A Barb the Zany Old Lady Review: On the Ice (Stick Side #1) by Amy Aislin

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

These two characters came to life within the first few chapters and swept me away with their story. I honestly did not want to put this book down to go to bed, but my subconscious took over when I did, and I dreamed about Mitch and Alex. Without a doubt, these men are my favorite couple nominee for any and all 2018 MM romance awards.

Slowburn? Yes. Too much sex on page? No. Friendship? Yes. Characters who mature over time? Why yes. Yes indeed. And that’s not all there is to like about this story.

When college sophomore, hockey player, and kinesiology major Mitch Greyson shows up at an extra credit lecture at his small Vermont college with the express intent of interviewing the Tampa Bay hockey team’s sports doctor, he’s at first disappointed that the man is a no-show. But then he gets to speak to and flirt with the man who came in his place: Alex Dean, a Tampa Bay defenseman who happens to be in Vermont visiting family while his broken arm heals. But Alex wants nothing to do with flirty Mitch. Alex isn’t interested in sex or flirtation. He’s just not made that way. He’s demisexual, and in fact, isn’t even sure if he’ll ever find someone to love, and if he does, he’s not sure if it will be a man or a woman. He’s a 25-year-old virgin and perfectly happy to remain that way. Or so he thinks—until he gets to know Mitch.

Here’s my main sticking point in this story, and yes, it is addressed by the author at the end of the book. But it’s an in-your-face sticking point right from the beginning and may turn some readers off. How many people in 2008 and 2009 knew the term demisexual or knew what was meant by it? I don’t believe many recognized their own demisexuality, never mind in others during the years in which the story is set. Yes, I know the term was invented already, but in general, sexuality was thought to be heterosexual or homosexual at that point. The fine lines—shades of sexuality, so to speak—weren’t discussed and for people who felt they didn’t quite fit in one category or the other, there wasn’t a lot of info available to them to clarify where they fell on the spectrum. The author addresses this issue in her second author’s note (that in my opinion should come before the story, not after) and acknowledges that she took liberties with using the terms. However, I think it would have been easier to accept during the story if the characters acknowledged that they had just recently learned the term. Since it distracted me throughout the book, until I finally got to the author’s note at the end, I’ve dropped my rating a half star.

Fortunately, I was able to move past that and enjoy the balance of the story. And it was a love story, no mistake about that. This was the slowest of slow-burn romances, and so much better because of that. My interest level remained high throughout the book as both characters struggled with issues beyond their control—Alex with his grandfather’s dementia and Mitch with working for the funds he needs to be able to complete the degree he has his heart set on while still practicing and planning to be the best so he can be drafted by the NHL.

I highly recommend this love story to anyone who appreciates a variation from the same-old, same-old tropes and themes. Hockey seems to be a popular sport this year among authors; however, this story is more about the romance than the sport. Other than my issue with the demisexual terminology, this book made me feel the love and raised my spirits—the reason I read in the first place.

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Cover art by Lee Hyat Designs displays the bare torso of a young muscular skater against the background of a hockey rink. The male could represent either young man as one is an NHL player and the other a college student on his school’s hockey team. It’s bright and attractive and a good representation for this story.

Sales Links:   Universal Buy Link

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 1st edition
Published May 8th 2018
Original TitleOn The Ice
ASINB07C3M67XS
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesStick Side #1

A MelanieM Review: A Home For The Holidays by Joe Cosentino

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Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

HomeFortheHolidayscoverBobby McGrath’s Christmas trip to the beautiful Italian island of Capri to meet his eccentric extended family offers stunning views—none more stunning than his third cousin, Paolo Mascobello, a real stocking stuffer. As the two young men embark on a relationship, Bobby, a driven law student, learns to relax and bask under the old Italian moon, and Paolo realizes there’s more to life than a frolic on the beach. For the two to find everlasting amore, Paulo must overcome his fear of commitment and learn to follow his dreams, and Bobby must get his wish for happily ever after.

Joe Cosentino’s A Home For The Holidays reads like a loving tribute to his family Italian background and the gorgeous island of Capri.   From the moment we meet Bobby McGrath, an overly serious young law student, whose life consists of family and college, Cosentino brings us deep into the arms of a family (Irish and Italian) who embraces the best and what most annoys about each other.  Its funny, lighthearted and will remind most of us of our own holidays and families.  What this family wants for Bobby is for him to have some fun, so his mother arranges for him to meet his Italian relatives in Capri for a vacation, one he will never forget.  It all starts with a conversation with his mother, president of her local PFLAG:

“Bobby, every Christmas your father and I buy you a nice gift and you return it. So this year before we go shopping, I’m asking you. What do you want for Christmas, exactly?”

I was tempted to answer, “How about the new Zeb Atlas DVD, Mom?” No longer reading my law textbook, I pressed the cell phone against my ear and responded, “My red sweater is getting frayed. I guess I could use a new one, Mom.”

“I don’t like red on you. I’ll get you a green sweater. It will go nicely with your eyes. You’ll be twenty-four in June. Nobody ever caught a husband wearing red clothes, except for Mrs. Klaus, and then look how overweight he was.”

I loved this bit of dialog.  The loving but exasperated tone,  the almost rote answers that said they both had had this conversation many times before.  Perfect.  The author obviously is channeling well known family dynamics and it works so well to make us care not only about Bobby but his family too.  What do they give him?  A trip to Italy and another family to love.

Off to Italy Bobby goes, luckily speaking Italian (thank you high school and college courses) and winds up happily in the middle of another large upscale Italian family and sometimes unhappy family dynamics.  His cousins own a large company that is a green energy corporation, live in a villa on Capri and is full of cousins of various ages and matrimonial status, uncles, aunts and the heads of the family, ‘Nonno’ and ‘Nonna’ Mascobello. Bobby also meets the gorgeous and uninhibited Paolo, his third cousin, who is everything a young serious American virgin has dreamed of.  Yes, virgin meets unrepentant island slut. Trouble indeed.

I adore the character of Bobby, nose in his books, the rest of him, heart and body belongs to his family.  So he definitely gets a shock to the system when he awakes to see a Italian god bending over him to wake him from his nap at the villa after arriving. Yes, that would be cousin Paolo and their first introduction.  Paolo been ordered to throw his partying aside to show his newly arrived American cousin around and Paolo’s being a bit sullen however lovely.  Too bad, Bobby’s smitten and the damage done.

The author does turn the character of Paolo around and gives him a foundation for his behavior that works.  However, the reader has to commit to the idea of a instant love here for Bobby and  Paolo.  I could see it for Bobby only if it faded into real friendship by the end of the visit with the promise of something more realistic for them both.  Bobby is a smart young man but hey, he is a virgin on a magical island and a young god who loves sex just happens to be right in front of him.  Who wouldn’t fall right over the edge?  How you stand on their relationship and romance, whether you believe fully in it or not, might make this book for you.

What really works for me here, aside from all the heartwarming family moments?  The vivid and almost lyrical descriptions that Joe Cosentino uses when Bobby is arriving on Capri or sightseeing all over the island with Paolo.  Air fragrant with aroma from the flowers blooming everywhere, the noises and sounds are conveyed along with the vibrancy of the people and the brightness of the sky and the sheer beauty to be found everywhere you look…the love the author has for Capri and the people there flows off the page in every word he has written.

“When we arrived at Piazza Vittoria in Via Caposcuro, Paolo took a bag from the scooter’s compartment and led me to a chairlift, which hoisted us into the sky. With my legs dangling over the dark Tyrrhenian Sea, I felt as if I were flying through a black hole. I waved to Paolo in the seat behind me, and he smiled like a proud parent at an amusement park.

When we arrived at Mt. Solaro, we stepped off the chairlifts. Paolo looked down at the homes nestled on layers of rocks. “This is the highest point on the Isle of Capri, five hundred and eighty-nine meters above sea level.”

“All I see in front of me is a thick blanket of fog. Is that because it’s been warm for winter?”

“Wait and watch.”

Paolo sat me down next to him on a flat section of the mountain, then nudged my side with his elbow and pointed to the fog. As if he was Moses parting the Red Sea, Paolo looked triumphant as the sun came up and the wind blew the vapors of fog upward, crowning the clouds and revealing stunning views of the Bay of Naples, the Amalfi Coast, and the mountains of Calabria in the distance. As we looked out over the turquoise water, white mountains, and azure sky, I felt like I was in heaven.

I pressed my shoulder against his. “It’s sheer magic, Paolo! And pretty amazing science.”

“We call it Acchiappanuvole, the cloud catcher.”

Trust me, when you finish reading this story, you will want to book your own flight to Italy and boat to Capri.   Maybe see your own or be your own version of Bobby and Paolo, you never know.  Adult fairy tales do come true they tell me, why shouldn’t Bobby have his?  Tis the season for the holiday stories to start arriving, pick up Joe Cosentino’s A Home For The Holiday’s and get started on your holiday reading today~

 

Cover artist Paul Richmond does a cute job with the characters and a wonderful job with the location.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | All Romance (ARe) | Amazon not yet available | Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook
Expected publication: December 2nd 2015 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781634765367
edition languageEnglish
other editions
None found

Review: After the Fall (Tucker Springs #6) by L.A. Witt

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

After The Fall coverNathan has pursued a dream of owning his own dressage horse and now after years of saving, Nathan has finally bought one.  His  Trakehner mare, Tsarina, is young but Nathan hopes to show her after they spend some time training together.  But all Nathan’s hopes and work of 15 years is shattered in one moment.  On Nathan and Tsarina’s first trail ride, a motorcyclist on the wrong trail causes a horrendous fall that breaks several of Nathan’s bones and sees him on his way to the hospital and Tsarina loose in the woods, his summer and hopes in ruins.

Ryan has always traveled where his wanderlust takes him with nary a thought of settling down in one place.  His current travels have brought him to Tucker Springs, Colorado on his way to Texas and a job for the winter.  But one wrong trail ride on his motorcycle changes his path after he causes a rider to fall after his horse shies when Ryan veers into their path.  The rider, Nathan, has  a broken leg, and a broken hand that resulted from a mean right hook after Nathan punched Ryan in his fury and pain.

Feeling guilty, Ryan offers to look after Tsarina while Nathan is incapacitated.  Before each man realizes it they have fallen into an easy friendship that soon turns into something more.  But each man has his own insecurities and issues to deal with that starts to throw up obstacles to love.  Can Ryan and Nathan put aside the past in order to make a future together?

After The Fall, Tucker Springs story#6, brings back a character, Nathan, that we first met in the very first Tucker Spring novel, Where Nerves End.  In that story, we come across Nathan as Michael’s young assistant in his shop Tucker Springs Acupuncture. He is introduced as a young, college age, nattily dressed gay man but we lacked a larger picture as to who Nathan was.  Now L.A. Witt fills in the portrait she started a while ago and we get to see his depth of character and his dreams for himself.  I found it startling that Nathan aspired to own a warmblood and show in dressage, a lovely quirk for a western  town where the style of riding is so different.  That is an unexpected and marvelous side of Nathan.  And by its inclusion, the author gives Nathan a layer that lets us know that he is a serious, disciplined and caring young man all at once.  Owning his own horse is a goal Nathan has spent “ten years of dreaming, three years of saving, and almost a full year of searching for the perfect horse”, so his happiness and anticipation on the first day he is going to get to ride his horse is palpable. And it makes what happens next scary and heartbreaking in vivid and authentic detail.

But the author has also given Nathan more than his share of past problems with men and those issues as well as watching his friends in the act of demolishing their own relationship has caused Nathan to pull away from any romantic relationships of his own at the moment.  As Nathan reasons it out for himself, he has a full life and schedule and a  romance would only add its unwanted complications at the moment.  I think we have all been there at one time or another and this makes Nathan a character we can certainly relate to.

The character of Ryan (no last name) is more of  an enigma.  We learn little of his past, some about his family and a smidgen about what prompted his tumbleweed lifestyle.   But frankly his personality is overshadowed by that of Nathan, who is telling the story.  That lack of fullness to his character leaves the resulting romance between the men lacking as well.  True, there is a sweetness to the manner in which they fall in love, a startling contrast to the way in which they first met.  I certainly enjoyed watching them become first friends and then lovers but it could have felt so much more real had Ryan been more fleshed out as a person and Nathan’s equal.

There were a few other quibbles for me in this story. One, for Ryan to learn how to push a dressage horse into a collected trot or canter using his seat with no training is a tad unrealistic, considering the amount of skill and training that goes into a dressage horse and it’s equestrian partner as well.  Yes, there are natural riders out there who just seem to “get it”.  They have a great leg and a natural seat that just sticks to the saddle, flowing along with the rhythm of their partner.  But Ryan doesn’t even know how to hold the reins in an English style, having learned the western method of riding which is completely different.   Beginners usually saw on the reins or pull too hard,   The subtle tickling of a braided rein, the slight tension required takes time, more time than Ryan had.  My other quibble is the lack of last names.  I don’t know why but this drives me crazy.  If you want us to believe in characters fully give them a complete name.  Unless they are Cher of course.  Stepping off my quibble box now.

For most readers the last two issues won’t be a problem with them.  It’s just nitpicking on my part.  But Ryan’s character and the swift resolution of their commitment issues might be more problematic.  I think another chapter or two would have seen the ending more drawn out and given the author more time to paint a more realized picture of a man who finally finds a place and person to call home.

I really enjoyed After The Fall and I think you will too, especially if you are already a fan of the Tucker Springs series.

Here are the stories in the  Tucker Springs series in the order they were written, and is recommended that they be read:

Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs, #1) by L.A. Witt
Second Hand (Tucker Springs, #2) by Heidi Cullinan
Dirty Laundry (Tucker Springs, #3) by Heidi Cullinan
Covet Thy Neighbor (Tucker Springs, #4) by L.A. Witt
Never a Hero (Tucker Springs, #5) by Marie Sexton
After The Fall (Tucker Springs #6) by L.A. Witt

Cover Art by L.C. Chase, lcchase.com/design.htm.  Love the cover but ack…that posture, those flying elbows…tuck those babies in.   Shakes head.

Book Details:

ebook, 202 pages
Published October 7th 2013 by Riptide Publishing

Review: An Isolated Range (Range #5) by Andrew Grey

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Rating: 5 stars

An Isoslated RangeMarty Green, college student, was doing the thing he loved best, playing basketball for his first intercollegiate game for his Brackett College team when the unthinkable happened.  While on the court, Marty suffers a stroke and ends up in the hospital for months recuperating and learning to walk again.  Due to the extent of the damage done to his brain, the recovery is taking longer than he had hoped and his parents want him to come home to continue his rehabilitation.  But Marty knows from experience just how smothering and overprotective his well meaning parents can be, so when his doctor suggests an alternative, to go to a ranch  owned by a friend of his where Marty can work on daily chores, help care for an invalid father as well as his rehabilitation, Marty jumps at it.

Veterinary assistant Quinn Summers is there when Marty arrives at the ranch  owned by Dakota and helps him get settled into his room. Everything about the young man in the wheelchair attracts Quinn, including his determination to be independent.  Marty will help care for Jefferson,  Dakota’s father as well as help feed the horses at the ranch.  Marty has alway loved horses as much as basketball and quickly settles into life at ranch.  The biggest adjustment to life at the ranch is seeing openly gay men living and loving each other as other heterosexual couples do.  Marty has known he was gay since his teen years but never came out due to his conservative Republican Senator father.  Now he has the chance to finally be who he really is and Quinn is ready to help him. But there are plenty of obtacles on the path to romance for Marty and Quinn.  Quinn’s father dislikes the fact that his son is gay and works to undermine Quinn in every way possible.  And there is Senator Green who is using an antigay platform to help him get re-elected to the Senate.  It will take courage and heart for Marty and Quinn to overcome their families and reach for love.

Andrew Grey’s Range series just gets stronger with each new book and An Isolated Range is perhaps the most amazing addition yet.  Marty Green is an extraordinary character, inspired by a real life basketball player from Gettysburg College who experienced the same devastating stroke that happens to Marty.  Grey’s description of the stroke as it happens from Marty’s POV is as shattering as it is realistic.  And that authenticity continues from the moment Marty wakes up in the hospital, moves into rehab, and then when he realizes that to get better he must move beyond his family into a more independent living arrangement or have his recovery be stifled by overprotective parents.  The author is able to convey to reader the crushing disappointment that Marty feels when he is unable to walk, his stress and dismay over the lack of progress and his inability to be his own man.  Andrew Grey does a incredible job of bringing Marty Green to life in every facet of this young man’s journey.

Quinn Summers is an equally remarkable character.  He has succeeded in his personal life, with help from Wally, Dakota, and Jefferson, to become an exceptional young man who dreams of becoming a veterinarian.  One of Quinn’s biggest obstacles in his life is his father, a self destructive man who continually tries to pull Quinn down with him.  This element of An Isolated Range is as fully developed and layered as the rest of the story.  And you root for Quinn to continue to extricate himself from his father even as the man reaches out to pull Quinn back in.

We also have to watch as Jefferson Holden fades, his illness claiming him as Jefferson is a character we have come to love over the series of books.  This is such an affecting element of this story and Grey plays off the relationship all the men on the ranch have with Jefferson (he has been a father figure to most of them) against the antagonistic relationships Marty and Quinn have with their respective dads.  Marty’s relationship with his Senator father is fraught with complexities as neither of Marty’s parents realize he is gay.  Just as Marty is getting comfortable with his sexuality, Marty’s father starts to ramp up antigay sentiments to help him get re-elected to the Senate, a plausible action that we see mirrored in the media every day.

Really, An Isolated Range is just one outstanding book from every angle possible.  I cannot recommend it enough. However, I would start at the beginning of the series.  Read them in the order they were written, starting with A Shared Range (Range #1) which introduces you to Dakota and Wally, and continue on from there.  Don’t miss a one.

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

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)

Review: Esau (Leopard’s Spots #6) by Bailey Bradford

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Rating: 4 stars

Esau Leoppard Spots 6During the confrontation with Chung Kee’s lepe and the death of Chung Kee and his shaman, Esau Wallraven was separated from the rest of his family with the mission to find Ye—sun Warren, the brother who helped Jihu Warren and his son Daniel escape the compound.  The compound burned to the ground as the different factions fought and neither Bae and Jihu are sure their half brother survived. So as the family gathers their wounded and leaves for home, Esau remains behind to search for Ye-sun.

Ye-sun Warren has had a hellish life.  Imprisoned and tortured by his grandfather as punishment for helping Jihu escape with his son, he is shocked and drugged, as his grandfather hopes to force him to impregnate the females in the compound, something he has refused to do.  When he is left to burn with the building, he manages to escape and runs directly into a Snow Leopard, Esau.

Both men are astounded to find that they are mates and the biological drive to consummate their bond is overwhelming. But Esau is tormented by his past and doesn’t want a mate, a fact he communicates to Ye-sun after their mating.  Hurt, rejected by family and mate, Ye-sun runs off, leaving Esau wondering if he hasn’t just made the worse mistake of his life.

Esau (Leopard’s Spots 6) picks up directly after the events of Gilbert (Leopard Spot’s 5).  The Warren family and their mates and friends have confronted the heinous Chung Kee at his compound with the results that several key members of both families were injured, and Chung Kee and his shamans were killed. Esau had disappeared into the woods at the end of that story, looking for the missing Warren brother, and this story picks up just as Esau gets the scent of a Amur Leopard in the woods.

Most of this story deals with the past traumatic histories of both men.  Ye-sun’s is one most familiar to those who have read the previous books.  Brought up in a cult like compound, under the strict rule of a obsessive leader, his grandfather Chung Kee, Ye-sun was looked at more as a breeding stud than as a person and to refuse that role meant hours of torture and shock treatments to get him to submit to his grandfather ‘s plans.  In addition to the physical trauma, his grandfather also used emotional abuse to inflict pain on the young man and chemicals to keep him from shifting.  Bradford does an excellent job of giving us a young man, confused and so full of anger that he is not sure about anything now that he has escaped.  I liked both main characters here immensely.  Ye-sun pulls at our heartstrings and his anger is something everyone can relate to.

Esau Wallraven makes a formidable mate and partner for Ye-sun.  The only child of his parents, he lead a sheltered life, where his only dream was to be normal, an impossibility for a Snow Leopard shifter.  As soon as he could, he left to travel the world, never settling down, always looking for that elusive “something” to fill up the hole within him.  Then a horrific event in South America leaves it permanent scar on his heart and cements his life of isolation.  Everything about Esau makes sense, including his rejection of his mate, done out of fear and past pain.

There is no case of instant love or even instant affection.  What draws them together is a natural imperative to mate, brought on by their animals and hormones.  And mate they do, for about 75 to 80 percent of the book, in both animal and human forms.  It’s brutal, snarling, biting and bestial for the most part as is fitting for cat shifters.  As humans, there is an exploration of their sexual natures through spanking and mild bdsm, as pain with sex seems to be part of the shifter sexuality as written by Bradford.  Ye-sun is a virgin to anal sex but is not treated like one, a subject that is brought up and dealt with.

And that is really my only quibble with this book.  Yes, there is tons of hot  sex but too much hurts the book when exposition is left behind as it is here.  I wanted to know more about the injured family members left in a coma in Gilbert’s book.  Here there was only a sentence or two to say all will survive but it did not address some of the serious situations mentioned previously.  Another Amur Leopard is scented in the woods during their mating frenzy but never brought up again.  Did someone else survive?  Is this a red herring?  Don’t know and it’s frustrating.  There are so many issues and conspiracies involved in this series and this story moves none of the plot lines forward.  We need more depth here in storyline, and to resolve some of the problems addressed in Gilbert.  None of that really happened here and it makes this story much weaker than it should have been.

We also get a look at a character just introduced, Bobby the wolf shifter brother to the alpha wolf mated to Oscar.  Bobby seems to be a good ole boy red neck shifter but Esau sees below the shallow, callow demeanor Bobby projects.  Bobby lit up the pages with his sass and moxy.  I can’t wait to see more of him.  He really deserves his own story and soon.

So on to the next story which is Sullivan (Leopard’s Spots #7).  Bailey Bradford has me hooked good and proper.  I need to know what happens next, who is drugging the shifters, what happens to all those poor schmoes from the compound who survived.  What about the Amur Leopard they smelled in the woods?  Who was that?  See, so many questions and I need the answers.   Hopefully, I will find some in Sullivan.  I will let you know.

The gorgeous series covers by Posh Gosh continues.  Just beautiful.

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

Levi (Leopards Spots #1)

Oscar (Leopards Spots #2) read my review here.

Timothy (Leopards Spots #3) read my review here

Isaiah (Leopards Spots #4) read my review here

Gilbert (Leopards Spots #5) read my review here

Esau (Leopards Spots #6)

Sullivan (Leopards Spots #7)