Review: Collusion (Diversion #2) by Eden Winters

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Collusion coverRichmond “Lucky” Lucklighter, former drug dealer, is dead.  In his place, Simon “Lucky” Harrison lives on and continues to work for the Southeastern Narcotics Bureau, along with his romantic/agency  partner,  former Marine Bo Schollenberger.  As Lucky recovered from his injuries, Bo has been working on finishing up the case without him and their schedules have left them with little time to spend with each other.  And Lucky wrestles with the idea of having an actual relationship with a man he sees as so much better than himself.

Bo Schollenberger is still fighting his own demons, that of an abusive father, PTSD from his tour in Afghanistan, and continuing his recovery from prescription drug addiction.  That addiction landed him working for  the Southeastern Narcotics Bureau, same as Lucky and as a pharmacist, it is one Bo has to confront daily in his job as an undercover narcotics agent.  Bo realizes that having Lucky as his partner in love as well as work complicates his life and makes it better at the same time. Now if only Lucky will realize that.

Then on their next case together, a situation arises that may jeopardize everything they have worked so hard to achieve. A prescription drug shortage places the patients at Rosario Children’s Cancer Center in danger, not just from the unavailability of life saving drugs but from the substitution of medications produced at less than legal companies.  And Bo’s need to protect and assist those children places his job in trouble and pits him against his lover and his company.  Lucky sees Bo getting in too deep to see who the villains really are, maybe even the doctors themselves.  In a situation where the young victims get to even the hardest agent of them all, Lucky himself, what won’t Lucky do to save them all?

I thought that Diversion was going to be a hard story to beat but Collusion (Diversion #2) handles the job of sequel with astounding power and depth.  I just loved it.  Collusion takes up where Diversion left off.  Simon “Lucky” Harrison has left the hospital, his former self, Richmond “Lucky”  Lucklighter now safely dead and buried.  While he has recuperated at his desk at the Southeastern Natcotics Bureau, his on and off again romantic/agent partner, Bo has been dealing with the aftermath of their original investigation.  Then a heartbreaking case of extreme urgency, that of a drug shortage at Rosario Children’s Cancer Center, gives them an investigation that will see them both undercover once more.

I cannot complement Eden Winters enough for the outstanding job she accomplished with Collusion.  First, there is the heartbreaking story line, that of children with cancer desperately in need of the drugs that may either save them or at least delay the progress of the disease that’s killing them.  Their plight is brought home by one patient, Stephanie Owens, a small child who manages to capture Lucky’s heart the moment they meet.  Winters gives us a portrait of a child with cancer without any saccharine overload.  Then the author proceeds with a steely outlook to demonstrate just how little the patients actually matter to those that use the life-giving drugs the children need as just another commodity to manipulate for the greatest monetary gain.  Without lecturing or creating an information dump, Winters brings us into the gray world of pharmaceutical companies, the intermediaries that handle the transactions, through the shipment and warehousing to those that distribute the needed drugs through avenues as diverse as drugstores and Craigslist.  Never boring, this information and insight into this industry will make you cry out for even more regulation to stop the abuse that is recounted within Diversion and Collusion.  Contemptible is far too soft a word for the events that occur daily in this industry where some people put monetary gain above those in need of life saving medication and Eden Winters brings that home with an emotional blow to the heart.

And then we have Lucky and Bo, two such remarkable characters that they have been stuck in my head talking to me over the past couple of days.  Complicated people, with all their human flaws and strengths revealing themselves over the course of these two stories, I loved watching them and their relationship grow as once more an undercover operation brings out the best and worst in them both.  Told once again from Lucky’s pov, we get to watch as Lucky struggles to acknowledge just how much Bo has come to mean to him, and equally how much it would hurt to lose him.  Given Lucky’s past history, to bring himself to trust another with his love (if he can bring himself to call it that) is a huge step forward, not one he is sure he can make.  Bo’s character is as equally alive and a perfect match for the hard-nosed, former criminal. Bo’s background is one of parental abuse, PTSD and prescription addiction and yet Bo is still able to see the best in those around him. A wonderful contrast to Lucky’s belief that all are guilty until proven innocent.  And as I said before, watching these two dance around each other, the word “relationship” never touching their lips, is a true joy. The author clearly demonstrates her understanding of the intricacies of relationships in her portraits of Bo and Lucky’s slow climb to love and romance.  Eden Winters gives her creations such perfect crisp, snappy dialog that it enhances their personalities and gives the reader better understanding into Bo and Lucky’s characters.  Do I love these two?  Why yes, I do, in every way possible.

And then there is the resolution to the undercover investigation that is so satisfying and beautifully resolved that I had to read it twice.  It made sense in that it seemed to be accurately feasible in the manner in which it was accomplished.  I think you will find yourself grinning just as I did.  I don’t know if Eden Winters has more planned for Lucky and Bo, but I hope so.  There is still plenty of growth to be had within their relationship and I would think that the Southeastern Narcotics Bureau will never lack for cases to investigate and solve.  Here’s hopeing that there is a Diversion #3 on the horizon for all of us to enjoy.

Cover Art by Trace Edward Zaber is full of elements pertinent to the story but lacking somehow, due in part to the blue toned cover.

Book Details:

Collusion (Diversion #2)

Novel, 275 pages, Amber Allure Press, LLC

Buy Link at Amber Allure Press: Collusion by Eden Winters

Books in the series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and the situations:

Diversion (Diversion #1)

Collusion (Diversion #2)

Review: Natural Predators (Mahu #7) by Neil S. Plakcy

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Rating: 5 stars

Natural Predators coverHonolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka and his detective partner Ray Donne are called on one of their most complex case when an abandoned warehouse goes up in flames and in the rubble the remains of a prominent statesman are found.  When the cause of death is determined to be murder, Kimo and Ray follow an ever expanding field of clues that stretch from local gyms into the rarified society of Hawaii’s oldest and wealthiest families.

More bodies pile up as the murderer stays just ahead of them, putting their families and themselves in danger.  In addition to his case, Kimo’s personal relationship with his partner Mike is under stress as they decide whether or not to go ahead as donors for their lesbian friends and a young runaway makes Kimo and Mike think about being foster parents.

Hawaii is a place of immense beauty , where predators and prey live and die as nature dictates.  Under the shinning sun and majestic waves, treacherous events happen even as the ambience lures you in.  No one is more aware of the delicate balance than Kimo Kanapa’aka as he races to find the murderer and keep his new found family safe.

Natural Predators is the first book I have read by Neil S. Plakcy and therefore the first book I have read in this series.  I started early evening and read right through until 2am in the morning, pausing only to rub my eyes, adjust the light and continue on until I had finished.  I had heard wonderful things about this series but still nothing prepared me for the richness and depth of the story and characterizations I found within.  It was like going to a nice restaurant only to find out that the restaurant is gourmet, Jose Andres is the chef, and you are sitting at the chef’s table.

Natural Predators is a veritable luau of Hawaiian delights, a banquet of varying aromas, textures, tastes and melodies, something for everyone’s palate.  Plakcy’s characters range from low level thugs to runaway teens to high society lawyers and businessman and everything in between.  Each character has a defining “voice” consistent with their histories and culture, from traditional haoli conversations to the pidgin dialect heard among those born on Hawaii.  Here Kimo and his partner track down two suspects in the case:

“Mr. Campbell. Police. Open up.” We waited, and Ray was about to knock again when the door opened. Larry, a fat Hawaiian guy with dark dreadlocks, stuck his head out. “Hey, Leroy, it’s da kine police,” he said. “Long time no see, bruddas.”

Larry yawned and stepped outside, and big, bald Leroy followed him. “How about your cousin Pika?” Ray asked. “He in there, too?” “Nah, he wen bag two days ago.” “But he was living with you before he left?” I asked. “Sometimes he moi moi wid us, sometimes wid his buddy,” Leroy said.

To Ray’s credit, he seemed to be following the conversation, which meant he was learning our island pidgin. Pika slept at their place sometimes, but had left two days before. “Tacky?” I asked. Larry nodded. “Yeah. Bodybuilder dude. Dumb as two rocks in a box.” That could describe the Campbell brothers, too. “You know where we can find him?” I asked. “Try gym,” Leroy said. “Ho brah, he alla time workin out.”

Picked out of context, it might seem a little jarring but still you can hear the rhythm of the spoken words and in context, you barely notice it so because you have become so accustomed to hearing it throughout the novel.  By the end of the story, you will feel as though you have walked the streets of the city and sat and conversed with all types of Hawaiians,  The authenticity of elements and locations Plakcy has brought to the story make it that real.

We travel with Kimo and Ray as they traverse from one side of the island to the other, collecting Hawaiian history and geographical facts as we go. From the history of Hawaii’s quest for statehood or independence to the polyglot of cultures that makes up a typical Hawaiian conversation, we are slowly pulled in to the draw of the islands and the rhythm of daily life there. And not once does any of it come across as a regurgitation of a history lesson.

Again Plakcy seamlessly folds in tidbits of Hawaiian sayings and facts, as in this example:

“Just before four, we hopped in the Jeep to meet Frankie. In Honolulu, we don’t use mainland directions like east, west, north and south. Makai is toward the ocean, while mauka means inland, toward the mountains. Diamond Head is in the direction of that extinct volcano, while the opposite is called Ewa, toward a town of the same name.”

Actually I could just keep on with quote after quote, Natural Predators is that terrific, Neil S. Plakcy is that great.  His descriptions are vivid, wide ranging and carry with them the tone of a detective familiar with the full spectrum of human society, one that has lost its element to surprise him but manages to deliver an appreciation for life and its special moments no matter the situation. I am in love with all of the characters here.

Natural Predators is a novel not of one plot thread but many, and Plakcy does a remarkable job of not only paying equal attention to every one but also to keep each storyline as strong and rich in texture as all the rest.  The murder mysteries have a complex history to them, the foster child element will make you laugh and cry, sometimes together, you will hold your breath as Kimo and his partner Mike work through yet another potential obstacle to happiness with regard to surrogate fatherhood and still read in amazement as Plakcy rolls in more layers much like the tropical habitats that abound in Hawaii.  If I thought he would have heard it, I would have stood and applauded upon finishing this story.

So what happens now?  Well, hopefully you will go off to buy the book and I am going back to the beginning and start the series from Mahu (Mahu#1).  I can’t wait for the ride to begin again, such an E Ticket!

Here are the books in the order they were written:

Mahu (Mahu #1)

Mahu Surfer (Mahu #2)

Mahu Fire (Mahu #3)

Mahu Vice

Mahu Blood

Zero Break

Mahu Men: Mysterious and Erotic Stories

Natural Predators

I can’t find the name of the cover artist but they did a beautiful job, worthy of the story within.

Pete’s Persuasion (Shifters’ Haven #7) by Lavinia Lewis

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Rating: 4.75 stars

Pete's Persuasion coverTony has been examining his life in New York and doesn’t like what he sees, a shallow man pursuing his career, without friends or a man to love. Tony is missing his best friend, Jake who is now living with his cowboy in Texas and happier than Tony has ever seen him.  So when Tony decides he is due for a change, its to Texas and Jake that he decides to vacation.  A vacation that will land him in the middle of a killer’s quest for revenge and into a world of wolf shifters.

Pete Johnson, beta of alpha Kelan’s Wolf Creek pack, is tired of seeing all the shifters around him find their mates while he remains alone.  After the madness with the council member gone mad, all he wants to do is buy the bar he manages and settle down.  But once more, a killer rises up from the ash of the plot by a Supernatural  Council rogue member to threaten all the members of the Wolf Creek pack.  The night Tony arrives, someone burns both the bar and Kelan’s Crazy Horse Ranch to the ground, killing humans and shifters alike.  During the investigation, Pete meets Tony for the first time and realizes Tony is his mate.  When Jake gets critically injured during the blast that brings down the bar, Tony sees something so unreal, so unbelievable, that he thinks he is hallucinating.  Both Kelan and Pete’s features start to change and Tony discovers the reality of shifters.

As the killer escalates their plan to make the people involved in the rogue Councilman’s death pay, Pete must make Tony understand they are mates, sooth his concerns over shifters being real, and try to keep him safe until the killer is caught.  Not a easy take when Tony is divided between wanting to help and wanting to flee back to New York.  Can Pete persuade his mate to stay with him in Texas or will the killer take revenge on all the shifters in Wolf Creek, and their mates as well.

Shifters’ Haven is a series that continues to grow in depth and complexity and Pete’s Persuasion is the best book yet in this terrific series.  In fact, I still find it hard to believe that it is only 92 pages long as it has the feel and emotional heft of a much larger book.  Pete’s Persuasion continues with the aftermath of the death of the rogue Council member who was killing the mates of shifters who wished to remain hidden from the human world.  Now someone is seeking revenge for his death and everyone is a target.  I loved the continuity that flows smoothly from one book to the next, with nary a dropped plot point.  Lewis never gives us extraneous storyline side trips but instead juggles all the characters and locations masterfully as she maneuvers her characters and the reader towards a goal yet unseen.  If a certain element appears, whether human, shifter or Council law, then you can be sure it will figure seamlessly into the plot at some point, even if it takes a book or two to accomplish it.

Another facet of Lewis’ stories that I admire is that there are no throwaway characters.  If she mentions someone, then you can be sure they will make another  appearance down the line.  Tony, Jake’s best friend of 10 years, is first mentioned in Kelan’s Pursuit (Shifters’ Haven #3), but it took four more books until he reappeared as a main character.  And there is no such thing as a cookie cutter character in her stories either.  These men or shifters laugh, love, and hurt in such a believable fashion that there is never a strain to remember the cast of characters and their relationships to each other, something that can happen with long running series.

A nice element that Lewis works into her shifter universe, is that there is no instant love between mates.  There is desire certainly (hot sex too), there is a feeling of completeness and a recognition that each melds with the other but it takes time for the love to form.  Her shifters also physically shift instead of  a blink of an eye transformation, but there is no physical pain, just a momentary disconnect between the wolf and the man.

And finally, Lewis gives us scenes of such intensity, such fear, that she can make your heart pound and your pulse rate speed up with her action sequences, fight scenes and blazing conflagrations as the  burning buildings start coming down around our characters.  Really, she does an amazing job with her harrowing descriptions and vivid scenes that you feel like you are there.

So I cannot wait for the next in the series and one of the main reasons is that at the end of this book, the killer is once again on the loose.  The plot continues, the anxiety and dread rises with the stakes higher than ever.  Shifters’ Haven has me well and truly hooked.  You will be too but don’t start here. Go back to the beginning and read the series in the order they were written, which is the only way it will make sense.  You are going to love this.

Luke’s Surprise (Shifters’ Haven, #1)

Cody’s Revelation (Shifters’ Haven, #2)

Kelan’s Pursuit (Shifters’ Haven, #3)

Aaron’s Awakening (Shifters’ Haven #4)

Nate’s Deputy (Shifters’ Haven #5) – my review here.

Gregory’s Rebellion (Shifters’ Haven, #6)  – read my review here.

Pete’s Persuasion (Shifters’ Haven, #7)

Cover art by Posh Gosh.  The covers for this series is lovely but not up to the heights of the Leopard’s Spots series.  Still, it pulls in many of the elements of the story and still manages to brand the series from other shifter books.

Review: Crucible of Fate (Change of Heart #4) by Mary Calmes

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Rating: 5 stars

Crucible of Fate coverDomin Thorne should be on top of the world.  He is the semel-aten, the leader of the werepanther world, ruler of the city Sobek in Egypt, the capital of the werepanthers.  At his side are his new mate, Yuri the former shersuru of Logan Church as well as Mikail, Crane, and Taj from his former tribe, courtesy of Logan and Jin who knew it was crucial to have people he trusted around him as he began his rule.

But the tasks before him are even more formidable than he had imagined.  The old priest who supported him has died, and the new priest is intent on undermining his authority.   Crane is homesick and both Yuri and Mikail are not acting like themselves.  And Domin finds himself short tempered, and impatient with the pace of change in the rules and regulations he wants implemented.  Then his ex shows up just as a servant tries to kill him, and Yuri goes on a goodwill mission that turns deadly, and faced with his loss, Domin realizes that he truly loves Yuri, the only one to love him deeply and forever.

As his enemies gather all around him, Domin must prove to himself and all of Sobek that he is truly the semel-aten Logan believes he can be if he is to save those he loves and the werepanther world so desperately in need of change.

I hope that Mary Calmes intends to continue this series because with each book, it gets stronger, more deeply layered and complex.  Crucible of Fate picks up after the events of Honored Vow, and the fight in the arena between Domin and the former semel aten, Ammon, a circumstance planned by Logan.  Now in Sobek, the werepanther capital city in Egypt, we are given a Domin in crisis mode, inside and out.  Everything has  changed for Domin and it is overwhelming him on every front.  Domin has a mate in Yuri and it is so new for them both that neither has adjusted to their new status.  Yuri has always loved Domin, but Domin’s feelings for Yuri are still so brand new, bringing with them a measure of insecurity.  Logan gave permission for several close members of his tribe to go with Domin to insure his safety and to insure he would have people around him he could trust but none of them are acting like themselves.  Even the goals he wants to set for change within their society seem to distant to enact.  Mary Calmes gives us this wonderfully volatile man puts him down within an equally volatile framework and lets the explosions start to happen.

The author places characters we have come to love into situations where  their interpersonal relationships must expand and grow to their potential or all will be lost.  And it’s not just  Domin who must change, but Crane, Mikhail, Yuri and the entire court of Sobek.  It’s wonderful because we get to see the start of a social revolution but from the person’s view point who is planning it all.  Just a lovely touch.  As this author has done in the past, she takes the facts she has given us and then uses them to turn everything we know on its head by the end of the story.  All the little twists and turns she throws into the story takes Domin into a place I did not see coming, and I loved that.

And it’s not just the wonderful characterizations that greet us like old friends, but the vivid descriptions of Egypt, from the palace to the catacombs that help the reader visualize each and every scene our beloved werepanthers find themselves in.  But no matter how wonderful the settings (and they have been outstanding, especially Mongolia), it is the characters that continue to bring all of us back for more.  I never thought I would come to love Domin as I do when I initially met him. Then he was a bully, and a bit of a thug, deserving of a smackdown, which he got and then some.  But over the series, we have watched Domin evolve into a man of honor, worthy of both respect and love.  One of the true pleasures of this story, is Domin and Yuri’s story, watching their relationship deepen, strengthen and finally reveal itself as one between true mates.  It is just so rewarding and satisfying, I can’t wait for you to experience it yourself.

In fact you won’t find a quibble here.  Just the plea for another book.  Ilia, Jin and Logan’s son is introduced here, and while not giving you any spoilers, let’s just say he is worthy of his own series.  Crane has a wedding coming up, and so much more is on the horizon for them all that their story cries out to be heard (yes, that would be Danny’s voice we hear). So here I am keeping my fingers crossed and hoping the future will bring us more in the Change of Heart series.  Until then I will return to the beginning and start over with Jin and Logan.  Don’t miss out on any of them.

 

Here are the books in the series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and the events that occur:

Change of Heart (Change of Heart #1)

Trusted Bond (Change of Heart #2)

Honored Vow (Change of Heart #3)

Crucible of Fate (Change of Heart #4)