Review: A Small Miracle Happened by Mari Donne

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

A Small Miracle Happened cover DonneA job opportunity just brought Daniel Sobel to a small Midwestern town, a move he is now regretting. The location and population of his new place has quickly made Dan feel like the only Jewish gay man in a small Midwestern town, especially with the approach of Hanukkah. Dan is feeling isolated and lonely, removed from his large Jewish family and his culture. The only welcoming sight is his new neighbor’s rainbow flag hung in the window of the condo next door, the only color in a sea of blandness.  On the first night of Hanukkah, Dan is missing the items he needs to celebrate Hanukkah, things that cannot be purchased in this small town. But with a ring of a doorbell and a misplaced package everything changes.

Christian Parsons, neighbor and owner of the rainbow flag, is standing at his door holding a package from Dan’s grandmother. Inside is a menorah, candles— a dreidel, some chocolate coins, and a tin of cookies shaped like a Star of David. Delighted and overcome with the love and warmth of family,   Dan invites Christian in and is soon explaining the meaning of the contents of the box and Hanukkah. Chris is unfamiliar with the Jewish religion and its holidays but if it means he can spend time with Dan, he happily accepts.  Soon the men are spending each night together, lighting a candle and discovering more about each other.  Flirting turns to fun and games and then something deeper.  What will happen when the eight days of Hanukkah are over?

A Small Miracle Happened by Mari Donne is a lovely, warmhearted romance set against the backdrop of the Jewish holiday, Hanukkah.  Two young men, one Christian (literally) and one Jewish, have recently moved into neighboring condos.  Dan and Chris are people out of place in this homogeneous Midwestern town, one by religion and both by their sexuality.  The author employs the much used plot device of a “misdirected package” to bring Dan and Chris together then turns that happening into a story richly textured with the story of Hanukkah and Dan’s warm and loving Jewish family.

I loved the manner in which Mari Donne relays the facts behind Hanukkah and the elements associated with the holiday, from the menorah (in all its aspects) to the making of the latkes.  Its all gently incorporated into the story with an appreciation and love for Jewish ritual and Judaism.  That’s not to say its not without its humor, because there is plenty of that to be found within A Small Miracle Happened as well.  The meaning behind the letters found on the side of a top called a dreidel are revealed during a very sexy game of “Strip dreidel.” And the nightly dinners, researched and cooked by Chris, are used to define and explore kashrut law, keeping kosher as it were.

As Dan teaches Chris, the reader unfamiliar with Hanukkah and Judaism learns as well.  It’s a wonderful technique, lovingly employed here by Donne.  It enriches the story while adding depth to the characters.  I loved both Dan and Chris, neither of which is the typical gorgeous gay single guy.  Dan is overexcitable, family oriented and comfortable in his homosexuality.  Chris is none of those things.  Chris’ family is not eager to accept his gayness and is just as happy for him not to appear at the Thanksgiving or Christmas celebrations at home.  Chris is tall, awkward, and shy.  Yet Donne makes their relationship and attraction believable and endearing.

A Small Miracle Happened is a short story at 79 pages but the author makes the most of this length to deliver a story that feels much larger in heart and scope.  It has been divided into eight chapter, one for each night of Hanukkah.  And then the author goes one step further and gives the reader a delightful epilogue that made the story even better.  I try my best to avoid the avalanche of overly saccharine stories that appear at this time of the year and I know I am not alone in that.  But A Small Miracle Happened is that marvelous seasonal read that sidesteps most of the holiday story pitfalls while retaining the charm and joy of the season.  I loved A Small Miracle Happened and think you will too.  Make it part of your holiday reading list.  I highly recommend it.

Cover art by April Martinez is simple and effective.  I thought it was perfect for the story within.

Book Details:

ebook, 79 pages
Published November 26th 2013 by Loose Id
original title: A Small Miracle Happened
ISBN13 9781623006372
edition language English

Review: Kick Start (Dangerous Ground #5) by Josh Lanyon

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Kick Start coverSpecial Agents Will Brandt and Taylor MacAllister have both left the DSS (Department of Diplomatic Security) after the events in Paris and now operate their own security agency.  But things are not going  particularly well for them, either in their business or relationship.  Will and Taylor’s business is lacking clients and they are running out of money to keep afloat.  Taylor isn’t happy that Will made the decision to quit and go out on their own without consulting him . Now it’s the Brandts that come calling and Will is expected home at his parents house as his younger brother isabout to ship out as a  Marine and wants to spend time with him.  The problem?  Will hasnt’ told his family that he is gay and that his partner, Taylor, is his partner is all ways.

This trip home promises to be anything but a happy visit home.   There is an “Cousin Dennis” staying with Will’s parents who isn’t his cousin and a past felon looking for revenge at Christmas time.  Could things get any worse?  Will and Taylor are about to find out while trying to save their business and their relationship.

Kick Start is the fifth book in the Dangerous Ground series by Josh Lanyon and the pairing of Taylor MacAllister and Will Brandt return in rare form in a story that finds the men on rocky ground, professionally and emotionally.  Since the first installment, Dangerous Ground, the road to love and a relationship has been a tumultuous one.  Special Agents and partners for the Department of Diplomatic Security, their friendship changes with one confession of love from Taylor who is then wounded hours later.  While Taylor has always known of his passion for his coworker, it took Will a much longer time to arrive at the same conclusion, both about his feelings towards Taylor and his sexuality.  Up and down, over but never quite out, these two men have doggedly pursued criminals with the same fervor they save for each other.   Now Josh Lanyon picks up their romance after the events of Dead Run (Dangerous Ground #4) and deepens the issues for these men by separating them (by their choice) from the agency they worked for and placing them on uncertain ground with a new company that’s floundering and trying to set the parameters for their personal relationship.  In Kick Start, these men have never been better.

Josh Lanyon returns to this series and his characters and infuses it with high energy and his trademark humor.  I have always been especially fond of Will and Taylor and have enjoyed watching their relationship deepen and grow despite all obstacles thrown at them including ones they have created themselves.  In Kick Start, Lanyon forces the men to confront the issues facing them, both about their floundering business as well as the problems surfacing in their romance.  And there is no better time for stress and reflection than visiting the in-laws, especially when they don’t know they are the in-laws.  Returning Will to the Brandt home, Lanyon affords the readers a glimpse into Will’s home life and his relationship with the town he grew up in as well as his younger brother.  I thought that the dynamics between Grant and Will were very authentically crafted.  Grant the younger brother forever in his famous older brother’s shadow, a little resentful as well as adoring.  And then he finds out that Will is gay, shattering his image of his brother and making him realize that there was an essential part of Will he never. The resultant sibling explosion feels real in every aspect as does Will’s talk with his father.

Added to the changed family dynamics and their own evolving relationship, Lanyon starts throwing in complication left and right, including a local family of ne’er–do–wells called the Dooleys who just insist on causing their own brand of trouble.  The author is clearly having fun with this surly,unkempt band of brothers:

One of the yahoos, dressed in woodland camo — complete with matching bandana — crawled out of the truck window and jumped to the ground.

“Is Brandt here?” he yelled. He was a big man. Some of it was muscle, some of it was flab, a lot of it was hair. Long black hair and long black beard. Altogether, it amounted to a sizeable and sturdy form.

Taylor relaxed. Not that he had really thought this was some country cousin branch of the mob come hunting Cousin Dennis, but life could be weird. He called back, “Nope. Anything I can do for you?”

“Who are you?”

“Who wants to know?”

The guy said impatiently, “I want to know.”

I’m Larry; this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl. Taylor bit back an inappropriate smile. First rule of visiting the in-laws: No laughing at the local wild life.

“And you are —?”

“Going to kick your ass if you don’t tell me what I want to know!” The big man drew himself up as though readying for battle.

Really? Taylor sighed.

The weary sound carried in the sharp, crystalline air and Larry looked a little discomfited.

You know this is just not going to end well for the Dooleys, as nothing ever does.  It’s humorous and it contains media references that bring up sharp images that just snap  a portrait of the Dooleys immediately into place.  A lovely bit of character shorthand that Lanyon excels in.

Of course, there are gunshots, car chases and several inexplicable turn of events, including one very incompetent sleuth, that should carry over into the next novel in the series.  You will find yourself  reading along at a fast clip to keep up with all the action.  It’s that fast paced, full of snappy dialog, a couple of mysteries, and of course, the love between Will and Taylor that just grows better and better.  This is really my favorite of the series  to date.

If you are new to the series, go back to the beginning, Dangerous Ground, for your first introductions to  Will and Taylor at the start of their relationship.  For those fans of the series, I know you found Kick Start a welcome way to finish out 2013.  I can only hope that it won’t be as long a time before we see another Dangerous Ground story from this wonderful author.

Books in the Dangerous Ground series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and the events that occur (the first four books preceded the start of my review blog):

Dangerous Ground (Dangerous Ground #1)
Old Poison (Dangerous Ground #2)
Blood Heat (Dangerous Ground #3)
Dead Run (Dangerous Ground, #4)
Kick Start (Dangerous Ground, #5)

Book Details:

ebook
Published November 30th 2013 by Just Joshin (first published November 29th 2013)
original title Kick Start
edition language English
series Dangerous Ground

Review: Roughstock: Tag Team – Fais Do Do by B.A. Tortuga

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Tag Team- Fais Do Do coverLandon Gaudet, also known as Nutbutter, is a little Cajun with a huge heart.  A horse whisperer, loyal friend and brother, a man of all trades at the rodeo including bull riding, Landon appears to be a happy person.  But he is missing one thing….his soulmate, the man with the three blue circles tattoo his dreams have shown him.  Landon’s twin sister, Lauren, is a well known Cajun healer who lives on their property in the bayou, has seen the man in her prophesies too.  But Landon is unprepared for the reality of the man his dreams has shown him, Adam Taggert.

Adam Taggert, one of the triplet Taggert brothers, is feeling his age.  Over six feet and over thirty, Adam competes with his brother, Chris, in the tag team roping events to accolades and top prizes.  Unlike the others in his group of friends, Adam has never settled on one person to love.  Instead Adam plays the field, moving from one person to another with all the speed of a bronc out of the gate.  His one regret is that he gave up Beau Lafitte, the cajun he lost to bullrider Sam Bell.  Unable to commit at the time, Beau has become Adam’s biggest regret.

At a party on Beau and Sam’s farm, Adam meets Landon and sparks fly.  And what starts out as a fling on Adam’s side starts to turn serious for both of them.  But obstacles, real and imagined, start to pile up and threaten to undo the fledgling relationship and all of Landon’s dreams.   With Adam’s family disapproving of Landon and Adam’s low sense of self worth,  can Landon and his dream of a life with his soulmate become a reality or breakdown under the weight of too much opposition.

Fais Do Do is a Louisiana country dance party and that’s the perfect title for a book about two completely opposite men dancing around each other, hoping for romance and a forever love.  From the opening paragraph, BA Tortuga plunges the reader into Cajun country and the patois of the bayou.  Here the cajun patter flows over the tongues of men such as Beau Lafitte and Landon Gaudet with a fluidity born of the bayou with its deep French origins.  And its not just the parlance, but the culture as well.  From pig roasts to voodoo, from swampy waters to small nut brown men, the Cajun culture (and BA Tortuga’s love for it) is embedded deeply throughout this story and the characters involved.  Here is a excerpt as Adam meets Landon at the party:

“You met Adam?” Sam Bell asked, leading Landon across the yard, the piles of bullriders and their women just filling the place up. Shit, the ropers and the family hadn’t even made an appearance yet. By midnight, the booze and the music would be flowing, and the whole bayou would ring.

Landon did love it here at Beau and Sam’s farm, more than almost anywhere, and Sister was here, Cotton and his gal Em. Even Adrian and Packer.

“No, sir. I mean, I knowed him good, oui? He rides and rides, but I ain’t never spoke to him, me.”

“Safety man. Like him. You.”

Landon nodded. Sam’s words got better every time they chatted together, and Landon was happy for it. Him and Sister, they prayed and lit candles for the man, spent hours on their knees with Maw-Maw’s rosary beads clicking. Sister’d even sacrificed a chicken for healing, pouring the blood out during the new moon to suck the sickness and hurting from Mr. Bell and into the dirt.

His sister was pure hoodoo, witchy as all get out, but he’d never met a better traiteur, or treater. Magical healer. Didn’t reckon he ever would.

“Adam. Cajun. Landon. Tag.”

Landon looked up, the sun bright as a penny, and the glow surrounded a tall, tall cowboy, making the man shine. Landon caught his breath, the universe spinning.

His dream. Shit fire and save matches. Ever since he’d been a boy, he’d done dreamed of this very second. Right here. Right now. The cowboy would have a light blue shirt on, a belt buckle from a 1999 roping championship. There’d be a tattoo on the inside of the man’s wrist when he went to shake — three blue circles ina row, touching. This was his cowboy. His family. The one meant to be his amant.

His. “Hey, kid.” Kid. Like he was some petit fils. “Comme ça?” “C’est bon.” Oh, the man knew some Cajun, did Adam. Landon held a hand out, and, sure as shit came from a goose’s ass, there was that ink on the man’s wrist, permanent. Three blue circles in a row. One. Two. Three.

This one was his, deep down. In his body cells. “Pleased. You want a beer?”

Adam smiled at him, eye lines wrinkling up like to catch the sunlight. “You legal to drink, boy?”

“Shee-it. I reckon.”

To drink. To fuck. To dance. To catch him the cowboy the bon Dieu offered to him.

He wasn’t no child. Not no more.

Adam looked him up and down, one eyebrow arching. “Well, then. C’mon. We’ll have us a couple three beers before things get crazy. These Cajuns, they’re nuts.”

“We is, us, for sure.” It wasn’t a bad thing, though. It was just a true thing.

You had to be crazy to love it here in the swamps.

Reading that passage you can almost hear the honey slow dialect of a man of the bayou, with hope in his heart for this man and their future.  Such a lovely way to start this story, with a dance, some beer and hope.  But as the author also grounds her characters in reality, any path to a commitment and love is going to be a long and complicated one, especially between two men so opposite each other, both on the social register and in outlook.

As with all her Roughstock stories, Tortuga brings in a number of elements to supplement the main romantic storyline.  Present are Beau Lafitte and Sam Bell.  Sam who is dealing with a near death accident in the rodeo arena, is still in recovering with his brain injuries.  Beau is trying to adjust to a difference in their relationship and Sam.  Coke Pharris, renowned bullfighter and his lover, Dillon Walsh, rodeo clown are involved with this group too.   All of these men have intermingled past histories, including that of Adam and Beau before he fell in love with Sam.  It helps to have read the core books in the Roughstock series because that will give the reader a foundation of knowledge with regard to this ever enlarging group of friends and coworkers.

It also helps to have some knowledge of a rodeo and the various events and jobs that go along with it.  Otherwise, a “safety”, the role of a clown or bullfighter, and other sundry terms and positions might fly over the readers head.  But if you have even a remote idea of the rodeo world,  then this series and book will make you want to fly out to the nearest event and climb into the stands for a better looksee at the men and animals that compete on a daily basis.  BA Tortuga has this universe down pat, and through these men, the reader will get an authentic feel for the hardship and passion the ropers and riders have for their  sport.

Tag Team – Fais Do Do has a couple of aspects to its story that might make people either uncomfortable or bogged down in the narrative.  There is some heartfelt angst that one character in particular will have to endure.  And it will be caused by the one person who is capable of inflicting such pain.  For some, it will lessen their connection to this character and that would be unfortunate.  Because I do feel that this is a pretty realistic if unpleasant viewpoint and might not be an uncommon as some would think in southern (or any) society.

The other is the colloquialisms or vernacular spoken by Beau, Landon or Laurel Gaudet, “Sister” as she is known.  It is pretty thick, just as musical and full of french words and phrases, enough to confound anyone not familiar with the Cajun dialect.   Here is Landon and Sister in their home:

“Bubba?”

Landon looked over at Sister, who was busily stirring the eggs. “Yes, ma’am?”

“You gon’ go be with him forever and leave me here alone, you think?”

His heart said he was in love with Adam, but Landon said what he knew to be true. “Sister, I ain’t never onced left you. Never once for always. I will take care of you ‘til the Rapture.”

They were twins. He wasn’t about to leave her with no way to take care of herself, and he needed to see her face. Half of him was missing when she wasn’t there.

Her dark eyes looked relieved, and she found a smile for him. “You think your man will like me?”

“Why wouldn’t he? You’re…” He searched for the right word, but fuck if he didn’t know one. “Laurel.”

She laughed, whacking him with one hand. “Uh-huh. Tell me about him.”

“Oh, lady, he’s fine. Tall and strong with these eyes like chips of rock and he can ride…” He sighed, seeing his cowboy up in the saddle, moving like Adam was one with the horse, like the wind itself.

“I knew he had to love horses.” She grinned, eyes dancing.

“He’s a cowboy. A real cowboy, not just a bullrider.” “Oh, Bubba. You have it so bad.” He put down the tack he’d been repairing for Albert and

looked over, serious as a heart attack. “He’s it, Adam. For me. I been dreaming on him my whole life. I ain’t sure I’mhis one. I fear that was Mr. Beau.” Laurel shook her head, dark hair all wild and loose. “Mr.

Beau was made to comfort Sammy in the black times, Bubba. I know that.”

Landon shrugged. “Sure. I know that, but we don’t know God, not for true. I think maybe he has a mean streak, giving people to the wrong folks. Mr. Beau is a good man, a Cajun.”

“Maybe your man, he just is a little stupid, eh? Maybe he got him some Cajuns crossed.” Laurel put her spoon down, came to him with open arms, hugging on him hard. “God ain’t mean, not a bit. The Devil, he’s a trickster and a liar and he fools folks, but God loves him us. I know that.”

“I want to believe that, Sister.” He rested his head on her, eyes closing.

“Then quit fighting it and do so.” She patted his back, her hands warm, and he could see why people came to her for the healing. Her touch felt soothing, and her voice held the surety of an angel who’d seen God’s face.

“Witchy woman.”

“Yessir, and thank God for it. Someone got to keep you boys whole.”

“Mmm.” He hugged her tight, absorbing some of her strength. “We need to get back to cookin’.”

“Yep. Need to make a soft cake for Auntie down the road. We got to pray over her bad tooth. I think it’ll take the both of us.”

He wrinkled his nose. Tooth stuff was always smelly. Still, he always helped when he could. “All right.”

“You’re a good man, Bubba.”

“You think so? I ain’t… You know I ain’t as book learned as all them boys I ride with.”

“Pshaw.” She put a hand over his heart. “You got all you need right here.”

“I sure hope so, Sister. I surely do.”

I love the way it sounds and is used to bring these marvelous characters to life.  But I also recognize that some readers will have trouble with the dialog, making it a barrier to the personalities instead of a path to who they are as individuals and as a rich culture grounded in geography and history.

My only real quibble is that I felt the resolution of the issues (huge ones) between Landon and Adam came about too easily considering the events that tore them apart.  At 185 pages, the author had plenty of time (and length) to extend the reconciliation out to a reasonable amount of time.   But that is it for quibbles, mostly.  There are some editing issues, with the wrong name used in a sentence when they are clearly talking about another character.  But overlooking those, this is a terrific story as is the series.  Consider this highly recommended.

Cover illustration by A. Squires is perfect for the story and series.  Great job.

Book Details:

ebook, 185 pages
Published September 25th 2013 by Torquere Press
ISBN 161040582X (ISBN13: 9781610405829)
edition language English

Books in the Roughstock series:

Roughstock: Blind Ride — Season One – Novel, m/m, core
Give it Time: the Seven of Wands – Novella, m/m
Roughstock: And a Smile — Season One – Novel, m/m, core
Doce — A Roughstock Story – Novella, m/m
Amorzinhos — A Roughstock Story – Novela, m/m, threesome
Roughstock: File Gumbo — Season One – Novel, m/m, core
Roughstock: And a Smile — Coke’s Clown – Novela, m/m,
Shutter Speed, A Roughstock Story: the Seven of Pentacles – Novella, m/m
Roughstock: City/Country – Novel, m/f
Roughstock: Picking Roses – Novel, m/f
Needing To: A Roughstock Story – Novella, m/m
Roughstock: Tag Team – Fais Do Do Season Two – Novel, m/m

Upcoming Roughstock Novels
Roughstock: What She Wants – Novel, m/m/f
Roughstock: Terremoto – Season Two- Novel, m/m

Roughstock Shorts:
Cowboy Christmas (Coke and Dillon)
Barbed Wire and Bootheels (Sam and Beau)
Some Good Doctoring (CB and Jonesy) – Free Read

Review: Good Boy (Theta Alpha Gamma #4) by Anne Tenino

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Good Boy coverSebastian “Toppy” DeWitt is feeling the stress.  He is working double time to finish his thesis.  And there are the post graduation decisions of where to apply for a position that is also adding to the pressure and worry that is his life these days.  Lucky for him that his boyfriend, Brad “Frat Boy” Feller, is there to cook, clean, and take care of everything else while Sebastian concentrates.  True, they don’t seem to have time for each other during the day or even see each other at night other than to fall into bed.  Sebastian is sure once he finishes his thesis and graduates then everything will go back to normal.  Or will it?

Brad Feller is feeling lonely and a little bit neglected.  He knows how important it is that Sebastian finish his thesis but while parts of their life together, their sex life, is hot and working, nothing else is.  Sebastian went home to see his father and didn’t suggest that Brad come with him.  And they never talk about their future after graduation.  The strain Brad feels and the stress Sebastian is under is starting to put cracks in their relationship, fractures that Sebastian seems unaware of.

When an old frat brother with romantic ties to Brad needs temporary shelter and moves in with them after a fire in the frat house it shatters their fragile status quo.  Amidst bouts of jealousy, anxiety and guilt, Sebastian realizes that things need to change if he is to keep the one man he loves and needs above all others or lose him forever.

Frat Boy and Toppy, the first in the Theta Alpha Gamma series, was the first book to introduce me to Anne Tenino.  It made me a fan of this author and the series as well.  And while I enjoyed the love stories of the other men in the series, Paul and Trevor as well as Collin and Eric, it is the combination of Sebastian and Brad that have remained my first love.  So I was delighted to see a return to this marvelously quirky couple to see how they were doing and where they had gone in their relationship.

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that they stumbled into one relationship trap after another with equal amounts of cluelessness and inexperience piled on top of every day pressures that is helping to derail their happily ever after.  I say unsurprisingly because this was a pair that was unexpected and surprising to begin with.  Brad, the ultimate frat boy on the outside, was large, somewhat clumsy, gentle, and searching when he first met Sebastian in class.  Sebastian, the TA, was intelligent, impatient, allergic to relationships, fixated on scholarship and kind of imperious.  Not exactly two men you would expect to meet, combust, and eventually fall deeply in love with each other.  But they did and it was wonderful.  Anne Tenino mades this complex mixture of personalities and quirks not only real, but a loving, layered relationship that the readers absolutely connects with all the way through their story.

So it’s heartbreaking to see how much that promising relationship has stagnated in the months following the end of Frat Boy and Toppy.  In the timeline of events that happen at the college and the TAG house, Good Boy exists side by side with Sweet Young Thang, the story that chronicles the fire at the TAG house and the reason that necessitates Collin’s stay, albeit temporarily, with Brad and Sebastian.  It gives the reader the full back story as to the events that are occurring around the oblivious Sebastian with his complete focus on himself and his thesis.  In Sweet Young Thang, we have the large canvas of the college and the  fraternity house which in Good Boy is narrowed down to Brad and Sebastian’s apartment and the malfunctioning state of their love affair.

Anne Tenino does a wonderful job of getting us inside each man’s head as individual insecurities (Brad’s) and current preoccupations (Sebastian’s) start to tear apart the relationship each man treasures.  Here is anexcerpt with Brad:

But after Brad abandoned Collin at the dinner table and chased his boyfriend into their bedroom, he didn’t find him. The bathroom doorway had been left open a crack, and he could hear Sebastian brushing his teeth, so he sat on the end of the bed to wait. And stew in some of his inner workings.

Aside from being pissed off in general at that whole weird dinner scene a few minutes ago—did Sebastian really have to go being a prick to Collin when the dude had had such a shitty day?—his instincts were poking at his stomach, telling him something seemed to have changed tonight with his boyfriend. Maybe now Brad could get some answers about what the fuck was going through his head, and why he’d been kind of preoccupied since Christmas, and when he’d decided to try having a relationship through a tin can and a string.

And I can ask him why he didn’t want me to meet his dad.

Shut up. Stupid little voice in his heart always had to push for more. We’ve haven’t even been together a year. He had to wait for the right time. Relationships progressed, right? Take the whole thing with Collin just now. Nine months ago, Sebastian had barely reacted when Collin had sucked Brad off in the locker room shower, but tonight he’d seemed, like, jealous. Watching him stalk off, something in Brad’s chest had gone ping. An alert, telling him Sebastian had finally fucking noticed him again.

Which was a relief, because cooking and back rubs and all the other things he’d been doing to get Sebastian to open up to him had made him feel like a dog begging for treats. ’Cause some nights Sebastian ate dinner without mentioning a damn thing about the food, just talking about his fucking thesis, and some nights he didn’t say anything at all. And some nights, when they actually had sex, he did Brad like he only needed someone to get off with.

All along, no matter how many times Brad reminded himself that Sebastian was just preoccupied with school, trying to be accepted to a good doctoral program, he’d been terrified that in reality, relationships just happened like this. Half a year in and things became about satisfying the physical needs and not about the emotional crap. It didn’t explain why it had all changed at once, but what did he know? Maybe that was normal, too.

I think everyone has heard those little voices inside from time to time, those internal arguments that start to undermine self confidence and deepen our need for reassurance.  Brad is a little part of everyone and it makes him not only endearing but completely relatable.  I love  Brad.  The snarky, self obsessed Sebastian is also someone I connected with.  He thinks he is doing whats best for them both without actually communicating his thoughts and feelings to his lover.  He has isolated himself without realizing it, a precarious situation in a relationship and it takes the arrival of Collin to jumpstart Sebastian’s interaction with Brad once more.

Good Boy is funny, heartbreaking, sexy, and ultimately quite wonderful.  I love this couple and hope Anne Tenino will revisit their love affair and relationship once more.  You just know somehow Sebastian will find a way to derail it once more before they get their happily ever after that they both need and want so much.  We want it for them too and that’s why I will be here with each and every new installment in the Theta Alpha Gamma series.  Join me will you?

This is how it starts….

Sebastian hadn’t taken a break for hours. He came out of his research-induced haze to find that his foot had fallen asleep, and when he moved his leg, his back made an alarming sound somewhere between a creak and a pop. Dammit, he’d sat hunched over the computer for too long again. Maybe later Brad would give him a massage to work out some of his aches.

Here are the books in the order they were written and should be read:

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)

Cover Art by L.C. Chase, lcchase.com/design.htm

Book Details:

ebook, 67 pages
Published October 7th 2013 by Riptide Publishing
original title Good Boy
ISBN13 9781626490680
edition language English

Book Contest and Sarah Black Guest Blog for The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari

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Good morning! Today Scattered Thoughts is welcoming Sarah Black back to talk about her latest release The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari (The General #2).  Although my review won’t come until tomorrow, I will say that this book is on Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Best of 2013 list.  Trust me, it is one of those books that you will want to read over and over again.  So with that in mind, we are giving away one eBook copy of The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari to one person who leaves a comment on any of the posts from 10/23 to 10/26.  A Winner will be announced on Saturday.

This is Why I Love Those Old Men by Sarah Black

My stories are full of old men, and I think anyone reading can tell I love them. In Lawless I wrote Manuel, and in The Legend of the Apache Kid I wrote Johnny’s old man and Raine’s daddy; in Marathon Cowboys we had The Original Jesse Clayton. In the new book, The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari, I wrote another old man, the director of the Bardo Museum, who steps in and helps the young men realize their dreams.

That’s what old men do, right? Step in and stand watch while the young men strap on their wings and prepare to leap off the ledge. They listen when we talk. They’re quiet when we just need their company. They watch over us, and when we’re about to screw up, they put up a hand and say, “hold up now. Better think about that.”

My grandfather is the model for all those old men in all my stories. He was quiet and strong and steadfast. A hurricane couldn’t blow him over. No rain would ever touch my head if I was standing next to him. He was as big as a mountain and as strong as an oak. That’s what I remember. He died when I was three, and he was fifty, of a heart attack.

Just before he died, my grandmother sent him out to buy me a pair of shoes. She told him to get something sturdy that could be washed. He carried me back into the house two hours later and I was wearing pretty little black patent Mary Janes. The women had a fit. “Earl, what’s she going to play in?”

And he laughed and pulled a tiny pair of red sneakers out of his pocket.  I’ve adored red shoes from that day, and I adored my big, handsome grandfather. He never said three words when one would do, and he preferred action over words, anyway. He could fix anything, a broken toy or a car that wouldn’t run or a skinned knee. And I have been pretty sure all my life that he was up in heaven keeping an eye on me. Never a judgmental eye, either. Just keeping me safe, keeping me company. Pure love has no room for judgment.

I’ve wondered sometimes if I was writing the same story over and over. I guess writers have things to say, and we say them through fiction. I always try to be clear in my mind what I’m trying to say. This new book, I was really ambitious. I wanted to say something big, something with meaning. Plant my flag and say, this is how I see the world. But with this book, and every book, now and forever, my handsome strong grandfather will make an appearance, and he’ll be watching over me.
SB Grandfather

Here’s a link to the new book: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=4277The General and the Elephant Clock cover

Dreamspinner Blurb:

Fresh out of the closet, General John Mitchel and Gabriel Sanchez are settling into their new life together when an old army colleague taps them for a rescue mission to Tunisia. Eli and Daniel, two former Rangers working security, have been arrested in Carthage, charged with blasphemy and thrown into prison.

With rampant unrest in the ancient city and an old enemy targeting them, John gathers a team to liberate the two captive men. When he discovers Eli’s boyhood obsession with Al-Jazari’s Elephant Clock, the rescue becomes complicated and strangely beautiful, and John and Gabriel have to risk what they love the most to bring their team home.
Here’s an excerpt from the book, with my new old man:

The Director was a very old man, with a cane and a long white beard, sharp dark eyes under heavy, greying eyebrows. He was formally dressed in a dark suit and tie, and he greeted Gabriel with a handshake. He had a young woman with him, holding a portfolio. Wylie opened the portfolio, looked inside, then patted it down.

John moved forward, greeted him in Arabic, then he introduced Eli and Daniel. He didn’t remember the old man, but they’d all changed so much in thirty years. Kim was holding his camera, one of the big professional models, and the Director seemed charmed by his Arabic greeting and pretty smile. “Eli, Daniel, why don’t you sit down with the Director? Sir, have you met Abdullah al-Salim? I know you will recognize him. The first time I saw him, I thought his father was standing before me.”

The old man greeted Abdullah with cries of delight and three kisses, the traditional Arabic way. Abdullah held a hand out to Kim. “Kim is General Mitchel’s nephew. He’s my best friend.”

Kim was kissed now, then they all sat down on the couch. John counted. Five men, with plenty of room, just like Kim had said, and the U shape meant people on either end could see each other to talk. Even better, he could, if he wanted to, perch on the leather polka dot ottoman like a frog sitting on a lily pad. God, he hated that couch. Kim looked at him, gave him a weak smile. Kim was reading his mind again.

Gabriel took Sam and Wylie, and they moved over to the table and pulled up chairs. Kim held up his camera. “Director, I thought I would take a picture of you with these men. It will be a good memory for them when they are back home, to remember your kindness.”
Abdullah translated, and the Director gave Kim a hesitant nod. Then the old man turned to Eli and Daniel, offered them each a hand. Abdullah translated his words. “I have come to tell you of the admiration of the Tunisian people for your courage. It gives great heart to the people when we see your love for Carthage. I also brought something for you to see. I found this in the archives.” The young women with him handed over the portfolio, then retreated to stand with Jen. Jen reached out to her, and John could hear the quiet murmur of their voices in the background.

The Director pulled out a plastic sleeve. Inside was a brown manuscript page, painted in colors still vibrant and beautiful more than eight hundred years after they had first been painted. The old man put the page down on the ottoman, and the boys leaned forward to look at it. It was an original page from The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices and showed Al-Jazari’s wondrous elephant clock. Eli caught his breath, reached out and touched the edge of the parchment through the plastic. “This is really… it’s the real….” He sounded like he was having trouble catching his breath.

Kim stood up and moved around the other side of the couch and lifted the camera. Eli looked up at the Director, and something in his battered face must have touched the old man. His eyes were tender, and he reached out, put his hand on Eli’s cheek. Then he reached out with his other hand, held Daniel’s. “My sons, will you come and see the Bardo? The museum will be open tomorrow for the children. It’s the day we have a festival for them. I would like you to come, to see something of our history and our culture.”
Eli looked down at the page again. “The kids, they’ll go crazy over this! Can you believe it? Is this wild, or what? Do you see it?”
He looked up at John, his green eyes like jewels, his black hair sticking up in the front in little tufts. John nodded at him, smiling. “I do see it. Is it as good as you thought it would be?”

“Better,” Eli said. “Can we go, General? To the Bardo?”

John looked at Gabriel, then back to Eli. “Yes, I think we can. We’ll be safe in a group.” Daniel stood up, let John take his place next to the old man. “Thank you for your kindness. Are you sure it will not be too much trouble? I understood you were closed for renovations.”

The Director shook his head. “Once a year we have a children’s day. We had planned to have the parts of the museum not under construction open tomorrow. It is like a festival, very important to me. I believe there will be camels and balloons and too many sweets, and my staff will have video projectors set up because the children like to watch movies. In your honor I will add a stage for the elephant clock, a video so the children can see. Like this young man,” he put his hand on Eli’s shoulder, “love of scholarship starts when a child is very young. I believe you will be safe. Let us open our heart to you, show you the true face of Tunisia. The true face of Islam.”
Eli leaned forward. “What is the true face of Islam?”

The old man put his hand on Eli’s cheek again. “Just like with your people, my son, the true face of Islam is love.”

Review: Home Team by Jameson Dash

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Review: 4 stars out of 5

Home Team coverAaron Buckley has made hockey his primary focus for most of his life from the moment he first hit the ice to his fifteen years in the NHL.  Hockey was Aaron’s everything.  He gave up family, friends, a social life and most importantly, he gave up the only man he has ever loved…Zach.  Aaron knew that he wanted to play pro hockey and had to stay in the closet if he wanted to make it in the NHL.  Zach wouldn’t be his secret and walked away from Aaron rather than hide who he was.

Now one of the league’s older players Aaron knows he’s at the end of his career.  A huge screwup costs Aaron his spot on his team in LA.  They send him down to the minors in Manchester, NH, back to where he started all those years ago.  Home in Manchester, now on a team full of young rookies hoping to make it big, Aaron has time to think and reconnect with his past.  His sister makes her home and business there as does the man he left behind.

When Zach, now a sports reporter, shows up to cover his first game home, it is clear that Aaron and Zach can have a second chance at love.  But once again, Aaron must choose between hockey and love.  What will his answer be this second time around?

Home Team is a book that will grow on you.  The more you think about the characters, especially Aaron Buckley, the more they will grow on you.  I started out thinking that Aaron was pretty stunted emotionally.  It is his voice driving the narrative of this story.  But the author’s subtle maneuvering of Aaron’s character and viewpoint will have the reader changing their mind as the story continues.

Aaron is at the end of a long career in the NHL, he is steadily losing ground to the younger players and it’s a year since he scored a goal.  His is a voice weary, testy, and resigned.  I really commend Jameson Dash for making Aaron such an irascible, somewhat unlikeable personality at the beginning of the story.  At times Aaron’s voice seems flat, removed, and irritable.  Then Aaron makes his costly error in judgement and his voice flattens out even further until it almost flatlines like his career.

Once Dash brings Rosie, Aaron’s sister and Zach into the story and Aaron’s life, things start to change in Aaron’s outlook although the movement of emotions in Aaron is almost glacial.   I was puzzled over my inability to connect to this character because I love hockey players. But quite frankly, Aaron’s comes across as a jerk for the first part of this story, especially his attitude towards the “mistake” that cost him his spot in the major league.  But the more I thought about it, the better Jameson Dash’s characterization got.  This was a man who has shut down emotionally.  Aaron is beyond tired, and stressed to his limits.  He has lost his spot on his team, he lost his only friend who remains with that team, he lost his home and most likely his career.  And probably, most importantly of all, he is in denial,  Aaron doesn’t want to recognize that his career is over and that because of his own choices, he has left himself with nothing waiting for him.

The author’s characterization of Aaron is so good, so human that it took me a while to realize what he was trying to accomplish with keying us so intimately into the thoughts of a man like Aaron because it seems so counterproductive to our connecting with him.   But again, only at the beginning.  Then little by little as reality of his situation creeps into Aaron’s mindset, that along with the arrival of Rosie and Zach, propels Aaron and the reader out of his “funk” and into the warmth of possibilities and a redemptive love.

This is a spare form of narrative that works perfectly for the character and his story.  Its as free of embellishment as Aaron himself.  And the more I thought about this character and his growth throughout Home Team, the more Aaron and his story grew on me.   I have not read other stories by Jameson Dash, this was the first.  But if this story is a good indication of this author’s style and talent, then I can’t wait to see what they write next.  Consider this book and author highly recommended.

Here is an excerpt as Aaron lands back home in Manchester, NH:

He finds his hat and sunglasses in his backpack, but there isn’t much of a crowd in the airport. Nobody is looking for him. Wives greet their husbands in rumpled suits, a group of teenage boys tangle in a massive hug, and Aaron spots what looks like a college basketball team, home after a disappointing tournament. Aaron wants to give the girls a high five and tell them to keep being awesome. But he’s not feeling very awesome himself. Instead, he keeps his head down out of habit and heads for the baggage carousel.

It’s different traveling alone than with the team. He’s still wearing a shirt and tie; the jacket was folded and shoved into his backpack before the flight took off from LA. He’s representing his team, even if his team doesn’t want him.

But he has to pick up his own equipment. Once Aaron gets the mammoth hockey bag and his suitcase onto a cart, stick bag balanced on top and his own backpack over both shoulders, he looks around for a chauffeur holding up his name. There’s no one waiting for him. There’s no one looking for him.

Cover art by LC Chase is just ok.   It doesn’t pertain to this story, it could be any story about a hockey player.  It’s just too generic.

Book Details:

ebook, 82 pages
Published September 25th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1627981594 (ISBN13: 9781627981590)
edition language English

Review: Northern Star by Ethan Day

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Rating: 4.25  stars out of 5

Northern StarOn the night before Christmas Eve in a hotel bar at the airport, 27-year old Deacon Miller is getting drunk.  Fleeing a disastrous family holiday he never wanted to attend, Deacon received a text from his boyfriend, breaking up with him and throwing him out of their apartment.  A heavy snowfall cancels his flight leaving Deacon stuck at the airport hotel, drowning his sorrows and regretting almost everything about his life.

Car Dealer Owner Steve Steele has spent most of his 45 years in denial about his sexuality until he just couldn’t face another year repressing his sexuality and his true desires.  Unfortunately coming out also meant hurting people he loved, including his wife and step daughter. Now divorced, Steve is facing his first year anniversary as an out gay man and reflecting back on his failures and current lonely life.

When a chance encounter brings Deacon and Steve together on a night full of self recriminations and doubt, what happens when the one night stand turns into something neither man wants to forget or let go of.

I think when most readers think of Ethan Day, its his humorous stories like the memorable and guffaw inducing Sno Ho series (a favorite of mine) that often spring to mind.  But Ethan Day has another side to him as a writer, the one that produces stories more serious, thoughtful tales like At Piper’s Point and A Token In Time (also favorites).   And while laughter and humor is still an element to be found in each, something larger, more layered in scope is in play there.

Northern Star falls into the second category.  Two men meet on a night when the past is overwhelming them, highlighting the emptiness and failure present in their lives.  Deacon has just received a devastating text from his boyfriend, dumping him in terms crushingly succinct.  He is also being thrown out of their apartment with no where to live and little time to find a place during the holiday season.  It just screams of that aspect of modern day relationships where the use of the text message has become the method of choice for ridding yourself of an unwanted relationship. I don’t know anyone out there that can’t relate to that scene in some measure.

Then Ethan Day brings Steve Steele into the picture.  Steve Steele (I love that name) is also at a place in his life that he never expected to be.  Steve is a divorced, 45 year old car dealer who has finally come out of the closet, exploding his marriage, and family, hurting his wife who he loved and a step daughter who worshiped him.  And although he has found a measure of acceptance within his immediate family and friends, he is himself alone and floundering on his first year anniversary of his coming out.

A snow storm and an airport bar are the means and impetus for the men to meet and fall into bed, presumably just a one night stand.  This is an oft used familiar scene that appears  in multiple media and it works here to bring Deacon and Steele together.  Day perfectly captures Deacon getting his drunk on, his rambling internal monologue both hilarious and sadly recognizable to all who have been in that state sometime in their lives. Here is an excerpt:

“On your tab?” The bartender asked, setting down the freshly made cocktail. “Yup,” Deacon said, smiling slightly when his lips made a faint popping sound, like a cork being violently liberated from a wine bottle.

He did his best to ignore the judgmental expression on the bartender’s face. Glancing down at the name tag, he shook his head, disgusted anyone named Clifford would be casting stones. The pious pity of Cliffy wasn’t what Deacon needed at the moment, and he said as much with the dirty look he offered as a thank you for the drink.

They both turned, hearing a loud group of twenty-something’s come stumbling into the hotel bar. They were all visibly wasted, and from what he could make out from their rather gregarious bitching, they’d each been bumped from their flight as a result of their intoxication.

More rejected casualties, redirected to purgatory via this airport adjacent, cheesy-ass hotel bar that hadn’t been updated since the early nineties.

The burgundy and blue commercial grade fabric was rough to the touch, as if designed to ensure you didn’t make yourself comfortable. That combined with the brass railings that ran along the bar and atop the booths located along the far wall, all the mirrors and glassware dangling from above, the entire room screamed Loser-ville. “And I am right at home with my fellow loser-residents,” he muttered.

Deacon could practically smell the sweaty desperation of yester-year that hung in the air like the scent of stale smoke, from what had no doubt been the scene of many a one-night hookup over the years. Chewing on a chunk of ice, he took a moment to glance around the room at the rest of the poor schlubs.

Then Steve walks into the bar and everything changes.

Steve is an interesting balance for the character of Deacon.  Where Deacon is young and damaged by his upbringing, Steve’s damage is self inflicted.  He denied his sexuality, hiding in a marriage to a best friend’s widow until the truth and the stress made it impossible to continue living in a lie.  It has taken Steve a long time to feel comfortable being gay, but the mistakes he made were real and inflicted pain on those that didn’t deserve it.  Deacon’s pain was due to a alcoholic mother who still continues to put her addiction and selfishness above the needs of her children.  Also a realistic and painfully accurate portrait of the effects of alcoholism on the person afflicted and the family involved.  Added to that is the fact that Deacon’s mother is a pretty self absorbed human being and all the elements are there for extended child abuse and neglect.

One of the aspects of this story that I absolutely appreciated was the absence of instant love.  Instant lust, sure, but love? No, that comes gradually and not without a fight.  Because for every step forward Steve and Deacon take towards an emotionally rewarding relationship, Deacon retreats emotionally and sometimes physically.  The reader’s compassion and empathy for this character is totally engaged as Deacon’s abusive past makes him question his worthiness and capacity to love.

In Northern Star, Ethan Day gives the reader a serious exploration of the journey to love and family by two outwardly disparate men who just happen to be looking for the same thing at this stage in their lives.  For both Steve and Deacon family is important as love and it will be with the help of those families  that will pull them through the events to come.  And yes, there will be plenty of angst driven episodes to arrive as Deacon and Steven work their way through all the emotional and mental obstacles before they can be happy.

There are some wonderful secondary characters here.  Ashley, Deacon’s sister, is a recognizable teenager, with plenty of her own issues at play.  We also meet Steve’s colleagues from work (admirable and funny) as well as his ex wife and step daughter.  I love that her pain from living with Steven’s lies is not glossed over but dealt with in a realistic manner, just beautifully done.

Will every reader love this story? Not if all you are expecting is snappy dialog and snort inducing laughter.  Some of that is present here, it is a Ethan Day story after all.  But this is a more serious story that deals with alcoholism, child neglect and abuse and its long term effects on everyone associated with the alcoholic.  I think  Ethan Day did a great job and gave us a wonderful romance too. Consider this highly recommended.

Cover art by Wilde City Press.  Eye catching and  cute.

Book Details:

ebook, First, 249 pages
Published September 25th 2013 by Wilde City Press
ISBN139781925031553
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.wildecity.com/books/gay-romance/northern-star/#.UkJOvkko5es

Review: Knightmare (City Knight #2) by T.A. Webb

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Knightmare coverEx cop Marcus Prater spent that last several years devastated from the loss of his lover to a street crime.  Then Marcus met Ben Danvers, college student, prostitute and damaged soul and a fragile relationship was born.  But the men who raped Ben are out of jail and Ben disappears.  Now Marcus must call on all his old friends and contacts to help him find Ben and fast.

Ben’s worst nightmare is happening all over again, can Marcus and friends save him in time?

With Knightmare, T.A. Webb weaves the City Knight series into the full tapestry of the Pulp Friction universe, and the result is a marvelous concoction of mulit dimensional characters, convoluted plots and combustible romances to knock your socks off.

In the first installment, we meet two different yet equally damaged men.  Marcus who had a deep and wonderful love, Jeremy, who died in a small time robbery.  Then Webb gives us (and Marcus) Ben Danvers.  Ben had been brutally attacked, raped and left to bleed out on the college campus where he was a student.  The two men responsible were caught and jailed but emotionally, Ben has never recovered.  To make money to finish college as well as living expenses, Ben sells himself on the street.  And each transaction has further harmed his self esteem and ability to love.

Webb made us believe in these individuals and their problems. We hold our breath as they tenuously move towards a relationship because we are aware of all the obstacles still between them.  Then the author proceeds to fracture their fragile new status with the news that the men who attacked Ben have been released from prison.  Given today’s headlines and the often shortened prison sentences, this is a realistic, horrifying event to happen.  Then Ben disappears. Gone.  And Marcus is terrified that he is going to lose another love just as soon as he found him.

This is how Knightmare starts out for Marcus and  the reader as we are dumped right into the middle of Marcus’ scene at the end of City Knight:

Marcus stood in the alleyway, letting the shock he’d initially felt bleed out of his system. The blast of adrenaline that made everything speed up and slow down simultaneously had burned through his body and now he was able to focus. He took a deep breath and let his experience take over.

As he calmed and his vision cleared, he shoved away all the fear that crawled through his body like an army of fire ants and looked around the alleyway. Saw. And began to process, his mind functioning again. His cop instincts made notes and started a mental file on the crime scene. He moved slowly into the dark, pulling a flashlight from his jacket pocket and painstakingly covering every inch of the alley.

No blood that he could see. No obvious signs of struggle. No overturned garbage cans, not a goddamned thing. No sign of his Benjamin. How in the hell was that possible? Ten minutes…he had only been ten minutes away.

Marcus’ panic and disbelief are visceral in their power and believability. T.A, Webb does such a beautiful job in describing the intensity of Marcus’ feelings that the reader feels the emotional impact of the situation as deeply as Marcus does.  And as the situation escalates, so does the anxiety level of the reader.

And the people Marcus calls on for immediate assistance are those same individuals we have met in the other series.  Chance DuMont, Wick Templeton, Zachary and Archer (and Jeremiah).  All here as well as their various story lines, weaving the complicated relationships and past histories together to form a formidable conglomeration of dynamic personalities, remarkable intellects, and a diversity of talent that is not always to be found on the side of the law.   Talk about a powerful group dynamics and all focused, albeit temporarily, on finding Ben for Marcus.

As with most serialized stories, there is another cliffhanger to be found at the end of this story.  It’s shocking and guaranteed to send you running to the next story as it should.  It’s terrific story. And the series is so explosive, really quite addicting in every way.  Trust me, just go with the flow (and Scattered Thoughts) over to the next in the series.  I am running to the next one as quick as I can.  Join me.

Don’t miss out on any stories in this series but do start at the beginning.  I have listed the book below in the order they should be read. Consider them all highly recommended.

Stories in the City Knight series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and events to follow:

City Knight (City Knight #1)
Knightmare (City Knight #2)
Starry Knight (City Knight #3)
Knights Out (City Knight #4)

Book Details:

ebook, 50 pages
Published April 15th 2013 by A Bear on Books
ISBN13 9781301938292
series City Knight
 Book Details;

Review: Goblins, Book 1 by Melanie Tushmore

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Goblins, Book 1In the 17th Century, the ancient sprawl of Epping forest is bursting with magic and those who go unseen by human eyes: the elves who rule the summer court, and the goblins who rule the winter court. It is said that if a human catches the eye of one of the fey, they are either doomed or blessed.

The Goblin King has seven sons, a number said to be unlucky.  For most of them, home and duties is not enough and when they go exploring chance encounters with humans change their lives forever.

Book 1 contains the stories of Wulfren and  Quiller, goblin princes and the humans that changed their lives.

Goblins is a magical book on so many levels.  From that cover that pulls you in with its haunting and haunted young beings to the lyrical and imaginative descriptions of Epping forest and its dwellers, this book kept me awake thinking about the scenes and settings I found within.

Honestly this is a book who needs more than one rating because of all its standout elements, including that miraculous cover.  But the characters and plots for each brother varied enough for me to rate each story individually.  So let’s start with my least favorite and the first in the book, Wulfren and the Warlock:

1. Wulfren and the Warlock.  Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Wulfren is the seventh son of the Goblin King and the youngest.  Wulfren also has the least amount of magic as the magic increases with age.  A very young spirit, Wulfren is half elf and half goblin. His mother is an elf banished for her passion and love for the Goblin King, she remains the favorite of his consorts and the mother of two of his sons.   His curiosity and youth get the better of him when Wulfren and his brother Garnet spy a warlock in their woods and play pranks on him.    When the warlock turns the tables on Wulfren and captures him, both of their lives change forever.

I loved so much of this story.  The plot is wonderful, the settings other worldly and the descriptions of everything within so unbelievably magical that I never wanted to leave.  So where is the problem?  With one character, that of Wulfrin.  Wulfrin is a very young spirit, so young in fact that his dialog and antics place him in the realm of a 12 to 14 year old.  He himself says at one point to the warlock after being captured:

“I… I have over seven hundred seasons, now. Seven hundred and twenty,” I added.

“Seasons? The seasons … But that would make you …” He sounded surprised, his eyes widening. “Age aside, you must be a young spirit.”

“I’m not young!” I said, indignant. “I do everything the adults do.”

Yes, Wulfren is young, adorably so.  He acts on impulse, doesn’t like doing his chores and feels shuffled aside at his father’s court because no one let’s him do anything.  Any one who has had a child or is familiar with children has heard this plaintive voice a hundred times or more.  It’s the voice of a child and Tushmore has captured it perfectly.  So why do I have issues with this?  Because immediately the Warlock binds him with silver chains and drags him off to bed, introducing elements of bdsm and non con sexual activities to basically what is a immature goblin.  No matter how I tried looking at this aspect of the story, the squick factor was just too big to overlook.  Time and again, I picture Wulfren as Max from Where the Wild Things Are roaring his terrible roar., claws included.  Not an image Tushmore would want to evoke. Even after both admit they have feelings for each other, it still feels like a barely pubescent boy who wants to please an older man, doing small chores around the house and pleading for his attention.  When they are parted, Wulfren writes a letter to his warlock and its contents are those that any tween writing to Tiger Beat would recognize.   Even if you accept that these two characters have a loving relationship, it never feels real or believable, just terribly one sided.

And that is the fault of Ash, the warlock.  We really never get a firm grip on his character.  Who is he?  Why is he by himself on the edge of the woods?  He remains an enigma for the entire story, and that makes it hard for us to believe and connect with his relationship to Wulfren.  Everyone else comes alive in this story with the exception of Ash.  Had his character been more fleshed out and Wulfren made an older soul, then this story would have a completely different tone.

Still, the vivid descriptions and magical air that Tushmore imparts to her tale make this story a lush visit to hidden kingdoms.  Here is a look as the goblins get ready for a celebration when Wulfren is brought home:

They led me downstairs. Random bursts of song filled the air as musicians tuned their instruments, and quarrelled over who played what. Outside in the dark, the court gathered amongst the inner ring, with the toadstools towering above us. Sprites had lit the dew drops that covered the toadstool heads, and they sparkled. Fires lit on twig ends were jabbed into the ground for torches. Brownies rushed about with acorn shells full of wine in their arms, sloshing liquid as they hurried.

“Father has even broken out the mead,” Garnet whispered to me. “Hurry, before it’s all gone.”

I dream of lit dew drops and fire flies tucked into cobwebs to light the great hall.  Just so magical.   Scenes like this elevated this story above the main relationship.

2. Quiller and the Runaway Prince:  Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Quiller is the third son of the Goblin King.  He is half goblin and half bird spirit like his mother, another one of the King’s consorts.  When winter is finished and spring comes to the woods once more, Quiller and the rest of the goblins are free of their duties for two seasons and its time to play.  Flying through the woods, Quiller sees a fallen man and his injured horse deep in the forest.  The horse snorts and tells Quiller he doesn’t think much of the young man but Quiller sees and feels something for the human right from the start.  When Quiller tells the young man that “all runaway princes are mine”, a journey begins that neither is quite prepared for.

This story has it all, great characters, believable relationship between beings of basically the same age (emotionally and intellectually), and the vivid, imaginative descriptions that make this book a must read on every level.  This is how the story begins:

The start of spring, 1648.

Winter was over, at long last. Tonight we were all in our larger forms— as tall as elves— and dressed in vein-thin leaves. It was the celebration to welcome Eostre, goddess of spring. Our home, the rotten ring, had been decorated in her honour. Dewdrops were lit, and fireflies were hung in cobwebs. The musicians piped up and played as the first glimmer of Eostre appeared through the trees. Pale light played on her shapely edges, like it shone from within. The form she took to visit us was more elf-like than anything; tall and graceful, with long, sleek hair of many colours.

Hair that moved. As Eostre stepped inside our ring of rotten tree trunks, I could see her hair crawled with insect larvae. She paid it no mind, as she cast an amused eye over the ring, then addressed Father. “Goblin king. Your line was missing one pair of claws this winter.”

Father’s face twitched ever so slightly before he replied. “Yes, Goddess, we … We managed without.”

We know from the previous story that the missing set of claws belongs to Wulfren, the youngest son of the Goblin King.  The King and his subjects are responsible for Fall and Winter.  And during those seasons, the King holds Court but the scepter passes to the elves in the spring and there the Goddess will hold court through the summer months.  I loved the image of the Goddess, Eostre, her hair full of larvae that writhe as she walks. Its mesmerizing, opulent and yet somewhat repulsive. Yet, Tushmore is not finished with Eostre.  Here is the scene as the Goddess leaves the company of goblins:

The ceremony was almost over; Eostre bid our ring farewell. In each footprint she left, fresh shoots and flowers grew, yet without her touch they soon wilted. All flowers died in the rotten ring.

Eostre inclined her head to Father. “Raedren, goblin king of the southern realm, thank you for the winter.”

“Goddess. Peace be.” Father bowed deeply to her in return, his cloak of cobwebs fluttering around him.

“Peace be.” Eostre smiled, then turned with a swish of hair and flowers. Her hair’s colour was ever changing, like the leaves in the trees. Butterflies and mayflies now crawled from her hair, spread their wings, and took flight. She left in a trail of flying insects and wilting flowers, on her way to the summer court, and the elves.

How wondrous, how enchanting!  And the spell is set for the rest of the story.  I loved the characters here, each a small treasure to be held and marveled at again and again.  Quiller is just the start of a cast we will connect with and remember.  Quiller is the third son of the Goblin King and therefore a prince himself.  But his mother is a bird spirit, a crow and his personality bears the hallmarks of a bird.  He is flighty, scattered in his thoughts and attentions and he recognizes that.  Just his actions as he flies through the forest gives ample example of this character and light hearted nature. Cashel is also a prince, a human one.  But magic aside, these two are each other’s equal in courage, in outlook, and finally in love.  They are everything that is missing from the first story.

Tushmore also uses Quiller’s journey to bring a dark realistic look at the times and ways of humanity.  Along the way, Quiller talks to a group of crows to see if they know where his mother resides.  They reply to look near the gibbet:

“Gibbet?” I asked, puzzled.

“Wood the humans hang other humans on,” he explained. “We peck their bones clean. Nice when it’s dried in the sun.”

“How strange,” I said. “Where is this gibbet?”

“Find the human path,” the crow said. “East of here. Before you get to the human place.”

“Oh, fear not, I shan’t be visiting any humans!” I cawed.

But of course, he does, flying past human remains, evidence of the cruel nature of the times.  Tushmore blends together the magical and the human worlds with a smooth, gifted touch.  When Quiller meets Cashel, a human of royal blood, Cromwell and the Parliament are laying waste to the people and lands all around.  None of that really matters to Quiller but Cashel is mired deep in the midst of political intrigue and fears for his life.  So into the castle goes Quiller (in bird form of course) where Cashel is living with his cousins.  Black deeds abound inside, threatening Cashel’s life and those of his relatives.  With a magical being in the middle, all sorts of things start to happen, and the reader will love every single minute.   I mean, Melanie Tushmore gives us everything we could want and more.  There’s poison, nefarious goings on, villains, a witch and of course, love.  And it’s all believable, and layered and complete.  Well mostly.

These are just the first two books and there are seven sons, five more to go.  So I expect to see Quiller and Cashel appear in the books to come.  Quiller still has his duties to attend to in the fall and winter.  Plus I don’t expect the Goblin King to willingly lose another son to the humans and that is not addressed here.   Still this story is quite marvelous, worthy of the price of this book alone.

After reading Goblins, I can’t wait to see what the author does for the rest of the sons.  I want more of her extraordinary descriptions and spellbinding imagination.  I highly recommend this to you all even with my reservations concerning the first story.

Cover design by Ria Chantler.  This cover is exquisite, one of the best of 2013.  The more closely I look at it, the better it gets.  just remarkable.

Book Details:

ebook
Expected publication: September 25th 2013 by Less Than Three Press LLC (first published September 25th 2012)
original title Goblins, Book One
ISBN13 9781620042373
edition language English

Review: Re-Entry Burn (Superpowered Love #5) by Katey Hawthorne

Standard

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Re-entry Burn coverMalory Clermont , a heat superpowered ex-felon, has just finished his time in jail and is now out on parole.  Three years ago, Malory, his Dad and their cousin Brady  (Riot Boy) planned and tried to pull off a bank robbery using their superpowers. But unknown to Mal and his criminal dad, Brady was working with the cops and betrayed them.  It got nasty, people got hurt and Mal and his dad got jail time.  Mal’s lawyer pleaded his case,citing extenuating circumstances, saying Mal’s dad and uncle had brought him up to be a criminal which was child abuse, .  Which is why Mal is out after 2 and half years in the superpowered lockup and trying to re-enter society.  His parole officer has three immediate goals for Mal.  Find a place to live, find a place to work and attend his fellow parolees group therapy session.  High goals when no one wants a ex con as a renter or employee.

Theo McCracken, a cold-superpowered ex-offender, is out on parole too.  His crime?  He murdered his abusive stepfather and would gladly do it again.  Now free after 5 years in jail, he is trying to adjust to freedom outside and not doing particularly well at it.   Theo feels pressured by outside forces and his twisted maternal ties.  Emotionally and mentally Theo is more fragile than he looks.  Theo is just that bit of out of control that is dangerous for someone recently out of jail and emotionally wanting.  Then he sees Mal.

Mal and Theo met in their weekly court mandated group therapy sessions and click.  Or at least Theo does.  Mal just hides in his chair, keeping the lowest profile possible, a mass of confused hurt and passivity.  Theo notices Mal immediately and starts his pursuit which scares Mal just enough to come out of his shell.   Theo’s cold high energy rushes up against Mal’s hot docility in a clash of opposites that reenergizes them both.  And despite abandonment issues, paranoia, traumatic family ties and events, somehow Mal and Theo start to hope that a future for them both is possible if they can just get past the re-entry burn.

Re-Entry Burn is the fifth story in the Superpowered Love series and a clear equal to Riot Boy (Superpowered Love #2), the story that made me fall deeply in love with these superpowered characters and twisted family histories.  The story is told from the haunted, pain-filled voice of Malory Claremont, who we first met in Riot Boy (Superpowered Love #2).  In that story he was a seething vessel of angst, rage and love and it was aimed directly at his cousin Brady who wanted to escape the criminal life that Brady’s family had forced on him.  It is because of Katey Hawthorne’s marvelous gift of characterization that readers saw something more in Malory, something so sad and compelling that it just cried out for his story to be told.   And now we get it and what an emotionally fraught journey it turns out to be with mental quicksand and societal traps everywhere. And in this author’s hands, its a outstanding piece of addictive storytelling

A raw, hip, and often dryly humorous dialog one of the hallmark elements of Katey Hawthorne’s stories.  And it’s an element I can’t get enough of.  When the  word “fuck” flows out of one of her character’s mouth (in this case Mal Claremont) it might be as an adjective, a noun, a verb, an adverb and most certainly an interjection. Basically Hawthorne has made it work as every part of sentence and the end result is a unique, sometimes plaintive, sometimes angry introspective voice that propels you magnetically along the narrative.  Don’t fight it, just go with the flow, following the raw musical tones of a damaged man trying to find his way out of his past and into the present.  This is how the story starts:

You Are Here

I’m not saying I’m getting this all down perfect, but it’s pretty goddamn close. It’s hard not to go back and pretend I felt and did things different than I did, but if keeping that fucking journal taught me one thing, it was that changing the words after the fact changes the point. I didn’t want to do it, but I can’t remember the last time I wanted to do anything like I was told.

I’ll try and not get ahead of myself, but this shit is new to me. Not like anyone’s reading it anyhow. Whatever, fuck it.

The story unfolds as a journal that Mal (and all the other ex offenders) must keep as a part of their group therapy and parole.  Mal writes down his thoughts and the events as they happen, using the journal to work through his mixed up feelings of anger and  abandonment towards Brady and his life.  The author lets the readers into Mal’s thought processes and the emotional and mental work that it takes for Mal to see through to the reality of the reasons behind his words and actions.  It’s tough going for Mal and we aren’t always sure that he will reach the designation we hope for him. Mal and life has placed a lot of obstacles in his way, and he must understand and remove them before he can arrive at his personal truth.  What an amazing character and story!  And his slow, pain racked path is as fascinating and authentic as Mal is.

A little bit of background.  Mal, Theo, Brady and even his parole officer are all superpowered beings called Awakened.  They are elementals with powers linked accordingly whether it is heat, cold, water, or electrical.  So already this is a group of beings on the outside of a society (Sleepers, that’s us) that is ignorant of their presence.  Imagine having such power than not being able to use it.  I think we could all imagine the frustration and the rage that would build up, so a respectable portion of the Awakened are criminals.  Others have chosen to be the group that polices their own (with special prisons to hold them), and some have turned vigilante using their powers to help others.  Hawthorne takes us into the middle of their rage, their divisive gatherings and makes us understand exactly what these beings are feelings and how conflicted their lives are.

Mal is not only having to readjust to freedom, he is also having to readjust to hiding once more who and what he is.  Inside the special prison, Mal could be the heat elemental he was.  No more hiding his powers and that was freeing in itself, a dichotomy.  Now physically free, Mal looks to the outside as being imprisoned once more inside a persona not truly him.  It’s a powerful image and not one conducive to staying outside the penal system.  Theo’s background and personality also raises impediments to a successful future outside the prison system.  His journey forward and emotional healing has  as many potholes in it as Mal’s does.

There are so many heartbreaking elements to Re-entry Burn.   Not just the realistic treatment Mal receives from his new co workers and neighbors which  runs the gamut from wary friendliness to outright hostility and fear.  No Mal is also adjusting to being in an environment where he can safely be a sexual being again as prison was not the place to explain his bisexuality.  Mal’s interest in sex is dead in the water until Theo comes and sparks it back to life. And that has consequences too for them both.  Nothing here is simple, everything has a reactive aspect that potentially could land either man back in prison in an instant. The author maintains a beautiful balance of tension between the readers and their concern for the characters and the needs of her narrative.  If the men often goes to their knees, pounded down by their needs and the pressure, well, the reader is right there with them on the cement floor, feeling their pain and intoxication with each other and their powers.

How I love these people and their stories.  I find them downright irresistible in voice and personality.  Listen to Mal working through “shit” in his journal:

I pulled out my journal on one of my fifteen-minute breaks and wrote:

I am a thief. I am a liar. I am a man. I am crooked. I am uneven. I am angry. I am lost. I am alone. I am alive. I am a queer. I am a supervillain. I am a risk. I am a joke. I am funny, funny Malory, oh so fucking funny.

People throw words at me, and I wait to see how they stick, which parts of me meld into them, which parts of me curl up in a ball and wither. Some of the words are partly right.

Some of them are right sometimes. Most of them mean nothing at all, just weird sounds and shapes when I roll them around in my head. Some of them kill parts of me or put them to sleep so I forget they ever existed until something kicks them awake again.

But the one thing I’ve always been and will always be, the only thing I’m sure of: I am fire. Pyrolysis, a thermochemical reaction, a separating of elements. As long as I have that, I think I can hold them all off. Maybe not indefinitely, but for a while.

But why do I even want to? So I can find more words to apply, this time words I like, I want, I wish? How the fuck would that be any better?

What’s the fucking point?

So puzzled, still so full of pain.  But he’s doing the work, he’s getting there and you are straining to help him every step of the way.  You will feel that way about Theo too.

If this is your first Superpowered Love story, then go back to the beginning or at least start with Riot Boy.  That will give you enough back history and insight into the characters to go forward with Re-entry Burn.  It won’t take much before you will find yourself just as addicted as I am to this universe and these characters.  Katey Hawthorne is a go to author for me and this is a perfect example why.   Go, pick it up and start on the path to a love affair with the Awakened!  You are going to love them.  And just because I can, here is one more hook to reel you in. Malory is speaking with his parole officer:

 Maybe society would start pretending I was human again. I admit, part of me was thinking, fuck that noise, and always will. But it’s as good as it gets. Less trouble too.

“Do you feel like it’s helpful with your reentry, I mean?”

I pictured myself racing through the atmosphere like the Apollo 13 capsule, trailing pieces of myself and fire.

P.L. Nunn’s cover is gorgeous as always.

Books in the Superpowered Love series in the order they were written and should be read:

Equilibrium (Superpowered Love, #1)
Jealousy: A Love Story (Superpowered Love, #1.1)
Best Gift Ever (Superpowered Love, #1.2)
Riot Boy (Superpowered Love, #2)
Willoughby Spit (Superpowered Love, #2.1)
Nobody’s Hero (Superpowered Love, #3)
Losing Better (Superpowered Love, #4)
Re-Entry Burn (Superpowered Love, #5)
Book Details:

ebook
Published August 26th 2013 by Loose Id
ISBN13 9781623005009
setting Arlington, VA