How I Met Your Father Guest Blog and Book Tour

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Good morning everyone! ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords is so happy to have  LB Gregg here with us today.  She has been a favorite of mine ever since I discovered her Romano and Albright series as well as her newish Cornwall  books.  She is stopping by today to promote her new release How I Met Your Father.  I loved this story and think you will too. So without further ado, here is LB Gregg:

Hi! My name is LB Gregg and I write m/m romantic comedies. Thanks for stopping by on the How I Met Your Father blog tour. I’m LBGreggpicturethrilled to be part of the Home for the Holidays collection and want to encourage you to purchase my book—as Riptide will donate 20% of the proceeds of the sale of this book, and the collection, to the Ali Forney Center in New York. The centers mission “is to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth from the harm of homelessness, and to support them in becoming safe and independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood.”

Exclusive How I Met Your Father excerpt!

“Gee. I wish my dad had been as cool as you.”

That cracked his veneer. I would have said more, but Jack’s gaze found mine, and what I saw reflected there wasn’t annoyance. It was amusement. He flicked ash into the sand, and his wink made me glad it was dark under the trees.

Laid up, huh? My pleasure adding to your list of conquests, Mr. Hayes.”

And this time he didn’t just smile. He bowed.

“Please.” I rolled my eyes. “I hiccupped. I wasn’t trying to be smooth or add notches to some imaginary belt.” Which was admittedly filled with all manner of notches. “You pursued me. And how in the hell did you hear me in the bar?”

“I came in from the beach.” The glowing end of his cigar waved toward Nevis’s shore. “They left the hotel without me, too.”

He’d taken the same path from the hotel that I had. He’d come in right after me, following me again, though he’d waited before he’d approached his family. Lurking in the shadows. What wasn’t weird about that?

“You kids did a nice job. Catchy.”

Kids. I resisted the urge to sit taller. “Gee. Thanks, mister.”

He exhaled a ring of smoke.

I found myself asking, “You really didn’t know who I was?”

“Not a hint. What do I know about music? My daughter listens to women who don’t shave their legs, and my son wears headphones twenty-four seven.”

My ego took a tiny, tiny hit, and damn him, Jack noticed.

“Does it bother you that I didn’t know?”

“Not really. It’s actually refreshing.” How could he possibly know Chuck Kinney, the fucking Chuck Kinney, and not have seen a picture of me at some point? There were photos of us together all over Chuck’s apartment. There were posters of us, actually. Teen Choice Awards. We’d had a picture with the president. Surely he’d Googled Chuck? Wherever Chuck stood, I’d been at his side.

A man like Jack would have practiced due diligence and had his daughter’s fiancé investigated before giving his blessing on any marriage, right? I’d confirmed that both Mandy and Chuck had signed their prenup because that fell under my job description as peacemaker and watchdog for the four of us.

Jack’s keen gaze read me easily. “I bet for you, it’s a pain in the ass that everywhere you go, people think they know you.” His words were uncomfortably astute. “I know I wouldn’t like it.”

“It can be a pain in the ass, but I appreciate the fans.”

“You practice that in a mirror, sport? Because you didn’t look appreciative this afternoon when that woman pointed a camera at you. You bolted.”

The back door slammed, saving me a lame denial, and a woman in a slinky romper tiptoed shakily across the rocky patio. We waited. Jack gazed thoughtfully into the darkness, and I swatted insects and wondered what the hell else he saw. He sort of freaked me out. He’d had my number since the Fasten Seatbelt sign first illuminated.

I shot him a look, but Jack was watching the shoreline, one hand stuffed in his front pocket and his blazer wrinkled manfully behind his arm. White smoke floated around his head.

So far, no one had come looking for us, which was a minor miracle, but TJ and Matt were hitting on anyone with a C cup or higher, and Chuck . . . would appear in the doorway any second now.

The girl in the stilettos joined her friends at the fire pit, and I had one burning question for Jack. “How old are you?”

“Younger than I look. Older than I feel.”

“That’s helpful. You’re supposed to answer the question with a number. Like this: I’m twenty-nine. I’m guessing you’re . . .”

I sucked at guessing anyone’s age, but I gave it a shot. Silver-streaked hair, tan enough to do some work or sports outdoors, ripped from the gym, loaded if the watch was any indication, smoker of Cuban cigars, wearer of fine shoes, father of Mandy—

Holy fuck. The man must be fifty.

“Relax. I’m forty-four.”

My relief must have been evident. It was certainly audible as I sighed.

Jack shook his head. “Not as old as you thought. Thanks.”

“Sorry. I’m really bad at this. And forty-four’s not old. It’s distinguished.”

“Sure. You look twenty, so let’s call it a draw.”

“Twenty?” He would have carded me, too. Maybe I did need a beard. “So you are a pervert.”

His mouth twitched.

“Or did what happened earlier have nothing to do with age? For you, I mean.”

“Didn’t it?” His low words made my neck tingle. He didn’t move closer, but his gaze settled on my mouth like he remembered the feel of his lips on mine. “It had to do with opportunity,” he said slowly. “Adrenaline. Anonymity. Adventure. Age. You didn’t know me. I didn’t know you. And you loved it.”

I swallowed.

“I knew you would. I knew it the second I saw you. We could do it again.” He moved closer. “Take our time. Get to know each other.” His words skimmed across my nerves like a caress and Jesus Christ, they called me a player? The man could give lessons. “We could go back to the hotel.”

So tempting. But I remembered Chuck. And Mandy. And Benji’s slightly worshipping gaze. The wedding. Propriety. A bug hit my eye and, thank God, it broke the spell Jack had me under. I smacked another mosquito, and I knew Jack wasn’t playing me—he was playing with me.

LB Gregg writes m/m contemporary romantic comedies for a variety of publishers including Riptide, Carina Press, Samhain and Musa. For information about LB’s books, visit her on the web at lbgregg.com.

Contest Specifics or How To Enter to Get This Fabulous Book: 

Enter your details in the Rafflecopter below and leave a blog post comment to gain entry in the Home for the Holidays giveaway! This week of the tour closes at midnight, EST, on November 22nd. One grand prize winner will be contacted at the end of the tour on December 15th. Contest is valid worldwide.

Rafflecopter Link – visit and enter at http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/share-code/YThmY2QyMTMwZGEwMGQ2MzU3MWZhNDI0MjFlOTM1OjA=/
HowIMetYourFather_150x300Publisher Blurb:
The man of your dreams could be sitting right next to you.

Former boy band member Justin Hayes isn’t looking for a man. He just wants a quiet, scandal-free Christmas at home in Chicago, out of the public eye. But his best friend and bandmate is subjecting everyone to his destination wedding, and Justin can’t dodge the “best man” bullet. All he has to do is get to the island on time, survive the reunion, and get Chuck to the altar with as little drama as possible. What could possibly go wrong?

Jack Bassinger’s own plans for a quiet Christmas have been dashed by the summons to his daughter’s hasty wedding with a man Jack has hardly met. On the bumpy flight to the island, he finds himself comforting a nervous — and extremely attractive — young man. One hasty sexual encounter in an airport bathroom later, they both feel much better. No one ever has to know, after all.

Now Justin and Jack must find a way to explore their attraction, despite the distractions of disapproving family members, unexpected announcements, an impromptu concert, and an island paradise that proves there’s no place like home.

Buy Riptide Publishing buy link.Click here to read an excerpt and order How I Met Your Father!

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Review: Pickup Men by L.C. Chase

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Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

Pickup Men coverMarty Fairgrave is a top Pickup* man in the rodeo.  It’s his business to make sure that the bull and bronc riders get back to the gates safely.  The riders count on him and he rarely makes a mistake.   Then Tripp Colby catches a ride on a bull named Shockwave and the events that follow prove to be a life changer for both men.  Marty has been in love with Tripp Colby for several years now and knows that Tripp loves him back.  But Tripp is also deep in the closet and not even an injured Marty can make him come out.

For Marty the romance is over but Tripp is determined to get him back.  But what will a closeted cowboy do when no one is there to pick him up, not even the one he loves?

From May to August, the PBR is on break, so what a great time to get caught up on all the rodeo fiction that has been published recently.  If you are a fan of hot cowboys and rodeo action as I am, then you will appreciate this story from L.C. Chase.  In Pickup Men, the author’s focus is on the unheralded, but important profession of the pickup man.   Here is the definition of a pickup man from Jerry Nelson’s Frontier Rodeo website:

Rodeo Pick Up Men* are vital to the safety of the cowboy.  A Pick Up Man’s job is to rescue the cowboy after his eight second ride from a bucking bronc.  The cowboy’s job is to first ride the bucking bronc for the eight second ride with one hand, then grab on with two hands and wait until the Pick Up Man rides in along side the bronc and picks him up and they ride off to safety.  The cowboy then is easily set down to the ground without injury.  The Pick Up Man’s job is also to remove all equipment from the bronc and to remove the bronc from the rodeo arena after the competition.    Pick Up Men also play a role in the calf roping and steer wrestling events, by roping calves and steers after competion and gentling coaxing them out of the arena.   Pick Up Men are also a vital part of keeping the show fast paced.  Pick Up Men have a great rapport with the livestock and have years of training in horsemanship.

They are the unsung heroes who time and again save both the rider and the roughstock.  So it was wonderful to see a book with a Pick Up Man not only as the title character but as the title itself.  Way to give these men their due, L.C. Chase!

In Marty Fairgrave, L.C. Chase gives us a wonderful character who exemplifies the best qualities of a Pickup Man in more ways than just his career.  Marty is one of the top men in his profession and in his personal life, he is also the pickup man for Tripp Colby, a closeted mess of a champion bull rider.  The two men have been having a romance that has been kept hidden from those around them because Tripp fears that he will lose his sponsors once the truth is known that he is gay.  As the stress of this situation builds, Marty risks everything to save Tripp, and the result is disastrous for both of them.  For me, this is actually the best part of this book.  It is raw, the descriptions are vivid, and the action so swift that you feel as though you are down in the arena with the action taking place.  This is how it all starts:

Two thousand pounds of pissed-off beef, aptly named Shockwave, tossed around the man on its back like a ragdoll. But Tripp wouldn’t be dislodged. He clung to the spinning beast with an ease and confidence that belied the skill and athleticism—not to mention pure guts— required to compete at the professional level.

Sitting astride his best pickup horse, Fairgrave Flyer, near the chutes of the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo arena, Marty Fairgrave couldn’t suppress the smile that fought for freedom across his face.

It was a beautiful sight watching a champion at work.

But what happens next takes your breathe away, and its impact upon the reader is immediate and heartpounding.  Really, some of the best descriptions happen here.  Clearly, L.C. Chase is familiar with the rodeo and has great affection for those who make it their life’s work.  And while the fan may only see the 8 second ride, a story like Pickup Men lets the reader go behind the scenes of the rodeo, where a hundred jobs and actions must take place to pull off such an event.  This includes what happens when the cowboys are injured and the physical ailments that are part of the job.  There is the constant traveling, the stress of being tired for long periods at a time and of course, the injuries.  L. C. Chase gets this aspect right as well.

But the problem here is the character of  Tripp Colby.  He is not terribly likable at the beginning.  As I said earlier, he is a closeted mess and the reader comes down hard on the side of Marty when the two are apart.  Later on as Tripp’s story is revealed, he does earn our compassion, especially during a trip to San Francisco.  But for the majority of the book the character that Chase has created in Tripp serves more to disconnect the reader from his story rather than engage them.  And, as the book winds down, it is hard to bring the reader back into his corner.

There is a considerable amount of miscommunication between the men, including one incident that eludes any type of plausibility for me.  And the narrative becomes a little uneven towards the middle of the story. The other thing is that Tripp is 33 years old, and that is old in a profession where most bull riders are between the ages of 20 to 25.  It is a young man’s sport. And while most bull riders hate to give up riding, most accept that they have a certain time frame to work with.  All of which makes Tripp’s attitude a little more whiney than perhaps the author wanted it to come across.

But those issues aside, I did enjoy this story.  It moved along at a nice clip most of the time and had a lovely cast of secondary characters that I wished I had seen more of.  From Marty’s mother, a champion rider in her day, to his small circle of friends, they are a well rounded and charismatic group.  I enjoyed my time with them immensely.  So for all those fan of the rodeo as well as fans of L.C. Chase, I can recommend Pickup Men as a fun way to spend the time while waiting for the rodeo to return to cable.  Pick it up now!

* I have seen Pickup Men written several different ways by several different rodeo organizations.  From Pick Up Men to Pickup Men to Pick up men, all seem to be correct.

Cover art and design by L.C. Chase.  Just an outstanding cover, perfect in every way.

Book Details:

ebook, 166 pages
Published July 8th 2013 by Riptide Publishing
ISBN13
9781626490284
series

Review: Family Man by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton

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Rating: 4 stars

Family Man coverVince Fierro is forty.  He comes from a large Italian family who love him and can’t understand why he hasn’t found the right girl yet.  After all, Vince has three failed marriages behind him to prove that he is trying. But inside Vince knows the real reason none of his marriages have worked is because he is gay, a fact he has a hard time acknowledging even to himself.  When his sister suggests that Vince find out by visiting a gay club in Chicago’s Boystown , he agrees and runs immediately into someone he knows, an encounter that will change both of their lives forever.

Trey Giles is leading a life that would cause anyone else to have a nervous breakdown.  Trey is working two jobs in order to finish school, take care of his grandmother, who he lives with and dealing with a mother who refuses to deal with her serious substance abuse problems.  Dating is the last thing on his mind until he runs into Vince at the bar.  Vince is clearly uncomfortable, from the crowd to the music and when Trey suggests a more quiet jazz bar so they can talk,  the night turns into something neither man expected.  They talk for hours, Trey agreeing to help  Vince become adjusted to the idea of his homosexuality but in truth Vince and Trey find a connection with each other so deep and instantaneous that it leaves them unsure of what step to take next.  Vince’s biggest fear is that he will lose his family if he comes out of his closet, but if he doesn’t acknowledge his homosexuality to himself and his family, Vince just might lose the best thing that has ever happened to him, Trey Giles.  What will this self proclaimed family man do?

Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton are two of my “must read” authors.  They never fail to produce a story that will warm your heart and leave you thinking about love in all its combinations.   In Family Man, the authors give us an older Italian American who has been so afraid of his own sexuality that he has married three times in the past, each with the same predictable result, divorce.  His huge Italian family is pressuring him to date and enter into yet another relationship with a woman and Vince finally realizes that something has to change.  At first Vince comes across as almost a stereotype and I had a problem connecting with the character.  Vince stubbornly refuses to see that being gay does not lessen him as a man and until he can rid himself of that notion he won’t be able to accept his “gayness”.  It takes some time to really see Vince as the complex character he really is and most of that is due to his inner dialogs with himself that almost makes the reader lose patience with him.

The story really takes off when Vince and Trey connect with each other.  The story switches pov back and forth between Trey and Vince and it works as we become involved emotionally in their burgeoning relationship.  Trey’s situation is especially disheartening and stressful.  Overworked, he is trying to provide for his grandmother and deal with his mother who is an alcoholic and drug addict.  Cullinan and Sexton realistically portray what it means to live with someone who refuses to deal with their addictions.  It is heartrending in its futility and the damage it inflicts on those closest to the addict and the addict themselves is authentic at every level.

Vince’s issues are also examined and given an equally respectful treatment.  His fears of losing his large, Italian Catholic family if he comes out as gay are pretty realistic, especially at his age.  Vince has spent close to forty years denying his true self and that is a tragedy.  It takes time for Vince to visit all the ramifications of his decision and then move forward with his relationship with Trey.  I actually found the second half of the book just flies by as events speed up in both Vince and Trey’s lives.  It was my favorite part of the book.

Family Man is a wonderfully sweet story of romance and love found when least expecting it.  Cullinan and Sexton make a marvelous team and I can’t wait to see what they will come up with next.  Pick this up and prepare to meet an Italian family that is hard to forget and two MCs you will grow to love.

Cover art is wonderful, I wish I knew who the artist was to give them credit for this delicious and spot on design.

Review: His Best Man by Treva Harte

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Rating: 3.25 stars

His Best Man coverChristian Ramsey finds himself divorced and the sole caregiver of his two girls after 11 years of marriage when his wife walks out the door.  The first thing he realizes is that he has no idea of who his children really are or what to do next.   During his marriage, Chris was the income earner, and his wife did everything else, including parent his children.  Now that it is all on his shoulders, Chris feels incapable of handling the situation and he is not sure he even likes his children.  Chris is adrift in his own life and knows it.

Enter Bill Dowe, former best friend, former best man at Chris’ wedding, and former lover of closeted, deep in denial Chris.  Bill is now the principal at a local middle school and an incident between one of his school’s students and Chris’ oldest daughter brings the men back together again for the first time in 11 years.   During their meeting at the school over the girls altercation, Chris asks Bill for help with his daughter and really his life.  Bill is still bitter over Chris’ marriage and his denial about his sexuality but still he finds himself plunging once more into Chris life and his problems. When affection and attraction grow once more between Bill and Chris, will Chris take the chance he denied himself the first time around or will history repeat itself.

I think Treva Harte knows people and it shows when it comes to the characters she has created for this  book.  They are real people, full of flaws that we all recognize.  They behave badly, run from problems when they should have faced them and make really bad personal decisions.  They also redeem themselves, show an ability to grow emotionally and adjust to stressful situations.  And they accept changes in relationships better than expected, surprising when one there parents.  If you discerned that I was talking about the children here, Chris’ daughters, Pen and Annie Ramsey, then you are correct.  In my opinion, Pen and Annie make this book.  Harte writes tweenagers with a clarity that is astonishing.   And trust me, these girls are heartbreaking in that way that only that age can be.  Here is eleven year old Antigone “Annie” Ramsey in Bill’s office at school, after hitting another student:

“She wasn’t small for a kid her age, but she looked…well, oddly delicate. Like she was too skinny for that body, too fragile for her size. Like maybe she hadn’t been eating right for a while.

I’d heard of kids her age on diets, but—damn…I hoped she wasn’t. The world could screw with a kid’s head way too early. Did she think she needed to be skinny, or was something going on that made her not eat right? Bulimia, anemia, depression…

“I’m here because Miss Dumberson out there made me.”

I tried not to snort at the nickname. Sometimes I wasn’t much older than my students. Antigone sniffled again and peeked up at me through her eyelashes, probably deciding what kind of bullshit I’d believe. “It wasn’t my fault.”

Pen, her sister is a bundle of realistic complexities herself.  Both girls are afraid and uncertain for themselves and their families future .And they react as you expect them to with their mother abandoning them to a emotionally reserved father they only saw after he came home from work.  This is desperation with a capital D. And Treva Harte rolls it out there for the reader to see with all the authenticity and gritty realism of a documentary on dysfunctional families.  I love these girls and connected with them on an emotional level from the first.  And that is my problem with this book.  These are not the main characters. With regard to the main characters, I don’t like either Chris or Bill very much, although Bill comes out much better than Chris does.

When the focus of the story is a dysfunctional, emotionally distant man who dislikes his children (mostly because he has absented himself from their lives and doesn’t know them), who runs from confrontation and problems of a personal nature, how do you engage the reader enough for them to make a connection to the character?  For me it was one instance after another where Chris handles the situation or his children badly and then waits for Bill to bail him out.   Who  ends up understanding and taking care of the kids?  Chris? Uh, no, that would be Bill.  And while I could understand Bill far easier than Chris, he enabled Chris in his behavior and we are meant to approve of that.

Then there is the characterization of Chris’ wife which is very much in the one sided “evil witch” tradition that I despair of when reading m/m stories. Self centered to the point of abandoning her children for a man with more money and status, even a believable backstory is lacking.  I could see it if  she felt that 11  years in a marriage to a gay man left her unfulfilled, especially if that man was Chris but other than a sentence or two, where is her concern for the girls? I know that there are shallow women out there just like Stephanie, I just wish I didn’t  see as many of them as I do in the stories these days.  A more even handed approach would seem not only more sympathetic but more realistic.

In the end, I felt for the children, could have cared less what happened to Chris and wished that Bill would grab the kids and run like hell.  Not the way one is supposed to feel when reading a contemporary m/m romance.  And there is also a bdsm element in play here between Bill and Chris.  I could sympathize with Bill taking a strap to Chris, but trust me when I say sexuality didn’t  enter into my wishful thinking.  Again, probably not what the author had in mind.

But oh those sisters!  They deserve a story of their own, where they ride to each others rescue after thwapping a couple of villains (or maybe their parents) over the head.  Trust me, these girls are more than capable.  I loved them and had the focus been on them, you would have seen an entirely different rating.  It is almost worth it to say to read this book for these two characters alone.  Almost.  So if Treva Harte is a “go to” author for you, you will want to pick up this story.  Otherwise, I would wait and see what she comes up with next.

Cover:  Cover Artist: Kalen O’Donnell.  I am not a fan of red covers, including this one.  They are hard to look at and this is especially garish.

Review: An Unsettled Range (Range Series #3) by Andrew Grey

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An Unsettled RangeRating: 4 stars

Troy Gardener’s life is a mess.  For years  now he has been a happily married husband and father to his wife and daughter, working hard to get ahead to support them in comfort.  He has refused to admit his homosexuality all his life, even to his gay brother. But deep inside, he knows the truth, and the guilt is killing him because he knows the people he loves will be the ones hurt the most by his coming out. So Troy has remained firmly closeted in his life and mind until circumstances throw open the door into his sexuality and his life is shattered.  Now after losing everything dear to him, including his job, Troy heads west to the cabin his uncle left him and his brother.  He needs time to reflect on his actions and try to find a way back into his daughter’s affections if possible.  But Troy never counted on a blue eyed gorgeous ranch hand showing up on his property, upsetting his self imposed isolation and his heart.

Liam Southard is literally at a dead end after being thrown out of his house by his abusive father.  Collapsed by the side of the road, miles from nowhere, lack of food and water has finally taken its toll on his abused body and soul.  Then a miracle happens, and he is rescued by two men who take him back to their ranch to recover.  Liam thinks he must be in heaven or the closest thing to it because when he comes to, he finds out he has been taken in by gay ranchers, who cloth him, feed him and give him a job and home.  On his first day on the job, he heads into the mountains to investigate a smoke column and finds a gun being pointed at him, and a gorgeous stranger behind the trigger.  His first introduction to Troy Gardener is a rude awakening for both men. Even a rocky start can stop Troy and Liam from thinking about the other but more obstacles must be overcome before they find their happily ever after.

I started Andrew Grey’s Range series by reading the last two published books in the series first.  I loved them both and couldn’t believe that somehow I had missed this series so now I am going back to pick up the remaining books to acquaint myself with all the characters and the relationships mentioned in  A Foreign Range(Range #4) and An Isolated Range (Range #5).  Still reading them out of order just because I am curious to see if they stand up as singular stories (they do), I find the series just as beguiling and charming as ever.

Andrew Grey has managed to give us two characters in each book with backstories that range from abusive families, closeted individuals, and sometimes just haunted personalities that stay with you long after the book is finished.  An Unsettled Range brings us Troy Gardener and Liam Southard, two characters in keeping with Andrew Grey’s marvelous creations for the Range series.  Troy Gardener is a realistic mess of a man.  Admittedly selfish and shallow, he has alienated his gay brother and lied to his wife and child with his self denial over his sexuality.  Grey brings us a credible portrait of an agonized man finally looking at himself in the mirror and hating the image he sees.  It is a shattering moment for Troy and the reader.  And it enables the reader to find compassion for this man who otherwise might be too unlikable to root for.

Liam Southard’s past unfolds slowly throughout the book, the horrific details of his upbringing revealed in spurts.  It is impossible not to love Liam from the first moment we see him collapsing by the side of the road.  Our sympathy is engaged fully at that moment and never leaves this wonderful young ranch hand.  Grey has made him the opposite of Troy, someone who has remained optimistic and great hearted, no matter the pain Liam has been through.  He is such a lovely, believable character, and is a stand-in for all those young GLBTQ youth cast out of their homes like yesterday’s garbage.  I just loved everything about this young man.

As always, Andrew Grey brings a multitude of issues into his story.  In this case, it is water rights, Mining companies, and the rights of endangered species.  A lovely irony with contrasted with the rights of gay individuals still being fought, especially out west.  And we also have the plight of large cat rescue as well.  All outstanding elements, all beautifully folded into a heartwarming story.

So, I am off to finish up the rest of the books.  I think you will love them as much as I do.  Here they are in the order they were written and released:
A Shared Range (Range, #1)

A Troubled Range (Range, #2)

An Unsettled Range (Range, #3)

A Foreign Range (Range, #4)

An Isolated Range (Range, #5)

A Volatile Range (Range, #6)

Cover art by LC Chase is beautiful, it not only speaks to the subject matter but brands the series.

Review: Steamroller by Mary Calmes

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Rating: 4 stars

Vincent Wade is more than tired these days.  He is absolutely exhausted.  Between his college classes (Vince plans on solving world hunger) and  working full time at Ace Graphics to pay his rent, he barely has time to eat and sleep.  So when a jock comes barging in at the end of an extra shift at the store and demands that he drop everything and run a guy’s poster project now and for free no less? Well, it was lucky for the football player that all Vince did was throw the thumb drive into the nearest trash can. Again and again, the staff and Vince tell the jocks, now two, that the machines were already running, the store was closing, and if they wanted their project done, they had to go elsewhere, which they finally did but not without a  veiled threat or two.

But some people  just end up pushing into your life and who does Vince see on his way home from work but the two  jocks in another Ace Graphics store trying to get their project printed.  The store manager sees Vince and pulls him into the  store to fix the printing machine so their project can be run.  That’s when Vincent realizes that one of the two football players is none other than Carson Cress, the college’s superstar quarterback who is all but guaranteed to go pro at the end of the school year.  Carson Cress is gorgeous, and all but worshiped by everyone on campus.  Everyone but Vincent that is.

Vincent is small, gay and a bit of a loner so why is Carson Cress pursuing him? Vince can’t wrap his mind around the fact that the biggest man on campus seems to want him, bio nerd that he is.  Especially when Vince thought along with everyone else on campus that Carson Cress was straight. Then one night turns into a date and Carson makes it plain he wants a relationship with Vince but he can’t be out.  What is Vince to do when the man of his dreams comes with secrets and different goals in life?

In Vincent Wade Mary Calmes has once again given her readers a character to love and cheer for.  Vincent Wade has overcome many obstacles in his young life.  Small in stature and pretty features made him an easy target in a high school that let bullies have their way.  When Vincent came out in school, his mother and ultra conservative step father threw him out of the house.  Only his best friend’s parents kept him from being homeless.  Vincent is uber smart, sarcastic and a little bit edgy.  I just loved him.  Mary Calmes has paired him up with a god of the football field in the form of Carson Cress, Emerson’s golden boy.  On the surface, Carson Cress is that superficial jockstar we have seen time and again.  But Mary Calmes gives Carson hidden depths and problems not readily apparent.  It’s not just the university that has high expectation but his family as well.  His father expects his son to turn pro and lives out his own football dreams through his son’s talents.  No one has ever asked Carson what he would like to do with his life and he has  gone along with his family’s expectations without an argument.  If Carson Cress is the steamroller of the title, Vincent Wade is no pushover to my utter delight.  His hormones may be saying “go” but Vince still manages to listen to  his brain before committing to a relationship with someone who is closeted and will remain there to play in the NFL.

There are plenty of other characters to dwell on and revel in.  Matt Cooksey, Vincent’s best friend and his family are at the top.  Matt is so adorable that you forgive him just as Vincent does when Matt comes strolling back after a year’s absence to the apartment that should have been his and Vincent’s all along.  And honestly? There is this friend of Vince’s, Kurt Butler.  Every year Vince spends hours cooking for Kurt’s birthday party and Kurt has been his friend since their first semester at college.  I don’t know what it is about Kurt but he really intrigued me and Mary Calmes has him looking at Vince in that “bend you over the counter” sort of way.  Sooooo by the end of the book, I am thinking I would rather see Vince end up with Kurt than with the golden boy.  I know, I know, sacrilege right?  But that’s what happens with you populate your stories with people who make you sit up and take notice, even if they aren’t the main characters.

There is some angst and a traumatic event to get through.  It is, after all, a Mary Calmes story.  But that ending, well like I said.  Vince seems so anchored in Lubbock with his job, and wonderful friends (Kurt, Kurt, Kurt) and degrees to finish that I found it a little difficult to get behind the ending.  That is my quibble with this story, Vincent is just too darn stubborn and interesting for his own good.  He is also as complicated as a Rubik’s Cube and deserves someone of that same intensity. And Carson for all his gorgeousness and nice personality seems like someone more to be steamrolled by Vince than the other way around.

So here I sit wondering how Mary Calmes feels about bribes.  I could see a sequel to this, really I could.  One where Kurt makes a reappearance.  Do you think she would go for that?  If you see her, just put a whisper in her ear.  I will thank you for it, yes I will.  In the meantime, pick up this book and make Vince Wade’s acquaintance.  I just love that boy and you will too.

Review of A Foreign Range (Range #4) by Andrew Grey

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

Country singer Willie Meadows is tired.  He is tired of the fame and the lifestyle that comes with it, he is tired of the hangers on and he is tired of living in houses that don’t feel like home.  Mostly, he is tired of feeling like a fake, of singing songs about being a cowboy when he can’t even ride a horse.  On impulse, Willie buys a small ranch in Wyoming, hoping the change in location will bring him a home, a connection to the land in the songs he wants to write and a return to being Wilson Edwards, his real name.

Steve Peterson is desperate, hungry, out of gas and out of money.  After escaping his father and the cult’s attempt to deprogram Steve of his gayness.  He arrives at the ranch, expecting to find a job promised to him by the previous owner, unaware the ranch had been sold, and his job gone.  Devastated, he sneaks into the barn, hoping just for a warm place to stay for the night.

Wilson finds Steve and sees a young man who is barely hanging on. Steve is shaking from the cold and hunger and when the dilapidated truck he is driving dies at the end of the ranch’s driveway, Wilson decides to give him a job, helping around the ranch, looking after it while Wilson is on the road performing. After the band’s road trip, Wilson returns home to find Steve training horses for his neighboring ranchers and the ranch alive once more.  Wilson loves seeing horses on the land, and watching Steve brings up all the feelings he has put aside in the name of fame.

As Steve and Wilson find their mutual attraction leading into a relationship, both men find their past rising up to block their future together. Steve’s father and his followers find him, threatening to pull him away from the home and people he had come to love unless he can stand up to them.  Wilson too must make some decisions.  He has stayed closeted all these years in fear of losing his fan base and his band.  But now he could lose Steve, who won’t be someone’s dirty little secret.  Can both men find the strength they need and finally come home to love?

It had been a while since I had read one of Andrew Grey’s books and for the life of me I can’t figure out why I have let this terrific writer’s recent books go unread.  I loved A Foreign Range, which is the fourth book in this series, and will now go running back to start at the beginning. But if you are like me and haven’t read the previous books, don’t worry, it isn’t necessary to read those in order to love this one. All the wonderful elements I associate with Mr. Grey’s writing is here.  Real characters, locations described with great feeling and depth, and emotional turning points in peoples lives dealt with sensitivity and warmth.

Wilson Edwards and Steve Peterson are two great main characters whose disparate lifestyles highlight their superficial differences while their true natures and similar values pull them together.  Mr. Grey does a wonderful job with this dichotomy of status  while he is endearing Wilson and Chris to us in scene after heartbreaking scene.  Both men seemed so real to me from the very beginning, and their emotional rollercoaster ride to a shared home and love went straight into my heart. Andrew Grey has a deft touch with creating layered, multidimensional characters and Steven and Wilson are prime examples.  Secondary characters also stand up to close scrutiny. I loved Maria, Wilson’s housekeeper and her daughter, Alicia, is an adorable young character capable of giving the viewer a change in viewpoint of the events and relationships.  Howard, Wilson’s friend and manager, could have easily stayed a one-note villain he appears to be at the beginning of the story but the author shows us that Howard is real person and that his actions, however flawed,  are those of a friend and agent who wants the best for Willy the star if not for Wilson the person.

And then there is the setting, Wyoming’s wide open spaces that come complete with tornados as it does with the  peace, quiet and sounds of nature that speak to your soul and replenish it.  I understood those passages even though it has been years since I set foot on Wyoming soil.  Andrew Grey really gets it and then writes it in a manner that lets the reader feel it as well, even if they have never been there.

So, yes, I loved this book.  I will go back and  now read the others in the series, but no matter what I find there, A Foreign Range will always have a space in my heart.  Pick this one up, I think you will find that you will feel the same.

THE RANGE STORIES

A Shared Range

A Troubled Range

An Unsettled Range

A Foreign Range

Cover.  Cover Artist is Reese Dante who hits all my buttons with this one.  Gorgeous men, palomino horse and beautiful colors.  Sigh.  Loved this!

Review of Just What The Truth Is by C. Cardeno

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

Ben Foreman has been in the closet for his entire life, settling for making his parents happy rather than living his own life.  In fact, for a while, Ben’s denial of his homosexuality and his efforts to comply/defend his parents values, that is cost him his best friend, Clark, and his younger out and proud gay brother, Noah who happens to be Clark’s partner.  So yes, his life was complications piled on top of lies, repeat, and the stress was getting to him.

Then Micah Trains, litigator extraordinaire, joins Ben’s firm and all Ben’s carefully built walls come crashing down around him.  Micah happens to be both gorgeous and gay and attracted to Ben.  Ben sees in Micah someone he wants to spend the rest of his life with, no matter what his brain is saying.  As one date leads to another, Ben keeps messing up the relationship until Micah breaks up with him.  Faced with Micah’s loss, Ben must finally choose who he is going to be and how he will live his life, by his parents standards or his.  It’s time Ben decides just what the truth is!

I loved this book!  C. Cardeno kept me frustrated with Ben, laughing with him and sometimes sobbing right along with him on his journey to self awareness and a life worth living in every respect.  C. Cardeno’s characterizations and spot on dialog were so wonderfully executed that the story zipped along and I was finishing the end before I knew it.  Ben is so messed up at the beginning that it would be easy to write him off  as a passive character who has not grown up enough to challenge his parents views and it shows how much he has lived in fear of their disapproval.  It is extremely helpful to the reader’s understanding and ability to empathize with Ben that the story is told from his POV. In fact is almost becomes imperative that we understand where Ben is coming from so we don’t give up on his character.  Just when we are getting a little too frustrated with Ben’s lack of progress with the decisions he needs to make, Ben’s is right there telling us in an aside that he is plenty frustrated with himself too.  While this literary ploy might be considered too “cutsey” in other stories, I find that it worked well here and helped to pull the reader into Ben’s mindset and emotional state.

And the other characters C. Cardeno created to assist/love Ben into making the life adjustments necessary to become a whole man happy with who he is?  They are just so real, so alive that they jumped off the pages at you.  Whether it is Noah, Ben’s sarcastic and embittered gay brother or Micah’s hysterical parents, especially his mother, they all come across as someone you have met in your life or heard about.  Each with their quirks, flaws, and many other human qualities front and center to be fully enjoyed and celebrated.  The scenes with Micah’s mother and sister alone had me spewing across the Kindle and searching for papertowels to clean up the mess.  I still giggle thinking about them. Priceless.  And then there is the very real emotional cost of repressing your true self for so much of your life that no one knows who you really are including yourself.

In fact C. Cardeno has laid out a beautifully realistic book of one’s man’s journey to a happy fulfilled life, and the pitfalls he encountered or put up himself that had to be overcome before he could achieve his goals.  As I said I loved this book and I think you will too. Don’t pass it up.

Cover art by Paul Richmond.  Lovely cover, perfect for the story.

Other Books in the Home Series. It is helpful to read them in order but not necessary to enjoy the books:

Home Again (Home Series #1)

He Completes Me (Home Series #2)

Where He Ends And I Begin (Home Series #3)

Love At First Sight (Home Series #4)

Just What The Truth Is (Home Series #5)