A MelanieM Review: Sloe Ride (Sinners #4) by Rhys Ford

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Rating: 4.5  stars out of 5

Sloe Ride coverIt isn’t easy being a Morgan. Especially when dead bodies start piling up and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it.

Quinn Morgan never quite fit into the family mold. He dreamed of a life with books instead of badges and knowledge instead of law—and a life with Rafe Andrade, his older brothers’ bad boy friend and the man who broke his very young heart.

Rafe Andrade returned home to lick his wounds following his ejection from the band he helped form. A recovering drug addict, Rafe spends his time wallowing in guilt, until he finds himself faced with his original addiction, Quinn Morgan—the reason he fled the city in the first place.

When Rafe hears the Sinners are looking for a bassist, it’s a chance to redeem himself, but as a crazed murderer draws closer to Quinn, Rafe’s willing to sacrifice everything—including himself—to keep his quixotic Morgan safe and sound.

Rhys Ford’s  “Sloe Ride” is the perfect title for the final story in the Sinners series.  A combination of Sloe Gin and (at least in my thinking) Foghat’s ‘Slow Ride”, it works on so many levels for a story that brings together a virginal Morgan with the attributes of a mage and a wild musician looking for redemption and love.   In “Slow Ride”, the beat and the lyrics are in total harmony, guitar riffs changing speed and climaxing towards the end, simulating love making.   And the sloe berry of the sloe gin, tastes bitter unless its soaked in gin with a little sugar, ingenuity for using something not wanted, turning  it into a drink that’s layered and warm. Perfect for Quinn and Rafe, two character who are in harmony with each other  (if no one else).  First they have to recognize their feelings about each other.  Once that is done, along with the Morgan family’s acceptance of their relationship, Rafe and Quinn can explore what that means in terms of sex and their future.  If they can survive another killer.

Yes, Quinn is a virgin at 30 and realistically so.  He has chemical imbalances (not exactly spelled out, OCD, depression..not sure) that caused him to try to commit suicide when he was younger, and he was committed to a institute for a while.  Of all the Morgans, he is the one that fell so far from the Morgan mold that the others continue to regard him as an frail oddity .  Brilliant, his mother Brigid once remarked that Quinn could probably tell them why Stonehenge was built because he had been there.  I love Quinn, he’s a remarkable character, strong, yet so vulnerable.  Scattered yet earthbound.  I adored him.  And the wounded Rafe is perfect for him.

Yes, another deeply scarred musician in need of a Morgan to love and love him  back.  Rafe was a outlier of the Morgan family in his younger years, pulled closer when they realized how poor his family was. He had his own band but crashed and burned under the weight of touring, drugs and alcohol, but mostly drugs.  A dead boy, overdosed in his hotel room, finished off Rafe’s career.  Dumped by his band, Rafe’s life detonated.  Only a final humiliation and a save by the Morgans, saw Rafe sober but ostracized by everyone he knew.   Until Quinn.

Ford bluntly spells out Rafe’s drug addiction and the manner in which he burned all his bridges.  Those “bridges remained burned”, sometimes you don’t get a second chance with people, and yes, you remain a addict.  There is no miracle  cure for Rafe’s past here and I liked that, just as there is no magic wand for Quinn’s chemical imbalances. You deal with what you’ve got and move on.

There is a rhythm here different from the other stories.  Slower, moving to a different beat, which works, considering the main characters are each so different from the ones in the previous stories (Miki and Kane, Damien and Sionn, Connor and Forrest). So it stands to reason that the murder mystery is just that much off kilter too.  I really didn’t see that denouement coming.  The reveal was a total surprise.  Some people will  hate that, others love it that they didn’t have a clue.

By the end of the story, the band is reformed and has a new name.  I have loved each and every story.  Each and every romance and couple.  And I am so sorry to see it complete.  It may be the end of the band but surely Rhys Ford can dig up another Morgan or two in need of love, along with a killer determined to stop them?  I so want the Morgan stories to continue.  Fingers crossed the author is listening.

If you love rockers, murder mysteries, and contemporary love stories, here is a series to love.  Grab up all the books in the Sinners series and get started.  Put on a little Foghat to set the mood.  I highly recommend them all.

Cover art by Reece Notley is one of my favorites as it works the best for the characters involved.

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

Book Details:

ebook, 246 pages
Published September 4th 2015 by Dreamspinner press

Review: Metal Heart by Meredith Shayne

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Rating: 4.25 stars

Metal Heart coverIt is 1990 and a local band called King Phoenix is looking for a lead guitarist to round out the band.  When 20 year old Scott King shows up to audition, his music and song writing abilities mesh perfectly with the songs and sounds King Phoenix embodies and they welcome him into the group.  Scott also bonds closely with their lead singer, Ash Walker.  As the rock band evolves from anonymity to fame, Scott and Ash form first a close friendship which turns into a intense, sexual and romantic relationship that lasts for four years. But unlike his other band members, Scott starts to experience stage fright the bigger the venues they play.  His coping mechanisms coupled with some bad friends, start Scott on a downward spiral that Ash and the band are first unaware of, then unable to stop.  Pressure mounts until the stresses and rumors of Ash leaving the band, cause Scott to implode, ODing on drugs and alcohol.  While Scott lies in a coma in the hospital, the band leaves to go on tour without him.  There will be no further communication between the band and Scott until 16 years later.

2011, Berry, Australia.  Scott King has worked hard since coming out of rehab to become a successful music producer with his own studio.  He’s healthy having been clean for 16 years.  Scott likes his quiet life, he lives with his twin sister and his niece, he has friends and ex lovers, and is mostly content.  His past is safely secured in a box tucked away in a closet in his bedroom, a box that never gets opened lest the past bring out all the old demons he has fought for so long.

Then he gets a phone call from the past, his old band manager, who wants Scott to play at a benefit gig for King Phoenix’s old sound man who is dying of cancer.  The benefit is to raise money for his wife and child and Scott is needed to reunite the band.  Prodded by his sister and fond memories of their sound man, Scott agrees against his better judgement. But seeing Ash, who wants to take up where they left off,  starts to shatter Scott’s self control as does the stage fright that starts to come back.  Can Scott handle the stress of seeing the only man he has ever loved under the same conditions that once broke him? Or will this reunion cost Scott everything he has worked so hard to build, including his sobriety.

I love a good rocker book and Metal Heart is terrific.  It is my first introduction to Meredith Shayne and I will eagerly check out the rest of her library. Metal Heart has so much to recommend it, including a gritty look at the effect of drugs and alcohol on someone vulnerable enough to let them take over his life.  Actually, I think this element of the novel is perhaps the best part of the story, elevating it even over the lovers reunited.

Shayne starts off by giving us the character of Scott King, a naive 20 year old gay musician.  A friend and later band manager drags him to audition for a scruffy local band called King Phoenix.  Scott is someone who loses himself in his music, from the compositions he writes to the lead guitar he plays.  Shayne gives him a vulnerability that shows the reader how open emotionally Scott can be to all things, including love in the form of Ash Walker.  I love this character and we watch him grow and struggle over a 16 year period.  For Scott, the best part of his life is the early  years with Ash, before the band caught on and became famous.  Young, impressionable, artistic and happy, those are his defining years.  But the stresses of playing to large crowds, as well as hiding their romance and sexuality from all around them, places such a strain on Scott that the cracks start to appear and fissure, and we feel helpless as we watch it happen.  The author then goes on to demonstrates how readily available drugs and alcohol allowed musicians and others to cope with the demands of touring and the pressures of fame.  The scenes where associates introduce Scott to drugs rings true as does the resulting addiction that others are helpless to derail.

This leads us into discussions of therapy and rehabilitation as well as the fact that once you are an addict, you are always an addict. Shayne is careful to give us an authentic portrayal of someone in the throes of an addiction to someone living the life of a recovered addict.  The temptations to succumb to the pressure to use again are always present and Scott is that addict personified.   Really, this is just a remarkable characterization.

The character of Ash Walker is one that, while he didn’t quite work his magic on me, will be a favorite of most readers.  A little older, Ash is less vulnerable and more savvy than Scott, even at the beginning.  And while we never doubt the love he holds for Scott, he comes across as the most secure and  ambitious of the two.  He wants fame, and is at ease with the pressures that come with it, unlike Scott.  And while there is more to his story than is revealed at the beginning, I still found myself disconnected from this character, especially after he continues to pressure Scott to resume playing while acknowledging that Scott is showing the symptoms of cracking under the stress.  I did find it realistic that the band members would be so self involved not to understand what was happening to Scott in the 90’s but for them to consider his actions that of a “jerk” when he is clearly trying to protect himself and his self control in 2011, well I found that to be less feasible, more objectionable than anything else.

This also applies to the “aha” moment of the story which I won’t divulge here.  But one thing that is repeatedly brought up is the fact that Scott “disappeared” and that in 16 years Scott never tried to contact the band members.  They all knew he was in rehab and a little research would have shown that those in rehabilitation are not to have contact with those that helped enable them.  Plus Scott King became a successful music producer, and they couldn’t find him until 16 years later? Again, that just doesn’t seem all that realistic.  But those qualms aside, this author delivers a vibrant, enthusiastic portrait of young rockers, love and the price of fame to life in Metal Heart, and then leaves us with the promise that sometimes love is enough, even after 16 years apart.  For me, this is still a HFN, instead of HEA and there seems to be plenty of room for another book to see where they take the relationship next as not all obstacles have been cleared away.  Either way, this story will please fans of rock n roll stories and bad boys with music to burn as well as those of romantic lovers reunited at long last.  All fans will be left satisfied at the end of Metal Heart.  Pick it up and happy reading!

Cover art by Anne Cain.  Love, love this cover.  From the graphics to the color choices and fonts, just perfect.

Review: Wesley (Leopard Spots #8) by Bailey Bradford

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Rating: 4.25  stars

Wesley Leopard SpotsWhen Wes Ward’s older brother Sully left home for college, Wes felt like he had lost the only friend he ever had.  Painfully shy as a child, Wes depended upon Sully for everything and Wes was unable to fill the void Sully left behind him.  Then Sully found his mate and forgot about his little brother completely.  In pain and full of bitterness, Wes turned to drugs and alcohol and his addiction almost cost him his leopard spirit.  When his parents catch him using, they send him to San Antonio and to Sully who lives there with his mate Bobby and Wes must confront his true feelings and see if he can heal the bitterness within.

It’s been two years since the vicious sexual assault Armando suffered in the club owned by Bobby and the wounds have not healed.  Armando now works at a Center for Homeless GLBT youth, helping others who were thrown out of their home like he was.  The center is his life as he cannot bear to even think about dating or getting close to another man since his rape.  Then Armando sees Wes when Wes starts to volunteer at the shelter.  Wes is almost a twin to Sully in their looks and his presence brings conflicting emotions to the surface in Wes.  Wes has hated Bobby and Sully for two years and seeing Wes makes all those memories Armando has tried to bury come out.  Equally shocking, he also finds himself attracted to Wes, an attraction Wes returns.

Both men have problems in their past they must face before either can go forward with their lives.  Wes is sure he has found his mate in Armando but can Armando put aside his hatred for Wes’ brother to see Wes for himself or will Wes be an way to revenge himself on Sully and Bobby.

This is one of the most tightly knit and well written books of the series.  Bradford’s focus is two badly damaged people and she treats both the characters and their issues with sensitivity and care.  Wes and Armando are also two of the best characters Bradford has written in a while, each having more depth and dimension than those in the past book, namely Sully and Bobby, who return here.  Wes is facing issues rare in shifters, that of drug and alcohol addiction.  Normally, shifters can’t get drunk or stoned due to their metabolism but Wes learned that certain combinations and amounts of drugs will see him either intoxicated or high.  With Wes, she paints a portrait of a young man whose poor self esteem and debilitating shyness make Wes unable to cope once his support in Sully is removed.

Given the treatment of Armando in the last book (Sullivan), I was unsure what would happen to him here but Bradford handled Armando and the trauma of his sexual assault with sensitivity and realism too.  Armando is stuck in the past, unable to go forward with his recovery for many reasons but one of the strongest is that he cannot be truthful with his therapist as to the exact nature of the assault as the predator was a shifter. So we find him two years later still having nightmares and suffering flashbacks.  He has purposely gained weight to appear unattractive and wears loose clothes, all authentic markers of abuse.  Normally Bradford fills her books with pages of mate induced sex which includes biting, claws and bloodletting.  Thankfully, most of that has been left out of a book dealing with two traumatized souls and she treats their slow path to a sexual relationship with thoughtfulness and tact.

In fact, I find this is the best book of the series if you can discount the lack of any continuing threads the previous books have established.  I think that had a little more of the themes of the series been included, this would have gotten a much higher rating.  It seems as though we are heading away from the Leopard element and more towards the wolf pack with the next in the series which I find a little disappointing as the Snow/Amur Leopard theme seemed to be  central to the series.  But if Wesley is any indication of the future of this series, than it is very bright indeed.  I can only hope for more like this one to come next.

Cover art by Posh Gosh who has done a fantastic job with the series with rich covers that are treats for the eyes.

Here is the Leopard Spots series in the order they were written and should be read (mostly):

Levi (Leopards Spots #1)

Oscar (Leopards Spots #2) read my review here.

Timothy (Leopards Spots #3) read my review here

Isaiah (Leopards Spots #4) read my review here

Gilbert (Leopards Spots #5) read my review here

Esau (Leopards Spots #6)

Sullivan (Leopards Spots #7)

Wesley (Leopards Spots #8)