A Caryn Release Day Review: Nomad’s Dream by August Li

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Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

How do I describe this book?  It’s romance and adventure, a sprinkling of poetry and wisdom, a generous dash of fantasy and magic, all set upon the primal struggle between good and evil.  In short, amazing!

Isra is a Bedouin, a true creature of the desert in a way that transcends time (and initially had me thinking this was a historical book).  Granted, this book presents a very romanticized, Western view of the Bedouin culture, but the interaction between Isra and other people, and between Isra and the desert, gave an amazing depth to his character.  He knew he was attracted to men, and had resigned himself to being alone and refusing to take a wife, but he wasn’t truly lonely.  The desert provided him with all the nurturing he needed.

He had another secret from his clan members, and that was his friend Flicker, an arafrit, a creature of fire and air, who came to Isra from time to time, and with whom he shared all of his deepest thoughts and desires.  When Isra started to have recurrent dreams of searching, that eventually culminated in the face of a man, he turned to Flicker for help.  Flicker led him to an ancient temple, then disappeared.  And Isra found the man he’d been dreaming of – a beggar, a man with no name, no memories.  Isra bestowed the name Janan upon him, meaning heart, and took him to his home.

For Isra, taking this man into his home and into his protection felt destined.  And despite Janan’s distressing amnesia, he could feel that Janan was a good man.  They grew close, and then they fell in love.  They would have been content to continue living with the Bedouin, but Janan continually had a feeling of something left undone, some person left behind, and tantalizing but enigmatic glimpses of who he used to be, that would not leave him at peace.  He and Isra enlisted Flicker to help them find the secret of Janan’s past and identity, and set off on a quest to recover his memory.

I haven’t read an MM romance in this setting before, and I loved how the dedication was to “a certain Publisher and Chief Development Officer who lamented the lack of sexy sheikh submissions”.  I am sure that person is fully satisfied with this submission.  Both men are sexy, but more than that, they are truly heroic, although in a quiet, humble way.  They came across as authentically muslim, but from an Islam that is quite different from the fundamentalist sects that we in the western world associate with terrorism.  The desert itself is almost another character in the book as well, a place of stillness, potential, and abundant life to those who know how to find it.  In Isra’s words, life in the desert “granted freedom and, maybe even better, time.  Making a living didn’t cost a man’s every waking moment….One could ruminate on the meaning of life and God and fate and love and feel nothing had been wasted.” Even through the violence and danger the men encountered  as they found and confronted the person who ripped Janan’s life away, there was still a sense of the vast and eternal desert biding its time until the men returned.  My own personal experience of the desert included scorching heat and scorpions, and I am absolutely not a fan, but this book almost made me want to try it again – the writing was just that good.  Again, in Isra’s words:  “Stories are important.  They tether us to the past, to our place in time and the world.  They help us understand life and ourselves.”

Overall, highly recommended.  This is an author I will be looking for more from!

Cover art by Tiferet Design is perfect for the “sexy sheikh” the author was going for.  I pictured both MC’s a little scruffier myself, but this works…

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book details:

ebook, 200 pages
Expected publication: January 29th 2019 by Dreamspinner Press
Original Title Nomad’s Dream
ISBN 139781644050149
Edition Language English

Barb, a Zany Old Lady Review: Wholehearted by Cate Ashwood – Audiobook narrated by John Orr

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5audiobook clipart bw

Wholehearted coverWhen police officer Declan Grant goes to investigate the report of someone sleeping at the end of the town dock, he’s shocked to find a bruised, bloody, and unconscious man. And he’s even more shocked by his reaction to the man— under all the blood is a handsome young man who grabs Declan’s heart and won’t let go. Though he’s not happy with the hostile reaction he gets from the man when he finally wakes in the hospital, he finds himself offering a home and friendship to Lucas Hale and the offer comes from a deep and warm place in his heart.

Against his better judgment, Lucas accepts the offer of this stranger, a man who he feels safe with, and, we later learn, finds very cute and hot. The two grow closer together over the time that Lucas is recuperating and slowly Lucas begins to trust Declan until he finally tells him the full story of the homophobic attack that occurred while working on a lobster boat. He makes Declan swear to keep it confidential, and Declan, even though he’s a police officer, agrees to do that. But Declan didn’t agree not to investigate on his own, and he manages to gather information on all the men involved in case Lucas changes his mind someday.

Over time, Declan and Lucas grow stronger together and eventually declare their love and hope for a future together. But when Mack finds the file Declan had hidden, and arranges for arrest warrants, Declan is the one who has to tell Lucas of his betrayal. And that’s exactly how Lucas sees it. Broken-hearted over the break in his trust, Lucas leaves, telling Declan that he never wants to see him again.

The next few months are hell for Declan, but bring a happy surprise to Mack and Oliver, MC’s in the first book in the series, “Brokenhearted” in the form of a new addition to their family. Eventually Declan and Lucas get to see each other again while preparing for the trial, and after a long and heartfelt talk they begin to work their way toward their HEA. A large part of the story revolves around the separation period as we see it’s a difficult journey for Declan, one for which he has to travel alone for a while, and begin to see what he most wants in this world and what he’s willing to do to get it.

I loved the story and the narration was superb. John Orr’s narrator voice was different from the inflections he gave to Declan and Lucas and they were different from Mack, Oliver and Hayden who all return for a cameo appearance. He also brought reality to each scene— from panting to, crying, laughing, and sighing— all were done to perfection. I would normally give this story 4 stars but his narration is so good it moves the rating up to 4.5 overall.

I recommend this book and this series to all lovers of M/M romance, especially to those who love angst and hurt/comfort stories. The audiobook is outstanding so I recommend this format for not only this book but the entire series. Since I’ve listened to the other two books in the series, I can honestly say that they all have outstanding narration by John Orr.

Cover Art depicting a fishing boat with a blood stain on the side is by Aaron Anderson. I found that the art was a perfect depiction of the boat on which Lucas was hurt and the blood symbolic of the injuries he suffered there.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner audio book  iTunes   Audible   amazon

Book Details:

Cover Artist Aaron Anderson
Narrator John Orr
Length 6 hours and 18 minutes
Categories
AudiobooksCate AshwoodHope Cove Series by Cate Ashwood
Book Type Audiobook
Other Formats eBookPaperback

A MelanieM Review: The Best Corpse for the Job by Charlie Cochrane

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Best Corpse for the Job cover

Tea and sympathy have never been so deadly.

The private school of Lindenshaw St Crispin’ has long lost the luster it once had.  Once a sought after place of high education, it has now sild slowly into the ranks of lesser schools and its dwindling enrollment reflects that.  But the governors want a return to its glorious days and to do that they need to hire a new Head Master or Head Teacher as the title is now called.  Among those chosen for the selection panel is schoolteacher Adam Matthews.  All Adam wants is to chose the best person for the children and go home to his quiet life at the end of the day.  But when one of the applicants is found strangled in the school, everyone looks to be a suspect, even Adam himself.

Inspector Robin Bright isn’t thrilled to be back at St. Crispin’s. the scene of the crime and his old alma mater.  The school and its grounds,  as well some of the old staff that still remember him, bring back old painful memories Robin would rather stay forgotten.  The one bright spot is one that he shouldn’t be thinking about? That would be the handsome and kind schoolteacher, Adam Matthews.

 

All the secrets of Lindenshaw St. Crispin’s start to surface as another body is discovered.  As the stakes get higher and the murderer becomes more desperate, Adam and Robin have to decide who they can trust and rely on, even deciding if that includes each other.  The complications rise up and the race is on to find the killer before Adam and even Robin himself are targeted.

If you look up the definition of Cosy Mystery in the dictionary, it includes this statement ”

“Cozies are mystery novels typically set in English country houses, villages, or other benign environments. Cozies feature very little violence, aside for the murder, and few gory details. The term arose from the relatively genteel settings, the common use of amateur sleuths as protagonists, and the fact that all loose ends are tied up and the villain caught and punished by the novel’s conclusion.”

To that I will add, the Cozy Mystery is a popular trope found in all forms of media, from Agatha Christie, the grande dame of Cozies to Murder, She Wrote.  It has a timeless appeal with its small town settings and the intimacy found between all the various townspeople… victims, murderers, suspects alike.  It lacks the brutality and rawness of other mysteries, concerning itself with the amateur sleuth and their ability to reason.  Small wonder that Charlie Cochrane, that marvelous author of stories composed of civilities, history, and relationships has written a cozy to delight us all.

The Best Corpse for the Job brings us into the small English village of Stanebridge and a school in decline.  Lindenshaw St. Crispin’s is a school mired in its past.  And its teachers, well, most of them, realize that to survive it needs a new Headteacher (formerly known as Headmaster) and direction to pull it into the present.  A panel is chosen to decide who is the best candidate for the job and then hire that person.  So deceptively simple a decision and yet so fraught full of politics, personality clashes, and ambition that you know it will go wrong right from the start.  And it does, deliciously so.

Cochrane brings us into the civilized halls and playing  fields of this most austere establishment, letting us feel our way through the aged paneled hallways, noting the deep history of the school while subtly highlighting the wear, tear, and worn nature that its lowered status has caused.  Through Cochrane’s descriptions one doesn’t have to had stepped foot in such a school to feel the atmosphere of stress, age, and years of children of all ages trooping in and out have wrought upon St. Crispin’s.  It’s all marvelously there, a perfect setting for murder most foul.

Adam Matthews, a kind and caring teacher who prefers to keep his homosexuality quiet from some of the more bigoted members of the staff, is such an attractive main character.   His geniality, his concern for his students and the future of the school make him immediately likable.  We get his concerns and we adore the way in which he appreciates his life, from the school to his small house, complete with enormous Newfoundland called Campbell.  He’s the perfect amateur Cozy sleuth and he acquits himself handsomely here from start to finish.

More complex, definitely more brooding, Inspector Robin Bright has a painful history that is deeply rooted in the very school that is the scene of the crime.  And this crime has brought up all the old hurtful memories and issues that Robin thought he had put in the past.  Again, Cochrane makes us feel the bitterness and anger Robin has carried with him all these years and it’s a stark contrast to Adam and the type of teacher he represents. Robin too is someone the reader will care about greatly.

And at the heart of this story is the crime and murderer who remains hidden for most of the story.  It’s a twisty little mystery, one that the reader will enjoy puzzling out along with Robin and Adam, as the scares, clues, and suspense ratchets up the stakes for all.  Is there a heart thumper or two?  Why, yes, there is and it makes the ending all the more enjoyable.

I hope that there are further mysteries ahead for Robin and Adam, they make quite the team.  And Charlie Cochrane’s ability to bring the gentility, intimacy, and sometimes deadly village goings on to life makes her a Cozy Mystery author to write home about.   Consider The Best Corpse for the Job, and its author, Charlie Cochrane both among Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words highly recommended reads.

Cover Artist: L.C. Chase.  I have to admit to being disappointed in the cover.  Too modern for a Cozy, it missed so many opportunities to highlight the story and the mystery it involves.  It looks more like a modern office than ancient private school.

Sales Links:  Riptide Press (available for pre order)   All Romance eBooks   Amazon – all links to follow

Book Details:

ebook, 298 pages
Expected publication: November 24th 2014 by Riptide Publishing
original titleThe Best Corpse for the Job
ISBN139781626491571
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://riptidepublishing.com/title

Barb, A Zany Old Lady Review: Anchored by Rachel Haimowitz

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Anchored Riptide CoverDaniel Halstrom was born a slave, brutally indoctrinated into sex slave behavior before he even reached puberty, and then sold by his master to NewWorld Media at the age of ten. Fortunately, they wanted him for a different role and now, twenty-five years later, the handsome, blond news anchor who began his climb to fame as a field reporter is fairly secure in his role in the newsroom—or so he thinks. When NewWorld informs him that he’s been leased to Carl Whitman, a talk show host on a rival network, for the amazing sum of $6 million for the year, he’s seized by total and complete panic and frozen by fear as old memories of what it means to be a sex slave come back to haunt him. So much so, that he doesn’t recognize Carl’s attempts at being friendly and compassionate and it causes much unnecessary angst and frustration for the both of them.

Carl seems determined to include Daniel at the dinner table and as a companion while he watches television in the evenings. He doesn’t order Daniel around and fails to give Daniel the direction he’s come to expect from his masters. In fact, Daniel really isn’t capable of making his own decisions, having been born a slave and punished severely all his life for any attempt to do so. When Daniel fails to engage in any conversation with Carl, remaining mute and remote, in frustration, Carl reports his disappointment to the brass at NewWorld.

Once his bosses learn that Carl is not happy with him, they take Daniel to their punishment room. Spoiler alert. Continue reading

A MelanieM Review: Stand By You (Belonging #3) by A.M. Arthur

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Rating:  4.25 stars out of 5

RStand By You_coveromy Myers is still deep in recovery three months after friends rescued him from the apartment of his abusive boyfriend.  Unable to hold down most jobs, his friends offered him not only a place to stay with them at their apartment, but a  job bussing tables at their new coffee shop, Half Dozen.  Romy has almost completely shutdown, quiet and shaky from the PTSD and trauma he suffered at Carlos’ hands.  The old Romy, flirty, funny, and adorable, was buried deep inside.  After all being that person had almost gotten Romy killed.  Now alone and quiet is the key for Romy these days.  But watching his friends, Donner and Ezra so deeply in love sometimes makes Romy remember when he wanted that too.  Until it all went so wrong.

Brendan Walker has made watching over the wounded Romy sort of his job since he was the one to carry the bleeding man out of that apartment of horrors.  Ex football  player turned building maintenance worker, Brendan stays close, using funny texts and messages to stay close, developing a friendship that helps Romy stay grounded enough to get through social situations.  But Brendan finds Romy occupying his thoughts 24 hours a day.  And feelings start developing towards Romy that no straight man ought to have.

Now Brendan finds himself questioning his sexuality.  If he is gay, is that something his large family will accept?  And Romy finds Brendan protectiveness makes him feel safe, perhaps safe enough to think about love once more.  Can these men put uncertainty and their pasts behind them to make a future together?

Stand By You is the third book in the Belonging series about a close group of friendsby A.M. Arthur.  It is also the only book I have read so far in the series.  Normally I find that an impediment to understanding the characters and events that have already taken place, but in Stand By You, I missed the horrific events that precipitated Romy’s rescue from Carlos as they had already taken place.   Stand By You picks up with a physically recovered Romy still dealing with the emotional aftermath of his captivity and brutal treatment at his boyfriend’s hands.  Romy is such a clearly defined and believable character.It is easy to find yourself emphasizing with his problems and nightmares.  Watching his character learn to trust again was deeply moving and a wonderful part of this story.

Also touching was the figure of Brendan Walker.  A “bruiser” of a man in appearance, Brendan’s real self is that of a considerate, protective, thoughtful person who loves his family so much he is willing to let his assumptions  about their reactions rule his life.  Here Brendan’s biggest fear is being anything other than straight.  His attractions to men don’t start with Romy, so this isn’t a “gay for you” story but one about  acceptance and exploring your sexuality.  Brendan’s journey, while not as wounded a one, is as deeply affecting as Romy’s, especially since they are so intertwined.

There are so many issues that A. M. Arthur addresses in Stand By You, from the impact coming out has on a person and their  family, to the recovery from a trauma both emotional and physical, and people dealing with all facets of their personality, good and bad.  No matter the subject matter and the manner in which Arthur uses it in her story, this author handles it with sensitivity and care.  It makes for lovely reading and layered characters that makes an impression upon the readers from start to finish.

As with Foundation of Trust, Stand By You will drive me back to the other stories in this series.  To meet Donner and Ezra and all the rest and read their stories as well.  As I said, you could read this as a stand alone as I did. It works well as such.  Or go to the beginning (assuming you haven’t already done so) and start from there.  I will be playing catch up!  Either way, consider Stand By You by A.M. Arthur a highly recommended read at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words.

Cover artist not listed. But that is a good cover for this story.

Sales Links:    Carina Press   All Romance eBooks  amazon  Stand By You

Book Details:

Kindle Edition
Expected publication: October 20th 2014 by Carina Press
ASINB00LSDQNJK

 

Books in the Belonging Series in the order they were written:

No Such Thing (Belonging #1)
Maybe This Time (Belonging #2)
Stand By You (Belonging #3)

Review: In Despair (Princes of the Blood #3) by Megan Derr

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Rating 5 stars out of 5

In Despair coverSixteen year old Prince Telmé Guldbrandsen has been groomed to become a Prince of the Blood and take over as Commander of the Legion.  Equally young Korin is heir to the Reach of the House and the Temple of the Sacred Three. Expectations run high for him as well since it has been foretold that he will be the next High Priest.  Telme’ and Korin are also engaged to each other, an unfortunate affair since neither boy can stand the other.  Between the constant fighting and endless quarreling, the Halls of Castle Guldbrandsen have been ringing with shouts of anger and  fists hitting flesh instead of calm and the silence of boys at their studies to the displeasure of the royal family and all the others around them.

Monsters and dark mages left over from the last war lurk all around the kingdoms.  Princes of the Blood, and their fellow supernatural beings are the only things that stand between them and the remainder of humankind.  But humans that will allow their children to be tested to see if they have the right percentage of Demon blood are few as are pure blooded humans.  When found, they are brought to the Castle Guldbrandsen for testing and to strengthen ties through marriage.  Just such an happening at Castle Guldbrandsen ends in a devastating and unthinkable event, leaving those still standing awash in grief and anger.  Telme’ and Korin are Castle Guldbrandsen’s last hope but can they put aside their distrust and personal hatred long enough to save the kingdom and each other in the bargain?

In Despair marks the end of the Princes of the Blood trilogy by Megan Derr and I am so sad to get to the end of this marvelous tale of love, loss, and magic.  From the beginning, Megan Derr made the fascinating and quirky decision to write this trilogy backwards.  The first book, Of Last Resort (Princes of the Blood #1) takes place towards the end of the trilogy’s timeline, and each book thereafter moves the story back towards the beginning years and the history that is only hinted at in the first book.  It’s a challenging and imaginative format and its has worked beautifully here.

In Despair starts out with the characters in deep despair, a state that will follow them into the past.  Telme’ stands at the bedside of Koren who is terribly wounded from his fight with an angel from Of Last Resort.  That momentous battle came at the end of the first story and it left Koren in a coma.  Now as the trilogy comes to an end, Derr puts us down at Castle Guldbreandsen to get at glimpse at the lives of those impacted by that battle.  While Telme’ waits at Koren’s bedside, he remembers back to when they were teenagers and at odds with each other.  And from that time on, In Despair  starts its own tale of war, black magic, loss and love.

Megan Derr is one of my favorite fantasy authors.  In the Princes of the Blood trilogy she weaves together romance, action, adventure, fantasy and magic into stories that both the YA and adult readers will love.  As with all her stories, we start off with some amazing world building.  From Castle Guldbrandsen whose rulers have a very close connection to demons as well as all the fantasy beings that make up the incredible magic protectors of the realm,  the army of mixed-blood beings known as the King’s Legion: dragoons, shadowmarch, sorcerers, titans…and of course, the Princes of the Blood.  Derr has folded so many rich details and layers into this world.  The trilogy starts after a cataclysmic war has occurred that brought forth all sorts of demons and set them loose in the world almost destroying it.    While the war ended centuries ago, the aftermath has left demons scattered throughout the kingdoms, the human population with varying degrees of demon blood in them due to intermarriage, and necromancers others still trying to reopen the door’s to hell and start the war all over again. And with each story, Derr reveals more about the past through the characters battles in the present time and their interactions with each other.

In Despair is a standout from the other two stories in the trilogy in a number of ways.  First, the characters here are the youngest of all the main characters whose tales and romance unfold in these three books.  Telme’ and Koren are but sixteen (with Koren slightly younger than Telme’).  Telme’ and Koren exhibit all the stubbornness, impetuousness, and capriciousness of youth.   Quick to anger, unable to communicate, and equally quick to assume hurt and humiliation, these two young boys yet have the weight of the kingdom on their shoulders.  Both are expected to assume two of the highest positions in Castle Guldbrandsen and neither has the maturity or knowledge needed to make that leap to power and responsibility.  Sullenness and fights are the rule for both as are misunderstandings and punishment.  Derr makes both boys come across so real, so human in their insecurities, pain, and anger.  It is easy for the reader to see both sides of the picture for each teenager because it is such a recognizable stage of human growth.  Between hormones and pushing back against parental expectations, Telme  appears not only “bratty” as the adults term him but overwhelmed by the responsibilities he doesn’t want to assume.  And the reader gets that too, particularly as becoming a Prince of the Blood means turning into a demon or half demon at a young age.  By his behavior Telme has delayed the test but time is running out.  Derr makes both boys so young in their mental and emotional development that we connect with them easily.  Then she jerks their foundations out from under them and the tale really gets underway.

As with all marvelous coming of age stories that include high adventure and fantasy, it must also include the darkness of evil and absolute loss.  As Castle Guldbrandsen falls under the destructive powers of both, Telme’ and Koren must pull together, grow up (somewhat) and assume the duties they have been avoiding.  It’s a timeless, dramatic concept and Derr’s treatment of it and her characters growth is as compelling as they come.   That’s possible because no matter what challenges these boys face or hurdles they must overcome, they remain the teenagers they are.  They still make poor judgement calls, make assumptions about each other and the events that occur that adults with more experience would disregard, and suffer from the lack of practical knowledge and maturity that age would have given them.  I love that there is no “instant adult” changeover in persona.  No, these are still kids trying to fill adult shoes and mostly succeeding  to mixed reviews from the grownups around them.  How can you not empathize with a sixteen year old who has just kind of “saved the day” only to come back to adults who don’t like the way he did it?  As an adult, you can see both sides but the teenager in you will be just as dumbfounded and angry as Telme’ is. That’s one of the real beauties of this story and this trilogy,  Megan Derr tells it in such a way that we believe so deeply in these characters and their lives that we can see all sides to every argument and still come down on the side of youth and fragility no matter our own age.

At the end, Megan Derr brings the story back around to the time of the first story, Of Last Resort, with Telme’ still waiting to see if Koren lives.  Her circle is complete, and her trilogy is almost over.  All the characters from all three stories appear and their stories resolved in scenes and mentions of events happening inside the castle.  Did I love the way In Despair ended?  Absolutely.  Do I recommend In Despair and the entire Princes of the Blood trilogy?  Without question.

Of Last Resort, With Pride and In Despair will all be at the top of ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords Best of 2014 lists this year.  Check them all out but read them in the order that Derr wrote them.  It will make for some magical reading and leave you sighing for more at the end.  Just like me.

Cover art by Aisha Akeju who is quickly becoming a new favorite artist of mine.

Buy Links:           Less Than Three Press              ARe                 Amazon               In Despair

 

Book Details:

ebook
Published July 9th 2014 by Less Than Three Press
original titleIn Despair
ISBN139781620043233
edition languageEnglish
seriesPrinces of the Blood #3

Princes of the Blood Series include (written in reverse sequence)

Of Last Resort (Princes of the Blood #1)
With Pride (Princes of the Blood #2)
In Despair (Princes of the Blood #3)

Review: Poster Boy (Theta Alpha Gamma #5) by Anne Tenino

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Poster BoyGavin Jacques Gervaise aka “Jock” was a talented college hockey player being scouted by NHL teams when one indiscretion at a party changed everything. Outed by a picture that caught Jock in the middle of a sex act, he was kicked off his college hockey team by his homophobic coach and hounded by flyers sent around campus,  Now Jock has transferred from Avalon College to Calapooya College in Oregon.  His older brother, Tank, is enrolled there and a member of a Theta Alpha Gamma fraternity.  Jock had hoped for anonymity on this campus, but those hopes were dashed when Tank outed his brother again during a frat party organized to announce their new gay friendly status.  What Jock wants is a chance to explore his new found sexuality without a spotlight focused on him.  The man he chooses to be his first is Toby Moore.  Toby and Jock’s first night together is everything and more Jock could hope for.  It is also the only night Jock expects them to have because he still has so much and so many hookups to explore.  But things never have a way of turning out exactly as planned as Jock should know.

Toby Moore is having one of those years and not in a good way.  Toby’s thesis is barely underway when it should be almost completed. And all of  Toby’s friends and former dates have found happiness and their significant others, leaving Toby as the permanent third wheel.  A new hope for someone to fill the void is broken when Jock decides he only wants a one-night stand with Toby. When Toby needs an extension on his thesis, his professor agrees with a stipulation.  Toby must act as a resident chaperone for the Theta Alpha Gamma Student Study trip to Provence, a place that should be perfect for Toby to work on his thesis and get over the pain of rejection from Jock.

But Jock’s problems at Avalon have followed him to Calpooya when that infamous flyer resurfaces at his new campus.  The solution is for Jock to go with his TAG frat boys to France and let everything smooth over in his absence.  Only Jock didn’t realize Toby was going.  Nor did Toby see Jock’s name on his students list.  Now that fate and Toby’s advisor has thrown them together, how will Toby and Jock handle their deep attraction to one another now that they live together in romantic Provence?

Anne Tenino has said that Poster Boy marks the end of the Theta Alpha Gamma series, a series about a group of men I have come to love over five stories.  While I am sad to see this wonderful series end, Poster Boy ushers them out  in a truly outrageous and wonderful manner.   I love the idea of taking this ragtag company of overage underachieving adolescents, confused jocks (literally) as well as a major player who is ready for a commitment and sending them together to France.  It’s such a pleasure to sit back and read all the comedic mayhem and sometimes surprising romantic entanglements that ensue in Anne Tenino’s absorbing plot.

As the final story, Tenino brings all her main characters out to play here.  Sebastian and Brad, Paul and Trevor, Collin and Eric, they are all here, although in varying degrees of importance to this story.  And so many of her great secondary frat characters are in play as well, like Tank, Kyle and Jules.  But her final story is saved for Toby Moore, a character we have seen in many of the preceding stories and Jock Gervaise, who was introduced at the end of book four.  I love these two men, both of whom are at such pivotal points in their lives.  Toby is having to reevaluate so many important issues at the moment.  Previously commitment phobic, now watching all his friends find love has made Toby aware that he is ready for a permanent relationship as well.  And there are no takers lining up for the job.  And its not just his love life that’s stalled but his academic one too.  Pushed onward into his current course of study by his parents, Toby’s thesis has languished under a lack of inspiration and ambition to finish as he realizes that he doesn’t know what he actually wants to do next with his life.  Stymied by his indecision, Toby is that terrific character at that stage in life that everyone can identify with and no idea how to go forward.  Tenino has taken a character that might have been less than simpatico and given him the depth and complexity that brings us totally into his corner.

Jock also has arrived at a place in his life where he has to make some major decisions for himself.  Up to now the choices he has made have been ones he has not owned up to or choices that have been made for him by others, well meaning or otherwise.  New school, new acquaintances, new frat house and an older brother he has always idolized in place to support him, a new start all around.  But the past never stays buried and Jock’s past arrives to force him to finally deal with a situation of his own making.  And all these colliding problems and issues make Jock one angry and bitter, albeit gorgeous, young man.  That state of mind is never a great launching pad for new starts or great decisions.  Tenino’s Jock is one frustrating, uncertain, and irritable young man.  His is a journey that some readers will find hard to completely empathize with because his actions will make him seem like a bit of a jerk.  I felt that way at the beginning too.  But the more I thought about his character and the background Tenino has established for him, the more his actions made sense.  How does a young boy break out of rigid preconceived notions about himself and his future?  And what does he  replace it with when all he knows is his family’s conservative background?  Jock has had his foundations broken and doesn’t have a playbook on how to establish new ones.  Even his beloved older brother has acted in a manner that Jock has not counted on.  Anyone would be angry or act like a jerk and Jock does.

Even more than his actions, something more problematic is Jock’s attitude towards topping and bottoming and how that choice might define what makes a man.  Jock’s near constant mulling over of this idea drove me to distraction.  Enough I wanted to say when it went on ad infinitum.  But again, upon more reflection, Anne Tenino has gotten it exactly right.  What Jock is obsessing over is nothing less than trying to figure out what being gay means to him and how he looks at himself (and others).  It’s that primal “who am I?” question and Jock doesn’t have the answers or have them just yet.  Brad among others try to help Jock discover the answer but really only Jock can do that and finally does.Any how, back to Jock and his fumbling about,  when you have this big a problem on the brain, then it follows that its all you think about.  So yes, Tenino having Jock work his way through the process this way is very realistic.  And our frustrations with him are authentic as well.

And while Toby and Jock  are slowly finding their way to each other, the rest of the Theta Alpha Gamma delayed adolescents or as Toby calls them, maturity challenged individuals, are scouring the french countryside for beer terrorists, scaring nuns, trying to learn french and totally cracking us up in the process.  How I adore Danny, Gomer, Ricky, Julian, Turbo, and Noah. Each is adorable in his own right.  Tenino takes the reader and the boys out to visit some wonderful sites as part of the TAG independent study abroad program.  The boys visit Les Baux and Barbegal, letting the reader in on their adventures and the wonder of those historic sites.  I loved the various locations visited, the descriptions are so vivid and precise it felt like being there.  But hilarity and communal hijinks are never far away with this group and just their appearance in a scene is enough to make the laughter bubble up in anticipation.

Poster Boy really can’t be read as a stand alone novel which might be its only drawback for some readers. Its full of characters and situations introduced in the previous stories.  So to fully appreciate the TAG fraternity, its frat brothers and the journey they have been on together, the novels should be read in the order they were written.  In Poster Boy, Anne Tenino gives them all a wonderful send off, Toby and Jock as well as Sebastian and Brad ,our foundation couple.  The author sees them all on their merry way, including an unexpected future for Danny that I loved.  The narrative flowed along pretty quickly for 375 pages and it ends where it should for this series, back in Calpooya College and the new frat house.  I had so much fun with the Theta Alpha Gamma guys and loved watching each and every one find love and a happy future.

Goodbye, boys.  It’s been a true pleasure.  And its one I absolutely recommend to  all readers to discover for themselves. Happy Reading.

Cover art by LC Chase.  Love this cover, perfect for the character and story.

Book Details:

ebook, 375 pages
Expected publication: April 21st 2014 by Riptide Publishing
ISBN139781626491304
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/poster-boy
seriesTheta Alpha Gamma

Books in this Series are:

Frat Boy and Toppy (Theta Alpha Gamma, #1)
Love, Hypothetically (Theta Alpha Gamma, #2)
Sweet Young Thang (Theta Alpha Gamma, #3)
Good Boy (Theta Alpha Gamma, #4)
Poster Boy (Theta Alpha Gamma,#5) final story

Author Guest E.E. Ottoman on Song of Spring Moon Waning, Story Inspiration and Book Contest

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ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords is happy to have author E.E. Ottoman here today.  Ottoman’s recent release Song of the Spring Moon Waning was recently reviewed and is one of my highly recommended stories.Song of the Spring Moon Waning cover

Book Giveaway: To go along with  E.E. Ottoman’s guest blog, we are giving away one copy of Song of Spring Moon Waning.  To enter, just leave a comment, as well as your email address or method of contacting you in the body of the email.  By leaving a comment and entering, you are agreeing that you are over 18 years of age. Contest ends 3/15.

I asked E.E. Ottoman to talk a little bit about the inspiration for this  magical story, and the ancient Chinese setting because I felt that it came across not only as authentic but artistic as well.

E.E. Ottoman:

I wrote Song of the Spring Moon Waning in the winter of 2012-2013. When I started I had it in my head that I was going to write a fairy tale. Not a retelling of a fairy tale, although I love those, but a story in the style of a fairy tale with all the imagery, and motifs of a fairy tale where the protagonist learned something about his or herself by the end. I debated where and when to set it but the only thing that felt right was Medieval China.

Now for full discloser, I study history. When I was writing this I was in graduate school for history. I don’t though study Chinese history. I study Asian American history, and although I focus on the Chinese immigrant community I only look at that community in the United States and then in the late 19th century or early 20th.

Song Dynasty China, which is what Song of the Spring Moon Waning is based on, is not only a totally different country from the one I study, but also many hundreds of years too early. I had taken some classes on Chinese history though and for one of them written a research paper on same-sex relationships in Chinese history. I had also done significant research into the lives and roles of palace eunuchs for another project before I started working on Song of the Spring Moon Waning. So the ground work for that was already laid out.

Still having done one or two research projects in no way made me qualified or ready to portray an entire society and time period.Which meant that in order to write Song of the Spring Moon Waning I had to do a lot of additional research.

Lucky for me studying history at a major university did give me the upper hand in doing historical research. I had access to academic databases, I could and did check lots of books out of the university library. Plus my advisor at the time WAS a historian of China and even more lucky for me focused on the Imperial examination system.

A lot of the research I did was pure factual: how did the examination system work in the Song era, what did people wear, what did houses look like, how where dreams thought of and interpreted, was there a Song Dynasty equivalent of fast food?
I did my best to find the answers to all these questions and any other details that came up while I was writing. I tried to do as much fact checking as I could using the resources I had.

That meant I did a lot of research up front, but also as I wrote I was constantly stopping to check details. A large part of my editing was also fact checking, although I’m sure from a straight up history perspective the story is a long way from being error-free.

Song of the Spring Moon Waning isn’t just a historical though it’s also a fantasy story. So in order to better understand how fantasy elements could be combined with a historical Chinese setting I started watching loads of wuxia tv shows and movies.

For those of you who don’t know wuxia is a genre of art and fiction that revolved around a chivalrous martial artist figure. According to Wikipedia:

“Modern wuxia stories are largely set in ancient or premodern China. The historical setting can range from being quite specific and important to the story, to being vaguely-defined, anachronistic, or is only used as a backdrop for the action. Fantasy elements, ranging from fantastic martial arts to ghosts and monsters, are common elements of a wuxia story but not a prerequisite. However, the martial arts element is a definite part of a wuxia tale, as its characters must know some form of martial arts. Themes of romance are also strongly featured in some wuxia tales.”

Song of the Spring Moon Waning is not a wuxia story since neither of the main characters are martial artists. It does combined a premodern Chinese setting, fantasy elements and a strong romance. Also learning about modern wuxia stories allowed me to better understand the way Chinese history and fantasy are combined in Chinese media itself.

China — especially premodern China — can often be portrayed in US media as a mystical or magical place but it is almost always in a distinctly Orientalist and therefore racist way. Because of this, I very much did not want to base my own story only on Western representations of Medieval China or Chinese fantasy.

Actually I’d say Hollywood is a really bad place to start for anyone who wants to write any sort of story based on any Asian culture. The faster you can forget any movie made or popularized in the US the better off you are. Luckily we lived in the computer age and it is easy to find good movies and shows made in China for a Chinese audience, even with English subtitles. That being said :: puts my historian hat on:: movies and tv is never a substitute for actual historical research ::takes my historian hat off::

I also read a lot of Chinese folk tales and tried to soak up the way that Chinese fairy tales are constructed and the kind of imagery that is used in them. I also can’t emphasize how amazing my friend Ginger was. Having grown up in China, she knew all different versions of various folk tales and kindly told me every single one in detail and let me ask questions about them. At the end of the day I took all this and combined it into a story that also had my own unique style and voice.

Song of the Spring Moon Waning, for all the fantasy elements, is very much a story about Wen Yu, about his struggles and insecurities and about his relationships with Liu Yi, how that relationships changes him and makes him look at the world in different ways.

I hate stories that tie everything up in the end and much prefer my fantasy and fairy tales to have the heroes going off to take part in more adventures. So that was exactly how I ended Song of the Spring Moon Waning. Wen Yu has learned to make his own decisions and live with the consequences of those decisions. Now he and Liu Yi are ready to face more adventures together.
Song of the Spring Moon Waning is part of the Jade Mountain series which also include Zi Yong and the Collector of Secrets, also published by Less Than Three Press. You can see more about it here. The third book in the series will pick up where Song of the Spring Moon Waning leaves off.

I am excited about it and I hope you all are too.

Thank you so much to Melanie for having me on her blog.

STRW:  And my thanks to E.E. Ottoman for a fascinating look at the inspiration behind this remarkable book.  I can’t wait for the next story to arrive.  Remember, to enter the contest to win a eBook copy of  Song of Spring Moon Waning, leave a comment below and an email address to I can contact you.  The contest ends March 15th.  Good luck everyone!

I leave you with a picture of the Snow Dragon Jade Mountain in China.JadeDragonMountain12

Song of the Spring Moon Waning coverBook Details:

ebook, 32,000 words
Published January 15th 2014 by Less Than Three Press LLC
ISBN13 9781620043004
edition language English
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You can follow E.E. Ottoman on:

Review: Lying with Scorpions (Memory of Scorpions #2) by Aleksandr Voinov

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

If you lie with scorpions, you’d better have a taste for poison.

Lying with Scorpions coverNow that Adrastes, ex leader of the Scorpions and Kendras’s lover, has assumed the throne of Dalman along with his sister Queen, Kendras is finding himself increasingly out of his depths. He feels uncertain not only his own leadership of the Scorpions but of Adrastes the King. Kendras was brought up to fight, his enemy clear.  Now he is smothered in political games of treachery, poison and succession.  Even his past is shaken when old memories are stirred up of his childhood and parents.

Adrastes has a new role for the Scorpions, one which means leaving their centuries old rules and traditions behind to become a fighting army for the king.  Once Kendras would have followed Adrastes blindly but now he starts to have questions.  And with the arrival of the formidable Commander Graukar, General of the West, Kendras becomes even more unsettled.  Graukar is the opposite of everything that Adrastes seems to becoming.  Graukar is forthright, a formidable fighter, a person  unlike any Kendras has known before.  Now the future seems uncertain. What is the truth and what is false?  Can Kendras, the Officer and lover, still trust the man he risked everything to find and save?  Or is there more going on around Kendras that even he can imagine.

What a brutal and brilliant saga this is turning out to be.  In the first story of the series,Scorpion (Memory of Scorpions, #1), we are introduced to Kendras, member of the Scorpions, an elite fighting force that has been decimated by the constant warfare between the rival cities.  Kendras’ world has been a very straightforward place up until recently.  He had a mission, to find and rescue his Officer, the leader of the Scorpions who also happens to be his lover.  No person or obstacles kept Kendras from accomplishing his task.   His life is the Scorpions, a group of men who have become a family steeped in the traditions of this mercenary unit.  But by the end of that story, Adrastes, the Officer Kendras rescued turns out to be someone unexpected, a King. And upon assuming the throne, the title and responsibilities of the leadership of the Scorpions passes to Kendras.  Suddenly his life is overwhelmingly complicated and his loyalties stretched to include not just his close-knit band of fighters but a king and his political agenda.

One of the elements I appreciated with this story is the manner in which Voinov deepens his characterizations to compete with the equally evolving complexity of his plot.  With each new political intrigue or added plot layer the author unfolds a revelation about a character to ensure that all the elements remain in balance. Central to the story is the growth that Kendras must experience in order to cope with his ever changing (and precarious) position in almost every aspect of his life.   The author paints a very clear portrait of a man out of his depths, a “rank in file” soldier promoted to Officer, a position he reluctantly assumes.  His lover went from Officer of a small fighting corp to ruler of two city kingdoms and possibly more. Kendras used to be certain where he belonged and his role in the Scorpions, now everything around him feels like smoke and mirrors, leaving Kendras desperate to adjust.  The story is again told from Kendras’ point of view, and that provides the reader with a front seat to his confusion and increasing doubts about Adrastes, his role in the King’s life and indeed, the very future of the Scorpions themselves.

Voinov has a gift of creating characters that exude a  great vitality, a certain brutal realism that is perfect for the world they inhabit. This ability to believe in Kendras, Adrastes, Widow, and all the others makes it relatively easy to slide into their lives and the conflicts that arise around them.  Kendras is the core of the story and its through his eyes that we watch his world undergo fundamental changes that start to force him to question the very tenets of his life.   The introduction of new important characters is one aspect of the change in direction for both storyline and character growth.   It is also one of the most disconcerting elements of Voinov’s series.  Much like Game of Thrones, this is a savagely violent and ruthless world where conflict and death is the norm and lives are short lived.  It contains merciless killers, barbarous priests, and sadistic, conniving rulers.  Deceit and treachery are not only commonplace but almost necessary for survival.  Need I say that to get too fond of anyone in the series is probably a mistake?  Because everyone in this series seems expendable, perhaps even Kendras himself.

The author starts expanding his universe with this story.  New lands and seas are added, and the Jaishani themselves make a remarkable and stunning entrance into the story and Kendras’ life.  Richer in texture and more deeply layered, Lying with Scorpions is full of surprises and twists.  Like shards of glass, small bits of information are laid out for Kendras and the reader to ponder, wondering where they will fall and who they will cut the deepest.  Foreshadowing of the future or a deception designed to obscure instead of instruct?  A mask, a mosaic and even a legend, all have the ability to bring forth both shivers of dread as well as anticipation.  Just more of Voinov’s master storytelling at work.

Prepare to undergo as many changes as Kendras in your feelings towards all the characters here.  Some you thought trustworthy prove otherwise, and some show sides of themselves that will surprise you with their resourcefulness as well as their loyalties.  I loved the character of Lord/Lady Amrash as well as that of Runner.  Not surprisingly, I fear for their future in the next story, A Taste of Poison (Memory of Scorpions #3) coming soon.

I quickly became addicted to this series with Scorpion, and this story only saw that addiction deepen.  I am fascinated by the author’s ability to get under the reader’s skin with his  believable characters, imaginative plot and ever widening world building.  If you are a lover of warriors, of ancient kingdoms, of lust and loyalty and so much more, then this intense magnificent saga is for you.  Lying with Scorpions ends with a bit of a cliffhanger so I am desperately waiting for the next story to arrive.  I don’t expect any quick or neat resolutions nor do I want them.  It’s not Voinov’s style nor would it work for this character and series.  I will be content to let the anticipation build.

If you are new to the series, start with the first book, Scorpions (Memory of Scorpions #1).  There are two versions.  Make sure you  have the recently revised and redited one to start with.  The cover is the quickest indication you have the correct one.  Then more on to Lying with Scorpions.  It will take your breath away.  One of ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords Best of 2014.

Cover by Reese Dante.  At first I thought the subject of the cover was Kendras and the lack of blue eyes confused me. But the author informs me that the person on the cover is Adrastes,  who is half-caste,  being the son from a sacred marriage between the Jaishani Besh and Ashangul who is white.  He was chosen for the cover because the story is mostly about his rise to power.  He has brown eyes per the description in the first story in the series.

Books in the series in the order they should be read to fully understand the characters and complex plot are:

Scorpion (Memory of Scorpions #1)
Lying with Scorpions (Memory of Scorpions #2)
A Taste of Poison (Memory of Scorpions #3) coming soon

Book Details:

ebook, 317 pages
Published January 20th 2014 by Riptide Publishing (first published January 18th 2014)
ISBN139781626491106
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/lying-with-scorpions
series: Memory of Scorpions

Mid January Blahs and The Week Ahead in Reviews

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Winter trees longs

Normally I love Winter.  I love the contrast of the bare limbs of the deciduous trees and the lush fullness of the evergreens, the sounds of foxes crying for mates, the owls hooting in the night and the crystal clear night sky with some of the most beautiful and recognizable constellations in the Northern hemisphere.  Orion rises high, glowing bright with its two first magnitude stars, one of easiest of the constellations to learn.

But this year its different. It’s mid January and already I can’t wait for the month and indeed winter to be over.  Winter has not even been that bad here in the DC Metro area.  So many other regions have had it so much worse this season that to complain about what little harsh weather we have had seems like whining.  But these last few months have been filled full of stress and anxiety over health issues, mine and others, that I am looking forward to Spring.

I can’t wait for the new buds, returning warm weather and longer days that herald the return of the season of renewal and new beginnings.  My gardens start to come alive, the birds are singing for mates and territory as nest building begins.  Winston and I can once again count on our daily walks around the neighborhood.  Ice, wind, and the cold keep me inside for a number of reasons and Winston stays with me in total agreement.

When the weather is agreeable out we go. He loves his walks as much as I do, actually more.  His steps are jaunty as we step out the door, his head on a swivel and that marvelous natural tail is on a constant wag.    I have never had a terrier before with a natural tail as other my rescues, Kirby and Willow included,  came with the typical terrier docked tail, one that comes with the birth of the terrier breeds.  A docked tail that was used to pull the dogs out of the holes and places where they had run their prey to ground.

Now those  little tails can wag, don’t get me wrong because they can wag up a storm.  But Winston’s ?  When a rabbit is spotted, he is in ecstasy and around and around it goes until it starts to resemble a helicopter ready to lift off.  A most amazing sight, one guaranteed to lift one’s spirits and brighten the day in an instant.  This spring will be our first Spring together.  I can’t wait to see his reactions to our first walks into a new season and all that it brings.  Come on, Spring!

Now here are the books to be reviewed this week:

Monday, Jan. 13:     Horsing Around Anthology

Tuesday, Jan. 14:     Tread Marks and Trademarks by S.A. McAuley

Wed., Jan. 15:            The Lightning Moon by Silvia A. Winters

Thurs, Jan. 16:          Tor (WWF #1) by Lynn Lorenz

Friday, Jan. 17:          Ashland (WWF#2) by Lynn Lorenz

Sat., Jan. 18:               The Actor and the Thief by Edward Kendricks