A MelanieM Review: Comfort and Joy Anthology by Joanna Chambers , Josh Lanyon , Harper Fox, and L.B. Gregg

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Comfort and Joy coverThe holidays are upon and so are the holiday story collections.  Comfort and Joy Anthology is brimming over with tales from Josh Lanyon, Joanna Chambers, L.B. Gregg, and Harper Fox.  Within the covers these authors bring tidings of joy, sorrow, humor, hope, and of course, comfort in extraordinary measure.

Readers must have been very good this year because never have our stockings been so full of marvelous collections of stories about Christmas and the holidays.  In my top 3 anthologies, resting easily is Comfort and Joy from four outstanding authors, each story with its own twist and tone to make it both heart wrenching as well as memorable.

What makes this anthology (as with all top three) so wonderful and heartwarming?  Depth for one thing, depth in emotion, characterization and tone.  Complexity in the plots and layering. Also poignancy, a little reflection and sadness that comes to all at this time of the year as well as the wish to be a better person, for yourself and for others.  These stories remind me more of Judy Garland singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and less Deck The Halls. Yes, the latter is lovely, lighthearted and whimsical but the truth in the meaning behind these holidays, our expectations and our memories go far deeper and that’s the feeling and dimension these stories bring.  They remind us that comfort is needed along with the joy, and that hope can follow on the heels of sadness and despair.

Rest and Be Thankful by Joanna Chambers:
Two stormy hearts find peace when feuding neighbors in the Scottish Highlands are trapped by a blizzard.

Things aren’t going well for Cam McMorrow since he moved to Inverbechie. His business is failing, his cottage is falling apart and following his very public argument with café owner Rob Armstrong, he’s become a social outcast.

Cam needs to get away from his troubles and when his sister buys him a ticket to the biggest Hogmanay party in Glasgow, he can’t leave Inverbechie quick enough. But when events conspire to strand him in the middle of nowhere in a snowstorm, not only is he liable to miss the party, he’ll also have to ask his nemesis, Rob, for help.

The synopsis doesn’t do this beautiful short story justice. At its heart is Cam McMorrow, a man who is his own worst enemy.  It’s his wonderful childhood memories and his inherited cottage from his grandparents that moved Cam to return to Inverbechie to start up his tourist based Adventure business. But nothing has gone as expected.  The seasonal fluctuations and the accompanying loss of income has put everything he has worked so hard for at risk and the depression and anger he feels has resulted in some poor choices made with the local folk.  But even though we (and Cam) recognize his part in the bad situation he finds himself in, we can’t help but sympathize and love him.  And it’s not all his fault, there have been some exceedingly poor judgement calls on parts of the local townspeople as well.  Cam is in the depths of despair when we meet him.  It his journey out to something better, more hopeful that is the wealth of this story.  I hope Joanna Chambers will revisit this Cam, Rob, and Inverbechie.  All three deserve a bigger story and a true HEA.

Out by Harper Fox
Can a stranger unlock the courage and passion in a young man’s captive heart?

It’s Christmas at Edinburgh’s magnificent Barlinney Hotel, and chief housekeeper Cosmo Grant is in charge of the festivities. He’s already got his hands full when handsome Ren Vaudrey checks in.

It soon turns out that Ren is an undercover cop. Cosmo wants to help him, but unless he can do it within the Barlinney’s walls, Cosmo is stuck. A victim of crippling agoraphobia, he’s been a prisoner in this gilded cage for over a year. Cosmo gathers all his courage to do the right thing by Ren and Sam—and as a glittering Christmas Eve descends on the city, finds himself confronting his very darkest fears.

If anyone had told me that an outstanding Christmas story centered around a traumatized, agoraphobic young man living in an expensive, first class hotel, I might have scoffed…aloud.  Except that it’s Harper Fox telling the tale, bringing to life Cosmo Grant, a vulnerable, warm hearted and superbly efficient chief housekeeper at Edinburgh’s Barlinney Hotel.  It was Cosmo’s bad luck to be held hostage during a robbery gone bad and the trauma has left Cosmo extremely agoraphobic, unable to leave the Barlinney at any cost.  Within its gorgeous confines, Cosmo works, eats, lives…marginally, his fear keeping him inside where he is terrorized by the hotel’s toady of a manager.  Then in sweeps police inspector Ren Vaudrey undercover and Cosmo’s life starts to enlarge once more.  There is a mystery, crooks galore, and romance.

I love Harper Fox and everything her pen touches turns to gold and in this case, to red and green with a tang of pine and something floral that Cosmo has fixed for the lobby.  Could I tell Harper Fox wrote this story?  Why, yes I could.

Waiting for Winter by LB Gregg:

Some mistakes are worth repeating.

Luke always thought he and Winter were the perfect couple—until the day Winter announced he was taking a new job and they were uprooting and headed for Germany. No discussion. No debate. For the first time in his life, Winter miscalculated. Badly. Now Luke is trying his best to move on with his life, but Winter is back in town and he’s set on digging their relationship out of the deep freeze.

A wealth of assumptions and misunderstandings can derail even the most loving relationships as Luke and Winter find out.  Now its the holidays and a time for reconciliation and second chances.  I love how L.B. Gregg writes relationships!   They feel so real, that when something goes wrong between the people involved, the reader feels just as unsettled and sad as the couple. In Waiting for Winter, Gregg portrays the relationship that was like an artist uses negative space in a painting, its defined by what Luke and Winter no longer have, whether its the joys of their intertwined families, houses and experiences.  That Winter and their “coupleness” is missed is accentuated by the places and people Luke visits, all of whom knew them as a couple.  We pine for the loss of Winter and hope that this reunion will take.  I loved the ending, that was perfect.

Baby, It’s Cold by Josh Lanyon:
Or maybe it’s the flu. Breaking up is hard to do — especially around the holidays.

Talk about Kitchen Nightmares! TV Chef Rocky and Foodie blogger Jesse have been pals forever, so it should have been the most natural thing in the world to move their relationship to the next level. Instead, it turned out to be a disaster. But Christmas is the season of love, and someone’s cooking up a sweet surprise…

From sadness and comfort to happiness and celebration, it’s fitting that this anthology  end with heartfelt humor and joy which it does with Baby, It’s Cold by Josh Lanyon.  Two old friends, chef Rocky and food blogger Jesse have tried in the past to have a relationship but it didn’t work out.  Now Jesse figures a blizzard and a surprise dinner is just the way to find out if he and Rocky can salvage not only their friendship but perhaps try again for something more.    What could go wrong?

Considering it’s Josh Lanyon at the helm, just about everything, from misunderstandings, kitchen disasters, and a unexpected visitor, Rocky and Jesse have many obstacles in their path before they can move forward to a future together they both want.  I love the dialog and the past histories Lanyon has detailed for both main characters are as fascinating as they are.  There is always a certain tartness about a Josh Lanyon story, a little wryness to go with the sweet,   a little savory for balance and that keeps the characters and their situations feeling believable and human without being saccharine.  Yes, our history often dictates our present behavior, whether we want it to or not.  Lanyon gets that and folds it into his people and their relationships.  So that when the pop of the champagne cork sounds the arrival of a happy ending, we and Rocky and Jesse have earned it.    Just a wonderful tale,  I loved it.

Love holiday stories?  Are these authors on your automatic buy list?  No matter the reason, pick up this anthology and have yourself a merry little Christmas, or Chanukah, or whatever holiday you may celebrate.  These are stories to read no matter the season.  Comfort and Joy is on Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Best of 2014 List!  And now I will leave you with the incomparable Judy Garland singing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas!

Cover Art by Johanna Ollila. Cover is nice if a little bland, a little too generic for my tastes.

Sales Links:  All Romance (ARe)             amazon             buy it here

Book Details:

ebook
Published December 6th 2014 by JustJoshin Publishing, Inc.
(first published December 5th 2014)
ISBN139781937909758
edition languageEnglish

Scattered Thoughts Best Books of 2012

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What a spectacular year for great books in every genre from historical to fantasy! I have read so many wonderful books and series this year that it is hard to even begin to narrow down the list, although I have tried. What makes a book great for me? So many things, that it needs its own list.

The books I listed here are ones that moved me to tears and made me laugh out loud, they took me to places I have never been to see sights fantastic, miraculous, and awe inspiring. I have watched dragons soar and seen twin suns set over alien worlds. Through these wonderful authors I have met people who continue to stay with me through the power of their stories and the connectedness that I feel with each of the characters I have read about. Sometimes the books have taught me something about myself and how I looked at others or just gave me a deeper appreciation for my fellow beings.

I have grieved with men who have lost their soul mates, been with them as they worked through the trauma and loss, and celebrated as they moved forward with their lives. I watched men fall in love, whether it be with shifters, wizards, or just a man they met on the side of the road. Love lost, love found or lovers rediscovering the best about each other…that seems to know no boundaries as far as who you are and what world you inhabit. It doesn’t even matter whether the story is set in the past or goes far into the future. The authors and books listed here are ones that I cherish and return to often to visit with them once more. If you haven’t already read them, I hope you will add them to your list of must reads, as they are surely mine.

Oh, and by the way, this list is not complete. There are some wonderful books still to be released in the last two weeks of December, and there are some that I just missed from my own reviews. So look to see a revised list after the first of the year. Really there is something for everyone here. Happy reading!

Best Historical Book:
All Lessons Learned by Charlie Cochrane (Best Series) review coming in 2013
The Celestial by Barry Brennessel
The Mystery of Ruby Lode by Scotty Cade

Best Short Story

Eight Days by Cardeno C
Fair Puckled by Bella Leone
Lily by Xavier Axelson
Leather Work and Lonely Cowboys, a Roughstock story, by BA Tortuga
Too Careful by Half, a Roughstock story, BA Tortuga

Best Contemporary Romance – Standalone

Fall Into the Sun by Val Kovalin
Marathon Cowboys by Sarah Black

Fallout by Ariel Tachna

Good Bones by Kim Fielding

Legend of the Apache Kid by Sarah Black

Mine by Mary Calmes
Play It Again, Charlie by RC CooperScrap Metal by Harper Fox
Sidecar by Amy Lane

The Cool Part of His Pillow by Rodney Ross

 Best Novels – Part of a Series

A Foreign Range by Andrew Grey
Acceleration by Amelia C. Gormley
But My Boyfriend Is by KA Mitchell
Chase the Stars by Ariel Tachna
Cherish, Faith, Love & Devotion 4 by Tere Michaels
Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino
Full Circle by RJ Scott
Hope by William Neale
Inherit the Sky by Ariel Tachna (Best Series)
Second Hand, a Tucker Springs story by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton
Stars & Stripes by Abigail Roux (Best Series)
The Journal of Sanctuary One by RJ Scott
The Melody Thief by Shira Anthony (also Best Series)
Who We Are by TJ Klune

Best First Novels
The Cool Park of His Pillow by Rodney Ross
Shattered Glass by Dani Alexander
Inertia by Amelia C. Gormley (Best Series)

Best Supernatural Book:
A Token of Time by Ethan Day
Crucible of Fate by Mary Calmes (Best Series)
Druid Stone by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane
Ghosts in the Wind by Marguerite Labbe
Hawaiian Gothic by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane
Infected: Life After Death by Andrea Speed (Best Series)
Riot Boy by Katey Hawthorne
The Gravedigger’s Brawl by Abigail Roux

Science Fiction Books:
Emerald Fire by A. Catherine Noon and Rachel Wilder
The Trust by Shira Anthony

Best Fantasy Books:
 Black Magic by Megan Derr
Burning Bright by Megan Derr (Lost Gods series)
Chaos (Lost Gods series) by Megan Derr
Magic’s Muse by Anne Barwell
Poison by Megan Derr (Lost Gods series)
Treasure by Megan Derr (Lost Gods series)
Best Series – new books this year:
A Change of Heart series by Mary Calmes (supernatural)
Blue Notes series by Shira Anthony (contemporary)
Cambridge Fellows series by Charlie Cochrane (historical)
Cut & Run series by Abigail Roux (and Madeleine Urban) (Contemporary)
Faith, Love & Devotion series by Tere Michaels (contemporary)
Infected Series by Andrea Speed (supernatural)
Knitting series by Amy Lane (contemporary)
Lost Gods by Megan Derr (Fantasy)
Sanctuary series by RJ Scott (contemporary)
Sci Regency series by JL Langley (science fiction)

So Many Great Series, here are more of my favorites:

A Matter of Time series by Mary Calmes (contemporary)

Jewel Bonds series by Megan Derr (fantasy)

Superpowered Love series by Katey Hawthorne

Wick series by Megan Derr
Best Anthologies:

Three Fates
Animal Magnetism
Lashings of Sauce
Making Contact

I know that many books are missing but I just did not get to them this year, including JP Barnaby’s Little Boy Lost series, Andrew Grey’s Range series, and so many more.  Look for them in 2013.  Do you have a favorite I should know about?  Write me and let me know.

Review of Scrap Metal by Harper Fox

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Rating: 5 stars

When a bus crash kills his mother and brother, Nichol Seacliff’s dreams of completing his linguistic degree and becoming a translator ends.  Needed on the family hold on Arran Isle, Nichol returns to stone rooms full of memories and his stern grandfather, Harry.  Now he spends his days with sheep, mired in mud and watching his family’s farm fall deeper into financial ruin and neglect. Patriarch Harry Seacliff, always a man of few words, speaks harshly to his less favored grandson when he speaks to him at all. This leaves Nichol grieving and alone, far from the university, his friends, and  any gay relationships.

One night he hears the window break in an outbuilding and finds a young man hiding behind the hay, wet and blue from the cold.   The trespasser introduces himself as Cameron, Cam for short and tells Nichol he is on the run from a gang in Glasgow.  Nichol’s sympathetic nature triumphs over caution, and he finds himself bringing Cam inside the house to get warm, have something to eat and put on dry clothes.  One nights stay lengthens into more as Cam endears himself first to Nichol and then, in a remarkable turn of events, to Harry as well,   As winter turns into spring on Seacliff Farm,  Nichol watches amazed as Cam forms a bridge between Harry and himself.  He finds he is falling in love with Cam more each day and the idea of remaining on the farm becomes less painful with someone to share it with.

And then Cam’s past comes back to threaten their love and the safety of all who live on Seacliff Farm.  When Cameron’s secret is known,who will pay the price of actions long past?

What an incredible story.  From the opening sentence, the reader finds themselves immersed deep in Scottish culture, roaming over the hills of Arran, listening to the murmurs of the Gaelic language and watching for splashes of mermaids just off shore.  Harper Fox has done such a excellent job of describing the island of Arran that I felt I had traveled there by the Calmac Ferry. Her love for the people, their culture and the land that gave birth to both flows like a wild river through the story. Indeed,  her vivid portraits of the populace,and their abodes will make you feel as though you know them. The passages on life in the old farmhouse have a way of plonking me down next to the Aga in the kitchen, listening to Nichol’s grumblings on the miserly candle left burning to light the cold room, so real does Harper Fox make it.  The rhythm of the Gaelic tongue is the rhythm of life itself on those rocky shores and cliffs.  A ancient language whose written form bears little resemblance to the spoken word, Gaelic weaves itself through the heart of the story, overflowing the pages until one yearns to speak those words, to understand their meaning.  I cannot begin to do justice here to its importance and beauty.  Here is a small sampling:

After Harry had told Nichol that he lost the language. “But I haven’t. That was what I wanted to say to Harry. I remember every word you taught me, in here with the book and out on the moors and the shore where you pointed to dobhar, the otter, iasg-dearg, the salmon, the eagle iolair whose name you pronounced like the upward yearning of wings—oh-lia, oh-lia.”

And another:

“Beauty. Music. I still couldn’t look at Harry, but from the corner of my eye I saw that his grip on the chair had relaxed. I couldn’t forget the poems, not when I was taught them so young. Did you hear me, old man? It’s the nearest I can come to saying sorry. I turned the page. The summer poem was long, a great cadenced paean to life such as only a man who’d lived through West Isles winters could sing. Softly I began the next verse. Harry stood listening for a few moments longer then quietly walked out of the kitchen, pulling the door shut behind him.”

(Harper Fox. Scrap Metal,  Samhain Publishing, Ltd.)

Time and again, Harper Fox brings us to tears and laughter through her use of the Gaelic tongue.  Wait til you get to the paragraph where Harry asks Nichol if their new farmhand is gay, in Gaelic of course.  Sheer perfection in every way.

Her characters are just as genuine and elemental as the land they are so much a part of.  Nichol is such a complicated soul, gay but not out to his Granda, kind and stubborn, wanting so much more than his brother and recognizing the irony of being back on the farm he thought he had escaped for good.  His anguish in the night over not being good enough to save the farm, not being good enough yet again for his Granda who he loved spoke so eloquently to his loss, and strength of character that it brought me to tears.  And if Nichol is a wondrous creation, than Harry Seacliff is even more remarkable.  As primal as the rocks of the cairn, and as deep as the lochs, Harry seems both as ancient as the land he loves and yet touched here and there with life in the present as with his use of the quads. Harry has a true Gaelic soul that sings beneath an exterior hardened by life on the island and life’s losses.  I can still see Harry and his sheep dogs leaning against the dry stacked stonewall, contemplating the land of his ancestors.  I felt like I knew him while I did not dare approach him. And Cameron, the city boy interloper, who unexpectedly finds home and a family, is so heartbreaking at points in this story that you just want to hold him as close as Nichol does.  Character after character, living, breathing people come to the fore, giving this story unbelievable depth and grace.

I have read and loved other books by Harper Fox and I was still unprepared for Scrap Metal.  Her gifts and skill as an author amazes me with it’s ability to transport the reader into another world, enchant them with the people and their stories, and leave us a little heartbroken by our exit.  I love Scrap Metal.  The story and people will stay with them for a long time to come.

Chan eil aon chànan gu leòr. Tapadh leibh, Harper Fox.  Tha mo bhàta-foluaimein loma-làn easgannan.  The translation? Clearly one language is never enough. Thank you, Harper Fox.  My hovercraft is full of eels.  OK, I just couldn’t resist the last one.  I could see the islanders having their bit of fun with a tourist and had to throw that in.  No quibbles here, just a bounty of love for the story and author.  Please pick this book up, you won’t be sorry.

Cover: Art by Angela Waters.  I liked this cover, with the dark background on top and landscape on the bottom.  Did I wish for a little more of the craggy landscape? Yes, but it still has a great feel to it.

Available through Samhain Publishing, Ltd., Amazon, and ARe.

Find out more about the author and her books at www.harperfox.net.

My other  recommendations include Driftwood and The Salisbury Key.

The Week Ahead and a Tourtiere with a Twist!

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The last week was wonderful and with today’s most excellent weather, this week is starting out the same.  Yesterday some of my GR m/m fiction group came over for drinks, book recs and conversation.  We had a great time and the weather was perfect.  Of course, one topic of conversation was the “best book” for each of us lately.  My book of choice was Scrap Metal by Harper Fox and my review will be posted here this week.  Also  right there with it was Burning Bright by Megan Derr.  I am so in love with this series and can’t wait for the next one. You all are going to love this book!

First, the reviews for this week:

Monday:                           Burning Bright (Lost Gods#2) by Megan Derr,  the 2nd book in a  stunning  fantasy series!

Tuesday:                           Sebastian’s Wolves by Valentina Heart

Wednesday:                     Hope by William Neale (his last book, published after his death)

Thursday:                         Time Gone By by Jan Suzukawa

Friday:                               I’m Not Sexy And I Know It by Vic Winter

Saturday:                          Scrap Metal by Harper Fox

My favorite dish of the last week was a first time recipe for me.  And it wowed me.  I will use this one often.  A tourtiere is basically a meat pastry or pie that originated in Quebec and is traditionally eaten around Christmas time.  But the one I am using is light enough and baked in a loaf form that can be eaten any time of the year.  The meat filling is usually pork with other meat added to it.  Here I am using ground round but in Canada, wild game such as rabbit or venison would have been used as well.  Absolutely not greasy in any way, the savory flavors and buttery taste of the pastry come together to melt in your mouth and make you smile with delight!

Ingredients for Tourtiere with a Twist:

PASTRY DOUGH:
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups cold butter, grated or chopped into small bits
2 eggs, lightly beaten
MEAT FILLING:
1 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
1 large onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons summer savory, more to taste (Summer Savory spice is easily found in any grocery store)
Pinch ground cloves, optional (really add it, if you just have whole cloves, take 2 and smash them, works great)
4 to 6 tablespoons breadcrumbs (start with 4 and add until it is to your liking – I added all 6)
3 tablespoons milk, for brushing

Directions:

For the pastry dough: Put the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the grated butter. Pinch quickly to combine with the fingers to create a coarse, crumbly mixture. Make a well in the center. Add the eggs and 1 tablespoon ice-cold water. Quickly mix into the flour, just until the mixture holds together. Do not over mix. Divide into 2 balls and flatten into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator 30 minutes before using.

For the meat filling: Put 1/2 cup water in a saute pan and quickly bring to a boil. Combine the ground pork, ground veal, onion, garlic, some salt and pepper and summer savory together in a bowl. Stir into the water. Cover, and cook until the meat is done, about 20 minutes. Remove the lid, stir in the breadcrumbs and continue cooking uncovered until the liquid has evaporated. Check the seasonings, and cool.

Heat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Roll a disk of pastry dough into a rectangle. Spoon a generous stripe of meat filling down the middle of it. Fold the short ends, up over the meat making sure to trim any excess pastry dough, otherwise it will be too thick. Then fold over the long ends so that they overlap to seal. Again, trim any excess pastry dough so it will bake evenly. Turn the log onto a baking sheet, seam-side down. Make a few slits in the top to let steam escape. Brush the top with milk for a golden crust. Bake until crisp and nicely colored, about 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

If you have some left over, it tastes just as great the next day, perhaps even better!  You can’t go wrong here.  You will make this again and  again.