Barb, A Zany Old Lady Review: All in the Details by A.K.M. Miles

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

All In The Details coverAs this sweet romance opens we meet Beau Garner , a 31 year old man who has put his OCD into making a profit by running an event organizing company called Details. “It’s all in the details” claims Beau over and over again throughout the book. (Though meant to be humorous, it falls short after a while.) A last minute detail takes him to a rural convenience store to buy balloons, and besides being nearly sideswiped by a speeding vehicle roaring out of the parking lot as he enters, he’s also blindsided by finding a gun under a display case and then finding himself at the mercy of the police who’ve been called to “disarm” him. He only grabbed the gun when he heard two young children debating whether or not to pick it up, and as he tells the officers, “Do I look like the type of man who would have a gun?”, he catches the eye of the young good-looking cop.

Nash Tyler is a 31 year old cop in this rural town. He’s gay, and though his captain is aware, it’s not the type of thing he advertises to the rest of his co-workers. He’s a good cop, however, and he gives the cute guy with the gun a break and listens to his full story at the store, rather than haul him to the station as his homophobic partner wants to do. Since the situation is easily resolved, Beau is released but not before he notices Nash’s blushes as he hands Beau his card in case Beau needs to get in touch with him.

This is a sweet, slow-building romance that’s very family focused. Beau lives with Alberta, his grandmother’s friend and companion, a black woman who would prefer not to live with her own family and who cares for Beau as if he were her own child. The main excitement and undercurrent to the story is an apparent stalker who is randomly harassing Beau. That starts with phone calls then goes to being shot at with rock salt as he and Nash are soaking in his hot tub, to having faggot painted on his car then escalating to acts which could result in injury or death. Readers know who the likely stalker is from the beginning, but the action doesn’t culminate until the end of the book.

Another odd thing that happens, which is totally non-reality based, is that Beau helps a young woman at the airport as she’s trying to decide what to do about her fatherless infant, and she ends up leaving the infant in the restroom with a note turning him over to Beau. He then gets through the foster process and is given the baby that night—a baby that he will ultimately adopt as his and Nash’s at some point in the future. Most of the second half of the story was about the baby and integrating the baby into their lives as he and Nash became closer romantically, and their stalker became increasingly more dangerous.

There was little in this story to make it outstanding for me in any way, yet it was well-written and was a sweet romance so I’d recommend it to those who are looking for something simple and family-oriented with not a lot of sex but a lot of love.

Cover Art by Winterheart Design features two men representing the characters. The cop is superimposed over the cute guy who depicts Beau in such a way that it’s evident the cover was cropped together and looks amateurish. It’s not as appealing as one that would have blended the two characters without the overlap like the cover used in the previous edition.

Sales Links:    MLR Press           All Romance (ARe)       Amazon          <a href=”Buy It Here

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 206 pages
Published January 29th 2015 by ManLove Romance
(first published April 27th 2013 by Silver Press)
ASINB00SXN3PNA
edition languageEnglish

Review: Love Comes Silently by Andrew Grey

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Rating:  5 stars

When artist Ken Brighton moved himself, boyfriend, and adopted daughter, Hanna to Pleasanton, Michigan, it was because Ken thought the rural environment and schools would be a wonderful place to raise Hanna and he could paint with inspiration all around him.  Instead, Hanna is diagnosed with pediatric leukemia and all his time, energy, and attention is focused on his daughter to his boyfriend’s dismay.  One day, his boyfriend Mark announces that their relationship is over, Mark is sorry about the timing but he needs more than Ken is willing or able to give.  Now Ken is left totally alone, raising Hanna by himself,hoping that she will be able to beat the cancer and feeling so despondent that he has stopped painting.  Then mysterious care packages for Hanna start to arrive on his doorstep, bringing joy for his daughter and hope back into their lives. If only he knew who was responsible.

Former singer Patrick Flaherty knows something about pain, and the loss of hope.  He was once a famous singer but an accident changed all that and plunged him into a world where he would never speak or sing again.  Devastated Patrick retreats into silence and the small house he bought from his mother.  Then he notices his new neighbors and watches the changes that occur next door as the months go by.  When he realizes that the young girl  whose father dotes on is critically ill, something changes inside him.  He slowly reaches out to Ken and offers a small measure of assistance when Ken needs it.  The closer he becomes to Ken and Hanna, the dreams he once had of love and family start to come alive once more.  Ken’s goodness is only matched by his attractiveness and Hanna is a joy in every way.  It hurts to watch her illness progress and as Patrick tries to make life easier for his neighbors, his involvement in their lives sparks him to life once more.

Ken knows he is foundering, just the thought that he might lose Hanna to this disease is killing him.  The only bright spot in their lives is their silent neighbor, Patrick.  Always there offering help, shoring Ken up when he needs it the most, his silent presence sometimes all Ken needs to keep from breaking apart all together.  Slowly a relationship starts to form between Ken and Patrick.  When Mark wants to come back into Ken’s life, will Patrick find a way to communicate his love to Ken?  And does Ken have anything left over to give and is it Patrick he wants to spend his life with?

Andrew Grey had me from the very first scene as Ken races with fevered Hanna to the hospital and gets a silent assist from an unknown man who turns out to be Patrick.  A father’s fear over his daughter’s illness and the terrifying race to the hospital over snowy roads to the Marquette hospital leaps from the pages and into our hearts.  From that moment on, our sympathies are engaged in this small family.  Ken’s heartbreak on hearing Hanna’s  diagnosis is our heartbreak, his tears are ours as he sits alone in the hospital. This is every parents worst nightmare come to life.  We cry along with him every horrifying step of the way.  From diagnosis to each treatment young Hanna has to endure, the loss of her hair, and the pain and exhaustion that is part of the tole cancer is taking on her body.  Andrew Grey gives us an accurate portrayal of a child with cancer without yielding to the temptation of saccharine, overly dramatic scenes that a child in distress could bring to the story.  Instead, Grey gives us a realistic depiction of a father dealing with his daughter’s critical illness.  Ken’s total focus is on Hanna, as it should be.  He can’t paint, household chores are forgotten, along with his own meals.  Only Hanna and cancer exist for him. And we get that, absolutely.

Grey’s characters felt so real, became so compelling that I forgot at times they weren’t alive.  And while our attention is drawn first to Ken and Hanna, who I adored, Patrick slowly turns our gaze on him.  Wrapped in silence, Patrick has retreated in every way from life.  He has taken up wood working as a career, perfect as it allows him to continue to live in isolation.  But his silent life is broken into shards when Ken and Hanna move into the neighborhood.  Hidden in his house, Patrick watches all three move in and then Marc move out.  He helped the first night that Ken took Hanna to the hospital and watched as the joyful little girl turned weak and her beautiful hair falls out. And he determines to do something, anything to help them, and in doing so, helps himself to live once more.  Beautiful, just beautiful.  How I loved watching Patrick emerge from his self imposed isolation through his kindness to Hanna and then face his growing attraction to Ken.  Andrew Grey does a great job of contrasting Patrick’s stumbling journey back to life with the ups and downs that Hanna is subjected to during the treatments for cancer.  We are afraid to rejoice too much for each character, fearing that one or both would stall in their progress to health and life.

No quibbles here.  I think that Love Comes Silently might be one of my all time favorite Andrew Grey books, and that is saying a lot when you look at the bounty of books he has produced.  If you are a parent like I am, this will hit you doubly hard.  And then the joy at the end is also increased two fold.  If you don’t have children, you will still love this book as much as I did for the stories of lives reborn, dreams recaptured, and life promise renewed once more.  Please pick this one up and fall deep under the spell of Ken, Hanna, and Patrick.  I know you will love them as much as I do.

Cover: L.C. Chase has captured moments of this terrific story beautifully in the elements of this cover, especially the vibrant pink child’s hat.

Review of Who We Are by TJ Klune

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Rating 5 stars (and 5 more for shear awesomeness as Bear would say)

Who We Are picks up right where last pages of Bear, Otter and The Kid left us.  Derrick “Bear” McKenna, Bear’s brother,Tyson aka the Kid and Bear’s boyfriend, Oliver “Otter” Thompson have overcome some but not all of the obstacles in their path to becoming a family. Bear and the Kid’s mother has vanished again as has Otter’s ex boyfriend.  The three of them are moving into their new house affectionately known as The Green Monstrosity. Bear is going back to school, Otter’s at the photography shop, and the Kid is about to skip ahead a grade at school.  The events of last summer still reverberate through their lives as they try and move forward.  With Otter’s help, Bear is trying for custody of the Kid, the Kid has to see a therapist and things are still cool between Bear and his best friend, Creed who just happens to be Otter’s younger brother. As  usual, the chaos is accompanied by the running dialog in Bear’s brain that threatens to overwhelm him in any given situation. But sometimes the best of families are formed by love and not blood.  With Mrs. Paquinn, Anna and more on their side, the family comes together as they all learn that family is “defined by those who make us whole—those who make us who we are”.

I am always a little hesitant when picking up a sequel to a beloved novel.  My mind is full of questions to go with the anticipation.  Will the characters I came to love retain the same layering, the same quirkiness that captured my heart to begin with? Can the author recreate the magic the first book so beautifully delivered? Will I be happy with the new journey the author takes our heros on?  And I am so happy to be able to tell you the answer to all those questions is a resounding “Hell, yes!”. With Who We Are , TJ Klune delivers a knockout punch of a novel that in many ways supersedes the one that went before. Here we still have all the elements that made Bear, Otter and The Kid so special.  Bear’s jumbled inner commentary still reigns supreme, erupting in nonsensical sentences to the amusement and bemusement of all. The Kid still produces bad poetry and sage pronouncements on the evils of eating meat and the wisdom of Anderson Cooper. Otter is trying to be the strength and glue for all of them even as their emotions and new trials shake the walls they are building around them.  Mrs Paquinn is still her loving eccentric self and her importance to Bear, Tyson and Otter has not diminished. Anna, Bear’s ex girlfriend along with Creed, his childhood best friend are all here.  Everyone is here but supersized.  It’s as though a patina of copper has been thrown over the characters who now shine more brightly, whose nuances and depth reflect out past the pages and into our hearts.  For those who said “Please sir, I want some more.” Here it is. There’s more more here. More emotion, more trials, more complications, more of the realities people face when they come together as a family. And of course, much more love of every type whether it be newly discovered, hard fought, long established, brotherly, and finally fully realized romantic love.  Love is here in its many permutations.

TJ Klune demonstrates with authority his gift with characterization as once more Bear, Otter, the Kid, and new characters roar to life within their story.  Bear is still Bear, insecure, brave, at once burdened and lifted up by stewardship of his little brother. But now that he has accepted his sexuality and Otter’s place within his heart, the character of Bear seems to expand and strengthen.  His inner dialog still runs amuck but wreaks less damage as he talks himself out of one self inflicted panic after another.   Tyson is still that most amazing of kids.  I have met children with the same frightening degree of intelligence so that has always rung true about his character.  But TJ Klune never forgets that Tyson is also a  young child with all the fragility of the young.  When the emotional earthquakes happen, the impact upon the Kid shake not only his family but the reader with its tremors. Otter has never seemed more human than he does within these pages.  Always the strong one, here Otter’s own insecurities and doubts come forward.  He must deal with his family’s reaction to his own coming out and his brother’s lack of communication with him before his goal of a family with Bear and Tyson can become a reality.  With Otter, a good character became great. Dominic is a new character that reaches out with his damaged background and dares the reader not to love him.  And love him you will along with all the denizens of Seafare, past and present. The author never takes the easy out with one dimensional characters or situations.  Instead we are given loving families presented with an upheaval of their status quo, and then shown how they overcome past tragedies and feelings to bring everyone back together.  These people breathe air and walk with large strides across the pages of this novel with certainty and determination.

In Who We Are, TJ Klune never forgets to maintain his story’s emotional balance as comedy is interwoven with equal amounts of heartbreaking angst.  I often found myself laughing and crying together with the characters, as so often both tears of pain and joy mingle as emotions collilde on the same page.  The story is also solidly constructed and those annoying questions left over from BOATK are happily resolved here to my complete satisfaction.  And that prologue was a thing of geeky beauty! As Bear finished with his tale and said goodbye, I was sad to get the end of Who We Are. Even with the wonderful epilogue, their voices spoke so clearly to me that I will miss them so.

You will find no quibbles here within this review.  I loved this book, no ifs ands or buts.This is a book I will come back to when I feel the need to see them all again, especially the Kid and his bad poetry. Here is a sample, trust me it grows on you!

“Bacon is bad! Beef is wrong!

Mad Cow Disease stays with you for a time that’s long!”

For the rest of it, you will just have to buy the book.  You will love it.

There is a wonderful short story Word of the Day, where in the Kid first meets Dominic.  You can find it here at T.J. Klune’s blog A Fistful of Awesome.

Cover:  The cover artist is Paul Richmond.  The cover art for both books always looks as though a young adult had crafted it.  It does give the books a unique look that immediately identifies them but it comes across as less than polished.  Perhaps that is the intent.  Hard to argue with the happy family on the front.

Available at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, and ARe.

Review of Bear, Otter And The Kid by TJ Klune

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With the sequel to BOATK out  from Dreamspinner Press, I thought we would take a look back to our first introduction to Bear, Otter and the Kid and some added thoughts from me on these beloved characters.

5 stars

Three years ago, Bear McKenna’s mother took off for parts unknown with her new boyfriend, leaving Bear to raise his six-year-old brother Tyson, aka the Kid. Somehow they’ve muddled through, but since he’s totally devoted to the Kid, Bear isn’t actually doing much living—with a few exceptions, he’s retreated from the world, and he’s mostly okay with that. Until Otter comes home.

Otter is Bear’s best friend’s older brother, and as they’ve done for their whole lives, Bear and Otter crash and collide in ways neither expect. This time, though, there’s nowhere to run from the depth of emotion between them. Bear still believes his place is as the Kid’s guardian, but he can’t help thinking there could be something more for him in the world… something or someone.

That was the publisher’s blurb for BOATK as it is affectionately called now.  But that description doesn’t start to describe the heartwarming, and at times heartrending story that is Bear, The Otter and The Kid.

It is a remarkable story of family and love told through the POV and unique voice of Derrick “Bear” McKinna made even more remarkable for BOATK being the first book written by TJ Klune.  The story is so well done that I found it difficult to separate myself from it and its characters at the end, so real does it feel.  Bear is a beautifully constructed, multilayered character whose voice and thought patterns are so unique that I can tell it is his character at a glance at the phrasing.  Bear has all the conflicted feelings, traumatized emotions and inner denial monster you would expect from a young boy whose mother has stolen the few funds he had saved, written him a crappy note and fled, leaving him the sole responsibility of a young brother with a brilliant mind inside the body of a five year old.  In other words, Bear is still dealing with his hormones, letting go his dream of college, and the constant turmoil and fear that their mother abandoning them has left behind. All through Bear’s actions and sometimes inability to cope, you may get frustrated with this character and want to throttle him, but  it is because everything about Bear seems authentic, including his control issues and need for stability.

The other star of this story is The Kid, also known as Tyson McKenna.  When this story first appeared, there were several reviews that remarked on the Kid’s high level of dialog and shear “smarts”, saying no 8 year old (as he was later in the story) sounded like that.  But I have worked with children for over 20 years and come across others with Tyson’s intellect and outlook.  It is to the author’s credit that I felt I knew the Kid intimately, laughing at his “bad” poetry and crying with him in the bathtub when the emotional hurricanes hit.  I love the Kid, vegetarian and eco terrorist in the making.  And his poetry?  Oh my…… Here’s a sample:

“Otter! Otter! Otter!

Don’t lead cows to slaughter!

I love you, and I know I should’ve told you soon-a

But you didn’t buy the dolphin-safe tuna!”

Half the time I am reading, I am also wheezing with laughter and wiping my eyes.  No really, you have to read this!  And there are other great characters orbiting the two McKenna boys, Creed Thompson, Bear’s best friend forever, Anna, Bear’s girlfriend, Mrs. Paquinn (next door neighbor and Tyson’s sitter), and finally Otter Thompson who is Creed’s older brother and the love of Bear’s life if only Bear can admit he is gay.

The author handles with skill the whole issue of Bear finally admitting he is gay and the pain and anguish that is his companion throughout the process. As Bear admits his sexuality, climbs out and away from the safety of the closet, your tears will flow and your nose is going to run. Just saying. And then you are going to think of every young gay boy out there dealing with his sexuality, the guts it takes to admit you are gay while facing the taunts and jeers of homophobes who may just be your family and neighbors,  and the tears will  start anew.  Keep that box of tissues handy.  You will need all of them. What TJ Klune has done with Bear is give other GLBT youths/young men someone they can identify with, a character  we desperately need to see more often in YA fiction and media.

The closer it gets to Bear’s high school graduation, the more problems seem to accumulate until  Bear is panic stricken and feeling out of control. As the story builds to its climax, you find yourself teetering on the edge of the precipice with Bear and the Kid.  Your heart is in your throat along with theirs, hoping their next step doesn’t see them toppling over the cliff. And you realize what an outstanding job TJ Klune has done to bring you there with the two boys.

I did have a few quibbles as to unanswered questions left at the end of the story and am happy to say they are all answered in Who We Are to be reviewed here tomorrow.  I am also happy to say that Bear, Otter and the Kid will live on.  That’s the word from Klune who has had quite the year, full of ups and downs.  I will let him tell you all about it in this post he wrote for his blog. I am sorry he had that year but quite honestly I think it has made him that much stronger as an author.  Bear, Otter, and The Kid as well as Who We Are have become comfort rereads for me and I think they will do the same for you.  Please give them a chance.  You won’t be sorry.

Cover:  Paul Richmond is the cover artist and I really like this cover with the Kid so prominently featured. The author has said he asked that Tyson be put in that position on the cover as that is his position in the story.  I like it, it makes me smile.  So does the Kid.

TJ Klune can be found here at A Fistful of Awesome.  http://www.tjklunebooks.blogspot.com

Both BOATK books can be bought at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, and ARe.