Review: Outlast the Night (Lang Downs #3) by Ariel Tachna

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

OutlasttheNightBroke, despondent and soon to be divorced Sam Emery has no where to turn but to his brother Neil when he leaves his embittered wife and old life behind him.  Sam is also leaving the closet as well, another reason for the divorce and the hatred his soon to be ex feels for him.  Sam only got married to please his controlling father and that was a disaster from the very beginning.  Now Sam turns to Neil, his younger brother who lives and works on a sheep station and Sam is unsure of his welcome there when he tells his brother he is gay.  Sam knows that Neil loves him but will he be accepted?  And what will an out of work bookkeeper do on a sheep station?

The brother who meets Sam is not the brother Sam remembers.  Neil accepts Sam’s sexuality with an openness that surprises Sam.  But then again, Neil lives at Lang Downs, a sheep station owned and operated by a gay couple, Caine Neiheisel and Macklin Armstrong and his views have undergone a fundamental change in the process.  Lang Downs has been described by those that live there as a “miracle”, a magnet and haven for those in need.  Sam has been hurt to his core by the constant verbal abuse thrown at him by his wife, shattered by the loss of his job and made to feel like a total failure by his life to date.  A miracle is just what he needs if only he can accept it.

Jeremy Taylor is another man in need of a home and sanctuary.  The youngest brother of the family that owns the neighboring sheep station, the two families have butted heads since Jeremy can remember.  But since his father died and his brother took over, things have gotten out of control because of his brother’s bigotry and hatred.  One explosive argument and fight leads to Jeremy outing himself to his brother and his exit from the only home and lifestyle Jeremy has ever known.  Immediately Jeremy heads over to the one place he hopes to be accepted – Lang Downs.   But the animosity runs deep between the seasonal buckaroos and Jeremy when the hands have problems looking past Jeremy’s last name to see the man underneath. And then the problem is compounded when Sam and Jeremy become friends  to his brother’s consternation because Neil’s antipathy towards Jeremy’s family.

Can two men in need of love and a home find it with each other at Lang Downs?  It will take another small miracle to overcome Sam’s insecurity and fear and Jeremy’s family’s reputation if they are to find happiness with each other and outlast the night.

I finished this book and immediately wanted to go back to the beginning and start the series a fresh because I can’t get enough of this universe that Ariel Tachna has created. This book and series has such compelling characters as well as a captivating setting that it is impossible to put the books down once started and the stories stay with you long past the last page.  Really this is fast becoming one of my top favorites in contemporary fiction series.

Outlast The Night is as strong and enthralling book as the one that started the series.  Lang Downs is such a large and isolated sheep station that it acts as its own small village.  By using the sheep station as her setting, Ariel Tachna ensures that all the beloved characters of the previous novels are fully present and engaged in the current story as are the newly introduced main characters.  Tachna creates her web of characters that works much the way that nature herself does, they are all interlocked with each other.  Their actions have reverberations throughout the sheep station and all those who live there, just as it does in nature.  The men, women, children and animals all live in intimate connection with the earth at Lang Downs.  From the seasonal variations in their lives and work to the animals themselves, both wild and domesticated, all are aware of the fundamental role nature plays in their lives.

Winter, the season the book starts in, brings a slower pace to the sheep station.  Breeding is finished, and the seasonal jackaroos are gone until spring.  The village has shrunk down to those “year rounders” who make Lang Downs their home, school, and workplace. Through the previous novels, we have gotten familiar with the sights and sounds of the place and its citizens.  We see the bare necessities of the bunkhouse, the functionality of the sheep sheds, complete with odor mind you, and the predators that keep watch for the unwary animals in field and barn. The author brings Lang Downs vividly and authentically to life before our eyes and before we know it, we feel right at home there along with Caine, Macklin, and Kami. Of course, Kami the aboriginal chef is in the main house kitchen, creating food for all who live there and dispensing advice to those who need it.  Molly, Neil’s fiance, is a marvelous female character, a force in her own right. Well, I will let you see them through Sam’s eyes:

Sam finished eating, doing his best not to telegraph his unease to the rest of the room. Caine and Macklin sat at a nearby table talking with several other jackaroos Sam hadn’t met yet, but it was obvious from the body language that they were well known to Caine and Macklin. Sam figured the two men knew everyone pretty well by the end of the summer, but it took a certain degree of familiarity to choose to sit at the table with the bosses. Two teens joined them at the table a moment later, obviously sure of their welcome, and Sam realized one of the boys closely resembled the youngest of the jackaroos.

“Chris and Seth Simms,” Neil said, following Sam’s gaze. “Chris is the one I was telling you about in Yass, the one who nearly died. Seth is his younger brother. And that’s Jesse Harris sitting next to Chris, and then Jason Thompson, the other kid, and his dad, Patrick, our head mechanic. They’re all year-rounders. Patrick’s wife, Carley, is around here somewhere, although I haven’t seen her this morning. She helps out in the bunkhouses and in the kitchen sometimes, when Kami lets her.”

And that doesn’t even include the animals that play such an important roles on the station as well.  From Arrow, Jeremy’s kelpie (a sheep herding breed),  to Titan, “and a big lug of a horse who loved anyone who brought him treats”, these animals will endear themselves to you in much the same manner as their human counterparts.  And never does Ariel Tachna make the mistake of treating these animals as pets.  These are workers with important jobs to do on the station and are handled accordingly, although with love and affection.

Sam and Jeremy are wonderful additions to Lang Downs and the series.  Sam, so vulnerable and hurting, his self image shattered over time by an angry abusive wife.  Sam feels out of place,in his life and on the station.  A business manager by profession, you can feel his unease and wariness at thinking that he will find a home at Lang Downs. The reader will feel his pain and insecurity and then root for him as Sam begins to pull himself back together, a slow process and a realistic one too.  Jeremy is his opposite, he is so rooted to the land and the sheep that it practically rolls off of him from the moment we meet him.  Coming from a tough family background has made Jeremy equally tough, inside and out.  But still, Jeremy has the capacity to show his gentle side with his dog, Arrow and Sam.  It is a beautiful character and the two of them together are like comfort food and magic at the same time.  A difficult combination to achieve but Ariel Tachna has done it here with Sam and Jeremy.

Authenticity.  Ariel Tachna brings that to this novel and her series in spades.  From the Drizzle Bones the men wear (and wear properly) to the utes they drive, I never doubt that the terms and clothing the author uses are the correct ones.  But just as important as the research is the seamless manner in which the information is doled out to the reader, in spurts and quick asides.  And ever so slowly we have accumulated a wealth of information about an Australian sheep station and how it feels to live and work on one without realizing it.  Really, the flawless manner in which Tachna has created all of Lang Downs is exceptional.

I love that all of Tachna’s characters are fully realized and vivid in their personalities as any you would meet out on the streets around you.  They endear themselves to you because they feel so real, from their flaws to their passions.  And just as real and special is Lang Downs, the heart of the series.  I will let you hear it from Jeremy and Sam:

” “Lang Downs is a pretty special place.

”“Lang Downs is a miracle,” Jeremy amended. “A bloody miracle, and if you don’t believe that, ask Chris how he ended up here. Hell, ask Macklin how he ended up here. Or Kami. Or Patrick. I’d bet most of the year-rounders have a story to tell about how this place changed their lives. I never knew what drove Michael Lang, but even as a young child, I knew things were different here when I came to visit. That’s even more the case now.”

Yes, Lang Downs is a special place and each new story makes it even more so.  I hope that Ariel Tachna has many more stories to tell on her sheep station in Australia, more people to meet, more couples in need of home and a miracle.  I know that I will never get tired of this place and the people who inhabit it as the saga gets stronger with each new story it tells.  If you are already on the journey, pick up this new addition and fall in love all over again.  If you are new to the series, start at the beginning, discover the magic and wonder that is Lang Downs.  Expect to become addicted to a very special place in an isolated territory in Australia and the people who live there.

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

Inherit The Sky (Lang Downs #1)

Chase The Stars (Lang Downs #2)

Outlast The Night (Lang Downs #3)

Cover art by Anne Cain is as lovely as the book it represents.  The men are perfect representations for Jeremy and Sam and the landscape gorgeous.

Book Details:

ebook, 210 pages
Published May 20th 2013 by Dreamspinners Press
ISBN 1623807093 (ISBN13: 9781623807092)
edition languageEnglish
seriesLang Downs

Ariel Tachna (0101-01-01T00:00:00+00:00). Outlast the Night (Kindle Locations 1171-1175). Dreamspinner Press. Kindle Edition.

Review: Adapting Instincts (Instincts #4) by S.J. Frost

Standard

Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Adapting InstinctsZoologist and primate specialist Carl Anderson’s thoughts are consumed by one man and one kiss whose message remains unclear to Carl.  And it is not just the kiss that has unsettled his life, but  the fact that the man who kissed him was a vampire, one of many who live all around him hidden to most of human society.  This fact was revealed to Carl through events involving his best friend Andreas Nikandros and his vampire lover Titus Antonius Calidus (Loving Instincts).  Those events saw Carl caught between the vampires and the vampire hunters, including another of Carl’s friends, Matthew.  At one point Carl and Andreas were threatened with death and one of Carl’s rescuers was the vampire warrior, Egill Dalgaard.

Egill Dalgaard.  Viking warrior and member of vampire society’s ruling body, the Tribunal, is used to having complete control of his life but one special human has upset his calm and ordered existence.  Egill cannot get Carl Anderson out of his thoughts since he first met the human and helped save his life.  And that one kiss has insured Carl’s place in Egill’s nightly dreams.  There are so many reasons why a continued association with Carl is ill advised and just one reason to do so.  Egill hasn’t felt this way about someone in a very long time, and for that reason alone Egill cannot let this human go.

Carl’s thoughts are still so divided and upset.  There is Matthew, mixed up with the vampire hunters, on one side and Egill Dalgaard, viking vampire on the other.  Carl’s life is now full of fearful glances at the dark, and longing too.  But the vampire hunters are still out there , posing a threat to Carl, Andreas, and the vampires Carl has come to know and respect. Any relationship Carl and Egill might have will be threatened by a variety of forces all around them, including the Tribunal.  Carl has always been afraid of confrontation, but if he wants Egill in his life, then he must decide on which path to take, including one that will take him away from his humanity.

Adapting Instincts is the fourth book in the Instincts series by S.J. Frost, a series that shows continues to deliver wonderful characters and a deepening overall story arch that runs through the entire series to date.  In this latest installation, all of our favorite couples are back and fully involved in this book’s narrative.  We have the original couple of Andreas Nikandros (now a vampire himself) and his eternal partner Titus Antonius Calidus,  Vampire Samurai Ryunosuke Kimura and his vampire lover Daniel Valente (my favorite couple) and now brought into the center are viking vampire Egill Dalgaard and human Carl Anderson, friend and former coworker of Andreas Nikandros.

Adapting Instincts picks up three months after that last events of Loving Instincts (Instincts #3), events that have left reverberations through all the lives of those involved, human and vampire alike.  One of the strengths of S.J. Frost’s writing is her wonderful world building and complex narrative.  While each book normally revolves around one main couple and their romance, multiple plot threads and characters weave themselves throughout the romantic relationship, acting not only as a foundation but as the perpetuator that lends the story momentum and depth. Coexisting with the daily conflicts that arise with being a human, Frost contrasts that with the rigid societal structure of the vampire world.  It makes for a fascinating and absolutely addicting read to see how the two worlds will not only collide but continue to mesh as vampires and humans interact.  The first three books are full of conflict and harrowing events for all the couples involved, so it makes  sense for the fourth book to deal with the aftermath and emotional letdown.  With two exceptions, most of this story concentrates on relationship issues, those between Carl and Egill.  And while that choice simplifies the storyline, it also carries with it a more lightly layered plot as well, lacking the depth and complexity of those books that precedes it.

After the emotional events, that is a very realistic way of dealing with the aftermath of the kidnappings and near death experiences of book 3.  I really enjoy the character of Egill, former viking warrior and formidable vampire lord.  Stolid and controlled, it is lovely to watch such a character react to love entering his life after such a long existence.  Frost does a great job with Egill’s personality, making him both realistically regal and yet vulnerable too in his tightly controlled mien.  Carl, on the other hand, felt a little too passive for me to connect with.  True, he has a poor self image and his need to avoid conflict puts himself and others in terrible situations. It is hard to connect with a character that you want to give a shake to most of the time.  Carl’s indecisiveness is just unattractive to me so it helped immensely that Frost gave us Davy, the Black-headed Spider Monkey.  Davy, along with all the other marvelous animal characters in this series, adds a touch of humor and endearment just when the story needs it the most.  By seeing Carl’s relationship with Davy, it helps connect us to a character that lacks some of the vivid personality traits of the others in the series.  I loved Davy and hope that the author will bring him back into the series somewhere down the line just as she did with Dakarai, Andreas’ lion, and all the other animals who a such a delight in the series.  Here is your first introduction to Davy:

Carl stopped outside the habitat for the spider monkeys. He released the cart’s handles to place his hands on his hips, fixing Davy with a disapproving look. “Really? Is that necessary?”

Davy quit banging the bowl on the mesh and stared up at him with intelligent black eyes.

Carl swore the monkey was trying to play innocent. A smile broke over his lips despite trying to stay stern. It was all Davy needed. The monkey scurried up the mesh to be at eye level with him, reaching through with his left hand, the one missing the index finger. Carl held a finger toward him, and Davy wrapped his others around it. The warm, soft leathery feel of Davy’s palm made him grateful he’d been able to save the monkey’s hand. When Davy and the others came to the zoo, starved and sick from the poor care they’d received in a backyard zoo—or deathtrap, as he called it—Davy’s hand was so infected from a baboon biting his finger off, he didn’t know if he’d be able to save it. But he had, and after months of diligent care, Davy and his brothers were healthy and sassy.

The interplay between man and monkey is telling.  It is humorous, affectionate, and clearly a wonderful relationship.  Even when you are fed up with Carl’s dithering about, moments like this will keep the reader invested in his character and his future.

Is this book a stand alone?  No, it must be read as part of the series and in the order they were written, otherwise key elements will be lost or misconstrued.  I love this series and absolutely recommend it.  Start at the beginning and work your way through.  Instincts shows no hint of slowing down, as new characters are introduced here as well as persons left over from the last book such as Matthew.  And the fact that all the other beloved characters will be there as well is just the icing on the cake.  If you are already invested in this series, I guarantee you will enjoy this book too.  Adapting Instincts (Instincts #4) carries the main plot thread forward while satisfying us with another romance completed.  Great job, great story, wonderful series.

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

Natural Instincts (Instincts #1)

Enduring Instincts (Instincts #2)

Loving Instincts (Instincts #3)

Adapting Instincts (Instincts #4)

Cover art by Winterheart Designs is evocative in design and tone.  I thought the two landscapes a nice touch.

ebook, 210 pages
Published March 14th 2013 by MLR Press
ISBN 1020130040
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.mlrbooks.com/ShowBook.php?book=SJF_ADIN
seriesI

Sunday, Glorious Sunday and the Week Ahead in Reviews

Standard

Finally, our weather seems to have evened out into a semblance of spring and the day is truly glorious.  The sun is shining, the day is warming up and a slight breeze is ruffling the remaining cherry blossom petals on the trees that line the streets of my neighborhood.  My hostas are now at least 4 inches above the ground, my early azaleas are starting to bloom, and the trees all around are raising almost single handedly the pollen count for the entire Metropolitan area.  In fact all my gardens are shaking off their winter doldrums, waking up to the warm spring sunlight and recent nourishing rains.

I love this time of year, the season of rebirth and new growth.  For me, spring is something I also internalize, a time for changes inside as well as out.  I look at the house and think “time to spruce up a bit, hmmmm, new paint job for the living room?” or maybe just the time to start donating or throwing away those unused or rarely used things around the shed, in the basement or in my closet, definitely my closet.  Time to buck up and get rid of those size 8 jeans that have not seen the light of day since my late twenties or those gaucho pants I so dearly loved in my 30’s.  And what do you know? Jumpsuits are back, but maybe not in that military green and Pointer Sisters style.  I know all trends come back around in time, but really, I doubt I will ever see that size again no matter what Weight Watchers tells me!  Why have I kept a bike helmet when I don’t ride a bike?  And what did I think I was going to do with that broken hand turned coffee grinder?  Wait until it was an antique?  In that case, my basement is full of antiques to be, just waiting for their time in the sun.  Kind of like me. I do admit to looking in the mirror and thinking that perhaps a swath of purple would look amazing in my hair and that maybe a visit to the new tattoo parlor that just opened up might just be the thing to add to my calendar.

Hey, its spring and the possibilities are endless, promise of new growth, any type of growth,  is everywhere.  Why not just go with the flow and see what’s new around you?  New places to explore, new people to meet and  always new authors and new books to take along with you on your journey.  Here are some books you might want to consider:

This is what our week ahead in reviews looks like:

Monday, April 15:                 Fire for Effect by Kendall McKenna

Tuesday, April 16:               The Good Fight by Andrew Grey

Wed., April 17:                       The Fight Within by Andrew Grey

Thursday, April 18:               Highland Vampire Vengeance by J.P. Bowie

Friday< April 19:                    Loving Hector by John Inman

Sat, April 20:                           Into This River I Drown by T.J. Klune

That’s the plan at any rate.  I think I have gotten over my snit fit with Into This River I Drown, at least enough to offer a reasonably objective review.  We will see on  that one, rarely does a book make me want to cheer and smash things as that one did.  And thanks, Lynn, for the recommendation of the John Inman book, that was great.  If any one out there has a book they think I have missed out on, please send me the titles, authors and publishing house.  I make no promises but I am always looking for something new to read.

So, that’s it.  There are gardens calling and color samples waiting to be pondered over.  The terriers are gazing longingly out the windows, telling me its time to head outside.  I totally agree with them.   See you all later.