy is crazy about Jack, but he’s also in love with Candy. Ideally, Ivy longs for all three of them to be together, but between Jack’s nonexistent libido and Candy’s supercharged needs, Ivy isn’t sure how to make it work.

When Jack gets called in to help the City M police department investigate a series of violently murdered companions, both Candy and Ivy brace for trouble. But nothing prepares them for Candy becoming the prime suspect.

In a future landscape of corrupt government officials, brutal BDSM crimes, and a host of dark creatures, Candy, Ivy, and Jack must work together to find the killer, save themselves—and learn how to trust each other.

The Hidden Gem stories by Lissa Kasey captivated me from the very beginning with her horrifying vision of a world in chemical ruin, its environs toxic and governments reduced down to geographical areas, even cities where populations clustered, clinging to life such as it was.  Throughout the populations were AMs, mutants both forced by experimentation and born into their genetic forms naturally by evolution…but all hidden from the citizens due to fear.

In each story, the title refers to a pleasure place.  The Hidden Gem, is the top “house” in City M, and Misaki “Aki” Itou is its highest paid  and most sought after “companion”. He will find love with detective Shane McNaughton, and their story sets in motion all the action and relationship dynamics to follow.  Its a 5 star magnificent ride and I couldn’t figure out how Kasey would top it. But of course, she did with Cardinal Sins (Hidden Gem, #2). Again its the name of a house of pleasure and gambling that the owner of the Hidden Gem finds, renovates and reopens for an unimaginable reason…its amazing tunnels of fish tanks that thread through its halls.  Here its the enigmatic Paris Hansworth, former “companion” turned senator and all powerful man who ends up finding the love of his life, Rain,  in the most unexpected place.  Each story gives a clue through the beautiful covers of Shobana Appavu. Yes, its in the blurb but its doesn’t prepare you for the power of the finding and the story itself.

Again, each book is building towards something more but I had no idea how strongly the author was preparing us for the final story in the trilogy until I came to Candy Land.  If I could give a book more than 5 stars I certainly would do so here.

Candy Land picks up the story almost immediately from Cardinal Sins and the three characters, one recently introduced and two we’ve come to know and love in all the other stories.  They all seem to be headed for something interesting as far as a matchup together, a triad, if they can communicate and overcome the enormous physical demons they have and plot hurdles ahead of them.  Cameron “Candy” Michelson Jr we met in the first book as the best friend of Aki and as high a paid companion as Aki was.  Now Candy is running Hidden Gem, has matured and is having trouble finding his way in staying Candy and the boss.   Avery “Ivy” Laurent,a psi paid companion at the Hidden Gem, Candy’s love interest is also interested in Frank, a AM who was partnered with Shane back when they were both cops.  Yes, circles upon circles of relationship dynamics and it all works.  Its important because these Venn diagram relationships are needed when the AM murders and explosive government politics start to intrude upon City M and their lives to the point of horrifying consequences to all.

One of the things I most admired about this story was Kasey’s ability to balance the need to bring the characters maturity along together and apart (especially Candy and Frank) while keep the suspense and deep intrigue mounting on the larger plot level.  Candy had to come to understand and accept Frank’s asexuality if their triad was to work, Frank also had to understand Candy’s need for dominance and Ivy’s need for them both.  It was a delicate give and take between all three and it works so beautifully here.  We get their vulnerability, their strengths, their humor and their pain…in short, we get them as whole viable people. I loved them all and together even better.  That’s saying a lot as threesomes usually aren’t my thing.  And this one is outstanding.

Even better?  The plot!   That nail biting, hold on to your seats because you won’t believe what’s coming next plot.  I ended up reading whole pages twice because they were so damn good.  Had the popcorn going, just hunched over the action, the drama, and the sequences that unfolded on the Kindle before me.  It had it all, angst, parts that had me weeping in anger, sadness and then unbelievable joy.  Yep, this book is over the moon.

When I got to  the end, I was so thrilled, I was stunned with joy.  It was everything I had wanted for each and every character.  How many times do you say that in a story?  Or a trilogy?  That you were completely satisfied with how everything worked out?  Now would I be happy if Lissa Kasey goes back and give Ono his own HEA?  You bet.  I think he deserves it after all this.  And then there’s that little matter of the boat people.  But the main characters?  Happy, happy, happy.

So do I recommend this book?  Silly question.  Of course I do.  All of them to be precise.  And Lissa Kasey too.  I will be picking them all back up and reading them in a row now that I have the trilogy complete to see what I may have missed.  Do yourself a favor, grab them all up, do it too.  Make yourself some popcorn while you’re at it.  You will be there for a wonderful fantasy ride!

Cover art by  Shobana Appavu is as outstanding as the book.  Each cover a clue as to the major element inside.

Sales Links:  Amazon |Dreamspinner PressAReBarnes & Noble

Book Details:

ebook, 274 pages
Published April 25th 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1634771672 (ISBN13: 9781634771672)
Edition LanguageEnglish

Trilogy: Hidden Gem

hiddengem_final03Cardinal Sins covercandyland_final02

 

A Sammy Review: The Ultimate Team (Juxtapose City #4) by Tricia Owens

Standard

Rating: 5 stars out of 5   ★★★★★

“You’re not getting your mythical knight in shining armor,” Parker told him softly. “You’re getting a man who’s trying very hard to be good, but has never been shown how to be. You have to stick by him and show him what’s best within him, Calyx. You have to take his darkness and make it light.”

The Ultimate Team coverFollowing the events of the previous book, Starr is holed up in bad and the team is down a man. That is until the captain assigns none other than Parker to the team. But another psypath on the team, let alone a psypath that has history with Black and knows his secrets? That’s dangerous.

Between the team trying to rebuild again and new threats arising from some unexpected places, Starr and Black have to find a way to balance their secrets, half-truths, love, and duty to the team, all while remaining alive. In other words, just another day in Juxtapose City.

“You don’t need a city, a hiding place, to be happy. I can make you happy. I can take care of you.”

It has been so long since I’ve been able to read a book in this series, and I hadn’t had the time to reread the previous ones before reading this, so I was very nervous that nothing would make sense to me, but it gradually came back to me, and within a matter of pages I was lost in the story yet again.

If you’ve read the previous books (and you should read them in order), you know what a hot mess Starr and Black’s world is, not to mention their relationship that evolved from hate. Adding Parker to the team adds an uncomfortable dynamic, but the author handles it well and doesn’t have the problem go away like magic. It’s there and they have to deal with it.

Unlike the previous books, this one had much more of the romance element to it. Starr and Black spend a lot of time dealing with their flaws, particularly the mean streak of jealousy that Starr has, paired with both of their doubts. And some of it is just so painful, like how Black truly thinks he’s this horrible person, and how sometimes Starr isn’t so sure either, but still manages to love him. It straddles a moral boundary that is so intriguing and wonderful.

On top of it all, Tricia Owens manages to continue to bring the steam. We finally (no, but really) get some penetration, though it’s not quite what I was hoping for or expecting, but it’s a step forward. But it just goes to show that she’s been able to keep up the heat and fire without that.

Black, Jake, Haney and Bee had all killed in the course of their work. But looking across the aisle first at Jake and then at Haney, who immediately gave him an encouraging thumbs up―Calyx didn’t see evil in them, or cruelty. They didn’t look haunted like Black, who carried his sins as if he was half a man without them.

This book also provides some insight into Starr and Black’s pasts. We get to see a bit more of where they came from and what Black went through to get where he is now. There are still so many unanswered questions, but you have to expect that in this series and embrace them.

Not for even a second was I bored. I enjoyed each word and am so happy to get some reacquainted with a favorite couple: Starr and Black.

The cover art is nice in that it fits the rest of the series and is cohesive. Unfortunately, the model for Starr doesn’t quite work for me, but besides that it’s not bad.

Sales Link:  Amazon | Buy It Here

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 207 pages
Published March 24th 2015