Review: A Shared Range (Range #1) by Andrew Grey

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Rating: 5 stars

A Shared RangeDakota Holden is home on school break and his medical studies when he finds out that his father has multiple sclerosis and has been hiding his diagnosis from his son.  Dakota puts his dream of a medical degree on hold to return home and run the Holden ranch and watch as his father’s condition degenerates.  Dakota has never spoken of his homosexuality to anyone at home, including his father, and the only time he feels he can be himself is on the one week vacations he allows himself every year.

This year, the ocean cruise holiday romance he struck up with another passenger turned into a friendship, and when Phillip Reardon asks to visit Dakota at the ranch, Phillip brings along another friend, Wally Schumacher, a veterinarian, with him.  Almost at once, Wally’s presence starts to upset the balance at the ranch.  Both Phillip and Wally are out and gay, a situation that makes Dakota reexamine his closeted status. And Wally is loudly vehement against the ranchers and ranch hands shooting the wolves that have come into the territory and threatens the herds.  Dakota finds Wally both brave and hot, an attractive that Wally returns 100 percent.

But Wally and Phillip’s vacation is a short one and  Dakota must weigh not only coming out to his father and ranch hands but finding out if Wally would want to stay and make his isolated western lifestyle his own.  Can Wally’s passion for wildlife and his honesty about his sexuality coexist with the conservative lifestyle and small town point of view that Dakota lives with daily?  Or will the call of the big city be too much for their love to overcome?

What fun I have had working my way back to the beginning of the Ranch series where it all started. Was it worth the journey?  Absolutely, I just loved the story of Dakota and Wally, the foundation couple that is the impetus that brings all the future couples together and sets several  people on the road to understanding their true natures and self worth.  When I first met Dakota in book 5, An Isolated Range, he had achieved his dream of becoming a doctor but here we see him as a young man who, in his devotion to his father, shelves his dream to return home and run the family ranch.  And we get to see the true measure of his character as he shoulders all the responsibilities because of love, love for his father and love of the ranch and the land.  Andrew Grey does such a wonderful job of making Dakota and his life real that it is easy to understand the decisions he makes and agree with them.  From the vivid descriptions of the majestic territory the ranch is situated on to the small town that is the  hub of ranch society, Grey paints it all with such loving, understanding language that you feel as though you have visited there as well.

Wally Schumacher is another character that quickly eases his way into your heart.  Small in stature, large in heart and bravery, he is a firecracker to be dealt with on his own terms,  It is through Wally’s eyes that we get to see the other side of the natural beauty and wildlife that is the western United States.  While the ranchers see the wolves in terms of livestock lost and financial stability, Wally sees the fierce beauty of Nature and the natural course of predator/prey being played out as it should.  Andrew Grey remains an impartial observer, relating both sides to the reader in such a way to let us understand the combustable mixture that occurs when these two widely divergent viewpoints come together while never belittling or downplaying the issues for both sides.   One way that is so successful is that Grey’s characters are living, breathing beings. They are equally capable of  adjusting their viewpoints to a wider perspective or persons living life narrowly within the confines of a rigid viewpoint.  No matter where they may fall on the spectrum, they always come across as viable human beings.

We see Jefferson Holden as the disease quickly takes over, we meet Phillip as he begins to examine his own lifestyle, and so many others as the ranch and our main couple starts to work the magic that  will continue through all the books to come.  And I got to see how the big cats came to live under Wally’s care.  How I laughed about that one and commiserated with Dakota.  For me Andrew Grey has created a couple, a ranch, and a series that is just about irresistible, and this book is the beginning of that journey.  Don’t miss out on any of it.  It doesn’t matter the path you take to get here, forward, backward or zigzagging in between, just make sure your road leads to the ranch where Dakota and Wally make their lives matter  and everyone is welcome, including you.  You won’t be sorry, I promise  you.

Here are the book in the series in the order they were written, linked to my reviews:

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) coming out February 4, 2013 by Dreamspinner Press

Cover art by Reese Dante, lovely job as usual.

To help support the organizations working to rescue these wonderful  exotic animals, please visit the following websites, these are but a few that could use your help:

International Exotic Feline Sanctuary (bigcat.org)

Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge, Tyler, TX

In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Education Center Wylie, Texas 

Never Cry Wolf Rescue

Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary

Wolf Mountain Sanctuary

And of course, our wonderful World Wildlife Fund

Review of The Man Trap by Lee Brazil

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Rating 4.25 stars

Simon Harris has been watching the same guy come into his bookstore each week, buy a book and leave.  Not an unusual occurance in a bookstore but Simon recognizes him.  It’s Alexis Manetas, a former high school classmate Simon had been attracted to before graduation. Simon has always loudly proclaimed his bisexuality but never actually dated a man, just woman.  Now Alexis reappears and all those old feelings come back as well.

Alexis Manetas had a huge crush on Simon in high school, something Simon never really acknowledged.  After graduating from high school, both men moved on but Alexis never forgot his first love.  When his personal circumstances changed, Alexis searched for Simon, hoping to reconnect and finally start a relationship he had always hoped for.  With a little manipulation from Simon’s sister in law, Jeannie, the men are brought together.  As they become reacquainted, Alexis and Simon find their past attraction flaring into passion and their feelings for each other deepen.  But Simon has never had a relationship last past 6 months and Alexis has a  huge surprise in store for Simon in the shape of a small boy, Alexis’ son, Gregory.

Lee Brazil’s The Man Trap is a lovely warm hearted tale of love given a second chance with some very interesting nontypical twists. Brazil’s characters have that patina of realism that I appreciate in a story that we have seen told before.  Simon Harris is one of the more interesting characters here.  He is in his thirties and while he has been adamant about identifying as bisexual, he really hasn’t demonstrated that in real life, serial dating one woman after another.  None of his relationships has lasted longer than 6 months and he readily admits to being self centered and somewhat set in his ways.  This is not your warm and cuddly character pining over a lost love.  I appreciate Simon’s curmudgeonly ways.  It made his struggle towards a real relationship with Alexis seem even more authentic.  Alexis Manetas is a strongly appealing character too.  Brave enough to take a chance on reconnecting with Simon while never losing sight of his priorities.  I really  liked Alexis and found him every bit as charming as Simon.

The other way Brazil has strayed from the typical child inclusive plotline is that Simon doesn’t really care for children.  He doesn’t know how to behave around them,doesn’t relate to them and  never really wanted any of his own.  Getting involved with a man who has a child is not on his agenda, even if that man is Alexis.  This really strays from most of the books I have read lately where all the men involved want children and jump at the chance to have one in their lives.  It’s nice to have an author show the flip side of the coin so to speak.  I will let you read the story for yourself to see if Alexis and Gregory can sway Simon to their side but kudos for a nontypical character.

You also have a story involving two bisexual characters.  Some may see Simon as more of a “gay for you” persona as he has not really acted on his attractions to men but this is also not a strictly gay male romance but two men strongly attracted to, maybe even in love with each other since high school.  Whatever your take on this,bisexual or gay for you, Brazil makes it clear that each man has held the other close in their memories.  They are hot for each other and always have been.

Lee Brazil’s descriptions, whether they are of a balloon ride over the countryside (which I can attest the author got exactly right), to the wonderful romantic whisperings of love, “I’ve saved up a thousand kisses, thousands of experiences, I only want to share with you, Alexi” , will sweep you into the story and the lives of Simon and Alexis.  There is really no depths of angst or high drama, so if you are expecting any, you will be let down. But if you want a sweet tale of two men given a second chance at love, then this is the story for you.

Cover: I love the cover.  Cover artist is Victoria Miller.  The picture of the hot air balloon is especially nice.

Review of The Dragon’s Muse by I.D. Locke

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Rating 4 stars

 

A young half dragon half human has trained all his life to be a Guardian to a Muse, a spirit or god that provides the inspiration for an artist. When he is called by The Ring, a group of elders who choose the Guardians, and given a Muse to guard, he is surprised to be chosen, not only because of his young age but also because he is half dragon. Then The Ring informs him that the Muse rejected their last choice and has been without a Guardian since. And with that The Ring sends him off to meet his Muse.

Misu is a half Muse as he is half human half god.  He is also unique in that all the other Muses are women and he is a hermaphrodite. And   while all the other muses can inspire many, Misu is a Muse to only one artist at a time.  The last dragon The Ring sent him was totally unacceptable for a muse who uses their sexuality to conjure up the inspiration necessary for a muse of erotic poetry.  That dragon only saw sex as something for breeding, not as a joyful, fun act, so Misu sent him packing.  Then a new Guardian appears, a half dragon/half man that Misu has seen in his dreams for hundreds of years and Misu names him Gunari as is the custom.  Gunari is startled to find out about Misu’s physiology but Gunari is so attracted to the Muse that it makes no difference whether Misu is male or female as Gunari has always been attracted to both, something he chalks up to the human part of his heritage.  Both are so pleased with the partnership that it’s not long before they find sexual attraction deepening into something more.  As they explore their sexual natures, from BDSM to gentle loving sex, Misu realizes he loves Gunari. Now if only Gunari can recognize that he feels the same.

I am going to say right away that if you are looking for a story that is strictly m/m, this is not the story for you.  But if you want a good short story with a terrific premise and can accept a gender fluid being, then don’t pass this one up.  I. D. Locke takes the idea of muses and put’s their own neat little take on it.  Misu is a muse for erotic poetry for one artist as a time.  When you consider that erotic poetry is not exclusive to one gender, it makes complete sense to have a Muse who experiences the total range of human sexuality to better inspire erotic verse for any gender or sexual preference.  In the blurb, Misu is described as a male identifying hermaphrodite but I never got the picture that Misu identified with any gender, so I did wonder if that was to placate those readers wanting just a m/m story.  At any rate, Misu is so joyful about sex, that any boundaries, including gender identification,are not just unnecessary but also unwanted.

Misu just is Misu and completely content to be a hermaphrodite.  Misu loves sex in every way, in every combination and so feels that being a hermaphrodite is sort of double the fun. Happily for both, Gunari feels much the same.  Gunari loves Misu’s duality and take full advantage of every orifice possible as often as possible, and if studded paddles or restraints come into play, even better. Early on, Misu recognizes that it is Gunari’s face that has haunted their dreams for centeries and Fate is playing a part in bringing them together.  As Misu has had time to fall in love, it is new for Gunari to consider the idea. Locke does a wonderful job with the characterizations here.  Misu is such a gloriously happy sexual being and Gunari is a wonderful young half dragon who takes their responsibility seriously as a Guardian but also comes to love their Muse as well. There are such lovely touches here from the descriptions of Misu’s cottage and the field of flowers nearby full of butterflies to chase and sunlight to bask in.

And yes, there is lots of sex, hot sex, happy sex, bondage sex and penetration of every opening possible and every combination, male and female in detail.  Throw in some glowing auras and you have two very happy beings in a short story of love, sexuality and acceptance, no matter the gender.  If that sounds like something you would like to read about, then this book is for you.

Cover:  Alessio Brio was the cover artist and I find it just as unusual as the story.  The black background is textured to look like dragon hide, I think with Miso and Gunari (green hair) foremost in the design.

Review of Salad On The Side (Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat #1) by Karenna Colcraft

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Rating: 3.5 stars

Kyle Slidell’s company offered him a promotion.  Taking it cost him his boyfriend but offered him a fresh start in a new town with a lot more money. Once Kyle gets situated in his new apartment, his life consists of work, home to sleep and more work, making his life very dull and his days repetitive until he looks out his window into the apartment complex communal garden and spies his gorgeous neighbor naked under the full moon.  He has seen Tobias around the building but has never worked up the courage to speak to him or hardly any of his neighbors really.

Tobias Rogan has watched the new tenant with more than usual interest.  Tobias is drawn to Kyle, and because of the attraction he feels along with his past history, he has intentionally stayed away from him. But on a full moon, standing in the garden, Tobias knows that Kyle is watching him,  wants him  and he decides to act on his emotions. Tobias “accidentally” runs into Kyle in the hallway and invites Kyle over the next day under the cover of meeting all the neighbors in the building.  The pot luck will accomplish several things, first to introduce Kyle around while indicating to those at the party that Kyle is under his protection, and the other is to simply get to know Kyle better.

Kyle finds the party awkward, his new neighbors a little on the strange side, and the actions of one new acquaintance hostile until Tobias intervenes in a manner even stranger.  Kyle realizes that there are secrets being kept from him and he  doesn’t like it.  But after being attacked by a wolf in the garden, Kyle wakes up a werewolf and finds out that he managed to move into a werewolf apartment complex and Tobias is the pack alpha.  What is a vegan to do?

Karenna Colcroft had me at vegan werewolf.  I thought that was an hysterical premise and an original one at that.  This story really shines when Colcroft is letting her imagination run quirky little circles around the typical shifter tale. Colcroft’s description of the pack trying to find vegan foodstuffs for Kyle to eat after he shifts for the first time is great.  Flashes of that offbeat take on werewolves throughout the story had me waiting in anticipation as I turned page after page.  Unfortunately, sometimes it appeared and other times it was submerged under too many words, too many repetitive passages and characterizations that felt a little incomplete.

The story is told from Kyle’s POV and while I appreciated his snarky, intelligent nerdlike outlook, I also found parts of his personality hard to believe in.   This includes his reaction to the fact that Tobias and his pack have just ruined his life, which would have been more believable if it had contained more anger and less passive acceptance, especially coming from a man who hours earlier had told Tobias he wasn’t going to have a relationship with someone who was closeted and obviously hiding something from him.  That man, pre werewolf Kyle, I believed in and understood.  I cannot really say the same about werewolf Kyle.  Tobias, pack Alpha, was another problematic persona. Tobias shifted from one type of character to another so fast that I thought he might have some schizophrenic tendencies.  In one scene, he is the mind controlling Alpha, in the next he is tender lover.  Yes, you can have both  in the same character if you make a good case for the changes in attitude, but the author never really did that with Tobias’ character.  To give the author credit, some of that did smooth out towards the end of the book, but it took far to long for Tobias to get there.  In this particular case, it would have benefitted the story to have told part of it from Tobias’ POV to give the reader  greater insight into the character.

Apart from some issues with characterization, I found the wordiness a little excessive, especially towards the middle of the story.  I appreciate that Colcroft is setting the stage for future stories but the constant dialog about pack politics, rules, etc bogged down the narrative.  Other authors have  woven such details into their stories without hitting you over the head with them, and I wish this author had found a way to do that here.  I hope that now which such backstory out of the way, the next book in the series will move forward at a more sprightly pace.  I would like to see more consistency in the characters as well, so their actions match our expectations given what the author has told us about them.  My last quibble? More of the wonderful humor Karenna Colcroft is capable of.  It’s here, from the great premise to scenes found throughout the story.  It is the reason I will come back for more and read the second and third installments of Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat series.  The good here far outweighs my quibbles and make this book worth your while.

Great cover by Winterheart Designs.

Other books in the series available in eBook from MLR Press, Fictionwise, All Romance:

Salad On The Side (Real Werewolves Eat Meat #1)

Tofurkey and Yam (MLR Holiday Release)

Veggie Burgers To Go (Real Werewolves Eat Meat #3)

Review of Just What The Truth Is by C. Cardeno

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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)

Review of Places in Time by C. Cardeno

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Rating: 4 stars

Actor Ethan Baker arrives home to find his current girlfriend breaking up with him. Not a surprising action, merely the last in a long line of girlfriends who never seem to stick around.  Being voted “Sexiest Man Alive” twice isn’t enough to guarantee happiness in a relationship. So he calls his best friend, Jude Harrison, to tell him about the breakup and that he will be right over.  Jude has always been the constant in his life, the spare guest room that Ethan has taken over as his more a home than the modern marble monstrosity he was talked into buying.

On his way over to Jude’s, fate literally intervenes when a mysterious woman appears and shows Ethan his and Jude’s relationship from another perspective. When Ethan watches his past go by, can a self absorbed actor realize the truth in front of him and the real reason Ethan’s girlfriends never stick around?

Places in Time is a short story in the Dreamspinner Time is Eternity series.  This is C. Cardeno’s version of A Christmas Carol when the Fates decides to stage an intervention, their way, after Ethan has hurt one more girl in his obliviousness, of shaking Ethan out of a destructive pattern into a chance for love.

Ethan Baker just cracked me up, with all the snarkiness, flippancy, and self absorption you might see in a actor of his status. Yet, as C. Cardeno has drawn him, he also has a wonderful sense of humor and loyalty that makes him a winning character.  Some bits of this story are truly funny when Ethan doesn’t quite get the message the woman intends when they visit a certain scene from his past.  To her utter annoyance, he start critiquing the actions instead of absorbing the message.  It’s enough to make her stamp her Manolo Blahniks!  Jude Harrison’s character is revealed through the trips to Ethan’s past and the final ending will make you smile and laugh even if you know what is coming. C. Cardeno has done a wonderful job with this story and this earns a big “don’t pass this up” from me.

I love this cover for the series.  Sheer perfection.

 

Weather Note and Power Status:  Yes, we lost power again last night and just got it back again.  Almost wussed out and burst into tears.  But didn’t, just thought really hard about it.  There are still so many that haven’t gotten their power back for even a short time and I know that they must feel so forgotten and at the end of their endurance.  Our temperatures are still in the 98 to 100 degree range and almost 100 percent humidity.  There is a reason I never moved into states with hot weather and yet it seems that global warming has brought it to me and the rest of the Marylanders.  So keep those of us in DC, VA, and MD in your thoughts.  Colorado too.  Oh  and  Happy Canada Day to our friends to the north!

Dance in the Dark (Dance with the Devil #2) by Megan Derr

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Rating: 5 stars

All Johnny’s parents had ever wanted for him was to live life as a normal child.  And with the life he has been given, all he has ever wanted was to fit in and be anything but normal. After his parents were killed by a vampire in the throes of a blood lust, Johnny was adopted by The Dracula Desroseiers and raised along side his vampire son, always aware that he was normal in a family of abnormals and a member of the ruling class. Now at 23, he is considered by most “more vampire than the other vampires”, more coldly beautiful, more arrogant and as well as brilliant. Not quite accepted in either human or vampire society, Johnny spends his days with his books, his studies, and mysteries.

Then his best friend needs Johnny to solve a mystery of a pair of magicked Cinderella slippers, that dominos into a succession of mysteries, increasing in complexity and danger until the final mystery Johnny needs to solve is one that involves him and his family. Then Johnny has to wonder if it is better to dance in the dark than be devoured by it.

Dance in the Dark is the second in the Dance with the Devil series but follows the same format as the first, each chapter is a series of detective cases that Johnny solves.  But unlike the first novel with Chris and Sable Brennen, this takes place in The Dracula Desrosiers territory and John Desrosiers is the Sherlock Holmes type sleuth. Although quick to comment on his normal status, he is also proud of his ability to deduce the solution to the mysteries presented to him, using just his mind and powers of observation. In other hands, Johnny could come off as cold, proud and plain unlikeable. However, this is Megan Derr and in my mind, I automatically equate her with complex characters with real emotions and dimension, and with Derr as his creator, Johnny is completely understandable in his prickly behavior.  He may hide behind his spoiled rich brat front but there is true kindness and the loneliness of a orphan behind all his actions.  I adored him immediately, including his habit of using quotes from poetry to answer questions put to him. Johnny is also the Beau Brummell of his day and I looked forward to the descriptions of his garb and matching jewelry as much as I did elements of the case.  His dress said as much about him as does his manners, beautiful details I have come to expect from a Megan Derr character. All that  lonely brilliance needs balance, and Derr provides it with a host of wildly different characters and beings, each unique, each endearing and all memorable.  This includes Eros, a being of darkness who visits Johnny in the dark for sexual encounters that  quickly turn into more for Johnny, as he needs the intimacy but Eros keeps his identity and physical self hidden to Johnny’s increasing frustration.

If you are not familiar with the books of Megan Derr, I will tell you that every name, every object or event that comes up has a hidden meaning that will be revealed later in the story.  It may not seem like much at the time the information is introduced, but I have learned over many books to take nothing for granted and take great joy in the many traps she springs and surprises that  lay in store.  Here Derr plays with Grimm’s Fairy Tales and other fantasy childhood stories such as  Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty but with a much darker take on them then the current Disney versions and much more in keeping with the original folktales.  Each chapter is such a tale as in Case No.004 The Bremen, as in The Town Musicians of  Bremen. And with each case, layer upon layer is added, eventually connecting all the mysteries to one enormous event that will amaze you with its depth and devilry.

In Dance in the Dark, you get the added bonus of meeting with Chris, Phil, Sable and other characters from Dance with the Devil as a case of Chris’ from that novel is the focal point around which the cases here revolve.  All will be involved in the final solution. How I loved visiting with them again and of course, it caused me to return to read that story once again.

Along with great characters, Derr gives you such wondrous stories filled with complex settings of such vivid description, I often wanted to be a pixie myself riding on their shoulders to experience it all myself. Here they be dragons, and imps, witches and succubus, demons and alchemists – all at play, all none as they seem.  Every time I think Megan Derr has outdone herself with a book, she ups the standard with the next one until my mind boggles over her gift with the language and her ability to tell a story.  In olden times, she would have been a Bard of Legend, her tales told far and wide.  Read Dance in the Dark.  You will find yourself believing it too.

Start the series at the beginning, to get the full understanding of the characters complex backgrounds and world building:

Dance with the Devil (Dance with the Devil #1) read my review here.

Dance with the Dark (Dance with the Devil #2)

Midnight (Dance with the Devil #3) – review coming soon.

Cover art by London Burden.  Love the covers for this series, simple, elegant and perfect.

Review of Who We Are by TJ Klune

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bacon is bad! Beef is wrong!

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

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

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

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

Available at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, and ARe.