A Jeri Review: Us (Him #2) by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

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Rating: 4 Stars out of 5

Profile portrait of businessman working on laptop in black suit at studio

Profile portrait of businessman working on laptop in black suit at studio

Can your favorite hockey players finish their first season together undefeated?

Five months in, NHL forward Ryan Wesley is having a record-breaking rookie season. He’s living his dream of playing pro hockey and coming home every night to the man he loves—Jamie Canning, his longtime best friend turned boyfriend. There’s just one problem: the most important relationship of his life is one he needs to keep hidden, or else face a media storm that will eclipse his success on the ice.

Jamie loves Wes. He really, truly does. But hiding sucks. It’s not the life Jamie envisioned for himself, and the strain of keeping their secret is taking its toll. It doesn’t help that his new job isn’t going as smoothly as he’d hoped, but he knows he can power through it as long as he has Wes. At least apartment 10B is their retreat, where they can always be themselves.

Or can they?

When Wes’s nosiest teammate moves in upstairs, the threads of their carefully woven lie begin to unravel. With the outside world determined to take its best shot at them, can Wes and Jamie develop major-league relationship skills on the fly?

After reading Him I couldn’t wait to read Us. So often in a book the couple gets a happily ever after and if you’re lucky, they might turn up in another book briefly. So I love that I got more of Wes and Jamie. You will too. If you read Him, Us is a must.

Out of college and establishing their “adult” lives, Wes and Jamie are still navigating through difficult waters. Some familiar to us, some not. One man making more than the other. One accepting family, one not. Traveling hockey schedules that don’t mesh. And the biggest hurdle, trying to stay in the closet. Jamie promised Wes to keep their relationship a secret for a year. But how long a year is depends on which side of the closet door you are on.

Both make missteps and both hurt each other and make mistakes. This is a real relationship, in my opinion. Nothing is perfect. I love when books reflect that. Until a near tragedy puts their relationship and their lives in the spotlight.

I adored the new characters brought into this story. Funny, quirky and loyal, Wes’ teammates are a welcome addition. And intentional or not, this really shows how everything is skewed toward Wes and his pro hockey career. But when they find balance and acceptance, I swooned.

I am torn between wanting another Wes and Jamie book or a new book about one of the teammates. To me, that is a mark of a really good book and good story. Satisfied but still wanting more. So how about another book please?

Sales Link:  Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 255 pages
Published March 8th 2016 by Rennie Road Books
ASINB01C4LE5EO
Edition Language English
Series Him #2

An Ali Audiobook Review: Stars & Stripes (Cut & Run #6) by Abigail Roux , J. F. Harding (Narrator)

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Rating:  5 of 5 stars                ★★★★★

Stars & Stripes audiobookSpecial Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett have managed the impossible: a few months of peace and quiet. After nearly a year of personal and professional turmoil, they’re living together conflict-free, work is going smoothly, and they’re both happy, healthy, and home every night before dark. But anyone who knows them knows that can’t possibly last.

When an emergency call from home upsets the balance of their carefully arranged world, Ty and Zane must juggle family drama with a perplexing crime to save a helpless victim before time runs out.

From the mountains of West Virginia to a remote Texas horse ranch harboring more than just livestock and childhood memories, Ty and Zane must face their fears—and their families—to overcome an unlikely enemy and bring peace back into their newly shared world.

This was a re-read for me but the first time I had listened to it on audio. This book remains one of my favorites of the series. The guy’s have worked hard to get to the positive place in their relationship that they’re in. During the course of this story they go to both of their parents’s homes and it is interesting to see the different dynamics between the two families. Most of the story is spent at Zane’s home where they try to solve a case involving Zane’s family ranch. I enjoyed the case in this one and I found it fast paced and entertaining. There are a lot of laugh out loud moments in this story, some really sweet and romantic ones and some of the steamiest ones in the series. I love every minute of this book every time I read it.

Audio:

I had listened to the first four books in this series on audio in the past. There were two prior narrators and this narrator is totally new. I wasn’t sure about his voice for Ty when I first started. The problem with reading a book first, in my opinion, is that you have the characters firmly set in your mind. While his Ty was fine, it wasn’t how I envisioned Ty. His Zane though was fantastic. Deep, growly voice with just a bit of a Southern drawl. After a few chapters I got used to his Ty and decided I liked it. There are a lot of characters in this book, with a lot of different accents and I felt like this narrator did a great job on all of them. I also found him able to do both male and female voices well which is a talent some narrators do not have. I loved listening to this on audio. I think listening to this really emphasized the emotional scenes and made them more heart wrenching (There was a scene between Ty & Zane’s dad that made my eyes water. It was much more emotional listening to it than reading it.) And the sexy scenes? Holy moly they’re burning hot on audio. I would definitely recommend this to readers/listeners.

Cover art by L.C. Chase. I don’t know what to say about the cover really. It’s very simple but it’s a classic and I would never want to see it change.

Sales Links:  Audio at Amazon |  Audio at Audible

Audiobook Details:

Stars & Stripes
Written by: Abigail Roux
Narrated by: J. F. Harding
Length: 10 hrs and 19 mins
Series: Cut and Run, Book 6

A MelanieM Advent Story Review: Whispers of Old Winds by George Seaton

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Sleigh Ride Advent StoryAfter Sam returns home from two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, he moves to the Colorado mountains, where he hopes to begin a new life with his husband, Michael. Sam becomes the sheriff of sparsely populated Pine County, while Michael opens a curio shop for tourists where he sells his art. When Sam and his deputy attempt to rescue a body from a dangerously fragile mountainside snowpack, Sam’s perception of the world, his husband, and the veracity of truths whispered in old winds, are called into question.

It was the title that drew me to this story.  Whispers of Old Winds promised something magical and ancient and that’s exactly what George Seaton delivered along with an established romance and mysticism in the Colorado mountains.

Sam and Michael’s back history is delivered in nice brief glimpses throughout this short story.  We see how they met, and tiny moments from their previous lives, including Sam’s tours of duty where he saw things he couldn’t quite bring himself to believe.  Now married and the sheriff of a quiet Colorado town, a call to rescue someone (dead or alive) from an area to be avoided at all costs brings the supernatural back  into Sam and Michael’s world.  Or maybe its been there all along.

Seaton’s story is far larger than the 38 pages listed.  Its full of native american mythology,  shapeshifters,  and worlds far beyond the mundane we see around us.  The author’s writing is so beautifully plotted and vividly described that he pulls us so smoothly into the lives of his characters and the events that are occurring that when the action starts we are jarred out of our complacency along with the characters.

The characterizations are wonderful, especially those of Sam, Digger (the naive Deputy) and Hank Tall Horse, the old Ute Indian so central to the story.  Michael is more vague, but I wonder if that wasn’t on purpose, especially given the ending of the story.   There is so much here that it would be a shame for the author not to continue on, to bring them all back for a larger book that they call cry out for.  That is the only reason for the less than perfect rating, a feeling that things were left undone, unsettled and maybe a bit shaky.

Several of the advent stories have their own covers.  How I wish this had been one of them.  It deserved it.  I highly recommend this story.  Its unusual and quite wonderful.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press |   All Romance (ARe)  | Amazon | Buy It Here

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 38 pages
Published November 30th 2015 by Dreamspinner Press
ASIN B018RRVPRO
edition language English

 

A MelanieM Review: Children of Noah (Mahu #9) by Neil S. Plakcy

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Children of Noah coverA few months after the birth of his twins, openly gay Honolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka and begins a temporary assignment to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. Kimo and his HPD partner Ray Donne are quickly thrown into an investigation into threatening letters sent to a U.S. Senator. Are these screeds about racial purity related to an escalating series of attacks against mixed-race couples and families on Oahu?

When arson at a day care center on the Windward Coast brings Kimo’s partner, fire investigator Mike Riccardi, into the case, Kimo worries about the future of his and Mike’s newborn twins on an island falling prey to hate and a cult leader bent on death and destruction.

I fell under the spell of Neil S. Plakcy and his Hawaiian detective Kimo Kanapa’aka in the very first book, Mahu, hawaiian for gay.  There a very complicated and closeted young Kimo, trying to deal with his sexuality, was outed during a horrific murder case.  Its ramifications on his career, family relationships and private life would reverberate through the following stories.  Plakcy’s ability to bring not only Kimo to life but his multicultural family history and the vibrant racial mixing pot that is Hawaii to life is amazing.  From the variety of languages spoken, the nuances of levels of Hawaiian race in your background, even the language designations for north, south, east and west are different.  Yet, here they flow off the tongues of the characters with the ease of native speakers,   Very few authors have the ability to use local colloquialisms and dialects to hone their characters personas and locations the way Plakcy does and by the ninth book, its usage is so subtle and well woven into the narrative, I hardly notice any more.

Kimo and Mike have come a long with in their partnership.  Now the coparents of twins along with a lesbian couple, Kimo takes on a case that hits at the heart of his family’s safety.  Both Mike and Kimo have families from mixed racial background, and their sons parentage is equally so when their mothers backgrounds are included as well.  When each man handles a case with similar clues, all leads start to point towards a cult bent on the worship of racial  purity.

I loved this book for so many reasons, none  of which really had anything to do with the mystery.  Kimo’s parents which have figured largely in all the stories are now frail, older figures here, especially Kimo’s dad.  Their relationship, always so strong, sees a change in position here that is so realistic and painful.  Mike’s parents, once so against the relationship, now move forward into new positive roles.  So much is changing within the family  structures for them both, including that of their foster son.  Here all the relationships strain against their bonds and come back for support once more.  Its all so remarkable in its human dynamics and believable interchanges.  Sometimes angst-filled, often humorous, it will be so easy for all the readers to relate to the relationships in flux here, whether it be brother and brother, father and son, or new fathers and new babies.  This is what made this book for me.  Its all about the changes in life that we all go through.

And its even starts at the beginning with Kimo leaving the Honolulu P.D. to join FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force along with his partner.  New beginnings even at the job level.  But that brings us to the murders and the mystery.

That was my least favorite part of the story.  I figured out early on who the murderer was and where the problem was occurring.  The author all but had a giant arrow pointing the way.  That doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of scenes where the suspense was high, because that happened.  There was danger, and angst enough to go around, just not the usual amount of guessing I expect from this author.

However, Plakcy’s style of writing moves the story along so quickly towards the end that your mind is consumed with the safety of the main characters and the capture of the culprits.  And so much more.  I want more books.  I want to know how Dakota is doing with his new boyfriend, how Kimo’s dad’s doing, and the family in general.  They got into my heart, every single one of them.  If you give them a chance, they will get into yours too.  But why start here?   This is a fantastic series.  Go to the beginning Mahu and read your way through until you arrive here.  With each book it just gets better and better.  I highly recommend them all.

Cover art is nice but I sort of miss that primitive art work of the original covers.

Sales Links:  MLR Press |  All Romance (ARe)  | Amazon  | Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 231 pages
Published August 9th 2015 by MLR Press

Review: Texas Family (Texas #4) by R.J. Scott

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Rating 4.5 stars out of 5

Texas FamilyJack and Riley Campbell-Hayes have been through so many things together, and overcome it all to get to the place where they are today, a happy couple with an adorable daughter and a wonderful extended family. Each hurdle in their path, whether it was their disastrous start to their relationship, fires, gunshots, and even the deepest of family betrayals haven’t kept them from each other or hurt their deep bond.

Now its time for another change, another forward step that will enlarge their family…..that of having another child.  This time, the child will have Jack’s DNA and their chosen path is surrogacy. But before Jack and Riley know it, their plans for just one child are being hijacked, first by their  surrogates pregnancy and then by a young four year old boy, Max, in foster care As Jack and Riley quickly find out, nothing is ever easy, especially in the state of Texas where gay couples, even rich ones, have a tougher path as families.

I have followed the romance of Jack and Riley through three books now and still can’t get enough.  Starting with The Heart of Texas (Texas, #1) where the men meet and marry under the worst possible circumstances through Texas Winter where Riley learned about his daughter and the devious workings of his family to Texas Heat (Texas, #3) and the expansion of the Double D, I have felt an intimate connection to these men and their future together as a couple and family.  So I was thrilled to see Texas Family released so I could pick up where we had left off before, with the men wanting to have another child, this time Jack’s.

But the road to having children is never an easy one, especially for gay couples. Then locate the gay couple in question in the not so gay friendly state of Texas and the obstacles in front of them increase exponentially.  R.J.Scott makes sure that Jack and Riley’s pursuit of a surrogate to have their child is realistically described to her credit.  This is not an easy process in any respect.  From the mens thoughts on whose sperm to donate to the woman who will carry their child, it is a complicated procedure, fraught with the possibility of rejection, pain, and the right of the birth mother to refuse to turn over the child when it is born.   The author brings us right into couples journey to fatherhood, making all the many emotions and complex decisions seem as though they could be ours.  As Riley and Jack questioned the two surrogates as to why they would agree to such an emotional and physically draining procedure, they asked the same questions that were in my mind as well.  It all felt authentic.  It was stressful, hopeful, and ultimately one of the most rewarding experiences for them all.  Trust me, by the time everyone ends up in the maternity room, your eyes will be filled with tears of joy along with everyone present.

But if that is not enough, Scott adds yet another dimension to this picture of Jack and Riley’s expanding family.  The couple that is the surrogate and her husband are also foster parents.  In their care is a very special child named Max.  I won’t spoil either his introduction or his history but needless to say that Max will grab onto your heart just as quickly as he does Jack and Riley’s.  So adoption and its complications enters into the story, again not an easy path for a gay couple, not only in Texas but elsewhere.

In fact Texas Family is about more than just Jack and Riley and their efforts to expand their family.  It’s about their extended families efforts to have children or to move forward in their troubled relationships.  Its about family in every aspect you can think of.  Its Jack’s sister whose fragile health complicates her dreams for another child. Its Riley’s sister’s problems with the man she loves , one Riley doesn’t approve of. Its their mothers, step fathers, and co workers. Its even the new worker newly arrived with problems of his own.

If I have a quibble, its that the author has packed so much into one story that it threatens to burst at the seams. Just the introduction of a new thread about the latest hire, a young man with a troubled past, had me wanting more yet wishing she had postponed that element in favor of a last minute look at Jack, Riley and their new family. I ended up wanting more of everything and everyone. The Double D Rance is a huge canvas and R.J. Scott is taking advantage of every square inch to bring us a multigenerational family saga, complete with drama, laughter, and romance.

I know the author has at least two more books planned.  I hope that the Texas saga will continue on much, much longer.  I love this series and highly recommend both the series and this book.  If you are new to the Texas saga, go back to the beginning and see how it all starts.  Otherwise, some of the relationships and past events will make little sense to a reader picking up this book to read as a standalone story.

Here are the stories in the Texas series in the order they were written and should be read:

The Heart of Texas (Texas, #1)
Texas Winter (Texas, #2)
Texas Heat (Texas, #3)
Texas Family (Texas, #4)
Texas Christmas (coming soon)

Cover by Meredith Russell.  The cover is adorable and perfect in every way.

Book Details:

ebook, 186 pages
Published October 15th 2013 by Love Lane Books
edition language English
series Texas

Review: Lessons for Suspicious Minds (Cambridge Fellows #10) by Charlie Cochrane

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Lessons for Suspicious MindsJonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith have just returned home when they are sent a summons by Mrs. Stewart, Jonty’s mother.   Her old friend and Jonty’s godmother requires their assistance and immediate travel to her stately home in the country.  Although lacking details, Jonty and Orlando know this can only mean one thing…..a mystery to solve.  But this could not come at a worse time,, Orlando is still preoccupied over the revelation of his true family name and Jonty had made plans to help Orlando in his personal investigation.

But Mrs. Stewart is not to be denied and soon the two are traveling with the Stewarts to the Berkshires and Fyfield, home of Alexandra Temple.  Midway on their journey, a stop at Monkey Island sees the Cambridge Fellows with an unexpected request to look into a recent death there.  Orlando and Jonty keep that mystery to themselves but are surprised when asked to investigate a suicide at Fyfield, their destination.  That’s two recent suicides suspected to be murder, a circumstance that neither Jonty or Orlando believe to be coincidence.

For Orlando and Jonty, the deaths remind them of a recent dark time for Orlando and memories of Orlando’s father’s suicide.  There will be many mysteries to solve and personal obstacles to overcome before the Cambridge Fellows can return home to Forsythia Cottage and a life they love.

With Lessons for Suspicious Minds, Charlie Cochrane takes us back to England, 1909, a time period prior to the last two novels in this series. WWI is still years away although change is in the air and troubling events are occurring aboard.  Orlando is still reeling over the fact that he is not really a Coppersmith but a relation of the Italian Artigiano del Rame family and Jonty is making plans to help his lover investigate his grandfather’s identity.  But of course, even the simplest of plans go awry for our Cambridge Fellows as Cochrane builds some of her most sophisticated and convoluted set of mysteries to date for them to solve.

There is just so much to love and admire about this book. And l especially appreciate that, as the tenth book in the series, Charlie Cochrane takes us back prior to WWI and the events of All Lessons Learned (#8) and Lessons for Survivors (#9).  Once again we get to revel in the closeness and joy that is the Stewart family, from Richard, Jonty’s father always ready to join in as a spry co-investigator and the ever formidable Helena Stewart, Jonty’s mother, whose post pulls Orlando and Jonty into one of their most personal and perplexing cases  yet.  Lavinia, Jonty’s sister, nephew and brother in law are also present and enjoyably accounted for.  The Stewart family aspect of this series has always been a powerful emotional anchor for Jonty and Orlando’s relationship and sometimes even their mental and emotional stability.  That will come into play here as well.

A constant thread throughout this series has been Orlando’s predilection towards depression, an event usually brought on by thoughts of his dysfunctional family and his father’s suicide.  When Lessons for Suspicious Minds starts, we find Orlando in an unsettled state of mind.  He has just found out that his family name is not Coppersmith but an Italian one from his maternal grandmother as their true family name, Artigiano del Rame, is italian for Coppersmith.  Now the mystery before Orlando is that of the identity of his grandfather, a man never identified by his grandmother.  As always Jonty is trying to find a way to help Orlando but unsure of how to assist him.  This is such a marvelous way to start a story that will have further ramifications for both Orlando and Jonty, especially as they get involved in investigating two deaths categorized as suicides.

This is an emotionally fraught subject and Cochrane treads delicately but resoundingly here.  She brings back past events where depression almost pulled Orlando under and has the entire Stewart family just as unsettled as Orlando, unsure of how to tackle their concerns about his state of mind when dealing so directly with these recent deaths.  Then the author balances the tricky state of hiding the nature of Orlando and Jonty’s relationship from everyone at Fyfield, including the servants, just at the moment when Orlando is needing the love and support of Jonty the most.   It’s almost painful for them to part in the evening when all Orlando (and Jonty) wants is to curl up with his lover, feeling safe and loved.

Through ten stories readers have been there as Orlando and Jonty meet, romanced and finally settled into a deep loving relationship.  It has been a wonderful journey, filled with angst and joy. So we understand how far Orlando has come from those early stages to this point where he needs that physicality, that touch from Jonty to shore him up emotionally and mentally. And when they finally are able to sneak away and indulge in their need for one another, the reader feels as content and emotionally satisfied as they do.

A tenth book is always a milestone in any series and Charlie Cochrane does justice to this remarkable series by including all the elements that her readers have come to expect and enjoy and elevating them here in Lessons for Suspicious Minds.  There is the marvelous parlance of the time period that Cochrance includes in her dialog which demonstrates an ease and familiarity of language in use then.   Whether it is Jonty calling Orlando “a big jessie”, with total affection of course, Richard remonstrating “Helena, he’s built like a bull of Bashan.” after Jonty’s mother says he is “looking a touch on the thin side.” Or even Jonty asking “What have you planned in the way of a nosebag?”, it natural, instead of strained or unusual.  It just adds that note of relevance and accuracy necessary for a historical novel, albeit accomplished in a lovely and subtle manner.

Her locales ring as true as her dialog.  I would love to punt my way to Monkey Island and spread a cloth under the trees to nap away a hour or two in the afternoon. Cochrane’s descriptions are both informative and a calling card for that geographical area. Their pull is hard to resist and sent me googling Monkey Island, punts and gardens Cochrane so vividly brought to life.

And then there are her mysteries, two of them in fact.  To use the lingo common in fiction, there is a dastardly aspect to these cases that I was not prepared for. Its complex and it takes time for Jonty and Orlando to pull all the facts together before they can solve the crimes.  The clues are myriad and include such marvelous things as servants bells and mariner journals. Just outstanding, I think this is the best mystery yet.  I loved that I did not guess at the solution, didn’t even come close!

But the true heart of this story and the series is the love between Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart.  It has survived Orlando’s innocence, Jonty’s childhood sexual abuse, and all the events of their past investigations, including death threats , threats to the romance, and the threat of discovery. I was slow warming up to their romance but as the stories flew by and their relationship progressed, I fell for them as deeply as they fell for each other.  Now I number this series and couple among my all time favorites.

Lessons for Suspicious Minds (Cambridge Fellows #10) is one of the best of the series, a marvelous thing to report at book ten.  This series and their romance is alive and getting resoundingly better with each new story.  How many series can say that at book ten?  If you are new to the Cambridge Fellows series and Jonty and Orlando, then rush back to the beginning and the start of their romance.  But if you are a long-time fan as I am, then you will surely be as in love with this story as Jonty and Orlando remain with each other, exchanging gentle slaps and retorts to go along with the double entendres and hidden caresses we love and expect.  I consider this one of the best of 2013.

Cover art by Alex Beecroft is perfect for this story in every way.

Book Details:

Paperback, 200 pages
Published September 30th 2013 by Cheyenne Publishing (first published September 19th 2013)
ISBN 1937692272 (ISBN13: 9781937692278)
edition language English

For those of you for whom this review is your first introduction, please start from the beginning. Take your time getting to know these remarkable men, delve into life and times of England in the 1900′s. It starts out with all the joys of a slow promenade and then picks up the pace with each succeeding book.

It is an extraordinary journey. Dont miss a page of it. Here are the order the stories were written and should be read to fully understand the relationships and events that occur:

Lessons in Love (Cambridge Fellows, #1)
Lessons in Desire (Cambridge Fellows, #2)
Lessons in Discovery (Cambridge Fellows, #3)
Lessons in Power (Cambridge Fellows, #4)
My True Love Sent To Me
Lessons in Temptation (Cambridge Fellows, #5)
Lessons in Seduction (Cambridge Fellows, #6)
Lessons in Trust (Cambridge Fellows, #7)
Once We Won Matches (Cambridge Fellows, #7.5)
All Lessons Learned (Cambridge Fellows, #8)
Lessons for Survivors (Cambridge Fellows, #9) – released by Cheyenne Publishing.
Lessons for Suspicious Minds (Cambridge Fellows #10)

For free stories in the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries universe and more about the author, visit the author’s website.

Review: The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari (The General #2) by Sarah Black

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

The General and the Elephant Clock coverGeneral John Mitchel and Gabriel Sanchez have finally begun to settle into their new lives as an couple and outwardly gay men when an old colleague calls with a request for help.  General David Painter, now CEO of a private security outfit, has two of his men, former Rangers, who have been captured and imprisoned in Tunisia. And they are being held in one of the most notorious prisons in the Middle East.  Painter wants John and Gabriel to get them out and safely home.

With problems on the home front with Kim, Abdullah, and Billy all involved in their own personal challenges, John and Gabriel knows its a tough time to leave but the alternative, leaving those boys to rot in prison or worse, is unthinkable.  The Arab Uprising has left the government unstable and the political climate rife for rebellion in Tunisia.  But liberating the men in only part of the mission, the other is to leave the country with every one involved safe and alive. An old enemy thwarts their every move, puting John and Gabriel in a dangerous position.  As the obstacles mount against them, John finds that one of the men’s obsession with the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari might not only be their ticket home but a way to heal some deep wounds as they go.

The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari is just spectacular!  I think it is the best book Sarah Black has written to date, a great book among many wonderful ones.  This book, the second in The General series, marks a departure from the original in so many ways. While that book, The General and the Horse-Lord, looked inward and focused on John and Gabriel as former Army officers now adjusting to civilian life and their status as out gay men and partners, this book takes all those elements (their  extended family, career adjustments, love for the Army and country,etc) and expands that view while placing the men back in their comfort zone of military action,hostiles, and hostage negotiations.  Its a brilliant move on the author’s part because now we get to see General John Mitchel (and Gabriel) in their element,. It is  here that we see their personalities, thoughts and actions shine and the depth of their partnership and love emerge to support their actions and the group they assemble.

This book is remarkable in that every aspect of this story is well constructed and beautifully implemented.  It has action scenes that will make you hold your breath in white knuckle anxiety yet scream in fear for those involved.  It has pathos and angst, especially in the form of Eli, the young, brilliant ex Ranger captured and abused.  It has the breadth of knowledge and admiration for a ancient rich culture and society now on the brink of meltdown while showing a sorrow for a people caught in the religious crossfires of zealotry and hatred. Black comments on the Arab uprising while bringing its reality to the reader in the scared visages and chaos that is every day life in Carthage and Tunisia.  There is scholarly references to Ibn Battuta’s Rihla, Al-Jazari’s book, The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices”as well as contemporary references to Star Wars, Spongebob Squarepants, and the lyrics of “Take It Easy” by the Eagles and Jackson Browne.   This book is bursting at the seams in an explosion of history, culture, pop society milestones and great characterizations that will cement themselves in your heart never to leave.

Existing on the same superior level as the action and plot are the characters created for this series.  Starting with John Mitchel, Gabriel Sanchez, Kim, Abdullah, Billy and even Juan, Gabriel’s confused and angry son, each and every one is a solid, believable, and often endearing personality that the reader will connect to easily.  John Mitchel, the warrior philosopher, is easily the strongest and probably most magnetic, along with Gabriel.  John is having the hardest time adjusting to civilian life, finding it boring and lacking the mental stimulation that he is used to.  He is also finding it hard to relinquish his role as the commander who sees to everyones safety and directing their safe passage through life.  Gabriel is also finding his new life harder than he thought it would be, with different demands as an ex husband and divorced family man whose kids are unhappy and angry over the destruction of their family unit to a law firm disintegrating under the load of needy cases and lack of revenue.  The pain and confusion of divorce and its effects upon a family are not glossed over but folded in as a matter of fact part of life that the men and Gabriel’s children and ex-wife must deal with.  It’s realistic, and recognizable in this day and age of multiple connected families.  I love these men and their relationship, a work still in progress throughout the story although their love is never to be doubted.

Swimming in the sea of John and Gabriel’s love and support is their wonderful extended family of Kim, John’s brilliant Korean nephew, Abdullah, his godson, and Billy, a young man recovering from a brutal attack on campus.  Now added to the fray are the men  and woman who make up the rescue unit in Carthage.  Eli and Daniel, Jen Painter, Sam Brightman, Wylie and Jackson, all memorable, each a living, breathing human being that will bring you to laughter and tears.  Eli and Jen have to be two of my favorites, Eli one of the young men captured and Jen, the resilient and courageous young woman fighting to empower the embattled women of Tunisia.  And then there is  the director of the Bardo Museum, Ibrahim ibn Saeed ibn Ahmad al-Aziz, old and wise, encapsulating the best combination of humanity, learning and wisdom.  There is a large cast here but each is necessary to the plot and to the group dynamic. You will fall in love with each and every one.  Here is an excerpt.  John is calling  home from Carthage and is met with the usual chaos of multiple voices before talking to Billy:

So how are you, son? I was craving some of your tea today, that one with the blood oranges and rose hips and hibiscus. I can’t believe I’m starting to like it.”

“That’s my favorite, too. I was thinking we could plant some blackberry and raspberry vines in the back yard, make some fresh teas. You think they would grow here?”

“Maybe. If we built them a deep planter that we sunk in the ground. I’ve heard there were some traditional ways to plant up in northern New Mexico where they dug shallow pits, lined them with rocks, and planted trees in them.”

“I read something about the Hopi, how they planted—I was thinking about waffles, or a grid? I can’t remember. I’ll have to look it up.”

“Billy, do you know anything about the museums in Carthage?”

“Not really. Want me to look them up?”

“I would. Just write me a brief and send it to me, okay? That would be a big help.”

“I looked up some pictures of Carthage. It looks so beautiful, with the Mediterranean right there, and the sky so blue. Sad, though. Like that poem, how does it go? Two vast and trunkless legs of stone….”

John concentrated hard, trying to remember. “Ozymandias, and it was Shelley, I think, or Keats. I used to know it. “I met a traveller from an antique land who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, tell that its sculptor well those passions read…. I can’t remember the rest. But you’re right, Billy. That poem looks like Carthage. I miss you, kiddo.”

“I miss you, too.”

Just look at the number of references in that short excerpt, from Hopi planting methods to Shelley’s Ozymandias overlaid with a man longing for home and the respect with which he treats the people who live under his roof. Black also demonstrates her knowledge and love of the military here.  Whether it is the Flying Stallions and the primal sound of the “rhythmic thump, then, the sound of a big helicopter’s rotors” to the pain and sorrow of a young injured soldier unable to fathom his doctor’s distant attitude, you will feel as though you have walked a short ways in a soldier’s shoes.

From vivid descriptions of far away places to the characters and the ever present love of the Army and its mission, The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari, is a must read for 2013 or any year.   Make sure you find a place for it on your bookshelf, digital or otherwise, with space for additional stories to come.  This is a universe that begs for more stories with its wealth of characters and various challenges ahead that each face.  I know at least one more is in the works, lets hope for an abundance.

This is how the story begins:

JOHN studied the candy-colored sky, raspberry pink edging to smudgy purple, the color of a grape lollipop. The colors reminded him of Turkish delight, a candy he’d been offered once in a Bedouin’s tent. He’d been there to negotiate passage for troops and troop trucks over the old man’s lands. It was rumored that the Bedouin was somehow involved in the nasty little conflict that had disrupted the flow of food aid to the region. John had been sent in to stomp on the sparks before civilian casualties escalated.

The old man’s grandson had filled two cups with mint tea so sweet John could smell the sugar over the dust and sun-warmed canvas of the tent. Then he’d offered the plate of Turkish delight with a flourish and a bow. The boy had black liquid eyes, long, thick lashes, and John had felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Eyes that beautiful and dark should have been filled with warmth, but the boy was young and didn’t know how to hide what was in his heart. John had watched the boy slide his hand down his leg, clutch the bronze dagger in the top of his boot and pull it free.

Then Gabriel was there, quiet as smoke, his rifle cradled in his arms, and the boy froze. John set his teacup down, refusing the Bedouin’s hospitality. It was an insult, a hard line drawn in the sand, nearly as hard a line as the one drawn when your grandson cut someone’s throat over a plateful of Turkish delight. The old man had eyes like the boy, a raptor’s eyes, cold and wet and black. John stood up, backed out of the tent without a word, and Gabriel spread his arms, the rifle in one big hand. No one could mistake the gesture. It said, No one touches him. You come through me to get to him.

SThe Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari 

Book Details:

ebook, 244 pages
Expected publication: October 25th 2013
ISBN13 9781627982085
edition language English
series The General

Last Day at GRL and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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I am writing this in advance as today is my last day at GRL in Atlanta and my travel day home.  I hope I will have had time to post several pics and blogs of the event as it happened.  If, as I predict, not, then a followup blog will be coming shortly.

At any rate, it is going to be a great week here at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words.  Sarah Black is stopping by to discuss her latest release,, The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari, the sequel to The General and The Horse-Lord, a favorite of mine.  If you enjoy great military characters written realistically and grounded deeply in the Marine ethos, then these stories are for you.

Also reviewed this week is her outstanding supernatural story, Wild Onion.  Sarah Black donated the proceeds of this story to her local food bank, a wonderful endeavor and a much needed one.  Anne Tenino is back with more of her boys from Alpha Theta Gamma in Good Boy and I have new stories hee by A.R. Moler and Jameson Dash.  Really there is something for everyone.

Here is the schedule for the week ahead:

Monday, Oct. 21:       Burning Now by A.R. Moler

Tuesday, Oct. 22:       Home Team by Jameson Dash

Wed., Oct. 23:             Wild Onions by Sarah Black

Thurs., Oct. 24:          Good Boy by Anne Tenino

Friday, Oct. 25:          Sarah Black Guest Blog and Book Giveaway

Sat., Oct., 26:             The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari by Sarah Black

Review: Starry Knight (City Knight #3) by TA Webb

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

“What happens when two broken men collide?”

Starry KnightWhen Marcus Prater has found his Ben, several things happened at once, including an ambush by the very men who had raped Ben in the past.  The aftermath of that battle sees Marcus in the intensive care unit, surrounded by those who love him, his friends Wick, Zachary, Chance and of course Ben Danvers, the young prostitute that brought Marcus emotionally back to life after the death of his partner.

But Marcus needs to recover in more ways than just physically.  He needs to let go of his past if there is going to be room in his life for Ben and a future together.  It will take all his friends and more for Marcus and Ben to make the transition from a HFN to HEA.

Starry Knight is more about an internal investigation and exploration than an external one.  The past two stories have focused on the beginnings and rough path to romance for Marcus and Ben.  Marcus  withdrew from everyone around him who loved him in his grief over the death of Jeremy, his long term lover. Now with the arrival of Ben and the numerous setbacks their romance entailed, those friends have reappeared in Marcus’ life and its time for Marcus to ask for forgiveness and support.  And it is also time for those friends to let go of their anger and pain and give Ben their forgiveness as well.

I loved that this story turned inward and dealt with all the emotions and ramifications of Marcus’ past that had never been dealt with.  By bringing together all those people in the formerly close-knit group of friends, brothers in arms actually, the reader is given a clearer picture not only of their relationships but their past as well.  These passages are emotional punches to the gut not physical ones and many of them are long overdue.

T.A. Webb does a spectacular job of bringing the reader intimately into this group of strong individuals who consider themselves a family by choice instead of blood.   Or in their case, the blood may be that shed on each others behalf, a most singular blood tie that continues no matter how much rejection they might face from each other at any given time.  We have been bonding with all of these men through the various Pulp Friction series, and bringing them together gives a real feeling of totality that will satisfy the reader and in sure that we are hungry for more stories involving each of them.

But the most important element of this story is Marcus’ letting go of Jeremy and the love that meant everything to him.  It’s necessary in order for us (and Ben) to believe that there is a future available for this couple and the author  accomplishes this mission in a heartfelt and totally realistic series of emotional exchanges.  Starry Knight ends up being about emotional growth and acceptance, forgiveness and love.

However, this is also in keeping with the previous installments, so there is the rough talk, hot sex, and heart stopping moment of …..well, you will just have to get the book to read about the rest.  I love this series, and this couple,  Each additional story brings a new dimension and depth to their relationship and the dynamic group of men that supports them.   I can’t wait to see what happens next.  Consider this story and series highly recommended.

Stories in the City Knight series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and events to follow:

City Knight (City Knight #1)
Knightmare (City Knight #2)
Starry Knight (City Knight #3)
Knights Out (City Knight #4)

Book Details:

ebook, 65 pages
Published June 13th 2013 by A Bear on Books
ISBN13 9781301484867

Review: Touch & Geaux (Cut & Run #7) by Abigail Roux

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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

???????????????????????????????????????FBI Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett have been relegated to desk and PR duties after their last case made them too high profile for undercover work.  With 20 years on the job, Zane is considering retiring and other major  life changing decisions when Ty gets a call from one of his old friends who is in jail in New Orleans. His friend  needs Ty’s help and fast.  New Orleans is the last place Ty should be considering going because of the time he spent there undercover as well as all the memories it holds and not just for him.  For Zane, New Orleans is a city rife with echos from their past.  But for Ty, loyalty is everything and both men set out to rescue Ty’s friend.

From the moment Ty and Zane land in New Orleans, the bodies start to pile up and danger hunts them at every street corner.  Once more Ty’s past has come back to haunt him and now it threatens to kill not just him but all he cares for, including Zane.  But the threat Ty and Zane face in New Orleans is not just physical, but an emotional threat to the heart of their relationship and the trust they hold for each other.

With criminals and the law closing in on Ty and Zane, all the last secrets that had been deeply buried come out. Will both men be able to withstand the resulting emotional and physical explosions or will they see everything they have worked so hard for destroyed.

I fell in love with this series in 2008 with the first release of Cut & Run (Cut & Run #1), then written by Madeline Urban and Abigail Roux.  From the moment we are introduced to Ty Grady and Zane Garrett, the reader knows that here are two characters so complicated, so weighed down with their past and inability to trust anyone other than themselves that if they were ever to get together the resulting fireworks would be memorable and glorious.   It would also take loads of work, painful work to make it happen which is how it occurred over the course of the next several books.  And for every step forward, the authors had our heros take two steps back.  And this intricate ballet happens while Ty and Zane are engaged in various cases that often threaten not just national security but their lives as well.

After the last book, Stars & Stripes, in which we found the pair mostly happy with their relationship and coming out to their families, I knew that such a happy time would be short lived.  There was just too much still happening around them, too many unresolved issues that had been glossed over and now we know why.  Abigail Roux has always struck me as a meticulous planner and researcher.  When her characters go on location, you can bet  Abigail Roux has spent some time there visiting the various locales, jotting down names of bars, streets, and other places her characters have spent time.  Now if she does that for just one book, what sort of planning would she do for a series?  For me, the answer is that the series would see the same attention to detail but on a much larger scale and with the end of the series already in place. In Touch & Geaux, I see elements that demonstrate, at least to me, that some of the events here have been in motion for some time.

It is hard to go into details without giving anything away, but the revelations that explode in this book caught me totally by surprise.  I never would have guessed them in a million years but now that I am thinking about them, the basis for these surprising disclosures start back in Cut & Run and pop up through every subsequent book in the series.  Things I maybe gave less attention to than I should have are now imbued with a deeper, darker meaning, their true purpose clear.  And it all points to some masterful planning by Abigail Roux.

If you are a true fan of Ty and Zane as I am, than just be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster, worthy of at least several boxes of tissues and then some.  If you are truthful with yourself, than you have to admit you knew this was coming.  Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are complicated men with dark, secretive pasts.  Both are very good at keeping secrets, even from each other and the ones Ty has been keeping from Zane will go right to the heart of each others issues.  Issues of trust, truth and self knowledge – it doesn’t get any more powerful than that.  All those things have haunted both men from the very first time they met each other, and have continued to do so for all the two years they have been partnered.  Actually their relationship in all its gritty,slow, painful, and  complex glory has always struck me as one of the most realistic things about this series.  I liked that the slow climb to a romantic partnership was equal in complexity to the men themselves and that a HEA is always in question.

There are things here that might make one scoff or at least pull back in disbelief.  LIke a motor bike ride from hell or a magazine shoot that seems unlikely for the FBI in Washington, DC or Baltimore even, but again we have seen Zane ride like that before, think back to another  wild  Zane ride to the National Aquarium.  And maybe even the FBI can loosen up enough to put out a calendar.  Who knows in these times?  But the real meat and bones of this story are Ty and Zane and their relationship, everything else is almost superfluous. Or enough it seems for me to overlook it on my way to the heart of these men and the status of their lives at any given point.

One of the things I often hear mentioned about the Cut & Run series is the switching POV that happens repeatedly throughout the books.  I know that each author wrote one character, right up until Abigail Roux took over writing the series by herself.  That fact most likely explains the POV changes in the series.  And once that pattern was set for the series it made perfect sense to me that Roux continued to write the books in the same manner in which they were started.  I actually love hearing the thoughts of each man and it has contributed to the  intimate connection I feel with both Ty and Zane that I might not otherwise have achieved.  And that connection is a strong one, attained through outstanding characterization, snappy, memorable dialog, and scenes that have me howling in laughter or in tears, sometimes both at the same time.

This is perhaps the finest book of the series yet, it was certainly a return to the darker, tumultuous times when Ty and Zane were on unstable ground in almost every way.  This book is necessary because it brings back home to us that so much still had to come out, that there was still so much that Ty and Zane had to work through for a real partnership to succeed.  As it was for them, this path is a painful one for us too. But what a journey we are all on together.  I can’t wait for the next book to arrive.

I believe I read somewhere that Abigail Roux has 9 books planned for the series, perhaps 10.  You can go and preorder Cut & Run #8 right now as I  have already done.  Considering how I felt, still feel,  about the end of Touch & Geaux, I needed that promise of a resolution hopefully to come for all involved, including the readers.  So I think I will pass the time by going back to the beginning and rereading the books in order.  I think that with the knowledge I now possess many events will take on an entirely new look and context.  I can’t wait to see what I will find.  In the meantime, here is the buy link for Cut & Run #8.  It is available at a discounted price until April 14, 2013.

The cover by LC Chase is another is a great branding style, the voodoo doll figures prominently in the story. Great job.

Here are the books in the order they were written and should be read:

Touch & Geaux (Cut & Run #7)

Stars & Stripes (Cut & Run #6)

Armed & Dangerous , #5 –  by Abigail Roux

Divide & Conquer #4, Fish & Chips #3, Sticks & Stones #2, Cut & Run #1 – all of these written by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux

And a big congratulations to Stars & Stripes and Abigail Roux. DABWAHA Champions.  Stars & Stripes just became the first ever M/M romance to win the DABWAHA tournament!