A MelanieM Review: Hawaiian Trunks by Caraway Carter

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Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

Hawaiian Trunks coverIn Hawaii for the wedding of his lovers, Toby Lee wonders if he’ll ever find a love like Clay & Colin. When he meets Wolff, a hot bartender, over the course of a weekend he thinks it could just be possible. Toby Lee puts his foot down and decides that his love life is far more important than the so-called friends who take advantage of him. A broken law, handcuffs and a kiss might just seal the deal on his future.

Hawaiian Trunks by Caraway Carter is an enjoyable short story that has the legs and heart of a much bigger tale.  The story is told through the perspective of Toby Lee in Hawaii to attend and manage his lovers/employers wedding.  It’s a time of celebration for all except maybe Toby whose life is now as unsettled and rippling as the waves outside the resort they are all staying at.    Employed as Colin and Clay’s houseboy, Toby became their “third” over the five years he lived with them but the wedding for these two changes everything, including their relationship dynamics.  Why?

Because Toby now wants what Colin and Clay have together for himself.  He wants his life to change.  And he wants love, not just affection but the deep abiding love he sees in the men at the alter.

As the story opens, the reader is dropped down into the wedding ceremony as the vows are being said.  It’s intimate, its lovely, and its also clearly heartbreaking for Toby, who loves these men but is ready to move on with his life but doesn’t know how. The story only takes place over a couple of days, the few last parties before everyone  goes home to their now changed lives. You get a glimpse as to how wealthy Colin and Clay are and the lifestyle that Toby has lived with them as their lover/houseboy.  It’s that brief look into their regular lives that lets you understand both Toby’s frustration as well as his yearning for more.  It will take courage and determination to leave that life behind but does Toby have that?

Toby’s wish for  change is helped along by continual encounters with a bartender called Wolff, who seems to pop up everywhere at the resort.  A few conversations peak each other’s interest, a longer encounter deepens the attraction into something neither wants to define but both want to pursue.  That’s a pretty realistic approach and one I appreciated when other authors would have gone for the instant love aspect.  Luckily, that is not to be found here.

The ending is again believable in its resolution and HFN status for the main characters.  There isn’t too much drama or angst…it is a wedding after all. And the challenges Toby faces are ones that come with change and maturity.  The progression towards the character’s growth and the thought processes that gets him there flow smoothly and realistically.  I believed in Toby and how it all ended and wished him well.  You will too.

My only quibble is that it often felt as though we were missing either part of the book (the first half) that contained Toby’s life with Colin and Clay.  It would have been nice to have more of a back history and substantial heft now lacking to the wholeness of the plot.  Instead, as I said, it felt as though we were dropped down in the middle, and got that and the end.  A prologue might have giving this lovely little story the final touch that it needs for completeness.

If you are looking for a lovely tale of romance to while away a hour or two, pick up Hawaiian Trunks by Caraway Carter.  If you turn away from any sort of m/m/m element, don’t worry about that here as that aspect is over as the story begins and Toby is looking for that one person to be his alone.

Cover art by Deanna Jamroz works perfectly.  I love the lanterns in the background and the Hawaiian print trunks in the foreground.  Great job.

Sales Links:  MLR Press       All Romance (ARe)      Amazon Buy It Here

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 40 pages
Published February 22nd 2015 by ManLove Romance Press
ASINB00TXWJXWW
edition languageEnglish

 

Review: Jasper’s Mountain by John Inman

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Rating:  3.75 stars out of 5

Jasper's MountainJasper Stone has few needs.  A writer, Jasper loves his solitude and quiet, something he gets plenty of on his ninety acre ranch, high on the side of the Juniper Mountains.  Living alone in his rustic cabin, Jasper’s only companions are the animal menagerie the kind hearted author has managed to accumulate since his arrival.  While all his dogs and cats keep Jasper from being alone, they don’t always keep him from being lonely.  Then Jasper finds a young man with a fever hiding in his chicken coop and everything changes.

When small-time thief Timmy Harwell carjacks a Cadillac, he tumbles into something much more dangerous than just stealing a car.  That outrageously outfitted Cadillac belongs to Miguel Garcia, aka El Poco, a Tijuana drug dealer, known for his ruthless manner and killer reputation.  And it’s not just the drug dealer’s favorite car that Timmy has stolen, no, its the $100,000 he finds in the trunk as well.  Soon, Timmy is on the run, trying to put as much distance between him and El Poco as possible.

But a storm forces Timmy to hide out on Jasper’s ranch until he falls ill from exposure. Jasper finds Timmy and nurses him back to health, becoming fond of the young man during his recovery.  But Timmy recognizes that Jasper is everything he is not.  Jasper is kind, and honest, valuing trust and the truth above all.  So Timmy hides who he is and what he has done behind lie after lie.  When the past and El Poco catches up to Timmy on Jasper’s mountain, Timmy realizes its not just himself he has placed in danger but Jasper too, a man he has come to love and admire.  When it all comes down to making a choice, will Timmy choose survival?  Or will he decide honesty and Jasper is the only choice his  heart desires?

I first found John Inman through a series of novels with a comedic bent to their plots and characters.  And although each contained a serious element or two in the narrative, they were generally light hearted fare that left you smiling or perhaps even guffawing long after you had finished reading them.  So I found myself surprised by the gravity of Jasper’s Mountain, a novel with a few endearing scenes to lighten a storyline of unusual seriousness by this author of humorous tales.

The characters that John Inman creates have always been people that felt authentic. Their personalities, character traits and relationship issues seeming more those of your neighbors than of created personas.  That holds true here for Jasper Stone and Timmy Hartwell.  Jasper, especially, resonated with me.  Jasper is 32 years old, and more fond of animals than he is of people.  Animals have never let him down the way people have.  And Jasper’s mistrust of people combined with  his awkwardness and dislike of society have caused him to retreat to his mountain sanctuary and the company of animals.  Further isolating this man is his chosen profession of writing, something he is only moderately successful at. Jasper sells enough manuscripts to sustain himself and his pets but not  for anything more.  Everything about Jasper feels real, if not relatable.

Timmy Hartwell also comes across as a believable young thief.  Stealing is a way of life Timmy just fell into, driven by a desire never to be poor again after a childhood spent in foster care.  A lack of discipline, no impulse control and a flexible morality made life as a thief an easy occupation.  If Timmy saw it and wanted it, well, then he stole it.  And thought about the consequences later.  Even Timmy admitted to himself that he probably wasn’t very smart about his life choices, just went with the flow of events and easy choices.  Only the choice of hiding spots causes a change in outlook, not a desire to go straight.  Another beautifully layered portrait from John Inman of a young confused human being with a life of bad choices behind him and more of the same in his future.

As with all Inman novels, the animal characters that pop up haphazardly about the story are as vivid and realistic as the people around them.  Whether it is Harry and Harriet, pigs destined never to be bacon,  Guatemala and Fiji, the cats with appetites for alligator lizards and the comforts of home, or Bobber, Jumper, and Lola, the dogs of indeterminate breeding that Jasper adopts, all the animals have larger than life personalities that support and enhance the people they are attached to.  In this instance, the menagerie that Jasper has accumulated makes Jasper’s decision to help and then house another, albeit human, stray feel authentic to the character and situation.  Jasper collects animals in need, what’s one more?  The problem arises in that Timmy is a liar and a thief, someone Jasper cannot count on, unlike the unwavering love and loyalty of his animal family.  It’s a great plot idea, but does it make a great romance?

As I stated before, Jasper’s Mountain is a departure from the typical lighthearted story I expect from this author.  And that more serious aspect runs through the entire narrative.  The biggest issue between the characters also becomes the biggest issue, in my opinion, between the readers relating to and believing in a romance between Jasper and Timmy.  Timmy consistently lies to Jasper throughout the story.  Over his background, over the events that lead him to Jasper’s ranch, over the peril he places Jasper in, and well, everything about the situation Timmy has created.   Timmy is not just in the well, he’s in the Carlsbad Cavern of bad places, so deep and perilous is the position he has created for himself and  Jasper.  And the more he lies he tells Jasper, the more distance Timmy puts between himself and the reader’s emotional involvement in his future.  I am not sure that Inman recognized the extent that the dishonesty of Timmy’s character would decrease the attachment one would feel towards Timmy. It also keeps the reader from investing in their romance.  Even towards the end, Timmy is not honest about the head games he has been playing.  We understand his desperation, the acts he commits in order to survive.    John Inman has made Timmy a thoroughly believable little thief.  I’m just not sure how much a reader will like him.  That may depend on how much empathy you are able to extend towards Timmy and his situation.

The authenticity of Inman’s scenario extends to the story’s resolution as well.  It’s not a HEA or even a HFN.  More like a gritty probability that hope and the right decision will make a future possible.  I liked that the author remained committed to a more likely ending than creating one that discounted all the events and characters that went before.  For me, it was the only way this story could end and stay plausible.  Love and hope sometimes has to be enough.  John Inman understands that as well.

If you are looking for a lighthearted romance, then this is probably not the story for you.  But Jasper’s Mountain has so much to offer.  Its well written, believable, and full of layered characters that will hold your attention from start to finish.  And no matter how I felt about Jasper and Timmy as a couple, I never stopped reading, not once.  Pick it up and decide for yourself.

Cover artist Reese Dante gave Jasper’s Mountain a beautiful, memorable cover.  One of the best of the year.

Book Details:

ebook, 204 pages
Published August 16th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press (first published August 15th 2013)
ISBN 1627980733 (ISBN13: 9781627980739)
edition language English
Author Details:

Review: Where You Lead by Mary Calmes

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Where You Lead coverChicago-based ATF agent Peter Lomax’s past relationships never seemed to work out.  Ex boyfriends had issues with his possessiveness as well as his job.  Then Peter meets Carver Fleming at a friends party and everything changes.  Artist and gallery owner, Carver doesn’t mind that Peter is possessive.  It is a quality that Carver understands quite well as he feels the same. Nor is he bothered by the fact that law enforcement is far from his artistic world. From the beginning Peter and Carver recognize that they are perfect for each other and soon settle in to a committed relationship.

But six months into the relationship, Carver gets a call from home that changes everything.  Carver’s mother has had a stroke and he is needed home to help his father cope with his mother’s changed condition.  Unbeknownst to Peter, Carver agrees to return home, knowing such a move would not be temporary but permanent.   From Chicago to Colt, Carver’s small hometown in Kentucky is a drastic change and he realizes that not telling Peter about his plans will cause major problems between them.

Carver doesn’t want to lose Peter.  He knows that Peter’s friends and career are based in Chicago and that Peter won’t want to leave a city he loves.  So Carver plans for the two of them to visit his parents at Christmas, hoping the visit and his surprise plans will get Peter to agree to come with Carver when he moves to Colt permanently.  Carver is hoping that the charm of his hometown and his loving family will win Peter over.  Can love triumph over the hurt Peter feels at being left out of Carver’s plans?  And can a man with no family attachments of his own find one to love in Carver’s?  At Christmas, anything is possible as Peter and Carver are about to find out.

A trademark of all of Mary Calmes’ stories is that she always populates them with genuinely likable people. Her characters are guaranteed to endear themselves to the reader almost immediately from the moment they appear on the page, and our affections for them only deepen as the story progresses.    It is one of the elements that make Mary Calmes a  must read author for me and so many others.  Where You Lead is another such short story from this prolific author.

While Calmes does not provide too much back history on Peter and Carver, both men still manage to resonate with the readers.  Peter had not had a satisfactory long term relationship and neither has Carver, although for different reasons. They come complete with relationship issues anyone would recognize.  And when Peter and Carver meet, the connection between them snaps into place with lusty enthusiasm that continues throughout the story.

The story begins in Chicago at an art gallery opening to benefit the fallen agents fund.  Peter is there with his ATF partner Elliot and his wife.  The dialogue between Peter and Elliot feels appropriately affectionate and boyishly juvenile, just what you would expect of old friends.  With just a few sentences, Calmes delivers a working partnership that feels real and honest.  I wish we could have seen a little more of Peter’s life with the ATF and Elliot.   As his profession is such a large part of who Peter is as a person, additional background or scenes of his work would have fleshed this part of the character out for me.

As the location switches to Carver’s home in Colt and the situation with his mother, the plot develops further to include not just romantic love but that of family as well.  This for me is where the story really came to life.  I loved Carver’s parents.  His mother is such a strong character, especially as she deals with not only a stroke but the onset of dementia, possibly from Alzheimer’s.  It’s such a loving and painful portrait of a woman who realizes she is losing herself and the effects on those she loves.  Carver’s father is another fully realized persona and the dynamics of the father-son relationship feel authentic and grounded in reality of two such opposite personalities.

Where You Lead is only 68 pages long, and you will want the story to continue once the end is reached.  I felt as though a evening with friends had ended before I was ready for it to be over.  I would have loved for a little more exposition, maybe a epilogue to furnish a little more resolution to a heartwarming story.  It was never in doubt as to what Peter would do.  So the only real angst here is the family as it faces the reality of his mother’s heartrending future. That they will do it with love and each other’s support is a gift that they will give each other, another certainty that Calmes shares with her readers.

This story was released at Christmas but can be read at any time of the year.  Its message of love and family reaches beyond any holiday celebration.  I love this author and definitely recommend this story for all lovers of contemporary romance.

Cover art by Reese Dante.  This  cover is exquisite.  One of the best of the year.

Book Details:

ebook, 68 pages
Published December 25th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press (first published December 24th 2013)
ISBN 1627984763 (ISBN13: 9781627984768)
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.marycalmesauthor.com/

Review: Kept Tears by Jana Denardo

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Kept Tears coverArmy vet Aaron Santori’s time in Afghanistan almost broke him.  An explosion on duty cost him his arm and killed many of his friends.  Now home, Aaron is trying to deal with his PTSD, his scars both  physical and emotional, adjust to his new trans-humeral prosthesis, all while studying physiology as a grad student at Pitt.  A full load, almost guaranteed to keep him so busy that dating or any relationships outside of friendship are a challenge at best.  Then one night at a steampunk event at a local bar, Aaron and friends run into  Rhys Edwards, a YA novelist from Wales and everything changes.  Rhys is not put off by Aaron’s prosthesis and he makes it very apparent that he finds Aaron absolutely attractive no matter what scars Aaron carries.  Soon, Aaron finds himself in a relationship that he never anticipated with a gorgeous man of his dreams.

But Rhys has many secrets, including the fact that he is not human.  As a prince of the Tylwyth Teg, Rhys is fae.  He is an immortal Seelie, with enemies and ex paramours that come with centuries of living.  One such ex lover, Morcant, is determined to have his revenge on Rhys for cutting him loose centuries ago.  Soon  the unwary Aaron becomes the target of Morcant’s plot against Rhys.  The truce between Seelie and Unseelie Courts may be broken, and lives lost, including Aaron’s if Rhys can’t stop Morcant from carrying out his revenge.  Can the mortal Aaron survive being in love with a Seelie Prince?

Kept Tears is a story that has me wavering in setting any ratings at all.  I loved so many parts of this story and yet can see where many readers will want to discard it almost immediately when it comes to Denardo’s idea of Fae morality including her Fae outlook on love and fidelity.  I will get to that later.

First, lets look at the excellent job she did in creating Aaron Santori, a wounded warrior, whose time in Afghanistan has cost him his arm, a horribly scarred leg and left him with PTSD.  Denardo’s descriptions of Aaron’s night terrors and flashbacks, seen from Aaron’s point of view, brings the reader intimately into the character’s mindset and emotional turmoil.  But we are eased into it slowly as we get to know the character better.  Our first introduction to Aaron (and Rhys) is the night of the steampunk event at a local bar.  The scenes let us know that while Aaron has shied away from intimate relations, he has not isolated himself from those that care about him.  We get to see a man involved with life, although on his terms, and it becomes easy to embrace his character.   Denardo has made Aaron  accessible by his interests,his appealing nature and of course, by his frailties.  Aaron’s transhumeral prosthesis is a fascinating element in this story. Aaron is studying myoelectics because of his arm.  I recently saw a piece on a hand prosthesis such as his on a cable science program and was as fascinated as Rhys.  Here is an excerpt as Aaron shows Rhys his arm for the first time:

 “Your turn.”

“Grad student at Pitt. I’m studying physiology. I wanted to be a doctor, went to the Army to pay for it, and ended up a medic. Things went sideways from there.”Aaron gestured with his prosthetic hand and Rhys’s blue eyes widened. “Ah, you didn’t expect it to move.” Aaron grinned.

Rhys studied the transhumeral prosthesis Aaron sported, obviously amazed, awe in every word. “No, I did not.”

“I’m in a program working with myoelectrics, and this arm is part of it.” Aaron moved his fingers.

“How does it work?” Rhys leaned closer.

Aaron didn’t mind bragging about his arm. “There are electrodes under my skin that talk to the arm. I think about moving the arm, and it moves. I’m still learning all the intricacies. I’m working on the physiology aspect as part of my doctoral work.” He couldn’t contain his excitement as he explained, his mechanical fingers clenching and unfurling as he showed off.

“That is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” Rhys reached over and touched the prosthetic hand.

Aaron wiggled his thumb. “Isn’t it?”

“Absolutely.” Rhys back, tossing his head. His wheat-gold hair flopped into his eyes. “What else do you like besides steampunk?”

Aaron was dressed for the event in a costume where “Aaron had designed his dress shirt to be short-sleeved on the side of his prosthesis so it could show off the gears and brass work he had sheathed the nonmoving parts in.”  Aaron has adjusted to  his arm in a healthy way but is wary of others reactions to the prothetic.  It’s a realistic and lovely moment, especially when Aaron realizes that Rhys has easily accepted it as part of Aaron and moved on.  For me, Aaron is the best, most moving part of Kept Tears and when his relationship with Rhys places him in unknown danger, I found the suspense to be almost unbearable.

Then there is Rhys Edwards aka Myrddin, prince of the Tylwyth Teg. Rhys is a Seelie fae, an immortal who has a Sidhe wife and children who he cares about deeply.  And therein lies the rub for many readers.  One half of the romantic couple is happily married to a female fae and has children.   He has no intention of leaving his wife or children nor would it be reasonable to assume he would do so as he is heir to the Seelie throne. This is not a spoiler as the reader learns about his marital status almost immediately in the story.

I will admit that this startled me at first.  But as Rhys (and Denardo) admonishes/informs us, that is a human outlook, not a Sidhe one.  In fae lore and Denardo’s construct, the Sidhe are immortal, and for them monogamy is unrealistic past the first 50 or 60 years with the same person.  Rhys is bisexual, and has had many partners (and relationships) over the hundreds of years.  Rhys has always found himself attracted to humans, with their mayfly (one day life span) existence.  He has had innumerable human lovers of which Aaron is just one more.  His admiration for humans is touching and real as is his sadness for our brief life span.  Think of Denardo’s Sidhe as beings for whom polyamory is something of a norm.  Rhys’ wife and children are aware and sometimes approving of his  paramours incorporating them, however, briefly into the family.

If you can let go of a need to see Denardo’s Sidhe as extensions of ourselves instead of inhuman immortal beings with their own societal norms then the romance between Rhys and Aaron becomes a lovely, wonderful love affair. I also feel that any author whose story, including one with a love between an immortal and a human mayfly, must contend with the readers imagination and need to “fill in” the emotional plot blanks.  I am talking about the need to extrapolate the relationships past plot and story endings. Think of all the fanfiction out there and you can see where I am going with this.  This will always be a HFN, with an overlay of bittersweetness that comes from the ephemeral nature of a Sidhe/mortal love affair.  Denardo recognizes that and addresses it as realistically as possible in a fantasy story.  This aspect of the author’s story did not bother me after a while as I adjusted my own expectations for Rhys and Aaron.  It helps greatly that Gwenllian, Rhys’ wife and all his children are engaging, wonderful creations in their own right as is their Sidhe world.

The narrative flips from various characters point of view, including the Unseelie villain, Morcant.  I liked this format here is it serves to let the reader in on Morcant’s maneuverings and dastardly plots, upping our anxiety over Aaron’s welfare and increasing the suspense overall.  My only quibble here is that after bringing the reader up to a high threshold of anticipation over the extent of Morcant’s deviousness, the resolution doesn’t measure up to the events that preceded it.  A bit of a let down, unfortunately.

For those readers who can’t get past a main character , even if they aren’t human, who is married and therefore “cheating” on his wife and children with another, this is not the book for you.  But if you can enlarge your view of relationships to include one where one half of the romance is actually a group of people, then Kept Tears will be a story you will want to pick up.  Aaron Santori is amazing, Rhys and the Sidhe universe he comes with are intriguing, and the villain Morcant as  unscrupulous, cruel and self serving as any you have met before.   Denardo’s prose is lively, the plot engrossing, and the ending one I could understand and enjoy.  Pick it up and decide for yourself.

Cover artist Paul Richmond’s cover is amazing, with the prosthetic arm of Aaron’s in clear view.

Book Details:

ebook, 210 pages
Published January 27th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press (first published January 26th 2014)
ISBN 1627983120 (ISBN13: 9781627983129)

Review: The Lightning Moon by Sylvia A. Winters

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

The Lightning Moon coverIt’s been five years since Quinn’s husband was shot and killed in the woods behind their house. Quinn’s love was a were and his killer was never caught.  And for all that time Quinn and mourned, unable to move forward with his life.  Quinn spends his days as a shop clerk at The Crystal Moon Emporium, a shop catering exclusively for witches.  Quinn’s brother Michael has just reappeared in his life, bringing along with him his new fiance Jade, a were herself.  Their happiness just reminds Quinn of all he has lost and how lonely his life is now.  But Michael and Jade are keeping secrets, the biggest of which brings danger to them all.

Arrow is good at his job, hunting and tracking for a fee.  And for some time Arrow has been hunting a couple on the run.  But in the last place they fled from, Arrow finds a letter, one that pours out the writer’s loss and pain.  It’s a letter that haunts Arrow and reminds him of a life he can never have.

Quinn and Arrow are on a collision course, one that will change both their lives forever and only fate know how it will play out.

The Lightning Moon is a quietly magical story, and not just literally. Sylvia A. Winters has created a narrative and characters  for her story that are so beautifully defined, so restrained in their emotionality and yet so appealing in their vulnerability that the reader is fully absorbed by these people and their futures from the very beginning.

I love this trope.  A character finds himself falling in love with a person by means of a portrait or letter before they have met the individual. It is a hauntingly emotional technique when used effectively and in The Lightning Moon, Winters uses it perfectly.  Quinn is the first character we are introduced to, still mourning the loss of his husband yet he is also starting to recover enough that he realizes just how lonely his life has become.  And on the anniversary of his love’s death, he writes a letter.  The reader is not privy to the letter’s content until later but already Quinn has engaged our sympathy with his quiet pain and acceptance.  Still he is not an object of pity, due to Winters textured characterization which gives Quinn a vulnerability as well as a sense of humor and loyalty.

Arrow, the other main character, is just as vulnerable although he will not realize it until later.  Arrow is a witch who fell into his profession by accident and by way of a dysfunctional past.  His constant need for travel, his lack of support and home is starting to wear on him as is the type of jobs he takes and the employers he works for.  Winters takes that cynical, world weary “bad man” character, twists it to her own  use and gives us Arrow, a man open to redemption and love.  Arrow becomes accessible emotionally to new possibilities for himself and, through her descriptions and dialog, Winters brings the reader along for his journey.

And what a journey it is.  Fraught with emotion, packed with suspense, the reader is still filled with pain for the characters at the inevitable clash although we have been anticipating it from the beginning.  The author tells her tale with a concise touch, moving the narrative along at pace that never feels rushed or bogged down.  It flows, gathering the necessary speed that excites our expectations as all the characters and events head into the dramatic climax.

I loved this story and only the author’s world building kept it from a perfect 5 rating.  I wanted Arrow and Quinn’s universe a little more fleshed out.  It holds humans, witches and weres, although not all are held equal.  I wanted to know more about their society and its attitude about the beings that lived in it.  Her world intrigued me, and a little more knowledge would have rounded out the story to perfection.

I highly recommended The Lightning Moon.  It’s an enthralling, enchanting story of love and redemption.  Don’t miss out, grab it up and start reading.  As for me, I am off to search out more stories by this marvelous author.  I can’t wait to see what new worlds and characters she brings to us next.

Book Details:

ebook, word count 31,000
Published January 8th 2014 by Less Than Three Press LLC
original title The Lightning Moon
ISBN13 9781620042991, buy it here at Less Than Press, LLC
edition language English

Review: Christmas Serendipity by Liam Livings

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Christmas Serendipity coverIts December 23rd and things aren’t going well for David as the days head into Christsmas.  Only days before David had just been dumped by his philandering boyfriend, and now he has just been fired from his job at the pub.  Only his friends, Tony and Cathy save him from a lonely and despairing Christmas when they invite him to spend the holidays in the flat they share in a small town in England. Unbeknownst to David, he will not be the only guest invited.

Handyman Christian decided that now he had a boyfriend it was a good time to come out to his parents and bring the new boyfriend home for the holidays.  Unfortunately for Christian his parents weren’t overjoyed about the news that he was bringing home a significant other that was male and that Christian was gay, so they disinvited him to their Christmas.  Then Christian’s new boyfriend promptly dumped him saying he couldn’t take the drama.  Alone and unwelcome in his family home, Christian has no where to go until his friend Cathy invites him to share in the holidays with her flatmate and their friend, David.

As the good food is cooked and the beer flows, a connection is made between David and Christian that offers a chance of becoming something deeper and quite wonderful.  But their painful pasts lurk just outside the door, waiting to enter and ruin the tentative start on romance and love.  Can David and Christian find the strength to move into the future and leave their past behind or will they lose the chance at love this special Christmas has offered them both?

As we head into the holidays, another lovely way to add to the warmth of the season is the pleasure of reading stories set in this season of celebration and love.  Christmas Serendipity is just that delightful story that will warm your heart and leave a smile on your face.  I am unfamiliar with Liam Livings but based on this story alone, I will certainly be seeking out more of his stories in the future.

One of the most frequent issues I have with holiday stories is the saccharine quality that can overpower the best of them, leaving the romance and characters almost too sweet to be palatable.  But here nestled in a flat in a small village in England, the four characters of this story, David, Christian, Tony and Cathy, never fall into that trap.  Instead I found them to be engaging, funny, and very, very human.  It didn’t matter whether they were trying to organize Christmas dinner or locate that last tree to be hauled up into the flat, this group of friends  were people I enjoyed  spending time with, foibles and all.

At forty-five pages, Christmas Serendipity is just that, a serendipitous holiday short that offers a chance at love and family to four people, especially David and Christian who need it the most.  I would have loved a little more of Christian’s back story as well as David’s rocky relationship history.  Yes, Tony’s character ventures into cliche, but it’s a delightful cliche and I adored him as much as I did David and Christian.  And yes, there was that scramble to bed and sex, albeit a sofabed, but Livings explained that away nicely via drink and desperation of the holidays, a stressful event that has caused more than just a couple of out of character behaviors from people.  So I can say I definitely can recommend Christmas Serendipity as a story to put on your holiday reading list.  Grab this up and a hot toddy or two and enjoy the warmth of the  holiday season!

Book Details:

Expected publication: December 8th 2013 by JMS Books

Playing Ball Authors Stop By For A Chat and a Contest!

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PlayingBall_tourbannerScattered Thoughts is hosting those wonderful authors of the Playing Ball Anthology today and offering a chance to win a eBook and a print copy!  The link to the contest is at the end of the blog! So join me as I pull up a chair and welcome Marguerite Labbe, Kate McMurray,Shae Connor, and Kerry Freeman:

Playing Ball End of Blog Tour and Giveaway

I can’t believe this is the last day for the blog tour, what a whirlwind ride it’s been. The ladies and I thought we’d share some of our favorite positions in baseball (outside the bedroom ) and a few excerpts.

Marguerite: So any thoughts on your favorite positions in baseball?

Shae: Catcher. Those THIGHS. 😉

Marguerite: One of my closest friends would agree with you for that very same reason.

Kerry: I’m partial to 2nd basemen. They have strong arms for to throw with, and you know they must have good hips to pivot and throw like they do 😉

Shae: And first basemen are usually tall, with long arms and legs, agility, and a lot of flexibility…

Marguerite: I’ve always been a fan of 3rd base and 3rd basemen. *Sighs* I still miss Mike Lowell. It gets hot and intense in that corner.

Kate: I don’t have a favorite, though my baseball boyfriend Joe Mauer is a catcher, so make of that what you will. Maybe it’s the mask, like he’s hidden and then there’s the hotness reveal? Also, some catchers get manicures so that the pitcher can see the hand signal while staring at the catcher’s crotch. (Just saying.)

Shae: One of the catchers today (Cards?) had his fingernails painted shiny gold. What happened to using white tape?? LOL

Marguerite: Maybe it’s more eye-catching or a secret signal? I noticed it too. I think though, that my favorites are pitchers. I just love the intensity and the way they torque their bodies and of course the staring at crotches.

Playing Ball coverPlaying Ball
Shae Connor, Kate McMurray, Kerry Freeman, and Marguerite Labbe

Cover by Aaron Anderson
Published by Dreamspinner Press
270 pages

Buy at Dreamspinner,Buy at ARe,Buy at Amazon

Blurb:

Baseball—America’s favorite pastime—provides a field wide open for romance. A Home Field Advantage may not help when Toby must choose between the team he’s loved all his life and the man he could love for the rest of it. In 1927, Skip hides his sexuality to protect his career until he meets One Man to Remember. Ruben and Alan fell victim to a Wild Pitch, leaving them struggling with heartache and guilt, and now they’ve met again. And on One Last Road Trip, Jake retires and leaves baseball behind, hoping to reconnect with Mikko and get a second chance at love.

The anthology contains the following novellas with an excerpt behind them:

Home Field Advantage by Shae Connor

Toby MacMillan, grandson of Atlanta Braves owner Ray MacMillan, lives for baseball and loves his team. When he meets new team member Caleb Browning, an innocent welcome-to-the-big-leagues dinner leads to a not-so-innocent night together. Toby quickly calls things off, afraid of the ramifications of their tryst, but the two men develop a friendship that soon becomes more. After Caleb takes a fastball to the head, their budding romance hits the news—and Toby’s grandfather hits the roof. When Ray MacMillan demands Toby deny the relationship, Toby must choose between the team he’s loved all his life and the man he could love for the rest of it.

“Come up for a drink?”
All the warning bells in Toby’s mind went off at once, but none of them were enough to stop him from doing what he did next. He followed Caleb into the elevator, rode up to the sixteenth floor beside him in silence, and then followed him down the hall to his room.
Once inside, Caleb dropped his duffel on the dresser and moved toward the minibar, like he was actually going to make good on his nightcap offer. “Not sure what they have in here, but—”
Toby didn’t let him get any further. He took three long steps, reached up to wrap one hand behind Caleb’s neck, and kissed the words right out of his mouth.
Caleb’s lips were soft and dry, yielding easily to Toby’s insistent pressure and soon parting to allow Toby’s tongue inside. Caleb tasted like the mint he’d popped as they left the table downstairs, with a hint of sweetness from the tea he’d had with dinner and a deeper flavor of pure Caleb.
Toby wondered if he tasted like that everywhere.
Eager to find out, Toby slid his hands under the hem of Caleb’s T-shirt and pushed it up until it bunched under Caleb’s arms. Breaking reluctantly away from Caleb’s mouth, Toby bent to lick his nipple instead, hearing the hiss from above at the intimate touch. Caleb’s skin was saltier here, the remains of a long day of travel clinging to his body, and Toby took another, longer taste, wrapping his lips around the pebbling skin and sucking gently.
“Holy shit, Toby.”
Caleb shifted, and Toby saw his T-shirt go flying a second before Caleb grabbed Toby’s arms and turned them both, shoved Toby against the wall, and fell against him. Caleb sealed his mouth over Toby’s even as he worked his fingers under Toby’s shirt and let them roam across his skin. Toby kissed him back desperately, kneading at the strong muscles of Caleb’s back, muscles honed from years as an athlete who used his body well. Toby was no slouch, physically speaking, but he relished the few inches and couple dozen pounds Caleb had on him. Toby felt surrounded by Caleb but not overwhelmed, the give and take between them perfectly balanced.
After breaking the kiss, Caleb pushed at Toby’s shirt, and Toby raised his arms to let Caleb strip it away like he’d done with his own. Caleb wrapped one arm around Toby’s body to pull their chests together and used his free hand to cup Toby’s ass so he could grind his pelvis into Toby’s. Toby groaned as Caleb licked across his jaw to his ear, where Caleb breathed out, “Jesus fuck, you’re hot.”
Toby let out a strangled sound something like a laugh. “Nothing on you,” he managed, turning his head to capture Caleb’s mouth with his.

One Man to Remember by Kate McMurray

It’s 1927, and in New York City, Babe Ruth and the Yankees’ unstoppable batting lineup, Murderers’ Row, is all anyone can talk about. Across town, the Giants’ rookie infielder Skip Littlefield racks up hits, creating a streak to rival the Babe’s. Worried his secrets could get out, he avoids the spotlight, but he catches the attention of lauded sports reporter Walter Selby, a notorious dandy whose sexuality is an open secret. Skip reluctantly agrees to an interview, and mutual attraction is sparked. Skip can only hope the more charismatic stars will draw attention away from his romance with Walt. Otherwise, his career and everything he loves is at stake.

Walt leaned against the brick facade of a Times Square building and watched Babe Ruth get out of a cab. The Bambino was wearing a clean white suit with a matching fedora tilted at a jaunty angle. Walt always found the contradiction of Ruth—the expensive clothes on the odd, triangular body, with the craggy face that looked like it had been in too many bar brawls—to be quite interesting. But there were plenty of reporters in New York dying to follow Ruth around. Walt had another story to pursue.
The Penguin Club was around the corner. It wasn’t Walt’s favorite Times Square establishment. It was a little bland, but that was why he’d chosen it—it was safe. He couldn’t imagine a kid like Skip would do well in the sorts of places Walt really liked to go. He was skittish in the baseball stadium; Walt couldn’t imagine him calm in one of the racier clubs.
He pulled his fedora down over his eyes and slunk down Fifty-Sixth Street. The Penguin was a little off the beaten path—another reason Walt had chosen it—and tonight, Walt wanted to fade into the background a bit, to observe instead of be observed.
He spotted a figure walking down the street from Sixth Avenue and knew immediately it was Skip. He walked with a dancer’s grace, something Walt had noticed at the stadium. As he came closer, Walt saw he was wearing a brown suit a couple of seasons out of style and a battered bowler hat that didn’t really go with the suit. These were forgivable offenses, Walt decided, since he did look pretty great out of a baseball uniform.
“Why, Mr. Littlefield,” Walt said as Skip walked up to him. “You’re a real sheik outside of the ballpark.”
It was too dark to see if Skip was blushing, but Walt imagined from the way he ducked his head that he was.
“I’m still not really sure about this,” Skip said.
“One measly drink won’t do any harm.”
Walt gestured for Skip to follow him. He knew the password, although the door was being watched by a big six named Anthony, with whom Walt had once had a brief and tawdry affair. Luckily, they were still on good terms.
“How are ya, Walt?” Anthony greeted him.
“I’m just ducky. This is my friend John.”
Skip tilted his head, but then extended a hand to Anthony, who shook it.
Anthony said, “You boys can go on in. Although, Walt? If you’re looking for something to do later, Carmela’s performing at that little place off Forty-Third tonight.”
Walt nodded. He loved Carmela’s show, but he was sort of wishing this interview would go long enough for him to miss it. And he certainly knew better than to think Skip would be interested in a show like Carmela’s. “I’ll keep that in mind,” Walt said.
As Walt led Skip into the speakeasy, Skip said, “Who is Carmela?”
Walt chuckled. “Would it terrify you if I told you she is a female impersonator?”
Skip tilted his head again, as if he were taking that in. “Like a man in a dress?”
Walt nodded. “Carmela is in fact an Italian fella named Carmine who I’ve known for years. He’s… well, he’s something, to be sure. But his brother owns a bunch of the Times Square establishments, plus a few other places downtown, so he has plenty of performance venues.”
Skip seemed more intrigued by this than put off, which was not the reaction Walt had been expecting. “What does he do in his show?”
“Dances, tells jokes, that sort of thing. Like a one-man vaudeville act. Why do you ask? Do you want to see it?”
Skip shrugged. “Just wondering.”
What an interesting man Skip was turning out to be. The lack of literacy had given Walt pause back at the stadium. Walt’s handwriting wasn’t so abysmal that it couldn’t be deciphered, so Skip’s hesitancy over the words said a lot. But he still had found the place. Asking about school was on Walt’s agenda for this evening. He didn’t know much about Skip except that he was very attractive—he had a round face with a narrow nose and surprisingly plump lips atop that athletic body, and as he removed his hat, he displayed a thick head of wavy blond hair—and he played baseball as well as or better than many of the best ballplayers in the city. He was also, apparently, barely literate and intrigued by the idea of a show like Carmela’s. Walt was fascinated.

Wild Pitch by Marguerite Labbe

Ruben Martell fell in love with Alan Hartner during their years playing baseball. They stepped over the foul line once, but the encounter left them struggling with heartache and guilt, turning away from each other to focus on their families. Now retired from the majors, they run a batting cage together and coach rival Little League teams as they juggle fatherhood and being single again. Though Ruben has never given up hope that Alan might look at him as more than a friend, Alan seems determined to keep things the way they’ve always been. But long-buried feelings and desires have a way of resurfacing, and Ruben can’t wait forever.

The pop fly went straight up the center and was caught easily by the shortstop. Ruben came jogging forward as the end of the inning was called. “Didn’t get enough sleep last night, Alan?” he called teasingly, and Alan narrowed his eyes. Oh no, he was not going to be the only one who had a hard time concentrating today.
“Just remembering The Maltese Falcon,” Alan said, patting Ruben’s back as he came to an abrupt halt. “Makes it a little hard to stay focused.”
Ruben turned to look at him, his gaze hot and intense, and Alan knew he’d gotten under his skin. He was learning to recognize the little signals from Ruben that gave away his interest, like the way those eyes of his would darken even more, or the way he’d kind of lean in toward Alan. “Good movie,” Ruben said, after a minute examination of Alan’s face. “Good memories associated with it.”
“Good, hmm?” Alan let his gaze rake over Ruben and grinned wickedly as the other man shook his head in bemusement. “I can think of many other adjectives.”
Ruben leaned closer still and lowered his voice. “You’re a damn tease, Hartner. I never would’ve thought that of you.”
“Goes to show you don’t know everything about me yet.” Alan backed away toward his dugout with another grin, spreading his hands wide. “Kind of exciting, isn’t it?”

One Last Road Trip by Kerry Freeman

With the last game of his Major League Baseball career behind him, Jake Wilson hits the road. Years have passed, but he never got over the romance he shared with Mikko Niemi back in college. Finally, he’s ready to do something about it. He starts with some crucial visits to his ex-wife in New Mexico, his son in Oklahoma, and his daughter in Tennessee. But his true destination is Mikko’s home in Georgia, where he’s hoping to get a second chance at love.

It had been a lonely few months in Atlanta. Jake had gone from being a high school baseball star to just another hick jock. It didn’t matter that his test scores and grades would have gotten him into Georgia Tech regardless of the baseball scholarship. The smart kids looked down their noses at him. And the other jocks? Until Jake played a game and played it well, he was only a wannabe freshman. The first day of preseason training, it all started to turn around for him. He and the other freshman bonded over their mutual desire to prove they were worthy to wear the gold and white. They worked hard and cheered each other on. They quickly became favorites of the handful of regular practice spectators, who all seemed to have a soft spot for the awkward newcomers. One spectator stood out. Jake tried not to stare, but he couldn’t stop his surreptitious glances at the man. Jake had known since forever that he could be turned on by men as well as women, but this was different. The man’s square jaw and tight swimmer’s body made Jake have evil, evil thoughts, thoughts of things way beyond the frenzied hand and blow jobs he’d experienced with other equally frightened high school boys. Jake also had more tender thoughts, which he found slightly frightening. Every time the man brushed his hair from his eyes, Jake wondered if the hair was soft, how it would feel if he ran his fingers through it. He snuck enough glances to determine that the man’s almond-shaped eyes were a beautiful hazel, and, more often than not, those eyes were trained on Jake. Worst of all, Jake wanted to pull the man’s full bottom lip between his and find out how the man tasted. He had never kissed a man, but God, he wanted to kiss this one. After a few weeks of torture, Jake decided he’d had enough. He might make a fool of himself. He might even get his ass kicked. But he was going to talk to the man who’d been starring in his dreams. When practice was over, Jake hung back on the field, waiting for the other players to head toward the locker room and hopefully out of earshot. He’d noticed days before that the man would not leave right away; he’d linger, reading a book or relaxing on the bleachers. It was almost as if he were waiting for someone. Then again, Jake thought, that could be his own wishful thinking. As he walked, Jake brushed off his pants and straightened his cap. When the man looked up from his book to see Jake heading his way, his smile was unmistakable. Jake was sure he’d never seen a clearer invitation to come closer, and he struggled to keep his feet from speeding up. He needed to play this cool, keep his intentions a secret until he was sure they were welcome. “Hey.” Jake shoved his glove under his arm. “What you reading?” The man waved the small paperback. “Oh, this? To Kill A Mockingbird. I have been told it is a classic American novel. I like it so far.” Oh holy fuck, Jake thought. He has an accent on top of everything else. The man’s voice was cool and smooth, like a window in an air-conditioned room. It sent frissons cascading over Jake’s sweat-damp skin. Each word was clearly enunciated, crisp. Jake sat down, leaving a respectable distance between them. “It is. I read it in high school, and it’s pretty good.” The man folded the corner of a page and closed the book. “We read a few American novels in school in Finland, but not this one. I think I may recommend it to my teacher back home.” “Finland? How did you end up here?” “I wanted more sunshine and warmth. My family visited friends in Savannah once, and I fell in love with Georgia.” “Well, you definitely came to the right place for sunshine.” Jake was positive if he heard much more of the man’s accent, he would melt on the spot. “I’m Jake Wilson,” he said, holding out his hand. The man stared at Jake’s hand before finally shaking it. “I know,” he said. “I read about you in the student paper. My name is Mikko Niemi.”

To celebrate the release of PLAYING BALL, we’re giving away two great prizes:

Grand prize: A print copy of PLAYING BALL signed by all four authors, a unisex BBQ apron featuring hot athletes from Originals by Lauren (https://www.etsy.com/shop/OriginalsbyLauren), and swag from all four authors.

Runner-up prize: An ebook copy of PLAYING BALL and swag from all four authors.

The giveaway will run from 12AM Central on September 21, 2013 to 12AM Central on October 11, 2013.
To give an opportunity for the authors to get together to sign the book and gather swag, the winners will be picked and the prizes shipped after the end of GayRomLit 2013.

Rules:

You must be a resident of Earth, 18 years or older, who lives in a place where the viewing of adult material is legal. By entering the giveaway, you are indicating your agreement to the rules. Winners must provide a physical mailing address to receive their prizes. If a winner does not respond to the prize notification within 48 hours, the prize will be re-awarded.

Link to contest page: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/76e2bf6/

Review: Isle of Wishes (Isle of Wight #2) by Sue Brown

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Isle of Wishes coverAfter the tumultuous events of the past months, life for Sam Owens and Liam Marshall is finally on track.  They are getting married and Liam’s visa issues have finally been resolved.  So Sam sends Liam back to his home in Michigan to pack up his belongings for the final move to England and married happiness with Sam.   Everything is fine until Liam stops returning Sam’s phone calls. Sam trusts Liam and their love so Sam knows that something has gone terribly wrong.

Sam intends to go to the States to look for Liam but knows he will need help and support.  So he turns to his brother, British Metropolitan police officer Paul Owens, to accompany him to Michigan.  If anyone can find Liam and get them both safely back to the Isle of Wight for their wedding its Paul Owens. Upon landing, they soon discover the trail leads to a small town in Wisconsin, outside of Milwaukee where LIam’s rental car has been found.

Once in Milwaukee, openly gay Detective Paul Owens starts investigating Liam’s disappearance and runs smack into the closeted but gorgeous Wisconsin Detective Olaf Skandik.  Olaf returned home after he left the service and joined the police force.  But the small town attitudes and close-knit community now feel restrictive, and Olaf is afraid that coming out will leave him both without a job and family.  But as Paul and Olaf start investigating Liam’s disappearance together, mutual attraction flares into something much more, shocking them both.  What happens when a casual attraction turns into love for men separated by an ocean of responsibilities?

Isle of Wishes is the second story in the Isle of Wight series and it deepens my love for these men and their families that started in The Isle of…Where?.  In that book, we first meet Sam Owens and Liam Marshall when Liam arrives on the Isle of Wight to scatter the ashes of his best friend, Alex.  Sam and Liam meet and fall in love, passionately and forever within weeks of Liam’s arrival and Sue Brown absolutely makes the reader believe in this love affair and Sam and Liam’s need for each other.  The author also surrounded this pair with a collection of characters, mostly Sam’s family, including one of his brother’s, a police officer named Paul.

Brown gave this motley, large family such depth and dimension to their characters that I fell in love with them as much as I did with Sam and Liam.  At the end of that story, we left Sam and Liam happy but starting the process of getting a residency visa for Liam and dealing with other issues.  Brown had convinced us that they were on the road to happiness but still had a journey in front of them. So naturally  I wanted the next chapter in their lives immediately.  Sigh.

Instant gratification are two words not in Sue Brown’s vocabulary, at least not in this series.  Her readers had to wait over a year to see what happened next to Sam and Liam and the Isle of Wishes gives us a startling answer.  Liam disappears to the consternation and heartbreak of Sam and fans of this series.  I love that element of Sue Brown’s stories where items that appear to be safe and straightforward are actually deceptively complicated, whether it is  relationships, sexuality, or even a trip home to finish packing and move.  Nothing works out as planned because life doesn’t function that way and Sue Brown’s stories are most definitely grounded in reality.

That’s why I can accept a casual attraction turning into something deeper, not yet love but greater than just a flirtation and hookup.  It’s also the reason why the cause behind Liam’s disappearance is so plausible as well.  I often find myself nodding in agreement with something I am reading in her stories because its recognizably familiar and human.  This also applies to her characters, whose problems and outlooks reflect our own.

Olaf is that man who finds himself torn between family and job he loves and his sexuality.  Olaf has hidden his sexuality for years and now it has become deeply ingrained to hide his attraction to men.  Given small town attitudes, especially in his town’s law enforcement, Olaf is well aware of what coming out would cost him, his job and his family.  Until Olaf meets the outwardly gay Paul, he has never questioned his decision to remain firmly in the closet.  Then Paul and Sam arrive looking for Liam and Olaf’s life is turned upside down.

Brown makes Olaf’s decisions understandable even as the heat between the men flares white hot.  It’s painful, its frustrating and it feels so real to watch Olaf and Paul work through what they mean to each other even as they follow the leads in Liam’s disappearance.  Paul is a great character too.  Paul is home is in his sexuality.  He is great at his job, loves his family and is astonished at his feelings towards Olaf.  We get it that both men have a hard time believing that their feelings for each other are real given the time frame and situation they are operating in. Sam is there too for every agonizing minute that Liam is gone.  Trust me when I say your heart will be sore but not broken by the end of this story.

And that is primarily why I have not given Isle of Wishes 5 stars.  There are many loose ends left fluttering about at the end of this story, intentionally so.  We do get part of a happy ending and a something more but the author is laying her groundwork for the next installment.  And while I respect that, I do wish it had been pulled together a tiny bit more instead of a surfeit of questions and possibilities.

Still this is a deeply wonderful story.  The writing is crisp and the plot complicated enough to let the romance shine through without obscuring all the other great elements here.  And of course, there are those marvelous characters that we have come to love and who form the  basis and structure for this series.  I don’t think I can place one above the other, they are all so intertwined that separating them out actually would lessen the impact of the story. The Owens family, those by blood and those they adopt are a force to be reckoned with and I love them all equally.

So, what is in the future for this series? Well, per Sue Brown, book 3, Isle of Walls, will be out in May next year. It directly follows on from Isle of Wishes, and although it’s based on Nibs and Wig, it will tell more of Paul and Olaf’s story. Then she has a new series planned with Olaf and Paul, which will start next year.  So many stories to look forward to.  I know I will spend some of the time rereading the first two books while waiting for next spring and the arrival of Isle of Walls.

If you are new to this series, go back to the first story, Isle of….Where?(Isle of Wight #1).  It’s necessary in order to fully understand all the people and relationships to follow.  For no matter where this series goes, the heart of it remains on the Isle of Wight and the incredibly addicting Owens family. Consider this book and this series highly recommended.

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

The Isle of… Where? (Isle of Wight #1)
Isle of Wishes (Isle of Wight #2)

Book Details:

ebook, 242 pages
Published August 19th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1627980776 (ISBN13: 9781627980777)
edition language English
series Isle of Wight

Review: Fever Anthology by M Rode

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

If you love cowboys, than this is the anthology for you.  From cowboy tv stars to those that ride bucking bulls and every permutation in between, these 8 stories will make you laugh, make you sigh, even reach for a fan or too but always make you remember why you love a cowboy.

Stories included in Fever are:Fever cover

Loose Riggin’ by Julia Talbot
Two Buckets and a Snakeskin Suit by Aaron Michaels
Torn by Sean Michael
Cowboy and Indian by Rob Rosen
Heart of Dixie by Mychael Black
Ready to Ride by Katherine Halle
White Hat/Black Hat by Kiernan Kelly
In the Pocket, a Roughstock story by BA Tortuga

I really enjoyed this anthology, especially because cowboys are a real weakness for me.  Of special interest was the new story from BA Tortuga in her Roughstock series, I cannot get enough of those boys.  It also introduced me to a series I hadn’t heard of, Mychael Black’s Hearth and Home series, so that was a plus too.  Here in sequence as they appear are mini reviews of each story:

1.  Loose Riggin‘ by Julia Talbot: 3.5 stars

One cowboy on the way up, one cowboy bull rider on the way down.  Baron LeBlanc is a top bullrider at the end of his career.  During one ride he injuries himself badly and an young bull rider, Arlen Deamus, offers to take care of him and become his traveling partner.  I loved this story and thought the characters and the plot were full of promise.  It is the perfect introduction for a longer story.  Julia Talbot draws us in with her wonderful characters, great names and vivid descriptions but just as we are settling in, its over. As a short story, it ends so abruptly that it feels incomplete and the reader feels more than a little frustrated after investing emotionally in the story.  I would love to see this author expand Baron and Arlen romance into a full length book.  I will be first in line to pick it up.

2. Two Buckets and a Snakeskin Suit by Aaron Michaels: Rating 3.5 stars out of 5

While on vacation, Marcus and his sister Shelly attend camel races outside Las Vegas.  Shelly is dying to meet an Australian cowboy and these camel races have more than their share of those.  But when Marcus is hurt after he falls off a camel, he is the one who captures the attention of the only Aussie cowboy there.  This was a cute little romance between a man talked into riding a camel by his sister and the Aussie cowboy who just happens to be a chiropractor who comes to his aid.  Michaels did a nice job with presenting us with a well rounded character in Marcus and Shelly but I would have loved a little more back story on Vic.  But it’s cute, hot, and has a realistic HFN.

3.  Torn by Sean Michael: 5 stars for the heat alone

Pistol, an injured bull rider, returns home to his partner Bender and their ranch after a long  6 month absence on the rodeo circuit and shoulder surgery.  He is unsure of his welcome after receiving an angry  phone call from his  partner following his injury.  Bender’s love for Pistol is both the source of his anger and the one thing that will heal it.  This is my second favorite story in the collection.  Sean Michael gets everything right in this story.  We get all the information we need about these two men and their long term relationship from Michael’s descriptions of their tense posture, their loving gestures and a dialog that  telegraphs a well established intimacy at every level.  Bender is tired of his lover’s injuries and this last one scared him badly.  Pistol loves riding bulls and is frightened that his time as a bullrider is coming to an end.  The situation is tense, hot, loving, angry, gentle, just everything you would expect from two scared people who love each other deeply and are faced with a serious situation.  The ending is perfection, but then so is this short story.  It doesn’t need to be longer, it doesn’t need any additional backstory.  It ends where it should.  Lovely.  Here is a tease. Pistol is returning home after surgery unsure of his welcome:

He opened the door, pushed it open and stood, trying to keep them from the arm still in the sling. “Hey y’all, you happy to see me?”

“You should have called and let me know.” Bender waited for the dogs to have their hello, blue eyes on him like twin laser beams.

“I didn’t want you worrying. Jack needed his guest room back.” He’d been imposing. Not to mention, the man’s mother-in-law had come to help with the last few days of Mary Ellen’s pregnancy, and he’d wanted to come home. Bender told the dogs to “scatter,” and they did.

Before Pistol could say anything Bender was on him, mouth covering his in a kiss that smashed his lips against his teeth and totally stole his breath.

Oh. Oh, thank God. He pushed up into the kiss, damn near sobbing with relief.

4. Cowboy and Indian by Rob Rosen: 2 stars out of 5

Jed sees a poster for a fifty-dollar prize for the longest bronco buck advertised outside a saloon.  He figures his horse Bessy needs a new saddle and aims to get it for her by riding in the rodeo.  Along the way he runs into an Apache warrior, Taza, who wants to help his people.  They make love, not war and end up with a future neither of them ever dreamed of.   There are quite a number of things about this story that I have issues with, but the portrait of Taza, an Apache warrior, is the largest.  Having a Native American character, especially in a historical story, can be a iffy element if not handled just right.  For me, Taza just did not work.  From his pidgin English which reminded me of the “Me, Tonto, you white man” variety to the fact that he drops trow for an unknown white man just after the awful Apache wars have ended….well it’s not just unrealistic but downright ridiculous.  Here is their first interchange:

 “Jed,” I told him, with a polite nod. “White man sounds so, well now, formal.”

With his free hand, he pounded his chest. “Taza,” he informed me. “In your language, means Apache warrior.”

I nodded my head. “Pleasure, Taza.”

And then he nodded, releasing the beast before sending it swinging. “You want to pleasure Taza?”

The only way that piece of dialog would work is in a Mel Brooks comedy.  And it just goes further downhill from there.  This is the one story I would skip over.

5. Heart of Dixie by Mychael Black: Rating 4 stars out of 5

Mack Sexton has been in love with his best friend and handyman Les Spencer for a long time.  Les feels the same but neither man has acknowledged let alone acted on their feelings.  Then one day everything changes.  Heart of Dixie is a snapshot of a relationship that is part of a series called Hearth and Home by Mychael Black.  I am unfamiliar with that series but got enough of a taste of it from this story that I will be scampering back to pick up the rest.  Black develops the characters and setting to the point that it and both men feel real and the reader connects with them from the start.  Mack’s sister, Kate, is a lively character in her own right and the interaction among the three of them comes across as long established and affectionate.  Enjoyable and romantic.  I loved this one.

6. Ready To Ride by Katherine Halle: 4 stars out of 5

Eric is an orthopedic surgeon volunteering his time with the Justin Sports Medicine program. Ben Greene is champion Saddle Bronc rider Eric has come to love.  When Eric’s volunteer time with the rodeo comes to an end, Ben must travel on the circuit alone.  And while neither man has talked about where their relationship is going, both love each other deeply.  When Ben is receives a season-ending injury during a ride, Eric decides that, conversation or not, he is bringing his man home for good.  I loved Halle’s characters and thought she got the character of Ben with his avoidance of “mushy talk” just right.  While most of the story is seen through Eric’s eyes,  Halle shows us that Ben’s actions telegraph his feelings perfectly to his lover and that words are not always necessary.  This story has romance, cowboys and HEA in a nice short package.

7. White Hat/Black Hat by Kiernan Kelly: 4.25 stars out of 5

The time is 1968, the place Hollywood where a new TV western is getting ready to go into production.  Two men, Dallas Frank and Stone Grant, arrive to audition for the two leads, Black Bart and Sheriff Carson Star, the White Hat/Black Hat title characters.  To each man’s surprise and delight, they win the roles and secretly the love of each other.   For the next forty years, they pretend to hate each other in public while continuing a love affair that has lasted as long as their show.  Then their show is cancelled.  What will they do now?  Kelly gives us a terrific look back at old Hollywood and its outlook on homosexuality.  Through small interludes we watch as Dallas (real name Joe Bob) and Stone Grant (real name Arvin Mason) settle into a long term relationship while playing the Hollywood game to protect the series and their reputation. The ending is rewarding, the relationship has a very authentic feel as does the times the men pass through.  My third favorite story of the collection.

8. In the Pocket, a Roughstock story by BA Tortuga: 5 out of 5 stars

Sterling is a new bullfighter and he loves his job.  He also loves working with his hero and fellow bullfighter, Coke Pharris.  But rodeo clown Dillon Walsh is tired of the youngster drooling on his man and figures a little matchmaking is in order.  When stock  contractor Colby Tyburn asks for an introduction to Sterling, Dillon sees an opportunity and takes it, maneuvering Sterling into a date with the stock contractor.  Colby Tyburn has been watching Sterling for some time and loves what he sees….a gorgeous energetic young man, all want and desire.  Sparks fly at the first introduction but neither man expects the white hot sex to turn into something deeper and just perhaps, permanent.  In the Pocket is a Roughstock story. So if the reader is familiar with the series, than you already know all about Coke Pharris and his rodeo clown lover, Dillon Walsh.  They happen to be a favorite couple of mine so it is wonderful to see them make an appearance here.  But the focus of the story is the young (and virginal) bullfighter, Sterling, and the older, more experienced man, Colby Tyburn, a roughstock contractor.

Sterling is a bouncy Tigger of a character.  He is youthful, energetic to the extreme and has a bad case of hero worship when it comes to Coke Pharris.  Unfortunately for Sterling, Coke is taken and Dillon is not happy that Sterling can’t keep his hands off his man.  BA Tortuga paints the perfect portrait of innocent enthusiasm and lustful need all wrapped up in one young man who doesn’t seem to know what to do with it all.  I just loved Sterling, he absolutely made me smile.  Colby Tyburn could have come off as a predator but his appreciation for Sterling and all of his qualities, not just his physical traits, brings him back to a person the reader can relate to.  Their sexual encounter is sexy, white hot, and ultimately very touching.  It is not necessary to have read the other Roughstock stories, but it does help to round out the back history of the other men mentioned, however casually.   There are over 17 stories in the Roughstock series, Coke and Dillon’s story is called Roughstock: And a Smile- Season One. I absolutely recommend them all.  Here is a taste:

Nate (was) screaming his head off to get the bull’s attention. Joa landed, but luckily the Brazilian was ready, and they sort of strong-armed each other.

“Gotcha.”

He flung Joa toward Pharris and put himself between the cowboy and Merry-Go-Round. He heard Coke grunt, but then he and Nate were busy playing a game of slap the bull on the nose, trading off as it went round and round. This was his favorite part, the fun part. They did their little dance, and he pulled his butt in, hearing the whoosh as two thousand pounds went by.

“Woohoo!” He grinned at the gate shut, jogging over to Pharris, who clapped him on the back.

He loved his life.

Loved it.

Cover illustration by BSClay is perfect in tone and design for this collection.

Book Details:

ebook, 195 pages
Published June 5th 2013 by Torquere Press
ISBN
1610404858 (ISBN13: 9781610404853)
edition language
English

Review: Adding to the Collection (A Roughstock story) by B.A. Tortuga

Standard

Rating: 4.25 stars

Adding To The Collection coverCloseted rancher Derrick Stahlman has always had a thing for professional bull riders.  Once a year he treats himself to a small vacation to watch the PBR Finals in Reno and get himself laid in the process.  This year Derrick has a chance to watch a young bull rider he has been following on the circuit, Stone Haverty.  Everything about that small firecracker of a man turns Derrick on like nothing in recent memory.  And a specific kind of memory to take back to the ranch and keep him warm is just what Derrick is pursuing.

Stone has been doing well this year and his rides have put him in the money and top 20 rankings.  Stone also happens to be gay, although quiet about it because of the PBR sponsors.  When he spots that handsome rancher cheering him on from the fan seats in the stadium, he recognizes a kindred spirit, and a big sexy one at that.  The men come together for a couple of days of white hot sex and major snuggling before parting ways with a quiet “come see me if you are in the area” from Derrick.  And then at Christmas time, Stone appears at Derrick’s ranch and Derrick has some big decisions to make and maybe make his dream come true in the process.

First a little bull rider history.  If you aren’t familiar with PBR (here that doesn’t stand for Pabst Blue Ribbon but Professional Bull Riders, Inc.) then you are missing out on a wonderful group of athletes often overlooked outside certain sections of this country.  A professional bull rider is someone who has to remain on the back of a bucking bull for 8 seconds.  Within that 8 seconds, the rider will be judged on control and rhythm in matching the movements of the bull,  and at the same time, the bull is equally being judged for their performance. their athletic ability to buck off the rider with high jumps and unexpected  twists.  It is athlete versus athlete, rider versus bull but here the riders average around 5’6″ and a hundred and more pounds versus these amazing bulls weighing in at  close to a ton or over.  Needless to say, it is the bull rider who often comes off the worst in this contest of skill, will, and might, hopefully walking away with no more than a bruised ego and behind to show for a ride lasting less than 8 seconds, sometimes much worse happens.  Not surprisingly, this is a young man’s sport with the average age being in their twenties.  Countries like Canada, Brazil, Australia, and Mexico each have their own PBR tours and bull riders from all over the world come to participate in the World PBR Tour.

B.A. Tortuga knows her bull riding.  B.A. Tortuga also writes some of the best regional voices in the business.  Her characters conversations are flavored with  colloquialisms that never fall over the edge into parody.   It certainly helps that she knows her roughstock and bull riders like the back of her hand too.   Here is her description of Stone Haverty:

“Short, lean, but not bird-like, Stone was a little nut-brown dynamo with a pair of blue eyes that looked like lasers, glinting from under the brim of that straw hat. That callused, scarred hand worked resin into glove and rope, up and down, mimicking an action that made Derrick’s mouth dry.”

Two sentences that so fully describe this man you could pick him out of a crowd.  Here is Stone’s first impression of Derrick:

“Solid and broad, with hands that would be rough and hard on a man’s skin…This one looked like he didn’t get to town much. Oh, the boots were clean, and the hat was obviously expensive, but the guy scanned the crowd like he was starving, like he had a powerful itch.”

Derrick is a lonely, closeted rancher from California who collects bull riding memorabilia on his annual trip to the PBR Finals in Reno.  He accepts that his lot will be that of a man lacking a real romantic relationship in order to live the life he has on his ranch, although he dreams of much more.  I loved solid, grounded Derrick and wanted much more of his backstory.  Stone too only gives us hints as to what drives him.  He comes from a huge family and is the baby of a family of eight brothers but you get the feeling that there is much more to his story than is revealed here.  We get realistic glimpses of the hardships that come with competing on the circuit too, the lack of insurance and rootless existence can mean in the long run.

The sex scenes are hot, desperate in their need,  funny and totally realistic.  I mean you are laughing along with the men as pants get stuck on boots and clothes refuse to fly off the way they do in the movies. And you will hurt with them too as the injuries arrive.  These men breath and bleed, laugh and hump so authentically that you expect them to climb out of the pages.

My only quibble with this story is the length.  It just cries out for a much longer version so all the requisite back history of these men and their journey to this point in their lives is layered into this story to finish it out.   At 60 pages, it is just enough to “wet our whistle” as it were but not enough to fully satisfy.  I hope B.A. Tortuga revisits this couple and lets us in on how they are faring.  I loved my short visit with them and am ready for the rest to follow.

Cover: Cover illustration by BS Clay is lovely and pertinent to the story

BA Tortuga. Adding to the Collection (Kindle Locations 83-87). Torquere Press.