Review: Chateau d’Eternite by Ariel Tachna

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Rating: 3.75 stars

Chateau 2nd editionRuss Peterson receives a mysterious invitation in the mail for a vacation at a chateau in the south of France and his curiosity compels him to accept. Once there, Russ is astonished to find out that his last physical exam showed a genetic marker that identifies him as a time traveler, and therefore a member of an exclusive society located at Chateau d’Eternite.  As a historian, it is a dream come true for Russ, but being a time traveler has its rule and risks along with the gift of being able to visit any era on any geographical place in the world.

When Russ travels back in time to Roman Gaul, he is almost killed by a wild boar when he is rescued by Quentus Maximus, second in command to the Legate of Nemausus.  Before he knows what is happening, Russ is traveling back to Quentus’ estate as his lover and companion.  Russ finds that the more time he spends with Quentus Maximus in Rome, the more he feels at home and alive than ever before.  Soon Russ must return to his time as the end of his vacation draws near and he must make a decision, should he stay or should he go?  Which will win, his heart and lover of Rome or his head and his future life?

I love Ariel Tachna’s stories and was looking forward to her take on time travel so I am surprised to find myself as conflicted as Russ over his story.  First let’s address the elements I loved.  I think the idea of a chateau filled with time travelers makes a wonderful basis for a series.  Any number of people are appearing and disappearing at any given time, so the potential for a variety of characters and stories is unlimited as the eras they can visit.  Great idea, and the caretaker of the Chateau is a real enigma whose story should be told as well.

Secondly, I liked the characters and settings in ancient Roman Gaul.  Quentus and his close circle of friends are both interesting and nicely layered.  Tachna has done her homework on the time period and it shows in her details from their clothing to the designs of their households. When Russ, called Rastus, and Quentus visit the baths or alone in the estate, her descriptions enable the reader to visualize the setting with ease. All these elements contributed to a story I enjoyed reading,

However, I did have some issues with sections of the story that blunted my enjoyment with Chateau d’Eternite.  First off, I found it hard to believe that historian Russ would accept with equanimity the fact that he carried (or even that there was such a thing) a genetic abnormality that made it possible for him and a small percentage of other humans to travel in time.    Russ doesn’t even break stride as he goes from one revelation to the next, each more outrageous and unrealistic based on his current knowledge.  The caretaker has Russ’ personal information, ie, results of his last physical and Russ doesn’t throw a fit?  Russ is told that he can time travel and is taken on a short trip to prove it.  Does he think he is hallucinating? Not really, again, he is affable and almost nonchalant in his reactions to seeing Versailles being built.  I just didn’t get that at all, nor did I believe it.   Russ reacts in the same way when visiting ancient Rome and meeting Quentus.  They move almost immediately into a sexual relationship with overtones of D/s, and later, Russ argues with his Roman lover over the modern concept of equality within their partnership that would not have been possible during that time period.  I just had a hard time suspending my doubts about their relationship and the character of Russ in particular.  As a historian, I think he would have been scrabbling around looking at everything, picking things up, making drawings, in awe of his situation. I mean, here is his passion for the past in front of him, where is the giddiness I would expect from someone who has made historian the focal point of his life? But I never got that feeling from Russ’ character, and I was disappointed in that aspect of his character.  I would have loved to have seen this from the viewpoint of someone truly amazed to find himself in these circumstances.

One thing that might bother some readers is that the ending is somewhat “bittersweet”.  We find out exactly how long Russ and Quentus have together in the past while missing out on the details of their life together.  I thought it very realistic but others may have a problem with it depending upon how they define HEA.

Pick it up if you like time travel stories, ancient Rome, and the works of Ariel Tachna. This is an expanded version of a short story published earlier.

Cover art by Anne Cain.  Just a gorgeous cover, I loved the model and thought him a perfect representation of Russ.

Book Details:

ebook, 2nd edition, 200 pages
Published March 29th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press (first published June 1st 2012)
ISBN 1623806070 (ISBN13: 9781623806071)
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3761

Review: On The Lee Shore by Elin Gregory

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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

On A Lee Shore coverWhen his last ship is lost at sea and he is the only officer to survive,  Lt Christopher “Kit” Penrose finds his reputation tarnished, leaving him unable to secure a new position on another ship.  Things are looking grim when his godfather, Admiral Tregarne of the Navy Office suggests that Kit work as an aide to Sir George Wilberforce, traveling on the Hypatia on a mission for the Navy.  Kit is desperate to get back to sea and accepts the job, even though it means he is little more than a lackey in the eyes of the other sailors.

At sea, the Hypatia is attacked by pirates and three men of the Hypatia are taken aboard the pirate ship, Africa, impressed into joining the pirates crew or suffer dire consequences.  One of those men is Kit whose training as a sailing master is highly prized by pirates in need of his skills.  The Captain of the Africa is the notorious pirate, La Griffe, known as Griffin to his crew.  Forced to obey the Captain and live by the pirates rules, Kit soon realizes that not all of his assumptions about pirates and the pirate life are correct.   These pirates seem honorable, leaving the ships and crews they attack alive and able to sail away once the pirates have taken the booty they want off the ship.   Captain Griffin is a real enigma, intolerant of abuse, a graduate of Cambridge, he is honorable in a way Kit never expected.  Griffin is also very handsome, and charming when the occasion arises, leaving Kit confused and if he were to admit it, attracted to the man in every way.

The longer Kit stays on board, the less sure he becomes about where his loyalties lie.  Is it with the Admiralty and the Navy or with Griffin, the Africa and a crew that now welcomes him as one of their own.  And his heart is just as confused as his head.  Things come to a head when another pirate ship clashes with their own, and Kit must make a decision that will haunt him no matter which way he decides.

What a glorious book!  I picked it up and immediately found myself at sea on a vessel so yar she sped through the waves like a porpoise, sails booming in the wind and the mast creaking as the ship rocked in the currents.  Elin Gregory plunges us into a world where the British Navy ruled the seas, the East India Company is doing brisk trade and pirates are taking advantage of the situation by plundering every shipping lane of the era. And Gregory does so by rendering the time period and events taking place in vivid detail along with marvelous descriptions that bring it alive on every page.  Elin Gregory has gathered her historical facts and blended them beautifully with her fiction to create a sumptious banquet for the mind and soul.

When she describes Kit on his way to Moorgate, you can understand why the sea would have its appeal to a Cornishman like Kit:

Kit had been aware of the clock chiming when he left Mother Carey’s. He had not caught the hour, but he knew it was late, not perhaps midnight but certainly eleven. The streets were busy. Night soil carts and delivery drays headed out against the tide of incomers bringing goods from the countryside to the city. Men pushed barrows, horses and oxen strained against their harnesses. Lanterns flickering above doorways and on corners and torches carried by linkboys accompanying chairs, coaches, and pedestrians, made great leaping shadows in which anything could lurk. Kit walked quickly and with care. It was important to stay alert. Too many of his acquaintance had been robbed after such a night out. He kept to the broadest roads and had climbed most of Gracechurch Street before he was approached.

“Call you a chair, sir?”  The linkboy was a dirty scrap of a youth with bony wrists showing at the cuffs of his jacket. He bounded along at Kit’s side, torch bobbing.”Or I could light your way. Only a farthing, sir. I’ll see you right.”

Contemplating shoes soaked in horse piss or worse, Kit gave the boy a short nod. “I’m bound for close to Moorgate. If that is too far, best say now.”

“Ha’penny if you want me to take you past the Wall, sir.”

“Fair enough.” Kit agreed and placed the boy on the inside of the pavement. A half penny wasn’t cheap, but the light was welcome.

You can almost feel the grime and filth of the streets climbing up Kit’s boots.  Kit’s plain outfit is in direct contrast to his best friend, Tristan, a diamond if ever there was one.

“Ah, there you are!” Tristan set his three-cornered hat on his glossy curls and tucked his hand into Kit’s elbow. “Good man, good man. Dear Lord, as you love me, Kit, smaller strides.”

“If the shoes hurt why are you wearing them?” Kit asked, moderating his pace. “They make you walk like an old duchess with corns.”

Tristan snorted. “Fashion, dear boy. If one wants to do well at work it’s best to look as though one has no financial worries. As long as they all think I’m being very good at what I do on a whim, they’ll keep promoting me to try to pique my interest.”

“Bloody silly reason for promotion,” Kit growled, and Tristan gave his arm an affectionate squeeze.

“Maybe you should try it?” he suggested. “You look like a Quaker. That’s not going to give them any faith in your fighting spirit, now is it?”

Kit glanced at Tristan’s tightly curled wig, his exquisitely fitted coat, the riot of embroidery on his waistcoat, those ridiculous shoes whose heels brought Tristan up to equal Kit’s height. Kit own attire, mostly shades of sensible hard-wearing brown, including his own naturally curly hair, did look penny-pinched in comparison.

Before you realize it, you are walking shoulder to shoulder with Kit, taking the clothes, mannerisms and news of the day as commonplace as Kit finds them.  And it’s not just Gregory’s ability to make history come alive that pulls the reader into the story, it’s her characters and plot as well.

Every character you will meet in this book is as unique an individual as any I have met in real life.  Whether they be scoundrel like Captain Wells or loved, somewhat addled pirate Denny, all will be remembered after the story is done and most of them quite fondly too.  I love the complexities to each character.  Each pirate and each Naval officer have their own merits as well as seedy elements to their character.  Some are horrific, no matter which side of the law they are on.  And the of life of a sailor can switch from an easy berth to one of hardship and abuse depending upon the captain and crew.  Equally amazing is the ages that young men went to sea, as early as 8 or so.  It is all here, a even handed portrait of life on the sea, made all the more remarkable because it is a backdrop or foundation for both a love story and tale of adventure and not the focus of the story itself.

On The Lee Shore is not your typical love story.  Remember, during that age, it is not only dishonorable but a hanging offense to love other men. So it is not surprising that Kit pushes down his “unnatural” desires at the beginning, hiding them in furtive glances and nameless encounters.  But the pirates ways and expansive viewpoint, along with a certain Captain, starts to free Kit from his conventional notions and the reader is along every step of the way.  It is a realistic journey with nary a case of “instalove” in sight.  Kit and Griffin engage in a slow dance around each other, complicated by their stations aboard ship, Kit’s identity as a Naval officer as well as Griffin’s as a pirate.  There are other obstacles as well, but I will leave that joy of discovery to the reader.

Within this book, you will find fast paced action, breath taking adventure, piracy on the high seas, booming cannons and a future fraught with danger and pain as well as love.  Trust me, once you pick this book up, you won’t want to put it down.  I didn’t and once finished, wanted to start the journey all over again.

I had to look up the nautical term “lee shore”, and found that it meant a shore, towards which the wind is blowing, and to which there is the danger of being driven aground on shoals or reefs.  A lee shore is to be avoided, and yet Kit feels himself to be on a lee shore throughout most of the story, uncertain, sometimes adrift in his emotions and thoughts.  But Elin Gregory knows her craft and you can be sure she leaves her men sailing smoothly into fresh waters under clear skies, their future interesting as their times.  I really wish I could be there for the rest of their journey, but I am delighted with the tale I got.  You will be too.

Published By
Etopia Press
1643 Warwick Ave., #124
Warwick, RI 02889
http://www.etopia-press.net
On A Lee Shore
Copyright © 2012 by Elin Gregory
ISBN: 978-1-939194-44-2
Edited by Jennifer Fitzpatrick
Cover by Mina Carter is just outstanding and matches perfectly with the story within.

Review: Highland Vampire Vengeance by J. P. Bowie

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Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

Highland Vampire VengeanceScottish vampire brothers Aeden and Lyall MacKay live in a world where vampires are accepted as part of society, although they both prefer to be discreet because of the small Scottish town they live in.  Then their  small town of Aberglen, Scotland, is threatened by marauding winged creatures, police inspector Alistair MacFarlane asks the brothers for help protect the townspeople who are dying with every attack.  Alistair has another reason to ask for help, he is in love with Aeden MacKay and has been since they met.  But  Aeden isn’t sure about taking Alastair as a lover, seeing only hurt in their future.

As disaster after disaster levels the worlds governments, even the vampires find themselves under attack.  Soon the remaining vampires and humans join forces to defeat the most powerful enemy the world has ever know.  If they are not successful, it will be the end of the world as they know it,  all humans dead and the vampires enslaved to the Ancients.  Even as the battle looms ahead, Aeden and Alastair must decide to take a chance on love before it is too late.

Highland Vampire Vengeance is a thrill ride of a vampire story from J. P. Bowie.  There is much to enjoy about this story, starting with the Scottish vampire brothers themselves.  There is Aeden the more serious and reserved of the brothers who is in love with Alistair MacFarlane, the human police inspector of their small town.  While Alistair is doing everything he can to pursue his vampire, Aeden is doing everything he can to hold off the human’s advances.  Since usually it is the vampire who is the pursuer I liked Bowie’s twist on the subject.  Lyall is much more the party animal, with always a new lover in tow, never a serious relationship to his name.  Of course, Lyall too finds his mate when he goes to the rescue of a man carried off by the winged creatures that have invaded the town.  Bowie has given the brothers an interesting back history that I wish could have had its own story.  When we meet them they are living in their ancestral castle in the town of Aberglen, Scotland when the hoards invade.

Bowie does a nice job with the action sequences, especially those when they are chasing after the creatures and when they hunt them down to their place of origin.  The action is tight and the plot is developed nicely.  But I did have some quibbles with the book.  Some comes from the dialog in which a Scottish accent appears and then disappears with regularity.  The brothers, although they are several hundred year old Scots, don’t appear to have a accent but Alastair does, or at least he does part of the time.

Here is an example.  Aeden and Lyall are talking in their drawing room.

“Daydreaming, brother?” Aeden turned at the sound of the soft lilting voice behind him. “Nightdreaming, actually,” he replied, his smile still in place. “Now that you’re awake, would you care for a glass of Bordeaux?” “Thank you.” Lyall MacKay walked with a leisurely grace toward him, standing by his brother’s side as Aeden poured the wine from a decanter. Had there been a third person in the room there would have been no doubt in their mind that the two were brothers. Both were tall men, broad shouldered, dark haired and blue eyed. The only significant difference was that Aeden, being originally older by five years, had a more mature appearance than Lyall, who had retained his boyish features, despite the years that had passed. Lyall raised his glass briefly then drained it in one long swallow. “Very nice,” he said, licking his full lower lip. “I’ll have another.”

Speaking of which…” Lyall paused to sip his wine more slowly this time. “Did you watch the news last night?” “No, I try to avoid that lurid rubbish as much as I can. Why? Was there something of interest I should know about?” “Mmm… The local news reported that a young couple was found dead in a field by the farmer…”

Definitely not a conversation full of Scottish overtones.  Then there is Alastair.  This is how he sounds, some of the time:

“He’s having the residue analyzed and should have something for me tomorrow,” Alistair added. “Any ideas so far?” Aeden filled him in about the article he’d read. Alistair nodded. “We had a report of those attacks from Scotland Yard. Apparently, there have been sporadic similar incidents in London and Manchester. The police are trying to keep it low profile right now, not wanting to cause a panic, but from what I understand some reporter has an eyewitness account he’s dying to publish.

Fine, except that he will then apparently remembers he is Scottish and starts sounds like this:

 “This is the worst case I’ve ever been faced with, Aeden. I just hope I’m up to solving it and making sure it doesna’ happen again.”

or this

 “I canna’ deny that part of it is… Och, Aeden, of course I will be afraid.”

And then he is back sounding like a regular non specific British Isle constable again.  There is just an odd lack of continuity as far as the dialog goes.  As all  the characters are Scottish, it would have been better to have gone in one direction or the other but not both, especially with the same character.

Another thing that stood out was some odd word usage in the story.  At one point  during a meeting it is said:

“I like the Inspector’s idea of alienating one or two then following them,” Dylan said.

Which to me is an odd use for the word alienating. Isolating certainly, separating them fine, but alienating? Not really.  Another one that stood out for me was the use of lumbering  as in:

“Do you know what you’re lumbering yourself with?”

I have always heard it used in a far different fashion, perhaps as in “you great lumbering git”.  And in fact if you look it up in the dictionary, this is what you will find:

To move in a slow, heavy, awkward way : a truck filled his mirror and lumbered past | [as adj. ] ( lumbering) Bob was the big, lumbering, gentle sort | figurative a lumbering bureaucracy.

So I am not sure how this usage found its way into the story, all I know is that it stopped my reading when I smacked into that sentence.  So between a elusive language format, one case of instant love,  and odd words popping up here and there, my concentration on the story was as flighty as a vampire on the wind.  There were also some problems with a group called the Druids, a race employed by the Ancients.  The guidelines upon which this group operated on had their own moments of illogic where first they have been aligned with the Ancients for a long time, then act as though they have just been brought into the project.  Sigh.

But underneath the issues I have with the story, is a fast paced plot, lively characters and a great dramatic ending that I loved.  The issues I had with the story might be ones that bother you not at all.  If so, you will find this a 4 star story but for me, it just comes shy of that rating.  Still if vampires are your thing or you are a fan of J. P. Bowie, pick this one up.  I mean really, that is one great title, Highland Vampire Vengeance, and one great  cover. You have vampires, world wide destruction, doomsday machines and a villain called The Ancient.  It almost cries out for its own SyFy movie of the week! Will someone let them know?

Cover art by Deana Jamroz.  I love it, campy and dramatic, perfect for the title.

Review: The Good Fight by Andrew Grey

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Rating: 4.75 stars

The Good FightJerry Lincoln moved back to Sioux Falls, SD to take care of his grandfather and stayed on after his death.  It seemed the perfect place to live and work, especially since Jerry’s small IT consulting business is run out of his home.  As Jerry’s business grew, his friend talked him into hiring additional help in the form of  IT students from the local college. Of the two men Jerry hired, John Black Raven made Jerry’s thoughts turn to things other than computer code, something that hadn’t happened in a long time.

John Black Raven needs this job and for two very specific reasons, his nephew and niece currently caught up in the SD Child Services Agency and placed with a foster family.  John has been trying to get them back since his sister died with little luck.  Now that he has a good job, John is hoping to prevail in his fight to bring his nephew and niece home for good.

As John and Jerry get to know one another, they start to realize that the relationship being formed is one that will last the rest of their lives and John starts to accept that Jerry will stand by his  side in his fight with Child Services.  Jerry is shocked to find out that Native American children are seen as a source of income by SD Child Services , the agency caught up in politics, greed, and bigotry.  It will take everything the men have got and more to fight the system and bring the children home.

I know I can always count on a well written story with characters of substance from Andrew Grey, but this book surpassed my expectations and then some.  The serious subject matter at the heart of this story was one I was unaware of just as Jerry Lincoln is at the beginning of the book.  I have to admit it sent me on a search for more information, and I was horrified to find out that the situation explored by  Andrew Grey in this story was actually far worse in detail.  It is a heartbreaking case and one that Andrew Grey brings to life realistically and poignantly in The Good Fight. I won’t go into additional details here but will say that you should look up the situation on your own.  It will shock and appall you that things of this nature are still able to occur now with the government’s casual oversight and approval.  When reading this book, I thought surely Grey is overstating the issue, and I should have known better.  If anything he used Jerry (as the mouthpiece for the reader) to voice the amazement and horror we would feel over discovering such a misplacement of judgement and child abuse at the hands of government officials.  Any channel that helps to make people aware of the plight of South Dakota’s Native Americans fight to reclaim their youth should be applauded.  And The Good Fight brings this issue to the reader with heart, immediacy, and a well researched story.  Kudos to Andrew Grey for every aspect of this remarkable story.

Now normally i would talk about characters first, but the subject matter just begged to be put first.  The characters of Jerry Lincoln and John Black Raven are well crafted, full of the flaws and layers I have come to expect from this author.  I liked Jerry, a person still caught up in his grief over the loss of his grandfather, the family member who understood and supported him throughout his life.  Jerry is caught up in his IT world, leaving his house only at his friend’s invitation or to shop for personal needs, like food.  Only the growth of his business forces Jerry to interact with others, this time his employees to a wonderful result.  I loved not only Jerry, but his friends, Peter and Leonard, a couple who have taken Jerry into their hearts.  Through their interactions with Jerry, we actually learn more about Jerry’s past, his grandfather and his current situation.

John Black Raven, a terrific character on his  own, is also used to inform the reader about the plight of Native Americans, not only with regard to the deplorable situation with their children and Child Services, but with the bigotry and racism that is evident not only in South Dakota but elsewhere in the United States.  That is a heavy weight to put on one character but John Black Raven, as written by Andrew Grey, is certainly up to the task.

Finally, there is Bryce Morgan, the other man Jerry employes.  Bryce is a character easy to connect with, so I was thrilled to hear that the sequel to The Good Fight, moves Bryce up from a secondary character to a main one. It is a position he deserves.

If I have any issues with this book, it is that I wished for more resolution for the problems with SD Child Services than what occurs at the end of the book.  I am just not sure I should lay that at Andrew Grey’s doorstep.  While he did resolve the case of John’s niece and nephew, the problems of  disappearing children, well over 700, have yet to be put to rights in almost every way.  So that frustration lingered after the book was over and maybe that is as it should be.  Like a burr too close to the skin, a little irritation can move people to action, even if only to sign a petition. So pick up The Good Fight, you get a wonderful, heartwarming story along with a shocking tale of modern injustice that needs to move into the media mainstream.  And there is a sequel to be read next, The Fight Within.  I can’t wait.  But start here first and check  back with me on the latter.  Again kudos to Andrew Grey, for a remarkable story that is big enough to encompass a love affair while shedding light on the ongoing plight of Native Americans out west.  It does justice to both.

Cover art by Anne Cain.  While I loved that Native American man in the background, the character in front is not my idea of Jerry Lincoln, a misstep in an otherwise gorgeous cover.

Review: Brute by Kim Fielding

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Brute coverOrphaned at an early age when his father was hanged and his mother committed suicide, Brute is further isolated by those around him by his unusual size.  A giant by any standards, Brute knows that others look at him as though he were little more than a dumb animal, good for nothing more than moving large rocks and trees.  But inside of his monstrous frame, the real Brute is gentle and kind with a heart equal to his size. Then one day Brute’s world changes.  Brute’s job is to move rocks on a bridge project being built outside of his village and one day the palace sends the youngest prince to  check on the progress.  When the prince falls off the edge of the cliff, Brute rescues him but at the cost of his arm.  Now maimed, Brute wonders how he will live when the prince sends for him and gives him a job.  His new job is caretaker to a imprisoned traitor, one with a special gift.

The prisoner, Gray Leynham, hates his gift, he can see the deaths of others in his dreams. Gray Laynham is blind, chained, and nearly mute from his misery. Where others see a wretched traitor, Brute sees a person in need of kindness and a friend.  Palace life gives Brute a new perspective on life and his own self worth.  As his friendship with Gray progresses into that of lovers, Brute is faced with several life changing decisions.  Brute has always believed in doing the right thing, no matter the cost.  But this time, Brute must decide what is the right thing to do and it might cost him everything he has finally achieved, friends, home, lover and  even his own life.

Brute is a lovely story, a tale of a gentle giant with magical overtones.  Kim Fielding does a nice job of creating a universe where magic or to be more exact, certain gifts like the ability to heal or prescience, the ability to foresee the future, are acknowledged and valued amongst a society existing at a medieval level.  When we meet up with Brute (not his real name), he is grown and working as a day laborer.  Brute exists at the bottom rung of his villages social strata, earning a pittance wage, taken advantage of, abused  and generally treated as an idiot.  And it is all mostly due to his extreme size, well over 7 feet tall and 300 pounds in weight.  But the author also gives us a glimpse of a happy childhood that came to an abrupt end and we feel for the poor little boy left all alone to fend for himself.  Brute is such a gentle, sweet soul that it is easy to empathize with his physically and emotionally barren life he is living.  And all the changes that happen to him during the course of his arrival at the palace are revealed in such a way that we get to experience it first hand as Brute does, marveling at everything from his new boots to the food he gets to eat.

And then there is Gray Leynham, rumored witch, traitor, and blind prisoner at the palace.  Again Fielding lets us feel how Brute perceives the prisoner and then watch as the relationship is forged between Brute and Gray, stemming from Brute’s compassionate nature and sense of right and wrong.  I liked that Gray is flawed and actually at fault for the position he is in, something I did not expect but should have considering the author behind the pen.  Kim Fielding always puts her own twists on story elements we have seen before, turning them into her own creations and Brute does that again and again.  Every time I thought the story might sail into fairylandia, Kim Fielding brings it back down to the ground with a brush or more of reality.  Brute is not some overgrown child adult but someone who sees the consequences of his and everyone else’s actions, someone who accepts responsibilities and the painful truths that life delivers.  Fielding consistently brings a grittiness to her stories that gives them an authenticity I appreciate.

Fielding does an excellent job with layering her characters, making them so accessible in their personalities and actions that  we are engaged in the storyline and their futures immediately.  You can count on realistically drawn characters, speaking dialog that matches their stations and personalities whose actions mesh perfectly within the parameters the author has set for them. Specifically, Fielding deals realistically with Brute’s disability.  Brute had his hand amputated and in the story, Fielding addresses the fact that his clothes need to be altered so Brute can put them on easily with one hand. I find this type of authenticity one I have come to expect from Fielding’s writings, just another way she brings her story and characters fully to life. Do not be surprised to find yourself so emotionally connected to these people that the tears flow on their behalf.

My only quibble with Brute concerns the ending.  I wished that the author had left us with a little more idea of what the future holds for Brute.  Not to imply that I was unhappy with the ending, I was satisfied but just wanted that little bit more.  There were several characters that I also connected with, including the cook Alys and her brother, Warin, especially Warin who I loved.  And I wanted to know what happened to them as much as I did the main characters.  But that qualm aside, I can recommend Brute as a wonderful fantasy story that will warm your heart and leave you smiling once the story is finished.

Cover: Paul Richmond is perfect for the story in tone and graphics.

Book Details:  Brute by Kim Fielding,ebook, 270 pages

Published December 3rd 2012 by Dreamspinner Press

Review: The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black

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Rating: 5 stars

GeneralandtheHorse-Lord[The]General John Mitchel has recently retired after serving 25 memorable years in the Army. By his side for all those years was helicopter pilot Sgt. Gabriel Sanchez.  Together across five continents John and Gabriel counted on each other to have their backs as they fought in every American engagement. Over 25 years of honorable service, putting the mission and the  safety of the nation first.  Renowned, even idolized by the troops who serviced with them, both men carried a secret with them all through those years in the Army and into retirement.  And that was that they loved one another deeply and had almost since the first time they met.

The General and the Horse-Lord as Gabriel  was called (due to the fact that he flew Apache helicopters) served in the Army at the time when even the hint of homosexuality was cause for dismissal.   Both John and Gabriel knew that their special skills were necessary on the battlegrounds and so their own need for love and companionship were secondary to the mission.   But now both are retired and finding said retirement  and their lives lacking in almost every way.  The General misses the comradeship and the sense of purpose, but most importantly, he misses Gabriel.  Gabriel too finds retirement and his personal life hollow in some respects.  Gabriel had made some decisions while in the Army that he now regrets, but his love for John has always been a certainty in his life.  Now with both John and Gabriel retired, the men start thinking that perhaps finally they might have their chance at the happiness they have long denied themselves.  Life has never been easy for the General and the Horse-Lord and their long awaited path to happiness still has obstacles they have to overcome before they can finally be together.  What will it cost them before they can take that last step together?

I think The General and the Horse-Lord may be my all time favorite book of Sarah Black’s yet.  As a retired Naval Officer herself, her military characters always rang true to the military code they honored and served under, but never more so than with General John Mitchel and Gabriel Sanchez, his pilot.  Black’s characters are  human warriors so full of life that I often expect them to stride off the page. These two have remained talking to me in my dreams a week after I put down their story.  John and Gabriel, their honor and their unhappiness in retirement, got to me.  Here is John reflecting on the past:

They had made their choices a long time ago, and he thought Gabriel, just like himself, was happy for the grace notes in his life, the few hours they could be themselves, with all their public masks removed, a few gentle and intimate hours between friends. Wasn’t that the best one could ask for? A life of service to others, with the occasional grace note? So why did he still feel so lonely? Why had so much of this last year been spent feeling an ache for something he couldn’t describe even to himself?

You can just feel the puzzlement of a warrior lost when his mission has moved forward without him.  Sarah Black’s dialog is perfection.  You can just hear the military tone and inflection in everything they say.  Being a warrior is part of them, like the blood flowing in their veins.  Here they are at a baseball game, talking about Juan, Gabriel’s 14 year old son:

 Gabriel speaking: “She said we have to support him and let him make his own choices. Really? I don’t think so, not at fourteen. He’s like one of those soft-shell crabs in the middle of molting. Not ready to make choices about anything. Absolutely at risk from any passing predator. Dumb as a fucking stone. That’s why he’s not speaking to me. I told him he can’t be a video game tester, and then he says why don’t I know he hates seafood?”

“You shared with him the soft-shell crab analogy?”

Gabriel nodded. “That was probably a mistake.”

These men are exactly who they say they are.  Straight forward, honorable and somewhat adrift in modern civilian life.  Both are at home making difficult decisions but now are faced with one that they have been avoiding for years because they never thought it would be possible – that they might have a life together in a society much changed from the one they were familiar with.

I know immediately that some people will have a problem with the fact that Gabriel is and has been married for 15 years, albeit a troubled one.  This is an issue that is treated seriously from every aspect.  The men remind several other characters (and themselves) that the 70’s were a far cry from the open mindedness of today and that if one wanted to have a family, getting married was the only option, again not a decision  or commitment that was made lightly.  Both John and Gabriel take responsibility and their actions with the gravity one would expect from such men.  And we see and feel what each decision cost them along the way.  Perhaps it is easier to accept when you realize John and Gabriel had one focus for much of their life and that was their service in the Army, everything else, including their feelings about each other, came second.

But John and Gabriel don’t exist in a vacuum any more than we do and Sarah Black has  surrounded these men with an array of characters that I not only connected with immediately but came to care for as much as John and Gabriel themselves.  There is Kim, John’s adopted nephew, who know lives with him.  Kim is young, artistic, gay and adores John and Gabriel.  Kim is the victim of an attack and the men decide they will accompany him to a bar that night as protectors:

You bring me in, then how I deal with him is no longer your concern, Kim.” “Yes, it is my concern, and I don’t want to be responsible….” John held up a hand to stop him. “You don’t have any kids, so don’t tell me how I need to follow your Greenpeace PETA pacifist butt into a gay bar to not take care of an asshole who only understands one thing.” He held up a clenched fist. “Now how about you fetch us some more of that coffee?” Gabriel held out his empty cup without a word, and they watched Kim flounce out the door.

What Kim does with that statement later just cracked me up.  One great fully realized character after another comes into the picture as the events of the book unfold, including ex bull riders and their sons. So many joys in this book, from the sparkling and tight dialog to the events that bring old pain and new hurts to the surface to be examined and dealt with by two warriors trying to find their way together as lovers in a civilian world.

This is one of the author’s longer books to my delight.  At 200 pages, the story comes to a lovely conclusion without me feeling that more is due.  Would I have loved to have been given a few more glimpses of John and Gabriel’s future? Certainly but I am very happy with the way I left them. Of course, it helps to know that Sarah Black is currently writing a sequel to The General and the Horse-Lord, so that certainly figured into my current state of bliss.

I will leave you all with Gabriel’s playlist as compiled by Sarah Black, a wonderful thing for dancing by yourself or with a man you have waited 25 years for:

Gabriel’s Playlist- Music for Some Quiet Dance Time in the Garage

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYHxGB… SUPER FREAK!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcATvu… ADDICTED TO LOVE!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PK2HAN… LA BAMBA!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pk-W_i… SHAKEDOWN! (talk about a silver fox!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cv6tuz… WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIAN!

Now go out and grab this book.  It will be on my Best of 2013 list, that you can count on.  Let me know what you think, ok?

Cover art by Paul Richmond.   I love this cover, perfect for John and the Horse-Lord, perfect for the story in every way.

It’s Here! Riptide Publishing’s Web Hunt for Touch & Geaux!

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Happy Monday everyone!  Today Scattered Thoughts is participating in Riptide Publishing’s Web Hunt for Abigail Roux’s book Touch & Geaux (Cut & Run #7), one of Scattered Thoughts Best Series of…well you name the year and this series will still be at the top of my list.  Scattered Thoughts will be joining the party along with many of your favorite book blogs by posting about the book and including one of my favorite quotes (so hard) from any book in the Cut & Run series. Readers who collect each quote and submit their findings to marketing@riptidepublishing.com will be eligible to win one of two runner-up prizes and one grand prize.  And oh, what a prize it is!!!  But I’m not telling, at least not yet!

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Also on the agenda for today, is Riptide Publishing’s first ever  live chat, with Abi Roux, happening at 12pm EST on April 10, with the RSVP link https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/107747069078430869043/events/crbhmnugf1hbokmj86anv4vaesc?authkey=CLPsidKGwKnvBQ.  I love Abigail Roux (although I will admit I am currently hunting her down with a nerf bat with Ty and Zane’s names on it).  Abigail Roux is a meticulous researcher for her novels, master of memorable dialog, and currently holder of the Evil Queen title, mostly due to Touch & Geaux. Grab the book, read the reviews (yeah, yeah, I know, reverse order but it works for Touch & Geaux), pick up your pitch forks and torches and join me in Scattered Thoughts own hunt.  Those of you who have read the book will understand totally, a toss up between lobbing jewels at Roux’s head or cow plops.  Don’t be left out of the know, you need this book and here is  your chance for prizes too!

For those of you on the hunt, here is the quote I chose:

“Cameron found himself smiling as he thought about the two tough, acerbic FBI agents. “It’s so cute. They’re in love.”
“It’s like watching two kittens fight with machetes,” Julian muttered.
“Julian.”
“What? Its weird!”
“No its not. They’re perfect for each other. Poor Zane though,” Cameron murmured. “In love with Ty Grady.” He couldn’t imagine how frustrating that would be. Then Julian inhaled, and Cameron chuckled slightly. Yeah, he could actually.”
― Abigail RouxArmed & Dangerous

The thing about the Cut & Run series is that there are literally hundreds of quotes that I could have chosen.  Choosing one is like asking which is your favorite child, almost impossible to do.  I did go with funny because to choose the ones where Ty and Zane are emotionally vulnerable is just too close at the moment, more about that later.  I will say that Touch & Geaux is the best of a quality series that keeps improving with each new release.  How that is possible is due to Abigail Roux.  Has she sold her soul?  I know many are wondering…..hmmmmm…how tiny can those horns be?

Later today I wlll blogging about some of my favorite moments from Cut & Run.  Moments that made me laugh like in Fish & Chips (Cut & Run #3) when Ty Grady had to impersonate arm candy Del Porter.  When Ty stepped out after being waxed and bleached, well, my sides hurt just thinking about it. And then there are the moments that had me in tears…so many moments…..starting from the beginning in Cut & Run (book 1) when  we first meet the two men that I have come to care for and follow through tumultuous event in their lives in every book that has been released since.  Touch & Geaux is a milestone among milestones in this series.

Tomorrow I will be posting my review of Touch & Geaux.  You can also find  reviews for the all books in the series included in the links providedCut & Run Book 8 in the review or just look them up. All the books can be found here.

And now for even better news.  You can preorder Cut & Run #8 now at Riptide Publishing.  Here is what Riptide Publishing has to say:

The as-yet-untitled Book 8 of the Cut & Run series, availabe to pre-order for 25% off in ebook and paperback or 30% off in print and ebook combo for one week only as our thank-you to the fans for taking Stars & Stripes into the DABWAHA finals!

Please note that the release date is approximate and subject to change.

On Sunday, April 14, 2013, this page will be taken down. When it returns again in late 2013 or early 2014 for new pre-orders, the ebook will be full price again, so take advantage now of our special DABWAHA celebratory sale!

So those are the details, now let’s get hunting!!!   Touch & Geaux is a “must read, must have” for Scattered Thoughts and you don’t want to be left out in the cold.  Read my review tomorrow and stay tuned for Scattered Thoughts Most Fav Cut & Run moments…..who knew Monday could be so fun?

Here is the buy link for Touch & Geaux http://riptidepublishing.com/titles/touch-geaux ???????????????????????????????????????

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Guest Post by Sarah Black “Soap Making for Boys and Men”

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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to welcome Sarah Black to our blog today.  Ms. Black’s book The General and the Horse-Lord is being released today at Dreamspinner Press. I can pick out a Sarah Black story or character because of her distinctive characters and style of writing, both of which have turned her into a “must read” author.

To mark the release of The General and the Horse-Lord, Scattered Thoughts and Sarah Black is giving away one copy of her novel to one lucky person chosen from those who comment on her guest post today.  Winner will be chosen at the end of the day.

Here Ms. Black gives us some insight into how she creates her characters or maybe that is how her characters demand to be written.

Soap Making for Boys and Men

I walked up the stairs to my son’s new bedroom and looked at the empty soda bottles on the floor, right next to the new trash basket with its pristine white bag. “I would not want General Mitchel to see this room, son.”

He said, “Who’s General Mitchel?”

“Um, he’s the main character in my new book.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Pick up that trash. Pronto.”

My son is used to living with fictional characters, but I admit the men in my new book have moved into the house with us and appear ready to stay. I like these guys a lot. The two main characters, General John Mitchel and Gabriel Sanchez, are my age. They feel like my peers in many ways—we were both in the military together, and went to war together. They were in Kuwait in 1990, and so was I. They served during Haiti and Somali and Bosnia and Grenada- names that are immediately understood by veterans of our age.

I was challenged to write the character of John Mitchel by something I read in a book on writing—not sure now which book—but I read that it is very difficult to write a character who is smarter and more accomplished than the author. Naturally I determined to do that very thing. Then I read a passage written by Hallie Burnett, whose book Fiction Writer’s Handbook I have always found to be an excellent guide. Though she makes a strong distinction between genre and literary fiction, I’ve always found her advice very high caliber. And it’s my goal to try to do more than I know how to do. Anyway, she said something about how difficult it was to write truthfully about love.

So I decided to write a character who was smarter and more accomplished than I, and to tell the truth about the way he fell in love and the way he behaved when his love was threatened. Like all characters who have a strong POV, this character sees some things about himself very clearly, and in other ways he does not know himself at all. Very much like me. I tried something, writing his character, that may backfire on me. I noticed the way people can be extremely accomplished in some areas of their life, and utter fools in others.

When I joined the Navy Nurse Corps in 1981, I worked with many women who had made the choice of career over family- a real hard line, then, because they kicked you out if you got pregnant. That rule had only changed a few years before I joined. So I could see these women, very passionate about their work, very smart and tough, but sort of clueless about men and women. They didn’t know how to have relationships because they had never had the opportunity. Relationships take practice!

General Mitchel gave it all up for the work he did for the country. And he is clueless about love, and relationships, sort of numb to the whole thing, which is the way people protect themselves when they have been forced into an untenable situation. So I hope I have written him to show this dichotomy. I really like him. He reminds me so much of those tough girls, the Navy Nurses who had been in Vietnam on the hospital ships, and who gave it all up so they could have the life they chose to have. They trained me to be a military nurse. Anywhere, anytime, anything. We didn’t just say that. We did it.

So this is why General Mitchel is refusing to discuss soap with me. He doesn’t see himself as a person who wastes time on nonessentials like handmade soap, not when you can buy a three pack of Dial soap at the PX for a dollar seventy nine. Eventually he and I are going to get to the bottom of this and I will have his soap. But for now, I have been working on the soaps for the other men in the story.

Gabriel Sanchez- oh, we are so in love with Gabriel, have been for twenty-five years, since he was a hot shot young helo pilot. He has rich warm depths, great passions, great sorrows, great courage. We are ready to swoon over this man. He’s down to earth, so I tried some woodsy scents, cedar and pine and fir, and he’s mysterious and warm, too, with hidden depths in his dark eyes, and massive passion, so I tried some sage and lemon verbena and cinnamon, scents with heat, and he’s sweet and funny and he has a weird little quirk about eighties dance music, so he needs something light, as well. I lined up the little glass jars and got out my Q-tips.

This is how you make scent combinations for homemade perfume and soap. You put a drop of essential oil on a Q-tip and put it in a sealed glass jar. Then you smell it, you wait a couple of hours and smell it again, and then you smell it the next day. All different! Then you try some combos, and drop two Q-tips with different scents into the jars together. You weed out the ones you don’t like. Then you mix three Q-tips. Gabriel’s scent is cedar and sage and orange. I’ve been walking around the house with a little glass jar held up to my nose. I bet the neighbors think I’m smoking a hookah. Swoon! It’s him. We are so in love. John agrees. He was not enthusiastic, until he smelled Gabriel’s scent. Then he asked me to make him some soap. It crossed his mind what the bathroom would smell like, when Gabriel was in the shower, using his new soap.

Kim is a delight, a beautiful boy who laughs before he wakes up in the morning. John has loved him since he was a baby, when Kim crawled madly to him across the crowded floor of a Korean orphanage. He’s talented, passionate, throws himself headlong into Quixotic adventures, and never looks before he leaps, because his darling Uncle John and his Uncle Gabriel will always be there to catch him. He’s young, too, as clear and bright as a waterfall. Kim wanted to help make his soap, and has been playing around with colors- he’s swirled two colors of soap together, lemon and blackberry, and his soap is as beautiful as he is. It smells good enough to spread with butter on warm toast.

Billy and his father, Cody Dial, are next on the soapmaking block. Billy Dial doesn’t know it yet, but he is the sort of genius artist who changes the world. Sometimes that sort of talent can tear holes in you. I don’t know yet what’s going to happen with Billy. He is going to play a critical role in the new story, and may even get to be the hero.

His father, the ex-bullriding champ Cody Dial, fears for his talented and delicate son. He doesn’t know what to do to keep him safe, and if he could cut off his right hand to protect Billy, he would gladly do it. Cody Dial runs a ranch up in Wyoming, and he needs a strong soap, soap that actually gets your hands clean without taking the skin off. I’m thinking of making him some soap with cornmeal, which I think will be more gentle than pumice. He admits he likes the smell of the flowery perfume his wife wears on their anniversary, they have date night once a year, but he doesn’t think that smell would work for a cowboy. He does think that sage isn’t a bad smell. Or horses. The leather tack is okay.

Billy is just a bit frail, and I’m worried about him. His soap is going to smell faintly like lilies of the valley, and is going to be very white and gentle.

Abdullah, oh, what a sweet boy. He just plays a tiny part in this story, crucial but tiny. His book is coming, but what sort of soap? The dusty smells of ancient Persia, orange blossoms? Some slight scent of tragedy, and great beauty. Rosewood? Abdullah plays the cello. What does cello music smell like? Bach’s cello suites? Classic, formal, delicate. White roses and orange blossoms and sandalwood.

Still nothing for our main character. He’s standing over my shoulder, saying, “Don’t you have some medical records to finish? For the job that actually pays you?”

“Yes, General, I do.”

“Perhaps the prudent thing to do would be to proceed as if this writing is a hobby. You do, after all, have a family to support. According to one of your publishers, you sold 6 books in the last 3 months. From all vendors.”

“Sir, that is true. But I have not explained to you how important this is to me. How hard I am willing to work. How much I believe in the power of my fiction.”

“Very well, Ms. Black. Then I might suggest you spend some time learning marketing skills.”

Ouch. He doesn’t pull his punches, this guy. So I will have to play with my synesthesia later. Here’s a bit from The General and the Horse-Lord about Kim:

Kim had been the darling of his tiny Catholic orphanage in Seoul. There was no question, from the moment he had crawled delightedly into John’s sister’s arms, which baby they were going to take home. John’s sister and her husband stayed with him on base while they worked through the lengthy system for foreign adoptions. The Koreans required a six month wait between the initial application, done in person, and the final award of adoption. When they had gone back to the States for their six month wait, John had walked the two miles from his quarters to the orphanage nearly every evening to check on Kim. Kim would see him from across the tiny playroom and would climb over the furniture and any playmates in his way to get to his big uncle. The boy would reach his leg, then tug on the cuff of his pants. Two tugs, and John would reach down and pick him up. It was their secret signal. Kim still did it, though John couldn’t believe he remembered that far back. When he was in trouble, when he’d been so outrageous he’d scared himself, he would curl up next to John and give his sleeve a couple of tugs. And John knew it meant that his baby needed to be picked up, lifted high above the scary world.

And here is Gabriel:

Gabriel followed him home from the restaurant, parked his pickup truck behind John’s in the driveway. Inside, John pulled out the Kona Gold coffee beans from the cabinet and put a handful in the grinder, listened while Gabriel settled into the couch. He stretched his arms out along the top of the couch, laid his head back and sighed. His eyes were closed, his face relaxed. Not many people got to see Gabriel like this.

When the coffee was finished brewing, John carried a couple of mugs into the living room and handed one to Gabriel. He set his cup down on the coffee table and settled down next to him on the couch.

“So what’s been happening with you? You’ve been in practice about six months. Is the law what you were hoping it would be?”

Gabriel had his nose in the cup, smelling the rich coffee. “Yeah, it’s good. Fine. Not…”

Not like the Army. He didn’t need to say it. John felt it too. “You miss it still?”

Gabriel nodded.

“Yeah, me too. But it’s a young man’s game.”

Gabriel had finished law school the year before, deciding on a mid-life career in public service. John also suspected he was doing it to make Martha happy. She’d been a good Army wife, following him across the world, managing the family while he was deployed. John thought she would like being a lawyer’s wife.

“I don’t like the young lawyers right out of school much. I sound like an old man to myself, looking at them and thinking what a bunch of selfish, spoiled little pricks they are. Money, money, money. You could take the whole crowd of them right off a cliff following the sweet green scent of money. I don’t know, John. I look at them and think, who the fuck is left? Where are the leaders? Is there an ounce of fortitude in any of them? They get hysterical when they can’t remember the pocket where they stowed their phones.”

John picked up his cup and drank the coffee down. “Now you know why I had a shit-fit and pretended to flunk my entire freshman class. Not that I think it did any good. I just wanted to see if any single one of them would stand up and admit they hadn’t a clue because they’d bought their papers.”

“Did they?”

John shook his head.

“I like the practice, though. It’s like the law firm of last resort. For the clueless and the desperate. And the broke. I don’t think I’ll ever have a pot to piss in. But I’m always happy to stick a thorn in the fat asses of the establishment.” Gabriel reached out and took his empty cup. “You want a refill?”

“No. I think I’m going to grab a quick shower. Finish what’s in the pot if you want.”

John stepped into the shower off his bedroom, gave himself a brisk scrub-down. He toweled off and wrapped the towel around his waist. Gabriel was waiting for him, sitting on the side of the bed. He’d undressed down to his boxers, clothes neatly folded over the back of a chair. He reached out, pulled John closer by the towel around his waist. He leaned forward, moved his warm mouth across John’s shoulder, up his neck. “I love the smell of Dial soap on your skin.” He pulled the towel away and gathered John into his arms. “My old friend. I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed you.”

“Hello, Gabriel.” John reached up, traced his fingers along Gabriel’s strong jawline, across a mouth that had always curved into a smile at his touch. Gabriel moved his hand down into the curly brown hair that covered John’s belly and chest, still mostly brown, with just a few notes of silver. Gabriel said the silver looked good, matched the color of his eyes.

GeneralandtheHorse-Lord[The]Dreamspinner Press Book Description:

General John Mitchel and his favorite pilot, Gabriel Sanchez, served together as comrades and brothers-in-arms for more than twenty-five years. They followed the warrior’s path: honor first, and service, and the safety of the tribe. Their own needs for love and companionship were secondary to the mission. Retirement from the army, however, proves challenging in ways neither expected.

When old warriors retire, their armor starts falling away, and the noise of the world crowds in. That changing world sets up longings in both men for the life they might have had. After years of loving on the down-low, the idea of living together in the light seems like pure sweet oxygen to men who have been underwater a little too long. But what will it cost them to turn their dreams into truth?

Review: Love You Like A Romance Novel by Megan Derr

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Love You Like A Romance Novel coverJefferson  “Jet” Kristopherson, is a rock star. Jet and his cousin, David “Dai” Kristopherson, form the very successful rock band, Forever and a Dai.  But their careers and fame came at a high cost, their families.  Both families disassociated themselves from Jet and Dai the moment Jet fled the family home and business he was being groomed to run, taking his cousin along with him.  While Jet knows abandoning the family business for a career as a musician made him an utter disappointment in his families opinion, the real blame laid on his shoulders was taking Dai with him,  and their families have never forgiven him.  Now circumstances beyond his control force him back to confront his family and issues he hoped were buried in the past.

Jason Kristopherson is everything his cousin and brother are not.  Jason is a successful entertainment lawyer at his father’s law firm just as his family had planned.  He is powerful, well respected or feared by his peers and others in the industry.  And it is expected that Jason will assume the leadership role in Kristopherson, Carmichael, and Jones, his father’s firm when his father retires.  But Jason is hiding a few secrets of his own that if revealed will shatter his family and the future they have so carefully planned out for his life.

The future is about to change drastically for all three men. Who will survive when all the secrets are exposed?

First let me say that as a fantasy author, Megan Derr can do no wrong.  With regard to her fantasy stories and series, I can count on her plots being dynamic and complex, her characterizations beautifully realized complete with a lively dialog that moves her fantasy narratives along at a smooth and exuberant pace.  I can also say the same of some of her contemporary romance stories.  Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about Love You Like A Romance Novel.

My quibbles with this story boil down to just a couple of issues, but for me they are big ones. Let’s take them one at a time.  First is the dense narrative.  The first half of this story is so densely packed with backstory and repetitive dialog that it slows the momentum down.  So much of it entails the family business and family history that the real drama between Jet and Jason  (as well as Jason and Dai) becomes diluted.  I noticed that this story was a serialized entry for Megan Derr and Less Than Three Press and wondered if the somewhat jerky movement of the story might be due to the fact that it came out in spurts as a series does rather than a planned novel.  That might explain the lack of smoothness in the narrative I found throughout the story.

Secondly, parts of the plot lacked realism.  A law firm knowingly deals with major criminal elements and than they are surprised when their reputation (and other things) takes a hit?  The characters also react in a way so counter to the situations they are in that at least this reader pulled back in disbelief more than once.  When someone knows they are a target, do you really walk into a dark house?  That sort of thing happens in a variety of ways here.  Perfect, perhaps for a soap opera or yes, maybe a bodice ripper but not a contemporary romance.

But I think my most serious issue is with the characters.  I did love Jason Kristopherson.  He is the most layered and grownup of the group.  He really saved this story for me.  He has just a delicious secret that he is keeping, one I did not expect.  Jason is ruthless, powerful, self aware and extraordinarily complicated.  I wish his counterparts in the story had his complexities.  Unfortunately, in regard to Jet and Dai, the first half of the story comes across as Lifestyles of the Rich and Whiny.  Both men are wealthy, came from uber rich families and spend most of their time whining and yelling at everyone around them.  Neither man is good at listening and communication issues abound throughout the story. Jet is actually 30 years old but his behavior never seems to rise above that of a teenager.  In fact, had one meeting been held at the beginning and they actually talked things out, then the book would have been over at page one.  But no, Dai and Jet jump to conclusions, run away or just yell at everyone.  Exasperating the first time it happens, tiresome and juvenile when it occurs repeatedly.

After the fifty percent mark, the story started to get interesting and engaging and my interest perked up.  But then a major character does something so unrealistic that I was jolted back to the beginning and all the reasons I had a hard time investing in this story.  And that was a pity because there are some good bones here underneath the thick surface layer and character missteps.  Perhaps had the characters more interesting layers, less money, and more real problems, I could have disregarded some of the other issues I had with Love You Like A Romance Novel, but as it stands I loved it less than a romance novel, in fact I loved it not at all.

The cover art is too dark for me to see the graphics, does not seem designed to grab a reader’s attention.

Review: Collusion (Diversion #2) by Eden Winters

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Collusion coverRichmond “Lucky” Lucklighter, former drug dealer, is dead.  In his place, Simon “Lucky” Harrison lives on and continues to work for the Southeastern Narcotics Bureau, along with his romantic/agency  partner,  former Marine Bo Schollenberger.  As Lucky recovered from his injuries, Bo has been working on finishing up the case without him and their schedules have left them with little time to spend with each other.  And Lucky wrestles with the idea of having an actual relationship with a man he sees as so much better than himself.

Bo Schollenberger is still fighting his own demons, that of an abusive father, PTSD from his tour in Afghanistan, and continuing his recovery from prescription drug addiction.  That addiction landed him working for  the Southeastern Narcotics Bureau, same as Lucky and as a pharmacist, it is one Bo has to confront daily in his job as an undercover narcotics agent.  Bo realizes that having Lucky as his partner in love as well as work complicates his life and makes it better at the same time. Now if only Lucky will realize that.

Then on their next case together, a situation arises that may jeopardize everything they have worked so hard to achieve. A prescription drug shortage places the patients at Rosario Children’s Cancer Center in danger, not just from the unavailability of life saving drugs but from the substitution of medications produced at less than legal companies.  And Bo’s need to protect and assist those children places his job in trouble and pits him against his lover and his company.  Lucky sees Bo getting in too deep to see who the villains really are, maybe even the doctors themselves.  In a situation where the young victims get to even the hardest agent of them all, Lucky himself, what won’t Lucky do to save them all?

I thought that Diversion was going to be a hard story to beat but Collusion (Diversion #2) handles the job of sequel with astounding power and depth.  I just loved it.  Collusion takes up where Diversion left off.  Simon “Lucky” Harrison has left the hospital, his former self, Richmond “Lucky”  Lucklighter now safely dead and buried.  While he has recuperated at his desk at the Southeastern Natcotics Bureau, his on and off again romantic/agent partner, Bo has been dealing with the aftermath of their original investigation.  Then a heartbreaking case of extreme urgency, that of a drug shortage at Rosario Children’s Cancer Center, gives them an investigation that will see them both undercover once more.

I cannot complement Eden Winters enough for the outstanding job she accomplished with Collusion.  First, there is the heartbreaking story line, that of children with cancer desperately in need of the drugs that may either save them or at least delay the progress of the disease that’s killing them.  Their plight is brought home by one patient, Stephanie Owens, a small child who manages to capture Lucky’s heart the moment they meet.  Winters gives us a portrait of a child with cancer without any saccharine overload.  Then the author proceeds with a steely outlook to demonstrate just how little the patients actually matter to those that use the life-giving drugs the children need as just another commodity to manipulate for the greatest monetary gain.  Without lecturing or creating an information dump, Winters brings us into the gray world of pharmaceutical companies, the intermediaries that handle the transactions, through the shipment and warehousing to those that distribute the needed drugs through avenues as diverse as drugstores and Craigslist.  Never boring, this information and insight into this industry will make you cry out for even more regulation to stop the abuse that is recounted within Diversion and Collusion.  Contemptible is far too soft a word for the events that occur daily in this industry where some people put monetary gain above those in need of life saving medication and Eden Winters brings that home with an emotional blow to the heart.

And then we have Lucky and Bo, two such remarkable characters that they have been stuck in my head talking to me over the past couple of days.  Complicated people, with all their human flaws and strengths revealing themselves over the course of these two stories, I loved watching them and their relationship grow as once more an undercover operation brings out the best and worst in them both.  Told once again from Lucky’s pov, we get to watch as Lucky struggles to acknowledge just how much Bo has come to mean to him, and equally how much it would hurt to lose him.  Given Lucky’s past history, to bring himself to trust another with his love (if he can bring himself to call it that) is a huge step forward, not one he is sure he can make.  Bo’s character is as equally alive and a perfect match for the hard-nosed, former criminal. Bo’s background is one of parental abuse, PTSD and prescription addiction and yet Bo is still able to see the best in those around him. A wonderful contrast to Lucky’s belief that all are guilty until proven innocent.  And as I said before, watching these two dance around each other, the word “relationship” never touching their lips, is a true joy. The author clearly demonstrates her understanding of the intricacies of relationships in her portraits of Bo and Lucky’s slow climb to love and romance.  Eden Winters gives her creations such perfect crisp, snappy dialog that it enhances their personalities and gives the reader better understanding into Bo and Lucky’s characters.  Do I love these two?  Why yes, I do, in every way possible.

And then there is the resolution to the undercover investigation that is so satisfying and beautifully resolved that I had to read it twice.  It made sense in that it seemed to be accurately feasible in the manner in which it was accomplished.  I think you will find yourself grinning just as I did.  I don’t know if Eden Winters has more planned for Lucky and Bo, but I hope so.  There is still plenty of growth to be had within their relationship and I would think that the Southeastern Narcotics Bureau will never lack for cases to investigate and solve.  Here’s hopeing that there is a Diversion #3 on the horizon for all of us to enjoy.

Cover Art by Trace Edward Zaber is full of elements pertinent to the story but lacking somehow, due in part to the blue toned cover.

Book Details:

Collusion (Diversion #2)

Novel, 275 pages, Amber Allure Press, LLC

Buy Link at Amber Allure Press: Collusion by Eden Winters

Books in the series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and the situations:

Diversion (Diversion #1)

Collusion (Diversion #2)