Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Best of 2015

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 From Books, Audiobooks to Book Covers

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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Best of 2015

Happy New Year! Looking back over 2015 I’m  amazed at all the changes here and marvelous tales that came to our door. I’m thinking about the new reviewers we’ve added,  all the wonderful books we’ve read, new authors we’ve discovered, and the way Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words has grown in this past year.  Along with new reviewers, came new columns like Paul’s Paranormal Portfolio (his New Year’s edition is posted today), our Author Discovery along with all our author interviews and guest posts.

As the market for audiobooks has increased so has our reviews.  Even a audiobook virgin like myself jumped into the format and found that I enjoyed it immensely. What a surprise…for me!

I hope 2016 brings a new look to Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words, a few new reviewers to help us read more, listen to, review more about the thing we love…books! I hope we find more new authors to discover, and more ways in which to write about them and the writing process.

But before we move forward, we’re going to look back at the books and covers we loved best.  So here are some of our favorites. Free Dreamer is traveling, and Paul was working on his Paranormal Portfolio but some of the rest of us had our lists ready. Are some of yours among them?  Which ones do you think we left out?  And are there new discoveries among those we love so much? Check out our Best Books and Covers of 2015 below…

 

 

From BJ:

✪Favorite Books Read in 2015:

Captive Prince One and Two by C.S. Pascat
The entire Straight Boys series by Alessandra Hazard
The entire Guardians of the Pattern series by Jaye McKenna
For Real by Alexis Hall
Control by Cordelia Kingsbridge
Give an Inch by K.D. Sarge (because it was so cute AND it was written from my prompt)

✪ Best Audiobook of 2015:

Into Deep Waters by Kaje Harper, Narrated by Kaleo Griffith

✪Favorite Covers of 2015

Ghost in the Mythe coverFor Real coverSong of the NavigatorBurn The Sky cover

Ghost in the Mythe by Jaye McKenna, artist Chinchbug
For Real by Alexis Hall
Song of the Navigator by Astrid Amara
Burn the Sky by Jaye McKenna, artist Chinchbug
Leythe Blade by Jaye McKenna, artist Chinchbug
Something Like A Love Song by Becca Burton
In Discretion (Ylendrian Empire, #3) by Reesa Herberth
Neskaya (Bittersweet Dreams) by Augusta Li

Leythe BladeSomething Like A Love SongInDiscretion_500x750Neskaya

I really admire original covers that are drawn or created specifically to represent that book so much more than those that just use stock photography…so here are some I love.

 

 

From Stella:

 

✪BEST BOOKS

Beneath the Stain by Amy Lane
Sacrati by Kate Sherwood
✪BEST COVERS
Sand and Gold and RuinThe Fifth Son coverCabin NightsACID coverStormBeforeTheCalm[The]FS
Sand and Ruin and Gold by Alexis Hall
The Fifth Son by Blaine D Arden
Cabin Nights by Ashley John
ACID by Wulf Francu Godgluck and S. van Rooyen
The Storm before the Calm by Cate Ashwood
✪BEST AUTHOR DISCOVERIES
Family of Lies Sebastian by Sam Argent
Go On Your Own Way by Zane Riley
The Rules of Ever After by Killian B Brewer
The Union of Sun and Moon by Gus Li
The Last Yeti by Tully Vincent
In the Middle of Somewhere by Roan Parrish

                                                                                        From Ali

✪ Best books:  These are my top 5 plus

The Subs Club by JA Rock
Darker Space by Lisa Henry
Trust the Focus by Megan Erickson
Kick at the Darkness by Keira Andrews
Sutphin Boulevard by Santino Hassell
Lonely Hearts by Heidi Cullinan
Crash & Burn by Abigail Roux
A Seditious Affair by KJ Charles

  ✪Best Short Stories:

Fawn by Nash Summers  **this was probably my favorite thing I read this year in this genre
One Perfect Night by Lisa Henry
Lima Oscar Victor Echo & the Truth About Everything by Suki Fleet
Ten Simple Steps for Surviving the Apocalypse by Cari Z
Waiting for Clark by Annabeth Albert

 ✪ Best Covers:

 Sutphin Boulevard coverIn the Middle of Somewhere coverFawn coverStygian
Stygian by Santino Hassell
Fawn by Nash Summers
Sutphin Boulevard by Santino Hassell
Level Hands by Amy Jo Cousins
Level Hands
In the Middle of Somewhere by Roan Parrish

From Mika

✪My Favorite Books of 2015

. Sunset Park by Santino Hassell & How To Be A Normal Person by T.J. Klune. They are tied for me. I loved these books. (

Rest in any order
Conscious Decisions of the Heart by John Wiltshire
Carry the Ocean by Heidi Cullinan
Trust the Focus by Megan Erickson
Breakaway by Avon Gale
Fish Stick Fridays by Rhys Ford
Kick at the Darkness by Keira Andrews
Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy
Definitely Maybe, Yours by Lissa Reed
The Subs Club by J.A. Rock
Restless Spirits by Jordan L. Hawk
Down & Dirty by Rhys Ford

✪Best Covers:

Conscious Decisions of the Heart civCarry the OceanTrust the Focus

Carry the Ocean by Heidi Cullinan
Conscious Decisions of the Heart by John Wiltshire
Trust the Focus by Megan Erickson

From Sammy:

✪Best Books of 2015:

– Unwrapping Hank by Eli Easton
– Dirty Dining by E.M. Lynley
– The Wrong Man & The Right Time by Lane Hayes
– The Shearing Gun by Renae Kaye
– Slasherazzi by Daniel A. Kaine
– Where There’s Smoke & Where There’s Fire by Cari Z
– The World in His Eyes by A.J. Thomas
– The Ultimate Team by Tricia Owens
– The Biggest Scoop by Gillian St. Kevern (A YA pick!)
And an upcoming release in 2016 that I had the pleasure of beta reading:
– Thorns & Fangs by Gillian St. Kevern

From Melanie

For me there  were so many. You really had to look no further than our best book of the month to see that.  Its especially hard in a year where favorite  series came to a finish.  Those were so tough on the heart.  But so were so many others. I laughed with these characters and boy, did I cry.  Sometimes, I did both at the same time.  Looking at you Renae Kaye and John Inman!
Alex Beecroft and Alexis Hall almost deserve their own section.  Beecroft’s Trowchester Blues was a trilogy so marvelous it was illuminating.  And Alexis Hall?  His words flow with a lyricism and magic  that make reading his stories a privilege.
John Wiltshire’s excellent series More Heat Than The Sun starts off with one of my favorite books of 2015, Conscious Decisions of the Heart (also Best Cover).  Heidi Cullinan’s Minnesota Christmas trilogy which ends with my favorite story of them all, Eden Winter’s Diversion series (be still my heart) got a new installment that I’ve read several times, see?  I can  go on and on.  And I haven’t even talked about Astrid Amara who is on several of the other reviewers lists!

✪Best Books

The Shearing Gun by Renae Kaye
Waiting for the Flood by Alexis Hall
Sand and Ruin and Gold by Alexis Hall
Conscious Decisions of the Heart by John Wiltshire
Holding Out for a Fairy Tale (Least Likely Partnership #2) by A.J. Thomas
My Magical Palace by Kunal Mukherjee
Blue Eyed Stranger (Trowchester Blues #2) by Alex Beecroft
Trowchester Blues (Trowchester Blues, #1) by Alex Beecroft
Blue Steel Chain (Trowchester Blues, #3) by Alex Beecroft
Blowing Off Steam by Joy Lynn Fielding
Redemption (Diversion #5) by Eden Winters
Tigers on the Run (Tigers and Devils #3) by Sean Kennedy
A Solitary Man by Shira Anthony and Aisling Mancy
Where the Grass is Greener (Seeds of Tyrone #2) by Debbie McGowan and Raine O’Tierney
Winter Wonderland (Minnesota Christmas #3) by Heidi Cullinan *loved them all
******************************
(Humor & Pathos Division)
Shawn’s Law by Renae Kaye
Coming Back by John Inman
You Are The Reason by Renae Kaye
 ***********************
Four of Club series by Parker Williams (Pulp Friction 2015)
Jack of Spades series by Lee Brazil
King of Hearts series by Havan Fellows
******************************

Best Audiobook

Best Covers:

Theory Unproven 400x600Blowing Off Steam coverConscious Decisions of the Heart civWaiting for the Flood cover

 

 

 

 

 

Theory Unproven by Lillian Francis, artist Meredith Russell
Conscious Decisions of the Heart by John Wiltshire
Waiting for the Flood by Alexis Hall, artist Simone
Blowing Off Steam by Joy Lynn Fielding

 

Sand and Gold and RuinSnowman coverForging the future coverRunning with the Wind cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shawn's Law coverChasing the Swallows coverSomething Like A Love SongFirst Comes Marriage

 

 

 

 

 

Shawn’s Law by Renae Kay, Paul Richmond artist
Something Like A Love Song by Becca Burton, unknown artist
Chasing the Swallows by John Inman, artist Maria Fanning
First Comes Marriage by Shira Anthony, artist Paul Richmond

The Sub Club by J.A. Rock, artist Kanaxa
My Magical Palace by Kunal Mukherjee, artist unknown
Winter Oranges by Marie Sexton, artist L.C. Chase
Trowchester Blues trilogy by Alex Beecroft, artist Lou Harper
Trowchester Blues cover

 

 

TheSubsClub_600x900Winter Oranges coverMy Magical Palace

A MelanieM Review: Fever Pitch (Love Lessons #2) by Heidi Cullinan

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Sometimes you have to play love by ear.

Fever Pitch coverAaron Seavers is in a world of pain and he doesn’t know what to do about it.  His strict controlling father wants him to pick out a suitable college and do it  now.  But Aaron doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life even if his father had decided for him.  His divorced mother won’t support him against his father so Aaron knows he’s on his own and that’s a very lonely place.  But no one would guess all that lurks just underneath the exterior of a boy considered one of the popular crowd and its just the tip of the secrets Aaron is hiding.

Giles Mulder can’t wait to get the hell out of Oak Grove, Minnesota.  Giles has been through the horrors that middle and high school hold for someone who is different, gay and very different.  Bullied, beaten, hospitalized, its all been a large part of Giles’ life, made bearable by the love and support of his parents and family.  Now the chance to escape and reboot his life at college looms large.  Giles is headed off to St. Timothy’s College where he intends to play his violin, and be everything he wasn’t in high school.  Then he meets a drunken Aaron Seavers hiding in a closet at the party and it changes everything.

Aaron is in the closet in almost every way until Giles helps him out and home during a drunken binge at a party.  When Giles mentions the college he is going to in the fall, something clicks with Aaron, unbeknownst to Giles and his plans.  When Aaron appears on campus,, Giles is afraid that his high school experience is about to repeat itself.  For Aaron, Giles rejection is just one more thing to overcome.  Neither young man is prepared to the adjustments and changes that college has in store for them both.  Giles and Aaron soon realize that sometimes you have to play love by ear in order to find that which you have always wanted.

The title Fever Pitch comes from a quote in the story, advice actually, that if you want something so badly don’t go after it in a fever pitch but slow down, make sure its real, and not just the perception of something you think you want to have.  Excellent advice for the title characters here and life in general.  Fever Pitch, the second in the Love Lessions series, by Heidi Cullinan, presents two young men on the cusp of adulthood.  From starkly different background and families, they represent the best and the worst examples of teenagers dealing with their sexuality and thoughts of the future.  Aaron’s childhood is one of stultifying control and restrictions.  Even Aaron’s parents divorce, didn’t free him from his  father’s oeverbearing, restrictive rules and regulations, especially as his mother lacks the ability to support and parent her son.  Every aspect of Aaron’s life has been directed by his father and until his meeting with Giles, that wasn’t about to change.  Outwardly, Aaron has everything, including being part of the “in” crowd at school, a faction of which has been tormenting Giles.  Inside?  Aaron is a mess. Giles, on the other hand, has the love and support of a family who adores him and that includes his homosexuality which they accept.  But where Giles has it easy at home, school has been one nightmare after another, so much so that he has  ended up in the emergency room at numerous occasions.  Two young men, at odds with their surroundings, uncertain about their futures waiting ahead of them.

Heidi Cullinan is one of those writers who is able to take a teenage character and present them in a realistic and complex fashion.  Both Giles and Aaron feel absolutely believable, up to and including their histories and back stories.  The launching pad of this story is that odd time of panic and anticipation that happens at the end of the high school year, just before you leave for college.  Too many paths branching out before you, so many unanswered questions tossing about in your head as you step forward towards your first experience of independence.  Cullinan remembers this well and her ability to bring such a time of uncertainty and flux to life makes this story and these characters so moving and memorable.

There are so many wounded young men walking through these pages.  And while the damage done to them all carries the same hefty emotional weight, each received their wounds in different manners. Aaron and Giles are so different yet the empathy and pain you feel for them both is balanced and heartfelt.  Aaron especially with his moments of darkness and depression feels scarily authentic.  Giles’s attitude and assumptions also feels right for someone of his age and experience.  Sometimes you forget how hard it is to be 18 and this story is a perfect reminder of how tumultuous it can be and how out to sea they can feel.

One of the important aspects of this story and one that is beautifully portrayed is St. Timothy’s music department, along with the acapella songs that choral groups (that Glee and Perfect Pitch brought to everyone’s attention) sing as well as the school competitions and inequalities present among boy and girl groups. The interdepartmental politics and competition among students is laid out in a way that feels as real as every other element here.  That includes the songs and arrangements mentioned throughout the novel.

There is angst, oh my so much angst, that your heart will bleed a little along with the characters.  Through devastating events and stunning reversals of situations and beliefs, this is a story that creeps into your heart and mind to stay.  Characters from the first story, Kelly and Walter, have huge roles to play here as do the characters of Baz and Elijah (yes, that’s Bad in Baltimore’s Elijah).  But through all the issues, and swirl of emotions and adjustments, it still comes down to the love and romance of Aaron and Giles as they take their first steps towards adulthood and the life they want for themselves and each other.

Fever Pitch words fine as a stand alone or as part of a series.  I missed out on Love Lessons and Frozen Heart and will now rectify that omission.  Like me you don’t have to wait for those stories to pick this one up now.  Its a must read as far as I am concerned.  Heartwarming, deeply moving, and an ending you won’t believe.  Get started today!

Cover artist: I couldn’t find it but as lively and fun as that cover it, it didn’t reflect the story inside.

Sales Links:  Samhain Publishing      All Romance (ARe)     amazon      Fever Pitch

Book Details:

ebook, 270 pages
Published September 30th 2014 by Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
edition languageEnglish
url http://www.heidicullinan.com/Fever-pitch
seriesLove Lessons #2

Love Lessions Series:

Love Lessons (Love Lessons, #1)
Frozen Heart (Love Lessons, #1.5)
Fever Pitch (Love Lessons, #2)

Review: Miles and the Magic Flute by Heidi Cullinan

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Miles and the Magic FluteMiles Larson believes the world has turned against him.  The poor economy cost him his cushy job and lifestyle, now Miles lives in considerably reduced circumstances back in his hometown in Minnesota. At least that’s how he sees it.  He works in a friend’s pawn shop fixing broken down appliances while living in his friend’s trailer behind the shop.  And all the time, he is thinking “why me, why did this happen to me?”  As Miles begrudgingly goes to work and then home, the only thing that lifts his spirits is a walk in the woods nearby, a place of solice and adventure when little,  now a blessed respite from the disappointment that is his life.   Little does he know that as he bemoans his life, the wood have ears and are listening.

One day at the pawn shop, a box of personal goods to be sold revealed an intricately carved silver flute to be pawned.  When asked to research its origin, Miles’s investigation opens up an enchanted world where one can have all he wants if only he asks the right question.  Before he realizes it his reality becomes one of two worlds vying for his body and soul.  An ethereally gorgeous fae wants Miles to choose him and his world but is everything there exactly as it seems?  Who is the beast he encounters along with the Fae Lord in the Otherworld?  For each choice that Miles might make, a price is to be paid.  But what is the price of being given everything you desire?  What if what you desire wars with true love and happiness? What price will you pay then? Only Miles can answer those questions…now if only he knew what those answers are….

Miles and the Magic Flute is less a romance and more of Heidi Cullinan’s LGBTQ version of Aesop’s Fables.  Or should that be Cullinan’s Fae Fables?  An intricately layered cautionary tale, Miles and the Magic Flute starts with one character whose sense of entitlement and displeasure with his current status starts the games of enchantment to follow.

From the beginning Cullinan builds two very realistic and opposite worlds to vy for Mile’s body and soul.  One is the small town in Minnesota that Miles has returned to after losing his job and condo in the big city.  A sense of desperation covers the town like a layer of dust.  A factory has closed putting much of the town’s population out of work, and sometimes only the largesse of his friend Patty of Patty’s Pawn shop keeps some of them from going without food or a home.  A cluttered store filled with the bits and pieces of peoples lives, the pawn store has been passed from father to daughter as has the trailer behind it.  Into the shop flow various sundry folk, from a hispanic family seriously weighing how they will spend their strictly budgeted dollars to an antagonistic bully who learns that homophobic slurs will cost him big time from the lesbian pawnbroker.   Cullinan paints these small town characters with the same brush as her main ones, and they are as realistically detailed and human as they could be.  You can feel the paint peeling and the cars falling apart from neglect from the author’s descriptions of a small town barely surviving and the people who remain behind while others have left.

The second world starts off as nothing more than a shivery feeling as Miles walks through the woods nearby.  A feeling of being watched, a ripple in the air, the appearance of a small white flower in winter, and little by little Cullinan’s Otherworld, the Fae Dream world arrives to encroach on Miles’ reality and the well being of all.  I loved how the author built up not only Miles anticipation and sense of alarm but the readers as well.  Layer by layer the magic comes and at first its wondrous and enchanting….and then it deepens to something more.  And as we begin to  get a true sense of exactly what and who the Fae Lord represents, Cullinan continues to pivot us and Miles back and forth between reality and desire, human and Fae until the contrasting images and worlds start to blend eerily into each other. The author’s locations and world building is superb and each feels as real as the other.

Heidi Cullinan has also provided the readers with one of the most realistic and wonderful lesbian couples that I can remember. Patty with her blunt ways and mannerisms that cover a depth of personality just waiting to be revealed.  And  Julie whose perceptions and world views are startling and compelling.  I loved this couple and they provide the anchor that the story and Miles requires.  Patty and her long time lover, Julie, have slowly been pulling Miles out of his depression over losing his job and successful life in Atlanta at Fetterman Financial.  Patty gave him a job fixing the appliances she pulls out of trashcans or brought into the store.  Julie feeds him vegan food she cooks from her amazing garden out back and items she has traded for.  Cullinan does an exemplary job of conveying how grey and small this world appears to Miles in his current  emotional state, the businesslike and frank manner in which Patty deals with her customers and Miles, and the generous, compassionate nature that is Julie’s answer to everything she confronts in life.  And while we see their trailer, business and partnership only from Miles’ viewpoint, it is clear that Miles’  self-absorbed outlook keeps him from seeing his friends  and their lives in a clear and realistic way.

And that is part of what I feel is a real issue for the reader here.  The story is told from Miles’ point of view.  And he is whiney, complaining, and his sense of entitlement is hard to take after a while.  I get that we need to see Miles at his worst in order to get a base line from which we can chart his growth but that doesn’t make his selfishness and self centeredness any easier to take.   Even as Miles realizes that he sees everything now through his “Atlanta filter”, comparing and contrasting his current life against that which he lost, his musings become a Greek chorus of want, hate, and envy.  “I hate this, I hate my life, I hate what I’ve become, I hate what I lost, I hate realizing that I never really had it.” and finally “I hate my life and I would do anything and give anything to change it.”    Heartfelt worlds that the woods, or someone in the woods is listening to and geting ready to answer with an offer.

But the most damning words here are probably the ones that the readers will recognize, if not understand.  How the readers feels about hearing Miles utter them will reflect in how much the reader will like this story.  Those words are the ones that will propel Miles to accept an offer too good to be…well good.  And they are “I’m better than this.  I deserve so much better than this.”  What an all too human phrase…one that probably propels many a person into actions that they will regret later on.  How readers feel about Miles’ sense of entitlement will be the lens through which they view this story.  For many, I think it will mean they look at Miles and his predicament with a sense of detachment.  And no matter what befalls Miles, that lack of emotional investment in his problems and terrors will keep readers disconnected from the story and Miles.  I will admit I came perilously close to that detachment myself.  It took me much longer to connect with Miles than I anticipated and by then the story was almost over.

As I said this is a story of lessons and morality.  “Beware of what you wish for, as you just might get it”, “Be happy with what you have,” actually Miles and the Magic Flute is a roll call of lessons from Aesop’s Fables among others.  Whether it is about appearances being deceiving or giving one’s enemies the means for your own destruction, Cullinan lines them up and marches Miles through them on his way to  enlightenment, redemption, and finally love.

Yes, there is several love stories here, although no romances.  I wish I had a better understanding of “the Beast” here, he is the one character without much substance.  There is so much about Miles and the Magic Flute that is as wondrous as its plot.  From Terris and Murali to Patty and Julie and the worlds they all inhabit, Cullinan’s ability to bring both the magical and the mundane to life is amazing.  I just wished I had more of a connection to Miles, that I had wept when he did but ultimately that didn’t happen here.    Other readers might find themselves incredibly moved by Miles’ story and the terrific ending that Heidi Cullinan has crafted for them all.  Pick up this book and decide for yourself.  I am still so very happy that I read it and journeyed for a while in their shoes.

Cover art by Wilde City Press.  What a beautiful, magical cover.  Loved it.

Publisher’s Note: This title has been previously published and has been revised from its original release

 

Buy Links:    Wilde City Press       Miles and the Magic Flute ” Amazon          ARe

 

Book Details:

ebook, 2nd Edition
Published May 27th 2014 by Wilde City Press (first published June 7th 2010)
original titleMiles and the Magic Flute
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.heidicullinan.

Summer Has Begun and the Week Ahead at Scattered Thoughts….

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Summer officially started yesterday and already I feel as though I am behind in my normal summer activities.    The late winter combined with a cold and rainy spring has meant all my gardening chores were delayed well into late Spring.  Now my gardens are playing catchup with flowers blooming out of season and major replantings necessary due to the frigid conditions that saw many of the temperate plants perish.   On the downside I lost some of my favorite plants like my old rosemary bush and many of my lavenders.  On the plus side?  I get to redesign some spaces and bring in new plants I have always wanted in my gardens.

Funny how things always seem to happen that way.  Old things give way to new, cycles continue whether you want them to or not.  Change arrives and its what you make of it that matters.  Mourn the old if you must but welcome the new and see where it takes you…..gardening lessons that work no matter what you are actually applying them to.  Weed out the extraneous from your life.  Mulch and prune as necessary.  Fertilize and nuture.  Water and let go.   Repeat…appreciate the seasons.    And keep the terriers from hunting the toads…..that foaming at the mouth is nasty and the toads don’t like it either.

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Winner Announcement: Winner of the “Looking After Joey” contest is Jo johannasnodgrass@yahoo.com. Jo has been contacted by myself and David Pratt. Congratulations to Jo.  My thanks to David Pratt for the wonderful interview and book giveaway.

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My week ahead at ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords is looking like this:

Monday, June 23:         Cold Feet by Lee Brazil

Tuesday, June 24:          Miles and the Magic Flute by Heidi Cullinan

Wed., June 25:               G.B. Lindsey “One Door Closes” Book Tour/Contest

Wed., June 25:               Voodoo ‘n’ Vice by K.C. Burn

Thursday, June 26:       Book Blast:  Lee Brazil and “Less Than All” (contest)

Thursday, June 26:       Swords, Sorcery and Sundry by Mina  MacLeod

Friday, June 27:             Author Spotlight: An Interview with Mina MacLeod (contest)

Friday, June 28:            Book Blast: Draven St. James and “Fused By Fire” (contest)

Saturday, June 29:        Duty to the Crown by Rebecca Cohen

 

Happy Reading…now off to the gardens while the sun shines…

Scattered Thoughts Best Books of 2013

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ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords Presents:

best-books of 2013

Time for Scattered Thoughts to look back at all the wonderful books read and reviewed in 2013 and try to pick those stories that stood out the most among all the many stories I read.  As always it was a hard thing to do because there were so many this year that crowded at the top.  How to choose between Sarah Black’s The General and the Horse-Lord and her sequel, The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazeri?  Or Ariel Tachna’s Outlast the Night and her Conquer the Flames?  It was only by the mm (seems reasonable) that the latter book for each won out.parabook

Some authors did end up with two books in my lists, whether it was because they were in two different categories or because they were in different series or just because they were that good.  I also ended up with more categories this year, including  Best Humor, Best Young Adult, Best New Vampire and Best New Werewolf.  The variety in genres just begged for subcategories so I created them.  Something really new this year was the interconnected series from the Pulp Friction group. Each series and main characters were intimately connected to each other and culminated in a four author four series finale story.  It was outstanding and earned all four a place on my list.

And then there were the marvelous novels like Harper Fox’ Brothers of the Wild North Seas whose review has slid into 2014 but is one of my top novels of any year.  Anyway, here are the books I chose in alphabetical order.  Which authors/stories were on your list this year?

Best Contemporary Novels of 2013:

  • Best Stand Alone Novels:

Illumination by Rowen Speedwell
The Sky is Dead by Sue Brown

Best Action/Suspense Fiction of 2013:

Collusion by Eden Winters (Diversion series)
Corruption by Eden Winters (Diversion series)
Pulp Friction Series of 2013 (4 interconnected series)

Shock & Awe by Abigail Roux
Touch & Geaux  by Abigail Roux (Cut & Run series)
Worlds Collide by R.J. Scott

Humorous Fiction of 2013:
Books with wings in the sky

Shy by John Inman
Hobbled by John Inman
Tell Me It’s Real by TJ Klune

Young Adult/YA Subject Oriented Fiction:

Christmas Kitsch by Amy Lane
Necromancy and You by Missouri Dalton
Vampirism and You by Missouri Dalton

Best Historical Fiction:

Lessons for Suspicious Minds by Charlie Cochrane
On The Lee Shore by Elin Gregory
Trick of Time by JL Merrow

Best Horror/Fantasy:skeleton-clip-art-15-315x600

Dance Only For Me (Dance With The Devil #6) by Megan Derr
Too Many Fairy Princes by Alex Beecroft
The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men by Eric Arvin

Best Science Fiction Novel/ Series of 2013:

Aria of the Eclipse by Vivien Dean
One Breath, One Bullet by S.A. McAuley
Dominant Predator by S.A. McAuley  (sequel to the one above)
Fragile Bond by Rhi Etzweiler
Scorpion (Memory of Scorpions #1) by Aleksandr Voinov (fantasy)

Best Supernatural/Paranormal Fiction of 2013:

Close Quarter by Anna Zabo
Into This River I Drown by TJ Klune
Re-entry Burn (Superpowered Love #5) by Katey Hawthorne
Undertow by Andrea Speed (Infected series)

Best New Vampire (a tie):

The Beast Without by Christian Baines
The Family: Liam by K.V. Taylor

Best New Werewolf:

Strength of the Wolf (The Tameness of the Wolf #2) by Kendall McKenna

Happy New Year, everyone!  Happy Reading To All and May 2014 Be Great!

New Year Book

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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sláinte! Happy St. Patrick’s Day.  To start your St. Patrick’s Day, here is some great music from Brogan’s Bar in Ennis, Ireland to get you fired up!

Half Irish, half Scottish, I love this day and today the weather has gone along with the program and seems particularly Irish. Overcast, damp, but not too cold, perfect for marching in parades all over the nation.

I have travelled to Ireland several times and found the leaving of it always comes with a crease in my heart, as though even my cells know that we are saying farewell to home.  My first time visiting with my high school daughter was both a delightful and revelatory, her feet seeming to find paths that she should not know where there.   My nights were filled of dreams of seals and shores and music carried along the winds over gorse covered hills, studded with stone.  And on the penultimate day, Heather and I were hiking in a verdant forest, far away from any others or so we thought.  And then we heard it, or heard them more accurately.  First the sounds of a waterfall, the roar getting louder the closer we got.  But what really made that day magical was the sounds of piping coming from high overhead.  We craned our necks to see where it came from and finally we found him, standing on a rock ledge, eyes closed, bagpipes swelling as he lost himself in the music he was playing.  We listened for a while and then quietly left, rejuevenated and enriched by a magical experience shared before she left for college.  One of my finest memories.

So day I hope for the best for all of you, of laughter shared, of love found and family held close. And as this website is, mostly, devoted to books I will leave you with a quote from an Irish author:

“As a writer, I write to see. If I knew how it would end, I wouldn’t write. It’s a process of discovery.”
– Author John McGahern

Here is the week ahead in book reviews:

Monday, March 18:                An Unconventional Union by Scotty Cade

Tuesday, March 19:                 Never A Hero by Marie Sexton

Wed., March 20:                     Redemption of the Beast by Amylea Lyn

Thursday, March 21:              Family Man by Heidi Cullinan

Friday, March 22:                   Nights in Canaan by Kendall McKenna

Sat., March 23:                        Natural Predators by Neil Placky

So, that’s the week.  Have a safe and wonderful St. Patrick’s Day.  Forego the green beer, that’s gross anyway and have a Irish Manhattan, so much better!

Dirty Laundry (Tucker Springs #3) by Heidi Cullinan

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Rating: 5 stars

Dirty LaundryEntomology grad student Adam Ellery is trying to get his clothes washed at the laundromat when drunken frat boys start to harass him.  Just as things start to escalate out of control, Adam is saved by a muscled mountain of a man who dispatches the frats after making them apologize to Adam.  His rescuer’s name is Denver Rogers, a bouncer at the local gay bar.  Every thing about Denver pushes Adam’s buttons and, unbelievably to Adam at least, his thanks turns into a sexual encounter the likes of which Adam has never experienced before.

Denver Rogers knows his physique ensures his bed is never empty and the bar is the perfect place to find players for his  games but something about Adam is  so different from his usual bedmates.  Denver can’t get Adam out of his mind, and starts to pursue the Entomology student with a passion for bugs and rough sex. But Denver comes with a background of abuse, self esteem issues, and no formal education.  Denver wonders what the brilliant Adam will think about a man who doesn’t even have a GED?

Adam is OCD, with a side of clinical anxiety  and just getting through the day takes all his strength and determination.  His only long term romance ended because of his mental illness as well as the fact that they did not mesh sexually.  But his encounter with Denver has fulfilled him and left him satiated and his mind quite for once. Denver is everything Adam could want but how will Denver feel when Adam tells him he has obsessive compulsive disorder? Will Denver be able to deal with Adam’s illness? Adam and Denver each have their share of dirty laundry in their closet. Will they be able to come clean so they can see a bright future together?

Cullinan had me at Sphingidae.  An author who gives me a main character who is an entomologist specializing in hawk moths, be still my heart, watch as this Park Naturalist swoons.  But that one thing shouldn’t surprise me as Cullinan continues to bring us characters so human, so realistically flawed and interesting in their emotional makeup that it is a wonder that I haven’t seen someone like Adam in her stories before now.

Tucker Springs is a town full of amazing people and Cullinan has just contributed two more town citizens so remarkable that I still stay up at night thinking about them.  Both are, as I said, beautifully realized human beings, with their flaws and emotional issues.  But Adam and Denver also have the ability to disarm the reader with their vulnerability and surprising decency.  First let’s talk about Adam whose OCD and clinical anxiety is something thousands face in their lives today.  Cullinan has made this mental illness accessible and understandable through the character of Adam.  As he fights his way through his demons at every step in his day, from the lab to just getting out of the house, we really start to comprehend just how overwhelming it must be to just try and stay a functioning human being, let alone one successfully getting through college.  Adam has heart, and bravery, and a need for kinky sex  in which he can give up control. Adam kept surprising me all through the story, love him.

Then Cullinan delivers Denver Rogers to Adam via the laundromat.  Denver Rogers has his own demons in his head (none I will list for you here) and a need for rough sex and to be the one in control.  Everything about Denver will surprise you as it does Adam.  He could have easily degenerated into a stock character, but that never comes close to happening here in Cullinan’s capable hands. Denver is a decent, multilayered human trying to work through his past and starts to think that he might just have a future with his “bug boy”.  I adored this man.

We must also talk about the characters sexuality because it is such a huge component of the story and their relationship.  This is not your vanilla sex but rough, consensual hot sex.  It is bdsm and D/s and both are absolutely necessary for the story and this couple.  While neither is something I normally read, here it makes total sense for the characters and that helps the reader who either is not familiar with bdsm or reads bdsm to not only accept it but enjoy it.  Adam and Denver need this part of their relationship.  It is an integral part of who they are and it satisfies a deep seated need for Adam to be submissive and for Denver to be the dom.  Not only that but it calms Adam’s OCD as nothing else has.  I won’t get into the explanations but needless to say, the author does the same exemplary job of bringing the reader into Adam’s head to help us understand his thoughts and feelings on this element as well as the others.  So, even if this type of sexuality is not something you normally enjoy, Cullinan helps you understand, if not outright accept and enjoy this as a mutually healthy expression of their love and outgrowth of their relationship.

Cullinan then to proceed to slowly build an engrossing, heartwarming love story between Adam and Denver, one complete with a step backward for every two they manage to go forward with.  Adam and Denver must over come one obstacle after another, ones both small and large, including each other.  By the time, their story is finished, as a reader you are so throughly invested in this couple’s lives that you don’t want it to be over.  Not by a long shot.  My hope is that we will see them in other Tucker Springs novels just as El and Paul did here.  I would also love to see more of Louisa, a trans character equally memorable and endearing.  I highly recommend this story and all of the Tucker Springs novels.  This is a town full of people you will never tire of visiting with and listening to their stories.  And while you are off to get the book, make sure and add Heidi Cullinan to your list of must have authors.  Really, she deserves to be there.   Sphingidae, indeed!

Cover art by LC Chase is perfection and works in every way for this story and overall appeal.

Here are the Tucker Springs novels in order they were written:

Where Nerves End by LA Witt (Tucker Springs #1)

Second Hand by Marie Sexton and Heidi Cullinan (Tucker Springs #2)

Dirty Laundry by Heidi Cullinan

Plus there is a website for Tucker Springs novels.  TuckerSprings.com

Inauguration Sunday and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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So, we have a three day weekend with Martin Luther King Day and the Inauguration on Monday.  The sky is blue, Saturday saw me scrambling so here I am still in my bunny slippers and looking to stay that way for the immediate future.

With Lance Armstrong’s self serving, “woe is me, not quite getting the whole picture” sob fest still leaving a malodorous odor in the air, I am looking forward to an inspirational speech on two on Monday.  So Monday’s post will be a little different,  No book banter or book reviews,  just some musings on the Inauguration and MLK.

I have read some terrific books to be reviewed this week, starting with Tuesday’s selection of Charlie Cochrane’s lastest release from Carina Press. And if you missed it, go back for yesterday’s review of J.L. Merrow’s Trick of Time, loved that book.  The movie Somewhere in Time is a favorite of mine so you know Trick of Time hit all my buttons and then some.

So with a drumroll please in keeping with the flair of things this weekend, here are the books to be reviewed this week:

Monday, 1/21:                        Scattered Thoughts on MLK and the Inauguration.

Tuesday, 1/22:                        Promises Made Under Fire by Charlie Cochrane

Wed., 1/23:                              Dirty Laundry by Heidi Cullinan

Thursday, 1/24:                     A Troubled Range by Andrew Grey

Friday, 1/25:                          The Dragon and His Knight by M. Raiya

Saturday, 1/26:                      Too Stupid To Live by Anne Tenino

Riptide’s Publishing Disaster Relief Effort for Victims of Hurricane Sandy

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From November 3rd to November 10th, Riptide Publishing is donating the 25% of all proceeds onsite to assist in the recovery from Hurricane Sandy.  If you have waited to pick up any of their releases, now is the time to do it.  Maybe you missed the latest in the Cut & Run series Stars & Stripes or The Gravedigger’s Brawl from Abigail Roux or need to pick up Heidi Cullinan’s latest Tucker Springs novel, Dirty Laundry.  Or are you overdue to go all gladiator for the latest books in the Rome series.  Whatever the genre, make your purchase go further than just your reading enjoyment, let it provide much needed help for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Go to Riptide Publishing’s website this week, purchase one or more books and go Red, as in Red Cross.  You won’t be sorry.  Here is the link for Riptide Publishing.  There are a gazillion (almost)  title to choose from and from a remarkable array of authors. Here are a few of the ones I have reviewed that you might have missed:

Read my review of Stars & Stripes  by Abigail Roux here, read my review of Country Mouse by Amy Lane and Aleksandr Voinov here

Read my review of The Gravedigger’s Brawl by Abigail Roux here. Read Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino here. Read my review of Blacker Than Black by Rhi Etzweiler here .

Read my review of Second Hand by Heidi Cullinan here and all of the Josh of the Damned series by Andrea Speed, starting with Pretty Monsters here.  

Review of Second Hand (Tucker Springs #2) by Marie Sexton and Heidi Cullinan

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Rating:    4.75 stars

Paul Hammond’s girl friend has just left him after he moved to Tucker Springs to further her art career while he put his on hold.  Now he is left living in a rental house she picked out and a front yard full of her awful oversized metal sculptures.  Paul looks around him at a house he hates but has a 3 year lease he can barely afford, a job as a receptionist for a local vet, and a engagement ring he never gave to Stacy because she moved out before he could propose.  When a flyer for a neighborhood yard contest and a $500 prize is shoved in his mailbox, Paul decides to enter and use the money to pay his bills.  But how to get the money to buy the plants for the yard? And that’s when Paul remembers meeting El Rozal at his Pawn shop when Paul was buying a necklace for Stacy.  Armed with kitchen appliances he never wanted to buy in the first place, Paul heads off to El’s shop and changes his life forever.

El Rozel’s life is stuck in one gear, that of family and work.  El deals with family matters including a mother who hoards, he does laundry with his best friend at the Laundromat on Friday’s and the rest of the time is spent at his pawn shop.  El realizes he is stuck in a pattern but doesn’t know how to change it.  Then Paul Hammond, adorable, confused, freckle-faced Paul Hammond enters his shop and his world tilts on its axis.  He knows Paul is straight because he has listened to Paul when he was buying the necklace.  But that doesn’t seem to matter, everything about Paul draws El closer.  Paul is kind, naive, generous and easily hurt.  He is also incredibly sexy even if he doesn’t know it.  El wants him in his life in any way possible.

Paul wants to come first in someone’s life, to stop being everyone’s second choice.  El knows first hand that someone else’s seconds can be the treasure another has always  wanted and Paul is that one person El has been waiting for.  Now all he has to do is persuade the man to give him the chance to change both of their lives forever.

I loved this story.  Under the definition of warmhearted in the dictionary you will find the cover of this book and deservedly so.  Take two well-known authors whose books are beloved by many, throw in Sexton and Cullinan’s talent for giving us characters who are both quirky and  unusual and we have Second Hand, a novel of two men trying to deal with life’s disappointments and finding love in unexpected  places.  I read this book twice for the good feelings and happy thoughts it left me with after putting it down.  What’s even more remarkable is that  Second Hand is an effortless read considering all the themes involved in the plot.  Tucker Springs, Colorado acts as the location for the series and it’s the perfect choice as its richness of history, Light District, and other characteristics match up brilliantly with the characters living there.

And what charming, affecting characters they are.  Paul Hammond is that one who is oblivious to the way he affects others.  He has grown up feeling less successful than his siblings, his one girlfriend has just left him for someone who has achieved more materially, and he left college without  meeting his goal of being a veterinarian. But he doesn’t see what other people do when they look at him.  Someone who is kind, cute, tenderhearted, great with animals and people alike.  Some who happens to be absolutely adorable.  Paul is so likable, so genuine that you root for him to succeed from the very first page.  El Rozel is a wonderful complementary character for Paul Hammond.  El comes from a large family who   impacts his life on a daily basis, from his sisters and their kids, to his abuela and mother with their house so stuffed full of objects that just moving down the hallway is a challenge.

El Rozel jumped from the pages of Second Hand with a clarity few characters achieve with their first impressions.  As the smoke from his cigarette rises about him, so does his view of life and its disappointments hang around him like a cloud. El watches his sister ignore his advice as she jumps from one bad relationship to the next. And he’s awful when he tries to intervene with his mother Patty’s hoarding to little effect.  El wants things to change in the lives of those he loves but feels helpless when it comes to solutions. I love how the authors give us two men stymied by life and disappointments and makes them the catalyst for change in each other’s lives.  El starts helping Paul empty his life of meaningless objects that came along with his relationship with Stacy.  Paul starts giving El the power to see changes happening in someone’s life.  Paul gives El hope that change can happen and then gives him hope that love can happen for them both.    And all of this relationship movement, all of this building of self worth is carried out realistically, with nary a wrong touch to the process or misstep in characterization.

Sexton and Cullinan also deal delicately and with sensitivity when it comes to Paul’s feelings about his sexuality.  Paul had one disastrous gay encounter in his youth that causes him to put aside his attraction towards men and concentrate on women.  That is if you can call a one woman experience a change in sexuality.  It comes across, even to Paul, as more a convenient sexuality, one more acceptable to society, than Paul having a true bisexual nature.  If Paul had truly been bisexual, Stacy ‘s attraction for him would have gone beyond representing a “normal lifestyle” as she does for him to one of being physically drawn to Stacy which he is not.  Because the one person he is truly attracted to?  That would be El in every way.  El is the person he wants to spend time with, whose Cover conversations he enjoys and is the person Paul wants to take to bed.  But it takes time for Paul to realize all this and the authors give it to him and to us.  This is not a “gay for you” story but a slow acceptance of one’s true sexuality.  Paul has to have time to look at his past history and reexamine his actions before he can accept that he wants El as much as El wants him.  The authors handle Paul emotional growth in such a beautiful, realistic manner that I wanted to start handing out gold stars right then and there.

An equally serious issue addressed here is that of hoarding.  Hoarding is a disease that affects families everywhere.  Both authors show how hoarding is a disease that hurts those affected by it on so many levels, from the day to day reality of living with gargantuan clutter to the embarrassment of not wanting to have outsiders see the living conditions at home.  Sexton and Cullinan give us the  screaming arguments of the family stressed out by their efforts to deal with the hoarder and the pain of the person in the throes of the disease.  I cannot begin to give them enough credit for the sensitive manner in which they handled this problem within the story.  Again, it was just so beautifully done.

The Tucker Springs series is interesting in itself as it is being written by different authors.  The first in the series is Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs #1) by LA Witt, which I have not read.   There is an actual website for this series TuckerSprings.com.  Find it here.  There will be more books in the series and I for one can’t wait.  Pick up Second Hand and become acquainted with a town and characters you will not soon forget.  I know I will be going back to visit there often.

What a wonderful cover.  Perfection in every way.

Available from Riptide Publishsing, Amazon, and All Romance eBooks.