An Ali Review: Stallions and Ice by Stephani Hecht

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Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

stallions-and-iceSometimes you have to climb a mountain to see the future.

While Brandon loves to go and watch his friend, Nichole, at The American Royal every year, there is no way that he is ever going to climb on a horse. His feet belong on the ground or the ice. As one the of the players of the local minor league team, the Wichita Thunder, all he dreams about is someday moving up to the major leagues. That is, until he meets Nichole’s brother, Brandon.

Brandon grew up in a family that has always been in the rodeo circuit. There was no question that he was ever going to be anything else…until he’s sidelined by seizures and can no longer ride. Then he meets Ethan and he begins to wonder, that maybe, just maybe, his life isn’t over.

Will decades of traditions tear the men apart? Or can they can overcome all their obstacles and be together?

I’m a giant hockey fan and I’ll read pretty much anything if it has a hockey player in it.  I picked this up because of that fact.  I had never read this author before so I didn’t really know what to expect.  This is a short story that was published before in an anthology.  I liked the overall plot and I liked the two main characters.  My biggest issue was that it was too short.  There was a lot going on here.  The reader is given a plot that has complicated backgrounds that incorporates dating pasts, familial relationships, careers, and health issues.  I was interested in these things but the short page count left me feeling like nothing was complete and I had a million questions still at the end of the book.  I would have preferred the author to either make this a longer, more detailed book, or have cut out a lot of the background detail.  There is only so much that can be done in a short story in my opinion.  

Overall this was an average read.  I didn’t dislike it but I didn’t love it either.  It was my first time reading this author and I did enjoy it enough to try her again.

Cover:  I love this cover.  I think it is beautifully done and it perfectly captures the spirit of the story.

Sales Links

Pride Publishing

c60a7-waxcreative-amazon-kindle

Book Details:

ebook
Published January 17th 2017 by Pride Publishing (first published December 20th 2016)
ISBN139781786515063
Edition LanguageEnglish

A VVivacious Review: Save of the Game (Scoring Chances #2) by Avon Gale

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Rating: 4.5 Stars out of 5
 
Save of the GameEthan and Riley find themselves as roommates, team mates and… boyfriends?
 
While Riley may have just discovered his interest in the same sex after a good look at Ethan, Ethan is still pretty clueless about the phenomenal change of perception he has undergone in Riley’s eyes. But a bit of good natured snooping in a sub folder leaves Ethan confused and a drunken haze later sees him lock lips with Riley. But is this kiss one of those never to be talked about moments or just the first of many.
 
People who are thinking of reading this book should probably know that this is part of a series. I say this because I haven’t read the first part and I really didn’t think that me not having read the first book, would be a problem since the books followed different characters.
 
While having not read the first book didn’t lessen my enjoyment of it, it definitely would have brought a reduction in the number of head scratching moments. This book is pretty entrenched in the world of its predecessor. Like there are characters who have already been introduced and they come into this book with no introductions whatsoever so I had to take some time to figure out who was who but leaving that aside the book was awesome.
 
Ethan is the enforcer of his team, he is the tough looking guy with his tattooed exterior hiding a guy who loves just as ferociously as he fights. For Ethan family is priority. His family is who he fights and lives for. This also translates to his team who he loves but while Ethan fights for everyone no one has ever fought for him, no has ever fought his fights as their own. So he is used to fighting his own battles and looking after himself.
 
Riley is the product of absentee parents. Hockey is his life but there is a distinct lack of passion in his life. But when Ethan enters his life, Riley’s entire view on life undergoes a sea change. Riley is the level headed goalie, who never lets anyone score on him. He was the rock in their relationship while Ethan was the drama queen (not really but if you are comparing with Riley then definitely).
 
Riley and Ethan together are golden. All the issues that they had they solved in a really understanding way. As such personally their relationship just worked on so many levels, there was chemistry, there was understanding and I really liked the way they communicated. As such I guess the thing that had me convinced about these two was the way they overcame the obstacles to their relationship and just the way they handled life together be it family members, team members or just day to day living.
 
This book had that rare combo of excellent side characters. I loved the guys on the team by the end of the book they were like just another family to me, but anyone reading the first book would be familiar with them, especially Jared and Lane who keep popping up in cameo roles. But Ethan’s family really took the cake, I loved them so much his mother and sisters were just so family, like those really annoying characters you can’t live without who are a constant presence in your life and make life worth living. Also I loved the character of Benett Halley the guy who replaces Lane in the Jacksonville Sea Storm. He was just irritating enough to always be on the horizon but also contained enough to not be a complete asshole. I actually really liked his character maybe because usually such characters in books are irredeemable assholes but he surprisingly wasn’t.
 
Also this book has hockey in it. I don’t know why but I have come to love Hockey reading MM Romances, I am not a hockey fan but reading books featuring hockey has really got me trying to figure out the game. As such if you want to read this book you don’t need any working knowledge of Hockey, but it definitely added another dimension to the book.
 
This book is written as a slice of life fiction so the pace of things remains the same from the beginning to the end but it does tell a story in a fascinating way and ends it on a satisfying note, leaving you wanting more. I loved the book for its simplicity and its characters and the story, told in a very engaging and realistic way. Overall this book has me convinced to read the first book as well as the next one in this series.
 
Cover by Aaron Anderson. I liked the cover for the book but it is way too dramatic than the story what with the raging sea and the thundering storm but I guess the imagery is to accurately depict the “Sea Storm”.
Sales Links:    Dreamspinner eBook | Amazon | ARe | Kobo
Book Details:
ebook, 200 pages
Published January 29th 2016 by Dreamspinner
ISBN 1627980474 (ISBN13: 9781627980470)
Edition LanguageEnglishSeries Scoring Chances:

Review: Hat Trick by Chelle Dugan

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Hat Trick coverAntonio “Tony”  Côté, is a 30 year old professional hockey player who is deeply in the closet.  Tony fears what coming out would do to his career so he has avoided all relationships, preferring to look for sex in anonymous hookups in gay bars on the road and outside of Toronto where he lives and plays.  All that  changes when Tony meets up with Charlie Trevino one night at a gay bar in Toronto.  Tony notices the cute American immediately and turns a hookup into a date and night of lovemaking.  The next morning, Tony wakes up alone with only a note from Charlie with his contact information.  But the note gets soaked when Tony spills water on it and can’t make out the information.

Charlie is finishing up a hotel management and hospitality degree at UAZ atFlagstaff and is on vacation when he meets the man of his dreams.   After one passionate night, Charlie leaves a note beside a sleeping Tony and heads off to catch his plane, unaware that the man in the hotel bed is a well-known hockey player.

Both men desperately want to see each other again but without exchanging last names, phone numbers or addresses, the odds are stacked against them.  Until Tony is transferred to an expansion hockey team in Las Vegas and they meet once more.  Still the pair face many obstacles, including the closet Tony refuses to leave.  What will it take for Tony and Charlie to find the happiness each seeks with each other?

Hat Trick refers to either three goals scored by one player in a game or three victories.  In this case, Chelle Dugan uses the term in reference to the chances given Tony and Charlie to find each other and make a go of their relationship. It’s a  clever use of the term and I only wish that the resulting story had lived up to that promise.

All the characterizations here suffer from a lack of layering, rendering them far too simplistic and one dimensional.  It also makes it hard for the reader to invest in these men and their romance.  Tony’s character is especially hard to relate to as his character fluctuates between a realistic pro hockey player and a smitten teen with identity issues. Hard to like a romance when the oldest partner of the pair comes off as so much younger than the twenty something he is involved with.  Combine that with the closet and the author making his character act like a jerk and the reader starts to wonder why Charlie would want this man in the first place other than the man’s gorgeous exterior.

The story starts out with Tony looking at a piece of paper then flashes back 6 months earlier.  Sometimes this technique works but here it is simply uneven.  It would have been far more effective had the story started out when they first met then progressed to the present time period. Instead the time frame allotted to the men, that of a year of looking for each other, acts more like a bouncing ball that the reader has to follow in order to understand the lack of flow to the various meetings, miscommunications and missed opportunities by Tony and Charles.  Here is a small taste of Tony and his story:

Rafe and Amy sat and listened to Tony’s story. He left out the sex stuff, but he was sure that they got the picture. Amy was sniffling at the end of his monologue; she was a hopeless romantic, after all.

“Tony, I’m glad you shared this with us, but I’m not sure why. I mean, what can we do?” Rafe asked.

Tony pushed away from the table and began to pace in the small space between the table and the sliding glass door that overlooked downtown LA. He ran a hand through his hair and yelped when he swiped his stitches, having forgotten about them. “I don’t know. Is there any way to find him?”

“Let me make some calls,” Rafe offered. “I can give a heads-up to my secretary and hope he calls the office. Write down all the info you have, and I’ll discreetly hire a PI.” He held up his hand when Tony started to protest. “Your name will never come into the conversation. I hope his intentions are good.”

“Well, if they weren’t, we would have already seen stories in the papers or at least online.”

“Let me research that too. Are you sure you want to go after this guy? It could mean your career.”

“If I could feel like I did that night every day, then losing my career would be worth it.”

In addition to the issues I have already mentioned, Dugan includes a flip-flopping point of view that makes this short story more challenging to read than it ought to be.  Again, it’s not a matter of simply changing the point of view of the narrative but how often that happens and the confusing manner in which it occurs.  The reader has just settled into one man’s mindset when the pov switches to the other main character.  It’s disjointed and it works against the flow of the story.

For some readers, these issues won’t be a problem. If you find that excerpt above romantic, then perhaps you will love this story.  If however, style and characterizations matter, than this might not be the story for you.  At 92 pages, Hat Trick is a relatively short read for those seeking a romance and a simplistic love story.

Book Details:

ebook, 92 pages
Published September 11th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1627981411 (ISBN13: 9781627981415)
edition language English

Review: Home Team by Jameson Dash

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Review: 4 stars out of 5

Home Team coverAaron Buckley has made hockey his primary focus for most of his life from the moment he first hit the ice to his fifteen years in the NHL.  Hockey was Aaron’s everything.  He gave up family, friends, a social life and most importantly, he gave up the only man he has ever loved…Zach.  Aaron knew that he wanted to play pro hockey and had to stay in the closet if he wanted to make it in the NHL.  Zach wouldn’t be his secret and walked away from Aaron rather than hide who he was.

Now one of the league’s older players Aaron knows he’s at the end of his career.  A huge screwup costs Aaron his spot on his team in LA.  They send him down to the minors in Manchester, NH, back to where he started all those years ago.  Home in Manchester, now on a team full of young rookies hoping to make it big, Aaron has time to think and reconnect with his past.  His sister makes her home and business there as does the man he left behind.

When Zach, now a sports reporter, shows up to cover his first game home, it is clear that Aaron and Zach can have a second chance at love.  But once again, Aaron must choose between hockey and love.  What will his answer be this second time around?

Home Team is a book that will grow on you.  The more you think about the characters, especially Aaron Buckley, the more they will grow on you.  I started out thinking that Aaron was pretty stunted emotionally.  It is his voice driving the narrative of this story.  But the author’s subtle maneuvering of Aaron’s character and viewpoint will have the reader changing their mind as the story continues.

Aaron is at the end of a long career in the NHL, he is steadily losing ground to the younger players and it’s a year since he scored a goal.  His is a voice weary, testy, and resigned.  I really commend Jameson Dash for making Aaron such an irascible, somewhat unlikeable personality at the beginning of the story.  At times Aaron’s voice seems flat, removed, and irritable.  Then Aaron makes his costly error in judgement and his voice flattens out even further until it almost flatlines like his career.

Once Dash brings Rosie, Aaron’s sister and Zach into the story and Aaron’s life, things start to change in Aaron’s outlook although the movement of emotions in Aaron is almost glacial.   I was puzzled over my inability to connect to this character because I love hockey players. But quite frankly, Aaron’s comes across as a jerk for the first part of this story, especially his attitude towards the “mistake” that cost him his spot in the major league.  But the more I thought about it, the better Jameson Dash’s characterization got.  This was a man who has shut down emotionally.  Aaron is beyond tired, and stressed to his limits.  He has lost his spot on his team, he lost his only friend who remains with that team, he lost his home and most likely his career.  And probably, most importantly of all, he is in denial,  Aaron doesn’t want to recognize that his career is over and that because of his own choices, he has left himself with nothing waiting for him.

The author’s characterization of Aaron is so good, so human that it took me a while to realize what he was trying to accomplish with keying us so intimately into the thoughts of a man like Aaron because it seems so counterproductive to our connecting with him.   But again, only at the beginning.  Then little by little as reality of his situation creeps into Aaron’s mindset, that along with the arrival of Rosie and Zach, propels Aaron and the reader out of his “funk” and into the warmth of possibilities and a redemptive love.

This is a spare form of narrative that works perfectly for the character and his story.  Its as free of embellishment as Aaron himself.  And the more I thought about this character and his growth throughout Home Team, the more Aaron and his story grew on me.   I have not read other stories by Jameson Dash, this was the first.  But if this story is a good indication of this author’s style and talent, then I can’t wait to see what they write next.  Consider this book and author highly recommended.

Here is an excerpt as Aaron lands back home in Manchester, NH:

He finds his hat and sunglasses in his backpack, but there isn’t much of a crowd in the airport. Nobody is looking for him. Wives greet their husbands in rumpled suits, a group of teenage boys tangle in a massive hug, and Aaron spots what looks like a college basketball team, home after a disappointing tournament. Aaron wants to give the girls a high five and tell them to keep being awesome. But he’s not feeling very awesome himself. Instead, he keeps his head down out of habit and heads for the baggage carousel.

It’s different traveling alone than with the team. He’s still wearing a shirt and tie; the jacket was folded and shoved into his backpack before the flight took off from LA. He’s representing his team, even if his team doesn’t want him.

But he has to pick up his own equipment. Once Aaron gets the mammoth hockey bag and his suitcase onto a cart, stick bag balanced on top and his own backpack over both shoulders, he looks around for a chauffeur holding up his name. There’s no one waiting for him. There’s no one looking for him.

Cover art by LC Chase is just ok.   It doesn’t pertain to this story, it could be any story about a hockey player.  It’s just too generic.

Book Details:

ebook, 82 pages
Published September 25th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1627981594 (ISBN13: 9781627981590)
edition language English

Last Day at GRL and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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I am writing this in advance as today is my last day at GRL in Atlanta and my travel day home.  I hope I will have had time to post several pics and blogs of the event as it happened.  If, as I predict, not, then a followup blog will be coming shortly.

At any rate, it is going to be a great week here at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words.  Sarah Black is stopping by to discuss her latest release,, The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari, the sequel to The General and The Horse-Lord, a favorite of mine.  If you enjoy great military characters written realistically and grounded deeply in the Marine ethos, then these stories are for you.

Also reviewed this week is her outstanding supernatural story, Wild Onion.  Sarah Black donated the proceeds of this story to her local food bank, a wonderful endeavor and a much needed one.  Anne Tenino is back with more of her boys from Alpha Theta Gamma in Good Boy and I have new stories hee by A.R. Moler and Jameson Dash.  Really there is something for everyone.

Here is the schedule for the week ahead:

Monday, Oct. 21:       Burning Now by A.R. Moler

Tuesday, Oct. 22:       Home Team by Jameson Dash

Wed., Oct. 23:             Wild Onions by Sarah Black

Thurs., Oct. 24:          Good Boy by Anne Tenino

Friday, Oct. 25:          Sarah Black Guest Blog and Book Giveaway

Sat., Oct., 26:             The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari by Sarah Black

Review: Noah by Ben Ryder

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Noah coverCallum Walker, rising software designer, is called upon by his boss to supervise the installation of the communication software program he designed for the new Toronto Maple Arena, a new contract won by his firm in London.  It meant that Callum was spending the next 16 weeks in Toronto, supervising the work and trouble shooting the installation.  It also put him directly into the path of Noah Lukas, the highly popular star player of the Toronto Bobcats professional hockey team.  For Callum, his attraction for Noah is instantaneous from the moment they meet in the Arena gym but he is sure the hockey player is straight and settles for Noah’s friendship no matter what Callum’s heart is saying.

Noah Lukas is at a crossroads in his career.  Noah’s contract is up shortly, and he is not sure if it will be renewed, if he will be traded or even if he will retire.  Noah is gay but deep in the closet as he is sure that would wreck his career on the ice, a profession he loves.  But since meeting Callum, he is finding it hard to remain in the closet, especially as his feelings of friendship start to turn into love.  When it comes down to a choice between love and career, which will come out the winner?

Again, Ben Ryder is a new author for me and  I throughly enjoyed my first story from him.   I have to admit I am a sucker for a gay hockey player so this got to me right from the start.  Noah Lukas is a star player on the cusp of momentous change, both personal and professional.   Noah is playing at the top of his profession but as a star player, his contract is also up for renewal.  The chances that he will be traded are as great as his chances to renew his contract or even retire if no one elects him to play for their team.  He is also lonely and tired of hiding his true nature.  Ryder makes us feel the stress of the situation and the emotions pressing down on Noah time and again.  It is a wonderful, compassionate characterization and it certainly helps to connect the reader with Noah.

Callum Walker is Noah’s opposite.  He is out and comfortable in his skin.  And while he doesn’t quite feel he is in Noah’s league, he feels secure in who he  is.  I liked the slow build in their relationship, including the fact that they became friends first.  It is a realistic touch and nicely done. The only other character that really figures into the story is a grating female one, Amy.  She is believable in her ambition and the tactics she uses to get ahead, not merely a witch for witches sake.

Ryder uses a very effective format in which to tell his story.  It opens in present time in London with Callum checking his smartphone, clearly waiting for a call.  And with each succeeding chapter, the time progresses through the day with Callum getting increasingly nervous as he waits. That is followed by a scene in Toronto and another flashback to their relationship.  The author smoothly flows from one time period to the other, progressing both stories neatly while pulling the reader into Callum’s ever deepening anxiety over the phone call that hasn’t come in.  So well done, this narrative hooked me in immediately.

My one quibble is a large one however, and that would be the ending.  In my opinion, it felt as though we never got one.  It just ends and the emotional satisfaction we were expecting from a well deserved resolution never comes, and we are left hanging.  I kept thinking that we were missing at least one chapter or just possibly an epilogue.  Nope, not there.  I don’t know if we can expect a sequel to tidy up all the loose ends that frayed the ending, but I certainly hope so.  Both the readers and the characters deserve it.  Still, I enjoyed the story enough to recommend Noah and look out for more from this author.

Run over now to Dreamspinner Press where it is being offered up free for the taking.  You won’t be sorry.

Cover Photograph by Scott Henrichsen Cover Design by Paul Richmond.  Hard to argue with a cover this sexy so I won’t.

ebook, 122 pages

Published April 10th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781623806675
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3749

Buy Link at Dreamspinner Press.  Noah is a free book at this moment. Go here to pick it up at Dreamspinner Press.