Review: Still by Mary Calmes

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Rating 4.75 stars out of  5

Still coverSilvan Cruz and Walter Wainwright fell in love at first kiss and never thought they would part.  Now years later with two grown children, their marriage has stagnated into a series of fights, long hours apart and miscommunication.  So when Silvan suggests that they get a divorce rather than continue on as they were, Walter agreed immediately and before either man knew it, the divorce papers were filled out and they were living separately.

But while pride and circumstances are keeping them apart, the love and passion they feel for each other has never died.  Walter wants Silvan back but Silvan is sure that Walter has stopped loving him.  Is it too late for love to find a way home for  them both?

I always look forward to a new story from Mary Calmes because I know I will feel happy and satisfied by the time it  ends.  It is both a homecoming and a journey with friends, all rolled into one heartwarming tale of love.

In Still, you have a title that can be taken in several ways.  Still in that after 17 years together Silvan and Walter’s marriage has reached a point of stasis.  Their children have grown and moved out yet Walter still puts in long hours as an expensive and highly rated lawyer, leaving Silvan at a home emptied of sounds and action, alone without his lover.  With a marriage gone still and no growth or change in sight, Silvan pushes for change in a disastrous manner, he asks for a divorce.  But on the opposite side, Still also stands for the love and passion Silvan and Walter have  for the other, even after all these years together.

Mary Calmes takes this all too common place occurrence in long established unions and provides us with a sweet, romantic road home to love and a happily ever after she is known for.  When the story opens, it is March 2013, and the separation has already taken place.  Silvan is living in a loft apartment and working as a set designer for a theatre and we hear him musing on his current status, clearly unhappy but unable to see a way forward.   And we hear from various other points of view, from their children to their friends, that Walter’s feels much the same, still living in the house they both loved and unhappy as well.  Then Calmes takes us into the past to see how Silvan and Walter’s romance began and the author’s magical ability to make the reader feel the joy and deep attraction of new lovers for each other let’s us see just how perfect Silvan and Walter are fas a couple. And for each moment in their past happy lives, we flash forward to the present and a very different picture.  Mary Calmes makes Silvan’s yearnings and hurt realistic and touching  and all the while she is building up our frustration that these two men are remaining apart.  It’s a great juggling act and one she accomplishes easily.

There is a slice of danger added to the mixture of romance and love recaptured, an element that Mary Calmes will often introduces into her stories.  It does elevate the readers fear that our couple will be denied their happily ever after, if not by themselves, then by an outside factor we didn’t see coming.  But because it is Mary Calmes that the reader can feel safe in their knowledge that the couple will passionately reunite and the sex will be very hot indeed.

I did wish that we had seen more of their married life together, from their picture as a family to the stress brought on by an empty nest and lack of communication.  Being told that it had degenerated into a series of arguments, fights, and  loneliness is not the same as a flashback to the actual time in their relationship.  If anything, I think that would have made it all the more poignant and their separation more grounded in realistic marital problems.

Still is a wonderful story and one you won’t want to miss.  It brings home all the deep joy, contentment and yes, sometimes, hurt and pain, that couples experience over a lifetime together and makes it real.  It is so very satisfying to know that Silvan and Walter will still be together, still be in love,  still very much a  happily married couple who spends the rest of their lives together.  And that will leave you still smiling long after the book is done.  Highly recommended by Scattered Thoughts.

Cover art by Reese Dante.  Lovely cover but I would have loved to have seen the young couple contrasted with their present day counterparts, otherwise it is just another lovely couple on a cover with no ties to the story inside.

Book Details:

ebook, 190 pages
Published May 15th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 162380695X (ISBN13: 9781623806958)
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3810

Review: The Hellfire Legacy (The Night Wars #3) by Missouri Dalton

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Hellfire Legacy coverWith one horrific explosion, psychic Investigator Flynn Adder’s world turns to rubble and the lives of everyone Flynn loves is put in the greatest peril he has ever known.  And that is saying a lot, considering that Flynn Adder works for The Night Shift, a secret paranormal agency that keeps the lid on the activities of the weird, supernatural and Fae. From werewolves to ghouls to trolls as well as all magical objects,  they all fall under the jurisdiction of The Night Shift, a world wide organization created to keep humans safe and oblivious to the magical and mythical beings all around them.

But the Chicago Night Shift headquarters has just exploded, killing most of the psych corps, witches, and other beings that made up the Chicago squad.  Only a few escaped, including Flynn, his husband Jack and a few of their colleagues.  With the supernatural side of Chicago now left to their own devices and impulses,the City is helpless and defenseless. Added to the conflagration,  the murderous culprit is on the loose and soon strikes again. Flynn, Jack, and the rest need help in order to survive and hunt down the person responsible for killing so many of their friends and colleagues.   When the investigation start to lead back to Flynn and his family history,  Flynn starts to realize that this case might cost him everything he has worked so hard to achieve, his sobriety, his lover, and their family.

Well, this was a surprise.  I loved this book and the entire Night Shift crew.  The Hellfire Legacy is the third (and possibly last) book in The Night Wars series by Missouri Dalton.  I had reviewed book #2, The Night Shift and found it wanting, primarily due to the last of back history and its cliffhanger ending.  This book displays none of the issues I had with The Night Shift, and while it is part of a series, I found that this book could be read as a standalone and totally enjoyed as such.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  Let’s go back and look at the exposition of histories and backstories of the characters and events as related in The Hellfire Legacy.

Missouri Dalton has done a remarkable job of folding the back stories of the characters with the history of The Night Shift agency into the current storyline in such a way that the reader will feel absolutely up to date on all prior events that occurred in the previous books without actually having to go read them.  I missed this element in The Night Shift and was thrilled to see a much more substantial world building here.  In fact the entire book is more complete, more layered in every aspect.  The storytelling is taut, the action suspenseful and fast moving, and the emotional content will keep the reader on a constant level of high expectations and excitement.

Even the characters seem more fully alive and have more depth than I remember from the previous story.  Flynn, Jack, Simon, Howl, and the rest are all put to the test are they become not only the hunters but the hunted as well.  Flynn’s personality and character is under such duress that his sobriety is threatened as is his stability to act as an investigator.  He is operating on no sleep, pain medication and shear desperation and the author makes us feel every bit of his anxiety and exhaustion as Flynn stretches his physical and emotional resources to their limits. Really, the vivid descriptions of each character and their actions not only help to engage the reader but to bring the story home to a deeply emotional level because we have come to care for them all.  In addition, we are given new characters to connect with that hopefully we will see again in future stories because they are that interesting and quirky.  I loved Lu and the vulpe Remy and Granda Adder, a ghost.  In fact we get more of everyone’s history, the Adders, Jack’s, and more.  It’s wonderful, it’s fascinating and it makes the reader want to learn even more.

The locales from Chicago to Ireland are given the same attention to detail and depth that the characters display. Moving the setting from their home base of Chicago to various locations serves to keep not only the characters off center and uncertain but the reader as well.  Each new city brings an uncertainty and anxiety to the plot while heightening our interest in each area.  I loved this aspect of the novel too.  Dalton’s research and knowledge of each location shows.  Clearly, the author knows Columbus, Ohio and the Columbus College of Art and Design.  Here is an excerpt from Flynn’s travels to Ohio:

“Fynn, that’s the third time we’ve passed that giant red A.” “It’s says art,” Simon corrected Jack. “Why is there so much construction around here anyway?”

“Who knows?” Jack said. I gritted my teeth and pulled over into the road the giant letter A straddled. Oh, it did say art. Huh. “Okay. Simon, Lu, you look young and college-ish, go get directions.” We appeared to be on a college campus — an art school given the giant sign and random pieces of modern sculpture. The two gave me a look. “Sure thing, boss,” Simon replied. “Come on, Lu.” They got out of the van and started for the largest, closest building. It was concrete, modern, and possibly the ugliest piece of construction I’d ever seen. I looked away before it burned into my memory. There were two churches within sight, and a few more ugly concrete and glass buildings.

Simon and Lu quickly returned with a very short-haired, svelte girl in tow. She reminded me a bit of a pixie. I rolled down my window. “Well?”

“Fynn, this is Liz. Liz, Fynn. She’s got directions for you.”

“Awesome.”

Liz smiled. “So you’ll want to get back on Broad Street and go West to 315 North, that’ll take you right to the Kinnear road exit. That should get you out of the construction.”

“Sweet, simple and easy to remember, thanks, Liz. You’ve been a big help.”

“No problem, happy to help.” Lu and Simon got back in the car, we bid goodbye to Liz and took her directions — and finally ended up in the right place.

In case you were wondering, here the giant A they were talking about   The author is spot on and accurate in every detail.  I loved this aspect of Columbus, Ohio artinspringThe Hellfire Legacy and appreciated the richness of detail the authors adds to each scenery change.

The story is told from Flynn’s point of view and I like his dry, sarcastic voice.  Here is a example:

I noticed immediately that we might have a slight problem. The language I overheard most frequently was Gaelic, something I had only passing familiarity with. I mean, I once knit Connor an illusion scarf that read Pog Ma Thon, but beyond telling people to kiss my ass, I really didn’t know any useful Gaelic.

Very telling. You get a sense of Flynn’s dry humor, and the fact that he knits gifts for people he cares about (and that he is a constant knitter). All of this just adds that wonderful creative, caring layer to his personality.  It’s a lovely surprise and one among many.

And finally, the thing that really puts me over the edge (not in a good way), a cliffhanger, is missing here.  The ending is fulfilling and yet leaves open the possibility of more fun and  quixotic adventures to come.  I mean, he made a deal with a leprechaun for God’s sake.  Who does that?  Hopefully we will find out how that whopper of a mistake gets resolved in a future story.

What does this all mean?  Well for me, it means that I will go back to the beginning of the series and read The Hangman’s Ghost, the book that started it all and then revisit The Night Shift (and perhaps offer up a mea culpa or two).  For you, it means you should head out and buy this book.  If you want, get all three and read them right through for a Flynn Adder and The Night Shift triple feature.  Either way, it works.  Live on the wild side!  But no matter how you approach it, buy the book.  You won’t be sorry and might even leave addicted.  Just as I did.

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

The Hangman’s Ghost (The Night Wars #1)

The Night Shift (The Night Wars #2)

The Hellfire Legacy (The Night Wars #3)

Cover Illustrations by BS Clay work well for the series and this book.

Book Details:

ebook, 171 pages
Published April 3rd 2013 by Torquere Books (first published April 1st 2013)
ISBN 9781610404
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.torquerebooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=78_85&products_id=3854
seriesThe Night Wars #03

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.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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sláinte! Happy St. Patrick’s Day.  To start your St. Patrick’s Day, here is some great music from Brogan’s Bar in Ennis, Ireland to get you fired up!

Half Irish, half Scottish, I love this day and today the weather has gone along with the program and seems particularly Irish. Overcast, damp, but not too cold, perfect for marching in parades all over the nation.

I have travelled to Ireland several times and found the leaving of it always comes with a crease in my heart, as though even my cells know that we are saying farewell to home.  My first time visiting with my high school daughter was both a delightful and revelatory, her feet seeming to find paths that she should not know where there.   My nights were filled of dreams of seals and shores and music carried along the winds over gorse covered hills, studded with stone.  And on the penultimate day, Heather and I were hiking in a verdant forest, far away from any others or so we thought.  And then we heard it, or heard them more accurately.  First the sounds of a waterfall, the roar getting louder the closer we got.  But what really made that day magical was the sounds of piping coming from high overhead.  We craned our necks to see where it came from and finally we found him, standing on a rock ledge, eyes closed, bagpipes swelling as he lost himself in the music he was playing.  We listened for a while and then quietly left, rejuevenated and enriched by a magical experience shared before she left for college.  One of my finest memories.

So day I hope for the best for all of you, of laughter shared, of love found and family held close. And as this website is, mostly, devoted to books I will leave you with a quote from an Irish author:

“As a writer, I write to see. If I knew how it would end, I wouldn’t write. It’s a process of discovery.”
– Author John McGahern

Here is the week ahead in book reviews:

Monday, March 18:                An Unconventional Union by Scotty Cade

Tuesday, March 19:                 Never A Hero by Marie Sexton

Wed., March 20:                     Redemption of the Beast by Amylea Lyn

Thursday, March 21:              Family Man by Heidi Cullinan

Friday, March 22:                   Nights in Canaan by Kendall McKenna

Sat., March 23:                        Natural Predators by Neil Placky

So, that’s the week.  Have a safe and wonderful St. Patrick’s Day.  Forego the green beer, that’s gross anyway and have a Irish Manhattan, so much better!